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Posted: 28 January 2008

Budding young scientists experience the fun side of science

UCD Science hosted an interactive stand at the recent BT Young Scientists Exhibition so that visitors could experience and learn about the mysteries of the universe.

At the UCD Science stand, there was a dice challenge organised by the UCD School of Mathematical Sciences which allowed budding young scientists to test the laws of probability and chance. The three dice at the stand were weighted or loaded with different numbers on each so that visitors could try to work out which of the dice was more likely to roll a higher number more often. The more dice a visitor rolled, the more the probability was revealed to them. Using ordinary dice, the probability of rolling a double is one in 6 which means you have a one in 6 chance of rolling a double. With two dice, there are only 36 possible combinations of rolls (6 × 6). Of those 36 probabilities, there are 6 doubles (1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, and 6-6) so your chances of rolling a double are 6/36 or 1/6.

Pictured far right: Rosemary and Meg Tyrrell from Rathdown Junior School Dun Laoghaire exploring the physics of electricity with a plasma globe at the UCD Science stand

Also at the UCD Science stand, researchers from the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science displayed their most up to date thermal imaging camera which is used by zoologists and environmental biologists to study warm blooded animals and monitor plants. Visitors to the stand could try out the camera which is more commonly used by the military to identify the locations of people or machines based on the heat they give off or by fire fighters and coast guards who use them for search and rescue.

“I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many keen young scientists at the UCD Science stand," explained Luke Mander, a first year PhD student with the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science. “I brought along some fossilised plants for visitors to examine. The fossils were 300 - 340 million years old and showed how the Earth might have looked before the time of the dinosaurs.”

With the assistance of Professor Geraldine Butler from the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, visitors to the UCD Science stand also had the opportunity to make DNA phone charms from beads. The idea was for the students to understand the structure of DNA and how it twists into a double helix. Primary school students raced to build a DNA helix using K’Nex. And with the assistance of physicists from the UCD School of Physics, students generated their own electricity at the stand and were amazed when they witnessed a magnet levitate. The nature and causes of tsunamis and earthquakes were explained to visitors by members of the UCD School of Geological Sciences.

Marybeth Doyle and Nicola O'Driscoll from St Mary's Secondary School Mallow with their DNA phone charms they made at the UCD Science stand

“It’s a great experience for children to be able to meet researchers at the UCD Science stand and to be able to ask them questions about science,” said Dr Rhona Hutchinson, a parent and UCD Science graduate, who visited the BT Young Scientist exhibition with her three children. “They were fascinated to examine the ammonite fossils and see superconductors in action.”

The competitive nature of the students who visited the stand was evident when they played a computer game called the Tower of Hanoi with postgraduates from the UCD School of Computer Science and Informatics. The game was used to illustrate algorithms in computer science.

Chemists from the UCD School of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology, proved that they had the midas touch as they turned copper coins into gold in front of the live audience.

On the last day of the exhibition, David Knowles from the UCD Conway Institute, donned the replica Apollo astronaut suit and mingled with the crowd, challenging the students to participate in an on-the-spot science quiz.

The BT Young Scientist exhibition took place in the RDS, Dublin, from 10-12 January 2008.

Science at UCD

University College Dublin has the largest science programme in Ireland, providing degree courses in biological, chemical, geological, mathematical, physical and computer sciences. The UCD College of Life Sciences and the UCD College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences provide teaching of the highest quality and conduct research of the highest international standard. There are 24 single honours degrees available as well a range of joint degrees comprising two science subjects. For more information visit http://www.ucd.ie/science