Dublin student wins Young Scientist for maths project

Research on attitudes to older people in workforce wins group prize for Kinsale students

Dubliner wins BT Young Scientist award for maths project

A Dublin student who found answers to previously unsolved mathematical problems has won the 50th BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS. Paul Clarke undertook months of research into complex mathematical theory to become the young scientist of the year.

A project by students from Kinsale seeking to understand people’s attitudes to older people in the work force took the prize for best group. The runner up individual award went to a Dublin student who developed a laboratory management system and the runner up group prize was claimed by students from Mayo who designed and built a gumshield communication device for managers and players.

Paul Clarke of St Paul’s College in Raheny, Dublin wanted to do something new, solve mathematical problems linked to a concept known as cyclic graph theory. “I am looking at a number of unsolved problems in graph theory,” the 17-year-old fifth year explained. Graph theory provides a mathematical way to look at structured data, structured in the way data points are captured in a graph.

While graph theory is difficult it is extremely useful in a number of ways, Paul explained. It helps computers build complex models of experimental drugs or proteins, and can be used to solve puzzles like the “travelling salesman” that optimises the route that should be taken to visit a number of points in the least possible distance.


“It was demanding and needed dedication and motivation,” he acknowledged. For example he might pursue a possible answer but discover a month on that it would not work, particularly because the problems were “unsolved and hard”.

Paul received the BT Young Scientist of 2014 perpetual trophy, a cheque for €5,000 and the chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists.

Gauging people’s response to working with older people as the retirement age rises was the goal of Cathy Hynes (13), and Eve Casey (12), first year students in Kinsale Community College and helped them win the best group prize. “People will have to work with more older people because of the changing retirement age,” Eve explained. They wanted to know how people felt about that and whether there was any negative response to it.

They undertook a survey of almost 1,150 people in age categories ranging from 15 years through 89. They asked a series of questions, weighted for example from strongly agree to strongly disagree. They had to use advanced statistical techniques to process the data and this helped them come up with interesting conclusions. For example, while people did not seem to have a problem with more older people in the general workforce they didn’t want to have more elderly in their own workplace.

Cathy and Eve as best group winners receive a BT perpetual trophy and €2,400.

Shane Curran (13), a second year from Terenure College Dublin claimed the runner up individual prize with a project that involved writing software and building a system to help run a laboratory. He already has plans underway to commercialise his product, Chemical.io, and to make it available to laboratory managers.

The project involved creating a web page and a doing a significant amount of programming to provide services such as monitoring supplies of chemicals, cataloguing lab equipment and even keeping tabs on experiments. He had 150 people test the system and make suggestions about the services needed by them and he worked these into his package. “Their response was really positive,” he said.

He built the system to use the cloud rather than having to build the software package on a local computer, a decision that would save lab managers thousands of euro, he said. Shane receives a BT trophy and €1,200.

The runner up group award went to three Transition Year students from St Gerald’s College, Mayo. Conor Gillardy, Evan Heneghan and Calum Kyne also have a product with commercial potential, a gumshield that has a build-in communication system that allows a player on the pitch to hear instructions coming from the coach on the sideline.

The device is a conventional gumshield but with a tiny build-in power supply, electronic circuitry and a vibration motor, Calum explained. The motor rests safely against the back teeth and uses them to conduct sounds to the ear through the jaw.

All components are safe and placed so that they don’t have any impact on the player, said Conor. They tested it on players involved in sports where gunshields are obligatory including GAA and rugby. They are already looking for a manufacturer in China and have plans to develop and sell their product at home and abroad. They receive a BT trophy and €1,200.

The exhibition remains open to the public until this afternoon, with tickets costing €12 for adults and €6 for students. Family tickets cost €25.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.