Young scientist's winning project defended


THE WINNER of this year’s BT Young Scientist competition was defended by a member of the judging panel yesterday amid claims his project had existed since “time immemorial”.

Leonard Hobbs, the competition’s senior technology judge, said Richard O’Shea’s project – a highly efficient and near smoke-free cooking stove made from waste materials – “had it all”.

Mr Hobbs was responding to comments by Austin O’Sullivan, the former curator of the Agricultural Museum at Johnstown Castle in Co Wexford, who said it appeared the sixth-year student from Scoil Mhuire gan Smál, Blarney, Co Cork, had reinvented the wheel “unwittingly”.

“I thought it was a very low-tech subject that has been around since time immemorial,” Mr O’Sullivan said on RTÉs Liveline.

For his project, Mr O’Shea researched and built a cooking stove, which could be used in developing countries, from everyday objects such as tin cans. His final design burns hot using no more than scraps of wood while emitting very little smoke.

Mr O’Sullivan said a similar device was on display in Johnstown.

Mr Hobbs said Mr O’Sullivan was correct insofar as the basic idea was not entirely new. However, he said the project combined science and technology and that Mr O’Shea had implemented a number of successful modifications to the old design.

“What was fundamental was his understanding of how combustion works,” he said.

“[Richard] used different fuels, techniques of lighting it and he went and measured the amount of smoke and the efficiency of the stove. It was quite a substantial body of work.”