I spent last Friday and Saturday at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition in Dublin. The CALMAST group at our college do a great job of communicating science to young people and I took a day out to go up and help out with physics demonstrations at their stand at the exhibition. They had super demonstrations covering all the sciences, including a robot that moves and talks, a show on Robert Boyle and simple demonstrations of the science of first aid . My own job was to demonstrate the physics of magnets, plasma balls and the like. It’s fun to do and great see the interest in young people, some kids find it utterly fascinating.
Robert Boyle (Eoin Gill) at the WIT stand (Boyle was born in Waterford)
Galileo (Astronomy Ireland)meets Boyle (WIT)
The WIT robot BENJI meets the Minister for the Environment
Such stands are really a sideshow to the main event. The Young Scientist is a highly successful science competiton for Irish secondary schools, where students from hundreds of schools submit detailed science projects. I didn’t get a chance to see all the projects, but there were some very interesting physics projects, ranging from a study of the surface brightness of disc galaxies to a mathematical model of the human face using factals. Two maths projects that caught my attention were a suggested new avenue for the solution of the Riemann Hypothesis via the Robin formulation and ‘ efficient numerical tests of of Robin’s reformulation of the Riemann hypothesis’ (the latter won 1st prize for individual project). Both these projects were from the same school – extraordinary what inspiration good secondary teachers can give. The overall winner of the competition was an ingenous method of determing the health of cattle using washing-up liqud, you can read about it here.
Of course, the real question is whether such projects and the whizz bang demonstrations next door motivate young people into choosing science as a career. I think they do to some extent as inspiration outside the classroom is often the key to a choice of career. Even if not, a lifelong curiosty about the subject can be fostered. However, I admit it’s a difficult thing to prove..