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Louis Madden – SciFest 2015, Intel ISEF Award 2016

SciFest is an all-island science initiative which fosters active, collaborative and inquiry-based learning among second level students. In 2015, Louis Madden, as a transition year student entered a project into the Scifest competition. That year, 2015 a record number of more than 7,200 students exhibited their projects in local and regional science fairs across the country. During this phase of the competition, Louis won the award for Best Project at the regional final held in the Dundalk Institute of Technology and with it the opportunity to exhibit his project at the national finals. At the national finals, which were held in the Marino Conference Centre in Dublin, Louis was one of forty eight regional winning students exhibiting twenty seven distinct STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) projects.

Following several rounds of judging at the national final, Louis’ project was selected as the SciFest Best Project nationally for 2015 and was awarded the SciFest Science Foundation Ireland Grand Award, for his project entitled - Bringing Genetics to the Masses: The Next Step in Genetic Research.

Louis’s project investigated whether genetic testing and DNA research could be carried out simply, cheaply and efficiently. He found that important genetic research was often limited by the cost of the necessary equipment. He spent just under €150 on cheap and recycled material to build several complex pieces of laboratory equipment including a vortex, centrifuge, Polmerase Chain Reaction thermal cycler, trans-illuminator, gel box with power supply and gel camera. Using this equipment, he isolated and amplified chloroplast DNA using a proprietary DNA extraction kit. Comparing his results with those of other tests of the same material, he demonstrated that genetic testing could be done in a simpler, cheaper, and more effective manner.

As well as winning the accolade of Best Project, Louis also won the opportunity to represent Ireland at the INTEL international Science and Engineering Fair in the United States. The INTEL fair, is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition with over 1,700 entries annually from75 countries from around the globe.

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At the fair, which was held in Phoenix, Arizona from 8th – 13th May 2016, Louis won two major awards. These included a $1,000 bursary presented by Monsanto, the American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation for his innovation in plant sciences and sustainability and scholarship, presented by the Italian Bruno Kessler Foundation for Louis to participate in the research project the “Web Valley” which was held in Trento, a village in the foothills of the Italian Alps, during the summer of 2016. This three-week programme of interdisciplinary scientific research, saw Louis and three other international students along with twelve Italian students work with researchers and leading academics on the development of infrared hand held technology supported by web based software for use within the agricultural industry to assess crop ripeness, especially in soft fruits.

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