Chips on the menu at Young Scientist expo

9 Jan 2003

If you want to know which supermarket plastic bag offers the greatest longevity or the ins and outs of chip pan safety you would be well advised to a pay a visit to the Young Scientist of the Year exhibition at the RDS in Dublin.

Today at 10am, the annual schools event opens its doors to the public with 477 projects on show, ranging from ecological team efforts to more esoteric scientific exploration, topped off with a touch of high-tech entrepreneurship.

The competition has been running since 1965 and this year scored a record number of entries. A total of 2,583 students representing 30 counties submitted 910 projects, each hoping to win the coveted Esat BT Young Scientist of the Year 2003 Award. First prize is a cheque for €3,000 and a Waterford crystal trophy.

The winner will also have the chance to represent Ireland in the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. To date, Irish entries have gone on to win the international event ten times, most recently in 1999 when Sarah Flannery from Cork won with a project based on encryption.

The floor space at this year’s exhibition is divided into four sections. Chemical, physical and mathematical science is represented with 91 projects while biological and ecological science scores 144 entrants. Once again social and behavioural science is the best represented with 180 projects on show.
Although the event is billed as the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, technology entrants account for just 62 stands. However, because these projects are largely the work of individuals they tend to be among the most ambitious undertakings.

Entrants often mirror some of the wider concerns of the grown up tech sector. Sponsors Esat BT would have been amused to see two candidates offering do-it-yourself wireless LAN solutions, one with antennae made out of a Pringles tub and a fruit can. The makeshift materials didn’t prevent student Caoimhin Ó Briain from transmitting data over a distance of 1.6km. The other wireless project dared to suggest that it might be “Ireland’s broadband solution”!

On the next stand, Mark Grenham from Athlone made no bones about being part of the anti-Microsoft lobby, showing off NetBox, his home-built alternative to a Windows server.

More entrepreneurial enthusiasm came from Gareth Wood, 13, from Dunboyne. He had discovered how the GSM mobile phone signal interferes with other electronic devices and came up with a simple radio receiver to detect the RF pulses of a phone. He had clearly defined the target market for his product, reckoning that teachers would relish being able to identify who was using their phones in the classroom. “I’m going to try and sell it to the school!” he said.

Admission to the show is €8 for adults; €4 for students, children and senior citizens, or there’s a €20 family ticket for two adults and two children. Doors open at 10.30am and close at 5.30pm. Other attractions include interactive stands from the event sponsors and a World of Robots exhibition.

The winner of the Young Scientist award will be announced on Friday evening.

By Ian Campbell