A ‘smartphone’ based defibrillator

Published in the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

Eighteen people die from cardiac arrest every day in Ireland, with two per week under the age of 35, and a whopping 70 per cent of those die outside hospital.

That’s according to figures from the Sudden Cardiac Death Support Group. This means there is a significant number of people that collapse from sudden cardiac arrest at home, on the street, playing football, or any number of places.

These people may have had a chance of survival if a defibrillator device was applied to them quickly to get their heart going again, but that wasn’t available. Therefore, the idea of two Belvedere College students, Owen Killian and Lucas Grange [both pictured here outside their school- Owen is on the right] to use a mobile phone as a defibrillator is a potentially life saving one.

The idea is that when someone collapses, a person – ideally with medical training – would arrive on the scene carrying their smartphone defibrillator. The first thing the smartphone user would do would be to attach a small peripheral device, a little larger than a matchbox in size, to their phone.

This device would have electrodes already attached and ready to go, and it would easily fit into a coat pocket, doctor’s bag, or someone’s briefcase. The operator would then attach pads to the person in trouble, and a special phone ‘app’ would be opened that would analyse the rhythm of the heart.

At the same time, a call could be made to the emergency services to inform them of the situation and ensure that they would arrive for backup if required. The phone then comes back with a reading which tells the operative if the heart rhythm is ‘shockable’ or not. If the answer is yes, the device applies the shock, and talks the user – if a non medical professional – through the use of CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation).

Owen Killian said that there are other AEDs (automated external defibrillator) on the market, but they are not light, with the lightest right now being 400g. The Belvedere lads say that their AED is much lighter than what is available right now, cheaper, simpler, more portable, and not designed just for doctors’ use.

The boys have ambitions to develop their AED into a real world commercial product, and they have got it as far as the ‘proof of concept’ stage just now. At the moment they are working on developing the parameters for the device to analyse heart rhythms that are shockable and not shockable.

The students are modest enough to state, meanwhile, that being lucky enough to be in a school with such great science facilities and teachers has helped greatly. “The reputation the science department has built up over the years of being an innovative, accessible and driven section of the school is greatly deserved,” said Owen.

Preventing volcanic ash damage to jet engines

Published in Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

We all remember the chaos caused by the eruption of the volcano in Iceland earlier in the year, and how fearful airlines were of the resulting ash cloud. Therefore, it is very timely that Ahmed Saeed, Seán Power and Craig Laurie, – pictured on the right – three transition year students at Castletroy College, Limerick, have been investigating how to prevent damage to a jet engine from volcanic ash.

The students had been exploring a number of ideas for the BT Exhibition, and eventually started thinking about environmental problems in the modern world. The biggest environmental problem Ireland faced in recent years, of course, was the disruption caused when the cloud of ash erupted out of the Icelandic volcano.

The idea was also triggered by a relative of one of the students getting caught, and being unable to travel into or out of Ireland following the Icelandic eruption. Their teacher, Leonard Coughlan, says the students are running a test at the moment that aims to replicate what happens in a jet engine when ash enters. The idea then will be to design a system that can render the ash harmless to jet engine. One danger is to avoid creating a problem worse than the initial problem.

The students are realistic and believe that he problem will not be easily solved. However, they are determined to come up with a solution to a ‘real world’ issue. Certainly, should the students come up with a solution to this problem, they have an idea that could be potentially commercialized and sold as a product in future.

This could help ensure that flights are no longer grounded following eruptions, and geologists believe that more eruptions are a possibility this year, or next. As for the importance of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition to the students, Leonard said: “In my opinion I think the show is quite important to them, as it gives them a look at how other teenagers approach science and their curiosity affects their investigations.”

Irish and German mothers vary on breastfeeding

Published in Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

The story begins with a male caller phoning into the Ray Darcy show on Today FM to describe his disgust at having seeing a mother breast feeding in Dundrum Shopping Centre. Then one of the girls at Presentation Secondary School, Thurles, spoke of her father’s discomfort at seeing a woman breast feeding.

That did it, and a group of students at Presentation Thurles decided to find out exactly what Irish attitudes were to breast feeding compared to another country. The country they decided to compare with was Germany, by virtue of the fact that the school had long standing connections with a school in Rosenheim, Bavaria.

The plan was to conduct a survey of attitudes among Irish mothers and German mothers to the ‘emotive’ issue of breast feeding and the results were fascinating.

In general terms it appears that German women are more enthusiastic for breast feeding with more than 90 per cent of women surveyed in Rosenheim adhering to World Health Organisation guidelines to breast feed for the first six months. However, this doesn’t apparently tell the whole story as many German women also said that the breast fed, despite the fact that they didn’t particularly like it. The reason, it seems, is a strong desire to do the right thing, and follow the rules.

As we know in Ireland, people are not as bothered by rules, and the issue for women here was a sense of guilt when a decision was made to bottle feed.

The survey, conducted among 50 Irish and 50 German women was conducted by  students Alison Kelly, Sarah Jane O’Riordan, and Orlaith Quigley. The survey was done with the guidance of their teacher Emma Kavanagh. [The three students and their teacher, Emma, are pictured here above]

The aims of the survey were to determine the percentage of mothers that initiated breastfeeding; the average length of time breastfeeding was continued; the emotional, social and physical difficulties faced by breastfeeding mothers; how mothers were supported, and by whom. Clear differences emerged.

The survey determined that 100 per cent of the German women had initiated breast feeding with at least one child, while 56.25% of Irish women had done so. The survey found that, for the first child, 84 per cent of Irish mothers did not feed beyond three months. The mothers continued longer with breastfeeding for subsequent children, with 70 per cent not feeding their second child past three months, and 56 per cent deciding not to feed their third child past three months.

The results that came back from the students’ survey correlated closely with the Irish and German national statistics on breast feeding. A 2009 report in Ireland found that 47 per cent of women tried breast feeding to begin with, but that the figure had fallen to 28 per cent after four weeks. In Germany, meanwhile, the statistics indicate that 90 per cent start breast feeding and are still doing it six months later.  That is despite the fact that many German mothers don’t like it.

In Ireland it appears there are huge pressures on women to breast feed, and that they are made to feel guilty when they decide to bottle feed instead. Then, for those mothers that do breast feed in public they are often met with open hostility.

A musical instrument anyone call play

Published in Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

Many of us are interested in music, and would love to play an instrument, but never found the time to put in the hard hours to learn the necessary skills.

For many then, it will be of interest to learn that a group of students in St Mary’s College, Rathmines, Dublin are developing an instrument anyone can play. The idea is that the instrument will be so simple, that even a musical novice, or a disabled person, will quickly be able to produce music of a decent quality.

David Howard, Gavin Wynne, and Emmet O’Toole, all 5th years, and keen musicians are developing the idea, under the supervision teacher, John Nisbet. The students want to develop a brand new instrument based around electronics and physical principles. The idea, simply put, is for the person ‘playing’ the instrument to put their hand in a box and control the music in that way.

The instrument, they believe, will be simple enough for the complete music novice to play it, or for a person suffering from many physical disabilities. It is very visual, and very clear, says John Nisbet, and it can be thought of as one step up from the musical mats that young children can step on to make music.

The inspiration for the idea came from things like the ‘light harp’ which is based on breaking up a beam of light, and the degree of breakage, creates the sound. The students are getting help from their teacher to develop the programmable integrated circuits that control a set of three musical notes and process them.

The broad idea is that a person’s hand, or a tool of some sort, can be used to control the amount of light being allowed into a square that controls the notes. This is dependent on the use of an LDR, or light dependent resistor, which ensures that the level of light allowed into the square, controls the music.

The students are currently designing and manufacturing their instrument at their school on the Lower Rathmines Road, in Dublin 6, in advance of the Exhibition. However, they already have their sights set well beyond January and the RDS, as they believe that their instrument could be commercially developed.

“They have a vision for this, it is not just for a laugh,” said John. “They have a vision for its use in a concert performance, or in a kids bedroom as a performing tool, as well as a training thing for musicians. They have thought about all this.”