Taking science to the people


The annual festival of science, Science Week Ireland, gets underway next Sunday, with events running throughout the coming fortnight. Dick Ahlstrom previews the event.

Creepy crawlies, exploding custard and Dr Bun Head join forces next Sunday to help launch Science Week Ireland 2002. Now in its sixth year, the event brings science to the people. It allows everyone to take a closer look at what science has to offer both as an interesting subject, but also as a rewarding career.

While Science Week Ireland events happen both before and for a period after the actual week, which runs from November 10th through to the 17th, the official kick-off is set for Sunday from 11a.m. until 4.30p.m., in the Arts Block at University College Dublin. There will be presentations, demonstration lectures and live insects to handle.

The day is tagged "Curious About Science" by the Science Week organisers, the Science, Technology and Innovation Awareness Programme, run by Forfás. It is geared as a family day and there will be activities to suit all ages and interests, with science as the theme.

The more formal launch is planned for next Monday at the Royal Irish Academy. The Tánaiste, Mary Harney, who is also Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, with responsibility for the Office of Science and Technology, will do the honours in the company of 30 pupils from Ballyellis Primary School, in Wexford. More bugs will be in attendance, but also NASA astronaut, Lieutenant Colonel Gregory H. Johnson.

The week offers more than 200 lectures, demonstrations, tours, shows and visits. These are hosted by enthusiastic people who, in the main, charge nothing for their time and give of their expertise to the public free of charge.

It represents a great opportunity to get a closer look at science and what happens in research laboratories in our third level institutions. There are also a variety of talks on careers in science so those considering such an option will be able to get plenty of information to help them make a decision.

The goal is to communicate with a general audience, so great efforts are made to avoid blinding people with science. Some events are designed for a young audience, primary pupils, but most are suitable for all.

The week also includes a number of schools science competitions, involving secondary students in a number of regions. The goal is to bring science to as many people as possible during this one week of the year.

The Government has an ulterior motive in supporting Science Week Ireland. It is an attempt to stem the flow of students away from the sciences. The numbers taking science in the leaving and going on to third level science courses are falling, something that works against the stated policy objective of converting the Republic into a knowledge-based economy. Without adequate numbers of science graduates, this is not possible, hence the Government's willingness to invest in the future of science.

Details of most of the events on offer are available at a web site run by the STI Awareness Programme, at www.science.ie. It is worth noting that many of the events offer a limited number of places, so advance booking is advised.

Also, many of the "crowd pleaser" events, such as the Bug Show, will be staged at a number of venues around the State, and not just in Dublin.