Humming, asthma and stars help Ireland win big at Intel ISEF

22 May 2017

Hummingbird. Image: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

Kildare native Caolann Brady and Cork student Cormac Larkin took home cash prizes at Intel ISEF, securing $2,500 between them.

Ireland saw two of its brightest students land prizes at the recent Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), with Caolann Brady and Cormac Larkin doing the business in the US last week.

Following on from Larkin’s earlier success, garnering $1,000 for his for his data mining astronomy project, Brady’s investigation into the effect of humming on human health won her a separate award for $1,500.

Brady qualified for the international event through winning SciFest 2016, thanks to her project’s focus on the natural treatment of asthma through humming and breathing techniques, as opposed to using inhalers and nebulisers.

She took the second award spot in the Biomedical and Health Sciences strand of ISEF, a category won by US student Daniel Zhang, whose project looked at the genomic sequence of cancer.

Brady is sitting her Leaving Certificate this year at St Wolstan’s Community School in Celbridge, using her own experience with asthma as inspiration for this award-winning project.

Research has hinted that the ventilation of the paranasal sinuses (inhaling and exhaling) increases greatly when a person practises specifically defined humming techniques, so Brady examined this using 175 test subjects.

The results, she found, showed that the prescribed humming technique improves lung function across a range of ages, genders and breathing capabilities by an average of 10pc, with 99.9pc statistical confidence.

Brady previously spoke of her excitement at attending the California-based ISEF, noting that the chance to meet other students, with a plethora of projects on show, would be a highlight.

“This is a wonderful opportunity and I am so thankful to my family, friends, teachers and everyone at SciFest who have supported me up to now,” she said.

Last Thursday (18 May), 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.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland student Gareth Reid won a $1,000 prize for an engineering project looking into a digital optical device to support education in developing countries.

Update, 9.07am, 23 May 2017: Cork student Cormac Larkin also finished second place in the Physics and Astrophysics category, winning a prize of $1,500 and the honour of having an asteroid named after him. You can read the report here.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic