Young Scientist students tackle period poverty at school

Two Co Tipperary students investigated reasons for stigma surrounding menstruation

Two Co Tipperary students at the 2023 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition have done behavioural research on period poverty that has had an immediate impact.

Rebecca Jordan and Sarah Ryan of Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed School in Thurles, Co Tipperary, investigated the social and economic reasons for stigma surrounding menstruation, especially among girls attending secondary school.

They were fed up with the response of boys referring to “time of the month” and “mood swings” in relation to girls’ periods.

“We said this should not be happening when 50 per cent of the population are women ... this is a natural thing,” explained Sarah. They decided to survey 150 girls in the school to determine the extent of the problem.


When they found 83 per cent of girls aged between 12 and 13 were “anxious and scarred” about periods and were reluctant to discuss the issue, they concluded “this should not be the case”.

“There was a clear stigma and lack of education among girls – and boys – in second year,” Rebecca added.

They decided to develop an app to provide information including a personal period tracker that is due to go live later this year. But they also found there was a big issue around cost and accessibility to feminine hygiene products.

To reduce the stigma, they introduced a range of free products in female bathrooms in the school. Its success has led to a recommendation by the director of second-level schools run by Education and Training Boards in Co Tipperary that this service be rolled out in all their schools in the county.

Elsewhere, concern over a disappearing “lake” that suddenly became a permanent presence prompted two students at Marist College Athlone, Co Westmeath, to examine the extent of associated flood risk – and to see if environmental concerns could be also addressed.

The project of fourth-year students Michael Henehan and Finnán Kilcommins looked at Lough Funshinagh, which is actually a turlough that for centuries disappeared almost every year with its area turning into dried fields.

“The largest turlough in Ireland used to drain through a swallow hole known as ‘the gulf’, like someone pulled the plug in the bath,” explained Michael. But in 2016 it stopped draining and doubled in size, swamping large areas of domestic property and farmland. One homestead has had to be demolished because of persistent flooding.

They interviewed local people including farmers and Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), which brought High Court proceedings over the failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) on a plan to install a three-kilometre overflow pipeline to drain the turlough into the Shannon with a view to reducing the water level to what it was.

Finnán acknowledged the importance of the turlough, which is an EU special area of conservation because of its habitats and fauna – it used to attract large volumes of birds who could feed off the bottom because the water was shallow, he noted.

In an effort to find a pragmatic solution, they proposed that work on the pipeline by Roscommon County Council and the Office of Public Works be completed because of the extent of flood risk for local families.

They rejected on cost grounds the FIE view that five houses be relocated. “As the wildlife and fauna that resulted in the area being awarded the EU designation status are now all gone, the Government should revoke this designation and enact emergency legislation to save the homes,” they recommend.

Finnán acknowledged the need for an EIA but highlighted peoples’ lives are at risk, which they believe is the over-riding issue. “The EU designation should be suspended until the lake gets back to its natural state,” he added.

Concerns about coastal flooding risk in their locality led to three fourth-year students at Sutton Park School, Dublin, to design a retractable flood defence system for Clontarf on the shores of Dublin Bay.

Julian Lewandowski, Evan Wynne and Sebastian Galvin believe their design provides a solution to a problem that threatens most Irish cities because of their proximity to the coastline in a scenario of rising sea levels being caused by global warming.

A raised concrete wall in the area had to be reduced because of objections by residents, while poor quality sand bags did not amount to a proper defence system the three concluded after they surveyed the area and interviewed local experts familiar with previous flooding episodes.

Using the Solid Works computer-aid design platform, they devised a prototype system that raises the defence as rising seawater enters into a passage and rises up a walled chamber. “It allows residents to have their sea views and provides protection when needed,” Julian explained.

Critically, it includes a manual winding system, so it can be adjusted if not working properly. Their design is also such that it can blend into the natural landscape, apart from cases of emergency, Evan added.

The students have a 3D-printed prototype and have tested various options in terms of steel and cement to be used in their design – and soil types where it might located.

Although this system would be more expensive than a traditional wall – that is invariably associated with planning delays and objections – it would protect a vast amount of property over coming decades, they predict.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times