Africa trip awaits science expo winner
2018-02-01 17:10:00 -

A transition year student from Kerry will 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.


Timothy McGrath says he couldn’t believe it when he took the stage to accept the Science for Development Award at Ireland’s annual schools science fair in Dublin’s RDS earlier this month.


It was second time lucky for McGrath, from Killorglin, as the science-mad student previously won an award at SciFest for developing a system based on phones and tablets to assist visually impaired people. 


This year, he received his BTYS prize for a project that used Crispr gene editing to develop a micro-organism that feeds on bacteria to purify cholera-infected water.


McGrath was inspired by an uncle who was a parish priest in Waterford and collected funds to support the development of irrigation and water systems for a small town community in Kenya.


The teen’s invention received the Irish Aid-sponsored award as the BTYS entry that best addressed a development challenge faced by communities in poorer regions of the world.


The prize is organised annually by international development organisation Gorta-Self Help Africa, with the winner and their teacher receiving an Irish Aid bursary for a study visit to an African country.


McGrath came up with his award-winning idea last July, when he decided to combine his interest in microbiology with a desire to address challenges faced by developing countries.


Mentored by his biology teacher Marieke O’Connor, the Kerry student developed his project over a six-month period, seeking advice on genetic engineering from University College Cork and gathering information on developing countries from various charities.


The most challenging part of the project 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.


Thanks to his award win, McGrath travel to Africa with Gorta-Self Help Africa on a schools education trip next year.


“I’d love to gain a better understanding of how people live in that part of the world,” he said. “Hopefully I will be able to develop my project and test it out when I’m there.” 


For now, McGrath is hoping to work with the likes of UCC to develop his project further so it can be used on a wider scale.


The Science for Development Award was established by Gorta-Self Help Africa more than a decade ago to encourage teachers and students to develop ideas 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.


“This award encourages young people to use their time and scientific expertise to question, explore and examine how to improve the lives of the most vulnerable,” said Minister of State Helen McEntee, who presented McGrath with his award.


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