A Bug’s Life!

As we continue to enjoy the summer months, I have noticed just how fascinated children are (unlike many of us adults) by insects! This is wonderful, particularly as we don’t have to go very far to find all sorts of ‘creepy crawlies’ to look at in our very own back garden.

Insects are by far, the most common animals on our planet. More than 1.5 million species of insects have been named. This is three times the number of all other animals combine and many are yet to be discovered. Ladybugs are still a firm favourite and most of us will admit that there is something really special them. Children love to just watch them exploring their surroundings – they never seem to tire of it! Most children aren’t afraid of nature and in their early years they are usually extremely excited by bugs and in what they do. Later in life however, many of us become disinterested or even disgusted by insects so it really is lovely to see the amazement on childrens’ faces when they find something new outside.

It’s so important that we encourage their questions and do our best to try to answer them. This should help lead to a greater interest and indeed appreciation in children about all things green and in science and nature too. The reality is that without insects, life would be remarkably different. Insects pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables so we would not have much of the produce that we rely on without insects, not to mention honey and the many other enjoyable products that these tiny bugs provide.

So the next time a child brings you an insect from outside, try to take some time to look at it together and think about the number of functions they perform and the many benefits we get from sharing the world with these tiny garden creatures…….

In Conversation with Ann-Marie Jennings…


It was really inspiring to chat to Ann-Marie Jennings, Clinical Laboratory Manager of ‘Randox Health’ recently about her career path. Ann-Marie is originally from Tullamore in Co. Offaly and is involved in scientific work that could really make a difference when it comes to the diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

You are originally from Tullamore Ann-Marie, where are you living and working now?
I am living in Belfast and working for a Company called Randox Laboratories. I am the Clinical Laboratory Manager of Randox Health which is a service that we provide for personalised and preventative health profiling. I also oversee all the Clinical Research Projects and Clinical Trials that Randox are in which include Bladder Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Brain Injury, Acute Kidney Infection and Sepsis. Studies

What experiences in school or otherwise influenced you to pursue a career in science?
When I was in school I was heavily involved in Sport and had a strong passion for Science. I wanted to try and combine my two interests and decided to study Sports Science and Biology in St Mary’s University in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. However half way through my second year in University I realised that the course was not for me. I enjoyed the Biology side of the course more so than the Sport side and I felt it best for me to leave this course and enroll in a course that was solely focused on Science. I immediately applied to UCD to study Science and thankfully I was accepted. I thoroughly enjoyed studying Biochemistry and loved the practical side of the subject and got a thrill when my experiments worked!

When I completed my degree I was offered a PhD in the Conway Institute in UCD. I was indecisive as to what I should do as I knew studying for a PhD would be challenging and I had to make sure that this was the right path for me. To help me make my mind up I decided to move to New York where I worked as a Research Assistant in a lab in Columbia University. I thoroughly enjoyed it and knew that studying for a PhD was the next step to take with regards to my Science career and I haven’t looked back since.

What is the best part of the work you do-the part that gives you the most satisfaction?
There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy and give my job satisfaction and in particular the Clinical Research Projects and Clinical Trial Work that I oversee in the Company. We are are the cutting edge of Science and Discovery and I believe that the work that we are involved in really will make a difference with regards to developing better diagnostic tests for the easier diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

What contemporary scientific issue are you most concerned about?
The main concern for me (and the majority of others) is the production and distribution of enough energy to meet increased demands and the elimination or reduction of pollutants in the environment.

What would you say to a student who wanted to pursue a career in science?
My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career in Science is to firstly choose the correct subjects in Secondary School. I believe that Biology and Chemistry are essential and are the core science subjects that can be applied to a variety of science degrees.

If a student is contemplating a career in Science I would advise them to try and gain some work experience over their Summer holidays. This will give them a better perspective on the role of a Scientist.

What is the most fun thing about science in your view?
The most fun thing about Science for me is that I am constantly learning. No day is ever the same and that’s what I enjoy! It’s never boring!

What Makes Us Curious?

blog_curious Why are some people more ticklish than others? What is it that causes us to yawn? Why do we feel dizzy after spinning around? Children are always asking very good questions and often their questions are directly related to science but they don’t always know it. So what is it that makes us so inquisitive? Is it because we like to let our imaginations run wild and go to places that in reality we might never see? Perhaps it is because we have such a passion for learning and finding the answers to things even if there is no real reason behind wanting to know in the first place?

Curiosity is about keeping an open mind, being able to enjoy new experiences while at the same time always looking for challenges and wanting to learn something new. Einstein once declared that he had no special talents, only he was passionately curious!

Our mind is like a muscle and it grows stronger through continual mental exercise. Curiosity can also be contagious. We hope that during the Midlands Science Festival that by engaging some brilliant speakers and providing a meeting place for everyone interested in science, that we might be able to provide some answers to your many curiosities. Never stop questioning – Join us during the week of November 9th and see what you might be able to discover!

In Conversation with Claire MacEvilly…

blog_ClaireMacEvillyAs we continue to prepare an exciting line-up of events for the Midlands Science Festival, I recently caught up with Claire Mac Evilly, the Communications Manager of ‘Food for Health Ireland’ at University College Dublin. We are delighted to have Claire as one of our key speakers for this year’s festival and we wanted to find out a little bit more about her love of science and where it all began…..

When did you decide to work in a science field and what inspired you?
I really liked Biology and Home Economics in school so a BSc in Nutritional Sciences was a perfect fit for me. I particularly found that the science behind the food we eat and what reactions happen in the body really interested me. A prize winning nutrition scientist Dr Elsie Widdowson inspired me. She was one of the trail blazers in nutrition research and I did a project on her when I was in transition year. I was lucky enough to get enough points to study in UCC but the story does not end there. I was doing my final year and I got chatting to my advisor at the time. I knew that I didn’t want to do further study in the lab but I was interested in how you translate nutrition science into messages aimed at the public that would encourage them to change their behaviour when it comes to food choice. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go to Tufts University in Boston to complete a Masters in Nutrition Communications and the journey of getting science out to diverse audiences began!

Why in your view is science so important in society today?
Science is important in society today because I believe we need a society that is excited by science, values its importance to our social and economic wellbeing, feels confidence in its use and supports a representative well-qualified scientific workforce. It is particularly important for Ireland as we need science to help our future economic prosperity and our ability to become an innovative nation depends on the successful exploitation of science and technology.

Do you think there are any really exciting research outcomes we can hope to see in the next 10 years?
In Ireland, we are lucky enough to produce great quantities of milk but is there more to this white liquid than meets the eye? Researchers are currently mining milk to look at the functional ingredients that could be of benefit to human health. Finding out what bioactives are in milk and how can we make more use of them is exciting because it will put Ireland at the forefront of an area of research that has huge commercial potential.

Why is it important for those working in science to take part in such events as the Midlands Science Festival?
Scientists work really hard in the lab or with populations in the field to give them data to publish in scientific journals. Building this body of knowledge is important. But what is also important is about getting the science out to have real impact – on people, on policy, on changing practice. Public engagement events like the Midlands Science Festival provide a unique platform to bring the science to life. It’s not enough to do activities because we think they are worthwhile, we must be clear about impacts we are trying to have and then to go about trying to measure and assess them and the processes we’re using. After the Science festivals are over – that is the critical time. Then we must reflect and consider how we might change and improve what we do and share what we’ve learnt.

Are there are any specific challenges for women in science now?
A real challenge for women in science is to learn the skills to lead and become a good leader. For example, starting an academic lab is like launching a small business. But does scientific training really prepare women for the challenges of leadership like dealing with a difficult co-worker or motivating students? More support needs to be given to women to develop their leadership skills, which will undoubtedly help in the progress of their science.

Looking Back on 2013


The opportunity to gain a closer understanding of how your brain works, to mix maths with magic and fun and find out what it feels like to have an exotic reptile hanging from your shoulders were just some of the exciting experiences which took place across the Midlands during Science Week last year.

The Midlands Science Festival 2013 really inspired people to think differently about science. The large public turnout totalling over 4,000 people showed there is a great appetite for this type of regional educational event and one of the most encouraging factors was the diversity of the audiences attracted during the week.

Through the medium of carefully crafted workshops and career advisory sessions; many young people had the chance to learn more about the kinds of science-related jobs that would potentially be available to them in the future. High-value career guidance advice was delivered during the festival from companies such as Cpl Recruitment, market-leading technology firm Ericsson and Human Resources Consultancy, Pro-Active Management.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Atlantic Corridor said, “Throughout Science Week 2013, we were overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm and goodwill from our corporate partners, local schools, key speakers, local media, venues and many other organisations and individuals throughout the region. Most of the event tickets were sold in advance so it was fantastic to witness the excitement that people anticipated and now we look forward to bringing the festival back to this region again.”

Other highlights included a presentation to a packed audience by award winning journalist Jonathan McCrea, school experiments such as examining bacteria and exploring the solar system, alchemist cafés full of debate and discussion and more. The hope is that the once very clear line between science and popular culture might be fading and science will continue to earn more of a place in society by demonstrating just how connected it is to everyday life.

Inspiring Young Scientists….

blog_materials&bubblesWatching excited young faces at our ‘Science Bubble Show’ or seeing the enthralled reactions when a huge boa constrictor was lifted from its box…these are some of our happiest memories from last year’s Midlands Science Festival. Science helps children to answer some really tough questions but ‘Science Week’ itself enables us to make this happens in much more entertaining ways.

We are so excited about the events that are now starting to take shape for our younger audiences this year and one of our key goals is to help primary school children understand that science is all around them, every day and in all kinds of ways. Science is a part of daily life from cooking and playing sports to watching the rain or enjoying the sunshine.

We want to encourage young pupils to collect information, ask more questions, observe and draw their own conclusions because science can really teach children to form their own opinions. It allows them to experiment and realize that not everything has to work out perfectly all the time. It makes them query how the world works, sparks ideas and helps them to find solutions to everyday problems in the most simplified of ways.

The Power of Science is All Around Us!

Top Irish Scientist Confirmed for Midlands Science Festival

Luke-ONeillWe are thrilled to announce Leading Immunologist, Professor Luke O’ Neill of Trinity College Dublin as one of our keynote speakers at this year’s festival. Luke is known for his pioneering work on the molecular understanding of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and he addressed an impressed audience for ‘An Evening of Drug Discovery’ at the festival in 2013. We are privileged to have Luke back in the Midlands again for Science Week. The full festival line-up will be announced very soon!

Luke was recently named amongst 11 researchers based in Irish universities who were ranked among the world’s top 3,000 by the multinational media body, Thompson Reuters. Inclusion means the person’s research is listed in the top 1% for the number of times their work has been cited by other scientists. I recently had a chat with Luke to hear some of his views on the image of science and various other factors in advance of this year’s event….

What first inspired you towards a career in science?
An interest in biology at school led me to study biochemistry at university. Once I started doing research and discovering new things I was then hooked as it was tremendously satisfying. I also felt I could make a difference by working in science and medical research.

What are the key factors that are going to be important to guarantee the future of Irish science in your opinion?
Continued government investment in research and in education is essential.

What do we need to do to make the image of science more appealing?
More science in the media – emphasising fun and excitement and how science can provide you with huge fulfilment.

What advice would you give to young people considering a career in science?
Come and join the adventure!

What do you enjoy the most about teaching the next generation of scientists?
There is a real satisfaction in explaining complex phenomena in ways that students can understand such that they themselves can get engaged in science.

Are there particular areas where we are particularly short of skilled graduates?
Probably in IT.

Why is ‘Science Week’ such an important annual event in Ireland?
The more science events we have the better, as it gets the message across that science is great!

A Little Taster….


This year’s exciting programme will be launched in more detail in the coming weeks and will include a packed variety of engaging shows, exhibitions and hands-on fun demonstrations in classrooms and theatres alike! Here is some detail of the events we are planning.

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

Some Highlights
Starting with the younger ones, we have plenty of events planned for our mini-scientists this year. We can look forward to a visit from the Junior Einsteins Science Club to some of our local schools. This fascinating club teaches children core aspects of Biology, Chemistry & Physics through fun experiments, messy ‘make and do’, quizzes and more fun!  We are also delighted to welcome back a firm favourite, the Reptile Zoo Village, to a number of schools where pupils will have the opportunity to pet a snake or a large spider if that is their desire! In addition, Ingenious Ireland, Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association (ISSTA) and the Rediscovery Centre will all provide something new for the 2014 Midlands Science Festival.

Science Week gives young people a chance to meet and hear from experts who have the ability to share their expertise and encourage the next generation to consider a career in science. Throughout the week, we will have several presentations from key people working in different science fields and we will also host a number of science and technology career’s workshops with key local companies and academia for 2nd level students.

As well as celebrating science in schools we intend to provide some really unique and inspiring events for the general public too. This will include the return of last year’s ‘Science Movie’ night, which is a unique audiovisual experience featuring some of the best science stories from the world of animation, radio and television. And with top scientists such as Professor Luke O Neill now confirmed, we can promise a number of alchemist cafes full of lively debate and discussion during the week. This is just a taste of what we have lined up and we look forward to revealing our full programme of events very soon!

Be part of the Midlands Science Festival

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”358″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”left”][vcex_spacing size=”10px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There are many ways in which you can be part of the festival – whether you would like to host your own event at your school or business, speak or volunteer in some way at one of our keynote events, please get in touch and we can discuss your possible involvement and explore how we might be able to work together. We are focused on trying to facilitate dialogue between scientists and the public and we want to widely disseminate best practice, resources and knowledge. Perhaps you would like to share your research with the public or with schools through a talk or another hands-on activity or maybe you have something fun and exciting that would really help encourage younger people to consider a science field as part of their further studies. Through several different initiatives and by working with a range of corporate, educational and state partners we are weaving our way through a huge amount of ideas to make sure that the festival contains something for all age groups. We will be launching the proposed programme very soon, so watch this space-there are exciting times to come!

The power of science is all around us and this is the theme for Science Week. We see, hear, touch, taste and experience the wonder of science every day. From the electricity that lights and heats our homes, to smart phones that connect us to family and friends, to robots that carry out intricate surgery, and space technology that reveals the secrets of the cosmos – science empowers us to shape every aspect of our world. Thanks to the power of science we can improve our health and wellbeing, explore new worlds, and make our world a better place; the only limits are those we imagine![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Counting Down to Science Week

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”362″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”left” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vcex_spacing size=”10px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It may still be a few months away but we already have our thinking caps on to come up with ways to make this year’s ‘Midlands Science Festival’ even bigger and more fun and action packed than last year. There will be an exciting range of new events with a promise of something for everyone but we will also bring back some of the most popular sessions from last year with the overall aim of inspiring, educating and entertaining through science!

We are also focusing on regional activities and events which will hopefully help young people around the Midlands in particular, develop an interest in STEM subjects beyond the confines of the curriculum and increase their awareness of potential careers in those areas. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) recently launched a new three-year plan for its Smart Futures initiative which is aimed at delivering a 10% increase in uptake of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects at second and third level by 2016. The overall objective is to close the skills gap which still exists in sectors such as ICT, life sciences, and engineering.

We want to be part of this collective endeavour and you can help us by taking science out of the lab and into the streets, public spaces, libraries and other fun places. You can help us celebrate science![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]