A student who worked on a radiation project to represent Ireland at a US science fair

A student who worked on a radiation project to represent Ireland at a US science fair

Clever idea – what did you come up with?

How did you know what Martian soil contains?

Were the components easy to find?

I found a paper online that detailed findings from space missions to Mars – particularly from the Pathfinder and Viking 1 rovers. Those missions analysed samples of the Martian regolith and the paper listed the components, which include a lot of oxides. The regolith I made in the beaker turned out a lovely purple colour, probably because of the high levels of iron oxide, which is rust.

Story Highlights

  • I wanted to figure out the most effective way to build a brick that would block cosmic radiation on Mars. We are protected from cosmic radiation on Earth, but it would be a hazard for humans on Mars, and I looked at whether we could use material that is already on Mars to help build that protection.

  • I recreated Martian soil, or regolith, in a beaker, and used it along with different polymers to build bricks. These kinds of polymers would be pretty easy to transport to Mars. Then I tested to see how well the bricks could block gamma radiation, and I found that a brick containing regolith and about 20 per cent polyethylene is the most effective.

Some were harder to find than others. I was struggling to find magnesium oxide, but then I saw that it is given to horses as a food supplement. We have a neighbour who has horses so I asked if he had any and he did.

You are due to represent Ireland at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta, Georgia, in May – what are your plans for that?

I am going to do some more work on my project, maybe figure out the optimum thickness for bricks to block radiation, as well as the composition. Are there scientists in your family?

Yes, both my parents are chemistry lecturers at the Technological University of the Shannon at Athlone, and I have siblings who are scientists and engineers. How does doing your own research project compare with the experiments you learn at school?

They feed off each other. You can get lots of ideas about projects to do and how to do them based on what you learn in school. Then if you do a project yourself, you understand more about what you are learning in school, you know the applications and why you are learning it. I think that makes it more interesting. What would your advice be to anyone in secondary school considering entering a science competition?

I love music, I have played piano, violin and cello since I was about five years old and I find it really relaxing. I also play Gaelic football, which I love. And tennis too.

Between all the science and studying for your Leaving Cert, you are busy. How do you take a break from the books and experiments? I would say go for it. I have taken part in SciFest several times already and I did the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition one year too. Every time you do a project you are learning about the scientific method and you are getting better at research. Talk to your teacher about it; my teacher Julie-Anne Greaney was very supportive.