History - Success stories - Thessaloniki 1999

Sarah Flannery (IRL)

First Prize and Nobel Ceremony Award for her project: "Cryptography: a new algorithm vs. the RSA". She declares that "the minute I arrived in Greece I know I was going to have a great time. My father and I were collected at the airport by past participants and brought to the hotel where I first got to know some of the others with whom I was to spend the rest of the week. There were some real "characters" there and I got on particularly well with the English, Danish, Maltese, Swiss and European School entrants. We spent the entire time telling jokes and stories or going out at night together. The excursions were all well worthwhile and the food was absolutely delicious and plentiful. Besides, the awards ceremony took place the magnificent setting of a spectacular summer residence of the ex-king of Greece.

Under the beautiful setting sun the two Alumni judges awarded their special prize in real Oscar Awards Ceremony style by reading out their four nominations and then their choice. It was all good fun". She says she was completely shocked to win a first prize: "I was simply thrown into a daze when called up to accept the award and when I got the trip to go to Stockholm I was over the moon with joy. In the blur of excitement I will always remember the huge cheer I got from all my friends. I was so thrilled!
Concerning the project she presented, she intends to publish it on a web site and, although she will not be patenting any of the work contained in it: "many people expressed an interest in the work and I have sent them a copy of the report. These people include former colleagues at IBM Germany, Professor Ronald Rivest in MIT, etc.".

Sarah attended the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar in December 1999, and she attended lectures by Nobel Laureates, visited Sweden's historic sites and met many international officials. In general, she enjoyed the atmosphere at the last ceremony of the 20th century: "our first morning together was dedicated to the International Symposium, in which we each made a small presentation explaining the projects we had worked on and how we had been chosen to participate in the Seminar".
They then visited the oldest university of Scandinavia, the University of Uppsala.

Nevertheless, one of the most exciting moments was that in which she sat by GŁnter Blobel, the Laureate in Medicine: "during the press conference, Mr. Blobel referred to the young scientists in the audience many times, and we were encouraged to ask questions". Some other unforgettable experiences were "a lovely lunch in the Parliament house with the Speaker of Parliament", a typical Swedish Santa Lucia procession, a mini-debate amongst the 30 young scientists attending the Nobel ceremony for the BBC World Service Team and, last but not least, the memorable Limousines in which they arrived to Stockholm's Concert Hall.

Throughout the year she has been working, in collaboration with her father, on a book that they were invited to write: "the book's title is In Code - A Mathematical Journey". It is due to publication next spring. At the moment she is her final year of Secondary School and she will sit her Leaving Certificate Examinations in June 2000: "next year I hope to study Maths and Computer Science in University".

She thinks the contest is both an educational and enjoyable event.
She remarks that "the judging interviews were very enjoyable and each judge showed a genuine interest in my project, which made the process of explaining it to them a lot easier. I very much liked the way judges were given a chance, as a result of having the written reports for some months beforehand, to ask detailed questions that were right to the point and often quite testing.

I had one of the best weeks of my life in Thessaloniki and I will always hold fond memories of it.

Tryggvi Thorgeirsson (ICE)

Alongside with Sverrir Gudmumdsson and Pall Melsted, he won a First Prize and a Summer Research Fellowship in the European Northern Observatories (Canary Islands) at Thessaloniki 1999. The project was titled "The Galaxy Cluster MS1621 +2640".

When astronomers undertake research they must start by obtaining data, which normally requires expensive equipment such as large telescopes. Sometimes this data are used by scientists in a very specific way and then, when they need them no more, they will make them public. Tryggvi explains that "this data can be used further to look at different aspects of astronomical research. That is what we did. We took already existing data and used them to get our particular results. They came from two different sources. Through our astronomy teacher we obtained a data set from Icelandic astronomers who had been observing a galaxy cluster from the Nordic telescope in the Canary Islands. After having examined these data, we found another set on the Internet, coming from a group of Canadian astronomers that had been investigating the same galaxy cluster, but measuring it in a diverse way".

By combining both sources of data, these brave Icelanders obtained results they would have not achieved other way. The combination explained and estimated various physical properties of the galaxy cluster such as its mass, its size and the number of galaxies contained. They also speculated a bit "about the colour of those galaxies, about their age and likely composition, and finally about the evidence of gravitational effects on background light from the cluster. The last bit occurs when the mass of such an enormous object as a cluster bends the path of light coming from its galaxies".
He remembers that the Thessaloniki edition was the first occasion in which he was able to meet people from Eastern Europe and Russia: "speaking with people from various countries really gives a broader perspective. Apart from making many acquaintances I made really good friends during that week, particularly with Tuomas, a Finnish guy who I shared a room with. We keep in touch via e-mail, and we will visit one another some day".

However, if there is one thing we will not forget that is the announcement about their winning the trip to the European Northern Observatories in the Canary Islands: "that beats everything in my case".

As an anecdote, he recalls the moment when they were all sailing out of the Thessaloniki harbour in order to go to a restaurant. Suddenly a firework display started off on shore and all of us, the curious young scientists, rushed to the side of the boat where the event could be best seen. Only a few minutes later, the captain came over, shouting and franticly screaming at us and telling us to go to the other side of the boat before it rolled over. Fortunately he managed to save us that time!"

Tryggvi is now travelling around Europe before he enrols the University of Iceland to start his degree in Physics. Anyway, his future plans are not quite laid out yet: "I am very fond of astronomy and astrophysics. However, I am also interested in particle physics, which fortunately enough combines well with the former two".

He thinks the overall experience is clearly positive: "the EU Contest gave me the opportunity and incentive to put a considerable amount of work in a project I was interested in. Through my work I learnt a great deal about astrophysics, but even more importantly, it was my first introduction to reasonably serious scientific work". He refers to the "organisation and framework of the EU contest" as one in which "contestants generally got the feeling that it was a real scientific event. For that reason, winning a prize was a big boost to my confidence, and I think the same must go for anyone whose project entered the Contest. It is very important for young people that are just starting their careers" .