Students from Killoughteen NS, Newcastle West at the 2017 RDS Primary Science Fair Picture: Sean Curtin
THE speeches could barely be heard over the chitter-chatter of excited children at the launch of the RDS Primary Science Fair in Mary Immaculate College.
Mayor of Limerick City and County Council, Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon, joked that “the mayor doesn’t like to be overshadowed by anybody” when trying to hush the crowd, but nevertheless, mini scientists carried on chirpily prepping and preening their stalls ahead of the biggest science fair in the region.
Nobody was too annoyed, mind you. Around 3,000 primary school children had been working on their projects since as far back as September ahead of their Limerick showing, first employing trial and error and finally fine-tuning their research.
“This is actually very simple for a project that saves lives,” Julianne O’Connor from Killoughteen NS, in Newcastle West, explained.
Their homemade handheld fire extinguishers, a joint effort between the school’s fifth and sixth classes and their teachers, are made using products you would easily find in the kitchen.
“We all know that vinegar is an acid, and we all know that baking soda is a base, and bases and acids do not mix. It causes a chemical reaction,”said fifth class girls Julianne, Lucy Hennessy, Aisling Sexton and Kate Foley.
The trials to find the optimum mixture of the two ingredients made for some explosive results, and the pupils learned how to take safety precautions when dealing with chemicals.
Nevertheless, the youngsters were provided with some science safety gear by nearby Desmond College.
“The ingredients are actually very natural, so they won’t do any harm. It’s very like the volcano experiment, but it could save lives,” the girls explained in an enthusiasm that is itself bubbling over.
Did they actually get to test it on a fire?
“We used candles!” they exclaimed.
“A fire needs oxygen, so the carbon dioxide that comes out quenches it like a blanket. The reaction between the vinegar and the baking soda creates carbon dioxide. You have to make sure that no oxygen gets into the bottle!”
A stroll across the hall, and Garrydoolis NS, Pallasgreen, are presenting their findings.
‘How can we attract more wildlife into our school environment?’ the class asked, and Caoimhe Butler, Grace Leaden, Claire Wolfe and Lillian Houlihan explain their novel approach.
The Bug Hotel, a structure made out of wooden pallets and furnished with leaves and grass, made a comfortable dwelling for critters.
So comfortable, in fact, that the pupils observed a huge increase in the numbers of woodlice and midges. They also noticed higher numbers of centipedes, ladybirds, butterflies, beetles, bees, ants, spiders and slugs.
Enough to make anyone squirm, but these nature-conscious students were delighted to see the creepy crawly wildlife thriving in their hotel. Handmade bird feeders also led to more birds stopping by.
Hearing the students of 5th and 6th class speaking about ‘biodiversity’ convinces me that science in primary schools has come a long way, even in the last decade.
Students in 6th class at St Brigid’s NS, Singland, used themselves as guinea pigs in an experiment to see if breakfast is really necessary.
“We’ve been gathering the information since September — we did a fitness test after having and skipping breakfast,” explained Emma Normoyle, Amie O’Brien and Darragh Roche.
“The majority of us did better with breakfast than without. It improved both physical and logical performance,” they found.
The Singland students also tested the various breakfast cereals to determine which were healthiest, and they designed a food pyramid detailing the best and worst foods to have in the morning.
In general, they found that the off-brand cereals contained more fibre and were generally slightly healthier than the big brand names.
“At the start, 89 percent of the class ate breakfast, and by the end 100 percent of the class were eating breakfast every day,” the pupils said.
Meanwhile, 6th class at Our Lady of Lourdes NS in Rosbrien were studying the effects of exercise on memory.
Princess Daniel and Dylan Aherne instructed me to carry out a memory test on an iPad, and although I passed, their findings suggested that I should hop on the treadmill.
“Exercise did improve memory for most people, but there was no change in some people who were already fit,” said Princess.
The mayor praised the strong Limerick presence at the fair, which saw more than 120 schools from around the country flock to Mary I over the three-day event.
“We cannot predict what the jobs of twenty or thirty years’ time will be, but we do know that the fundamental skills of scientific thinking will never go out of fashion,” added Cllr O’Hanlon.
“And it’s great to see that everyone can do with while having such fun.”