Ballyclare High pupils scoop awards for appliance of science

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PIONEERING work by pupils from Ballyclare High School has been recognised in the 48th annual BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2012.

Meg McWhirter, Rebekah McNeill, Aimée Russell and Lisa Patterson showcased their projects at the prestigious event which took place from January 11 to 14 in the RDS in Dublin.

Meg and Rebekah went on to scoop the University of Ulster Northern Ireland Special Award for their scientific research on - ‘An investigation into finding an alternative to petroleum based inks to prevent food contamination from packaging’. This project was entered in the Biological and Ecological category, Junior section.

“In their project, the Year 10 pupils investigated mineral oil contamination of food through recycled cardboard packaging, primarily in cereal packets,” the pair’s Science teacher Ms Nikki Craig told the Times.

“They carried out a series of experiments to elucidate the source materials for recycled cardboard that contained the most mineral oil. And they developed their own alternative ink to petroleum based ink, free from mineral oil. The ink they developed was made from soy protein. The girls also discussed their idea with a printing press firm in Belfast and a cereal company in England, who were both very impressed with their work. This was echoed by the judges who quizzed the girls on their knowledge during the competition.”

Aimée Russell and Lisa Patterson, also from Ballyclare High, added to their school’s success at the exhibition by winning the Irish Science Teachers Association Award for their project ‘Music through Aluminium Foil in a Magnetic Field’, which was also highly commended.

Their teacher Dr Paul Wilson said: “They used a strip of aluminium foil - more commonly used in food preparation, and a magnet, to produce a loudspeaker. They were then able to play music from an MP3 player through it. Finally, they analysed their speaker and compared its performance to loudspeakers available in the shops.

“Their display generated a lot of interest at the exhibition, with visitors amazed to hear music coming from a material they were more used to see wrapping their sandwiches. Those more adventurous were even able to record their own voice and have it played back.

“Their judge, a physics lecturer, commented that he was impressed by their combination of an innovative, interactive display coupled with their rigorous scientific analysis and intended to use their creation in his lectures.”

Meanwhile, beating off stiff competition from 30 Northern Ireland finalists, St Mary’s College won the inaugural Best Northern Ireland School Overall Award, sponsored by MATRIX.

Education Minister John O’Dowd, has congratulated the young scientists from local schools who took part and said: “St Mary’s College and Ballyclare High can be justifiably proud of their achievements. The exhibition featured 550 projects this year - illustrating the success of the competition and, more importantly, the level of interest in STEM subjects in schools across Ireland.

“During my visit to the event I was struck by the passion of the students taking part. If we are serious about creating the world-class economy our Programme for Government aims for we must provide young people with the skills and qualifications necessary to enable us to compete on a global scale.

“I commend the work of teachers in schools across the north who are bringing STEM subjects to life for their pupils and who are enabling us to work towards that vision.

“Above all, the young people themselves deserve credit for the standard of work on display and I was encouraged to note that 17 local schools and one Further Education college entered projects.”

Eric Doyle and Mark Kelly from Synge Street CBS in Dublin walked away with the overall prize for their project - ‘Simulation accuracy in the gravitational many-body problem’.

The pair were entered in the Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences category, Senior section and were presented with a substantial cheque, tickets to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 24th European Union Young Scientist competition taking place in Bratislava in September and a Waterford Crystal trophy.

“The experience of competing in such a prestigious event will have been of benefit to all who took part and I wish these talented young people well as they continue their studies and enter the world of work,” said Minister O’Dowd.

Colm O’Neill, CEO, BT Ireland added: “The passion and enthusiasm we have seen from the students taking part this week has been outstanding. This year’s exhibition was bigger and better than ever before and the reaction from the students, teachers and visitors to the RDS this week has been amazing.

“We live in a continually changing world and what we have seen from the students this week is that they have the foresight and innovation to come up with real problem solving ideas that can help Northern Ireland to grow and develop into the future. Huge congratulations to St. Mary’s College and Ballyclare High School and all the winners. I look forward to watching their progress in the coming years,” he said.

Almost 1,200 students from 30 counties covering 550 projects from 221 schools nationwide competed for the coveted title ‘Winner of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2012.’