Friday, December 15, 2006

Science Policy and the Future of Science Facilities

Science policy in the US is of huge importance globally as other countries including Ireland work hard on competing with its long-established science infrastructure.

A video on Google's website from UC San Diego features an interesting presentation in their "Science Policy and the Future of Science Facilities Series". Called "Science Futures", this talk is given by Raymond Ohrbach, who is Director of the US Dept of Energy Office of Science.

Although the actual video footage of the presentation isn't hugely visually appealing, the content is important enough to keep people interested in this area watching...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

James Bond shakes up science

There might be less gadgets in the new James Bond movie "Casino Royale" but the series has always showcased futuristic technology that pushed science up to - and sometimes beyond - its limits.

Trust the BBC to go behind the scenes and do the research to find out if the high-tech gadgets could actually be developed in real life:

Young scientists breaking records

As shopping centres around Ireland fill every weekend with anxious shoppers buying Christmas presents, hundreds of teenagers are staying at home working hard on projects for this year's BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition...

This annual celebration of science "is breaking all previous records with 1,278 projects entered this year" according to the official website at

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Give science journalists a break!

There's a strong defence of the work of science journalists in The Frontal Cortex (via People are sometimes frustrated by the non-critical style of "breakthrough reporting" of scientific developments in the mainstream media,
but Jonah Lehrer - an editor at large for Seed Magazine - argues that this is the fault of the major scientific journals who impose strict embargoes on their press colleagues...
Once we stop letting scientific journals control the flow of scientific news, I think you will start seeing less regurgitated press releases and more of the stuff that defines great journalism everywhere: stories about the scientific process, stories that reveal science as a human enterprise, stories that put research in its proper context. One possibility is that the public likes science; they just don't like reading press releases.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Grants to communicate physics

The latest edition of the Institute of Physics "interactions" physics community newspaper highlights their innovative grants scheme for the UK and Ireland.

Building on the success of their support for physics communication efforts during Einstein Year in 2005, they are offering grants to individuals and organisations again this year - the closing date for applications is 3 November 2006 and more information is available on the web and via e-mail from

According to "interactions":

The grants are worth up to £1000 and are awarded to individuals and organisations who want to organise a physics-based outreach activity in the UK and Ireland during 2007.
Previous projects supported by these grants have covered[...] a series of three discussions on the philosophy of physics in a London pub; a giant outdoor physics poem in Bristol and a workshop on the physics of transport at the London Science Museum.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Science fiction meets science fact with space travel

Sometimes science fiction meets science fact in a way that blurs the difference. Richard Branson's fronts a new "movie" about the Virgin Galactic space tourist enterprise on their slick and newly revamped website (

It's inspiring stuff and perhaps more Irish people will sign up to go into space with their $20,000 deposit just as soon as their SSIAs mature... Is it any coincidence that SpaceShipOne's designer Burt Rutan was in Ireland last year?!

If you're tempted, here's the blurb from the sales brochure:
Giving you the groundbreaking opportunity to be
one of the first ever space tourists, Virgin Galactic
will own and operate its privately built spaceships,
modelled on the remarkable, history-making

Virgin’s vast experience in aviation, adventure,
luxury travel and cutting-edge design combined
with the unique technology developed by Burt
Rutan will ensure an unforgettable experience
unlike any other available to mankind.

With safety at the forefront, our unique spacecraft
is being designed at Rutan’s base in Mojave, Cali-
fornia alongside a concerted research and devel-
opment programme.

These spaceships will allow affordable sub-orbital
space tourism for the first time in the history of the

"The deal with Mojave Aerospace Ventures is just
the start of what we believe will be a new era in the
history of mankind, one day making the affordable
exploration of space by human beings a real possibility."
- Richard Branson

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Science Week Ireland 2006

Science Week is one of the science highlights of the year in Ireland and this year's theme takes a look towards the future and will cover "emerging technologies, the latest movements in science and engineering and also predict what science might uncover in the future."

Science Week Ireland will be running from 12 to 19th November with events happening all over the country, and full details are available on the website - including tips on how best promote your own events.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Space agencies set the web standard

When it comes to communicating science to the public - and getting media attention for science - space agencies set very high standards. It does of course help that their stories often include a mix of fascinating science, technological jeopardy and human drama. Both the ESA and NASA websites make a big effort to promote all aspects of their research using the latest web technologies.


One nice NASA "microsite" featured on BBC's "Click" programme recently - Planet Quest: 3D Guide to the Galaxy seems to want to be a Google Earth for the galaxy. It doesn't quite live up to the billing but it is engaging and compelling and will help you find answers to questions such as "How big is our galaxy?" and "Where are we located?". Although as of September 2006, Pluto still seems to be enjoying full planetary status!

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Teaching physics conference

The Education Group of the Institute of Physics in Ireland will be holding its "Frontiers of Physics 2006" Physics Teachers' Annual Conference on Saturday 23rd September 2006 at the School of Physics, Dublin Institute of Technology.

It promises to be a fascinating event and will be attended by about 60 enthusiastic teachers from all over Ireland. Talks on the day will include:

The Baffling Mechanics of Simple Toys
Prof Tadashi Tokeida
University of Cambridge and African Institute for Mathematical Sciences

IOP Opportunities for Schools
Alison Hackett

Innovations in Physics Education - the DIT Perspective
DIT Physics Education Research Group

Hands on Physics
Science on Stage – SOS Team
Class Room Demonstrations – Dr Cathal Flynn, DIT
The Infinity Project – Mr Michael Tully, DIT
SLSS Software
Matlab – Electronics projects for the classroom

Exploration Station – What’s in store at Ireland’s proposed Interactive Science Centre?
Jane Jerry
Exploration Station

From Mega to Micro and way Beyond
Medical Physics and its Applications

The event is supported by the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education and Science through the Second Level Support Service as part of continuing support for Leaving Certificate Physics, the Institute of Physics, Education Group and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Careers in Physics: A day in the life of ...

The recently announced Irish Leaving Certificate examination results and college CAO entry requirements have cast a spotlight on the number of students studying science. And a spotlight has also been shone on their career opportunities in the long term...

A new resource published by the Institute of Physics in Ireland (IoP) will go a long way towards clarifying the wide variety of jobs that physics graduates can actually do. The IoP has recently produced a series of 18 flyers, each describing a day in the life of a person pursuing a career in physics, and they are available to download as PDFs from its website. I have to admit that I do have a personal interest in this project - one of the profiles is a day in the life of a video producer and features me!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

BA Keeps Flying High (the other BA, that is)

One of the highlights of the 2005 Irish science year was the massive BA Festival of Science which was held in Trinity College Dublin and other venues around Dublin city. The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) is a charity which exists to advance the understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering, and this year's BA Festival of Science is visiting the city of Norwich and will take place from Sunday 2nd to Sunday 9th of September, 2006.

In the meantime, the 18 August 2006 issue of The BA Science News Digest has a handy round up of "hot topics" in the science world including: "the genes that make us human, Britain faces a scientist shortage and a new plan for picking planets. Plus, NASA’s missing moon tapes, a weird whale and how to bring frozen mammoths back from the dead."

Apparently those moon tapes really are missing: "The US space agency NASA has revealed that the original tapes of Neil Armstrong’s historic first steps on the moon have been mislaid somewhere in their vast archives. The Daily Telegraph reports that grainy television footage, recorded by pointing a TV camera at a black-and-white monitor, is currently the only visual record of the Apollo 11 moon landing."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Stem Cells - The Hope and the Hype

It's not often leaflets about scientific research make it into church porches in Ireland but that's exactly what happening in the case of stem cell research. This area is currently one of the most publicly debated aspects of science with plenty of confusion about what benefits it will bring and the ethical issues surrounding it.

Promoting rational and balanced debate about these issues is what good science communication should be doing - and TIME Magazine seems to be doing it with their recent cover story. Also, there's a good summary of their article on CNN's site. Here's an extract:

Stems-cell research has joined global warming and evolution science as fields in which the very facts are put to a vote, a public spectacle in which data wrestle dogma.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research -- starting with President Bush -- argue that you can't destroy life in order to save it; supporters argue that an eight-cell embryo doesn't count as a human life in the first place -- not when compared with the life it could help save.

Opponents say the promise of embryo research has been oversold; supporters retort that adult stem cells are still of limited use, and to fully realize their potential we would need to know more about how they operate -- which we can learn only from studying leftover fertility-clinic embryos that would otherwise be thrown away.

Back and forth it goes, the politics driving the science, the science pushing back.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Web video shows its potential with CERN tour

The potential of web video for use as a tool in science communication is being tried out by the people at Here's what they say about their video:

"In Seed's first exclusive short film, science communicator Alom
Shaha travels underground and behind the scenes to probe the cavernous Large Hadron Collider at CERN."

What makes a good science blog?

There are some interesting thoughts on what makes a good science blog on the ScienceWoman blog.

As well as some notes on science communication, the blog also offers an insight into the trials and tribulations of being a graduate student - particularly for women because "Statistically, the chances are low for even the guys to succeed in R1 academia...maybe you've heard of publish or perish? Well, those statistics are even more dismal if you are a woman."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hollywood physics

The July issue of Physics World magazine has an interesting article on how physics and physicists are portrayed in films. Authored by Sidney Perkowitz who is currently writing Hollywood Science (due out in 2007) and is also author of Empire of Light, Universal Foam and Digital People, the article is available for free on

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Is the gap between art and science artificial?

SEED is a Dublin-based group devoted to developing creative projects connecting art and science. They organise a broad range of activities including informal salons, exhibitions, workshops and performances. Among recent guest speakers was Professor Sir Harold W. Kroto, co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of Buckminsterfullerene, one of the founding figures in the field of nanotechnology and one of the world’s best-known science communicators. He gave a talk at the July SEED salon on the theme of ‘Science and Art Can Be One and the Same, Sometimes’, and also gave an interview to RTÉ radio about the links between art and science. For more information and to hear the interview visit the SEED blog.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

DCU leads the way in science communication

Dublin City University (DCU) is one of the only third level institutions in Ireland offering people the opportunity to study the field of science communication at an academic level. Its Masters in Science Communication degree programme provides a useful insight into the sector, and Brian Trench (Head of School of Communications at DCU) who teaches Science and Society and Science in the Media on that course gave an interesting and provocative talk at the BA Festival of Science in Dublin. A webcast from that festival interviewing him about science communication in general is available from his website which also contains many other links to related websites as well as some of his academic papers and conference talks.

Monday, June 26, 2006

What's going on?

Science communication is booming in Ireland these days, and it can be very hard to keep up with huge range of events and activities taking place. But there is a solution: Mary Mulvihill does a great job of bringing all these different goings on together in her entertaining, informative and free e-mail "Science@Culture bulletin". Subscribing to it is easy - simply send an e-mail to the following address: scients[at]

It's also very worthwhile checking out some of the other science initiatives she's involved with... and Chopped, pickled & stuffed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Scientific publications communicate science too

It's easy to forget that science communication isn't all about "popular science" material aimed directly at a non-specialist public audience. Traditional scientific publications such as journal articles are widely available on the internet and read by many people outside specialists in those fields. This is having a knock-on impact on the peer review process as well with traditional print journals struggling to find ways to compete with internet pre-print servers. Nature's innovative answer to this is to try out its own version of open peer review - giving non-specialists an exciting glimpse of work in progress and also a fascinating insight into the often hidden debate and discussion that surrounds the publication of every paper.

Many papers and scientific publications are now readily available on-line - and my own MSc Thesis entitled "Surface studies of nanomagnetic systems" is among them. This nanotechnology research focusses on a number of magnetic systems relevant to the development of the next generation of computer hard disks and other devices based on magnetic nano-structures. This work was carried out in the group of Igor Shvets which is now playing an active part in CRANN at Trinity College Dublin, and is related to the work being done internationally by groups such as that founded by Prof. Dr. Roland Wiesendanger.

Trinity College Dublin publishes science outreach update

The latest issue of Trinity Research News, a newsletter focussing on the research taking place in Trinity College Dublin has an interesting insert on science outreach activities at the university. This special edition of Science Connect and the related website brings together a whole set of reports on the many activities Trinity has been involved with.

One of the most interesting and creative activities was undertaken around Science Week 2005 by Dr Treasa Ní Mhíocháin, who was then Communications and Outreach Manager at CRANN (the new Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at Trinity), with support from Discover Science & Engineering. The challenge for all communication activities related to Nanotechnology, and for this "Nano-Experience" activity in particular, was to make nanotechnology "tactile" and link the details of the microscopic realm to the macroscopic experiences that relate to people's lives. This was done by creatively using several commercial "nano-products" such as tennis rackets, cosmetics and even waterproof trousers, and according to Science Connect the activity was "a huge hit with students and teachers alike."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Should science "magic" shows be banned?!

Physics World magazine (published by the Institute of Physics) has a timely and thought-provoking article on science "magic" shows in its June 2006 issue. Averil Macdonald, a science-education consultant and part-time lecturer in physics at the University of Reading UK, challenges the merits of these shows and asks if they really help encourage young people to study science.

This is a very good analysis of these shows, and her arguments against simply focussing on the entertainment "wow" factor to enthuse young people are powerful and well researched. However, many science "magic" shows are about much more than that. Anyone who has been at a show by for example Paul McCrory from Think Differently will have seen that these shows aren't just about "wowing" young people but are about getting them to engage with trying to understand why things are the way they are - and letting them put forward their own ideas to explain things. This interactive approach capitalises on the young people's natural curiosity and imagination in order to give them a crash course in what a lot of fundamental science is about: trying to understand and explain the world. Surely that's a good thing?!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Science funding boost targets Awareness Raising

Science Communication wasn't omitted from this week's dramatic announcement by the Irish Government of significant new funding for science in Ireland. On the contrary, a whole section in the publication detailing the strategy is devoted to awareness raising activities - welcome news for everyone involved in the sector in Ireland.

Metro newspaper keeps publicising science

Dublin's free Metro newspaper has been running plenty of science and technology stories since it began and today's issue is no exception. The Discover Primary Science Awards 2006 (run by the Government programme Discover Science & Engineering) are featured in a nice photograph on page 4 showing Steve Allman demonstrating the science of blowing bubbles.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Useful media advice for scientists

The SciDev.Net website has some useful guides to working with the media for science professionals. For example, following the pointers in its well written guide to putting together a strong science press release will save scientists a lot of time - and dramatically increase the chances of their story being picked up by the media.

New article on web video published

My latest technology column in the Irish language on-line magazine Beo! looks at the opportunities being created for organisations by the sudden success of easily accessible - and easily publishable - video on the web.

Web video is especially relevant for awareness raising campaigns encouraging young people to pursue science and engineering as a career. Click here to view the full article.

Important UK Science Communication Conference

The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) is organising an important conference that will cover a lot of interesting science communication and education themes.

The Science Communication Conference will take place on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th July 2006 at the Institution of Engineering & Technology, London, UK.

This year's conference will contain sessions in three strands that look at: engaging to inspire + educate, engaging to involve and engaging through the media & PR. Click here for full details on the BA website.