Physics, Superheroes and Westmeath!

There’s three words you don’t often expect to see together but with the start of a new project exploring the physics of superheroes this week taking place in Westmeath, it’s all about physics and superheroes in Mullingar.

 

Exploring the Physics of Superheroes is a new outreach project which allows students to experience the excitement of superheroes whilst learning all about the physics that make such stories possible. The project is managed by Midlands Science and delivered by physicist Dr Barry Fitzgerald, who has done extensive research work in this area. The project is supported by the Institute of Physics, a society and professional body that works to advance physics education, research and application. The Institute of Physics Limit Less campaign aims to support young people to change the world by doing physics.

 

Fiona Longmuir of the Institute of Physics commented “The Institute of Physics are delighted to support Exploring the Physics of Superheroes, sparking young people’s curiosity and creativity by showing the real-world physics that inspired their favourite superheroes.”

 

The project will bring together a range of well known characters from the Marvel Universe and other pop culture references, exploring and explaining the amazing physics behind their superpowers. Outreach such as this is a vital way of exploring what science and physics can bring to our lives in the future, it’s often things we thought a short while ago were the stuff of movies and science fiction.

 

The project is being piloted in two schools in Mullingar and will involve groups of students working together to develop their physics and team-work skills and will culminate in an event in late October, where students will share what they have learnt and where they hope physics will take them next.

Back to School! Back to Science!

It’s the time of year when we start thinking about our new uniforms and pencil cases and getting ready for back to school! Leaving the long hazy days of Summer behind for a new year of school and hopefully lots of science. No matter what year you are going into, there’s lots of science ahead as part of your school experience.

Midlands Science will have a new call out to schools in the region in the days, offering free workshops and activities to schools in the midlands at both primary and secondary level. Primary workshops cover everything from astronomy to zoology through fun hands on activities and interactive experiences with professional science outreach personnel. Whereas,  secondary school workshops explore career and subject choices with a wide variety of academic and industry partners.

Keep an eye on our social media for the call out to schools to apply for these free activities! Or sign up to the Midlands Science Mailing List using the form below. #BackToSchool #BackToScience #StayCurious

 

 






Midlands Science Youth Advisory Panel – Applications

Midlands Science promotes engagement with science, technology, engineering and maths to communities all over the midlands, to people of all ages and backgrounds. A key group of people we engage with are young people and we are keen to involve them in our content creation and programming. In order to make this involvement as impactful as possible, we are now establishing a Youth Advisory Panel which will meet three times per year to review the work of Midlands Science and to provide vital input into the development of this work.

A panel of 6 young people (aged 16+) will be established for a one year term from September to May each year and will be renewed each year with new members. In order to apply to take part in this exciting panel, please contact outreach@midlandsscience.ie All members will be provided with training in science communications and general communications and a full briefing on how to take part in the process. It will be an exciting and creative opportunity for anyone interested in science and/or communications. All panel members will be provided with certificates of participation and will be profiled online and in the media. Full parental/guardian permission for participation in the meetings and training will be required. The Youth Advisory Panel members will be key representatives of Midlands Science in the community and will be influencing decision making at many levels in the work of the organisation.

The Midlands Science Youth Panel offers many benefits and opportunities to participants including:

  • Development of leadership and communication skills.
  • Have your voice heard on skills and education issues.
  • Participation in the creation and development of science programmes and resources.
  • Participate in events such as the Midlands Science Festival.
  • Panelists will receive training in science communications and general communications skills.
  • Certificates of participation and guidance on CV development.
  • Opportunity to meet with a wide variety of people from science, technology, engineering and maths in Ireland.
  • Opportunity to visit leading STEM companies in the region and to be part of advocacy around STEM related issues.

All applications will be considered and the panel will be made up of the students who show the greatest enthusiasm for and interest in the work of Midlands Science and being part of decision making in a not-for-profit organisation in the midlands region.

Travel costs incurred by panel members in attending the Youth Panel will be covered by Midlands Science and all Youth Panel meetings will be held in accordance with the Midlands Science’s Child Protection Policy.

Midlands Science believes that engagement with science can have a positive and transformative impact on communities and we are excited to hear from those who share this belief.  We are committed to diversity and inclusion in our work and we strongly welcome applications from members of minority and marginalised communities. We also know that imposter syndrome can be an issue for some amazing people, so please get in touch to discuss this opportunity even if you feel like it might not be for you. We’d be happy to discuss any queries you might have.

 

World Turtle Day – May 23rd

World Turtle Day takes place today, May 23rd and they are a fascinating creature to consider. The day was created as a yearly observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world as well as to encourage human action to help them survive and thrive. It’s time to shellebrate!

People often use the terms tortoise and turtle interchangeably but they are different. Turtles sometimes live in the water, while tortoises only live on the land. Turtles can live up to the age of 40 and have flat and very streamlined shells. Tortoises can live up to 300 years old!! They have larger and more dome-like shells. Currently the world’s oldest tortoise is a sprightly 190 year old male called Johnathan. He is a Seychelles giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa), and lives on the  South Atlantic Island of St. Helena, a volcanic British Overseas Territory.  Jonathan arrived in St. Helena as a gift to Sir William Grey-Wilson in 1882, who later became governor of the island. Since that time, he has seen 31 governors come and go and he lives with three other giant tortoises – David, Fred and Emma.

It can be confusing as all tortoises are in fact turtles – meaning they belong to the order Testudines or Chelonia, meaning they are reptiles with bodies encased in a bony shell, but not all turtles are tortoises. The most important thing to remember is that tortoises are land creatures. Tortoises can be easily recognised by their hind-limbs and feet which are elephantine. Tortoises are generally vegetarians whereas other turtles are omnivorous.

To find out more about these fascinating creatures and their ecology, check out www.worldwildlifefund.org and we’d recommend ‘Follow The Moon Home’ by Phillipe Costeau and Deborah Hopkinson, a great book for young readers to explore the world of this fascinating creatures.

 

Brewing Up – The Science of Tea!

It’s one of the world’s most popular drinks, from a mug of tea to Earl Grey in fine china to a batch of Kombucha, everyone has a favourite tea. This fascinating drink has a great history and lots of science to consider. Tea is produced from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis and scientists have been studying the effect tea has on mood and cognition. A paper in Nature [outlook] in 2019 explained how researchers had found that tea drinking lowers the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Research is trying to establish what are the main compounds that give tea its benefits and if these compounds work in isolation or collectively.

Tea catechins — antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate— account for up to 42% of the dry weight of brewed green tea, and the amino acid L-theanine makes up around 3%. Epigallocatechin gallate is thought to make people feel calmer and improve memory and attention when consumed on its own. L-theanine is found to have a similar effect when consumed in combination with caffeine. Up to 5% of the dry weight of green tea is caffeine, which is known to improve mood, alertness and cognition. This means that tea is a bit of a paradox as it makes up feel alert and calm at the same time.

And we have to wonder is there a science to making the perfect cup of tea? We are sure there is and those who turn off the kettle just before it boils need to listen up! Alan Mackie of Leeds University’s School of Food Science and Nutrition has looked at this contentious issue of making the perfect cup of tea. First of all, you pour the milk as he found the proteins in the milk lowers the mineral content of the water and allows the flavour to be locked in. You also need to know how hard your water. How hard your water is determined by the amount of calcium and magnesium in it. The majority of water in Ireland is hard. Alan Mackie’s research found that flavour in tea is produced by the tannins and it’s more difficult with hard water for these compounds to develop fully. Also, if you like steeping the tea bag and removing it and then adding milk, you need to stop. Doing it this way means that the tannins turn into solids before flavours can develop. So if you want the perfect cuppa, it’s milk first, softened water and lots of practice. It turns out there’s a lot to know about tea and a great resource on all things tea is The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard, where you can learn about all types of tea and how to prepare them.

 

We Are Buzzing For World Bee Day!

World Bee Day takes place on Friday May 20th , the day on which Anton Jansa, the pioneer of beekeeping was born in 1724. The purpose of this day is to acknowledge the role of bees and other pollinators in the ecosystem. There are 100 bee species in Ireland: the honeybee, 21 species of bumblebee, and 78 species of solitary bee. Bees are the most important pollinator of crops and native plant species in Ireland. They are a key component of our wildlife and one of the busiest, least appreciated work forces we have. A study from the Department of the Environment found that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy. In Ireland crops such as apples, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, blackcurrants, peppers, courgettes and pumpkins are reliant on bees for pollination. It is estimated that almost three quarters of our wild plants rely on insect pollinators, of which bees are most important.

Melittology is the branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of bees. Melittology covers more than 20,000 species including bumblebees and honey bees. It is a vast field of study that has produced many interesting findings. For example, a study at Cornell University led by Thomas Seeley showed that bees, numbered for a study, dance, beep and butt heads to swap information. Seeley is a towering figure in the scientific study of bees.  He has done a lot of work on what is called swarm intelligence, trying to understand how bees work together to make decisions. This swarm intelligence in seen in schools of fish and flocks of birds as well. Seeley’s work over 40 years has explored this fascinating topic. Like a lot of scientists, he became interested in his topic early in life. As a boy he noticed hives near where he lived  and he has described his fascination. “If you lie in the grass in front of a hive, you see this immense traffic of bees zooming out of the hive and circling up and then shooting off in whatever direction they want to go, it’s like looking at a meteor shower.”

He also spoken extensively about how swarms are like our mind. “I think of a swarm as an exposed brain that hangs quietly from a tree branch,” Seeley said. A swarm and a brain make decisions. Decisions made by the brain are informed by neural signals from our eyes, such as when we see something and try to decide what to do next.  Swarms and brains decide things in a democratic way. Despite being the Queen Bee, the Queen does not decide for the hive. The hive makes decisions for her. In the same way, no single neuron takes in all the information and makes a decision alone. It is millions making a decision. Seeley thinks that this convergence between bees and brains can teach people a lot about how to make decisions in groups. “Living in groups, there’s a wisdom to finding a way for members to make better decisions collectively than as individuals,” he said. So maybe it’s about making people feel they are part of the group making decisions, so it’s about finding a solution for everyone and so it seems, we can learn a lot from bees

If you want to find out more bees please check out www.biodiversityireland.ie and for a great book on bees, we’d recommend Bees of the World by Christopher O’Toole and Anthony Raw and Honey and Dust by Piers Moore Ede, a fascinating travel book describing one man’s journey to various parts of the world through honey!

 

 

International Museum Day 2022

May 18th is International Museum Day and there’s a lot to celebrate. The objective of International Museum Day (IMD) is to raise awareness about the fact that museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples. Museums help us to understand so much about the world around us and our place in it. For the past number of  years, Midlands Science has had a partnership with the National Museum of Ireland for our outreach activities during Science Week and we want to wish our friends in the National Museum of Ireland a particularly happy day today on International Museum Day!!

The word museum comes from Latin and was originally from the Ancient Greek, Mouseion, which means a place or temple dedicated to the muses, the divinities of the arts in Greek mythology. The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for the study and education of the public. Museums have changed over time. Museums of natural history in the late 19th century exemplified the scientific desire for classification and for interpretations of the world, for example.

One of the oldest museums known is Ennigaldi-Nanna’s museum, built by Princess Ennigaldi in modern Iraq at the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The site dates from c. 530 BCE, and contained artifacts from earlier Mesopotamian civilizations. Notably, a clay drum label—written in three languages—was found at the site, referencing the history and discovery of a museum item. Early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families or institutions of art and rare or curious natural objects and artifacts. These were often displayed in so-called “wonder rooms” or cabinets of curiosities. These contemporary museums first emerged in western Europe, then spread into other parts of the world. Museums are currently challenged like many institutions to address issues of sustainability, climate change and issues of deconolisation. In this way, the challenges faced by museums reflect the changes and challenges of wider society.

Science has a key role in museums as it facilitates research, conservation processes, further understanding and a variety of museum techniques which are vital to the research and education processes they provide. Museums are unique places for people to engage with history, ecology, science and a variety of topics and to understand how interconnected many topics are. Many would argue that museums have a vital role in building empathy and understanding. ELIF M. GOKCIGDEM’s book “Fostering Empathy through museums” showed how museums can hold a mirror to society and promote awe and wonder. The line between the arts and science is not to be seen when we experience a truly amazing museum, we are simply experiencing awe, wonder and curiosity.

We are proud to continue to work on outreach with the National Museum of Ireland and would encourage you all to visit some of the amazing museums Ireland has to offer. you’ll learn a lot about everything from astronomy to zoology and in many cases you’ll find a local link back to where you come from. Details on programmes from the National Museum of Ireland can be found on www.museum.ie and we’d also recommend Cats of the Louvre  by Taiyo Matsumoto. It’s  a surreal tale of the secret world of the cats of the Louvre, told by Eisner Award winner Taiyo Matsumoto. After-all who hasn’t dreamt about a night at the museum like Ben Stiller!!

Biodiversity Week

The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of human activity. The term biodiversity was coined by biologist E.O Wilson, who died in December 2021. He said “Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”

In Ireland, National Biodiversity Week is all about connecting people with nature. It’s about communicating the importance of biodiversity and motivating people to play their part in protecting it. Midlands Science will be running a series of school workshops with Dale Treadwell of Naturally Wild and RTE Jr, exploring STEM through building natural geodomes and learning about nature and maths. A geodome is a spherical space-frame structure which is made up of a complex network of triangles. The linked triangles create a self-bracing framework that is very strong structurally and yet are elegant and beautiful.

A great resource for learning about biodiversity in Ireland is the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which works to make biodiversity information and data more freely available. It currently holds information on over 16,000 species in Ireland. You can add to their work through their app which is available for free online. Out for a walk and see a fox or an orchid or a hare, record it in the app and play your part in monitoring and protecting Ireland’s biodiversity.

Students Celebrate the World of Engineering

Primary and secondary school students and their teachers from schools across the Midlands took part in numerous activities to mark Engineers Week in March. Engineers Week, run by the Engineers Ireland STEPS (Science, Technology and Engineering Programme for Schools) celebrates the world of engineering with primary and secondary pupils the target audience. The main aim of the week was to promote engineering – and to show the importance of the profession.

 

Midlands Science (a not for profit company which promotes STEM education [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths]) co-ordinated a programme of events in Offaly, Longford, Westmeath and Laois, in conjunction with Engineers Ireland, to celebrate the week. STEPS Engineers Week-themed lessons were conducted in classrooms across the four counties to help students discover the exciting world of engineering, and schools were able to access free engineering resources provided by the STEPS team. The detailed programme of events saw engineering professionals and third level institutions engage with their communities through classroom visits and online workshops to showcase their profession and highlighting the amazing ways engineers in Ireland are pushing boundaries of innovation.

 

CEO of Midlands Science, Jackie Gorman said: “Midlands Science promotes Engineers Week in Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly through a range of outreach activities for primary and secondary schools. Engineers Week is an annual campaign to promote engineering as a career and to highlight the importance of the profession to Ireland. Students of engineering develop a valuable set of skills that serve as a strong career foundation.”

 

She added: “During Engineers week the students were afforded the opportunity to explore the creative world of engineering and the limitless opportunities a career in the sector can offer. Engineers are problem-solvers; they have a flexible, creative approach to work; and they work well in teams. These skills are highly useful in every role from technician to chief executive, and in every industry from aerospace to healthcare to software.”

 

Business Development manager of Midlands Science Pauline Nally highlighted the success of the week and congratulated all the students that participated  “It was heartening to see the wide range of companies and organisations who supported us in promoting engineering in the midlands this year. Anyone wishing to discuss further such opportunities to promote in the STEM in the year ahead is welcome to get in touch,” she said.

 

John O’Donovan, Integra LifeSciences, Tullamore, added: “We are only too happy to support Midlands Science in promoting initiatives like Engineers Week that celebrate the world of engineering. There is a demand worldwide for engineers  because they are essential to the growth and development of every country. An engineering qualification offers a chance to do interesting work with interesting people, enhance people’s lives, and explore almost unlimited career opportunities.”

Now in its 16th year STEPS Engineers Week is funded by the Department of Education and industry leaders Wind Energy Ireland, Arup, the EPA ,ESB, Intel and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII).

 

“Having information about climate change available in schools is vital. Supporting the roll-out of this information through a series of Climate Change in a Box initiatives, while also marking Engineers Week, was a perfect combination for us. We are thrilled to see the enthusiasm and appetite within schools for information to help them play their part in the fight against climate change.” said Noel Cunniffe, CEO, Wind Energy Ireland

Science That Slithers

This month, Midlands Science is running a series of workshops with our partners, the Reptile Zoo, in schools in Laois, as part of our free school outreach programme, which is supported by Rethink Ireland and partners such as SAP and Arup. These workshops allow students to experience the wonders of the natural world from their classroom and hopefully begin a lifetime of curiosity about the world around us and what we can do to preserve biodiversity.

The Reptile Zoo provides the opportunity to see snakes and other reptiles up close and personal! All while learning about their ecology, conservation and biodiversity. There are more than 3,000 species of snake in the world and almost all snakes are covered in scales. As reptiles, they are cold blooded and they need to regulate their temperature externally. Every month or so snakes shed their skin. This process is called ecdysis and it gets rid of parasites, as well as making room for growth.

Approximately 100 snake species are listed by the IUCN Red List as endangered and this is typically due to habitat loss. If you are slightly nervous reading this blog, you’re probably an ophidiophobe – someone who is afraid of snakes. You’re in good company, remember the infamous Indiana Jone scene where he shown his torch on a floor of snakes and yelled “why is it always snakes?” If you are afraid of snakes, it’s probably for a mixture of reasons – a negative experience, portrayal of snakes in the media, hearing about negative experiences of someone else.

It’s a very common phobia and if you want to overcome it, it is possible. Jackie who works with us, worked for a number of years in West Africa in development and on a camping trip one night, she woke up with a snake crawling up her body. She lay very still and it crawled away after about 10 long minutes. Two weeks later, she was driving along a dusty road and a cobra jumped up in front of her jeep from about 10 feet away. She stopped and it realised the jeep was too big to eat and continued on its journey. You’d think after all this, she’d be a confirmed ophidiophobe but not at all, she’s first up for a photo with the albino python from the Reptile Zoo whenever the opportunity arises !

You can learn all about the Reptile Zoo on https://www.nationalreptilezoo.ie/ and lots more about reptiles on https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles