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, 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, Light 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, New Material 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.

Read more

Dave, 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, 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

What James Sullivan did with his prize money…

James won the Sustainability Zone in November 2014 and here reports back on how the prize money was used for science communication.


We used the I’m a Scientist funding on various open day and open evening events hosted by the UCD school of chemistry. These included dedicated chemistry events, general science undergraduate and postgraduates events and overall university events.

The money was spent on printing periodic tables for distribution to visiting students and also in organizing guided tours of the school’s undergraduate and postgraduate facilities which were facilitated by PhD students in the school.

The school has an active outreach programme that includes participation in university and college events as well as organising events of our own. We also visit a large number of primary and secondary schools and also actively organize for visits of secondary school students on internships.

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.