TIMAHOE NS pupils Seamus Ramsbottom and David Galwey were the toast of their school as they returned from the Intel Mini Scientist national finals with the overall runner-up prize.
The talented 12-year-olds wowed 13 judges throughout the day in the Aula Maxima at Maynooth University to bring home the coveted award. This was a remarkable achievement, as more than 7,200 pupils entered the nationwide competition. Only 64 of them exhibited at the all-Ireland final, with Timahoe NS joining just 23 other projects that made the final cut.
The boys qualified for the national finals with their project called ‘Let’s look at ammonia’ after exhibiting at the regional finals in Blanchardstown IT last December. Their study examined the hot topic of climate-harming emissions in farm animals.
The project focused on excessive ammonia levels in the air, as a result of intensive farming and slurry spreading in particular.
In presenting the project, Seamus said agriculture accounts for 98% of ammonia emissions in Ireland. It was identified as an issue in 2013 but, since the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 and the huge increase in the national dairy herd, it has become an even bigger problem.
Seamus said: “We are farmers, scientists and environmentalists, too. We want to help resolve this issue.”
David stated that the biggest issue is splash-plate slurry spreading. This method of spreading releases the slurry as a spray and ammonia gas escapes into the atmosphere. Splash-plates are banned in Germany and Holland but, unfortunately, most slurry in Ireland is spread this way.
David said: “There are alternative low-emission methods that farmers can use and the government must enforce these methods. We are in the process of testing atmospheric ammonia levels (ammonia in the air) on Seamus’s family farm. We tested the ammonia levels during the ‘off season’ and now we are re-testing since the spreading season started back on 15 January. When finished, we will compare the results which will highlight the effect the slurry has on air quality.”
Throughout the project, the boys corresponded with the soil science department in UCD, Teagasc and even received a letter from agriculture minister Michael Creed.
“It was great to get a letter from the minister,” said Seamus. “We gave him a number of recommendations from our project and he said he would need to consider them if we are to meet our 2030 emissions targets.”
David also explained how they received an invitation from Dr Dominika Krol in Teagasc to go down to Johnstown Castle in Wexford and help her with ammonia trials she will be doing in early 2020. They can’t wait to go.
Both boys were thrilled with the outcome of the national finals, as all their hard work paid off. David said he really enjoyed the experience and was amazed at the interest in the project. He said: “The judges were very nice and we can be happy that we gave it our best shot.”
The boys’ wonderful backdrop and display also came in for huge attention and praise at the Maynooth exhibition. Supporting Seamus and David at the event were teachers Michael McEvoy and Anne Mathews, their siblings and proud parents.
The latest win continues the extraordinary run of success that Timahoe NS has enjoyed in the competition. Over the last seven years, it has picked up a national award at every final – all-Ireland runner-up 2018, 2019 and 2020, highly commended in 2017 and historic back-to-back all-Ireland winners in 2016 and 2015.
Now in its 14th year, the Intel Mini Scientist competition gives young students the chance to explore science through project-based learning and exhibitions.
The first phase of the programme involved more than 8,000 students participating at exhibitions in their own schools, which are visited by Intel employees, who judge the first round of exhibitions and select a winning project from each school to go forward to a regional final. Only about 20 projects qualify for the national finals.