Gravity-defying motorcyclists give young scientists a touch of vroom


THREE ROARING motorcycles racing round the inside of a steel sphere provided a dramatic if noisy start to the 2009 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS in Dublin, writes Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor.

President Mary McAleese was on hand yesterday to launch the exhibition along with drummers and an eight foot robot.

More than 1,000 young scientists have assembled at the RDS in Dublin, with 500 projects on display. All will hope to be declared the 2009 BT Young Scientist of the Year when the final results are announced tomorrow.

In the meantime more than 70 judges will meet the students and assess their research projects in four areas including the pure sciences, social sciences, biological sciences and technology.

There will also be travel awards to be won, one a trip to the European Union Contest for Young Scientists to be held in Paris this autumn and another to the US for a tour of research centres.

Riders zooming round the "Globe of Death" were a thrilling sight but it also provided an emphatic demonstration of the scientific concept of centrifugal force. A single rider was impressive enough but when two more entered the steel sphere the students roared with delight.

The Unity Drummers played while the cage was rolled out of the BT Arena and then co-presenters Ray D'Arcy and Aoibheann Ní Shúilleabháin introduced last year's BT Young Scientist, Emer Jones, who at 13 was the youngest winner yet in the exhibition which is now in its 45th year.

BT chief executive officer Chris Clark introduced Mrs McAleese who roundly congratulated the students for their achievement in being accepted to display their projects at the RDS.

She praised their "brainpower" and creativity, saying they were the "seed corn" of Ireland's future prosperity. The young scientists assembled for the event would become the entrepreneurs, the teachers and the leaders of the future, she said. "It is your brainpower that is going to write the next chapter of Ireland's future."

She described the range and depth of the exhibits on display as astounding, adding that even as the country faced into a tough year, you raise our hearts because you raise our hopes.

Ireland's economic future depended on their interest and engagement with the sciences, maths and engineering, she said.

Mrs McAleese singled out the contribution made by the co-founders of the exhibition, Dr Tony Scott who is a member of the judging panel, and Fr Tom Burke, who died in March 2008.

Mr Clark asked the President to make a presentation to Fr Burke's brother Edmund Burke before announcing that a student exhibiting at the RDS this year would receive the first €1,000 bursary presented in Fr Burke's name.

Mr Clark also welcomed the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Catriona Ruane, stressing that there were increasing numbers of Northern students participating in the event and the fact that it had attracted financial support from the Northern Assembly.

The exhibition also provided a suitable setting for the formal launch of Ireland's all-island celebrations marking the UN's International Year of Astronomy 2009.

The imposing figure of Titan the Robot then made his entrance. He proved a bit of a pussycat however, singing to a young female exhibitor before bursting into tears and spraying the audience.

Science Today: page 17