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  • Northside East

Young scientists leading the way for a better world

Monday, 13th January, 2020 1:00pm
Young scientists leading the way for a better world

RTÉ put together a three-day schedule of live broadcasts, live news, live weather and activities at the 2020 BTYSTE. Pictured at the event was RTÉ 2FM’s Jennifer Zamparelli (centre) with Ciana Boland, Daniela Cacivkina and Leah Douglas, from Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle. PHOTO: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.ie

Young scientists leading the way for a better world

RTÉ put together a three-day schedule of live broadcasts, live news, live weather and activities at the 2020 BTYSTE. Pictured at the event was RTÉ 2FM’s Jennifer Zamparelli (centre) with Ciana Boland, Daniela Cacivkina and Leah Douglas, from Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle. PHOTO: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.ie

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Aoife O’Brien

TWO students from Loreto Secondary School in Balbriggan may have found a way to reduce plastic waste in hospitals with their entry into this year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) in the RDS.

Sisters Zainab and Minza Shahid developed a biodegradable and antimicrobial plastic from a substance called chitosan which can be found in the shells of crabs, lobsters, shrimp, insects and in the cell walls of fungi. 

According to Minza, chitosan films had been made before but they absorbed large amounts of water making them a weak plastic.

“For our experiment we decided to adapt the plastic to see if we could strengthen it and decrease the water absorption,” Minza said.

Their experiment generated incredible results, according to Zainab. 

“So we actually found that one of our films preformed significantly better compared to the control films so their water absorption and saline absorption have actually significantly decreased and their tensile strength had almost doubled,” she said.

After checking that their adaptations had not altered the biodegradable and antimicrobial properties of the plastic which make it so suitable for hospital use, the pair now believe that their plastic could replace traditional non-biodegradable IV bags and be used for the packaging of disposable tools in hospitals.

However, they were not the only Dublin students making waves in the science world last week.

Students from 45 Dublin schools reached the final of this year’s exhibition. 

The 45 schools qualified a combined total of 90 projects accounting for almost a sixth of the 550 projects which were on display. 

The annual exhibition, which celebrated its 56th year last week, featured more than 1,100 students from 244 schools across the country. 

Also competing in the exhibition was fifth year student Louis Grelet, from Skerries Community College, where last year’s overall winner Adam Kelly also attended.

Louis’ project, ‘Myth-busting Soapnuts’, was selected from approximately 1,850 entries to be showcased at the exhibition.

The project investigated a substance called saponin which is found in the shell of soap nuts to see if it could be used as an environmentally friendly alternative to commercial laundry detergent.

“Unfortunately, I found that soap nuts don’t actually work as a laundry detergent but what is interesting is they can be used as an anti-bacterial so you can still disinfect clothes with them,” said Louis.

While Louis found that soap nuts were not an efficient stain remover, he also discovered that on a short 30-minute 30-degree wash, commercial detergent was also no better than just water for removing stains. “Because commercial laundry detergent didn’t work any better as a stain remover than soap nuts in a short wash, they could be used as an environmentally friendly alternative here and disinfect the clothes while the water removes the majority of the stains,” he added.

However, Louis has not given up hope on his idea just yet saying that if he returns to the BTYSTE next year he would “try to concentrate the saponin to see if that would allow it to compete with a commercial detergent.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched the exhibition last Wednesday and paid tribute to the students’ imagination, determination and vision for a better world. He said the exhibition was an Irish gathering of world-class research and ingenuity. 

The Taoiseach also expressed delight at the number of female participants taking part in the exhibition. Sixty percent of the participants were female which Mr Varadkar said shows that “our strategies are helping to bring about the change our society needs”. 

However, he added: “Science and Maths isn’t just for the boys . . . but it is for boys as well, so keep doing it.

Aidan Clair and Donnacha Gibbons, from Ardscoil Rís, Marino, with their project titled ‘Creating a pressurised toilet to reduce household water usage’. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA Ella Walsh and Robyn Bagley, from Loreto Secondary School, Balbriggan, with their project titled ‘Girls’ confidence in Maths and STEM careers’. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA Emma McCann, from St Joseph’s Secondary School, Rush with her project ‘Sans eyes, sans ears: An analysis of dual coded information in aural exams’. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

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