Two Donegal students have won a national award at this year’s 10th anniversary of SciFest 2017.

Last Friday, Mark McAteer and Peter Curran, fifth-year students from Mulroy College, Milford competed among the top young scientific minds at SciFest 2017 and was awarded an Excellence in STEM award, for their project studying the effect of seaweed and homemade compost on potato growth.

SciFest, now in its tenth year, is funded primarily by Science Foundation Ireland, Intel Ireland and Boston Scientific.

SciFest is an all-island STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) initiative which fosters active, collaborative and inquiry-based learning among second level students. The final, held in the Marino Conference Centre in Dublin, was also attended by Richard Bruton T.D., Minister for Education and Skills.

Mark and Peter aimed to discover the importance of seaweed to plant production in order to see if it was a good medium for growing potatoes. They recorded growth and weather conditions every week. Results showed that the potatoes in a mixture of compost and seaweed were the best growing medium.

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications at Science Foundation Ireland, presented Mark and Peter with their prize – the Excellence in STEM Award. Mark and Peter secured their place at the National Final after their success at the SciFest regional final in Letterkenny IT.

This year marks the tenth anniversary and saw a record number of over 10,000 students participating in local and regional SciFest STEM fairs across the country. Since its inception in 2008, over 50,000 students have participated in the competition, reflecting a year-on-year increase of 23% in participation. Mark and Peter were among 42 students who went on to exhibit their 26 STEM projects at the national final.

Sheila Porter, CEO, said: “This year is the ten-year anniversary of SciFest and it is wonderful to see the level of talent, enthusiasm and determination on display today. The aim of SciFest is to develop a love of STEM and of inquiry-based learning. Those values are very much evident here today, with students from around the country demonstrating the incredible work that they have put into their projects and experiments.

“Over the past 10 years SciFest has grown enormously and I am delighted that we have reached this important milestone. Previous entrants have gone on to develop their projects and become leaders in the areas of science, medicine, engineering, information technology and many other fields. I am really excited as to what the next 10 years will bring. I wish to congratulate all the participants here today, as well as their teachers and their parents who have given them such wonderful support.”

Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD said, “We live in a rapidly changing world and our education system must respond by equipping our young people with the skills and knowledge to thrive in such an environment. That is why I have placed such an emphasis on the teaching and learning of STEM in my role as Minister, as part of my overall ambition to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe within a decade. Indeed, I will shortly launch a comprehensive STEM plan which will outline how my Department proposes to ignite a passion for the STEM subjects in all students.

“The STEM subjects are crucial for equipping our young people with creativity, adaptability, problem-solving and critical thinking– skills which are so important for their future. SciFest is an excellent initiative that supports and enhances what we are trying to do at a government level and I am very impressed by the standard of projects displayed here today and the amount of work that students and of course, teachers and parents have put in to each and every one.”

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications, Science Foundation Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland is pleased to support SciFest, as it is so effective in introducing STEM to young people and in creating a love of STEM among second level students in Ireland.  I want to congratulate the organisers on the ten-year anniversary of the event, and also to congratulate the students who take part, for the passion they show and the work they put in. Today’s events show that STEM is for everyone and that is an incredibly positive message.”

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