No two days are the same!

Helena bonner picWe are delighted to be welcoming Dr. Helena Bonner from the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) to the Midlands this year, where she will provide a valuable careers talk to a very lucky secondary school in the region. We caught up with Dr. Bonner in advance of the festival to find out more.

What inspired you to pursue a career in a science related field?

I had a great science teacher who was really passionate about the subject. I also just liked the sciences more than any other subject so I enjoyed studying it.

What is your role at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI)?

I have an exciting job in that no two days are the same. My background is in Neuroscience (the study of the brain and the nervous system). We are interested in what happens in the cells of the brain (neuronal cells) before they die as a results of brain damage due to a stroke, for example. This damage occurs when the neuronal cells get deprived of blood, which contains oxygen and nutrients. This leads to a series of events that lead to the death of the cells. We are trying to find out how they die and how we could potentially stop that process. At the moment, I am also working on trying to see into tissues more clearly. When you are trying to look deeper into the cells and vessels of tissues using a high spec microscope, there is a lot of fat in the way. We want to get rid of that fat without damaging the tissue so we can see the cells and vessels more clearly. Our main tissues of interest are the brain, spinal cord and the pancreas. This is a long process that demands patience but when it works, it gives you a lot of information and beautiful images.

Other aspects of my job include organising outreach programmes where students come into RCSI and have a tour of the labs and speak with researchers. We also hold a three day programme for TY students who learn about what it’s like to work in a lab and experience what it is like to do research as a career. I also go out to schools around the country and give science career talks to TY, 5th and 6th year students.

Why is it important for the RCSI to take part in events such as the Midlands Science Festival?

RCSI is a well known medical school in the heart of Dublin city but we also have an expanding research institute that will always be looking out for talented science, technology and engineering and math (STEM) graduates to work or pursue their postgraduate studies here. It’s important for us to reach out to these graduates so that they know we exist and to inform them on what type of research is being undertaken at RCSI and to encourage them to pursue these exciting careers.

Are there are any specific challenges for women in science now?

The biggest challenge most women in science face is trying to balance a career with motherhood. Many women feel they have to have kids before they get too old and there isn’t enough time or money to do both without some form of support (like childcare or research grants). And compared to their competitors, who can work longer hours and attend more conferences, some women don’t have the qualifications to get high up positions. But this challenge for women can also occur in other fields and not just science.

What is your favourite science fact?

The brain of an adult human weighs around 3 pounds (1.5 kg). Although it makes up just 2% of the body’s weight, it uses around 20% of its energy.

Ploughing Festival Success!

Thanks so much to everyone who visited our kite making workshops and Science of Chocolate event at the National Ploughing Festival –  we are delighted that the day was such a great success and look forward to making and flying many more kites at the Midlands Science Festival in November!

Kites and Chocolate at the National Ploughing Championships

Photography : Jeff Harvey

 

The Midlands Science Festival team is pleased to be participating at the 2016 National Ploughing Championships today in association with Offaly Local Enterprise Office in Offaly County Council.  Some familiar science festival faces will appear in the Offaly tent where families and individuals can come along and hear some fun and engaging talks such as insight in the science of chocolate with an opportunity to sample some delicious local produce from Ballyshiel Chocolate and hear more about the upcoming science festival itself.
Midlands Science Festival Director Jackie Gorman said,
‘I am very grateful to Offaly Local Enterprise office for giving us this opportunity to meet as many members of the public as possible at this year’s National Ploughing Championships where we will showcase a taste of what we do during Science Week right across the region. In planning the annual festival, we are very conscious of the need to deliver a variety of content which makes science and technology more fun and accessible. We are delighted to be providing a series of kite design workshops at the Ploughing Championships with our partners from ‘Go Fly Your Kite’ whose ethos with children is fun through learning and building confidence and artistic skills.  We are delighted that they will be also be working with us throughout this year’s Midlands Science Festival in November. Come along and learn to make a kite, taste some chocolate and find out how much fun science can be.’
The Midlands Science Festival team encourages as many people as possible to come and chat to them at the National Ploughing Championships for some free family fun and to find out what will be on the various towns and schools during Science Week itself.
Jackie Gorman continued,
 “It is very important that we interact directly with our audiences at important events like the Ploughing Championships in advance of the Midlands Science Festival. It gives us that valuable opportunity to answer questions people might have about the types of activities we run but it also gives the public a chance to have a voice in what they would like to see during a science festival and we are more than happy to take on suggestions and inputs that might make the festival even more fresh and innovative than in previous years. Partnering with local food producers like Ballyshiel Chocolate and being visible within the community is of vital importance to us.’

Enjoying the Fun that is Science!

Bubbles Steve Allman and pupils from Scoil Mhuire in Tullamore Co OffalyOne of the things we look forward to the most during Science Week is seeing so many happy, young primary school faces when pupils get the opportunity to have a fun science event at their school. This one was particularly popular..the ‘Science of bubbles’ which was a terrific way to teach children some basic science principles in a fun and exciting way!

We have lots more events like this coming to the region this year and we can not wait! 🙂

Return of some popular events..

We are delighted to be working with St Mary’s Youth Centre, Tullamore this year for Science Week. We will be having a series of workshops and events over two days with the amazing Exploration Dome and the team from Marine Dimensions. Both Exploration Dome and Marine Dimensions were big hits at our festival last year.

Exploration Dome is the most advanced digital mobile planetarium in the country and it’s a great way to explore the wonders of science, astronomy, geology and geography. Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be an astronaut, swim with a shark or visit the planets? The Exploration Dome has it all in a fun, interactive and easily accessible way!

Marine Dimensions is a social enterprise dedicated to marine environmental education, research and conservation. Their mission is to enhance understanding and appreciation of marine biodiversity through education, research and community based participation. The workshops include a touchpool containing live marine animals, including starfish, crabs, shrimp and anemones. There is an arts and crafts table for kids, with shark colouring competitions and mermaids’ purse necklaces. All pupils questions will be answered by qualified marine biologists and information on marine conservation projects that need your help will be available.

A science career is an easy sell if you ask me!

We can’t wait for a very special and new event taking place in Co.Laois during the year’s Midlands Science Festival – The Secret Life of Crows will be brought to the region by Ricky Whelan..We caught up with Ricky in advance of the festival..

Ricky, we are delighted that you will be getting involved in this year’s Midlands Science festival especially given you are a native! We know that you have a degree in Zoology from NUIG and are passionate about all things nature…what inspired you to pursue this type of career path?

My choice of career was very much inspired by a childhood spent in the fields, in the hedgerows and down by the river. We were free to roam in the 90s when I was growing up and the experiences we had picking damsons, collecting frog spawn and staking out rabbit burrows stayed with me.

I lost my enthusiasm for nature as a young teenager before rediscovering it in my late teens through surfing. Surfing brought me to the wildest and most beautiful places in Ireland and the sight of diving gannets and passing dolphins reignited my love for all things wild. I didn’t impress anyone with my leaving cert results and luckily at the time I had enough points to study science which I saw as my opportunity to work my way over into marine conservation. I enjoyed my time studying in Galway but being from Laois (the most land locked county in Ireland) it seemed daft for me to pursue Marine Science and I elected to keep my options open and specialised in Zoology.

Whilst I knew I wanted to protect wildlife and wild places I didn’t know how and I volunteered for loads of wildlife NGOs from BirdWatch Ireland to Bat Conservation Ireland. I was lucky to nab an unpaid internship in the UK and moved to a well-known nature reserve in the east of England, RSPB Minsmere. It was there in the UK where I cut my teeth and learned the skills I needed to return home to my local patch and get involved at the sharp end of species conservation here. I owe my inspiration to my mam and dad for getting us outside, to my uncle Ray for introducing me to fishing and the river Barrow, to my primary school teachers Ms Fennelly and Ms Kirwan for our regular “nature walks”, my second level science teachers Mr O’Connell and Mr Murray who were fantastic influences and to all of the fantastic and committed wildlife heroes I met along the way!

What do you love most about your job?

Its difficult to say what I love most about my job but there are definitely a few stand out reasons why I find it so enjoyable. My colleagues at BirdWatch Ireland are all experts in their respective fields and very motivated people who want to be at their desks or out in the field doing what they love best which is protecting wild birds and biodiversity. That gives the office a really nice atmosphere knowing that everyone there is so committed to their respective roles. The variation of the fieldwork is also a major benefit from visiting remote islands within the summer months to catch and tag seabirds, to surveying Swifts at some of Irelands most ancient and historic sites really makes the day to day survey work quite special. The seasonality of birds and the change over from the wintering species to the summering species and vice versa gives me reasons to enjoy and

What do you think parents can do to encourage a love of science and nature in very young children?

I think for modern kids to find a respect and love for nature they must experience it in the flesh. You don’t need to be a scientist or a wildlife expert to go into the woods with your children and climb a tree or look for deer tracks, children are full of that natural wonder themselves and only need to be given the opportunities to explore it for themselves. Spending time enjoying the outdoors is a good place to start whether it’s a family walk or picnic, a visit to the local nature reserve or whatever, nature will provide the entertainment! I spent my childhood catching minnows (a small fish) in jars with a piece of string attached, my cousins and I were amazed by the little creatures and its memories like that that make me want to protect our rivers and other wild places so other kids, maybe even my own someday can enjoy catching minnows in jars too! Society is a different place than when I grew up and we were probably the last generation of kids who had true freedom but the perceived threats of the modern world is too often used as an excuse to sterilise kids’ lives, let them out in the woods, let them get stung by nettles, let them fall from the branch, the only risk is they might enjoy themselves.

What would you say to a second level student to encourage them to consider a science career?

A science career is an easy sell if you ask me. Science is the systematic gathering of information through observation and/or experiment, does that sound boring or what? But science is part of nearly every facet of life and every industry needs scientists, be it making Mars Bars, making a Formula1 Car move, protecting the Great Barrier Reef or doing your granny’s hip operation we need scientists! A science career could land you at any location in the world, working on any sort of project, product or challenge! Giving science at third level a go opens up so many opportunities to any student and more importantly opens up the world to them!

Why are events like the Midlands Science Festival so important?

The Midlands Science Festival and similar events brings science, live and in the flesh out to our towns and schools. The organisers and people involved find the coolest things to talk about and demonstrate or make the everyday stuff far more interesting by injecting a tiny bit of science! Its at a Midlands Science Festival event you are going to find yourself saying “Wo, that’s cool, I never realised that before”. We have become afraid of the word “science” but the Midland Science Festival reminds us that no one word can describe with any accuracy how totally bananas and interesting science and its many disciplines can be!

Go fly Your Kite with us this November!

kite pressAnother event which we are so excited about is all about kites! Kite flying has been enjoyed by children of all ages (and adults) for many many moons, but have we every really considered how they work or the science behind them? We are delighted to be partnering with our friends at ‘Go Fly Your Kite’ to provide fun and interesting workshops for pupils across the region during this year’s Midlands Science Festival..We spoke to Glenn Heasly to find out more..

Glenn, what is the science behind kite flying? Is physics a key issue?
The physics to how a kite gains lift is very similar to how an airplane gains lift. The wings generate lift force by the action of the moving air over the wing surface. A kite works in exactly the same way. The wind blows in the direction of the kite and underneath it – this creates lift. An excellent way for students to a gain a feel for aerodynamic forces is to fly a kite!

We are really pleased that you and the ‘Go Fly Your Kite’ team will be coming to the Midlands this year for a series of exciting Science Week events ..Can you tell us about the workshops you will be providing and what they entail?
We are thrilled at the invite by Midlands Science to take part in Science week this year. Our workshops are primarily fun with the science, art, design & exercise all mixed into each workshop. The end result is a kite designed by each student a knowledge of how the kite takes flight and a personal achievement of constructing, designing and flying their reusable kite.
So is making a kite as much about engineering as it is about art?
Engineering is crucial in the process, if its not engineered properly it fails its aims and objectives. Our workshops demonstrate this, how critical it is to ensure the construction of the kite, to achieve our aim … the flight of the kite. The art is creative and it enables a unique bespoke design which makes each students kite unique to them. Kites were invented in China and have been around for thousands of years and even in those early years art was applied to kites in the most amazing designs. We will show pupils the different kites through history and talk about their varied uses through time.

What are some of the most important elements of kite making and where does the role of wind come in?
Three key elements in flight – lift, drag and gravity. A kite and an airplane are heavier than air objects that are flown by the lift created by air in motion over their wings. An airplane relies on thrust from the engines. A kite is tethered in place and needs moving air (wind) to enable it to fly. When we run with the kite, string and handle we create that air to enable it to take off.

Is it true that kite technology also led to the invention of the airplane, the parachute, and the helicopter?

From Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th Century dream of flight to Montgolfier brothers discovery of the hot air balloon, Newtons law of motion have all lead to the foundation of modern aerodynamics … each one of these remarkable people in history have led to todays technology and the ability to fly a plane through the air.

Anyone 4 Science?

Anyone 4 scienceAnyone 4 Science was established in 2005 to provide fun hands-on science and engineering activities initially for 8-12 year olds. Supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry we are thrilled to be welcoming Anyone 4 Science to the region for the first time at this year’s Midlands Science Festival. One very lucky school will find out in the coming weeks if they will be hosting this event for Science Week 2015! Really excited about this one!

Time for a nap?

sleep picWe are having a great public event for this year’s Midlands Science Festival with the amazing science communicator Craig Slattery and it’s on a topic we can all relate to – sleep !! This public event in Athlone will explore the science of sleep – 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 ? Keep an eye on our festival website for details.To celebrate our Science of Sleep Event, we have a voucher for 200 Euros for Burgess of Athlone to give away. Burgess stocks an amazing range of quality bedlinen, duvets and pillows. Like and share this post on Midlands Science facebook page and the draw will take place on September 26th.

Stuck for summer holiday activities?

PlaydoughPlaydough is a great way to help children develop control and strength of the muscles in their fingers and really use their imagination ..Here we are making a whole variety of cupcakes! They can learn to roll, press, flatten, shape..The possibilities are endless and it’s so much fun too!