Sunset walks, superfoods and Anyone for science?

The festival kicked off on Saturday with a fantastic talk from ornithologist, Ricky Whelan in Co.Laois followed by a beautiful sunset walk as crowds of people watched flocks of ravens and crows (the most intelligent birds in the animal kingdom) fly back their rookery.  This talk also included the opportunity for everyone to meet with the ravens Fiachra and Satan, who have appeared in the TV show Vikings.

Ben Doran is helped by Mary Delaney experiments with static electricity experiments at St. Joseph's NS in Borris-In-Ossory as part of Midlands Science Festival. Picture: Jeff Harvey/HR Photo

Ben Doran is helped by Mary Delaney experiments with static electricity experiments at St. Joseph’s NS in Borris-In-Ossory as part of Midlands Science Festival. Picture: Jeff Harvey/HR Photo

Moving to today, we have everything from informative talks on superfoods, nutrition and iphone technology in Athlone, a day of explosions, snakes and spiders with the Reptile Zoo Village and the Junior Einsteins in Mullingar while over in Laois, the team from Anyone for Science carried out all sorts of fun experiments and the Exploration Dome entertained several pupils while teaching them all about science, space, geology and more!

It has been challenging trying to make sure there was something for as many age groups as possible, but today certainly provided a huge variety of activities and showed just how much science is all around us in everything we do!

See you tomorrow!

For those of you attending “The Secret Lives of Ravens & Crows”, we are looking forward to seeing you tomorrow for the first event of this year’s Midlands Science Festival. This event is completely booked out and we will be starting at 2.30pm in Portlaoise Library so please arrive a few minutes in advance. There is limited seating and we will not have seating for everyone as demand for this event has been much more than what we expected. We are using the library for the first part of the event. We wanted to accommodate as many people as possible so thanks for your understanding.

We have a brief talk on ravens and crows with the amazing ecologist Ricky Whelan and we will have the chance to meet Satan and Fiachra, the ravens from the TV Show Vikings. After this, we will be walking to the Downs Rookery to watch the crows fly in at sunset. It’s only a short walk but wrap up warm. There will be plenty of time for questions as well. Please note this event is being photographed and recorded for online communications.

A month to go!

We are really on the final countdown now with just around four weeks to go until this years Midlands Science Festival kicks off across the region with a bang!

We look forward to children’s workshops on kite flying, home made volcanoes, marine life, reptiles and water safety and we have a whole host of careers talks lined up with speakers from UCD, NUI Maynooth, Royal College of Surgeons, TCD and Athlone Institute of Technology to name a few! Other highlights include a skills networking breakfast, a public event on the science of sleep, science yarnbombing, birdwatching, superfoods, space exploration and much, much more!

We want to say a massive thank you to all of our partners, festival supporters/followers, speakers, presenters and partaking schools. This festival could not take place without you and we are most grateful to you for helping us spread the message that science is everywhere! Not long to go now!

Science Magic & Titanic for the Midlands!

Located on the banks of the River Lagan, at Odyssey, the Northern Ireland Landmark Millennium Project, W5 provides spectacular views of Belfast and the River and is only a short walk from Belfast City Centre. With over 250 amazing interactive exhibits in four incredible exhibition areas, W5 provides a unique experience as well as fantastic fun for visitors of all ages. In addition to permanent exhibits, W5 also presents a changing programme of large and small scale temporary exhibitions and events.

We are so excited to welcome W5 to the Midlands this November and we spoke to Matthew to find out more about what this will all be about!

Can you tell us about W5, what is stands for and its main role?

W5 is Northern Ireland’s premiere science and discovery centre, sitting on the bank of the River Lagan in the Odyssey Complex in Belfast. The centre itself has 250+ interactive exhibits spread across several floors, as well as facilities for school workshops, daily science shows and our amazing 3-storey-tall Climbit attraction.

We get our name from five words beginning with ‘w’ that inquisitive minds often use – who, what, where, when and why. Our Core Ideology, which is at our very foundation, is “To Fire the Spirit of Discovery”, and our mission is to unlock the creativity and scientist in everyone. We achieve these aims with our interactive exhibition floors, demonstration shows, outreach, school workshops and larger education programmes.

What type of backgrounds do W5 workshop providers come from..

Our education team comes from a diverse array of backgrounds – marine biology, chemistry, geology, history, teaching, environmental science and even music! Such a wide array of expertise lets us come up with some really good ideas for shows and workshops, and we all share the same passion for communicating with audiences and engaging with the public in new exciting and interactive ways.

You are based in Belfast but is outreach an important part of what you do to encourage more young people to consider a career in science?

As W5 is an educational charity, our educational activities both in-house and in our outreach programme sit at the heart of what we do. We have been operating for 15 years and we have maintained a varied and busy outreach programme all that time, reaching an average of 30,000 people a year in schools, libraries, public events and many other venues. W5 is also the current administrator for the Northern Ireland STEM Ambassador Programme, meaning that we are responsible for managing a database of ambassadors from various STEM industries and arranging for them to attend events at schools and other venues where they can talk to young people to give them an idea of what STEM careers are like.

We are delighted that W5 will be coming to the Midlands this year, what can pupils expect from your workshops?

Our shows in Abbeyleix NS will be fun and informative, as well as highly interactive! We always develop shows with audience participation in mind, so we will need plenty of volunteers to help. The show we will be performing is called The Trouble with Titanic, and Abbeyleix has a special historic link to the ship in that the carpets on it were made there, so that will make our visit all the more fitting.

Why are events like national Science Week so important do you think?

It’s important that we spend time celebrating the things that matter to us most, and science is no exception. Science Week provides a programme of events that promote science in new and exciting ways to children and young people all across the country, helping them gain new perspective on some things they have learned in their education, but also hopefully opening their eyes to things they may not have seen before. Often these are opportunities that they may not have had otherwise.

Return of some popular events..

We are delighted to be working with St Mary’s Youth Centre, Tullamore this year for Science Week. We will be having a series of workshops and events over two days with the amazing Exploration Dome and the team from Marine Dimensions. Both Exploration Dome and Marine Dimensions were big hits at our festival last year.

Exploration Dome is the most advanced digital mobile planetarium in the country and it’s a great way to explore the wonders of science, astronomy, geology and geography. Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be an astronaut, swim with a shark or visit the planets? The Exploration Dome has it all in a fun, interactive and easily accessible way!

Marine Dimensions is a social enterprise dedicated to marine environmental education, research and conservation. Their mission is to enhance understanding and appreciation of marine biodiversity through education, research and community based participation. The workshops include a touchpool containing live marine animals, including starfish, crabs, shrimp and anemones. There is an arts and crafts table for kids, with shark colouring competitions and mermaids’ purse necklaces. All pupils questions will be answered by qualified marine biologists and information on marine conservation projects that need your help will be available.

A science career is an easy sell if you ask me!

We can’t wait for a very special and new event taking place in Co.Laois during the year’s Midlands Science Festival – The Secret Life of Crows will be brought to the region by Ricky Whelan..We caught up with Ricky in advance of the festival..

Ricky, we are delighted that you will be getting involved in this year’s Midlands Science festival especially given you are a native! We know that you have a degree in Zoology from NUIG and are passionate about all things nature…what inspired you to pursue this type of career path?

My choice of career was very much inspired by a childhood spent in the fields, in the hedgerows and down by the river. We were free to roam in the 90s when I was growing up and the experiences we had picking damsons, collecting frog spawn and staking out rabbit burrows stayed with me.

I lost my enthusiasm for nature as a young teenager before rediscovering it in my late teens through surfing. Surfing brought me to the wildest and most beautiful places in Ireland and the sight of diving gannets and passing dolphins reignited my love for all things wild. I didn’t impress anyone with my leaving cert results and luckily at the time I had enough points to study science which I saw as my opportunity to work my way over into marine conservation. I enjoyed my time studying in Galway but being from Laois (the most land locked county in Ireland) it seemed daft for me to pursue Marine Science and I elected to keep my options open and specialised in Zoology.

Whilst I knew I wanted to protect wildlife and wild places I didn’t know how and I volunteered for loads of wildlife NGOs from BirdWatch Ireland to Bat Conservation Ireland. I was lucky to nab an unpaid internship in the UK and moved to a well-known nature reserve in the east of England, RSPB Minsmere. It was there in the UK where I cut my teeth and learned the skills I needed to return home to my local patch and get involved at the sharp end of species conservation here. I owe my inspiration to my mam and dad for getting us outside, to my uncle Ray for introducing me to fishing and the river Barrow, to my primary school teachers Ms Fennelly and Ms Kirwan for our regular “nature walks”, my second level science teachers Mr O’Connell and Mr Murray who were fantastic influences and to all of the fantastic and committed wildlife heroes I met along the way!

What do you love most about your job?

Its difficult to say what I love most about my job but there are definitely a few stand out reasons why I find it so enjoyable. My colleagues at BirdWatch Ireland are all experts in their respective fields and very motivated people who want to be at their desks or out in the field doing what they love best which is protecting wild birds and biodiversity. That gives the office a really nice atmosphere knowing that everyone there is so committed to their respective roles. The variation of the fieldwork is also a major benefit from visiting remote islands within the summer months to catch and tag seabirds, to surveying Swifts at some of Irelands most ancient and historic sites really makes the day to day survey work quite special. The seasonality of birds and the change over from the wintering species to the summering species and vice versa gives me reasons to enjoy and

What do you think parents can do to encourage a love of science and nature in very young children?

I think for modern kids to find a respect and love for nature they must experience it in the flesh. You don’t need to be a scientist or a wildlife expert to go into the woods with your children and climb a tree or look for deer tracks, children are full of that natural wonder themselves and only need to be given the opportunities to explore it for themselves. Spending time enjoying the outdoors is a good place to start whether it’s a family walk or picnic, a visit to the local nature reserve or whatever, nature will provide the entertainment! I spent my childhood catching minnows (a small fish) in jars with a piece of string attached, my cousins and I were amazed by the little creatures and its memories like that that make me want to protect our rivers and other wild places so other kids, maybe even my own someday can enjoy catching minnows in jars too! Society is a different place than when I grew up and we were probably the last generation of kids who had true freedom but the perceived threats of the modern world is too often used as an excuse to sterilise kids’ lives, let them out in the woods, let them get stung by nettles, let them fall from the branch, the only risk is they might enjoy themselves.

What would you say to a second level student to encourage them to consider a science career?

A science career is an easy sell if you ask me. Science is the systematic gathering of information through observation and/or experiment, does that sound boring or what? But science is part of nearly every facet of life and every industry needs scientists, be it making Mars Bars, making a Formula1 Car move, protecting the Great Barrier Reef or doing your granny’s hip operation we need scientists! A science career could land you at any location in the world, working on any sort of project, product or challenge! Giving science at third level a go opens up so many opportunities to any student and more importantly opens up the world to them!

Why are events like the Midlands Science Festival so important?

The Midlands Science Festival and similar events brings science, live and in the flesh out to our towns and schools. The organisers and people involved find the coolest things to talk about and demonstrate or make the everyday stuff far more interesting by injecting a tiny bit of science! Its at a Midlands Science Festival event you are going to find yourself saying “Wo, that’s cool, I never realised that before”. We have become afraid of the word “science” but the Midland Science Festival reminds us that no one word can describe with any accuracy how totally bananas and interesting science and its many disciplines can be!

Go fly Your Kite with us this November!

kite pressAnother event which we are so excited about is all about kites! Kite flying has been enjoyed by children of all ages (and adults) for many many moons, but have we every really considered how they work or the science behind them? We are delighted to be partnering with our friends at ‘Go Fly Your Kite’ to provide fun and interesting workshops for pupils across the region during this year’s Midlands Science Festival..We spoke to Glenn Heasly to find out more..

Glenn, what is the science behind kite flying? Is physics a key issue?
The physics to how a kite gains lift is very similar to how an airplane gains lift. The wings generate lift force by the action of the moving air over the wing surface. A kite works in exactly the same way. The wind blows in the direction of the kite and underneath it – this creates lift. An excellent way for students to a gain a feel for aerodynamic forces is to fly a kite!

We are really pleased that you and the ‘Go Fly Your Kite’ team will be coming to the Midlands this year for a series of exciting Science Week events ..Can you tell us about the workshops you will be providing and what they entail?
We are thrilled at the invite by Midlands Science to take part in Science week this year. Our workshops are primarily fun with the science, art, design & exercise all mixed into each workshop. The end result is a kite designed by each student a knowledge of how the kite takes flight and a personal achievement of constructing, designing and flying their reusable kite.
So is making a kite as much about engineering as it is about art?
Engineering is crucial in the process, if its not engineered properly it fails its aims and objectives. Our workshops demonstrate this, how critical it is to ensure the construction of the kite, to achieve our aim … the flight of the kite. The art is creative and it enables a unique bespoke design which makes each students kite unique to them. Kites were invented in China and have been around for thousands of years and even in those early years art was applied to kites in the most amazing designs. We will show pupils the different kites through history and talk about their varied uses through time.

What are some of the most important elements of kite making and where does the role of wind come in?
Three key elements in flight – lift, drag and gravity. A kite and an airplane are heavier than air objects that are flown by the lift created by air in motion over their wings. An airplane relies on thrust from the engines. A kite is tethered in place and needs moving air (wind) to enable it to fly. When we run with the kite, string and handle we create that air to enable it to take off.

Is it true that kite technology also led to the invention of the airplane, the parachute, and the helicopter?

From Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th Century dream of flight to Montgolfier brothers discovery of the hot air balloon, Newtons law of motion have all lead to the foundation of modern aerodynamics … each one of these remarkable people in history have led to todays technology and the ability to fly a plane through the air.

Anyone 4 Science?

Anyone 4 scienceAnyone 4 Science was established in 2005 to provide fun hands-on science and engineering activities initially for 8-12 year olds. Supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry we are thrilled to be welcoming Anyone 4 Science to the region for the first time at this year’s Midlands Science Festival. One very lucky school will find out in the coming weeks if they will be hosting this event for Science Week 2015! Really excited about this one!

Time for a nap?

sleep picWe are having a great public event for this year’s Midlands Science Festival with the amazing science communicator Craig Slattery and it’s on a topic we can all relate to – sleep !! This public event in Athlone will explore the science of sleep – why do we sometimes experience sleep problems ? What can we do to get better sleep ? What is happening in your brain when you are sleeping ? Why do babies sleep so much ? Keep an eye on our festival website for details.To celebrate our Science of Sleep Event, we have a voucher for 200 Euros for Burgess of Athlone to give away. Burgess stocks an amazing range of quality bedlinen, duvets and pillows. Like and share this post on Midlands Science facebook page and the draw will take place on September 26th.

Excitement is Building!

_DSC0117It is still early days but we wanted to share some exciting news! Much to our delight, we have confirmed that some of our favourite events such as Exploration Dome, the Junior Einsteins Science Club, Reptile Zoo Village, Rediscovery Centre and Marine Dimensions are all coming back to the region for this year’s Midlands Science Festival.

There will be lots more booking and allocating of events taking place over the coming weeks so if you are a school that would like to host a science event this year, feel free to get in touch and we will do our very best to help!