Ireland’s top young scientists named among world’s most influential teens

14 Oct 2014

Ciara Judge, Sophie Healy-Thow and Émer Hickey are presented with their Silicon Republic Women Invent Tomorrow Rising Star awards by Eamonn Sinnott, general manager of Intel Ireland (photo by Conor McCabe Photography)

Time’s list of The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014 includes some familiar faces as Ireland’s top young scientists are honoured alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Ciara Judge (16), Émer Hickey (17) and Sophie Healy-Thow (17) appear on Time’s list which acknowledges teens’ influence as social media mavens, TV stars, company founders, inventors, activists – and, of course, young scientists.

A champion of education for girls, Pakistan’s Yousafzai was named the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize last week when she was awarded in conjunction with children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

The list also honours 13-year-old Little League baseball sensation Mo’ne Davis, US President Barack Obama’s daughters Sasha (13) and Malia (16), musician Lorde (17), Afghan National Cycling Team lead rider Salma Kakar (17), 14-year-old transgender advocate Jazz Jennings, ‘King of Vine’ Nash Grier (16), 15-year-old entrepreneur Erik Finman and Rookie founder and recent high-school graduate Tavi Gevinson (18), among others.

The list was based on social-media followings, cultural accolades, business acumen and more and is just another in a long line of powerful lists these girls are sure to keep appearing on.

Cork schoolgirls’ road to inernational prominence

For this team of schoolgirls from Kinsale Community School in County Cork, their string of successes began with being crowned champions at the 2013 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition for their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis: Diazotroph bacteria as a cereal crop growth promoter.

This biological study investigated the use of diazotroph bacteria as a cereal crop germination and growth aid. The girls’ results indicated that naturally occurring Rhizobium strains of the diazotroph bacteria family could accelerate germination by up to 50pc, or even more in the case of barley – a finding that could have a dramatic impact on the global food shortage.

The girls and their project were catapulted to the world stage and went on to win first prize in biology at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Prague last September and, this September, they were awarded the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair.

Judge, Healy-Thow and Hickey were also recognised as ‘Ones to Watch’ on our list of 100 Top Women in STEM and each one was presented with a Rising Star award this summer.

Advocates for improved STEM education

As well as winning a trophy case of awards, the girls have also participated in a number of public engagements, promoting science education and cementing them as role models for other girls in Ireland and beyond.

As members of Ireland’s Digital Youth Council – the first of its kind in Europe – Judge, Hickey and Healy-Thow have become advocates for change in the Irish education system and intend to bring the voices of students to the fore.

Last month, Judge was invited to present a keynote speech at Silicon Republic’s Digital Ireland Forum where she expresed to a room full of key tech figures and decision-makers the need for digital tools in Irish classrooms.

Digital Ireland Forum keynote – Ciara Judge (part 1)

Digital Ireland Forum: Keynote address by Ciara Judge, Digital Youth Council – Part 1 of 2

Digital Ireland Forum keynote – Ciara Judge (part 2)

Digital Ireland Forum: Keynote address by Ciara Judge, Digital Youth Council – Part 2 of 2

Needless to say, all three are delighted and even a bit overwhelmed at this latest honour, and have expressed as much on Twitter. Follow them now, as they are born leaders.

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.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic