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NI Science Festival ‘embedding science as a part of our culture and identity’

Chris McCreery (Director of NI Science Festival); is Dr Liz Conlon (chair of NI Science Festival); and DEL Minister Dr Stephen Farry MLA.
Rebecca Kincade on February 16, 2015 - 8:05 am in In Depth

The inaugural Northern Ireland Science Festival will take place from 19th February to 1st March 2015. It will pack in over 100 events across 11 days at venues from Newtownards, Armagh, Omagh, the North West and Belfast. Dr Liz Conlon, Chair, NI Science Festival, explains why an event of this nature is vital at this time. 

It is well known that the current challenge across the UK is to increase the number of pupils studying STEM subjects.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering the UK will need at least eight times the number of STEM graduates by 2020. Studies have also shown that STEM uptake at school depends largely on the amount of ‘science capital’ in a child’s environment outside of school.

Science is the underlying fabric of a modern self-sustaining society, propelling economic growth, innovation and well-being.

STEM subjects provide young people with the high-level skills of analytical and critical thinking, developing independent and flexible problem-solving individuals, precisely what businesses need.

Pivotal role

The NI Science Festival sees its role as pivotal in increasing the science capital of all our citizens, enhancing levels of scientific literacy across the general public, thereby helping to generate an appropriate supply of STEM professionals to develop a robust knowledge-based economy in Northern Ireland.

A science festival is a festival that showcases science and technology with the same freshness and flair that would be expected from an arts or music festival. The core content is of science and technology, but the style comes from the world of the arts.

The NI Science Festival began as a unique collaboration between the Institute of Physics and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Northern Ireland. It is now established as a charitable company with organisations such as the Institute of Physics, Queen’s University, Ulster University, the Open University, the NI Science Park, the Royal Society of Chemistry, W5, Colleges NI, Sentinus and the Institute of Engineering and Technology represented on the Board of Directors.

We see the Festival acting as an annual platform to showcase STEM activity in local business and universities and are keen to develop legacy projects to run all the year round.

Satellite events

One such example which will be developed is a Café Scientifique, a successful model which provides a forum for the discussion of current work and interesting scientific issues in an informal and accessible environment. The creation and promotion of satellite events will make a significant impact beyond the main festival dates.

We believe that the lives of every citizen in Northern Ireland will be transformed by raising our science capital and truly embedding science as a part of our culture and identity. We see the Festival as building on the rich heritage of science and engineering in Northern Ireland – this is why the first event of the Festival, the naming ceremony of Bell’s Theorem Crescent in the Titanic Quarter, celebrates the wonderful legacy left by a physicist regarded as highly as Einstein among his peers. Yet few people realise that John Bell grew up in Tates Avenue Belfast and attended the Belfast Technical College which is the forerunner of the Belfast Met. John is just one of the many local role models our young people can seek to emulate.

The main focus of this first year will be building a Festival and brand that will capture the imagination of audiences and allow us to build on this success in subsequent years.

To this aim we have designed a programme that will appeal to the widest audience, in terms of age and geographical spread, combining ‘grassroots’ programming with a number of high-calibre events.

Importance of Partnership

Given the flood of interest we anticipate that our initial target audience of 20,000 people will be well surpassed. With events during the day for a younger audience, in the evenings for an older crowd and the weekends catering to families, the festival will aim to reach a broad spectrum of society. The programme includes a World Record Attempt at the world’s largest Science Lesson in the Odyssey; the inaugural Turing Lecture at the City Hall; a three-day BBC coding event; the British Council Famelab competition hosted by David Meade; and Family Science weekends in W5 and the Ulster Museum including LateLab which is for adults only.

These events will range in price, with most events available for free and some events ticketed. Of the minimum target of 10,000 individuals, we estimate that around 40% of the audience will consist of the under-16 age group, 25% in the 16-25 age bracket and 35% in the over 25 age bracket.

The Festival also aims to support and promote the development and outreach activities for local STEM providers and educators. Through building up a core audience and mailing list with the Festival, the organisation can support and promote the various STEM-based events taking place throughout the rest of the year.

We are on the look-out for future partners to be involved with us on a long-term basis and encourage anyone who wants to be involved to get in touch. It is the breadth of our stakeholders and the development of strong partnerships with local universities, STEM providers, arts organisations, private sector companies and public sector bodies that sets the NI Science Festival apart.

For details of an incredible first year programme go to nisciencefestival.com.

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