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Irish Aid/Self Help Africa Science for Development Award at BTYSTE 2019

Irish Aid/Self Help Africa Science for Development Award at BTYSTE 2019

Sean Byrne from Avondale Community College in Wicklow, winner of the Science for Development award. © Maxwell's / DFAT.

The 2019 Science for Development Award winner at BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition is Seán Byrne from Avondale Community College in County Wicklow. Seán's project explores the use of a low cost eggshell filtration system to remove heavy metal pollutants from water. The system has the added benefit of removing microplastics from the water at the same time. Seán and his teacher will travel to Africa with Self Help Africa in early 2020 to field test the invention.

This is the fourteenth year that Irish Aid has provided €5,000 towards the award which aims to encourage teachers and students to develop ideas, using appropriate scientific technology, that may prove useful at local community level in the Global South. The aim is to give students a greater insight into the wider world, and their role as global citizens.

Irish Aid/Self Help Africa Science for Development Award at BTYSTE 2019

Students from Portmarnock Community School. © Maxwell's / DFAT. 

This year there were 550 exhibits displayed in the RDS, put forward by 1,134 students from 246 schools. Of the 550 projects put forward, 88 explored climate change and environmental issues, responding to the challenges caused by excessive levels of carbon emissions and toxic refuse generated by our excessive lifestyles.

Problems created by the wealthier countries have a disproportionate impact on the world's poorest people as they don't have the resources to deal with them. In his inspirational address at the opening ceremony, President Michael D Higgins, said that the young scientists present had an important role to play in finding solutions to these challenges. He said:

That is why the best use of your achievements will come when they are shared. They will achieve their best result when they are lodged, for example, among those people least responsible, but who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of climate change and of course they are the people we must resource if we are to achieve sustainability.

The 2030 Agenda, as the Sustainable Development Goals are formally known, applies equally to all countries, promoting development while protecting the planet. The negotiation process was co-chaired by Ireland and Kenya and Ireland played a pivotal role in brokering the agreement in 2015. Contributions and innovations by young people and scientists will be instrumental to achieving the 17 Goals by 2030.

Each year we see more entries that are contenders for the Science for Development award. The judges look for evidence that the students have made the link to the global, how our challenges are global challenges which require global solutions. When facing these challenges it is people with fewer resources who suffer most and projects are encouraged that have taken this into consideration.

The students from Desmond College in Limerick were very interested in the fall armyworm which was first detected in Africa in 2016. The caterpillars of the fall armyworm moth are so called because they 'march' in huge numbers between feeding sites. They are very destructive and can strip bare whole fields of maize overnight. This results in great hardship for poor families as it destroys not only their food but their source of income. The students devised a simple solution to trap the adult moths using discarded plastic bottles, small lights and locally sourced sugar cane.

Irish Aid/Self Help Africa Science for Development Award at BTYSTE 2019

Minister Helen McEntee meets students from Desmond College in Limerick. © Maxwell's / DFAT. 

Like the Science for Development Award winner, the boys from Moate Community School were concerned with the level of heavy metal pollutants in water. They found that Zambia is a country rich in heavy metals such as copper, cobalt and lead. High concentrations of these metals have been recorded in water, adversely affecting the health of local people. The boys created an affordable purification device that households could use to purify the water through a solar distillation process. Young Scientists from Terenure College also focused on water quality by developing a detection and treatment system for the presence of legionella in water.

Students from Portmarnock Community School also thought of Africa when they upcycled (!) old bicycles into low till planting devices which minimise nutrient and moisture loss from the soil when planting in drier climates.

A student from St Angela's College, Cork won the Trinity College Global Challenges Award with her project which focused on an easily maintained and affordable solar-powered school in a box to be used in areas with limited electricity and few teachers such as refugee camps.

Growing food where space and soil is limited was an issue that other students responded to. Ard Scoil na Mara in Waterford won second prize in the Intermediate Individual Section with a project which investigated a smarter way to grow plants using vertical farming. A project from Scoil Mhuire in Donegal demonstrated a solar-powered aquaponic system to grow iron-rich crops like spinach without having to resort to chemical fertiliser. The nutrients came instead from waste water from a fish tank.

Other projects focused on treating the problems at source, like creating bio plastic from potato or food waste, which could then be eaten by fish if it ends up in our seas. Gaelcholáise Mhuire from An Mhainistir Thuaidh in Cork made bioplastic from potatoes and Santa Sabina Dominican College in Dublin investigated making plastic from food waste.

A very young scientist, from first year in Marist College, Athlone, thought to tackle the plastic waste problem by chopping up soft plastic and baking it into tough, durable bricks.

Many projects focused on renewable energy, making existing technology more sustainable to reduce our carbon emissions and to mitigate the effects of climate change. The projects from BTYSTE 2019 display a great degree of maturity and responsibility, a determination to finds solutions to global problems. It bodes well for a better shared future for all of us who share the planet. Congratulations to all entrants in 2019 and in particular to entrants for the Science for Development Award.

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