He said, she said….

 

FionnualaLast year we took note of some of the comments made by teachers who were fortunate to host a Science Week event in the Midlands as part of the Midlands Science Festival 2013. We hope teachers (and parents!) will be just as happy this year ….

‘A key goal of Science Week is to strengthen the attractiveness of science education through the use of exciting and innovative tools and ideas. Clearly, it is much easier to ignite school children’s interest in learning about science and nature when it is carried out in a more fun and engaging way. Therefore, we were delighted to be hosting the Reptile Village Zoo and its mobile demonstration team during the Midlands Science Festival.’

‘This is a real and tangible example of how we can teach children about the wonders of the world in a simple and hands-on way. It will hopefully instill in the young students a love of learning, particularly about science and the world around them.’

‘Children have a natural tendency towards exploration and discovery and now more than ever, it is so important to encourage them to be curious about nature and the world and to educate them on the importance of science in their everyday lives.’

‘Children learn best through doing and these types of workshops encourage hands-on participation and bring science to life, showing students just how much fun it can be. It will also hopefully encourage their curiousity about science and nature even more so going forward.’

 

Not long to go now…Find out just how much the ‘Power of Science’ is all around!

Stargazing on the Bog is now fully booked!

Bord na Móna recently launched a brand new visitor’s centre at Lough Boora Discovery Park and we are really excited to announce that we will be hosting a unique event at Lough Boora during the Midlands Science Festival this year.

Nestled in the heart of Ireland, Lough Boora Discovery Park extends to over 2000 hectares and has a network of off-road walking and cycle routes within a perimeter of approximately 20 kilometres. We are really big fans of Lough Boora Discovery Park, particularly as it has so much to offer outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and families looking for an affordable and relaxing day out together.

On Saturday November 15th at 8pm we will be inviting people of all ages to come and join us at the Discovery Park for a unique lesson in Astronomy and this will be followed by a guided astronomy introduction (weather permitting), which will be provided outside in darkness by the Midlands Astronomy Club.

Seanie Morris of the Midlands Astronomy Club said,

‘We are delighted to be involved in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Our hope is to change the way people think about astronomy, encourage participation from people of all ages from complete beginners to stargazing enthusiasts. We want to prove that you don’t have to be an astronomy expert to appreciate how much fun it can actually be.’

Tom Egan of Bord na Mona also commented,

‘Bord na Mona is also delighted to be hosting the ‘Stargazing on the Bog’ event this year as part of the Midlands Science Festival.  You’ll find any number of fun-packed, innovative and stimulating events happening all over the Midlands during Science Week – from family-friendly workshops and exhibitions, career advisory sessions and expert discussions to special screenings of science-related movies for film fanatics. Lough Boora host many events throughout the year but this really is something very different and we are really looking forward to seeing some stargazers out here on the night.’

Take your curiosities to a new level and don’t miss out an opportunity to discover and celebrate science this November across the Midlands. Check out www.midlandsscience.ie for all FREE events and booking details.

Letting Science Loose in Laois!

Ploughing1We are really looking forward to our line-up in Laois this year! The festival will take science out of the lab and into our libraries and primary school classrooms, giving people a variety of fun ways to explore and open up a multitude of ideas for a future career in science.

Catherine Casey, Heritage Officer with Laois County Council said, ‘Laois County Council is delighted to be associated with this year’s Midlands Science Festival. We had a little taste of what’s on offer when the ‘Junior Einsteins Science Club’ performed to packed audiences in the Laois tent at the Ploughing Championships recently. Science Week is a free, family-friendly, programme of events which allows people of all ages to discover something new, participate in a number of hands-on science and technology activities and see a whole host of live performances by science enthusiasts and communicators.’

This is the second 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 entrepreneurs and researchers, science and technology speakers, science students and the general public from all over the Midlands.

In planning the programme, we have partnered with a number of schools and other regional organisations, such as Laois County Council, Abbeyleix Heritage House and Portlaoise Library to create opportunities which excite students about science and demonstrate how it connects to real life. It’s about creating greater interest in science education and careers which of course benefits the Midlands region.

Laois event highlights include an address by zoologist Seán Kelly of Trinity College Dublin on a new species of a colourful bird which has been discovered by a group of Irish students on the Wakatobi islands south of Sulawesi in Indonesia. We are delighted to welcome Seán to Abbeyleix Heritage House on November 10th to talk about what must be a once in a lifetime experience for any biologist– the discovery of a new species. Another public talk which will be of particular interest to students and members of the public who are interested in wildlife is ‘THE SILENCE OF THE TENRECS’, which will take place in Mountmellick Public Library on November 12th.The key speaker, Sive Finlay of Trinity College Dublin is another zoologist with a broad range of research interests in evolution, ecology, comparative biology & behavioural ecology. This public talk is a unique opportunity to learn about the science of wildlife research & conservation.

We also look forward to welcoming award-winning science writer , Mary Mulvihill of ‘Ingenious Ireland’ to Laois during the festival. Mary wants everyone to know that Ireland is not just a nation of writers – we also produced some of the world’s greatest scientists and engineers, and our ideas have helped to change the world. Mary runs popular science walking tours of Dublin, writes a science columnist for The Irish Times, and you can hear her speaking in Portlaoise Library on November 12th.

These are just some of the many locally produced and pre-booked workshops taking place but to find out how to book your free place for some of the other innovative events that will be happening in Laois and the wider region you can view a detailed listing on our Events section.

 

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!

Inspiring Science Speakers set for Midlands Classrooms


fergal O BA key objective of the Midlands Science Festival, which takes place across the region from November 9th– 16th is to show students that in choosing a career as a scientist and engineer you not only have the power to help change the world for the better, you can also have a lot of fun while doing so.

Jackie Gorman, Director of the Midlands Science Festival said,

‘We want to ensure that students in this region are more connected to the world of science and all that it has to offer as an extension to what they are already learning in the laboratory at school. We will be providing a number of secondary schools with key speakers from RCSI, NUI Galway, University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and also from various companies in the Midlands. The aim here is that by giving students a chance to hear from experts in a variety of different fields, we might generate an increased interest in these areas and work towards inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.’

The festival is a wonderful opportunity to motivate students to pursue these science–related disciplines, which we know are critical not only to our economic strength but also to our global competitiveness. If you are a second level student who is still undecided about your career path, Science Week will certainly provide plenty of stimulation and hopefully help you to make more informed decisions about your future options.

Celebrate Science in Offaly!

boaAmong a rich programme of key speakers featuring during the festival is Dr. Craig Slattery, a science communicator and Specialist Lecturer at University College Dublin who is originally from Tullamore. Craig will give a special free public talk in the Coffee Club in Tullamore on the morning of November 13th on ‘The Science of Coffee’. Come along and have a free cup of coffee while hearing all about his fascinating topic but remember to book a place and availability is limited so please book now on www.midlandsscience.ie.

Craig will also deliver a presentation at Hugh Lynch’s pub on the evening of November 12th at our Tullamore alchemist cafe. He has undertaken ground-breaking research into diabetes, a growing problem in Ireland & he will be speaking about his work. Gary Donohoe, Head of Psychology at NUI, Galway will join Craig on the night to talk about the Science of the Mind.

There are also a large number of events taking place in Offaly schools during Science Week such as the return of the Reptile Zoo Village, the Science Bubbles show, specialist careers talks, workshops from Trinity College Dublin, young scientist presentations, bacteria experiments and more.

Join us from November 9th-16th in celebrating science, after all it is all around us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

In Conversation with…Andreea Wade of Brandalism

Andreea WadeI recently had the pleasure of catching up with Andreea Wade, who will be speaking to a large group of secondary school ladies in Tullamore during the Midlands Science Festival…Here’s what she had to say!

When did you decide to work in a technology related field and what inspired you?
I started coding when I was 15, continued to do so until I was 19… and then decided I wanted to be a journalist. My career took a different route then but I remained interested in technology. After a few years of journalistic work – from radio to TV and magazines – I changed paths again and went into advertising, subsequently going for another degree, this time in marketing. A few years later I went on to study design and then…training.
The sum of all my passions and curiosities brought me back into technology, a field I love due to all the possibilities it presents !

Why in your view are science and technology so important in society today?
The importance of science and technology is demonstrated by the unconscious use of it in our
everyday lives. Our academic, professional and personal lives are all supported by science and
technology. We build, we communicate, we share and we learn using various technologies and the
science behind them. It has been said that we are now existing the Technology Age and entering
the Human Era. This refers not to the end of technology but to the empowerment of people to
create, to build freely and openly by making use of existing technologies. There is a movement –
organic, natural – in making both science and technology more accessible, from coding to biotech
and so on. It is important thus to acknowledge that regardless of ones path in life, you can’t escape
technology and on the contrary you can make use of it to expand your horizons, to bring added
value to whatever space your passion lies in. The field of technology is not a remote space, it is to
be found everywhere!

Why is it important for those working in science and technology to take part in such events as the
Midlands Science Festival? 
I would say it is crucial and it is so for a number of reasons. Taking part can mean different things:
you can bring in your organisation, your academic entity and share your work, you can take part as
a speaker and again, share your work, some of your knowledge and observations within your
particular field and more importantly… you can inspire. You can be a role model. I think it is the
duty of those working in technology and science to ‘’translate’’ their work to the rest of the world
and especially young people. We all need to make a conscious effort to humanise these fields,
bring them closer to our everyday realities. Connecting with others is key and I think it is also
important to acknowledge that an event like the Midlands Science Fest presents great
opportunities for creating an impact in places and on people you don’t normally have the
opportunity to. Dublin is a tech hub rich in events and happenings and it is easy to lose sight. And
so again, I think it is our duty, as people who are committed to adding value to the tech or science
communities to go the extra mile. Or, in this case, the extra 66 miles or so, haha!!

Can you tell us a bit about Women in Technology (WITs) and your involvement in this group?
Women in Technology and Science (WITS) is an active forum for women in science, technology,
engineering and mathematics (STEM). Now in its 24th year, WITS has a proven track record in
delivering initiatives that improve the recruitment and retention of women in STEM roles. WITS is
also a strong advocate for celebrating the past and current successes of women in STEM.
Members come from a broad range of backgrounds within STEM. WITS members range in age
and experience from third level students to some of the country’s most eminent senior academics
and business people including those who have retired from the workforce. I am very proud and
honoured to be part of the WITS Executive. My involvement started last December and hopefully it
will continue for a long while. We are very open to new people joining us, men and women in
STEM and also, always open to help. We have spent 2014 working on our strategy for the next few
years and we can only hope that what we came up with will add value to the community and will
help towards achieving gender balance and eventually real diversity within STEM

Are there are any specific challenges for women in technology now?
There is only one answer to this and unfortunately it is: Yes. This is a topic I could write a book
about. Again, unfortunately. Where to start? Perhaps with the past… which is still the present. For
example, the number of female CIOs has remained static at 14% for a decade. The situation in the
EU is currently worse than developing nations and the US, where the proportion of women in
leadership roles is higher. Gartner research data showed women occupied 11.2% of technology
leadership roles in Europe, the Middle East and Africa compared with 18.1% in North America,
13.4% in Latin America and 11.5% in Asia. We need role models, we need support, we need male
allies but we also need our voices heard. What we don’t need is bullying, death threats and overall
sexism. All these things are unfortunately happening and we need to acknowledge them, face them
and address them. There is no way around this and as uncomfortable the process might be for
some, change often is uncomfortable. But change IS happening and there are a lot of initiatives
around gender balance and overall diversity so yes, things are looking up. Personally, I have no
choice but believe that and continue my work around supporting women and creating platforms for
more female voices to be heard. I am always open to conversation, always open to meeting new
people and getting involved in things that accelerate change so… if anyone has ideas or needs
support – please talk to me. All my work in this space is volunteer work and I truly appreciate
people and organisations who want to offer their help.

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 Festival..to be announced soon!

‘My Mum still calls me when she finds a hidden bird’s nest!’

SFinlay_IDWe would like to introduce one of our key speakers, Sive Finlay, who will be delivering some exciting presentations in the Midlands this year called ‘The Silence of the Tenrecs’..

Sive is postgraduate Zoology researcher at Trinity College Dublin with a broad range of research interests in evolution, ecology, comparative biology and behavioural ecology.  She also has a keen interest in science writing and communication

We caught up with Sive to find out more …

Can you tell us a little bit about your role in TCD?
I’m a postgraduate student working in the Zoology department. That means that I work on my own research questions but I have a supervisor to offer guidance and advice. Being a research student is a bit like an apprentice training scheme: you learn how to become a fully-fledged scientist. My department is a fantastic place to work with lots of friendly staff and students who are always willing to offer a helping hand. There are also lots of opportunities to get involved with teaching and fun outreach activities, not to mention some great travel opportunities for conferences and fieldwork. It’s a great place to work!

Congratulations on being the 2014 winner of the Best Science and Technology blog at the Irish Blog Awards – Why is it so important to be able to communicate science effectively?
Thanks! This was the first year that we entered our EcoEvo@TCD blog so we were delighted to win the award. We have lots of staff and students who contribute interesting and varied articles so it was great to be recognised for our work. I love writing for the blog and it has definitely helped to hone my communication skills.

Many people think that science is incredibly complicated and too difficult to understand. I think that it’s our job as scientists to cut through that barrier and to make science interesting and accessible for wider audiences. New scientific discoveries and research affect every aspect of our daily lives so it’s important to communicate these ideas to the public. We need effective communicators to inspire the next generation of scientists and to share the new discoveries that shape our understanding of the world.

What piece of research currently interests you the most? What are you most passionate about in science?
My background is in zoology so I’ve always been interested in trying to understand how animals have evolved through interactions with their environment. But I’m equally curious and fascinated by areas completely outside my own research area. Most recently, I’ve been teaching primary school children about the big bang and the history of our universe (way outside my usual comfort zone) so that inspired me to read more about cosmology and astrophysics. I love the diversity of science: there’s always something new to discover!

What led you into a career in science and zoology in particular?
I’ve always been interested in nature and the environment and trying to figure out how things work. This was fuelled by a steady diet of David Attenborough documentaries and my mum, who still calls me when she’s found a pretty spider’s web or hidden bird’s nest. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after school so I chose a general science degree to keep my options open. I loved my biology courses, especially the ones on animal behaviour and evolution, so I followed my interests to complete a zoology degree. I became a zoologist by accident rather than design but I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Why is it important to support festivals like the Midlands Science Festival?
I think the Midlands Science Festival is a great opportunity for people to learn what science is all about. The old stereotype of the “mad scientist” locked away in a lab is still too common. The events in this festival put a human face to scientific research and hopefully they will inspire more people to take an interest in science or to study STEM subjects. From the scientists’ point of view, festivals like these are really fun opportunities to share our enthusiasm for our subjects. Scientists talking about their research are usually a fairly excitable bunch!

http://sivefinlay.com/