Mullingar Students Explore Science at the Royal College of Surgeons

As part of the ongoing work of local development company, Midlands Science, to promote science education in the Midlands, a group of transition year students from Loreto College, Mullingar recently visited The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Centre for Systems Medicine (CSM) Research Laboratory. This event was co-ordinated by Dr Helena Bonner Scientific Liaison Officer CSM, RCSI and Ms Pauline Nally of Midlands Science.

Students were welcomed by Head Porter, Mr Frank Donegan who gave them a historical tour of RCSI.
Other highlights from the day included students observing brain cancer cells under the microscope and learning about different forms of cancer. They also heard from our researchers about their projects including epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases. Students also received a lecture on how research has changed in recent years with a special focus on communication and collaborative skills, being an important aspect of the job.

Professor Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology and Medical Physics & Director for the Centre for Systems Medicine, RCSI said, “I am delighted to welcome the students to RCSI and the CSM laboratories. Hopefully they got a real experience for what life is like for scientific researchers and perhaps it will lead to them considering a career in scientific research”.

Special thanks to the following researchers for volunteering to take part in this event: Dr Beatrice D’Orsi, Dr Catriona Dowling, Dr Teresa Moloney, Dr Isabela Aparicio and head porter Mr. Frank Donegan.

RCSI is ranked 46th in the world for ‘International Outlook’ and #251 – 300 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2015-2016). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said, “We feel that a true understanding of science involves whole-life learning beyond the confines of any classroom. It is so important that when learning science it includes innovation, up to date resources, engagement and partnerships which enable the students to connect learning to actual real-world situations. With this in mind we place a strong emphasis on mentoring from role models and champions in order to encourage and nurture curiosity about science and a visit like this is an ideal way to achieve this.”

No two days are the same!

Helena bonner picWe are delighted to be welcoming Dr. Helena Bonner from the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) to the Midlands this year, where she will provide a valuable careers talk to a very lucky secondary school in the region. We caught up with Dr. Bonner in advance of the festival to find out more.

What inspired you to pursue a career in a science related field?

I had a great science teacher who was really passionate about the subject. I also just liked the sciences more than any other subject so I enjoyed studying it.

What is your role at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI)?

I have an exciting job in that no two days are the same. My background is in Neuroscience (the study of the brain and the nervous system). We are interested in what happens in the cells of the brain (neuronal cells) before they die as a results of brain damage due to a stroke, for example. This damage occurs when the neuronal cells get deprived of blood, which contains oxygen and nutrients. This leads to a series of events that lead to the death of the cells. We are trying to find out how they die and how we could potentially stop that process. At the moment, I am also working on trying to see into tissues more clearly. When you are trying to look deeper into the cells and vessels of tissues using a high spec microscope, there is a lot of fat in the way. We want to get rid of that fat without damaging the tissue so we can see the cells and vessels more clearly. Our main tissues of interest are the brain, spinal cord and the pancreas. This is a long process that demands patience but when it works, it gives you a lot of information and beautiful images.

Other aspects of my job include organising outreach programmes where students come into RCSI and have a tour of the labs and speak with researchers. We also hold a three day programme for TY students who learn about what it’s like to work in a lab and experience what it is like to do research as a career. I also go out to schools around the country and give science career talks to TY, 5th and 6th year students.

Why is it important for the RCSI to take part in events such as the Midlands Science Festival?

RCSI is a well known medical school in the heart of Dublin city but we also have an expanding research institute that will always be looking out for talented science, technology and engineering and math (STEM) graduates to work or pursue their postgraduate studies here. It’s important for us to reach out to these graduates so that they know we exist and to inform them on what type of research is being undertaken at RCSI and to encourage them to pursue these exciting careers.

Are there are any specific challenges for women in science now?

The biggest challenge most women in science face is trying to balance a career with motherhood. Many women feel they have to have kids before they get too old and there isn’t enough time or money to do both without some form of support (like childcare or research grants). And compared to their competitors, who can work longer hours and attend more conferences, some women don’t have the qualifications to get high up positions. But this challenge for women can also occur in other fields and not just science.

What is your favourite science fact?

The brain of an adult human weighs around 3 pounds (1.5 kg). Although it makes up just 2% of the body’s weight, it uses around 20% of its energy.

Inspiring Science Speakers set for Midlands Classrooms


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

Jackie Gorman, Director of the Midlands Science Festival said,

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

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