Students have very important message for vets at BT Young Scientist 2019

9 Jan 2019

From left: Kate Owens, Aoibhe Briscoe and Ellie Concannon from Coláiste Iognáid SJ, Co Galway. Image: Connor McKenna

From analysing the wellbeing of our pets, to helping to develop quantum computer technology, BT Young Scientist 2019 has it all.

For hundreds of secondary school students and their teachers across the country, the next few days will be nerve-racking as they showcase their projects at the 2019 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE).

A total of 550 projects are on show across four categories including technology; biological and ecological; and chemical, social and behavioural sciences; and chemical, physical and mathematical sciences. When the event opens to the public from Thursday, 10 January to Saturday, 12 January, the organisers expect more than 50,000 visitors to check out what’s on show.

Even though things have just begun, has already caught up with some of the participants who were awaiting their first chat with the roaming panel of judges.

The first team we spoke to was Kate Owens, Aoibhe Briscoe and Ellie Concannon from Coláiste Iognáid SJ in Galway who – in their efforts to find out more about antibiotic resistance – recruited some common household pets. Though their first preference was for human testing, the team went about seeing how many antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains were found in companion animals. After running a number of tests, they found that 90pc of samples showed evidence of antibiotic resistance.

What shocked the three students the most was the reaction they had from vets, with 40pc saying they didn’t see antibiotic resistance as a problem.

Quantum leap

In the very different field of quantum computing, we then caught up with Adam Kelly of Skerries Community College in Dublin who, late last year, made headlines for being named the overall winner of SciFest 2018.

Now featuring at BTYSTE, Kelly is continuing his work in a very exciting area of computer science with his project trying to find the most efficient way possible to simulate quantum computing.

While a universal quantum computer could still be years away, Kelly proved his software is effective at replicating the processes that could one day change the face of everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to robotics.

From the moon to Ireland’s west coast

Looking upwards to space, Oisin Brady-Halmschlag and Kevin Lawlor of Coláiste Chiaráin, Co Limerick demonstrated a hydroponic system for sustainable plant growth on the moon. Inspired by NASA’s promise to return humans to the lunar surface in the coming decade, the pair were eager to see what would grow in similar conditions to what would be found in zero gravity. At the moment, their focus is on growing lettuces and radishes, but the pair hope to grow other crops to help diversify future astronauts’ diets.

The final group we spoke to on the day was another team from Coláiste Iognáid. Aoife Waldron and Ailbe Dooley are hoping to solve the mystery as to why the west coast of Ireland was ‘invaded’ by the largest known species of jellyfish, known as the lion’s mane, in 2018. The pair found that while the lion’s mane’s impact on a region is considered negative, the creature’s highly pure collagen could be used to repair skin in the near future.

Speaking at the launch event today, 9 January, President Michael D Higgins described the BT Young Scientist event as “the pinnacle of scientific achievement and discovery amongst young people worldwide”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic