Young scientists hit their sporting targets by thinking outside the box

From seaweed golf tees to boots for hurling the Young Scientists Exhibition is a vision of the future

To the RDS, to see the future. Turns out the future has far, far more going for it than the slack-jawed gawpers who loll up and down the aisles asking the future to show its work. It is earnest and pimple-faced and pristine of uniform and gabby as anything once you get it talking. It is the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and it would do any heart good to walk around it.

There exists in this hall a multitude of things you didn’t know you needed but now that you think of it make perfect sense. An Tionchar – a purpose-designed boot for hurlers and camogie players, the vast majority of whom wear boots created for and used by soccer players. The Brap – a boxer’s handwrap that doubles as a wrist support device, which both helps prevent injury and aids rehabilitation. The Green Tee – a biodegradable golf tee made out of seaweed.

Seaweed? Yes, seaweed. The brain child of Jake Killeen and Ben Healy from Castleknock College in Dublin, the Green Tee is an attempt to go some way to saving the estimated 140,000 trees that are chopped down worldwide each year to make wooden golf tees. The seaweed is dried out and compacted and turned into a tee on a lathe.


“You carry it around in a container of water in your golf bag,” says Killeen. “The water hydrates it so that it keeps it shape, stays strong and holds the ball. Once you’ve hit your shot, you put it back into the container. But if you walk off without it, it’s okay because it’s biodegradable and it’s actually good for the soil. It acts as a fertiliser. Unlike the plastic ones that just get left there.


“It started with a project I did on golf tees where I found that 140,000 trees a year are cut down worldwide for making wooden tees. That’s just a waste. So we wanted to see what you could make golf tees out of that wouldn’t harm the environment and actually that could help it. Seaweed is a natural fertiliser so it’s perfect.”

Uniformity of choice

An Tionchar – The Impact as Gaeilge – is the work of Shiofra Ryan and

Orlaith Plunkett

from St Brendan’s Community School in Birr, Co Offaly. That hurling and soccer are entirely different sports is obvious to everyone’s eye.

Yet the sheer uniformity of choice in the boot section of every sports shop tells its own story too. Hurlers wear boots custom-made for a sport other than their own. At a time when ankle injuries make up 11 per cent of all hurling injuries, there should be a better way.

Ryan studied the specific movements made by Richie Hogan and Steven Gerrard over a 40-minute period. Hogan made four times as many jumps and had three times as many changes of direction. Gerrard had twice as many straight-line runs.

Yet the boots Hogan wore were designed to suit the game played by Gerrard. The Tionchar aims to change that.

"The ankle is such a flexible part of the body," explains Ryan. "If you look at someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, most of runs will be in a straight line or diagonally. He won't be constantly jumping up and landing. Soccer boots are designed with that in mind.

“Whereas in hurling, the inside of the foot is used constantly to change direction and there is far more jumping and landing from a height. And in a dry summer like we had this year in Ireland, you are landing on hard ground and sending the shock all the way up your body, through your hips and the discs in your back. The chiropractor I talked to explained how much later-life injury is caused by discs clashing together under that impact.”

The hurling boot prototype has its cushioning in a different spot so as to defray the shock of landing so often from a height. It’s also much higher on the ankle, like an old fashioned rugby boot.

All Star centre forward Patrick Bonner Maher has given it his blessing, as has Offaly camogie player Elaine Dermody. Seems so simple, really.

There are sports-based projects everywhere at the RDS. Two students from Loreto Foxrock found that Gaelic football and rugby players are woefully under-informed about the effects of synthetic proteins such as whey protein and powders and bars, most especially the level of muscle deterioration that can take place when they stop using them.

Three lads from Coláiste Phádraig in Lucan found the lack of concussion training among amateur and schools rugby teams all kinds of worrying, albeit they weren’t able to get too many straight answers when they went to the provinces asking did professional players cheat on their pre-season concussion tests.

Favourites won

Maybe best of all, three maths whizzes from Gonzaga College in Dublin studied three years of horse racing results in Ireland and England to find out how often the favourite won.

If some of their discoveries wouldn’t knock you out of your standing – Tony McCoy wins on more favourites than other jockeys do – it was interesting to see that more favourites tend to win during the winter than during the summer.

The Irish Times went along to check out of this meant that National Hunt favourites are more likely to win than flat favourites. But the students were gone when we got there. Off to steam in on the favourite at the 4.10 in Taunton, no doubt.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times