Whirligigs, e-cigarettes and the aurora borealis at BT Young Scientist

13 Jan 2018

From left: Gráinne Lawlor and Enya Nordon from Scoil Mhuire Community School, Co Kildare. Image: Connor McKenna

Though judging has wrapped up, throngs of people are still arriving at the RDS to marvel at the impressive projects on display.

Today (13 January) marks the final day of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, and your last chance to catch a glimpse of some of the incredible offerings on display from secondary-school students from around the country.

Though judging has concluded for this year and the awards have already been given out, there’s still so much to do and see at the exhibition in the RDS, Dublin. Families, teachers and students are still arriving in their droves to hear from some of the brightest young minds in the country.

There are a total of 550 projects on display, presented by 4,251 students from 383 schools.

On Thursday, Siliconrepublic.com chatted with students investigating the healing properties of snail gel, the potential for crickets as a protein source of the future, and whether bitcoin could be mined sustainably.

Before that, we discovered on Wednesday just how filthy pedestrian-crossing buttons truly are, and spoke to the next generation of autonomous car engineers.

Why do trans people have some of the highest suicide rates?

We spoke to Dylan Donohoe, a transition-year student from Adamstown Community College in Dublin, about his project, which begged the question of why trans people have some of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

Donohoe, a trans person himself, spoke to around 270 members of the trans community about how their identity, and the societal stigma and pressures that can often unfortunately come with it, affected their mental health. He found that only a minority said that it had not impacted their mental health negatively.

For his efforts, Donohoe took home the second prize in the intermediate individual category.

The whirligig – a cheaper blood centrifuge

We also chatted to Maria Ahmed and Alana Mays from Dominican College, Wicklow. The pair developed a blood centrifuge modelled on a whirligig, which could be deployed in developing countries for as little as 20 cent per device.

The blood centrifuge spins, which instigates a clotting process and causes heavier particles to flow to the bottom and the lighter ones to the top. Testing the blood after it has undergone this process allows one to identify diseases such as malaria or cancer.

The dangers of e-cigarettes

Gráinne Lawlor and Enya Norden, two students from Scoil Mhuire Community School in Clane, Co Kildare, undertook an investigation into the deposition of metallic particles in e-cigarette vapour.

Given that e-cigarettes are such a new technology, there is a paucity of research into their long-term health effects, meaning the assumption that they are a healthier alternative to smoking is somewhat unfounded.

The Kildare pair made discoveries indicating that e-cigarettes could be equally as deleterious to one’s health as actual cigarettes, due to the presence of metals in the vapour they produce.

An app for the visually impaired to identify allergens in food

Tara Weafer, Kate Corcoran and Abaigh Murphy from Coláiste Choilm in Co Cork – peers of this year’s overall winner, Simon Meehan – noticed when out shopping that, while medicines often come with information imprinted in braille, the same could not be said for foods with allergens.

The group designed a prototype for an app to scan food items and read out allergens for the blind and visually impaired. The project leverages QR codes, which could be easily printed on the food items, containing all the necessary information. The girls are hopeful that supermarkets and food producers alike will implement their innovation in the future.

Will the aurora borealis be visible over Dublin?

Finally, we heard from 14-year-old Rory Luff, a second-year student at Blackrock College, Dublin, about his project looking into the possible effects a swap of the Earth’s magnetic poles could have on aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.

The Earth’s magnetic field is in a constant state of flux, and Luff posited that changes to the field could mean that the Northern Lights could be visible in Dublin in a matter of decades.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic