Wrap Up and Get Out…

Lucy and Ann in CharlevilleIn recent years in particular, we are being made all the more aware of the importance of nature and the significant role it can play when it comes to our health, well-being and functioning. There is no question that getting out into nature gives us a sense of escape from the stresses and strains of day to day life. Doing something as simple as going for a long walk can really help to put things into perspective; to help us learn not to worry so much about the smaller things.

Exploring nature is also a way of creating memories that can be cherished forever by children. This time can be spent in your own garden, in the nearest park or woods and the most wonderful thing is that it can often be done with no expense at all.

Everybody is so busy these days and many of us forget about the importance of play, exploration and family time but there really is a lot to be gained by taking a step back and remembering how important it is for the whole family to unwind and therefore refresh.

And there is no reason to let the cold weather deter you. Sometimes it is the simple things like letting the children splash in puddles, jump in colourful Autumn leaves, catch snowflakes or make snow angels that can give the most delight.

Science tells us that obesity is perhaps one of the most visible symptom of the lack of such play, but several studies from around the world indicate that regular time outdoors produces significant other health improvements in areas such as learning ability, creativity and psychological wellbeing.

We are really making the most of getting wrapped up in warm coats and heading out into nature this autumn. Why don’t you do the same. And watch this space for an exciting outdoors event which will be during the Midlands Science Festival..to be announced soon!

‘My Mum still calls me when she finds a hidden bird’s nest!’

SFinlay_IDWe would like to introduce one of our key speakers, Sive Finlay, who will be delivering some exciting presentations in the Midlands this year called ‘The Silence of the Tenrecs’..

Sive is postgraduate Zoology researcher at Trinity College Dublin with a broad range of research interests in evolution, ecology, comparative biology and behavioural ecology.  She also has a keen interest in science writing and communication

We caught up with Sive to find out more …

Can you tell us a little bit about your role in TCD?
I’m a postgraduate student working in the Zoology department. That means that I work on my own research questions but I have a supervisor to offer guidance and advice. Being a research student is a bit like an apprentice training scheme: you learn how to become a fully-fledged scientist. My department is a fantastic place to work with lots of friendly staff and students who are always willing to offer a helping hand. There are also lots of opportunities to get involved with teaching and fun outreach activities, not to mention some great travel opportunities for conferences and fieldwork. It’s a great place to work!

Congratulations on being the 2014 winner of the Best Science and Technology blog at the Irish Blog Awards – Why is it so important to be able to communicate science effectively?
Thanks! This was the first year that we entered our EcoEvo@TCD blog so we were delighted to win the award. We have lots of staff and students who contribute interesting and varied articles so it was great to be recognised for our work. I love writing for the blog and it has definitely helped to hone my communication skills.

Many people think that science is incredibly complicated and too difficult to understand. I think that it’s our job as scientists to cut through that barrier and to make science interesting and accessible for wider audiences. New scientific discoveries and research affect every aspect of our daily lives so it’s important to communicate these ideas to the public. We need effective communicators to inspire the next generation of scientists and to share the new discoveries that shape our understanding of the world.

What piece of research currently interests you the most? What are you most passionate about in science?
My background is in zoology so I’ve always been interested in trying to understand how animals have evolved through interactions with their environment. But I’m equally curious and fascinated by areas completely outside my own research area. Most recently, I’ve been teaching primary school children about the big bang and the history of our universe (way outside my usual comfort zone) so that inspired me to read more about cosmology and astrophysics. I love the diversity of science: there’s always something new to discover!

What led you into a career in science and zoology in particular?
I’ve always been interested in nature and the environment and trying to figure out how things work. This was fuelled by a steady diet of David Attenborough documentaries and my mum, who still calls me when she’s found a pretty spider’s web or hidden bird’s nest. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after school so I chose a general science degree to keep my options open. I loved my biology courses, especially the ones on animal behaviour and evolution, so I followed my interests to complete a zoology degree. I became a zoologist by accident rather than design but I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Why is it important to support festivals like the Midlands Science Festival?
I think the Midlands Science Festival is a great opportunity for people to learn what science is all about. The old stereotype of the “mad scientist” locked away in a lab is still too common. The events in this festival put a human face to scientific research and hopefully they will inspire more people to take an interest in science or to study STEM subjects. From the scientists’ point of view, festivals like these are really fun opportunities to share our enthusiasm for our subjects. Scientists talking about their research are usually a fairly excitable bunch!



The Essence of Science..

Even the most innovative scientific breakthroughs can fail in their impact or value if not communicated in the most accurate and stimulating way.

We strongly agree with Alan Alda in his sentiments; ‘Communicating is not something you add onto science, it is the essence of science.’
Communication is indeed an increasingly important part of a scientist’s professional identity and promoting your work and its significance to a range of audiences is a critical skill.

We are really excited about having award-winning science broadcaster Jonathan McCrea as a key host at some of our Midlands Science Festival events this year. Jonathan is the founder of Whipsmart Media, a science and technology communications company based in Dublin and last year, he added something really creative and extra special to our festival so we are thrilled that he is returning for 2014.

We are also really pleased to have another expert science communicator Dr. Craig Slattery, who hails from the Midlands and he too will be joining us for a number of events and activities during Science Week in Athlone and in Tullamore this year. Craig’s primary research interest is in the development of kidney disorders with particular focus on diabetic nephropathy, proteinuria, drug-induced nephrotoxicity and renal cancers. He is currently a Government of Ireland Research Fellow funded by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology.

Despite some recent improvements that have been reported in the media, there still appears to be a common belief that scientists are poor at communicating. We are particularly looking forward to Craig’s Science Communications workshop (See Events page) where a number of scientists and teachers will learn first-hand some of the tools of the trade when it comes to communicating their research more effectively.

This workshop is for students, lecturers, teachers and all those involved in public engagement around science. It will provide an introduction to ‘improv’ training and show how such training can improve science communication. This workshop will be an invaluable introduction to the exciting world of science communication for all those who wish to share their passion for discovery.

Fostering the Scientists of the Future…

ploughing iWe are really excited about having the’ Junior Einsteins Science Club’ for the first time at the Midlands Science Festival this year. This unique club incorporates core science into fun sessions of hands-on  experiments designed to stimulate and create a love of science and nature.

Tracey-Jane Cassidy is the founder and inspiration behind this wonderful club…. I caught up with Tracey recently at this 2014 Ploughing Championships where she and her scientists were presenting to excited audiences in the Laois tent… to find out more about what Junior Einsteins is all about…

Tracey, can you tell us what the inspiration was behind the Junior Einsteins Club?
As a scientist and a single Mum of three very young children, I see every day how children are fascinated by the science in everyday things. Having moved home to Ireland after living abroad for 12 years, I realised that there is not enough science being taught in primary schools here. I started running after school science clubs locally in south Dublin and with incredible, growing demand ‘Junior Einsteins’ has exploded into a nationwide phenomenon.

We are an innovative initiative passionate about bringing a love of science and learning to primary school aged children.
Our inclusive , hands-on approach is unique . We are not a science class, the children make and do their own experiments , wearing their lab coats and goggles, using real scientific equipment including a university grade Van Der Graff Generator.

What can of activities do you offer?
We hold lots of amazing science events throughout the year from an awesome Google event to the incredible buzz of The National Ploughing Championships. We provide Science Birthday Parties,communion parties, after-school science clubs, Hallowe’en, Easter & Summer camps and corporate events. These activities are aimed towards primary school children, but adults are fascinated too. We have even been asked to do a science hen night! Once we explain a difficult scientific concept in the most simple fashion, whether the audience is 9 or 90, they gain knowledge in a fun way and remember through doing.

Is it a challenge to promote science education? If so, what do you think we could do to make science more attractive as a career option?
We have been embraced and encouraged at every turn. Schools, parents and children are keen to have after school science clubs at their schools. All children love to make slime , build rockets, dig up dinosaur bones and even electrocute a Barbie doll while learning the ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ in the process. Parents associations and principals in schools have grasped the ethos of Junior Einsteins Science Club and the children are thrilled.

I feel that science is a language and all languages are better understood and learnt more easily if introduced at a young age. All primary school aged children should have the opportunity to attend a fun, relaxed, hands-on science after school club so science education is promoted. I believe that if the grammar of science is learnt early in primary school, then children will not be reluctant to choose the sciences at secondary level and will embrace the expansive knowledge and fascinating facts that science offers. The children in whom the love of science is cultivated now will be the science students at third level and as graduates, they will be the scientists who will shape our future.

We must not underestimate young children, nor condescend to them. I have 6 year olds in after school science clubs who can explain Mendelian inheritance using lego!

Why are events like the Midlands Science festival so important do you think?
Science is entertaining. The Midlands Science Festival is an extravaganza of exciting exploration of science for all ages. It is an excuse and a reason to dust off that chemistry set and enjoy the camaraderie of everyone who is interested in our astonishing planet and universe and every wonderful facts and theorys that they have to offer. We here at Junior Einsteins Science Club have scientists who are so full of excitement and enthusiasm for science that it is contagious.

What is your favourite science fact?
I love that science is less about an individual person’s intelligence and more about team work curiosity, imagination and perseverance. As Einstein said: I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.

The Bubble Master Returns

D15192-0025Blowing bubbles is something that reminds everyone of their childhood and it is a pastime that just never gets old!

We are delighted to confirm that Steve Allman is joining us once again at this year’s Midlands Science Festival. We can’t wait to see ‘The Bubble Show’ in November where a lucky school will find out how to make their own bubble mixture, see what happens as bubbles are filled with smoke and watch on in awe as huge bubbles float over their heads.

Some Facts:
Why Do Bubbles Burst? Anything that fractures the fragile layer of water molecules can cause a bubble to burst. For example, a gust of wind or an object (like your finger) will easily cause a bubble to burst. Also, a bubble will burst if enough of the water molecules evaporate

Did you know that the best recipe for bubbles is 95% water, 4% glycerine, 1% fairy liquid

The biggest free-floating soap bubble ever blown was 105.4 cubic feet. It could have held 788 gallons of water!

Once again, this is evidence that science really is all around us! We are so excited about the Bubble Show and plan to take some really good photos to capture the magic of the event…Roll on Science Week!

Top Interview Tips and More with Cpl Director, Judith Moffett

judith moffett cplWhat type of jobs do you recruit for at Cpl?
My team recruit for scientists, engineers, supply chain and construction specialists. In the science & engineering area, this includes qualified candidates who work in the Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical, Medical Device, Electronic, Food, Energy industries in either Manufacturing, Engineering, R&D or Clinical related roles. The specific roles we recruit for include quality assurance, quality control, microbiology, regulatory affairs, production, technical services, validation, process engineering, commissioning, qualification, maintenance, instrumentation, design, R&D and EHS.

In the supply chain area, the specific roles we recruit for include procurement, supply chain specialists, buyers, planners, schedulers, warehouse, logistics, category managers and CMO roles. In the construction area, we recruit for engineers, quantity surveyors, architects, estimators, property managers and contracts managers.

What strategies do you use to qualified candidates for the roles you recruit for?
Cpl uses their database predominantly to source qualified candidates. The Cpl database has over 1.3 million cvs with 31,000 additional cvs coming through each month. In addition, we use advertising, networking and referrals, Linked in, Facebook and Twitter to source candidates.

What really impresses you on a CV or job application?
A well formatted cv, with no spelling or grammatical errors. A cv should lead with a candidate’s education and then their most recent, employment experience and additional roles listed in chronological order. A candidate needs to create, a specific, tailored cv for each role that they apply for.

How should a candidate prepare for an interview with a top Life Sciences company-what are your top tips?
The key to an interview is preparation. It is important to cross reference your cv against the job description and have relevant, work-related examples to demonstrate your knowledge of the duties on the job description. Have at least four to five, different examples prepared. First impressions are key. Arrive ten to fifteen minutes early, no earlier, it will put your interviewer(s) under time pressure. Ensure that you wear a suit, ideally dark in colour (navy or black). Be first to offer a firm handshake (no limp fish!) and ensure you maintain eye contact. Say your full name when introducing yourself.

During the meeting, remember one thing…listen. Listen carefully to the question asked and keep your answer as relevant to the question as possible. Do not ramble or go off on a tangent. Watch for your interviewer’s facial cues to know when you have said enough.

A guaranteed question to be asked, is “What do you know about the company?” Or “Why do you want to work for this company?”. The candidate should research the company in detail. Not just what is written on the company website, but additional, research beyond the website. It is impressive if a candidate can relay information about a company’s current share price, know detailed information about any mergers or acquisitions, relay information on any recent awards and/or be able to discuss a company’s drug pipeline in detail.

It is important to give the interviewer(s) the impression that you want this job with their company and not just a job. Many people fall down on this question and do minimal, company research.

Another important part of interview research is to try to understand the culture of the company that you are interviewing with. Most companies will have their core values listed on their site. It is important that a candidate takes these into consideration during the interview and demonstrates through their answers, how he/she could fit in with these core values

Why should students consider a career in science?
Ireland has an incredible track record in the science area and for this reason there is a future of exciting, world class opportunities for science graduates in Ireland.
The Biopharma industry has made a capital investment of $8 billion in new facilities in Ireland, most of which has happened in the past 10 years. This is almost the largest level of investment in new biotechnology anywhere in the world. Currently, Ireland’s annual exports of pharmaceutical, bio and chemical provide is produce is valued at €55 billion per annum.
Ireland is the 8th largest producer of pharmaceutical products globally.
Currently 9 of the 10 top pharmaceutical companies and 17 of the top 25 medical device companies have significant operations in Ireland. Ireland has also become a very significant player in the biotechnology industry and several high, profile start up companies have established operations here in the past 12 months including Regeneron and Alexion.

What are some of the ‘jobs of the future’ that you have come across recently?
Technology is changing at a incredible pace. For any graduating in the next 5 to 10 years, jobs will exist that don’t exist now. For example, genetic counselling is an up and coming global area.

What was the last really great role that you recruited for, that would suit someone just graduating from college?
There are several great career opportunities that will suit someone graduating from college with 3 – 6 months, relevant experience. Examples include quality control analyst positions or junior documentation roles in a biotech, pharma or medical device environment. Graduates who choose degrees that offer an industry work placement, have a higher chance of securing a role when they graduate.

Stuck for rainy day activities?

DiceMaths is still viewed by many students as being one of the hardest subjects in school but something that really works as a way of helping to change that mindset is to expose children to maths in a more fun and interactive way. So why not combine learning with fun and try out some maths games with your child the next time you are looking for something to entertain them with on a wet day?

It doesn’t have to be complicated – Use simple materials such as used butter boxes and buttons and see how immersed your younger children will become in this simple yet enjoyable activity while learning how to count. Or for the ones that are a little older, why not try some of the old favourites such as Ludo or Monopoly Junior. Playing these games, children don’t even realise that they are learning something valuable that will help them later in life.

We are working with a number of schools in the Midlands who have recently decided to try out the Canadian ‘JUMP Maths’ Programme. JUMP Maths (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies), is a charitable organisation which focuses on new and more innovative ways to educate young people about maths. With origins in Canada, its mission is to encourage a love and understanding of maths in students and educators. The JUMP Maths philosophy is founded upon a belief that all children can be led to think mathematically, even if they may harbour some innate anxiety around it.  Many students face unnecessary fears when it comes to learning maths but the positive feedback we have had from teaching staff involved in the delivery of JUMP locally indicates that the programme is really helping to restore confidence in students!

Anything that combines STEM and learning with fun gets our vote 🙂



Your Favourite Science Fact!

D15192-0025We are trying to build our collection of science facts in advance of ‘Science Week’ which takes place in November from the 9th to 16th.
We already have a number of great favourite science facts which were submitted by some of our key speakers such as the following :

– The human body has ten times more bacteria cells than human cells.
– A neutron star (what remains after a Super Nova) is so dense that a portion of it the size of a sugar cube would weigh as much as all of humanity
– 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!

We would love to hear yours! Please contact us and tell us something really interesting about science. It can be anything science-related because science is all around us in so many aspects of every day life. We look forward to hearing from you…..

You can email: Gillian Maunsell – gmaunsell@atlanticcorridor.ie

In Conversation with Dr. Fiona Walsh…


On November 11th,  a talk will be delievered in Athlone Institute of Technology called ‘TALES OF ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE’ by Dr. Fiona Walsh of NUI, Maynooth. We caught up with Dr. Walsh in advance of the festival to find out  what inspires her and to learn more about the types of projects she is working on…

What inspired you to work in a science related field?

I like the idea of going to work and not knowing what I’ll find out. I guess I’ve never really lost that but why question that most small children ask. I love the idea that we can find the answers to these questions ourselves and see if the answers that we were given in books or by teachers is actually true. Science for me is all about asking questions and then figuring out how we can answer them. The more questions I asked the more I wanted to keep going and find out more.

What types of research projects are you working on relating to antibiotics?

I’m interested in antibiotic resistance and antibiotic discovery. When we think of antibiotic resistance and antibiotics we usually picture a hospital or patient. But most antibiotics were produced by bacteria or mushroom type creatures in soil. The bacteria in soil and the environment have protected themselves from antibiotics for millennia. I’m interested in looking at how antibiotic resistance gets from its origins in the environment into bacteria in people as well as how the use of antibiotics in humans and animals affects the bacteria in the environment. This is difficult because we need to look at bacteria in soil, water and animals as well as humans and the world is a very large place.
Another project that I am working on is looking for new antibiotics in soil. The first antibiotics were discovered by looking at bacteria in soil using technology from the 1950s. I’ve updated these processes to use 21st century technology and science to look at soil bacteria that produce antibiotics.

Some people are nervous about giving their children too many antiobiotics, why is this the case?

Antibiotics are precious medicines. They will only work if they can stop the infection. The more we expose bacteria to antibiotics the higher the chances are that we will help the resistant ones to survive. This is true for all people, not just children.

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

Maynooth University has a great science faculty and I think it’s important for people to see what research goes on in their region and in Ireland. For many people universities are places to go to get a degree, but there is another world within our universities that is expanding boundaries of science and finding out information that wasn’t known yesterday. This is an extremely important part of the university and one that the public should be able to hear about.

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

Until there are an equal number of men and women as professors and leaders in science there will always be challenges for women in science. Identifying women that have made it to the top in science is difficult. I recently read an article about the way in which men and women read maps. The myth has been that women can’t read maps. The passage said that maps have been made by men for men for centuries. Once the maps were made by women there was no difference between the genders in ability to read the map. I think that this is also true of science careers, until women are visible as leaders in science we will have only one map of how to get to the destination of being world-class scientist.

What is your favourite science fact?

The human body has ten times more bacteria cells than human cells.

Selfie Festival Fun..

Paul CarrollWe are really gearing up for the festival now and the preparations are well underway. You can look out for us in a town, school, shopping centre, tourist spot and many other places near you in the coming weeks when we will be bringing our virtual brand ambassador, Curious Kim on tour around the Midlands and beyond! She even took a trip to Dublin last week to meet one of our festival partners, top recruitment company, Cpl! (Photo-Curious Kim with Paul Carroll, Business Development Director, Cpl)

We will be encouraging you to take selfies with Kim and then tweet them to be in with a chance of winning a prize. Why not get into the spirit of the Midlands Science Festival and help us celebrate science in the weeks ahead!