In Conversation with Gary Donohoe….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Science broadcaster set to return..

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

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

In Conversation with Ursula Farrell…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Race to Science

The Central Applications Office (CAO) figures report that points have increased for science and technology courses as today around 50,000 students are receiving offers for college places.

The increase in these courses reflects industry demand here in Ireland now, with Life Science Companies in the areas of Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, Medical Devices and Diagnostics, employing approximately 47,288 people between indigenous and multinational companies in a variety of activities. (IDA Ireland)

A survey, carried out by Fastrack to IT (FIT), an initiative led by the technology industry in Ireland that provides those at risk of long-term unemployment with marketable technical skills, estimates that there are in excess of 4,500 immediate job vacancies in the IT sector in Ireland. (Irish Times)

One of the main objectives of Science Week is to demonstrate the many exciting career opportunities available within Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths disciplines.  We are looking forward to a number of careers workshops which will be hosted by our corporate partner, Cpl Recruitment, during the Midlands Science Festival.

More information on these events to follow…

A Bug’s Life!

As we continue to enjoy the summer months, I have noticed just how fascinated children are (unlike many of us adults) by insects! This is wonderful, particularly as we don’t have to go very far to find all sorts of ‘creepy crawlies’ to look at in our very own back garden.

Insects are by far, the most common animals on our planet. More than 1.5 million species of insects have been named. This is three times the number of all other animals combine and many are yet to be discovered. Ladybugs are still a firm favourite and most of us will admit that there is something really special them. Children love to just watch them exploring their surroundings – they never seem to tire of it! Most children aren’t afraid of nature and in their early years they are usually extremely excited by bugs and in what they do. Later in life however, many of us become disinterested or even disgusted by insects so it really is lovely to see the amazement on childrens’ faces when they find something new outside.

It’s so important that we encourage their questions and do our best to try to answer them. This should help lead to a greater interest and indeed appreciation in children about all things green and in science and nature too. The reality is that without insects, life would be remarkably different. Insects pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables so we would not have much of the produce that we rely on without insects, not to mention honey and the many other enjoyable products that these tiny bugs provide.

So the next time a child brings you an insect from outside, try to take some time to look at it together and think about the number of functions they perform and the many benefits we get from sharing the world with these tiny garden creatures…….

In Conversation with Ann-Marie Jennings…

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It was really inspiring to chat to Ann-Marie Jennings, Clinical Laboratory Manager of ‘Randox Health’ recently about her career path. Ann-Marie is originally from Tullamore in Co. Offaly and is involved in scientific work that could really make a difference when it comes to the diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

You are originally from Tullamore Ann-Marie, where are you living and working now?
I am living in Belfast and working for a Company called Randox Laboratories. I am the Clinical Laboratory Manager of Randox Health which is a service that we provide for personalised and preventative health profiling. I also oversee all the Clinical Research Projects and Clinical Trials that Randox are in which include Bladder Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Brain Injury, Acute Kidney Infection and Sepsis. Studies

What experiences in school or otherwise influenced you to pursue a career in science?
When I was in school I was heavily involved in Sport and had a strong passion for Science. I wanted to try and combine my two interests and decided to study Sports Science and Biology in St Mary’s University in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. However half way through my second year in University I realised that the course was not for me. I enjoyed the Biology side of the course more so than the Sport side and I felt it best for me to leave this course and enroll in a course that was solely focused on Science. I immediately applied to UCD to study Science and thankfully I was accepted. I thoroughly enjoyed studying Biochemistry and loved the practical side of the subject and got a thrill when my experiments worked!

When I completed my degree I was offered a PhD in the Conway Institute in UCD. I was indecisive as to what I should do as I knew studying for a PhD would be challenging and I had to make sure that this was the right path for me. To help me make my mind up I decided to move to New York where I worked as a Research Assistant in a lab in Columbia University. I thoroughly enjoyed it and knew that studying for a PhD was the next step to take with regards to my Science career and I haven’t looked back since.

What is the best part of the work you do-the part that gives you the most satisfaction?
There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy and give my job satisfaction and in particular the Clinical Research Projects and Clinical Trial Work that I oversee in the Company. We are are the cutting edge of Science and Discovery and I believe that the work that we are involved in really will make a difference with regards to developing better diagnostic tests for the easier diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

What contemporary scientific issue are you most concerned about?
The main concern for me (and the majority of others) is the production and distribution of enough energy to meet increased demands and the elimination or reduction of pollutants in the environment.

What would you say to a student who wanted to pursue a career in science?
My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career in Science is to firstly choose the correct subjects in Secondary School. I believe that Biology and Chemistry are essential and are the core science subjects that can be applied to a variety of science degrees.

If a student is contemplating a career in Science I would advise them to try and gain some work experience over their Summer holidays. This will give them a better perspective on the role of a Scientist.

What is the most fun thing about science in your view?
The most fun thing about Science for me is that I am constantly learning. No day is ever the same and that’s what I enjoy! It’s never boring!

What Makes Us Curious?

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

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

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

In Conversation with Claire MacEvilly…

blog_ClaireMacEvillyAs we continue to prepare an exciting line-up of events for the Midlands Science Festival, I recently caught up with Claire Mac Evilly, the Communications Manager of ‘Food for Health Ireland’ at University College Dublin. We are delighted to have Claire as one of our key speakers for this year’s festival and we wanted to find out a little bit more about her love of science and where it all began…..

When did you decide to work in a science field and what inspired you?
I really liked Biology and Home Economics in school so a BSc in Nutritional Sciences was a perfect fit for me. I particularly found that the science behind the food we eat and what reactions happen in the body really interested me. A prize winning nutrition scientist Dr Elsie Widdowson inspired me. She was one of the trail blazers in nutrition research and I did a project on her when I was in transition year. I was lucky enough to get enough points to study in UCC but the story does not end there. I was doing my final year and I got chatting to my advisor at the time. I knew that I didn’t want to do further study in the lab but I was interested in how you translate nutrition science into messages aimed at the public that would encourage them to change their behaviour when it comes to food choice. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go to Tufts University in Boston to complete a Masters in Nutrition Communications and the journey of getting science out to diverse audiences began!

Why in your view is science so important in society today?
Science is important in society today because I believe we need a society that is excited by science, values its importance to our social and economic wellbeing, feels confidence in its use and supports a representative well-qualified scientific workforce. It is particularly important for Ireland as we need science to help our future economic prosperity and our ability to become an innovative nation depends on the successful exploitation of science and technology.

Do you think there are any really exciting research outcomes we can hope to see in the next 10 years?
In Ireland, we are lucky enough to produce great quantities of milk but is there more to this white liquid than meets the eye? Researchers are currently mining milk to look at the functional ingredients that could be of benefit to human health. Finding out what bioactives are in milk and how can we make more use of them is exciting because it will put Ireland at the forefront of an area of research that has huge commercial potential.

Why is it important for those working in science to take part in such events as the Midlands Science Festival?
Scientists work really hard in the lab or with populations in the field to give them data to publish in scientific journals. Building this body of knowledge is important. But what is also important is about getting the science out to have real impact – on people, on policy, on changing practice. Public engagement events like the Midlands Science Festival provide a unique platform to bring the science to life. It’s not enough to do activities because we think they are worthwhile, we must be clear about impacts we are trying to have and then to go about trying to measure and assess them and the processes we’re using. After the Science festivals are over – that is the critical time. Then we must reflect and consider how we might change and improve what we do and share what we’ve learnt.

Are there are any specific challenges for women in science now?
A real challenge for women in science is to learn the skills to lead and become a good leader. For example, starting an academic lab is like launching a small business. But does scientific training really prepare women for the challenges of leadership like dealing with a difficult co-worker or motivating students? More support needs to be given to women to develop their leadership skills, which will undoubtedly help in the progress of their science.

Looking Back on 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiring Young Scientists….

blog_materials&bubblesWatching excited young faces at our ‘Science Bubble Show’ or seeing the enthralled reactions when a huge boa constrictor was lifted from its box…these are some of our happiest memories from last year’s Midlands Science Festival. Science helps children to answer some really tough questions but ‘Science Week’ itself enables us to make this happens in much more entertaining ways.

We are so excited about the events that are now starting to take shape for our younger audiences this year and one of our key goals is to help primary school children understand that science is all around them, every day and in all kinds of ways. Science is a part of daily life from cooking and playing sports to watching the rain or enjoying the sunshine.

We want to encourage young pupils to collect information, ask more questions, observe and draw their own conclusions because science can really teach children to form their own opinions. It allows them to experiment and realize that not everything has to work out perfectly all the time. It makes them query how the world works, sparks ideas and helps them to find solutions to everyday problems in the most simplified of ways.

The Power of Science is All Around Us!