Cork student astronomer Cormac Larkin bags $1,000 at Intel ISEF 2017

19 May 2017

VISTA telescope observing the night sky. Image: Y Beletsky (LCO)/ESO

Cork student Cormac Larkin has walked away with a prize of $1,000 at the Intel ISEF awards for his data mining astronomy project.

Ireland’s brightest student minds descended on Los Angeles this week to represent their country at one of the largest sci-tech events for young people in the world: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

Taking up the challenge were 2016 SciFest winner Caolann Brady and 2017 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition runner-up Cormac Larkin, two of 1,800 students who managed to make it to the event, out of a global total of 6m students.

With 300 awards delivered at yesterday’s (18 May) special awards ceremony, we can celebrate some Irish success after it was announced that Larkin was named as winner of the Priscilla and Bart Bok First Award.

Larkin is a sixth-year student from Coláiste An Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Co Cork, who showcased his project entitled: ‘Case study of Data Mining in Observational Astronomy: The search for new OB stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud’.

Larkin’s research led to the development of a new approach to identify massive stars rapidly, even in the midst of a heavily populated part of the universe known as the Small Magellanic Cloud.

These large stars are eight times bigger than our sun and, although they are very bright in ultraviolet light, this light is readily blocked off by interstellar dust and our own atmosphere.

One of 300 award winners

With a cash prize of $1,000, the award is presented by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, one of the US’s biggest astronomical associations.

Unfortunately, Larkin’s Irish team member Brady was not named among the 300 special awardees on the night.

Her project – ‘Hum Your Way to Better Health’ – focuses on the natural treatment of asthma through humming and breathing techniques as opposed to using inhalers and nebulisers.

Speaking prior to the competition, Brady was proud to showcase her work to major names in the field of STEM.

“I am very excited to travel to California and to present my work to some of the top STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) professionals in the world,” Brady said. “I am also looking forward to meeting young people from all over the world and seeing the different projects they are working on.”

However, there is still time for Brady and Larkin to win awards as part of the main awards ceremony, scheduled to take place this evening (19 May) Irish time.

Updated, 10.44am, 19 May 2017: This article was updated to clarify the classification of the awards.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic