Young Scientist brothers have their eye on road safety

Cat’s eye road reflector with extra blue coloured lens devised

Using teeth as a medium to conduct sound to the cochlea, these students will develop a gumshield that enables managers to communicate with players via radio. One of the competing projects at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition.

Thu, Jan 9, 2014, 08:00

Ambition was in plentiful supply at the RDS as the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition got under way yesterday. “We want to save lives,” said a confident Ronan MacGaoithin as he described his research project.

Ronan (13) and his brother Eóin (14), are students at Coláiste Ailigh in Donegal and they wanted to develop an early warning system to tell motorists when the road surface becomes icy.

Accidents involving ice and slippery roads are commonplace in Donegal they said and they wanted to find a way to warn when roads have frozen.

In-vehicle temperature gauges were “not good enough”, said Eóin.

They respond too slowly to changing conditions and their separation from the road surface could give misleading information, he said.

They came up with a clever but quite simple way to indicate when the road surface freezes, using nothing more than the property of water to expand when it freezes solid.

“We decided to use that to our advantage, Ronan said.

They conducted experiments and have come up with a design which they hope to develop and bring to the next exhibition.


Yellow reflectors
They devised a cat’s eye road reflector with an extra blue coloured lens. Normally the blue lens is hidden, but it is pushed up next to the usual yellow reflectors as the liquid in a tube begins to freeze.

James Clarke, Ruairí Shields and James Holden also want to help people, this time through the development of a simple carbon capture system.

The three second-years from St Mary’s College CSSp in Rathmines have brought a demonstration system to the RDS and can show their prototype is able to take carbon gas and change it into calcium carbonate through a number of steps.

“We are actually transforming CO2 gas,” said James Clarke. “We think it can capture at least 50 per cent of CO2 and probably more.”

It is a process similar to that used by marine crustaceans to build their exoskeleton. It takes several steps but the apparatus is exceptionally simple and there is no complex processing, said James Holden. “It is quite cheap and this is homemade.”

The process leaves them effectively with limestone said Ruairí. The process could easily be expanded to suit carbon capture from chimneys and industrial processes, he said.

Lucy Nyland of St Joseph’s Secondary School in Mayo has come up with a different way to help people, this time in earthquake zones.

The 17-year-old fifth-year has suggested a radical new architectural design based on tetrahedrons rather than the squares, rectangles and cubes seen in conventional skyscrapers.

A tetrahedron is a four-sided shape that looks the same no matter how you place it on the ground.


During earthquakes
Its base is like a three-legged stool that Lucy believes can better resist the shaking caused during earthquakes.

“It is really stable because it has three equally spaced legs,” she said. She built models using conventional shapes and others designed on the tetrahedron and found that the latter were more stable and swayed less when placed on a shake table.

This might allow the development of taller quake-resistant buildings in earthquake prone countries, she said.

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