Back to School! Back to Science!

It’s the time of year when we start thinking about our new uniforms and pencil cases and getting ready for back to school! Leaving the long hazy days of Summer behind for a new year of school and hopefully lots of science. No matter what year you are going into, there’s lots of science ahead as part of your school experience.

Midlands Science will have a new call out to schools in the region in the days, offering free workshops and activities to schools in the midlands at both primary and secondary level. Primary workshops cover everything from astronomy to zoology through fun hands on activities and interactive experiences with professional science outreach personnel. Whereas,  secondary school workshops explore career and subject choices with a wide variety of academic and industry partners.

Keep an eye on our social media for the call out to schools to apply for these free activities! Or sign up to the Midlands Science Mailing List using the form below. #BackToSchool #BackToScience #StayCurious

 

 






Midlands Science Youth Advisory Panel – Applications

Midlands Science promotes engagement with science, technology, engineering and maths to communities all over the midlands, to people of all ages and backgrounds. A key group of people we engage with are young people and we are keen to involve them in our content creation and programming. In order to make this involvement as impactful as possible, we are now establishing a Youth Advisory Panel which will meet three times per year to review the work of Midlands Science and to provide vital input into the development of this work.

A panel of 6 young people (aged 16+) will be established for a one year term from September to May each year and will be renewed each year with new members. In order to apply to take part in this exciting panel, please contact outreach@midlandsscience.ie All members will be provided with training in science communications and general communications and a full briefing on how to take part in the process. It will be an exciting and creative opportunity for anyone interested in science and/or communications. All panel members will be provided with certificates of participation and will be profiled online and in the media. Full parental/guardian permission for participation in the meetings and training will be required. The Youth Advisory Panel members will be key representatives of Midlands Science in the community and will be influencing decision making at many levels in the work of the organisation.

The Midlands Science Youth Panel offers many benefits and opportunities to participants including:

  • Development of leadership and communication skills.
  • Have your voice heard on skills and education issues.
  • Participation in the creation and development of science programmes and resources.
  • Participate in events such as the Midlands Science Festival.
  • Panelists will receive training in science communications and general communications skills.
  • Certificates of participation and guidance on CV development.
  • Opportunity to meet with a wide variety of people from science, technology, engineering and maths in Ireland.
  • Opportunity to visit leading STEM companies in the region and to be part of advocacy around STEM related issues.

All applications will be considered and the panel will be made up of the students who show the greatest enthusiasm for and interest in the work of Midlands Science and being part of decision making in a not-for-profit organisation in the midlands region.

Travel costs incurred by panel members in attending the Youth Panel will be covered by Midlands Science and all Youth Panel meetings will be held in accordance with the Midlands Science’s Child Protection Policy.

Midlands Science believes that engagement with science can have a positive and transformative impact on communities and we are excited to hear from those who share this belief.  We are committed to diversity and inclusion in our work and we strongly welcome applications from members of minority and marginalised communities. We also know that imposter syndrome can be an issue for some amazing people, so please get in touch to discuss this opportunity even if you feel like it might not be for you. We’d be happy to discuss any queries you might have.

 

Brewing Up – The Science of Tea!

It’s one of the world’s most popular drinks, from a mug of tea to Earl Grey in fine china to a batch of Kombucha, everyone has a favourite tea. This fascinating drink has a great history and lots of science to consider. Tea is produced from the leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis and scientists have been studying the effect tea has on mood and cognition. A paper in Nature [outlook] in 2019 explained how researchers had found that tea drinking lowers the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Research is trying to establish what are the main compounds that give tea its benefits and if these compounds work in isolation or collectively.

Tea catechins — antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate— account for up to 42% of the dry weight of brewed green tea, and the amino acid L-theanine makes up around 3%. Epigallocatechin gallate is thought to make people feel calmer and improve memory and attention when consumed on its own. L-theanine is found to have a similar effect when consumed in combination with caffeine. Up to 5% of the dry weight of green tea is caffeine, which is known to improve mood, alertness and cognition. This means that tea is a bit of a paradox as it makes up feel alert and calm at the same time.

And we have to wonder is there a science to making the perfect cup of tea? We are sure there is and those who turn off the kettle just before it boils need to listen up! Alan Mackie of Leeds University’s School of Food Science and Nutrition has looked at this contentious issue of making the perfect cup of tea. First of all, you pour the milk as he found the proteins in the milk lowers the mineral content of the water and allows the flavour to be locked in. You also need to know how hard your water. How hard your water is determined by the amount of calcium and magnesium in it. The majority of water in Ireland is hard. Alan Mackie’s research found that flavour in tea is produced by the tannins and it’s more difficult with hard water for these compounds to develop fully. Also, if you like steeping the tea bag and removing it and then adding milk, you need to stop. Doing it this way means that the tannins turn into solids before flavours can develop. So if you want the perfect cuppa, it’s milk first, softened water and lots of practice. It turns out there’s a lot to know about tea and a great resource on all things tea is The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard, where you can learn about all types of tea and how to prepare them.

 

Biodiversity Week

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

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

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

Shamrock Science for St Patrick’s Day

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

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

Science Communities: Free Resources for Teachers

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

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

The Science of Santa Claus

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

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

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

Reporting from the Reptile Zoo!

Excitement is building for some of our much-loved events which will be making a return online this year for Science Week 2021. The National Reptile Zoo provide wonderful events for the younger pupils to learn about  lizards, tortoise, turtles, crocodiles, alligators, spiders, scorpions, frogs and more. This is definitely an event where science, education and entertainment all meet in the middle and proves to be an enjoyable learning experience for everyone, regardless of age.

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

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

From Chocolate Science to Ultra Running at the Midlands Science Festival  

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

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

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

Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said,

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

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

Midlands Science and ESB Deliver Science Outreach to Midlands Schools

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

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

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

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

CEO of Midlands Science, Jackie Gorman said,

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

Photo: Phil Smyth