Young Scientist: Brothers bring separate projects to competition

One project focuses on electronic sensors, the other at whether seaweed works as a biofuel

Young scientists past and present at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) at the RDS in Dublin


Amidst the 550 projects submitted to this year’s BT Young Scientist exhibition at the RDS are competing ideas from two brothers.

Cathal Mariga from Cork, with David Byron and Jim Moloney are developing a sensor that can detect a potentially ill foal.

“When a foal gets sick say with a gastric ulcer it will stop suckling and milk will spill down the mare’s leg,” said Cathal. The goal is to develop an electronic sensor mounted on the mare that specifically detects milk, he said.

The challenge however is no such sensor exists and biological sensors have a poor shelf life, explained David. “If we could develop one it could be very valuable.”

It would give early warning if a foal was doing poorly and improve its chances, Cathal added. They also surveyed horse owners and all expressed an interest in having such a device.

Cathal’s brother, Liam, is on another stand in the biological and ecological sciences category with Max White and Julian Drennan with a project to assess whether pelletised seaweed might offer a sustainable source of energy.

Liam is at a stand a short distance away with a project to see whether seaweed could be compressed to deliver a pellet type fuel that is cheap and sustainable.

“I was walking along a beach and looking at all the seaweed washed up and wondered if it could be used as a fuel,” Liam said.

They found that it is difficult to compress into pellets without specialist equipment that they did not have.

They improvised however and managed to make a usable fuel, Max explained. It was slow to ignite but produced more or less the same energy as peat or wood pellets and so could provide a biofuel, he said.

Both teams are already planning to develop their projects further for the 2017 exhibition.

All six students are 16-year-old transition year students at Midleton College, Cork and are first time entrants.