Clare entries on show at BT Young Scientist Exhibition

As this year’s BT Young Scientist Exhibition takes place in the RDS Dublin, Andrew Hamilton and Stuart Holly look over some of the projects which are representing Clare.

1. Is vegetation on limestone pavement in the Burren advancing or retreating?

Name: Róisín McNamara and Sharon Daly
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Biological and Ecological

Róisín and Sharon set out to discover if vegetation is increasing on the limestone pavement in the Burren. This is a very topical project, as changing farm practices in recent generations have seen the encroachment of scrub and hazel over large areas of the Burren, threatening portions of the distinctive limestone pavement.
Róisín and Sharon decided to use lichens as a basis to measure the encroachment of vegetation over limestone pavement in the Burren. They chose four different locations in the Burren and studied two separate areas in these locations. Into these eight areas they threw 25 different 50cm x 50cm quadrants – giving them 200 separate sample areas to examine and study.
Once each of the quadrants was laid out they took samples of lichens in the area, measuring how close the lichens grew to the vegetation cover in each area. They then took two or three measurements per quadrant and averaged out these distances to create a reading for how close the vegetation is encroaching in each area. They also plan to compare these numbers and see are there differences in the four different areas of the Burren. (AH)

2. The health benefits of Iodine found in seaweed

First year students at Ennistymon CBS, Brendan O’Gorman, Darragh Nagle and Micheál McInerney with their project. Photograph by Natasha Barton
 Name: Brendan O’Gorman, Darragh Nagle and Micheál McInerney
School: Meánscoil Na Mbráithre, Ennistymon
Category: Biological and Ecological

Brendan, Darragh and Micheál have spent much of the last few months burning seaweed in an effort to test its possible health benefits. The three students chose five different types of seaweed to test – all of which are freely available in the North Clare area.

They first tested each of the chosen seaweeds – dillisk, landladies wig, laminaria digitata, bladderwrack and sweet kelp – to see how much iodine each contained and how that compared to the daily recommended amount required by humans. They learned about each of the individual types of seaweed, including how to recognise and harvest them.

The first year students also took a trip to the Wild Atlantic Sea Veg company in Quilty to learn more about seaweed from Evan Talty.

To test the seaweed they first had to burn it to an ash – a process which created a unique and long lasting smell in the science lab. They then combined the mixture a number of different chemicals to isolate the iodine – and then these chemicals evaporated they were left with pure iodine crystals which they could then weigh and compare with other samples. (AH)

3. Saoránach

Name: Jessica Kelly
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Technology

Potholes and litter black spots may soon be a thing of the past thanks to Lisdoonvarna student, Jessica Kelly. Jessica is hoping to change the way that problematic local issues – such as littering, damaged roads and other infrastructure – are reported to local authorities all over Ireland. She has built an app which allows members of the public to take a picture of a problem area, such as a damaged road or litter black spot, and have that picture and the exact location transmitted directly to the local council.

She is also currently building a mobile friendly website which will perform the same function. The project, which is called Saoránach, or citizen, also aims to help local people feel like they have more control over their own area and that their voices are listened to and can have an impact on the area around them.

Once completed, Jessica plans to continue to develop the website, and the technology could be further developed to be used to report other issues to other organisations. (AH)

4. Is the incidence of Bovine TB in South Galway higher than the national average?

Seamount College student Luke Connors.
Name: Luke Connors
School: Seamount College, Kinvara, Co Galway
Category: Biological and Ecological

The idea for this project came from Luke’s experience working on his uncle’s farm while the cattle were being tested for TB. The main aim of the study was to determine if the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in South Galway is higher than the national average.
Luke also set out to determine the influence that badgers, the local deer population, recent flooding and the construction of the Gort to Tuam motorway had on the spread of TB. Luke got the information for the study through an in depth questionnaire which he distributed to a random sample of the farming population in the area.
The results of the study show that the level of TB in South Galway is higher than the national average and also showed a correlation between the proximity of badgers to infected farms. Reactor black spots also occurred in areas which are close to the new road developments but deer did not prove to be a factor. (AH)

5. Challenge testing a cosmeceuticals cream containing seaweed extract Fucus vesiculosis

Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon, student Lisa Conneely.
Name: Ciara Hehir and Lisa Conneely
School: Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon
Category: Biological and Ecological

This project is a continuation of the innovative and long running projects carried out at Scoil Mhuire over the course of a number of years. Ciara and Lisa aimed to create an anti-bacterial soap made using fucus vesiculosis, a seaweed freely available on the Clare coast. This seaweed has already been proven to have both anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties so the final part of this project was to see could it be made into a usable soap. They began by collecting samples of the seaweed from Lahinch beach and cooking it at 60 degrees to create a liquified pure seaweed. This seaweed extract was then sent off to a lab to be freeze dried into a flaky solid substance, similar to instant coffee. They then melted shea butter and added the seaweed extract alongside glycerin, aloe vera, bees wax and vanilla essential oils to make the soap. Next up was testing their product and they brought it to the Limerick Institute of Technology where they added both e coli and staphylococcus aureus to the soap under controlled conditions. They found that their soap worked well as an anti-bacterial cleaner. They have been testing the soap themselves as has their teacher, Miss Sheridan, and they are now looking at the possibility of marketing the soap. (AH)

6. Examining total metal content in river water in the Burren catchment area

Name: Amy Woods
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Biological and Ecological

Amy’s project explores the presence of heavy metals in the river water in the Burren and examines how these metals may have entered the water system – whether they were introduced in some way by human activity or whether they are naturally occurring. She focussed her research on the River Aille, which runs through Lisdoonvarna and Doolin. This river was perfect for examination as it contains a number of different streams and tributaries. As part of her investigation Amy took samples at 10 different areas along the water. She took three different samples from this spots – with each sample taken at a different time with different river conditions. She places an acid in each sample to prevent and contamination and took the samples to NUI, Galway for analysis. She examined the samples for a number of different heavy metals as well as other substances. With her results she will be able to track any changes in the water flowing through the river and examine what may have caused those changes and if it is naturally occurring. (AH)

7. Does damage affect the strength of Laminaria digitata

Harry Wainwright checks the strength of kelp for his project. Photograph by Natasha Barton
Name: Harry Wainwright
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Biological and Ecological

Harry is looking to test the strength of Laminaria digitata, aka sea kelp. To conduct the experiment he first collects a number of kelp samples from different beaches in the North Clare area. He began by collecting 15 samples from each beach and examining each sample under light to determine what damage, if any, they had received from their time in the ocean. He then connected each piece to a duel-range force measuring device which will measure exactly what level of force can be applied to each piece of sea kelp before it breaks. These results are then fed into a computer where the data from each strand of kelp can be analysed and plotted. The kelp has been collected from a number of beaches in the North Clare area including Doolin, Fanore and Ballyvaughan and Harry hopes to determine if the kelp in some areas is stronger than others. (AH)

8. Could rushes be used as a fuel?

Name: Dylan Egan
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Science.

“There are loads of rushes around my house and no one likes them,” says Dylan, about the reason for taking on this project. Dylan wanted to find a practical use for these rushes and has examined if they could be used as a cheap and all-too-plentiful source of energy. He started off by collecting samples of rushes from four different fields. The rushes grew to a different size and thickness in each of the fields depending on the growing conditions – such as access to light, water and nutrients. He then dried the rushes in a shed before cutting the samples into smaller pieces and drying them further in an oven. These samples were then taken to Erigna Fuels in Roscommon where they were examined in a bomb-calorimeter. This machine can examine and measure the amount of energy released by each of the different samples when they are burned. He also conducted a second test in Erigna where he vaporised the samples and examined the energy output in the gasses. He then compared this information with existing information about the energy content of other fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas and compared the samples collected from the four different fields. (AH)

9. Do Irish beaches contain micro plastics?

Name: Niamh O’Growley and Zoe Norris
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Biological and Ecological

Niamh and Zoe have taken on the mammoth task of examining the waters around Clare’s western coastline for the presence of micro-plastics. Public awareness of micro-plastic has grown massively in recent months with reports suggesting that much of our rivers and beaches have become polluted with these almost invisible substances which may be having a detrimental impact on the local plant and animal life. Niamh and Zoe have taken sand samples from five different Clare beaches – collecting 15 samples from each beach. Their painstaking task involves performing a number of different processes on what they have collected to isolate the micro-plastics before examining them under a microscope to determine how prevalent they are. They begin by immersing 100 grams of the sand in a solution of salt water and stirring the mixture in a controlled environment – allowing the micro-plastics and other light materials to rise to the top – with the sand particles falling to the bottom. This top layer is then sieved and dried before being immersed in an acid mixture to burn off any organic particles, such as shell, that may also be present. The remaining particles are then examined under a microscope and under ultra-violate light to determine how much micro-plastic is actually present. (AH)

10. An investigation into the composition inside the bladder and Ascophyllum nodosum and Focus vesiculosus

Name: Calum MacNamara
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Biological and Ecological

Calum’s project examines two different types of seaweed and explores the different gasses which are contained inside their bladder. He is looking at Ascophyllum nodosum and Focus vesiculosus seaweeds and is testing the level of gas contained in their bladder under full light and dark conditions. The seaweeds are harvested alive and kept alive by being stored in a salt-water tank with an oxygen pump. One batch of seaweed is then placed into full darkness for 48 hours, to stop the process of photosynthesis taking place, while the other is places into full light to speed up photosynthesis. Calum then carefully removed the gasses from inside the bladders of both seaweeds – using a syringe to pierce the bladder and extract the gasses – before sealing the samples and taking them to University College Cork for analysis. Under these conditions he would expect the samples housed in full light to have more oxygen and less carbon dioxide as a result of photosynthesis, and the samples housed in darkness to have less oxygen and more carbon dioxide. He has completed extensive testing on both types of seaweed and will also determine whether the effects of light and darkness cause the seaweeds to react in different ways. (AH)

11. An application of finite element analysis techniques to study how the geometry of common sports bats affects the performance of that bat

Name: Danny Hynes, Aaron O’Brien and Ciaran Hickey
School: Scariff Community College
Category: Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences

This innovative sporting project has been presented by the three Scariff Community College students, Danny Hynes, Aaron O’Brien and Ciaran Hickey. It involves the investigating into whether the location of the sweet spot of a hurley or a baseball bat corresponds with its centre/radius of gyration — and how the location of the centre of gyration of the hurley or the baseball bat affect its performance. The findings of the project could inform the designers of hurleys or a baseball bats in order to achieve optimum performance. (SH)

12. Did gender quotas change voting patterns?

Name: Róisín O’Donoghue
School: Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna
Category: Social and Behavioural Sciences

This year Róisín is building on a project from last year’s competition which looked at the changes in the population of Clare and Kildare between 1901 and 1911. In the wake of the 2016 General Election, Róisín decided to look at the changes, if any, that the introduction of gender quotas had on the vote. Her specific aim was to see if those who give their first preference vote to a woman candidate continue to vote for women candidates, to see if this year’s voting pattern was different from previous general elections and to see if this pattern was the same for male and female candidates. To do this she gathered extensive data from the last four general elections and crunched the numbers for every general election count since 2002. She then analysed what percentage of the vote of female candidates transferred to other females and looks at the possible other reasons for this trend. She then cross referenced her findings with the geographical location of each candidate to see how much of an effect geographic closeness had in effecting this. (AH)

13. Investigation Into The Environmental Impact of Forestry Plantation In Ireland

Michael Fitzgerald, Grainne Brady and Mark Leyton test soil samples. Photograph by Natasha Barton
Name: Michael Fitzgerald, Grainne Brady and Mark Leyton
School: St Joseph’s Secondary School Tulla
Category: Biological and Ecological

For this project, presented by Michael Fitzgerald, Grainne Brady and Mark Leyton of St Joseph’s Secondary School in Tulla, the three students were focussed on the protection and safeguarding of Ireland’s eco-system. Specifically, the project sets out to investigate the effects of the practice of artificially planted forestry — a method of forest regeneration — on our island eco-system, that being Ireland’s community of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms that live, feed, reproduce and interact together. Irish examples of eco-systems would include a bog, marsh, lake, or in this specific case, a woodland. According to scientific sources, using the wrong genotype in artificial regeneration can lead to poor trees that are prone to pathogens and undesired outcomes.

14. To create an application that alerts motorists to nearby cyclists/motorcyclists in order to prevent accidents on Irish roads

Name: Diarmuid King and Caoilfhionn O’Dea
School: St Joseph’s Secondary School Spanish Point
Category: Technology

The project, which was completed by Diarmuid King and Caoilfhionn O’Dea, saw the students develop an original app which uses GPS to warn car driver when they are approaching a cyclist or motorbike.
“The guys have pretty much learned programming and app development from scratch. They have really jumped in at deep end this year,” said teacher, Anthony Guilfoyle.
“Once the app is turned it will give a little signal to you phone saying watch out, you’re approaching a cyclist. It covers those times when a bike is close by and, in a car, you don’t see it.”

15. An investigation into how single gender schools and co-ed schools effect children in the future

Name: Laura Byrnes, Siobhan Downes and Alesandra Alvarez
School: St Joseph’s Secondary School Spanish Point
Category: Social and Behavioural Sciences

This project, which studied the different impact that single sex and co-educational schools have on a person, was completed by Laura Byrnes, Siobhan Downes and Alesandra Alvarez. The project discovered a number of interesting trends, including that women who attended same sex schools are less likely to get married.
“This projects required a massive survey from the students and then a lot of analysis of that data. St Joseph’s used to be a single sex school and is now co-ed,” said Mr Guilfoyle.
“The compared a number of factors including what age people get married or are expecting to get married from the different schools. They found that your school does not effect when you get married – most people seem to get married at a similar age, no matter where they went to school.
“However, they did discover that if you are a female and have attended a single sex school, you are less likely to get married. Around 70 per cent of the rest of the population will get married but only around 50 per cent of women get married.
“They have a lot of hypothesis on why that might be but the reason for this were not covered in the survey. But it is an interesting finding.”


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