Meet some of the Cork students vying for Young Scientist title

The Young Scientist competition gets underway this week. COLETTE SHERIDAN finds out about some of the Cork projects
Meet some of the Cork students vying for Young Scientist title

Young Scientists Donal Bird, Jack Brady and Daniel Castles from Colaiste an Spioraid Naoimhe

SOME 34 Cork schools are taking part in the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) 2023 at the RDS from January 11 to 14.

Altogether, more than 1,700 projects were entered to the showcase with 550 projects making the cut. As Mari Cahalane, head of the BTYSTE said about the exhibition, it’s “an inspiring way to start the new year and we can’t wait to meet all the students, teachers and visitors at the exhibition and enjoy the amazing projects and exciting programme of activities taking place.”

This year, health, the environment and new technologies are the areas that are to the fore in the exhibition.

Mari added: “We are so excited to welcome back students, teachers and schools as well as the general public to our festival of science and curiosity... 

"The large volume of entries showcases the ambition, creativity and dedication of students across Ireland.”

Students from Bandon Grammar, who will be taking part in the BT Young Scientist this year.
Students from Bandon Grammar, who will be taking part in the BT Young Scientist this year.

There are four projects from Bandon Grammar School this year. Keisha Murphy, Juliet Jolley and Colm Prendergast from fourth year are looking at the BeReal social media app and comparing its authenticity to Instagram.

As one of the school’s science teachers, Mark Sugrue explains, when a person receives a notification to post a picture, there is no time for filters or changing the settings.

“You take a picture of yourself as you are or what’s in front of you. If you don’t respond to the notification immediately, you can’t post.”

Students from Bandon Grammar who will be featuring at the BT Young Scientist in Dublin this week.
Students from Bandon Grammar who will be featuring at the BT Young Scientist in Dublin this week.

Another project, involving Scott Fuller, Joe Clover and Niall Miskella from fourth year “is about the effects that energy drinks have on sports performance”.

There’s a fifth year student, Ellie Fleming-Hand whose project is ‘Parasite Resistance in Domesticated Horses’.

Horses are given medication to kill off any bad bacteria in their stomachs. 

“Emily is comparing different farms that keep horses. It’s in the biology category. She knows what she’s at. It’s a decent project,” says Mark.

Ruth Fair, a fourth year student, is investigating the anti-microbial activity of Ilex Aqua Folem (a common holly tree) and how it affects the water that horses drink.

“She has been in touch with someone at UCC who is interested in giving Ruth advice.”

1st year students from Schull Community College Emily Drinan and Robyn Whelton.
1st year students from Schull Community College Emily Drinan and Robyn Whelton.

Jenny Dixon is a science teacher at Schull Community College. She said: “This year in particular, we wanted to get as many students as possible interested in entering the BT Young Scientist exhibition. We had a lot of first years interested. I’m not in the school long but I’m told we never had so many first years entering as this year.”

One of the first years, Emily Drinan, is looking at the effects pets have on our mental health.

“Emily has surveyed her classmates and students in other schools as well. She is also looking at how the effect varies depending on the type of pet.”

Another first year student, Robyn Whelton, is looking at whether peers influence dietary habits.

“Robyn has found a small amount of evidence that if your friends are vegetarian or vegan, there’s more of a chance that you’ll become vegetarian or vegan.

“She is also looking at whether the influence of peers affects a person making healthy dietary choices. She has focused her research on schools, looking at the choices of classmates at the tuck shop and at lunchtime.”

Three fourth year students, Megan Brown, Jack Cullinane and Joe Melvin-Caird, have been finding out whether different colours affect behaviour.

“They have been gathering data through observation, measuring sound levels to see if different colours in the environments of the students have an effect on how they behave. The different colours are in the line of sight of the students, including cards on walls and colours on whiteboards.

“The hypothesis was that certain colours are more soothing than others. A colour such as red can result in more noise in the room.”

As Jenny says, first year students “are excitable” so they have been observed for the experiment.

“There is an app to measure sound levels in different environments,” adds Jenny.

A certain amount of research has been done on various colours and their effects on behaviour. One of the examples the students give is Disneyland where there’s a colour called ‘go away green’. The idea is to ‘erase’ backstage buildings and camouflage construction walls from your sight. Unlike bright construction orange that your eye sees well, ‘go away green’ is the opposite.

Another example that the students gave is a pink colour used in certain prisons.

“It’s supposed to be soothing. The project is about trying out different colours in classrooms to see what happens.”

Also from Schull Community College is fourth year Stephen Hurley’s project, which looks at the links between the wrapping on silage bales and pink eye in cattle (a bacterial infection.)

“There’s anecdotal evidence that if you unwrap the bales a couple of hours before feeding them to the cattle, there’s less of a chance that the cattle will contract pink eye.”

Donal Bird, Jack Brady and Daniel Castles from Colaiste an Spioraid Naoimhe.
Donal Bird, Jack Brady and Daniel Castles from Colaiste an Spioraid Naoimhe.

Brian Donovan, who teaches PE at Colaiste an Spioráid Naoimh, and Tim Kerins, who teaches science at the school, are involved in the school’s only BT Science project this year. It has been carried out by fourth year students, Jack Brady, Daniel Castles and Donal Bird. The title of the project is ‘A Comparison of the Fundamental Movement Skills of 12 and 13 year old males from rural and urban schools’.

As Brian says, fundamental movement skills are the basic building blocks of more advanced movement.

“If you catch a ball with two hands, the idea is that when you’re older, you might be able to catch it with one hand, making it a more advanced skill. The lads were doing a sports module in fourth year and we were talking about fundamental movement.

“Two of the lads came from urban primary schools and the other two from rural primary schools. They were wondering who’d be better at the movement skills. 

"They’re looking at 60 students and have spoken with researchers at UCC who’ve researched something similar.”

As Tim Kerins says, the projects don’t come to an end once the BTYSTE is over.

“We have participated in the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in 2017. You can only participate in it by invitation.”

Minister for education, Norma Foley, commented: “STEM education holds endless opportunities for our young people and that’s why the department is proud to support the exhibition. I look forward to learning more about the students’ projects at the exhibition.”

Speaking about the trends on show this year in the entries, BTYSTE co-founder and judge, Tony Scott said: “I am so impressed by how young minds are engaged with such a staggering array of STEM topics and seeking to find ways to improve the way we live.

“It’s encouraging to see such a focus on the issues affecting our daily lives in preparing their projects for the BTYSTE 2023.

“We’re seeing trends that show these students are engaged, thinking critically, and getting excited by the endless opportunities that STEM presents in our world.”

He added that “it’s fantastic to have the BTYSTE returning in person in January, where we can meet the young people when they exhibit and learn more about their creative projects”.

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