Wednesday 23 October 2013

In the lime-light

For the last several years a student from The Institute has been given a prize by Clogrennane Lime which operates just down the road at the edge of the Castlecomer Plateau near the evocatively named Bilboa.  Of course it's not just any student who gets the cert&cheque but whoever does the best analytical project in 3rd year and stays on to finish up in 4th year.  Today the award was presented by Joe Connolly, Quality Control Manager from the company and graduate of The Institute.  He carries a lot of other portfolios as well, Clogrennane being a small, dynamic and growing company.  One reason for a modest award ceremony is to bring all our chemistry stream students (and others, too) together to celebrate the success of one of their number.  But another is to use that occasion to show-by-example that even an 'unfocused' student can make good with the right support.

Joe left school and dropped out of NUIM after failing an element of his first year assessment.  He then spent 2 years in a meat-factory before realising that, good as he was at cutting sheep-carcases, he could cut a better dash back in college.  His return to education was diluted by drink and good times and he failed 2nd year and had to repeat it.  But he was given the opportunity to do something real by landing, with the help of staff at The Insititute, a work-placement at Clogrennane.  Working in the summer and winter vacations, and clearly being an asset at the plant, a self-described waster metamorphosed himself into a first class honours graduate with a job and a shining future.  Brilliant!  That's a story which is repeated time-and-again in the IT sector.  People are given a second chance: if they failed to shine in the artificial world of school-education, if they tried some career and found it was a bad choice.  Often these people are a good pair of hands: the people on whom the future of Ireland as a technological nation (FITNA) depends.

Joe Connolly also told us a story about how he had a crucial insight into the problem of increasing the solubility of one of their products while taking a break from several days of intensive experimentation and discussion.  Thinking, trying, testing, bust ... thinking, trying, testing, bust.  Tea-break, Ah-HA. I can't tell you the details lest that intellectual property gets back to the competition.  It was as good a description of true creativity in science as anything told about PoincarĂ© or Hamilton or Barbara McClintock.  No Nobel or immortal fame for young Joe, but a clear item on the bottom line for the company; more people employed (including Joe) for longer; better product produced more efficiently; happier customers and a better world.  In a life-time of science, I've had a handful of good, original ideas, and none of them have had such an immediate pay-off for society.

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