San Francisco

Irish students' bacteria discovery could help feed the world

Now they’re on their way to San Francisco, where they will compete for a global award.

Ciara, Emer, Sophie / YouTube

THREE IRISH STUDENTS have been undertaking experiments on speeding up cereal growth – and their efforts will see them competing for a global science award.

Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow from Kinsale Community School, Cork have been chosen as one of five global finalists for their age category in the Google Science Fair 2014.

As you can see from the video above, they showed huge dedication to their project, getting up at 6am to check on seeds, and building new equipment for their own lab.

“It’s really exciting,” Emer told “When we started the project, we didn’t know if it would work or not.” They were shocked to win the BT Young Scientist Award, but delighted that their experiment was yielding results.

Finding that having a competition to take part in was good motivation, they entered the Google Science Fair.

As part of the fair, they’re looking for votes in the People’s Choice Award – you can vote for them via this link.

Google Science Fair

The Google Science Fair is an online competition which will see thousands of international competitors taking part in an event at Google’s San Francisco HQ on September 21.

Ciara, Emer and Sophie were chosen thanks to their project, which saw them investigate whether the use of natural bacteria could assist food production by increasing crop output.

They began their experiment in 2012 and are still working hard. They were able to show that natural bacteria in the roots of plants such as peas and clover could improve the growth of other valuable food crops such as wheat, oats and barley.

This innovation would produce substantially increased food yields and reduce fertiliser use, potentially making a significant difference to improving food security and reducing the impact of intensive agriculture across the globe.

The three students have previously competed in and won both the 2013 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and the EU Contest for Young Scientists.

Since the EU Contest, they have built a polytunnel and begun growing crops in a field trial. When they harvest them, they will get to compare the bacteria treated growth to the water treated growth.

Emer, who is studying all three sciences for her Leaving Certificate, said that the issue of food security is a big one for the students. “It is really our dream to actually see this being used, just because of the implications it has,” she said of the project.

But to make that happen on a large scale, they need the support of bigger universities and research centres. They hope that the Google Science Fair will help bring global attention to their work.

Clearly, the trio come from a school that’s going to spawn some science experts in the coming years – over 100 students in Kinsale Community School are currently working on projects for the 2015 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

“A lot of people have said to us, ‘you’re an inspiration’,” said Emer, when asked about the issue of females studying STEM subjects. “But we wouldn’t see it that way. I’d like to show people could see how they can do it too.”

To promote the entries and to choose the project most likely to ‘change the world’, Google has opened an online global public vote which will be run from Sept 2 -14 on the Google Science Fair website.

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