Covid-19 face mask innovation that ‘costs pennies’ designed by BTYSTE entrant

Student psychological survey uncovers unexpected positive perceptions of lockdown

A 14-year-old student from Co Derry has designed a cheap plastic insert which can be combined with a cloth mask to help keep Covid-19 at bay, in a way that she hopes can offer greater protection than typical home-made face coverings.

The design by Saashi Ghaie of Coleraine Grammar School is the centrepiece in her entry for this year's BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition which is taking place online.

She says her design overcomes many of the problems associated with wearing face masks, such as issues relating to breathability, loose fitting and fogging up of glasses.

The BTYSTE has invariably featured projects reflecting the most pressing challenges facing the world and Irish society at a particular time. 2021 is no exception as students confront the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.


The many projects related to coronavirus range across all contest categories, from using QR codes and an app to simplify contact tracing in the hospitality sector to investigating how Covid-19 restrictions impact on learning in class.

Saashi tested droplet retention and air resistance in a variety of materials before designing an insert made of vinyl acetate – a hard form of bubble wrap – complete with side vents to reduce breathing difficulties.

She stressed the need for governments to set minimum standards for breathability, filtration and fit. “My insert would help to meet this requirement and to keep the public safe while costing pennies,” she told The Irish Times.

Andrei Florian, a student at St Aidan's CBS in Dublin, developed an autonomous drone, complete with flight demonstration, to deliver Covid-19 self-administered tests directly to homes.

While he acknowledged tests other than PCR tests in laboratories may not be perfect, he believed they have a role to play – and his application would allow patients to easily self-administer tests at their homes. A package and instructions would be delivered to and from a hospital or lab by drone autonomously in a climatically-controlled environment.

The approach, he explained, minimises human contact and overcomes any difficulties in getting to a test centre. A person would book a test online, and a test kit would be despatched by drone to their home. When it arrives the recipient would receive a text message and code to unlock a small container built on the drone.

The technology, he added, minimises time between home and lab, so results are realisable in less than 24 hours.

Three students from Presentation College Carlow conducted an extensive psychological assessment of the impact of lockdown on pupils in their school by surveying first-year, transition-year and sixth-year students – and interviewing a significant number of them.

Megan Hosey, Jade Ellis and Claire Miller were surprised to find so many positive benefits were ultimately identified. Their initial motivation was to counter "fixed" invariably negative attitudes to lockdown with the hope of helping students "by shining a better light on the experience", Jade explained.

They deployed a “framing a situation” approach in interacting with students. Initially, she confirmed, the perception of Covid-19 was wholly negative.

On completion, it was clear students felt closer to their families; they appreciated their local environment more, and some even reported better concentration with online learning because of the absence of usual distractions, Claire pointed out. “A lot of people realised how lucky they were.”

On mental health, there were more aware of their own mental health because of lockdown – “the need to have time for themselves, to do exercise, to go outside” – and that of others, she added.

In a YouTube message to participants the State's chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan paid tribute to this year's participants, who with the organisers, had overcome the challenges of Covid-19. "It's an amazing achievement to stage the 57th BTYSTE this year," he said.

The good side of the pandemic, he believed, was seen in how the scientific world responded. Scientists had isolated the virus, developed a shared language and new understanding of biology, all of which “has brought us to the cusp of developing safe vaccines” in less than a year.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times