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Galway Independent

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Bringing science to the streets

Wednesday, 12th July, 2017 2:19pm

Research scientists will take to their soap boxes and bring science to the streets of Galway this weekend as part of the international event ‘Soapbox Science’.

Founded in the UK seven years ago, this is the first time that Soapbox Science has come to Galway. The event has two aims, according to event organiser Dr Stanley, a lecturer in Plant Ecology in the Botany and Plant Science Department at NUI Galway.

“The first aim is to bring science to the streets,” Dr Stanley explains.

“A lot of science public engagement or science communication events are often events that people have to decide to go to. So people have made a conscious decision to go to a science comedy event or a science exhibition or whatever it might be, but what I like about Soapbox Science is it just brings science to the streets, so people who are going about their daily business might meet a scientist when they hadn’t set out to meet one.

“The second aim is to promote the visibility of women in science so to make women in science more visible because traditionally there has been some issues in science in terms of gender representation and particularly at the more senior levels in science.”

Dr Stanley is hopeful the event, which takes place at the Spanish Arch from 11am-2pm on Saturday, 15 July, will also help break down the stereotypes typically associated with scientists.

“Sometimes female scientists aren’t as visible as their male colleagues,” she says.

“If you ask a child, for example, to draw a scientist they’re likely to draw an older white man in a lab coat.

“There’s so many amazing female scientists out there so Soapbox Science is just trying to make those scientists a little bit more visible so then maybe we can start to break down these stereotypes we have within society of what a scientist actually is.”

Her fellow Soapbox Science organiser Dr Jessamyn Fairfield adds, “When many people think of a scientist, they think of a man in a white coat. Soapbox Science aims to challenge this perception by showcasing the work of female scientists in a fun and friendly way.

“In order to keep up with the need for a skilled STEM workforce, the scientific community must continue to attract the best talent, and be open and inclusive. We hope that this event can inspire people to look at science in a different way.”

The day will see an all-female panel cover diverse subjects such as how to make stars, building your own body parts and sustainable fisheries.

Each speaker will be showcased numerous times on their soapbox throughout the event as Soapbox Science challenges perceptions of what a scientist is by celebrating the diversity of women in science in Ireland.

“NUI Galway is home to a diverse range of talent and we’re delighted to be bringing our expertise to the streets of Galway on subjects that range from osteoporosis, clean air in houses and carbohydrates chemistry. NUI Galway has joined forces with colleagues in GMIT, the Marine Institute and IT Sligo to showcase research talent across the western seaboard,” Dr Stanley explains.

“We tried to get the biggest variety representation of the different science subjects as we could. We have everything from physicists to mathematicians, marine biologists and bio medical engineers.”

Over 350 women have taken part in Soapbox Science since 2011, with a further 220 participating in the 19 events taking place during 2017.

According to statistics from the EU report ‘She Figures 2012 – Gender in Research and Innovation, European Commission’ more than 55,000 people attended Soapbox Science events in 2016, with over a third stating it had an effect on their awareness of women in science.

Asked what barriers prevent women from pursuing senior level positions in STEM areas, Dr Stanley believes there is “a number of contributing factors” and it is important to promote women in STEM areas.

“There’s plenty of research that shows diversity in workplace can have so many benefits in so many ways. So I think it’s widely accepted that it’s really important to have representation of many different groups and aspects of society in science. Traditionally there has been this gap and some areas are more male dominated, particularly at the higher levels.”

Soapbox Science is supported by the office for Equality and Diversity at NUI Galway and is free and open to the public.

For more information about Soapbox Science visit www.soapboxscience.org or follow on Twitter @soapboxscigal

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