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).
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!
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!