BTYSTE day 3: Li-Fi, tractor safety and an investigation of HPV vaccine side effects

13 Jan 2017

Jack Nagle from Killorglin Community College, Kerry, with his Tractor Safe Lock project at BTYSTE 2017. Image: Connor McKenna

From Li-Fi communications to tractor safety to the side effects of the HPV vaccine, we look at more projects from the 2017 BT Young Scientist competition.

Our third day at the RDS for the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) continued to deliver impressive secondary-school research and innovation.

The number of projects submitted this year reached a peak once again, showcasing the vast landscape that scientific exploration can cover, from algae oil bioreactors to 3D-printed limbs and mathematical roulette.

BT Young Scientist competition entrant Stephen Cushen with his Li-Pi project

Stephen Cushen from St Declan’s College with his Li-Pi project. Image: Connor McKenna

One standout project comes from 15-year-old Stephen Cushen, a fifth-year student at St Declan’s College in Dublin. Cushen has developed a new form of wireless communication using light (dubbed Li-Fi). On display, he had a live demo of his Li-Fi circuit, which he built using a Raspberry Pi computer board, creating Li-Pi.

Cushen’s project caught the eye of a many a tech-savvy visitor, and he has already received positive feedback on his work from the Connect research centre at Trinity College Dublin. Connect is Science Foundation Ireland’s centre dedicated to researching the future of networks and communications, and they will no doubt be keeping tabs on this rising science star.

Like Cushen, Jack Nagle is competing solo in the Technology category, though at the junior level. The Killorglin Community College student demonstrated his Tractor Safe Lock project, which automatically engages the handbrake of a tractor when it senses that the operator has left the seat. He was inspired to develop this safety device because of a farming accident that befell his grandfather. Nagle’s prototype was not only an impressive display; it could also save lives.

Young scientists are often inspired to investigate problems they have direct experience of, and such was the case for a group from Loreto Secondary School, Balbriggan. Anna Sowray, Savannah-Rose McAuley and Kelsey Wilson investigated the short-term effects of the HPV vaccination on female students aged 12 to 15 for their BT Young Scientist project. The girls saw how growing backlash towards the vaccine had resulted in a significant decrease in students receiving it, and sought to tackle this controversy with unbiased scientific data.

Xiangyu Carbon Mallol and Méabh Scahill from Sutton Park School in Dublin designed and developed a system of various filtration techniques to provide safe and sanitised water. The second-year students started off with simple methods of filtration, testing the water with each new iteration and determining what steps they needed to take next to make the water potable. They created this project with developing countries in mind, in the hope of enabling more equitable access to safe, clean drinking water.

Xiangyu Carbon Mallol and Méabh Scahill from Sutton Park School

Xiangyu Carbon Mallol and Méabh Scahill from Sutton Park School in Dublin. Image: Connor McKenna

This year’s BT Young Scientist event sees the highest concentration of projects in the Social & Behavioural Sciences (SBS) category, making up 204 of the total 550 selected for the exhibition. Scanning through these projects, the issues of the present day are all being tackled by these teens. Society’s attitudes to immigrants, the Muslim community, homelessness and whistleblowers were all being investigated, while other projects examined the effects of media manipulation, gender quotas and even adult colouring books.

In the SBS category, we spoke to first-year student Orla Lyons. Her project, Driven by Gender?, queried whether more girls could be encouraged to study STEM subjects by providing taster programmes in early secondary-school education.

Lyons attends Lanesboro Community College in Longford, where she says a taster programme enables students, regardless of their gender, to try out various subjects they may want to continue studying at Junior Cert level. This has helped the school tackle the gender imbalances seen in some subjects and Lyons believes this could help other schools, too – and she has the research to back it up.

The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition will declare its winners tonight (13 January), but the real winner from this event is Ireland’s sci-tech future. The overall prizewinner will go on to compete at the EU Contest for Young Scientists, where Irish students have taken the top honours 16 times.

After the winners’ announcement, the event continues to be open to the public on Saturday 14 January.

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.