Young Scientists astound

Left:Young Scientist winner Simon Meehan. Centre: Clodagh Clarke and Abbie Cassidy from Ringsend College. Right; Dorian Dederko and Dean Gleeson from 6th year Marian College. Photographs: Jennifer Reddin.

January brings plenty of spartan pain with it, but it also brings delights and one of them is the annual BT Young Scientist and Technologist Exhibition at the RDS.

2018’s event ran from January 10th to 13th and the full list of qualified counties and schools can be found on their website. It is an exhaustive list that includes nearly every school in the country and every county in Ireland.

This year’s projects and entrants also benefited from the Ireland Chapter of Project Management Ireland’s (PMI) launch programme last year, of funding expert-led training for teachers of the BTYSTE and students working on projects. Following that, this year the scheme was extended to provide fully-funded training for up to 120 teachers, double last year’s number, in advance of this year’s coming BTYSTE January.

The funding of €60,000 teaches project management skills to the students and addresses the need for project management skills among students, and enables young scientists and entrepreneurs to commercialise their ideas, bringing their innovations to reality.

Breakthroughs in technology such as qCrypt by last year’s winner Shane Curran of Terenure College, meaning an absolutely watertight data protection system for us all – something that is already a glaring need and will only become more so in the future as we interact more and more online, digitally and virtually, as well as, innovative social issue solutions, agricultural, educational, domestic, recreational.

The brains and talent is breathtaking and it is very inspiring to see the issues young people care about and the attention they pay them.

A staggering 2,031 projects were entered by the deadline last September and out of this number, 550 finalists were chosen to present their inventions or research results in the hall of the RDS between the 11th and the 13th of January. Tickets sold out quickly to schools, families and whoever had an interest to see what Ireland’s young scientists are up to.

Dublin 4 had four projects in this year’s competition. Abbie Cassidy (12) and Clodagh Clarke (13), first years from Ringsend College were even featured on RTE’s national news the day before it all officially began. “We were just doing a table up and they just asked us. It was fun.”

Their project in the category Social and Behavourial Studies Junior Group focussed on “causes and treatments for anxiety in teenagers.”

“We did a poll in our school and created a questionnaire to fill in. What we found was that, for example, some quiet time listening to your favourite music can be stress-relieving.”

James Dunne (14) from St. Michael’s College was taking part in the same category like the two girls but as a Junior individual with his “Save the Heartbreak” project.

It is a first-aid project and James’s long-term goal is truly ambitious. “I want, basically, the whole country, or everyone from age 10 upwards to learn how to do CPR and know what to do in such an emergency.” The second year student had questioned over 1,200 people, not just in or around Dublin, but also in Cork and Donegal. “I found that only about 25% of adults knew how to do it properly. I think that should change.”

He went on to perform the whole procedure, steps A to Z, in case of an emergency or accident. The Ambulance Service Order of Malta supported him with equipment like the dummy for CPR practice which he named ‘Michael’ after his school and an old defibrillator kit

Devin O’Keefe (15) also from St.Michael’s College was called twice onto stage at the prize ceremony. He won in the Senior Individual category and also scooped the HP “Innovation4Good” award.

He had entered the competition as Senior Individual in Technology category with his project, “A deep neural network to translate American sign language into English.”

He developed a computer program where you type in the required word and it is translated step by step onto the monitor into a demonstration of the appropriate sign language expression. “I’ve chosen the American sign language model because it has the most words/signs available for the user at moment.”


Marian College had entered the project entitled: Investigation into the effect of lysozyme on the structural integrity of antibiotic resistant bacteria, in the Senior group of the biological/ecological field.

Dorian Dederko (18) and Dean Gleeson (17) both from 6th year got the encouragement from their teacher, Alison Bird. “Our lab at school didn’t quite have the sufficient equipment so we contacted UCD and we got help there and also support.”

It is well-known that bacterial infections are increasingly harder to treat because the bacteria have become resistant to the available medication. Over-use is partly to blame. “We worked on how lysozyme can help to break down this apparent shield bacteria have developed to resist antibiotics. The breakthrough came when we found out that simple egg white would do the trick. That was really a surprise discovery.” .

Presenting their project at the RDS as part of the exhibition is not the end, however, but rather a stepping stone. “We want to continue to work on it, of course, and hopefully find a way that leads to a new option in treatment.”

Their efforts were honoured by the jurors with a highly recommended award.

However another project regarding antibiotic resistant bacteria won the overall prize. Simon Meehan from Colaiste Choilm, Co. Cork was honoured as BT Young Scientist of the year. He will represent Ireland for the European competition. The RDS will be hosting the event for its 30th anniversary this September.

The Young Scientists’ Exhibition was originally the brainchild of two UCD Physics researchers, a Carmelite priest, the Rev Dr Burke and Dr Tony Scott. In 1963 they travelled to the States and discovered ‘science fairs’ and tailored the idea for Ireland. The first competition was held in the Mansion House Round Room in Dublin. Aer Lingus handled administration and promotion. The competition had 230 participants with John Monahan, being the first winner, who went on to become Chief Executive Officer of Avigen, a US Biotech company. He now sits on the boards of biotechnology companies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Success created a demand for a bigger venue. Scott, a member of the RDS science committee, identified a common interest and the competition moved to the RDS and has remained there ever since.

2018 sees the exhibition celebrate its 54th year, making it one of the longest-standing exhibitions of its kind in the world. The 2017 event was the largest exhibition to date with 4,591 students from 375 schools across the island of Ireland, covering 2,091 projects and competing for the title of BT Young Scientist and technologist of the Year.

Since 1965, over three quarters of a million people have visited the Young Scientist Exhibition and to date, Irish students have taken the top honours fourteen times at the European Union Science Contest. Irish Young Scientists are amongst the youngest entrants and have scooped over 20 top awards to date in the Science and Engineering Fair in the America. If you weren’t one of the three quarters of a million people who have visited to date and missed it this year, put it in your diary for next year and prepare to be amazed by the future.