Greener jet fuel of the future revealed at BT Young Scientist 2019

10 Jan 2019

Kids at the 2019 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in Dublin. Image: Connor McKenna

From the renewable jet fuel of the future to the truth about young people’s mental health, to a car window that automatically opens if the vehicle is submerged, the kids at BT Young Scientist 2019 have the future sussed.

One of the most useful, inspiring and reaffirming things you could ever do at the start of any year in Ireland is make sure you get along to the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE). Every year the show reveals the potential, the imagination, and the sheer inventiveness and resourcefulness of young schoolgoers from across the island of Ireland. The 2019 edition of BTYSTE keeps this traditional well and truly alive.

Now into its 55th year, and the 19th sponsored by BT, the BTYSTE has served as a springboard for some of Ireland’s best known scientific and business talent.

There are 550 projects on show at this year’s event across four categories: Technology; Biological and Ecological Sciences; Social and Behavioural Sciences; and Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Between today (Thursday 10 January) and Saturday 12 January, more than 50,000 visitors are expected to attend the exhibition. The winner of BTYSTE 2019 will be announced at a special awards ceremony on Friday. The overall prize winner or winners will be presented with a cheque for €7,500, the BTYSTE perpetual trophy and will go forward to represent Ireland at the 31st EU Contest for Young Scientists in Bulgaria this September.

According to the organisers, girls make up 56pc of qualified entrants in 2019 and there was a 62pc increase in girls qualifying in the Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences category.

Overall, 237 schools from across Ireland have sent students to the exhibition.

Day two wonders

After a mesmerising day one, as part of our trawl through the amazing range of projects this year on day two, we discovered a renewable jet fuel, how Alexa skills can be used to create a viable alternative to rote learning, how new sensors in car doors can save people from drowning, and that smartphones and social media aren’t solely to blame for young people’s mental health issues.

“It has great potential,” exclaimed Greg Tarr from Bandon whose project, ‘A Pint of the Black Stuff’, effectively posed a greener future for jet fuel. After creating a reactor in his own bedroom – at one point resulting in actual tar staining his carpet – Tarr set out to prove how ultrasound-assisted hydrothermal liquefaction of micro-algae can result in renewable jet fuel. Using biomass and a reactor he built himself, Tarr was able to determine the optimum temperature to create a carbon-neutral jet fuel.

People who are not fans of rote learning – there are lots of us – will be delighted to hear that a group from Athlone Community College in Westmeath has developed the Music Memory Maestro. In a tour de force for the internet of things, the team was able to create an Alexa Skill (or app) that matches text to be memorised to music. Shane Whyte, Ruairí Lyons and Pranay Goel explained that the aim is to improve the learning skills of secondary students by applying this new musical memorisation technique.

Three female students in blue uniform hold an exhibit of a brain at BT Young Scientist Exhibition 2019.

From left: Claire McCormack, Leah Earls and Fiona Conheady from Coláiste Iósaef, Kilmallock, Co Limerick. Image: Connor McKenna

The propensity for media to blame smartphones and social media for the mental health issues of young people was challenged in a project by Leah Earls, Fiona Conheady and Claire McCormack from Coláiste Iósaef in Kilmallock, Co Limerick, with their project, ‘An Investigation into Why Mental Health Issues Are on the Rise Amongst Young People in Limerick Today’. Looking at everything from stress and anxiety to depression and more, they found that more positive relationships with teachers could go a lot further towards helping young people.

And finally, anyone with fears of being trapped in a car submerged in water can rest easy thanks to an amazing new sensor created by students Leah Weldon, Marguerite O’Donovan and Aimee Bodell from St Mary’s College in Arklow, Co Wicklow. Their project, ‘Want a Safe Car? Wheel Get Right on That’, demonstrated how their sensor, once submerged in water, would automatically get the window of a car door to open to allow passengers to more easily escape. Why hasn’t the car industry, with all of its billions of R&D dollars, not come up with this?

As you can tell, BTYSTE 2019 did not disappoint. Roll on day three!

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years