The Head of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition has said there is an amazing range of entries in this year's competition with many of them reflecting the topics people are concerned about.

The exhibition has moved online for the first time in its 57-year history due to the pandemic.

Students are presenting their projects to the judges via Microsoft Teams, and any members of the public can log on to the BT Young Scientist Portal to scroll through the projects and watch their elevator pitch style video.

However, ground control is situated in the Round Room at Dublin's Mansion House where the first young scientist competition took place in 1965. 

The winner will be announced on Friday afternoon on the livestream, and they will be taking home a cheque for €7,500.

Over 1,300 projects were entered into the 2021 Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition from a total of 2,578 students.

From the overall entries, 550 projects were shortlisted by the judging panel to take part in the finals. Those 550 projects are from 213 schools across 29 counties on the island. Of the 1,055 students that have qualified to take part in the finals, the gender split is 62% female and 38% male.

The number of entries to this year's exhibition took a hit due to the closure of schools at the end of the last academic year when many students would be picking their project topic.

While there were less entries, the standard was still as high as ever according to Mari Cahalane, the head organiser of the exhibition.

"Students are very much of the now. It's great to see their take on the issues of today and how they investigate them."

One project idea that was sparked by the pandemic was Sophie McCrory from Saint Mary's Secondary School in Macroom, Co Cork who investigated the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on domestic violence.

She said her most interesting finding was the amount of calls helplines received from March to August 2020.

"Overall there were 33,941 helpline calls answered by all services across the country in the March to August time period of last year."

Another project inspired by the pandemic was Mairead O'Dwyer's, from Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine, Kenmare, Co Kerry. 

"My project is called an Infodemic in a Pandemic and it's all about whether people can tell the difference between real and fake Covid-19 headlines," she said.

The student said her survey found that 70% of participants got correct answers when they were posed with a real and fake headline and had to distinguish between the two.

Another surprising finding was that people were not inclined to share something when they thought it was fake, which Mairead said goes against the idea that fake news is widely shared.

Students from Kerry completing a group project, Adam Dineen and Michael Guerin of Mercy Mounthawk Secondary School, Tralee invented a board game to raise awareness about cybersecurity, and they are very confident about their chances of getting the top prize.

"Obviously all the BT Young Scientists are unique in their own way but we hope to win this year’s competition, even if we don’t get to go to the physical event it’s still a huge accomplishment," Michael said. 

The 550 projects will go through several rounds of judging before Friday and the 80 volunteer judges will put the 1,055 students through their paces to find the next BT Young Scientist of the year.