Guest column: Rising stars meet scientists young and old in London, Paris, Geneva

21 Aug 2014

Ciara Judge in her Silicon Republic T-shirt, and a model of the Large Hadron Collider on the CERN campus, Geneva, Switzerland

EU Young Scientist winner Ciara Judge recounts her experience at the London International Youth Science Forum, followed by a trip to Paris and a tour of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

On Wednesday, 23 July, I boarded a plane to London for the best experience of my life.

As part of our prize for winning the EU Contest for Young Scientists in Prague last September, my teammates Émer Hickey, Sophie Healy-Thow and I were given the opportunity to attend the London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF). LIYSF is a two-week programme hosted by Imperial College London and supported by many of the UK’s most prestigious research institutions. Delegates from a wide range of countries can attend specialist lectures, visit research facilities and participate in student discussions and extra-curricular activities.

This year, LIYSF welcomed 425 students from 64 different countries, all of whom I’m sure were just as nervous as I was until an induction on the first night broke the ice!

London International Youth Science Forum 2014

A nice day for a group shot at the London International Youth Science Forum 2014

Insights into areas of interest

LIYSF 2014 was an incredibly busy two weeks packed with lectures by eminent scientists, student debates and other exciting activities.

One of the many lectures which particularly intrigued me was a talk by Prof Keith Martin of Cambridge University on his work in using modern biotechnology and science to fight blindness. He educated us on his research into the use of stem cells to prevent eyesight degeneration and, in some cases, actually recover sight in those who had lost it. This is a topic close to my heart because I have a young cousin who is blind and so I was significantly invested in this lecture.

We were also allowed to choose specialist visits and lectures to attend in our own areas of study. As a result of this, I had the honour of visiting Rothamsted Research Centre, the longest-running agricultural research centre in the world, where I could see large-scale field trials at work and gain advice for our own research into plant phytohormones.

I also visited Cambridge University Crystallographic Data Centre, where I got an insight into the world of molecular imaging – another area I am incredibly interested in.

LIYSF debate on women in STEM

Ciara during the LIYSF debate on women in STEM

Time for debate

On our Specialist Study Day, I had a fantastic time working under Prof Cathie Martin of the University of East Anglia. She gave us a presentation on her work with food systems and healthy diets, and our group assignment was to explain what we had learned to the rest of LIYSF in the most imaginative way possible.

There were some very interesting presentations that afternoon, ranging from songs about mosquitoes with dengue fever to a sketch of US President Barack Obama eating an organic hamburger!

There were also many opportunities for debate and discussion. One particular debate that interested me was on the topic ‘Will women only advance in science if we have quotas?’

Having attended the Silicon Republic Women Invent Tomorrow celebration and appeared on its list of 100 top women in STEM, I had many points and opinions on the subject, and so this debate was definitely a highlight of LIYSF.

Myself, Émer and Sophie were also honoured when, after presenting our work at the student bazaar one evening, we were chosen to be one of only 10 projects to present in the great hall lecture theatre to all LIYSF participants and staff.

Young scientists at the Louvre, Paris

Globetrotting young scientists take time to appreciate the arts in Paris

Solid bonds of friendship forged

Aside from serious lectures and discussions, LIYSF also offered plenty of opportunities to have fun. There were optional excursions ranging from a visit to Stonehenge to theatre nights. Also organised were activities such as The Great Crossword Treasure Hunt – during which I managed to get lost in Hyde Park!

We cheered for Southside Hall during the LIYSF Olympics, and shed tears when we were defeated after a five-year winning streak. I also participated in the International Cabaret with Émer, where we performed as representatives of the Irish delegates.

Activities like these really brought the multinational LIYSF family together. Solid bonds and friendships across the world were made, which I know will stay strong forever. Because of this, many tears were shed when it came to saying goodbye on Wednesday, 6 August.

Speechless at CERN

CMS experiment above Large Hadron Collider at CERN
Ciara stands in front of the CMS experiment at CERN, directly over the LHC

While we bid goodbye to London, the trip was not yet over for all of us. That morning, 38 of the original 425 participants departed for Paris with LIYSF chief of staff Sean O’Callaghan for the LIYSF CERN programme.

After arriving in Paris, tired and teary eyed, we spent a few days seeing the sights. Many memories were made at the Champs–Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre (even scientists can appreciate the arts!)

Of course, one of our stops was the famous Paris Science Museum, where the group had a fantastic time at the perspective and sound exhibits. I also must not forget our many adventures navigating the Paris Métro!

Having spent time in Paris, we then travelled to Geneva for our visit to CERN. CERN is the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, built by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research from 1998 to 2008. 

Very few things leave me speechless, and CERN was certainly one of them. It was simply incredible to see the advanced robotics, sensors and equipment in the flesh, and see magnets so powerful that, even when switched off, they still managed to deactivate our hotel keys!

We saw the CMS particle detector, which lies along the LHC and has been instrumental in the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson particle. We also visited the ALICE experiment control centre, which communicates directly with the International Space Station (ISS) and is involved in the search for antimatter in space.

A particularly interesting aspect of the ALICE visit was watching a live stream of the ISS, and seeing the astronauts eating breakfast. There was also some time to take some novelty photos above the 27km-long path of the LHC.

'Superman' at the Large Hadron Collider, CERN

Yoga poses at the Large Hadron Collider, CERN

Ciara and friends from her tour group do the ‘Superman’ and yoga poses over the LHC

Science bringing young people together

Sadly, with the CERN trip over, it was time for more goodbyes. After only three weeks I had become so incredibly close to these people that I simply couldn’t imagine saying goodbye.

As our tour leader Sean said, we were brought together by science, but kept apart by geography. I know, however, that even the thousands of kilometres between us (16,816 to be exact), I will never break the friendships I made at LIYSF 2014, and I hope to return next year.

Ciara Judge and her teammates from Kinsale Community School, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, were awarded the top prize at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2013 for their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis. This project has since been selected as a finalist for the 2014 Google Science Fair.

Young scientist tour group at CERN

The CERN tour group

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.