Ireland’s Top Young Problem Solvers Ready to Tackle World’s Best Decoders

Posted on: 27 April 2015

Four secondary school students from across the island of Ireland have been selected to test their language decoding skills against the world’s best at the International Linguistics Olympiad in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, in July. The students, from Dublin and Donegal, finished ahead of 120 opponents in the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO) Finals.

Run by the Science Foundation Ireland-funded ADAPT Centre, the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO) aims to inspire the next generation of multilingual technology graduates, who possess a combination of language competency and problem-solving expertise.

Shmuel Barron of Sutton Park School (Dublin) was the overall winner of the individual competition. He will be joined in Bulgaria by fellow team members Luke Gardiner of Gonzaga College (Dublin), Ethan Hamman of Newpark Comprehensive (Dublin) and Niamh Lynch of Loreto Letterkenny (Donegal). Luke, Ethan and Niamh finished second, third and fourth respectively in the individual competition.

Winners of the ADAPT All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO) Luke Gardiner (Gonzaga College), Niamh Lynch (Loreto Letterkenny), Ethan Hamman (Newpark Comprehensive) and Shmuel Barron (Sutton Park School) will now represent Ireland at the International Linguistics Olympiad in Bulgaria in July.

From a starting line-up of 4,000 students from 161 secondary schools that spanned 29 counties, the top 123 sleuths battled it out during individual and team contests at AILO. Competitors engaged in ‘code-breaking’ challenges to unlock information in unfamiliar languages. This year’s individual contest included puzzles in Evenki (an inner Mongolian language), Murrinhpatha (an Australian indigenous language spoken by only 3000 people), and the Georgian writing system. No prior knowledge of a second language was required because even the hardest problems required only reasoning skills, logic and patience.

Niamh Lynch is looking forward to pitting her wits against winners of other National Linguistics Olympiads during a week packed with puzzles and cultural experiences in Bulgaria. She said: “Partaking in AILO has been such a brilliant experience, and I'm thrilled to be representing Ireland in Bulgaria this summer.”

2015 saw the first junior competition for AILO and the winner was Aleksandr Gusev of Royal School Cavan. Second and third places went to Vincent Wong of Cookstown High School and Alexander Harding of Maynooth Post Primary School.

In addition to the individual competition that put together the team heading to Bulgaria, there was also a team contest at AILO. The winning team was Gonzaga College (Dublin). Luke Gardiner was a part of this winning team along with Turlough Hannon, Daniel Mulcahy and Jonathan McGrath. The teams in this section of the competition tackled a cross-number puzzle (similar to a crossword), identified ‘bots’ on a user review website, and tackled a problem in Maxakali (an Amazonian language spoken by as few as 1,200 people).

Olympiad National Coordinator Dr Cara Greene of ADAPT, who will act as Team Leader in Bulgaria, said: “The students who have qualified to represent Ireland are talented problem-solvers who will hold their own in Bulgaria at the International Olympiad. We are looking forward to competing against 30 teams from 22 countries from all over the world.”

In the multi-billion euro Content Technology sector, graduates are in very strong demand in Ireland and abroad. Vincent Wade is Professor in Computer Science in the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin, and CEO of the ADAPT Research Centre, which organises the All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad.

He said: “The Olympiad is unique in how it fosters skills in lateral thinking, problem solving and communication, which are key skills for 21st Century living.”

Finalists have received tuition from experts at the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology, a €110 million academia-industry research centre developing advanced technology to adapt and personalise digital content and services to the needs of global users. The finalists will receive further tuition before they leave to represent Ireland in the Finals in Bulgaria later this year.

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