Science gets the little grey cells moving!!!

AIT recently was awarded The Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year for 2018 and its vision is to become a Technological University in the near future. We are proud to be partnering with Athlone Institute of Technology to promote the importance of science and technology education here in the midlands and beyond.

This week we spoke to Dr. Brian Murphy of Athlone Institute of Technology in advance of Science Week to find out a little about AIT’s Science focus, their participation in the festival this year and also about his own role and background..

Brian, can you tell us a little about your role in AIT?

After completing my PhD in Coordination Chemistry and X-Ray Crystallography at University College Cork in 1994 I decided to pursue an academic career. Over the past 23 years this has brought me to teach Inorganic Chemistry and conduct research at a number of universities and institutes of technology both in Ireland and abroad, including Cardiff University, Dublin City University, IT Sligo and the United Arab Emirates University. In 2008, after spending eight years in the middle east, working as an Associate Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and later as a Head of Department at the Department of Chemistry at United Arab Emirates University, I decided to return to Ireland and joined Athlone Institute of Technology as Head of the Department of Life and Physical Sciences. I since have moved away from academic administration and have returned to my true passion in trying to open up the world of Coordination Chemistry to undergraduate students as a Senior Lecturer. Not an easy task!

I teach across a variety of academic programmes at AIT, including the BSc(Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science, which is a unique programme that provides the broad-based, essential information and skills required by graduates for employment in the modern pharmaceutical sector. This programme is officially recognized by the Institute of Chemistry in Ireland and covers chemical-based and next generation biotech-based therapeutics and their formulation into the safe and effective medicines of high and durable quality. The programme is one of the leading academic programmes at AIT in terms of the high quality employment outlets open to its graduates. The Midlands has become a major magnet for leading international pharmaceutical companies and this programme provides learners with the core experience in the exploration of the structure-property relationships of drugs and pharmaceutical materials. As a Lecturer, not only do I teach but I also am involved in the extensive development of new academic programmes in the Faculty of Science and Health, I supervise undergraduate research projects in Coordination Chemistry, sit on a number of Institute sub-committees and have a number of international collaborations in the area of curriculum development and coordination chemistry.

AIT recently was awarded The Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year for 2018 and its vision is to become a Technological University in the near future. In my view this is an essential component of the future strategic plan for the region – AIT has the capacity and potential to become a university and this is what makes working at AIT extremely interesting at present! AIT’s strength comes from identifying areas of skills shortage and working with businesses to improve links between enterprise and academia. The Institute currently has three dedicated research centres, straddling the areas of Bioscience, Software and Materials and has become a regional research power-house in these areas, working closely with local industry.

What inspired you to pursue a science based career?

Unfortunately in Ireland only a small proportion of secondary schools currently offer Chemistry and Physics which is a real shame. Chemistry is often described as the central science and many students do not really understand the importance of chemistry until they enter third-level programmes and are surprised to find chemistry in the heart of medicine, engineering, dentistry, toxicology, biotechnology and even sports science programmes! As a secondary school student I was extremely lucky to go to a newly built, state-of-the-art, mixed secondary school in Cobh, Co. Cork, Coláiste Muire, where the Presentation Brother Principal of the School (Br. Bede) himself had a strong Science background and insisted that the school should have dedicated modern laboratories in Chemistry, Physics and Biology to ensure that students could take all three pillar science subjects up to Higher Leaving Certificate Level. At the time we had an outstanding Chemistry Teacher, Dr. Declan Kennedy, who since has moved on to become a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education in University College Cork and who has been at the fore-front of developments in Chemistry Teaching in Ireland for the past twenty years. As a teacher he was visionary in his delivery of science and this is what lured me into pursuing a career in Chemistry. It all stemmed from being exposed to problem-based learning, challenging experimental work and interdisciplinary science from an early age in secondary school and knowing that I was being educated in first-class chemical laboratories. It would be nice to see more schools in the Midlands offering Chemistry and Physics to secondary school students in the next ten years and not just Biology. All three subjects are essential for anyone interested in STEM as Science in the future will become even more interdisciplinary in nature! There appears to be a current shortage also of qualified Chemistry Teachers nationally and this is an area that the government needs to address if we are really to become a leading international STEM nation on the worldwide stage.

Why in your view is science so important in society today and what can we do to encourage more young people to choose science when picking their subjects at second level?

There are so many reasons as why science is so important to society at present that in this condensed blog it is not possible for me to outline the myriad of reasons and examples. As a Coordination Chemist by trade, X-ray Crystallography has long been a central structural tool for me in my pursuing research interests and the importance of structure still plays a pivotal role in science today. However I would like to focus in on the recent award of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Jacques Dubochet (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Joachim Frank (Columbia University, New York, USA) and Richard Henderson (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK) for developing an effective method for generating three-dimensional images of the molecules of life. Using cryo-electron microscopy, it is now possible to freeze biomolecules midmovement and portray them at atomic resolution. This technology has launched biochemistry on a completely new trajectory. In the press release on the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to these researchers it is described how “over recent years numerous astonishing structures of life’s molecular machinery have filled the scientific literature: Salmonella’s injection needle for attacking cells; proteins that confer resistance to chemotherapy and antibiotics; molecular complexes that govern circadian rhythms; light-capturing reaction complexes for photosynthesis and a pressure sensor of the type that allows us to hear. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of biomolecules that have now been imaged using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). When researchers began to suspect that the Zika virus was causing the epidemic of brain-damaged newborns in Brazil, they turned to cryo-EM to visualise the virus. Over a few months, three dimensional (3D) images of the virus at atomic resolution were generated and researchers could start searching for potential targets for pharmaceuticals.

Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson have made ground-breaking discoveries that have enabled the development of cryo-EM. The method has taken biochemistry into a new era, making it easier than ever before to capture images of biomolecules.” As a scientist I always look forward each year to the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Reading the research underpinning the work of these annual award winners makes us understand the importance of science to society. Secondary school students need to be challenged in science from day one – to foster this learning environment, science students need to constantly pose questions, be challenged by undertaking project and research work, be exposed to a rigorous experimental programme and have access to high-quality laboratories, instrumentation and facilities. We also need to encourage more Honours Chemistry graduates to consider teaching as a career. There are several outstanding science teachers who do tremendous work in school educating future scientists, often educated to both Masters and PhD level. The government needs to support such highly qualified professionals to ensure that teaching once more is seen as a vital cog in our national development. One has only to look at the correlation between teaching, secondary school science facilities and STEM initiatives in countries like Finland to appreciate the importance of promoting the development of science in schools.

Do you think there are any really exciting research outcomes we can hope to see in the next 10 years?

Cure for Alzheimer’s disease, global solution to conquer climate change, advanced technologies for the electric car to name a few ….. it was interesting to read only a few days ago that NASA and NOAA have stated that measurements from satellites this year showed the hole in Earth’s ozone layer that forms over Antarctica each September was the smallest observed since 1988. Thirty years ago, the international community signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and began regulating ozone-depleting compounds. Scientists claim that the ozone hole over Antarctica is expected to gradually become less severe as the use of chlorofluorocarbons (once widely used as refrigerants) continue to decrease worldwide. Scientists now expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels around 2070. This shows the power of international scientific collaboration between scientists and governments. I think Environmental Chemistry is one area to really keep an eye on in terms of research activity over the next decade. Global solutions can bring about a solution to climate change but scientists need to be supported at both international and national levels to foster these solutions.

What is your favourite thing about teaching science?

As Hercule Poirot says it gets the little grey cells moving!!!

Dr. Brian Murphy, Senior Lecturer, Department of Life and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Science and Health, AIT

Choose a discipline that you are passionate about…

We are delighted to be partnering with Athlone Institute of Technology this year in order to deliver a range of high value career talks to second level students across the Midlands. We caught up with one of our key speakers, Ciaran O’ Cathain of the AIT department of Sport and Health Sciences. Ciaran will be addressing students in Athlone next week during the Midlands Science Festival.

Ciaran, can you tell us a little about your role at AIT?

I am a lecturer in the department of Sport and Health Sciences and teach on the Sport Science with Exercise Physiology course and the Athletic and Rehabilitation Therapy course. I deliver modules mainly in the areas of Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning. Outside of teaching I am primary investigator across a variety of sport science research projects, most of which are targeting the development of novel approaches for maximising sporting performance. I have also been actively involved in the development of the undergraduate courses we currently deliver in the department of Sport and Health Sciences.

What is your background/academic experience?

I went to secondary school in the Marist College and then completed my undergraduate degree in DCU where I studied Sport Science and Health. Upon completion of this I was awarded the O’Hare Scholarship from DCU to complete a PhD. For my PhD I developed a novel technology that allowed runners to intuitively change their running technique to reduce their risk of sustaining running relating injuries. I then took a lecturing position in Athlone IT and have been working here for the last three years.

What inspired you to pursue a science related field?

During my teenage years and early-to-mid-20’s I competed in track and field as a sprinter and hurdler. During this time I competed both nationally and internationally and subsequently became fascinated by the science behind improving sporting performance. What was initially a thirst for knowledge to improve my own performance developed overtime into an interest across a broad range of sport science related topics. This manifested in the completion of the above mentioned degree, PhD, and continued work as both a researcher and practitioner.

We want to spread the message that science is so diverse and there are so many different avenues that someone can do down if they pick STEM! What advice would you give students in secondary school considering a science course at third level?

I often find that one of the big barriers to choosing a STEM course is the dreaded requirement of mathematics. However, if you choose a discipline within STEM that you are extremely passionate about the context in which mathematics is employed becomes much more interesting. It is much easier to study maths when you see how useful it can be in an applied setting. For example, I did honours level maths and applied maths for my leaving cert and I hated both. However, once I started my degree and identified how I could use maths to improve sporting performance my opinion completely reversed and I loved it. I now specialise in the area of biomechanics which is essentially the application of physics and mathematics to gain a better understanding of human movement.

What are some of the exciting jobs someone can expect to apply for if they complete a sports science course at AIT?

Sport Science is a great discipline to study as it gives you a broad range of expertise and provides you with the opportunity explore multiple avenues once you complete the degree. Across the 4 years you will study modules in Physiology, Biomechanics, Coaching, Nutrition, Psychology, Strength and Conditioning, and Performance Analysis. From this you can choose to pursue careers or further study in one of these areas or a combination of them.

Science is a great gateway for students…

We were delighted to have Chris Coombs from Tullamore Physio in to speak to students at Tullamore College last week. Chris is also a lecturer in the Sports Science department at AIT and gave students a whole host of tips on sports injury prevention during their ‘Healthy Living Week’ as well as advice on facilities and courses at AIT. We had a chat to Chris to find out more about his career and what inspired him to study physiotherapy!

Chris, what was it that first inspired you to pursue a career in physiotherapy? I know you are sports mad, could that be something to do with it?

I was always fascinated with sports performance. I was playing rugby and judo in wales and was constantly trying to get the best out of myself but for various reasons I kept getting injured (Now I know why!) – So for me it was a no brainer if I couldn’t play top level sport it provided a great chance of being involved in high level sport!

Can you tell us a bit about your background, where you studied and what course you took?

My first degree was in Sports Science, I studied this at Glamorgan University and this gave me a good background in sports performance testing and training elite athletes. Following this I attended Cardiff medical School and completed a Degree in Physiotherapy. I then undertook post graduate courses looking at running mechanics, athlete load monitoring and various courses to help treat different conditions. At present Im studying a Masters in Clinical Physiotherapy which is based out of Curtin University, Australia!

 

Did you like science in school?

Yes I quite liked science it was better than maths! At school I probably wasn’t the most dedicated student but as I got a little older I found I enjoyed it more!

We are delighted to hear you are now sharing your expert knowledge and lecturing in the Midlands third level institution, AIT? What courses are you teaching there?

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be appointed lecturer in Athletic Therapy & Rehabilitation. I’ve been lucky enough to attend some of the best universities in the UK and Australia but I was blown away by the sports facilities in AIT – They have some great cutting edge technology there.

There aren’t enough future scientists! What can we be doing to encourage more young people to pursue a science related qualification at third level?

I think Science is a great gateway for students. It allows students to branch off into so many different areas such as sport, hospital based jobs to researching cancer etc. My advice to students is to pursue science related jobs ..not only are there many well paid jobs but there is such a different range of jobs that you can go into. It also allows you to travel the world.  I never have imagined I’d end up working in elite sport and now lecturing at AIT.

Seeking Science Communicators!

For the past five year, the Midlands Science Festival team has been working with science engagement professionals to help us reach new audiences, improve how we carry out our work and continue to promote science as a critical part of culture and society.

Every year we try to find and build relationships with people who are interested in having or facilitating conversations about science and highlighting just how much it is a part of everyday life. Science communicators help shape our thinking. They help us to make science more accessible, help us to come up with new and innovative ways to spread science stories and they often introduce us to a more diverse range of new networking and learning opportunities across the different sectors of science communication and engagement.

Our events are for all people of all ages involved and interested in conversations about science, whether you are a scientist who does science communication as a part of your job, a volunteer, or a full-time professional in science communication and public engagement. If you would like to talk to us about getting involved in some of the work we do please get in touch and we look forward to hearing from you.

Mullingar Students Explore Science at the Royal College of Surgeons

As part of the ongoing work of local development company, Midlands Science, to promote science education in the Midlands, a group of transition year students from Loreto College, Mullingar recently visited The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Centre for Systems Medicine (CSM) Research Laboratory. This event was co-ordinated by Dr Helena Bonner Scientific Liaison Officer CSM, RCSI and Ms Pauline Nally of Midlands Science.

Students were welcomed by Head Porter, Mr Frank Donegan who gave them a historical tour of RCSI.
Other highlights from the day included students observing brain cancer cells under the microscope and learning about different forms of cancer. They also heard from our researchers about their projects including epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases. Students also received a lecture on how research has changed in recent years with a special focus on communication and collaborative skills, being an important aspect of the job.

Professor Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology and Medical Physics & Director for the Centre for Systems Medicine, RCSI said, “I am delighted to welcome the students to RCSI and the CSM laboratories. Hopefully they got a real experience for what life is like for scientific researchers and perhaps it will lead to them considering a career in scientific research”.

Special thanks to the following researchers for volunteering to take part in this event: Dr Beatrice D’Orsi, Dr Catriona Dowling, Dr Teresa Moloney, Dr Isabela Aparicio and head porter Mr. Frank Donegan.

RCSI is ranked 46th in the world for ‘International Outlook’ and #251 – 300 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2015-2016). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said, “We feel that a true understanding of science involves whole-life learning beyond the confines of any classroom. It is so important that when learning science it includes innovation, up to date resources, engagement and partnerships which enable the students to connect learning to actual real-world situations. With this in mind we place a strong emphasis on mentoring from role models and champions in order to encourage and nurture curiosity about science and a visit like this is an ideal way to achieve this.”

Mergon Support Technology Learning Opportunity for Castlepollard Students

Midlands Science recently collaborated with Mergon International to provide an engaging and interactive coding workshop for the first and second year students of Castlepollard Community College.

Lucy Payne, Business Development Manager from iConnect Galway ran this ‘Coding Workshop’ for pupils at Castlepollard School, on 1 June 2017. Based on the Swift Playground app using the Apple TV, students explored how to use the Swift Playgrounds app and understand where coding is used in daily life.

Aisling Nolan, General Manager of Mergon International in Castlepollard said,
‘Mergon was delighted to partner with Midlands Science as a corporate sponsor in order to deliver this innovative event to a local school. Technology has the power to transform education and as a company, Mergon is always looking for ways to help inspire learning and encourage new ways of teaching the future generation. Swift, the powerful programming language which has been designed by created Apple, is intuitive and user friendly involving touch, motion and sound.’

Swift Playgrounds is a revolutionary app for iPad that makes learning Swift interactive and fun. It requires no coding knowledge, and is perfect for students just starting out. Using puzzles to master the basics with Swift students are equipped with a powerful programming language created by Apple that is used by the professionals to build today’s most popular apps. Students take on a series of challenges and step up to more advanced playgrounds designed by Apple and other leading developers.

Mary Coyle, principal at Castlepollard Community College said,
‘We were delighted to welcome Lucy Payne of iConnect to our school recently where students had the opportunity to enjoy a really immersive lesson in ipad technology and coding. The new Technology element of the curriculum enables students in the junior cycle of post-primary education to develop their technology knowledge and life skills and to apply these in real-world situations. We are very grateful to both Mergon and Midlands Science for this opportunity as we believe that by creating a more dynamic learning environment and giving students the tools and materials they need to succeed, their technology lessons can really be brought to life.’

Notes to Editors:
For more information on Swift and how iConnect can benefit your school or business please contact Lucy on 085 873 2331.
Media Enquiries: Victoria Marsden, Marketing Manager victoria.marsden@i-connect.ie

iConnect:
iConnect is an Apple Premium Reseller and Apple Solutions Education Experts serving every type of customer, from individuals to creative freelancers to professional businesses, schools and universities.
As Apple Solutions Education Experts iConnect also serves many of the countries primary, secondary and third level institutions with the most up to date Apple Solutions for Education.
Owned by Al Mana Lifestyle Limited and part of the Al Mana Group of Companies, iConnect has stores in Henry Street, Dublin, Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, Dublin and Whitewater Shopping Centre, Newbridge. The group also acquired Stream Solutions, Cork and Screenway Limited, Galway in 2015.

Inspirational career talks and public events for Athlone

andy-fogarty-2

As part of this year’s Midlands Science Festival which takes place across the Midlands from November 13th to 20th, a series of high value careers talks will take place in local schools. Local development company Midlands Science have arranged to bring a number of role models with science or technology backgrounds into Midlands’ secondary schools to deliver these career talks and demonstrate in a hands on way why a career in science is a good choice.  Volunteers for this initiative are from life sciences organisations and technology companies, as well as from research centres and academia such as NUI, Maynooth, UCD and Athlone Institute of Technology. Many of the speakers are past pupils of the schools they will attend.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival director said,

‘Science expertise involves whole-life learning beyond what happens in school so we are delivering these career talks in collaboration with key corporate and academic partners and the aim is to increase participation in science and technology education and careers in the Midlands.  In addition to presentations being held throughout regional schools we also have a free breakfast seminar taking place in the Sheraton Hotel on the morning of November 16th and in particular we are encouraging third level graduates to come along to this to hear from one of our company partners, Abbott Diagnostics in Longford. The morning will also provide an opportunity to hear from leading recruitment expert and Midlands native, Anne Heraty of Cpl Resources.’

Along with a number of events taking place in schools, there are other public events taking place throughout Science Week including one all about exploring the science of sleep! This event which takes place in the Little Theatre in Athlone on the night of November 18th promises a highly informative evening with plenty of discussion and question time. Dr. Craig Slattery, a science communicator and Specialist Lecturer at University College Dublin who is originally from the region Craig will address the audience as will Dr Silke Ryan, Consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at St. Vincent’s University Hospital and Research Fellow at UCD.

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘The Midlands Science Festival has partnered with Burgess of Athlone for this event and Burgess has kindly donated a very generous prize of 200 euros to spend in their bedding department to celebrate the event. The winner of this voucher was Bregeen Hegarty so we would like to thank Burgess and congratulate Bregeen and hope she enjoys her prize.’

Photo: Dr Andy Fogarty of Athlone Institute of Technology who will speak in an Athlone school during Science Week

Inspirational Career Talks

Dr Mary GuinanAs part of this year’s Midlands Science Festival which takes place across the Midlands from November 13th to 20th, a series of high value careers talks will take place in local schools. Local development company Midlands Science have arranged to bring a number of role models with science or technology backgrounds into Midlands’ secondary schools to deliver these career talks and demonstrate in a hands on way why a career in science is a good choice.

Volunteers for this initiative are from life sciences organisations and technology companies, as well as from research centres and academia. Many of the speakers are past pupils of the schools they will attend.

Earlier this year we enjoyed a series of similar talks from an inspiring speaker with Midlands roots, Dr Mary Guinan, who told the story of her amazing science career as a medical detective! (see photo)

Science Talks and Student Opinions at Tullamore College!

We were delighted to visit Tullamore Colge yesterday where we held science career talks from local toxicologist and Midlands Science board member Dr.Craig Slattery and also from HR specialist and board member, Anne Scally.

A number students were also interviewed on the day and asked a series of questions about STEM careers. We got some really good feedback and were delighted to hear that students choosing science in Tullamore College is undoubtedly on the increase! We look forward to going back for more talks and discussion during Science Week.

Science Career Talks Galore!

We are really looking forward to a wide variety of career talks this year; some will be pitched students from Transition Year upwards and some will be delivered to younger students who haven’t yet made specific future subject choices.

It is so important that we provide speakers who can talk to young people about their own experiences and also about the wide variety of careers on offer if you choose to pursue a course in science at third level. In the past we have had everything from sports psychologists and lecturers to science communications managers and physics experts! This year we will have talks from technology and health companies, nutritionists, a toxicologist and an experienced maths enthusiast to name a few!