o The Frog Blog: Irish Times BANG - Bright Sparks at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Irish Times BANG - Bright Sparks at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition

The latest issue of the brilliant Irish Times Science Mag BANG is out today and coincides with the start of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. In this month's issue, John Holden meets some of the brightest sparks at this years contest and reviews some of the projects.
A phone smart enough to start your heart

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

Owen Killian and Lucas Grange of Belvedere College, Dublin have designed a defibrillator app for a smart phone. A defibrillator is a device capable of detecting and analysing a person’s cardiac wave forms for signs of abnormal activity. It can detect this and defibrillate the heart through a large electric shock.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Combining their interests in engineering and medicine, the two students noticed how sudden cardiac death had been a hot topic in the media of late and yet little was being done about it. Regular defibrillators are heavy, bulky and expensive.

“By integrating the device with the near-universal smart phone there would be far greater availability of defibrillators at a lower cost and increased portability,” says Owen.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

In the US alone, sudden cardiac death accounts for half of all cardiac related deaths each year. The students’ invention is only at the proof of concept stage. But, as the students point out, “if it ever reaches the market it will be a huge step forward in terms of combating sudden cardiac death”.

Getting face-to-face with Facebook

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

From Blackwater Community School, Lismore, Waterford, Martina Cullinane, Louise Hallahan and Abbie O’Shea’s project is called Facelessbook: The Death Of The Irish Community.

“At the start of the school year, our class had a group discussion about project ideas for Young Scientist,” they explain. “When the topic of Facebook came up, our group became very interested as it is something we spend a lot of time doing. So we decided to do a project on the impact of extended social networking use on the generation of social capital through face-to-face communication among Irish teenagers.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The students are asking whether the rise of online social networking is causing the demise of the traditional community. Would you rather send someone a message on Facebook instead of calling round to that same person for a cup of tea? Looking into the social networking patterns and socialisation habits of people today, the Blackwater students have been investigating the psychological well-being of Irish people to see if it links in with the types of relationships they forge, both on Facebook and face-to-face.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

The students hope that people will become more aware of the “impact of social networking”, so they learn how to use sites like Facebook in a constructive way. “We expect this will cause an increase in bonding social capital in the world, leading to more people being satisfied with life and more people having high self-esteem.”

Are first-borns smarter?

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

This study, by Ellen Matthews, Naoise Murphy and Kirsten Barry of St Vincent’s Secondary School, Dundalk, Co Louth, investigates how birth order affects intelligence: particularly whether the eldest sibling has a higher IQ than the youngest. To do this the students surveyed sets of oldest and youngest siblings in their school. They gave them an IQ test and the results were recorded.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Their results showed that first-borns were usually credited with being the smartest in any sibling order. After they did some research, however, they found many different factors around birth order affected intelligence in a family.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

“Naoise and Kirsten are the eldest whereas I am the youngest in my family,” says Ellen. “We decided to research the theory and the more we looked into it, the more interested we became. For any people out there in the shadow of an overachieving sibling, maybe our project will give you reasons for this.” Just don’t tell your smarty-pants brother.

Is it time to dump Google?

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

At St Mac Dara’s Community College, Templeogue, Dublin, Jack Maguire and Robert Nolan’s project compares how long information is retained when it is researched using different methods. Many students use Google or other search engines to research information for homework and projects. Several years ago, however, computers weren’t available and the lowly scholar had to to rely upon ye olde dictionary and encyclopaedia. The St Mac Dara’s students wanted to find out whether one research method was better for retaining info than the other.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Jack and Robert say. “We are both doing the Junior Cert in June so we have an interest in anything that can help us to remember information for as long as possible. We saw a newspaper article about how the use of search engines can make retaining info trickier over time.

So we assembled two groups of students, one group using reference books and the other using Google, to answer 15 random general knowledge questions. One week later the two groups were given the same questions to see who could still remember the answers.” In the vast majority of cases, students who used traditional research methods outperformed their robotic colleagues. Affirmative humanoid.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

The project should make students re-examine their exam techniques. If learning from books keeps the info in your brain for longer,avoiding Google for study is a no-brainer.

Boo! They’ll wake you up at the wheel

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

Rachael Hynes, Niamh Molloy and Aisling Hynes of St Brigid’s Mercy Secondary School, Convent Of Mercy, Tuam, Co Galway, looked at how drowsiness can affect drivers of any age or gender.

The absence of rest, high temperatures or lack of oxygen can make us all feel like a snooze behind the wheel, which could be fatal. They’ve come up with a smart idea to overcome this problem with a little device for new cars.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Inspired by the Japanese, who have similar safety devices to prevent drivers falling asleep at the wheel, the students discovered how low levels of oxygen and/or high temperatures were the main factors causing drowsiness.

A survey they carried out revealed one in five respondents had experienced drowsiness while driving. In their design, two sensors – measuring oxygen and temperature – trigger an alarm and activate a vibrator inserted in the back of the driver’s seat to wake them up.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

“We would hope that our system and research will help to reduce the risk of falling asleep at the wheel,” says the team. “This in turn should decrease the number of road deaths each year.”

Economic crises – what is the safest commodity to invest surplus wealth in?

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

“We saw former property developer and columnist Simon Kelly on the television talking about the current economic crisis and we thought it would be a good topic to enter a project on,” explains Laura Leonard and Rebecca Boyce, who go to the Dominican College, Wicklow.

“We got in contact with Simon and asked if he would meet with us in our school to discuss ideas. We asked him questions on the topic and brainstormed ideas with him for a few hours and from there we came up with our final idea.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Many have tried to apply scientific principles to the financial stock markets. However, no formulae could prevent the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (Black Tuesday) or the more recent Black Monday of 2008.

The students looked into the safest commodities for surplus wealth to be invested in, in the two-year periods after Black Monday and Black Tuesday.

They charted the prices of various common commodities – gold, the dollar, the euro, livestock, even loaves of bread – for the two years after both financial crashes.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

This project can be used in the future as it shows the best products to invest your money in before an economic crisis. As the girls say themselves, “when it comes to the next crisis in 2030 or so, we will know where to put our money!” The answers will be revealed at the exhibition.

Does laughing every day really make you happier?

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

According to Caroline Kelly, Ali Clarke and Katie Care, also of Dominican College Wicklow, a school friend “wasn’t feeling great and it was laughing at a joke that cheered her up”. At that point, they all heard a light bulb “ping” above their heads and they chose laughter as the main idea for their Young Scientist project.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

They say laughter is the music of the soul. So unless your soul listens to Black Sabbath, laughter usually indicates happiness. In this project, the students surveyed a variety of people and gave them a diary in which they wrote down each time they laughed. They were also surveyed as to how happy they thought they were generally. The students then got to work on comparing both the diaries and the tests to get their conclusion.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

People take life quite seriously nowadays and this project could show how laughing affects happiness. Laughing more often can make people happier.

“If people know that laughing could cheer them up in any way, it could prevent so many people feeling sad or depressed,” says Caroline.

Preventing falls

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

“I got the idea from my mother, a nurse, who works with people who suffer from dementia,” says Róisín Darby of Donabate Community College, Co Dublin.

“She told me her and the staff needed a better, more affordable alert system. The systems which are available in Ireland are expensive and the area of fall prevention in older adult care needs to be investigated and improved and that’s what I have done.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?

This project improves on technology currently available to help prevent injury to those suffering from dementia. This is a big concern to care workers in nursing homes and hospitals. Róisín created a system that will give carers and nurses a faster response time when a dementia patient leaves their bed.

The sooner the nurse can get to the patient, the less likely they will be injured. Currently, nurses have to listen out for a stationary alarm to alert them of a patient on walkabout but Róisín’s system uses wireless alarms carried by the nurses that will signal when a patient leaves their bed.

WHY WILL IT CHANGE THE WORLD?

According to Róisín, her new system is less expensive, is an improvement on the systems available and has the possibility of saving people from injuries. You can’t argue with that.

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