Selfie Festival Fun..

Paul CarrollWe are really gearing up for the festival now and the preparations are well underway. You can look out for us in a town, school, shopping centre, tourist spot and many other places near you in the coming weeks when we will be bringing our virtual brand ambassador, Curious Kim on tour around the Midlands and beyond! She even took a trip to Dublin last week  to meet one of our festival partners, top recruitment company, Cpl! (Pho to-Curious Kim with Paul Carroll, Business Development Direc tor, Cpl)

We will be encouraging you to take selfies with Kim and then tweet them to be in with a chance of winning a prize. Why not get in to the spirit of the Midlands Science Festival and help us celebrate science in the weeks ahead!


Gizmo-makers and heartbreakers!

MakerspaceMidlands Makerspace are a creative community who want to develop and share their knowledge and skills and they are offering a number of workshops on Saturday November 15th as part of the Midlands Science Festival..   I recently caught up with Conor Brannigan to find out more….

What is a Makerspace and who can use it?

A makerspace is like a hackerspace, only we prefer not to use that term to avoid certain “misunderstandings” about our purpose.. It’s a space available to a loose group of people with a variety of different interests. We have people with an IT background who like to build small robots, do some programming, and talk tech. Some of our members are interested in sustainability, that is, growing food locally and at home, repairing things rather than disposing of them, repurposing broken or waste items, ways to use less energy in day to day life, small scale power generation, and so on. Some of our members are passionate about teaching computer skills to young people in a group environment, and teaching them basic tech crafts, such as building electrical circuits, or fashioning fun items from LEDs and breadboards. It’s hard to define, but we, and some of our friends in the local artists group who host us, believe in community involvement and participation, particularly for those who may not have typical interests and hobbies. We want people curious about technology, we want people who like to build things and share skills, we want them out of their houses and meeting like-minded individuals to chat, and work on projects together in an informal group setting.

What is your role in Midlands Makerspace Conor?

I wouldn’t consider myself as having a set role in the group, I think that we take on different roles and play different parts as they become necessary. Generally, I find myself being a facilita tor of sorts, liaising with our friends in the local art group who support and host us in their building, I manage some of the web side of things, call some of our meetings etc. At times, people ask me questions about electrical theory and practice, engineering, or renewable energy and I’m happy to answer those if I can, but truthfully, we’re all learning from each other. The roles of teacher and student interchange rapidly.

What inspired you to get in to this particular area of technology?

If you mean my trade and engineering degree, when I was 17 I needed work, and I thought that electrical work used a bit of brains and would keep me cleaner than some of the other trades. Well, I was wrong about the clean part. I studied Mechanical Engineering and Renewable Energy because, at the time, I believed that with enough skilled people in this country, we could revolutionise the power grid and tap in to Ireland’s massive renewable energy potential. I still believe that, correctly implemented and managed, renewable energy would create massive employment and attract a lot of foreign investment and manufacturing firms interested in operating and building products with green energy.

If you mean why and how I got involved with the Makerspace, it was through a chance encounter with Jules Fitzsimons at a meeting of the local artists group. We had a chat about our ideas, and set up the group together from there. Jules is a member of many voluntary organisations, including hackerspaces in Dublin, so he knew the model, and what was needed to set it up.

Can you tell us a little bit about your renewable energy projects?

We are still in the building phase of the group itself, as it was only founded earlier this year – and I have a proposal/brief up on our group forum, and we may add another one for hydropower soon. As a group project, I’m proposing that we build a wind turbine from scrap parts. I have the skills to do it, but up until recently, I was lacking a workshop to build it in. More than one kitchen table has been destroyed in the past.. We’ve been discussing it in our group recently, and just yesterday evening I got some good insight on the safety braking system from founder member Robin Grindrod, and a new member, Amy. Rather than just build a wind turbine, I would like to get more people involved, even working on the different components as separate projects. I’d like people to see how easy it is to build technology like this from freely available scrap, and see how they can begin generating their own power at home. Another founder member, Bianca, was looking in to biogas digesters recently, but we have yet to flesh out the finer details of that project. 

Why are events such as the Midlands Science Festival important do you think?

Well, we want people to get out there with their interests. We want people to know that if you’re interested in science and technology, or just having fun building things, that there are like minded people out there that they might not ordinarily meet. I know, as well, that some of us believe that to find what you love doing, you need to try as many things as possible until you find the right fit. And the best time to do that is when you’re young, curious and open to new ideas. It’s imperative that young people meet science at an early age, get to try it on for size, get curious about it. People shouldn’t meet real science for the first time in a college or university, I think, they should experience it in their own spaces, and develop their passions before they try to pick a career path. We’re also fans of a big, inclusive community effort that celebrates knowledge and learning.

What advice would you have for young people considering a career in a Science or Technology area?

I could only give them the same advice that was given to me when I applied to AIT. Pick the course, pick the career that you would get up in the morning and do for no money whatsoever. Pick the thing that you’re passionate about, forget titles, pay, or status. And, the best way to find what you’re passionate about is to get out there and try as many things as you can, especially while you’re young. But, then, it’s never too late to start something new.



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 exhibi tors and
over 200,000 visi tors annually.

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

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 direc tor 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 direc tor 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 in to the immune system.

How will the festival be helpful in helping to attract more young people in to 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 sec tors.  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 in to 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 in to 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 in to 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, tor toise, turtles, crocodiles, alliga tors, 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 sec tor 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 constric tor 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!

Counting Down to Science Week

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”362″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”left” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vcex_spacing size=”10px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It may still be a few months away but we already have our thinking caps on to make this year’s ‘Midlands Science Festival’ even bigger and more fun and action packed than last year. There will be an exciting range of new events with a promise of something for everyone 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 regional activities and events which will hopefully help young people around the Midlands in particular, develop an interest in STEM subjects beyond the confines of the curriculum and increase their awareness of potential careers in those areas. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) recently launched a new three-year plan for its Smart Futures initiative which is aimed at delivering a 10% increase in uptake of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects at second and third level by 2016. The overall objective is to close the skills gap which still exists in sec tors such as ICT, life sciences, and engineering.

We want to be part of this collective endeavour and you can help us by taking science out of the lab and in to the streets, public spaces, libraries and other fun places. You can help us celebrate science![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]