Tomorrow’s scientists

Does a pony gallop faster after eating a Mars bar? President Michael D Higgins discovered the answer at the opening day of the 2014 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition when examining the project submitted by a 13-year-old entrant at this year's competition. In all 550 projects are on display – some novel, some practical, some quite esoteric – that have been shortlisted from the 2,000 applications submitted. The projects are divided into four categories: physical sciences and maths; technology; biology and ecology; social and behavioural sciences.

The competition, which is open to entrants aged 12 to 18 from all Ireland, has attracted record interest as it celebrates its 50th anniversary year. For a competition that began five decades ago in the Mansion House and that now attracts some 40,000 visitors annually to the RDS, the Young Scientist exhibition has grown fast, aged well, and managed to maintain high standards. One measure of its success can be judged from the career paths taken by previous winners. The first winner of the competition, John Monaghan, went on to a successful career as a scientist and entrepreneur, developing a major biotech company in the US.

The roll call of past winners, and their subsequent career achievements, is equally impressive. While winning the competition is important, the benefits gained from taking part make it a worthwhile experience. For the competition reflects not just the efforts of students, but the support and guidance that parents and teachers provide in the background. It works at one level because it makes science exciting; even a fun thing to do.

Above all, it introduces talented young people to the potential of a science-based career, whether as a researcher, entrepreneur or manager. After 50 years all those associated with the Young Scientist Exhibition can proudly celebrate its achievement in helping bring science to a wider audience. They can also look forward to the next half century with every confidence of its continuing success.