Interview with the first-ever young scientist exhibition winner (video)

10 Jan 2014

Dr John Monahan, the first-ever winner of the Young Scientist Exhibition (now the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition)

We talk to the first-ever winner of the then-called Young Scientist Exhibition Dr John Monahan, who after winning the inaugural prize in 1965 went on to a stellar career as a biotech entrepreneur.

The Young Scientist Exhibition began in 1965 after Carmelite priest and physics teacher Rev Dr Tom Burke and University College Dublin (UCD) physicist Dr Tony Scott felt there was a need for a science fair to showcase the science talent among Irish schoolgoers.

The annual event was then sponsored by Aer Lingus, which continued to sponsor it until current sponsor BT Ireland (then known as Esat) took over sponsorship in 1998. Now the event is known as the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

The inaugural event took place in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin and 230 schoolkids demonstrated their prowess.

The categories included physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geography and mathematics.

Monahan, from Co Kildare, picked up the top gong for his project, which was an explanation of the process of digestion in the human stomach. His display included flasks and tubing to show how the whole thing worked.

He went on to earn a degree in science at UCD before working in the emerging biotech sector in the US, where he eventually formed his own company.

He earned a PhD in Canada and worked at Roche in New York before moving to San Francisco, California, where he established his own NASDAQ-listed company Avigen Inc in the 1990s.

Now semi-retired, Monahan serves on the boards of a number of US and Irish-based biotech companies.

BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2014 – interview with first-ever winner John Monahan 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years