BT gets ready to mark 20 years as Young Scientist sponsor

20 Dec 2019

Image: Hanover Communications

The telecoms company reflects on two decades supporting Ireland’s leading young scientist showcase.

The 56th annual BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) will kick off the 2020 sci-tech events calendar in January, marking two decades since the telecoms company came on as lead sponsor.

In that time, applications from schools around the country have been rising year after year, from 600 for the event in 2000 to more than 1,800 for the anniversary event. Of those, 550 projects have been selected for the showcase in Dublin’s RDS where they will be reviewed by a panel of judges seeking the stand-out award winners.

“I don’t think STEM has ever been more important, and we’ve seen that over the 20 years as our past pupils become involved in the event itself and we see them go from strength to strength, including our last year’s winner who went on to win the European young scientist,” said BT Ireland managing director Shay Walsh, reflecting on the company’s years of involvement with the event.

“It’s great to see how our young students are looking at global problems, global issues, as well as local issues,” he said of this year’s entrants, whose projects tap into pressing social issues such as the climate crisis, mental health, transgender rights and the effects of social media.

Past participants are often found at the exhibition, either returning as judges themselves or simply to soak up the atmosphere year after year. “I won the competition in 2006 and I haven’t missed a year yet,” said 2006 winner Aisling Judge. “It’s a coming home, it’s a family event for people who I know that are there for me no matter what.”

For those who find a platform to engage with STEM through the Young Scientist competition, the impact can be extraordinary.

It still stands tall amongst my memories and all of the achievements that I’ve had. It has undeniably shaped me as a person,” said 2001 winner Dr Peter Taylor who went on to study maths at third level, graduating in the top percentile of his class at Cambridge. Following a PhD in University College Dublin and a research fellowship at Cornell University, he is now based in Dublin City University, where he researches and lectures on the physics of black holes.

‘I wouldn’t be here doing what I do if not for the Young Scientist’

Taylor’s is a remarkable journey for a student from a DEIS secondary school, which are recognised as seeing lower numbers of students going on to third-level education. He credits a “very good and dedicated maths teacher” who spotted his aptitude and the BTYSTE as the launchpad to his present day career. “I wouldn’t be here doing what I do if not for the Young Scientist,” he said.

“So long as we continue to make sure that the students are the protagonists, that they are the hero of the event, then we will continue to produce world-leading scientists and world leaders in general,” he added.

Taylor returns as a judge for the 2020 BTYSTE competition, which kicks off on 8 January and is open to the public from 9 to 11 January. About 60,000 visitors are expected this year, with 31 counties represented across the selected projects.

In addition to the student showcase, the event will host an array of interactive sci-tech shows demonstrating the physics of breakdancing, the springiness of the air and the hazards of space exploration.

“We encourage everybody to come down and be inspired,” said Walsh, as the BT team of volunteers prepares to start another year ushering in the young scientists of the future.

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.