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.