What Aoife Lucid did with her prize money…

Aoife was voted the winner of the New Materials Zone in November 2016. Here she writes about using her £500 prize money to 

If you’d like the chance to win funding for your own public engagement work, apply for the next I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here: imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply.

 

I chose to use my winnings from the New Materials Zone (2016) to purchase a renewable energy demonstration kit and a renewable energy monitor. This was used by me over the past year and will be used by my group and the School of Chemistry for future demonstrations and events. The kit allows energy to be converted (and measured) from mechanical, chemical and solar sources to electrical energy.

I’ve been lucky enough to carry out demonstrations for two groups of secondary school students at two events at my university. The two groups came to about 100 students in total. I first gave them a short lecture on the university research experience and followed this with a discussion on the practicalities and importance of renewable energies. The sessions were ended with a demonstration and mini lab using the kit where the students got to generate electricity using a fuel cell, electrolysis cell and water (which is what my research actually focuses on!) and a wind turbine and solar cell. It was possible also for the students to measure the energy being generated by these sources.

The students gave great feedback and really enjoyed the hands on aspects of the demonstrations and I plan to run similar events throughout the coming year.

Winning the competition also encouraged me to get involved with more outreach activities with the RSC and the School of Chemistry here in Trinity, including volunteering at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for the last two years which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Overall, my experience has been fantastic and I would recommend taking part in “I’m a Scientist” to anyone considering it!

 

I spent € 450 on a Horizon renewable energy kit and energy monitor and €50 on travel for other outreach.

 

 

I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer – 2017 Report

In 2017 we ran seven zones. Three I’m an Engineer zones in February–March (Energy, Health, and Space), and four I’m a Scientist zones in November (Diagnosis, Energy, Food, and Fluorine).

Our key findings were:

  • We have improved on engagement rates in IAS since previous years. With more schools and students registering than the historic average (average of 12 schools and 384 students per zone), additionally the percentage of students actively participating in ASK, CHAT, VOTE, or leaving a comment is up to 90%. This has led to more questions being asked and answered than the historic averages. The percentage of active students in IAE however, has dropped to 80% with fewer questions in ASK, or lines of live CHAT.
  • We have been successful in using online engagement to reach students who are normally under-served by the sector. In total, 1,111 students from target schools (DEIS, or in an SFI target county) actively participated in the events; 54% of the active participants.
  • Taking part improves attitudes of scientists and engineers to public engagement. The experience made them more confident in communicating their work, and 96% of respondents felt that they’d like to take part in more public engagement.
  • Taking part leaves most students feeling more positive about working in a STEM career. However, for a proportion of those initially not likely to consider a STEM career, the event confirms their decision.

Read the report here: I’m a Scientist & I’m an Engineer Ireland 2017: Evaluation Report (PDF)

‘I’ve been able to look at my research in a new light’ – November 2017 Winners blog posts

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short post to be sent to all the students who took part in the zone. It’s the perfect way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks, thank all the students for voting for them, and talk about how they plan to use their €500 prize money.

Here’s what November’s winners had to say…


 

Shannon Fullbrook, National University of Ireland Galway, Diagnosis Zone

I knew I would enjoy the experience but what I didn’t expect was to come out of this experience with a renewed love for my own research and science in general. From chatting to you all in the live chats and answering your questions, I’ve been able to look at my research in a new light which has me super excited to get back into the lab and make some new discoveries.

 

Emma Hanley, University College Cork, Energy Zone

I really enjoyed the two weeks chatting to the different schools and answering really good questions with the other Energy Zone scientists. The questions were diverse and difficult to answer. Some of them made me really question myself as to the reason I became a scientist and what first sparked my interest in science.

 

Ciara O’Donovan, APC Microbiome Institute and Teagasc, Food Zone

To the students, please keep thinking in the way that ye do. Ye have helped me think in a different way these last two weeks which has given me a new excitement going forward to question everything a little more in the way that I once did as a child. If you are at all interested in science just keep following your passion and find which area really appeals to you.

 

Sarah Guerin, University of Limerick, Fluorine Zone

I had such a fun two weeks taking part in the event, and that was down to all of the students – as well as Chris, Joanne, Kathryn and Kieran. Thank you to all of the students for asking such enthusiastic questions – I learnt so much science myself through answering them! It really reminded me why I love science and why I am a scientist. I also still haven’t decided if I’d prefer to meet Taylor Swift or travel back in time and meet Einstein!

 


If you’re up for the challenge, want to answer some downright weird questions, even learn things from students…

Apply to take part ❯

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

What Sinead Cullen did with her prize money…

Sinead was voted the winner of Nanotechnology Zone, funded by IOP Ireland in November 2013. For her efforts she was awarded €500 to support her own science outreach activities.

Sinead used the funds to run her own workshop for school students based on her research. The workshop was held in the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute on 22nd April 2014 and the theme of the workshop was heart health, blood clots and designing biochips.

If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your own science outreach ideas, apply for the next I’m a Scientist Ireland at imascientist.ie/scientist-apply

What Mark Kennedy did with his prize money…

Mark was voted the winner of Oxygen Zone in November 2016. Here he tells us how he made use of his €500 to support his outreach activities.

If you’d like the chance to win funding to develop your own public engagement ideas, apply for the next I’m a Scientist Ireland at imascientist.ie/scientist-apply


What ewe looking at? Click ‘Lamby the Logo’ to listen to the podcast!

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here was one of my outreach highlights for 2016. It was such a unique way of being able to interact with students, and is definitely the best outreach event in which I’ve participated in terms of letting young scientists ask the questions they really want answered.

I’ve used the €500 prize money to create a podcast called Science of the Lambs with one of my friends, Danny Riordan. The podcast focuses on science and technology (with a heavy emphasis on physics, since we both are doing PhDs in physics). We release the shows once a month and, so far, we’ve had 4 discussions – one on the exoplanet Proxima B, one on what it takes to get a scientific result published, one on new technology which allows us to read closed books and the latest one on the arms race surrounding artifical voices.

Creating a podcast is not a cheap project, and would not have been possible without the support from the I’m a Scientist competition. We’ve had to buy microphones, pop filters, editing software, a website, our domain name, get our theme music made, and buy some advertisements.

However, now that the capital items have been bought (mainly the microphones) we hope to be able to keep this podcast going for the next few years (we already have episodes 5-9 planned). So thanks again to everyone in the Oxygen Zone who voted for me, and to my fellow scientists for making it an excellent competition. I hope you enjoy the show!


Like what you hear? Never miss an episode by subscribing to Science of the Lambs and follow @SciLambs on Twitter for updates.

What Eileen Diskin did with her prize money…

Eileen was voted the winner of the Hydrogen Zone in 2012. Here she reports back on the science engagement competition she set up using her €500 prize money.

If you’d like the chance to get funding to develop your own outreach ideas, apply for the next I’m a Scientist competition at imascientist.ie/scientist-apply


Early last year, I was having a cheeky afternoon pint with a good friend of mine, Angela Stevenson. We both have backgrounds in scientific research, having been awarded doctorates from the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Eager to tap into our creative sides – and passionate about finding ways to raise public awareness of biodiversity – we began brainstorming ideas.

The Wild Postcard Project is born

Knowing I had the award from the I’m A Scientist competition was just the push we needed to be inspired to get started. And what we came up with is the Wild Postcard Project – an initiative that aims to increase awareness of Ireland’s biodiversity through an artwork competition for kids and teens.

We partnered with the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Biodiversity Data Centre in calling on Ireland’s youth to make artwork depicting the plants, animals, and other creatures that call Ireland home. We also got the support of nine (9!) governmental and non-governmental organisations, which we dubbed ‘our pack’, who helped us to spread the word. We also had coverage on radio and in the Irish Times.

Just a handful of the creative entries to the competition

Over the six weeks our competition was open for entries, we received nearly 1,300 entries from across Ireland. Children used a variety of media (watercolours, coloured pencils, collages, prints, and more) to depict birds, insects, mammals, flowers – even entire habitats.

Stacks and stacks of entries!

The difficult task of choosing the winners was left to three experts: Geraldine O’Neill (ARHA), a Hennessy Portrait Prize shortlisted artist who last year was commissioned to create a portrait that was exhibited at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI); Dr Easkey Britton, a three time Irish surfing champion and artist with a doctorate in Environment and Society and activist for conservation; and Caoilte O’Mahony, NGI’s Education Administrator. Together, the judging panel managed to select our final batch of winners (albeit 12 instead of our intended 10!).

The winning designs at the gallery launch event in October

We presented the twelve winners with certificates at an event in October, at which the printed postcards were finally revealed. After working on this for several months, Angela and I were very happy to share the postcards – and especially having a chance to meet the winners and see their reaction upon seeing their postcard.

Surprise confetti for the winners!

On the back of each postcard is a little note with a request for postcard recipients to let us know where they live – so we’ve been able to track the spread of the postcards around the world. It’s been great to see how far they’ve been sent. We hope that this initiative will have inspired conversations about biodiversity not only in those receiving a postcard, but also in families and classrooms that took part in the competition – a perfect representation of the IAS mission.

We also got an incredible number of positive notes included along with entries from parents and teachers:

My art students enjoyed creating postcards for your competition. They were delighted to be involved with such a wonderful way to spread the word about biodiversity

…they spend hours drawing and love nature – every sort of bug gets investigated – I have to learn along with them! I’m sure you have amazing drawings in but the girls had great fun doing theirs. Thank you and good luck with it all.

Thank you very much for coming up with the idea of this competition. We have learned lots about the biodiversity in Ireland. We are waiting for a dry day to explore our own hedgerow…we are now a lot more aware of the uniqueness of our flora and fauna.

The final produced postcards. Where in the world will they end up next? Buy your own pack at the link below.

And finally (!) – as an exciting update, I’m very happy to announce that following on from our success with the Wild Postcard Project in Ireland in 2016, over the upcoming year we’re going to be taking the competition global: we’ll be launching ‘satellite’ competitions in various countries around the world. The first of these will be in the Philippines – so make sure to keep an eye on our Facebook page for news on this and other upcoming competitions.


You can learn more about us at www.wildpostcardproject.com, and postcards are available for purchase from our Etsy site: bit.ly/WildPostcardProject All money made goes to fund the project next year!

With huge thanks to our ‘pack’ of partners!

 

Widening Participation

One of the long term goals of our projects is to reach more schools traditionally under-served by STEM outreach activities.

The Aspires project, from King’s College London has shown that science capital is a key factor in terms of students aspiring to science and STEM careers. Science capital refers to knowledge about science and how it works, interest, understanding, and contacts (knowing somebody who works in science).

We think that one of the most substantial factors limiting students’ science capital is the ability for those students to have contact with STEM professionals; to meet scientists who they can relate to. The online nature of the I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer projects removes the traditional distance barrier to engagement; scientists and engineers can take part in live chats with students anywhere in the country without leaving their desks, and so provides opportunity to reach schools in counties where there are low levels of STEM interventions.

Furthermore, the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) Action Plan from the Department of Education and Skills looks at prioritising the educational needs of young people from disadvantaged communities, and has identified a list of schools included in the programme. Places for these schools will be also prioritised in our projects.

A widening participation school is…

  • A school in Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Kerry, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan, or Roscommon.
  • A DEIS school.

Schools matching these widening participation criteria will be given priority places when teachers apply to take part in events, and additional support will be given to help ensure students get the most out of taking part.

In the November 2016 event, by prioritising places for widening participation schools, 27% of the students taking part were at a widening participation school. 18% of the schools taking part were widening participation schools.

Our target is that by 2020, 30% of the schools taking part in our projects will be widening participation schools.

 

November 2016 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short blog 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 at what the November Winners had to say…


Stephen | DCU – Light Zone

stephendavittI really enjoyed taking part in I’m a Scientist and am sad that it’s over, from the endless string of ‘ask’ questions which no matter how many I answered never seemed to get any shorter (apologies if I never got around to them all), to the hectic but brilliant live chats where we defiantly all had a good laugh and fun. I really did enjoy telling tales of some of the things we get up to as scientists and giving you guys an insight into what being a scientist is like.

Read more

Sebastian | NUI Galway – Mutation Zone

sebastiangornik

First of all I want to thank you all for the great time we had! It was lots of fun. I loved the questions and I was amazed how insightful and thought-through some questions were. I particularly loved this question: “Is immortality possible?”

This event made me rethink my interactions with the wider community and I certainly want to try to engage with the public much more now. It was such a great experience.

Read more

Aoife | CRANN & Trinity College Dublin – New Materials Zone

aoifelucidThank you all so much for your fantastic questions and for getting me thinking about some things that I never get to on a daily basis, like how I feel about magnesium or what inspired me to become a scientist in the first place. There were some really fantastic thought provoking questions and the chats were a lot of fun, I enjoyed trying to keep up with so many of you at once! Thank you all so much for getting me thinking and making the experience so enjoyable.

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Dave | UCL – Smart Data Zone

davidconcannonI didn’t know what to expect before I started this and it was such an amazing experience. The questions were incredibly insightful and really may me think about not only my views on science, but why I work in science and made me appreciate how engaging the work I do everyday can be.

The experience really opened my eyes to how enjoyable public engagement can be and I will be becoming more involved in the future.

Read more

Mark | University College Cork/ Naughton Foundation – Oxygen Zone

The last 2 weeks have been really fascinating – the questions from you all were excellent, and I hope you’ve all learned something (not just from me, but from all of the scientists who answered your questions). I want to thank all of the students (and of course, the teachers) for reminding me why I loved physics – making sure I was able to answer some of the questions that you all asked led me back to some of the interesting puzzles that got me interested in physics in the first place (for example, why is time travel not possible? Or what exactly causes a rainbow?).

Read more


Are you up for the challenge? Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the possibilities of time travel…

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

What Uday Bangavadi did with his prize money…

Uday was voted the winner of the Nitrogen Zone in November 2015. He started making use of his prize money straight away and here he reports back on what he’s been able to do over the last year…

 


It was an amazing two weeks participating in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here. The event grabbed my attention so much that I couldn’t resist answering questions in all the sessions. There was also really tough competition from the other scientists, Ricardo, Pierre, Irene, Chloe. Being a winner of that event from Nitrogen Zone, I had to spend the prize money on an outreach activity promoting science.

Although I am an electronics engineer by profession, through my research I’ve started to know more about light and its applications. So I based my outreach activities on both of these, i.e. Electronics and Photonics.

Me demonstraiting the solar cell and its advantages

Me demonstrating the solar cell and its advantages

As a first step I purchased a few Photonics kits which can be used as a tool to explain more about light and how it works. In my original plan I had to visit individual schools to demonstrate the kits and give them hands on feel with various light related components like lasers, prisms, filters etc. But upon suggestion of the Outreach and Public Engagement office at Tyndall, we invited school students to our institute so that we could address a higher number of students.

The demonstration of solar cell was the start my outreach activity. Students were excited to do the experiments. Based on the amount of interactive questions kids asked, I can confidently conclude that the first event was awe-inspiring.

Uday3

Sending secret messages with light

In our optical communication sessions, students were introduced to the basics of laser and how it can be used for communication. They also had a session of using Morse code over a length of optic fiber to code and decode a message. Students were more active in this session as they were sending out their own personal messages instead of what we had given. It was a fun filled experimental session.

Every single moment I spent on this event made me more and more interested in outreach. I will certainly use the kits to conduct more interactive sessions along with existing outreach activates in Tyndall national institute. Honestly, I believe interacting with kids allows us to know more about ourselves. The prize money from I’m a Scientist has certainly made all of this possible. I would like to thank I’m a Scientist and the Science Foundation Ireland for giving me the opportunity to pass my passion of light on to potential scientists of the future.

What Joseph Roche did with his prize money…

Joseph won the Space Zone in November 2013. Here he tells us about his experience and what he was able to do with his €500 prize money…


I signed up to take part in I’m a Scientist get me out of here to help improve my ability to answer questions. As a scientist and a lecturer I spend most of my time struggling to find answers. I heard rumours that participating in a competition like I’m a Scientist would give me a unique opportunity to answer a wide variety of questions from secondary school students. Even though I visit lots of schools each year, there is just never enough time to visit as many as I would like. I always feel guilty that I have to decline most of the invitations I receive. I hoped that by taking part in I’m a Scientist I could engage with far more schools than I could by visiting them in person.

Despite being confident about my reasons for taking part, once the competition started I was not prepared for the onslaught of questions. It was the most intense rapid-fire rounds of questioning I have ever been involved in. Connecting a scientist to an online forum where 30 students at a time can anonymously bombard them with questions sounds like madness. And it is. But in the best possible way. There were great questions and there were strange questions. There are only so many times you can try and answer “What does the fox say?” and “Bro, do you even lift?” before despairing at meme-culture.

The scientific questions were fantastic but they were questions we should be used to answering. The more unusual questions included: “Why are people so judgey?”, “Where did you get your scarf?” and “Have you got GTA5?” It seemed like some of the students decided they would test the limits of what I would be comfortable answering. Little did they know that their desire to find a question that I would not answer could not outweigh my masochistic need to reply to every single question I was asked. I am not sure why the students picked me as their winner but it is probably simply because I answered more questions than anyone else.

When I was taking part in the competition I was working on finding novel ways for underrepresented social groups to engage with science. I decided that the best way to accomplish this would be to invest in more creative approaches to teaching.

I spent the prize money on a design course to help better equip myself and my colleagues to embrace technology in our lectures. We started encouraging our students to design and record short films explaining science and to share them with each other for feedback. The highlight of this process was when we worked with the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

This Centre is a flagship initiative of the college that promotes inclusion for people with intellectual disability through education and research. We worked with a group of students that otherwise may not have had the chance to encounter higher education science. You can see the some of the students’ work in the video. The impact of this project is that it will raise awareness among people with intellectual disability that they can gain a higher-level education in science at Trinity College Dublin.


Dr Joseph Roche is an Astrophysicist and Assistant Professor in Science Education at Trinity College Dublin. His research area is the role of science in society and he is course coordinator for Trinity’s Masters in Science Education.

You can follow Joseph on Twitter: @joeboating and keep up-to-date on the science education research at Trinity College: @ScienceTCD