The Essence of Science..

Even the most innovative scientific breakthroughs can fail in their impact or value if not communicated in the most accurate and stimulating way.

We strongly agree with Alan Alda in his sentiments; ‘Communicating is not something you add onto science, it is the essence of science.’
Communication is indeed an increasingly important part of a scientist’s professional identity and promoting your work and its significance to a range of audiences is a critical skill.

We are really excited about having award-winning science broadcaster Jonathan McCrea as a key host at some of our Midlands Science Festival events this year. Jonathan is the founder of Whipsmart Media, a science and technology communications company based in Dublin and last year, he added something really creative and extra special to our festival so we are thrilled that he is returning for 2014.

We are also really pleased to have another expert science communicator Dr. Craig Slattery, who hails from the Midlands and he too will be joining us for a number of events and activities during Science Week in Athlone and in Tullamore this year. Craig’s primary research interest is in the development of kidney disorders with particular focus on diabetic nephropathy, proteinuria, drug-induced nephrotoxicity and renal cancers. He is currently a Government of Ireland Research Fellow funded by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology.

Despite some recent improvements that have been reported in the media, there still appears to be a common belief that scientists are poor at communicating. We are particularly looking forward to Craig’s Science Communications workshop (See Events page) where a number of scientists and teachers will learn first-hand some of the tools of the trade when it comes to communicating their research more effectively.

This workshop is for students, lecturers, teachers and all those involved in public engagement around science. It will provide an introduction to ‘improv’ training and show how such training can improve science communication. This workshop will be an invaluable introduction to the exciting world of science communication for all those who wish to share their passion for discovery.

Creating a Buzz around Science…

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After weeks of running around trying to get a few important words from some of our key speakers, I felt it was time to grab a coffee with Jackie Gorman, the director of the Midlands Science Festival to find out what its all about!

Jackie, you are the inspiration behind the festival – the largest celebration of science & engineering in the Midlands. Could you tell us about your role as director of the event?

I don’t know if I’m the inspiration behind it but I’m certainly inspired by !! The festival has really grown out of a series of projects Atlantic Corridor has run over the years promoting science education with our local and international partners. The role of managing the festival involves everything from identifying potential speakers to creating new events and trying to find the right mix of activities for everyone from primary school children to the general public. It also involves working with partners, media, sourcing sponsorship and volunteers and making sure everything runs as well as possible. It’s only a small part of my overall role in Atlantic Corridor but it’s a very interesting piece of work as I find I’m as likely now to be reading New Scientist as the newspaper and some days, the scientific news seems a lot more interesting to me. I’m always noticing things and filing them away as a possible science festival event.

How did the idea for this festival originate?

The idea for a festival came about as a result of a couple of projects we’ve run in the area of science education promotion and specifically a number of science week events we ran in co-operation with science foundation ireland. The midlands is a large region and has never had a science festival and we felt there was a market there for such an initiative and in our first year, we attracted over 4,500 people to our events and had 33 events, so it seems we were right, people are interested in science. We were in fact overwhelmed by the reaction last year as it was our first year and at some events, it almost felt like people were just waiting for something like a science festival to happen as there’s amazing grassroots science activities happening in the midlands such as an amazing science club in Birr Library, the SPEAK organisation for gifted children, a plethora of coder dojos, maker groups, it’s amazing to be involved in trying to promote science in the region right now.

 

What are the core objectives of this festival?

The main thing is to create a buzz about science, not just in students but the general public and to help people to see that science is all around them and that it actually has an impact on our daily lives. It’s in everything from our mobile phones to our sun-creams. It’s about creating greater interest in science education and careers which of course benefits the midlands region in terms of being an attractive place to invest in. It’s also about creating a more scientifically literate public and this year that’s a theme we are really taking on board with some events we are doing with the UK organisation Sense about Science. Are all the events taking place in schools? No, we have a small number of events being hosted in schools but we also have events in colleges, libraries, bars, shopping centres and the idea is really to bring the science out to the public and make it fun and accessible. In a way it’s about engaging people with science and the wonder of science, without them even realising it is science as some people may have hang-ups and think they didn’t like science in school or it’s not for me but when people engage with events like alchemist cafes, they surprise themselves by really enjoying what they have learnt and of course they are learning without even realising they are. So whilst schools are important for us in terms of engaging with primary and secondary school students, it’s just one small part of the overall programme.

Who can attend the festival?

The festival is open to everyone and we have a great selection of public events this year. Particularly popular are the alchemist cafes which are really about having a public debate and discussion on issues in science. This year we will be covering topics such as diabetes, mental health, pseudoscience and how to be an informed consumer and our immune system and how it works. These are fascinating topics that everyone has an interest in if they think about it – we all want to be healthy, to have good mental health, to know how to make informed choices as a consumer. The festival is also very open in that we encourage people to come along and ask questions and share their views on science and how it impacts their lives. We have some amazing speakers and it’s a unique opportunity for people here in the midlands to ask questions and debate with some top class scientists. For example, Professor Luke O’Neill of TCD who has been a great supporter of the festival since we started, is back to us again this year and this year he’s even more a science super-star as he has just been listed in the top 1% of scientists in the world for his amazing research into the immune system.

How will the festival be helpful in helping to attract more young people into science related careers? Are there any specific events focusing on career guidance?

This is of course a core objective for us as the midlands region has one of the lowest rates of progression in the state to science and technology courses at third level and this has an impact in terms of the region’s attractiveness for investment as skills are a key issue in decision making about a location. We have a number of careers workshops with Cpl, a recruitment company which has a particular expertise in the science and technology sectors.  We also hope that the general fun events will also have an impact on people’s perception of science studies and careers as parents and teachers also have a strong influencing role in how students decide what to study and what kind of jobs they might like. I think it’s all about showing people the discovery, fun and variety that can lie at the heart of a career in science.

What is your favourite science fact?

A neutron star (what remains after a Super Nova) is so dense that a portion of it the size of a sugar cube would weigh as much as all of humanity. Brian Cox talked about this one day on his radio show and I’ve always remembered it, I think it helps to put life into perspective.

With Thanks….

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The Midlands Science Festival team would like to extend our sincere thanks to our festival partners for their generosity. We are extremely grateful for their help in making this all possible by providing key speakers, venues and events during festival week.

Please join us in thanking Athlone Institute of Technology, Cpl Recruitment, Ericsson, Luan Gallery, Laois County Council and Atlantic Corridor. We look forward to working together to make this festival a resounding success!

In Conversation with Gary Donohoe….

We had the pleasure of having a pre-festival chat with Professor Gary Donohoe recently and wanted to share some of his views below. The good news is Gary will also be returning this November to the Midlands Science Festival and he will bring some of his most cutting-edge research stories from the School of Psychology at NUI, Galway. Gary is clinically active in mental health service delivery.

What is your current role at NUI Galway?
In July 2013 I was appointed as Professor and chair of Psychology at NUI Galway.

What is the best part of your job?
I’d have to say it is working within a research team of very talented people. I particularly like the multi-disciplinary nature of the team, consisting of geneticists, psychologists, psychiatrists, statisticians, and pharmacologists. As a psychologist, I’ve learned loads from peoplefrom other disciplines and I’m passionate about helping people learn more about psychology and neuroscience.

What advice would you give young students considering a career in science?
My advice would be to try to locate yourself at the intersection between two main areas of science. For me that’s where all the really innovative work goes on. Neuroscience is a great example of this, as it spans biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. In many instances, great science happens when people apply discoveries from one area of science to another.

How do you think we could make science more attractive to young people?
Science is most attractive when its applied value for solving real world problems is highlighted. In medical science, for example, there are tons of great examples of this from new cancer treatments, understanding the genetics of psychiatric disorders and development of new technologies to help with physical disability.

What do you think about most during your day and is there anything you would really love to investigate further if you had no limitations?
I spend most of my day thinking about my next coffee! If I had no limitations I would love to see a break through in how the ‘basic’ science work I do on the genetics of brain structure and function translates into new treatments for mental health disorders. Right now, we’re still uncovering how genetic variants, both individually and working together in pathways, are responsible for the brain architecture. Using these insights to develop new treatments – both pharmacological and social, is something I really hope to see in my career.

What has been the most exciting scientific development for you over the course of your career to date?
The staggering pace of technology development means that there is much to chose from, whether in the areas of neuroimaging, climate change, or – as my son Ben would choose, the work of the NASA Mars rover ‘curiosity’. For me personally, though, I have been most excited by the move towards ‘big data’ consortia – large networks of scientists combining enormous quantities of data in order to answer questions that could not otherwise be answered. Two examples of this are the Enigma consortium and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, each of which are designed to help discover the genes involved in brain structure and neuropsychiatric disorders. The Nature paper last month, identifying 108 new genetic variants associated with schizophrenia was a landmark discovery for these fields; it feels great to be part of projects that can really answer these questions.

Why is it important to host and support events such as the Midlands Science Festival do you think?
There is great science being carried out in Ireland at the moment. While we get the headlines of this in the media, events such as the Midlands Science Festival allow people to engage with these developments at a deeper level. It’s an opportunity for people to see and hear about the fascinating things we know now that we didn’t know 10 or even 5 years ago.

Top Science broadcaster set to return..

Tonight, award-winning science communicator Jonathan McCrea is in Donegal preparing the public to ‘lick their lips’ at his new live show, Gulp! Jonathan and his colleague, chef Ivan Varian (Dalkey Food Company) will turn taste buds turned upside down as they talk about taste and serve up some delicious (and not so delicious!) treats. More info at www.atasteofdonegal.com

We are delighted to confirm that Jonathan, RTE’s The Science Squad and Newstalk’s Futureproof presenter, will be joining us back in this region at the Midlands Science Festival to present a number of different science shows in Tullamore and also in Athlone Insitiute of Technology.
Check our ‘Event’s section for details of our public science entertainment line-up which is currently taking shape. More events will be added in the coming days!

In Conversation with Ursula Farrell…

UrsulaLast week, we had a chance to catch up with Technical Sales Manager for Synergy Health in Tullamore, Ms. Ursula Farrell. Ursula will be showing some students around her company’s facility during Science Week and providing them with insights into what it is like to work for a medical devices company…She will also be carrying out some fun experiments with younger pupils and providing some valuable lessons, such as the importance of hand-washing!

What is your role within Synergy Health and what do you like most about it?
I am the Technical Sales Manager for Synergy Health which means I am responsible for dealing with all our customers, taking care of their needs and making sure they are happy.

At Synergy Health we make sure that all Medical Devices made in Ireland are clean and safe to be used by patients. At the Doctor’s office all the equipment you see will have been cleaned at Synergy Health so there are no possible germs present. In hospitals, all the instruments used in the operating theatre will have been cleaned at Synergy Health too. During surgery, anything used for the patient will have been sterilized like a stent to go into your heart or a new knee or hip replacement.

The thing I like most about my job is that I get to deal with lots of new people every day but also I know we are helping to save people’s lives.

Tell me about why you decided to pursue a science career in the first place?
I always enjoyed science in school because we got to look at animals and plants and how they work in Biology. Chemistry and physics were harder but once you gave it a chance, it was so interesting and there were lots of experiments and learning about how the world works.

I was worried that choosing science as a career would mean working in a laboratory and having very little choice in where I wanted to work but this is not the case. With my Science degree I was still able to choose to work in the Sales and Marketing department and I needed to have a science back ground to be able to explain to our customers what we do.

Why is it important for companies to support events such as the Midlands Science Festival?
I think any company with a background in Science should be involved so we can encourage children at a young age to understand what studying science can do for them. There are so may varied aspects to a career in Science that perhaps they don’t understand. Allowing Children to see the internal workings of a manufacturing plant or a laboratory and to show them how these jobs help people every day will make Science as a subject more interesting.

Are there are any specific challenges in attracting women into science related fields and do you have any suggestions on how this could be addressed?
There are far more women involved in Science and Engineering today, in fact most of our Technical Engineers are women here in Tullamore. Science was always perceived as a tough subject to pass at school, especially in chemistry, but once you have confidence about your chosen path and are open to the subjects they become so interesting.

What Makes Us Curious?

blog_curious Why are some people more ticklish than others? What is it that causes us to yawn? Why do we feel dizzy after spinning around? Children are always asking very good questions and often their questions are directly related to science but they don’t always know it. So what is it that makes us so inquisitive? Is it because we like to let our imaginations run wild and go to places that in reality we might never see? Perhaps it is because we have such a passion for learning and finding the answers to things even if there is no real reason behind wanting to know in the first place?

Curiosity is about keeping an open mind, being able to enjoy new experiences while at the same time always looking for challenges and wanting to learn something new. Einstein once declared that he had no special talents, only he was passionately curious!

Our mind is like a muscle and it grows stronger through continual mental exercise. Curiosity can also be contagious. We hope that during the Midlands Science Festival that by engaging some brilliant speakers and providing a meeting place for everyone interested in science, that we might be able to provide some answers to your many curiosities. Never stop questioning – Join us during the week of November 9th and see what you might be able to discover!

Looking Back on 2013

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The opportunity to gain a closer understanding of how your brain works, to mix maths with magic and fun and find out what it feels like to have an exotic reptile hanging from your shoulders were just some of the exciting experiences which took place across the Midlands during Science Week last year.

The Midlands Science Festival 2013 really inspired people to think differently about science. The large public turnout totalling over 4,000 people showed there is a great appetite for this type of regional educational event and one of the most encouraging factors was the diversity of the audiences attracted during the week.

Through the medium of carefully crafted workshops and career advisory sessions; many young people had the chance to learn more about the kinds of science-related jobs that would potentially be available to them in the future. High-value career guidance advice was delivered during the festival from companies such as Cpl Recruitment, market-leading technology firm Ericsson and Human Resources Consultancy, Pro-Active Management.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Atlantic Corridor said, “Throughout Science Week 2013, we were overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm and goodwill from our corporate partners, local schools, key speakers, local media, venues and many other organisations and individuals throughout the region. Most of the event tickets were sold in advance so it was fantastic to witness the excitement that people anticipated and now we look forward to bringing the festival back to this region again.”

Other highlights included a presentation to a packed audience by award winning journalist Jonathan McCrea, school experiments such as examining bacteria and exploring the solar system, alchemist cafés full of debate and discussion and more. The hope is that the once very clear line between science and popular culture might be fading and science will continue to earn more of a place in society by demonstrating just how connected it is to everyday life.

A Little Taster….

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This year’s exciting programme will be launched in more detail in the coming weeks and will include a packed variety of engaging shows, exhibitions and hands-on fun demonstrations in classrooms and theatres alike! Here is some detail of the events we are planning.

Jackie Gorman, Director of the Midlands Science Festival said, ‘The festival will allow people of all ages to discover something new, participate in a large number of hands-on science and technology activities and see a whole host of live performances by science enthusiasts, experts and communicators. We hope to bring together a large number of interested participants including entrepreneurs and researchers, science students and the general public from all over the Midlands.’

Some Highlights
Starting with the younger ones, we have plenty of events planned for our mini-scientists this year. We can look forward to a visit from the Junior Einsteins Science Club to some of our local schools. This fascinating club teaches children core aspects of Biology, Chemistry & Physics through fun experiments, messy ‘make and do’, quizzes and more fun!  We are also delighted to welcome back a firm favourite, the Reptile Zoo Village, to a number of schools where pupils will have the opportunity to pet a snake or a large spider if that is their desire! In addition, Ingenious Ireland, Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association (ISSTA) and the Rediscovery Centre will all provide something new for the 2014 Midlands Science Festival.

Science Week gives young people a chance to meet and hear from experts who have the ability to share their expertise and encourage the next generation to consider a career in science. Throughout the week, we will have several presentations from key people working in different science fields and we will also host a number of science and technology career’s workshops with key local companies and academia for 2nd level students.

As well as celebrating science in schools we intend to provide some really unique and inspiring events for the general public too. This will include the return of last year’s ‘Science Movie’ night, which is a unique audiovisual experience featuring some of the best science stories from the world of animation, radio and television. And with top scientists such as Professor Luke O Neill now confirmed, we can promise a number of alchemist cafes full of lively debate and discussion during the week. This is just a taste of what we have lined up and we look forward to revealing our full programme of events very soon!

Be part of the Midlands Science Festival

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”358″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”left”][vcex_spacing size=”10px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There are many ways in which you can be part of the festival – whether you would like to host your own event at your school or business, speak or volunteer in some way at one of our keynote events, please get in touch and we can discuss your possible involvement and explore how we might be able to work together. We are focused on trying to facilitate dialogue between scientists and the public and we want to widely disseminate best practice, resources and knowledge. Perhaps you would like to share your research with the public or with schools through a talk or another hands-on activity or maybe you have something fun and exciting that would really help encourage younger people to consider a science field as part of their further studies. Through several different initiatives and by working with a range of corporate, educational and state partners we are weaving our way through a huge amount of ideas to make sure that the festival contains something for all age groups. We will be launching the proposed programme very soon, so watch this space-there are exciting times to come!

The power of science is all around us and this is the theme for Science Week. We see, hear, touch, taste and experience the wonder of science every day. From the electricity that lights and heats our homes, to smart phones 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![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]