Five NUI Galway public engagement and education initiatives have been awarded funding of more than €175,000 through Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover Programme, to fund projects dedicated to educating and engaging with 112,000 members of the public in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in 2020.
The funding awards were announced by Secretary General of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Dr Orlaigh Quinn as part of a national investment of €5.12 million.
The five projects include Bright Club, Cell EXPLORERS Escape Room, SpaceShip Earth, CÚRAM ‘Curious Young Minds’ and ReelLIFE SCIENCE.
Speaking about the funded projects, Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice President for Research at NUI Galway, said: “It’s part of our culture at NUI Galway to engage, to connect and to communicate. Our researchers have an excellent track record in public engagement and have devised fun and engaging programmes to highlight the importance of STEM in addressing societal challenges. The support from SFI is particularly important in helping us to carry on inspiring minds.”
Speaking about the Programme, Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland said: “I am delighted to see such a strong contingent from NUI Galway this year. The SFI Discover Programme encourages people from all communities, age groups and backgrounds to engage with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). This is achieved by supporting a diverse range of engagement activities across Ireland, designed to help people explore STEM in meaningful and creative ways. All of the Discover projects are supported by a number of Higher Education Institutes, Research bodies, companies and councils. I congratulate the each of the teams and look forward to watching them inspire our future scientists, engineers and innovators.”
NUI Galway Funded Projects
Bright Club is a variety show with a twist. Academic researchers become comedians for one night, using comedy to talk about their research. The researchers from science, engineering, mathematics, social science, and the humanities get training in humour as communication, before joining actual comedians on stage in front of the public to talk about their research in an informal pub setting. Bright Club has been running across Ireland for five years with over 70 live events and 200 academics trained, spearheaded by Dr Jessamyn Fairfield in the School of Physics at NUI Galway. More information can be found at www.brightclub.ie.
Cell EXPLORERS Escape Room
Cell EXPLORERS is a successful science education and public engagement programme delivering STEM activities nationally. By using hands-on activities facilitated by local scientist volunteers. In 2020, with the support of the SFI Discover strategic partnership fund 2018 (€298,778), the programme will run school visits nationally with the participation of 13 teams based in 15 universities and institutes of technology. More information can be found at www.cellexplorers.com.
This year, the programme will also create a Cell EXPLORERS Escape Room to reach participants not normally engaged with STEM. Escape rooms, in which a group of participants solves puzzles to resolve a mystery and escape a confined space/situation, are a combination of intellectual challenge, hands-on experience and social gathering. The content will relate to modern biology and will be co-created with young people, teachers, scientists, and education specialists, including Escape Room artist Dr Ran Peleg from Southampton University. The Cell EXPLORERS Escape Room will be launched during Science Week 2020 in three distinct geographic locations and in one school, while kits will subsequently be circulated around the country making this project sustainable for several years.
Spaceship Earth will inspire, engage and educate teachers, students and the public about STEM through launching four high-altitude balloons from Ireland to the ‘Edge of Space’ and back on 4 May 2020 (May the Fourth Be With You – Star Wars Day). Space is an amazing way to enthuse people about STEM and, given the current justifiable concern for Climate Change, the ability of high-altitude balloons to carry student projects and cameras into the stratosphere (~30,000m), allows reflection on the uniqueness of our blue planet – Spaceship Earth.
The Spaceship Earth format will engage students in real-world, project-based experiments, to develop collaborative problem-solving skills and a framework for asking and answering scientific questions. The project team (including NUI Galway/UL/Met Éireann) will work closely with participating schools for their first high-altitude balloon mission. This celestial pilot project proposal represents a new dawn of innovation for Irish STEM education and public engagement.
CÚRAM ‘Curious Young Minds’ Project
CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, together with community partners, scientists and artists will develop and deliver a series of hands-on STEAM workshops to families living under Direct Provision in Galway City with the ‘Curious Young Minds’ project. A creative approach to science learning will be at the core of the workshops, aimed primarily at children aged 4-12 and their parents. Workshop content will be designed in conjunction with participants to increase their interest in science as well as their confidence in learning about and exploring science topics.
Workshops will be held throughout the year, exploring different science topics and culminating in the development of a STEAM toolkit which will be distributed to hundreds of families living in Direct Provision centres throughout Ireland. The contents of the toolkit will be developed directly by the children and parents participating in the workshops, making them the authors. CÚRAM’s Education and Public Engagement Programme ‘Breaking Barriers’ aims to forge collaborations between researchers and the community. More information is available at www.curamdevices.ie/curam/public-engagement/.
ReelLIFE SCIENCE is a nationwide science video competition, which encourages young people and the general public to discover more about STEM and its impact on individuals, society and the environment, while developing participants’ creativity, communication and digital skills. Young people from schools and youth organisations are challenged to research a STEM topic and communicate it for the public via an engaging and educational three-minute video. The deadline for entries is Friday October 16th, and the best videos are awarded €1000 and are screened for the public at the Galway Science and Technology Festival in NUI Galway.
Since being launched by Dr Enda O’Connell in 2013, ReelLIFE SCIENCE has enabled more than 13,000 young people from 400 schools and community groups all over the country, to engage with STEM in a novel way. More information about this programme can be found at www.reellifescience.com.
Science Foundation Ireland has invested in over 440 public engagement projects through the Discover Programme since 2013. This year’s funded initiatives are estimated to reach five hundred and eighty thousand people. 47 diverse initiatives will be supported by this year’s programme, with successful awardees being carefully selected through international peer-review.