15 Minutes with Shay: BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition

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We’re fast approaching the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and our business leader’s symposium, Nextipedia. How do you feel about that?

“This year is our 20th year, which is so important to us. The numbers work perfectly, our 20th year in 2020. I feel very proud to be a part of such a prestigious event.

We’re set a simple objective every year by Dr Tony Scott, co-founder of the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Tony had only graduated when he started it back in 1965 and his objective for us every year is very simple; just make it better than last years. He’ll come to me at the end of the gala ball which is officially the last event of the week and he give me a hand written note that says “next year must be better”. It’s incredibly exciting, a privilege, but also a huge responsibility because it has become part of the national fabric. Brian MacCraith has phrased it “as a national treasure”, and after the Christmas break it’s an exciting event to look forward to and kick off the New Year.

The standard is extremely high, not only is it the longest running second level science exhibition, it is also one of the biggest. It has so much history, helping shape some of the brightest minds of our generation. Some of the projects are fantastic, Adam Kelly, last year’s winner was so complex and innovative. The quality of these projects can change the future, some of the winners go on to compete in the European Union competition for Young Scientist which is (EUCYS), which is incredible, something that we have gone on to win 15 out of the 31 times. That is a measure of the quality of the BTYSTE.

The test of time of how instrumental the BTYSTE exhibition is, is that there are many other competing science fairs. For a long time the BTYSTE was the only show in town.”

The Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition started back in 1965

BTYSTE is so important, and you can see how proud people are of it. Why do BT keeping sponsoring it, why is it so important?

“BT bought a company called ESAT, who were asked to step in by Tony Scott. Denis O’Brien was running ESAT at the time. He met Tony at UCD and said that the previous sponsor had pulled out. They were stuck without a sponsor so ESAT Telecom moved in for 2 years and then BT bought ESAT in 2000. Sponsoring the event is a big commitment and a significant investment. Initially we had to stand back and think about sponsoring the event, but it was clear that it was absolutely relevant to BT, because BT is a technology company. We have three and a half thousand research and development staff in Adastral Park, who are scientists, technologists and engineers, all of the natural professions that you would end up in if you took an interest in science. We need these young minds to invent and progress the advancement in technology and sciences. The majority of the participants who attend the BTYSTE go on to study science or engineering related subjects.

The numbers are up for the event this year with 31 counties entering the exhibition. Unfortunately the number of schools from Northern Ireland has declined again. It’s difficult to keep the interest up there and clashes with the A-Levels so really just a case of bad timing. The Northern Ireland education department still support and sponsor the event. The number of Deis schools has increased significantly and is continuing to grow. Overall, BTYSTE has become more ethnically diverse too. If you took a photo of the hall 10 years ago and took one this year, you’d see a massive increase in ethnicity and culture of the people there. The gender balance 10 years ago was 50/50, now it is 60/40 with more females entering.

BTYSTE is a really great thing to be involved in, and the reason people get so much out of it is because it’s many of these kids first encounter with working professionals. And I’m proud to be involved in such an incredible event that helps shape the future minds of today.”

Shay Walsh