BTYSTE 2016 round-up: Animal feed study goes to Europe

11 Jan 2016

It was yet another big win for biopharma and future food production at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) 2016, with the overall winners’ project dealing with meat-boosting enzymes.

This year’s BTYSTE was part of the continuing trend of each successive year being larger than the last, with 550 projects whittled down from 2,048 from nearly 400 schools across the island, and tensions were certainly high on Friday for the announcement of the overall winner.

Prior to that, however, those of us here in were a little more than amazed by what was on show across all aspects of science and, frankly, it made us feel a little like we underachieved when we were teenagers.

On the first day of the event, away from the curious eyes of the public, we saw potentially life-changing concepts, such as a solar-powered water-replenishing backpack created by Craig McAuliffe and Darragh Quinn from De La Salle College in Waterford that produces water from the air by using a thermo-electric Peltier powered by solar panels installed on a backpack.

While equally impressive was Can’t Touch This; a really cool system created by Eva Ryan, Ella Morrison and Maeve Rooney from Ursuline College in Sligo that uses a Theremin as a burglar alarm rather than a musical instrument.

This was followed by Aisling Daniels from Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ in Limerick, who created her own first-responder app called iResponder.

Or why not Florrie McCarthy and Ernie McCarthy from Clonakilty Community College, who demonstrated their HTML Raw Code Generator that can make HTML code for designing websites easier and less time-consuming?

Day two and the challenging of the pentaquark

On day two, the heat was on, as members of the public began to have a look around at the projects for the first time.

Personally, this journalist was blown away by one of the junior individual entries, John Huggard from Blackrock College in Dublin, who challenged our recent scientific understanding of the subatomic particle, the pentaquark, with the Huggard eventually finishing runner-up in the Chemical, Physical and Mathematical category.

Equally far-reaching was the project Apollo 10D with Colm Aiken and Matthew Petticrew from Ballymena Academy in Antrim, who finished with a high commendation from the judges, detailing their plans for creating the technology that could allow us to expand as humans further into space than we’ve ever gone before.

And on the final day of judging, we were able to spot talent when we saw it with Balbriggan Loreto Secondary School and BTYSTE veteran, Renuka Chintapalli, who created a means of using bioinformatics – online databases and software – to find biomarkers in oesophageal cancer metastasis.

Obviously attracting the interest of the judges, Chintapalli’s concept saw her just miss out on the overall prize, coming second to the eventual winners, but still picking up a cheque for €1,200 and a trophy for her gallant effort, as well as an absolute tonne of special awards.

Additionally, it was a breath of fresh air to hear from some of the other entries on the day, including Swimming: Do you take my breath away? by Ivana Pyne and Ruairí Power from St Flannan’s College in Clare, who sought to prove that stronger lungs make for better swimmers, while also fighting against asthma.

But, of course, everyone was waiting to hear on Friday night who would be crowned the overall champion of the event, with their success likely to set them up for an incredibly bright future in their scientific careers.

Winners aim to feed the world

And, as it turns out, Maria Louise Fufezan (16) and Diana Bura (15) wowed the Young Scientist judges with their Investigation into the Effects of Enzymes Used in Animal Feed Additives on the Lifespan of Caenorhabditis Elegans.

The girls were inspired to investigate if enzymes used in animal feed were in any way harmful to the environment when they noticed that they were being used to bulk up meat produce in the EU, where the use of growth hormones is prohibited.

Spending much of their Christmas holidays working with Dr Kevin Black from University College Dublin (UCD), who offered the university’s labs for them to extensively test their nematodes, or roundworm used in animal feed.

Considering it was their first entry into the competition, and that they only began researching when they arrived back in school last September, it was an incredible achievement from the pair, who received a cheque for €5,000 and will be treated to a trip to Oxfordshire, England for a behind-the-scenes look at the Formula 1 technology behind Williams Racing.

The pair will now go on to compete at the EU Competition for Young Scientists (EUCYS) later this year in Brussels with hopes of being the 17th Irish team to win the competition since it started in 1989.

When looking at their success, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie-Healy Thow who won the 2013 grand prize for their project, A statistical investigation of the effects of Diazotroph bacteria on plant germination.

‘The Young Scientist kind of changed my life’

Winning the EUCYS later that year, the girls are now one of the world’s most-commended teenagers for their research, with their successes following their BTYSTE seeing them make an appearance on Time’s list of the world’s most influential teenagers.

Not to mention Judge’s activities in the past two years, where she is now the co-founder of not one but three start-ups before she even sits her Leaving Cert and, speaking recently to, she said the BTYSTE was a turning point in her life.

“The Young Scientist kind of changed my life,” she said. “We got exposed to so many opportunities that we never would have gotten if it hadn’t been for the Young Scientist.”

And with that, BTYSTE has finished for another year, but we’re already excited as to what wonder we’ll see at the RDS at next year’s exhibition!

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic