Kathriona Devereux: Cork people take centre stage for Science Week

Science does not happen in a silo, it is an important part of the interconnected political, social, economic and environmental ecosystem we live in, and needs active citizen engagement to steer it in the right direction, so says Kathriona Devereux
Kathriona Devereux: Cork people take centre stage for Science Week

James Dyson Award winner Niamh Damery who is one of several Cork people who feature in RTE's Science Week line-up.

IF you haven’t heard, it is Science Week! The time of the year you’re most likely to witness a vinegar, soap and baking soda exploding experiment by someone wearing a white coat, and when the Irish scientific research community goes to immense efforts to convey the wonders of science to the general public.

It’s often the busiest time of the year for me because I’m usually producing (with many others!) a science documentary or series that airs during Science Week. And this year is no different.

This is the 25th anniversary of Science Week and most of the events have moved online, but RTÉ is celebrating Science Week with an exciting new series called Future Island.

It will broadcast live tonight, Wednesday and Thursday evening from the national sport and science museum, Explorium, and will be a family-friendly celebration of our nation’s experts and innovators.

In the midst of the pandemic, 2020 has been Irish science’s finest hour. But how will our brightest brains equip us to thrive in a future that’s safe and sustainable? And how can Irish citizens actively participate in shaping and choosing this future?

Presented by Liz Bonnin, a science, natural history and environmental broadcaster, this will be a television homecoming for the former Dublin resident who has built an acclaimed career in the UK over the last decade.

With an infectious passion for science and the natural world, Liz is in her element picking the brains of scientists and bringing the latest laboratory breakthroughs to a mainstream audience.

Liz will be aided by her mentor in Trinity College Dublin, Professor Luke O’Neill. One of Ireland’s best known and most trusted scientists. Luke heads up a world-leading immunology research lab and is a gifted communicator, comfortable on many topics. His latest book Never Mind the B#ll*cks, Here’s the Science sold out of Irish bookshops in its first week on sale.

Completing the presenting trio is Phil Smyth. From Weather Live to Home School Hub, Phil has become a familiar face on Irish television. Throughout the week, he will stage madcap experiments to explain and inspire around topics like the future of transport and the future of energy.

Across three episodes, this trio will dig deep into questions that will decide Ireland’s health, wealth and happiness. How will science help us to keep well in the future? How will science drive Ireland’s future prosperity? How can science allow us to rediscover the joy in our life?

Well-known guests like Brian O’Driscoll, Chris Hadfield, Dara O Briain and PJ Gallagher will appear side by side with leading scientists such as Cara Augustenborg, Ian Robertson and Ireland’s Nobel Laureate Bill Campbell.

Cork residents will feature throughout the series. Niamh Damery, from Cobh, recently won the James Dyson Award for her design of the Econooc; a conservation beehive made from mycelium, a sustainable material derived from mushrooms.

Winning the design award for a sustainable and environmentally friendly design was a big moment for Niamh and she will feature on Future Island, explaining how she hopes the Econooc will become a successful product but also raise awareness about the plight of bees.

Bill Liao, a successful investor and entrepreneur and West Cork resident, will discuss the future of food and how some foods of tomorrow will be grown in labs, not farms.

Five years ago, Bill invested in a start-up food company that took part in a Cork city-based accelerator programme. The company is now called Perfect Day and has perfected it’s bioengineered yeasts to make proteins that are structurally identical to those derived from dairy products and are being used to make animal-free ice cream. This premium ice-cream is flying off the shelves in New York city and will be in studio to pass the taste test.

Another aspect of the coming food revolution is the move away from plastic packaging. The answer to the plastic water bottle might be the water ball. A squidgy sphere of water that pops in your mouth but is made from seaweed derived algae so is entirely biodegradable.

I consider PJ Gallagher to be an honorary Corkman because of his role as Principal Barry Walsh in The Young Offenders and PJ fans will enjoy his reaction when he test drives a self-driving Tesla.

Kinsale resident, Dr Tara Shine, will be appearing to explain how a happy planet equals a happy future and what we can do to fix the climate, biodiversity and plastic pollution crises and ensure a brighter future for everyone.

The theme for Science Week this year is ‘Choosing Our Future’ and that will be threaded through Future Island in discussions about medtech, artificial intelligence, autonomous transport and the problem with misinformation.

Science does not happen in a silo, it is an important part of the interconnected political, social, economic and environmental ecosystem we live in, and needs active citizen engagement to steer it in the right direction. Science Foundation Ireland is very keen for citizens to be part of the discussion about choosing our future and is hosting an online public forum to facilitate discussion on a range of important topics such as ‘Rural Diversification’, ‘Future Economies’ and ‘Living with the Virus’.

You can sign up to join discussion at choosingourfuture.ie but first make sure you’ve made a cuppa, sat down with the family and watched Future Island on RTÉ1 at 7pm on Tuesday 10th, Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th of November!

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