President Michael D Higgins has saluted young scientists for their "independence of thought, critical turn of mind and questioning of the status quo".
Speaking at the opening of the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday, Mr Higgins said such qualities were often combined with an ethical concern for “the community and the planet”. They were essential to meeting the challenges facing the world today, especially from climate change.
“Some of you have sought to push barriers in the field of mathematics; to investigate causes of and solutions to a variety of social problems, or to pose and answer questions of startling originality,” he added. A total of 134 students from 38 countries are competing for the EU Young Scientist of the Year 2018 title.
The President said he was particularly pleased some contestants were focused on the great challenge of climate change “and its threat to our environment and natural habitats”.
The contributions of young scientists were critical to putting actions on the words of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, he believed. Within Europe, the absence of borders in exchanging ideas, science and technology was essential, he said, as it would enable quicker identification of solutions in the best interests of the planet.
More than any other place in the world, the continent of Africa "is now the crucible for the global challenges that we confront", Mr Higgins said. Africa could in future decades be seen as a great opportunity, or a problem. "Its only problem is we neglect issues of climate change and sustainability," he said.
“An equitable sharing of global technological advances and their application in raising the welfare of communities across the globe” was also necessary, Mr Higgins said.
Pinnacle of scientific achievement
The President paid tribute to the competition “which is at the pinnacle of scientific achievement and discovery amongst young people worldwide”. It was also one of the great success stories of Europe.
“If in the past science was incorporated into a push to consume, I think science is even more important now as it enables us to recover...in the service of sustainability,” Mr Higgins said.
He noted a new "young philosopher of the year award" had been introduced in Ireland recently. He looked forward in years ahead to what would emerge from a meeting of the young philosophers of the year with young scientists of the year.
The President met contestants including Simon Meehan from Ballincollig, Co Cork, current BT Young Scientist & Technologist of the Year awardholder, who is representing Ireland, and Josh Mitchell (18), from Holmes Chapel near Manchester, who has developed a cheap, easy-to-build 3D printer, which he hopes will become widely available to ordinary consumers and come "flat-packed in a container the size of a pizza box". He has developed eight prototypes since the age of 13.
An initiative of the European Commission under the Science and Society programme, EUCYS is the annual showcase of the best of European student scientific achievement, but it is also open to other countries. A total of 88 projects is on display in the RDS, covering a wide range of topics – from the representation of gangsterism and scientific progress in comic books (Luxembourg) to a smart weather system simulator (Tunisia).
Categories range across biology, physics, chemistry, computing, social sciences, environment, mathematics, materials, engineering and medicine. A judging panel headed by Prof Tony Fagan of UCD interviews contestants and evaluates projects in a five-stage process.
First place winners of EUCYS will be awarded €7,000 as well as a trip to the Cern research facility in Switzerland and the European Space Agency. The EU Young Scientist for 2018 will be announced on Tuesday at an awards ceremony in the Printworks, Dublin Castle.
To mark the 30th EUCYS and the history of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, many of Ireland's past winners, including the very first winner of BTYSTE in 1965, John Monahan, returned to the RDS on Saturday "to support Ireland's current entry and to celebrate their collective journeys since their participation".
"We also want to take this moment to acknowledge Ireland's past achievements at EUCYS and welcome back former participants who competed for their country down the years. This is a special moment for them and for all involved in EUCYS and the national qualifying competition, the BTYSTE," said Mari Cahalane, head of EUCYS 2018.
The contest is open to the public in the RDS daily from 10am to 4pm, from Saturday to Monday next. More information on tickets and science shows being staged at the RDS to coincide with EUCYS 2018 is available at https://eucys2018.com