A Chat with Dr. Don Faller…

Dr Don FallerAthlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is an award-winning higher education institution located in the Midlands. More than 6,000 students are undertaking undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Business, Humanities, Engineering and Science. €100 million has been invested in the AIT campus since 2000, ensuring that students experience a world-class education with cutting-edge facilities.

We are delighted to be partnering with AIT this year to deliver a Midlands Science Festival with even more exciting and innovative events than 2013 and this week we caught up with Don Faller, acting Head of the School of Science to find out a bit about his academic career and his views on science.

Can you tell us a bit about your role in Athlone institute of Technology?
For 15 years I lectured on the Toxicology programmes offered by AIT. In 2009 I was appointed Head of Department of Life & Physical Sciences and more recently, I have taken up the role of acting Head of the School of Science at AIT.  This role involves taking responsibility for the overall management of the School of Science and its strategic development in terms of new academic programmes and external activities. It is an exciting and challenging role and one that would not be possible to take on without the expertise and dedication of the staff in the School of Science.

What is the most fulfilling part about your job Don?
There are very many fulfilling aspects of my job. Welcoming new students to AIT at the start of each academic year and watching students graduating each year at the Institute’s annual graduation ceremony in October are always a pleasure, as is attending events such as Higher Options and visiting second level schools to meet students interested in hearing about science courses at AIT.

Can you tell us your favourite science fact?
In 1941, penicillin was first used to treat a bacterial infection in a human being. However, because there was such a small supply of penicillin available at the time, all of the patient’s urine was collected and the excreted penicillin was extracted from the urine and re-administered to the patient!

Why is it important that AIT supports events such as the Midlands Science Festival?
As an Institute of Technology, many of AIT’s academic and research programmes have a strong ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths’ (STEM) focus. AIT is delighted to be associated with all regional and national activities that encourages people of all ages to engage with STEM and we are really excited to be involved with the 2014 Midland Science Festival.

Do you have any advice for young people considering a career in science?
Yes. Make sure you thoroughly research all of the available science courses available to you and all of the job opportunities each course offers. It is always a good idea to spend some time with someone who is currently working in the area you are interested in. Talk to you career guidance teacher and make sure your Leaving Certificate subject choice is the correct one for the third level course you hope to pursue. Above all, pick a course you will enjoy!

Are there any particularly exciting jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago or ‘jobs of the future’ in science fields that the next generation might get excited about?
Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology companies should continue to be key employers in the future. It goes without saying that IT will continue to change the way we live and work. The so-called ‘Internet of Things’ is an area we will be seeing more of in the future – this is where familiar objects such as cars, thermostats, dishwashers etc. will be able to remotely connect to the internet. Anticipated applications of the Internet of Things include the automation of the heating of buildings, improved road safety, monitoring of the environment (soil temperature, road temperature etc.) as well as human and animal health monitoring.

Do you think, although science is a core subject, that there is enough emphasis placed upon it in schools?
I think second level schools place a strong emphasis on science to Junior Certificate. However, at senior cycle, while very may students opt to study Biology, the numbers of students taking Chemistry and Physics is very low. I would welcome the introduction of a ‘bonus points’ scheme similar to the one was introduced for honours maths in recent years in order to incentivise the study of Chemistry and Physics at Leaving Certificate. I would also like to see a much wider availability of Agricultural Science at second level.