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

Look Up For Science!!

This month and next, Midlands Science is running a series of workshops with our partners, the Exploration Dome, in schools in Laois and Longford, 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 universe from their classroom and hopefully begin a lifetime of curiosity about our place in the universe.

Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences as early civilisations in history made very methodical observations of the night’s sky. These included the Chinese, Maya, Babylonians and many more including the Irish. You can check out our video exploring space as Gaeilge here.

Astronomy comes from a Greek word which means the science that studies the laws of the stars. Astronomy includes maths, physics and chemistry and it studies everything that originates beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Astronomy is one of the sciences in which amateurs play an active role, particularly with regards to the discovery and observation of transient events such as comets and asteroids. Astronomy clubs are located throughout the world and the Midlands has a very active Astronomy Club. You can find more details about them on Facebook.

One branch of amateur astronomy, astrophotography, involves the taking of photos of the night sky. Many amateurs like to specialize in the observation of particular objects, types of objects, or types of events that interest them. A famous Astro-photographer is Dr Brian May, better known as the amazing guitarist with Queen. He was working on his Phd on zodiacal dust when his music career took off and he went back to Imperial College, London to finish is Phd over 30 years and many hit records later!! As well as writing up the previous research work he had done, May had to review the work on zodiacal dust undertaken during the intervening 33 years, which included the discovery of the zodiacal dust bands by NASA. After a viva voce, the revised thesis (titled “A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud”) was approved in September 2007, some 37 years after it had been commenced. His Instagram account regularly features his astronomy observations and photos taken using his very large telescope at his home in the UK.

Although, we know more now that we ever have about the universe, there’s still a lot of unsolved questions in astronomy and perhaps some budding Astro-physicists in the midlands may solve these questions in the future ! Answers to these may require the construction of new ground and space-based instruments, and possibly new developments in theoretical and experimental physics. What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? How did the first galaxies form? What really happens beyond the event horizon? Is there other life in the Universe?

Lots of interesting discoveries about astronomy have been made in the midlands at Birr Castle Demense, which today hosts a LOFAR telescope. You can learn more about Birr Castle’s heritage in astronomy on birrcastle.com. The gardens now include a solar trail which allows you to experience the size, distance and scale of the Solar System along the 2km route. The Demense is also home to I-Lofar, the Irish station of a European-wide network of state-of-the-art radio telescopes, used to observe the Universe at low frequencies.

Astronomy continues today to provide us with more and more information about the universe and our place in it. Innovation in space exploration has given us everything from foil blankets, scratch resistant glasses, memory form to fire-proof clothes. So look up and appreciate all astronomy has given us. As Stephen Hawking said “to confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”

 

Shamrock Science for St Patrick’s Day

A little shamrock science for St Patrick’s Day. Shamrock usually refers to either the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover, Irish: seamair bhuí) or Trifolium repens (white clover, Irish: seamair bhán). However, other three-leaved plants—such as Medicago lupulina, Trifolium pratense, and Oxalis acetosella—are sometimes called shamrocks. The shamrock was traditionally used for its medicinal properties and was a popular motif in Victorian times.

The botanist Carl von Linné in his 1737 work Flora Lapponica identifies the shamrock as Trifolium pratense, mentioning it by name as Chambroch. However, results from various surveys show that there is no one “true” species of shamrock, but that Trifolium dubium (Lesser clover) is considered to be the shamrock by roughly half of Irish people, and Trifolium repens (White clover) by another third, with the remaining fifth split between Trifolium pratense, Medicago lupulina, Oxalis acetosella and various other species of Trifolium and Oxalis. None of the species in the survey are unique to Ireland, and all are common European species, so there is no botanical basis for the widespread belief that the shamrock is a unique species of plant that only grows in Ireland.

International Women’s Day 2022

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8th and is an opportunity to talk about how we can all make a difference in the work we do with regards to gender equality, equity and inclusion. The theme this year is #breakthebias. It cuts across all areas in society and life and is of course relevant to science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM]. According to research, there are well over 100,000 jobs in STEM in Ireland. However, while women have made huge progress in some scientific fields, just 25% of those working in Ireland’s STEM industries are women. Recent research by Accenture Ireland has highlighted the continuing disparity between young women and young men when it came to their future careers. Only 29% of those surveyed felt that students are given enough information about potential future careers while they are in schools, but females are less likely to think so – 20% versus 39% males.

As an organisation committed to an equity informed approach to science outreach, Midlands Science has made a deliberate decision in its programming to target gender as an issue  in its programme curation and recent years have seen a 10% increase in female participation and role models are key to this approach. The voluntary board of trustees of Midlands Science is currently 57% female and the independent expert advisory group is 66% female. This includes Caroline Brazil, Accenture, Dr Aisling Twohill, DCU, Anne Scally, Pro-activ HR, Dr Helena Bonner, RSCI, Patricia Nunan, Hibernia College and Anne Naughton, TUS Midlands Midwest. These women who work in technology, education, science and recruitment all understand the need for greater female participation in STEM and the reasons are not just about diversity and inclusion. Science functions best when it considers a wide range of different perspectives and responds to the needs of everyone in society. When science excludes women, it excludes talented future scientists, as well as fresh perspectives that could be used to approach problems in a different way. In general, research has shown that diverse workplaces are happier and more productive, suggesting that STEM organizations and companies could do better for themselves by being more inclusive.

This has practical implications. For example, in 2017, a study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that men’s odds of survival were 23% higher than women when it came to resuscitation in public.  The study found receiving CPR in public in general is still rare, and there was no significant gender difference when it came to CPR in the home. But in public, researchers said the data could indicate that people are less comfortable delivering CPR to a woman they do not know because it requires touching the chest. A “Womanikin” was developed in respond to this research. This meant adding breasts to mannequins to  normalise giving CPR to a woman. While CPR training is now thankfully common, most people still learn on a male torso and that torso was probably designed by men, so the difference in outcomes a design might make wasn’t thought of sufficiently at design stage. It’s the same for car crash dummies. It is only recently that car manufacturers have used female car crash dummies in testing. Dummies for decades have been based on the average, 50th percentile male body. According to a 2011 University of Virginia Center for Applied Biomechanics study, that meant female drivers involved in crashes had a 47% greater chance of serious injury than their male counterparts, and a 71% higher chance of a moderate injury.

You can learn more about International Women’s Day on www.internationalwomensday.com and by searching the hashtag #breakthebias.

Getting ready for Engineers Week 2022

STEPS Engineers Week, run by the Engineers Ireland STEPS programme, promotes engineering to children in Ireland. STEPS Engineers Week 2022 takes place from Saturday, 5 – Friday, 11 March. During STEPS Engineers Week, engineering is celebrated across Ireland, with primary and secondary children the target audience. The main aim of the week is to promote engineering – and to show the importance of the profession – to children in Ireland.

The Engineers Ireland STEPS programme, which promotes engineering and the importance of the profession to children in Ireland, is funded by the Department of Education and Skills and industry leaders ARUP, EPA, ESB, Intel and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII).

Midlands Science promotes Engineers Week in the midlands through a range of school outreach activities for primary and secondary schools. This will of course include some workshops exploring the work of the most famous movie engineer Dr Tony Stark, as we explore the Ironman Engineering with Dr Barry Fitzgerald.

Everyone can think like an engineer and engineering thinking can be applied to everyday problems. Here’s an example with socks!

There are 20 different socks, of two types, in a drawer in a completely dark room. What is the minimum number of socks you should grab to ensure you have a matching pair?

This example of brainteasers for engineers is apparently used in interviews for software engineers.

The answer is 11. If you pick up three socks they could still be all of same type, even if the odds are 50%. Odds do not equal reality. So the only way to ‘ensure you have a matching pair’ is to pick up 11 of the 20 socks.

School Outreach Programme 2022

Midlands Science was delighted with the huge response to its free school outreach programme for 2022 and would like to thank all schools who responded to our call to host workshops and activities. Our call for 2023 will issue later this year.

We are currently planning careers workshops for secondary schools with local role models, who will share their real life experiences of working in STEM. This is in response to research which indicated that students wanted to hear more about what it actually means to work in STEM and also what are the different routes into STEM. If your school would like to host such a career workshop, please get in touch.

A career in STEM can be diverse, engaging and can focus on solving some of the most challenging problems in the world today. It includes everything from climate change to pandemics and all sorts of people with all kinds of skills are needed for such work. Asked for her advice to students today in secondary school, Dr Máiréad Breathnach of Intel commented.

“Go for it! Remember it’s not necessary to have an exact dream job in mind, a strong sense of what interests you and a general plan is a good starting point. Your plans will most likely change several times as you learn, your interests evolve, and the world faces new challenges. Regardless of whether you apply for a narrow discipline straight out of leaving cert or choose a more general science or engineering qualification, the core skills will be similar. It will never be an issue to change your mind and the time you’ve spent is never wasted as you’ll have learned along the way. Lateral moves happen right through education and careers. The key thing is to back yourself, put down your first choice regardless of whether you think you’ll get it or not. The worst that can happen is you get another choice from your list, which in any case will most likely bring you to the same career path. Technology and science transform at a rapid pace, as do the plethora of careers to choose from. Yours might not exist today! Be fearless. There’s a quote from Arianna Huffing ton about how fearless is like a muscle and the more you exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let fear run your life.”