Self-Taught Mathematician Wins Young Scientist Of The Year Award

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The Irish school competition attracts a record number of attendees

Paul Clarke, a 17-year old student from Dublin, has scooped up the main award at the 50th BT Young Scientist of the Year (YSY) competition for valuable contributions to cyclic graph theory.

YSY is the largest school science fair in Europe, showcasing innovative projects in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics and computing, with previous winners going on to become inventors and entrepreneurs.

The finals took place in Dublin on Friday evening. Clarke told TechWeekEurope he taught himself university-level maths, before spending nine months on the project, working every day throughout the summer.

The main prize for a group project was awarded to two girls from Cork, aged just 12 and 13, for their research on attitudes towards ageing workforce.

Get ‘em while they’re young

The YSY awards have been running since 1965 – but this year’s competition was the largest ever, with 4,400 students from schools across Ireland submitting more than 2,000 projects. Just over a quarter were put on display at the Royal Dublin Society.

SideThe event also serves as an exhibition featuring technological marvels like the Oculus Rift, 3D printers, floor pianos and even battle robots. BT, which has sponsored YSY for over a decade, hopes it will inspire kids to pursue careers in science and technology.

The winner of this year’s event developed a new way to analyse graphs that can be applied in computer science and chemistry. Clarke said he is almost exclusively self-taught (he is well beyond any school-level maths), and came up with the idea as a coalescence of all the unsolved problems he had been working on during the past eight or nine months.

“There are more and more entries every year, and the standard of people’s work and the dedication to the subject is growing,”  the young scientist told us. Clarke plans to study maths further, and wants to attend a university abroad, possibly in Britain or the US.

The winning project received a €5,000 grant and the right to represent Ireland at the EU Contest for Young Scientists. One of the runners-up developed a software suite to run a laboratory, while another designed a gumshield communication device for sports players.

Other projects that caught our eye included a computer mouse for videogames created by 14-year old Maghnus Hartigan that monitors the user’s heart rate and perspiration, and alters the difficulty of the challenge accordingly. There was also a pair of fully-functional piezoelectric shoes, much like the ones invented by Trevor Baylis, which were awarded the second place in the Senior category.

Just like in the adult world, some of the projects were born out of a personal tragedy: for example, Emma Murphy and her team created a frequency projector to scare animals away from the road, after a car killed her dog.

BT Young Scientist of the Year

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BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2014

 

The sheer number of entries could serve as an indication that, at least in Ireland, STEM subjects are gaining popularity among schoolchildren – something that could help close the digital ‘skills gap’ in the UK.  A recent European Commission report predicted there might be up to 900,000 unfilled IT vacancies in Europe by 2015, as employers struggle to find staff with the required skills.

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