Plenty to celebrate for Galway students at this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition

Ian McDonagh of Merlin College, pictured with principal John Cleary and science teacher Claire Cunningham.

Ian McDonagh of Merlin College, pictured with principal John Cleary and science teacher Claire Cunningham.

A fifth year student from Coláiste an Eachréidh who picked up three awards and a Coláiste Mhuirlinne student from the city who marked his second prize-winning appearance were among the Galway winners at this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which took place in Dublin last weekend.

Ciara Ní Ghríofa, a fifth year student at Coláiste an Eachréidh, Athenry, won an impressive three awards at this year’s exhibition. Ciara’s project, called MiContact, saw her develop an app to help children with autism. She was awarded RTE Best Social and Behavioural Science Project overall, as well as first place in the senior individual category for social and behavioural sciences, and the Abbott ‘Life to the Fullest’ Award. She is also one of 30 entrants to be selected for the BT Business Boot Camp, which will take place in March.

Castlepark native Ian McDonagh represented Merlin College for the second time at this year’s event; last year his project on mares and the lunar cycle was awarded second place in its category. Ian’s project for the 2017 exhibition was entitled A Scientific Investigation of the Cures and Folklores of the Irish Travellers, and he catalogued 29 separate remedies that are still in use by the Traveller community.

During his research, Ian visited UCD and the Galway Traveller Movement as well as conducting 134 surveys to gather information for his project in advance of the exhibition.

“I was inspired by stories I heard from my grandparents about traditional cures and this motivated me to find out if there was any scientific basis for these cures,” he said. “Many of my findings surprised me. For example 88 per cent of respondents stated they still used a faith healer to cure conditions such as thrush, ringworm, and eczema. On the other hand only one per cent still used a traditional cure for chest, ear, and eye infections.”

Ian McDonagh won the Jack Restan Displays Award for his project. This special award is for the project which presents the concepts, details, images, research findings, etc, in the most clear, interesting, and professional manner.

“Ian’s success reflects the great work done by the science teachers in our school who are actively engaged through various initiatives to encourage and inspire students in the STEM subject areas and who are helped to do this with very generous funding from SAP for which we are very grateful,” said John Cleary, principal of Merlin College.

Ian already has plans to extend his research next year as part of his transition year programme, and he hopes to travel the length and breadth of Ireland to write a book on the cures and folklores of the Irish Traveller. He also hopes to be back representing his school at next year’s exhibition. “The BT Young Scientist is an amazing experience,” he said. “I love meeting new people and seeing the various projects. The standard of projects is fascinating. I would recommend all students to enter this competition.”

First place in the intermediate group for the technology category went to Alaidh Fox and Deirdre Hughes of Coláiste Bhaile Chláir for their entry entitled The Hox Project - Using RFID Technology to Advance Medicine. This project, which saw them develop several aids to help visually impaired and elderly people take medication safely, also won the Health Product Regulatory Authority Award, presented annually to the project that most effectively promotes the safe and correct use of medicines and/or medical devices to the benefit of human or animal health.

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