Sunday, 23 April 2017

5 Things I Learned Organising an International Conference

I helped organise the European Youth Summit 2017 in Budapest along with the four other members of the Council of the Youth Platform, the ~10 other members of the Summit Organizing Team from the platform, the European Talent Support Network (the real adults) and the European Council for High Ability.

What was EYS17?

EYS17 was a five-day event at the end of March focusing on talent education and an EU charter pertaining to that, and aiming to connect smart active citizens from around Europe and beyond (we had people from India, Iran and China there too) with each other and start working on projects to improve the welfare of the students we represent.

How did it start?

The European Youth Summit was held for the first time last year in Vienna and bore the Youth Platform. I was chosen to represent my national Talent Centre along with Gabi and then elected to the Council (5 people representing the 70 Platform members and tens of thousands of TC members). The Council travelled to Budapest in October to start planning the Summit, and from there we formed a larger Summit Organising Team from the Platform and spent the next 5 months planning the schedule, making promotional material, securing speakers, sending invitation letters to TCs, having a billion online meetings (actually not that many Organising Team meetings, but since I’m on Council as well I had those too), researching and getting supplies for activities and more.

This was a nice event to start with. Firstly, it was small: we had capacity for about 55 students and some teachers/supervisors, and those were easy to recruit. Secondly, we had a defined audience -- we sent letters of invitation out to national Talent Centres and Talent Points rather than having to advertise to the general population. So we could tailor our message. Thirdly, the participants were really engaged with the programme and eager to actively contribute. We did structure it like that, but it helped that they were so willing -- these people were all very vocal and capable of contributing. You often get engaged and impressive audiences at conferences, but events for young people, in my experience speaking at them in Ireland, tend to have a lot of bored attendees because they’ve just been dragged along by their school. These people were chosen as representatives of their TCs so they weren’t like that, which was nice.


1. Running an event is TIRING. Oh boy, I thought attending conferences was tiring. Running them is way more so, because you’re (somewhat) responsible for other people’s enjoyment of it and always have to be on.

We had the work well spread out, so I really only had one day where I was in charge of a lot, the first full day. I had to give a speech at the opening ceremony as a Council member, give a talk at the Lightning Talks session, and most importantly, run the Lightning Talks session. I’d been working on it for weeks - reviewing applications, helping people with their presentations, co-ordinating them, making a running order, making sure everyone’s presentation was there and in the right format and on the right laptop (messed this one up for one talk but fixed it pretty quickly), MCing the actual event, even tiny things like making sure the microphone was on for each new speaker because some speakers seem to like turning it off when they’re done.

We had, I think, 22 talks over 2.5 hours, and given that they weren’t boring even though I know what they’d be about, I think the session went well, and participants agreed. It was a really nice session because it meant that the participants had a chance to speak about something of their choice before we brought in all the guest speakers. I think it really helped engage people, so yay!

To get back to the point -- tiring day, and a big relief when it was over. It did feel really good though, and the few days afterwards were much more relaxing even though I still had to be on, for the two reasons below.

2. Being an organiser gets you treated as an authority. I suppose it makes sense, but it definitely felt weird at first. Once I identified myself in person after the opening ceremony as the person in charge of the Lightning Talks and said I’d meet the speakers over lunch for final prep, they swarmed me, genuinely about 16 people asking questions all of a sudden. That makes sense since that was the session I was specifically in charge of, but people came up to me for all sorts of things -- when next year’s event in Dublin in August was announced, people came up to me and asked whether they’d have to book their own hotels. I know that’ll be my responsibility to know then, but I sure don’t know now!

That said, I didn’t mind people asking -- it was pretty fun, and I enjoyed it a lot when I got into the groove and wasn’t afraid to direct people a bit more. I could just take the initiative when something needed doing (e.g. people needed to move somewhere at an altered time) instead of seeking permission to do it because I knew what was happening.

3. It involves LOTS of impromptu speaking. I wrote my opening speech and my Lightning Talk on the plane over and figured that’d be the end of my speaking. But as well as MCing the Lightning Talks (introducing the session and speakers), I did a bunch of other speaking -- volunteering to encourage others to, reporting back from our group, co-ordinating people, letting people know about small schedule changes, just any small thing that was changed (e.g. someone had to fly back early so their session was changed, so I told other organisers and then informed the participants and introduced the speaker). Also, had to speak clearly because there were people from about 20 countries there, which was good practise (I still speak fast though, I will admit!).

(This wasn’t just me, obviously -- other organisers were doing the same.)

4. Many hands make light work. This is a cliché, but I never realised how true it was until we did this. We had about 15 people in total working on the Summit, and we actually worked really well as a team, even through disagreements. First of all, the fact that we actually sold out -- I’d subconsciously believed people wouldn’t actually get behind it. Then how we co-ordinated everything from securing speakers to procuring equipment to sorting everyone’s transport arrangements to funding (shoutout to the Hungarian Talent Centre) to answering email queries. Then how the event went off almost without a hitch (one lightning talk having to be pushed back a few minutes because of a missing presentation, some sessions running a bit late). I honestly couldn’t believe that we’d managed to just make this happen.

Sure, there were a lot of meetings, and that was sometimes a pain. But it was some really cool teamwork and really showed me the power of that. It was such a relief when the Summit finished and had just...worked! All the sessions went as planned, no one got hurt, people had a great time, got good work done on the Charter, project pitches and workshops, and formed friendships.

5. A great manager means a lot. All the youth organisers were doing this on top of school/uni work, so it was very much a side project. That meant things (e.g. things we’d agreed to do that week) slipped from our minds sometimes, and so having someone to give us a kick in the butt was helpful.

Lukas, as Project Manager for the Council and previously interim Internal Co-Ordinator, did an amazing job managing the whole thing -- I’m so impressed. Because his entire job for the last few months has been managing the Summit, he didn’t have one day he was mainly on for, he was just always in charge of everything. We had specific Team members running each session, but as well as running certain sessions he did all the other background stuff too including communicating with our parent organisation, the European Talent Support Network. (My role in the Council is Communications Officer, so while I did plenty of work for the Summit lots was in preparing invitation letters, checking all outgoing communication written by another Council member, managing the emails,  and writing the brochure and newsletters so I didn’t have as much to do as Lukas during the actual Summit.) He did a huge amount and deserves a lot of credit for the success of the Summit.

Towards the future: the next Summit will be held alongside the ECHA conference in Dublin in August 2018 (on my birthday, actually). My term as Communications Officer lasts until December 2018, so we’ll see how that goes!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

I'm proud to announce proof that someone borrowed a book from the Physoc library this year: a few months ago, I took out The Pleasure of Finding Out.

It's a collection of Feynman essays, interview transcripts and speech transcripts, covering topics from how Feynman learned the inquiring mindset to his work on the atomic bomb to his report on the Challenger shuttle disaster to nanotechnology and computing.

I have mixed feelings about it, I will say.

First of all, it didn't grab me. I picked it up and read a few pages, then put it down for weeks and then only finished it thanks to my flight from Budapest.

I did like his story of how his father, a uniform salesman, taught him to be scientific through walks in nature and having his son come up with and try to gather evidence about hypothesis. He had some interesting points to make about the Challenger explosion.

My favourite chapter was about his work in Los Alamos on the atomic bomb as the youngest scientist there. He talked about his love of lockpicking and how he used it to get into his colleagues’ drawers, how we impressed his superiors and wasn’t afraid to tell eminent scientists like Bohr that they were wrong, and how he saved the day with his prodigious memory (or as he said it, luck) when he saw a factory where they were preparing the uranium to be used in the bomb and, because the mission was classified and they hadn’t been told why they were making uranium, had stored way too much of it together so it was unsafe. He successfully fought with the military to get the people managing that factory, the chemists, in on it to fix that. I also enjoyed his stories of writing letters to his sick wife and their elaborate schemes to get them past the censors. His wife died of TB while he was at Los Alamos. I later read a beautiful letter he wrote to his wife, found after his own death, which includes the line “I love my wife. My wife is dead.”. You can read that letter here.

I quite liked his attitude to science, which he said was just because he enjoyed tinkering around with it and wasn’t for awards (he scorned the Nobel). He did science for science’s sake. It’s not quite my attitude (I do science to understand the world, so his reason, but also try channel it to where it can be most helpful to people e.g. diagnosing and curing diseases), but it was interesting to read about. I liked his point that we tend to confuse knowing the name of something with understanding it. If someone says "why do the north and south poles of these magnets attract each other?", you could say "magnetism", but that doesn't actually explain anything.

It was also funny when he mocked software developers/computer engineers/computer people for calling themselves computer scientists.

The book was soured for me by Feynman’s backwards social attitudes. He seemed like an altogether very unpleasant person, having no moral qualms about the atomic bomb and just considering it fun, and straight out saying he didn’t think girls could do linear algebra. He boasted about getting time to do his beloved physics by creating a reputation that he was unreliable and not helping with admissions committees etc. Sure, romantic, but making life harder for people around him. There was lots of other sexism throughout the book and “it was 1950!” just doesn’t cut it for me, because if he was smart enough to figure out quantum electrodynamics he should’ve been smart enough to figure out that women are people.

In summary: from the collection of essays I read, Feynman seems like someone with interesting and developed thoughts on scientific matters, but an unpleasant personality and set of beliefs, so I couldn't really get behind him.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

European Youth Summit 2017

Hi all!

I helped organise, spoke at and attended the European Youth Summit in Budapest from 29th March to 2nd April. It was the biggest event of the Youth Platform so far, so here's a bit about the Youth Platform.

The Youth Platform represents gifted/talented students (personally I don't like the word gifted, I think it sounds a bit pretentious, but you do you) across Europe and some other places including India, Peru and Cuba. Our goal is to advocate to institutions educating talented students for the rights of the students -- my particular interest is students with high potential who are disadvantaged economically or by a disability --, to connect the students to each other at events like this and to work on projects together for social good. 

The Youth Platform is the youth body of the European Talent Support Network, which is supported by the European Council for High Ability. The Youth Platform has around 100 members from 18ish countries representing the thousands of people in our national talent centres (mine's CTY Ireland, and I represent it along with Gabi). 

I was elected to the five-person. interim Council of the Platform last summer, and then was re-elected for a two year term in December. I'm Communications Officer, so I manage all content external to the Platform (e.g. newsletter, invitation letters), email and social media. The other Council members are Lili (Italian, Internal Co-ordinator), Lukas (Czech, Project Manager), Marco (Italian, Talent Liaison) and Armin (Hungarian/Romanian, Representative). 

I'm going to write a post about what I learned organising an international conference soon, so I won't talk about the planning of the Summit and will just get into the experience now. 

Day 1

On day 1, Gabi and I took a 3.5 hour flight from Dublin to Budapest Airport and got a taxi from there to Hotel Berlin. I was nice and productive on the plane -- wrote my opening speech, wrote my Lightning Talk and read some of The Meaning of Science. We'd missed the icebreaker games so we checked in and checked out our room, then I went to a room with the Council to work on our speeches for the opening ceremony the next morning. 

Day 2

I really enjoyed the second day. It was stressful because it was the day I was most responsible for -- I had to give one of the opening speeches and I was organising the Lightning Talks session so I had to organise speakers beforehand and during, but turned out well.

Lightning Talks

I'd gotten most of it sorted out in the weeks before the Summit, but there were people who didn't keep to the PowerPoint submission deadline/had questions about the talks, so I was swarmed throughout the morning (talks were first thing in the afternoon). Lukas and I ran the actual event, with him on tech and me MCing. I set up the running order so I went first and had Gabi go last, and otherwise went pretty much alphabetically. 

I talked about open science, but spent about half my time on a long lead-in about a little Ruby programming project I'd been working on, and the contrast between that and science, where outsiders can't actively participate. 

I was really happy with how the Lightning Talks went -- people spoke really well and it all flowed well! There was one technical issue, where Sai's (Platform member from India) presentation wasn't downloaded to the laptop we were using even though I'd put it in the GDrive folder we were syncing to the laptop, so I grabbed a USB stick and ran over with my laptop to the hotel where there was wifi to get it after rescheduling Sai's talk after two other people. Crisis averted. The talks were really interesting to listen to and the activity was highly rated by participants, so that was really cool. 

So then my responsibilities for the day (a speech, organising, MCing and a talk) were over and I could go enjoy the awesome next activity -- a boat tour down the Danube!

Danube Tour & Buda Castle

We took a trip down to the river, seeing Budapest's incredibly gorgeous architecture on the way, then loaded into a boat and went on an hour-long trip down the Danube. It was beautiful, and we were given little devices that spouted facts about Budapest into our ears, like that Hungary's parliament building is the second biggest in the world and that 1% of the Danube flows through Hungary. 

I can't get over how pretty Budapest is, honestly. I saw a lot of this stuff in October and it's still amazing. 

After the tour, we saw the architecture of Buda Castle and yup, still beautiful.

Day 3

Speaking Workshop

We had a workshop on public speaking led by William Benko. I must admit, he was excellent -- and that's even with me being a tough audience member because people speaking about speaking tends to annoy me and give me really high expectations. 

He had five volunteers jump up and give a one-minute talk about anything. I went first and talked about antibiotic resistance. Other talk topics included the UN and Greece. It was a really good workshop. 

GIftedness Lecture

We then attended a two-hour lecture on giftedness. My 'ew elitism' gag reflex was triggered very hard, and I spotted many serious scientific flaws with many of the studies presented. I started working on a Ruby TwitterBot during it.

EU Charter of Rights

In the afternoon, we heard a lecture on the Salamanca Declaration and then worked on a charter of rights for the gifted student. I got clauses on disability and recognising   problems that often face such students other than boredom: difficulty with social integration and perfectionism. I think a lot of smart kids know they're bored, but might not be as good at dealing with socialising and tackling perfectionism.

Hungarian Dances

In the evening, we did some Hungarian folk dancing! It was pretty fun.

Gabi and I dancing

Day 4

Be-novative Workshop & Central European University

We used this startup software called Be-novative (a guy from the company came down to demonstrate it for us, same guy as in October) to brainstorm ideas for future projects of the Youth Platform. One I worked on was securing scholarships for disadvantaged smart kids to attend Talent Centre programs. 

After a while of that, we took a tour around the Central European University, the most multicultural university in the world. It was funded by George Soros, is only for graduate students, and is in serious danger of being shut down by the Hungarian government at the moment. But wow the view from the roof above the seventh floor is beautiful.

Project Pitches 

Earlier, we'd each picked one of about 8 ideas to work on so there were around 7 people working on each idea who went up and pitched it. We then all voted on them and the idea that won was expanding a mentorship scheme connecting students to professionals and academics currently operating in one participant's country across Europe through the Platform. 


There were two workshops after that to set up the YP's other projects, but Gabi and I were really tired and wanted a taste of home so we went to McDonalds and bed.

Day 5

We had a plane to catch shortly after 10 am so we left the hotel around half 7 and got it. Leon, sweetheart that he is, met me at the airport.

Photo: Lukas Frankl

Good times! it was awesome getting to see beautiful Budapest and meet people from so many different countries -- I talked a bunch with people from Slovenia, Denmark, Austria and Greece. We had some fun conversations on the landing near my room in the hotel complaining about our languages etc.

It's pretty cool that something we organised just...worked out without any disasters. Woot!

Also, the Council and Italian participants got into an Italian newspaper with a circulation of 400,000 with an article and this picture, which was nice.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review: The Meaning of Science by Tim Lewens

Two years ago, I was doing a Philosophy course in CTYI and we’d just come across Hume’s problem of induction, which basically invalidates science by saying we can’t conclude anything from experiments because there’s no guarantee that the laws of the universe didn’t change between the experiment and now. I was wearing a labcoat at the time as CTYI’s resident Scientist, and so all eyes turned to me. Oops. So here I am, finally reading a book about the philosophy of science.

I was pretty unsure about picking this up. Over Christmas break, I went back to my favourite bookshop, Waterstones in Drogheda, and bought a book I knew I’d have fun reading because it was by Ben Goldacre (review here), and this. I knew this might be less enjoyable, but thought it was important to get some kind of grip on the philosophy of science since I’m so big into science.

The first chapter of the book was my favourite, because it got right to the heart of what I was reading the book for -- the induction problem. How do we know science means anything? You can test a drug on 100,000 people and find it safe, but what if it kills the 100,001st person?

It goes into one way of getting around that, Karl Popper’s falsificationism, which states that science should always be trying to disprove hypotheses since you can never actually prove them, but disproving them does bring you closer to the truth by process of elimination. There are two big problems with that: (a) it means that the theory of relativity is on the exact same footing as my hypothesis that Theresa May is a lizard, because evidence for a hypothesis means nothing and neither of them have been conclusively disproven yet*, and (b) the fatal flaw is that the experiments you do to disprove something are generally based on other theories -- if you’re trying to prove that neutrinos move faster than the speed of light, you need to use a whole bunch of complicated methods to measure the speed and compare it and even find the neutrino, all of which rest on previous theories which in turn rely on inductive reasoning.

It went downhill from there, mainly because the first chapter was exactly what I wanted out of the book (well, apart from a solution to the problem), and the other chapters were different.

The book has two parts. The first part opens with that chapter and then goes into how we demarcate the boundaries between fields like science, history, economics and homeopathy (this was annoying -- it devil’s advocated for homeopathy by using the argument that it works by catering to each individual patient’s needs rather than average patients, and I don’t see how that makes it science), paradigm shifts and scientific realism.

The scientific realism chapter asks: is science the truth? Is it even approaching the truth? It examines one argument for that (the No Miracles argument, which says that surely if science wasn’t true we’d have run into problems since we rely on it all the time), and rebuts two arguments against it (underdeterminism and pessimistic induction).

Underdeterminism argues that we can never have enough data to decide between one theory that explains the results and has X implications, and another theory that explains the results but has completely opposite implications. He addresses that by saying, well, that just goes back to Descartes’ “there’s a demon making you imagine everything and nothing except yourself is real”, so it doesn’t specifically affect science. It’s just saying the world may not be as we think it is.

Pessimistic induction says that science is continually wrong -- Archimedes was disproven, then Newton was disproven (to an extent), eventually all will be disproven. Scientists drop old theories and replace them with new ones. It’s basically saying science is never fully right...although you could also look at it another way and say it’s always on the up.

The author has qualms about the No Miracles argument because it pretty much says that only a tiny percentage of false theories should be successful. But there are vastly more possibly incorrect theories than correct ones, so probability says that even if most true theories, most successful theories are probably false.

I didn’t like the second half as much -- it’s talking about the bearing of science on the philosophical questions in our lives, not the bearing of philosophy on science, which is what I bought it for.

It argues that science has values and has an interesting but seemingly irrelevant chapter called Human Kindness, where I was introduced to the concepts of psychological altruism (doing something that benefits others/being selfless)  and biological altruism (doing something that benefits others and harms yourself). It’s possible to be psychologically altruistic without being biologically altruistic.

It then talks about nature vs nurture and whether humans have free will. The free will part was quite interesting and, again, disconcerting. Firstly, there’s the causal nexus argument, which says that we’re just atoms tumbling along in the universe and everything happens because of the knock on effects of whatever happened at the start of the universe. Our consciousness doesn’t have some magical influence -- it just does what the laws of physics make our atoms do.

Then there’s the neuroscientific argument from tardiness, based on experimental results. One of them, from a 2008 paper by John-Dylan Hanes et al, showed that researchers using brain scans could predict (with middling accuracy) the action of a participant 10 seconds before the participant had made the choice to act.

These experiments measure an increase in neuronal activity called the readiness potential which occurs just when someone is getting the urge to perform a “spontaneous” action. Experimenters asked participants to note when they felt the conscious urge to act and also measured the time of the action, and found that the readiness potential spike occurred 350 milliseconds before the urge, which is 200 milliseconds before the action.

That said, people might just have predecided that they’ll move when they feel some kind of signal in their mind, and it’s not certain that RP is actually the intention to move, it can just be about deciding things. Another experimenter could predict whether subjects could choose the left or right button 60% of the time up to 10 seconds in advance by monitoring their brain using fMRI scanning.

The book closes with a chapter on the reach of science, essentially just saying that facts aren’t everything and some things need to be learned through experience.

In short: It was an interesting book and the author is clearly very knowledgeable about the subject, which, as with Superintelligence, I appreciated. I liked how there were more twists and turns to the arguments presented than I would’ve thought of, and how the arguments were solid and not straw men. The second half of the book was less relevant but definitely interesting in parts. Would recommend if you’re looking to get a more nuanced version of the purpose and meaning of science.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

FameLab Ireland Finals

Leon and I went to the FameLab Irish Final this week in the Science Gallery as a break from studying (not particularly well-deserved, admittedly). 

FameLab is a science communication competition where competitors distill a scientific topic in three minutes. Competitors went through local university heats to the national final, and the winner of this week's event will go on to the international final in Cheltenham. 

A big reason I went was because I know Niamh Kavanagh, last year's national winner, from speaking on the stage beside her at TY Expo and saw her Tweeting about it.

The event was presented by Jonathan McCrea, a radio host I met a couple of years ago when he came and talked to us at BT Bootcamp. Aoibhínn Ní Shuilleabháin, whom I met at the Women on Walls launch and who introduced me to Shane Bergin for that antibiotic resistance workshop, was one of the judges, and that's about everyone I knew there. 

So onto the talks. 

1. Aaron Ridgeway

Aaron is a Guinness spokesperson but talked to us about light and how its finite speed means we're seeing distant objects as they were in the past. He connected this to the death of his partner's grandparent and how the light from a certain star that started travelling to us when the grandparent was born is just hitting our eyes now. He mentioned a site where you could find a star like that for your birth but I couldn't find the one he mentioned. I did find a similar one here

He was a nice speaker but I would've liked more facts (I didn't learn anything new apart from that a site existed) and less emotional appeal.

He did have some funny quotes, though! These included:

  • "Y'see, light's fast."
  • "Every time you look at the sun, which you should not do."

2. Marica Casserino

Marica is a psychologist and talked about how curiosity is good for your health as you age. Obviously I'm into the whole curiosity thing, but I think my enjoyment of this talk was hampered by thoughts about replicability problems in psychology and a lack of strict laws/hard science, as well as the difficulty of determining causation as opposed to correlation. I liked that she cited studies.

3. Shane Browne

Shane talked about Beer's Law (Absorbance of light = (molar extinction coefficient)*(path length)*(Concentration), or "The amount of light a sample absorbs is proportional to its concentration."

I did a Chemistry lab last semester using spectrophotometry and that equation so this was nothing new. I was frustrated that he was making such a big deal out of this law ("Beer's Law may sound complicated"), especially since he didn't even include path length and molar extinction coefficient, because it seems pretty simple and common-sense, but he did have a really cool way of explaining calibration curves. 

He said he loves dark chocolate and give that a 10/10, that milk chocolate is just okay so he'd give it a 5/10, and that he hates white chocolate so he'd give it a 1/10. Then if a friend gave him a new kind of chocolate he could figure out how much he'd like it by using its colour to interpolate between the standards he has. 

I also liked when he talked about how an abnormal ratio of proinsulin to insulin is indicative of Type 2 diabetes, because I read a bunch of papers about prediabetes before changing my nanosensor to one for attractin->glioblastoma. 

4. Deirdre Robertson

This talk was cool because I learned something new and it helped me finally understand why my Outbox pal Edel's Parkinson's tool works. Apparently people with Parkinson's have trouble with unconscious movement like walking without paying attention to it, so shining a laser in front of their feet (like Edel does) or using beats through headphones (like Ciara Clancy from Inspirefest does) brings that to the conscious part of the brain and helps with gait freezing. Also, an interesting reason a study concludes it doesn't work for everyone is that it depends on a person's ability to count beats.

She used the metaphor of a computer running two programs; one can still work while the other has crashed. That was maybe unnecessary, but was quite nice to listen to anyway.

5. Pat Ryan

This was my favourite talk. Pat came on stage with a prop and said "This is what a fig looks like, if you make it out of papier maché for under a fiver". He told us about a conversation with his vegan friend, who wouldn't eat fig rolls because wasps often die inside them. He researched this and told us about what he found out, which is that figs have an obligate mutualism with wasps. One thing I either missed or he didn't explain properly was which sex it needs to be, but the wasp needs to go to a certain sex of the fig and if it gets the wrong one it'll never find the place it needs and will just die and be digested in there by the enzyme fycin ("Figs eat wasps"). It's an interesting mechanism, especially since it happens lots but only one species of figs will do per species of wasp. He did reassure us that it probably wasn't happening in Ireland because of the climate.

6. Will Knott

This guy, who's Maker-In-Chief at Tyndall (cool job) started out well with "Ladies and gentlemen, fans and trans" and had a cool T-shirt slogan (Science is Real, Denial is Deadly). He brought whiskey on stage and said it was to do with saving the planet because something about carbon dioxide and capturing it instead of just letting it get out. I didn't really get his point, I don't think. May just have been my issue with people bringing on alcohol when it wasn't crucial to the message.

7. Ana Panigassi

Ana went from being military police to an ob-gyn, and I just wish one of the judges had asked her how that happened because I'd love to know. She talked about how ob-gyns use science and play an important role and had cool lines. She said things like "we're able to predict at x weeks whether the mother will experience a blood pressure spike at birth", and that was cool, but I would've loved to know how -- what the tests are and what the physical/biological principle behind them is. 

Her cool lines included that people think "the baby will come out and you catch it", "I'm not just a goalkeeper for catching babies....or Deliveroo". I did find it cool that you could do so much science with an ultrasound and the genetic sequencing possibilities, but again would've loved more detail. Probably difficult in three minutes!

8. Rob Cross

This guy spent his entire talk on alcohol. He talked about why the bubbles seem to be going down in Guinness sometimes -- apparently something to do with a liquid nitrogen widget at the bottom of cans. Didn't know beer was so high-tech. It was funny when he said "wasn't allowed bring an entire pub on stage".

9. Ross Murphy

Ross talked about how our cells change throughout our lives and what it means to be us. He did say that some of our heart cells actually remain the same throughout our entire lives, which I didn't believe. This article, from the Karolinska Institute, says they don't, but honestly I haven't researched it deeply and there are probably some cells that stay the same. This means, according to Ross, that we're the same person, as opposed to a brush that's had its head and stick alternately replaced many times. 

10. Joanne Duffy

Joanne talked about vaccination, and how when it started, for whooping cough, it involved formaldehyde. She said vaccines are safe and talked about how they're made using e.coli. 


In short: I think I may not have been the target audience for this because it really annoyed me when people talked about a science topic  vaguely and then made some sweeping, grand statement like "this connects us to the universe". This is one of the reasons my favourite talk was the one about wasps in figs -- it was new information, pretty well explained, and didn't pretend to be more than it was. I find science interesting in the details, so I would've preferred if people just gave me some more information -- I learned at least one new thing from most of the talks, but there could definitely have been more. I didn't like the props, metaphors and simplification. Science communication is not one size fits all, it seems!

That said, it was an enjoyable 90 minutes, and good for learning some snippets of other parts of science than my own. The speakers were all good on stage and had good technique, including pleasing voices and good pacing. 

Deirdre came first, Joanne second and Ross third. Congratulations to everyone involved, and good job for getting up there and spreading your love of science!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Review: March 2017

Hi everyone! It's been a busy month. Here's a whirlwind tour of what I got up to, featuring Edinburgh trip, two documentaries I'm in, the Physoc AGM, workshop on the Bratislava Declaration, dates with Leon and his birthday, learning Ruby, Lablinn and the European Youth Summit. Oh, and (I forgot about this one and am editing the post to add it) attending college. 

Physoc Trip to Edinburgh

The last day of our trip fell on March 1st. We went out for a nice meal in a Scottish pub we liked and then flew back. 

Book Proposal

Also on the first (well, in the early hours of the 2nd), I submitted my book proposal about citizen science. 


On the 15th, I went to IADT to watch a preview screening of the Outbox documentary. It was really nice to see, and it felt awesome to be featured prominently. It was very weird seeing my name come up at the end in one of those typical documentary "Elle is now ...." with a picture of my TEDx talk because I'm used to that exact formatting being in documentaries about actual famous people. The Outbox documentary should hopefully be publicly available soon and I'll let you know when it is. 

I also featured in another documentary this month for three seconds at the end, the RTE documentary about Accenture and the Royal Irish Academy's Women on Walls initiative to put portraits of female scholars on the walls. I was not aware that there would be filming at the launch so I just ran there after my Chemistry lab because I'd been invited. Worked out grand though, so thanks to Eithne for the invite! 


I became obsessed with Ruby (programming language) this month and completed its Codecademy course on March 19th after a few weeks working through it. Since then I've done one small independent project that uses electronegativities to predict the nature of bonds (blog post on that soon) and am working on a bigger one that I'll post about when it's ready. I'm absolutely in love with the language and can't stop thinking about it. It's so exciting! When I finally got the electronegativity project working I genuinely smiled all day. Here's a post where I talked about some of the Codecademy work I did. 

Dates with Leon I: Hidden Figures

Leon and I went to see Hidden Figures early in the month. It was amazing -- space, wit, maths, empowerment and more. Other people cried at the cute family moment. I cried when it panned over space. I'd been feeling pretty discouraged about my course because of Electromagnetism, and this reaffirmed my desire to be a physicist and especially an astrophysicist.

Dates with Leon II: Real Bodies

We also visited the Real Bodies exhibition in the Ambassador Theatre on O' Connell Street. The exhibition features a bunch of real human bodies used as cadavers for medical students, cut open in different ways. I'd been before when I was around 10, but this was really intense -- seeing how accurate anatomical descriptions are, wonder at how impressive the work of anatomists through history has been, incredulity at the fact that these were real people with names and hopes and dreams (exhibition could've been improved by adding bios or even just names and birthplaces) and at how miraculous life is. One in particular really got me -- what looked like two bodies swinging out of each other, one muscle one skeletal, but was actually one body with the skeleton removed from one so it was someone's muscles and nerves and blood vessels dancing with their skeleton. 

Bratislava Declaration

I was invited to a workshop held by the Irish Research Council to implement the Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers. It was pretty cool in that it wasn't a vanity event where they gathered a bunch of successful people to praise them; there were ~three representatives from each third-level institution in Ireland (Trinity had a professor, a postgrad and an undergrad (me) there, as far as I can tell) and we had an agenda that we just worked through. It was like "yeah many of you do cool things whatever now get to work".  

Some of the issues we worked on were improving pre-tertiary curricula (I advocated for more experimental design by students and more emphasis on BTYSTE/Scifest-style projects and my points got into our recommendations, which was cool), improving job security for post-docs and improving work-life balance for academics. Lots of improvement. 

The registration form was really funny because the closest option I could tick was "Pre-PhD student". 

But yeah, it was really cool getting to influence policy to some degree. 

Leon's Birthday

I brought Leon down to Dad's seaside caravan for a few days in the middle of the month to celebrate his birthday. We had a lovely time hanging out coding together and playing ukulele, visiting old church ruins and a graveyard (very morbid, I know -- actually not the most morbid thing in this post) and being lovey-dovey. 

Physoc AGM

Towards the end of the month, I went to the Physoc AGM as first year rep and ran for Secretary -- and got it! It was pretty great, and I'm looking forward to the job and working with the new committee. We then watched an entertaining talk by Prof Hutzler about the interaction between science and art. Near the end of the month, the outgoing committee went out for dinner together. I'll miss the fourth years -- they're pretty cool.


Did some things for Lablinn, including Skype calls with people who work in DIY Biolabs in Belgium (very helpful) and starting work on the website Lots to do with that obviously, but priority is to make a more detailed operating plan and to contact FabLabs. 

European Youth Summit Budapest 2017. 

Spent the last three days of March and the first two of April at the European Youth Summit in Budapest that I helped organise, spoke at and otherwise participated in. It was pretty cool and man Budapest is beautiful. It was really cool learning how to organise a conference and getting practise at speaking at the drop of a hat and fixing problems when they arose and more. It was really cool getting to meet people from so many different places including Slovenia, Czechia, Slovakia, Iran, India, Denmark, Hungary, Italy and more and get to know them. We cruised down the Danube, visited Buda Castle, toured the Central European University and lots more, as well as doing work on an EU charter and attending lectures and project workshops. Dedicated post about that to come once more photos come out. It was fun being Team Ireland. 

Photo credit: Lukas Frankl (top), Unknown (bottom)