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Our hair raisingly good mini scientists


Ashleigh Reid and Ashleigh Brimacombe probe bird feed habits

Ashleigh Reid and Ashleigh Brimacombe probe bird feed habits

Justine Munoz tests e-cigs

Justine Munoz tests e-cigs

Ashleigh Reid and Ashleigh Brimacombe probe bird feed habits

They're our brightest and best young scientists.

And this week they will be giving us a taste of what the future might hold.

From biomimicry to the Doppler Shift, inventive new uses for the humble nettle to examining what factors affect children's self-perception, these mini geniuses are displaying fascinating insights into a broad range of topics.

They are joining pupils from across Ireland to compete in the 51st BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin today.

This year, 60 young scientists from 14 schools across Northern Ireland have travelled south to take part.

They will display 29 projects to fellow students, judges and visitors over the next four days in hopes of winning one of the prizes.

St Mary's College in Londonderry has had an incredible seven projects selected to take part in the competition. These include a new app-controlled device for the safe storage of medications, an investigation into the effect of hard water on the stability of hair dye, probing the nicotine content of E-Vap cigarettes and an investigation on the effect of various salts on the hibernation of E.coli.

Key Stage Three Science co-ordinator at the school Ann Blanking said it initially had eight projects selected from the highly competitive entry stage, but one had to withdraw.

"Last year I took a second former down and she won her category and got the Eli Lilly prize as well," she said.

"Previous years we have had second and third places in categories. We have won the Irish Medical Board award, too.

"We have been lucky from year to year picking up something along the way."

Ms Blanking also runs the chemistry club at the school where the projects for the competition are created. She said the competition is fantastic for encouraging her students.

"It really inspires girls to get involved with sciences. I had one girl who said she was going to be a musical therapist, but since joining the chemistry club she wants to be an engineer," she said.

Some former winners have gone on to careers in science, such as psychology and engineering.


The Young Scientists' Exhibition was the brainchild of two UCD physics researchers, Carmelite priest the Rev Dr Tom Burke and Dr Tony Scott. In the US in 1963 they discovered "science fairs" and tailored the idea for Ireland. The first competition had 230 participants. The first winner was John Monahan, today the chief executive officer of Avigen, a US Biotech company.

1. Effect of hard water on the stability of hair dye

This project arose after a girl at the school dyed her hair with a semi-permanent dye before going on a trip to London. Washing her hair afterwards in London caused a lot of leakage of the dye, whereas when she had washed it in Derry much less dye had come out of her hair. They were able to prove their theory that the very hard water in London had caused much more leakage of the hair dye than the soft water in Derry. They used real hair extensions for the experiment, which were dyed and then washed with both hard water and soft water.

2. Absorption rate of aspirin types

A team from Wellington College in Belfast devised a project on the rates of absorption of different types and brands of aspirin. They compared the rates of dissolution of different types and brands of aspirin; eg tablets, dispersible and gastro-coated aspirin, and also whether it varied depending on what food had been eaten. They also compared information leaflets for detail and ease of reading and surveyed 100 people in the community to find out why and how they use aspirin.

3. Investigating bird feeding habits in enriched woodland

The aim is to monitor bird feeding habits and preferences, and introduce new food sources to encourage different species to inhabit the woodland. South Eastern Regional College has an enriched woodland area beside the college which allowed students to record bird behaviour, with camera traps to monitor food preferences in birds. The results can be used to alter the food enrichment. The aim is to maximise biodiversity in this woodland area and manage it. 

4. Time compressed transport tester

Pupils from St Killian’s College in Antrim devised a transport tester which simulates road transport conditions to test electronic goods weighing up to 100kg in a time compressed test equivalent to very long distances. They produced a time compressed transport tester that showed that the intensity of the test was increased and worked out how much the test time can be reduced because of this — a journey time of one hour with the test would only take a few minutes.

5. The nicotine content of E-Vap cigarettes

This project arose from doubts over the safety of electronic cigarettes. Nicotine is the only common ingredient between traditional and electronic cigarettes. It is addictive and toxic in high amounts. Instances of nicotine poisoning connected to E.Vap cigarettes is on the increase.

This project measured the amount of nicotine in preloaded cigarettes and in the E.Vap liquids. Results have shown that the liquids can contain more than five times the amount of nicotine than that which is declared on the packaging.

Belfast Telegraph