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.
photo: 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 stories 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!