More Midlands Students Now Choosing Science Fields

up to date stats midlands stem educationLocal development company Atlantic Corridor is pleased to share a recent analysis of Higher Education Authority (HEA) data which indicate a noteworthy rise in the number of Midlands students entering third level courses in Science, Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM). The analysis, when compared with a similar study carried out in 2008 shows an average increase of approximately 41% in the share of students studying STEM across the Midlands during a six year period.

Martin Cronin, Chairman of Atlantic Corridor welcomes the recent news,
‘These figures demonstrate that students are really listening to national messages about the importance of relevant, high-value qualifications in STEM fields. They also indicate that targeted educational initiatives like the Midlands Science Festival are starting to have real impact. With science, we really need to start influencing young people from an early age and it is critical that we continue to actively encourage the next generation by providing new and more diverse ways to learn.’

SFI Discover, the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland, organises national Science Week which aims to catalyse, guide and inspire the best in STEM education and public engagement. Atlantic Corridor recently hosted the Midlands Science Festival for the second year running during the nationwide ‘Science Week’ to promote the relevance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in our everyday lives, with a focus on the four Midlands counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath. This year’s Midland Science Festival saw over 4500 people in attendance across the region throughout the week at entertaining and educational science talks, shows workshops and demonstrations.

Upon closer examination, the aforementioned analysis reveals that the number of students now studying a STEM related course from Laois has increased by 35% while in Offaly it has risen by 53%. In Longford, there are 15% more STEM students whilst in Westmeath there has been quite a staggering increase of 60%.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, TD, commented:
‘I am delighted at the striking increase in local students seeking to pursue a scientific field. Science and related fields are crucial to building the competitive strength of the midlands and in growing our economy. I commend Atlantic Corridor’s critical work in promoting science education in our schools and higher level institutes across the midlands. The pursuit of excellence in science has particular relevance given my Government’s proposed midlands regional pilot on Action Plan for Jobs. The aim is that the pilot framework for the midlands will serve as a model for other regions and will maximise the potential for job creation in the region.’

Many of the global medical technologies and pharmaceutical companies now have a dedicated presence in Ireland it is critical that we ensure the adequate talent pool is available to them here in the Midlands. A recent report by accountants Grant Thornton concluded that while Ireland continues to outperform its competitors in attracting FDI there are still issues that need to be addressed such as skills shortages within the ICT, science and engineering sectors.

Much of the good work being performed by Atlantic Corridor in STEM promotion is as a result of relevant global links and international partnerships which have been developed and fostered over the past ten years. In close cooperation with national and international partners and other State Agencies to foster the international dimension of Ireland’s economic growth, Atlantic Corridor continues to provide effective international relations for a variety of projects.

By continuing to work with key corporate and academic partners, the hope is that the number of students pursuing STEM at third level will continue to rise and we can work towards ensuring the necessary human resource pool is in place here in our local economy.

Join us for Tales of the Unexpected….

Jonathan McCreaThis unique audiovisual experience is a free event for the Midlands Science Festival but booking is essential.. See Events page for details..

We’re all going to the movies with Newstalk’s Jonathan McCrea and it’s going to be like nothing you’ve experienced before. Join Jonathan as he introduces some of the best science stories from the world of animation, radio and television. We’ll be seeing everything from astronomy to zoology in a series of movie and documentary clips which have been specially curated for the festival by this award winning broadcaster.

You’ll learn a bit more at this evening about being science media savvy and you’ll get to enjoy some amazing short movies and radio clips that will make you think about how important science is in our society. Science Movie Night was one of our biggest hits at last year’s festival so please book now for this event.


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.

Ploughing Fun..

PloughingWe really enjoyed our day today at the extremely busy 2014 National Ploughing Championships where we were promoting the upcoming festival with the help of our partner Laois County Council. Europe’s largest Outdoor Exhibition and Agricultural Trade Show, the National Ploughing Championships attracts on average 1,400 exhibitors and
over 200,000 visitors annually.

Special thanks to the Junior Einsteins Club, who performed for packed audiences in the Laois tent today. (photo)

Our virtual brand ambassador Curious Kim also came along to join in the fun and the whole event was a great success. This was a great warm-up for the festival which is getting closer and closer now so keep an eye on the site for events taking place near you! If you are a twitter user, you can also follow Curious Kim on her science adventures … @curiouskim1

The 2014 National Ploughing Championships will take place from 23rd to 25th September at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois.


Creating a Buzz around Science…

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After weeks of running around trying to get a few important words from some of our key speakers, I felt it was time to grab a coffee with Jackie Gorman, the director of the Midlands Science Festival to find out what its all about!

Jackie, you are the inspiration behind the festival – the largest celebration of science & engineering in the Midlands. Could you tell us about your role as director of the event?

I don’t know if I’m the inspiration behind it but I’m certainly inspired by !! The festival has really grown out of a series of projects Atlantic Corridor has run over the years promoting science education with our local and international partners. The role of managing the festival involves everything from identifying potential speakers to creating new events and trying to find the right mix of activities for everyone from primary school children to the general public. It also involves working with partners, media, sourcing sponsorship and volunteers and making sure everything runs as well as possible. It’s only a small part of my overall role in Atlantic Corridor but it’s a very interesting piece of work as I find I’m as likely now to be reading New Scientist as the newspaper and some days, the scientific news seems a lot more interesting to me. I’m always noticing things and filing them away as a possible science festival event.

How did the idea for this festival originate?

The idea for a festival came about as a result of a couple of projects we’ve run in the area of science education promotion and specifically a number of science week events we ran in co-operation with science foundation ireland. The midlands is a large region and has never had a science festival and we felt there was a market there for such an initiative and in our first year, we attracted over 4,500 people to our events and had 33 events, so it seems we were right, people are interested in science. We were in fact overwhelmed by the reaction last year as it was our first year and at some events, it almost felt like people were just waiting for something like a science festival to happen as there’s amazing grassroots science activities happening in the midlands such as an amazing science club in Birr Library, the SPEAK organisation for gifted children, a plethora of coder dojos, maker groups, it’s amazing to be involved in trying to promote science in the region right now.


What are the core objectives of this festival?

The main thing is to create a buzz about science, not just in students but the general public and to help people to see that science is all around them and that it actually has an impact on our daily lives. It’s in everything from our mobile phones to our sun-creams. It’s about creating greater interest in science education and careers which of course benefits the midlands region in terms of being an attractive place to invest in. It’s also about creating a more scientifically literate public and this year that’s a theme we are really taking on board with some events we are doing with the UK organisation Sense about Science. Are all the events taking place in schools? No, we have a small number of events being hosted in schools but we also have events in colleges, libraries, bars, shopping centres and the idea is really to bring the science out to the public and make it fun and accessible. In a way it’s about engaging people with science and the wonder of science, without them even realising it is science as some people may have hang-ups and think they didn’t like science in school or it’s not for me but when people engage with events like alchemist cafes, they surprise themselves by really enjoying what they have learnt and of course they are learning without even realising they are. So whilst schools are important for us in terms of engaging with primary and secondary school students, it’s just one small part of the overall programme.

Who can attend the festival?

The festival is open to everyone and we have a great selection of public events this year. Particularly popular are the alchemist cafes which are really about having a public debate and discussion on issues in science. This year we will be covering topics such as diabetes, mental health, pseudoscience and how to be an informed consumer and our immune system and how it works. These are fascinating topics that everyone has an interest in if they think about it – we all want to be healthy, to have good mental health, to know how to make informed choices as a consumer. The festival is also very open in that we encourage people to come along and ask questions and share their views on science and how it impacts their lives. We have some amazing speakers and it’s a unique opportunity for people here in the midlands to ask questions and debate with some top class scientists. For example, Professor Luke O’Neill of TCD who has been a great supporter of the festival since we started, is back to us again this year and this year he’s even more a science super-star as he has just been listed in the top 1% of scientists in the world for his amazing research into the immune system.

How will the festival be helpful in helping to attract more young people into science related careers? Are there any specific events focusing on career guidance?

This is of course a core objective for us as the midlands region has one of the lowest rates of progression in the state to science and technology courses at third level and this has an impact in terms of the region’s attractiveness for investment as skills are a key issue in decision making about a location. We have a number of careers workshops with Cpl, a recruitment company which has a particular expertise in the science and technology sectors.  We also hope that the general fun events will also have an impact on people’s perception of science studies and careers as parents and teachers also have a strong influencing role in how students decide what to study and what kind of jobs they might like. I think it’s all about showing people the discovery, fun and variety that can lie at the heart of a career in science.

What is your favourite science fact?

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. Brian Cox talked about this one day on his radio show and I’ve always remembered it, I think it helps to put life into perspective.

Early to Bed..

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

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

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

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

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

So, how much sleep do we need?

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

It’s getting late. Goodnight All!


Going to the Zoo…

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

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

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

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

Points Race to Science

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

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

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

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

More information on these events to follow…

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…….

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!