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.”

 

School Outreach Programme 2022

Midlands Science was delighted with the huge response to its free school outreach programme for 2022 and would like to thank all schools who responded to our call to host workshops and activities. Our call for 2023 will issue later this year.

We are currently planning careers workshops for secondary schools with local role models, who will share their real life experiences of working in STEM. This is in response to research which indicated that students wanted to hear more about what it actually means to work in STEM and also what are the different routes into STEM. If your school would like to host such a career workshop, please get in touch.

A career in STEM can be diverse, engaging and can focus on solving some of the most challenging problems in the world today. It includes everything from climate change to pandemics and all sorts of people with all kinds of skills are needed for such work. Asked for her advice to students today in secondary school, Dr Máiréad Breathnach of Intel commented.

“Go for it! Remember it’s not necessary to have an exact dream job in mind, a strong sense of what interests you and a general plan is a good starting point. Your plans will most likely change several times as you learn, your interests evolve, and the world faces new challenges. Regardless of whether you apply for a narrow discipline straight out of leaving cert or choose a more general science or engineering qualification, the core skills will be similar. It will never be an issue to change your mind and the time you’ve spent is never wasted as you’ll have learned along the way. Lateral moves happen right through education and careers. The key thing is to back yourself, put down your first choice regardless of whether you think you’ll get it or not. The worst that can happen is you get another choice from your list, which in any case will most likely bring you to the same career path. Technology and science transform at a rapid pace, as do the plethora of careers to choose from. Yours might not exist today! Be fearless. There’s a quote from Arianna Huffing ton about how fearless is like a muscle and the more you exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let fear run your life.”

School Outreach 2022 – Call for Applicants

Midlands Science is currently taking expresssions of interest from schools in the midlands, both primary and secondary for its free school outreach programme. The programme runs all year around and explores everything from astronomy to zoology with a group of dedicated outreach professionals from the science outreach community in Ireland. The programme has been running for a number of years now and is extremely popular and is free to schools in the region.  All schools have to do to be considered for a free workshop is to the complete the Google form on the Midlands Science website and a member of the team will follow up with you directly. The outreach is limited and schools must complete the application form to be considered. For primary schools, activities exploring everything from the engineering of marble runs to the science of chocolate are popular. Whilst activities for secondary schools are more focussed on college and career choices and are delivered with a group of STEM role models from a variety of backgrounds. These provide a vital real world link between education and employment in the region.

Children are naturally interested in exploring and experimenting with the world around them right from the start, even as babies. We are all natural born scientists as we find our way in the world – walking, talking, tasting things, these are all experiments driven by curiosity. Research suggests that by  the age of 10, most children have developed either a positive or negative attitude towards science that will remain with them. So it’s really important that we engage with people of all ages, but particularly in primary school during this key developmental phase. By doing so, we can help form a positive attitude towards science, that will benefit children and stay with them in to the future.  It’s not just about science itself. Science education activities provide children with opportunities to develop and practice many different skills. This includes skills us such as communication, collaboration, working together and diligence. Science also promotes problem solving and helps to expand our vocabulary and can be linked to other learning that happens in school such as literacy, numeracy and creative activities.

Exploring science at any age is interesting and exciting but exploring it at a young age can be a vital support to helping young people make informed choices about education and life skills.  Schools who are interested in the Midlands Science Outreach Programme 2022, are strongly encouraged to apply by December 10th.