There was an amazing buzz in Dublin’s RDS last month as a panel of 80 judges awarded Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan with the top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE).
Harris and O’Sullivan, both fourth-year students from Coláiste Choilm in Co Cork, were in utter shock when they won the top prize at BTYSTE for their project entitled, ‘A statistical investigation into the prevalence of gender stereotyping in five- to seven-year-olds and the development of an initiative to combat gender bias’.
The prize was presented to the two 16-year-old students by Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh, TD, and managing director of BT Ireland, Shay Walsh.
Harris and O’Sullivan will take home a €7,500 prize for their project, which was submitted to the intermediate section under the Social and Behavioural Sciences category.
Additionally, the two young men will go on to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS), which will take place in Spain in September. They will also attend the 62nd Annual London International Youth Science Forum later in the year.
Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com at BTYSTE, Harris said: “The results showed us that boys were limiting girls’ abilities, while girls were not limiting the abilities of either gender. With our results, we developed a resource kit to implement in schools to help combat gender stereotyping.”
Harris added: “With our resource kit, we would like to go back to see if they would take on board the resource kit, and to go back and do further testing to see if it’s actually an effective way to combat gender bias.”
Changing the focus on where intervention is needed
Head judge of the Social and Behavioural Sciences category at BTYSTE, Prof Joe Barry, said: “Despite awareness of the lower percentage of females relative to males pursuing study and careers in science, technology, engineering and maths, we still do not understand exactly why this is the case. The aim of Cormac and Alan’s project was to determine how early gender stereotyping can be identified.
“They conducted workshops with 376 five to seven-year-olds from a range of school settings with a number of different tasks including: choosing between gender-specific and gender-neutral toys; drawing and naming an engineer; and rating male and female competency at a number of gender-specific roles.”
One of the findings of this research project was that 96pc of boys drew a male engineer, while just over 50pc of girls drew a female engineer. Barry said: “This, along with the other data, indicates that gender stereotypes emerge in young children and that they are particularly strong among young boys.”
The head judge added: “Cormac and Alan’s findings are important, as intervention typically focuses on girls, but the project recognises the need to focus on all children, boys and girls, from a young age in order to combat the development of gender stereotyping.”
The individual winner
Fifth-year student Oscar Despard from Sandford Park School in Dublin won an award for his project for BTYSTE entitled, ‘Applying Data-Driven Experimental Analysis to the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing’.
Despard’s project used data from a large database of Irish individuals to analyse a number of blood proteins to see if there was a correlation between blood levels and atrial fibrillation (AF). This research found that levels of a protein called LDL showed an unexpected relationship with AF, and suggested a possible beneficial effect in LDL in reducing the risk of AF.
Despard’s work went on to show that a protein in white blood cells in the heart played a pivotal role in the process. The 17-year-old took a new perspective on a global problem and, in doing so, has brought new insights.
The group runners-up award was presented to Cathal O’Mara and Jame O’Malley. The Castletroy College, Co Limerick, students won the prize for their project ‘Bin Buddy – A Smart Sorting Bin’, which we highlighted during the week.
These two 13-year-old students used a Raspberry Pi and image recognition software to create a bin that can separate two types of waste – either compost or recyclable – for easier sorting later on. They did this by using 22,500 images to look for patterns and determine what a piece of compost or a recyclable item looks like.
The individual runner-up award was presented to Ava Hynes, a 14-year-old student in second year at Coláiste Treasa, Co Cork. Hynes conducted research and completed a project called ‘A statistical analysis of the impact of adolescent smartphone use on adolescent social anxiety and social isolation’.
Her work was directly relevant to the lived experience of young people in Ireland and showcased extensive research and impressive methodology, utilising internationally standardised scales. The project collected data from 792 post-primary students between the age of 12 and 19 and looked at their levels of social anxiety, social phobia and adolescent loneliness, in addition to their smartphone usage.
This project found that phobia levels, as well as social isolation, were found to be affected by smartphone usage. Looking at factors such as age, gender, room of phone usage (such as the bedroom), and how these factors related to loneliness, Hynes found that 14.6pc of the sample were found to have problematic smartphone usage levels.
‘The ingenuity of Ireland’s youth’
Shay Walsh, managing director of BT Ireland, the lead sponsor of BTYSTE, said: “Congratulations to all of our participants, and particularly to all our winners. For more than five decades, the exhibition has shown the ingenuity of Ireland’s youth, and this year’s exhibition is no exception.
“The students at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition have sought creative and innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues, and that spirit and drive is to be commended.”
Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Walsh added: “It gives us great hope. These are the change-makers. They’re creating today, they’re shaping the future. We’re so proud just to be able to give them the platform to excel in BT. We only set the stage, they do all the hard work!”
Meanwhile, Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh, TD, said: “Congratulations to all the students at this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and in particular to Cormac and Alan on their fantastic project, well-deserved winners.
“The atmosphere of excitement, creativity and fun at the RDS this week has been incredible. I am particularly pleased to see so many young people tackling some of the most important issues facing us, from climate change to health, to technology, ethics and societal change.
“The students are a credit to their families, schools and teachers and they should rightly be proud of being here. They are a huge inspiration.”
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