BTYSTE day 4: Young scientists use Lego and deep neural networks to solve problems

14 Jan 2017

Image: Connor McKenna

As another year’s BT Young Scientist event comes to a close, we take one last look at some of the competitors’ projects.

Today (14 January) is the last opportunity to visit the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) at the RDS in Dublin.

Last night, 16-year-old Shane Curran from Terenure College took home the top prize for his cybersecurity project, qCrypt: The quantum-secure, encrypted, data storage solution with multi-jurisdictional quorum sharing.

Another award-winner on the night was John Ryan from St Joseph’s College in Tipperary. As well as coming joint first in his category, Ryan took home the special award from Science Foundation Ireland.

BTYSTE multi-award-winner John Ryan from St Joseph’s College

BTYSTE multi-award-winner John Ryan from St Joseph’s College in Tipperary. Image: Connor McKenna

His project used deep neural networks to find offensive text from an expansive dataset, with the ultimate goal of becoming a tool to combat online harassment. Ryan had noticed the real-world impact of online bullying among his peers and wanted to see if it was possible for online content to be filtered with the assistance of machine-learning technology.

Scoil Dara student Thomas Sims was similarly inspired to tap into technology to solve a problem he observed in his own environment. Influenced by a friend’s difficulties with Stargardt’s disease, he developed You’ve Got Braille, a system that can notify deaf, blind or elderly people when post has been received, using QR codes, lighting and GSM communications technologies.

Thomas Sims, Scoil Dara, with his BTYSTE project

Thomas Sims, Scoil Dara, with his BTYSTE project. Image: Connor McKenna

An interdisciplinary interest in microplastics was evident at this year’s BTYSTE event, with projects investigating their impact; spanning categories from Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences, to Social & Behavioural Sciences, and Biological & Ecological Sciences.

In this last category, we spoke with Niamh O’Growney, whose partner in science – Zoe Norrish – was unable to attend the event due to illness. Flying solo for the day, O’Growney explained the Mary Immaculate Secondary School duo’s investigation into the amount of microplastics found in Irish beaches. According to these young scientists, Bishop’s Quarter is the place to go for a plastic-free pleasure beach.

Niamh O’Growney, Mary Immaculate Secondary School

Niamh O’Growney, Mary Immaculate Secondary School. Image: Connor McKenna

This year’s competition accepted 550 projects from 2,091 entries, most of them in the Social & Behavioural Sciences category. In this section, we spoke to Sadhbh O’Neill, Hannah Burgess and Gráinne Brennan from Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Their project, Lying is Wrong, Except When it Isn’t, set out to show how ethics and age play a part in people’s honesty and how evolutionary game theory is also a factor. Their conclusion? Younger students are far more likely to tell you fibs.

Daire Ó Gallchóir and Jack Mac Giolla Bhride from Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair show us their Lego creations for BTYSTE

Daire Ó Gallchóir and Jack Mac Giolla Bhride from Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair show us their Lego creations for BTYSTE. Image: Connor McKenna

Showing that science knows no age limits, young mathematicians Daire Ó Gallchóir and Jack Mac Giolla Bhride showed us their project using Lego to investigate Pick’s Theorem. This 19th-century theorem provides a formula for calculating the area of simple polygons, and these Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair students cleverly devised that Lego blocks could be a perfect teaching aid in explaining it.

The BTYSTE continues in the RDS today (14 January), where the public can visit and explore the hundreds of projects on display. Other award-winning entrants you can visit include Jack Nagle’s Tractor Safety LockStephen Cushen and his Li-Pi wireless communications device and Gregory Tarr’s algae oil bioreactor.

Updated, 18 January 2017 at 5.27pm: This article has been updated to reflect that John Ryan came joint first in his category at BTYSTE, not second as previously stated.

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.