By Sarah Donoghue

Science Foundation Ireland, the SFI, is the national foundation for investment in scientific and engineering research. Science Foundation Ireland funds research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and maths. It’s also dedicated to promoting science and STEM subjects to students. This year they are even a sponsor of the 2024 Student Media Awards, the SMEDIAs. Throughout your life as a student, there has probably been – and will continue to be – lots of opportunities to take part in science-related activities. One of which is SciFest. SciFest is the largest second-level STEM fair in Ireland. It’s hosted in schools locally, but the regional competitions are held in colleges, so you can go along and get involved in the exhibitions going on. 

SciFest has one main objective – promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects by asking students, at local, regional, and national level, to conduct science experiments and present and display their scientific investigations. It’s also designed to be as inclusive and accessible as possible so anyone can participate no matter what. The local exhibitions usually take place in early March and run until late April. The regional competitions take place in May.  

SciFest was founded in 2006 by the current CEO, Sheila Porter. When she first set it up, Porter ran the programme while still teaching in Loreto on the Green, St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. In 2007, she was asked by Intel Ireland to leave her teaching job and dedicate herself to developing the programme and to establish it on a nationwide basis, while they sponsor it.   

SciFest takes place at 4 different levels: Local, Regional, National and International 

At the local level, SciFest is referred to as SciFest@School. This is where second-level schools host their own in-house SciFest fair. The SciFest company gives support to the schools in the form of a SciFest STEM Fair Toolkit and resources on the SciFest website.

 SciFest provides judging, certificates and a number of prizes for participating students as well as promotional material to decorate. This science fair was introduced in 2011. There has been strong demand from schools to participate. From just 5 schools in 2011, SciFest@School has increased to include 105 schools in 2023. This level also includes a SciFest fair in the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities (TCPID) and in the Digital Hub for Teen-Turn students. 

At the regional level, Dundalk IT, TU Dublin, Munster Technology University, TU Shannon, Atlantic Technology University, South East Technology University, DCU and St Mary’s College, Derry host one-day SciFest fairs which are open to all secondary school students. The fairs consist of a competition, an exhibition of all the projects, a prize-giving ceremony, and a few science talks. It also may include some science demonstrations in the college labs and advice on careers in STEM and courses in the college. It’s called SciFest@College and it gives students the opportunity to visit a college, view the equipment and get information on STEM courses. The event is regionally based and has free entry so it’s accessible and inclusive for all.  

The national level is made up of Best Project Award winners and a few of the runner-up award winners from each SciFest@College event. The projects are evaluated by a panel of judges, who are unbiased and do not work for SciFest. Each of the exhibitions is presented with the “Excellence in STEM award” to recognise their hard work and success at the college fairs. Winners at the National Final go on to represent Ireland in international competitions and win big opportunities and prizes.  

The international level is the most exciting, as it puts Irish students on the world stage. Winners of the National Final go on to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the American and the Berlin Long Night of Science. A selection of the winners also go to the regional Boston Scientific Medical Devices Award and the EirGrid Climate and Cleaner Energy Future Award. They also compete in the Hong Kong Global Youth Science and Technology Bowl (GYSTB). 

SciFest participated in the ISEF for the first time in 2012. ISEF is a one-week science fair, held in the USA since 1950. 1800 students from over 75 countries, regions and territories compete for a range of prizes. The projects are judged by a panel of 1000 highly qualified judges. In the 12 years in which SciFest has participated in ISEF Irish students have won 13 major awards. When it comes to the GYSTB, they began participating in 2019. In the three competitions since then (there was no event in 2020), Irish students have won a total of 8 awards including a top Gold Medal Award. 

Sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland