End of an era at Synge Street as mentor of successful young scientists retires


THE BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition finished up at the weekend, with the students packing up their projects and already making plans for next year.

The 2009 exhibition also represents the final Young Scientist involvement of a teacher who has enjoyed an extraordinary record of achievement in the competition.

Jim Cooke retires after 38 years at Synge Street CBS, Dublin, a school which he also attended as a boy. He has taught physics and maths there since 1971 and will finally leave the school later this year.

He leaves behind an impressive record of involvement in the Young Scientist exhibition, his Synge Street students achieving two outright Young Scientist wins, two runners-up and numerous category prizes.

The 2009 exhibition saw one of his students, Andrei Triffo, claiming the best individual award for his mathematical project on Zeta functions.

This year's excitement over however, Mr Cooke finds himself - as ever - in front of a class this morning, attempting to foster a love of maths and physics in his charges.

Mr Cooke and his students have brought a number of maths projects to the Young Scientist Exhibition since their first

effort in 2003. The catalyst was student Ronan Larkin, who approached his teacher looking for a project he could take to the event. He almost didn't get to the event after his father died, but his mother encouraged him to continue and he won a category prize that year.

He returned the following year with a study on the use of continued fractions as a way to solve difficult equations and won the top prize, becoming BT Young Scientist for 2004.

"I think that had a big impact on the school. We went from where there was little interest to a number of students expressing interest," Mr Cooke said.

The one project in 2004 went up to three the following year and then seven in 2006. In that year Gohar Abassi claimed one of the top four awards, the runner-up individual project, again for mathematics.

"Interest was growing but I found it difficult to cope with seven, so the following year it was back down to three, but one of them was Abdul [Abdusalam Abubakar], who won," he said.

Each year the judges marvel at the complexity of the Synge Street projects, a testament to the hard work put in by the students but also the mentoring provided by Mr Cooke. The question now is what will happen when he retires.

"I think there will be people there to follow," he said. "It has always been enjoyable, if exhausting some times."