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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!