Just Do It!

Craig picWe are really looking forward to working with Dr.Craig Slattery during this years festival! We met up last week and enjoyed a chat to find out a little bit more about his science career to date and what drives him  …

I know you are from Tullamore originally Craig but where has your career taken you over the past decade?
The great thing about science is that it is a truly international endeavor and a science qualification gives you huge flexibility to travel and work overseas. After my PhD, I moved to Australia with my wife and took up a postdoctoral research position in the University of Queensland. It was a hugely enjoyable time and allowed us to travel all over the southern hemisphere. It was also a really fantastic opportunity career-wise. When we returned to Ireland a few years later, I was able to secure research funding on foot of my work in Australia. We really underestimate how well regarded the Irish education system is internationally. Awards from Irish higher education institutes really carry weight and open doors.

Can you tell us what is your current role at UCD?
My current role in UCD is as a Biomedical Researcher and a Specialist Lecturer. I am a member of a team of researchers called the Renal Disease Research Group, which is led by Dr. Tara McMorrow. We focus on a range of diseases and toxicities that can affect the kidneys. At the moment I am focused on diabetes as it is themain cause of kidney disease. We are part of a large EU project that aims to discover new ways to prevent diabetic kidney disease and to find new drugs to treat it.

What advice would you give young students considering a career in science?
Just do it! I know that sounds ridiculously corny but if you have any interest in science you will not regret it. It’s very important to study something that you have a passion for. That way, when things get tough around exam time, your natural interest will help to drive you on. As a bonus, science qualifications are hugely flexible and very attractive to prospective employers across many different fields.

How do you think we could make science more attractive to young people?
The funny thing is I don’t think you have to work very hard to get young people interested in science. Young people are naturally drawn to science. Children are natural experimenters. If you spend 5 minutes with a toddler you very quickly realize that they are constantly asking‘why?’, ‘how?’, and ‘what if?’  And when they figure something out you can see their excitement and satisfaction. That is science … our natural inquisitiveness at work. What we need to do is make sure that this thirst for knowledge and discovery doesn’t get eroded as they grow up. A great way to do that is by encouragingyoung people to keep asking questions as they go through school and try to structure their learning experiences and environments around this.

Is there anything you would really love to investigate further if you had no limitations?
I am fascinated by how the human body keeps track of its biological age over decades. We’re beginning to understand some parts of this puzzle and it’s going to lead to new treatments for a whole range of diseases. But I would be interested to see if we could ultimately manipulate our biological clocks on a grand scale? Could we slow down aging and dramatically extend the human lifespan? Who knows.

Why is it important to host and support events such as the Midlands Science Festival do you think?
The vast majority of scientific research around the world is funded by public money. I think any event that brings scientists and the public into closer contact, allowing the people to see the return on this investment is extremely important. Just as important though is getting people thinking, and talking about science and it’s role in our society. In the past, this sort of event has generally happened at a national level (i.e. in the cities!). Having a Science Festival in the Midlands where people can go to their local pub and hear from a world leading scientist like Professor O’Neill is fantastic and I really hope it is embraced. Added to that, the variety of different types of events that have been organised from school visits and workshops, to coffee mornings and movie nights, really means there is something for everyone.

Fancy a Cuppa?

2 scientists having cuppaDid you know that coffee is..

  • The second most widely used product in the world after oil.
  • It was worth 6 million tonnes per year in the mid 90’s.
  • It is worth €30 billion per year to the producing countries.
  • It is a living to more than 100 million people.
  • It is consumed at the rate of 1400 million cups per day.
  • The world’s second most popular drink after water

A common belief among coffee pundits is that good coffee depends heavily on good grinding. Is this true? Why not come along to our ‘Science of Coffee’ event which is taking place in Tullamore on November 13th this year. We are delighted to have the company and expertise of fellow Midlander; toxicologist and science communicator Dr.Craig Slattery (University College Dublin), to speak about  the fascinating studies that have been done on this much loved drink on the day.

When is the perfect time to drink coffee [according to your body’s circadian clock], how do you make the perfect cup of coffee [boiling points and pressure are important], what does caffeine do to our body, there’s so much to learn! Join us at this very different science festival event, enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee and hear all about the science of caffeine in this free public event.

Where: The Coffee Club, Harbour Street, Tullamore
When: November 13th @ 10:30am
During what is shaping up to be a hectic week, this is definitely one we are looking forward to!

A Chat with Dr. Don Faller…

Dr Don FallerAthlone Institute of Technology (AIT) is an award-winning higher education institution located in the Midlands. More than 6,000 students are undertaking undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Business, Humanities, Engineering and Science. €100 million has been invested in the AIT campus since 2000, ensuring that students experience a world-class education with cutting-edge facilities.

We are delighted to be partnering with AIT this year to deliver a Midlands Science Festival with even more exciting and innovative events than 2013 and this week we caught up with Don Faller, acting Head of the School of Science to find out a bit about his academic career and his views on science.

Can you tell us a bit about your role in Athlone institute of Technology?
For 15 years I lectured on the Toxicology programmes offered by AIT. In 2009 I was appointed Head of Department of Life & Physical Sciences and more recently, I have taken up the role of acting Head of the School of Science at AIT.  This role involves taking responsibility for the overall management of the School of Science and its strategic development in terms of new academic programmes and external activities. It is an exciting and challenging role and one that would not be possible to take on without the expertise and dedication of the staff in the School of Science.

What is the most fulfilling part about your job Don?
There are very many fulfilling aspects of my job. Welcoming new students to AIT at the start of each academic year and watching students graduating each year at the Institute’s annual graduation ceremony in October are always a pleasure, as is attending events such as Higher Options and visiting second level schools to meet students interested in hearing about science courses at AIT.

Can you tell us your favourite science fact?
In 1941, penicillin was first used to treat a bacterial infection in a human being. However, because there was such a small supply of penicillin available at the time, all of the patient’s urine was collected and the excreted penicillin was extracted from the urine and re-administered to the patient!

Why is it important that AIT supports events such as the Midlands Science Festival?
As an Institute of Technology, many of AIT’s academic and research programmes have a strong ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths’ (STEM) focus. AIT is delighted to be associated with all regional and national activities that encourages people of all ages to engage with STEM and we are really excited to be involved with the 2014 Midland Science Festival.

Do you have any advice for young people considering a career in science?
Yes. Make sure you thoroughly research all of the available science courses available to you and all of the job opportunities each course offers. It is always a good idea to spend some time with someone who is currently working in the area you are interested in. Talk to you career guidance teacher and make sure your Leaving Certificate subject choice is the correct one for the third level course you hope to pursue. Above all, pick a course you will enjoy!

Are there any particularly exciting jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago or ‘jobs of the future’ in science fields that the next generation might get excited about?
Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology companies should continue to be key employers in the future. It goes without saying that IT will continue to change the way we live and work. The so-called ‘Internet of Things’ is an area we will be seeing more of in the future – this is where familiar objects such as cars, thermostats, dishwashers etc. will be able to remotely connect to the internet. Anticipated applications of the Internet of Things include the automation of the heating of buildings, improved road safety, monitoring of the environment (soil temperature, road temperature etc.) as well as human and animal health monitoring.

Do you think, although science is a core subject, that there is enough emphasis placed upon it in schools?
I think second level schools place a strong emphasis on science to Junior Certificate. However, at senior cycle, while very may students opt to study Biology, the numbers of students taking Chemistry and Physics is very low. I would welcome the introduction of a ‘bonus points’ scheme similar to the one was introduced for honours maths in recent years in order to incentivise the study of Chemistry and Physics at Leaving Certificate. I would also like to see a much wider availability of Agricultural Science at second level.

Early to Bed..

New_1_SarahIt’s that time of year again. Thousands of households around the country are in the grips of ‘back to school’ fever and many of the mums and dads are  determined to get their children back into the right routine as the summer holidays draw to a close.

We spend a third of our lives doing it. So, why is sleep so important?

An easier way to understand why sleep is so critical is to actually think about what would happen if we didn’t sleep. We are always telling the children that they need to be in bed by a certain time and that they must get enough rest for whatever activity it is they have ahead of them the next day. But what’s the science behind this?

Lack of sleep affects the brain and its ability to function; it affects concentration and our attention span. Sleep is one of the few things we all have in common yet it continues to baffle scientists the world over. We need enough sleep to maintain normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory and thinking and if we don’t get enough rest, our sense of time and judgement as well as our emotions are all impaired!

After a good sleep everything inside gets the boost, which is required for the next day ahead. The right amount of sleep helps to regulate the hormones that control appetite and even boosts the immune system. Sleep helps us feel happier and less cranky! And one of the things that is most important for the younger folk as they head back into another academic year, it allows us focus, learn and make good decisions. (happy little scholar pictured after a lovely night’s sleep)

So, how much sleep do we need?

This is widely debated but in reality, it really differs from one individual to another as some people genuinely need a lot less or more sleep than others. Most studies advise that we need seven to eight hours daily. In an article I read recently, Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre gave a simple answer: “The amount of sleep we require is what we need not to be sleepy in the daytime.”

It’s getting late. Goodnight All!


With Thanks….


The Midlands Science Festival team would like to extend our sincere thanks to our festival partners for their generosity. We are extremely grateful for their help in making this all possible by providing key speakers, venues and events during festival week.

Please join us in thanking Athlone Institute of Technology, Cpl Recruitment, Ericsson, Luan Gallery, Laois County Council and Atlantic Corridor. We look forward to working together to make this festival a resounding success!

Going to the Zoo…

DSCF3407These days, if you want to see what your favourite place in the world looks like, you can go online and there will be an app there waiting for you. If on the other hand you’re looking for some wonderful real-life experiences to share with the whole family, then take a trip to the zoo!

There really is nothing quite like the wonder on a young child’s face during a live dolphin show or seeing the natural behaviour of tigers or elephants roaming around their enclosures. Even if it is their third or fourth time there; each time, they learn and experience something new.

Zoos not only provide a really traditional kind of wholesome day out, they also provide children with a valuable and hands-on educational experience which helps to give them an appreciation of the animals, who are well looked after in plenty of space. And there is no question that seeing the animals in actual reality is a much more memorable experience than seeing them on television or online. As well as seeing animals function in their element, a day out at the zoo can also open up new idea for young people around prospective career paths.

We are really looking forward to seeing the same kind of fascination during this year’s Midlands Science Festival when the ‘Reptile Zoo Village’ come back to the region to visit a number of local schools. We can’t wait to let the younger ones get safely close to the lizards, tortoise, turtles, crocodiles, alligators, caiman, spiders, scorpions, frogs, salamanders and more. This is definitely an event where science, education and entertainment all meet in the middle and proves to be an enjoyable learning experience for everyone, regardless of age. We can’t wait!

In Conversation with Gary Donohoe….

We had the pleasure of having a pre-festival chat with Professor Gary Donohoe recently and wanted to share some of his views below. The good news is Gary will also be returning this November to the Midlands Science Festival and he will bring some of his most cutting-edge research stories from the School of Psychology at NUI, Galway. Gary is clinically active in mental health service delivery.

What is your current role at NUI Galway?
In July 2013 I was appointed as Professor and chair of Psychology at NUI Galway.

What is the best part of your job?
I’d have to say it is working within a research team of very talented people. I particularly like the multi-disciplinary nature of the team, consisting of geneticists, psychologists, psychiatrists, statisticians, and pharmacologists. As a psychologist, I’ve learned loads from peoplefrom other disciplines and I’m passionate about helping people learn more about psychology and neuroscience.

What advice would you give young students considering a career in science?
My advice would be to try to locate yourself at the intersection between two main areas of science. For me that’s where all the really innovative work goes on. Neuroscience is a great example of this, as it spans biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. In many instances, great science happens when people apply discoveries from one area of science to another.

How do you think we could make science more attractive to young people?
Science is most attractive when its applied value for solving real world problems is highlighted. In medical science, for example, there are tons of great examples of this from new cancer treatments, understanding the genetics of psychiatric disorders and development of new technologies to help with physical disability.

What do you think about most during your day and is there anything you would really love to investigate further if you had no limitations?
I spend most of my day thinking about my next coffee! If I had no limitations I would love to see a break through in how the ‘basic’ science work I do on the genetics of brain structure and function translates into new treatments for mental health disorders. Right now, we’re still uncovering how genetic variants, both individually and working together in pathways, are responsible for the brain architecture. Using these insights to develop new treatments – both pharmacological and social, is something I really hope to see in my career.

What has been the most exciting scientific development for you over the course of your career to date?
The staggering pace of technology development means that there is much to chose from, whether in the areas of neuroimaging, climate change, or – as my son Ben would choose, the work of the NASA Mars rover ‘curiosity’. For me personally, though, I have been most excited by the move towards ‘big data’ consortia – large networks of scientists combining enormous quantities of data in order to answer questions that could not otherwise be answered. Two examples of this are the Enigma consortium and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, each of which are designed to help discover the genes involved in brain structure and neuropsychiatric disorders. The Nature paper last month, identifying 108 new genetic variants associated with schizophrenia was a landmark discovery for these fields; it feels great to be part of projects that can really answer these questions.

Why is it important to host and support events such as the Midlands Science Festival do you think?
There is great science being carried out in Ireland at the moment. While we get the headlines of this in the media, events such as the Midlands Science Festival allow people to engage with these developments at a deeper level. It’s an opportunity for people to see and hear about the fascinating things we know now that we didn’t know 10 or even 5 years ago.

Top Science broadcaster set to return..

Tonight, award-winning science communicator Jonathan McCrea is in Donegal preparing the public to ‘lick their lips’ at his new live show, Gulp! Jonathan and his colleague, chef Ivan Varian (Dalkey Food Company) will turn taste buds turned upside down as they talk about taste and serve up some delicious (and not so delicious!) treats. More info at www.atasteofdonegal.com

We are delighted to confirm that Jonathan, RTE’s The Science Squad and Newstalk’s Futureproof presenter, will be joining us back in this region at the Midlands Science Festival to present a number of different science shows in Tullamore and also in Athlone Insitiute of Technology.
Check our ‘Event’s section for details of our public science entertainment line-up which is currently taking shape. More events will be added in the coming days!

In Conversation with Ursula Farrell…

UrsulaLast week, we had a chance to catch up with Technical Sales Manager for Synergy Health in Tullamore, Ms. Ursula Farrell. Ursula will be showing some students around her company’s facility during Science Week and providing them with insights into what it is like to work for a medical devices company…She will also be carrying out some fun experiments with younger pupils and providing some valuable lessons, such as the importance of hand-washing!

What is your role within Synergy Health and what do you like most about it?
I am the Technical Sales Manager for Synergy Health which means I am responsible for dealing with all our customers, taking care of their needs and making sure they are happy.

At Synergy Health we make sure that all Medical Devices made in Ireland are clean and safe to be used by patients. At the Doctor’s office all the equipment you see will have been cleaned at Synergy Health so there are no possible germs present. In hospitals, all the instruments used in the operating theatre will have been cleaned at Synergy Health too. During surgery, anything used for the patient will have been sterilized like a stent to go into your heart or a new knee or hip replacement.

The thing I like most about my job is that I get to deal with lots of new people every day but also I know we are helping to save people’s lives.

Tell me about why you decided to pursue a science career in the first place?
I always enjoyed science in school because we got to look at animals and plants and how they work in Biology. Chemistry and physics were harder but once you gave it a chance, it was so interesting and there were lots of experiments and learning about how the world works.

I was worried that choosing science as a career would mean working in a laboratory and having very little choice in where I wanted to work but this is not the case. With my Science degree I was still able to choose to work in the Sales and Marketing department and I needed to have a science back ground to be able to explain to our customers what we do.

Why is it important for companies to support events such as the Midlands Science Festival?
I think any company with a background in Science should be involved so we can encourage children at a young age to understand what studying science can do for them. There are so may varied aspects to a career in Science that perhaps they don’t understand. Allowing Children to see the internal workings of a manufacturing plant or a laboratory and to show them how these jobs help people every day will make Science as a subject more interesting.

Are there are any specific challenges in attracting women into science related fields and do you have any suggestions on how this could be addressed?
There are far more women involved in Science and Engineering today, in fact most of our Technical Engineers are women here in Tullamore. Science was always perceived as a tough subject to pass at school, especially in chemistry, but once you have confidence about your chosen path and are open to the subjects they become so interesting.

Points Race to Science

The Central Applications Office (CAO) figures report that points have increased for science and technology courses as today around 50,000 students are receiving offers for college places.

The increase in these courses reflects industry demand here in Ireland now, with Life Science Companies in the areas of Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, Medical Devices and Diagnostics, employing approximately 47,288 people between indigenous and multinational companies in a variety of activities. (IDA Ireland)

A survey, carried out by Fastrack to IT (FIT), an initiative led by the technology industry in Ireland that provides those at risk of long-term unemployment with marketable technical skills, estimates that there are in excess of 4,500 immediate job vacancies in the IT sector in Ireland. (Irish Times)

One of the main objectives of Science Week is to demonstrate the many exciting career opportunities available within Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths disciplines.  We are looking forward to a number of careers workshops which will be hosted by our corporate partner, Cpl Recruitment, during the Midlands Science Festival.

More information on these events to follow…