Future engineers, scientists and researchers are in no short supply of creative solutions to the challenges of global poverty, reports Patsy Toland from this year’s Young Scientist Exhibition in Dublin.

Eight years ago, when the notion of Development and the Third World first made its appearance at the Young Scientists Exhibition, I was working for Self Help Africa’s secondary schools Development Education programme where we faced two main challenges:

  1. Where could we meet a lot of dedicated teachers and students who were willing to give their time and expertise to the issues facing the developing world?
  2. How could we get people to realize that many of the solutions to the issues facing the poor of the World needed research, development and innovation – not just fund-raising?

So of course I ended up at the Young Scientists Exhibition to find out – with literature about many issues that young people could tackle as part of the event!

Within a year the Irish government’s programme for overseas aid, Irish Aid, came on board to support the concept and the Science for Development Award was born. Each year the project that shows the greatest potential to be of real use in the developing world is selected by the expert judging panel of the event.

There have many inspiring students and teachers involved in this competition but the highlight for me was in 2010 when Richard O’Shea from Scoil Mhuire gan Smal, Blarney carried away the Science for Development Award and the overall Young Scientist of the Year! His fuel-efficient stove was designed to be made from old scrap tin containers and gained a lot of interest from both Development and Emergency Aid NGOs.

The Science for Development trophy replicates a water pump – but made from Connemara Marble and African hardwood to represent the connection we have to that continent. The main prize is a travel bursary for the winning teacher and students to join the annual Self Help Africa study visit to one of their partner countries. This year the winners will travel to Burkina Faso.

So what makes a good Science for Development project?

First of all it means engaging with a relevant issue – fair trade, gender equality, water quality, women’s health, food preservation – all have been recipients of the award.

Next it means engaging with people who know what the issues are and enlisting their help in the research. Surveys carried regionally or with the people affected by the issue – water testing, solar energy recording, surveys with women, – all need to have a direct link to the ‘end-user’ and real time data.

Then it means coming up with a solution that is practical and available to people who have limited resources – either technical or financial resources.

Lastly it entails convincing the judges at the BT YS event that your passion, research and commitment are worthy of a trip to Africa to learn more and test your innovation.

Contenders for the 2013 award

‘The design and development of an improved solar fridge’ – Clonakilty community College.

‘Rainwater conversion to potable water’ – St Mary’s Secondary School, Macroom.

‘The causes of our attitude towards climate change’ – Our Lady’s Grove, Dublin.

‘A non-electric fridge for Africa’ – Sutton Park School, Dublin.

‘Using Daphnia to monitor water toxicity’ – Ardscoil Ris, Limerick.

‘Developing methods to harvest seeds from crops for replanting by farmers in developing countries’ – Oakgrove, Derry.

‘Construction of wind up phone charger’ – Colaiste Bhride, Wicklow.

‘An investigation in to the pot-in-pot method of refrigeration with the aim of producing a small pouch in which antibiotics can be carried around while being kept cool’ – Domican College, Wicklow.

Any of these projects – and many more here at the RDS – might contribute to the alleviation of hardship and improved health or lifestyles for the poor of our World.

Importantly, we are not simply seeing young people engaging with communities across the developing world in an isolated space. What is happening here is the shaping of the engineers, scientists and researchers of the future. Here we are seeing the focus of the expertise of the West dedicated to alleviating the problems of the poor.

This year sees the concept of Young Scientists take a leap forward that is so significant that it may just help to re-shape how Africa sees itself.

Three young girls from Tanzania are here as proud winners of the first Young Scientist Tanzania event, held in Dar es Salaam in October 2012. With the support of NUI Maynooth, Irish Aid, Pearson’s publishers and Irish NGOs – a small group of dedicated staff supported schools in Tanzania to develop their science skills to enable them to enter this Irish inspired event.

Joe Clowry, who pioneered this partnership, will be there to forge the link between Irish teachers and students and their Tanzanian peers. Watch this space for some great new innovations as Irish and Tanzanian schools work together and learn from each other about how Science can be an agent of great change for Africa.

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For more on the finals of the Young Scientists Tanzania exhibition see Michael Doorly’s report on the event from November last year.

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  • Patsy Toland

    Just to let you know that Clonakilty Community College took the ‘Science for Development Award’ on Friday night. This is the 2nd time the school has taken the award – previously in 2010 – and their teacher Patrick O’Keefe was thrilled with their unexpected win. Patsy