Teachers, bankers, pharmacists and surgeons. Where are the young scientists now?

Science Editor Dick Ahlstrom finds out what the past 49 young scientist winners are up to now


Past winners of the annual BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition have gone on to pursue a wide variety of careers. There are teachers, bankers, pharmacists and surgeons. Some became environmentalists while others set up their own companies.

Not surprisingly, many remained involved in the sciences and research and some have taken up senior positions in academia. More recent winners, however, are either still in school or pursuing degrees in higher education.

Here is a snapshot of what past winners are doing today.

John Monaghan, 1965 : The first young scientist winner built a working model of the human stomach, explaining all the steps of digestion.

He completed degrees in Ireland and Canada and became a senior staff member of a number of US biotechnology companies, including his own company. He is semi-retired but is still involved in companies both here and in the US.

Mary Finn, 1966: Finn won with a project looking at the “Four Colour Problem”, a proof of the theorem that you need only four colours to colour any flat surface. She completed a science degree in Cork, then became a science teacher working in Dublin. She is retired but still tutors.

Walter Hayes, 1967: He took the top prize with a project looking at salmonella infection in mice, explaining the course of the illness and its effects on the host. He did a language degree at Trinity College Dublin and moved to North Africa where he is now believed to be teaching.

George Reynolds, 1968: Reynolds did a geophysical study of an iron mine in Co Wicklow. He took degrees at Trinity and at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He worked in Ireland, Spain and France in mineral exploration and then further afield in Africa and Asia. He currently concentrates on his work in management consulting, but has also developed a new kind of radiation detector.

Luke Drury, 1969: Drury won the young scientist with a project to build a scientific device which he then used to study the formation of chemical ions in a metal. He took degrees at Trinity College Dublin and Cambridge University.

He worked in Germany before returning to Ireland to join the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He is currently director in the Institute’s School of Cosmic Physics and is president of the Royal Irish Academy.

Maria Edgeworth, 1970: After her win Edgeworth completed a science degree in Trinity and did a diploma in international studies in Nice. She went on to establish the State’s equine diagnostic laboratory at Coolmore Stud, Co Tipperary, and has also worked at the SIBA stud farm in Brescia, Italy. She went on to work as a biochemist.

Peter Short, 1971: Short left Ireland for Australia and worked as a marketing executive for a pharmaceutical company. Now back in Ireland he set up a company in Clane, Co Kildare, called Pharma Buy which specialises in the distribution of health and beauty aids.

John Birmingham, 1972: Birmingham graduated from Dundee University with a BSc in biochemistry and is currently working in Unilever Laboratories in Cheshire.

Tadgh Begley, 1973: Begley completed a science degree at UCC and a PhD in the California Institute of Technology. He worked in Geneva and at MIT and Cornell before joining Texas A&M University where he is a professor of chemistry. UCD granted him an honorary degree in 2010.

Richard Elliot, 1974: Elliot won the prize with a project using a computer to provide mathematical models of biological systems. He studied to become a doctor and trained as a surgeon in Edinburgh.

He then worked for the UK Health and Safety Executive in occupational toxicology and epidemiology. He is now enjoying early retirement.

Noel Boyle, 1975: He became young scientist for a study of photoelectric cells and building a spectrophotometer. He also studied medicine at Trinity and did research at St James’ Hospital.

Boyle went on to work in a number of US medical centres, continuing to blend clinical medicine with research. He is currently working in cardiology in UCLA Medical Center in California.

Mary Kelly-Quinn, 1976: Her project was in geology, studying rock slides as a way to identify hidden minerals. She completed graduate and post graduate degrees at UCD and after a time at Trinity moved back to UCD.

She is now a senior lecturer at UCD, a director of the Sciences Graduate School and a director of a campus company, Aquens Ltd. In 2011 she was appointed chair of the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Micheal Og O’Brien, 1977: O’Brien completed an integrated study of the conservation of Rogerstown Estuary, Co Dublin, a project that delivered the top prize. He did a zoology degree at UCD and organised and participated in a number of Arctic Canada and Icelandic expeditions to study Irish Brent geese.

He was appointed to the environmental directorate of the European community which has responsibility for nature conservation throughout the EU.

Donald P McDonnell, 1978: His project looked at the impact of pollution on the ecological balance in the Shannon at Limerick. He did a biochemistry degree at NUI Galway and a PhD at Baylor College of Medicine.

He worked with a company in San Diego involved in drug discovery before returning to academia and is now the Glaxo-Wellcome professor of molecular cancer biology at Duke University in North Carolina. In the course of his career he has published over 200 research papers.

Jervis Good, 1979: Good conducted a study of the earwig to capture his young scientist award. He left school without doing his Leaving Cert, but the win enabled him to re-enter the education system.

His BSc and PhD from Trinity and UCC were both in zoology. His project was in ecology and he remained involved in this area, becoming a founder member of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. He currently works as a freelance environmental consultant.

Karen Ruddock, 1980: A detailed study into lichens and their place in the environment won the prize for Ruddock, who went on to complete a degree in natural sciences from Trinity.

She became a science teacher working in Ireland and in Uganda before becoming involved in education in Japan. She did a postgraduate degree in applied linguistics and eventually returned to Ireland. She is now a lecturer in Japanese language and culture at the Centre for Language and Communication Studies in Trinity.

Catherine Conlon, 1981: Conlon completed a complex analysis of the spider and its webs, linking this into the local environment. She went on to study medicine at UCD and did a masters in public health there.

She has worked in general practice and public health and is currently lecturing in epidemiology and public health at UCC. She recently launched her first book, Sonas, Celtic Thoughts of Happiness.

Martyn Sheehan, 1982: Sheehan’s study was into the possible use of lichens as medicines. He went on to complete a BSc at NUI Galway.

He now works as a validation manager in the Elan Corporation in Athlone. He has also worked as a consultant with Biovail and is currently a senior regulatory manager at Pfizer.

Turan Mirza, Gareth Clarke, William Murphy, 1983: The three students from Carrickfergus Grammar School completed a project looking at microcomputer-based robotics. Mirza went on to stud y electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Ulster and then worked as a software engineer. He now works for Advanced Sensors Ltd in Northern Ireland, developing sensor equipment for the oil and gas industry.

Clarke did a degree in technology at Queen’s University, Belfast, and became head of the technology department at Coleraine Academical Institution for 13 years. He also taught computing in Mount Slesse middle school in British Columbia, Canada.

Murphy went on to study computer science at the University of Ulster and worked for British Telecom. He is currently working as an IT consultant and specialises in computer networking and IT applications.

Eoin Walsh, 1984: Walsh’s project involved developing simulations of how electrons flow through a metal. He graduated from Trinity in experimental physics and then did post-graduate research at the college.

He later moved to the University of Nottingham, but then left science to take a position as vice-president of Morgan Stanley bank. He is currently IT manager with UBS Investment Bank, London.

Ronan McNulty, 1985: McNulty developed a musical typewriter that prints out musical notes as you play a keyboard. He studied at UCD and then the University of Liverpool.

A particle physicist, he worked for 10 years at Cern, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, and heads an experimental group there made up of Irish graduates. He holds a lecturing position in the Department of Physics at UCD.

Niamh Mulvaney, Breda Maguire, 1986: Mulvaney and Maguire did an ecological study on the viola tricolour on Bull island in Dublin. Both later took natural science degrees at Trinity.

Mulvaney qualified as a Reiki master in 2000 and is currently working to complete her qualification in homoeopathy. Maguire did a post-grad in business studies at UCD and is currently working as the business manager with Smiths Medical Ltd in Dublin.

Emma Donnellan, Henry Byrne, 1987: The two young scientist winners did a project on the analysis of liquids using fibre optic-based technology. Donnellan went to do a masters at the College of Marketing and Design, later working in Florida and Wisconsin. She currently works for Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard in New Zealand.

Byrne went on to study mechanical and manufacturing engineering in Trinity. He worked for the ESB and then for Roadstone Dublin Ltd. He is currently working for Roadstone Provinces Ltd as development manager for the north-west region.

Siobhán Lanigan O’Keeffe, 1988: She studied geothermal activity beneath the River Skane. She now works for Ulster Wildlife, formerly the Ulster Wildlife Trust. Currently an education officer, Lanigan O’Keeffe is working on a project called Park Life, providing a community and schools education programme for the park with funding from Belfast city council.

Sinead Finn, Grace O’Connor, 1989: The two classmates did a study on the development of a crop fractionation industry for Ireland. Finn is currently based in Hertfordshire in the UK.

O’Connor went to NUI Galway where she completed a degree in biochemistry. She then did a masters in medical oncology at the University of Manchester. She later did a degree in pharmacy and now owns two pharmacies in Co Meath.

Anna Minchin-Dalton, 1990: Her research was ecology-based with a study of aquatic organisms. She graduated with a BSc in rural resource development from Anglia Polytechnic University.

She also completed a masters in the University of Reading and currently works as a marine biologist, going full circle back to the field of her original project for the young scientist exhibition.

Barry O’Doherty, 1991: A complex mathematical project won the award for O’Doherty and also a first at the European young scientist competition in that year. He later did a BSc in physics at Queen’s University Belfast and then a masters in optoelectronics and optical information processing. He is currently teaching in Meánscoil Feirste, Belfast.

Jean Byrne (RIP), Elizabeth Dowling, 1992: The two Dublin students did a project on the population dynamics of an insect, Terellia serrantulae. Jean Byrne studied science at Trinity College and then completed a masters in environmental resource management at UCD. She went on to work as a remote sensing specialist at the Dublin-based Era Maptec Ltd. She had cystic fibrosis and, sadly, died from the illness in March 2007.

Dowling originally studied science but moved to the banking sector and is currently working in Bank of Ireland. She is now studying to become a qualified financial adviser.

Rodger Toner, Donal Keane, 1993: The Newry students studied the tiny freshwater organism gammarus for their project. Since winning the competition, Toner qualified as a doctor at University College London and is currently working on the Royal Free Hospital medical rotation in London.

Keane went on to study aeronautics at Imperial College, London and finance at Queen’s University Belfast. After graduating he joined First Derivatives, a financial software consultancy firm based in Newry, and has spent the last two years working on projects in large financial institutions in Stockholm and London.

Jane Feehan, 1994: Her prize was awarded for her study of the calluna or common heather plant. The Co Offaly student studied biological sciences at Oxford, and then she returned to Ireland to do her PhD in Trinity.

She worked in Copenhagen with the Irish Environment Protection Agency and the European Environment Agency and is currently a natural resources specialist in the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg.

Shane Markey, Brian Fitzpatrick, 1995: The Newry students looked at cavitation damage to plants using acoustic detection. Markey is currently a dentist working in New York.

Fitzpatrick studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and graduated in 2002. He worked in hospital posts in Ireland and Scotland for six years, but decided on a radical career change, joining St Patrick’s seminary in Maynooth in 2008. He is now in his final year of training at Maynooth and hopes to be ordained a priest this summer.

Patricia Lyle, Rowena Mooney, Elsie O’Sullivan, 1996: The trio won the prize for their study of what makes a perfect queen bee. Lyle studied commerce at UCD and went on to do a masters in accounting. She worked as an accountant for KPMG, moved to Bermuda six years ago and is now an accountant with the Renaissance Reassurance company.

Mooney studied business management at DIT and is now living in Australia. O’Sullivan studied veterinary sciences in UCD, qualifying in 2003. After working for private practices for several years she now works as a veterinary officer for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Dungannon.

Fiona Fraser, Emma McQuillan, Ciara McGoldrick, 1997: The students did a study on the preservation of biological data in European bog bodies. Fraser moved to Australia where she studied midwifery at the University of Melbourne. She is currently working in biomedical engineering.

McQuillan completed a degree in forensic medicine at Dundee University. McGoldrick studied medicine and is currently working as a registrar in plastic surgery, based in the Ulster Hospital Dundonald.

Raphael Hurley, 1998: He did a maths degree at UCC, and then joined Morgan Stanley as a bond trader. He is currently the global director, health financing, at Clinton Health Access Initiative in Ethiopia, Africa.

Sarah Flannery, 1999: Flannery developed a new way to encrypt data and received international news coverage for her project. She went on to study computer science at the University of Cambridge, then worked for games company Electronic Arts as a software engineer.

Based in San Francisco, she worked at Tirnua, an electronic games company that she helped found, and is currently working in analytics and data visualisation.

Thomas Gernon, 2000: Gernon produced a study of the geography and mathematics of the earth’s urban centres. He went on to do BSc and PhD degrees in geology and is a leading volcanologist.

Currently a lecturer in earth science at the University of Southampton, he works on the eruption of diamonds from the Earth’s mantle, and the fundamental processes governing the formation of Earth’s largest and most threatening volcanoes.

Michael O’Toole, Peter Taylor, Shane Browne, 2001: The three students studied how polygons can be made to form symmetrical shapes and produced an algorithm to explain the process. O’Toole studied engineering at DCU and later completed a post-grad in DIT. He is currently working as an IT engineer for Beauchamps solicitors.

Taylor went on to study maths and science at UCD. He is currently completing a PhD in astro physics. Browne went to UCD to study biochemistry and graduated with a degree in industrial microbiology. He currently manages the science division of an executive search firm called HRM based in Dublin.

David Michael O’Doherty, 2002: O’Doherty’s study looked at the distribution of prime numbers in the search for underlying order. He went on to study mathematics with physics at the University of Cambridge.

Adnan Osmani, 2003: Osmani’s project involved the development of a new internet browser that is more user-friendly than competing browsers. He completed his Leaving Cert in June 2003 and went on to study computer engineering at Sheffield University.

Ronan Larkin, 2004: Larkin offered a complex mathematical study looking at continued fractions. He completed a degree in mechanical engineering in UCD and then a masters in business analytics at the Smurfit Business School, UCD. He is currently working as a management scientist for Aer Lingus and hopes to complete a PhD in the near future.

Patrick Collison, 2005: Collison designed a new programming language for his young scientist project. He went on to study physics at MIT in Boston but left to co-found a tech company with his brother John. The brothers made news headlines when their company, Auctomatic, was acquired 10 months later for $5 million. He is now director of engineering at Live Current Media, a Vancouver-based technology company.

Aisling Judge, 2006: Judge developed a biological food spoilage indicator and integrated it with food packaging and then evaluated its accuracy. She is studying biochemical engineering at UCD. She won the Irish Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE) undergraduate presentation award in September. She hopes to specialise in biopharmaceutical engineering.

Abdusalam Abubakar, 2007: Abubakar undertook a complex mathematical project related to data encryption, work that also won him first place at the European Young Scientist competition in that year.

Originally from Somalia, he took a gap year after his Leaving Cert to travel throughout Africa before taking up a place in applied mathematics at DCU in 2010. He is currently in 2nd year.

Emer Jones, 2008: Jones developed and then tested various designs for low-cost sandbag shelters, meant for use in emergency situations such as after an earthquake. She became the youngest winner yet of the exhibition. gaining the title at only 13 years of age. Now 18, she is studying physical natural sciences at Cambridge University. She plans on specialising in physics and hopes to get into research. She intends to do a PhD upon completion of her primary degree and masters.

John D O’Callaghan, Liam McCarthy, 2009: The Kinsale students developed a simple, low-cost method for testing whether a cow has an infection, something that will show up in her milk. They have further developed the prototype of their project and they attended the London International Youth Science Forum to show their findings. The boys are currently in 5th year at Kinsale Community School.

Richard O’Shea, 2010: O’Shea developed a highly efficient cooking stove meant for use in resource-poor developing countries. It provides sustained heat using little fuel and is made from waste materials. He went on to study energy engineering in UCC. He is now in third year and hopes to specialise in renewable energy sources and in biomass energy generation.

Alexander Amini, 2011: Amini developed a sensor system that can be used to assess a player’s racket stroke and to help improve the quality of shots. He went on to win first prize in engineering at the EU Young Scientist in September 2011. He is now studying for his Leaving Cert.

Eric Doyle, Mark Kelly, 2012: Doyle and Kelly undertook a complex mathematical challenge, simulating what is known as the gravitational many-body problem. Both are now studying theoretical physics; Doyle in Trinity and Kelly at UCD. In September 2012, they took top honours at the EU Young Scientist competition for physics in Bratislava.

Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey, Sophie Healy-Thow, 2013: This was a biology-based project to see if the presence of a certain bacteria species in the soil could improve seed germination. They conducted a very thorough study that impressed the judges. They are in 3rd year in Kinsale Community College.

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