Exciting Events later this year with Popular Science Communicator

We are so pleased to announce that we will be working with Dr Niamh Shaw later this year, during Science Week 2020 and the annual Midlands Science Festival. Niamh is a performer, writer & communicator with 2 degrees in engineering & a PhD in science. Passionate about igniting peoples curiosity she explores crossovers in STEMart & communication to share the human story of science. We caught up with Niamh to find out more about what to expect from her upcoming work in the Midlands this year …

Niamh, we are so delighted that you will be coming to the Midlands region to work with us this year as we continue to spread the message that science is all around us in much in everyday life. I know it is too soon to provide the finer details of what will be involved but can you give us a little flavour of what your events are like and what people might be able to expect..

 

Firstly, I’m delighted to be a part of Midlands Science festival this year. You also curate such a wide variety of events that cater for all types of people. My events will all obviously be space-themed and shared with stories and videos about my own space adventures. While there are lots of facts in my events, they aren’t science shows and I’ve made them especially for people who feel that science isn’t really their cup of tea. So lots of videos, pictures and stories about space and designed for people of all ages and all interests.

 

With everyone at home during the current Coronavirus outbreak, are there any tips that you can give to young people to ensure they stay engaged in science learning, albeit in new and different ways?

Science is about analysis really isn’t it? It’s about gathering information and based on the facts, you can better understand something. So my best tip for people to stay engaged in science is to find ways of using your analysis-time brain around the house.

For instance, have you as a family made a daily schedule? if so, what’s on the schedule? Is it the most efficient use of your time? Is someone doing more work than the other? What are the shared tasks? Have you all agreed on the procedures for each task? Do you have a logging system? Can you analyse the schedule at the end of the day? Can it be improved? That’s science right there, everyone!

And if you want to get involved in a home activity, just go outside when its dark and look up! Can you see the moon? If not, why not? How many stars can you see? What are the brightest ones in the sky? Do you see any planets? If you want to know more about what you see in the night sky, there are tons of apps that can help teach you astronomy. The moon will soon be back in our night skies, the planet Venus will be with us a few more weeks and Mercury, Jupiter and Mars will be more visible in the weeks ahead. So much to see, even without a telescope. So just look up!

 

We have heard you have a very exciting life’s mission..can you tell us more?

I have devoted the rest of my life to get to space. I haven’t it all fully figured out just yet but that’s the best part!  I do know that in achieving this,  that I get to share stories about the adventure with all of you! I want to be the ‘normalnaut’ storyteller! And so far, I’ve shared a few of my adventures- like being on a simulated Mars mission in the middle of the desert in America, then I went to Star City in Moscow and took a zero-gravity flight to feel what microgravity (or weightlessness) feels like in the body (very strange, in short!). And other adventures too which I’ll share with you all at the festival in November.

 

You were also recently the co-recipient of a very special award, can you tell us what that meant to you and a little bit about what it was?

I was absolutely thrilled to be given an award from Science Foundation Ireland for my work in communicating STEM, in recognition for all the events and talks and writing that I do about space and science. That was pretty cool.

 

Hard to choose I know but can you share with us what is your favourite science fact ever?

That we are such a tiny species living on a tiny planet that orbits an insignificant star in the Milky Way galaxy, 100,000 light-years in diameter, one galaxy of hundreds of galaxies grouped together in a cluster, the Virgo Cluster, which is part of a supercluster of other clusters and that 55 superclusters make up everything we currently know about our visible Universe, the edge of which is 46.6 billion light-years away from us right now. And yet, we regularly propel 3 people regularly into space and keep them alive onboard the International Space Station and return them safely to earth. That we are incredibly tine in this vast Universe and yet, when people come together and work towards a shared goal, we can literally make the impossible possible. I love that.

Anything else coming up that you can share with us? We are really interested to know what you have been up to recently?

My book ‘Dream Big’ from Mercier Press (a memoir of sorts of the story so far in getting to space) came out in bookstores about 2 days before the first COVID restrictions hit the country. We still have to have the official launch for that, which will probably happen when the book stores re-open. I’ve been working with RTE’s Home School Hub and have contributed some space content for them, which has been a privilege. I am planning the next big space adventure which will hopefully be ready to roll out when the lockdown and restrictions begin to loosen up (whenever that will be). I should be working with the International Space University this summer on their graduate programme in Space Humanities activities.  And lots of online activities too.

Looking forward to meeting you all at Midlands Science Festival!

 

STAY SAFE SAFE HOME

Midlands Science brings Science Home with Gas Networks Ireland

The not for profit organisation, Midlands Science, is delighted to now be in a position to continue to offer a range of remote, fun science workshops via their social media channels with thanks to the support and sponsorship of partner, Gas Networks Ireland. The team at Midlands Science has been working with science communication experts to create new science shows and other online learning resources and running them online over the past few weeks to help ensure that young people can continue to sustain their engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) from their own home during these very different times.

‘Science at Home’ is an entertaining show that explores the science of everyday things at home. The show will be broadcast online on the Midlands Science Facebook page every Tuesday at 12:00 pm and has been running since March 17th following the school closures. The shows will hopefully continue until June of this year and will be run with support from Gas Networks Ireland for the next two weeks. These two episodes will focus on the primary school science topics of living things and biodiversity. All episodes are available on the Youtube channel of Midlands Science and will be available there as full archive.

This is one of a number of impactful initiatives across Ireland promoting science, technology, engineering, maths, literacy, employability and the development of life skills that Gas Networks Ireland supports. Gas Networks Ireland’s sustainability strategy has three pillars of sustainability – environmental impact, social impact and economic impact. As part of its social impact programme, in 2018,Gas Networks Ireland launched the STEM education programme, Energize, in partnership with Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI) in primary schools across the country. The programme is available to 5,000 sixth class students nationwide, with the objective to foster students’ interest in STEM subjects.

Christina van der Kamp, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Gas Networks Ireland, said,

‘Covid-19 is affecting every part of our lives at the moment. We are  getting used to a new way of living so that we can all play our part to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Gas Networks Ireland is delighted to be partnering with Midlands Science to deliver a range of online ‘science at home’ activities. We believe it is particularly important to keep in mind the effect this crisis may be having on young people  who are unable to attend school and see their peers. Providing these children with some engaging online activities is a proactive and useful way to nurture a positive attitude to science while staying at home.

‘We are passionate about introducing young people to the exciting world of science and engineering from an early age, and actively encourage young people to really think about the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and how it impacts our lives on an everyday basis.’

Science at Home presenter, Dr. Dan Nickstrom of Maynooth University said,

‘I’m having a lot of fun trying to communicate science in this way. It’s new and challenging territory for me but I’m enjoying the opportunity and am delighted it’s getting such a good reception among people in the Midlands, young and old especially those trying to keep up with school work.’

Midlands Science CEO, Jackie Gorman said,

‘We know that many parents are now dealing with the dual challenges of working from home while also keeping children safe and hopefully continuing to learn in some way. We are most grateful to Gas Networks Ireland for their support and commitment to helping students during these unsettling days of social distancing and quarantine.

‘Trying to navigate all of this is testing for everyone and we wanted to help in some small way by creating our own virtual science classroom. We hope these science learning workshops will benefit people in the coming weeks and we have had plenty of engagement and positive feedback so far.’

ENDS

Midlands Science

Midlands Science is a not for profit company which promotes STEM education [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] in the midlands of Ireland. It is funded by a mixture of public and private funding and it has a voluntary board of directors. We deliver STEM outreach projects on time, on budget and with significant impact in terms of target audience engagement, media engagement and long-term development outcomes. ‘Science at Home’ is an entertaining show that explores the science of everyday things at home. The show will be broadcast online on the Midlands Science Facebook page every Tuesday at 12:00 pm.

About Gas Networks Ireland

Gas Networks Ireland is the business division of Ervia that owns, builds and maintains the natural gas network in Ireland and connects all customers to the gas network. Gas Networks Ireland operates one of the most modern and safe gas networks in the world and ensures that over 700,000 homes and businesses receive a safe, efficient and secure supply of natural gas, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Ervia is a commercial semi-state multi-utility company with responsibility for the delivery of gas and water infrastructure and services in Ireland.

Gas Networks Ireland published its first sustainability report last year. “Sustainability in Action” highlights Gas Networks Ireland’s progress in implementing the principles of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals across the business.

 

The full report, “Sustainability in Action”, can be found at:

https://www.gasnetworks.ie/corporate/company/our-commitment/sustainability-report/

 

 

Dr. Dan Nickstrom of Maynooth University

Applause for our Nursing Staff on World Health Day

Today is World Health Day and The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” in honour of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale and in recognition of her contribution to health and humanity.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said,

‘The main focus of World Health Day this year is to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives and remind world leaders of the critical role they play in keeping the world healthy. Midlands Science would like to wholeheartedly join in this celebration of all nurses and other health workers who are in the frontline here in Ireland and especially those in our own region, in providing high quality, people-centered treatment and care during this global crisis. It has been wonderful to see the way communities have come together to thank and applaud our frontline staff in recent weeks. People in the beauty and haircare industries are organising care days for everyone involved when all of this has passed, shops and restaurants are preparing and delivering home cooked meals to hospital workers and others are offering to step in to provide childcare for those who are needed in frontline roles throughout this pandemic.’

Nursing Now, a global campaign to improve health by raising the status of nursing, launched in Ireland around this time last year. This worldwide campaign aims for the recognition of nurses’ contribution to healthcare, gender equality, wider society and improved economies. Its aims include greater investment in nursing and more nurses in leadership positions and there is no doubt that the invaluable contribution nurses make is certainly at the forefront at present as Covid19 continues to spread here in Ireland and worldwide.

Jackie Gorman continued,

‘Midlands Science works with many experts who in involved in the manufacture of critical medical equipment and also with wonderful medical staff who have often provided important advice for us various projects, funding applications and events. We wish to take this opportunity today on World Health Day to salute them all and sincerely thank them for the incredible work they are doing in healthcare delivery during this unprecedented and highly challenging time.’

Wear Blue at Home for World Autism Awareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day and to celebrate, Midlands Science is delighted to remind everyone of a series of workshops they will be providing in the near future for people with ASD, their parents and siblings. This is the thirteenth annual World Autism Awareness Day and it is usually a day when the international community, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world come together to Light It Up Blue in recognition of people with autism and those who love and support them. We have had to press pause on our own planned ASD workshops for now but we are looking forward to hopefully rolling more of them out across the Midlands when things eventually settle down with the current pandemic. The aim of these workshops is to provide science learning in a supportive workshop environment. These events are a great opportunity to explore the fun of science and to practice focusing and concentration, social cognition, collaboration and teamwork, listening, comprehension skills and more. For these activities, Midlands Science has partnered with Anyone 4 Science;  an experienced team of science outreach educators who have expertise in working with children on the ASD spectrum.

 

Christine Campbell of Anyone for Science commented,

‘I have been working with Midlands Science for a number of years now during Science Week to deliver a range of interactive and fun workshops for pupils across the Midlands region. I am delighted that now, I am able to provide some very unique workshops which have been designed for young people on the ASD spectrum. Innovative partnerships between organisations such as Anyone for Science and Midlands Science are really important because they help us to continue the critical conversation about autism and inclusion and ensuring that all children have the opportunities to have new and exciting experiences.’

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science CEO said,

‘We not only want to provide fun and engaging activities within classrooms and other settings such as libraries, theatres and even outdoors, we also want to bring together the people who can help move our knowledge forward to make improvements and provide support and educational events for others who may not always be able to avail of such opportunities. Over the past number of years, we have received valuable feedback from people with autism and their families about their challenges and we want to help provide meaningful events that align with their individual strengths and interests too. This year is different due to the fact that we are all at home, so maybe instead of Lighting it up Blue, you could wear blue instead to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. Science tells us that blue is a calming colour so this could be the perfect day for us all to wear it.’

in the near future for people with ASD, their parents and siblings. This is the thirteenth annual World Autism Awareness Day and it is usually a day when the international community, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world come together to Light It Up Blue in recognition of people with autism and those who love and support them. We have had to press pause on our own planned ASD workshops for now but we are looking forward to hopefully rolling more of them out across the Midlands when things eventually settle down with the current pandemic. The aim of these workshops is to provide science learning in a supportive workshop environment. These events are a great opportunity to explore the fun of science and to practice focusing and concentration, social cognition, collaboration and teamwork, listening, comprehension skills and more. For these activities, Midlands Science has partnered with Anyone 4 Science;  an experienced team of science outreach educators who have expertise in working with children on the ASD spectrum.

 

Christine Campbell of Anyone for Science commented,

‘I have been working with Midlands Science for a number of years now during Science Week to deliver a range of interactive and fun workshops for pupils across the Midlands region. I am delighted that now, I am able to provide some very unique workshops which have been designed for young people on the ASD spectrum. Innovative partnerships between organisations such as Anyone for Science and Midlands Science are really important because they help us to continue the critical conversation about autism and inclusion and ensuring that all children have the opportunities to have new and exciting experiences.’

 

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science CEO said,

 

‘We not only want to provide fun and engaging activities within classrooms and other settings such as libraries, theatres and even outdoors, we also want to bring together the people who can help move our knowledge forward to make improvements and provide support and educational events for others who may not always be able to avail of such opportunities. Over the past number of years, we have received valuable feedback from people with autism and their families about their challenges and we want to help provide meaningful events that align with their individual strengths and interests too. This year is different due to the fact that we are all at home, so maybe instead of Lighting it up Blue, you could wear blue instead to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. Science tells us that blue is a calming colour so this could be the perfect day for us all to wear it.’

 

Midlands Science Provides Science Fun At Home

We are continuing to provide a range of engaging activities online via their social media channels while the schools remain closed due to the Covid19 pandemic.  Ever wondered about the science of floating, coins, fridges or sound ? Then this online content is for you, it’s about the science of all the things you can find at home.

Midlands Science CEO, Jackie Gorman said, ‘This is a very challenging time for pupils and parents as they work to navigate remote learning and being away from their peers and teachers. Several of our upcoming events have been postponed but we wanted to help those at home to continue to engage with science and learning by providing some activities online. Since we started doing this last week we have seen a really big appetite for it, especially from parents who are seeking out online resources, apps and games to keep their childrens’ minds engaged at home. People are also looking for activities to take their minds off any worries that children might have during this highly unsettling time.’

As part of the initiative to keep pupils learning in a fun and innovative way, Midlands Science provides a live science workshop with Christine Campbell from Anyone4Science on Thursdays at 11:00am on Facebook. Everything that children need to take part at home is listed on social media a few days in advance and there are no strange items or ingredients, the workshops include a variety of things to be found in the average kitchen. “Science at Home” with Dr. Dan Nickström of Maynooth University is an entertaining show that explores the science of everyday things at home and it’s put online every Tuesday at 12:00 pm. A recent episode explored the science of the fridge and let’s face it, all of those who are working from home are probably commuting a little bit more to the fridge!

Jackie Gorman continued, ‘Midlands Science is working to ensure we continue to provide resources for people to enjoy until we are at a point where we can return to bringing science to your classrooms once more.  We are also working on the circulation of regular newsletters which will list a number of carefully curated resources reflecting the curriculum and won’t create extra work for parents, who are already trying to work from home and keep children engaged with education. Huge thanks to Christine Campbell and Dr Dan Nickström for responding to the changed situation so quickly and providing such great resources. We’d like to thank our various funders for their support for this online transitioning of activities in the current situation and we wish everyone well at this time.’

Whatever the Weather!

Recently many of us found ourselves reading a lot about the many storms that we have experienced here in Ireland! In fact, it’s hard to remember back to a time when we didn’t know what the weather was potentially going to be like day by day and hour by hour!

That’s why, on March 23, we celebrate World Meteorological Day and the World Meteorological Organization, an international organisation that collects data from all over the world to help us better understand the weather and its impact on our lives. This organisation also celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2020.

Talking about the different types of weather can provide exciting starting points for learning. Exploring the concepts of weather offers many fantastic opportunities for maths and science alike. Weather is a great learning tool because it can lead to many opportunities for exploration and supports children’s understanding of the world around them.

Pictured here is the storm glass which was popular in the 1800’s as a way to predict the weather. It consisted of a liquid in a sealed tube of glass and the crystals within the tube in the liquid were believed to be linked to the weather. It was made popular by Admiral Robert Fitzroy, captain of the HMS Beagle, the ship made famous by the famous voyage made by Charles Darwin as part of his exploration of the new science of evolution. But they don’t actually work – sorry !! They remain however a curiosity and are a popular ornament and desk item that give us an insight into how people in the past tried to understand the weather.

Why not take a photograph which is related to weather or climate or draw or paint a picture that illustrate what you think of when you hear the word weather! Send us a photo of your work of art and we will feature them on the page.

#WorldMetDay

#meteorology

#climateaction

#climatechange

 

World Water Day…..

Photographed at the Midlands Science Festival recently were students from 3rd class Educate Together, Tullamore studying the bio diversity of the Grand Canal as part of Science Week. Photograph with compliments

Today is World Water Day! Water is our most precious resource – we must use it more responsibly.

World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis.
We have been so focused on climate change over this past year and water and climate change are inextricably linked.. We must balance all of society’s water needs while ensuring that people don’t get left behind. Using water more efficiently will reduce greenhouse gases and people of all ages have a role to play.

Something to do at home..

Maybe you could use World Water Day as an opportunity to do a little project about how we can all play our part. Maybe send us your drawings to gmaunsell@midlandsscience.ie or message us here with any ideas and we will mention them on our page.

Here are some resources to get you started..
http://www.worldwaterday.org/…/share/social-media-resources/

#WorldWaterDay #WaterNow #climatechange

The science of soap !!

The current situation with the Corona virus/COVID 19 has brought the importance of good hand washing into the news, so here’s the science bit.

Soap is a mixture of oil or fat with water and an alkali or basic salt, the process of making soap is called saponification [there’s a great Scrabble word for you !]. We think that the ancient Babylonians were the first people to make soap as archaeologists found their soap recipes carved into clay containers dating back to 2800 BC. Their soap recipes included animal fats, wood ash and water and their soap was probably for washing wool and cotton for weaving.  The Egyptians used a similar recipe and used soap for washing and treating skin diseases, as did the Romans.

The recipe for soap hasn’t changed much in thousands of years and soap can be made in a cold or hot process. In a cold process, room temperature lye [sodium hydroxide in water] is mixed with a vegetable or animal fat. As these ingredients react, the mixture heats up and thickens and then it’s poured into a mould and becomes solid. It’s allowed to sit for a few weeks to cure, so the excess water evaporates. The hot process is the ancient way to make soap and the ingredients are heated up so the mixture becomes liquid. This means when it’s poured into the moulds, it’s ready as soon as it’s solid.

People have known about how important hand washing is for a long time, even if they didn’t understand why it worked with preventing diseases. We didn’t always know about germs but many of the world’s religions promoted hand washing as part of their rituals. It was only in the 19th century that germs were discovered and hand washing became really important in medical procedures and it took longer to communicate this information to the public.

The importance of soap and hand washing has become big news with the Corona virus. Soap wipes out the Corona virus as soap dissolves the fat membrane surrounding it, causing the virus to fall apart like a house of cards. We need soap as well as water when we wash because the Corona virus is sticky to our skin through hydrogen bonds.  Soap contains amphiles which are similar to the lipids in the virus membrane and the soap molecules compete with the virus membrane lipids and break it up. As our hands are sometimes tough or have wrinkles, we need to really rub and work on washing our hands to make sure that every part of our skin is washed as much as possible.  Work up a good lather when washing hands as the friction helps to have a really good wash and it’s recommended to wash for at least 20 seconds, for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Don’t forget your fingernails!! Make sure to dry your hands well afterwards as well.

The Corona virus may change hand washing habits for a long period of time for the better and help reduce other things like flu. “Wash your hands like you’ve been chopping  jalapeños and you need to change your contacts,” Dr Bonnie Henry, a Canadian health official said recently. Wash early, wash often, and wash well. We are all in this together and can protect each other and those we love by being more aware of how and when we wash our hands.  Here’s our great friend immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill of TCD demonstrating the correct way to wash your hands with RTE’s Claire Byrne. https://www.facebook.com/RTEOne/videos/646465465924683/?v=646465465924683

You can find up to date information on the situation in Ireland on  https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html

 

 

Engineer’s Week celebrations in the Midlands

Engineers Week is a week-long festival of nationwide activities celebrating the world of engineering in Ireland and events kicked off on February 29th in a number of schools, libraries and other venues around the country.  The annual event is coordinated on a national basis by Engineers Ireland’s STEPS programme – funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the Department of Education and Skills and industry leaders ARUP, ESB, Intel and TII.

Midlands Science was delighted to host a range of activities across the region this week to celebrate engineering as a profession and to demonstrate to students of all ages just how much engineering is all around us in so much of what we do in everyday life. Dr Mindflip’s Ultimate Learning Experience is a fun, educational exploration kitted out to allow participants to explore the world and history of quantum physics.  It takes place in a specially designed caravan which rolled into Athlone as part of the annual Engineer’s Week celebrations. Funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Institute of Physics this takes a gaming approach to learning so each choice that people make determines what will happen next. We had a great day at the Aidan Heavy Library in Athlone with Dr. Mindflip and look forward to seeing this event back in the Midlands again soon.

In advance of Engineers Week, Midlands also teamed up with a range of local and national partners recently to host a special week of career workshops, hands on project work and inspirational talks from companies such as ORS, Robotics and Drives, Shay Murtagh, Waterways Ireland, Steripack, and Cpl resources. A number of transition year students from Coláiste Mhuire Mullingar participated in the week to ‘Experience Engineering’ which also focused on other various key learning aspects such as, CV preparation, interview skills and internship opportunities.

Gillian Murtagh of Shay Murtagh Precast Concrete commented,

‘Shay Murtagh was delighted to recently team up with Midlands Science to help inspire local students and enable them to make that all-important connection between in-class learning and real-world engineering careers. We are passionate about our role of encouraging the workforce of the future and while we are all seeing plenty of new job opportunities and career paths for graduates within the engineering profession, the skills shortages continue. Therefore, we must all work together to build awareness and of the industry and showcase to students the vast diversity of both science and engineering fields in a practical and easy to understand manner and events such as this provide the ideal opportunity to do so here in our own region.’

For something a little bit different this year, Midlands Science arranged for engineering films to be shown in secondary schools across the region. Students had the chance to watch inspiring productions such as ‘Dream Big’ which uses a series of surprising human stories to expose the hidden world behind the most exciting inventions and structures across the world.

The aim of each Engineers Week event is to positively showcase engineering as a rewarding and creative career choice to children in all communities. In 2019, there were over 850 activities organised in the community. Midlands Science also presented a hands-on, interactive workshop for a number of students in association with Edenderry Library in Co. Offaly. This workshop gave students from St. Mary’s Secondary School and Oaklands Community College in Edenderry a chance to explore the worlds of electricity, magnetism and semiconductor devices (the building blocks of computers) in a hands-on and relaxed environment. The workshops were delivered by Dr. Dan Nickström from Maynooth University Dept. of Experimental Physics and we are looking forward to lots more fun and engaging events with Dan in the weeks ahead.

#EngineersWeek

@engineerireland

#STEPS

 

 

 

Thoughts on World Book Day!

World Book Day in Ireland takes place today in Ireland, Thursday 5th March. Over the last 23 years, World Book Day has become firmly established as Ireland’s biggest annual event promoting the enjoyment of books and reading. I caught up with Midlands Science CEO, Jackie Gorman who is a published poet and avid reader (as can be seen from one of her many shelves in the image) to hear her views on the importance of reading and what we can do to encourage it from an early age…

Creating a love of reading for pleasure in children is so important. It encourages a love of learning, provides fuel for their imaginations and provides escapism. What are some of the other scientifically proven benefits to reading and starting at an early age? 

Many studies show that toddlers and young children who are read to every day have a larger vocabulary than those who aren’t read to. Reading enhances a child’s vocabulary and it can help them understand how to read and write, but reading aloud to children also helps them to understand different topics about the world and everyday life. As we grow up, reading can become part of our toolkit to deal with stress. In 2009, scientists at the University of Sussex studied how different activities lowered stress by measuring heart rate and muscle tension. Reading a book for just six minutes lowered people’s stress levels by 68 percent—a stronger effect than going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea or coffee or listening to music. Reading can also help you live longer. A team at Yale University followed more than 3600 adults over the age of 50 for 12 years. They found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day lived nearly two years longer than those who read magazines or newspapers. The benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read more !!

Today’s reality includes a lot more technology than when this important day was first launched. Some children now often prefer to play on an iPad than get lost in a good book. What can we do to encourage a love of reading?

Encouraging reading is important and there are lots of things to consider. Ensure that your children see you reading is the first thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the newspaper, a cookery book, a computer manual, magazine – anything is good. Lead by example. Encourage children to join in – ask a child to read out a recipe for you as you cook, or the TV listings when you are turning on the  TV. Give books or book tokens as presents and visit the local library together on a regular basis, and enjoy spending time choosing new books. Keep reading together. There are lots of books that both adults and young people can enjoy – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, the Harry Potter series, or The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Read books you can all talk about. There are also great Irish language books now for children such as Harry Potter – Harry Potter agus an Órchloch ! I’m resding  An Leon, An Bandraoi agus An Prios Éadaigh myself at the moment, an Irish translation of CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Aside from escaping the pressures of the modern day are there other proven benefits to reading for adults?

Reading can change us a person. A University of Toronto research team asked 166 people to fill out questionnaires regarding their emotions and key personality traits, based on the widely used inventory which measures extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability/neuroticism, and openness. Half of the group read Anton Chekhov’s short story The Lady with the Toy Dog, about a man who travels to a resort and has an affair with a married woman. The other half of the group read a similar nonfiction version presented as a report from divorce proceedings. After, everyone answered the same personality questions they’d answered before—and many of the fiction readers’ responses had significantly changed. They saw themselves differently after reading about others’ fictional experience. The nonfiction readers didn’t undergo this change in self-reflection.

The aim of World Book Day is to celebrate authors, books, illustrators and of course reading! What are some of the books on your current ‘to-be-read’ list?

I have a pile in my living room which are to be tackled over the next few months ! Things in Jars by Jess Kidd, Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich, The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting, Mama’s Last Hug by Frans De Waal and Elmet by Fiona Mozley are my immediate priorities. I also use Audible a lot when I walk every day and I’m listening to The Secret History read by the author Donna Tartt at the moment.

 Can you tell us about your favourite science book(s)?

The Flamingo’s Smile by Stephen Jay Gould, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks, The Emperor Of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

What is your favourite science fact, if you can narrow it down to one?!

Answering the question why the sky is blue is my favourite thing because it’s a question we’ve all asked since childhood. I also like that it was research by an Irishman John Tyndall  which explored and solved this question. He used a simple glass tube to simulate the sky, with a white light at one end to represent the sun. He discovered that when he gradually filled the tube with smoke the beam of light appeared to be blue from the side but red from the far end. Tyndall realised that the colour of the sky is a result of light from the sun scattering around particles in the upper atmosphere, in what is now known as the “Tyndall effect”. He thought that the light scattered off particles of dust or water vapour in the atmosphere, like the smoke particles in the tube, but it’s now known that the light scatters off the molecules of the air itself. Tyndall knew that white light was made up of a whole rainbow of coloured light and thought that the blue light appeared because it was more likely to scatter off the particles. We now know that this is because it has a much shorter wavelength than red light and is much more easily scattered, so to our eyes the sky looks blue.