Mammals, Music and Much More – Science Week in the Midlands

The Midlands Science Festival returns in November to excite curiosity and encourage people from a variety of communities across the midlands to engage with science. Co-ordinated by Midlands Science, the festival has a variety of events running this year including a cold-water swim with Guinness World Record holder Nuala Moore, astronomy nights in Lough Boora with Midlands Astronomy Club and natural history art workshops with children’s author Anne Brusatte. There will also be the opportunity to learn about the science of rugby with Irish flyhalf Jack Carty.

The festival is delighted to welcome back Sunday Times bestselling author Steve Brusatte whose new book  “The Rise and Reign of the Mammals” is a delight for all those interested in animals and nature. There are also events exploring the science of climate change, cyanotype workshops [an early version of photography], sustainability workshops and book club events.

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science commented “we are delighted to be bringing such a wide variety of events to the midlands this year for Science Week and there is literally something for everyone, we have events covering everything from astronomy to zoology and look forward to as many people as possible participating this year. Science Week is a unique chance for all for us to appreciate that science is all around us and informs so many things we do every day, so come along and explore where science might take you next.”

Dr Craig Slattery, Chairperson of Midlands Science commented “events this year in the midlands include everything from a cold water swim in Lough Ree to making your own soap in Mullingar to exploring the night’s sky in Offaly. This is a great opportunity for people of all ages to explore science and what science can mean to you in your life. This year’s theme for Science Week is being human and science has a key role to play in helping us all to understand what being human means now and what it might mean in the future.”

Other activities include resources and science workshops in Irish, online animations exploring what it means to be human and a special family event in association with the National Museum of Ireland and a Discovery Day in association with Integra. A special music performance with Bohemian Strings playing a variety of popular tunes and movie themes will explore what happens when we listen to music. This year, whether it’s the world of mammals, the game of rugby or the science of music, it’s all about what it means to be human right now and what being human will mean in the future for all of us. All events are free of charge and will be available for booking online from late September on  www.midlandsscience.ie  The Midlands Science Festival is supported by Science Foundation Ireland through the Discover Programme 2023 and a variety of corporate and philanthropic partners

Photo Caption – there’s something for all ages at the Midlands Science Festival this year, everything from science open days for children to movement workshops for active age groups. Ethan and Nathan Henson are pictured with their Great Granny Gladys Gorman, all of them are looking forward to Science Week in the midlands this year.

STEM Insights with Jenny Navan, Cpl

We caught up recently with Jenny Navan of Cpl and we are looking forward to working more with her in the coming year as we promote skills and careers in STEM.

Jenny is the Director of Cpls’ Science & Engineering recruitment team. Cpl is a total talent solutions organisation, part of the multinational OSI group. The Science and Engineering division have been operating in the Irish and international market for the past 25 years, and Jenny has worked in the team for 17 of those. Jenny has recruited for scientists and engineers, at all levels of operation, in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food and clinical sector, and has developed a big interest in the sector as a result. Jenny has been involved in promoting studying STEM at second and tertiary level with Science Foundation Ireland and Midlands Science, sat on advisory committees for curriculum design at tertiary level, and has been involved in promoting science communication through the Alchemist Café and FameLab.

Can you tell us a little about your own background and your role in Cpl ?

As Director within Cpl, I am active in engaging with companies who are considering expanding their operations within Ireland, as well as speaking with companies already operating within the island. Leading a team of specialist recruiters, who recruit for permanent and contingent labour, I have a great sense of the challenges and opportunities facing the STEM sector.

Unfortunately I knew nothing about what studying a science subject would entail, actually I had very narrow and misguided ideas about only dissecting frogs, or working in a lab doing “boring” things, so I never pursued it in secondary school, and it’s something I regret to this day. Which I why I’m so keen to promote studying STEM and the opportunities that are available careerwise.

Why is it important to promote greater engagement with STEM ?

While I can see broadly that STEM promotion and education is reaching more, there’s still many who don’t realise the opportunities studying STEM may provide, or just how important it is to have some literacy in the space

As we are all more focussed on sustainability these days, many of the jobs in the sustainability sector are based on STEM skills – is this something you have observed and do you think this will change in the future ?

Yes, there’s a lot of emphasis on sustainability, and STEM skills are so critical for that – not just because we need to design new technology or product – but because critical thinking, design thinking and problem solving are so integral to STEM – and that is what is so needed now to shift us globally to a more sustainable way of doing everything. This won’t change any time soon, but it will keep filtering through every element of society and part of the workforce.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in STEM ?

STEM is so broad, your options are endless, but it’s a career area that you can constantly learn in, evolve in, and travel the world, should you so wish!

Do you have a favourite science fact ?

There are more stars in the universe, than grains of sand on the planet

Free Guided Biodiversity Walk for Heritage Week

Midlands Science is supporting National Heritage Week 2023, running from August 12th to 20th. Hosting a nature walk along the Royal Canal, Midlands Science aims to help people discover their local flora and fauna, connect with biodiversity, learn about citizen science, and engage in science in their community.

Science Outreach Executive Criodán Ó Murchú explained the importance of an event like this, “Heritage Week offers us an opportunity to engage with our local environment. Our biodiversity and native species are critical to the health and wellbeing of all of us. Maintaining a connection with a natural heritage is good for our physical and mental health and recent scientific research has evidenced this, it’s also good for connecting with our community, and good for recognising the wonders of the natural world.”

Over the last year, Midlands Science has grown its capacity and reach in science outreach events linked to biodiversity and ecology, said CEO Jackie Gorman. “We encourage everyone to engage with biodiversity and heritage activities in their region during Heritage Week and  to continue that engagement throughout the year, valuing the vital role of biodiversity in our world. The recent Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity evidenced the strong interest people have in understanding and conserving the natural world and science has a vital role to play in this.”

The walk will take place on Thursday, August 17th at 2pm. The meeting point is the Baltrasna Bridge, Mullingar and participants are encouraged to bring good footwear and suitable clothing for the weather. All children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. The guided walk is free of charge and all participants will receive a free guidebook which they can take away with them after the walk. To register your interest please email comurchu@midlandsscience.ie

Midlands Science is also running a competition to win a number of Swatches from the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Details on how to win can be found across Midlands Science Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages.

Midlands Science Awarded RTE Toy Show Support

Midlands Science has been awarded funding from the RTE Toy Show grants for 2023 by the Community Foundation of Ireland. The support will allow the organisation to expand its free outreach programming with a particular focus on the science of climate change and reaching groups of people who may not usually engage with such outreach.

Pauline Nally, Business Development Executive of Midlands Science commented “Midlands Science is delighted to receive this support from the RTE Toy Show Appeal. The grant will help us to drive greater engagement with science in a range of communities with a particular focus on those who are least likely to engage. We previously received support from the Toy Show in 2022 and this work was profiled nationally and we look forward to what we will achieve in 2023 and beyond with this support. As a leading organisation in science outreach, we have a variety of partners who allow us to do this work and we would encourage anyone who wants to learn more about what we do and how you can be part of this vital work to get in touch.”

In an average year, Midlands Science reaches 16,000 people through a range of outreach activities and projects, all designed to create greater engagement with science, technology, engineering and maths. All activities are designed to be fun, engaging and relevant to people’s everyday lives, demonstrating that STEM is all around us and understanding STEM can be a vital life skill. In recent years, it has received numerous awards for its work. The work is delivered in partnership with a variety of corporate, state and philanthropic partners who share the same commitment to delivering science outreach in a creative and equitable way. Upcoming activities later this year include more outreach in schools and with groups and activities for Science Week and Maths Week and a number of other projects linked to topics such as health, climate action and biodiversity. More information can be found on www.midlandsscience.ie

Criodán Ó Murchú, Science Outreach Executive with Midlands Science on Storytelling in Science

In this guest blog, Science Outreach Executive Criodán Ó Murchú outlines his recent experience at the European Media Hub as he was selected to take part in the 2023 Storytelling in Science Course.

This year, I had the pleasure of being invited along to the European Media-Science Hub’s (ESMH) 2023 “Storytelling in Science” course. Taking place in Strasbourg, France, the course involved 3 days packed with lectures, panels, and practical lessons designed to improve science communication skills, journalism in science, fact-checking, and what’s next for science in media. Travelling from Ireland, I had a less conventional route compared to my continental counterparts.Getting to Strasbourg is not straightforward – nestled in the Alsace along the west of the river Rhine, there are no direct flights from Ireland. As a result, I chose a method that would be timely and lower emissions than taking multiple flights – a combination of flying and rail.

Flying to Amsterdam, I then took a TGV to Paris, changed to another TGV, and continued onwards to Strasbourg. My flights resulted in just over 350kg of CO2 whilst my longer train journeys accounted for 12kg of CO2. An important saving during the climate crisis. I luckily had secured a window seat for the entire journey and was glad I had. As we hurtled across the Netherlands at near 300kph and France touching 320kph, one could soak in the views of dairy farms, wind turbines, forest and woodlands, and distant hills and mountains.

Our course began on Tuesday afternoon, meeting at the European Parliament (EP) building. Roughly 30 minutes by tram from my accommodation, the EP backs onto the river Rhine, giving tourists a fantastic look into some of the Orangerie district and its architecture. MEP Christian Ehler, Chair of the Panel for the future of Science and Technology (STOA) welcomed us to Strasbourg and to the beginning of our course along with Vitalba Crivello of the ESMH.Chloe Hill, Policy Manager of European Geosciences Union, moderated the opening panel on “The importance of science reporting, past lessons and future challenges”. This session examined how science journalism and science communication have been coping with the big changes imposed by the advent of social media and how they have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the climate crisis.Panellists included Mr Ehler, as well as Professor Jason Pridmore, Vice Dean of Education for the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Rotterdam, The Netherlands – leading TRESCA and COALESCE projects, Pampa Garcia Molina, Director of the Science-Media Center Spain, and Kai Kupferschmidt, correspondent for ‘Science’ Magazine in Berlin, Germany.

Wednesday opened with Kai Kupferschmidt walking us through a practical workshop on the differences between scientific writing and journalists reporting of it. This was a fascinating delve into language, accessibility, and provoking interest in a topic.The following session examined how public trust in science has changed in an evermore digital world. Carolien Nijenhuis of the ESMH moderated for Prof. Eveline Crone, Luca Bertuzzi, and Amy Ross Arguedas. We discussed the concerning trend of the general public’s trust in science and science media and what could be done to counteract this, using contemporary tactics.

The final session of the day was titled “How to avoid the misinformation trap? Understanding science denialism via behavioural science”. Philipp Schmid, Behavioural Scientist at Institute for Planetary Health Behaviour (IPB); University of Erfurt, Germany led the discussion alongside Barbara Gormley, Lecturer in the Schools of Psychology and Communication at Dublin City University (DCU), and Rocío Benavente, Maldita Ciencia, Spain. Kai returned for his final session with us on Thursday morning. Here we examined the “importance of storytelling in science reporting”. This session was personally the most impactful as it drove home the point that discussing, educating, and reporting on science relies on a storied element to it – it must be entertaining. It must be novel and exciting, even if it is comparably bad news. Our remaining trainings centred on “best practices in science journalism” and new digital tools for science reporting i.e., ChatGPT.

On Friday, June 9th, the European Youth Event began. This event has 10,000 young people from around Europe visit the EP to take part in an enormous number of activities, trainings, talks, and more, from influential minds in Europe. Suggested for our group were two sessions, both focused on telling climate stories. The second hosted Simon Clark to present a master class. Simon is a YouTuber who holds a PhD from the University of Exeter. He has recently published a book which I brought along with me with the hopes of getting it signed. Thankfully following the master class, Simon graciously spent some time outside the venue answering follow-on questions, picking apart discussion topics, and signing my book.

I returned home late on Saturday 10th, following a similar journey to before, albeit in reverse. This time there was unfortunately more airport running than I have ever done in my life. Having made my flight, I’d say my time management skills are in tip top shape. I am immensely looking forward to my next meeting with my fellow science communicators, hopefully in a venue and area as gorgeous as Strasbourg was.

Midlands Science Activities for Biodiversity Week

National Biodiversity Week takes place Friday 19th to Sunday 28th May. The focus of this week is to improve awareness of people’s national biodiversity, communicate its importance, educate, and motivate people to play their part in protection of their local environments.

Midlands Science works to improve the public’s interest in science and is running a series of guided biodiversity walks for primary schools, where participants will have the opportunity to explore and learn about the rich biodiversity that thrives within their local community.

These activities are supported by Gas Networks Ireland and Gráinne O’Reilly, Social Sustainability Manager commented “At Gas Networks Ireland, we have embraced our role in promoting the importance of biodiversity not only amongst our stakeholders, but also among our staff and the communities where we work. We are delighted to support this initiative fostering an interest in STEM and biodiversity in young people. Gas Networks Ireland are committed to the highest standards of environmental management and to proactively addressing the challenges of climate change. “
 
Criodán Ó Murchú, Science Outreach Executive with Midlands Science, detailed the importance of experiencing nature first-hand. “As the climate crisis continues, we need everyone within our localities to play their part in guaranteeing the future for all. We need educated and enthusiastic people of all ages to be equipped with the skills and combined with an affinity for the living world around us all.”

“We’re delighted to welcome these students from a number of schools in Co. Westmeath,” continued Ó Murchú, “including one of their Green Teams. They will gain valuable insights and practical tips on how they can contribute to conserving biodiversity, firstly in their own backyards, and then their wider environs.”

Over the past year, Midlands Science has grown its capacity and reach in science outreach events linked to biodiversity and ecology and CEO Jackie Gorman commented “we would encourage everyone to engage with biodiversity activities in their region this week and to continue that engagement throughout the year, valuing the vital role that biodiversity has in our lives. The recent Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity evidenced the strong interest people have in understanding and conserving the natural world and science has a vital role to play in this.”

More information can be found on www.biodiversityweek.ie. Contact information for Midlands Science can be found on www.midlandsscience.ie

The Science of Star Wars

Today is May 4th, a day that is beloved by Star Wars fans and pun lovers  everywhere, may the force be with you, May the 4th be with you!! There is lots of science to consider when it comes to Star Wars and here’s some for you to think about next time you are watching […]

World Immunisation Week



World Immunisation Week takes place each year during the final week of April.
The aim of this week is to encourage people to get protected from vaccine-preventable diseases and to highlight the benefits that vaccines have delivered.

This year’s theme assigned by the world Health Organisation is “The Big Catch-Up”, as some countries have fallen behind in ensuring most people are protected by vaccines, especially due to the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vaccines have been in use for hundreds of years. Evidence from China shows that people used cowpox to inoculate themselves against smallpox, an infectious disease with a high death rate. Since 1900, over 300 million people have died from smallpox – an entire United States of people.

Edward Jenner, an English doctor, tested the theory of using cowpox to protect against smallpox in 1796. His research was compiled into a report, disseminated in six languages, and by 1801 five years later, 100,000 people in the UK had been inoculated.

Today, we have vaccines for dozens of diseases, including rubella, polio, tetanus, and many more.
Each year, a renewed flu (influenza) vaccine is rolled out in the winter months. This vaccine is specially designed to consider what flu viruses are making people sick currently, what risks are associated with those viruses, and how much they are spreading prior to the winter.
The flu vaccination process is an important step in protecting people, especially those who are elderly and/or immunocompromised.

New vaccines are currently being researched and we have seen some promising progress in vaccines which may tackle malaria and HIV, two of the top ten causes of death in low-income countries each year. These new vaccines, along with our continued improvements in healthcare research, can help us get closer to the eradication of more diseases. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980. That is a pace we must ensure to increase.

Midlands Science Shares Best Practice At Leading European Conference

Midlands Science, an organisation supported by the Medtronic Foundation is presenting a Horizon Talk at this year’s European Science Engagement Association Conference [EUSEA] which takes place in Italy next week on May 2nd. The conference is the leading European conference on science outreach and public engagement in science.

The Medtronic Foundation supports Midlands Science for a range of outreach activities and also for a new project which they have developed based on research to date, which identified some key issues that made engaging with science more challenging for some people. This work is focussed on making science outreach and communications more accessible and this means making the communications as usable and as meaningful as possible for as many people as possible. “We’re proud to partner with Midlands Science to expand access for STEM scholars,” said Heidi Jedlicka Halvarson, program manager, Medtronic Foundation.  “Together, we can remove barriers to STEM education, grow representation across the field, and help create opportunities for scholars to have a successful future in STEM.”

Over the coming year with a number of experts, Midlands Science will develop and deliver a best practice guide and CPD accredited training in a number of areas which will help make science communications more accessible. These include the use of universal design for learning in science outreach, use of plain English, designing for accessibility, storytelling in science and use of the equity compass, a tool which is particularly helpful for engaging more disadvantaged communities with science.

The opportunity to present the project’s rationale, development and plans to this leading European conference is welcomed by Midlands Science as it’s an opportunity to share practice with others and also to add to the work of campaigns such as Unlock Science and Science is for Everyone. Commenting Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said “I am delighted to have the chance to speak at EUSEA 2023 on this exciting project which is going to allow us to embed accessibility and inclusion into science outreach practice and to share this practice with others. The support of the Medtronic Foundation allows us to do this important capacity building work, which we will believe will contribute in a vital way to outreach becoming more and more accessible and inclusive over time, building real cumulative systems change in how everyone engages with science.”

More information about the work of Midlands Science can be found on www.midlandsscience.ie

ENDS *****************************************************************************

PHOTO CAPTION – Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science who will be speaking at EUSEA 2023, pictured late last year when she received the Science Foundation Ireland Award for Outstanding Contribution to Science Communications in Ireland.

World Malaria Day

Today is World Malaria Day.  Every year hundreds of millions of people are infected with Malaria and approximately 430,000 people die from this disease.  Over  90% of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and despite malaria mortality rates falling, a child in Africa still dies every minute from malaria.

Malaria is a parasitic infection transmitted from person to person by the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. The term malaria originates from Mediaeval Italian: mala aria meaning bad air as people didn’t know the origin of the disease and there was a common belief that many diseases were caused by bad air in earlier times. Scientific studies on malaria made their first significant advance in 1880, when Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran, a French army doctor in Algeria observed parasites inside the red blood cells of infected people for the first time. The first effective treatment for malaria came from the bark of cinchona tree, which contains quinine and the Jesuits introduced the treatment to Europe around 1640. It was not until 1820 that the active ingredient, quinine, was extracted from the bark, isolated and named by the French chemists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou.

Quinine was the predominant malarial medication until the 1920s when other medications began to appear. In the 1940s, chloroquine replaced quinine as the treatment of both uncomplicated and severe malaria until resistance emerged, first in Southeast Asia and South America in the 1950s and then globally in the 1980s.

The most effective treatment for malaria is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs). ACTs have low toxicity, few side effects and act rapidly against the parasite. Today, the majority of African countries have officially changed their protocol to treat first-line malaria with ACTs. But in many places, ACTs are scarcely available and there is growing evidence of emerging parasite resistance to artemisinin – the core compound of ACTs.

There is progress though and we can see that the malaria map is rapidly shrinking. In 1900, endemic malaria was present in almost every country. Nowadays, the disease has been eliminated in 111 countries and 34 countries are advancing towards elimination. No-one can know when malaria will be eradicated but many scientists estimate 2050 or 2060 and that the last battles against this awful disease will likely be waged in wet, tropical, and poor areas.

An important driver of the eradication scenario is scientific research. Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and others, research in malaria is stronger than it has been at any point in the past 50 years. New drugs are in development and vaccines. Currently, the most effective malaria vaccine is R21/Matrix-M, with a 77% efficacy rate shown in initial trials and it is the first vaccine that meets the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) goal of a malaria vaccine with at least 75% efficacy.

Until relatively recently, speaking of elimination and eradication in connection with malaria was regarded as overambitious. However, speeches by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2007, calling for nothing less than global malaria eradication, radically changed discussions and research. Since then, there has been a huge upsurge of commitment to elimination and eventual eradication. Progress is really encouraging now and the responses produced by science are effective and continually improving. With adequate and sustained commitment, the task can be achieved and you can support research that will lead to eradication at https://www.malariaconsortium.org/support-us/donate-europe.htm