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young minds

The science of the Cork accent: This year's BT Young Scientist expo is already turning heads

From skateboard equations to cancer research, the BT Young Scientist continues to break records and open doors.

YESTERDAY MORNING, STUDENTS in school uniforms marched through the doors of the RDS, posters rolled up under arms and bags on their backs.

IMAG2345 Gráinne Ní Aodha Gráinne Ní Aodha

For the next two days, hundreds of students from around the country will be discussing their ideas, talking through their research and thinking about the future.

There are 550 ideas crammed into the one Dublin function hall, with over 50,000 visitors expected between today and tomorrow before the overall winner is announced on Friday.

But the BT Young Scientist competition isn’t about winning.

It’s a fun showcase of the power and practical uses of science; an event where children spend their time dropping the jaws of people – most of whom are at least twice their age.

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Take Seb Lennon and Calum Agnew – two junior scientists from St Mary’s Diocesan School in Louth who are just 13 and 14 years old.

Their experiment involves testing the tastebuds of 30 Irish people and 30 foreign-born people, and comparing their receptiveness to different tastes.

From their tests they found that 17 foreign-born people were supertasters, compared to three Irish people. They muse that processed foods could be to blame – saying that an introduction to spices from an early age might make tastebuds sharper.

The results could also show that there’s a genetic link to being a supertaster. / YouTube

Another impressive candidate is Andrew Nash – a Transition Year student from Coláiste Muire Crosshaven, who examined the wavelengths and frequencies of the Cork accent, comparing it to how Dubliners speak.

He found that the Cork accent was slower to reach ‘peak’ vocal points, resulting in a drawl in words like ‘north’ and ‘goat’.

This has very real practical applications – voice recognition software such as Siri would be able to differentiate between accents, making their actions based on accented words more effective. / YouTube

After Andrew finishes explaining his project to reporters, his teacher rushes over and says she’s taken a picture of him from the above balcony – ‘swarmed by journalists’.

And that’s part of the fun for students; ideas they have aren’t only achieving recognition in their own schools, but by adults they’ve never met – driving forward the idea that what they think and what they do matters.

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Other projects from this year’s Young Scientist include ‘My Cancerous Cell’ - based on a fellow classmate being cleared of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; Ben Montgomery creating equations for improving his and his friend’s skateboard tricks (think of the board as a pendulum); and a mathematical analysis of Snapchat filters.

One project of particular interest was by three girls from Co Sligo. They sent out 1,700 surveys to people in their area to find out that almost one in four Irish people have synaesthesia – a condition which means your senses get muddled up.

One of the project’s young scientists Ava O’Grady said that she would love to pursue a career in science, but also that the BT Young Scientist Expo had given her a greater perception of what’s going on: “It’s changed our perception and made us realise that everyone sees the world differently.

“[With synaesthesia] you could be looking at black letters and others will see colours, someone can listen to music and it’s like a work of art. That’s really interesting.”

Keep an eye on for more stories from the BT Young Scientist Exposition 2017.

Read: 20 Under 20: Ireland’s brightest and most inspirational rising stars

Read: An iceberg the size of Mayo is about to break off Antarctica – and could start a chain reaction

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