Quantum computing project leaps to the top spot at BT Young Scientist

11 Jan 2019

From left: Managing director of BT Ireland, Shay Walsh; BTYSTE 2019 winner Adam Kelly; and Minister for Education Joe McHugh, TD. Image: Connor McKenna

Dubliner Adam Kelly’s quantum computing project scoops the top prize at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

The atmosphere was electric in the RDS arena tonight (11 January) as 17-year-old Adam Kelly from Skerries Community College won the overall prize at the 55th BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE). Just a couple of days earlier, Kelly spoke in-depth to Siliconrepublic.com about his project and left us seriously impressed.

Quantum computing project wowed judges

Fifth-year student Kelly’s project focused on finding the most efficient way possible to simulate quantum computing, a technology that could change the face of the world as we know it. BT Young Scientist judge and chair of the Chemical, Physical and Mathematics category, Prof Sean Corish, commented: “Quantum computing is an emerging technology which represents a potentially significant advance in computing.”

Corish went on to say that Kelly’s development could have major implications in areas such as cybersecurity. “Adam developed a tool to select the optimum algorithm for the simulation of particular quantum circuits, which may inform the development of a practical quantum computer, which is still at an early stage.”

Judges were also impressed with Kelly’s fluency in what is a highly complex field, noting that key industry leaders were already taking notice of his work. The teenager is no stranger to recognition, having won the overall prize at SciFest in 2018 for his quantum computing simulator.

Kelly walks away with a cool €7,500 in prize money along with the BTYSTE perpetual trophy. He will also get the chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) in Bulgaria this September.

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh, TD, said: “The entire competition is a credit to everyone involved, and brings to life the old adage of ‘mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí’ [praise the young and they will flourish]. I hope many people will make the trip to the RDS this weekend to see the exhibition and hear from the students.”

Managing director of BT Ireland, Shay Walsh, said: “I want to congratulate every student that entered, and Adam, our overall winner. His work shows terrific initiative, dedication and brilliance in tackling an immensely complex area of modern computing.”

From diabetes research to solar cells

The overall runner-up prize was presented to Yasmin Ryan, a fifth-year student at St Andrew’s College in Dublin, for her project: ‘Discovery of the ideal microenvironment for the differentiation of hiPSCs into Islets of Langerhans’. She explored the generation of pancreatic cells from stem cells for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Transition-year students Aoife Morris and Tianha Williams from St Aloysius College in Carrigtwohill, County Cork, received the overall group award for their project entitled: ‘Developing an organic solar cell coating solution to mitigate fossil fuels usage by motor vehicles’. The students developed an organic solar cell that can be used to partially power an electric car.

Last year’s winner, Simon Meehan, had scooped the top spot for his impressive work exploring the bacteria-killing properties of natural plant active ingredients, particularly the blackberry leaf. Meehan went on to participate in EUCYS 2018, held in Dublin last September, where he won the Expo Sciences Luxembourg prize.

BT Young Scientist continues to flourish

Going strong for 55 years, the BTYSTE continues to be an inspiring highlight for those in sci-tech as well as those with a passion for curiosity and novel ideas. Since its foundation by Dr Tony Scott and the late Fr Tom Burke in the 1960s, a staggering 90,000 students have entered the competition.

This year, 55pc of the projects that qualified were from girls and there has also been a welcome increase in girls qualifying for the chemistry, physics and mathematics category. The overall number of BTYSTE entries has almost tripled from 606 in 2000 to an impressive 1,803 in 2019, with 10pc of them coming from DEIS schools across the country.

2019’s exhibition demonstrated that passion for science and technology, as well as inventiveness, creativity and real-world problem-solving is alive and well among entrants. From greener jet fuel and battling antibiotic resistance, to improving cervical cancer screening using AI, BTYSTE once again displayed the enthusiasm and ingenuity of young people in Ireland.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects