Gizmo-makers and heartbreakers!

MakerspaceMidlands Makerspace are a creative community who want to develop and share their knowledge and skills and they are offering a number of workshops on Saturday November 15th as part of the Midlands Science Festival..   I recently caught up with Conor Brannigan to find out more….

What is a Makerspace and who can use it?

A makerspace is like a hackerspace, only we prefer not to use that term to avoid certain “misunderstandings” about our purpose.. It’s a space available to a loose group of people with a variety of different interests. We have people with an IT background who like to build small robots, do some programming, and talk tech. Some of our members are interested in sustainability, that is, growing food locally and at home, repairing things rather than disposing of them, repurposing broken or waste items, ways to use less energy in day to day life, small scale power generation, and so on. Some of our members are passionate about teaching computer skills to young people in a group environment, and teaching them basic tech crafts, such as building electrical circuits, or fashioning fun items from LEDs and breadboards. It’s hard to define, but we, and some of our friends in the local artists group who host us, believe in community involvement and participation, particularly for those who may not have typical interests and hobbies. We want people curious about technology, we want people who like to build things and share skills, we want them out of their houses and meeting like-minded individuals to chat, and work on projects together in an informal group setting.

What is your role in Midlands Makerspace Conor?

I wouldn’t consider myself as having a set role in the group, I think that we take on different roles and play different parts as they become necessary. Generally, I find myself being a facilitator of sorts, liaising with our friends in the local art group who support and host us in their building, I manage some of the web side of things, call some of our meetings etc. At times, people ask me questions about electrical theory and practice, engineering, or renewable energy and I’m happy to answer those if I can, but truthfully, we’re all learning from each other. The roles of teacher and student interchange rapidly.

What inspired you to get into this particular area of technology?

If you mean my trade and engineering degree, when I was 17 I needed work, and I thought that electrical work used a bit of brains and would keep me cleaner than some of the other trades. Well, I was wrong about the clean part. I studied Mechanical Engineering and Renewable Energy because, at the time, I believed that with enough skilled people in this country, we could revolutionise the power grid and tap into Ireland’s massive renewable energy potential. I still believe that, correctly implemented and managed, renewable energy would create massive employment and attract a lot of foreign investment and manufacturing firms interested in operating and building products with green energy.

If you mean why and how I got involved with the Makerspace, it was through a chance encounter with Jules Fitzsimons at a meeting of the local artists group. We had a chat about our ideas, and set up the group together from there. Jules is a member of many voluntary organisations, including hackerspaces in Dublin, so he knew the model, and what was needed to set it up.

Can you tell us a little bit about your renewable energy projects?

We are still in the building phase of the group itself, as it was only founded earlier this year – and I have a proposal/brief up on our group forum, and we may add another one for hydropower soon. As a group project, I’m proposing that we build a wind turbine from scrap parts. I have the skills to do it, but up until recently, I was lacking a workshop to build it in. More than one kitchen table has been destroyed in the past.. We’ve been discussing it in our group recently, and just yesterday evening I got some good insight on the safety braking system from founder member Robin Grindrod, and a new member, Amy. Rather than just build a wind turbine, I would like to get more people involved, even working on the different components as separate projects. I’d like people to see how easy it is to build technology like this from freely available scrap, and see how they can begin generating their own power at home. Another founder member, Bianca, was looking into biogas digesters recently, but we have yet to flesh out the finer details of that project. 

Why are events such as the Midlands Science Festival important do you think?

Well, we want people to get out there with their interests. We want people to know that if you’re interested in science and technology, or just having fun building things, that there are like minded people out there that they might not ordinarily meet. I know, as well, that some of us believe that to find what you love doing, you need to try as many things as possible until you find the right fit. And the best time to do that is when you’re young, curious and open to new ideas. It’s imperative that young people meet science at an early age, get to try it on for size, get curious about it. People shouldn’t meet real science for the first time in a college or university, I think, they should experience it in their own spaces, and develop their passions before they try to pick a career path. We’re also fans of a big, inclusive community effort that celebrates knowledge and learning.

What advice would you have for young people considering a career in a Science or Technology area?

I could only give them the same advice that was given to me when I applied to AIT. Pick the course, pick the career that you would get up in the morning and do for no money whatsoever. Pick the thing that you’re passionate about, forget titles, pay, or status. And, the best way to find what you’re passionate about is to get out there and try as many things as you can, especially while you’re young. But, then, it’s never too late to start something new.

 

 

We Love Chocolate…..

chco event 2….So you can imagine how pleased we were when we recently heard that it can actually be good for you! Check out some of the best reasons we can find not to feel guilty about eating one of our favourite foods!

  • The amount of caffeine in chocolate is quite low compared to coffee and other things we sometimes claim boost one’s energy.
  • Chocolate is a natural painkiller.
  • Dark chocolate aids the “good” bacteria in your body.
  • Eating chocolate can help prevent tooth decay.
  • Chocolate’s scent increases the amount of relaxation-inducing brainwaves.
  • Regularly eating dark chocolate reduces ones risk of heart disease.
  • Eating dark chocolate can help protect your skin from being damaged by the sun.
  • The anti-oxidants in chocolate will keep you looking young

…And one of our favourite Irish scientists/friend to the Midlands Science Festival, Professor Luke O’ Neill, recently informed us that its just a myth that chocolate causes acne, so better again! Everything in moderation of course, but for now after a hard day’s work ….we are happy to tuck in!

Ploughing Fun..

PloughingWe really enjoyed our day today at the extremely busy 2014 National Ploughing Championships where we were promoting the upcoming festival with the help of our partner Laois County Council. Europe’s largest Outdoor Exhibition and Agricultural Trade Show, the National Ploughing Championships attracts on average 1,400 exhibitors and
over 200,000 visitors annually.

Special thanks to the Junior Einsteins Club, who performed for packed audiences in the Laois tent today. (photo)

Our virtual brand ambassador Curious Kim also came along to join in the fun and the whole event was a great success. This was a great warm-up for the festival which is getting closer and closer now so keep an eye on the site for events taking place near you! If you are a twitter user, you can also follow Curious Kim on her science adventures … @curiouskim1

The 2014 National Ploughing Championships will take place from 23rd to 25th September at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois.

 

Creating a Buzz around Science…

j headshot

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.

It’s never too late to fulfil your dreams…

 

Applied Science 1 RoryRory Duffy is a teacher in Colaiste Naomh Cormac in Kilcormac, Co.Offaly who runs a special course for adults who wish to return to education to study Science. We caught up with Rory to find out more about this course and its success to date…..

What is the name of the course you currently run for adults Rory and how long has it been in existence?

The course is called Applied Science/Laboratory Techniques (FETAC Level 5) and this is its fifth year of running.

Tell us a little bit about the types of people who take this course? Can anyone sign up to it?

The people who take this course come to us from a very varied background and age group. We have had people just out of school and people in their fifties. Some are students that didn’t quite get enough points to do what they wanted in college while others thought that they were too long out of education to go back. Some students have started studying third level then discovered they were on the wrong course for them and wanted to change. Others are challenged by a confidence issue rather than a question of ability. Everyone is able to with the right supports.

Do some of the students move on to other academic institutions after the course?

Everyone who completes the course can gain access to third level. We have links into AIT and past pupils from this course have become some of the best performers in AIT. Some students start off thinking that they will do the course to learn about science without plans to go to third level. Again, they soon realise that they have the ability to cope with third level. We also have students in Maynooth and other colleges.

Have you had many success stories and what types of jobs opportunities can people avail of after completing the course?

Every pupil that completes the course is a success story. No matter what field the students move on to, whether work or further education, the learning and experiences of studying applied science will add value to them. Critical and Scientific thinking are essential to problem solving strategies and that is more and more evident in today’s world.

What would you say to encourage more people back into education and particularly back into a science career?

As someone who only went to college aged twenty nine and who did his HDip at forty five, I would tell everyone that they might not believe it but they are no different to me. We all have the ability to achieve in some field but we may lack the belief to see it through. Come along to Applied Science Lab Techniques and try it. You might start to believe!

Why are events such as the Midlands Science Festival important do you think?

For me it makes complete sense to get people thinking in a scientific way as soon as possible. The science fair is an opportunity for pupils and schools to show science as being important in our lives. This exposure is important to normalise science study in our society and it helps encourage science as being fun. Because it is fun!

 

‘Not True!’

popeye1We love listening to Professor Luke O Neill on the ‘Pat Kenny Show’ talking all things science every week, but he gave a particularly enjoyable interview recently on ‘Science Myths’ ..Here are some of the fascinating things that Luke had to say…..

Does the cold weather or being in wet clothes cause colds and flus?
No, common colds and flus are caused by viruses and not by the chill of winter time. We tend to get more colds in the winter because we are inside more so we are more likely to pick up infection from other people. So if you are sitting around in wet clothing, you are not necessarily going to catch a cold, unless of course you happen to be sitting beside someone else who has one ….and then there is a chance you will!

Should we feed a cold and starve a fever as the old saying tells us?
No, there is no evidence to support this. How it came about was due to the belief that if we take more fuel on board when we have a cold it will benefit us and give us heat and that if we have a fever we should lower that fuel. But no, there is no truth in this.

Does too much sugar make children hyperactive?
No, this isn’t the case at all! Of course sugar is believed to give you energy but it’s not the sugar boost that causes children to be hyper.. it is the running around and mixing with other children at a party of whatever other exciting place they happen to be that causes it.

Should I avoid food before I swim?
There is no reason to do this. Dive in! It is true that you get some blood flow away from the stomach to digest food after you eat and some people have a theory that this would take blood flow from muscle therefore causing cramp, but there is no evidence to support this, so swim away!

Is it true that we only use 10% of our brain?
No, that’s not true at all! We have an enormous brain capacity and every piece of it gets used in any given day.

There is so much in the media about what foods we should be eating and spinach seems to be one of the best things we can eat in order to increase our iron intake, is this true?
No, unfortunately not. A scientist made a mistake on this one back in the 1920’s and placed a decimal point in the wrong place so spinach actually has way less iron than we have been led to believe. In fact, did you know that raw spinach actually contains oxalic acid, an organic substance that can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron? So the idea that Popeye would become stronger if he eats it is most definitely a myth!

So, there you have it ..some of the top science myths floating around out there that simply aren’t true!

Just Do It!

Craig picWe are really looking forward to working with Dr.Craig Slattery during this years festival! We met up last week and enjoyed a chat to find out a little bit more about his science career to date and what drives him  …

I know you are from Tullamore originally Craig but where has your career taken you over the past decade?
The great thing about science is that it is a truly international endeavor and a science qualification gives you huge flexibility to travel and work overseas. After my PhD, I moved to Australia with my wife and took up a postdoctoral research position in the University of Queensland. It was a hugely enjoyable time and allowed us to travel all over the southern hemisphere. It was also a really fantastic opportunity career-wise. When we returned to Ireland a few years later, I was able to secure research funding on foot of my work in Australia. We really underestimate how well regarded the Irish education system is internationally. Awards from Irish higher education institutes really carry weight and open doors.

Can you tell us what is your current role at UCD?
My current role in UCD is as a Biomedical Researcher and a Specialist Lecturer. I am a member of a team of researchers called the Renal Disease Research Group, which is led by Dr. Tara McMorrow. We focus on a range of diseases and toxicities that can affect the kidneys. At the moment I am focused on diabetes as it is themain cause of kidney disease. We are part of a large EU project that aims to discover new ways to prevent diabetic kidney disease and to find new drugs to treat it.

What advice would you give young students considering a career in science?
Just do it! I know that sounds ridiculously corny but if you have any interest in science you will not regret it. It’s very important to study something that you have a passion for. That way, when things get tough around exam time, your natural interest will help to drive you on. As a bonus, science qualifications are hugely flexible and very attractive to prospective employers across many different fields.

How do you think we could make science more attractive to young people?
The funny thing is I don’t think you have to work very hard to get young people interested in science. Young people are naturally drawn to science. Children are natural experimenters. If you spend 5 minutes with a toddler you very quickly realize that they are constantly asking‘why?’, ‘how?’, and ‘what if?’  And when they figure something out you can see their excitement and satisfaction. That is science … our natural inquisitiveness at work. What we need to do is make sure that this thirst for knowledge and discovery doesn’t get eroded as they grow up. A great way to do that is by encouragingyoung people to keep asking questions as they go through school and try to structure their learning experiences and environments around this.

Is there anything you would really love to investigate further if you had no limitations?
I am fascinated by how the human body keeps track of its biological age over decades. We’re beginning to understand some parts of this puzzle and it’s going to lead to new treatments for a whole range of diseases. But I would be interested to see if we could ultimately manipulate our biological clocks on a grand scale? Could we slow down aging and dramatically extend the human lifespan? Who knows.

Why is it important to host and support events such as the Midlands Science Festival do you think?
The vast majority of scientific research around the world is funded by public money. I think any event that brings scientists and the public into closer contact, allowing the people to see the return on this investment is extremely important. Just as important though is getting people thinking, and talking about science and it’s role in our society. In the past, this sort of event has generally happened at a national level (i.e. in the cities!). Having a Science Festival in the Midlands where people can go to their local pub and hear from a world leading scientist like Professor O’Neill is fantastic and I really hope it is embraced. Added to that, the variety of different types of events that have been organised from school visits and workshops, to coffee mornings and movie nights, really means there is something for everyone.

Fancy a Cuppa?

2 scientists having cuppaDid you know that coffee is..

  • The second most widely used product in the world after oil.
  • It was worth 6 million tonnes per year in the mid 90’s.
  • It is worth €30 billion per year to the producing countries.
  • It is a living to more than 100 million people.
  • It is consumed at the rate of 1400 million cups per day.
  • The world’s second most popular drink after water

A common belief among coffee pundits is that good coffee depends heavily on good grinding. Is this true? Why not come along to our ‘Science of Coffee’ event which is taking place in Tullamore on November 13th this year. We are delighted to have the company and expertise of fellow Midlander; toxicologist and science communicator Dr.Craig Slattery (University College Dublin), to speak about  the fascinating studies that have been done on this much loved drink on the day.

When is the perfect time to drink coffee [according to your body’s circadian clock], how do you make the perfect cup of coffee [boiling points and pressure are important], what does caffeine do to our body, there’s so much to learn! Join us at this very different science festival event, enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee and hear all about the science of caffeine in this free public event.

Where: The Coffee Club, Harbour Street, Tullamore
When: November 13th @ 10:30am
During what is shaping up to be a hectic week, this is definitely one we are looking forward to!

A Chat with Dr. Don Faller…

Dr Don FallerAthlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is an award-winning higher education institution located in the Midlands. More than 6,000 students are undertaking undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Business, Humanities, Engineering and Science. €100 million has been invested in the AIT campus since 2000, ensuring that students experience a world-class education with cutting-edge facilities.

We are delighted to be partnering with AIT this year to deliver a Midlands Science Festival with even more exciting and innovative events than 2013 and this week we caught up with Don Faller, acting Head of the School of Science to find out a bit about his academic career and his views on science.

Can you tell us a bit about your role in Athlone institute of Technology?
For 15 years I lectured on the Toxicology programmes offered by AIT. In 2009 I was appointed Head of Department of Life & Physical Sciences and more recently, I have taken up the role of acting Head of the School of Science at AIT.  This role involves taking responsibility for the overall management of the School of Science and its strategic development in terms of new academic programmes and external activities. It is an exciting and challenging role and one that would not be possible to take on without the expertise and dedication of the staff in the School of Science.

What is the most fulfilling part about your job Don?
There are very many fulfilling aspects of my job. Welcoming new students to AIT at the start of each academic year and watching students graduating each year at the Institute’s annual graduation ceremony in October are always a pleasure, as is attending events such as Higher Options and visiting second level schools to meet students interested in hearing about science courses at AIT.

Can you tell us your favourite science fact?
In 1941, penicillin was first used to treat a bacterial infection in a human being. However, because there was such a small supply of penicillin available at the time, all of the patient’s urine was collected and the excreted penicillin was extracted from the urine and re-administered to the patient!

Why is it important that AIT supports events such as the Midlands Science Festival?
As an Institute of Technology, many of AIT’s academic and research programmes have a strong ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths’ (STEM) focus. AIT is delighted to be associated with all regional and national activities that encourages people of all ages to engage with STEM and we are really excited to be involved with the 2014 Midland Science Festival.

Do you have any advice for young people considering a career in science?
Yes. Make sure you thoroughly research all of the available science courses available to you and all of the job opportunities each course offers. It is always a good idea to spend some time with someone who is currently working in the area you are interested in. Talk to you career guidance teacher and make sure your Leaving Certificate subject choice is the correct one for the third level course you hope to pursue. Above all, pick a course you will enjoy!

Are there any particularly exciting jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago or ‘jobs of the future’ in science fields that the next generation might get excited about?
Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology companies should continue to be key employers in the future. It goes without saying that IT will continue to change the way we live and work. The so-called ‘Internet of Things’ is an area we will be seeing more of in the future – this is where familiar objects such as cars, thermostats, dishwashers etc. will be able to remotely connect to the internet. Anticipated applications of the Internet of Things include the automation of the heating of buildings, improved road safety, monitoring of the environment (soil temperature, road temperature etc.) as well as human and animal health monitoring.

Do you think, although science is a core subject, that there is enough emphasis placed upon it in schools?
I think second level schools place a strong emphasis on science to Junior Certificate. However, at senior cycle, while very may students opt to study Biology, the numbers of students taking Chemistry and Physics is very low. I would welcome the introduction of a ‘bonus points’ scheme similar to the one was introduced for honours maths in recent years in order to incentivise the study of Chemistry and Physics at Leaving Certificate. I would also like to see a much wider availability of Agricultural Science at second level.

Early to Bed..

New_1_SarahIt’s that time of year again. Thousands of households around the country are in the grips of ‘back to school’ fever and many of the mums and dads are  determined to get their children back into the right routine as the summer holidays draw to a close.

We spend a third of our lives doing it. So, why is sleep so important?

An easier way to understand why sleep is so critical is to actually think about what would happen if we didn’t sleep. We are always telling the children that they need to be in bed by a certain time and that they must get enough rest for whatever activity it is they have ahead of them the next day. But what’s the science behind this?

Lack of sleep affects the brain and its ability to function; it affects concentration and our attention span. Sleep is one of the few things we all have in common yet it continues to baffle scientists the world over. We need enough sleep to maintain normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory and thinking and if we don’t get enough rest, our sense of time and judgement as well as our emotions are all impaired!

After a good sleep everything inside gets the boost, which is required for the next day ahead. The right amount of sleep helps to regulate the hormones that control appetite and even boosts the immune system. Sleep helps us feel happier and less cranky! And one of the things that is most important for the younger folk as they head back into another academic year, it allows us focus, learn and make good decisions. (happy little scholar pictured after a lovely night’s sleep)

So, how much sleep do we need?

This is widely debated but in reality, it really differs from one individual to another as some people genuinely need a lot less or more sleep than others. Most studies advise that we need seven to eight hours daily. In an article I read recently, Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre gave a simple answer: “The amount of sleep we require is what we need not to be sleepy in the daytime.”

It’s getting late. Goodnight All!