Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seal Sanctuary release in Courtown

The Irish Seal Sanctuary is a charity based in Courtown, Co. Wexford. Its team of volunteers rescue injured seals from all over Ireland, bring them back to their centre in Courtown and nurse them back to health. Once the seals are ready to get back to the wild, the Seal Sanctuary travel to the spot where they were originally found to release them.

On Sunday 13th February, it was time for Grace to be released on Courtown Beach, where she was originally found by a local during his walk.

There are many ways to support the fantastic work being done by the charity, from donations (online and at the centre), buying some of its merchandising (available at the centre in Courtown) or adopting a seal.

The centre is located behind the leisure centre in Courtown and next to the beach and the walking trails in the Courtown woods so it is a great Sunday activity - for people of any age.

The Science Gallery: Dublin's fun lab

It is not a museum, a Science lab or an Art gallery; and it is all of those at the same time. Dublin’s Science Gallery is a world’s first. A unique space designed to mix Art and Science, a wonderfully stylish and geeky environment where even a teenage crush can turn into a scientific lab experiment.

Since its opening in February 2008, the Science Gallery has hosted 14 exhibitions and received over 650,000 visitors, becoming one of the country’s top attractions. As marketing and communications manager Anja Ekelof points out, the Science Gallery team expected to reach around 50,000 visitors in its first year, instead they received 250,000. Not many museums or galleries in the world have achieved the level of enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the Science Gallery in Dublin – in only a couple of years.

So what makes the Science Gallery such a hit?

“It is about getting a balance,” explains Ekelof. “People want things to do, projects they can interact with.” And there is plenty of interaction at the Science Gallery: from the outside it might look like a trendy art gallery but get in there and it is like entering a playground for grown ups. As Ekelof says, it is an unusual way of looking at Science. The point is: Science can be exciting and creative.

The Science Gallery hosts an average of four to five exhibitions a year, including a main flagship exhibition; as well as workshops, experiments and events at the 144-seat theatre, from TEDx talks to movie screenings and gigs. The exhibitions and related activities vary in length and subjects but must follow two guidelines: they must have a scientific or technology angle, of course, and they must actively engage with the visitor.

“We’d like to present science in a different light. Our core age group is from 15 to 25-year olds, since they are the ones making decisions about their future now and we’d like to encourage them to choose Science-related careers. Ireland needs people to think creatively about issues that affect all of us so we’d like them to think differently about how they perceive Science and Technology.”

While there are many ideas lined up for the coming months, there is also an important element of flexibility that keeps the Science Gallery topics fresh and relevant. “We want to know what is happening in the real world in terms of research, be responsive and host topical exhibitions,” she adds.

In 2009, the gallery’s exhibition ‘Infectious – Stay Away’ opened three days before the swine flu outbreak hit the headlines across the globe. ‘Infectious’ explored the mechanisms behind contagious diseases (such as swine flu) but also more harmless concepts such as how good ideas spread and the basis of viral marketing. This kind of timing though, while purely accidental, could have been the best or the worst thing that could happen to the event. In the Science Gallery’s case it was a total success: 47,000 people visited the exhibition and the swine flu panic helped create that buzz. Ekelof says the team isn’t scared of being ‘controversial’.

The ‘Lab in the gallery’ is designed to get visitors actively involved in Science: while visitors interact with a particular piece, they are also contributing to pieces of real research and studies by real scientists.

One of the ‘labs’ that hit the headlines in 2010 was the ‘Love Lab’. ‘Love Lab’ brought together a series of ‘love scientists’ from different disciplines, including Neuroscience, Genetics, Psychology and Biochemistry, to test Science Gallery visitors and investigate what makes us attractive or feel attracted to certain people. Is it the smell, your genetic make up, the way your walk or is it your age? Maybe it is just a combination of them all…

Also in 2010, The Science Gallery packed its bags and set up camp, literally, at two of Ireland’s biggest music festivals: Oxegen and the Electric Picnic, bringing the ‘Biorythm, music and the body’ exhibition and series of events to its natural environment.

‘Green Machines’, the exhibition that just finished in mid-December, gave each visitor the opportunity to invest €5m on green technology and design projects that could radically change the way we live our lives and help us deal with environmental issues facing the planet.
The exhibition was divided in three areas: an investment bootcamp where visitors would get guidelines on green financial investments; an inspiration garden, where 18 green projects by startups from all over the globe were up for investment and a Design Studio, where visitors could leave their ‘green design’ ideas. A panel of judges then would choose the best designs from the workshops and a prize of €3,000 was given to the best idea to help its creator bring take it to the next level.

“We really wanted to introduce an economic argument in this particular exhibition, whose aim was to bring sustainable design and green technology together and make it more accessible, less threatening to the general public,” adds Ekelof.

Based on the investments made on the 18 projects during the exhibition, one of them was also selected as the winner of the Green Machines Investment Awards 2010.

Infectious diseases, concerts, the science behind desire and attraction, the physics of bubbles and foams, green machines… How does the Science Gallery team find all these themes and keep up with the expectations of its followers?

“We are very lucky to have some of the best researchers in Ireland involved. The Leonardo group, which includes people from science, the arts, business and the media, provides us with broad themes and, as a programming team at the Science Gallery, we further those ideas, invite experts and curators on the topics. We also tend to put an open call for ideas all over the globe so people and experts from anywhere in the world can submit their suggestions to the Science Gallery and the curatorial team,” she explains.

The gallery shares the building with actual research space at Trinity College and that’s where the idea for the Science Gallery was originally born. The nanoscience research team at Trinity wanted to showcase its research but not in a traditional museum environment but something that would allow them to interact with the public.

In just two years, The Science Gallery has built a loyal fan base, with over 4,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 2,000 fans on Facebook.

“We have a huge proportion of repeat visitors at the Science Gallery, people who have come about six to 10 or 12 times and the Science Gallery is part of their social life,” says Ekelof.
“The gallery is also about creating a community, a core group of people attending events, tweeting and sharing ideas. We are open to clubs such as the robotics club and we also organise meet the author sessions, where the public can meet the authors of Science related books and ask questions, either in person on via Skype.”

What helps make the Science behind the gallery accessible to all ages and groups is also the team of enthusiastic mediators. They are mainly college students from a variety of disciplines, and are at hand to answer any questions and lead visitors through the exhibitions.

The summer months and August in particular, Ekelof explains, were very busy at the Gallery, as the gallery has been included in many tourist guides attracting thousands of visitors and its fame has started to spread beyond Ireland – like those viral ideas studied at ‘Infectious’.

As Dublin prepares to become City of Science in 2012 for the Euroscience Open Forum, the Science Gallery will certainly play a very important part in helping the general public understand the relevance of Science and Technology in our every day life – and make us all take part, get involved.

The Science Gallery by numbers:

-1,900 kisses were grown during ‘Infectious’
-15 dogs donated DNA for ‘Infectious’
-691 litres of washing up liquid were used during ‘Buble’
-3,000 electric pinickers visited the Science Gallery tent
-145 workshops have been hosted at the gallery
-74 collaborating scientists
-71 collaborating artists


(published in PCLive! magazine in December 2010)