Biodiversity Week

The term biodiversity (from “biological diversity”) refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. The air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of human activity. The term biodiversity was coined by biologist E.O Wilson, who died in December 2021. He said “Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity?”

In Ireland, National Biodiversity Week is all about connecting people with nature. It’s about communicating the importance of biodiversity and motivating people to play their part in protecting it. Midlands Science will be running a series of school workshops with Dale Treadwell of Naturally Wild and RTE Jr, exploring STEM through building natural geodomes and learning about nature and maths. A geodome is a spherical space-frame structure which is made up of a complex network of triangles. The linked triangles create a self-bracing framework that is very strong structurally and yet are elegant and beautiful.

A great resource for learning about biodiversity in Ireland is the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which works to make biodiversity information and data more freely available. It currently holds information on over 16,000 species in Ireland. You can add to their work through their app which is available for free online. Out for a walk and see a fox or an orchid or a hare, record it in the app and play your part in monitoring and protecting Ireland’s biodiversity.

Shamrock Science for St Patrick’s Day

A little shamrock science for St Patrick’s Day. Shamrock usually refers to either the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover, Irish: seamair bhuí) or Trifolium repens (white clover, Irish: seamair bhán). However, other three-leaved plants—such as Medicago lupulina, Trifolium pratense, and Oxalis acetosella—are sometimes called shamrocks. The shamrock was traditionally used for its medicinal properties and was a popular motif in Victorian times.

The botanist Carl von Linné in his 1737 work Flora Lapponica identifies the shamrock as Trifolium pratense, mentioning it by name as Chambroch. However, results from various surveys show that there is no one “true” species of shamrock, but that Trifolium dubium (Lesser clover) is considered to be the shamrock by roughly half of Irish people, and Trifolium repens (White clover) by another third, with the remaining fifth split between Trifolium pratense, Medicago lupulina, Oxalis acetosella and various other species of Trifolium and Oxalis. None of the species in the survey are unique to Ireland, and all are common European species, so there is no botanical basis for the widespread belief that the shamrock is a unique species of plant that only grows in Ireland.

Science Communities: Free Resources for Teachers

Science Communities was an outreach project run by Midlands Science in 2021, funded by the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme. This project aimed to build discussion and dialogue between community groups, citizens and various stakeholders and those involved in science and public policy. Through a series of public forums, it provided a way for people to understand the scientific process, explore how evidence is generated and how we can use a scientific mindset to make various decisions in our lives. This project was informed by international best practice in public trust in science, and included 4 public forums, 2 focus groups, research questionnaires as well as leadership training days provided to all participants by LIFT Ireland.

We have taken this series of forums as a project to develop further impactful outreach, and developed 12 individual videos covering a range of topics including food, alcohol, mental health, medication, viruses, vaccines and health choices. These 12 videos are suitable for TY students, students in senior cycle and members of the general public. We have also developed a short workbook to go along with these videos to help teachers easily incorporate them into their lesson plan. Participants from the RSCI, UCD, TCD, DCU, University of Ulster and a number of agencies provided clear and engaging overview of issues in science and we look forward to developing this project further. You can find the videos and associated discussion guide with further resources here.

The Science of Santa Claus

We’re making a list, we’re checking it twice, we’re going to find out all about the science of Santa Claus!! Join Midlands Science on Monday December 13th at 7pm for some special Christmas science with superhero scientist Dr Barry Fitzgerald. We all know that on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus sets out to do a huge job, delivering presents to millions of children. It’s a monumental task and it wouldn’t be possible without Santa’s top secret advancements in science and engineering. In this unique event, you’ll learn all about the incredible science of Santa’s journey. We will also explore questions such as how does the sleigh fly sustainably ? How does Santa avoid flying through bad weather ? Where are Santa’s workshops in the Arctic Circle ? Also, what food and drinks should you leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve? – Book your place now at this event!

There’s so much science to explore with Christmas. Santa Claus’s bright red coat and white fur trimmings may be in honour of the white-speckled, red-capped mushroom we know so well from fairy tales. Freshly picked fly agaric contains ibotenic acid, which converts to muscimol when the mushroom is dried. This is a powerful hallucinogen, which interacts with recep tors in the brain resulting in hallucinations. In the past, Shamans of the tribes that herd reindeer in Siberia and Lapland would collect the mushrooms and carefully prepare them to optimise the mind-enhancing properties – and minimise the other dangerous toxins within the mushroom (of which there are several). At that time, the shamans believed they could use the mushrooms to travel to the spirit realm in search of answers to local problems, such as a sudden outbreak of illness. The effect of the muscimol gave the impression of flying out through the chimney of the shaman’s abode and travelling to the spirit world where they could seek advice. Muscimol passes through the body relatively unchanged which means that the shaman’s urine also had potent hallucinogenic properties. Reindeer happening upon these patches of yellow snow left by the shaman might well jump and skip around in the snow, off their antlers on mind-altering drugs. Perhaps, even, as they jumped up in the air, the sun in the northern regions would be low in the sky, silhouetting them in a characteristic flying pose .

Oh and don’t forget you can track Santa using the Santa Norad tracker !! https://www.noradsanta.org/

Reporting from the Reptile Zoo!

Excitement is building for some of our much-loved events which will be making a return online this year for Science Week 2021. The National Reptile Zoo provide wonderful events for the younger pupils to learn about  lizards, tortoise, turtles, crocodiles, alligators, spiders, scorpions, frogs 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.

Rossa Bracken from Laois and Abbie Mulligan from Longford were the winners of our mini-reporter competition in October. Rossa and Abbie had the opportunity to visit the National Reptile Zoo in advance of the annual Midlands Science Festival and ask lots of questions about some of their favourite animals.

Photo: Rossa, Abbie, Sarah from National Reptile Zoo and Pauline Nally from Midlands Science.

From Chocolate Science to Ultra Running at the Midlands Science Festival  

How do we taste things, how can chocolate affect our brain and why do we like sweetness? Find out at this year’s Midlands Science Festival which will be taking place online again this November and events are open for booking on the festival website. The Midlands Science team has worked hard to ensure there is something for everyone again this year and will look at a range of issues from how we can all improve our joint health to an exploration of biodiversity in Ireland, an animated series exploring the science of our bodies and digging deep in to earth science and geology.

We will also be looking at ‘sugar and spice and everything science’ in a unique event exploring the Science of Chocolate which is kindly sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Join Christine Campbell of Anyone4Science and Dr Craig Slattery of UCD and discover why we like creamier chocolate, how chocolate is processed from bean to bar and what it can do to your brain!

Secondary school students will also have the chance to take part in a wide range of career focused events and workshops specially developed for Science Week in the midlands and there will be a strong focus on the contribution that research in the midlands is making in the region, creating a better future for everyone.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said,

‘We will be bringing plenty of fun, interactive events to schools and exploring a range of exciting science topics at our virtual Discovery Day. We also have some brand new offerings for this year including a very special fast-paced event with Ultra-runner Keith Whyte who runs 100KM in his marathons and will be exploring the science of running, including the impact of running on the human body. This event will include analysis of data from all levels of athletes from all over the Midlands!  Supported by Science Foundation Ireland and a number of partners, this year is the ninth year of the festival. The guest cura tor for this year’s festival is Dr Barry Fitzgerald of Eindhoven University of Technology and Barry will be providing a number of events this year including the ever popular Superhero Science.’

This year’s festival also sees the festival’s continued partnership with the National Museum of Ireland, providing a continued insight in to how science helps us to understand our heritage and where we live. The Midlands Science Festival Book Club for adult and younger readers is back this year as well and we will also be bringing science through classic sitcom in a unique exploration of the science of Wandavision!

Midlands Science and ESB Deliver Science Outreach to Midlands Schools

Midlands Science is pleased to announce a recent collaboration with Ireland’s leading energy utility, ESB, which seeks to provide young people with the tools to participate in science as an act of engaged citizenship. This exciting initiative, “Everyday Science” will take place in a number of secondary schools across the Midlands in the coming weeks including, St. Brendan’s Birr Community School in Birr, Mountmellick Community College and Oaklands Community College in Edenderry.

Pat Naughton, Director of People and Organisation Development at ESB commented,

‘Our position as Ireland’s foremost energy company makes us a vital part in building a brighter, more sustainable future so ESB is delighted to work with Midlands Science to showcase the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths education. Supporting young people, adults and our potential future workforce to engage with STEM is a key aspect of our own work within the community. It is important to introduce young children to STEM at an early age in order to spark that curiosity to learn more and we also need to demonstrate its diversity and relevance by showing how important it is to solving challenges across all aspects of everyday life.’

A key part of the work carried out by not-for-profit organisation, Midlands Science, throughout the year is to work with companies, students, scientists, teachers, and community members to explore and solve STEM related challenges related to issues that affect their communities and experience of life. Connecting to real-world and more relevant topics helps young people to develop a deeper understanding of STEM concepts.

CEO of Midlands Science, Jackie Gorman said,

“Everyday Science” will be delivered by RTE Junior’s award-winning scientist, Philip Smyth and using a range of workshop topics from Sustainability and Climate Change to Taste, Music and Future Tech, this project seeks to equip young people with the tools to actively engage with science in ways which will inform their future development as active citizens and a transition in to adulthood, making decisions as consumers and citizens based on evidence. This is closely aligned to Science Foundation Ireland’s and Government policy which endeavours to have the most scientifically literate public in the world. In addition to students in selected schools taking part in this programme, teachers will be trained as facilita tors as part of the programme, so they can cascade their learning to other groups which we will encourage the development of as part of the programme. Building a better future is a responsibility we all share and working with companies such as ESB enables Midlands Science to play a small part in this so we are very grateful to have this opportunity and look forward to continuing to inspire students across the region in the weeks ahead.’

Photo: Phil Smyth

 

Expert Panel to Explore Viruses, Vaccines & Immunity with Midlands Science

Midlands Science is pleased to announce that the third event in its virtual Science Communities series will take place on October 20th at 10am (on zoom) and this interactive forum will focus on all things related to Viruses, Vaccines and Immunity. The event is free of charge and open to everyone. The forum will feature a talk from Professor Luke O’Neill from Trinity College Dublin. Now widely recognised as being one of the world’s most influential scientists, Luke is passionate about engaging people on scientific topics. The Science Communities project is funded by Science Foundation Ireland through the Discover Award programme and is designed to build impactful dialogue and discussion between community groups in the Midlands and those involved in science and public policy.

CEO of Midlands Science, Jackie Gorman commented,

‘Through these community forums, which explore science, evidence, health and medicine, we want to create an open conversation about how scientific evidence informs public health advice. We are delighted to host this particular topic given its relevance to the international pandemic and we will be encouraging conversation between members of the audience and our panel of experts who will look at viruses and vaccines, explaining what they are and how they work in our body. We will also be discussing vaccines, immunisation and the national immunisation programme along with vaccine hesitancy and the psychology behind this.’

Professor Luke O’Neill holds the Chair of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, is an author and expert on Immunology and has been a positive voice on how science will beat Covid 19 since March 2020.  Professor Karina Butler, was a Consultant Paediatrician at Children’s Health Ireland specialising in Infectious Diseases for many years. She is a Clinical Professor of Paediatrics at UCD and was appointed to NPHET in late 2020, is a member of the COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group of HIQA and a member of the High-Level Task Force for COVID. Professor Jamie Murphy is a Professor in Psychology and a member of the Psychology Research Institute at Ulster University.

Trinity College Dublin Professor of Biochemistry, Luke O’ Neill said,

‘This has been a most alarming period for all of us, but the legacy of this pandemic will be that science delivered on its promise. There comes a great level of responsibility when informing the public of health information relating to Covid19 and it is so critically important to get the facts out and to get the right information across to people because everybody wants to know about it. Understandably, people have so many questions, even now after all this time. The bot tom line though, is that science delivered highly effective, safe vaccines and vaccination truly is the only way out of this pandemic.’

If you are interested in taking part in this project, please email outreach@midlandsscience.ie for more information. For registration details, please check our website on https://www.midlandsscience.ie/

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0ocemsqz8sH9Xl7tWRdZdErI7PJk-eVadm

 

 

 

Bringing Science Home for Everyone

The team at Midlands Science has been working over the past ten months to continue to share our passion for science and promote the importance of science education during these challenging pandemic times. So much of our work relies on face- to-face interaction and usually we meet people in person and spread messages about science at events, in schools and our annual science, maths and engineering festivals. We have worked with our professional providers and science communication experts and we have adapted and found new ways to share our work throughout the Midlands and beyond, during the Coronavirus pandemic.

CEO of Midlands Science Jackie Gorman said,

‘Science in Your Sitting Room’ is the latest series of workshops which we are now delivering in partnership with Anyone4Science every Friday at 12:00pm. With schools closed once again and students unable to experience our events in their classrooms, we had to rethink how we reach young people and their families in the most fun and interactive way. We saw great engagement with our Facebook Live events, which were also provided by the team at Anyone 4 Science during the summer of 2020 and we were so proud of our Midlands pupils for continuing to celebrate science in these extraordinary times.’

Midlands Science is also pleased to be running eight weeks of ‘Quiet Science’ workshops for pupils who are on the ASD spectrum and these are taking place online every Saturday until March 13th These workshops are also delivered in partnership with Anyone 4 Science based on work done in 2020 with partner schools in our Quiet Science project.

‘Jackie Gorman continued,

‘At Midlands Science, we want to offer free and practical resources and support to all students, teachers and parents in navigating this new learning landscape. We are looking forward to exploring topics such as mould, bacteria, stress balls and toothpaste! We have been providing these particular online  events to schools in the Midlands region since March of 2020 and are delighted to now to be able to extend them out in to the wider community.’

 

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 s top 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 terri tory 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 direc tors. 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 cus tomers 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/

Photo: Dr. Dan Nickstrom of Maynooth University