Friday 23 January 2015

Young scientists: blooming marvellous

I was wending my way home through the near-freezing fog last night listening to Newstalk-FM and caught the end of an interview with the Nitrogenase Three from Kinsale, Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, whom we met last Fall because they had made the cover of Time.  They were dropping in on the radio studio en route to an event with Michael D Higgins our diminutive but big-hearted President. They were explaining, ever so s l o w l y, that despite them not yet being eligible to vote they had discovered something new and interesting about the world  . . . and despite being told that their idea was nonsense because nobody [nobody adult, by implication] had done it before.  Why would we want to do the research if someone had done it before? was their perfectly legitimate response.  They won the  BTYS Young Scientists Top Prize in Dublin this time two years ago.

Let will serve to launch three other young scientist project
reports that I've had on the skids for the last couple of weeks.

James Roberts a student at Loughborough University in England recently won the James Dyson Award for Mom, a portable, inflatable incubator for keeping babies alive [L] in, say, refugee camps in Syria in the depths of Winter. As 150,000 children are born in such places each year with mortality between 15 and 20%, providing an affordable safe-haven for the newly arrived is clearly going to affect the quality of life of many families. Affordable? Maybe less so, at £250, in regions where families live on less than $2 a day, but still 100x cheaper than a regular maternity ward incubator in The West.  Cripes, I'll buy two and send them to Kurdistan.

A young man with handy hands who is interested in alleviating the plight of the dispossessed in distant places?  That had me dredging my memory for another BTYS winner Richard O’Shea, from Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál [School of Mary Without Stain or Mary Immaculate] in Blarney, Co Cork, who won in 2010. His contribution to human health and happiness is a biomass (dung and twigs probably) stove that is a) really efficient and b) virtually smokeless.  Lots of people in the third world die slowly [lung and esophageal cancer, bronchitis, TB, pneumonia] from smoke inhalation from cooking over a heap of sticks. Here he is [R with his two part stove and a Suit] wearing his school uniform and big smile. In this case, the apple falls not far from the tree because young Richard's parents met in Africa when they were both working in overseas development.  That's not to disparage in any sense his success, he clearly has it in him to a) care and b) do - but his parents maybe influenced the direction in which his talents drove him.

Emer Jones, BTYS winner from Tralee Co Kerry in 2008, was also probably influenced by her folks in that her father teaches engineering in the local Institute of Technology. Quotable Ralph Waldo Emerson said "Build a better mouse-trap and the world will beat a path to your door" Emer said something like Build a better sandbag and you'll have a door to your home to which the world can beat such a path.  After watching a documentary about poor people living in temporary accommodation following an earthquake, Emer started thinking and making a better sandbag, that wouldn't sag and collapse from the after-shocks.  Her final solution was a brilliantly "appropriate technology" solution to this third world problem. By driving two bamboo stakes crosswise through each sandbag she enormously increased the stability of the whole structure.  The protocol is so simple that nobody had thought of that before. Emer was only 13 at the time. Turns out that several years later, she clocked full marks on her Leaving Certificate and is now finishing up a degree in Natural Science in Cambridge.

With blooming marvellous kids [L Father Christmas agrees] like these walking tall in the land there is hope for the world.

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