November Sunshine with Curious Kim!

lukimToday saw the return of our virtual Midlands Science Festival mascot Curious Kim and what better way to welcome her back than with a really lovely canal walk in the sunshine after school.

Kim is a lover of all things science (the more fun the better) and will be coming to a school or venue near you soon, so keep an eye out and if you get a chance to take a pho to with her please send it on to us via the website..or via twitter @curiouskim1…..

Not long to go now!

Sea Life Fun for Midlands Schools

marine picDid you know that seals, dolphins and porpoises are regularly sighted off our Irish beaches?
Well, we have more excitement on the way this November in the form of a wonderful organisation called, Marine Dimensions, a social enterprise dedicated to marine environmental education, research and conservation. The mission of Marine Dimensions is to enhance understanding and appreciation of marine biodiversity through education, research and community based participation.
We will be hosting a number of workshops during the Midlands Science Festival through the travelling School of Marine Biology, bringing biologists and sea creatures to the region and who knows maybe we will inspire some future marine biologists in the process!


Lisa Murphy on the Selfie Explosion!

lisa M picWe had fun talking to Lisa Murphy, one of this year’s Famelab performers all about what she does and what interests her in science!

You speak about facial symmetry, selfies and how quickly we perceive attractiveness. Can you tell us a little more about what this is all about?

We all have differences in personal taste (some like blonde hair, others like dark eyes, some people love curls, others love facial stubble), but there are certain kinds of facial features that our brains will find attractive despite differences in personal taste, and one of these is facial symmetry. Judging how symmetrical somebody’s face is not a conscious process though. We don’t choose or intend to do it, and we are completely unaware that our brain is making this calculation, and research shows that individuals with more symmetrical faces are rated as being more attractive than others with less symmetrical physical traits. The interesting question here though, is why? Why do we view symmetrical faces as more attractive? The answer lies with evolution, life’s persistent longing for itself.
We have a primary purpose from the moment we are born: live long enough and reproduce, generate life beyond our own, ensuring that our genes are handed down to the next generation (I sometimes always find this a bit strange to think about…at 25 years old, I am usually thinking about where to buy a new mascara or hitting an upcoming deadline at college, rather than any deep rooted yearning to procreate, but hey, that’s science!).
In order to ensure that our genes will be passed down, we need to make sure that our offspring will be fit, healthy, and live long enough to reproduce themselves. So, it is important for us to find a fit and healthy partner with whom to produce offspring. Facial symmetry is one indication (although one of many) of a person’s health status. From the moment we are conceived, we are constantly under attack. Bacteria, viruses, and other environmental threats are at large and ready to hijack our immune systems…and our facial symmetry! For the most part, humans are designed to develop symmetrically, but individuals who are not able to withstand threats like viruses and disease (i.e. those with weaker immune systems) are less likely to develop symmetrical facial features. An example of this is in contracting the virus that causes chicken pox. As well as causing chicken pox, in some cases it can also infect the facial nerve causing the face to slightly droop slightly.
So, over thousands of years of human evolution, the brain became hardwired to perceive symmetry as an attractive facial feature because it indicates to us how capable a person’s immune systems is at fighting off infection and diseases (an important thing that a new born baby needs in order to survive).
The selfie explosion that has taken place all around the world means that now, as well as making quick symmetry calculations in our brain when we look at other people, we can now use this ability when we take a picture of ourselves, flip it around and look at it as if we were looking at another person on the street. What’s even better, some say, is that when we’re deciding on whether the selfie is a keeper or not, we can use apps and other technologies to manipulate the image, presenting a more attractive, more symmetrical version of ourselves to the online world, essentially saying ‘look at me, I’m a healthy catch ;)’

Your research lies in the broader area of Health Psychology…what area of this are you most passionate about?

Although I love catching up on the latest scientific research behind attractiveness and selfie taking, my real passion lies with learning about how people experience time differently and how this can affect the decisions they make (usually without their awareness). It’s one thing to know how to tell time, or how clocks work, but part of what makes us human is that we can perceive and experience time differently to other animals, and to one another. We can feel it moving fast, in slow motion, speeding up, slowing down, stretching, and for some, almost s topping completely. Our past experiences, present desires and future goals can all influence how we behave. For example, when it comes to school, some students are very focused on their future careers and often think about the kinds of things they would like to achieve in their adult lives. These students tend to recognize that getting high grades and performing well in other domains at school are essential to achieving their goals, and therefore spend extra time in their present lives with homework and studying. In psychology these students are considered to be future oriented. When it comes to health psychology, how we think about and experience time can also have a significant impact on how we behave. For example, we see that somebody who is very future oriented when it comes to their health would avoid tobacco smoking, make regular GP check-up appointments, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly because they are so focused on their future health. The opposite of this is present orientation. Research shows that a present oriented person is more like to binge drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, use drugs, and drive dangerously because they crave excitement and gratification in the present moment, rather than consider their future health. My research focuses on determining the best ways to measure someone’s time orientation, and then to determine the best ways to intervene and change a person’s time orientation, allowing them to make healthier choices, benefitting their future health.

Why are events like Science Week so important for Ireland today?

For so long, a rigid divide existed between scientists and…well…everyone else! For many people, science was considered inaccessible, a different language with complicated rules that didn’t mean much at all to our every-day lives. Events like Science Week are essential to bridging the gap between those who study science and those who don’t, between those who know about how science works and those who haven’t yet learned, between people who understand the methods and processes of science and those who question their results. But more importantly for me, events like Science Week could very well be the difference when it comes to the 15 year old student who is trying to decide on which subjects to study for the Leaving Cert and would like to choose chemistry (or physics or biology) but feel that they are not smart enough or that science is too difficult to learn. Science Week opens the doors to what science is truly all about: discovery, innovation, creativity, and producing reliable, worthwhile results that can improve people’s lives and contribute to our understanding of absolutely everything and anything. Science is not just for the most intelligent people in the entire world, it is not just for the privileged, and it is not just for men in shiny white coats. Science should be accessible to anybody who has an interest in how things work the way that they do, in why the earth moves, in the human body, in animal kingdoms, space-rockets, sounds, colours, volcanoes, millipedes, dinosaurs, brain development, disease, happiness…the list is endless!

What does it take to be a good science communica tor and why is it a great skill to have?

For me, passion is the number one! Regardless of the type of communication (talking, singing, dancing, or other forms of artistic expression.) the message will always be more impactful and memorable if it is communicated with passion. Just like it is so easy to tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one, the audience can always tell whether the communica tor truly cares about the subject they are discussing. Communicating a message with passion will determine whether or not the audience will remember your message an hour after the show. Then, with passion, comes creativity and excitement. A message communicated creatively will always get an audience excited! The ability to think outside of the box and find innovative ways to communicate a message will force an audience to think about your topic in a way that may not have before, again making them far more likely to remember it! I remember at the Cheltenham Science Festival last summer, Marty Jopson, on his quest to make science accessible to everybody, gave an extremely informative talk on the physics behind ‘boomerang-ing’, how they fly and return to the thrower (if thrown a certain way). Every few seconds Marty fired a bunch of boomerangs, all different colours and sizes, around the entire stadium (which filled over 800 people!) and had audience members fire them back. I remember thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m at a science talk, in a giant tent, with boomerangs flying around all over the place!’ And as you can see, I’m still talking about it!!
I believe those who are skilled in effective science communication techniques have an obligation to their discipline and to the general public to communicate the latest discoveries and to share their knowledge and expertise with the world. Every year, millions are spent around the world funding scientific researchers to discover new and exciting information using reliable and valid methods. The scientific method is definite and clear, but it is my opinion that until recently we have been circumventing one of the most crucial final steps: sharing the results. Communicating the outcomes of scientific investigations should not be limited to communicating with other scientists in scientific journals and discipline specific academic conferences. Science is for everybody and it should be communicated to everybody so that people can determine for themselves fact from fiction, science from pseudoscience, and truth from lies. When we are all on the same page that is when we can form our own valid opinions, and make informed individual and collective decisions.

Public Events, Career talks and Science for Breakfast!

F O' RourkeDon’t miss an opportunity to hear from some of our expert speakers during Midlands Science Festival

2015 marks 20 years of Science Week; a national, annual event that celebrates the fascinating worlds of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Science Week 2.0 invites people of all ages to experience science firsthand. As part of this year’s Midlands Science Festival which is heading in to its third year and features some 90 events across the four counties of Westmeath, Offaly, Laois and Longford, we will be delivering school career talks from a number of expert speakers from academic institutes such as NUI, Maynooth and Trinity College Dublin.

We are also delighted to announce another exciting and free public event due to take place in the Athlone Little Theatre on the evening of Friday 13th  – The Mind, The Body, The Universe. On the night, we will hear from experts from the world of medicine, psychology and astronomy for some fascinating discussion and an opportunity for questions afterwards.

This year and for the first time, we will also host a business breakfast in the Shera ton Hotel in Athlone on the morning of Friday, November 13th where members of the business community and indeed the public will have the opportunity to hear from two local corporate speakers, Mr. Traloch Collins, MD of Athlone based multinational, Ericsson and Westmeath native, Mr. Feargal O’Rourke, Managing Partner of PwC Ireland. On the morning, they will talk about the importance of STEM skills for the future of Irish society and the economy.

This event is free of charge but remember, booking is essential and places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pho to: Mr. Feargal O’Rourke, Managing Partner of PwC Ireland.


Guts, Enthusiasm and Perspective …That’s what it takes!

fergus picWe are really excited to see UCC PhD Famelab candidate Fergus McAuliffe in action at our special Famelab event in Co.Laois during Science Week. Fergus won both the Irish and international competition in 2013. His presentation challenged human definition of life and death, using the biology of a wood frog.

Fergus, can you tell us a bit about why you love science and what inspired you to study it?

I always had a natural curiosity for science. When I was young facts and figures is what I thrived on. But as you grown up and study science you realise that it is not all about facts and figures. These details are now just a google away so we no longer need to spend ages trying to learn and remember them. What is much more important is how you go about science. What decisions will you make? What time will you give to it? What are the results likely to be? This decision making process is what I love about doing science now.

Why are science and technology so important in today’s society?

You are reading what I wrote on a computer. Without science, technology and a large dash of curiosity this computer would not exist. The work that scientists and engineers do is incredibly important to modern life. In fact, without their work, modern life would probably not be very modern!

What area of science are you most passionate about and why?

I like environmental and earth science. Simply put, we have only one earth. We must sustainably live here. This is why I chose to study environmental science at UCC where I got a lot of exposure to how we can best manage the resources that we have such as water and land. I then did my PhD, also in environmental science, on the use of trees to sustainably clean wastewater to protect the environment. Now I work in the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences. This centre carries out work in to securing supply of energy for Ireland and how we can best manage our raw materials and water resources.

What does it take to be a good science communica tor and why is it a vital skill to have?

Top 3 things to have:

1. Guts – you need to be brave enough to go on stage!

2. Enthusiasm – when you speak you must show enthusiasm and passion. Otherwise people will get bored of listening to you.

3. Perspective – can you put yourself in the shoes of the man on the street to make sure that the public will understand the science that you are explaining.

Bringing Energy Education to Life…

SEAIWe are delighted to welcome Nuala Flanagan from the Irish Peatland Conservation Council to this year’s Midlands Science festival…

Can you tell us what the IPCC do and a bit about your role?

The IPCC or Irish Peatland Conservation Council is a charity that was set up to conserve a sample of Irish peatlands for future generations to energy. Peatlands are a wetland habitat in Ireland and in the midlands we find our raised bog habitat. Peatlands have many wondeful benefits to us all from their use as an amenity for walking, for the unique wildlife they support, their ability to s tore carbon and their water regulating functions. However we use the peat beneath the living surface of a peatland as a domestic fuel called turf, we burn it to make electricity and use it as a growing medium in our gardens. The peatlands in the midlands of Ireland have been forming for 10,000 years since the last Ice Age and the rate we are cutting them is far quicker then they could ever grow back. As Environmental Education Officer with the Irish Peatland Conservation Council my role involves working with schools, community groups and members of the public to raise awareness for the need to conserve a sample of these wonderful wet and wild peatland habitats in Ireland.

What type of workshops will you be bringing to Midlands classrooms this year?

As we burn peat in our peat burning electricity stations the Irish Peatland Conservation Council have partnered with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to promote cleaner alternative ways of generating electricity. By choosing alternative cleaner means of generating electricity we will be helping to protect the peatland habitats of Ireland as we will no longer need to harvest the peat for burning in electricity stations. Peat can be described as a fossil fuel and when burnt it releases carbon disoxide in to our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that is causing our climate to change at a much quicker rate than ever before recorded. Climate change will affect us all so this year I will delivering energy workshops to students promoting simple ways we can conserve energy at school and home and introduce some renewable technologies developed to generate electricity.

Do you have a central location and what types of activities can the public access there?

Yes I am based at the Bog of Allen Nature Centre a centre of excellence in peatland edcation, conservation and research aswell as one of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s regional education centres. W are open to members of the public all year round and offer educational visits to groups. We are open Monday to Friday from 10am-4pm and visi tors can expect a guided tour of our peatland exhibition promoting all aspects of the wild and wet peatlands of Ireland, visi tors can also explore the largest insect eating plant display in Ireland and the UK in the wildlife gardens of the centre or take time out and visit Lodge Bog an example of a raised bog habitat. School groups can also expect hands on activities such as pond dipping, nature crafts, energy workshops or frog and newt searches.

How can we make science more fun and engaging for young people do you think?

Science is about investigating the world around us and to engage young people with science we must make it hands on. For example when young people study living things we must take time out of the classroom and explore the natural world in our local community this may be as a simple as taking students outside to the school garden or local parkland and searching for invertebrates.

You are also representing The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland at some school events this year Nuala and we are delighted about that! What types of workshops to you facilitate in this role?

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland workshops are about engaging young people with energy and raising awareness that most of our electrical energy is generated in Ireland by burning fossil fuels. These fossil fuels release many gases including carbon dioxide which is causing our climate to change at a much quicker rate then ever recorded, Many of us do not think of climate change on a daily basis but it will have an impact on all of us. I will be working with primary and post primary students delivering the SEAI energy workshops which will engage the participants in a hands on practical workshop learning about energy conservation and alternative cleaner renewable ways to generate electricity

Why is it important to educate young people about energy issues?

Climate Change will affect all of us for example farmers produce our food that we eat providing us with energy. If the weather changes it will be much harder to plan for the planting, growing and harvesting season therefore our food supplies may be affected. We will experience changes in our weather for example think back to 2010 and the very long and cold winter we experienced and compare this to last Christmas a much milder year. We can all make a change to help our climate and young people are tomorrows leaders so ensuring they understand energy and climate change will help them to make better and more informed decisions in the future.

We are very excited about these new and fresh workshops for 2015!

S tories of Science Success

scoil mhuire science 1The Midlands Science Festival team was delighted to catch up with Fionnuala Doheny, principal of Scoil Mhuire this week to hear all about some of the wonderful achievements the school has had in science in recent years. Heading in to its third year, the Midlands Science Festival promises over 90 events across the region this November, making it the biggest and best science festival the region has seen yet.

With some of the science based activities explored at Scoil Mhuire, it is back to basics such as learning all about what floats and what sinks or gaining an understanding of light and dark through the study of shadows, but more recently students have had the opportunity to build rockets and ipads have also been used lately to access science and engineering and maths information. The school recently worked with ‘Get Smart Media’ and completed lessons on graphic keyframe animation, frame by frame animation and video editing and computer programming. In addition to all of this, a number of pupils recently visited Tullamore Library to hear from a female speaker working in the world of engineering, 6th Class pupils visited Tullamore College science lab where they were shown science topics and experiments from the second level curriculum and some also had a visit to multinational company, Ericsson in Athlone where they were given a tour of the facility and learned about the research being carried out there.

Jackie Gorman, Midlands Science Festival Direc tor said,

‘There is a long his tory of achievement in science and maths in Scoil Mhuire and we are delighted to have been able to work with the staff and pupils over the past few years bringing in events such as the Science Bubble Show and the Reptile Zoo Village and seeing the impact these type of events have made. We have also been in a position to deliver JUMP Math to the school in partnership with Ericsson and the philosophy around this programme is founded on a belief that all children have the capability to perform well in maths but its methods aim to remove common myths and psychological barriers to effective learning in this essential subject.’

Scoil Mhuire has received several awards from Science Federation Ireland dating back to 2006 when the school first achieved Digital school status. In 2010 the school was awarded Science and Mathematics Excellence and this was repeated again recently in 2015.

Fionnuala Doheny said,

‘Scoil Mhuire has always recognised the importance of science and maths and it has always been our goal to introduce an understanding and love of these subjects as early as possible in the classroom. It is our belief that once an appreciation of maths and a curiosity of science is established, often through fun activities such as maths trails, boat making or attending Midlands Science Festival events, it will stay with them forever and indeed many of our past pupils have taken up careers in the world of science and maths. This year two of our past pupils have achieved scholarships from the Naugh ton Foundation as recognition for their outstanding results in the Leaving Cert. Both students are taking up science courses at third level.’

Science Week 2.0: Design Your Future unveiled as this year’s theme

20 years picScience Week 2.0: Design Your Future invites people of all ages to experience science first-hand – enjoy a science demonstration, seminar or show; have fun with a science experiment at home and discover the answers to the most curious science questions with friends and family. It is an opportunity to explore and experience the wonder of science.

In this the year of Irish Design, Science Week celebrates the deep connection between science and design. Medical devices, technological appliances and research apparatus demonstrate how closely these two fields are intertwined. Science Week 2.0: Design Your Future urges young people to actively ‘Design Your Future’ by engaging with science disciplines and embarking on exciting and fulfilling careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Coordinated by SFI Discover, the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland, Science Week will run from 8th – 15th November 2015. The week-long festival will highlight how science, technology, engineering and mathematics are fundamental to everyday life, and demonstrate STEM’s importance to the future development of our society and economy. The annual festival of events, activities, demonstrations, talks and interactive shows is thanks to the collaborative work of volunteers, teachers, researchers, scientists and fans of the wonderful world of science. Communities all around Ireland – including schools, colleges, universities, research institutes, businesses and libraries – will take part in Science Week 2.0: Design Your Future.

The Midlands Science Festival will run throughout that week and we cant wait!

Science Week 2.0: Design Your Future – be inspired, get involved and design your future

Fun at the Fire Station!

Nuala Nally and Nathan Fire StationNathan Nally Henson and his mum Nuala enjoyed a really fun and informative visit to Athlone Fire Station ahead of this week’s National Fire Safety Week. The Midlands Science Festival team will be making a return visit to the Fire Station during Science Week to teach local pupils all about fire safety, the equipment used and the important procedures we need to know all about.

During the next visit, children will have the opportunity to ask some of the friendly Athlone fire officers questions about fire safety, get a tour of the facility, see the engines and get a feel for how it all works when the station gets a call out.

Fire safety begins at home..Here are some simple tips to teach children..

Create an easy to follow escape plan and a safe meeting place outside your home.

Practice fire safety and keep your home safe! Ensure children know about the dangers. It can be simple things like making sure they aren’t too close to the hob while something is cooking or keeping candles out of reach if lit. The majority of fires within the home begin in the kitchen.

Install Smoke Detec tors! Statistics show that more than half of all fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms, and nearly three quarters of fire deaths occur in homes without alarms or with non-functioning alarms.
And don’t forget to test them! Make sure the batteries are good and that the smoke detec tor itself is in proper working condition. Working smoke detec tors save lives.

Keep a fire extinguisher in a handy location. The best location is typically just inside a door or entrance, out of the reach of children. Remember, a fire extinguisher is no substitute for the fire station officers, but it can be used to s top a small fire from getting out of control.

Keep safe during Fire Safety Week and always!

Discover World Space Week 2015

World Space Week 2015 highlights the great era of deep space discovery that we are in. We have never learnt as much of the universe we live in as in the last decade. Space telescopes, deep space probes and several interplanetary satellites and landers have shown us the magic, wonders and opportunities of new worlds.

The mission of World Space Week Association (WSWA) is to strengthen the link between space and society through public education, participation, and dialogue on the future of space activity using World Space Week as a focus.

Exoplanets, galaxies far away and close by and landings on planets, moons, asteroids and comets teach us about where we humans have come from and where we will go in the future. Space is all about Discovery!

Why not start using Google Earth to start travelling around the world, watch some of your favourite movies with your friends like Star Trek, Star Wars, Apollo 13..or have a space themed games night or scavenger hunt!