‘Sputniks’, ‘Star Trek’ & ‘Open Government Data’- New Initiative to Promote Science & Engineering

As Outreach Officer at the renowned Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) I am coordinating an eclectic mix of science fiction, video gaming, open data hacker workshops, computer programming courses, science lab tours and the establishment of Ireland’s only computer museum designed to spark interest amongst the Irish school-going population towards careers in science and engineering.

DERI is an internationally acclaimed centre of web science research, with researchers from over 30 countries working on the next generation of the world wide web known as the Semantic Web.

Introducing Computer Programming Courses to Irish Schools

As part of this month’s National Engineers’ Week which commences on February 14th we are organising a fascinating array of activities designed to capture the imagination of youth and to show them the benefits and challenges that careers in science and technology represent.

A key component of the schedule will be the introduction of computer programming courses to pupils in primary and primary schools across Galway city and county tutored by DERI’s young researchers.

We feel that this initiative if developed further will prove invaluable not to just the pupils involved but to the county as a whole because, though programming forms the basis of much of modern science and engineering, the subject is not taught within either the primary or post primary curricula. We are already providing an after-school pilot course at St. Mary’s College Galway city which has worked out extremely well with students from both the junior and senior cycle attending the classes.

University Science Lab Tours

But programming is only one element in the institute’s attempts to inspire and motivate a whole generation to consider careers in science and technology.

One-day second-level school tours of five of the university’s top research institutes will take place during National Engineers Week.

Ireland’s only Computer and Communications Museum

There will also be guided visits of Ireland’s only Computer and Communications Museum which was established at the institute during 2010 in partnership with the multi-sectoral eGalway group. This unique facility provides a fascinating insight into the development of communications from ancient hieroglyphics to today’s Internet with a particular emphasis on the development of the microcomputer and the involvement of youth as well as Irish people in communications innovation.

Vintage Computer Games: Pacman Returns!

The museum will be the location for a range of events and exhibitions including a vintage computer gaming night known as ‘Pacman Returns’ on February 16th; exhibits and lectures on topics such as ‘Hidden Histories: Women in Technology’; on ‘Space Exploration from Sputnik to the Space Shuttle’ and how the science fiction of the 1960s television series Star Trek influenced the development of many of today’s electronic devices such as the mobile phone and the iPad. Of special significance to Galwegians will be a special commemorative exhibit on February 18th to celebrate the 40th year anniversary by Digital Equipment Corporation, then the world’s second largest computer manufacturer, to open its first overseas manufacturing plant in Galway city.

Hackathon: Open Data Hack Day’

In conjunction with the community-based 091 Labs, DERI will host Galway’s first ‘Open Data Hack Day’ on February 19th to raise public awareness about the benefits of Open Government Data that will allow increased engagement and participation by citizens in the democratic process as well as provide new opportunities to develop meaningful public service applications. This inaugural ‘Hackathon’ should be of interest to all those concerned about improving political governance and accountability in the country including local government officials, public representatives, concerned voters, community activists and social web-developers.”

Stamps: Celebrating Space Technology & Exploration

On display in the museum will be a large collection of hundreds of stamps from the late 1950s onwards that celebrate the history of space technology. The exploration of space inspired many of humanity’s greatest inventions and feats of modern engineering. These triumphs include communications satellites, telemetry, earth observation monitoring, weather forecasting, rockets, space stations, harnessing solar energy, heat insulation, fuel cells and water purification systems.

The historical stamps from many different countries cover themes associated with the space programmes of the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s-1980s period

There will also be a selection of 1960s comic and toys associated with the classic era of science fiction.

Barack Obama & the 'Sputnik' moment

Governments across the world are endeavouring to develop sustainable smart economies in order to guarantee futures for their citizens in a world experiencing climate change, recessions, depletion of natural resources and unprecedented population growth. Developing countries such as China and India are now investing heavily in teaching science and mathematics in order to move their economies away from being just low-cost producers of consumer goods to becoming hubs of innovation. In the USA, President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech concentrated on how the American people need to face up to their “Sputnik moment” by emulating a previous generation who responded to the Soviet Union’s success in space exploration, typified by the launch of ‘Sputnik’ the world’s first satellite, by prioritising science education and research thereby spawning inventions that would provide the jobs and new clean technologies needed to positively transform society and the global environment.

Ireland & Galway Need to Utilise Natural & Human Resources To Secure a Sustainable Future

Ireland and particularly Galway possess critical traits and resources that could allow us to become an important dynamic player in providing key services and products in a fast changing world.

Our geographical location gifts us with an inexhaustible supply of renewable energies.

The country is second only to the famed ‘Silicon Valley’ as a global centre of Information Communication Technologies with seven of the top ten companies located here, many engaged in research and development. State funding through the Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) has led to the establishment of internationally acclaimed third level centres of scientific excellence including biomedical and computing, many located in NUI Galway, which have acted as magnets in attracting in some of the best scientists on the planet. This combination of human and natural resources, and of indigenous and multi-national businesses gives Ireland the opportunity to invent the technologies of the future

The full programme of Engineers Week events at DERI can be viewed at www.engineersireland.ie