Dublin students Eric Doyle and Mark Kelly win Young Scientist competition

13 Jan 2012

Mark Kelly and Eric Doyle pictured after winning the 2012 Young Scientist competition tonight

Tonight students Mark Kelly and Eric Doyle scooped the top accolade at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition for 2012 in Dublin. The duo, who study at Synge Street CBS in Dublin, won the ultimate award for their project which looked at planetary motion and how satellites can stay on the right flight path when in space.

Interestingly, the project branched out from the work of the Irish mathematician Diarmuid Ó Mathuná who solved the problem in 2008. His results are published in his book Integrable Systems in Celestial Mechanics, which looked at the Kepler (two-body) problem and the Euler (two-fixed centre) problem.

The exact title of Kelly’s and Doyle’s project was ‘Simulation accuracy in the gravitational many-body problem’. As part of the exhibition, their project entered in the Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences segment.

The two students developed an algorithm that they believe works much better than what is currently available for satellites and probes. They said it has the potential to help reduce fuel loads on such spacecrafts and help them keep on course while on space missions.

The ill-fated Russian probe Phobos-Gunt that failed shortly after lift-off in early November 2011 comes to mind. The probe had been pioneered for a mission to Mars. Since then it has been orbiting around the earth, but is due to crash-land this weekend somewhere in the Indian Ocean, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed.

Back to the Young Scientist, which was also graced by the appearance of NASA astronaut Dan Tani. Following the win, Doyle and Kelly both spoke earnestly about their project this evening and how they went about developing the algorithm. They alluded to how energy is such a global issue at present and that their research could have applications for industry, not just the space industry, to help reduce fuel loads.

Kelly and Doyle are also eyeing up future careers in science, with mathematical modelling on the agenda for one of them. And as well as a €5,000 cash prize, the students will be heading to both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. They will also be representing Ireland in September at the EU Contest for Young Scientists competition in Bratislava.

2012 BT Young Scientist winners

Students Mark Kelly and Eric Doyle pictured with BT Ireland’s CEO Colm O’Neill and Minister Ruairi Quinn, TD, on the stage on Friday night after it was announced that they had won the 2012 Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

Electric atmosphere

Overall, the atmosphere in the packed auditorium at the RDS was electric this evening, as the students clapped for each other, amidst the teachers and parents who were there to support them.

BT Ireland’s CEO Colm O’Neill let the students in on a little secret before he announced the 2012 winners. He said that he had overheard the judges saying last night that 2012 was the best year yet for the calibre of entries. He also invited each and every student to come back next year and to exhibit.

O’Neill said that this year’s figures show that more people have walked through this year’s exhibition than any other in the exhibition’s 48-year history – a welcome sign seeing as Dublin is host to City of Science in 2012.

It’s BT’s 12th year organising the project. In all 550 projects made it to the finals, with 221 schools hailing from 30 counties taking part. The projects were dispersed into four categories: Technology; Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences; Social & Behavioural Sciences; and Biological & Ecological Science projects.

In all over 120 awards were given out tonight to a diverse array of projects which reflected the inventive minds that are out there. Some projects won multiple awards tonight such as the project ‘I’m Carbon Monoxide, get me out of here’, pioneered by students Colin Dineen and Jennifer Falvey of Causeway Comprehensive School in Co Kerry. Another project that caught people’s eye was ‘The Multibooting computer’. Student Vahe Sasunts from Ardscoil Rath Iomgháin in Co Kildare worked on devising a computer that can boot many operating systems.

Science and Ireland’s future

Finally, the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn, TD, spoke about how the students who entered the competition displayed lateral thinking.

He said to the students that, by solving problems and looking at specific areas, their projects can then lead them down paths with many possibilities open to them.

Minister Quinn, who drew on his own architectural studies, alluded to how science will play an integral role in helping the Irish economy get back on the right fiscal trajectory. He also urged the students to go check out Dublin’s Science Gallery.

“The kind of economy that we, you, will create,” he said, will require “ideas, brains and creativity”.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic