Events like the Galway Science and Technology Festival play an important role in attracting students to these fields, which are so vital to Ireland’s economic future, says festival Vice-Chairman and Dean of Science at NUI Galway Professor Tom Sherry
This is Prof. Sherry’s third year involved with the Galway Science and Technology Festival but over the 15 years of the festival, the Clondalkin native has noticed the positive effects of the festival on generations of students.
Indeed, he notes that his eldest son, aged 26, still remembers the first festival.
“This is the 15th festival and all the kids in Galway who have come through school in the last 15 years have been aware of this event, have seen it, and as it’s grown and got bigger and more shows are happening…they become more aware,” he explains.
Prof. Sherry first came to Galway in 1979 to lecture at what was then University College Galway, now NUI Galway, and he has remained at the university ever since, becoming Dean of Science two years ago.
During his childhood in Dublin, he admits he did not have any particular love of science, but rather came to it through his love of mathematics.
“As I was studying, I became aware of the fact that what I was interested in was using mathematics to explain what was happening and that’s why I ended up being an applied mathematician…using applied mathematics to explain phenomena that we see in the world.”
Although he believes that the existence of a science festival when he was growing up would not have dramatically altered his own career path, being “mathematically driven” as he was, he stresses the importance of the role of the festival in making children aware of what’s involved in various disciplines such as science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
“What we do with events like the festival is we want to put out what’s involved…and show people what you can do, so that if one of these things happens to be what attracts a particular kid then they’ll actually think about that and they’ll consider that direction.”
He admits that it’s impossible to tell which aspect will “hook” a particular child, but that’s why the variety and size of events on offer at Galway Science and Technology Festival is so important.
For Prof. Sherry, highlights of the festival include a talk on The Mars Science Laboratory which takes place tonight, Wednesday, in NUI Galway and a show called ‘Cell Explorers: Fantastic DNA’, which runs on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 November.
A talk on cyber bullying, which takes place on Monday, 19 November, is also especially timely, he says, while old favourites such as the 3D Tour of the Universe never fail to impress.
In his day job at NUI Galway, Prof. Sherry is well placed to see the positive effects of these events.
“We’re seeing more people coming to us with a greater awareness of what is involved now than we were before. A much greater percentage of our [student] intake are those who wanted to do science and who want it for a reason.
“Ten or 15 years ago, science had a bad name in Ireland. It wasn’t attractive. Now, we absolutely need to have students moving into this area, because Ireland’s economy absolutely has to have a large set of people who are interested in science and technology so that we can drive the economy of the future.”
The Galway Science and Technology Festival runs until Sunday 25 November at venues across the city. For a full brochure of events, visit www.galwayscience.ie.