Ace tennis project secures top prize


RESEARCH BY the winner of the BT Young Scientist for 2011 might one day help you develop the ultimate tennis swing. By the same token it might also help people in rehabilitation get back on their feet after injury.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan last night presented the top prizes in the exhibition including the Young Scientist award which went to Alexander Amini (15), a Transition Year student from Castleknock College, Dublin. His project has developed a way to analyse physical movement using a computer. While the research was directed towards a study of racquet swings when playing tennis, the same system could readily be used to assess movement in patients recovering from injury, he said.

“My system isn’t specific to tennis at all,” he said yesterday. It could be used with other sports but could also help monitor progress during physical rehabilitation.”

For his project “Tennis sensor data analysis”, Alexander developed a complex suite of computer programmes that can analyse movement as a person plays tennis. Just three sensors attached to arm, chest and leg were enough to allow the computer to identify any one of 13 different tennis strokes with accuracies as high as 99.9 per cent, he said.

A keen tennis player himself, he wanted to develop a way to improve tennis coaching and he has already analysed the swings of Ireland’s top-five seeded players. The system automatically builds a model of a person’s style and variations can be introduced to improve technique. A beginner can also be measured up against an experienced player’s model to help the learner apply the best technique from the beginning.

Alexander claimed the BT Young Scientist 2011 trophy and a cheque for €5,000. He will also now represent Ireland at the EU Contest for Young Scientists in Helsinki in September.

The Tánaiste commented on the enthusiasm of the students, saying it “did my heart good” to see it. She said she was “impressed but also proud” about the commitment of the students.

The best group project award went to Thomas Cronin, Dylan Coss and Jeremy Barisch-Rooney of Coláiste Muire, Crosshaven, Co Cork. They are bringing wind-turbine electricity generation to the people, developing methods to produce working turbines from discarded junk. They used a scrapped bicycle as the foundation of their system and then designed an alternator that can produce up to 200 volts of power. All of the electrical wiring and magnets needed to make the system were recovered from abandoned cars and other sources.

They produced easy-to-copy designs for turbine blades, made either of cut plastic pipes or from timber. All of the materials needed to build the portable wind turbine were readily available as scrap in the developing world, the students said. The most important scrap was wire and magnets, and an old bike frame and gears would complete the generator. It was also possible to use running water instead of wind to spin the turbine and generate electricity.

The three Transition Year students have already established links with a charity, Friends of Londiani, which tries to help developing communities to help themselves. The charity will help bring the students’ designs to these communities and show them how to produce their own low-cost electricity. For winning the best group project, the trio will receive a BT perpetual trophy and a cheque for €2,400.

The runner-up individual award went to James Doyle (17), a fifth-year student at Presentation de la Salle College in Carlow. He assessed the potential for using waste materials from hedgerow cuttings as a biomass fuel for power plants, in the process discovering an ignored yet valuable source of energy.

He got the idea after seeing the hedges at the back of his property trimmed down and then simply left there. “I thought there has to be some use for it,” he said, so he began studying the possibility of using it as a biomass fuel. There is a plentiful supply here given Ireland has 382,000km of hedgerows.

He discovered it didn’t matter the cuttings had a 50 per cent water content given the local Edenderry Power Plant could readily burn it as fuel. He calculated the costs involved in cutting and harvesting the material, chipping it and making it available to Edenderry.

He found the material had a gross value of €390 per tonne as an energy source, and processing costs were about €182 per tonne. This meant each tonne recovered and offered as fuel left a residual profit of €208 per tonne. James received a BT perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

The runner-up group award went to Ciara Judge, Royanne McGregor and Sophie Healy-Thow of Kinsale Community School, Co Cork, for their statistical analysis of public attitudes to cholesterol and its control. The three 13-year-old first years wanted to assess public understanding but also surveyed doctors to collect their slant on the broader awareness of the dangers of high cholesterol.

They surveyed doctors first, gathering information about the incidence of high cholesterol in their region. They then attempted an initial survey of 702 people in their local community. They discovered, however, that the design of their survey was flawed given the results suggested that those who regularly walked typically had higher cholesterol than those who took no exercise, the girls said.

They revised the survey and then increased their sample size to 1,277 subjects and this approach gave them more consistent results. These turned up a few surprises, they said, including the fact that rural dwellers tended to have higher cholesterol levels than urban dwellers. “The public is quite aware about cholesterol but they are not taking enough action against it,” Ciara said yesterday. The three received a BT trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

Their school, Kinsale Community School, has had a remarkable run at the BT Young Scientist over the past few years. Ciara’s sister Aisling was selected as the BT Young Scientist in 2006. And in 2009 the school’s John D O’Callaghan and Liam McCarthy were selected as the Young Scientists of 2009.