Sunday 25 February 2018

Maths whizz Paul has formula for success as he lands science prize

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A self-taught 'pure maths' whizz with an affinity for unsolved problems shook his head in disbelief as he walked away with the prestigious BT Young Scientist of the Year award.

Paul Clarke (17), from St Paul's College in Raheny, Dublin, never dreamed of winning the hotly contested competition for his project on cyclical graph theory.

But he had deeply enjoyed every moment he had worked on it -- over 300 hours, he reckoned. And he plans on spending the rest of his life working to solve graph theory problems.

"It's what I really love -- something I can work on in my head without needing pen and paper," he said.

Putting the project into 'plain English' was a little difficult -- even for Paul -- however, he explained that graph theory was linked to almost every single aspect of science, providing a mathematical way to look at data.

Professor Tom Laffey, judge in the Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences category said Paul had made a "profound contribution" to the study of graphs.

BT Young Scientist winner Paul Clarke with his trophy. Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins
BT Young Scientist winner Paul Clarke with his trophy. Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins

"He identifies key concept and provides the methodology to apply them to some long-standing major problems in the subject with great success."

Paul had previously won the SciFest 2013 contest last November for an equally complex project aimed at bringing the mathematical world a step closer to solving the age-old 'Travelling Salesman problem' which has been baffling scientists since the 1930s.

That mathematical problem seeks to optimise a route taken by a hypothetical salesman travelling from point to point using the shortest route possible while not retracing their steps.

Winning the BT Young Scientist competition in its 50th anniversary year was particularly special, said Paul who is the first student from his school to win the top prize.

The son of two music teachers, Anne Gallagher and Desmond Clarke, Paul first realised maths was his forte in fourth year.

Nobody else in his family is interested in maths, he revealed.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn presented Paul with the BT Young Scientist of 2014 perpetual trophy, newly designed to celebrate 50 years of the competition, a cheque for €5,000 and the chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. He will also travel to Silicon Valley for a tour of science and technology businesses.


Mr Quinn later revealed that in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart, who had spoken of the wish to harness creativity amongst young people in his country, he had recommended him to visit the Young Scientist exhibition at the RDS.

Mr Quinn said the talent, creativity and enthusiasm shown by the young students offers a "positive insight" into the future of this country.

Irish Independent

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