Students competing in the 2014 BT Young Scientist Exhibition are putting the finishing touches to their presentations before president Michael D Higgins officially opens the event this afternoon.
Now in its 50th year, the exhibition, as usual, hosts a broad range of projects and experiments from secondary schools across the country - and some of the efforts are exceptionally ambitious.
Schull Community College has sought to evaluate “the impact of super-hydrophobic coating in the marine environment”. Dominican College, Wicklow, meanwhile, poses the question: “Why does spaghetti always break into three?” The answer: “We don’t know”.
Conor Fitzpatrick from John the Baptist Community School in Limerick devised a way to generate a constant flow of air into slurry tanks using solar panels, a battery pack, a compressor and plastic tubing.
Normally a crust forms on the top of slurry, under which poisonous gasses tend to build up, requiring the farmer to employ an agitator before the slurry is ready to spread.
Mr Fitzpatrick’s system would make the slurry safer and allow the farmer to spread it immediately, thus lowering costs for farmers. “The fact that it’s ready to spread helps farmers an endless amount,” he says.
Mr Fitzpatrick is one of 4,418 students who entered this year’s exhibition, with a total of 2,000 projects representing 379 schools. That makes the 2014 contest the biggest in the event’s history.
Being the event’s 50th year, the organisers have photographs of previous winners spread on boards throughout the main hall in Dublin’s RDS, looking down on this year’s crop.
“Have youse not set up yet boys?” asks a teacher, growing slightly impatient with a group from St Louis Grammar School, Co Down.
The judges were expected at 3pm, winding their way through the rows and rows of exhibition tables. Some students have handmade posters and diagrams, others have sophisticated graphics and all manner of props.
A group of girls from Scoil Mhuire, Cork, have a bicycle frame clamped to a stand. They are showing off a safety system for cyclists which uses motion sensors and lights to warn drivers when they’re coming too close.
Abbey Horgan got the idea after a cyclist was badly injured in an incident near her hometown of Kinsale. She and her friends Ciara Donoghue and Ciara Murphy developed a system using a sensor which would detect when cars come within a certain distance of a cyclist.
They reckon there could be commercial potential in the idea too. “I think it’s needed on the market,” said Ms Horgan. “It’s such a cheap thing to make. All the pieces are from Lidl.”