Three students from Co Cork have been named as winners of the top prize at this year's BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

The three 15-year-olds, all of whom are in third year in Kinsale Community School, were awarded the prize for their project on the effects of certain bacteria on plant germination.

Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow were awarded a cheque for €5,000 and will now have a chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Young Scientist competition in September.

Their project was one of 550 competing for the top prize at the annual event, held in Dublin's RDS, which is in its 49th year.

One of the competition's judges, Mary Kelly-Quinn, said the winning project showed how germination time could be reduced in wheat and barley seeds if a certain bacteria is added.

She said the work could have implications for global attempts to address food security issues.

More than 45,000 people have attended the Young Scientists exhibition so far this year, which remains open until tomorrow evening.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Ronan McNulty of the UCD School of Physics said scientists in Ireland lead the way in Europe at 16 but are way behind at 40.

He said he was worried that the promise of Ireland's young scientists is being lost later in their careers.

Speaking on the same programme, Minister of State with responsibility for research and innovation Sean Sherlock said work is under way to encourage more people into physical sciences.

He said: "We don't have enough people who take up engineering courses or physics or chemistry at post-primary level and what we want to see is more people taking up those courses."