Cork student wins 2023 Mary Mulvihill award for illustrated essay on energy

31 May 2023

Image: © gingema/

Ayomide Ajani’s essay explored the future of energy using science fiction literature. She is the first UCC student to win the award.

University College Cork (UCC) student Ayomide Ajani has been named this year’s overall winner of the Mary Mulvihill Award, with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) student Ashik Prasad scooping the judges’ highly commended award.

The awards are held each year in honour of the late science communicator Mary Mulvihill, who died in 2015. This is the seventh year the awards have been handed out. The winners were revealed today (31 May) at a ceremony hosted by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

The competition is aimed at fostering a love of science communication in third-level students. First prize is €2,000, while the winner of the highly commended prize receives €500.

The theme of this year’s competition was energy. Entrants were encouraged to delve into the topic and address it from a scientific, environmental and even imaginative point of view. Students from nine Irish colleges entered, with entries ranging from essays and technical reports to scripted audio pieces.

They tackled subjects such as the evolution of photosynthetic bacteria and algae and their future role as potential energy sources; the potential role of anaerobic digestion of waste matter or agricultural residues in Ireland’s energy mix; and the importance of myths in the development of our relationship with energy. There was also a scripted audio piece in which two characters in a bar chatted about energy.

UCC microbiology student Ajani took home the overall prize for her illustrated digital essay titled ‘Imagining the Future of Energy through Science Fiction’.

Her essay explored how literary considerations of energy have often reflected the uncertainties surrounding the relationships between science, technology and society.

She included insights into industry, power and the exploitation of resources by many powerful countries to the detriment of the global South.

She wrote that science fiction could provide a way of understanding and reconciling society’s complex relationship with energy usage.

Ajani is the first student from UCC ever to win the prize. Hannah Daly, a professor in sustainable energy and energy systems modelling at UCC and a member of the judging panel, described the winning piece as “very compelling”.

TCD student Prasad won the highly commended award for his illustrated slideshow for kids about golden jellyfish and solar energy. Daly said that he “clearly considered his audience and came up with a colourful entry that was age-appropriate, charming and delightful”.

Mary Mulvihill’s sister, Anne Mulvihill, who was also a judge on the panel, praised the standard of entries this year.

“For Mary’s family and friends, the annual award is always a bittersweet event. However, as with all of the previous years, the judges were once again delighted with the variety of entries to the competition. And there is comfort in knowing that Mary would have been delighted to join with us all this evening in celebrating the talent and enthusiasm of the two worthy winners.”

The event featured an address from guest speaker, Irish astronomer and science communicator Dr Niamh Shaw, who reminisced that Mary Mulvihill had given her her first job as a science communicator.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.