2009 BT Young Scientist Exhibition

 Reaching out to Ireland's Young Scientists

BT Young Scientist Logo

Geology Matters! and Geoscience Rocks! – these were the twin messages that rang out loud and clear at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in Dublin in January. Under the aegis of the International Year of Planet Earth a geoscience stand incorporating personnel and props from several different organisations was a central feature of the Exhibition’s Eco-zone.

Aim of the Exhibit
The geoscience exhibit aimed to communicate to the students (and their teachers and parents) the varied nature of geology in an interesting and engaging way. It sought to demonstrate the importance and relevance of geology and geologists, what Planet Earth is all about and how it impacts on our everyday lives. Considering that the Young Scientist Exhibition is the leading schools’ science showcase in the country, it was an excellent opportunity for the geoscience sector to reach out to the youth of Ireland.
Before the show 
   Big and Busy
The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) co-ordinated the stand and were happy to co-operate with the Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD) of the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), the National Museum, Trinity College and Met Eireann. Another partner - Discover Science and Engineering – also provided additional funding for the stand. Measuring a whopping 12 metres in length the stand was one of the biggest in the Eco-zone and, by all accounts, it was also one of the busiest stands not just in this area but across the entire exhibition. 

This was quite an achievement when one considers the several tens of thousands of euro that many of the exhibitors would have spent on their stands, many of them employing the most sophisticated and expensive gadgetry imaginable to attract a young audience. The geoscience stand exhibits were warmly welcomed by a mostly surprised, youthful audience, who advanced on the stand in their droves! The first two days were generally populated by students and teachers whereas the final day, Saturday, was mainly a family day, with lots of parents getting in on the act.

Stand Design
Integrating several organisations into one large exhibit stand was no easy task. There was a very real danger that the stand might appear disjointed or haphazard. GSI took the decision early in the planning stage that the title and central messages of the stand had to be neutral, and not organisation-specific. The stand carried the title “Understanding Planet Earth” and the over-riding message was that the rocks around us are central to everything we do on earth and need to be studied and understood. The design of the stand employed a uniform “earthy” green-blue colour scheme, with each poster representing one organisation and clearly communicating geoscience messages such as schools geology competitions, mapping onshore and offshore, the origins of oil and so on.
 busy stand

The exhibit structure saw the use of two curved stands, one at either end, to “encase” all the posters and props – this gave the effect of integration, as well as balance, and it looked professional and planned. Props were then spaced out in such a way as to encourage access and foot fall and to reinforce the poster messages. The stand was manned by personnel from GSI, DIAS, PAD and the National Museum, all of whom wore a neutral t-shirt communicating both the title of the stand and the message “Geology matters”.
 Minerals Challenge - boys Stand Props - Minerals Challenge
The stand availed of a range of props to generate traffic and to spark the interest of those who came by. Perhaps the most popular prop was a “Minerals for Living” Challenge. This competition was almost constantly swamped by excited, giddy students, trying to link colourful minerals in a glass display case with the appropriate product in everyday use that was displayed on the wall behind the case. With a little prompting from stand personnel it was quite amazing just how clued in many of the entrants were. Seeing lots of entrants correctly linking gypsum to plaster-board, graphite to pencils and fluorite (calcium fluoride) with the Teflon coating on a frying pan was quite delightful!
Stand Props - The Magic Planet
Another prop that generated a lot of enthusiasm was the “Magic Planet”. This is a digital display with a sphere-shaped screen. In effect, it is a constantly rotating globe which displays all kinds of earth information in a dramatic fashion. Students quickly got the knack of changing the display by using the touch screen on the accompanying monitor. In no time at all they had viewed the land cover around the globe quickly followed by a view of the night sky all over the world!
 The Magic Planet
 Oil cores  

Stand Props - Oil Cores
Petroleum Affairs Division promotes, regulates and monitors the exploration and development of oil and gas in Ireland, both onshore and offshore. They provided some rock (core) samples taken from offshore locations in which it was possible to see and smell oil stains. Younger children, in particular, found these fascinating and engaged in some audacious poking and prodding of the samples! People were also interested in finding out how the process of petroleum exploration occurs and how it is administered in Ireland.

Stand Props - Valentia Tetrapod Trackway

Perhaps the most unusual prop at the stand was a tall “pavement”. It was a cast of part of the Valentia Tetrapod Trackway from Co. Kerry. At first glance it may not have grabbed people’s attention but when stand personnel explained to visitors what it was, it seemed to arouse people’s imagination quite dramatically. The cast replicates the fossilized footprints of a four footed animal from 385 million years ago. It is one of the best examples, anywhere in the world, of the footprints of the first animal to walk out of the oceans onto land. It is possible to clearly make out its meandering tracks across a piece of coastline on Valentia Island. The site is a protected geological heritage site that is open for the public with free admission.

tetrapod trackway
seismometer - bottom right!

Stand Props - Seismometer

Another big draw at the stand was the seismometer provided and manned by DIAS. Stand visitors were able to view onscreen a map of earthquake activity in Ireland, yes there are earthquakes in and around Ireland! They were encouraged to jump and see how the seismometer measured their impact upon hitting the floor! As one might imagine, this inspired an intermittent kind of madness at the stand! DIAS runs a very successful “Seismology in Schools” project that involves the placement of a seismometer in interested schools, preceded by excellent training in its use and understanding. Further information is available here.

My Erratic Rock - Erratics Schools Competition
It is planned that one of the legacies of IYPE will be a schools essay competition. The competition – entitled My Erratic Rock – had its first outing last year and having exceeded GSI’s expectations they have decided to run it as an annual competition. The competition seeks to stimulate interest in geoscience among school pupils at Transition Year level in the Republic of Ireland and Years 11 and 12 in Northern Ireland. Entrants are asked to identify an erratic (an out-of-place rock) to tell, in a short essay, its location and how it got there. They are also encouraged to write creatively and to illustrate their entries. Last year many of the entries were simply amazing, full of accurate science as well as insight and genius! The closing date for this year’s competition is 3rd April and an awards ceremony will be subsequently held in the Dublin offices of the GSI. Click here for more details.


Interestingly, several of the twelve competition winners last year visited the Understanding Planet Earth stand in the RDS to chat. It was also noticeable that several students who visited the stand knew about last year’s competition and were enquiring about the 2009 competition.

L-R: Denis Patterson, Dr. Pat O'Connor, GSI, Shane Curry

IYPE/Geoscience Prize

The organising committee of IYPE sponsored a special award at this year’s Exhibition and a range of interesting entries were shortlisted for final selection. Among the goals of the award were the stimulation of interest in geoscience and the underlining of the importance of geosciences and georesources for Irish society. The prizewinners - Denis Patterson and Shane Curry under the instruction of their teacher, Stephen Gammell - from Scoil Chonglais Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, completed a wonderful project entitled “Seismic Activity in the British Isles and the Wider World”. It was based on the use of a seismometer which their school had received under the DIAS programme mentioned earlier. Not only did award winners take the IYPE award, but they also took first prize in the "Category Award: Chemical, Physical and Mathematical Sciences".

RTE/Met Eireann/IYPE Schools Competition
This was another competition for students being promoted at the geoscience stand. RTÉ is celebrating
the International Year of Planet Earth 2008 by giving schools the opportunity to explore planet Earth from their very own school yard and then tell the nation about their findings. RTÉ news2day and RTÉ Weather have joined forces to offer students the chance to win a weather station or seismometer for their school.

And for those budding television presenters in the classroom, representatives of one winning primary school and one winning post-primary school will be chosen to feature on RTÉ news2day and RTÉ Weather reporting on their experiences and findings. Full details are available here

RTE Met Eireann Competition

Finn and kids

Unquestionably, one of the most important elements of the stand was the interaction between stand personnel and visitors. Geology can be quite a complex subject and many are unaware about its ongoing presence in our everyday lives. So, it was interesting for many stand visitors to speak with a practising geologist about everything from oil to dinosaurs, from gold to caves. Yet, it was very much a two-way street – it was readily apparent that stand personnel found the exhibition to be very inspirational, with the hordes of stand visitors re-igniting their own enthusiasm in their work in the field of geology. It was a virtual affirmation of their decision to study geology themselves and they all spoke of what a wonderful experience it was to work on the stand and engage with what we can only hope will be the young geologists of tomorrow!