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/

 

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.

Fostering the Scientists of the Future…

ploughing iWe are really excited about having the’ Junior Einsteins Science Club’ for the first time at the Midlands Science Festival this year. This unique club incorporates core science into fun sessions of hands-on  experiments designed to stimulate and create a love of science and nature.

Tracey-Jane Cassidy is the founder and inspiration behind this wonderful club…. I caught up with Tracey recently at this 2014 Ploughing Championships where she and her scientists were presenting to excited audiences in the Laois tent… to find out more about what Junior Einsteins is all about…

Tracey, can you tell us what the inspiration was behind the Junior Einsteins Club?
As a scientist and a single Mum of three very young children, I see every day how children are fascinated by the science in everyday things. Having moved home to Ireland after living abroad for 12 years, I realised that there is not enough science being taught in primary schools here. I started running after school science clubs locally in south Dublin and with incredible, growing demand ‘Junior Einsteins’ has exploded into a nationwide phenomenon.

We are an innovative initiative passionate about bringing a love of science and learning to primary school aged children.
Our inclusive , hands-on approach is unique . We are not a science class, the children make and do their own experiments , wearing their lab coats and goggles, using real scientific equipment including a university grade Van Der Graff Generator.

What can of activities do you offer?
We hold lots of amazing science events throughout the year from an awesome Google event to the incredible buzz of The National Ploughing Championships. We provide Science Birthday Parties,communion parties, after-school science clubs, Hallowe’en, Easter & Summer camps and corporate events. These activities are aimed towards primary school children, but adults are fascinated too. We have even been asked to do a science hen night! Once we explain a difficult scientific concept in the most simple fashion, whether the audience is 9 or 90, they gain knowledge in a fun way and remember through doing.

Is it a challenge to promote science education? If so, what do you think we could do to make science more attractive as a career option?
We have been embraced and encouraged at every turn. Schools, parents and children are keen to have after school science clubs at their schools. All children love to make slime , build rockets, dig up dinosaur bones and even electrocute a Barbie doll while learning the ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ in the process. Parents associations and principals in schools have grasped the ethos of Junior Einsteins Science Club and the children are thrilled.

I feel that science is a language and all languages are better understood and learnt more easily if introduced at a young age. All primary school aged children should have the opportunity to attend a fun, relaxed, hands-on science after school club so science education is promoted. I believe that if the grammar of science is learnt early in primary school, then children will not be reluctant to choose the sciences at secondary level and will embrace the expansive knowledge and fascinating facts that science offers. The children in whom the love of science is cultivated now will be the science students at third level and as graduates, they will be the scientists who will shape our future.

We must not underestimate young children, nor condescend to them. I have 6 year olds in after school science clubs who can explain Mendelian inheritance using lego!

Why are events like the Midlands Science festival so important do you think?
Science is entertaining. The Midlands Science Festival is an extravaganza of exciting exploration of science for all ages. It is an excuse and a reason to dust off that chemistry set and enjoy the camaraderie of everyone who is interested in our astonishing planet and universe and every wonderful facts and theorys that they have to offer. We here at Junior Einsteins Science Club have scientists who are so full of excitement and enthusiasm for science that it is contagious.

What is your favourite science fact?
I love that science is less about an individual person’s intelligence and more about team work curiosity, imagination and perseverance. As Einstein said: I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.

The Bubble Master Returns

D15192-0025Blowing bubbles is something that reminds everyone of their childhood and it is a pastime that just never gets old!

We are delighted to confirm that Steve Allman is joining us once again at this year’s Midlands Science Festival. We can’t wait to see ‘The Bubble Show’ in November where a lucky school will find out how to make their own bubble mixture, see what happens as bubbles are filled with smoke and watch on in awe as huge bubbles float over their heads.

Some Facts:
Why Do Bubbles Burst? Anything that fractures the fragile layer of water molecules can cause a bubble to burst. For example, a gust of wind or an object (like your finger) will easily cause a bubble to burst. Also, a bubble will burst if enough of the water molecules evaporate

Did you know that the best recipe for bubbles is 95% water, 4% glycerine, 1% fairy liquid

The biggest free-floating soap bubble ever blown was 105.4 cubic feet. It could have held 788 gallons of water!

Once again, this is evidence that science really is all around us! We are so excited about the Bubble Show and plan to take some really good photos to capture the magic of the event…Roll on Science Week!