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Young Scientists are engaging, ingenious, entertaining – and then there’s politicians giving them chase

At the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, 60 years old this week, wires are attached, diodes connected, buttons are pressed and lights wink on and off. It’s all here

Just around the corner from a trio of Einsteins struggling to keep their moustaches on, Leo Varadkar was posing for a quick photo with a cardboard cut-out of Alfred Nobel.

As one does at the annual BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition – where Ireland’s brightest youths dazzle the nation with their brilliance, and their local politicians queue up to bask and benefit in the reflected glow.

More than 1,000 students have made it through to this year’s finals. The judges consider their work over a three-day period, with the winners declared on Friday evening.

If that wasn’t enough excitement for the participants putting the finishing touches to their projects on Wednesday morning, they were also treated to an early visit from the Taoiseach, along with a galvanising opening speech from the President.


The students stamped their feet and welcomed Michael D Higgins with a thunderous ovation, the like of which hasn’t been witnessed in the RDS since the Sinn Féin ardfheis.

After he left, all the Government Ministers, TDs and Senators peppering in a holding pattern inside the main doors fanned out in search of participants from their constituencies and counties. They value this annual exhibition of new and emerging voters at the best of times, but with a plethora of elections in the pipeline, there was a greater sense of urgency about them as they prowled the aisles.

Almost 30 of them (including 10 Ministers of the senior and junior variety) signalled their attendance in advance. The final tally for the first day, which is not even open to the general public, was higher than that.

A team of more than 100 judges, boasting more professors than a Micheál Martin security forum, put the students through their paces

The exhibition, 60 years old this week, was a gem from the start and shows no sign of losing its lustre on its diamond jubilee. And while the great and the good may call to pay their respects, this event is truly about the students and the engaging, ingenious, entertaining, how-did-they-think-of-that show they always bring to town. From the informative to the inventive, the indescribable to the undecipherable, it’s all there.

Thinking outside the box or boxing inside The Think?


A team of more than 100 judges, boasting more professors than a Micheál Martin security forum, put the students through their paces.

Teachers trundling wheelie-cases shepherded their talented charges inside for the first of four exciting days. The students looked happy too. They carried boxes and cardboard tubes and Tupperware Cartons and strange-shaped objects in bin-bags. One young woman had a skull tucked underneath her arm. There were several skeletons and an abundance of stuffed animals. Live ones are not permitted.

Wires were attached, diodes connected, buttons pressed and lights winked on and off. There were files, graphs, pie-charts and tables.

Deirdre O’Donovan of Junior Achievement Ireland was carrying around a cardboard cut-out of Alfred Nobel. She told us she got it from a bouncy castle company. Somebody had commissioned it for a one-off corporate event.

Leo Varadkar posed with Alfred (a Taoiseach can dream), but his brief tour around the stands wasn’t exactly dynamite. He almost exclusively visited students from schools in Dublin West.

There was some disgruntlement among participants from other areas.

“Ah lads, lads, send him over the TY boys!” pleaded a couple of young men with distinctly non-Dublin accents.

In the next row, another group of students were discussing the Taoiseach’s progress.

“He’ll probably walk up the centre aisle with a big ‘I’m the big man walk’,” said one guy to the girls from a nearby stand as he did the Conor McGregor swagger, to unanimous approval.

They’ll be looking forward to the night-time entertainments.

The Taoiseach seemed somewhat subdued as he did the rounds, even by his own diffident standard.

“That’s it. He must be going to Europe,” surmised a nearby teacher.

Meanwhile, Callum Leech, Eoghan Morris and Jamie Lohan from Roscommon Community College were attracting a lot of attention. They had dressed up to illustrate their snappily titled project, Exploring Adolescent Digital Entrepreneurship: A Study of Participation on Trading Apps.

Mad white hair, wild moustaches, big glasses and pink and veiny brains bursting out of their heads.

“We’re supposed to be Albert Einstein,” explained Callum. “His hair – it’s natural,” deadpanned Eoghan.

It would be easy to get lost among the rows of exhibits, even if some are well beyond the ken of a humble newspaper hack

President Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, was on his first big outing of the new year.

“We always regard this as one of the great events of the year,” he told a packed BT Arena. “It’s a great time to be a young scientist.”

A great time because there is so much they can do to use science “for the benefit of all humanity”, rather than using it to provide ever-more-sophisticated weapons of war.

“Life has to be better than that,” he quivered, raising an arm in the air.

He spoke for a concise but spirited 20 minutes – an excellent way to begin the year. It’s obvious that he relishes his annual opportunity to address this rather special audience.

Afterwards, he toured about a dozen stands, full of questions about the projects. And he isn’t even running for re-election.

It would be easy to get lost among the rows of exhibits, even if some are well beyond the ken of a humble newspaper hack.

“Are air-fryers really as healthy as we think?”

“Banana bandages: A sustainable approach to wound care.”

“Just how filthy is your reusable water bottle?”

Transition Year students Aoibhe Gordon and Ellie Cowley, from Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, investigated how to produce alcohol from seaweed, particularly for use as biofuel.

But they faced the same question again and again.

“Can you drink it?”

They couldn’t say.

But if you could… It would be the Jesus, Mary and Joseph Secondary School.

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