What Shane McGuinness did with his prize money…

Shane won the Helium Zone in 2013. Here he reports back on what he’s been able to do with his €500 prize money…

Partaking in the I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Here competition during the Autumn of 2013 was an exhilarating experience to say the least. During that period, I found myself warrened away in a darken library, attempting to write up my PhD. The IAS competition was exactly what I needed to frame the “why” of all my hard-worn successes (and failures) of the PhD process.

My goal for the past decade has been to inspire younger generations in the wonders of the world; its biological wonders, its chemical complexities and its physical enigmas. IAS provided exactly that outlet and, as the below use of my prize money attests to, has resulted in my being firmly embedded in science education for Ireland.

Although at times quite frantic (especially the live chats with entire classrooms!), the experience really stretched my depth and breadth of knowledge about the world we live in. It also tested my ability to research topics as fast as possible; being in a general science zone like the Helium Zone meant that questions spanned a wide spectrum, from cancer research to lasers and plate tectonics!

A BioDiversity Jungle event gets underway

A Biodversity Jungle event gets underway

Since winning the outreach bursary, I have put the grant to wide use. This involved three distinct endeavours. Firstly, through our pre-existing group, Biodiversity In Our Lives we used half of the money to stage the Biodiversity Jungle of Knowledge in the EU Commission building in Dublin, in October 2014.

This event, aimed at primary school classes, involved an interactive poster design session, where the youngsters were challenged to “sell biodiversity” to the public. You can find some great photos of this event on our Facebook page (above) or from the EU Commission website. The event was a roaring success and has paved the way for science communication work at the BT Young Scientists Fair and in the Midlands Science Festival.

Shane McGuiness2

Primary school students thinking of examples of biodiversity

The second half of the bursary was used for personal development in science communication. This was achieved by first applying to, and being successfully given a place on, the Sense About Science; Voice of Young Science media engagement workshop in London, in September 2015.

This event, aimed at informing early career researchers on the benefits of engaging with media-reported science and having the confidence to speak out for potentially misleading interpretations of research, was hugely valuable to my personal development as a science communicator. Secondly, the final portion of the bursary from IAS was used to attend a media engagement workshop held by the Irish Environmental Network on how to effectively promote environmentally-aware research and better practice environmental advocacy using media leverage.

May I take this opportunity to thank all at IAS for allowing me to partake in such a stimulating process. Competing alone provided such fantastic opportunities for growth and has greatly built my confidence in communicating science. In addition to this, the winning bursary has provided immeasurable support in developing my skills at science communication and has led to some very creative ideas for biodiversity marketing (from 10 year olds)! Since winning this competition, and owing to the training and experience it has afforded me, I have become the Education and Outreach Officer of Dublin Zoo, a role with enormous potential for inspiring the researchers of tomorrow.

Inspired by Shane’s experience? Apply now for the next I’m a Scientist, taking place 7th–18th November!

Farming Zone – Project Wrangler required

geograph-2642110-by-James-AllanAs part of this year’s activity we are running a non-school zone similar to our Learning Zone – just with farmers instead of teachers.

We are looking to run the zone in November and we now need to recruit someone to run the project with us.

Ideally we’ll find someone who understands the research in the area and knows the irish farming community. We have a full job specification.

It’s could be a full time role or something part-time depending on the applicant. Please get in touch via email or on the phone – +44 1225 326892 – if you are interested.


Demand vs. Capacity for I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer Ireland

In the I’m a Scientist Ireland project pilot in 2012 we ran three zones, since then we have run four zones every year. While we were under capacity in the pilot, the demand for the activity from teachers has remained relatively consistent and looks to be increasing.

I’m a Scientist IE class requests and capacity by academic year — November 2012 – November 2015

I’m a Scientist IE class requests and capacity by academic year — November 2012 – November 2015

Assuming the trend carries on, we would easily be able to run a fifth or even sixth zone in November this year.

The story in I’m an Engineer is a little different.

I’m an Engineer IE class requests and capacity by academic year — November 2014 – February 2016

I’m an Engineer IE class requests and capacity by academic year — November 2014 – February 2016

For the past couple of years we have run two I’m an Engineer events each year; one with the I’m a Scientist event in November, and one in February to coincide with Engineers Week Ireland.

In the first year, we saw teachers favouring the November event albeit only slightly, in 2015/16 though we saw a huge shift towards February, with demand being almost twice what was expected.

The increased demand is too big to come only from existing teachers opting to take part during Engineers Week instead of earlier in the year. More investigation is needed to say how much, but a lot of the demand must have come from new teachers signing up.

In November 2016 there will be no I’m an Engineer event. Our plan is to move the Engineer activity to February alone, keeping the Scientist activity in November.

What is clear — clearer still where we combine the data sets— is that the school demand for our online STEM engagement activities is growing. We need to find ways to increase capacity and offer more students in Ireland the opportunity to take part.

I’m a Scientist and I'm an Engineer IE combined class requests and capacity by academic year — November 2012 – February 2016

I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer IE combined class requests and capacity by academic year — November 2012 – February 2016

Update: 3 June 2016

Requests by country

Graphs of class requests by country for I'm a Scientist and I'm an Engineer Ireland

Class requests by country for I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer Ireland — Click for larger view

We had a quick look at how many of the class requests discussed above came from schools in different countries.

As the graphs show, the majority of requests are coming from schools in the Republic of Ireland, with far fewer coming from Northern Ireland, and the occasional request from a couple of international schools.

Schools in Northern Ireland have always been invited to take part in the Irish events as well as the UK events.

Moving forward, Northern Irish schools will be invited to take part in the UK events only. The occasional international school taking part will now be asked to pay a small charge to do so, this cost to the school will go towards running additional zones in the future.

What Claire O’Connell did with her prize money…

Claire was voted the winner of the Nanoscience Zone in November 2015. She got straight to work making the most of her €500 and here she tells us all about what she’s been able to do with it…

Initially before taking part in the I’m A Scientist competition I had decided that I would make some short animated videos that would help students with understanding complicated ideas. However during the online chats while I was talking with a few students it became clear that they would prefer a visit to the research labs where I am doing my PhD.

When I won, I got planning with the Education and Outreach Officer, Aoife MacCormac, in the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (this is the research centre where I carry out my work). I extended the invitation to as many schools as possible that were able to visit and in the end I had 26 students over two days from three different schools; Inver College Carrickmacross, Beaufort College Navan and St. Mary’s CBS Portlaoise.


The visit started with some chromatography experiments where the students investigated what colours were in the coatings of different types of sweets. Following this I conducted a lab tour of the BDI where the students got to visit the different research labs and see some scientists who were conducting their research and using different pieces of equipment.

After this I explained to the students more about my own research on detecting cancer. We carried out a small experiment where all the students looked at different slides of tissue with one or two slides of cancerous tissue. They came to the conclusion that we can’t just rely on using a normal light microscope to identify cancer cells as they’re very hard to differentiate from normal cells.


The students also got a chance to use the fluorescent microscopes with real cancer cells that I had prepared beforehand with fluorescent tags and the nanoparticles that I test in my PhD. This allowed them to see different parts of the cells (nucleus, membrane, and cancer proteins) and an opportunity for them to realise that fluorescence tags can be one way of identifying cancer amongst many others.

At the end the students were presented with certificates of attendance and they had the opportunity to ask any questions they liked about how to become a scientist or the equipment/research that was ongoing in the tour. I think they all enjoyed taking part in the lab visit and getting to visit the labs. Some of the students had some great questions and I hope I helped to convince a few of them that science can be a difficult but very rewarding career path should they so choose.


I had another school that wanted to come and visit, Boyne Community College Trim, however there were too many students interested that I couldn’t have them all at the same time in BDI for health and safety reasons. I went to visit the 30 enthusiastic students and they carried out the same experiments with the chromatography and microscopy. As they couldn’t visit I thought it was only fair that they should be able to see what the labs were like in BDI so I made a video of the different labs (see above) and showed them the labs they would have seen had they been to visit.

Again I would like to thank all the students that voted for me to allow me to conduct this education and outreach day and to thank the team at I’m A Scientist for the money to do this. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the students that had participated in the I’m A Scientist competition, those that I visited or came to visit me and wish them the best of luck in whatever they chose to do in the future!

Inspired by Claire’s experience? Apply now for the next I’m a Scientist, taking place 7th–18th November!

Want to know more about Claire’s work at the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute? Watch this great short animation Claire made last year about her fluorescent nanoparticles research.

I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer – 2015 Report

SFI cover

Click here to download the full report.

In 2015, we ran six zones: Three I’m a Scientist themed zones (Nanoscience, Drug Synthesis and Food Science), one I’m a Scientist general zone (Nitrogen Zone) with a mix of scientists from different areas, one I’m an Engineer themed zone around computing (Boole Zone) and one general engineering zone (Metre Zone).

Our key findings in 2015:

  • We have improved I’m an Engineer audience numbers since last year. In 2014 we ran I’m an Engineer for the first time in Ireland and we got an average of 208 students logged in per zone. In 2015, we have even exceeded our target of 330 students per zone, with 377 students in the Boole Zone, and 350 in the Metre Zone.
  • We have improved the diversity of the scientists and engineers taking part. 10% of the participants were from a black or minority ethnic background, and we got a perfect gender balance in both I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer.
  • 90% of students think they know more about the skills required to be an engineer, the type of people who work as engineers, and engineers’ role in society after taking part in I’m an Engineer.

Download the full report here (PDF).

“Being able to reflect on my choices with you has been pretty inspirational!”

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look the winners from I’m a Scientist Ireland 2015 had to say…

Sinead, Drug Synthesis Zone

I didn’t realise at the time I signed up just how much I would be waiting in expectation of the next chat, or for new questions to appear in the ASK section. Talking about science with you guys, on your terms and with your questions, was enjoyable and an honour. Being able to share my love of science with you filled me with a sense of pride and really reminded me what science is for: to learn and to pass on your knowledge.

Not just questions about science either, I was happy to answer questions about my own experiences of being a scientist and about what it means to me; honestly, it was the first time I had ever really thought about those questions, and being able to reflect on my choices with you has been pretty inspirational! I think you students, with your honest curiosity, humour, and enthusiasm were really what made the event something to remember.

Emma, Food Science Zone

Who would have thought that being asked questions on a screen could make you literally laugh out loud? But it did! (Much to the disturbance of my office-mates).

The questions you asked were brilliant. Some were a bit odd! But most of them were really thought-provoking. Like, how DOES a cow make milk? Or, how can cheese made with moulds be good for us? You certainly got me thinking.

Claire, Nanoscience Zone

I was expecting questions from students of course but I didn’t think they would be so insightful as to make me stop and think about why I like being a scientist and the challenges that I face on a daily bases.The live chats were hectic but this was only a sign that you guys were really interested in what we scientists do and that was our aim!

Uday, Nitrogen Zone

All of the sessions were fascinating… I remember the saying “Children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything.” Interacting with these kids and answering their questions made me to understand about myself and my communication skills. When a few kids asked me “How laser works” I was in dilemma. Even though I work with lasers I paused for a moment before answering to think easiest way to make them understand.

Thanks a million.

If you want to share your love of science… Or want to literally laugh out loud… Or just want to learn how cows make milk…

Apply now to take part in the next event

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here Ireland runs every year in November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

What Sive Finlay did with her prize money…

Sive Finlay won the Lithium Zone back in November 2013, and won €500 to spend on public engagement with science. Here she tells us what she got up to with it…

sivefinlayI thoroughly enjoyed taking part in I’m a Scientist and winning the prize money was an unexpected bonus of a great experience. I donated the money to the Trinity College Dublin Zoological Museum: a beautiful, unusual collection of animals which forms an important part of the Zoology department’s public outreach activities.

Great Auk. Credit: Dr. Martyn Linnie

Great Auk. Credit: Dr. Martyn Linnie

Founded in 1777, the museum houses a collection of over 25,000 unusual specimens, some of which date back to the voyages of Captain Cook. It is an important teaching resource for the college and contains many examples of extinct and endangered species including a Tasmanian wolf, passenger pigeon, kakapo and Giant Irish Deer remains. The museum is in the midst of major refurbishment while we welcome more public visitors and school groups than ever before.

My prize money is being used to make the museum more accessible and appealing to wider audiences. To complement the stories and expertise of our museum guides, the museum’s curator, Dr. Martyn Linnie, is investing the prize money into new, interactive digital information platforms. We are using Intuiface software to create visually appealing, informative content about the exhibits including images and text about the specimens as well as external links to further information about the species. These multimedia packages will enrich the visitor experience as well as highlighting the educational value of the museum as a public resource.

Me and Prince Tom!

Me and Prince Tom!

Many of the specimens have fascinating stories to tell. For example, the Indian elephant skeleton belonged to Prince Tom: a celebrity of the Victorian age who was the first elephant to visit New Zealand, a notorious alcoholic and a star of Dublin Zoo where he quickly learned to buy his own treats with money that visitors placed in his trunk. Another prized specimen is Ireland’s last Great Auk (killed in 1834), a sad reminder of the fate of many species which fall victim to human over exploitation and one of only 20 surviving museum specimens of this beautiful aquatic bird.

Thank you to the I’m a Scientist team for helping us to spread the word about the weird and wonderful stories to be discovered at the TCD Zoological Museum.

The Trinity College museum.

The Trinity College Dublin Zoological Museum.

Close up of the Auk's head. Credit: Dr. Martyn Linnie

Close up of the Auk’s head. Credit: Dr. Martyn Linnie

November 2014 Event Evaluation Report

Click to download the full report

Click to download the full report

In November 2014 we ran I’m a Scientist in Ireland for the third time, and we run our first I’m an Engineer event in Ireland. We ran four I’m a Scientist and two I’m an Engineer zones. Two of the I’m a Scientist zones were themed (Evolution and Sustainability) and two of them were general (Boron and Beryllium). One of the I’m an Engineer zones was themed (Energy) and the other one was general (Kelvin).

This report looks at how the event went. Our key findings were:

  • Students are inspired to learn more about science and get interested in science related jobs
  • Students understand what engineers do and what engineering is all about
  • Scientists and engineers consider they have improved their communication skills
  • Scientists and engineers get enthused about public engagement and want to do more of it after taking part

Download the report here.

Crowdfunding confusion

fundit-logo-headerThe funding for this project comes in part from the Science Foundation Ireland and the other half comes from elsewhere. We’ve got funding from the Wellcome Trust, the European Society for Evolutionary Biology and the Royal Society for Chemistry. Traditionally we try to get a zone funded by large company employing lots of scientists and engineers. A company whose business relies on a science friendly population and education system. Traditionally we get nowhere.

This year we thought we’d try something different. We thought we’d ask lots of small companies who rely on scientists and engineers to fund us a little. We thought we’d try crowdfunding.

It didn’t work.

We created two FundIt.ie campaigns and promoted them both through our networks and through other networks. The response was almost non-existent. Why?

We could have promoted it harder. But it was clear from our initial publicity that promotion wasn’t leading to pledges. From our first burst of activity we had such a little response that it was clear that even an enormous amount of promotion would still have left us short.

Companies need time to plan. Yes, they do, but it was my expectation that the amount of money we were asking for would be discretionery spend. And the one pledge of €250 showed that to be a possibility.

Companies don’t understand science engagement. Sure, there are some companies who understand what you mean by science outreach and engagement. But perhaps not that many and perhaps not so much those who also have the flexibility to pledge €250. I found myself having to explain the event and what it was trying to do. I’m not convinced it was fully appreciated.

People don’t get crowdfunding. Sure you do. You’re reading a blog that you probably found via a link on twitter. You get crowdfunding because you’re part of the online crowd. but the people running small businesses don’t get it in the same way. It’s not the norm. A central concept of crowdfunding is that unless the campaign is successful it doesn’t cost you, the pledger, a cent. It’s brilliant. It means you only buy into SUCCESS. But that isn’t blindingly obvious. I think it is still some time before it becomes mainstream.

Will we try next year? I think so. We’ll start earlier. We’ll prime the audience a little more. And if we fail again, we’ll make sure we learn again.

What Enda O’Connell did with his prize money…

Enda O’Connell won the Health Zone back in 2012, and won €500 to spend on public engagement with science.

Let’s take a look at how he spent his prize money!

I took part in the first ever Irish I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here in 2012, and slotted into that year’s Health Zone as I work in the National University of Ireland, Galway in the area of biomedical science, mainly in cancer research and stem cell biology. This was my first ever involvement with science outreach and engagement and I had an amazing experience, which I put down to the infectious enthusiasm shown by the students for science during the online chats.

One of the tools I use every day is an automated liquid handling system called Janus (manufactured by Perkin Elmer), which was dubbed a “cancer-fighting robot” by one of the students taking part. They seemed fascinated by Janus and wanted to know if “she” could talk and walk, had ever attacked me in the lab or whether I was, in fact, in love with her! I got a great kick out of answering their written questions too, and for two weeks I became an expert in food (eggs, fizzy drinks and healthy sweets), anatomy (tongues, tonsils and belly buttons) and superheroes (Iron Man’s elements and Spiderman’s not-so-super powers).

Students creating a ReelLife Science film

Students creating a ReelLife Science film

My idea for using the €500 I’m a Scientist prize money was to launch a video competition in secondary schools in Galway to enable students to engage with and communicate a scientific topic in less than 3 minutes.  The University liked the idea and I was able to secure extra funding through the College of Science and the Students’ Union to launch in primary schools too.

I put together a team of enthusiastic science staff and students and we launched ReelLife Science in September 2013.  The response was great, and we received videos from all parts of Galway on topics such as Astrobiology, Stem Cells, Keeping Healthy and the Environment.  We got some great coverage in the national and local press and online, and I also gave a couple of interviews promoting the competition to local radio stations.  We used social media quite a lot and engaged with the public through a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed (@ReelLifeScience).

We announced the winning videos in November and they received thousands of views from over 60 countries on our YouTube channel.  The winning schools received a total of €1000 in prize money, to also be spent on science communication projects or events in their schools, continuing on the I’m a Scientist principle of paying-it-forward.

The winners of the primary school first prize were the 5th and 6th class students of Scoil Mhuire in Rosmuc with their video in Irish (as Gaeilge) about different methods of seed dispersal. First place at secondary school level went to Michael McAndrew of St. Enda’s College in Galway City, who wrote, produced and played the music on his animated Astrobiology video. Since winning ReelLife Science, Michael has actually started teaching his classmates how to produce animated videos! We were also able to get an extra special prize for Michael’s school, when Medical Supply Company gave them a PCR machine, enzymes pipettes and everything else they’ll need to set up a molecular biology lab!

Primary School ReelLife Science Winners: 5th and 6th Class Students of Scoil Mhuire in Rosmuc

Primary School ReelLife Science Winners: 5th and 6th Class Students of Scoil Mhuire in Rosmuc

Secondary School ReelLife Science Winner at St. Enda's College in Galway City

Secondary School ReelLife Science Winner at St. Enda’s College in Galway City

All of the winning schools attended the Galway Science and Technology Festival in November, where we held an award ceremony and all of their videos were on display to the general public.

Earlier this year, we secured significant funding from the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Science and Engineering programme, which “seeks to promote the awareness and engagement of the Irish public with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)” to launch ReelLife Science in every school in Ireland, over 4,000 primary and secondary schools!  We will be launching the competition on September 1st 2014, so watch this space!