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Ulster bright sparks vie for title of BT Young Scientist of the Year

By Elaine Loughlin

An ingenious device to help elderly people put on their socks and an odourless fake tan are among the Northern Ireland inventions vying to win a major scientific honour.

A record number of budding innovators have made it through to this year’s BT Young Scientist Exhibition, which kicked off in Dublin on Tuesday.

Twenty-seven projects from 16 Northern Ireland schools are competing for the title of Young Scientist of the Year and €5,000 (£4,157) in prize money.

Among the entries are studies into meteors, devices which improve car safety, the effects of gold mining on the environment, an invention to help people put on their socks, an odourless fake tan and a wireless greenhouse plant monitor. A special prize for the best entry from Northern Ireland will also be awarded by Dr Paul Hanna, head of the School of Computing and Mathematics at the University of Ulster, tonight.

Dr Hanna said he was delighted to be involved in the competition, the largest of its kind in Europe, and encouraged pupils to choose a career in science.

“There has been a lot of inward investment to Northern Ireland. The demand of people in the industry is outstripping the amount of graduates coming out,” he said.

The exhibition, now in its 46th year, was officially opened by Irish President Mary McAleese.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane will visit the show today to view the wide range of projects which were completed by pupils.

“The importance of science and engineering cannot be underestimated. It helps young people develop analytical and investigative skills, which lead to innovators in a range of careers,” she said.

Final Judging underway at 2011 BTYSE

Blocking move boosts safety

Safety-conscious students James McCartin (15) and Abeer Shahid (16), from Abbey Christian Brothers, Co Down, designed a system that makes driving safer.

Their Signality project stops the signal to mobile phones once a car starts, preventing motorists from making or receiving calls and texts while driving.

“Our device sends out the same frequency as the mobile phone receives so it confuses it,” said James, a fifth-year student.

Teacher Tony Mooney said: “We have five projects from the school in the exhibition this year, so it’s great.”

Proof all that glitters isn't gold

Caoimhe Gray (14), Jodie Mee (15) and Vanessa Maguire (15) investigated the environmental effects of gold mining.

The pupils, from St Patrick's High School, Omagh, became curious about the subject when a company began exploring for gold at nearby Clay Lake.

Jodie said: “At the start we thought it would be great, with more money and more jobs for local people.

“Then we found gold mining is hazardous and changes the natural environment.”

She added: “We want people to make an informed decision about it.”

Shane is looking to the stars

Star-gazer Shane Forde, of St Patrick’s High School, Armagh, investigated the effects of atmospheric winds on meteor trains.

The 17-year-old astronomer spotted an extremely rare meteor train while he was on a scholarship at the Antrim Observatory during the summer and decided to look into it. “I found that the meteor train itself was being ripped apart and spread across the sky. We assume it was a large piece of material coming into the atmosphere,” said Shane.

After school he hopes to study physics at Queen’s University, before undertaking a PhD in astronomy.

Success in a growth industry

Three budding inventors from Bangor Grammar School have made it through with their wireless greenhouse plant monitor which alerts gardeners when their plants need watering.

Team leader Peter Kyle (15), who believes that the monitor could become a commercial success, said: “I have my own greenhouse at home but my plants kept dying, so I wanted an accurate way of watering plants. In the past some of my plants died because I either forgot to water them or I drowned them with too much.”

Teacher Claire McGrath said she was delighted with her students’ work. “We have two projects in the exhibition and it’s our first year to enter, so it’s all very new to us, but very exciting,” she added.





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