Irish student’s biofilter for water ‘dead zones’ named SciFest winner

25 Nov 2019

Image: © MrPreecha/

Sixth-year Kerry student Timothy McGrath will represent Ireland at ISEF in California next May with his biofilter to eliminate water dead zones.

Another young inventor has developed technology designed to aid a world affected by the climate crisis.

Sixth year-student Timothy McGrath from Killorglin Community College in Kerry was named winner of the Irish national finals of SciFest 2019 for a biofilter designed to combat oceanic and freshwater ‘dead zones’.

By being named the winner, McGrath will travel to the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in California next May where he will aim to follow in the footsteps of previous Irish contestants and walk away with some coveted prizes.

McGrath, who previously featured on, conducted research which looked at eutrophication, an enrichment of water by nutrient salts which causes structural changes to the ecosystem. These changes turn huge sections of oceans and lakes into ‘dead zones’, areas of water with low oxygen levels caused by excessive human pollution.

To help enrich these areas with oxygen again, McGrath built a structure that stored a halophyte ecosystem that would reduce nutrient pollution, decreasing algae blooms and deoxygenation of ocean water and freshwater.

‘Students of today are focused on the future’

McGrath’s teacher, Marieke O’Connor, also won an award for her mentoring of the national winner.

Notably, many of the other prizewinners in the national finals were designed with environmental reasons in mind. Orna Collins won the Broadcom Masters Award for her project ‘Plastic with Potential – Toward a sustainable biodegradeable’. Meanwhile, Eva Connolly, Ella Shanahan and Willemijn Bosschaert won the Berlin Long Night of Science Award for their project: ‘Can we effectively make Biodegradable Clothes? An Investigation’.

This year’s SciFest – the 14th edition so far – saw more than 10,000 students take part in local and regional STEM fairs in Ireland. McGrath was one of just 77 students who went on to exhibit 41 STEM projects at the national finals.

Speaking of the major trend of this year’s entries, SciFest CEO Sheila Porter said: “The students of today are focused on the future, the future of our environment and what this means for the global climate.

“This is apparent in many of the entries we have received and seen this year. We encourage this year’s entrants to continue to ask questions and be bold in their pursuit in using science to help them understand the world around them.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic