Friday, February 1, 2013

Young Scientists of the Future

Young Scientist Exhibition

Two weeks ago I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours visiting this yearsYoung Scientist and Technology Exhibition which was being held as usual in the RDS in Dublin. The halls were packed full of thousands of young people, from all parts of the island, who were there proudly showing off their projects and hoping to win the coveted Young Scientist for 2013 award or one of the other awards that are presented.

This year the event celebrated its 49th birthday. When it first began all those years ago only 230 young people took part. This year over 4,000 students submitted 1800 projects. Less than one in three of the projects submitted made it to the RDS. Despite that over 2,000 young people were there and 79 judges had the difficult task of assessing each of the 550 projects on display.

Louth was well represented with 26 projects from schools across the constituency. I wasn’t able to visit them all but I did get round quite a few, as well as taking the time to meet students from Donegal, Cork, Meath, Dublin and all points of the compass.

The standard of the projects was amazing.

Among those I met were Deirdre Ruane-McAteer and Emma Shields from Bush Post Primary School in Louth. Bush is a DEIS school. These schools exist in areas of social or economic disadvantage and are part of an educational strategy that is about ‘Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS)’.

Emma Shields and Deirdre Ruane-McAteer

Deirdre Ruane-McAteer and Emma Shields are two exceptional students who decided to investigate whether the ‘views and opinions of young people living in border counties would differ on the social issue of abortion.’

Their project was entitled: ‘Abortion and Religion: a statistical analysis of views and opinions in border counties.’

This is one of the most difficult issues facing Irish society at this time. The statistical analysis carried out by the two students is a timely social science project into a current and major social issue. The fact that their project was also cross border is an insightful recognition of the need to treat this issue like so many others on an all-island basis.

The two students identified this in the introduction to their project in which they said that: ‘The reason we decided to focus our study on abortion is because we believe that the voice of young people aged between 16, 17 and 18 year olds should be heard and were curious to find out where they stood on the topic. Recent events highlighted in the media such as the case of Savita Halappanavar and the opening of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast reignited the debate and garnered in Ireland negative media attention on an international level.’

The two Bush students succeeded in capturing the runner up group prize in the Young Scientist competition.

Other students from Louth also succeeded in winning praise from the judges.

Among them Áine Grennan and Eimear Shine from St. Louis Secondary School who were Highly Commended in the Biological and Ecological section for their ‘investigation of the impact of human activity on water quality in various coastal locations around Dundalk’.

Áine Grennan and Eimear Shine

They had decided as enthusiastic swimmers to carry out an assessment of the water quality of some of the local beaches on Dundalk Bay. Their main aim was to “find out if we swam off any of these beaches would we endanger our health in any way as 20 years ago raw sewage was discharged from an old sewage plant in Dundalk Bay. We wanted to see if there was any raw sewage still left in the bay or has the condition improved since the new Waste Water Treatment Plant was built.”

They discovered that Templetown Beach has a very high water quality while Blackrock had slightly over the Coliform limit but was still acceptable for swimmers provided they exercise caution after bad weather.

Blue Anchor beach however exceeded EU bathing water quality standards “spectacularly” and they warned swimmers that “there are still large quantities of sewage in the sand and high levels of Total Coliforms.”

They have raised the issue with the County Council.

Shane McQuillan, Alex Cahill, and Philip McGuinness, from De La Salle College who were Highly Commended in the Social and Behavioural Sciences for their investigation into ‘the prevalence of racism and sectarianism among teenagers in Dundalk’;

Conor Begley from ColáisteRís who was Highly Recommended in the Technology section for his development of equipment to alert farmers and others to toxic gas in slurry – ‘E.W.O.C.H2: early warning of concentrated hydrogen sulphide’.

Conor Begley

Last week the importance of Conor’s work was underlined at the inquest into the deaths in September of Noel Spence and his two sons Nevin and Graham who were overcome with fumes on their farm outside of Hillsborough, in County Down. Pathologist Prof Jack Crane said that the levels of hydrogen sulphide along with other toxic gases were high enough to render the men unconscious.

Helen Cunningham and Anna McEvoy from Our Lady’s College, Drogheda, were category winners in the Biological and Ecological Sciences for their investigation into ‘Horse chestnut trees under attack’.

Everyone who attended the event was hugely impressed by the enthusiasm, diligence and professionalism that all of the young people from all parts of the island of Ireland brought to their projects. The standard was exceptional.

The organisers of the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition and everyone who has made this event such a success are also to be commended. They deserve our thanks for their contribution and commitment to the education and advancement of our young people.

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