Tomorrow we will post links for events which still have some capacity. We are covering a large area in the midlands so we can’t get to everywhere each year so please bear with us as we try to spread the science around.
The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th and is a wonderful chance to bridge the gap between science and the public, opening discussion around many important developments and build people’s science capital in the region.
The week-long annual event, which is hosted by the Midlands Science and a number of partners including one of Ireland’s leading healthcare companies, Abbott in Longford, is heading into its sixth year and promises to bring together members of the public with scientists, engineers, technologists and science workshop performers. With over 120 free events on offer across the Midlands region, large numbers of people are expected to turn out to celebrate science this November.
The festival is an excellent opportunity to inspire young adults and the next generation of scientists. One of the activities on the agenda for Longford this year includes a day exploring “What Happens Next?” at Longford County Library on Nov 13th. This interactive lecture suitable for primary school classes from 4th class up. In the presentations, a series of simple experiments are demonstrated, but paused at a critical point and students asked to predict what will happen next? Subjects covered include forces, light and reflections, heat transfer and electricity.
This year’s festival also sees the return of qualified marine biologists, Marine Dimensions, where lessons on living things in Ireland’s seas and oceans will take place in Ballymahon Library all day on the 14th of November. This workshop includes a touchpool containing live sea creatures, including starfish, shrimp, anemones, crabs and sea snails and is always a popular Science Week activity with younger pupils.
On November 16th, Granard Library will host the Reptile Zoo Village where a variety of animals from snakes and spider to tortoise will be visiting for the day and on the 17th Midlands Science is delighted to welcome back the award-winning team from ‘Anyone for Science’ – this time to Longford County Library. Their hands-on, age-appropriate workshops are suitable for children from Junior Infants to 6th Class and every child gets to participate in some hands-on science.
Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said,
‘Science is all around us in everything we can see and touch and this is the sixth year that a free programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the Midlands counties. You don’t need to be a science expert or professor to begin to explore the world of science and our festival is an excellent event for giving both children and adults opportunities to think about the world around them and about why things actually are the way they are!
We are particularly looking forward to the ‘Discovery Day, which will take place in Saturday, November 10th in St. Mel’s secondary school in Longford from 10:00am until 2:00pm. The event will be run in partnership with Abbott and will offer a unique opportunity for students and their parents or guardians to experience a whole range of science and technology fun, including science activities with Anyone 4 Science, The Dinosaur Show with Dale Treadwell, The Exploration Dome, The Reptile Zoo Village, the Under the Microscope team, and innovative science activities with Abbott.’
The science festival will highlight cutting-edge research and bring together people from across the scientific disciplines and beyond. A key aim throughout the festival and Science Week itself is to get people thinking about science in a wider context and how it plays a critical and central role in every element of our society.’
See www.midlandsscience.ie for more event details and booking and join us this November 11th-18th in celebrating science in Longford!
One of our spider friends from the Reptile Zoo Village
Midlands Science is pleased to be teaming up with Birr Castle Demense & Science Centre this year to deliver some exciting workshops for a number of fortunate Midland students during Science Week.
The interactive Science centre at Birr Castle reveals the wonders of early photography, engineering and astronomy with a special emphasis on the brilliant design and assembly of the world famous Great Telescope. We caught up with Alison Delaney, Education Officer with Birr Castle Demense & Science Centre to talk about what we can look forward to this November and to learn a little bit more about what is offered at the castle itself….
Alison, we are delighted that you will be taking part in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Can you tell us a bit about Birr Castle, its focus on science activities and what you will be providing during Science Week 2018?
Thanks very much, Gillian. There has been a castle on this site in Co. Offaly since early medieval times, but it was really when the Parsons family arrived in Birr in 1620 that the castle started to develop into what it is today. The Parsons family have been resident at the castle for nearly 400 years, Lord Brendan and Lady Alison Rosse being the current owners. The family are known as a Family of Inventors and have achieved some remarkable things over the years. The third Earl of Rosse was responsible for designing and building the world-famous telescope the Leviathan, his wife Mary Rosse became known as Ireland’s first female photographer and the dark room in which she worked was painstakingly moved piece by piece from the castle to its current location in the Science Centre here, it’s believed to be the oldest complete dark room in the world. One of their sons, Laurence invented the Lunar Heat Machine that was able to accurately measure the temperature of the moon for the first time. Another of their sons invented the steam powered turbine which was used in ships like the Titanic and the Dreadnought. The current Earl, his mother and father share a passion for horticulture and have developed the 120 acres of magnificent gardens within the Demesne. There’s such a richness of scientific history at Birr Castle that it’s a real pleasure to be able to draw upon these achievements to share and inspire others.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that with the workshops and events that are run throughout the year but, more specifically, with the interesting programme of activities we have for Science Week this year. Two fantastic workshops are being run as part of the Midlands Science Festival, the first is called, “Da Vinci – Inventing the Impossible,” where the artist Paul Timoney, dressed in character along with his Mona Lisa, explores how art can be used to develop ideas. How by using both detailed, accurate observation and the freedom of expression and imagination incredible scientific progress can be made. The other is a photography workshop being run by Veronica Nicholson. We’re going to visit the dark room in the Science Centre and then discover the impact of light in an expressive photography session. We’ll be learning how to literally draw shapes using light. Continuing on from the Festival, we’re also running further workshops for both schools and families entitled, “Common Sense.” We’ll be looking at how our senses work in isolation and experimenting to see how good they actually are and how we compare against the rest of the animal world. Bit of a spoiler here, we’re not as good as we think we are! It’s a really fun, fully immersive workshop and I’m looking forward to running that during the week.
The Astronomy of Birr Castle is one of its greatest attractions. It is unusual for a Castle in the centre of Ireland to have become a great centre of astronomical discovery. Can you give us some background on this and how it evolved?
Yes, that’s right during the late 1800’s Birr Castle was very well known within astronomical circles worldwide. This was seen as the place to study the distant features of the universe. It was William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse that set himself the challenge of investigating the universe. He definitely had an unconventional education in that he was tutored at home with a solid focus on maths and engineering, but it was exactly this type of education that enabled him to achieve the extraordinary feat of building the moveable Great Leviathan 72” telescope which was the biggest telescope in the world for nearly 75 years. Lord Rosse initially used 18” and 36” telescopes through which he was able to observe the moon in greater detail than ever before but he realised he needed more light to see further into the universe to study star clusters and nebulae. It took him three years to design and build the telescope but what he found was worth waiting for, he discovered the spiral nature of galaxies. His original charcoal drawings of his discoveries are on display here, he was incredibly accurate with them.
I do also want to mention the third Earl’s eldest son Laurence, because he contributed greatly to astronomy too which was probably pretty inevitable given his upbringing amongst telescopes and astronomers. He was particularly interested in the moon and, towards the end of his life, built the Lunar Heat Machine which is on display in our Science Centre. He was able to accurately measure the heat of the moon using this machine, but it was only 80 years later, after the moon landings, that his calculations were verified and he was believed. There is a letter from Neil Armstrong on display next to the machine thanking the Parsons family for their extraordinary contributions to astronomy and scientific exploration.
Last year Birr became the home of another great astronomical project called I-LOFAR. To me it doesn’t look as visually impressive as the Leviathan, but the fact that it’s capable of ground breaking research in modern astronomy certainly makes up for that. It’s one of a network of radio telescopes that is connected to a further eleven stations in Europe and makes for one very, very large telescope, it is therefore capable of capturing some pretty unique data. It’s an exciting time for Irish astronomy and wonderful that such a significant project is located at Birr Castle Gardens and continuing in the great tradition that is very much a part of the fabric here.
What is your own background? Did you study science at university?
I didn’t come from a science background at all so it’s very interesting that I have now found myself in a position where I love teaching it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career when I was at school, I’m still unsure how it’s even possible to know given that many career options are so far removed from a school curriculum and experience at that time. I had an interest in astronomy thanks to a primary school teacher that used to run an evening club for 6th class. I didn’t get the chance to explore that in any great detail at secondary school but kept an interest throughout. I think astronomy is universally the most interesting, wonderful, inspiring and terrifying of the science subjects. The stereotype, however, that you had to have the genius intelligence of Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton or a rocket scientist to choose that as an option at university made it a non-starter for me. I also had a huge interest in wildlife but studying biology was closed to me as I refused to dissect animals – it was a compulsory part of the curriculum at the time. That one decision has definitely altered my career path and it’s a shame that pursuing a genuine interest wasn’t available to me on an academic level because I was expected to do something I was very uncomfortable with. I may well have gone on to study zoology or ecology at university just because I was interested rather than because I had a career path mapped out. I was drawn to creative artsy subjects at school and chose subjects based on this and my like of the teacher of those subjects. I’m sure I’m not alone in that! I eventually found my way into teaching via Theology and Philosophy degrees and so I could argue that I did study science at university, just not in a conventional way. I qualified as both a primary and secondary school teacher, but decided that I was more drawn to the variety of primary teaching and spent a very happy twelve years in the classroom. My love of wildlife, botany and ecology continued throughout the years and I was appointed the environmental education co-ordinator at the school in which I was teaching. In 2012, I became a Head Guide with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a door that closed all those years ago was reopened. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching groups about our native flora and fauna in Ireland and, as a part of the Frontier Bushcraft team in the UK, teaching groups about how to appreciate and utilise these as resources for living comfortably within the natural environment. Living, sleeping and working outside for many weeks at a time really gives you a unique connection to the natural world and our place within it. It’s actually amazing how our bodies and senses adapt back to a more primitive state under these conditions and that’s something we explore in “Common Sense” the Science Week workshop we’re running this year. We explore the limitations of our senses, how they’re numbed by the modern environment we live in, and how we can train ourselves to refine our senses to be more nature aware. I feel so fortunate to have been appointed as the new Educational Development Officer here at Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre in July of this year. It’s a brand new post and a big exciting challenge. I can share my passion for biodiversity and the natural world in the 120 acres of gardens, arboretum and river walks developed by generations of the Parsons family. It’s astonishing what an oasis the demesne is for both native and non-native species. Really incredible. The historical and modern links to Irish astronomy from this site and all that offers from an educational perspective are unparalleled in Ireland. We have the oldest complete dark room in the world within the Science Centre here; a rich history of engineering achievements, actually a rich history full-stop. So, although I didn’t study science at university, I’m fully immersed in it now and loving it.
What experiences in school or otherwise influenced you to pursue a career in science?
Rather than encouraging me to pursue a career in science, I feel that my experiences in school achieved exactly the opposite. The lessons were formal, stiff and irrelevant. No obvious connections were made between science and everyday life and I remember my lessons at the time as being saturated with rights and wrongs with no room for manoeuvre. Doesn’t all science start with curiosity and a question? I never got that at school. It seemed that science was taught in a historical, fact heavy way and it wasn’t presented in a way that I could connect with, it was difficult to understand and boring. There were students that enjoyed maths and science and others that enjoyed English and art and never the twain shall meet. The cross curricular links were never highlighted, it’s not that they didn’t exist rather that subjects were defined, prescribed and separate. I think schools have become better at the merging of subjects and proactively searching for links between them. I think this immediately makes subjects more accessible to all students that may have previously boxed subjects into likes and dislikes. I particularly like that the Da Vinci workshop running here for Science Week is removing these boundaries that I experienced and embracing the connections between art, science and progress. Now that I’m involved in the teaching of science, I actually think that my negative experiences of learning science at school have enabled me to teach it better. I remember leaving science classes thinking, “So what? Why do I need to know this? It doesn’t mean anything to me,” so I now try to ensure that every workshop and lesson I deliver is engaging, accessible, inclusive and relevant. Encouraging curiosity, discovery and relating things back to modern life and keeping things interesting is something I work very hard on. It’s always nice to learn when you don’t know you’re learning. We’re here to inspire and we’re never going to achieve that if we’re only reaching out to a handful of people in each workshop that have an interest in “Chemistry,” “Physics” and “Biology.”
What do you think we can be doing to inspire and encourage more young people to choose science as a subject and indeed as a third level college choice?
One of the biggest barriers, and certainly it would be applicable to me, would be the thought that science in secondary school and beyond is difficult, boring and hard to relate to. It’s conducted by people that speak an intimidating scientific language in white lab coats and goggles in a sterile lab, obviously that’s not always the case, but I do think it’s still a common perception. So many people are challenging these preconceptions and working hard to get the message out there that science can be cool and varied and interesting. In my experience, children are unfailingly enthusiastic about partaking in science experiments and demonstrations, but it’s important for them to realise that science isn’t all fun and games like workshops often suggest, getting their attention in this manner is a good starting point to pique interest though and demonstrate possibilities within the blanket term, “science.” There are more opportunities than ever before for children to access science through interesting festivals, STEM week programmes, teachers getting involved in CPD etc and these opportunities might allow some of the themes to land in a meaningful and life changing way. Also, echoing what I said earlier, linking the arts to science is something that is very important, it can broaden the reach of the subject in so many ways, I know there’s a lot of people focussing on this right now and I’m really enjoying hearing about how they’re achieving it. Our Da Vinci event ticks all the right boxes there. Very young children are naturally curious and constantly ask the question, “Why?” Does this eagerness of discovery wane a little at school? It’s something we need to encourage for sure, the relatability and the asking of questions and guiding them to explore and discover the answers and continuing this through all levels of education. I do think that students can become accustomed to learning what other people think and what other people have discovered, but if they can ask questions that resonate with them and reach beyond that, there’s exciting stuff to be found there.
The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 12th – 19th and promises a packed programme with over 130 innovative and fun hands-on events. Science Week, which is managed by ‘SFI Discover’ the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland, has been in existence since the mid-1990s and has grown to around 800 events per year. The festival will take science out of the lab and into libraries, theatres, sports clubs and primary school halls, giving people a variety of fun ways to explore and open up a multitude of ideas for a potential future career in science, technology, engineering and maths.
This is the fifth year that a dedicated programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the counties of Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford. It will bring together a large number of interested participants including science communicators, performers and researchers, science and technology speakers, science and TY students, mini scientists and the general public from all over the Midlands and beyond.
Midlands Science Festival Director, Jackie Gorman said, ‘We are delighted to be heading into our fifth year with the festival and in planning the year’s programme, we have secured some really new and different events and activities as well as bringing back some of the most popular ones from previous years. We have partnered with a number of schools and other organisations including Integra LifeSciences, Waterways Ireland and Bord na Mona in Offaly to create opportunities which aim to excite students about science. We also look forward to another new project for this year which focusses on the extraordinary flora and fauna of the bogs, with reference to the pioneering work of the nineteenth century local scientist and naturalist Mary Ward.’
The festival is a real celebration of science and features something for everyone to enjoy. Among a rich programme of events for this year is one being provided by Waterways Ireland for Daingean NS in Co. Offaly.
Manus Tiernan, Waterways Ireland Education Officer commented,
‘We were delighted to be supporting and participating in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. The event which takes place as part of Science Week is a fantastic opportunity to promote science subjects within Midlands schools and to reach young children at an early age. We are looking forward to visiting Daingean National School this November to provide a workshop all about the Grand Canal; one of Ireland’s greatest engineering achievements. Pupils will be introduced to the rich biodiversity of the canal and meet some of the mini beasts who call the canal their home! They will also have the opportunity to explore the history of the grand canal and the uses of the canal past and present. This festival provides ideal activities and events to enable schools to learn about science and in this case also about heritage in a fun and interesting way.’
There are also a large number of other school events taking place in Offaly schools during Science Week such as high value science career talks, the return of the team from Go Fly Your Kite, the Reptile Zoo and many more. Thanks to local company Integra LifeSciences Ireland Ltd, events are being provided for two Tullamore schools in the form of marine exploration and rocket building workshops.
John O’ Donovan, Plant Manager at Integra LifeSciences Ireland Ltd commented,
‘Integra is very pleased to partner with Midlands Science as a corporate sponsor in order to provide hands-on, interactive science events to some of our local primary schools. Science surrounds us in ways that we don’t often think and we need to do all we can to ensure that young people understand the importance and significance of science in day to day life. The Midlands Science Festival creates many opportunities for people of all ages to connect with and celebrate science and Integra is delighted to be a part of this for 2017.’
Join us from November 12th-19th in celebrating science in Offaly!
We are happy to share that his year’s programme includes two very different events which will be held in Athlone and will be open to the general public. On the evening of Nov 13th at 8:00pm, ‘The Science of Dogs, From Wolf to Woof’ will take place in Athlone Institute of Technology. This event will appeal not only to pet owners but also to anyone with an interest in animals or science in general. There’s a lot of science to the dogs in our lives, everything from how to care for them to how they think and how they evolved from wolves.
Join us for a fascinating evening with a Veterinary Scientist and an Evolutionary Biologist as they explore the world of canines. What’s it like to be able to smell not just every bit of open food in the house but also to smell sadness in humans? Learn about the secrets of their tails and their skill at reading our attention. We will also be joined by some four-legged friends along with their owners, as we seek to understand an animal that there is still so much to know about.
Fun-filled school workshops including a mobile planetarium, snakes and tortoises from the Reptile Zoo, career talks and rocket building are just some of the many events taking place across Westmeath this November as part of national Science Week for younger audiences.
We also have neuroscientist and author Giovanni Frazzetto who will deliver a free and most unique science festival event all around the ‘Science of Relationships’ and this will also be held in AIT on the evening of November 16th and booking is essential. Giovanni Frazzetto grew up on the southeast coast of Sicily and studied science at University College London. In 2002, he received a Ph.D. from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. He was one of the founders of the European Neuroscience & Society Network and the creator of the transdisciplinary Neuroschools. Giovanni has also written short stories and plays and curated science-inspired art exhibitions. We look forward to hearing from Giovanni all about the neuroscience behind the way people relate to each other and this event promises to be one which will hopefully appeal to many different people.
We are now busy preparing for our fifth annual Midlands Science Festival but we just wanted to take a quick look back on some of the key highlights of last year’s event to give you an idea of how people were inspired by science in a variety of different ways!
One of the things that we always tend to discover through feedback is that people love being able to speak to scientists and to meet people who have a similar mindset to them so this is something that we try to ensure happens every year by bringing in scientists such as Dr. Craig Slattery of University College Dublin, career advisors like Anne Scally from Pro-Activ Management and experts in particular fields such as ornithologist Ricky Whelan from BirdWatch Ireland.
We also seek to engage a number of postgraduate research students to come and speak at our festival each year as it’s a great opportunity for them to hone their communication skills and have the chance to let people know what area of science they are involved in, to explain their work and of course to talk about why they’re doing it. With this in mind we had talks about nutrition from Food Health Ireland, engineering insights from Intel, maths workshops from NUI, Maynooth, technology lessons from iConnect and lots more!
Younger audiences were entertained and informed by our friends from the Exploration Dome, the Reptile Zoo Village, Anyone for Science, GSI, Sustainable Energy Ireland, Go Fly Your Kite and a number of other fun and exciting performers last year.
We cant wait to fill you in on what’s being planned for this year so keep an eye out for more news soon!
Back to school means one sure thing for the Midlands Science team..with just over 10 weeks until the annual Midlands Science Festival/national Science Week, we spent a lively afternoon in the spills of rain yesterday taking our launch photos (the things we do for science!) and we are now knee deep in all sorts of fun, exciting and informative ideas to make this our biggest event yet as we celebrate five years since our first festival in 2013.
Keep an eye for news of what will be happening this year and dont forget to get in touch ASAP if you would like to host a free event in your school this year as slots are filling up fast! #believeinscience
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