Londonderry to play key part in science festival

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The director of the Northern Ireland Science Festival says the involvement of several Londonderry organisations next month will be key in making the programme of events a province-wide success.

Chris McCreery told the Sentinel that the festival was delighted to be partnering with local groups including Foyle College, CultureTech, the Nerve Centre, Magee College and the North West Regional College (NWRC) for what promises to be an exciting celebration of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology engineering and much more.

Mr McCreery said that hooking up with local schools and institutions already blazing a scientific trail in the North West will allow the organisers to extend their reach far beyond the greater Belfast area.

“We were very keen to expand beyond Belfast and to make this a Northern Ireland-wide event,” said Mr McCreery.

“We’ve been very lucky in having been able to partner with organisations such as CultureTech, the Nerve Centre, Magee, NWRC, and we’re also hoping to continue that and maybe do something with CultureTech during their own festival later in the year,” he added.

Last October the Sentinel revealed how plans were afoot to make Londonderry a ‘City of Science and Innovation 2015.’
The initiative, which is being promoted by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) amongst others, and is in keeping with the ‘Legacy Promise - Building on the Success of 2013’ report, is set to kick off in earnest during the festival, which runs from February 19 to March 1.

Mr McCreery told the Sentinel that he and his colleagues will be liaising with Derry City Council after the festival with a view to further potential collaborations during 2015/16.

Budget pressures may mean that the local authority is restricted somewhat in terms of how much it can invest in the promotion of science compared with recent thematic endeavours including City of Culture 2013 and Music City 2014.

However, it does intend marking 2015 as a year of science promotion.

A spokesperson for Derry City Council explained that it remains committed to its legacy promise to build on the success of 2013 as UK City of Culture and Music City 2014.

To date the Council has committed £2m towards legacy projects some of which will extend into 2015 and 2016.

Subject to available finances the Council intends to support a number of the hugely successful events that took place during Music City 2014, as well as programming a number of science and innovation projects during 2015/16.

The spokesperson added that the budget for the Legacy programme for the 2015/16 financial year will form part of the Council’s rates discussions currently taking place over the coming weeks.

Notwithstanding these financial constraints funding from DEL, the University of Ulster and the British Council amongst others, has been made available for the Northern Ireland Science Festival and Londonderry is to play a key role.

Amongst the events planned are an Institute of Physics Ireland Tyndall Lecture, which will take place in Foyle College, several workshops and masterclasses in the Nerve Centre, and a series of Café Scientifique talks and discussions.

“There’s lots for everyone from the 14 to 15 year old age group upwards,” said Mr McCreery.

“The festival is really about promoting science. Science is really exciting anyway but it’s maybe not always promoted as well as it should be. That’s what we’re trying to do with this festival,” he added.

Mr McCreery says the participation of the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) - a major research unit within the Faculty of Computing and Engineering at Magee, which is throwing open its doors for a ‘Discovery Day, will be a festival highlight.

“Have you seen the stuff they are doing?” asked Mr McCreery. “It’s really groundbreaking, amazing work. It’s going to be one of the highlights.”

The ‘Discovery Day’ will give members of the public a rare glimpse of the ISRC’s incredible work involving, robots, virtual worlds and brain-computer interface technology amongst other technological innovations, which all takes place at its building off the Strand road.

Another important coup for the festival will be the delivery of a DEL STEM Masterclass by Dr Yvonne Spicer, Vice President for Advocacy and Educational Partnerships at the Museum of Science, Boston, USA.

That will take place in the NWRC on Thursday, February 26, and will chime with the oft-heard clarion call of legislators, businesses and academics, that we need to get more young people studying science, maths and engineering.

In his official promotion of the festival, Mr McCreery said: “This festival is the product of some truly amazing support and we would like to give a big thank you to our funders, event partners and volunteers whose dedication, foresight and imagination has helped build a truly remarkable programme of events.”

Dr Liz Conlon, festival chairperson and edcuation advisor at the Institute of Physics, said: “Science is the underlying fabric of a modern self-sustaining society, propelling economic growth, innovation and well-being.

“In 2015 we need our population to embrace science to take on the major challenges of the 21st Century.”

Local Highlights

Discovery Day

This free event, which is suitable for schools, adults and families will take place at the ISRC building on Friday (February 20) from 4pm to 9pm.

Robots, virtual worlds and brain computer interface technology will be on show when a world class research centre at the Ulster University’s Magee campus opens its doors.

Pioneering research at the ISRC is turning once futuristic concepts into practical realities, with benefits in healthcare, education, industry and leisure.

Participants will have a chance to meet the robots of the future including PR2, humanoid robots and the world’s most advanced robotic hand.

They will also see how ISRC expands the boundaries of learning through games and virtual worlds, learn how your brain functions and how we can control technology with our minds and many other exciting and interactive demonstrations.

The Tyndall Lecture: Technology Rocks

This event, suitable for school groups aged 14 to 16 years, will take place in Foyle College on Thursday (February 19) from 11am to 12pm.

Join Scientific Sue on this amazing journey of scientific discovery and find out how the scientific inputs of Volta, Oersted and Faraday lay the foundations for the development of one of the most important inventions of the 20th century- the electric guitar - the key musical instrument which totally defines the tone and character of rock music.

The topics of sound, electricity, magnetism and then electromagnetism are explored in a fun and interactive fashion with the aim to explain how the magnetic pickups on an electric guitar sense vibrations and turn it into sound.

Registration if necessary for this event. Email: SANDRAOCONNELL77@HOTMAIL.COM OR TEL: 07989890331

Spicer STEM Masterclass

This event is free and will take place in the NWRC on Thursday (February 26) from 10am to 12pm and is aimed at STEM educators.

The DEL STEM Masterclass will be delivered by Dr. Yvonne Spicer, Vice President for Advocacy and Educational Partnerships at the Museum of Science, Boston, USA.

The event will be primarily for educators and industry leaders and Dr Spicer will outline some of the innovative approaches to STEM collaboration and outreach activities undertaken by the Museum. The event will also feature several interactive workshops chaired by local and international STEM stakeholders. The session on Wednesday will include a talk with Claire McNulty, the Director of Science at the British Council, who will discuss “International opportunities in science through the British Council.

Nerve Centre FabLab

FabLab Nerve Centre will be hosting a number of after school drop-in sessions throughout the festival. Participants will design and make a variety of exciting, stimulating projects ranging from t-shirt printing to robots.