Cork teenagers win top prize at European young scientist competition

Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan investigated gender stereotyping in children

Winners of the 2020 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan, take home first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Winners of the 2020 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan, take home first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

 

Winners of the 2020 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan, have taken home first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists which took place over the weekend.

They won the competition for their statistical investigation into the prevalence of gender stereotyping in five to seven year olds, and the development of an initiative to combat gender bias.

The students from Coláiste Choilm, Co Cork, won the 2020 competition with their project that aimed to identify how early gender stereotyping can be identified. Their research identified the need to focus on boys and girls from a young age, to combat development of gender stereotyping. It was a rare overall win for a project in the social and behavioural sciences category.

Winner of the 2021 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Gregory Tarr, won third prize for his technology project on using artificial intelligence to detect “deepfake” videos, which have become harmful in spreading disinformation across social media channels.

The student, who completed his Leaving Certificate earlier this year at Bandon Grammar School, devised an advanced computer programme that is quicker and more accurate than many of the state-of-the-art detection systems. The 18 year old has since gone on to found Inferex, a start-up looking to commercialise the deepfake detection model, and has raised more than $1 million.

Winner of the 2021 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Gregory Tarr, took home third prize. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
Winner of the 2021 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Gregory Tarr, took home third prize. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Due to Covid-19, this year’s event brought together contestants from 2020 and 2021.

“It’s a huge honour,” said Cormac Harris. “We are thrilled and shocked to have won.” Above all, he said they were glad to have people talking about the issue of gender stereotyping again, and how to respond to it.

Since winning in 2020, the sixth-year students have extended the project work significantly. They hope to go back to schools to raise awareness of the issue and to make more resources available to pupils, teachers and parents, O’Sullivan said – they are freely available at stopthebias.eu.

Head of the young scientist competition, Mari Cahalane, paid tribute to all the Irish winners. “I am incredibly proud of our BTYSTE alumni Cormac, Alan and Gregory who have represented Ireland so well at this year’s European Union Contest for Young Scientists,” she said.

“They are Ireland’s 16th winners in the competition’s history and it is Ireland’s second consecutive first-prize win – a fantastic achievement and a credit to level of innovative and STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] talent that the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition showcases each year.”

The European contest was hosted virtually in Salamanca, Spain, and young scientists, aged between 14 and 20 years, competed from 39 countries across Europe and the world.