04 OCTOBER 2022


DUBLIN—The Mary Mulvihill Association invites submissions to its 2023 student media competition on the theme of Energy. Entries are sought from students of all disciplines – undergraduate or postgraduate – studying at third-level institutions anywhere on the island of Ireland. 


The topic may be addressed in scientific, environmental, imaginative or other terms. Entries are welcome in many – and mixed – media formats. As examples for guidance, written texts may be essays, memoirs or other narratives. Photos, infographics, comic strips or other visual forms may be used as illustration, or as the main content. Interviews may be presented in written, video or audio forms.


As a theme, energy offers myriad routes for exploration. Strictly defined, energy is the ability to do work. The standard unit of energy is the joule – 1 joule equals the amount of work done when a force of 1 newton moves a mass by 1 metre. 


But the concept of energy applies to multiple contexts – the law of conservation of energy states that it can neither be created nor destroy, but transformed from one form to another. The key energy conversion that sustains life on this planet is, of course, photosynthesis, the process by which plants and certain microorganisms capture the energy present in sunlight and convert it to chemical energy. All of our food depends either directly or indirectly on this reaction. At a chemical level, photosynthesis entails the conversion of carbon dioxide and water to glucose and oxygen. The energy contained within the chemical bonds of a molecule of glucose is subsequently transformed through the process of respiration into another form of chemical energy, which is contained within ATP (adenosine triphosophate), the universal energy ‘currency’ of the cell. 


Of course, we don’t just consume energy in our food. The great shift in the last two hundred years to industrial and technological development has led to a massive expansion in human energy consumption. Our endless thirst for energy has led to wars, environmental destruction and the oppression of many in low-income countries who have had the misfortune to live close to valuable deposits of fossil fuels. 


But our over-reliance on the chemical energy present in hydrocarbons derived from long-dead plants and animals is now disturbing the equilibrium of our planet, as the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels raises global temperatures, with multiple and damaging effects on climate and on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. 


The transition to ‘zero-carbon’ forms of energy and to more sustainable technologies is now underway, even if the pace of change varies greatly across different regions. The whole concept of a ‘just transition’, which entails a shift to a more sustainable future that is fair and equitable, attempts to capture the social dimensions of this change and ensure that it does not deepen existing inequalities or create new ones.  


We encourage students thinking of entering this competition to approach the theme as almost endless; there are no prescriptions on how it might be approached.


The theme of the award changes every year, reflecting Mary Mulvihill’s broad interests in science and its interrelationships with other aspects of human culture and the natural world. That breadth also applies to how competition participants could address the theme.


This year’s theme was selected following a Twitter poll, which attracted over one thousand votes. Members of the public were invited to choose between four themes. One third of the respondents opted for Energy. 


The award is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled in an Irish higher education institution at the time of submission. In addition to the overall award of €2,000, the judges may, at their discretion, make an additional award of €500 for a highly commended entry. 

For further information on the award, including guidance to entrants and past winners, see https://marymulvihillaward.ie. The deadline for submissions is Midnight Friday 31 March 2023.


The Mary Mulvihill Award is a project of Remembering Mary, an initiative established by family and friends of the late Mary Mulvihill (1959–2015) to honour her memory and her work in science journalism, science communication and heritage and to promote her legacy. It administers and awards funds to commemorate her work and its significance.


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