2016’s Young Scientist winners could shake up the European food industry

8 Jan 2016

BT Ireland MD Shay Walsh with BTYSTE 2016 winners Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura from Loreto Secondary School, and Minister Jan O’Sullivan, TD. Photo by Luke Maxwell

The winners of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2016 have been announced, and their research could impact the food on your table.

This year, Dublin students succeeded in producing 97 projects at the exhibition – the second-most from any county in the country, with Cork coming out on top.

But it was two students from Loreto Secondary School in Balbriggan, Dublin, who walked away with the top prize – and their schoolmates didn’t do too badly either.

Transition year students Maria Louise Fufezan (16) and Diana Bura (15) wowed the Young Scientist judges with An Investigation into the Effects of Enzymes Used in Animal Feed Additives on the Lifespan of Caenorhabditis Elegans, which is a nematode (roundworm) found in temperate soil environments.

Could meat-boosting enzymes be harmful to roundworms?

The girls were inspired to investigate if enzymes used in animal feed were in any way harmful to the environment – particularly to these nematodes – when they noticed that they were being used to bulk up meat produce in the EU, where the use of growth hormones is prohibited.

In skirting this regulation by using enzymes, meat producers may well be causing harm to the nematodes. While commonly used in the labs as genetic models, the ecology of these creatures in the wild is largely unknown, though that doesn’t mean they aren’t an important part of the ecosystem

This is the first project Fufezan and Bura entered into the competition and they spent a lot of the Christmas holidays working on their research. Thankfully, their hard work has paid off.

Along with the perpetual trophy, the winners received a cheque for €5,000 and will be treated to a trip to Oxfordshire, England for a behind-the-scenes look at the Formula 1 technology behind Williams Racing.

For them, the honours may not be over yet, and they will compete once again in the EU Competition for Young Scientists (EUCYS) later this year in Brussels. Ireland has a remarkable track record in the European contest, winning 16 times since it began in 1989, and the girls are eager to bring their research to the attention of Europe.

A great BTYSTE start to the year

A total of 2,048 projects were whittled down to 550 for the 52nd BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

The Irish competition in Dublin is the largest of its kind in Europe and up to 60,000 visitors are expected to visit the RDS as the exhibition continues tomorrow.

Projects in categories spanning chemistry, physics, maths, biology, ecology, technology, and social and behavioural sciences will remain on display for the public event on Saturday 9 January.

BT Young Scientist winners 2016

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.