Sunday, January 22, 2012

My personal highlights from the BTYSTE exhibition

While at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition last week, I had an informal wander around the exhibition hall and this is some of the exhibits that stood out for me. I did not have time to visit all projects so it possible that I missed some wonderful projects. I won't cover the Primary Science fair because I reviewed it earlier.
  • I spoke briefly with one of the students behind the overall winning project and I was very impressed with how pleasant and down to earth he was. He managed to explain a complex project in simple and easy to understand terms. He also told me about his career plans and those of his partner - I have no doubt that they will achieve all of them.
  • The project which impressed me most, was done by a student from Avondale Community School which was entitled "Safe driving with the ice device". This project was clearly inspired by the cold weather around the time of last years exhibition. The student had developed a novel system to deal with the problem of windscreen de-icing during cold weather. The problem he spotted was the fact that water used for washing the windscreen will often be frozen and so he built a simple simple electric heater which could melt it. Then if the windscreen begins to re-freeze, the driver can simply spray some hot water onto the windscreen which will unfreeze it as well as washing it. He even took into account the fact that often the water in the pipes leading to the window washer and/or the nozzles can be blocked with frozen water and so he added a compressed air system to assist with unblocking it.
    I think this is an idea with a lot of potential and the student involved was very eloquent and well able to explain the merits of his system. Here he is pictured with his model car demonstrating the system.
  • Two young second year students from Desmond College in Limerick won the overall group runner-up prize for their project "InVigil8 -A Personal Portable Security System" which combined 8 different devices to help with personal protection. I don't want to seem dismissive of their achievements, but I was surprised to see that in most cases they had not actually developed any of the devices from scratch, but had instead adapted an existing device/alarm to a new usage pattern. However, what really did impress me (and presumably the judges) was the confident way that they could demonstrate their project. I think that these young students have a bright future in business even if they decide not to pursue a scientific career.
  • Another project which was inspired by last years unusually cold weather was "Smart Pipe – An Automated Water Circulation Anti-Freezing System". This project implemented a system to stop pipes bursting during periods of freezing weather. The system they built had a motor to circulate the water within the houses plumbing system, this motor was automatically turned on when the temperature dropped below freezing point and this was effectively a less wasteful version of the old trick of leaving a tap running when freezing weather is expected. This trick is only effective when the water is slightly below its freezing point and so when the temperature dropped further the system automatically diverted water from the hot water tank into the cold water system. Since the cold water was already circulating the small amount of hot water added was dispersed and brought the overall temperature of the water only slightly above freezing.
  • The winners of the IBM award were two students from Tipperary who had developed a database of recordings of health and diseased horse hearts. They combined their database with an existing pattern recognition system so that vets can now submit a sample heartbeat recording from one of the horses under care and the application will tell them what heart disease (if any) the horse is suffering from. Read more about their project here.
  • The project "iCollapse:A mobile phone application for assisting those who are liable to collapse" should have won the prize for the most catchy project name is one was being given out. It also had a very clever and useful application - it uses the accelerometer and sensors in someone's iPhone to detect when the person had collapsed and then it will automatically contact a carer to come check on them. This is clearly an idea with great potential and I hope the student involves goes on to make it generally available.
  • Another ambitious technology project was the student who developed the FreeFlowApp web site combining formal traffic reports with people tweeting about traffic issues on the twitter platform. I know from experience that this is a simple concept, but very difficult to implement in practice. At the exhibition the student had a working version of the web site - not only could I see him demonstrate it himself, but I was also able to access it myself on my phone. Unfortunately the site does not seem to be active anymore.
As well as the student exhibitors, there were also a number of exhibits run by professional science and technology organizations. Naturally I thought that the IBM stand was the best, but I was also particularly impressed by the stand run by Institute of Structural engineers. Their stand was not very complex, but they managed to get visitors actively involved in the real issues dealt with by structural engineers by getting them to build complex structures out of paper discs. As you can see from the picture some of the resulting structures were very complex and I think people seemed to be spending hours at their stand.

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