Photography – An art and a science!

Veronica Nicholson is a photographic artist and educator, with a Masters degree in Digital Art who lives in Co. Offaly. Her book Observing Offaly, a commission from Offaly County Council, was published in 2016.

Veronica, we are thrilled to announce that you will be partaking in this year’s Midlands Science Festival.

Thanks. I’m delighted to be taking part.

We would love to find out more about your work as a photographer here in the Midlands. What inspired you to take up photography?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I left school but I bought a camera in 1984 and found something I was good at and that I loved, and that also connected me with people and the world around me. Before that I think I felt quite disconnected and that was painful, whereas photography was, and still is, a complete joy.

My first job was as an apprentice to the photographer in the National Gallery of Ireland which was great fun, and I also started a part-time Diploma in Professional Photography in the Dublin Institute of Technology. I then trained in a commercial studio while finishing college. In college I was able to flex my creative muscles; in the studio I learned the profession. After college I went freelance and I also started teaching photography, as well as exhibiting my art photography in exhibitions. I’ve continued this mix ever since.

How did your book Observing Offaly come about?

I applied for and was awarded a Percent for Arts Commission from Offaly County Council in 2015 to make a book of photographs about contemporary life in Offaly. It was a dream project as I had permission to delve into all areas of peoples lives, and people were so generous inviting me into their homes and work places. I traveled all around the county with a mission to show the beauty of the boglands and the Grand Canal, and to highlight a county that is often seen as a place to drive through to get somewhere else. I also covered the news stories like the Equality Referendum and the floods, the general election of 2016, the Tullamore show, and the annual pilgrimage on Croghan Hill. I also made a point of highlighting the work of women farmers, who so often get overlooked. The result was a hardback book of nearly 150 photographs, which is for sale in all the libraries in Offaly.

How do you feel you combine art with science in your work?

It could be said that photography is both an art and a science.

The notion of a photograph dawned on one of the inventors of photography Henry Fox Talbot in 1833 while he using a camera lucida as an aid in drawing the Italian countryside near Lake Como. Dissatisfied with his inability to capture the beauty of the refracted image he saw, the artist and scientist began experimenting with chemical solutions to fix images on paper coated with silver nitrate. “How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper,” he mused. Six years later he achieved his goal.

When I’m taking a photograph, the science is a given, it’s not what I’m thinking about. Yes, every time a photograph is taken, light is bent through a piece of glass – this is optics; when the light hits the film or sensor, a chemical reaction takes place. But I’m concentrating instead of the subject, making decisions on how to frame and compose, what kind of light is falling on the subject, what combination of shutter speed and aperture to use, what ISO to set the camera etc etc. That’s the art I guess.

What can we expect from your participation in Science Week here in the Midlands this year?

I’m giving a talk called ‘Drawing with Light – the Science of Photography.’ We will look a bit at what light is and how the eye sees that portion of the electromagnetic radiation we call the visible spectrum. I will be giving a brief introduction into the invention of photography and why 1839 is the year given, even though cameras already existed, as did the knowledge that light had an effect on certain chemical substances. So what happened in 1839, the date given for the invention of photography?

We will also have some fun with everyone getting a chance to try their own ‘writing with light.’

The talks are in Stradbally library and Birr Castle. The event at Birr Castle Demense will include a visit to Mary Rosse’s nineteenth-century photographic dark room, the oldest surviving dark room in the world.

 

LONGFORD TO CELEBRATE THE BEST OF SCIENCE

The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th and is a wonderful chance to bridge the gap between science and the public, opening discussion around many important developments and build people’s science capital in the region.

The week-long annual event, which is hosted by the Midlands Science and a number of partners including one of Ireland’s leading healthcare companies, Abbott in Longford, is heading into its sixth year and promises to bring together members of the public with scientists, engineers, technologists and science workshop performers. With over 120 free events on offer across the Midlands region, large numbers of people are expected to turn out to celebrate science this November.

The festival is an excellent opportunity to inspire young adults and the next generation of scientists. One of the activities on the agenda for Longford this year includes a day exploring “What Happens Next?” at Longford County Library on Nov 13th.  This interactive lecture suitable for primary school classes from 4th class up. In the presentations, a series of simple experiments are demonstrated, but paused at a critical point and students asked to predict what will happen next? Subjects covered include forces, light and reflections, heat transfer and electricity.

This year’s festival also sees the return of qualified marine biologists, Marine Dimensions, where lessons on living things in Ireland’s seas and oceans will take place in Ballymahon Library all day on the 14th of November. This workshop includes a touchpool containing live sea creatures, including starfish, shrimp, anemones, crabs and sea snails and is always a popular Science Week activity with younger pupils.

On November 16th, Granard Library will host the Reptile Zoo Village where a variety of animals from snakes and spider to tortoise will be visiting for the day and on the 17th Midlands Science is delighted to welcome back the award-winning team from ‘Anyone for Science’ – this time to Longford County Library. Their hands-on, age-appropriate workshops are suitable for children from Junior Infants to 6th Class and every child gets to participate in some hands-on science.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said,

‘Science is all around us in everything we can see and touch and this is the sixth year that a free programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the Midlands counties. You don’t need to be a science expert or professor to begin to explore the world of science and our festival is an excellent event for giving both children and adults opportunities to think about the world around them and about why things actually are the way they are!

We are particularly looking forward to the ‘Discovery Day, which will take place in Saturday, November 10th in St. Mel’s secondary school in Longford from 10:00am until 2:00pm. The event will be run in partnership with Abbott and will offer a unique opportunity for students and their parents or guardians to experience a whole range of science and technology fun, including science activities with Anyone 4 Science, The Dinosaur Show with Dale Treadwell, The Exploration Dome, The Reptile Zoo Village, the Under the Microscope team, and innovative science activities with Abbott.’

The science festival will highlight cutting-edge research and bring together people from across the scientific disciplines and beyond. A key aim throughout the festival and Science Week itself is to get people thinking about science in a wider context and how it plays a critical and central role in every element of our society.’

See www.midlandsscience.ie for more event details and booking and join us this November 11th-18th in celebrating science in Longford!

Photo:

One of our spider friends from the Reptile Zoo Village

SCIENCE FUN IN WESTMEATH THIS NOVEMBER

The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th and promises a full programme of innovative and fun hands-on events. Some of the activities we can look forward to in Westmeath this year include The Exploration Dome; Ireland’s most advanced digital mobile planetarium. The Exploration Dome uses state of 3-D digital projection technology, stunning graphics and computer simulations to explain a wide variety of science subjects such as astronomy and there’s also an under the sea experience. This immersive and exciting experience will be coming to the Gateway Youth Project in Athlone, is suitable for all age groups and each session lasts 30 minutes.

Science Week, which is managed by ‘SFI Discover’ the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland, will take science out of the lab and into libraries, theatres, sports clubs and primary school halls, giving people a variety of fun ways to explore and open up a multitude of ideas for a potential future career in science, technology, engineering and maths.

This is the sixth 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 science communicators, performers and researchers, science and technology speakers, science and TY students, mini scientists and the general public from all over the Midlands and beyond.

‘Inventing The Impossible’ is one workshop which is coming to Abbey Road Studios in Athlone and will feature artist Paul Timoney in character as Leonardo da Vinci with his colleague Mona Lisa. This workshop allows participants to meet Leonardo and Mona Lisa who will show them some pages from Leonardo’s notebooks and explain his process, emphasising the relationship between focused observation and free imagination.

Midlands Science Festival Director, Jackie Gorman said,

‘We are delighted to be heading into our sixth year with the festival and in planning the year’s programme, we have secured some really new and different events and activities as well as bringing back some of the most popular ones from previous years. As always we have partnered with a number of organisations and academia including Athlone Institute of Technology and all Midlands libraries to create opportunities which aim to excite students about science. We will also have high-value science career talks, the return of Mary Ward’s Amazing World of Wonder” which celebrates Ireland scientific heritage and a lunchtime lecture at Athlone Library on painkillers. This is part of a series of bite-sized science talks, where those attending can pop in on their lunch break for some science, free tea and coffee and snacks. You’ll learn something new during your lunch break and we encourage questions and discussion at this event.’

The festival is a real celebration of science and features something for everyone to enjoy. There is plenty planned including “What Happens Next?” by David Featonby who has a particular interest in making science teaching interesting, relevant and fun. This interactive lecture which takes place in Castlepollard Library during Science Week, is suitable for secondary school classes and will feature a series of simple experiments which often have quite unexpected outcomes. Subjects covered include forces, light and reflections, heat transfer and electricity.

Friday, November 16th brings an all about the science of murder, poisonings and terrorism to the Little Theatre in Athlone. Dr Craig Slattery is a toxicologist and science communicator and he will explain the science of poisons. He will be joined by Brian Gibson of Forsenic Science Ireland, who will explore the world of forensics and how it helps solve crimes including murders. Completing this trio is Professor Andrew Silke, who is originally from Athlone and is now based in the UK. He has a background in forensic psychology and criminology. Due to the issues which will be discussed at this event, this event is over 16’s only. A crime scene will be live from 7.30pm with prizes for those who solve the crime using their smart-phone !

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘We have such a wide array of events this year for Westmeath. Another one that we are really excited about is our Dinosaur event with Dale Treadwell of Naturally Wild who is well known for his RTEjr Television slots with Albie the Why Guy and Dustin the Turkey featuring wildlife to be found in Irish back gardens. Dale will be joined by some realistic Cretaceous Creatures on this interactive show and looks forward to meeting as many Dinosaur fans as possible this Science Week in Athlone.’

Photo: Ethan from Athlone meeting one of Dale’s larger Dino friends!

Driving the Digital Revolution in the Midlands with Wriggle

Wriggle Roadcaster bus at Citywest Conference Centre.
Pictured is Simon Close, Primarty Level Lead Wriggle.ie, demostrates the ‘Sphere Robitics’.
Picture by Colm Mahady / Fennells – Copyright© Fennell Photography 2018

We are delighted to be providing some very new and exciting training this year for primary and secondary school teachers during Science Week with Irish educational technology company, Wriggle Learning. Using their Roadcaster, training from Wriggle will include Sphero, micro:bit, coding and VR/AR to demonstrate how technology can be used to support teaching and learning in schools across the country.

 
I caught up Simon Close, Wriggle’s Primary School Lead, to find out more.
 
Simon, we are really excited to be featuring Wriggle for the first time during Midlands Science Festival 2018! Your mission statement says, ‘At Wriggle, we pull all the pieces of the puzzle together.’ Can you tell us what this means and a little about what Wriggle do to support a school’s digital journey?
There have been significant changes to the Irish school curriculum in the last 5 or 6 years, particularly at post primary level with the introduction of the JCSA in 2014 and redesign and modification is still happening, which is fantastic. At the heart of this change is the use of technology. However, working with our partner schools, teachers and the wider school community, we have seen first-hand that we can’t simply throw the latest technology at a school and assume that change will happen overnight. The implementation of technology for teaching and learning needs to be considered, well thought out and ultimately, desired by all of those involved.
We support schools with formulating a longer-term vision for the use of technology in the classroom as well as providing the fundamental elements to make it happen i.e. technology, content, support and training.
 
Wriggle’s continuing professional development (CPD) model works with groups of educators in schools throughout Ireland to develop their skills and maximise the use of technology in their teaching. Have you delivered this to many teachers to date and what has the feedback been like?
To date, we have delivered training to more than 10,000 teachers throughout Ireland and we have seen a big jump in the last 12 months from teachers and schools looking to engage with us to deliver CPD. The importance of technology at Junior Cycle has meant schools are now having to utilise ePortfolio’s to store student work, carry out Class Based Assessment (CBA) and potentially introduce coding as part of the short course requirements.
The training workshops that we provide ensure that teachers are comfortable and proficient using the technology that is aligned to elements such as these.
 
Can you tell us about your own background and what led to your current role at Wriggle?
I started out working with our partner company Typetec in their graphic arts division having completed a business degree in DIT. I have been with Wriggle since its inception in 2013 and my roles to date have been focussed mainly around sales and marketing but when working for a start-up you do find yourself getting involved in all elements of the business which can be a real eye opener!
Supported by an incredible team, we have driven strong growth at post primary level and are now partnered with close to 200 schools and manage and support more than 40,000 devices. In 2017 we launched Wriggle Jr. to provide similar products and services to primary schools. I recently started a new role (School Development Director) responsible for the sales and marketing functions for our primary and post primary teams. It’s an exciting time!
 
Do you think parents play a significant role in supporting the digital education of their children? What can they do to support it better?
I think arguably, parents play the most important role in supporting the digital education of their children. It can be a daunting prospect for parents when it comes to the utilisation of technology in school, especially when it’s a personalised device that they bring home with them every day. However, we work closely with parents to provide the reassurances that their sons and daughters aren’t getting access to social media, games or inappropriate content on their devices because we have locked all of those elements down.
We also provide training for parents to demonstrate how they can manage their children’s devices in their own homes by keeping tabs on their screen time, internet browsing history and other useful tips and tricks. It will always be a challenge to stay ahead of the curve but as parents, we need to involve ourselves in our children’s education, technology or no technology.
 
What exactly is the Wriggle Roadcaster?
The Wriggle Roadcaster is a cutting edge 21st  century technology classroom on wheels! We repurposed it from a former library bus and have transformed it into a 21st century mobile learning classroom. It is designed to showcase to teachers and students what technology can do to support engagement and enhance teaching. Inside, the Roadcaster is kitted out with tablets, robotics, drones, coding equipment and other state of the art technological tools.
It travels around schools in Ireland, demonstrating to teachers and students at primary and secondary level how technology can be easily integrated into teaching and learning. It has been such a huge success so far and we’re trying our best to visit as many schools as possible in the months ahead.

HEATWAVES, HURRICANES AND HAIL!

Learn All About the Weather this November in Laois with Midlands Science

The countdown to this year’s Midlands Science Festival is certainly on now and the week-long event will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th. Attendees should expect to find a range of speaking events, workshops and performances about cutting-edge science from world-leading speakers and academics and there will be lots of fun for people of all ages throughout the festival week.
Midlands Science Festival Director Jackie Gorman commented on one exciting, free event which will be coming to Laois this year,
‘How accurate is weather prediction? Is long-range forecasting reliable? Given the real extremes of weather that the country saw earlier this year, we are particularly looking forward to this year’s ‘science of weather’ talk with well-known weather forecaster, Gerald Fleming. This will take place on the evening of November 13th in Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise and we look forward to welcoming people of all ages to explore ‘The Science of a Grand Soft day.’

Gerald Fleming said,
‘I am delighted to be partaking in this year’s Midlands Science Festival and I look forward to coming to Laois to discuss something which is so universal to us all. My talk will explore a background to the science of climate change and will detail the work done in recent decades both to refine the science and to provide adequate, understandable summaries of the key issues to help society decide on appropriate policies and actions. We will examine key questions as to whether we can enjoy a sustainable lifestyle while protecting our atmosphere. Events like ‘Science Week’ are a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at so many different issues that affect us in day to day life and the weather is certainly one which has begun to spark more and more interest, particularly when we reflect on the year which has just passed. I look forward to debate and discussion on the night and hopefully plenty of questions and curiosity about the science of weather.’

Jackie Gorman continued,
‘We are delighted to bringing a whole range of science events to Laois and this particular talk which is open to the public, is one which promises to be both informative and entertaining. Known for his engaging style of presenting, trademark wink and sign-off, Gerald recently retired from Met Eireann, where he had served as head of forecasting for many years. He has been involved in weather forecasting and public engagement with forecasts for many serious weather events in Ireland over the years. Weather is a pretty safe topic of conversation especially here in Ireland. It’s too hot or it’s too cold, it can affect whether schools or transport networks run and it can influence the decision of wedding dates and potential holiday-makers year on year. The science behind the natural forces that cause the weather is extremely interesting and this event will explore views on how we can engage with the challenges presented by climate change and extreme weather events, so do come along and hear all about it on the night.’
This evening will also include students from Timahoe National School presenting findings from their school weather station – ensuring that the next generation of weather forecasters are thriving in Laois! The team from Midlands Science want to ensure that that in rolling out 120 events across Science Week that there is something for everyone and there is no doubt that the weather is of interest to each and every one of us. Check out www.midlandsscience.ie for more details on how you can book this and other events for Science Week 2018 in Laois and beyond.

New Partnership with County Libraries

Local development company Midlands Science is pleased to announce a new strategic alliance with the county libraries across the region are to jointly promote Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) education. This collaboration will include the joint management and roll out of a programme of free, informative and fun workshops and expert speaking events which will take place in libraries in Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath during national Science Week from November 11th to 18th 2018. 
This partnership approach aims not only to encourage an increasing number of schools to engage in Science Week activities but to also provide more venues whereby a vast array of different STEM education activities can take place. This not only makes more logistical sense but will also mean organisers can make the most out of the time and expertise provided by the science communicators and scientists, performers and talented speakers who take part in the Midlands Science Festival each year.
Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said,
“We are delighted to announce this new partnership with local Midlands library services and we are now well on the way to agreeing our schedule of events for this year’s annual Midlands Science Festival. The objective is to provide as many high-quality outreach events as possible during our week-long programme during Science Week in order to achieve our goal of increasing the number of students, teachers and parents in attendance. We want to find and foster the scientists of the future and feel we have made great strides over the past six years in encouraging more and more young people to consider science as a possible third level and career option. This collaborative approach will really help us to expand our interaction with key audiences by letting the libraries take centre stage as a key hosting venue and we are really looking forward to sharing more details with schools and the public very soon.’
The Midlands Science Festival for 2018 is shaping up to even bigger than previous years with over 120  events already planned to take place across the region this November. Visitors will see the return of some of firm favourites such as the Reptile Zoo, Junior Einsteins’ Science Club, Anyone for Science and Marine Dimensions sealife workshops but there will also be a number of new and exciting events for this year which will focus on subjects such as technology, heritage, nature and ecology.
Martina Needham, Executive Librarian at Offaly County Libraries said,
‘We are really proud to be working with the team at Midlands Science to deliver a vast array of events, performances and exhibitions with a scientific twist.  We are particularly excited about the Science Book Club initiative which will hopefully encourage our readers of all ages to choose a Science themed read as part of the Science Week Celebrations. Why not join us as we shine a light on the many different ways science surrounds us, share ideas and enjoy fascinating seminars, performances and workshops in our local library this November?’

“Don’t mow! Let it grow!”

We are thrilled to announce something very different and exciting for the Midlands Science Festival 2018 in the shape of bug-centric learning sessions! We are delighted to be welcoming Creative Entomologist, Nessa D’arcy who will explore the world of bugs with some of our very lucky younger audiences. We had a chat to Nessa to find out a little bit more about her work and interests in advance of her workshops…
 
Nessa, how would you describe the role of a Creative Entomologist?
I aim to reintroduce humans to their natural habitat through colourful encounters with insects. So far, this includes insect surveys for conservation, bug-centric workshops and outings, and art which celebrates the beauty, diversity and importance of these essential and under-appreciated ecosystem engineers. Creative Entomologist is a job title I created for myself when I couldn’t bring myself to choose between a career in conservation or my art practice, and I’ve found that great things happen for both when I combine the two!
What kinds of things will the pupils learn about during your Science Week workshops?
The children will take part in a storytelling and video making project on the theme of insect folklore and ecology. We’ll explore legends and urban myths about bees, beetles and other bugs, as well as learning about their needs, their roles in the ecosystem, and actions we can take to help them thrive. I’m excited to see the results, as the storyline and visuals for the video will be guided by the children’s own curiosity and creativity. The aim is also to create something which captures the public’s attention and conveys a call to action for insect conservation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to work with such small creatures?
I have been fascinated by all creatures great and small since I was big enough to terrorise the neighbours with a handful of slugs. As a child I would get upset if someone put a spider out of the house without showing it to me first! The macro world was (and still is) a calm place for me to escape to, a resource in times of stress. Being able to name animals and plants gave me confidence. I’ve seen nature experiences having the same effect on children when I’ve volunteered with OWLS Children’s Nature Club and when I do Heritage in Schools workshops. Throughout my MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation and my work on SEED Madagascar’s conservation programme, my earlier degree in Fine Art always had an influence, and my mum predicted years ago that I would someday combine art and science!
Are your events interactive-are there some opportunities for the mini scientists to get hands-on?
Always. I teach the kids insect-sampling techniques outdoors between spring and autumn, and will be bringing some six-legged friends into my winter workshops. My dream is to have everyone finding, identifying and recording insects in their local area. The more records we have the better we can make decisions about conserving our wildlife. It’s easy to make a real contribution. In my workshop for Midlands Science there will also be a chance to get hands on with art materials!
My mother used to always tell us, ‘insects are just some God’s special creatures!’ What would you say to help a child who is afraid of bugs?
We fear the unknown, and sometimes all it takes to overcome this fear is meeting an insect face to face and learning something about it. The same applies to meeting new people, and we need more of this in both cases! I explain that a bee or wasp that flies near you is just looking for a flower and means no harm. Even the poor vilified false widow spider will only bite if you harass it. I once had a pupil who strongly disliked insects at the start of a workshop but by the end she wanted to take a pair of mating dock beetles home with her to see them produce offspring! I think it was the story of their shiny green romance that won her over. Storytelling has great power to elicit empathy, and I think my enthusiasm and affection for bugs might be a little contagious too.
‘Nessa’s work draws people in to familiarise themselves intimately with insects.’ This statement on your website shows your passion for the bug world. Why do we as a society need to talk about this more and what can we doing to encourage the next generation to do to help?
An experienced natural beekeeper was once asked why bees are in decline, and he answered, “Because we don’t love them enough”. Loving something requires understanding it and what it needs. Most people know that bees pollinate our crops and are at risk, so they will happily grow flowers and put up bee hotels. But it’s less widely known that most other insects are disappearing too, threatening the very functioning of the environment, and flowers alone can’t save them. One of the biggest hurdles to insect conservation is our perception of ‘wild’ as ‘untidy’. Long, luscious grassland full of wildflowers, hedgerows bursting forth with flowers and fruit, and delicious dead wood are all essential habitats for insects. Dandelions are an essential early food source for pollinators, and nettles are the sole food plant of some of our most beautiful butterflies. I get a kick out of sending kids home to their parents chanting, “Don’t mow! Let it grow!”
My parents claim I didn’t learn my bug knowledge from them. This shows that even if you don’t know much about nature yourself, supporting your kids’ outdoor exploration of nature with the help of some books (and now some really helpful social media groups), is enough to encourage them to want to save the world!
Photo credit: Charline Fernandez of greennews.ie.

Empowering people to make better choices…

 

Pain is something that every single person will experience at some point in their lives and the team at Midlands Science is delighted to be teaming up once again with Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) during Science Week to deliver a very insightful talk on the whole are of pain, pain relief and the science behind it all. We spoke to key speaker Gary Stack, Lecturer in the Department of Nursing and Healthcare at AIT to find out more…
Gary, firstly can you give us an insight to your own role and background? What courses do you teach?
I completed my undergraduate degree in pharmacy in Trinity College Dublin in 2006.  Following graduation, I worked as a community pharmacist.  Practising as a community pharmacist involved more than dispensing medicines to patients.  It meant that I was in a position to ensure medicines were being used appropriately to achieve best patient outcomes.  While working in the community, I decided to return to Trinity College where I undertook a PhD developing new drugs for the treatment of cancer. This was an area close to my heart and provided me with the opportunity to explore a new facet of healthcare.  Following completion of my postgraduate studies, I began working as a lecturer in Athlone Institute of Technology.  I teach students on the pharmacy technician, dental nursing, general and psychiatric nursing and pharmaceutical science programmes.  This role allows me to share my knowledge and experience with the next generation of healthcare professionals and scientists, and also allows me to pursue my interest in research.
 
What led you to explore the world of learning about pain management?
Pain is such a broad topic and can range from a tooth-ache to severe and debilitating back pain. As a community pharmacist, I have spent many days helping people to choose the right solution for their symptoms. By understanding more about the science of pain and the medicines we use to treat it, people can be empowered to make better choices for their own healthcare.
Some people take over the counter products such as ibuprofen to treat everyday aches and pains, but how exactly do different classes of pain relievers actually work in the body?
There are a number of over-the-counter products to treat aches and pains.  The most common painkillers available without a prescription include: ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol and codeine.  Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory painkiller, which belongs to a class of medicines called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  Ibuprofen works by reducing the production of prostaglandins, chemicals that cause pain and inflammation. Aspirin and paracetamol work in a similar way to ibuprofen.  Codeine works in a different way and acts in the brain and spinal cord, leading to pain relief.  As there are different classes of pain killers, I would recommend that patients always discuss their pain and treatment options with their pharmacist or doctor.
Some painkillers can provide temporary relief for pain, but often use comes with undesirable side-effects -What pain medications are truly addictive?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a 100% safe medication. Every medicine has its own combination of side effects. Opioids are the class of drugs that have the potential to cause dependence (also known as addiction). Opioids include morphine and the more widely available drug, codeine. While these medications can provide effective pain relief, they should always be used under the supervision of a doctor or pharmacist.
Is it true that we develop a tolerance to pain medication overtime?
It is possible to become tolerant to pain medication overtime. This most commonly occurs with the opioid class of painkillers. This means that a person may find they need to take greater amounts of the drug to achieve the same pain relief. However, patients should never exceed the recommended dosage of any medicine and any changes in dose should always be carried out in consultation with the patient’s doctor or pharmacist.
What can we do to encourage more young people to consider Nursing as a course or future career choice?
It is essential to encourage young people to consider healthcare courses such as Nursing, Pharmacy Technician and Dental Nursing when deciding on their future careers. Working in these professions is incredibly rewarding and essential for the future of the healthcare system.  There are a number of ways to attract students into these courses.  Firstly, early intervention is essential so that young people are informed about these careers in secondary school.  Athlone Institute of Technology, for example, promotes long term student recruitment by organising a series of interactive open days, which provides students with a valuable insight into these healthcare courses.  Secondly, there is often a perception that nursing and related courses are female-dominated and consequently, male students are sometimes unenthusiastic about joining these professions.  By removing this stigma, I’m sure it will encourage more men into nursing and related careers and ensure greater gender balance in the healthcare system of the future.
Check out our events page for more details-
Painkillers – the good, the bad and the ugly
Nov 14th – 1:00 pm – 1:45 pm Athlone Library, Athlone Civic Centre, Church Street

We’re Here to Inspire….

Midlands Science is pleased to be teaming up with Birr Castle Demense & Science Centre this year to deliver some exciting workshops for a number of fortunate Midland students during Science Week.
The interactive Science centre at Birr Castle reveals the wonders of early photography, engineering and astronomy with a special emphasis on the brilliant design and assembly of the world famous Great Telescope. We caught up with Alison Delaney, Education Officer with Birr Castle Demense & Science Centre to talk about what we can look forward to this November and to learn a little bit more about what is offered at the castle itself….

Alison, we are delighted that you will be taking part in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Can you tell us a bit about Birr Castle, its focus on science activities and what you will be providing during Science Week 2018?
Thanks very much, Gillian. There has been a castle on this site in Co. Offaly since early medieval times, but it was really when the Parsons family arrived in Birr in 1620 that the castle started to develop into what it is today. The Parsons family have been resident at the castle for nearly 400 years, Lord Brendan and Lady Alison Rosse being the current owners. The family are known as a Family of Inventors and have achieved some remarkable things over the years. The third Earl of Rosse was responsible for designing and building the world-famous telescope the Leviathan, his wife Mary Rosse became known as Ireland’s first female photographer and the dark room in which she worked was painstakingly moved piece by piece from the castle to its current location in the Science Centre here, it’s believed to be the oldest complete dark room in the world. One of their sons, Laurence invented the Lunar Heat Machine that was able to accurately measure the temperature of the moon for the first time. Another of their sons invented the steam powered turbine which was used in ships like the Titanic and the Dreadnought. The current Earl, his mother and father share a passion for horticulture and have developed the 120 acres of magnificent gardens within the Demesne. There’s such a richness of scientific history at Birr Castle that it’s a real pleasure to be able to draw upon these achievements to share and inspire others.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that with the workshops and events that are run throughout the year but, more specifically, with the interesting programme of activities we have for Science Week this year. Two fantastic workshops are being run as part of the Midlands Science Festival, the first is called, “Da Vinci – Inventing the Impossible,” where the artist Paul Timoney, dressed in character along with his Mona Lisa, explores how art can be used to develop ideas. How by using both detailed, accurate observation and the freedom of expression and imagination incredible scientific progress can be made. The other is a photography workshop being run by Veronica Nicholson. We’re going to visit the dark room in the Science Centre and then discover the impact of light in an expressive photography session. We’ll be learning how to literally draw shapes using light. Continuing on from the Festival, we’re also running further workshops for both schools and families entitled, “Common Sense.” We’ll be looking at how our senses work in isolation and experimenting to see how good they actually are and how we compare against the rest of the animal world. Bit of a spoiler here, we’re not as good as we think we are! It’s a really fun, fully immersive workshop and I’m looking forward to running that during the week.

The Astronomy of Birr Castle is one of its greatest attractions. It is unusual for a Castle in the centre of Ireland to have become a great centre of astronomical discovery. Can you give us some background on this and how it evolved?

Yes, that’s right during the late 1800’s Birr Castle was very well known within astronomical circles worldwide. This was seen as the place to study the distant features of the universe. It was William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse that set himself the challenge of investigating the universe. He definitely had an unconventional education in that he was tutored at home with a solid focus on maths and engineering, but it was exactly this type of education that enabled him to achieve the extraordinary feat of building the moveable Great Leviathan 72” telescope which was the biggest telescope in the world for nearly 75 years. Lord Rosse initially used 18” and 36” telescopes through which he was able to observe the moon in greater detail than ever before but he realised he needed more light to see further into the universe to study star clusters and nebulae. It took him three years to design and build the telescope but what he found was worth waiting for, he discovered the spiral nature of galaxies. His original charcoal drawings of his discoveries are on display here, he was incredibly accurate with them.
I do also want to mention the third Earl’s eldest son Laurence, because he contributed greatly to astronomy too which was probably pretty inevitable given his upbringing amongst telescopes and astronomers. He was particularly interested in the moon and, towards the end of his life, built the Lunar Heat Machine which is on display in our Science Centre. He was able to accurately measure the heat of the moon using this machine, but it was only 80 years later, after the moon landings, that his calculations were verified and he was believed. There is a letter from Neil Armstrong on display next to the machine thanking the Parsons family for their extraordinary contributions to astronomy and scientific exploration.
Last year Birr became the home of another great astronomical project called I-LOFAR. To me it doesn’t look as visually impressive as the Leviathan, but the fact that it’s capable of ground breaking research in modern astronomy certainly makes up for that. It’s one of a network of radio telescopes that is connected to a further eleven stations in Europe and makes for one very, very large telescope, it is therefore capable of capturing some pretty unique data. It’s an exciting time for Irish astronomy and wonderful that such a significant project is located at Birr Castle Gardens and continuing in the great tradition that is very much a part of the fabric here.

What is your own background? Did you study science at university?

I didn’t come from a science background at all so it’s very interesting that I have now found myself in a position where I love teaching it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career when I was at school, I’m still unsure how it’s even possible to know given that many career options are so far removed from a school curriculum and experience at that time. I had an interest in astronomy thanks to a primary school teacher that used to run an evening club for 6th class. I didn’t get the chance to explore that in any great detail at secondary school but kept an interest throughout. I think astronomy is universally the most interesting, wonderful, inspiring and terrifying of the science subjects. The stereotype, however, that you had to have the genius intelligence of Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton or a rocket scientist to choose that as an option at university made it a non-starter for me. I also had a huge interest in wildlife but studying biology was closed to me as I refused to dissect animals – it was a compulsory part of the curriculum at the time. That one decision has definitely altered my career path and it’s a shame that pursuing a genuine interest wasn’t available to me on an academic level because I was expected to do something I was very uncomfortable with. I may well have gone on to study zoology or ecology at university just because I was interested rather than because I had a career path mapped out. I was drawn to creative artsy subjects at school and chose subjects based on this and my like of the teacher of those subjects. I’m sure I’m not alone in that! I eventually found my way into teaching via Theology and Philosophy degrees and so I could argue that I did study science at university, just not in a conventional way. I qualified as both a primary and secondary school teacher, but decided that I was more drawn to the variety of primary teaching and spent a very happy twelve years in the classroom. My love of wildlife, botany and ecology continued throughout the years and I was appointed the environmental education co-ordinator at the school in which I was teaching. In 2012, I became a Head Guide with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a door that closed all those years ago was reopened. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching groups about our native flora and fauna in Ireland and, as a part of the Frontier Bushcraft team in the UK, teaching groups about how to appreciate and utilise these as resources for living comfortably within the natural environment. Living, sleeping and working outside for many weeks at a time really gives you a unique connection to the natural world and our place within it. It’s actually amazing how our bodies and senses adapt back to a more primitive state under these conditions and that’s something we explore in “Common Sense” the Science Week workshop we’re running this year. We explore the limitations of our senses, how they’re numbed by the modern environment we live in, and how we can train ourselves to refine our senses to be more nature aware. I feel so fortunate to have been appointed as the new Educational Development Officer here at Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre in July of this year. It’s a brand new post and a big exciting challenge. I can share my passion for biodiversity and the natural world in the 120 acres of gardens, arboretum and river walks developed by generations of the Parsons family. It’s astonishing what an oasis the demesne is for both native and non-native species. Really incredible. The historical and modern links to Irish astronomy from this site and all that offers from an educational perspective are unparalleled in Ireland. We have the oldest complete dark room in the world within the Science Centre here; a rich history of engineering achievements, actually a rich history full-stop. So, although I didn’t study science at university, I’m fully immersed in it now and loving it.

What experiences in school or otherwise influenced you to pursue a career in science?
Rather than encouraging me to pursue a career in science, I feel that my experiences in school achieved exactly the opposite. The lessons were formal, stiff and irrelevant. No obvious connections were made between science and everyday life and I remember my lessons at the time as being saturated with rights and wrongs with no room for manoeuvre. Doesn’t all science start with curiosity and a question? I never got that at school. It seemed that science was taught in a historical, fact heavy way and it wasn’t presented in a way that I could connect with, it was difficult to understand and boring. There were students that enjoyed maths and science and others that enjoyed English and art and never the twain shall meet. The cross curricular links were never highlighted, it’s not that they didn’t exist rather that subjects were defined, prescribed and separate. I think schools have become better at the merging of subjects and proactively searching for links between them. I think this immediately makes subjects more accessible to all students that may have previously boxed subjects into likes and dislikes. I particularly like that the Da Vinci workshop running here for Science Week is removing these boundaries that I experienced and embracing the connections between art, science and progress. Now that I’m involved in the teaching of science, I actually think that my negative experiences of learning science at school have enabled me to teach it better. I remember leaving science classes thinking, “So what? Why do I need to know this? It doesn’t mean anything to me,” so I now try to ensure that every workshop and lesson I deliver is engaging, accessible, inclusive and relevant. Encouraging curiosity, discovery and relating things back to modern life and keeping things interesting is something I work very hard on. It’s always nice to learn when you don’t know you’re learning. We’re here to inspire and we’re never going to achieve that if we’re only reaching out to a handful of people in each workshop that have an interest in “Chemistry,” “Physics” and “Biology.”

What do you think we can be doing to inspire and encourage more young people to choose science as a subject and indeed as a third level college choice?

One of the biggest barriers, and certainly it would be applicable to me, would be the thought that science in secondary school and beyond is difficult, boring and hard to relate to. It’s conducted by people that speak an intimidating scientific language in white lab coats and goggles in a sterile lab, obviously that’s not always the case, but I do think it’s still a common perception. So many people are challenging these preconceptions and working hard to get the message out there that science can be cool and varied and interesting. In my experience, children are unfailingly enthusiastic about partaking in science experiments and demonstrations, but it’s important for them to realise that science isn’t all fun and games like workshops often suggest, getting their attention in this manner is a good starting point to pique interest though and demonstrate possibilities within the blanket term, “science.” There are more opportunities than ever before for children to access science through interesting festivals, STEM week programmes, teachers getting involved in CPD etc and these opportunities might allow some of the themes to land in a meaningful and life changing way. Also, echoing what I said earlier, linking the arts to science is something that is very important, it can broaden the reach of the subject in so many ways, I know there’s a lot of people focussing on this right now and I’m really enjoying hearing about how they’re achieving it. Our Da Vinci event ticks all the right boxes there. Very young children are naturally curious and constantly ask the question, “Why?” Does this eagerness of discovery wane a little at school? It’s something we need to encourage for sure, the relatability and the asking of questions and guiding them to explore and discover the answers and continuing this through all levels of education. I do think that students can become accustomed to learning what other people think and what other people have discovered, but if they can ask questions that resonate with them and reach beyond that, there’s exciting stuff to be found there.

Can Science help Golfers Improve their Shot?

Did you know that hitting a powerful drive on the golf course takes more than just strength and coordination, it also require some physics! This year, we have decided to do something very different and delve deep into the science behind one of the most popular sporting games in the world. We caught up with our keynote speaker, Ian Kenny, to find out more in advance.

Ian, we are delighted to be hosting something very unique for this year’s Midlands Science Festival and we would like to welcome you as one of our key speakers for our public talk which is entitled the Science of Golf.  Can you tell us about your own background?

I am originally from Co Antrim. Golf has not always been my main interest, having enjoyed competing in long jump internationally for Northern Ireland and Ireland in my teens and twenties. I studied for a BSc in Sport Sciences at Ulster University and in my final year really concentrated on biomechanics, which is the study of the application of physics to human movement, forces and movement patterns. Good grades and a continued interest in biomechanics then led me to receive a joint PhD scholarship from Ulster University and the R&A St Andrews, to study the biomechanical and performance effects of long drivers. The golf equipment rule limiting drivers to 48” (1.22 m) length was part of that work.

I am now a senior lecturer in biomechanics at the University of Limerick, having moved there in 2007. I teach functional anatomy and biomechanics to students on several UL courses including the BSc Sport and Exercise Sciences, and the BSc in Physical Education. My research covers many aspects of biomechanics within sports performance and sports medicine and I supervise the work of PhD students studying running mechanics, golf movement, and Rugby injuries.

Would you say there is science involved in day-to-day golf?

My view is that the science involved should help the game, protect the rules and should make the game enjoyable for all playing levels and ages. Professional golfers on tour account for less than 0.1% of the estimated 32 million golfers worldwide, so the arguments about the demise of the game in terms of long drive shots due to equipment advances really do not have much effect on the playing masses. The top 30 golfers on the PGA tour on average only hit the fairway from a drive two out of every three shots!

Science is involved in work by manufacturers of clubs and balls concerning materials, feel, acoustics, and shot measurement, it is involved in the biomechanics of coaching, nutrition and physiological effects, psychological preparation, and also conditioning and training principles.

A good example of a really useful scientific input is club fitting. After a golfer learns the swing basics and plays the game for a while, club fitting by a club coach or pro will assess swing characteristics such as swing speed and ball rotation speed, and match a club type to your own swing and ball speed. The coach will normally use Doppler radar technology within a launch monitor to assess those characteristics. A slower swing should be matched with a more flexible club shaft, giving a little more club head speed to the shot while maintaining control. The aim here is to help golfers enjoy the game by hitting well and consistently, rather than play with clubs not suited to them.

A golf ball has hundreds of small impressions, or dimples, on its surface. What is the reason for this? Does it affect the ball’s flight?

Put simply, dimples makes them fly further, usually 200 yards (183 m) further for an elite golfer.

The flow of air round an object can be described as either laminar or turbulent flow: smooth or choppy air flow. Laminar flow past a round shape will result in the separation of the flow behind the ball – the flow of the air will stream outwards behind the object, like the way that ripples spread apart behind a duck or boat on the water. Laminar flow is perfect for sports like cycling or speed skating where fast movement and little drag is important.

Flow of air around a rough shape, like a spinning dimpled golf ball, will be turbulent and although this can generate more drag, the air flow sticks to the surface and separates much less easily. This means that dimpled balls overall cause the least disruption of the air and travel much more efficiently and further.

In golf it’s all about the direction and distance the ball flies. Golf balls are designed to react differently to swing speed, typical spin rates and ground conditions. A drive shot will have a relatively low backspin rate giving the ball more flight distance but an iron shot will produce much higher ball spin and aid control of the ball when it lands on the green. Balls are made from a variety of materials and in a range of methods, to provide more desirable flight characteristics, to meet the needs of both professionals and amateurs.

All golf shots have backspin which is when the ball rotates backwards along a horizontal axis in a direction opposite to its flight path. Backspin allows the air around a dimpled ball to travel with it in a direction that creates a pocket of low pressure at the top and high pressure at the bottom. It is easier for an object to move from an area of high to low pressure therefore the ball will lift and there is flight, until the spin degenerates sufficiently that the weight of the ball overcomes lift and brings it back to earth.

Why do you think national events like Science Week are so important?

I believe it is really important for people to avoid what I call the ‘black box scenario’. This is where people take no notice of the science and technology involved in everything around them, from the electronics coding needed in the software that sends e-mails, to the compound design of car tyre rubber, to the material used in a golf driver! Seamless integration of science and technology into our lives is welcome, but a little understanding of what goes into product development for either performance or health and safety reasons is a good thing for everyone, and especially for the school-age generation it will aid inquisition and interest for future product, health or computing developments.