Young scientists make their names
WHAT'S in a name? Quite a lot, according to budding young social scientist Mary Hand.
The 14-year-old second year student at Our Lady's College in Drogheda, Co Louth, used her own Christian name in an experiment to see whether people pre-judge others based on their names alone.
And her findings, revealed on the opening day of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin yesterday, speak volumes about the way we view strangers based on their names.
Using a list of the top 10 most popular names in 2010 and in 1960, she asked respondents to assign characteristics to the names.
She found that the more traditional names like John, Mary and David were received positively, while "trendy" names like Ethan and Jackson were regarded much more negatively.
"For whatever reason people prefer old-fashioned names," she said in her stall at the 48th annual science fair yesterday.
A poll of teachers she conducted also revealed the same prejudice.
"When they read the classrolls of students they hadn't seen before they would say 'that person is going to be trouble' just because their name was a bit more modern or sounded different," she said.
Having a name like Mary herself has been both a blessing and a curse, she added.
"People treat me as though I'm an adult sometimes. I'm expected to be mature and responsible -- especially if they just hear my name, they think I'm older," she said.
"I feel awkward telling someone my name is Mary because I think they're going to treat me that way," she said.
A few booths over, transition year students Chloe Kilmartin (16) and Natasha Conteh (15) asked the burning question: "What goes through the minds of teenage girls?"
Not much, according to their findings.
The students from the all-girls Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal in Roscommon surveyed fellow students aged 13-16 on the top 10 thoughts that occupy their minds each day compared with their colleagues at Roscommon Community College.
Not surprisingly, boys ranked at the top of both lists, followed by their appearance, friends and social outings.
"The least thought-about thing was politics," said Ms Conteh, adding that thoughts of school and careers also ranked near the bottom.
Among the 1,200 students at the exhibition -- who are being quizzed by judges on their projects for the coveted title of BT Young Scientist of the Year -- was Enya McNamara (15) and Nora Spillane (13).
The transition year students from Colaiste Choilm made some startling discoveries about the hidden dangers lurking at make-up counters at department stores and pharmacies across the country.
They set out to find if brushes used by make-up artists harbour hidden bacteria and other germs.
Their answer was a disturbing yes.
The majority of brushes that they swabbed tested positive for dangerous bacteria like streptococcus, which can cause serious infection, especially if it enters the bloodstream through a cut.
Meanwhile, the exhibition, which opens to the public today, was launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday and he encouraged the students to pursue a career in science.
"I very much hope that some of the projects researched and exhibited here today will be the start of yet more ground-breaking discovery, innovation and application," he said.