Dublin set for science celebration


TODAY IS THE launch of Dublin City of Science 2012. This will celebrate science through events in Dublin and nationally. The aim of this initiative is to bring about greater engagement of the public with science and science-related issues. Throughout the year, the theme of science will be woven through theatre, cinema and music with events for adults and children. The St Patrick’s Day parade will have a scientific theme and images will be displayed on billboards around Dublin.

The impetus for proclaiming Dublin as City of Science for 2012 is the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF), which will take place from July 11th-15th. Over the week it is expected that more than 5,000 scientists will come to Ireland.

This is not a specialist science conference, rather it focuses on societal issues and gathers the opinion of international experts. It will attract a wide range of researchers from those at the beginning of their career to Nobel Prize laureates.

The themes of the conference range from astrophysics to sociology. To give a better flavour of the conference, here are some of the titles of the scientific programme: Beyond the Arab Spring – Science and Innovation in the Islamic World, An Educational Revolution to Reveal Scientific Talent in Africa,and What Does Art Bring to Science?

In the life sciences area there are sessions on emerging therapies for brain and retinal diseases, and probiotics: alternative medicine or an evidence-based alternative? The conference will touch on topical issues; exploding myths on nuclear reactor security, harm reduction and GMOs; the impact of ice sheet and ocean interactions on climate change.

Among the speakers is Jocelyn Bell Burnell from Belfast who was involved in the discovery of pulsars and has worked in many branches of astrophysics. Jocelyn was the first female president of the Institute of Physics and believes that public engagement with science is important, and that by being visible she hopes to encourage more women into science.

Lars Steinmetz is one of the world’s leading scientists at the forefront of genetics and genomics research. He now leads a research group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg and another at Stanford University. Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Medicine Prize for discovering the nature of the cellular immune defence and is currently working on the understanding and preventing the severe consequences of influenza virus infection.

The fact that the science forum is in Ireland this year has brought about high participation by US based researchers. The Wild Geese Network is harnessing the Irish research diaspora as part of international researcher mobility in the Career Programme. The journal Naturewill host a session on the future of the PhD: what are the problems with the science PhD – and does it require reinvention to better serve the interests of both budding scientists and science institutions?

The conference gives younger researchers the opportunity to plan their career whether they remain in research or move to other sectors. For example, there will be breakfast meetings, “Porridge with the Prof”, for these young researchers to meet successful professionals from academia and industry. The “Science-2-Business Programme” will consist of a range of activities including interactive workshops, business speed-dating and visits to local incubation centres. The forum is acting as a magnet for other satellite events.

As part of the City of Science there will be a year-long nationwide secondary schools’ project placing the ESOF questions and themes within a school-related context. The Ark will run an art-science programme for schoolchildren. There will be a stage production by Gúna Nua dealing with three bioethical issues: IVF, Euthanasia and Saviour Siblings, with post-show discussions during ESOF week.

Only two weeks ago the largest ever BT Young Scientist Exhibition attracted the largest number of entries and visitors since it began. There were 550 finalists in the RDS and the atmosphere was electrifying. It was wonderful to see so many students enjoying their experience with science. Most of them will probably not go on to study science, however well they may now understand the basis and methods of scientific research.

In all of their projects they have gathered information, analysed it and written a detailed report. They created attractive large displays and presented their work to judges and visitors. This is science but these skills are transferable to all walks of life.

For me, the enthusiastic cheers at the BT Young Scientist awards ceremony marked the beginning of what promises to be a great year for science in Ireland.

Conor O’Carroll is research director in the Universities Association. See iua.ie