Formula for success in scientific research

Three girls whose passion has had award-winning and groundbreaking results offer tips for excelling at science

Émer Hickey, Sophie Healy-Thow and Ciara Judge from Kinsale, Co Cork, winners of the BT Young Scientists of the Year 2013 title. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Émer Hickey, Sophie Healy-Thow and Ciara Judge from Kinsale, Co Cork, winners of the BT Young Scientists of the Year 2013 title. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

When Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow decided to enter the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, they didn’t know how much work would be involved – or how much reward it would bring. The students, from Kinsale Community School, found that introducing “diazotroph” bacteria (which make nitrogen available to plants) to barley and oats seeds could speed up germination, and also make the barley grow better. Their discoveries could ultimately help produce more food for the world, and they won not only the BT Young Scientists of the Year 2013 title, but also a major European award and they came first in the Google Science Fair in California this year. Last month they were named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Teens by Time magazine.

Firstly, congrats on all the awards – what have they meant to you? Émer: “Sometimes, I think we still find ourselves in disbelief of the awards we have recently got. For us, “the project” as we call it, has become a lot more than that, and more like a part of our lives. It was amazing to see our hard work recognised, and winning these prestigious awards has meant that people have began to take us – the three young girls with a science project – a lot more seriously. We have had the opportunity to speak at many events and meet some exceptional people. These awards have changed our lives.”

Tell us about how you worked on the project – were there any surprises along the way? Sophie: “I guess, to be honest, our results were the most surprising! We went into this project not knowing what would happen – what we were doing had never been done before on the germination stage of non-legume crops. So when we saw the results from our experiments we were amazed. I think the biggest challenge was having to manually inspect the germinating seeds every six hours – we had to stay up late and get up early and it was during our summer holidays! All 130,000 manual measurements have definitely paid off though.”

Why do you like science, and have you tips for studying it? Ciara: “I personally love science because it is completely limitless. I’m an inquisitive person by nature, so something without boundaries will naturally draw me in. Science and technology will be growing and changing forever and I just love the thought that never will there be a day when everything has been discovered, or there’s nothing left to invent!

“I also love the fact that science is so broad, that literally anyone can find an area which interests them.

“I would encourage students to identify any areas of their science course which particularly interest them and do additional research on their own. There are some really interesting websites and cool YouTube videos which expand on topics covered in class in an imaginative and fun way.”

What makes a good science project? Ciara: “If you are doing a science project, it’s incredibly important that you choose an area you are interested in. Try to relate your research to your hobbies or pastimes, that way it will be more enjoyable for you.

“Also, keep your goals realistic: you are not going to completely solve climate change, at least on your first try! Even so, don’t give up on those goals either, even if people doubt you. If you believe in yourself you will find a way to make it work.”

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