Guts, Enthusiasm and Perspective …That’s what it takes!

fergus picWe are really excited to see UCC PhD Famelab candidate Fergus McAuliffe in action at our special Famelab event in Co.Laois during Science Week. Fergus won both the Irish and international competition in 2013. His presentation challenged human definition of life and death, using the biology of a wood frog.

Fergus, can you tell us a bit about why you love science and what inspired you to study it?

I always had a natural curiosity for science. When I was young facts and figures is what I thrived on. But as you grown up and study science you realise that it is not all about facts and figures. These details are now just a google away so we no longer need to spend ages trying to learn and remember them. What is much more important is how you go about science. What decisions will you make? What time will you give to it? What are the results likely to be? This decision making process is what I love about doing science now.

Why are science and technology so important in today’s society?

You are reading what I wrote on a computer. Without science, technology and a large dash of curiosity this computer would not exist. The work that scientists and engineers do is incredibly important to modern life. In fact, without their work, modern life would probably not be very modern!

What area of science are you most passionate about and why?

I like environmental and earth science. Simply put, we have only one earth. We must sustainably live here. This is why I chose to study environmental science at UCC where I got a lot of exposure to how we can best manage the resources that we have such as water and land. I then did my PhD, also in environmental science, on the use of trees to sustainably clean wastewater to protect the environment. Now I work in the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences. This centre carries out work in to securing supply of energy for Ireland and how we can best manage our raw materials and water resources.

What does it take to be a good science communicator and why is it a vital skill to have?

Top 3 things to have:

1. Guts – you need to be brave enough to go on stage!

2. Enthusiasm – when you speak you must show enthusiasm and passion. Otherwise people will get bored of listening to you.

3. Perspective – can you put yourself in the shoes of the man on the street to make sure that the public will understand the science that you are explaining.

Bone-Chilling Science for Halloween

abbie hallloweenHalloween is the season for all our mini witches, ghosts and goblins to take to the streets, asking for treats, performing scary poems and song and scaring one another senseless. Spooky stories are told around fires or at bedtime, fun times are had dressing up and partying at school, scary movies are shown in cinemas around the country and pumpkins are carved into lanterns. The tradition is believed to have come from Ireland, where they used to carve faces into turnips, beet and other root vegetables as part of the Gaelic festival of Samhain.

Amid all the fun and celebration about the fact that everybody is on mid-term break, the origins of Halloween are often overlooked but it really is about much more than fake blood- stained costumes and monkey nuts.

Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, can be traced back about 2,000 years to a pre-Christian Celtic festival held around Nov. 1 called Samhain which means “summer’s end” in Gaelic, according to the Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries. This was known to some as a safe time to commune with the dead..People would gather together and light huge fires to ward off bad fortune for the coming year and any evil spirits.

Here are fearsome facts to keep your little horrors entertained…

The word “witch” comes from the Old English wicce, meaning “wise woman.” In fact, wiccan were highly respected people at one time.

The largest pumpkin ever measured was grown by Norm Craven, who broke the world record in 1993 with a 836 lb. pumpkin

Trick-or-treating evolved from the ancient Celtic tradition of putting out treats and food to placate spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain

Black and orange are typically associated with Halloween. Orange is a symbol of strength and endurance and, along with brown and gold, stands for the harvest and autumn. Black is typically a symbol of darkness and acts as a reminder that Halloween once was a festival that marked the boundaries between life and death.

Halloween is thought to have originated around 4000 B.C., which means Halloween has been around for over 6,000 years.

One of the scariest of the last few decades is making its way back to cinemas this year!. John Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween is going to be showing at a selection of cinemas around the country – Go if you dare!!

Bringing Energy Education to Life…

SEAIWe are delighted to welcome Nuala Flanagan from the Irish Peatland Conservation Council to this year’s Midlands Science festival…

Can you tell us what the IPCC do and a bit about your role?

The IPCC or Irish Peatland Conservation Council is a charity that was set up to conserve a sample of Irish peatlands for future generations to energy. Peatlands are a wetland habitat in Ireland and in the midlands we find our raised bog habitat. Peatlands have many wondeful benefits to us all from their use as an amenity for walking, for the unique wildlife they support, their ability to store carbon and their water regulating functions. However we use the peat beneath the living surface of a peatland as a domestic fuel called turf, we burn it to make electricity and use it as a growing medium in our gardens. The peatlands in the midlands of Ireland have been forming for 10,000 years since the last Ice Age and the rate we are cutting them is far quicker then they could ever grow back. As Environmental Education Officer with the Irish Peatland Conservation Council my role involves working with schools, community groups and members of the public to raise awareness for the need to conserve a sample of these wonderful wet and wild peatland habitats in Ireland.

What type of workshops will you be bringing to Midlands classrooms this year?

As we burn peat in our peat burning electricity stations the Irish Peatland Conservation Council have partnered with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to promote cleaner alternative ways of generating electricity. By choosing alternative cleaner means of generating electricity we will be helping to protect the peatland habitats of Ireland as we will no longer need to harvest the peat for burning in electricity stations. Peat can be described as a fossil fuel and when burnt it releases carbon disoxide into our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that is causing our climate to change at a much quicker rate than ever before recorded. Climate change will affect us all so this year I will delivering energy workshops to students promoting simple ways we can conserve energy at school and home and introduce some renewable technologies developed to generate electricity.

Do you have a central location and what types of activities can the public access there?

Yes I am based at the Bog of Allen Nature Centre a centre of excellence in peatland edcation, conservation and research aswell as one of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s regional education centres. W are open to members of the public all year round and offer educational visits to groups. We are open Monday to Friday from 10am-4pm and visitors can expect a guided tour of our peatland exhibition promoting all aspects of the wild and wet peatlands of Ireland, visitors can also explore the largest insect eating plant display in Ireland and the UK in the wildlife gardens of the centre or take time out and visit Lodge Bog an example of a raised bog habitat. School groups can also expect hands on activities such as pond dipping, nature crafts, energy workshops or frog and newt searches.

How can we make science more fun and engaging for young people do you think?

Science is about investigating the world around us and to engage young people with science we must make it hands on. For example when young people study living things we must take time out of the classroom and explore the natural world in our local community this may be as a simple as taking students outside to the school garden or local parkland and searching for invertebrates.

You are also representing The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland at some school events this year Nuala and we are delighted about that! What types of workshops to you facilitate in this role?

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland workshops are about engaging young people with energy and raising awareness that most of our electrical energy is generated in Ireland by burning fossil fuels. These fossil fuels release many gases including carbon dioxide which is causing our climate to change at a much quicker rate then ever recorded, Many of us do not think of climate change on a daily basis but it will have an impact on all of us. I will be working with primary and post primary students delivering the SEAI energy workshops which will engage the participants in a hands on practical workshop learning about energy conservation and alternative cleaner renewable ways to generate electricity

Why is it important to educate young people about energy issues?

Climate Change will affect all of us for example farmers produce our food that we eat providing us with energy. If the weather changes it will be much harder to plan for the planting, growing and harvesting season therefore our food supplies may be affected. We will experience changes in our weather for example think back to 2010 and the very long and cold winter we experienced and compare this to last Christmas a much milder year. We can all make a change to help our climate and young people are tomorrows leaders so ensuring they understand energy and climate change will help them to make better and more informed decisions in the future.

We are very excited about these new and fresh workshops for 2015!

Counting Down to the Midlands Science Festival 2015

Eddie, Gill, JackieAs Science Week grows closer with under two weeks to go, the Midlands Science Festival team spearheaded by local development company, Atlantic Corridor is gearing up to provide an array of exciting and innovative science events across four counties. In this the year of Irish Design, Science Week 2015 celebrates the deep connection between science and design. Medical devices, technological appliances and research apparatus demonstrate how closely these two fields are intertwined. Science Week 2.0 urges young people to actively ‘Design your Future’ by engaging with science disciplines and embarking on exciting and fulfilling careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Coordinated by SFI Discover, the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland, Science Week will run from 8th – 15th November 2015.

The week-long festival will highlight how science, technology, engineering and mathematics are fundamental to everyday life, and demonstrate STEMs importance to the future development of our society and economy. The annual festival of events, activities, demonstrations, talks and interactive shows is thanks to the collaborative work of volunteers, teachers, researchers, scientists and fans of the wonderful world of science. Communities all around Ireland – including schools, colleges, universities, research institutes, businesses and libraries – will take part in Science Week 2.0.

Ian Robertson is a Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and Ian will speak at an event entitled ‘The Mind, the Body, the Universe’ on Friday, November 13th and he commented,

‘Trinity College Dublin is pleased to be associated with local and national activities that encourage people of all ages to engage with STEM and we are really excited to be involved with the 2015 Midland Science Festival. It is my pleasure a key speaker at one of the main public events during this week as we would like to do all we can to work towards inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. Don’t miss out on what promises to be a really informative and fun-filled week for all.’

Many of the global medical technologies and pharmaceutical companies now have a dedicated presence in Ireland and throughout Science Week people will be able to learn more about what kind of science-related jobs would potentially be available to them in the future. High-value career guidance advice into the world of technology and innovation will be delivered during the festival by leading scientists and expert technology speakers.
Science Week is a free, family-friendly, programme of events which allows people of all ages to discover something new, participate in a large number of hands-on science and technology activities and see a whole host of live performances by science enthusiasts and communicators.

In particular, we want to ensure that we are really focusing on the younger audiences as research tells us that the earlier we can get into classrooms to start promoting science, the better. We are
really pleased to have the Reptile Zoo back again to entertain children with a variety of exotic animals and the Irish Wildlife Trust and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland who will be teaching children about environmental awareness through participation in a range of games and activities.

We are also very excited about bringing the Exploration Dome to a Midlands primary school where pupils will learn about earth science, maths and astronomy and there are lots more workshops, shows and surprises from star gazing to sea creatures right across the region this November. As well as celebrating science in schools we intend to provide some really unique and inspiring events for the general public too and more news on this will follow in the weeks ahead.

Jackie Gorman, Director of the Midlands Science Festival said,
‘The main objective here 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 us and it actually has an impact on our daily lives. We want people to talk about science even if they sometimes don’t realise that’s what they are doing! It’s in everything from our i-pads to our vegetables. It’s about creating greater interest in science education and careers which of course benefits the Midlands region. We can look forward to an exciting week in November with about 90 science events across the Midlands counties this year. Please keep an eye our website in the weeks ahead for details.

Famelab returns to the Midlands!

Suzanne DunneWe are delighted to be bringing Famelab back to the region this year for a special event which will take place in Mountmellick Library for students on Friday 13th November. We caught up with one of the Famelab performers to hear more…

Suzanne Dunne is a microbiologist who has also dabbled in a bit of molecular biology. A few years ago, she made the leap back into research and in 2014 she completed a PhD with the Graduate Entry Medical School in the University of Limerick.

What first inspired you to pursue a career in science?

I don’t know that my goal was ever to pursue a specific career in science. All I know was that from an early age I always wanted to know how things worked – and that curiosity, I think, leads you towards wanting to study science – or at least it did for me. So I followed my interests and curiosity and did my first degree – a Batchelor of Science. I ended up majoring in microbiology and minoring in biochemistry because those subjects appealed to my interest in how the human body worked and particularly in relation to how illnesses and diseases were caused. Because if you understand the cause, it’s a big step on the way to finding a cure. And of course as a microbiologist you also learn how to make interesting things like yoghurt and beer and antibiotics!

From there, I was offered the chance to do a Master of Science degree by research and I worked in the area of host-microbe interactions for two years. This work moved me more into the area of molecular biology, which is an understanding of how illness (amongst many other things) works at the molecular level. When I finished this degree I got a job in the pharmaceutical industry – due to the expertise I had gained in both of these degrees – and while I started off working in a lab, I have moved into many different areas over the years and I now work in Quality Management and Regulatory Compliance.

Some of the experiences I had during my time in industry sparked another curiosity in me and led me to eventually returning to University to pursue a PhD (which is a doctorate degree), which I was awarded that at the end of last year. For this degree I did research into usage of, and opinions towards, generic medicines, and also on the accuracy and availability of medical and healthcare information that is available to people on the Internet. Some of the work that I’ve published in this area has been quite influential and was recently presented to the Irish government and to the EU Commission. Also, a recent report from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health on the cost of prescription medicines in Ireland was directly informed by my research, and my work led to three of the recommendations made in this report. As most scientists aim to see their work have some impact in the world, having my research directly influence government policy and decision making is something I’m very proud of, and if I’d never made the choice to study science in University, I would never have been able to do that.

Suzanne, why are you such a firm believer that science should be communicated in as fun and audience-friendly a manner as possible?

I think that sometimes people are a bit afraid of science because they think that it’s complicated and will be too difficult to understand – but a lot of the time this isn’t the case at all. It’s a bit like speaking another language – if you don’t speak French, you might not understand what’s happening when you visit Paris – so if you haven’t studied science you might find it difficult to understand because science has a language of its own. But that’s not to say that it can’t be translated.

So, for me at least, that’s where making science ‘audience friendly’ comes into science communication – that translation from science-ese into English. And so many aspects of science can be amazing and even mind-blowing – those ‘wow’ moments when you discover something new or find out something you’d been curious about for ages. When you see how amazing technology can be or when you can have a greater understanding of how the universe works – or even how we, as humans, work. In fact, some of the most amazing science, in my opinion, is in biology (although I also have a love of physics – even though I don’t understand a lot of it!). Some of the best science isn’t just fascinating – it’s also disgusting , but in a good way! And if you’re into icky side of things, you’ll have to come along to the talk I’ll be giving at the Midlands Science Festival where I’ll be telling everyone about fascinating, yet icky, science at its best!

What can we do to encourage more people to study science?

I think that humans are naturally curious, and it’s that curiosity that has led to all of our scientific and technological advancement. Someone seeing something and wondering “Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if…” or “I wonder how that works…” and the like. So encouraging that natural curiosity in school would help. And also de-mystifying STEM subjects and topics and improving exposure to good science communication might also be a good path to take in this regard.

Also, I think there’s a bit of a misperception out there that science is ‘hard’ and studying it means that students might be more open to failure, but I don’t think that’s the case. Having science festivals like the Midland’s Festival can only help in dispelling such myths and getting today’s students – who are tomorrow’s scientists – to see that science is about curiosity and exploration. It doesn’t matter, for example, if you’re not good at maths, not all science is mathematical in basis; and besides which most scientists work in teams so if you need to do statistics, for example, for a project, then chances are you can ask a statistician to help you – and not have to worry about doing the stats yourself, if that’s not your cup of tea. Science is varied and multidisciplinary, so scientists must be varied and multidisciplinary people – and once you find the area of science that you love and want to pursue, it won’t be hard, it will just be amazing. (although there may be a tough exam or two along the way…)

Tell us about your exploration into the inner workings of the pharmaceutical industry and how the medicines we take are regulated and manufactured? What was most interesting about this?

I’ve worked in many different areas within the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry for nearly 20 years. So this means that I’ve gained a really good knowledge about how our medicines are invented, developed, approved for use, manufactured and monitored. I’m not sure if I could pick one area that I found most interesting, but generic medicines and the similarities and differences between them and proprietary (or brand-name) medicines is part the space that I worked in for my PhD, so that must have been one of them!

What is quite interesting in this industry is to get the see the enormous amount of work that has to be done – often over many years – to get a new drug onto the market. And also the work that happens at a regulatory level – on a national and international basis – to ensure that our medicines are safe and effective. I recently had the privilege, though having been involved with FameLab, to present my research at an EU Commission conference which was held to celebrate 50 years of pharmaceutical legislation in Europe. That meeting gave me a much fuller appreciation for all of the people whose work is all about making sure that our medicines are safe and effective, and that there are paths in place to get new medicines to patients for illnesses that might not have treatments available at present.

SCIENCE SUCCESS AT SCOIL MHUIRE FATIMA, TIMAHOE

callum copyThe Midlands Science Festival team was delighted to catch up with  Scoil Mhuire Fatima in Timahoe this week to hear all about some of the wonderful achievements the school has had in science in recent years. Heading into its third year, the Midlands Science Festival promises over 90 events across the region this November, making it the biggest and best science festival the region has seen yet.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Director said,

‘There is a long history of achievement in science and maths in Scoil Mhuire Fatima and we are delighted to have been able to work with the staff and pupils over the past few years bringing in events such as the Reptile Zoo Village and seeing the impact these type of events have made. We are looking forward to delivering another exciting science show for pupils this year which starts with heating and friction and seeing the colour of materials change with heat. Students will find out how planes fly with hovering sweets and balloon helicopters and they will also be exploring waves, rockets, air cannons and how to play musical instruments from twirling tubes to boom whackers and straw kazoos! It’s really all about making science fun for this age group and hoping that this will have an impact for future learning opportunities.’

‘Scoil Mhuire places vital importance on science and maths education and it has always been our goal to introduce an understanding of these critical subjects as early as possible in school. Once pupils gain an interest and appreciation of science through the more hands-on, fun activities and attending Midlands Science Festival events, it stays with them. It is so important to make sure we share our successes so all the projects we engage in are displayed for parents as well as students. The school has enjoyed an excellent reputation for science in recent years and we hope that by continuing to engage with the relevant competitions and these types of fun events, we will encourage many more of our students to consider science as a career option in their future years.’

Scoil Mhuire Fatima has been awarded the Excellence in Maths and Science award for the last 4 years and former young Scientist projects have included one on worms, one on the Timahoe Esker and another on linking wind and temperatures to predict weather. In addition, the school enjoyed the prize and title of ‘All Ireland winners of the Intel Mini Scientist’ last year with “Murderous Mascara’ which was a project by two 4th class pupils, Roisin Dunne and Jamie Boyle. This is the 4th year for the school to take part in Intel Mini Scientist and last year all of 4th class and their teachers were treated to a VIP visit to Intel in Leixlip.

An Insight to Health Psychology by Local Lass Sinead Malone..

Sinead maloneSinead you are originally from Tullamore in the Midlands but studied in Northern Ireland, what course did you choose in Belfast and why?

I chose to study for a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at Queens University in Belfast. I enjoyed science subjects while at school and was particularly interested in Psychology. I researched a few degree options and decided to also explore courses available through the UCAS system. When I got my leaving cert results I was lucky enough to have an offer to study psychology at NUI Galway and an offer for Belfast. I wish I could say my decision was based on a well thought out strategy or course content but in the end I just chose to go a bit further afield for an adventure!

I fully enjoyed my degree and Belfast was a fantastic city to be a student. I became particularly interested in the specific field of Health Psychology and later undertook a Masters degree in Health psychology at the University of the West of England. At that time Health psychology was quite a new discipline and there weren’t any Masters courses on offer in Ireland.

Can you tell us a little about what Health Psychology is?

Health psychology is the study and application of psychological theories and models to health, illness and healthcare. Health psychologists use their knowledge of psychology and health to promote general well-being and understand physical illness. They are specially trained to help people deal with the psychological and emotional aspects of health and illness as well as supporting people who are chronically ill.

Are there many different career options for people who complete this course?

People who are trained in health psychology can work in a variety of settings such as hospitals and community health trans, health research units, public health departments and university departments. Consultancy companies may also employ health psychologists to provide expertise such as training, research or intervention skills.

What is your current role?

I currently work within the Health and Social
Care system in Northern Ireland on a project to promote delivery of more integrated and personalised care for people with long term conditions.

What would you say to someone considering a career in science?

I would absolutely encourage people to progress a career in Science. It is a vast discipline which offers a huge range of career opportunities and has relevance to every aspect of life. The most exciting thing for me is that whatever aspect of Science you are involved in it is always evolving and changing so it never gets boring and there’s always more to learn and know!

Taking Science Outside..

IMG_4389We are huge fans of getting outdoors to explore the world of nature so we are delighted to announce a return trip to Lough Boora Parklands this year.

So, grab a warm coat and hat, don’t forget your camera and join us for a guided walk in the beautiful wetlands and wildlife wilderness of Lough Boora (see photo) during this year’s Midland’s Science Festival. The walk will take place on November 14th from 3:00pm until 4:30pm and will be led by some expert members of Bord na Mona’s ecology team. The walking group will meet at the newly established Visitor’s Centre and people of all ages will have the opportunity to explore Lough Boora’s diverse amenities, a range of walking landscapes and some of the most innovative land and environmental sculptures in Ireland.

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands, Lough Boora Discovery Park extends to over 2000 hectares and has a network of off-road walking and cycle routes within a perimeter of approximately 20 kilometres. A paradise for outdoor enthusiasts interested in its unique flora and fauna, Lough Boora Discovery Park has so much to offer nature lovers and families looking for an affordable and relaxing day out together.

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands, Lough Boora Discovery Park extends to over 2000 hectares and has a network of off-road walking and cycle routes.
In addition, due to the popularity of last year’s astronomy event, the Midlands Science Festival is once again presenting an evening of stargazing on the bog. On Saturday November 14th at 8pm we will be inviting people of all ages to come and join us at the Clara Bog Visitor Centre for a unique lesson in Astronomy and this will be followed by a guided astronomy introduction (weather permitting), which will be provided outside in darkness by the Midlands Astronomy Club.

We want to prove that you don’t have to be an astronomy expert to appreciate how much fun it can actually be. Take your curiosities to a new level and don’t miss out an opportunity to discover and celebrate science this November across the Midlands.

 

Discovering our Tap Water!

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), founded in 1845, is the National Earth Science Agency. It is responsible for providing geological advice and information, and for the acquisition of data for this purpose. GSI produces a range of products including maps, reports and databases and acts as a knowledge centre and project partner in all aspects of Irish geology. We are pleased to announce that this year, the GSI is back again and is bringing some exciting workshops to a local school during the Midlands Science Festival.

GSI realises that our future lies in the hands of today’s young students so efforts are really increasing to ensure that as an organisation, GSI engages in activities which are really relevant to today’s school goers, which may hopefully in turn, encourage children to consider a career in science or more specifically geoscience.

GSI water workshops explore the journey of your tap water from droplet to drain. Interactive experiments and hands-on activities reveal the intriguing science of the natural hydrological cycle and everyday water use.

We are looking forward to hearing how our Offaly school enjoys this unique event for 2015!

Good News for Ireland’s Tech Reputation

Ireland has been chosen to lead an EU consortium looking at the future of supercomputing across Europe. The consortium will form a centre of excellence to help bring this advanced technology into wider use.

Supercomputers are the most powerful computers available. They are regularly used to make weather predictions and to model the effects of climate change.

The EU announced recently that it would invest €140 million from its Horizon 2020 science programme to develop the next generation of supercomputing technologies.

The consortium, involving 16 other institutional and 12 industrial partners from around Europe, will be chaired by Prof Luke Drury of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Source: Irish Times