NI Science Festival (19 Feb-1 Mar): enough STEM to shake a stick at …

NI Science Festival bannerThe inaugural NI Science Festival starts this week and over 11 days it will explode 100 events in venues across Belfast, Derry, Armagh, Glengormley and beyond.

Festival Director Chris McCreery jumped from a career in lobbying and public affairs to set up and run the science festival. He told me that being able to programme so many events in its first year “reflects the vibrancy of Northern Ireland’s tech sector, universities and the real interest amongst the general public as well as public interest”.

We wanted to create a festival for all, focussing on both kids and adults … Science is such a core part of culture and society that it had to be celebrated.


Chris McCreery Stephen Farry niscifestWhereas arts festivals normally look down the back of DCAL and DSD’s sofas, the Science Festival had to turn to the Department of Employment and Learning. Local universities, Belfast City Council and other local technological sponsors got on board. Back at the launch, DEL Minister Stephen Farry said that “skills in STEM will be key drivers behind Northern Ireland’s economy in the 21st century”.

Over the last few years, Northern Ireland’s ability to attract IT jobs through foreign direct investment seems to have outplayed its ability to line up enough of a suitably-skilled workforce to permanently fill all the positions. Universities weren’t able to quickly open up the valve to churn out more graduates (particularly through the one year Computer Science Masters “conversion course” that was running successfully 20-25 years ago).

CCEA seems to have fallen behind English exam boards in its slow pace of reintroducing GCSEs and A-Levels in Computing Software Systems Development. Touring around post-primary schools recently I noticed that (in the ones I visited) only boys do Further Maths except in the all-girl school where a healthy number of girls study the advanced sums.

NI Science Festival offers hands-on workshops for children – and a world record breaking World’s Largest Science Lesson – as well as theatre, film, music and comedy for adults. Many of the shows have been developed specifically for the festival.

The full programme is available on the festival website. and you can follow last minute updates @niscifest.

  • the art and science of soundOn Saturday 21 February, QUB’s Sonic Arts Research Centre invite you to drop in to The Art of Science and Sound for free demos of shaping sounds with gestures, robots, haptics and virtial reality, lose track of real-time as you emerge yourself in a sound installation compressing a whole week into one hour, and turn your Rock Band 3 controller into a polyphonic synthesiser as well as repurposing your Wii mote and Xbox Kinect!
  • There’s a lecture on the science you need to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse on Sunday 22 February.
  • Belfast Skeptics are Lifting the Lid with Michael Marshall (Project Director of the Good Thinking Society) to reveal the surprising, sometimes shocking and often-comic adventures that lie beneath the surface of pseudoscience.
  • higgs bosonDuring the week Belfast-born Prof Steve Myers (who knows a thing a two about CERN’s Large hadron Collider) will talk about how particle accelerators are proving useful in the treatment of cancer, scientific research into the properties of materials and in security as well as understanding the dawn of the universe.
  • Armagh Planetarium is opening its doors to allow the public to view the Moon, planets and deep sky objects through their 12 inch telescope. And from Great Victoria Street you can remotely control a telescope in Mallorca to search the night skies with BBC Stargazing Live’s Mark Thompson from somewhere less troubled by cloud!
  • Prof Mark Ferguson will deliver the Sir Bernard Crossland Lecture and use alligators, sex and scars to illustrate how unexpected discoveries open up new scientific and commercial opportunities.
  • Cisco’s Vice President of Global Technology Dr Robert Pepper delivers the Turing Lecture in Belfast City Hall.  The Internet Paradox: How bottom-up beat(s) command and control will look at the next market transition to the Internet of Everything and the interplay between policy and technology as well as highlighting early indicators of what the future may hold for the Internet.
  • BBC NI’s Blackstaff Studios will be filled with the Make it Digital interactive digital exhibition between Thursday 26 and Saturday 28 February: coding games inspired by Doctor Who, digital fabrication, gaming, robotics, workshops, and Open University talks.
  • playspaceQueen’s Film Theatre will have gaming on the big screen as local games developers and companies join up with workshops, screenings and tournaments in Playspace. See QFT’s leaflet for full details and times of events over Saturday 28 February and Sunday 1 March which include screenings of Tron, From Bedrooms to Billions and Scott Pilgrim vs The World (a hilarious homage to the 8-big gaming world based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels).

In the meantime, I’ll continue to scribble with my pen from CERN’s gift shop!

, , , , , ,

  • Starviking

    Nice to see something positive being done for our future. I wonder how many of our ‘leaders’ will take the time to drop in and promote the event?

  • Kevin Breslin

    As important Software Development skills and awareness might be, the real priority is that we promote the STEM interest, in all of its the ugly beauty.

    Many people who are not STEM specialists are vital to the STEM community e.g. investors, marketers, business people, recruiters, educationalists and the general public as a whole etc. There are people who can program but are unwilling to do it simply on an impersonal pro-rata demand supply basis.

    The UK and Ireland have good Scientific and Engineering output but rank low on Scientific and Engineering “Application” output and that may be because there is a lot of focus on STEM focuses on the STEM clergies and cathedrals, and not enough on the lay STEM evangelists and the STEM being used in everyday lives.

  • Kevin Breslin

    This thread has probably died a death now, funny you hear so many people like Jeff Peel complain about lack of coders, but when it comes to making coding the slightest bit interesting, or holding those who do code in high respect.

    Peel who hates Keynesian economics seems to agree that Demand creates supply, the supply is merely an echo though,

  • Kevin Breslin

    Wouldn’t surprise me if the two that do are the two with STEM degrees Alasdair and Basil