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UCC Student Tests Award-Winning Invention in Africa

UCC engineering student Diarmuid Curtin, who last year won the first prize “Science for Development Award” at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition, had the opportunity to test his invention on a recent trip to Malawi with development agency ‘Gorta-Self Help Africa’.

As part of the Irish Aid-sponsored award, the Newcastle West student won a travel bursary that allowed him and his co-inventor, Jack O’Connor, to field-test their project- a custom-made seed planter for farmers. The metal planter is designed to bring precision to the seed planting, as well as saving time and labour. The pair had the opportunity to demonstrate their award-winning device to farmers in the capital city of Malawi, Lilongwe, and hear their opinions on it.

“We were a bit anxious as to how farmers would react to our device, as it is a cultural shift comparing to their traditional methods of planting seeds. We were surprised to see how accepting they were and were delighted to get their opinions,” explained Diarmuid.

 “I was surprised to see how accepting they were about our device. We were delighted to hear their suggestions on how we could improve it – for example, getting rid of the battery for the laser. It was useful to have their opinion from an agricultural and engineering point of view,” added Diarmuid. “One of the main feedback we got was around the material used. It was suggested to make the seed planter out of bamboo or plastic, materials that are locally available and more affordable.”

The aim of the trip was not just an opportunity for the pair to test their invention and get practical feedback from experienced people, but also to give Irish students the opportunity to experience African culture first-hand, and understand more about the obstacles the people there face in their daily lives, explained Dorothy Jacob, coordinator of Gorta-Self Help Africa’s Development Education programme. “It’s about both deepening understandings and challenging preconceptions,” she said.

Diarmuid and his co-inventor Jack are already planning a new model for the planter, drawing on the feedback they received in Malawi. “We need to conduct a few more experiments to design the most affordable and effective model for the planter before it is implemented in the field. I’d love to come back to Malawi in five-years time and see the planter being used by farmers everywhere in the country!” Diarmuid concluded.