The Irish Times view on young scientists: each year their endeavour becomes more ambitious

Emerging scientists must be given time to pursue basic science that is so critical to society

The winners of the  BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition,   Aditya Joshi, aged 15 (left) and Aditya Kumar, aged 16 (right),  students at  Synge Street, Dublin, took  home the top prize for a project entitled A New Method of Solving the Bernoulli Quadrisection Problem. Photograph:  Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

The winners of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, Aditya Joshi, aged 15 (left) and Aditya Kumar, aged 16 (right), students at Synge Street, Dublin, took home the top prize for a project entitled A New Method of Solving the Bernoulli Quadrisection Problem. Photograph: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography

 

Ireland is fortunate in having so many young people “who create the promise, as well as the possibility, of becoming the problem solvers, critical thinkers and persistent pursuers of the possibilities of tomorrow”, as President Michael D Higgins noted at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

The longest-running Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) exhibition in Europe showcases these talents. Each year their scientific endeavour becomes even more ambitious, while their willingness to pursue solutions to some of world’s most immediate problems – Covid-19, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss – is undiminished.

It is heartening to see that technological advancement, combined with the application of advanced software, continues unabated. The outcomes are often thrilling in their capacity to enhance modern living, or heartening in their potential to improve healthcare or wellbeing.

While all this augurs well for the future Irish economy, other understandable realities are evident, notably an insatiable demand for commercialisation. The 2021 winner Greg Tarr confirmed this week he was offered “a high six-figure salary” by a company after winning with his artificial intelligence tool to detect deepfake online content. He decided to become an entrepreneur instead and raised $1.25 million within two months for his company Inferex.

The exhibition is undoubtedly a great catalyst for all of this, but it must continue to provide ballast in ensuring emerging scientists are given time to pursue basic science, the fundamental improving of theories for better understanding and prediction of natural or other phenomena, that is so critical to society. There has to be room too for the joy of discovery arising from the appliance of science.

There is a Stem movement in Ireland and it is gaining significant momentum with the notable help of the annual exhibition. But there are gaps that need to be addressed, especially at third level and within industry. The group that remains most under-represented in Stem is girls from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, though exclusion is also evident in the case of people of colour, those with disabilities, migrants and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In having to go virtual, the exhibition has triumphed against the odds, and gained a global audience with viewers tuning in from more than 70 countries.

But, as co-founder Dr Tony Scott has remarked, nothing beats in-person engagement on projects between students and judges, between entrants and their peers, and especially presenting their work to an inquisitive public. On that basis, a return to Dublin’s RDS in 2023 is in the best interests of all.

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