Fun with Radio and Reptiles!

close up snake St. PetersSee below podcast of our time with snakes and spiders yesterday in Athlone!

Day Two a Great Success!

black and white teguToday really was hectic but we are relieved that everything went well! We had more sunspotter workshops, this time in Crinkle, Birr and also one in Longford. Children in Athlone had the chance to pet a boa constrictor and watch a tortoise in action as the Reptile Zoo Village visited for the day and then it was back to AIT for a public talk by NUI Maynooth’s Dr. Fiona Walsh on Antibiotics Resistance.

Across the region in Laois, we had some science friends down from UCD’s Food for Health divison to talk to students Heywood Secondary School while back in Offaly, we had BT Young Scientist winner Edel Brown in Killina school for another inspiring student talk. Sile lane returned for a school workshop while Iggy McGovern and Catherine Ivers hosted a very different cultural event in the Luan Gallery on ‘The Poetry of Physics.’

To finish off an incredible day, a packed audience was entertained by one of Ireland’s leading scientists, Luke O’ Neill on ‘Why we Age’ and Luke was joined by Sile Lane of Sense About Science and Jonathan McCrea of Newstalk /The Science Squad. Today’s schedule was jam-packed but we are thrilled to say there really was something for everyone and the Midlands Science Festival 2014 is still young!

For now, time for some rest before another busy day tomorrow!

Half way there…

Sile laneWe have just enjoyed another great day for the festival which took us to Offaly and Laois today for student workshops with TCD, a hospital talk in Tullamore for consultants with Sile Lane from Sense About Science (photo), an alchemist café on diabetes and the brain, zoology talks, a visit from Ingenious Ireland and more!

Careers are the feature of the day tomorrow and we look forward to advice and insights into the world of technology and innovation which will be delivered from companies such as Cpl Recruitment and Midlands based multinational technology firm Ericsson, who are also on board as a key partner to the 2014 Midlands Science Festival.

Tony Devlin, Ericsson’s Head of R&D Operations in Ireland said,

‘We live in an exciting and challenging time for Science and Technology in Ireland and the opportunities for growth and job creation in the sector are tremendous. As a major high-technology employer in the heart of Ireland we are delighted to support the Midlands Science Festival.’

The ‘power of science’ is the theme of Science Week 2014. We see, hear, touch, taste and experience the wonder of science every day. From the electricity that lights and heats our homes, to smartphones that connect us to family and friends, to robots that carry out intricate surgery, and space technology that reveals the secrets of the cosmos – science empowers us to shape every aspect of our world. Thanks to the power of science we can improve our health and wellbeing, explore new worlds, and make our world a better place; the only limits are those we imagine.


Talented Young Scientist Inspires Midlands Students

EdelWe were so lucky to have Young Scientist Edel Brown from Galway in the region today to speak to students at Killina Secondary School in Offaly.

Edel is a former student of Presentation College, Athenry and is now studying Biotechnology at NUI, Galway. She recently won the Best Individual Senior Award at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition. Edel won the award for her ‘Free Feet’ project. ‘Free Feet’ is a device that reduces the freezing of gait in Parkinson’s disease. The idea of ‘Free Feet’ is to attach a simple laser pointer device to a patient’s shoe. This puts a dot on the ground, giving the patient a target to concentrate on.

“Gait freezing is a disabling symptom of Parkinson’s. 72% of people suffering from the disease experience it. It makes them feel like they’re stuck to the ground and they can’t move their legs or feet,” said Edel.

The students listened with great interest to Edel’s story which, given her young age of just 17 is truly impressive! We really were privileged to have her as part of the Midlands Science Festival and wish her every success in her future as a budding scientist and entrepreneur.

Something New and Exciting from the GSI for 2014…

GSIThe Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), founded in 1845, is the National Earth Science Agency. It is responsible for providing geological advice and information, and for the acquisition of data for this purpose. GSI produces a range of products including maps, reports and databases and acts as a knowledge centre and project partner in all aspects of Irish geology. We are pleased to announce that this year, the GSI is bringing some exciting workshops to a selection of Midlands schools during the Midlands Science Festival.

GSI realises that our future lies in the hands of today’s young students so efforts are really increasing to ensure that as an organisation, GSI engages in activities which are really relevant to today’s school goers, which may hopefully in turn, encourage children to consider a career in science or more specifically geoscience. We are looking forward to hearing how our schools enjoy this new event for 2014!

And we’re off…

famelab nov 10What a great day today across the region for the start of the Midlands Science Festival. We hosted TCD Sunspotter workshops in the Bower secondary school in Athlone, another student workshop in St. Finians in Mullingar courtesy of Fergal O’ Brien from the Royal College of Surgeons and a visit from the Junior Einsteins Science Club to Mullingar Educate Together NS!

We also enjoyed a fantastic day at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) with Famelab, where we had a large cohort of local primary children in the morning for an innovative workshop (photo) and a FameLab showcase in the afternoon. There will be more exciting news to come about FameLab for the region in the weeks ahead!

Cpl Recruitment’s Judith Moffett had a busy day delivering plenty of high level careers advice at a student workshop in Athlone Community College and another at AIT in the afternoon. We were also delighted to have Sile Lane from Sense About Science UK. Sile is with us for a few days and she too kick-started her events in AIT today.

The opening day of any festival is always filled with anticipation and today did not disappoint. We are looking forward to lots more fun celebrating science over the next five days in the Midlands.

Brightest of Minds Set to Inspire in Westmeath

D15192-0019With under a week left until the Midlands Science Festival kicks off across the region, don’t forget to book your free place at some of the many  hands-on science and technology activities that have been planned by local development organisation Atlantic Corridor. The aim is that this festival will encourage wider participation of the next generation in science and related fields.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said, ‘One key objective is to approach science in a new and inspiring way, fusing theatrical performances with expertise and content. This event provides a fantastic opportunity for people of all ages to really engage with the wonders of science and its relevance and importance to each and every one of us.’

We are looking forward to bringing a number of expert speakers into schools in Westmeath this year. These included Cpl recruitment director Judith Moffett, Fergal O’Brien who currently heads one the largest regenerative medicine research groups in Ireland and  Cork native, Síle Lane is Campaigns Manager at the UK organisation Sense About Science, Jonathan McCrea of Newstalk and Futureproof and more.

This festival really does have something for everybody and it will hopefully help people to focus on science in a more stimulating way. Don’t miss out on what promises to be a really fun-filled week for all.’

When it comes to science, the sky is the limit!

I had the pleasure of recently chatting to Margaret Franklin, Science writer, Vice President of the Institute of Chemistry and friend to the Midlands Science Festival….

You retired in 2009 as Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at Athlone Institute of Technology. What are you spending most of your time on now Margaret?

Since I have retired, I am devoting a good deal of my time to professional affairs. I have been a member of The Institute of Chemistry of Ireland, the professional body for chemists in this country for the past 40 years.

For many years, I was Midlands Representative for the Institute and later I was co-opted onto Council. This meant that I became a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute. I served as Registrar for four years, from 2007 to 2011. In April 2013, I was elected Vice President, a position I hold at present.

The Institute of Chemistry of Ireland is an entirely Irish Professional Body and is affiliated to EuCheMS. which is a federation of European Chemical societies. Weencourage representatives of our Young Chemists Group to become involved with the European Young Chemists’ Network, by providing them with travel bursaries to attend meetings in various European countries. We review submissions from Universities and Institutes of Technology, when they introduce new chemistry programmes, to assess the eligibility of graduates of these courses for membership of our Institute.

Apart from this, I have taken up some freelance science writing in my retirement. For over three years, I wrote a regular column for ‘The Westmeath Independent’ called ‘Topical Science’. The aim of this column was to give readers some scientific background to topical news stories, as they arose in the media. I am now a regular contributor to ‘Science Spin’ magazine. Recent articles I have had published there include one on Crystallography and another on the aftermath of Fukushima. I also provide answers to some of the questions in the ‘Ask a Scientist’ feature.

As a science writer, why do you think good science communication is so important?

I find that there is a lack of well-informed comment on scientific matters in the Irish media. In writing about scientific topics, it is important to stick to accurate scientific findings and argue from logic, rather than emotion. Sometimes journalists, perhaps in an attempt to get eye-catching headlines, are inclined to indulge in scaremongering and overplay the risks involved in certain cases, for example on environmental matters.

The problem is that not many journalists have had a scientific training, so they themselves may be unable to appreciate the issues involved. On the other hand, scientists and particularly scientific researchers, are accustomed to communicating their research finding to their peers, who understand the scientific terminology involved. The general public would not be familiar with the precise meaning of scientific terms. So, to be a good science communicator, one needs to have a thorough understanding of the science involved and also to be able to express those ideas clearly in non-scientific language.

Why are events like the Midlands Science Festival so vital for encouraging young people to consider a future in a science career?
Unfortunately, Science education education has not been given a high priority in Ireland and careers guidance teachers rarely have a scientific background. At the same time, many parents may not have had the opportunity to study science
when they were in school, so not many children are exposed to strong scientific influences and it may not occur to them to consider a career in science. So it is wonderful that the Midlands Science Festival is bringing the work of scientists to the attention of the public, to raise awareness of the importance of science in our modern society and to show that science can be fun, as well as providing a training for a successful career..

Can you tell us a bit about your work on Crystallography?
I am not an expert on Crystallography, but I have taught it, along with other topics, as part of the chemistry courses I have taught over the years. I have always been fascinated by crystals, ever since my father gave me a present of a chemistry set
when I was a child in primary school. We were not taught any science at that level when I was going to school, but I had great fun growing crystals at home.

This year, 2014, has been designated by UNESCO as The international Year of Crystallography, so I have been trying to raise awareness about it. Most people are fascinated by crystals and appreciate the beauty of large mineral crystals that are sometimes sold as ornaments. All over the world, there are exhibitions and conferences being held on crystallography.

The Institute of Chemistry of Ireland adopted Crystallography as the main them of our 2014 Congress, which was held in Limerick in September, hosted jointly by The University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology.

What are some of the more exciting science jobs that you are seeing now or you see for the future?

A Scientific education and training opens many possibilities. In Ireland, The Pharmaceutical Industry is a major employer of scientists, particularly chemists, chemical engineers and graduates in Pharmaceutical Science. Within this industry, chemists may be involved in quality assurance, where analytical chemistry is used. Chemists are also involved in devising better methods for synthesising active ingredients, or in developing formulations that provide more efficient pathways for delivering the active ingredient to the patient. The medical devices sector is also a major employer of scientists in Ireland.

Analytical Chemists, Food scientists and microbiologists are needed for the food and beverages sector, which is also a major employer in Ireland. A number of scientists are employed in the Public Service. Hospitals employ laboratory technicians, the Public Analysts laboratories, the State Laboratory, the EPA & The Marine Institute employ many scientists.

It seems that the moratorium on employment is the Public Service is coming to an end, so there will be jobs available. There is also a need for well-qualified science teachers, to pass on the knowledge to the next generation of scientists. Some of our brightest and best will find exciting careers abroad, but there are also a limited number of academic teaching and research positions available in universities and institutes of technology in Ireland. Some of the research fields that are undergoing exciting developments right now include materials science, nanotechnology and photovoltaic devices to trap solar energy. SFI provides a source of funding for such research.

But science is primarily about satisfying our natural human curiosity about how the universe works. Some of our future science graduates may become involved in ‘Big Science’ projects, such as particle research in collaboration with CERN or the search for exo-planets in orbit around distant stars. When it comes to science, the sky is the limit!

Two Weeks to Go!

midlands keep calmThe clock is ticking and we wont feel it now until the Midlands Science Festival kicks off with full force!

We are getting ready for an action packed week. In addition to the events outlined on the Events page of this website, we have a number of school and workshop events taking place in various venues around the region. These include Sunspotter workshops with TCD Astrophysics Department where students can learn about how solar weather affects our communications and stories from young scientists on what drives them to discover. We are also pleased to welcome Futurelab to the festival, a unique science workshop for primary school aged children which will be delivered by members of the Famelab alumni.

There really is something for everyone. Keep an eye on this site and help us celebrate science this November!

Wrap Up and Get Out…

Lucy and Ann in CharlevilleIn recent years in particular, we are being made all the more aware of the importance of nature and the significant role it can play when it comes to our health, well-being and functioning. There is no question that getting out into nature gives us a sense of escape from the stresses and strains of day to day life. Doing something as simple as going for a long walk can really help to put things into perspective; to help us learn not to worry so much about the smaller things.

Exploring nature is also a way of creating memories that can be cherished forever by children. This time can be spent in your own garden, in the nearest park or woods and the most wonderful thing is that it can often be done with no expense at all.

Everybody is so busy these days and many of us forget about the importance of play, exploration and family time but there really is a lot to be gained by taking a step back and remembering how important it is for the whole family to unwind and therefore refresh.

And there is no reason to let the cold weather deter you. Sometimes it is the simple things like letting the children splash in puddles, jump in colourful Autumn leaves, catch snowflakes or make snow angels that can give the most delight.

Science tells us that obesity is perhaps one of the most visible symptom of the lack of such play, but several studies from around the world indicate that regular time outdoors produces significant other health improvements in areas such as learning ability, creativity and psychological wellbeing.

We are really making the most of getting wrapped up in warm coats and heading out into nature this autumn. Why don’t you do the same. And watch this space for an exciting outdoors event which will be during the Midlands Science be announced soon!