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Ber Alcock

Developing better pollution sensors N itrates, heavy metals and PPCPs (pharmaceutical and personal care products) all have the potential to cause damage to Ireland’s environment. Dr Ber Alcock, in her DERP project, aims to develop three sensors to detect the presence of each of these groups of pollutants, and, thereby, to facilitate remediation efforts where required. Ber has spent her entire scientific career to date in NUI Maynooth. She graduated with a degree in Chemistry in 2002, then went on to do a PhD, working with staff member, Dr Carmel Breslin. Following her doctorate there was post-doc research, working again with Dr Breslin, but also now with Professor John Lowry, Chair of Chemistry. To set up her own research group was one of Ber’s dreams, and when she heard of DERP, this was one of the main attractions, as well as securing long term funding. “I like being able to do my own thing,” said Ber. “I think it (DERP) is brilliant because you have your five years contract, and you have the opportunity to take in post-grads as well, which a lot of the longer term contracts don’t do. With those you tend to have to find external funding for any post-grads that you want to set up a group with. This had it all in one package, which was prefect really.” Ber thought up three projects that she felt would be suitable for DERP funding with one project for herself, and one for each of two post-grads that she planned to take on. The three areas were: nitrate sensing and nitrate remediation; heavy metal sensing and remediation and PPCP sensing and remediation. The common thread between all three was that they were focused on conducting polymers, materials that Ber had done a lot of research on, and which could be used to ‘sense’ all the pollutants in question. She chose nitrates, because it is such a big issue in Ireland, given the large agricultural community here.

The problem stems from the practice of spreading animals wastes – which contain nitrates in high concentrations – on land to improve crops and pastures. Nitrates can cause serious problems when they end up in groundwater or surface water by causing increased growth of algae, and eutrophication of water systems. The drop in oxygen that comes with the presence of nitrates can lead to fish kills. These pollutants can also affect humans. For example, when nitrates in our drinking water are metabolised in the stomach this can lead to the formation of nitrous amines, which are thought to be carcinogenic. Furthermore, in human infants nitrates can be absorbed into haemoglobin causing the ‘blue baby syndrome’ - which can be fatal. Heavy metals, meanwhile, such as lead, zinc and copper can be very damaging in the environment. In

Ireland these are found near old mines, such as the copper mine in Avoca Co Wicklow, and elsewhere in Fermanagh, and Monaghan, for example. The three sensors work by chemically trapping and holding the pollutant, when it’s present, rendering it harmless, or disposing of it in some way. The sensors, when working, and commercially patented should be of great interest to drug companies, cosmetic firms, water analysis companies, and those in the agricultural sector. Ber described what she would hope to achieve at the end of the five years of DERP funding. “Scientifically, I want those three sensors to work. The preliminary results would suggest that they are going to work, but hopefully we will have developed them to a certain stage that we will get a patent out of them – commercialise them.”

Report: Seán Duke

Brian Quinn

Tackling novel pollutants B oth pharmaceutical drugs and endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs, have been around a long time, but they are still considered ‘novel pollutants’ as little attention has been paid to try to assess the extent of their potential impacts on the environment. Dr Brian Quinn, GMIT, has received DERP funding to discover the extent of the presence of these compounds in Irish waters, both freshwater and marine, and to develop biomarkers that can indicate the presence of specific harmful compounds.


Brian believes that while both groups of novel pollutants are not present in high enough concentrations to kill wildlife, or to kill humans for that matter, they could be having a subtle, sub-lethal impact on our wildlife, which could be crucial over time. For his PhD at the DIT and TCD, Brian investigated the impact of EDCs on fish species and found there was a definite impact, with male fish becoming feminised and even producing eggs when exposed to oestrogen-containing compounds.

He followed this up by receiving a fellowship to work at Environment Canada – the Canadian equivalent of the EPA and a recognised world leader in environmental research. In Canada, he worked at the St Laurence Centre of Environment Canada on the banks of the river Laurence in Montreal. There he became interested in all novel pollutants, and their impact on the environment, in particular pharmaceutical drugs. He returned home for personal reasons and worked outside of science for two years – while continuing to publish papers – before the DERP opportunity came up recently. Brian believes that his DERP funding award represents a fantastic opportunity for him to work in his very specialised field in Ireland, and to set up his own research team. “It’s absolutely fantastic. I was absolutely delighted. It will involve myself and two PhD students. I will be looking for the students in the next few months,” he said. His project will be split in two, with a chemical and a biological aspect. Brian will work with a chemistry student to determine what novel

pollutants are present in the water in a range of carefully selected locations. He will work with the biology student to try and develop ‘biomarkers’ that can determine the presence of specific pollutants. In terms of drugs, Brian expects that Ibuprofen and Diclofenac, both analgesics used for pain relief will be present, as well as Carbamazepine, an anti-epileptic drug, and Gemfibrozil, a lipid lowering agent used to prevent heart attacks. His belief that these drugs will be present is based a review of research from around the world, and from talking to a group at DCU, led by John Tobin, that has looked at drugs in our waters.

“The eventual idea is to take some mussels from the environment and say, ah, these are being exposed to certain pharmaceuticals, because they are producing this protein, which normally isn’t produced by normal domestic effluent,” said Brian. Regarding EDCs, Brian said that a lot has been done on the impact of EDCs on fish, but little on invertebrates, which are more numerous, further down the food chain, and, therefore, probably more important in terms of the wider impact on wildlife. The most important EDCs are the nano phenols, which are used in washing up liquids, and estradiol, which is a component of the female contraception pill. But, there are others. With EDCs too, he wants to establish new biomarkers for invertebrate exposure to these compounds, similar to vitellogen, which is an established biomarker for fish exposure to EDCs. “The lab will set up exposures to the mussels of the compounds at different concentrations and use that to try and identify the new biomarkers,” he said.

Report: Seán Duke

Faculty of Science and Health Choose Science at DCU By choosing science at DCU, you can make a real difference towards your future success. DCU Faculty of Science and Health, offers over 20 great honours degree programmes in the following areas: ‡ Chemical Sciences ‡ Physical Sciences ‡ Biotechnology

‡ Health & Human Performance ‡ Nursing ‡ Mathematical Sciences

Also, as most of our degree programmes include paid work experience, you’ll gain valuable practical experience, earn some money and enjoy a genuine competitive edge when you graduate. Full details of our programmes are available on our website at: LIVE LINK



Do you want to be part of the Smart Economy, contribute to our Innovation Island, play a vital role in Ireland’s future, have an impact on the environment? Our world class research-led teaching, excellent student experience and state of the-art-facilitates will be your foundations of success.

Degree Entry Courses in the College of Science, Engineering and Food Science Computer Science CK401 (BSc)

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Ioannis Dokas

Early warning systems to help decision makers C

ritical systems are defined as those systems, natural or industrial, that can impact severely on human wellbeing when they go wrong. Decision makers need to know when things are likely to go wrong, and to make the right decisions to avert disaster. Enter Ioannis Dokas, a Greek civil engineer, who has been awarded a DERP grant to develop early warning systems for Ireland’s water treatment plants. The goal he has set himself over the five years is to develop a computer modelling system to monitor our water treatment plants, and be capable of alerting decision makers when there is a problem developing, and to provide them with information to deal with the problem. Ioannis moved to Ireland in January 2007 to the Cork Constraint Computer Centre, UCC, from at Otto Von Guericke University Madeburg. In Germany he had been on a Marie Curie fellowship focused on developing what he terms ‘knowledge-based systems for decision support’. The focus here was primarily on developing early warning systems for landfill sites, and his system sought to incorporate all the knowledge contained within an organisation running the landfill, public or private. “The knowledge from the entire organisation that runs the landfill, whether that is a local authority or a private company can be modelled,”

said Ioannis. “The tools for the model have a universal language made up of diagrams, arrows, circles, symbols that mean something and can be understood by everyone. A manager of a landfill could use this system to alert his supervisor that if the landfill continues to be run in the same way that these types of problems will arise. An organisation will typically use the system to try and minimise events that they don’t want to happen. With landfills that could be leaks, emissions, and leachate going into the groundwater.” While in Madeburg, Ioannis saw an advertisement for DERP, seeking applications from those interested in doing research into ‘ontology in decision support systems’. Ontology in this context means knowledge of the reality of systems in question. In other words, how decisions about important systems are made in reality by decision makers, and how the knowledge upon which these decisions are currently made can be improved. He was immediately interested, applied for DERP, and was approved. Ioannis is currently in the process of setting up his research team and one of the first goals will be to develop a language that can be used by everyone that has a direct interest in early

warning systems for water treatment plants. When this is achieved, the business of gathering knowledge about the organisations running Ireland’s water treatment plants will begin, and a computer model reflecting that knowledge built. Ioannis said there is a lack of research worldwide into how to develop and design human centred early warning systems, even though big organisations, like the UN, have been talking a lot about developing such systems in the last few years. All of these discussions were triggered following the Asian Tsunami, he said, and this lead to people thinking how monitoring systems that could be applied to potential natural disasters, as well as industrial risks and hazards, can be put in place to save lives. The setting up of an early warning system for water treatment plants will be a challenge to Ioannis and his team. To date there is only one fully functional early warning system in place worldwide. That is on the Japanese railway system, where the trains are primed to shut down, when the tracks pick up signs of an earthquake.

Costs nothing and you gain a lot

Report: Seán Duke

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Are you

LEAVING interested in but CERTIFICATE Science, unsure of STUDENTS ! which Science discipline to study?

If you apply for any of the following courses, you enter a COMMON FIRST YEAR. At the end of first year, irrespective of which course you started, you can transfer into year 2 of any of the other courses subject to availability of places. GMIT offers four HONOURS DEGREE (Level 8) COURSES in: l Applied FRESHWATER & MARINE BIOLOGY (CAO Code GA780; Points in 2009 – 300) l CHEMICAL & PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCE (CAO Code GA 782; Points in 2009 – 305) l PHYSICS & INSTRUMENTATION (CAO Code GA 773; CAO points in 2009 – 280) l APPLIED BIOLOGY & BIOPHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCE (CAO Code GA 781; CAO points in 2009 – 305). CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRADUATES OF THESE COURSES:

Graduates of Applied Freshwater & Marine Biology: Employment opportunities in: Environmental Consultancy / Management, Marine Biology Research, Marine Fisheries Management, Oceanography, Aquaculture Development, Public Sector Agencies such as Environmental Protection Agency, Fisheries Boards, teaching (this course is recognised for admission to the higher diploma in education, H Dip Ed), Marine Institute. Graduate, Imelda Hehir: Currently works in the Marine Institute in Galway in Marine Biology Research. “The Freshwater & Marine Biology course is an excellent course for anyone interested in this exciting branch of Science.”

Graduates of Physics & Instrumentation: Employment opportunities in: Biomedical & Pharmaceutical companies, Medical Physics, Astrophysics, Semiconductor Sector, Nanotechnology, Software Development, Biotechnology Sector. Teaching – this course is recognized for admission to the higher diploma in Education (H Dip Ed.)

Graduate Jacqueline Keane: Currently working with NASA in California – “The common first year in GMIT Science is a great system – it allows one to change their mind after one year in college. My job with NASA involves exploring space, stars and heavenly structures from the NASA base in California.”

Graduates of Chemical & Pharmaceutical Science: Employment opportunities in: Pharmaceutical Sector, Food Industries, Chemical Sector, Biotechnology companies, Biomedical Sector, Research & Development. Teaching – this course is recognized for admission to the higher diploma in Education (H Dip Ed.). Public sector employers include Public Analyst Lab, Environmental Protection Agency. Graduate, Peggy McGlynn: “I studied Chemical & Pharmaceutical Science at GMIT and currently work as a Forensic Scientist in the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dublin. I found GMIT a great place to study with a low student / staff ratio which provides a great learning environment.”

Graduates of Applied Biology & Biopharmaceutical Science: Employment opportunities in: Biotechnology Sector, Diagnostic Companies, Pharmaceutical & Biomedical sector. Public sector employers such as Irish Medicines Board, Environmental Protection Agency, Public Analysts Lab. Teaching – this course is recognized for admission to the higher diploma in Education (H Dip Ed.). Graduate, Bryan Cavanagh: “I had a job before I completed my final exams – as did many of my class mates. My job is in Regulatory Affairs. The day to day work involves project management and people management. I highly recommend this course.”

Further information: Log onto Email: Phone 091 742178


Women in engineering

IN November ten awards, valued at €20,000 each, were presented to the winners in the Science Foundation Ireland/Dell Young Women in Engineering Scholarship scheme. The aim of the awards is to encourage more women to make a career in engineering. Each award winner receives a Dell notebook computer, together with an assistance and mentoring support package. The winners also have an opportunity to spend summer months working in university or industry research. The awards have been running for the past four years, and to enter, applicants send in their CV, a letter of recommendation from their school or teacher, and a personal statement on why they want to pursue an engineering degree.

The winners Triona Byrne. St Wolstan’s Community School, Celbridge, Co Kildare Trinity College Dublin TR032 Engineering Deirdre Doody Coláiste an Phiarsaigh, Glanmire, Co. Cork University College Cork CK603 – Energy Engineering Clare Dunne Patrician College, Portlaoise, Co. Laois University College Cork CK603 – Energy Engineering

Fiona Edwards-Murphy Coláiste Treasa, Kanturk, Co. Cork University College Cork CK650 – Electrical and Electronic Engineering Helen Fletcher Muckross Park, Dominican College, Dublin 4 Trinity College Dublin TR032 Engineering Clíona Flood Coláiste Ailigh, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal National University of Ireland, Galway GY401- Engineering (Undenominated)


Pictured in Dublin’s Royal College of Physicians at the recent announcement of the Science Foundation/Dell ‘Young Women in Engineering’ 2009 Scholarship Awards was Kate Gillen, Trinity College Dublin, with fellow scholarship winners. Picture Jason Clarke

Kate Gillen Manor House School, Dublin 5 Trinity College Dublin TR032 Engineering Fiona Malone Scoil Mhuire, Greenhill, Co. Tipperary University of Limerick LM071 – Biomedical Engineering Anne O’Connor Loreto College, Foxrock, Dublin 18 University College Dublin DN080, Engineering Science Rhoda Wade Loreto College, Foxrock, Dublin 18 University College Dublin DN077 – Engineering (Undenominated)

SCIEnCE In ATHLonE Dr Paul Tomkins


cquisition of a science degree may in part be motivated by a desire to better understand our world, but it also inherently demonstrates a capacity to analyse, integrate and present information and master a host of generic skills that are core for multiple careers.

technologies, with an emphasis on appreciating the potential of commercialising innovation – in the future this and other science programmes will deploy significant higher educationindustry collaborations.

The School of Science in Athlone Institute of Technology offers a diverse range of programmes that meet these common outcomes, but also provide clear and substantive career paths in the growth orientated S&T and healthcare sectors. Programmes include: biotechnology, pharmaceutical sciences, toxicology, chemistry, pharmacy technician, dental and veterinary nursing.

A multidisciplinary programme that captures cell and molecular biology, chemistry and environmental science is unique to AIT – toxicology. There is currently a shortage of toxicologists in the UK, Germany and Ireland and this pressure will grow as a consequence of REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals), a European Commission programme for increasing regulation of chemicals.

Biotechnology is an embracing applied life science discipline, which is devoted to the application of biosystems to the production of knowledge, products and services. Well established areas of biotechnology research and associated industry include: bio-pharmaceuticals, agrichemicals, biomaterials, waste management and diagnostics, but it also embraces new cutting edge disciplines such as synthetic biology. Biotechnology and IT have been recognised for a number of years in developed countries, including Ireland, as representing key areas for development of a knowledge economy. Despite the global economic slowdown, biologics have grown throughout 2008 and 2009, driven by continued high growth in sales of antibodies and insulins. Pfizer and Eli Lilly are both building new biologics facilities in Cork, and Merck is building a new vaccines plant in Carlow. “I would say if you were to do a tot-up at the end of the year there would be an increase in biotechnology employment in Ireland,” says Michael Gillen, director of the Irish BioIndustry Association. This is an exception. The BSc in Biotechnology in AIT embraces advanced cell and molecular biology and an understanding of processing LIVEK LIN

To support its undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes, the School of Science in AIT undertakes unique research and is part of national,EU and US partner collaborations. Current research includes:cell line development,new toxicology screening tests, endocrine disruption, substrate synthesis as a basis for novel therapeutics, novel biocide development, MRSA profiling, drug uptake studies and nanotoxicology. A recognised feature of science programmes in Athlone is the high level of real world application which runs through all courses. This is of major benefit to graduates when seeking employment and has created a very positive reputation for our graduates amongst indigenous and international employers. Another strength of science courses at AIT is the close-knit learning community that binds students and academics to a common purpose. To discover more about college life at AIT and to explore the full range of science opportunities, visit Paul Tomkins is Head of School of Science at AIT

Think smart g n i y d u d t n s a f o g n i k Thin e s o o h c ? e g e l l o c n i e c GMIT ! scien The Department of Life & Physical Sciences at GMIT offers the following honours degrees: l APPLIED FRESHWATER & MARINE BIOLOGY

GA 780


GA 782


GA 783





BE MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER ! While other colleges may have a few hundred students in year 1, we target approximately 100 students for our first year intake for the above courses combined, and furthermore students are in groups of 16 for laboratory work. This ensures the best of both worlds – the low student numbers provide an excellent teaching environment and help ensure that you are successful in your studies. While, at the same time, you are in a college of over 6000 students in the student capital of Ireland!

DO YOU WANT TO GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY ? In GMIT our courses are unique in that students do project work from year 1 onwards. With many miniprojects and a number of major projects completed over the course of your degree you will learn vital skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and project management – skills much sought after by employers. Practical work also forms a large element of our courses, and students gain excellent experience in

completing laboratory practicals in state of the art laboratories. Also, with many marks going for lab work, you can have accumulated a large percentage of your final mark before you sit any exams. Other features of our courses:

WORK PLACEMENT IN ALL OUR COURSES Paid work placement is extremely valuable in providing work experience and job opportunities – many companies recruit the students that they have taken on for industrial placement.

APPLIED NATURE OF OUR COURSES The course material is designed in conjunction with employers and our courses are all applied in nature – giving our students an advantage when starting their career.

MODULARIZED COURSES This allows students more choice in which subjects they study.

JOBS Our students continue to enjoy a relatively high employment rate upon graduation. The applied nature of our courses, the high amount of project work and practical work and the fact that industrial placement is a feature of ALL our courses ensures that our students are best placed to gain employment and develop rewarding careers upon graduation. More Info? LIVE LINK Phone: 091 742178 E Mail: Web:


Edward Bach

mathematics you are aware that there are very few jobs doing mathematics or even teaching mathematics to students for whom it is the primary subject. So I had an open mind about careers,” he says. Having an open-mind did not exclude having preferences. “I always was interested in working in the space industry; so when just after completing my studies a friend from college told me about a position in his company, Computer Applied Techniques, Ltd. (CAPTEC), I applied for it.”

Career in the Space Industry Marie-Catherine Mousseau talked to a scientist who uses his mathematical talents to keep spacecrafts on track. “I was fascinated by dinosaurs and rocketry as a child. In science, I like the absence of social posturing and social prejudice and (especially in mathematics) the connection with past masters and the feeling that the scientist is preserving and adding to a treasure that belongs to everyone.” This was Edward Bach’s inspired reply to my question as to why he had chosen a scientific career. It is always encouraging to realise science lovers can still hold their romantic view about science after many years working in a science-related industry. But Ed is not working in any kind of industry. He’s working in the space industry, more exactly in a software house that designs space software – that is software onboard satellites or spacecraft.


In spite of his love of rockets as a child, Ed had not really planned his career in relation to space. He had even thought of doing Arts as a degree. However,

How to get there he ended up studying maths. “My choice of mathematics was made for the following reasons: I enjoyed and obtained good results in mathematics and ‘arts’ subjects, i.e., languages, history, English; but I decided that I could pursue ‘arts’ subjects independently or through evening courses, etc., while for mathematics I really needed a teacher and a course of study.” His choice also made up for his mum’s regrets, who had always felt sorry for having opted for English instead of maths. Edward obtained a B.A in Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University, Batimore, USA, and a Ph.D at Trinity College, Dublin. He was still not sure where that would lead him though. “When you study


Ed didn’t think getting the job was problematic: “At that time it was difficult to find people with experience in designing, building or testing this type of critical system (space software), so my lack of experience was not a particular disadvantage.” But he agrees it’s possible he had been lucky to come on the job market at the right time. “The big companies tend to go through cycles where they invest in inhouse development and cycles where they try to do everything through outside contractors,” he says. “Space work is dependent on government funding, also,” he continues, “and the perception of governments as to the return on investment varies, so that projects can be cut back or scrapped.” According to him, though, funding levels have remained relatively constant with respect to inflation.


NUI Galway’s new € 22 million Sports Centre

Science at NUI Galway

Science at NUI Galway has a long and proud tradition for teaching and research. Our graduates play a vital role in today’s high-tech knowledge based society. Our postgraduate programmes are led by world-class scientific research groups. NUI Galway offers both Undenominated (GY301) and Denominated Science degrees programmes. Undenominated Science is offered to students who wish to pursue a career in science but who have not yet decided on an area of specialism. The Undenominated programme allows students to choose from a broad range of subjects in YEAR 1 and features progressive specialisation in subsequent years.

Denominated programmes allow students to pursue defined courses of study. Current programmes include: • GY303: Biomedical Science • GY304: Biotechnology • GY306: Computing Studies/ Mathematical Science • GY308: Environmental Science • GY309: Financial Mathematics and Economics • GY310: Marine Science • GY313: Health & Safety Systems • GY314: Earth and Ocean Sciences • GY315: Physics and Applied Physics • GY316: Physics with Medical Physics • GY317: Physics with Astrophysics • GY318: Biopharmaceutical Chemistry

In response to an increasing demand for Medical Physicists, both nationally and internationally in recent years, the College is offering a new B.Sc. in Physics with Medical Physics. There has also been a refocusing of two programmes now entitled Physics and Applied Physics and Physics with Astrophysics. The new denominated BSc in Biopharmaceutical Chemistry will prepare students for the Biopharmaceutical Industry, which focuses on the production of therapeutic drugs by biological fermentation processes rather than by traditional chemical synthesis. Graduates will gain a wide range of expertise tailored to this industry. We hope to attract students who have an interest in both Chemistry and Biology.

For more information visit

SEW – Science Experience Workshop Pictured at the NUI Galway Science Experience Workshop were Leaving Certificate students from Athenry Vocational School (left) James Connelly, from Cregmore, Co. Galway and (right) Shane Kelly, from Kiltullagh, Co. Galway. Also pictured (centred) is Dr Mark Foley, Vice Dean of Communications and Strategy, College of Science, NUI Galway. The College of Science at NUI Galway welcomes prospective students from second level schools to its Science Experience Workshops. These engaging programmes allow students to delve into a wide range of scientific disciplines and explore future career opportunities. Students take part in hands-on activities and experience working in world class research facilities and institutes. Some of the institutes visited by the students include Applied Optics, the Environmental Change Institute, the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science and the Regenerative Medicine Institute. Throughout the workshop, attendees

have the opportunity to ‘shadow’ scientists and gain an invaluable insight into a wide range of scientific disciplines. According to Dr Mark Foley, Vice Dean of Communications and Strategy, College of Science, NUI Galway: “The

Science Experience Workshop provides an excellent forum whereby students get information on the diverse range of undergraduate programmes available at NUI Galway. Students get to investigate the differences between various denominated and undenominated offerings. Panel discussions with current students and staff allowed the exchange of information with prospective students. Participants also have the chance to see the state-of-theart teaching, research and sporting facilities. This workshop offers participants the chance to experience life on campus while learning about Science and interacting with students, staff and their peers from across Ireland.”

The next workshop is scheduled to coincide with the NUI Galway Open Day which will be on April 24th 2010. For further information on the College of Science or future Science Experience Workshops, call 091 492182 or visit IVE L K LIN




Guiding satellites

Ed’s job consists of building onboard software to guide satellites (or spacecraft) in space. He explains the basis of his work: “I have to develop and understand algorithms (series of instructions in a sequence which can be included in a program), use programming, simulate the space environment and the spacecraft behaviour using Newton’s laws,” he said. “I found the work difficult at the beginning, because I was not trained in engineering and the documentation is not always easy to understand.” But his mathematical background definitely helped and he soon got the hang of it. But what does onboard software for guidance satellites mean exactly? Ed gives us two examples of large projects on which he worked. The first one is the ISO project. ISO, which stands for ‘Infrared Space Observatory’ was a satellite launched by the European Space Agency for observing distant objects in infra-red. The software they designed was to enable self-guidance of the satellite in space, which according to Ed is critical for this type of satellites. “Self-monitoring was very important to avoid the many sources of light from the earth that could damage the instrument”, he explains (see box). Ed is happy to have witnessed the successful completion of the mission with his working software. The satellite lasted up to 28 months, as Ed points out enthusiastically.

Landing on a comet

After the success of the ISO mission, Edward tackled another challenging project, called Rosetta. The Rosetta mission is to perform a task unheard of so far in the history of humanity: Landing on a comet. Because a comet’s composition reflects the composition of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and its orbiting planets developed, Rosetta has the potential to unravel the origin and evolution of the Solar System. Rosetta is to operate faraway in space, where communication delays would make monitoring from earth impossible. Here again, the spacecraft has to be able to self-monitor. Ed’s team intervened at the tricky part of the mission as they actually wrote a software part of the lander determining the way it separates from the mothership. “The comet is travelling

Infrared Space Observatory

ISO, which stands for ‘Infrared Space Observatory’, was the world’s first true orbiting infrared observatory. Launched by the European Space Agency, it was designed to observe the universe at the IR wavelengths (from 2.5 to 240 microns). In the infrared you can observe distant objects that you could not see in the visible because of all the surrounding dust. These can include galaxies or centres of galaxies, and even quasars (means ‘Quasi Stellar’… these objects are so far away that they look just like a star but are in fact clusters of thousands of stars in the centres of distant galaxies). And looking further in space means looking back in time. Some of the questions ISO was designed to answer include the origin of planets, the birth and death of stars, the chemistry of the Universe or the history of galaxies. While the software Edward Bach and his team built for ISO would accept ground commands designed to point the satellite in certain directions, its main purpose was automatic guiding. Ed explains why in this case you can’t always rely on manual guiding of the satellite from the ground: “ISO had an eccentric orbit which at certain times directed it very close to the earth,” he says. “There are lots of dangerous lights coming from there that can damage the instruments – mostly reflected sunlight from Earth, moon, planets, etc, in addition to direct light from the Sun – light sources which are extremely fast, so there is a critical three seconds window. If anything goes wrong during this tiny window of time, even just a computer reset, then the opportunity is lost,” Ed says. But Rosetta’s route to the comet is long. The spacecraft is also due to flyby and examine two asteroids on its way. Ed will have to wait a bit before witnessing whether the original make up of their lander will prove successful or not: Rosetta won’t cross the comet’s path for another four years or so.


important for this type of satellite to avoid.” He adds: “and because there are so many, the satellite has to selforientate.” Eight or nine people from CAPTEC worked on the ISO project for 18 months. These included a mix of mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, electrical engineers, etc., who joined their effort for a fruitful result. Indeed, the mission was a great technical and scientific success – so successful that it was extended from the original planned 18 months and the satellite operated for 28 months. Ed explains that they are two major constraints on a satellite’s lifespan. - They need to use Helium to cool the instruments, and this evaporates over time - The propellant fuel, called hydrozine (an extremely poisonous liquid), gets used up. This satellite operated far better than specifications and its scientific results impacted on practically all fields of astronomy. Many of ISO’s discoveries haven’t come out yet because they are still being processed by the researchers. For up-to-date information about ISO discoveries please refer to: http:// Overall, the satellite was developed, manufactured, integrated and tested by an industrial consortium made up of 32 companies, mostly from Europe, headed by Aérospatiale, France.

Huge collaboration

Ed’s company CAPTEC had no involvement in the design of the scientific instruments in either ISO or Rosetta. Both missions represent fundamental scientific projects aimed at increasing human knowledge of the Universe. On Rosetta, for instance, instruments have been taken on board to look at a comet’s composition, as no comet has ever been studied before: “there would be cameras on the lander,

instruments to measure pressure, temperatures, the composition of the comet’s surface, ” he says. “But these are taken care of by other companies.” They also work with scientific Institutes in close collaboration with space scientists and physicists. But such costly fundamental projects such as ISO and Rosetta are ultimately under the umbrella of ESA. That is actually what Ed enjoys most about working on space applications. These cannot be the result of the work of one person but on the contrary require the participation of a multitude of dedicated experts. As he put it, “space applications involve collaboration between a large number of highly skilled people to meet complex and demanding requirements while delivering a quality product (hopefully on time and within the budget allocated).” So being able to communicate (especially where you are stuck or are having problems) is critical, “in fact it

is more important to be able to (and to know when and to whom to) describe a problem than to solve it,” he points out. “Similarly, being able to express oneself clearly is very important. Again it is probably more important to be able to describe a design or proposed solution at an early stage than to implement it and leave it poorly understood by others.” He adds: “And also you have to be prepared to wade into poorly structured and badly written documentation!”.

From there

Obviously Ed enjoys his work, and so much so that he has been working in the same company for 15 years. “I also have been lucky with my missions abroad, I have spent a lot of time in Holland, and in Cannes and Rome for my work, and have had shorter visits in other places: notably Toulouse, Grenoble, Munich and Darmstadt.” He has some regrets though, maybe those elicited by his original love

The Rosetta project Landing on a Comet

Rosetta is a robotic spacecraft aimed at studying the comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta consists of two main elements: the Rosetta space probe (mothership) and the Philae lander. The probe is named after the Rosetta Stone, as it is hoped the mission will help unlock the secrets of the early solar system, before planets formed. The lander is named after the Nile island Philae where an obelisk was found which helped decipher the Rosetta Stone. Rosetta is very special as it will be the first to orbit and land on a comet. No other previous mission has had the potential to look back to the infancy of our Solar System and elucidate the role that comets may have played in the beginnings of life on Earth. As in the case of ISO, automatic guiding was required but not for the same reasons Contrary to ISO, Rosetta is a deep space mission. This means it is dealing with a distant spacecraft which due to time constraints would be impossible to operate from the ground. Certain positions also have to be avoided; for instance looking

directly at the sun would damage the telescope - “exactly like looking directly at the sun damage your eyes.” Edward Bach points out. But the core purpose of the software Ed and his team wrote is to ensure that the lander actually lands on the comet – which is a major challenge. Ed explains that the usual way that a lander gets separated from its mothership is using an explosive device. However, with an explosion you have only one chance – you cannot get it wrong and landing on a comet would be too small of a time window to take that risk.

– maths. “I think I could have been a good mathematics tutor and I regret that many people have had poor experiences in learning mathematics at school and university.” But he has new projects for the future which keep him motivated. He would like to participate in testing satellite guiding software or even operating satellites himself – that is starting to use the type of space software he has been building for years! “I might also be interested to lead a larger project that I have been involved with,” Ed says. But he adds: “…although I would still like to have some technical involvement.” Like many scientists, Edward Bach will always remain an inventor at heart, more than a leader… who above all likes to think, create, and design things which do work.

The lander designers came up with an ingenious idea to solve this problem: using wax to connect the lander to the mothership. To separate it then you just need to melt the wax ‘which is much softer and allows several attempts.” Ed says. “Three of us were working full time on the lander software for 8 months,” he indicates. “We wrote some of the algorithms ourselves and simulated the communication with the mothership and the hardware behaviour.” They also worked in collaboration with physicists and space scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany for the development of the algorithms. “Usually this type of experiments are developed with scientific Institutes,” Ed points out. “And here again the ultimate customer was ESA,” he adds. “It is very much a collaborative work.” Launched in 2004, Rosetta is still on his way to the comet which it is due to reach in early 2014. Following a period of observation and mapping it should land on the comet in November 2014. If it does land we’ll have a drink with Edward!

Where is Rosetta now :



Department of LIVE LINK

Mathematics & Computing in GMIT Graduate profiles

Kenneth Kirrane

Kenneth is originally from Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, and graduated from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in 2001 with a B.Sc. in Software Development. After his final exams, Kenneth journeyed “down under” to Australia to spend a year working and travelling in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. Upon his return in June 2002, Kenneth joined VistaTEC in Dublin in a QA role. VistaTEC is a leading Irish-owned provider of Localisation and Globalisation services. In November 2004, Kenneth returned to Galway and to the GMIT to undertake a Research Masters working on the “Billing4Rent” project, an Enterprise Ireland funded “Innovation Partnerships” project. At the end of the Masters project,

Computing now pervades nearly all aspects of our everyday lives. Computer experts/specialists are found in every walk of life Retail, Manufacturing, Education, Research, Administration, Medicine, Distribution, Insurance, Banking, Film/Game/Video/Music Production, Public and Civil services. Few, if any, modern businesses could survive without computing. A career in computing is exciting but it is demanding and will involve continual learning of new technologies. Courses at GMIT reflect the job environment and we have a high reputation for satisfying the needs of the marketplace. We constantly review our course content and regularly update our syllabi. This is reflected in the introduction of a new degree course in Business Computing and Digital Media that gives the student a broad base in modern computer skills and positions the student for potential entry to a wide range of employment opportunities. The entry-level courses start at the fundamentals of computing.

Kenneth joined Vulcan Solutions; a leading provider of Business Applications and Custom Software Solutions to the Financial Services sector.

Sabrina McNeely

Sabrina is a Mayo native, hailing from Knockmore, near Ballina. Sabrina graduated with a B.Sc. in Software Development from the GalwayMayo Institute of Technology in 1999. Upon finishing her B.Sc., Sabrina was employed by Nortel Networks. Nortel Networks are a leading developer and supplier of Telecommunications products, serving both service provider and enterprise

We offer two ordinary Bachelor of Science Degrees. 1. Bachelor Degree in Business Computing and Digital Media Subjects studied include multimedia development, network computing, digital photography, computer forensics, applied modelling and simulation. Graduates of this course have great career opportunities in the area of business computing, digital media and IT training and support. 2. Bachelor Degree in Computing (Software Development). Subjects studied include systems analysis and design, operating systems design, software quality management, graphics, programming, database systems. Graduates of this course will function as computer professionals in all areas of software design, development and maintenance. We also offer two one year “add on” Honours level Degree courses which deepen the knowledge level and broadens the skill set the primary degrees.



customers. Sabrina worked in Nortel’s Galway office for 2 years, before transferring to the Nortel Melbourne office in 2001 for 8 months. Upon leaving Nortel, Sabrina travelled throughout Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, before returning to Ireland to join Celerity, a leading Irish provider of EDI and supply chain automation solutions, in January 2003. In November 2004, Sabrina also returned to Galway to undertake a Research Masters on the “Billing4Rent” project. At the end of the Masters project, Sabrina joined Storm Technology, a renowned Galway based provider of solutions for the Financial Services, Public Sector, Construction, Manufacturing, Engineering and Transport sectors.

The Bachelor Degree in Business Computing and Digital Media leads to: 1. B.Sc. (Honours) in Information Technology for Business. The Bachelor Degree in Computing (Software Development) leads to — 2. B.Sc. (Honours) in Software Development. Job placement for these courses has been very successful with many of our students receiving offers prior to leaving college. The Software Development courses have a heavy emphasis on practical programming whereas the business/ media-oriented courses are directed towards the provision and deployment of computer-related solutions, presentations and products. At post-graduate level the School offers a modular one year Computing. This course was carefully designed in close collaboration with local industries. It is ideally suited to existing I.T. professionals and features a range of advanced subject modules as well as a convenient course delivery schedule.


John Finn, far right, taking part in a biodiversity workshop held earlier this year at Johnstown Castle. Staff from a number of organisations were at the workshop on managing diversity on field margins and along riparian watercourses. would have meant very good money, the thought of it didn’t appeal to him. “My results were such that I could have done actuary and made money, but the idea of working out the statistics of life expectancy in some office every day didn’t attract me. I would say to students that they should always follow their interest, their passion. You will always be successful in life if you do what you are really interested in,” said John.


John Finn

‘BIG BANG’ to the ‘DUNG BEETLE’ INSPIRATION I n school he dreamed of studying the cosmos, the birth of the Universe and all the great questions of physics. A few years later, he was studying for a doctorate, but his chosen topic was not mysterious dark matter or black holes, but rather the humble ‘dung beetle’. Where did it all go wrong Mr Best? Well, actually, for Dr John Finn, Teagasc Research Officer, nothing had gone wrong. What happened was that his teenage dreams changed, and he formed new dreams. After entering UCC in 1990, John quickly realised that physics was not where his heart was. In terms of what gave him satisfaction as an object of study, dung beetles were higher on John’s list than the big bang, and eternal question - “How did we get here?” John soon ‘came out of the closet’ and admitted to himself he was an ecologist, not a physicist. “I found as early as first year that I was very interested in doing field work, getting outside, and began to get more interested in biology than physics,” said John, a Teagasc research officer, specialising in agroecology, based at Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford.

Like many professional scientists, John, a native of Killarney, was inspired by a teacher at primary school that brought his class on nature walks around the area, renowned around the world for its scenic beauty. John didn’t realise in primary school that he lived in beautiful part of the world. “It took time in England for me to realise that,” he said. After primary, John, by now a science enthusiast, and very interested to know how things like electricity, magnetism and the Universe in general worked, signed up for all three science subjects, biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as maths. Again, he was blessed to have teachers that furthered his interest, and passion for all things science.


Unsurprisingly, John decided to study science in university, and entered UCC in 1990. The fact that he had done all three science subjects in school was a great help in first year, and he did very well in his exams. At this stage he could have opted out of science altogether and taken up a career as an actuary, such were the quality of his results. But, although this


John, during his post-graduate studies, and into his post-doctoral work, expanded his horizons, linking up with researchers in many other countries, and being part of large scale research groups. This led to him getting his name on a research paper published by Science, one of the world’s leading journals, and this greatly helped him get a job. He got a job in Reading University in the UK, but, as a junior member of staff, he found himself burdened with a large number of teaching hours, and little time for research. This was a less than satisfactory situation and he began to chart a route back to Ireland. This led him for a time to UCC, where he worked, before his current job came up at Teagasc. The Teagasc post was offered to him in 2002, and he moved back to Ireland to take up the post. John said that he has greatly enjoyed his last seven years, with his time taken up by writing funding proposals, helping post-grads, doing research, and admin. The only part of the job he is not keen on is the admin. This takes up about 20 per cent of his time. His main area of interest is biodiversity, which is the field that studies the diversity of plant and animal species, and how that has changed, and continues to change over time. As species continue to be lost in the Irish countryside, it’s an area important to all of us. The physicist-turned-ecologist, couldn’t be happier. This is a man that loves his job. Report: Seán Duke


HELPING TO SHAPE THE FUTURE LIVE LINK Scientists ask and seek answers to questions about the world around us. Over centuries they have made discoveries and invented important technologies for the benefit of humankind. Science and scientists influence every facet of modern living. When you choose a career in science, you become a key citizen in your country, someone with the potential to shape the modern world, someone who can open up new frontiers. The Dublin Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Science offers programmes in several scientific disciplines, including Biological Sciences, Chemical, Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Science, Computing, Mathematical Sciences and Physics. Our programmes lead to exciting careers in science and technology, including forensics, optometry, genetics, mathematics, mobile technology and even computer games.

Our programmes are offered at many levels, including three-year ordinary degrees, four-year honours degrees and top-up honours degrees for students with an ordinary degree or equivalent, in addition to postgraduate taught programmes and postgraduate research programmes. Postgraduate research in the Faculty of Science is thriving, with over 100 postgraduates students and 10 postdoctoral fellows. We offer many opportunities to you to develop your career path and explore your potential.

s "IOMEDICALAND0ARAMEDICAL s !NALYTICAL 0HARMACEUTICAL Environmental and Materials Science s #OMPUTINGAND)NFORMATION Technology If you plan to build your career in one of these areas, consider the programmes in the Faculty of Science at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

The highly interdisciplinary programmes in the Faculty of Science determine its three particular strengths:

Full-time, undergraduate programmes available in the Dublin Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Science: Biomedical and Paramedical DT204 BSc (Honours) Biomedical Sciences 4 years. 1 year hospital placement. DT223 BSc (Honours) Human Nutrition & Dietetics 4 years. Offered jointly with Trinity College Dublin. DT224 BSc (Honours) Optometry 4 years. DT229 BSc (Honours) Clinical Measurement 4 years. 1 year hospital placement. DT235 BSc (Honours) Physics with Medical Physics & Bioengineering 4 years. 7 month industrial/hospital placement. DT226 Option 1: BSc (Honours) Biochemistry, Molecular Biology & Biotechnology Top-up, 1.5 years. DT226 Option 2: BSc (Honours) Medical & Molecular Cytology Top-up, 1.5 years.

Computing and Information Technology DT228 BSc (Honours) Computer Science 4 years. DT211 BSc (Honours) Computing 4 years. DT205 BSc (Honours) Mathematical Sciences 4 years. DT220 BSc (Honours) Industrial Mathematics 4 years.

Analytical, Pharmaceutical, Environmental, and Materials Science DT203 BSc (Honours) Forensic & Environmental Analysis 4 years. DT222 BSc (Honours) Physics Technology 4 years. DT212 BSc (Ordinary) Science 3 years.

DT227 BSc (Honours) Science with Nanotechnology 4 years, 7 month industrial placement. DT259 BSc (Ordinary) Biosciences 3 years. DT260 BSc (Ordinary) Industrial & Environmental Physics 3 years. DT261 BSc (Ordinary) Medicinal Chemistry & Pharmaceutical Sciences 3 years. DT299 BSc (Honours) Chemical Sciences with Medicinal Chemistry 4 years.

Contact Details: Ciarán O’Leary Faculty of Science Dublin Institute of Technology Kevin St, Dublin 8 Tel : 01 402 4718


Dan Milbourne

Bringing strength to potato breeding ormer competitive body-builder, and plant geneticist, Dan Milbourne, is improving Teagasc potato breeding programmes by identifying genes that produce useful traits. It comes as something of a surprise to learn that mild-mannered Dan, who is in his 30s, was a competitive power lifter, until not so long ago, and interested in building ‘muscles’. His interest in science, however, dates right back to primary school when he boldly told his teacher and his classmates: “I want to be a biochemistry professor.”



That extraordinary declaration distinguished him from his schoolmates at primary school in Ballylongford Co Kerry – a village near Listowel with a population of a few hundred. Kerry might be a GAA heartland, and home to one of the richest Irish accents in the land, but, due to time spent in England, there is little or no trace of Kerry in Dan’s voice. But, the lack of a Kerry accent does not take away from the fact he sees Ireland as his home. So, Dan’s curiosity about the world around him drew him towards science early on. There were also some family influences that helped. He had a relation that was indeed a professor of biochemistry, and his father was an engineer. So science was in his blood.

Following primary school, Dan went to secondary school in nearby Tarbert. There he showed a natural interest in the sciences and took all three main science subjects: chemistry, physics and maths. However, his natural interest was not given much of a push as Dan recalls that there were very few experiments conducted by the teachers. However, as anyone that has taken a science degree in university will say, it is a huge advantage going into first year in college having done all three sciences at school. Dan did his Leaving Certificate in 1989, and then decided to go to University College Cork, where he began a General Science degree. A promising career in science beckoned.


Initially, it was Dan’s intention to specialise in physiology, as he had a great interest in subject stemming from his favoured sport – competitive body building and power lifting. Dan recalls that he had no interest in football, or the other team sports, but he did have a great interest in “muscles” and building strength and this drew him to physiology. After he was some way into his undergraduate course Dan began to take an interest in plant science. “I didn’t think that plants could be that interesting,” he said. Like many other science students before him, Dan was diverted into an area he hadn’t considered.


He finished out his undergraduate degree in Cork, and he decided he wanted to do research, and began looking around for a suitable place to do his PhD – he found what he was looking for at the University of Dundee, which had some excellent plant researchers. He completed his PhD, worked on another PhD project, followed up by post-doctoral work – all at the University of Dundee. Reaching the end of his post-doc Dan was keen to see if there was a research post available in Ireland that would enable him to get home. “I saw an ad for a plant scientist with Teagasc in the New Scientist. I applied for the job, and I got it. That was eight years ago,” said Dan who is now in his 30s. By the time Dan got his first ‘real job’ in science, he had been studying and researching for approximately 10 years. His starting salary, despite all this effort, did not exactly impress his relatives, some of whom were surprised that his salary was so low.


“I don’t think that people should go into science for the money,” said Dan. He is quite happy in his post, however, because he is afforded the opportunity to be ‘creative’, and to come up with problems that are worthy of being solved. “It is not the typical 9 to 5 job in that sense,” said Dan, and as if to prove it, he would be working late that evening.

Science @ GMIT, Galway Campus Points for the Science degrees in GMIT @ Galway have been amongst the highest of all the Institutes of Technology and the Universities for the last number of years. The reasons students give for choosing GMIT@Galway to do their Science degree include:

Field Trips

Students of the Freshwater & Marine Biology course complete numerous fieldtrips at home and abroad.


Extensive exposure to project work develops skills such as critical thinking, decision making, project management and planning – skills much sought after by employers.

Industrial Placement

Placement at home or abroad: Industrial placements gained over the years by students vary from most of the major companies in Ireland to NASA, the Mayo clinic and placements in Europe and Africa. All degree courses now have an industrial placement integrated into the programme. This gives students valuable work experience and helps them develop exciting and well paid careers.


Practical laboratory work forms a major part of all programmes – this gives students an excellent science education and helps students build up marks as they progress through each year of study.

Small class sizes

– this helps provide an excellent learning environment.

Excellent employment record

– look at some of our graduate profiles in the college prospectus. Due to the high level of practical work and project work and due to the applied nature of our degrees, many graduates gain employment quickly. This employment is typically well paid and in growth areas. LIVEK LIN

As people move up the ladder in science, they often get drawn away from their lab, and their research, into more administrative roles. For Dan that’s not a problem, as he enjoys the admin side of his job, while also looking forward to interacting with his PhD students. For those considering applying for science courses in 2010, Dan said that it was advisable to try for general science courses, rather than courses that are very specialised from day one. “There is no way that a 17-year-old going to college is going to know what they will end up finding interesting. With general science, students can easily switch interests.”


One of the highlights of Dan’s career to date has been his work as part of the Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium. The potato has now been sequenced, and this will greatly help Dan in his bid to identify genes in the potato that are responsible for useful traits, such as drought, potato blight (it still exists) or pest resistance. Dan works closely with potato breeders at Teagasc. The Potato Breeding Project at Oak Park Research Centre has been in progress since the 1960s. A total of 33 new potato varieties have been produced from the Project over the decades, including the highly successful ‘Rooster’ variety,

which features prominently in Irish supermarkets. The interaction with breeders and Dan is characterised by attempting to hone in on genes of interest that are producing features of interest in the potato, and to incorporate this into a more specific breeding programme. This is essentially a more targeted method – using new genetic technology – of doing what potato breeders have done for many years.

Report: Seán Duke


The Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Limerick invites you to share in the experience of our

The Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Limerick invites you to share in the experience of our

progressive and exciting campus near Limerick City. Enhancing the ‘student experience’ is one of our core values. Emphasis is placed progressive and exciting campus near Limerick City. Enhancing the ‘student experience’ is one of our core values. on easing the transition for students entering our programmes.

Emphasis is placed on easing the transition for students entering our programmes.


Four new exciting programmes launched for the 2010/2011 Academic Year:

Four new exciting programmes launched for the 2010/2011 Academic Year: in Mathematics and Physics LM088—BScLM088—BSc in Mathematics and Physics LM115—BE in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering LM115—BE in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering LM116—BELM116—BE Undenominated Engineering (Common(Common Entry) Entry) Undenominated Engineering LM117—BSc in Undenominated Science (Common Entry) LM117—BSc in Undenominated Science (Common Entry)

Special Mathematics Entrance Exam for those who meet the CAO requirements for entry into all of Special Mathematics Honours and Ordinary Level Entrance Exam for those who meet the CAO requirements for our undergraduate programmes but do not achieve the mathematics requirements for their CAO entry into allThe of our undergraduate programmes but notafter achieve mathematics for their results CAO choice. choice. exam date is approximately tendo days thethe release of therequirements Leaving Certificate in The exam date is approximately ten days after the release of the Leaving Certificate results in August 2010. August 2010.


The UL Mathematics Learning Centre, The National Science Learning Centre and and the ICT Centre The UL Mathematics Learning Centre, The National Science Learning Centre the Learning ICT Learning


Centre offer one-to-one support, additional tutorials, a drop-in centre andarea. a supervised study area. offer one-to-one support, additional tutorials, a drop-in centre and a supervised study The Mathematics Learning The Mathematics CentreOffice in cooperation with the Faculty Office free honours Centre in cooperation Learning with the Faculty offer free honours mathematics tutorialsoffer to Leaving Certificate students mathematics tutorials to Leaving Certificate students throughout the academic year. throughout the academic year. •


Co-operative Education and Teaching Practice placements in industry, education and business for all undergraduate degree programmes.

Co-operative Education and Teaching Practice placements in industry, education and business for all undergraduate degree programmes.




• x

UL is situated on a superb riverside campus of over 133 hectares on the River Shannon.

UL is situated on a superb riverside campus of over 133 hectares on the River Shannon.

World Class Cultural and Sporting Facilities (including a 50m pool ) and on-campus student

World Class Cultural and Sporting (including a 50m pool ) and on-campus student accommodation accommodation further enhanceFacilities this exceptional learning and working environment. further enhance this exceptional learning and working environment.

University Sport and Recreational Clubs and Societies appreciates the participation and contribution

University Sport and Recreational Clubs and Societies appreciates participation which students from different backgrounds and cultures makethe to campus life.and contribution which students from different backgrounds and cultures make to campus life.

Continuous assessment in all programmes

Continuous assessment in all programmes

For a full list of all degree programmes and further information visit For a full list of all degree programmes and further information visit or Email: or, Tel: 00353 61 202421 / 202642 or Email: or, Tel: 00353 61 202421 / 202642



EUCYS 2009

Young scientists take centre stage Marie-Catherine reports that when 140 young scientists from all around Europe presented their award winning projects in Paris two boys from Cork were among the first prize winners. esigning a new type of vehicle to explore Venus; building a plane that can fly backwards; creating an infrared camera aimed at visualising veins, thus making injections easier; these were all impressive projects recently presented at a EU contest by youngsters aged no more than 20. Two of a team were just 14 and 15. Along with around 140 young science students from 38 countries (all selected winners from their own country), John O’Callaghan and Liam McCarthy participated in the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) held in the prestigious Palais de la Découverte in Paris last September. From Ireland, the two boys are also among the first prize winners of EUCYS. Liam and John probably impressed the jury with their youth, their simplicity and modesty, which contrasted with the professionalism of


John O’Callaghan and Liam McCarthy receiving their award at the Palais de la Découverte their achievement. They are both sons of Cork farmers and tackled a very specific problem: the assessment of the somatic cell content of milk. Somatic cells are leucocytes (white blood cells). Quantified as cells per ml, the number of somatic cells in the milk increases in response to pathogenic bacteria, reflecting infection in the mammary gland of the cow. A milk sample that contains a high content of somatic cells is more difficult to process during cheese making – and as a result the farmers receive less money


for it. While they get a bonus for supplying milk with less than 200,000 cells/ml from uninfected cows, they are penalised for milk with 400,000 cells/ml or more. The problem is that their fathers, like any other farmers, do not know in advance the somatic cell content of their milk, unless they send it to have it analysed in a lab. “But this takes 4 to 5 days and costs €1.50 per liter”, said John, which is a lot given the quantities involved. This means the farmers cannot trace the milk back to the infected cow and treat it, so they keep losing money.

Granny’s saying

So what would you have done if you were John and Liam? You would need to start with an idea as to measure in a simple way the desired parameter i.e. the somatic cell content of milk; then test this idea and see if it works. The idea came from Liam’s grandmother. Liam explained how she used to mention washing-up liquid as a means to assess milk quality. “But this was just a saying”, he said; “nobody knew for sure if and how it would

work because nobody had tested it”. So the two boys set about testing Granny’s saying. They spent one year experimenting with saucers, spoons and washing-up liquid on their kitchen table. Nobody helped them, except their mothers who washed up the mess. Liam and John soon noticed that when they mixed a fresh sample of milk (for example 20ml) with a small amount of detergent (let’s say 1ml), sometimes the solution would become more viscous. And interestingly, the more somatic cells present in the milk, the more viscous it became. Clearly there was a link there, but if it was to be of any use they had to quantify it precisely to come up with a precise number of cells/ml. They needed to find a way to measure the viscosity of the obtained mixture.

Zahn cup

They tried many different options, not fully satisfied with any, they finally found their answer from housepainters. Housepainters use a device called a Zahn cup to measure the viscosity of paint. A Zahn cup is commonly a stainless steel cup with a tiny hole drilled in the center of the bottom of the cup. To determine the viscosity of a substance (e.g. paint),

Vein Imaging

There were other winning projects offering, like the Irish one, practical solutions to well-known problems. Steffen Strobel from Germany won a third prize for inventing a very useful device for doctors and nurses. The problem he tackled can be very unpleasant: a doctor or nurse wants to give an injection, but cannot find the vein and has to make several attempts. “This is actually my own experience. I once went to the doctor for an injection and he had to make painful attempts

the cup must be completely filled with the liquid, and what is measured is the time the liquid takes to break up as it streams out (“efflux time”). The two boys talked about this technique with scientists, who gave them a few hints about fluid kinetics and laws of capillarity. Liam and John then adapted the Zahn cup principle and came up with a simple apparatus perfectly adapted to their need. Basically the time that the milk/ detergent mixture takes to get through the device (also a cup with a hole, prolonged with a short tube) is directly proportional to its viscosity. From there they just needed to calibrate the system with a number of milk samples containing a range

of known somatic cell content. They obtained a curve giving the somatic cell content as a function to the efflux time of the milk sample. This very simple test allows the farmer to determine if their milk is infected (400,000 cells/ml or more) and then treat the infected cow with antibiotics. John and Liam were awarded the first prize of €7,000 each. Asked what they would do with their money, John’s reply was straight forward: “I will buy a laptop, I’ve been wanting a laptop for a very long time.” But the best reward is surely knowing that this apparatus is a marketable product which will be of tremendous commercial help to farmers.

to find my vein”, Steffen said. “That’s where I got the idea.” The idea is an infrared camera connected to a PC capable of “looking under the skin” and making veins visible in real time. In order to make this possible, the young researcher combined a self-assembled infrared camera with sophisticated software. He started by building a smaller prototype with what he had on board, before moving to a more sophisticated device and tuning the software with impressive methods. The software now removes the background,

increases the contrast to make the main veins visible to the human eyes. The wavelength was adjusted to meet depth requirement (the longer the wavelength, the deeper the penetration). “Up to now nothing very efficient existed to visualize veins,” Steffen said; “existing devices would require the injection of a substance to stain the veins, or they would cover very small areas”, he explained. “With this device you can visualize a much bigger area, and pinpoint the most significant veins.”


engineer and construct such a vehicle”, she concluded enthusiastically. Anna Shvetsova worked on her idea from home with no help from anybody. Her project won the European Space Agency award.

Venus explorer

While the medical area was one of the most popular among the young scientists, cosmology also seemed to attract lots of interest. One of the successful projects in this area was conducted by a 17 year-old Russian girl whose dream is to explore Venus, one of the less hospitable planets of the solar system. In her abstract, Anna Shvetsova very simply explained how it all started: “I chose the theme of “Developing of alternative ways of movement of autonomous lowered vehicle on Venus” for my project because people have always wanted to fly to the stars. I also became interested in Venus. I designed the device. I chose the type of movement, the cooling installation, the material, the engine, and the equipment for carrying out the research. You think it is difficult, don’t you? No difficulties! Everything ingenious is simple!” And talking to her you feel almost convinced. According to Anna, not one of the planet explorers so far designed is completely satisfactory. “Engines with wheels get stuck in the sand, caterpillars are heavy and need a lot of energy to move, walking devices can turn over,” she explained. She got the idea of an alternative movement from an article she read on the internet. It is called Tolchin’s Inertioid. Then she designed a variant using her Grand-Pa’s clock mechanism as a prototype. It is made of two cylinders which when rotating make the device go forward with little hops. She also had to find out all the proper parameters for the designed purpose. “Conditions on Venus are extreme in terms of pressure (more than 100 atmospheres) and temperature (up to 500°C). The material I selected is Refsic – it consists of silicates and strong carcass of silicone carbide – it should be able to resist the heat and I also needed to take on board a cooling system for the

Flying from there

Anna Shvetsova from Russia would like to explore Venus. electronics”, she said. Lab material to enable experiments in space including photos, video, atmosphere analysis etc, were also to be taken on board and resist the planet’s harsh surface conditions. Finally she had to select an engine with the right power for moving such a vehicle. She evaluated that the required capacity would be around 1kW and found an electric engine meeting this requirement, weighing 9kg with a 79% efficiency. “This vehicle is simple, cheap, and capable of doing research; it won’t get stuck so easily”, Anna said. She is not just making a wishful guess; she actually did experiments with her prototype and it seemed to move the way she expected. “Up to now we have only spent a maximum of 24 hours on Venus; but the Americans want to extend the length of stay to 50 days,” Anna explained. She thinks Venus could hide life because its atmosphere contains CO, hydrogen sulphide and sulphurous anhydride (they should react but they don’t). “I like stars, I have always wanted to find life on another planet and I wanted to build something”, she continued. “So I would like to be an

There would be many more interesting stories to tell here, including the story of another first prize winner, Fabian Gafner from Switzerland. Fabian’s project was neither medical nor cosmological, but very much an applied project addressing a number of technical and physical challenges. It aimed to answer a rather provoking and visionary question: Would it be possible for an airborne aeroplane to stop and fly backwards? Fabian analysed which modifications are necessary for a plane to be able to fly forwards as well as backwards. But we have to stop somewhere, and this could be a story for another article. In any case, for many of these young talents the adventure has just begun. Some of the previous projects have led to scientific breakthroughs or to the creation of new businesses. Let’s keep our fingers on the pulse of European science of tomorrow – starting with our Irish winners. Liam Mc Carthy and John D. O’Callaghan have also won an honorary award that will allow them to take part in the London International Youth Science Forum 2010 — an annual two-week intensive summer science festival where they will be able to meet young scientists from around the world. We may not have finished hearing from them. The aim of the European Union Contest for Young Scientists is to encourage young people who have an interest in science and embark on scientific careers. The contestants, all aged between 14 and 20 were coming from 38 countries across Europe as well as Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA.

bbbbbb More information about the EU Contest for Young Scientists, including photos, success stories, biographical details of the jury and descriptions of all entries can be found at:. IVE L K LIN


Renewable energy, nanotechnology, space technology, computer animation and game development: A career for you? is a new website which aims to provide resources for students, career guidance counsellors, teachers, parents and people of all ages who are interested in finding out more about a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Check out career profiles written by young professionals from all areas of science, along with useful resources such as video interviews, for some valuable insights into a career in science. Find out the difference between various sciencerelated jobs, what subjects you would need to study, what a typical day involves and what other areas could be open to you in the future by pursuing a career in STEM. Use the Resources section to direct you to some important websites that will help you to get more information on what colleges to consider, what points you may need and what options are open to you. Read about Ireland’s rich scientific history and famous Irish scientists of the past, as well as finding out more about our brightest Science Ambassadors of today.


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