The Irish Times view on young people and science: Shared achievements breed success

Entrepreneurship is a close cousin of scientific endeavour in requiring a questioning spirit and independent thinking

 President Michael D Higgins during The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition at the RDS, Dublin Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

President Michael D Higgins during The BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition at the RDS, Dublin Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The calibre of research being undertaken by Ireland’s young scientists has never been as impressive, if the annual showcase at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition is an indicator.

At the 2019 exhibition in the RDS, so many entrants tackled the most important issues facing Ireland and the world, ranging across climate change, health, technology, ethics, renewable energy, pollution – especially from microplastics – and societal change. An emphasis on solutions, ambition, and brilliant articulation were evident among the entrants, and not just award winners.

The number of project entries has almost tripled from 606 in 2000 to 1,803 in 2019. Some 56 per cent of entrants were female, with a noteworthy increase of 62 per cent in girls qualifying in the chemical, physical, and mathematical sciences category this year. Significantly, 10 per cent of entries were from Deis schools, a positive indication of success in encouraging participation in the critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to participants and predicted they were set to join the ranks of “the problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and persistent learners... so essential to the crafting of a shared and better future for all who share this fragile planet”.

At a time of an existential threat to the Earth, he singled out the need to address climate change, sustainability, global hunger, poverty, inequality and gender violence. The best chance of success was through “shared achievements” with breakthroughs being used for collective benefit.

The BTYSTE has changed to reflect modern life. There are many who want to design the latest smartphone App, or a product that will make millions. As former entrant Steve Collins, founder of Havok computer games, remarked, entrepreneurship is a close cousin of scientific endeavour in requiring a questioning spirit and independent thinking. If that channel is infused with a sense of working for the betterment of society, and there is sustained support for research, the exhibition is destined for still more success.

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