Aisling's winner is a fresh idea for spoiled food


A 14-year-old student from Kinsale has won first prize in the 2006 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, writes Dick AhlstromScience Editor

The judging panel described Aisling Judge's project - on the development of a way to detect if a food product has spoiled - as "a highly innovative and creative use of experimental biology".

Aisling, a second-year student at Kinsale Community School, is the youngest winner yet of the top prize in the exhibition's 42 year history.

Three students from CBS Synge Street, Dublin, claimed the top group prize with a mathematical project. Keith Florea, Adrian Chisa and Sandeep Sihag developed a new way to calculate the movement of orbiting satellites that is more accurate than existing methods.

A Synge Street student also took the runner-up individual award, and the runner-up group prize went to students attending Presentation Secondary School, Loughboy, Co Kilkenny.

Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin presented the top awards last night at the RDS, Dublin. She praised the hard work and accomplishments achieved by all the students and in particular the winners of the top four prizes.

Aisling's project, "The development and evaluation of a biological food spoilage indicator", was a remarkable piece of research. She developed an inexpensive biosensor that can be built into ordinary food packaging but can show whether food has reached the point of spoiling.

It includes a colour-change indicator that is simple for the consumer to read and understand, but is also very inexpensive. "It would be part of the packaging. It wouldn't cost enough to change the price of the food," Aisling said.

It uses harmless milk bacteria in a sealed indicator that mirrors the growth of bacteria that can cause food to spoil. As they grow the milk bacteria cause a colour change in the indicator to warn if food is unsafe to eat.

The judging panel described her work as "very impressive" and "a novel use of technology". She wins €5,000, a Waterford Crystal trophy and an opportunity to represent Ireland at the EU's Contest for Young Scientists next September in Sweden.

The best group prize of €2,000 and a BT perpetual trophy went to Keith (16), Adrian (17) and Sandeep (16) with a remarkable maths project based on concepts developed more than a century and a half ago by Ireland's greatest mathematician, William Rowan Hamilton.

Their project, "Estimation of simulation error in the Kepler problem using hodographs", called for the invention of new, more accurate ways to calculate the position of an orbiting satellite.

They used hodographs, a maths idea developed by Hamilton in 1847. The judges said the students' project "has the potential for important applications in astronomy and space exploration". The three now live in Ireland but are originally from Romania and India.

The runner-up individual prize went to Gohar Abbasi (17), a sixth-year from Synge Street. Originally from Pakistan, he has been living in Ireland for three years and developed a wholly new way to calculate options trading in stocks, shares and commodities that improves on the two currently most popular methods.

Options trading, agreements to buy or sell products at some date in the future, is difficult because markets can be volatile. His new algorithm removes this volatility factor and instead uses market information itself to set options prices. He received €1,000 and a BT perpetual trophy.

Tara McGrath, Vanessa McGrath and Nicola Woodgate, all 16-year-old transition students from Presentation Secondary School, Co Kilkenny, invented a game for primary school pupils that helps develop their inventive skills. Their work originated from a Russian theory of inventive thinking called "Triz", which includes 40 principles that can be applied to problem-solving.

The students developed a card game and put together a proposed website, both of which help pupils develop solutions to problems. They used it themselves to create and build a new type of machine to dig and lay underground cables. They received a BT perpetual trophy and €1,000.

Hundreds of other special awards and citations were given out at last night's awards ceremony at the RDS. Judging is complete but the exhibition remains open today from 9.30am until 5.30pm. Tickets cost €5 for students and concessions, €10 for adults, €25 for family tickets (two adults, two children) and €3.50 for primary pupils.