Student to travel to Africa after winning Science for Development Award at BT Young Scientist

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A transition year student from Kerry, who invented a system to tackle water contamination, will get the chance to get up close with one of the biggest health challenges affecting people in the Developing World, thanks to his success at the recent BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYS) in Dublin.

Timothy McGrath says he couldn’t believe it when he walked up on stage to receive the ‘Science for Development Award’ at the country’s annual schools science fair. Timothy’s invention received the Irish Aid sponsored prize as the entry that best addressed a development challenge faced by communities in poorer regions of the world.

Using genetic engineering to purify cholera-infected water, his project sought to develop a micro-organism that feeds on the cholera bacteria.

Timothy came up with his award-winning idea back in July, when he decided to combine his interest for microbiology with a desire to address challenges faced by third world countries:

“I was inspired by my uncle uncle who was a parish priest in Waterford, and collected funds in his local parish to support the development of irrigation and water systems for a community in a small town in Kenya,” Timothy said.

The most challenging part of the project for him was to build his own homemade microbiology and centrifuge machines to multiply DNA and carry out the necessary tests. “To buy the equipment would have been way too expensive!” he said.

As a winner of the ‘Science for Development Award’, Timothy will receive a travel bursary from Irish Aid to travel to Africa with Self Help Africa on a schools education trip next year.

“It was a shock to learn that I will get to travel to a third world country. I’d love to gain a better understanding of how people live in that part of the world. Hopefully I will be able to develop my project and test it out when I’m there.”. For now, the student is hoping to work with Institutes such as University College Cork to develop his project further so it can be used on a wider scale.

The Science for Development Award was established by the Development Education unit of Self Help Africa more than a decade ago, to encourage teachers and students to develop ideas, using appropriate scientific technology, that look at the challenges faced by people in the Global South. Past winning projects include solar powered water purifiers, cooking stoves, solar refrigeration, seed storage and a seed planter.

Photo: Timothy McGrath and Minister of State Helen McEntee at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2018, in Dublin.