Bringing the Zoo to You!

Tara Cullen from National Reptile Zoo with Aaron Henderson, Shane Neary, Sadie Boardman.
Pho to by Shelley Corcoran;

We have worked with the National Reptile Zoo for a number of years now in delivering outreach to Midlands schools during Science Week. Recently, we spoke to Tara Cullen who facilitated a number of workshops for us this year, to find out more about the work of the National Reptile Zoo and how it helps to teach young children about just how much science and nature is all around us..

Tara, can you tell us what you do as regards outreach?

The National Reptile Zoo’s mission statement revolves around three main areas: conservation, education and exploration. We want to inspire people and ignite an interest in the natural world, and in particular reptiles! We try to educate people about these animals, who for the most part, are vilified and portrayed as fearsome creatures in the media. Exploration and discovery are important fac tors in fostering stewardship for the environment and getting young people interested in nature!

Our Zoo to You is an outreach programme whereby we visit various events, schools and homes all over the country and do educational sessions by bringing some of our animals, providing informative talks and offering pupils, teachers and the public the chance to encounter these animals up close. Experiencing the animals up close fosters interest and appreciation.

What inspired you towards a job here-have you always loved animals?

I have always wanted to work with animals since a young age. I wasn’t interested in dolls to play with – all my toys were animals!

As I got older, I really wanted a career I was passionate about, and a career with animals certainly fit the bill. I think I am drawn to animals with bad reputations – some of my favourites are reptiles (of course), hyenas, vultures, sharks. I find them fascinating, and more often than not, they are misunders tood.

Do you have a science background yourself?

I have always loved science, in particular biology, I did well in secondary school.

I studied in the UK in animal management and applied sciences, so there was a lot of lab work incorporated in to my course, all relevant to animal husbandry of course (nutritional analysis, faecal tests).

I then went on to work in the animal reception centre in Heathrow Airport, where I studied part time for a Diploma in Zoo Animal Management, and specialized my studies in Herpe tology.

Recent data shows that Ireland continues to experience a skills shortage in the STEM sec tor. What do you think we can do to keep dispelling the myth that science is difficult?

Introducing people to the various branches of science and showing the diversity of scientific fields could spark an interest. Science doesn’t have to take place in a labora tory – getting people out exploring the world and all of its fascinating residents for instance!

There is a misconception that science is difficult – but once it is interesting and interactive, everyone can take part!

What is your favourite science fact?

I can’t pick one! The fact that scientists have harnessed various toxins in venoms and poisons and applied them to pharmaceuticals and various medicines. It is amazing!

Talking Science Careers

The Midlands Science Festival has hosted a large number of science career talks throughout the week with topics ranging from food and nutrition to sports science, science jobs of the future, maths and toxicology.

We would like to thank all of the academic speakers who came to the region to deliver these high value presentations to students. It is fantastic to see how science can be brought to life when someone new and inspiring comes in to the classroom and tells a science s tory from a different perspective.

We were delighted to see hands up after every talk and lots of questions. Thanks again to all who participated and to the regional schools for hosting.

From Wolf To Woof, The Science of Dogs

Over 100 people and two dogs turned up on Monday to hear all about the science of dogs at the Midlands Science Festival event in AIT, “From Wolf To Woof, The Science of Dogs. Maude a Yorkshire Terrier and Jack, a German Shepherd were not mere canine audience members though as they joined the speakers at various parts of the evening  on stage to help illustrate points about dog health or their evolution from wolves. Jack, the German Shepherd was most helpful in raising his paw to help Maeve O’Reilly of AIT answer a young audience member’s question –do dogs have knuckles ? It turns out that they do ! They are just not labelled as such though. A dog’s feet have digital bones (phalanges) which basically form knuckles when clenched. Maude provided great entertainment with her perfectly timed yapping contributions which joined in with audience applause during the night, a small dog with a big personality.
The event was facilitated by science communica tor Dr Craig Slattery and the discussions covered everything from the evolution of dogs from wolves to how to keep their teeth in good condition. There were many young members of the audience and they had lots of questions and prizes of dog jumpers and doggie treats were awarded to those who asked the best questions and who tweeted the best pho to of themselves and their dogs.
Jackie Gorman of Midlands Science commented “we are thrilled to have hosted such a successful event in AIT and to have learnt so much about dog evolution and dog care from both Maeve O’Reilly and Kay Nolan.It was wonderful to see so many young people in the audience. Dogs have a universal appeal to people throughout his tory. Bones of ancient domestic wolf-dogs have been found in central Europe, the Near East and North America, where they appear to have been deliberately buried with their human companions. For example, the 14,000-year-old remains of a puppy and an elderly person were found buried together in Israel, the person’s left hand was apparently positioned so that it rested on the dog’s flank, which shows that the relationship between man and dog is one of the oldest and most durable of friendships. This event as part of Science Week in the midlands was the perfect opportunity to explore the science behind one of our most loyal companions and a prime example of the wonder of the evolutionary process.”

Exploring Marine Life in Tullamore

One of the most rewarding things about Science Week is seeing the priceless looks on pupils faces when they learn something new and realise that science is all around us! #scienceweek #believeinscience

‘Under the Microscope’ in Laois!

We were delighted to provide microscope kits to Timahoe NS in Laois this year as part of our Midlands Science Festival activities. This is a result of a partnership with the Microscopy Society of Ireland.

The microscopy kit contains 8 microscopes, a digital camera, and all educational materials (worksheets, teacher notes) needed for 6 pre-designed activities. The kit is essentially a lab in a box and provides a platform from which to explore biological and materials science through engaging team-based educational activities. It fosters inherent interest in, and love of, science and the scientific method, and exploration of unknown worlds.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said,

‘We were delighted to provide the Royal Microscopical Society’s (RMS) Microscope Activity Kits to Timahoe NS as part of the Midlands Science Festival and we hope that the students have found it to be a fun, science learning experience.’


At Google we are passionate about STEM

The Midlands Science Festival is proud to name Google as a new supporting partner for 2017. We had a chat with Google’s Claire Conneely, Computer Science Education Outreach team (EMEA) to hear a little about the company’s STEM outreach and why its so important for them to support events like Science Week and the Midlands Science Festival.

Claire, we are delighted that you will be supporting this year’s Midlands Science Festival and are proud to name Google as a partner. Can you tell us a bit about the type of STEM outreach that Google does in Ireland?
At Google we are passionate about STEM, in particular Computer Science (CS). I am part of the CS Education team at Google – we are a global team who help millions of students and educators across the world develop technical skills for the future. More than 65% of students will work in jobs that don’t even exist today (

At Google, want to help prepare them for that future by getting them excited about where CS can take them. Coding allows students to learn with​ technology (not from​ it, as is all- too-often the case) and to be active creators of their own content, not passive consumers. Many transferrable skills can be learned through studying CS, such as Computational Thinking, logic, problem solving – skills that we use at Google every day!

Do you have a science or technology background yourself?
Not exactly… music was my first passion! I originally studied to become a secondary school music teacher, which I did for a number of years and absolutely loved. In those early years of teaching, I
became fascinated by technology and its role in helping students learn, so I decided to return to college to do a Masters in Technology and Learning. From there, I got the opportunity to join a small team in Trinity College Dublin to co-found and develop a new STEM outreach programme, which eventually became Bridge21. I’m very proud that today it’s one of the university’s flagship outreach programmes. Three years ago I had the chance to apply for this job at Google and I’ve been here ever since!

Recent data shows that Ireland continues to experience a skills shortage in the STEM sec tor. Why is it important for companies like Google to support events like the Midlands Science Festival and what do you think we can do to keep dispelling the myth that science is difficult?
We are delighted to be able to sponsor important events like the Midlands Science festival. The best way to dispel the myths about STEM is to expose students from an early age. It is also about lighting a spark and then keeping that spark alive throughout primary and second-level schooling, for those who have
the interest and aptitude. Some 98% of our engineers at Google had some level of exposure to CS before college. I am thrilled to see the introduction of Computational Thinking to the Primary School Maths curriculum, and the new Leaving Certificate Computer Science subject. Great opportunities lie ahead for our young people in years to come!

Are there are any specific challenges in attracting women in to science and technology related fields and do you have any suggestions on how this could be addressed?

So many girls start out with a love of science and technology, but lose it somewhere along the way. Google believes that a diverse workforce leads to better products for diverse users and we are especially committed to reversing the negative trends around women in technology-related fields, in particular CS.

To guide our outreach and investments in this space, we conducted a study in 2014 to identify and understand the factors that influence young women’s decisions to pursue degrees in CS. It identified encouragement and exposure as the leading factors influencing this critical choice and learned that anyone can help increase female participation in CS, regardless of their technical abilities or background. The most encouraging outcome of the study was that these factors have practical solutions, that anyone can undertake, requiring little more than time and interest. There’s enormous potential for positive change in this space!

What is your favourite science fact?
Your heartbeat mimics the beat of the music you’re listening to.

Industry needs diversity and alternative thinkers…

We are most grateful and really excited to be working with local company and world leader in medical technology Integra LifeSciences, to provide a number of Science Week events in the region this year. We spoke to Maria Rogers of Integra this week in advance of the rocket building and marin life workshops that the company will be sponsoring..

Maria, we are delighted that you will be supporting this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Can you tell us a bit about your company and what you do?

In Integra Tullamore we manufacture some amazing products related to neurosurgery and neuro critical care. The Integra Tullamore team manufacture equipment used by Neuro Surgeons throughout the world (including Ireland) to remove Brain Tumors. We have over 100 people working on the site including engineers across a range of disciplines including Electronic, Electrical, Mechanical, Software, Project, Quality and Regula tory Affairs.

Integra LifeSciences is a world leader in medical technology with 19 manufacturing plants worldwide. The company is dedicated to limiting uncertainty for surgeons, so they can concentrate on providing the best patient care. As well as Neurosurgery, Integra offers innovative solutions in orthopedic extremity surgery and reconstructive and general surgery.

Do you have a science background yourself?

I have developed my in the Quality Assurance field and have learned to manage many technical aspects of the Medical Devices business to advance in my career. Physics and Maths were among my favourite subjects in secondary school and that has helped me to apply those inherent talents in developing in my career. I started to study science in University, but in hindsight, lacked the belief in myself to stay on that education path and opted for a more “traditional” female career path. I have no regrets personally, but I now have a passion for instilling belief in young people, particularly young females, that they shouldn’t allow any perceptions they may have to limit utilising their talents and following their passions.

Recent data shows that Ireland continues to experience a skills shortage in the STEM sec tor. Why is it important for companies like Integra to support events like the Midlands Science Festival and what do you think we can do to keep dispelling the myth that science is difficult?

Industry needs diversity and alternative thinkers in order to continue to develop new concepts and products. In Ireland we need to maintain our reputation as a high skills destination in order to remain an attractive destination for global industry and research funds. Some major innovations have come from Irish research projects in recent years that will keep Ireland to the fore in the skills market.: Student Lauren Murphy invented a therapeutic device for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, CRANN nanoscience institute announced a major development of a clean energy source and offers a potential alternative to fossil fuels.

We need to nurture and develop the scientific brains of our future generation in a fun and meaningful way and Midlands Science Festival schools program is an effective way to do this.

Are there are any specific challenges in attracting women in to science related fields and do you have any suggestions on how this could be addressed?

I think there is a cultural perception that many science related fields, particularly the Engineering related fields, are male-dominated fields and as a society we do not encourage women enough to consider career paths within these fields. The points system for third level entry is also another fac tor in driving subject choices where STEM subjects are often avoided.

Parents and schools need to provide better information to females regarding career opportunities based around the STEM subjects. Industry also needs to become involved with schools at primary level where early stereotyping can be avoided. This is one of the main reasons why Integra LifeSciences has become involved with Midlands Science Week.

As a parent of two young daughters, I encourage them to explore all career options especially those that are STEM related.

What is your favorite science fact?

The human brain takes in over 11 million bits of information every second but only recognizes 40

Monday Science Madness!

We are really excited about our science festival events today! First, we are off to Laois to celebrate science with the Junior Einsteins Science Club for a day of fun and engaging experiments.  This unique club incorporates core science in to hands-on sessions designed to stimulate and create a love of science and nature. Pupils will get  to make and do their own experiments wearing their lab coats and goggles and using real scientific equipment including a university grade Van Der Graff Genera tor.

We have career talks and STEM inspiration with Intel in Moate thanks to Midlands native, Bridget Molloy.

Then its over to Offaly! A key theme for this year is that of heritage and Midlands Science has teamed up with Creative Ireland to provide one Offaly school with a project which celebrates the work of a local nineteenth century pioneering scientist, microscopist and naturalist Mary Ward, who was working at a time when it was very difficult for women to be taken seriously in any field other than the domestic. We look forward to seeing how this one goes!

And there’s more!

The Exploration Dome is a mobile digital planetarium & science education service offering schools and event organisers an invaluable science resource and experience. Suitable for all age groups the planetarium ensures everyone is given the opportunity to learn all about space and science in a fantastic, fun and safe educational environment. The dome is on its way to Athlone this year. Each show starts with an introduction in to Astronomy followed by a full dome film with different subjects, e.g. Earth science, Maths and Astronomy etc so it is learning but in a fun way!
Tonight, we celebrate all things canine at our special public ‘Science of Dogs’ event in Athlone Institute of Technology before gearing up for another day of busy, science fun across the Midlands again tomorrow!


Science Festival 2017 off to a Cracking Start!

Tara Cullen from National Reptile Zoo with Aoibheann Slattery and Pauline Nally, Carol Farrell, and Jackie Gorman (Midlands Science)
Pho to by Shelley Corcoran

On Saturday, we got off the marks with a fun filled science discovery event in Longford. We were delighted to see around 250 people out in St.Mel’s school in partnership with Abbott Diagnostics in Longford for a day of education and fun, presentations on the importance of science skills and a chance to get up close with science in a variety of different ways.

Jackie Gorman, Direc tor of the Midlands Science Festival said,
We have been overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm and goodwill from our partners, local media, venues and many other organisations and individuals from Midlands and further afield. The large public turnout in attendance at this event shows the appetite for this type of regional festival and hopefully we can look forward to celebrating science in Longford at the same time next year.


Science gets the little grey cells moving!!!

AIT recently was awarded The Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year for 2018 and its vision is to become a Technological University in the near future. We are proud to be partnering with Athlone Institute of Technology to promote the importance of science and technology education here in the midlands and beyond.

This week we spoke to Dr. Brian Murphy of Athlone Institute of Technology in advance of Science Week to find out a little about AIT’s Science focus, their participation in the festival this year and also about his own role and background..

Brian, can you tell us a little about your role in AIT?

After completing my PhD in Coordination Chemistry and X-Ray Crystallography at University College Cork in 1994 I decided to pursue an academic career. Over the past 23 years this has brought me to teach Inorganic Chemistry and conduct research at a number of universities and institutes of technology both in Ireland and abroad, including Cardiff University, Dublin City University, IT Sligo and the United Arab Emirates University. In 2008, after spending eight years in the middle east, working as an Associate Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and later as a Head of Department at the Department of Chemistry at United Arab Emirates University, I decided to return to Ireland and joined Athlone Institute of Technology as Head of the Department of Life and Physical Sciences. I since have moved away from academic administration and have returned to my true passion in trying to open up the world of Coordination Chemistry to undergraduate students as a Senior Lecturer. Not an easy task!

I teach across a variety of academic programmes at AIT, including the BSc(Hons) in Pharmaceutical Science, which is a unique programme that provides the broad-based, essential information and skills required by graduates for employment in the modern pharmaceutical sec tor. This programme is officially recognized by the Institute of Chemistry in Ireland and covers chemical-based and next generation biotech-based therapeutics and their formulation in to the safe and effective medicines of high and durable quality. The programme is one of the leading academic programmes at AIT in terms of the high quality employment outlets open to its graduates. The Midlands has become a major magnet for leading international pharmaceutical companies and this programme provides learners with the core experience in the exploration of the structure-property relationships of drugs and pharmaceutical materials. As a Lecturer, not only do I teach but I also am involved in the extensive development of new academic programmes in the Faculty of Science and Health, I supervise undergraduate research projects in Coordination Chemistry, sit on a number of Institute sub-committees and have a number of international collaborations in the area of curriculum development and coordination chemistry.

AIT recently was awarded The Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year for 2018 and its vision is to become a Technological University in the near future. In my view this is an essential component of the future strategic plan for the region – AIT has the capacity and potential to become a university and this is what makes working at AIT extremely interesting at present! AIT’s strength comes from identifying areas of skills shortage and working with businesses to improve links between enterprise and academia. The Institute currently has three dedicated research centres, straddling the areas of Bioscience, Software and Materials and has become a regional research power-house in these areas, working closely with local industry.

What inspired you to pursue a science based career?

Unfortunately in Ireland only a small proportion of secondary schools currently offer Chemistry and Physics which is a real shame. Chemistry is often described as the central science and many students do not really understand the importance of chemistry until they enter third-level programmes and are surprised to find chemistry in the heart of medicine, engineering, dentistry, toxicology, biotechnology and even sports science programmes! As a secondary school student I was extremely lucky to go to a newly built, state-of-the-art, mixed secondary school in Cobh, Co. Cork, Coláiste Muire, where the Presentation Brother Principal of the School (Br. Bede) himself had a strong Science background and insisted that the school should have dedicated modern labora tories in Chemistry, Physics and Biology to ensure that students could take all three pillar science subjects up to Higher Leaving Certificate Level. At the time we had an outstanding Chemistry Teacher, Dr. Declan Kennedy, who since has moved on to become a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education in University College Cork and who has been at the fore-front of developments in Chemistry Teaching in Ireland for the past twenty years. As a teacher he was visionary in his delivery of science and this is what lured me in to pursuing a career in Chemistry. It all stemmed from being exposed to problem-based learning, challenging experimental work and interdisciplinary science from an early age in secondary school and knowing that I was being educated in first-class chemical labora tories. It would be nice to see more schools in the Midlands offering Chemistry and Physics to secondary school students in the next ten years and not just Biology. All three subjects are essential for anyone interested in STEM as Science in the future will become even more interdisciplinary in nature! There appears to be a current shortage also of qualified Chemistry Teachers nationally and this is an area that the government needs to address if we are really to become a leading international STEM nation on the worldwide stage.

Why in your view is science so important in society today and what can we do to encourage more young people to choose science when picking their subjects at second level?

There are so many reasons as why science is so important to society at present that in this condensed blog it is not possible for me to outline the myriad of reasons and examples. As a Coordination Chemist by trade, X-ray Crystallography has long been a central structural tool for me in my pursuing research interests and the importance of structure still plays a pivotal role in science today. However I would like to focus in on the recent award of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Jacques Dubochet (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Joachim Frank (Columbia University, New York, USA) and Richard Henderson (MRC Labora tory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK) for developing an effective method for generating three-dimensional images of the molecules of life. Using cryo-electron microscopy, it is now possible to freeze biomolecules midmovement and portray them at a tomic resolution. This technology has launched biochemistry on a completely new trajec tory. In the press release on the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to these researchers it is described how “over recent years numerous as tonishing structures of life’s molecular machinery have filled the scientific literature: Salmonella’s injection needle for attacking cells; proteins that confer resistance to chemotherapy and antibiotics; molecular complexes that govern circadian rhythms; light-capturing reaction complexes for pho tosynthesis and a pressure sensor of the type that allows us to hear. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of biomolecules that have now been imaged using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). When researchers began to suspect that the Zika virus was causing the epidemic of brain-damaged newborns in Brazil, they turned to cryo-EM to visualise the virus. Over a few months, three dimensional (3D) images of the virus at a tomic resolution were generated and researchers could start searching for potential targets for pharmaceuticals.

Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson have made ground-breaking discoveries that have enabled the development of cryo-EM. The method has taken biochemistry in to a new era, making it easier than ever before to capture images of biomolecules.” As a scientist I always look forward each year to the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Reading the research underpinning the work of these annual award winners makes us understand the importance of science to society. Secondary school students need to be challenged in science from day one – to foster this learning environment, science students need to constantly pose questions, be challenged by undertaking project and research work, be exposed to a rigorous experimental programme and have access to high-quality labora tories, instrumentation and facilities. We also need to encourage more Honours Chemistry graduates to consider teaching as a career. There are several outstanding science teachers who do tremendous work in school educating future scientists, often educated to both Masters and PhD level. The government needs to support such highly qualified professionals to ensure that teaching once more is seen as a vital cog in our national development. One has only to look at the correlation between teaching, secondary school science facilities and STEM initiatives in countries like Finland to appreciate the importance of promoting the development of science in schools.

Do you think there are any really exciting research outcomes we can hope to see in the next 10 years?

Cure for Alzheimer’s disease, global solution to conquer climate change, advanced technologies for the electric car to name a few ….. it was interesting to read only a few days ago that NASA and NOAA have stated that measurements from satellites this year showed the hole in Earth’s ozone layer that forms over Antarctica each September was the smallest observed since 1988. Thirty years ago, the international community signed the Montreal Pro tocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and began regulating ozone-depleting compounds. Scientists claim that the ozone hole over Antarctica is expected to gradually become less severe as the use of chlorofluorocarbons (once widely used as refrigerants) continue to decrease worldwide. Scientists now expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels around 2070. This shows the power of international scientific collaboration between scientists and governments. I think Environmental Chemistry is one area to really keep an eye on in terms of research activity over the next decade. Global solutions can bring about a solution to climate change but scientists need to be supported at both international and national levels to foster these solutions.

What is your favourite thing about teaching science?

As Hercule Poirot says it gets the little grey cells moving!!!

Dr. Brian Murphy, Senior Lecturer, Department of Life and Physical Sciences, Faculty of Science and Health, AIT