Science That Slithers

This month, Midlands Science is running a series of workshops with our partners, the Reptile Zoo, in schools in Laois, as part of our free school outreach programme, which is supported by Rethink Ireland and partners such as SAP and Arup. These workshops allow students to experience the wonders of the natural world from their classroom and hopefully begin a lifetime of curiosity about the world around us and what we can do to preserve biodiversity.

The Reptile Zoo provides the opportunity to see snakes and other reptiles up close and personal! All while learning about their ecology, conservation and biodiversity. There are more than 3,000 species of snake in the world and almost all snakes are covered in scales. As reptiles, they are cold blooded and they need to regulate their temperature externally. Every month or so snakes shed their skin. This process is called ecdysis and it gets rid of parasites, as well as making room for growth.

Approximately 100 snake species are listed by the IUCN Red List as endangered and this is typically due to habitat loss. If you are slightly nervous reading this blog, you’re probably an ophidiophobe – someone who is afraid of snakes. You’re in good company, remember the infamous Indiana Jone scene where he shown his torch on a floor of snakes and yelled “why is it always snakes?” If you are afraid of snakes, it’s probably for a mixture of reasons – a negative experience, portrayal of snakes in the media, hearing about negative experiences of someone else.

It’s a very common phobia and if you want to overcome it, it is possible. Jackie who works with us, worked for a number of years in West Africa in development and on a camping trip one night, she woke up with a snake crawling up her body. She lay very still and it crawled away after about 10 long minutes. Two weeks later, she was driving along a dusty road and a cobra jumped up in front of her jeep from about 10 feet away. She stopped and it realised the jeep was too big to eat and continued on its journey. You’d think after all this, she’d be a confirmed ophidiophobe but not at all, she’s first up for a photo with the albino python from the Reptile Zoo whenever the opportunity arises !

You can learn all about the Reptile Zoo on https://www.nationalreptilezoo.ie/ and lots more about reptiles on https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles

Look Up For Science!!

This month and next, Midlands Science is running a series of workshops with our partners, the Exploration Dome, in schools in Laois and Longford, as part of our free school outreach programme, which is supported by Rethink Ireland and partners such as SAP and Arup. These workshops allow students to experience the wonders of the universe from their classroom and hopefully begin a lifetime of curiosity about our place in the universe.

Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences as early civilisations in history made very methodical observations of the night’s sky. These included the Chinese, Maya, Babylonians and many more including the Irish. You can check out our video exploring space as Gaeilge here.

Astronomy comes from a Greek word which means the science that studies the laws of the stars. Astronomy includes maths, physics and chemistry and it studies everything that originates beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Astronomy is one of the sciences in which amateurs play an active role, particularly with regards to the discovery and observation of transient events such as comets and asteroids. Astronomy clubs are located throughout the world and the Midlands has a very active Astronomy Club. You can find more details about them on Facebook.

One branch of amateur astronomy, astrophotography, involves the taking of photos of the night sky. Many amateurs like to specialize in the observation of particular objects, types of objects, or types of events that interest them. A famous Astro-photographer is Dr Brian May, better known as the amazing guitarist with Queen. He was working on his Phd on zodiacal dust when his music career took off and he went back to Imperial College, London to finish is Phd over 30 years and many hit records later!! As well as writing up the previous research work he had done, May had to review the work on zodiacal dust undertaken during the intervening 33 years, which included the discovery of the zodiacal dust bands by NASA. After a viva voce, the revised thesis (titled “A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud”) was approved in September 2007, some 37 years after it had been commenced. His Instagram account regularly features his astronomy observations and photos taken using his very large telescope at his home in the UK.

Although, we know more now that we ever have about the universe, there’s still a lot of unsolved questions in astronomy and perhaps some budding Astro-physicists in the midlands may solve these questions in the future ! Answers to these may require the construction of new ground and space-based instruments, and possibly new developments in theoretical and experimental physics. What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? How did the first galaxies form? What really happens beyond the event horizon? Is there other life in the Universe?

Lots of interesting discoveries about astronomy have been made in the midlands at Birr Castle Demense, which today hosts a LOFAR telescope. You can learn more about Birr Castle’s heritage in astronomy on birrcastle.com. The gardens now include a solar trail which allows you to experience the size, distance and scale of the Solar System along the 2km route. The Demense is also home to I-Lofar, the Irish station of a European-wide network of state-of-the-art radio telescopes, used to observe the Universe at low frequencies.

Astronomy continues today to provide us with more and more information about the universe and our place in it. Innovation in space exploration has given us everything from foil blankets, scratch resistant glasses, memory form to fire-proof clothes. So look up and appreciate all astronomy has given us. As Stephen Hawking said “to confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.”

 

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/

Something for Everyone this Science Week!

In addition to the many events being run in schools on a digital platform for this year’s Science Week which is run nationally by Science Foundation Ireland, we are also providing a vast number of online activities and experiences for the public to book and view virtually either in school or at home here in the Midlands region.

‘Sea and Sky’ is a virtual event which will see Simon Berrow of Irish Whale & Dolphin Group & Brian McCafferty of Birdwatch Ireland discussing biodiversity in Ireland, the science of conservation and what we can all learn from the world around it and how to care for it. You can also join flooding expert Dr Rolf Hut of Delft University of Technology to discuss the his tory and science of flooding and what we can do to manage flooding in a responsible way. This discussion, High Water – the Science of Flooding, is part of a series of events for Science Week with guest festival cura tor Dr Barry Fitzgerald of TU Eindhoven.

Don’t forget we also have our Science Week Book Club running this year as part of the festival and if you want a scientist to join your book club meeting for a discussion on the issues raised, please let us know and we will try to arrange that. Keep an eye on our website and social media for associated competitions for book clubs.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science CEO said, ‘There will be an exciting range of new events online this year with a promise of something for all age groups 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 workshops which will hopefully help young people around the Midlands develop an interest in STEM subjects beyond the confines of the curriculum and increase their awareness of potential careers in those areas.’

Visit the magical, scientific world of WandaVision with Superhero Scientist Barry Fitzgerald! In early 2020, the Disney+ series WandaVision arrived to much-deserved adulation. Wanda’s world is built on puzzlement and magic and there’s a lot of science to explore here. Check out www.midlandsscience.ie for more details and booking information and join us to celebrate science this November across the Midlands.

 

 

 

 

Promoting Safety Online for Science Week with Google and Barnardos

Midlands Science is delighted to team up with Google and its online safety partner, Barnardos, the children’s charity, to deliver online safety workshops for students and a webinar for parents during Science Week 2021. These virtual workshops are based on current research and best practice to promote online safety for children. As young people are living in an increasingly digital world, it is so vital that they know what it safe and what is not. As they rely more and more on their screens for team interaction in school and for homework and connection, they also need to be able to identify misinformation and to know how to make the right decisions when engaging with social media content.

Ryan Meade, Public Policy & Government Relations Manager, Google Ireland said,

“Google is delighted to support the Midlands Science Festival 2021. Barnardos, our Google.org online safety partner, will be delivering online safety workshops to schools during the festival. By supporting the Barnardos Online Safety Programme and creating a free multifaceted programme designed to teach younger children (age 7-11 year olds) about online safety, we want to help make the internet a safer place for young people in Ireland. We will also be hosting an online safety webinar for parents and we believe that open communication between children and adults and regular conversations about a child’s online use are key to helping children stay safe online. The objective of this online webinar is to leave parents feeling empowered with practical tips that will help their family stay safer and be happier on the internet.”

These workshops provide the perfect opportunity to generate the conversations that need to take place to support children in their online lives. Topics covered include: How to talk to your child about online safety, Parental controls, Helpful websites, Cyberbullying and how to help your child, How to encourage digital wellbeing, Sexting and Strategies gaming and screen time.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science CEO commented,

“We know that particularly over the course of the last eighteen months that an increasing number of young people are regularly online and it has become a more important part of their life than ever before. Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean that young people are seeing misleading content every day and many have regular friend requests from people that they don’t know. While the majority of young people understand that they have a responsibility to be mindful of their actions when online and many also know to report potentially harmful or misleading content, we all have a part to play in creating a better online world. Midlands Science is delighted to partner with Google and Barnardos for this year’s Midlands Science Festival to provide these workshops which will be packed full of tips on digital safety, screen time and lots more.”

This event is brought to you by the Barnardos Online Safety Programme as part of the Midlands Science Festival, in conjunction with Google and is part of national Science Week, supported by Science Foundation Ireland. Barnardos Online Safety workshops can be booked by completing the online booking form on their website www.barnardos.ie/osp or by emailing onlinesafety@barnardos.ie.

 

 

In Conversation with Dr. Barry Fitzgerald – Midlands Science Festival Curator

Barry W. Fitzgerald, BW Science, author of Secret Science of Santa Claus & Secrets of Superhero Science.
pho to: Bart van Overbeeke

We were delighted to recently catch up with Dr. Barry Fitzgerald in advance of the upcoming Midlands Science Festival to chat about his role as festival curator. Barry has been providing innovative workshops for the festival for the past few years and this year, he has played a big part in co-curating the week-long event..

Can you tell us about your role in co-curating this years’ Midlands Science festival Barry. In what way does your experience add value as a science festival curator? 

When I was asked to co-curate the Midlands Science Week Festival for 2021, I jumped at the opportunity. Since 2015, I’ve been presenting workshops at schools and science festivals for Science Week Ireland. It’s one of my busiest weeks, and a great opportunity to meet so many students, teachers, and members of the general public.

When I meet these audiences, I have two main aims; to share inspiring s tories about incredible scientific research, and to listen. After an event, I thoroughly enjoy chatting with audiences about their hopes, their dreams, and their thoughts about science and what it means to their lives.

These conversations provide me with ideas for content for subsequent events and workshops, but as I traditionally work alone when it comes to science communication events, it’s difficult to follow through with all of these ideas.

Co-curating the Midlands Science Week Festival 2021 is the ideal platform for me to complement the already outstanding line-up of the annual program with new events and formats that have been inspired by my previous Science Week experiences.

 

What can viewers expect to encounter when the festival launches on 6th November? 

The festival has something for everyone. It all begins with the Open Day on Saturday November 6th with a stimulating program featuring dinosaurs, superheroes, galaxies, and lots more. Then starting on Monday November 8th we’ve got a dedicated school program in conjunction to evening events for all tastes.

We’ve got a great animated series “The Wonders of the Body” that will profile some of the organs of the human body. Then there’s the “Science of Running”, an event that I’ll be hosting with very special guest – Keith Whyte, the Irish record holder for the 100 km ultramarathon. And in a talk related to the running event and running health, we’ve got the event “I Like To Move It” that will explore the science of joint health.

And there’s so much more. There’s “The Science of WandaVision” – the popular MCU superhero series that captivated audiences at the start of this year, there’s an event about flooding science, and we’re also going to exploring the science of chocolate. Unfortunately, we won’t be giving out free chocolate samples with the last talk, which is a pity – I was hoping to get some myself!

It’s a week of inspiring talks with science very much at the foundation of all events, and what’s great is that there is so much diversity in the science covered in the events. Get ready to learn. Get ready to be inspired. Get ready for science!

How have preparations for this year’s festival been impacted by COVID-19?

 Of course, COVID-19 has impacted preparations for this year’s festival. With the virus still very much present in society, we had to ensure that the program delivered enthralling science, while at the same time keeping the wellbeing and health of our audiences as the highest priority.

As a result, all events will take place online, either live or via pre-recorded videos that will premiere at specific times during the week.

Science has played a key role in helping to manage and contain the spread of the virus, and with the emergence of vaccinations we now have the medical tools to protect society at large.

It is disappointing that we won’t have live events this year, but thanks to science we are moving in the right direction. All going well, there will be live events as part of next year’s festival.

What are the benefits and challenge of running a festival of this nature online?

Over the past year, I’ve built up considerable experience with regards to presenting online. For example, for last year’s Science Week festival, I set up a home studio and presented all of my talks from my living room.

In my case, I have discovered that certain content works well online, better than it would for traditional in-person presentations.

In my opinion, the online environment allows demonstrators to be more dynamic with regards to how they present their content. For example, pre-recorded videos can be scripted, and you can also take your time with regards to putting the video together. When presenting online live, it’s possible to have all of your materials within easy reach, which means that you don’t have to move large cases of equipment and spend time setting up intricate experiments on site.

However, with the festival being online there are two main drawbacks. First, with a live event you are at the mercy of technology and internet connections. If the connection goes down then it could interrupt. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that isn’t the case of the festival!

A second drawback is the change in audience interaction. One of the exciting parts of any festival is meeting the audience and engaging in conversation with them during and after an event. Nevertheless, we’ll be doing our best to replicate this for the online festival. For instance, for “The Science of Running” we’ve asked the audience to send their running data in advance of the talk so that they are not just part of the audience, they are also part of the presentation themselves. Their content will create content for the presentation – it’s part of a citizen science approach. And many online platforms offer unique ways to interact with the audience such as chat functionalities. So while the live audience won’t be there, we’ll be using the technological facilities at our disposal to replicate to the best of our ability.

 

What are you most excited about in relation to this year’s events and what can people look forward to?

The Science Week 2021 program at Midlands Science is perhaps the best Science Week program yet. We’ve got content for all ages and all scientific tastes.

Personally speaking, I’m really looking forward to presenting my talks on “the Science of WandaVision” and “the Science of Running”.

But I’m a real fan of chocolate, so I’m really looking forward to “the Science of Chocolate”. Fingers crossed the recommendation is that we should eat chocolate every day – although sometime tells me that it won’t be the case!

And then there’s the brilliant animated video series “The Wonders of the Body” which will profile a number of organs in the human body. Be sure to check that out!

Finally, there’s the Discovery Day where there’ll be talks on a whole host of topics such as astronomy, superheroes, rocket physics, and dinosaurs. That promises to be a day of exciting scientific learning!

 

What else is on the horizon for you in the world of science and technology promotion?

Science Week is one of the busiest times of the year for me. In addition to curating and presenting as part of the Science Week festival for Midlands Science, I’ll also be speaking at other schools and other festival events.

At the moment I’m super-busy with a number of projects. I’m working on a new book, which I hope will be finished by the end of the year. You won’t be surprised to hear that it has a superhero connection, and it’s a book that will take a look at another side of superheroes. The book is due to come out in 2022.

In addition, I recently started a YouTube channel – The Superhero Scientist. I’ll be making lots more content for the channel over the coming weeks and months. Of course, if you have an idea for a video, be sure to let me know. I’m always happy to make videos based on recommendations from viewers.

2022 is already looking like it’ll be a busy year with lots of superhero science activities on the horizon. I’m also developing training programs for would-be science communicators, so if you’re looking for further information, be sure to let me know. I’ll also be giving talks on topics other than superheroes over the course of the year, and topics related to various topics in science and engineering. And along with Midlands Science, we have some interesting and exciting plans for next year – so watch this space!

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!

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.

 

 

Something New and Exciting from the GSI for 2014!

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), founded in 1845, is the National Earth Science Agency. It is responsible for providing geological advice and information, and for the acquisition of data for this purpose. GSI produces a range of products including maps, reports and databases and acts as a knowledge centre and project partner in all aspects of Irish geology. We are pleased to announce that this year, the GSI is bringing some exciting workshops to a selection of Midlands schools during the Midlands Science Festival.

GSI realises that our future lies in the hands of today’s young students so efforts are really increasing to ensure that as an organisation, GSI engages in activities which are really relevant to today’s school goers, which may hopefully in turn, encourage children to consider a career in science or more specifically geoscience. We are looking forward to hearing how our schools enjoy this new event for 2014!