Discover Award for Midlands Science

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, this week announced a national investment of €5.2 million through the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme. The funding will support 49 public engagement and education initiatives that aim to improve public understanding of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) and engage a wide audience of people with STEM topics.

Following a highly competitive process of international peer review, local development company, Midlands Science is delighted to announce that it is one of the recipients of a 2021 Discover Award, which will enable them to manage and deliver a new project called Science Communities. One of the primary objectives of this new project is to provide a collaborative forum for those who make decisions informed by science, to dialogue with the public in a more meaningful way.

CEO OF Midlands Science Jackie Gorman commented,

‘Our Science Communities project is an exciting new project to build dialogue, discussion and exchange of views between community groups in the midlands and those involved in science and public policy. We are all more than familiar due to the experience of the past year of how science and evidence -based decision-making impacts all of our lives, so it’s a good time to look at how evidence is generated and take part in meaningful discussions which can build understanding and more impactful communications. The recent Science in Ireland Barometer showed the Irish public has a high level of trust in science and we are keen to engage in discussions about how people can discuss science with those involved in science and research. We are keen to facilitate these discussions and to be as inclusive as possible. As  an additional support, all participants will be offered free training in LIFT facilitation skills. LIFT is a not for profit which aims to increase the level of positive leadership in Ireland.’

Over the past decade,  Midlands Science has a become valuable voice in the science education and promotion sector here in Ireland and a big part of its success has been placing great importance on broadening scientific engagement to a wide variety of audiences and seeing engagement with science as an act of engaged citizenship. Midlands Science already connects with a wide range of people; from science, engineering and maths workshops and festival activities, to secondary student career talks, public interest events and other special interest projects but this project will take that level of engagement a step further and will hopefully result in the public feeling that their views, needs and concerns are taken on board in a real way.

Dr. Craig Slattery, Chairman of Midlands Science said,

‘Science Communities is a citizen engagement process to bring together various stakeholders from healthcare, science, and the community to exchange views as to how and why some public health decisions are made informed by science. This dialogue will not change how decisions are made as decisions are based on evidence, but it may change how decisions are communicated to the public and therefore impact their effectiveness. We are very grateful for the support, collaborative spirit and commitment that Midlands Science has received from corporate sponsors and funders such as SFI and the confidence that this demonstrates in our work.’

Other SFI Discover Programme projects for this year cover topics including biodiversity, STEM sign language, climate action and sustainability, coding, epilepsy, understanding pandemics, digital wellbeing, and the link between music, maths, and physics.  The initiatives also target a wide range of ages including young children, teens, and adults as well as some initiatives designed for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and attending DEIS schools.

Midlands Science offers a wide variety of free and engaging activities for a wide range of groups all year around and a range of online content. More details are available on www.midlandsscience.ie

 

Midlands Science Mark World Autism Awareness Week

World Autism Awareness Week takes place from March 29th to April 4th 2021 all around the globe and the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously declared April 2nd  World Autism Awareness Day. The purpose of this day is to create awareness of autism and to create a more inclusive world for everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging for children who are on the ASD spectrum with many crucial education services and supports still closed. During this very important annual week, the international ASD community come together in recognition of people with autism and their families and communities. As part of the celebrations hundreds of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world and the international goal is to shine a blue light on communities throughout the world to raise awareness and take action for autism.

Local development organisation, Midlands Science, has worked over the past year to provide various workshops with ASD appropriate science outreach in response to requests from the community and based on best practice research. Their project which is called Quiet Science is funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Awards programme and it began with two pilot schools in Co. Offaly. It is now being rolled out online across the Midlands through appropriate partnerships.

CEO of Midlands Science, Jackie Gorman commented,

‘Quiet Science, which focuses on science activities for children on the ASD spectrum is a project we embarked on last year. It allows pupils to participate in hands-on, engaging science lessons with resources and instruction provided. We are delighted that despite the current pandemic and school closures, we are still able to offer these activities online with our professional providers, ‘Anyone 4 Science’ and we have had an amazing response from parents and children alike.’

Before this programme was delivered, a suite of outreach activities was co-created with students and STEM providers in consultation with appropriate ASD education experts. The project will also produce a manual of best practice which will be circulated following evaluation of the project.

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘Lockdowns are challenging for all of us, and we are glad we have been able to continue to provide outreach. The students particularly seem to like the fact that special kits are delivered to their homes in advance of the workshops. We also saw great engagement with our Facebook Live events, which were also provided by the team at Anyone 4 Science last summer and we were so proud of our Midlands pupils for continuing to celebrate science in these extraordinary times. Creating awareness of neurodiversity and seeing strength and opportunities in diversity is vital in life and science and we are pleased we are able to offer some services at the moment that people are finding to be really worthwhile and engaging.’

Midlands Science was delighted to receive some very encouraging feedback from parents whose children had participated in the Quiet Science events. One parent said, ‘After participating in the Quiet Science workshops my son feels like a real scientist. It might not be a big deal for others but for my child, it means the world. When he knew he was going to be taking the ‘Quiet Science’ workshop, he made sure to have his lab white coat and goggles ready, and don’t forget his lab name tag… of course. It has made a huge difference and put that shiny sparkle in his eyes.’

#lightitupblue #believeinscience

Regular Sleep, Healthy Future!

Today is World Sleep Day. The slogan for the 14th annual World Sleep Day is ‘Regular Sleep, Healthy Future.’  World Sleep Day reminds all sleep professionals to educate the world about the importance of regular sleep for achieving better quality of life and global health. World Sleep day has brought us right back to the time when we held live public events during our annual Midlands Science Festival and this time it was all around the Science of Sleep.

This was a highly informative evening with plenty of discussion and question time. Dr. Craig Slattery, a science communicator and Specialist Lecturer at University College Dublin addressed the audience as well as Dr Silke Ryan, Consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at St. Vincent’s University Hospital and Research Fellow at UCD. Topics explored included, why do we sometimes experience sleep problems? What can we do to get better sleep? What is happening in your brain when you are sleeping? Why do babies sleep so much ? We also heard from Dr. Ann-Marie Creaven from the Department of Psychology at the University of Limerick. You might ask, why is a psychologist interested in sleep? We all know that negative feeling we can sometimes experience when we get up the day after a poor night’s sleep. Ann-Marie spoke on the night about just how related sleep is to our productivity, mood and mental health. We also learned that sleeping is actually a behaviour!

Hopefully we can look forward to lots more informative and entertaining public science events in the future!

#WorldSleepDay

Celebrate Science at Home this St. Patrick’s Day

As we celebrate all things Irish for St Patrick’s Day, we thought it might be interesting to think about famous people from the midlands who are associated with Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM)

Did you know that the term “electron” was invented by Offaly man George Johnstone Stoney? Stoney made significant contributions to cosmic physics and to the theory of gases. Stoney’s most important scientific work was the conception and calculation of the magnitude of the “atom of electricity”. In 1891, he proposed the term “electron” to describe the fundamental unit of electrical charge, and his contributions to research in this area laid the foundations for the eventual discovery of the particle by JJ Thompson in 1897. Next time you look up, think of Stoney as craters on the Moon and Mars are named in his honour. And keep looking up as you might see the Kuiper Belt which has a Westmeath connection!!

Kenneth Essex Edgeworth was an Irish army officer, engineer, economist and independent theoretical astronomer from Westmeath. Edgeworth is best known for proposing the existence of a disc of bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune in the 1930s. Observations later confirmed the existence of the Edgeworth Kuiper Belt in 1992. Those distant solar system bodies, including Pluto, Eris and Makemake are now grouped into the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt.

Longford inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth was a graduate of TCD and Corpus Christi, Oxford. He created a very useful machine to measure the size of a plot of land. He was also ahead of his time and anticipated the caterpillar track with an invention he tinkered with for about 40 years but never completed. He described it as a cart that carries its own road.
Speaking of transport, if you ever get the train to Laois, you might think of William Dargan. He was born near Killeshin, Co Laois, in 1799, was the engineer on Ireland’s first railway from Dublin to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) in 1833. He was also the engineer for the old Harcourt Street line, which the Sandyford Luas follows for much of its journey, and he designed many of its station houses. In total he constructed over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland.

The Midlands has a strong scientific heritage on which to build on today. In 1845, Birr was the home to the world’s largest telescope, today it is the site of I Lofar, the Irish station in a European wide network of state of the art radio telescopes, used to observe the universe low frequencies. John Joly of Offaly in 1857 developed the first effective radiotherapy method for treating cancer. Today, his home town of Tullamore is home to leading life sciences company Integra Lifesciences, which makes an ultransonic aspirator, a surgical device for the precise destruction of tissue that is used for tumour removal procedures and many other complex surgical operations.

The past allows us to learn from and to build for the future. This is the nature of science; we learn from each other and it’s a process of learning from mistakes and experimenting with new ideas. As we celebrate all things Irish, let’s celebrate all things Midlands including the amazing scientists from our region who looked to the stars, built bridges, explored cancer treatments and much more !!

Midlands Science is delighted to be featuring our Science at Home series with Dr. Dan Nickström during the St Patrick’s Festival 2021 and this will be showcased through St. Patrick’s Festival TV – SPF TV – a dedicated TV channel at www.stpatricksfestival.ie. Dr. Dan Nickström is a lecturer in the Experimental Physics Department at Maynooth University and a keen physics communicator. He will explain the physics behind some of the everyday objects we find at home, as well as looking at the natural world such as how bees and pollinators contribute to our ecosystem.

#SPFTV #stpatricksfestival

Midlands Science Deliver Training for Best Practice in Science Outreach

Local development company Midlands Science has been continuing to provide science education outreach work over the past year in spite of the very challenging situation the world now finds itself in. In addition to virtually delivering plenty of science workshops and interactive events since March 2020, Midlands Science has also recently commenced a new project online around building Science Capital in the Midlands with participation from twelve organisations, providing vital capacity building in best practice in science outreach. This initiative is funded by Science Foundation Ireland through the Discover Award programme and training for the participants is currently underway with University College London and the Science Museum Academy.

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland said:

“Science Foundation Ireland is pleased to support this Science Capital project, which will contribute towards the development of our nation’s scientific curiosity and literacy. By offering tools and training to understand what influences our engagement with science, we can facilitate more inclusive and diverse conversations, provide equal access to careers in science and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to find personal meaning and connection with STEM.”

CEO of Midlands Science Jackie Gorman commented,

‘Science capital can help us to understand why people from all backgrounds participate in and engage with science and how their engagement can vary through a range of science-related experiences. It also sheds light on why particular social groups remain underrepresented and why many young people do not see science careers as being suitable for them.  We have a diverse group of people on board for this training from fields of local development, youth work and heritage, all of whom interact with a wide range of people in their work. Each participant was were selected in 2020 to take part in this Science Capital training through Midlands Science with University College London and the Science Museum London as part of a Science Foundation Discover Award received by Midlands Science.’

The aim is that this Science Capital training will provide research not only around participation in science but will also focus on the many other important factors that come into play, including gender, teaching, education and culture. This training will be a valuable addition to Midlands Science’ own resources and will hopefully help us to continue to encourage more future generations to choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Miriam Harte from Camara who is participating in the training commented,

‘My experience of the Science Capital Training Programme has been incredibly positive. I’ve learned a huge amount of new information about communicating science, especially with harder-to-reach audiences. The standard of speakers and facilitators has been excellent, each sharing a unique and interesting way of approaching new science capital concepts. This training has definitely changed the way I look at my work and how I communicate with my target audience. I’m really looking forward to finding more ways to integrate my learnings within my own work and to sharing this with my colleagues. I very much felt that, during a time of great adjustment and stress in 2020, it has been reassuring to have this consistent group of peers to brainstorm the educational challenges which we’ve faced and the ways in which we can overcome these challenges with a bit of self-reflection and creativity.’

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘As Covid19 hit a number of our annual programmes, it also impacted the execution of this training. We had to pivot delivery online and as part of additional supports, we then provided science communications training with Dr Niamh Shaw and online engagement best practice with Maebh Coleman of Technological University Dublin. The group also commenced training online with University College London and the Science Museum London and this will run into 2021. A number of participants will also undertake additional portfolio work which will allow them to become science capital trainers and spread their learning further in their networks and communities. The provision of this training is a vital part of Midlands Science work to develop capacity with partners and to provide access to international best practice in science outreach.’

 

 

 

 

A Chat with a local Engineer!

To celebrate STEPS Engineer’s Week which takes place nationwide over the next week, we caught up with local Engineer, Brian Daly who works in Integra LifeSciences in Tullamore…

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your role in Integra LifeSciences?

I am a Mechanical Engineer within the sustaining engineering team at Integra LifeSciences Tullamore, where we support and manufacture surgical medical devices for neurosurgery including tumour removal, neuro monitoring and surgical headlights. The lifesaving products we make in Tullamore are used by Neurosurgeons throughout the world in over 180 different countries.

My role within Integra Lifesciences Tullamore is largely project based, involving collaboration with multiple departments in Tullamore, the U.S. and Europe and spanning a wide range of activities.

  • Introduction of new products and processes.
  • Maintaining existing designs and implementing upgrades.
  • Validations of products and processes.
  • Compliance projects to ensure our devices meet the latest international requirements for safety and efficacy.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

I have always been interested in how things work and during my schooldays preferred subjects which were practical based and required learning of principles rather than volumes of text, Engineering therefore seemed to be an obvious choice.

Where and what exactly did you study at third level?

I completed a degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Athlone Institute of Technology (A.I.T), followed by an honour’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Waterford Institute of Technology (W.I.T). I am also currently enrolled at W.I.T to complete my final year of an MSc in Innovative Technology Engineering.

 Why do you think national events like Engineer’s Week are important?

If you stop and think about any product, from your mobile phone, to medical devices, to the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, at some point in their development process, engineers were required to make them a reality and in order for these fields to make future advances engineering is also required. Initiatives such as Engineers week and STEM play an important role in providing an insight into principles of engineering and the many career paths available, that previously may not have been considered by younger generations.

What are the main qualities you think a person might need if they are thinking of becoming an engineer?

Engineering encompasses such a wide range of disciplines, for example within our engineering team alone we have Production, Electrical, Mechanical, Software, Electronics, Project, Validation and Quality engineers along with many other departments who are all instrumental in achieving our objectives.

As Engineering is so diverse, it is difficult to suggest specific qualities required. I would say that misconceptions related to high levels of maths and other subjects don’t apply to all fields and instead if a person is naturally curious about how things work, enjoys working in teams, problem solving and logical thinking, engineering should be considered as a great career path with unlimited options.

 

Happy Pancake Day!

We know what we are eating all day so here’s the #science bit !!
Pancakes involve chemical reactions that create new flavours and textures. The chemical reaction is between a leavening agent [baking soda & baking powder] and an acidic ingredient [buttermilk] producing tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. These bubbles form throughout the pancake, and are trapped as the batter cooks and solidifies. So you get a light and fluffy pancake honeycombed with tiny air pockets. The more of these leavening agents you add to a mixture, the more carbon dioxide will be produced, and the more bubbles will form. Once you have your tiny pockets of air bubbles, then comes the most complex and interesting part of the process.
This is the Maillard Reaction, and it’s this that gives pancakes their aroma, and a gorgeous golden brown colour. When you raise the heat on your pancake batter, the amino acids that make up the proteins begin to chemically bond with carbon and oxygen atoms from sugars. The end result is a complex brew of hundreds of different aromatic flavour inducing molecules, that give your food a distinctive and rich palette of flavours.
The Maillard reaction is behind the lovely flavour of roasted coffee, the malty flavour of certain beers and malt whiskey, that brown crust on a perfectly cooked steak, the nutty notes of maple syrup, or the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread. What’s more, the Maillard Reaction works best in an alkaline environment (i.e. a less acidic one). So the secret to getting that golden brown colour is to add more baking soda. Once you’ve added enough to neutralize the acidity of the buttermilk, anything left over will add to the browning. #pancaketuesday #believeinscience #pancakes

Sweet Fun with Quiet Science!

This morning in some yummy Quiet Science workshops we learnt that sugar in jam is a preservative.

Sugar, acid & pectin lower the pH of the preserve & bind available water, thus creating an environment in which the growth of microorganisms is halted.

Quiet Science is a project that is currently being delivered by local development company, Midlands Science which has worked over the past year to provide various workshops with ASD appropriate science outreach in response to requests and research. This project is funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Awards programme and it began with two pilot schools in Co. Offaly. It is now being rolled online across the midlands through appropriate partnerships.

 

#believeinscience

Bringing Science Home for Everyone

The team at Midlands Science has been working over the past ten months to continue to share our passion for science and promote the importance of science education during these challenging pandemic times. So much of our work relies on face-to-face interaction and usually we meet people in person and spread messages about science at events, in schools and our annual science, maths and engineering festivals. We have worked with our professional providers and science communication experts and we have adapted and found new ways to share our work throughout the Midlands and beyond, during the Coronavirus pandemic.

CEO of Midlands Science Jackie Gorman said,

‘Science in Your Sitting Room’ is the latest series of workshops which we are now delivering in partnership with Anyone4Science every Friday at 12:00pm. With schools closed once again and students unable to experience our events in their classrooms, we had to rethink how we reach young people and their families in the most fun and interactive way. We saw great engagement with our Facebook Live events, which were also provided by the team at Anyone 4 Science during the summer of 2020 and we were so proud of our Midlands pupils for continuing to celebrate science in these extraordinary times.’

Midlands Science is also pleased to be running eight weeks of ‘Quiet Science’ workshops for pupils who are on the ASD spectrum and these are taking place online every Saturday until March 13th These workshops are also delivered in partnership with Anyone 4 Science based on work done in 2020 with partner schools in our Quiet Science project.

‘Jackie Gorman continued,

‘At Midlands Science, we want to offer free and practical resources and support to all students, teachers and parents in navigating this new learning landscape. We are looking forward to exploring topics such as mould, bacteria, stress balls and toothpaste! We have been providing these particular online  events to schools in the Midlands region since March of 2020 and are delighted to now to be able to extend them out into the wider community.’

 

Virtual Advice for College Awareness Week with the RCSI

Midlands Science is delighted to partner with Dr Helena Bonner, a Neuroscientist at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, as well as an Outreach officer at the Centre for Systems Medicine, RCSI in providing informative virtual talks for a number of schools across this Midlands for College Awareness Week. Helena is also a member of the Midlands Science Expert Advisory Group and has worked with Midlands Science over the past few years to raise awareness of science as a career path and on various fields within Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)

In normal times, Helena hosts various seminars and laboratory tours in RCSI to TY and 5th year students. She also visits various secondary schools in the Midlands throughout the school term to talk about the different careers available to STEM graduates, and the ample opportunities that are available in the different STEM sectors.  Her talks aim to inform TY, 5th and 6th year students about the various types of careers available to them, should they take a third level course ( Cert, Diploma, or degree) in a STEM related field of Study. Helena is also hosting a virtual Mini Science TY programme on February 1st for any students that would like to attend.

Helena said,
‘I am delighted to join Midlands Science and work with many other committed individuals as they continue to make great progress in promoting science as a career to people of all ages. It’s important for us to explore new ways to collectively change the face of STEM and reach out to young people to inform them on the type of research being undertaken at RCSI and to encourage them to pursue these exciting careers. I understand that it is really difficult to give the students the usual TY experience this year. We would normally hold a three day ‘in house’ programme at the RCSI but this year it will be held virtually. Given that, I know the students will still enjoy the programme and will walk away with a little more insight of what it is like to work as a scientist or researcher in the field of Biomedical Science.’