Athlone student’s project on cosmic radiation protection wins SciFest 2021

29 Nov 2021

Clare Reidy. Image: Keith Arkins

Sixth-year student Clare Reidy from Westmeath will now go on to represent Ireland at an international science competition in the US next year.

An Irish student has won a national award for her innovative research on protecting future settlers of Mars.

Clare Reidy, a sixth-year student from Our Lady’s Bower in Athlone, Co Westmeath, was named STEM Champion at SciFest 2021 over the weekend.

Reidy’s project investigated whether bricks made from Martian soil – or regolith – could be used to block cosmic radiation, which consists of high-energy particles travelling through space.

She discovered that these bricks could offer effective protection against cosmic radiation and constructed her own brick, using a Martian regolith simulant as a primary component. Her discovery supports the idea of using regolith bricks as a building material to protect future inhabitants of Mars.

Following her victory at the Irish competition, Reidy will represent Ireland at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the US state of Georgia next May.

Irish students have had great success at ISEF in recent years. Earlier this year, a SciFest 2020 runner-up came second in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category for his weather prediction model. In 2019, three Irish students were winners of some of the event’s major awards.

Speaking on the importance of STEM for students, Minister for Education Norma Foley, TD, said: “These subjects are crucial for equipping the young people of today with the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

“The level of innovation gives great cause for optimism now and into the future. I’d like to congratulate Clare for winning this award and applaud all those students who have participated in this year’s competition.”

SciFest – now in its 16th year – is a STEM programme for secondary school students across the island of Ireland. The 2021 SciFest final took place on a virtual platform that was custom designed for the awards and allowed students, teachers and parents to view and participate in the event.

SciFest CEO Sheila Porter said: “At SciFest, our goal is to encourage a love for STEM subjects from an early age so it is really heartening to receive so many high-quality entries. The challenges posed by climate change and Covid-19 show the fundamental importance of science and that’s why it is vital that we continue to foster inquiry-based learning among students.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic