On Friday, 12 April 2019, more than 400 secondary school students from across the Midlands showcased their skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) at SciFest@AthloneIT – Ireland’s largest regional SciFest fair. Sinead Hussey, RTÉ’s north east correspondent opened the event. 

SciFest – the competition known for putting “STEM into Action” – helps engender an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects among second level students with the aim of encouraging their future matriculation into STEM degrees and, ultimately, careers. The competition gives students of all abilities and backgrounds the opportunity to develop their critical thinking, problem solving, research and presentation skills.

This year, multi-disciplinary judges assessed more than 194 science projects at junior, intermediate and senior level from 24 secondary schools. As in previous years, participating students presented on a wide array of topics including the virtuosity of veganism and the effect of carbon dioxide on our diets, through to a super solution for superbugs and how colour can affect our learning.  

“As always, the projects entered by the participating students are impressive, engaging and thought-provoking. Their passion for science, technology, engineering and maths is demonstrable by the calibre of research undertaken. As the sole higher education provider in the Midlands, Athlone Institute of Technology plays a pivotal role in the development of the region and continuing to supply industry with a talent pipeline of suitably qualified, work ready graduates. SciFest, and school outreach activities like it, play a hugely important role in helping cultivate the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” Dr Noreen Morris, Athlone Institute of Technology SciFest co-ordinator, said.  

Commenting ahead of the event, Sheila Porter, SciFest Founder and CEO, said: “Since SciFest’s inception in 2008, more than 65,000 students have participated in the programme nationally and 2019 will be another stellar year for projects in science, technology, engineering and maths. SciFest gives students an excellent opportunity to develop their interest in STEM and inquiry-based approaches to learning, while developing their creative and problem-solving skills and learning to work in a team.” 

National Irish Safety Organisation (NISO) sponsored a Safety Award and a runner up prize at AIT’s SciFest. Both of the winning projects were judged to be of critical relevance in current and future safety developments. Both teams had developed their innovations to initial prototype. These winning students demonstrated skills such as coding, writing algorithms and the coupling of IT and communication technologies, along with excellent multi-media science communication skills.

This year, the winners of this prestigious prize were Amy Fallon and Andrea Whyte of Athlone Community College. Their project, called “Using Artificial Neural Networks and Autoencoder to Detect When an Internet Connected Toy has Been Hacked” consists of a tracking device, connected to a parent’s mobile phone, which alerts when so-called “Nanny Toys” have been interfered with by an external party. The students had built the combined technologies required, and linked this device to 4G networks. The project was supervised by their teacher Martina Roache.  

Second Place went to Aoife McDermott and Aisling McCarthy of Our Lady’s Bower, Athlone. Their project “Track that Crash” creates an emergency call when a car impacts or rolls. GPS coordinates, speed of impact and car orientation (gyroscopic) data are sent also, aiding emergency services in resourcing rescue operations. The programme created also tracks movements prior to the incident, which can be used in accident investigation. A call to next of kin, using ICE contacts, can be programmed. The students were able to demonstrate the combined technologies and communications created via SMS. Their teacher, Ellen Maguire supervised the project.  

NISO would like to acknowledge the collegiality of the staff at Athlone Institute of Technology in the various collaborations developed, such as the NISO Certificate in Safety, Health and Welfare at Work, and the Young Persons’ Occupational Safety and Health Quiz finals, both held at AIT since their inception. NISO also contributes graduation excellence awards to the BSc in Environmental Safety and Health Management (ESHM), and the MSc in ESHM at Athlone Institute of Technology.


Above: The NISO Safety Award winners, Amy Fallon and Andrea Whyte of Athlone Community College, with their science teacher Martina Roache, receiving their award and prize vouchers from Chris McCormack, NISO Midland Regional Vice Chair & lecturer at AIT.