Making Physics Fun!

Dr Mindflip rolled in to the Midlands on Saturday for Science Week and returned again today to some very lucky students in Co. Offaly! Dr MindFlip’s Ultimate Learning Experience has been made by a team of artists, filmmakers, scriptwriters, designers and scientists who describe it as a light-hearted and educational exploration in to the laws of physics and science, created specifically for Science Week and it really is a physics outreach project with a difference!

Dan Nickstrom, team memeber, said,

‘Dr Mindflips Ultimate Learning Experience is designed to teach anyone about the wonders of physics in a fun and interactive way and it was amazing to see kids (and the big kids!) in the midlands really immersing themselves in topics that are often dismissed as being too complicated or difficult for the average person on the street.’

Anyone 4 Science in the Midlands?

Christine Campbell from Anyone 4 Science has been coming to the region for the past few years during Science Week to provide a range of different fun, hands-on science, engineering and maths activities for local students of all ages. We were delighted to see Christine in the region again this week for our open Discovery day which was held in Tullamore as part of the annual Midlands Science Festival.

Christine patiently explained and demonstrated to children who came in their droves, how to make their own ice-cream. And the best part was; the eating of it afterwards. So many children told us all about the ingredients that were needed and talked about how they were going to make their own ice-cream from now on!!

#believeinscience @anyone4science

Excitement is building in Laois!

Every year we want the festival to ignite curiosity and let people discover that science and technology can offer amazing opportunities, often in ways that they may not realise. This year’s calendar of activity is bigger and better than ever. We are delighted to announce some of the key events which will take place in Laois this year including Dr Mindflip workshops, science fun with the Rediscovery Centre, exploring the archaeology of the Vikings with the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin zoo workshops, exciting science journey with Marty Jopson, the BBC One Show’s resident scientist and lots more.

Suzanne Carroll of Portlaoise Library said,

‘We are really pleased to once again be collaborating with the Midlands Science Festival team to deliver a range of exciting and innovative events in Laois during Science Week 2019. We want to continue to ensure that the library is more than just a place where people can borrow books. We want it to be a place where people can avail of free, informative talks and workshops in a friendly, community setting. The Midlands Science Festival provides plenty of opportunities for this across the region and in Laois we are looking forward to showcasing an educational outreach event from Dublin Zoo and exploring the secrets of Superhero Science in Portlaoise library but there are lots of other things happening so check out for more details on how you can celebrate science this November.’

We should try to stimulate curiosity …..

As Science Week gets underway, we have been talking to a number of Midlands people who are working in science and technology careers. This week we caught up with Colin Scally, a Tullamore native who attended one of the schools we work closely with here in the Midlands.  He is now living in London..Here is what Colin had to say…

Colin, you are originally from the Midlands and a past pupil of Tullamore College, what are you now working at?

I’ve been based over in London for the past few years and worked across a couple of different jobs and industries. Currently I’m working for a technology consultancy as a software developer and consultant. I’m helping a fintech startup to build out their product – a system to help small businesses with a range of accountancy features and finance options. It’s a great role as we get to really help bring them on a technology journey and realise their ambitions.

Can you tell us what led you in to this role and a bit about your academic journey?

Honestly, I’ve followed a somewhat non-traditional route in to this industry. I originally studied law, and then specialised in analytical criminology. I worked for years in cyber risk management and financial fraud analysis. But I got to the point where my role was getting closer to management consulting and I wanted something more technical. So I decided to leave my job and retrain for a few months, before taking on a role as a software developer. I don’t at all regret my previous roles, as I gained a lot of consultancy skills that I still use every day. The days of a software developer sitting all day typing with their headphones on is over – businesses want our technical knowledge but also our ability to consult and work with various stakeholders across their teams!

What are some of the more exciting science and engineering jobs that you are seeing now or you see for the future?

Always a difficult question to answer without straying in to buzzword terri tory! In terms of technology, the whole ‘Cloud’ area is hardly novel any more, but whilst a few years ago it was still thought of as hype, today it’s a core part of engineering for more and more businesses. The big providers (AWS, Azure, GCP) are evolving their platforms and delivering new services at a frightening rate, meaning there is a growing demand in cloud systems engineering.

There’s also a lot of talk about the potential in robotics, much of which is still firmly in the hype cycle! But I would expect more and more practical applications of robotics to emerge in the near future, and this will call for people with a range of technical and scientific skills from materials science and plastics, to software development, to AI and cognitive science.

Why are events like the Midlands Science Festival so vital for encouraging young people to consider a future in a science career?

Personally, when I was still in school I struggled to understand the range of careers that were out there in the various scientific fields. Schools do great work in helping with career guidance, but they can only do so much and their advice is often theoretical and focused on what to do at university. Events like Midland Science Festival can do brilliant work by making young people more aware of career paths that exist and what it is actually like to work in a scientific field. These events are also a fantastic way to allow young people to see and experience science in ways they would never get a chance to otherwise.

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

I think it’s absolutely key to make young people ask two questions “how does this work?” and “why does this happen?” We should try to stimulate curiosity and make young people arrive at these questions themselves, motivating them to dig deeper and look for answers. The easiest way to do this is probably to get ‘hands-on’ with science as much as possible – show young people some of the outcomes and products of scientific application and give them the space to explore and question them.

Something for everyone at the Midlands Science Festival!

As the upcoming annual Midlands Science Festival and national Science Week grow closer, local development agency Midlands Science is gearing up to provide an array of incredible events and science fun across the Midlands. Science Week which is managed by Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Discover Programme has been in existence since the mid-1990s and has grown to around 800 events per year.
The Midlands Science Festival, which begins on November 9th, celebrates science in the region with original programming that includes lively debates and lectures, film productions, hands-on workshops and interactive demonstrations for people of all ages. All things science will be explored through shows, demonstrations and talks to advance our understanding and appreciation of everything from astronomy to zoology.

This year’s festival includes a family open day, Travels in Chernobyl, the Science of Harry Potter, Cancer Causes and Cures Myth Busting, National Museum of Ireland outreach events and much more. Popular activities such as science knitting patterns for local knitters and a Science Festival Book Club for adult and younger readers are back again this year. Exploring everything from invisible ink to Darth Vader’s voice, the Midlands Science Festival is a unique opportunity to explore science through a diverse programme of interactive events, workshops and shows. This year’s festival also includes a strong focus on climate change issues and sustainability and a specially curated ASD appropriate event. Supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and a number of corporate and academic partners, this is the seventh year of the festival.

Dr. Ruth Freeman, Direc tor of Science for Society in SFI commented,
‘Science Week is SFI’s key annual events which aims to foster a greater understanding of the value of science to society and to increase the numbers of young people studying science and related fields. It gives people a chance to hear from national and global experts who have the ability to engage in conversations about science and technology in an inspiring and motivational way. Each festival offer an exciting line-up of programming, with a number of influential performers and leaders in their fields sharing their expertise and inviting audiences to join conversations that should encourage us all to be champions of science and curiosity. SFI is pleased to continue its support of Midlands Science in its efforts to engage with as many people in the region with science fields.’

The Midlands Science Festival itself aims to engage and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to become leaders of tomorrow. It encourages experimentation, collaboration, inspiring students to solve real-world problems. This is the first year that Midlands Science will be partnering with organisations such as the National Museum of Ireland to demonstrate that important connection between science, culture and the arts. The week long programme will also feature Marty Jopson of BBC’s The One Show, celebrity Chef Louise Lennox exploring the science of gastronomy and Simon Watt who has regularly featured on Channel 4 and Discovery with his science programmes.

Jackie Gorman, Direc tor of the Midlands Science Festival said,
‘We are delighted through support from Science Foundation Ireland and a number of key partnerships to be bringing a number of exciting science events to the Midlands again this year. We will be exploring everything from climate change to the science of Harry Potter, from bog bodies to quantum physics. Science Week is the essence of diversity. We have always strived to link the science issues we explore in our outreach work with everyday life and experiences and this year, we are more than ever conscious of this, as climate change is a national theme for Science Week. This is an issue which increasingly affects all aspects of our lives. Science can help us understand what is happening and also provide us with the information to make different choices and pursue solutions in the future. We are delighted to again be working with partners such as the local heritage offices, local partnership companies and libraries. As Hermione Granger said “when in doubt, go to the library !” We hope that people will take the opportunity to attend some of the events which we have programmed for this year, they are all free and feature world class experts who are passionate about science and sharing that passion with others.’

The festival takes sciences out of scholarly journals and traditional labora tories in to the cultural mainstream in a more accessible, creative and impactful way. It a wonderful opportunity for science enthusiasts to see what’s new and innovative in the world of science and technology. It is also the perfect chance for someone who is just tipping their toe in to science for the first time, to participate in over 100 hands-on activities and live performances by science explorers, communica tors and experts whose mission it is to educate, entertain, inform and inspire.

Jackie Gorman continued,
‘Every year we want the festival to ignite curiosity and let people discover that science and technology can offer amazing opportunities, often in ways that they may not realise. This year’s calendar of activity is bigger and better than ever. We are delighted to announce an extra element to our 2019 programming which includes a free, Discovery Day in Co. Offaly. This event will allow families to immerse themselves in a wide array of exciting and meaningful science experiences, such as Dr Mindflip’s Ultimate Learning Experience, star gazing with the Exploration Dome, snakes and spiders with the Reptile Zoo, Dinosaurs with Dale Treadwell, Star War science and lots more! Keep a close eye on for booking details and information which will be added over the coming weeks and please join us in celebrating science in the Midlands this November.’

A Taste of Science Week…

This year’s exciting programme, which will be our 7th Midlands Science Festival, includes a packed variety of engaging shows, exhibitions and hands-on fun demonstrations in classrooms and theatres alike!

Supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and a number of corporate and academic partners, here is some detail of the events we are planning for Science Week 2019; A family open day, Travels in Chernobyl, the Science of Harry Potter, Cancer Causes and Cures Myth Busting, National Museum of Ireland outreach events and much more. Popular activities such as science knitting patterns for local knitters and a Science Festival Book Club for adult and younger readers are back again this year. Exploring everything from invisible ink to Darth Vader’s voice, the Midlands Science Festival is a unique opportunity to explore science through a diverse programme of interactive events, workshops and shows.

This year’s festival also includes a strong focus on climate change issues and sustainability and a specially curated ASD appropriate event.

Jackie Gorman, Direc tor of the Midlands Science Festival said, ‘The festival will allow people of all ages to discover something new, participate in a large number of hands-on science and technology activities and see a whole host of live performances by science enthusiasts, experts and communica tors. We hope to bring together a large number of interested participants including researchers and science communica tors, science students and younger children together with their families and the general public from all over the Midlands.’

Nearly there…

There are now almost 120 events online for next week – many are booked out but we are contacting those who booked to reconfirm and will post updates if there are any cancellations on Friday.

Tomorrow we will post links for events which still have some capacity. We are covering a large area in the midlands so we can’t get to everywhere each year so please bear with us as we try to spread the science around.


The Midlands Science Festival will be taking place across the region for people of all ages from November 11th – 18th and is a wonderful chance to bridge the gap between science and the public, opening discussion around many important developments and build people’s science capital in the region.

The week-long annual event, which is hosted by the Midlands Science and a number of partners including one of Ireland’s leading healthcare companies, Abbott in Longford, is heading in to its sixth year and promises to bring together members of the public with scientists, engineers, technologists and science workshop performers. With over 120 free events on offer across the Midlands region, large numbers of people are expected to turn out to celebrate science this November.

The festival is an excellent opportunity to inspire young adults and the next generation of scientists. One of the activities on the agenda for Longford this year includes a day exploring “What Happens Next?” at Longford County Library on Nov 13th.  This interactive lecture suitable for primary school classes from 4th class up. In the presentations, a series of simple experiments are demonstrated, but paused at a critical point and students asked to predict what will happen next? Subjects covered include forces, light and reflections, heat transfer and electricity.

This year’s festival also sees the return of qualified marine biologists, Marine Dimensions, where lessons on living things in Ireland’s seas and oceans will take place in Ballymahon Library all day on the 14th of November. This workshop includes a touchpool containing live sea creatures, including starfish, shrimp, anemones, crabs and sea snails and is always a popular Science Week activity with younger pupils.

On November 16th, Granard Library will host the Reptile Zoo Village where a variety of animals from snakes and spider to tor toise will be visiting for the day and on the 17th Midlands Science is delighted to welcome back the award-winning team from ‘Anyone for Science’ – this time to Longford County Library. Their hands-on, age-appropriate workshops are suitable for children from Junior Infants to 6th Class and every child gets to participate in some hands-on science.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Direc tor said,

‘Science is all around us in everything we can see and touch and this is the sixth year that a free programme of free Science Week events is being rolled out in the Midlands counties. You don’t need to be a science expert or professor to begin to explore the world of science and our festival is an excellent event for giving both children and adults opportunities to think about the world around them and about why things actually are the way they are!

We are particularly looking forward to the ‘Discovery Day, which will take place in Saturday, November 10th in St. Mel’s secondary school in Longford from 10:00am until 2:00pm. The event will be run in partnership with Abbott and will offer a unique opportunity for students and their parents or guardians to experience a whole range of science and technology fun, including science activities with Anyone 4 Science, The Dinosaur Show with Dale Treadwell, The Exploration Dome, The Reptile Zoo Village, the Under the Microscope team, and innovative science activities with Abbott.’

The science festival will highlight cutting-edge research and bring together people from across the scientific disciplines and beyond. A key aim throughout the festival and Science Week itself is to get people thinking about science in a wider context and how it plays a critical and central role in every element of our society.’

See for more event details and booking and join us this November 11th-18th in celebrating science in Longford!

Pho to:

One of our spider friends from the Reptile Zoo Village

“Don’t mow! Let it grow!”

We are thrilled to announce something very different and exciting for the Midlands Science Festival 2018 in the shape of bug-centric learning sessions! We are delighted to be welcoming Creative En tomologist, Nessa D’arcy who will explore the world of bugs with some of our very lucky younger audiences. We had a chat to Nessa to find out a little bit more about her work and interests in advance of her workshops…
Nessa, how would you describe the role of a Creative En tomologist?
I aim to reintroduce humans to their natural habitat through colourful encounters with insects. So far, this includes insect surveys for conservation, bug-centric workshops and outings, and art which celebrates the beauty, diversity and importance of these essential and under-appreciated ecosystem engineers. Creative En tomologist is a job title I created for myself when I couldn’t bring myself to choose between a career in conservation or my art practice, and I’ve found that great things happen for both when I combine the two!
What kinds of things will the pupils learn about during your Science Week workshops?
The children will take part in a s torytelling and video making project on the theme of insect folklore and ecology. We’ll explore legends and urban myths about bees, beetles and other bugs, as well as learning about their needs, their roles in the ecosystem, and actions we can take to help them thrive. I’m excited to see the results, as the s toryline and visuals for the video will be guided by the children’s own curiosity and creativity. The aim is also to create something which captures the public’s attention and conveys a call to action for insect conservation.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to work with such small creatures?
I have been fascinated by all creatures great and small since I was big enough to terrorise the neighbours with a handful of slugs. As a child I would get upset if someone put a spider out of the house without showing it to me first! The macro world was (and still is) a calm place for me to escape to, a resource in times of stress. Being able to name animals and plants gave me confidence. I’ve seen nature experiences having the same effect on children when I’ve volunteered with OWLS Children’s Nature Club and when I do Heritage in Schools workshops. Throughout my MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation and my work on SEED Madagascar’s conservation programme, my earlier degree in Fine Art always had an influence, and my mum predicted years ago that I would someday combine art and science!
Are your events interactive-are there some opportunities for the mini scientists to get hands-on?
Always. I teach the kids insect-sampling techniques outdoors between spring and autumn, and will be bringing some six-legged friends in to my winter workshops. My dream is to have everyone finding, identifying and recording insects in their local area. The more records we have the better we can make decisions about conserving our wildlife. It’s easy to make a real contribution. In my workshop for Midlands Science there will also be a chance to get hands on with art materials!
My mother used to always tell us, ‘insects are just some God’s special creatures!’ What would you say to help a child who is afraid of bugs?
We fear the unknown, and sometimes all it takes to overcome this fear is meeting an insect face to face and learning something about it. The same applies to meeting new people, and we need more of this in both cases! I explain that a bee or wasp that flies near you is just looking for a flower and means no harm. Even the poor vilified false widow spider will only bite if you harass it. I once had a pupil who strongly disliked insects at the start of a workshop but by the end she wanted to take a pair of mating dock beetles home with her to see them produce offspring! I think it was the s tory of their shiny green romance that won her over. S torytelling has great power to elicit empathy, and I think my enthusiasm and affection for bugs might be a little contagious too.
‘Nessa’s work draws people in to familiarise themselves intimately with insects.’ This statement on your website shows your passion for the bug world. Why do we as a society need to talk about this more and what can we doing to encourage the next generation to do to help?
An experienced natural beekeeper was once asked why bees are in decline, and he answered, “Because we don’t love them enough”. Loving something requires understanding it and what it needs. Most people know that bees pollinate our crops and are at risk, so they will happily grow flowers and put up bee hotels. But it’s less widely known that most other insects are disappearing too, threatening the very functioning of the environment, and flowers alone can’t save them. One of the biggest hurdles to insect conservation is our perception of ‘wild’ as ‘untidy’. Long, luscious grassland full of wildflowers, hedgerows bursting forth with flowers and fruit, and delicious dead wood are all essential habitats for insects. Dandelions are an essential early food source for pollina tors, and nettles are the sole food plant of some of our most beautiful butterflies. I get a kick out of sending kids home to their parents chanting, “Don’t mow! Let it grow!”
My parents claim I didn’t learn my bug knowledge from them. This shows that even if you don’t know much about nature yourself, supporting your kids’ outdoor exploration of nature with the help of some books (and now some really helpful social media groups), is enough to encourage them to want to save the world!
Pho to credit: Charline Fernandez of

We’re Here to Inspire….

Midlands Science is pleased to be teaming up with Birr Castle Demense & Science Centre this year to deliver some exciting workshops for a number of fortunate Midland students during Science Week.
The interactive Science centre at Birr Castle reveals the wonders of early pho tography, engineering and astronomy with a special emphasis on the brilliant design and assembly of the world famous Great Telescope. We caught up with Alison Delaney, Education Officer with Birr Castle Demense & Science Centre to talk about what we can look forward to this November and to learn a little bit more about what is offered at the castle itself….

Alison, we are delighted that you will be taking part in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Can you tell us a bit about Birr Castle, its focus on science activities and what you will be providing during Science Week 2018?
Thanks very much, Gillian. There has been a castle on this site in Co. Offaly since early medieval times, but it was really when the Parsons family arrived in Birr in 1620 that the castle started to develop in to what it is today. The Parsons family have been resident at the castle for nearly 400 years, Lord Brendan and Lady Alison Rosse being the current owners. The family are known as a Family of Inven tors and have achieved some remarkable things over the years. The third Earl of Rosse was responsible for designing and building the world-famous telescope the Leviathan, his wife Mary Rosse became known as Ireland’s first female pho tographer and the dark room in which she worked was painstakingly moved piece by piece from the castle to its current location in the Science Centre here, it’s believed to be the oldest complete dark room in the world. One of their sons, Laurence invented the Lunar Heat Machine that was able to accurately measure the temperature of the moon for the first time. Another of their sons invented the steam powered turbine which was used in ships like the Titanic and the Dreadnought. The current Earl, his mother and father share a passion for horticulture and have developed the 120 acres of magnificent gardens within the Demesne. There’s such a richness of scientific his tory at Birr Castle that it’s a real pleasure to be able to draw upon these achievements to share and inspire others.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that with the workshops and events that are run throughout the year but, more specifically, with the interesting programme of activities we have for Science Week this year. Two fantastic workshops are being run as part of the Midlands Science Festival, the first is called, “Da Vinci – Inventing the Impossible,” where the artist Paul Timoney, dressed in character along with his Mona Lisa, explores how art can be used to develop ideas. How by using both detailed, accurate observation and the freedom of expression and imagination incredible scientific progress can be made. The other is a pho tography workshop being run by Veronica Nicholson. We’re going to visit the dark room in the Science Centre and then discover the impact of light in an expressive pho tography session. We’ll be learning how to literally draw shapes using light. Continuing on from the Festival, we’re also running further workshops for both schools and families entitled, “Common Sense.” We’ll be looking at how our senses work in isolation and experimenting to see how good they actually are and how we compare against the rest of the animal world. Bit of a spoiler here, we’re not as good as we think we are! It’s a really fun, fully immersive workshop and I’m looking forward to running that during the week.

The Astronomy of Birr Castle is one of its greatest attractions. It is unusual for a Castle in the centre of Ireland to have become a great centre of astronomical discovery. Can you give us some background on this and how it evolved?

Yes, that’s right during the late 1800’s Birr Castle was very well known within astronomical circles worldwide. This was seen as the place to study the distant features of the universe. It was William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse that set himself the challenge of investigating the universe. He definitely had an unconventional education in that he was tu tored at home with a solid focus on maths and engineering, but it was exactly this type of education that enabled him to achieve the extraordinary feat of building the moveable Great Leviathan 72” telescope which was the biggest telescope in the world for nearly 75 years. Lord Rosse initially used 18” and 36” telescopes through which he was able to observe the moon in greater detail than ever before but he realised he needed more light to see further in to the universe to study star clusters and nebulae. It took him three years to design and build the telescope but what he found was worth waiting for, he discovered the spiral nature of galaxies. His original charcoal drawings of his discoveries are on display here, he was incredibly accurate with them.
I do also want to mention the third Earl’s eldest son Laurence, because he contributed greatly to astronomy too which was probably pretty inevitable given his upbringing amongst telescopes and astronomers. He was particularly interested in the moon and, towards the end of his life, built the Lunar Heat Machine which is on display in our Science Centre. He was able to accurately measure the heat of the moon using this machine, but it was only 80 years later, after the moon landings, that his calculations were verified and he was believed. There is a letter from Neil Armstrong on display next to the machine thanking the Parsons family for their extraordinary contributions to astronomy and scientific exploration.
Last year Birr became the home of another great astronomical project called I-LOFAR. To me it doesn’t look as visually impressive as the Leviathan, but the fact that it’s capable of ground breaking research in modern astronomy certainly makes up for that. It’s one of a network of radio telescopes that is connected to a further eleven stations in Europe and makes for one very, very large telescope, it is therefore capable of capturing some pretty unique data. It’s an exciting time for Irish astronomy and wonderful that such a significant project is located at Birr Castle Gardens and continuing in the great tradition that is very much a part of the fabric here.

What is your own background? Did you study science at university?

I didn’t come from a science background at all so it’s very interesting that I have now found myself in a position where I love teaching it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career when I was at school, I’m still unsure how it’s even possible to know given that many career options are so far removed from a school curriculum and experience at that time. I had an interest in astronomy thanks to a primary school teacher that used to run an evening club for 6th class. I didn’t get the chance to explore that in any great detail at secondary school but kept an interest throughout. I think astronomy is universally the most interesting, wonderful, inspiring and terrifying of the science subjects. The stereotype, however, that you had to have the genius intelligence of Stephen Hawking, Isaac New ton or a rocket scientist to choose that as an option at university made it a non-starter for me. I also had a huge interest in wildlife but studying biology was closed to me as I refused to dissect animals – it was a compulsory part of the curriculum at the time. That one decision has definitely altered my career path and it’s a shame that pursuing a genuine interest wasn’t available to me on an academic level because I was expected to do something I was very uncomfortable with. I may well have gone on to study zoology or ecology at university just because I was interested rather than because I had a career path mapped out. I was drawn to creative artsy subjects at school and chose subjects based on this and my like of the teacher of those subjects. I’m sure I’m not alone in that! I eventually found my way in to teaching via Theology and Philosophy degrees and so I could argue that I did study science at university, just not in a conventional way. I qualified as both a primary and secondary school teacher, but decided that I was more drawn to the variety of primary teaching and spent a very happy twelve years in the classroom. My love of wildlife, botany and ecology continued throughout the years and I was appointed the environmental education co-ordina tor at the school in which I was teaching. In 2012, I became a Head Guide with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a door that closed all those years ago was reopened. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching groups about our native flora and fauna in Ireland and, as a part of the Frontier Bushcraft team in the UK, teaching groups about how to appreciate and utilise these as resources for living comfortably within the natural environment. Living, sleeping and working outside for many weeks at a time really gives you a unique connection to the natural world and our place within it. It’s actually amazing how our bodies and senses adapt back to a more primitive state under these conditions and that’s something we explore in “Common Sense” the Science Week workshop we’re running this year. We explore the limitations of our senses, how they’re numbed by the modern environment we live in, and how we can train ourselves to refine our senses to be more nature aware. I feel so fortunate to have been appointed as the new Educational Development Officer here at Birr Castle Gardens and Science Centre in July of this year. It’s a brand new post and a big exciting challenge. I can share my passion for biodiversity and the natural world in the 120 acres of gardens, arboretum and river walks developed by generations of the Parsons family. It’s as tonishing what an oasis the demesne is for both native and non-native species. Really incredible. The his torical and modern links to Irish astronomy from this site and all that offers from an educational perspective are unparalleled in Ireland. We have the oldest complete dark room in the world within the Science Centre here; a rich his tory of engineering achievements, actually a rich his tory full-s top. So, although I didn’t study science at university, I’m fully immersed in it now and loving it.

What experiences in school or otherwise influenced you to pursue a career in science?
Rather than encouraging me to pursue a career in science, I feel that my experiences in school achieved exactly the opposite. The lessons were formal, stiff and irrelevant. No obvious connections were made between science and everyday life and I remember my lessons at the time as being saturated with rights and wrongs with no room for manoeuvre. Doesn’t all science start with curiosity and a question? I never got that at school. It seemed that science was taught in a his torical, fact heavy way and it wasn’t presented in a way that I could connect with, it was difficult to understand and boring. There were students that enjoyed maths and science and others that enjoyed English and art and never the twain shall meet. The cross curricular links were never highlighted, it’s not that they didn’t exist rather that subjects were defined, prescribed and separate. I think schools have become better at the merging of subjects and proactively searching for links between them. I think this immediately makes subjects more accessible to all students that may have previously boxed subjects in to likes and dislikes. I particularly like that the Da Vinci workshop running here for Science Week is removing these boundaries that I experienced and embracing the connections between art, science and progress. Now that I’m involved in the teaching of science, I actually think that my negative experiences of learning science at school have enabled me to teach it better. I remember leaving science classes thinking, “So what? Why do I need to know this? It doesn’t mean anything to me,” so I now try to ensure that every workshop and lesson I deliver is engaging, accessible, inclusive and relevant. Encouraging curiosity, discovery and relating things back to modern life and keeping things interesting is something I work very hard on. It’s always nice to learn when you don’t know you’re learning. We’re here to inspire and we’re never going to achieve that if we’re only reaching out to a handful of people in each workshop that have an interest in “Chemistry,” “Physics” and “Biology.”

What do you think we can be doing to inspire and encourage more young people to choose science as a subject and indeed as a third level college choice?

One of the biggest barriers, and certainly it would be applicable to me, would be the thought that science in secondary school and beyond is difficult, boring and hard to relate to. It’s conducted by people that speak an intimidating scientific language in white lab coats and goggles in a sterile lab, obviously that’s not always the case, but I do think it’s still a common perception. So many people are challenging these preconceptions and working hard to get the message out there that science can be cool and varied and interesting. In my experience, children are unfailingly enthusiastic about partaking in science experiments and demonstrations, but it’s important for them to realise that science isn’t all fun and games like workshops often suggest, getting their attention in this manner is a good starting point to pique interest though and demonstrate possibilities within the blanket term, “science.” There are more opportunities than ever before for children to access science through interesting festivals, STEM week programmes, teachers getting involved in CPD etc and these opportunities might allow some of the themes to land in a meaningful and life changing way. Also, echoing what I said earlier, linking the arts to science is something that is very important, it can broaden the reach of the subject in so many ways, I know there’s a lot of people focussing on this right now and I’m really enjoying hearing about how they’re achieving it. Our Da Vinci event ticks all the right boxes there. Very young children are naturally curious and constantly ask the question, “Why?” Does this eagerness of discovery wane a little at school? It’s something we need to encourage for sure, the relatability and the asking of questions and guiding them to explore and discover the answers and continuing this through all levels of education. I do think that students can become accus tomed to learning what other people think and what other people have discovered, but if they can ask questions that resonate with them and reach beyond that, there’s exciting stuff to be found there.