Category Archives: Winner Reports

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!

Posted on September 21, 2016 modantony in 2013, Winner Reports | Leave a comment

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.

Labtour3

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.

Labtour1

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.

Labtour4

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.

Posted on May 26, 2016 modantony in Winner Reports | Leave a comment

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

Posted on April 22, 2015 modantony in Winner Reports | Leave a comment

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!

Posted on August 7, 2014 ModJosh in Winner Reports | Leave a comment

What Paul Higgins did with his prize money…

paulhigginsPaul won the Space Zone in November 2012, find out how he spent his winnings:

I participated in the Space Zone of the 2012 Irish I’m A Scientist contest while finishing off my PhD. I was both surprised and elated to win it! (proof: sciencecalling.com/2012/11/23/primary-school-students-pick-top-scientists) I then defended my thesis, got married, and moved to California…whew. Finally, this summer I was granted a bit of free time to kick off my ‘dream’ project: SolarSurfer.org. My proposal is to build an interactive, story-driven, educational website to help bring astronomy and space concepts into the Irish class room.

I managed to put together a consortium of solar scientists, teacher and outreach consultants, and web/game/graphic design developers. Using the Irish school curriculum, with the help of Irish school teachers, we are designing lessons that can be used in the class room to teach concepts such as magnetism, gravity, and the planets. The lessons are made to be engaging through our use of comic book-style art work, and the linear background story is used as a vehicle. Each lesson ends with an on-line quiz about the lesson (teachers will have access to the results), followed by the student being rewarded with a web-integrated mini-game, designed to subtly teach the student a space themed concept, such as orbital mechanics (ever played Galaga?).

solarsurfer

With the prize, I obtained some web space and the domain name, and hired a web designer to put together a nice splash page for the project. I am currently working with a graphic designer to put together a sample comic book page, introducing the background story. So, with the I’m a Scientist money we now have nice page (http://solarsurfer.org; work in progress!) advertising the project and its elements. Building on our I’m a Scientist-funded proof of concept, the Solar Surfer team is currently working on a proposal for a substantial outreach grant to continue the development process and engage Irish schools during 2014. Wish us luck!

Hopefully those amazing students that voted for my project in the Space Zone will see the Solar Surfer team visit their schools in a year or two!

Cheers,
Paul and the Solar Surfer Team

Posted on October 8, 2013 ModJosh in News, Winner Reports | Leave a comment