Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dr Shane Browne, a postdoctoral fellow at CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, based at NUI Galway, has just been awarded a prestigious American Heart Association fellowship to continue his postdoctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley. The American Heart Association is the largest source of funding for cardiovascular disease and stroke research next to the US federal government. The mission of the Association is to fund cutting-edge science and build careers in science and research that impact every aspect of cardiovascular disease and stroke prevention and treatment. This fellowship recognises and supports outstanding young researchers in this field and will fund Dr Browne’s research at the University of California at Berkeley for two years. Dr Shane Browne’s research focuses on the use of biomaterial and stem cell-based therapies to restore blood flow to parts of the body. This work will be conducted with Professor Kevin Healy at the Healy Laboratory in UC Berkeley. The Laboratory focuses on the combination of biological and materials science to help engineer new systems for medical applications. The group is highly interdisciplinary, incorporating researchers from the fields of bioengineering, materials engineering, medicine, and molecular biology. Speaking about his fellowship award, Dr Browne said: “This American Heart Association award will allow me to build on the expertise in biomaterials and stem cell technology that I have previously developed at UC Berkeley and CÚRAM. Cardiovascular disease is a major problem worldwide, and I believe that stem cells and biomaterials will play a key role in the development of effective treatments for patients. I hope to return to NUI Galway after this fellowship and apply my time in Berkeley to advance research in Galway.” Congratulating Dr Browne on his Fellowship, Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director at CÚRAM, said “We’re delighted to see more and more of our students progress and be recognised for the calibre of work that they are achieving here at CÚRAM. I wish Dr Browne every success in his work at the Healy Lab in Berkeley. Training and building the capacity of our researchers to take leading roles in biomedical sciences in the future is extremely important to us and we are extremely proud of this achievement.” CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, is a multidisciplinary centre bringing together research strength and capacity in biomaterials, drug delivery, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, glycoscience, and device design. The Centre’s vision is to develop affordable, innovative and transformative device-based solutions to treat global chronic diseases. -Ends-

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A diabetes research team at NUI Galway’s School of Medicine has developed a novel approach to improve how diabetes services are delivered to young adults. The team has published two new open access articles detailing the formation of their ‘Young Adult Panel’, comprising of nine young adults aged 18–25 years with type 1 diabetes. This young group have helped design the ‘D1 Now’ intervention programme, which aims to improve diabetes services by reimagining care and moving beyond the traditional clinic. Research indicates that this particular age group of young adults with type 1 diabetes often disengage from health services and their general diabetes management. Involving young adults with this condition in co-designing research to help develop a behaviour change in intervention to improve engagement with health services could potentially improve overall self-management and health. Many young adults with type 1 diabetes find it hard to control their blood glucose levels. With lots going on in their lives, their diabetes is often not the priority and means they do not always take care of their condition such as attending clinic appointments. These young adults do not usually get the chance to make suggestions on how to improve diabetes services. Being involved could help shape the diabetes care services that support them. The D1 Now research team at NUI Galway, led by Professor Seán Dinneen, says: “Through the formation of the D1 Now Young Adult Panel, it demonstrates that involving young adults with this condition in health service research, is feasible and productive. Their guidance and feedback is instrumental in creating an intervention with a difference. It also demonstrates that involving young adults in co-designing research to develop a complex behaviour change intervention to improve diabetes services ensures the process is grounded in the needs and experiences of those directly affected by type 1 diabetes.” By ensuring that young adults are at the centre of the design means that the intervention will be more acceptable to this group. Previous work from the D1 Now team indicates that young adults want care to be centred on the relationships built within their diabetes team. These new ways of engagement can offer more continuity during a time of transition, whether it takes the form of a designated staff member, through devices/eHealth tools, or through tools to facilitate shared decision-making and goal-setting. Michelle Long, a member of the Young Adult Panel said that she was: “Proud to be part of this research paper as one of the young adults on the panel aiming to improve care for diabetes in Ireland.” The Young Adult Panel developed research materials such as participant information sheets. They also reviewed and interpreted research findings to create plain language statements so that the team’s work is framed in the most appropriate way for young adults and anyone who may wish to engage with the research. The Panel has also helped develop the study website to enhance engagement between young adults and their diabetes healthcare providers. The D1 Now team contributed to an international consensus conference on health services delivery for young adults with type 1 diabetes and wrote specific sections of a further grant application to test out the new intervention. As a direct result of the Young Adult Panel, a meaningful dialogue has opened up between healthcare providers and young adults within the research team. Their involvement has led to a better understanding of what needs to be achieved in order to improve health service delivery in terms of responding to the specific needs of young adults at this transitional time in their lives. The panel have been active members in co-designing a health behaviour change intervention to improve engagement between young adults with type 1 diabetes and healthcare providers that will be evaluated in future research. The D1 Now research team and the formation of the Young Adult Panel article won the HSE Open Access Awards last Friday, 8 December. The winner of the award was Mary Clare O’Hara from the D1Now team. The study was funded through a Health Research Board, Definitive Interventions and Feasibility Awards grant. -Ends-

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Sean Kyne TD, Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development has launched a new publication, Creative Economies in Peripheral Regions written by Dr Patrick Collins at NUI Galway and Professor James Cunningham at the University of Northumbria. Dr Collins and Professor Cunningham make their policy recommendations for supporting the growth of creative economies in peripheral areas. As a sustainable model for development, one that relies on the infinite resource of human creativity, it has the potential to act as a vital agent in the future growth of peripheral regions in Ireland. NUI Galway has long been recognised as a leading international centre for the creative arts, with strong specialisms in Drama, Theatre, Performance, Visual Arts, Creative Writing, Film, Digital Media and emerging areas in creative production and arts entrepreneurship. The University has formed strong partnerships with the creative arts sector, notably with such institutions as Druid Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and Galway International Arts Festival. In the book the authors make the case for vibrant, creative and cultural economies existing beyond large urban settlements in peripheral regions in Ireland. It is the first publication to map the existence of the creative economy beyond city boundaries. This work takes place within the context of an evolving consumer society where there is increasing recognition of a change in consumer patterns as the modern consumption era matures. Commenting about the new publication, Dr Patrick Collins from the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway, said: “This book is about putting a positive spin on the term ‘peripheral’. We provide evidence of people, inspired by their place, competing in international markets where the authenticity and creative nature of their produce is in high demand.” Dr Collins added: “As more and more people buy goods that they feel reflect their own individual identity, more of us are expressing ourselves by how we dress, what we eat, what we listen to and where we go on holiday. In doing this we are turning our back on mass produced goods and services. As the market for these kinds of goods laden with expressive values increases, the products from our peripheral regions become more desirable. We argue in the book that it is the connectedness to place; the use of more traditional production techniques; and the imbued sense of authenticity in the produce of the peripheral regions that makes them more and more marketable in a maturing consumer society.” Creative industries mentioned in the book include Telegael in Spiddal, County Galway, a leading feature film, TV drama and animation company with major global partners, which employs over 70 people in high value jobs and is co-producing projects with companies located all across the world, operating from a small village in the West of Ireland. And Druid Theatre, an organisation that produces critically acclaimed theatre productions inspired by the stories of the periphery and bringing them to audiences across Ireland and right around the world. By looking at how these products in more remote areas are produced, the productive practices seen in the case study regions within the book are reflecting those of leading innovative industries. The book shows how creatives in remote regions, collaborate, co-produce, switch codes (writers and visual artists become theatre makers and game designers) that demonstrates an agility that is seen by many as key to productive success. By shining a light on the array of business models adopted by these industries the book highlights a sector that is more connected to its place, and its society in a way that is unique in the modern context. This book will be of value to those from a social science and business background and it will also be of interest to those within this growing sector and those that support it. -Ends-

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, based at NUI Galway has just been awarded the ‘Academic Contribution to Medtech Award’ by the Irish Medtech Association at the Medtech Rising: The Irish Medtech CEO Conference and Awards Ceremony. The event, which took place in Galway, was jointly hosted by the Irish Medtech Association, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, which recognises and celebrates companies that have played a leading role in making Ireland a location of choice for global Medtech.  Commenting on the Award, Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM, said: “We are delighted to receive this award and I would like to congratulate all who were shortlisted for these awards this evening. We are very proud to be a research partner to 27 MedTech companies currently, and we look forward to growing and enriching these networks and helping the Irish MedTech sector develop a solid research base here in Ireland and continue to lead the field as one of the top five global MedTech hubs.” Congratulating CÚRAM on the award, acting Irish Medtech Association Director, Eoghan Ó Faoláin said: “The reason Ireland is in a position to compete with major Medtech hubs such as Massachusetts and Minnesota, is thanks to the diversity of the sector here and the collaborative innovation that takes place on a regular basis between Irish Small and Medium Enterprises, Foreign Direct Investment multinational companies, and top universities, as well as other strategic sectors such as ICT, design and manufacturing. With Ireland ranked first for labour productivity, flexibility of talent, as well as attracting and retaining talent, it’s no surprise that Medtech growth is underpinned by job creation, with 38,000 people working in the sector now and an additional 4,000 jobs to be added by 2020.”  The diversity of the Irish Medtech sector was reflected in six award categories, namely: the Academic Contribution to Medtech Award; the Medtech Company of the Year; Emerging Medtech Company of the Year; eHealth Innovation of the Year; Medtech Partner/Supplier of the Year; and the Best European Medtech Week Campaign Award. Michael Lohan, Head of Life Sciences, Engineering and Industrial Technology Division at IDA Ireland, said: “It is clear from the list of finalists that Ireland is a one-stop-shop for Medtech with everything you need to take medical technology from concept to market here. We are not only the second largest exporter of Medtech products in Europe, but the number one location for Medtech Foreign Direct Investment. The Irish Medtech Awards are a great way to celebrate the sector’s achievements and bring people together.” -Ends-

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The first cohort of students from a unique new Masters in Medical Technology Regulatory Affairs offered jointly by NUI Galway and IT Sligo have graduated.  The two year Masters programme is offered through a partnership with the Irish Medtech Skillnet and Irish Medtech Association. The medical technology sector employs over 38,000 people in Ireland and is the second largest employer of MedTech professionals in Europe. Undertaken by professionals working regulatory affairs and quality, the masters programme equips graduates with essential knowledge and skills required in the rapidly changing global regulatory affairs environment within the growing Irish Medical Technology industry sector. Professor Terry Smith, Co-Director of the programme said: “Conferring the first graduates is a very significant milestone for this MSc programme, which is unique in Ireland. The very successful partnership between NUI Galway and IT Sligo, as well as with the Irish MedTech Association Skillnet, and MedTech industry experts, ensures a strong focus on meeting a critical MedTech industry need.  As a result, the Masters, now in its third year, is growing from strength to strength.” President of IT Sligo, Brendan McCormack said: “IT Sligo is justly proud of this collaboration which, once again, illustrates the ability of online education in helping to address a recognised skills shortage in a key industry sector such as MedTech. Great credit is due to the staff of both institutions that have helped to develop the programme.” Senior Irish Medtech Association Executive, Dr Áine Fox said: “Now that the EU medical device and IVD regulations have entered into force, the transition period clocks have begun counting down for both. Ensuring that we have talent with ability to manage these changes, which will have both operational and financial implications for the 450 medtech business across Ireland.” -Ends-

Monday, 11 December 2017

A recent Marine Economics and Policy Research Symposium provided participants with an update on a wide range of policy topics related to the marine sector in Ireland. Organised each year by the Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU) of the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway, with support from the Marine Institute, this year’s theme was ‘Past, Present and Future’ with sessions dedicated to marine related issues focused on each of these time periods. Dr Stephen Hynes of SEMRU at NUI Galway, spoke of the strong maritime tradition in Ireland and the potential for growth in the ocean economy across a number of industries. “In my view, marine development opportunities lie in what we as a nation have shown we are already good at. For example, using our skills and capacity in the information technology and biotechnology sectors to generate marine communications solutions and to produce new active ingredients for use in food and pharmaceuticals; applying our skills in finance and leasing in the development of shipping services.” Dr Hynes continued: “SEMRU’s ocean economy figures demonstrate particularly strong growth over the 2014 to 2016 period in a number of industries that have previously seen slow growth, or are at the early stages of development such as marine renewables, marine advanced tech and oil and gas.” The Symposium looked to the past in order to see what lessons might be learned for marine policy makers today. Dr Aidan Kane from the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway presented historical data from cargo manifestos associated with Irish ports, which gives the researcher an insight into the evolving structure of regional economies in Ireland. The event also focused on the present marine policy environment presented by Professor Cathal O’Donoghue, NUI Galway, who examined the economic strength and weaknesses of coastal areas in terms of unemployment and migration from the great recession through to the recent economic recovery. NUI Galway’s Dr Amanda Slevin then gave a critique of Irish state hydrocarbon management while Tom Gillespie looked at the contribution from having a sea view and what the distance to coastal amenities makes to propriety values. The plenary session was given by leading marine law expert Professor Ronán Long who holds the Nippon Foundation Chair of Ocean Governance at the World Maritime University in Sweden. He gave a fascinating insight into recent developments in climate change and their implications for our ocean resources, particularly in light of the Paris Agreement 2015. The final session of the day examined how marine policy and maritime industries could be transformed in the future. Philip Stephens and Liam Lacey of the Irish Maritime Development Office presented the case for creating an International Shipping Services Centre in Cork, which could deliver on key components of the Government’s integrated plan for the marine industry, creating a flagship project of scale with significant regional development potential. Liam Lacey said: “Ireland has been successful in building world-class financial services and aviation leasing industries.  Building on these successes, Ireland can become a hub for maritime commerce through exploiting existing competitive advantages, being disruptive in a very traditional industry, and reconceiving maritime commerce through blue ocean strategies.  Ireland’s claim is strengthened by Brexit and by the impressive recovery of the Irish economy in recent years.” -Ends-

Monday, 11 December 2017

Dr Martin O’Halloran from NUI Galway was announced as the winner of the inaugural Irish Research Council ‘Researcher of the Year’ award for his outstanding research in medical electronics. Dr O’Halloran is a Techrete Senior Lecturer in Medical Electronics at NUI Galway’s College of Engineering and Informatics and College of Medicine, and a Founder-Director of the Lambe Translational Medical Device Lab at Galway University Hospital. The awards were presented as the Council marks 15 years of the Irish Research Council and its forebears, the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology. Commenting on receiving his award, Dr Martin O’Halloran from NUI Galway, said: “This award is a reflection of the quality and ambition of the broader research team in the Translational Medical Device Lab at NUI Galway, and validates the close collaboration between the Colleges of Engineering and Informatics, and Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences. By embedding our engineering lab within the hospital, we get a greater understanding of the real clinical need, and can shorten the time required to translate technology out of the lab and into the patient clinic.” The Lambe Translational Medical Device Lab now hosts 24 world class researchers from Europe, the US and Asia, including engineers, physicists, veterinary surgeons and doctors. The team are developing medical devices to address problems ranging from new ways to reliably detect fetal distress during delivery, to novel treatments for lung cancer. Dr Paola Rivetti, Dublin City University, was awarded the ‘Early-Career Researcher of the Year’ award for her research in politics of the Middle East and international relations. Her research interests focus on the government of societies and politics in the Middle East and North Africa from a comparative perspective. The two Council-funded researchers received their awards for having made a highly significant and valuable contribution to research in Ireland over their career to-date in their respective fields. Congratulating the awardees, Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, Mr John Halligan, TD said: “I would like to warmly congratulate Dr Martin O’ Halloran and Dr Paola Rivetti on receiving the inaugural Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year awards. Their exceptional careers are a testament to the quality of the people in Ireland’s research environment and I would like to commend them on their hard work and dedication to their chosen field.” Chair of the Irish Research Council, Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, congratulated the two awardees: “I am delighted to congratulate Dr Martin O Halloran and Dr Paola Rivetti on receiving the inaugural Researcher of the Year awards. We received many nominations of current and previously Council-funded researchers. Dr O’Halloran and Dr Rivetti were selected for their outstanding track records to date and I would like to wish them all the very best in their future research careers.” -Ends-

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Many people experience obsessive thoughts that they struggle to remove from their mind. Others have compulsive behaviours that they feel like repeating over and over again such as checking locks and washing. The School of Psychology at NUI Galway is seeking over a 1,000 people from across Ireland who experience any of these symptoms to participate in an online survey. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can significantly impact a person’s life, with some individuals spending as much as six hours per day experiencing these symptoms. Although a diagnosis of OCD is relatively uncommon, only occurring in 2-3% of the population, approximately a quarter of all people in community studies report experiencing lower-level obsessions or compulsions at some point in their lives. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can take many forms: Thoughts about being contaminated or dirty and engaging in excessive washing. Repetitive checking of locks and switches or certain rituals to prevent bad events. Unpleasant and unwanted thoughts about engaging in immoral or aggressive acts. An excessive need for symmetry and order, associated with a ‘not just right’ feeling. Certain emotions have been linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For example, a person may wash excessively to remove feelings of disgust. Furthermore, strong feelings of guilt and responsibility can be associated with excessive checking of switches and locks. This current research will seek to examine the relationship between such emotions and obsessional and compulsive symptoms. The online study will be conducted by Patrick McHugh, a psychologist in clinical training at the School of Psychology in NUI Galway along with Dr Jonathan Egan, Deputy Director of the Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programme at the University.  Speaking about the study, Mr McHugh from NUI Galway, said: “Obsessions can feel overwhelming and difficult to control. We aim to investigate whether strong emotions like guilt and disgust contribute to such symptoms.” Dr Jonathan Egan who is a both a Chartered Health and Chartered Clinical Psychologist at NUI Galway, said: “When people do not reach out to others in order to normalise their thoughts, they may then start to experience distress. Obsessions are often associated with thoughts which feel intrusive and out of your own control and if left untended to, can become a worrying pre-occupation and affect a person’s day-to-day life and may result in the need for a Chartered Clinical Psychologist’s intervention.” To participate in the study email or  visit: Participants can enter a draw for a €100 One4All voucher on completion of the survey and request access to a summary of the results. -Ends-

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Cresco, a leading innovation company based in the UK, specialising in securing international grants and funding for technology based clients, has announced the opening of its first Irish office at NUI Galway’s Business Innovation Centre. NUI Galway is renowned for being a hotbed of innovation, particularly in the Medtech and Biotech industries with its ecosystem growing from strength to strength. The University’s Business Innovation Centre has supported numerous companies, both spin-ins and spin-outs from initial commercial road mapping to scaling up the business opportunity. They support the success of these companies by providing facilities on campus and the ability to carry out research, which is supported by funding bodies such as Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, the European Union and Horizon 2020. To date NUI Galway has been extremely successful in achieving Horizon 2020 grants in a number of funding applications. In 2017, a total of 22 Horizon 2020 proposals were awarded funding, securing almost €9 million in research funds. The Business Innovation Centre is also very active in applying for the Horizon 2020 Small to Medium Enterprise instrument grant with four client companies already being successful in 2017. To continue these funding success’ the arrival of Cresco to the Business Innovation Centre,  the experts in securing international and European grant funding to support academic research is a significant partnership for the University. With its headquarters in the UK, the Cresco team have been working with many Irish companies and have enjoyed unprecedented success winning funding applications through the Horizon 2020 programme. Particularly in phase two stage of applications where Cresco has won over €5.1 million for Irish clients in the last 12 months. Fiona Neary, Manager of the Business Innovation Centre at NUI Galway, said: “This is an exciting partnership with Cresco as NUI Galway continues to transform healthcare and the Medtech ecosystem. Our vision is to create innovative medical technologies which are affordable and transformative for patients with both acute and chronic conditions. This will bring us closer to the patient need, while also stimulating innovation and job creation through high-potential start-ups.” Jo Derbyshire, CEO of Cresco, said: “We are very excited to formally establish our Irish operations. We have been working with Irish clients for some time, and the opportunity of an office at the NUI Galway Business Innovation Centre is the ideal opportunity for us to build on the success we have enjoyed so far, Cresco Ireland is a key pillar of our ‘Brexit’ strategy.” This activity is supported on campus by the office of the Vice-President for Research, CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, BioInnovate Medical Technology innovation programme and the first Medtech Accelerator in Ireland, BioExel, all operating from NUI Galway. The partnership with Cresco will lead to further grant potential with commercial impacts for Galway and the wider region, with many discussions already underway with potential University spin out’s and early stage start-up’s. The aim of the Business Innovation Centre is to create an environment which promotes entrepreneurialism and innovation, enhances spin out formation and new business growth. The centre gives companies a prime opportunity to benefit from the first class facilities available at NUI Galway. -Ends-

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Centre for Global Women’s Studies and the MA in Gender, Globalisation and Rights programme at NUI Galway is supporting the international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which runs until 10 December. The Centre’s sixteen day programme follows the theme, ‘Together We Can End Gender-Based Violence in Education’ focusing on education including Irish schools and third-level institutions. On Wednesday 6 December to mark the anniversary of the ‘Montreal Massacre’, where 14 female students were murdered at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, NUI Galway will host a series of events and talks that are free and open to the public, students and staff from 2pm to 5.30pm. Guided Walks entitled ‘Understanding Gender-Based Violence in Education’ will take place on campus from 2pm to 4pm starting and ending at NUI Galway’s Quadrangle. This will be followed by a Ceremonial Lighting of the Quadrangle in orange as part of the global ‘Orange the World’ campaign and talks by organisers of the event. There will also be keynote addresses in the Emily Anderson Concert Hall at the Quadrangle by Professor Niamh Reilly, School of Political Science and Sociology and Professor Anne Scott, Vice-President of Equality and Diversity at NUI Galway. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2017 campaign aims to build awareness and advocate for an end to all forms of gender-based violence in education. Gender-based violence is any form of physical, sexual or psychological violence directed towards an individual on the basis of stereotypes, norms or roles associated with sexual or gendered identity. Dr Stacey Scriver from the Centre for Global Women’s Studies at the School of Political Science and Sociology at NUI Galway, said: “Violence in education is not only a problem for developing countries. Evidence shows that men and women in Ireland are also impacted by violence in and around educational institutes. We all have a role to play in ending gender-based violence in education. Participating in the 16 Days of Activism campaign and developing understanding and awareness of how this issue affects young men and women globally and locally is one small, but significant, way to contribute.” Dr Nata Duvvury, Director of the Centre for Global Women’s Studies at NUI Galway, highlighted: “The ramifications of violence in education are enormous, affecting the capabilities of young people and limiting their future potential, and thus effectively undermining their hopes and expectations of getting an education.” Programme of Events for the Day 2pm-4pm - Guided Walks on campus starting and ending at the Quadrangle, including talks by Lindsey Bacigal, MA in Gender, Globalisation and Rights, Dr Amie Lajoie, School of Political Science and Sociology and Dr Nata Duvvury, Centre for Global Women's Studies at NUI Galway, and Dr Kieran Kennedy, School of Medicine, NUI Galway and the Galway Sexual Assault Treatment Unit. 4pm-4.30pm – Talks from Professor Niamh Reilly and Professor Anne Scott, NUI Galway in the Emily Anderson Concert Hall, followed by the Ceremonial Lighting of the Quadrangle in orange as part of the 'Orange the World' campaign. 4.30pm-5.30pm - Bake Sale to support Galway Rape Crisis Centre and Plan International in the Emily Anderson Concert Hall. To support NUI Galway’s campaign online follow us on Twitter @GlobalWS_NUIG and @16DaysCampaign and #16days or on Facebook at globalwomensstudiesnuig. -Ends-

Monday, 4 December 2017

A new study led by Dr Audrey Morley at NUI Galway, has found that the magnitude of past abrupt climate change events may have underestimated. If so, the impact of current climate change may be larger than expected. The study was published today (4 December 2017) in the international journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. Lead author of the study, Dr Audrey Morley from the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway, said: “Abrupt climate events that occurred during the last interglacial (warm) period, ca. 125,000 years ago, have been underestimated by up to 4°Celsius. This is important because our current understanding of climate change and our predictions of future climate both rely on past examples from Earth’s climate history. Robust and quantitative methods to deduce the magnitude of abrupt climate events from the geologic record are therefore essential.” In this new study, Dr Morley collaborated with researchers from the University of California-Santa Cruz, Rutgers University New Jersey and the University of Bergen, and studied an established geochemical tool for investigating sea surface temperatures in the past. In the modern ocean, observations have shown that marine plankton (foraminifera) will use more magnesium relative to calcium, which are elements freely available in sea water, when they form their shell in warmer waters. This allows scientists to apply this modern relationship between magnesium, calcium, and temperature to the past by measuring magnesium-to-calcium ratios (Mg/Ca) in fossilised marine plankton that are continually deposited in seafloor sediments. However, there are limitations with the Mg/Ca temperature relationship, because the scientists understanding of other processes that may influence the amount of magnesium in the shell is incomplete. For example, higher carbon dioxide levels in seawater results in lower pH (potential of hydrogen) and lower carbonate ion concentrations. Carbonate ion is the carbon species used by foraminifera to form their calcium carbonate tests. As carbonate ion becomes less available in surrounding seawater the individual organism needs to exert more energy for calcification. Through this process more magnesium becomes incidentally incorporated than what would be predicted by temperature only. Since colder surface waters absorb more carbon dioxide than warmer waters, this leads to generally low carbonate ion concentrations in cold surface waters. Therefore, when magnesium-to-calcium values are measured on fossilised marine plankton that lived in surface waters with low carbonate ion concentrations, this relationship leads to an underestimation of reconstructed temperatures. This study presents an innovative mathematical correction scheme that enables the carbonate ion concentration effect to be isolated from the temperature signal recorded in marine plankton (from magnesium-to-calcium ratios) via subtraction. Specifically, Dr Morley and her colleagues were able to quantify the control of low carbonate ion concentrations values on magnesium-to-calcium ratios for a specific marine plankton species (Neogloboquadrina Incompta) living in the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean, and thereby isolate the true magnesium-to-calcium temperature relationship. Dr Morley added: “Applying the proposed correction scheme to past climate records reveals that we may have underestimated abrupt climate events by up to 4°Celsius during past interglacial (warm) periods. This is particularly important for climate records from the subpolar/polar North Atlantic region that may have experienced abrupt changes in carbonate ion concentrations linked with abrupt climate events. Correcting for low carbonate ion concentration values improves the fidelity of temperature reconstructions and allows a reassessment of the magnitude of climate events occurring during warm climates.”  -Ends-

Monday, 4 December 2017

NUI Galway and University of Oxford study proves centuries-old giant boulder deposits in the Northwest of Ireland were caused by high Atlantic storm waves  Professor Paul Ryan from NUI Galway and Professor John Dewey from University of Oxford have carried out research that proves the spectacular boulder deposits of Annagh Head in County Mayo were caused not by an unknown tsunami but by Atlantic storm waves of up to 30 metres breaking against the shore for hundreds of years. The findings were published this week in the leading journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Enormous boulders, some over 50 tonnes, piled on the foreshore or at the top of a small cliff  in a deposit called a boulderite are evidence of the power of extreme waves. Tsunamis are known to have massive power and most such deposits, including those along the Wild Atlantic Way, are believed to be ‘tsunamites’. However, in 2004, the late Professor D Michael Williams of NUI Galway argued that the boulders on the Atlantic cliffs of the Arran Islands were due to storm waves, which caused considerable international debate at the time. In an attempt to resolve this controversy Professors Dewey and Ryan compared two deposits: a tsunamite from the Miocene of New Zealand and a present-day boulderite at Annagh Head in County Mayo. Field data shows that in the North Island of New Zealand a 10 million year boulderite which contains boulders in excess of 140 tonnes, the Matheson Formation Bay, was produced by a 12-13 metre-high tsunami within a period of about one hour. The origin of the boulders at Annagh Head, which exceed 50 tonnes, is disputed. The researchers combined oceanographic, historical, and field data to argue that this is a cliff-top storm deposit. A computer simulation of a cliff-top storm deposit was developed, which shows that boulder shape in addition to density and dimensions should be taken into account when applying hydrodynamic equations to such deposits. The model also predicted that Northeast Atlantic storms, which historically have produced waves of over 60 metres, are capable of producing boulderites that cannot be distinguished from tsunamites when size alone is considered. Comparing and contrasting these two deposits helps indentify the origins of boulderites. Climate change means our shorelines are becoming more vulnerable and the ability to read these piles of boulders will help us understand how much more vulnerable. Co-author of the study, Professor Paul Ryan from Earth and Ocean Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway, said: “This study shows the enormous power of storm waves battering the foreshore over centuries, ripping boulders of over 50 tonnes from the cliff face, piling them 100 metres or more inland.” Professor John Dewey from University of Oxford and co-author of the study, said: “The triple junction between land, sea and air is perhaps the least well understood in the Earth Sciences. We should pay greater attention to our shores.” -Ends- 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Author: Dr Oliver Feeney, Centre of Bioethical Research and Analysis Opinion: there is no doubt that gene editing and similar techniques are going to deeply affect the future of our children and future generations The turn of the century saw a surge of interest in human genetics with the highly publicised race to complete the sequencing of the human genome. In 2000, then US President Bill Clinton joined with the two leading figures in this race - Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project and Craig Venter of Celera Genomics – to announce a working draft of the human genome. In his address, Clinton optimistically observed that "it is now conceivable that our children's children will know the term ‘cancer’ only as a constellation of stars". Shortly thereafter, the human genome was fully drafted in April 2003. Over the course of the following decade and despite such optimism, it has been argued that progress was mixed. On the one hand, we've seen significant strides in basic genetic science and improved methods of genetic testing. On the other hand, there has been little progress in terms of actual medical applications. Then in 2012, CRISPR happened. Since then, many applications of the expanding genetic science have rapidly moved from science fiction to become actual or imminent scientific fact. In researching how bacteria fights viral infections, a team of researchers led by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier made a revolutionary discovery of a method of intervening in the human genome with previously unimaginable precision and efficiency. In fact, the method was so easy and cheap (relatively speaking) that most universities could easily afford the necessary equipment and tools to enable its grad students to use it. In short, the CRISPR-Cas9 method (to give it its full name) borrows a natural inherited process from the immune system in bacteria. Bacterial DNA was found to contain clustered, regularly interspersed, short palindromic repeats of DNA (thus the acronym CRISPR). These sequences matched the DNA of viruses (specifically the viral DNA) that have previously attacked the bacterium or its ancestors. In this way, the DNA from new viral attacks could be recognised quickly. The bacterial DNA also codes for the Cas9 nuclease capable of cutting RNA or DNA that contains these viral sequences if it is brought into contact with them. Thus, a viral attack on the bacteria triggers CRISPR-Cas9 to find the viral DNA or RNA at the remembered sequences and cut and disable that RNA/DNA and so disable the viral attack. What was revolutionary what that the researchers discovered that CRISPR-Cas9 could be programmed by human design to cut (gene silencing) and even replace (gene insertion) any chosen stretch of DNA in human and non-human cells. A bright new dawn And with this, the surge of interest and optimism has returned. CRISPR-Cas9 has been heralded to have significant potential applications in a wide variety of areas, from agriculture to human intervention. From developing disease-resistant and pest-resistant high yield crops (without the need of environmentally harmful pesticides and herbicides) to vastly increased abilities to study the mechanisms of disease, the potential of CRISPR is such that is may have an application in every aspect of biological life.   One area of ethical disquiet is the prospect that interventions could be used not just for treatment, but also for enhancement. In terms of human therapeutics, there are a number of exciting CRISPR initiatives in Ireland, including research into the correction of inherited heart defects, blindness, rheumatoid arthritis, immunology and, to recall Clinton’s optimism, cancer. There are two ways that the technology could be used on humans – non-heritable (somatic) or heritable (germline) – and it is particularly the latter germline focus that holds immense promise for the elimination of inherited genetic diseases that would otherwise affect our children and future generations. For instance, in August this year, we had the highly publicised case of researchers in Portland using CRISPR to correct a disease-causing genetic mutation at the early embryonic stage that would otherwise have caused a serious heart condition in later life.  A question of ethics  Research into making germline changes at the embryo stage is not uncontroversial. It should be noted that the Portland research, like other similar research, was never designed to allow the gene-edited embryos to be implanted and allowed to develop to birth. There are many safety issues to be surmounted before this could be contemplated, including avoiding off-target changes or accidental changes to the genome. Indeed, the 1997 Council of Europe’s Oviedo Convention contains an article banning such interventions to be made to the genome of our offspring and future generations. While there has been much opposition to the notion of germline interventions, it can be noted that such opposition is lessening in recent years, whilst always with the condition that safety issues are addressed before any such changes would ever be permitted. Even those opposed are increasingly anticipating this reality. In October this year, the Council of Europe issued their Recommendation 2115 (2017) on the use of new genetic technologies in human beings where they reaffirmed the opposition to deliberate germline changes as expressed in the ‘Oviedo Convention’ as crossing "a line viewed as ethically inviolable". However, they also recognised that "recent advances in genome editing are bound to result in germline interventions in human beings quite soon, for example with the birth of children whose genome has been altered with some unforeseeable consequences in such a way that their descendants are also affected". In other words, while not universally supported, germline interventions are on the horizon. The prospect of enhancing human beings One area of ethical disquiet that seems intimately bound up with concerns over germline interventions is the prospect that such interventions could be used not just for treatment, but also for enhancement. Many might feel that this is a problematic step from a legitimate concern over the welfare of our children (and our children’s children) to a eugenic-sounding project of designing our offspring and future generations. For instance, a 2016 Genetic Alliance UK survey showed respondents to be enthusiastic over gene editing in terms of therapeutic goals, but decidedly not in favour of enhancements. Similarly, the 2016 US Pew study of surveys notes more anxiety than enthusiasm regarding enhancements. In many ethical assessments, the prospect of enhancements for future generations is seen as something both "dangerous and problematic". The recent Council of Europe recommendation also noted this concern, which was also heavily implied as underlying part of their concerns over germline interventions. "Recent discoveries related to the human genome have opened the door to new opportunities and unprecedented ethical concerns. "On the one hand, this improved knowledge of our make-up as human beings brings with it welcome potential to diagnose, prevent and eventually cure diseases in the future. On the other hand, it raises complex ethical and human rights questions, including – but not limited to – unintended harm which may result from the techniques used, access and consent to such techniques, and their potential abuse for enhancement or eugenic purposes."  We are already heavily designed by our social environment, which is a highly artificial intervention that forms who and what we are There are many issues raised over the notion of human germline enhancement. The renowned philosopher Jürgen Habermas feared that it would cause a sense of unfreedom for the modified offspring due to (irreversible) design by third parties and damaging the sense of being the undivided author of one’s own life. Michael Sandel noted that such interventions would be a result of (and further foster) a bad character trait in patents as striving for total mastery over their offspring. Others have concerns how such interventions would negatively impact the prospective child’s ‘right to an open future’ due to the view that the enhancement of some capabilities may narrow the options that the person will have in life. While some concerns over germline interventions could possibly be circumvented by the addressing of safety concerns, the concerns over the prospect of enhancement would seem to raise more intractable issues. How should we proceed? It would be wise to keep the following three factor in mind as people deliberate upon these important issues (whatever their ultimate assessment). Firstly, such potential issues are not genuinely new. The American philosopher Allen Buchanan notes that such concerns over genetic enhancements causing changes "in us" being framed as fundamentally different from "environmental" enhancements are "tantamount to denying that culture plays a significant role in our individual and collective identities". We are already heavily designed by our social environment, which is a highly artificial intervention that forms who and what we are in its socialisation of norms, values, identity and personality.  Secondly, such genetic possibilities will not be especially powerful as some commentators might imagine. The traits and capacities that enhancements would be directed toward are formed from a multitude of genetic and environmental influences. Modifying some of the genetic influences will only be a modest contribution to the resulting person. Thirdly, and importantly, concerns with such issues may distract from imminent work now. If germline interventions are delayed due to concerns over enhancements (or concerns over improperly designing our offspring), we should be wary. After all, some such germline interventions could have contributed to avoiding disease and unnecessary suffering for our offspring and future generations. We should be careful, if you pardon the following pun, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Much more remains to be said about enhancements, germline interventions, future generations and gene-editing broadly  especially with regard to concerns over wider environmental risk as well as issues of ownership and control of such a powerful and foundational technology. However, one thing is certain: gene editing and similar techniques are going to deeply affect the future of our children and future generations. It is incumbent upon all of us to take part in discussions over the ethical, legal and societal implications of this and to be open to all sides and all arguments, whatever our ultimate conclusions. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Author: Dr Martin O'Donoghue, School of Humanities Opinion: while a name is rarely the primary reason for a political party’s rise or fall, the re-labelling of parties and movements has been common in Irish political history since independence  Earlier this year, the Anti-Austerity Alliance rebranded itself as Solidarity to reflect its campaigning on social as well as economic concerns. A perusal of politics since independence shows that the re-labelling of parties and movements is not uncommon in Irish political history. Nor is it rare for parties to adopt deliberate reference points to older movements.  So just how important are party names? Why do parties adopt or change names? Are such changes advantageous to the parties involved? Sinn Féin's family tree Sinn Féin was founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith and revitalised after the 1916 Rising. It has an obvious cache with its Gaelic name and the sense of succession it gives to the republican tradition. The first to move away from it were those who took the Treaty side in 1922 and founded Cumann na nGaedheal, the same name as an antecedent of Griffith’s party.  Founded in 1926, Fianna Fáil may have been "the soldiers of destiny", but the name also linked to revolution as it matched the "FF" insignia on Irish Volunteer uniforms in 1916. The value of maintaining a connection with the revolution was self-evidently important in the 1920s as arguments of the constitutional status of the state raged and Civil War memories remained raw. However, by 1932, Civil War politics were clearly about something more as Éamon de Valera’s new party surpassed the electoral high point of anti-Treaty Sinn Féin and won power. The value of maintaining a connection with the revolution was important in the 1920s Yet other parties claiming no derivation from Sinn Féin have enjoyed little long term success, so has naming been a factor? The Irish National Leaguefounded in 1926 invoked Charles Stewart Parnell’s organisation of the 1880s. However, its rapid demise could not ascribed solely to its name or even its backward looking ethos. A failed attempt at coalition government with Labourand Fianna Fáil support and a lack of funds soon destroyed the party. The farmers plough on The Farmers’ Party returned seven deputies in June 1922. Despite its simple appellation, it was soon associated with larger agriculturalists and it declined after being targeted electorally by Cumann na nGaedheal, itself soon accused of defending larger landholders.  Another farmers’ party emerged with the National Centre Party in 1933. Originally encumbered by the label of the National Farmers’ and Rate-payers’ League, this grouping adopted a name with more general appeal thanks to its leadership of James Dillon and Frank MacDermot. It, too, was soon associated with graziers as it defended larger farmers threatened by Fianna Fáil policies and the Economic War with Britain.  The third incarnation of a farmers’ party, Clann na Talmhan (Family of the Land), was founded in 1939. Unlike the previous two, it appealed more to smaller farmers. It high point was ten seats in 1943 with problems in uniting farming support outside of the major parties clearly structural rather than cosmetic. What's in a name? While re-naming and reformations has also been evident among many left-wing parties, the most successful one has remained Labour, which claims to be the oldest party in the state. If it has failed to improve its position in the "two and a half party system", few scholars would argue that naming or branding has been a significant factor as Labour is simple and easily recognisable. There is now a party bearing the name Social Democrats in common with many European states, but the extent of its potential is as yet unclear.  Broadcaster Olivia O’Leary has recently argued that at elections, the "single product with brand recognition" is the leader rather than party or policy. It is in this way that the significance of names as part of a movement’s wider public image becomes apparent. The Green Party, for example, is catchier than the Ecology Party of Ireland. New parties, in particular want a name that is distinctive and carries a positive message.  Much like a first impression, the label remains important While Clann na Poblachta adopted an Irish name which reflected a republican ethos, the Progressive Democrats had no echo in Irish history apart from Noel Browne’s National Progressive Democrats which had a very different ideological outlook. Older parties, by contrast, already have established brands whose stock rises and falls based on current leaders, slogans, policies and performance. Fine Gael-United Ireland Party emerged as the unusual child of Opposition distress in 1933 as Cumann na nGaedheal and the Centre Party merged with the Blueshirt movement under the leadership of Eoin O’Duffy. Its initial dual language moniker was soon dropped, but the next decade was one of disillusion and disorganisation as the enlarged party attracted less support in the 1940s than Cumann na nGaedheal had previously achieved.  However, problems in uniting the different parties, the lingering embarrassment of O’Duffy’s brief leadership and Fianna Fáil’s strength were far more significant than whatever name might have been chosen. More importantly, the party never lost its place as one of the "big two" and has successfully drawn on its historical links to both Cumann na nGaedheal and Michael Collins to construct a positive public image.  It is difficult to think of a case where a name or a change of name was the sole or even primary reason for a party’s decline. Party names may not always have been beneficial and some may even have exacerbated issues surrounding policy positions, leadership and organisation. However, much like a first impression, the label remains important, but it alone is rarely the deciding factor between ultimate success and failure. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 20 November 2017

Author: Barry Houlihan, James Hardiman Library Opinion: Explore Your Archive week is an opportunity for the general public to access records and archives to find out about our history as well as our present It’s time to explore your archives. At a time where facts are often dismissed in favour of populist soundbites across instant media, it is ever more important that we remain in dialogue with our documented heritage. Libraries, archives and museums are institutions which act against these uncertain times. Access to records and archives is a vital function and signifier of a democratic society. It shows that open and mature debate can occur about our history as well as our present.  Archivists work to collect, preserve and make accessible what is documented from our present and from our past for future consultation. Objective observers but not passive in the presence of history, they actively work and intervene to counteract gaps in our national memory. Innumerable volumes of records, from letters and correspondence, wills and deeds, photographs and video tapes, to floppy disks and mini-disks, are painstakingly catalogued, restored, digitised and stabilised.  Born-digital records such as email and the web itself are also now becoming part of our archival record as we move into the realm of big data and equally big archives. The Utah Data Centre in Bluffdale, in the United States is home to one of the world’s largest digital data repositories, with storage capacity of thousands of zettabytes (one trillion gigabytes) and rapidly approaching yottabytes (one trillion terabytes). Our personal digital detritus is being constantly gathered online and in the cloud. Every time you click to accept terms and conditions on a website, stream the latest show or post a selfie at your favourite café, your digital legacy grows ever so slightly. We are currently the most documented generation ever in existence and, paradoxically, also the one at greatest risk of being the least remembered.  Our disposable culture leaves us counting gigabytes rather than shelf-space. Our memories become handed to us through daily "on this day" reminders on Facebook. To quote Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, "memory is indeed a major preoccupation of our time . . . This need for ‘reminding’ reflects, no doubt, the busy lives we lead and perhaps our distrust of our ability to remember everything on our crowded schedule." In recent years, the European Court upheld a case which has reinforced the right to be forgotten thus forever changing for future historians how history is sought out and also how archivists can objectively store and record information. We should also be given the right, or at least the chance, to remember and to be allowed access the archives of the world we inhabit. Our personal digital detritus is being constantly gathered online and in the cloud While many of us may not traditionally have engaged with national cultural institutions, record offices or libraries, the increasing amount of records available digitally and free of charge allow give us an opportunity to make discoveries. Programmes like Who Do You Think You Are bring personal family stories from the past into our living rooms but as entertainment. Within the current decade of commemorations, the process of making history public and how we approach our history has become mainstream conversation. Bringing discourse on our history into our news feeds as well as our conversations is one of the many positives of the recent commemorations.  President Michael D. Higgins has called for an "ethical remembering", one open to diverse opinion and sources, the archive and memory of history’s losers as well as winners. Speaking at NUI Galway in April 2016, he called for spaces with the intellectual courage to reject dominant ideologies and encourage the seeking of truth from fact. Archive repositories around the country work towards realising this idea by documenting, ordering and sharing the raw materials of ourselves, our society, and our past. They offer spaces where one can access local as well as national records, and search for the truth from gathered evidence.  Archives can act as catalysts for social openness, enabling voices of those marginalised or repressed to be heard. Theatre companies like Anu Productions have allowed us to experience the darkest parts of our nation’s past, by performing our archives through works like Laundry. Journalists and campaigners like Mary Raftery and Catherine Corless have woken the country to seeing a different tragic history, one of those previously denied a voice and place in our public history.  In the poem Bogland, Seamus Heaney writes about the process of discovery and recovery from the landscape, the bog giving up its relics previously secreted into the earth over centuries: "Every layer they strip / seems camped on before." During this year’s Explore your Archive campaign, take the opportunity to discover what archives around the country have to offer. Local and national institutions will be holding special events, talks, exhibitions and more.  What makes visiting an archive a special experience is the tangible attachment to our heritage made possible. By physically handling the archive material itself, you can touch the documents, words and images that have shaped our lives and current society. It brings down barriers of display and puts history in your hands. To be able to encounter the stories of ourselves through our archives is complex, fascinating, enlightening and a privilege. Explore it for yourself. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Author: Dr Declan Coogan, School of Political Science and Sociology Opinion: while conflict between parents and children is usually a rite of passage, abuse, violence and fear can take over the relationship in some families At first, I wasn’t sure what to say or do. I was working as a social worker on a child and adolescent mental health team in Dublin and I was uncertain about how I could respond in a useful way when "June" and "Tom" (not their real names) first talked to me about being afraid of their son, a 14 year old boy. Listening is always a good start. As more parents began to talk about being afraid of their son or daughter to me and other practitioners working with children and families around Ireland, they told us that listening without judgement is really very important to them. But what could we do together to end the use of abusive and/or violent behaviour by some children and young people towards their parents? Defining child to parent violence First we need to name the problem and let parents know that they are now alone. Conflict between parents and children is usually a rite of passage, a stage in changing relationships as sons and daughters grow and mature. But in some families, abuse, violence and fear enters the relationship when parents like June and Tom feel they are unable to act as a parent. This is a problem known as child to parent violence and abuse (CPVA). This is a problem known as child to parent violence and abuse (CPVA). CPVA is an abuse of power where a child/adolescent under the age of 18 years coerces controls or dominates parents or those who have a parental role (e.g. grandparents or foster carers). It is reported by parents from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds in Ireland, throughout the EU and further afield. Parents living with CPVA often talk about feeling ashamed, feeling completely powerless and feeling all alone. If a parent meets with someone who might help – for example a social worker, family support worker, psychologist or psychotherapist – that practitioner may be uncertain about how best to help. This is because there has been very little awareness-raising and training about CPVA.  Providing help We need to identify sources of help. There are free on-line resources, some of which have been developed by practitioners and academics in Ireland, such as CPV Ireland, Responding to Child To Parent Violence and New Authority Parenting. One model of intervention that has been adapted in Ireland and that helps families living with CPVA is known as Non Violent Resistance (NVR). Some practitioners in Parentline, child and adolescent mental health services and Tusla child and family services have received training in NVR.  They adopted the principles and strategies of non-violence from socio-political struggles for civil rights to work with families  NVR for families living with children with abusive/violent behaviour was pioneered in Tel Aviv, Israel by psychologist and family therapist Haim Omerand others. They adopted the principles and strategies of non-violence from socio-political struggles for civil rights to work with families where children and young people use violent/abusive behaviour at home. The partnership model Involving trained practitioners working collaboratively with parents, the NVR model moves the focus of intervention to where parents can effectively take action to change interaction habits between parents and children that can lead to the use of abusive/ violent behaviour. Using the NVR model in partnership with parents, the practitioner becomes a type of adviser/ coach for parents. Parents are supported to develop skills for de-escalation, self-control, resistance and protest and to recruit and co-ordinate a support network. This empowers parents to take their place as a parent in the family. It empowers parents and practitioners to take positive action while respecting and protecting children and all family members.  Parents commit to avoiding all forms of abusive behaviour and make a clear announcement to the family that specific types of behaviour are no longer acceptable. A clear distinction is also made between abusive/violent behaviour (which is rejected and resisted) and the child, who is treated with respect and love as a member of the family. Parents increase their positive presence in their child’s life and make unconditional acts of reconciliation towards their son/daughter.  Does it work? Parents such as Tom and June tell us the support they receive through using NVR helps them to end abusive/violent behaviour. There is also a small but developing amount of research exploring intervention with NVR. For example, an article published by Barbara Gienusz in 2014 described three research studies in the UK and Germany which found that NVR improves parental well-being, decreases parental helplessness and leads to positive improvements in the child’s behaviour. Omer and Dan Dolberger wrote an article in 2015 that outlines the use of NVR with parents where a child threatens to commit suicide. Two research studies, one by Paula Wilcox and her colleagues in 2015 and another by me in 2016, demonstrated that practitioners who took part in the training in NVR increased their confidence and skills for talking about and responding to CPVA. NVR is an evidence-based, non-blaming, systemic and relatively short-term intervention model that empowers parents and practitioners to take positive action in response to CPVA while respecting and protecting children and all family members.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Author: Wallace Arthur, School of Natural Sciences Opinion: thanks to the discovery in 2017 of four Earth-sized planets orbiting a star on our cosmic doorstep, the prospects of finding extra-terrestrial life within the next decade are much improved We’ve all heard of Trappist beer and Trappist monks. But to a scientist, Trappist, or TRAPPIST, as it’s usually dubbed in this case, refers to two Belgian telescopes, one in Chile and one in Morocco. Their job is to search for exoplanets, that is planets orbiting any sun other than our own. One of the TRAPPIST telescopes discovered a small star, which was named TRAPPIST-1, with three planets orbiting it in 2015. This year, further study brought the number of known planets in this system to seven – almost as high a number as our own eight (previously nine, before Pluto was demoted). Three of these seven planets are in the star’s habitable zone, which is clearly encouraging for astrobiologists interested in the search for life in the Universe. Whether any of these particular three planets have life remains to be established. But the question "do any such planets have life?" has been made redundant by this and many related discoveries over the last few years. Our question now should be: how many planets have life? And the answer is probably "trillions of them". That’s a big leap – from three planets to trillions of planets – so let’s examine why we’re justified in making it. This involves doing a calculation, but luckily it’s a very simple one, especially if we use rounded, ball-park figures. Using several exoplanet-hunting telescopes including TRAPPIST, Spitzer, and Kepler (the king of them all in terms of number of planets discovered), our tally of exoplanets to date is about 3000. About 30 of these are Earth-like so that’s one in 100. All these figures refer to the small patch of our Milky Way galaxy that we’ve searched so far. To extrapolate from this patch to the whole galaxy we should multiply our figures by about a million, and to extrapolate from the galaxy to the Universe as a whole we need to multiply by the number of galaxies – about a trillion. You can see where this calculation is going. The universe as a whole contains many trillions of Earth-like planets. Despite the use of a ball-park calculation, this conclusion is robust, unless our location in space is in some way special. But according to the Copernican principle, now universally acknowledged to be true (except perhaps by the Flat Earthers and the Intelligent Designers), our location is not special at all. Rather, it is very ordinary. We are not at the centre of things, as we were once arrogant enough and ignorant enough to believe. Searching for extra-terrestrial life requires knowledge of biology as well as astronomy, so let’s now turn our attention to the science of life. We know an awful lot about the evolution of life on Earth over the past four billion years. But what does this tell us about its equivalents on other planets? I’d say quite a lot really. The question "do any such planets have life?" has been made redundant; our question now should be: how many planets have life? The answer is probably "trillions of them" Although there are millions of species on Earth at present, most of them represented by billions of individual organisms (seven billion in the case of the human species), every living being on our planet is carbon-based. There is not a single exception to this general rule, which is a rare thing in biology. And almost all of these organisms are built of one or more cells. As implied by "almost", there are exceptions, but they are very few in number. There are some creatures called slime moulds that have largish bodies (more than 10 cm across) that are not divided into cells. But these represent less than 0.01 percent of all living species on Earth. To what extent can we expect these general rules to apply on planets with life throughout the universe? With regard to being carbon-based, "completely" may be a good answer, despite this view being criticised by some as "carbon chauvinism". But it’s not chauvinism at all. That is, it’s not derived from a misplaced sense of the importance of our own key element. Large carbon-based molecules are sufficiently complex to give the specificity needed for life – such as the possession by humans of about 25,000 genes, each with its own specific role. Large silicon-based molecules are known, but their structure is very different and they simply can’t form the basis for the degree of specificity needed for life. Claiming that all extra-terrestrial life is cellular in its construction is more dangerous, especially given that there are some exceptions to this rule on earth. But then again, there are no exceptions if we restrict our attention to complex life-forms – like animals and plants – with intricate organ systems. If our interest is in intelligent alien life, we should expect cellular construction to be the norm. Can we go beyond this? Might some alien life be humanoid, as often depicted in sci-fi movies? "Maybe" is the only answer we can give at present. But let’s now ask a very different question: how long will it be until we discover evidence of extra-terrestrial life, and where will we find it? The discovery of TRAPPIST-1 and many other systems with planets orbiting in the habitable zones of their respective stars in our own local patch of the Milky Way suggests that the answers are as follows: very soon – perhaps within a decade – and right on our cosmic doorstep. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Author: Professor Ray Murphy, Irish Centre for Human Rights School of Law Opinion: the "Butcher of Bosnia" will find out his fate this week after four years on trial on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity This week, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will deliver its judgment in what is the Tribunal’s last big trial. Although the world has grown weary of the trials arising from the 1992 to 1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the judgment in respect of 75-year-old General Ratko Mladić, nicknamed "the Butcher of Bosnia", will determine the guilt or innocence of one of the most notorious figures from that conflict. After having been at large for almost 16 years, Mladić was arrested in Serbia in May 2011 and transferred to the Tribunal. The trial commenced in May 2012 and the evidentiary phase of the case was concluded in August 2016, with the parties subsequently presenting their closing arguments in December 2016.  During the four year trial, Mladić faced charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The prosecution portrayed the man who led the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992 to 1995 war as a ruthless and brutal commander, responsible for the destruction of Sarajevo and the massacre of thousands of captured Bosnian Muslim boys and men at Srebrenica. The trial is amongst the most important conducted by the war crimes tribunal to date. The complexity of the issues in the Mladic trial can be gleaned from the length of the trial and number of witnesses called. The total number of witnesses in the Mladić case was nearly 600, with over 10,000 exhibits admitted into evidence. Management of such complex cases is critical and the prosecutor has learned from the mistaken past strategy of "throwing the book" at an accused. It is just not possible to charge an accused with every potential crime and some selectivity is necessary. That said, Mladić’s alleged crimes included killing Bosnian Muslims and Croats, the genocide of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and the detention of thousands of others in conditions calculated to bring about their physical destruction. The charges also included war crimes of murder intended to spread terror among the civilian population of Sarajevo through a campaign of sniping and shelling. This included the shelling of Markale market in 1994, when 66 people were killed and over 140 wounded, and the wanton destruction of property.  Inevitably, international investigations and trials take time. One of the biggest challenges facing prosecutors is the fact that the accused is rarely the direct perpetrator of a crime. This means it must first be proven that an international crime occurred and then evidence found linking the accused to the actual perpetrator of the crime. The crime base alone can cover a number of countries, adding to logistical and security issues.  International criminal trials raise a number of other challenges too, not least being the need to ensure a fair trial. The rights of the accused can be compromised by the conflicting need to ensure the expeditious conduct of proceedings. Fairness in international criminal proceedings is not generally compatible with expedition.  Looming in the background is the memory of the Slobodan Milosevic case, the former Serbian president. He died of a heart attack in 2006 while still in prison before a verdict could be handed down and justice seen to be done.  The court learned from the mistakes made during that case. Milosevic had managed to exercise such a degree of control over proceedings that he sometimes made the trial chamber look powerless. In fact, Milosovic often looked like he was dictating the pace and agenda of the trial. This was not allowed to happen during the Mladic trial. Last minute efforts by lawyers to have Mladić declared physically and mentally unfit failed. The prison doctors and independent experts monitoring him described his condition as stable. This was seen as a ploy to avoid what defence lawyers saw as an inevitable guilty verdict. A trial must be a forensic exercise to determine truth or innocence and not be used for broader political purposes To date the war crimes tribunal has charged 161 persons. However, the administration of justice cannot be selective when deciding who to investigate and indictments addressed crimes committed against a range of ethnic groups from 1991 to 2001. Although those indicted include senior political and military figures from various parties to the Yugoslav conflicts, the court has faced criticism that it has an anti-Serb bias The prosecution have called for a life sentence. The war crimes tribunal and the UN International Court of Justice have already declared what happened at Srebrenica as genocide. Given the larger than life role Mladic was happy to portray to the world throughout the conflict, command responsibility for the atrocities committed all around him by Bosnian Serb forces was always going to be difficult to evade. Having considered the evidence of his effective control of the Bosnian Serb Army, and the criminal nature of much of joint activities undertaken by Mladic and other senior figures, a finding of guilty is almost certain.  Mladić’s alleged crimes included killing Bosnian Muslims and Croats, the genocide of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and the detention of thousands of others  Although the case is high profile, it has attracted relatively little media attention. Mladić did not generate the level of drama associated with the Milosevic trial. As this is the last trial, the prosecutor has had the benefit of testing much of the evidence in earlier cases. Portraying Mladic as some kind of well-intended officer with no responsibility for the atrocities did not accord with the evidence presented. Likewise, the defence strategy of depicting Mladic as just defending his people against a fundamentalist threat was ill judged and did not offer a justification for the alleged crimes.  A significant threat to the fairness of such trials remains the inequality in resources between the prosecution and defence teams, and the Mladić trial was no exception to this. A trial must be a forensic exercise to determine truth or innocence and not be used for broader political purposes. In this regard, the trial has been successful and the proceedings provide a detailed archival record of one of the darkest chapters in Europe’s recent history. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 27 November 2017

Author: Dr John Walsh, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: Spain's failure to recognise the multilingual reality of the country has contributed to the current political and constitutional crisis in Catalonia Given Spanish policies and the worsening political situation, many Catalan nationalists believe that independence is essential if Catalan is to be protected, in Catalonia at least. In the weeks before the Catalan parliament’s declaration of independence, the online anti-Catalan abuse by keyboard warriors reached stratospheric proportions, particularly so when El País or other Spanish media live-streamed press conferences or rallies where Catalan was spoken.  I try not to pay too much attention to the trolls in such circumstances but the persistent link between the Catalan language and anti-Catalan feeling was grimly fascinating. There were plenty of hostile dismissals of Catalan as "just a dialect of Spanish", "bad Spanish" or "a vulgar peasant dialect from Provence" (the region in the south of France where a variety similar to Catalan is spoken). Other fervent unionists asked why the Catalans could not just speak Spanish, "the one language of Spain", and there were predictable comments of the "we-all-speak-Spanish-anyway" type, so often heard by speakers of minority languages.  Language and identity are at the heart of the ongoing Catalan political crisis. The widespread ignorance of the Catalan language, both in Spain itself and the wider world, is one of the issues thrown into focus by the ongoing political crisis.  To claim that Catalan is merely a dialect of Spanish is to ignore its centuries of history as a separate language that developed from the form of Latin spoken in the northeast of the Iberian peninsula. The use of Catalan was banned by Franco, but to mock it as a primitive peasant dialect is to ignore 40 years of institutionalisation since the Spanish transition to democracy and its widespread use across almost all domains of Catalan society.  Since the early 1980s, a policy known as linguistic normalisation has guaranteed that Catalan is the medium of education in all schools, leading to a situation where well over 90 percent of under-20s speak Catalan fluently. Although the position of Spanish has been strengthened considerably in recent years by large-scale immigration from the south of Spain and other Latin American countries, the education system has played a key role in creating large numbers of "new speakers" of Catalan, who now number about 40 percent of all speakers. The Catalan Refugee Programme ensures that all such incomers have an opportunity to learn Catalan, regardless of their linguistic background.  Language and identity are at the heart of the ongoing Catalan political crisis With over 10 million speakers, Catalan is as least as widely spoken as several national languages enjoying full official EU status such as Czech, Swedish, Bulgarian and Finnish and has a much larger speaker base than Slovene, Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Maltese and Irish. As well as Catalonia itself, it is also spoken in Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Aragó (Aragon), the south of France, Andorra, and the Sardinian city of L’Alguer (Alghero). While Catalan is denied official status in Europe, Spain could request the EU that it gets a more limited protection such as the UK government has done for Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.  However, Catalan enjoys no official status in most of Spain, let alone in the EU. Although a co-official language of Catalonia along with Spanish, Catalans wishing to communicate with the central government, or who need to use the Spanish justice system, have no option but to use Spanish. The recent court cases involving Catalan government ministers and parliamentarians in Madrid were held in Spanish only.  Even in Catalonia itself, Spanish is overwhelmingly dominant in court cases. According to the civil society language organisation Plataforma per la Llengua(Platform for the Language), Catalan was used in only 8.4 percent of court rulings or sentences in 2015 and the figures have plummeted in the last ten years. This is a reflection of the persistent weakening since 2006 of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy by the Spanish courts, a decision encouraged by the ruling Partido Popular and which has contributed significantly to the current political crisis.  The application of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which has heralded direct rule in Catalonia, also has linguistic implications. Since the transition to democracy, Catalan has been the only working language of the Catalan government, although services are provided in Spanish when requested. As officials from Madrid take over the running of Catalan government departments, officials have been asked to produce documentation in Spanish. There is concern that civil servants will been asked to communicate internally in Spanish, a clear violation of their linguistic rights under the Catalan language law of 1998. The Association of Catalan Public Servants has said it will reject any such attempt to impose the use of Spanish as a language of communication.  To claim that Catalan is merely a dialect of Spanish is to ignore its centuries of history as a separate language There have also been over 100 reports of discrimination against Catalan speakers since 2007. Most notable among these was the case of a man who was harassed by two members of the Guardia Civil (Spanish police) in 2017 at Barcelona Airport after he spoke to them in Catalan. He was later charged with "disobedience" and "obstructing the police" and fined €600. Guardia Civil police officers based in Catalonia (and there are many at the moment) are supposed to be able to communicate in Catalan but the reality is often very different.  Recently Plataforma per la Llengua published a lengthy report outlining over 100 pages of imbalances between the treatment of Catalan and Spanish in the institutional practices and legal recognition of the Spanish state. Further tensions were inflamed last month when it was reported that staff members of the low-cost Spanish airline Vueling asked two passengers to leave a plane due to fly from Barcelona to Menorca, another Catalan-speaking area, for speaking Catalan to an air hostess. Spain’s failure to recognise and valorise the multilingual reality of the state has contributed to the current political and constitutional crisis. Given Spanish policies and the worsening political situation, many Catalan nationalists believe that independence is essential if Catalan is to be protected, in Catalonia at least.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here 

Friday, 17 November 2017

Author: Dr Niall Ó Dochartaigh, School of Political Science and Sociology Opinion: there are many similarities in how back channels played a huge role in peace processes in Northern Ireland and Colombia When the late Martin McGuinness visited Colombia as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in 2014 he was "absolutely shocked" to find out how much the Colombian government’s chief negotiator knew about the Northern Ireland peace process. More surprising still, the Colombians told him their secret back channel to FARC was codenamed Brendan, after the Derry businessman Brendan Duddy.  It later transpired that Colombia’s High Commissioner for peace, Sergio Jaramillo, had consulted with British officials on their contacts with the IRA, and had spoken to senior MI6 agent Michael Oatley who had worked with Brendan Duddy over a span of two decades. The Colombian negotiators drew directly on that experience in their engagement with FARC.  The importance of back channels in peace processes and the tensions and deep emotions involved have been brought to life recently by the gripping broadway play Oslo. It tells the story of the secret back channel between Israel and the PLO in the 1990s and reminds us of just how difficult it can be to bring together sworn enemies who can’t be seen talking to each other in public. These early phases of contact are often the most difficult and Colombian negotiator Jaramillo has said in the past that "talks-about-talks are in some respects more important than talks because that’s when you are defining the playing field…it was incredibly tough."  Back channels have some extraordinary features. Secret contact between British agents and the IRA was always directly authorised by the prime minister of the day, but was hidden from government ministers and top military commanders. This was also the case in South Africa and Israel-Palestine. Information was guarded so closely because leaks might allow powerful forces on both sides to undermine and expose such contacts before progress could be made. Secret contact creates powerful and distinctive dynamics that can help to build co-operative relationships between warring parties, not least because both sides have to co-operate in keeping their shared secrets.  Under cover of secrecy, parties to conflict are often able to make enough progress to ensure that it’s easier to gain public support for compromise and to manage internal divisions and tensions when the process moves into the open. However, the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian process is a reminder that this is not always the case. Back channel contact is shrouded in mystery. This is not only because it is kept secret at the time, but because it remains sensitive for decades afterwards. The paper trail is sparse and most contacts are not recorded in writing by anyone involved. Well might the Colombian negotiators have sought advice from those directly involved in Northern Ireland. It is difficult to understand this kind of contact without hearing from those who took part in it. EU Special Envoy to the Colombian peace process Eamon Gilmore will talk about the Northern Irish and Colombian peace processes at a public lecture on the role of the EU as peacemaker in NUI Galway on November 20. It is a particularly fitting venue because that subterranean channel that links the Colombian and Irish peace processes runs through the university in Galway. Brendan Duddy, the Derry intermediary who gave his name to the Colombian back-channel, entrusted his private papers to NUI Galway some years before his death earlier this year.  The archive includes his private diaries of the peace talks in the 1970s and the 1990s which give us insights into the emotional dimension, the one aspect of peacemaking that is absent from the official records. His diaries are full of passion, especially in 1975 as great hopes of peace gave way to anxiety, despondency and then resignation as the prospects for compromise began to recede. His papers provide unique insights into the use of back channels in the making of peace and tell us that harsh and unyielding public positions often conceal a great deal of flexibility. Secret back channels provide an essential tool for parties to conflict to explore the extent of that flexibility and the potential for lasting peace. Moreover, they also create a space in which both sides can begin the process of building a new and more co-operative relationship. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 17 November 2017

Author: Dr Dympna Casey, School of Nursing and Midwifery Report: MARIO is a care robot for people with dementia who is currently been put through his paces in a Co Galway nursing home  Loneliness is a key public health concern across many age groups and especially for older people with dementia. We know that social health and social connectedness are important to the quality of life of people with dementia. Human companionship is the best way of promoting social health but the reality is that our health care services do not have the resources to provide this service.   Recognising this problem, NUI Galway put together a consortium of experts from the health care sector, robotics, industry and dementia groups, to work together to develop a companion robot for people with dementia. This led to the three year EU Horizon 2020 MARIO project - managing active and healthy ageing with use of caring service robots- funded by the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. It’s a project involving five EU countries and a team of up to 40 people.   The MARIO robot has been developed and tested by people with dementia in residential care in Ireland, community care in the UK and in a hospital setting in Italy to ensure the robot is fit for purpose. At each stage of development, we tested the robot and, based on user feedback, modified and developed the robot to give him the functions he needs to be the companion robot that people with dementia want.  MARIO can now play your favourite music, help you to draw pictures and play games to promote cognitive ability. He can also connect you to your friends and family, share your family photos with you and reminiscence on old times. MARIO’s main function in life is to connect people with dementia to family, friends, carers and the community at large thereby maintaining and increasing their social interactions and reducing loneliness. Right now, MARIO is in a nursing home in Loughrea meeting and interacting with people with dementia, their family, friends, children and grandchildren. Children really love to interact with MARIO and he is often a topic of discussion connecting grandchildren with grandparents residing in the nursing home.  MARIO was also a great hit when he attended the Trials Methodology Research Network (TMRN) clinical trials day for school children in NUIG. He also attended the recent Alzheimer Europe conference where he met the current chair of Alzheimer Europe, Iva Holmerová. Initial feedback suggests that MARIO has had an overall positive impact on the residents in the nursing home. Currently we are evaluating the difference in how people with dementia feel before and after interacting with him. Are they happier and more likely to chat to others as a result of encountering MARIO? Do they look forward to seeing him and most importantly do they feel less lonely and isolated? The final results are anticipated in spring 2018 and will be shared with the public here in Ireland and across Europe. When the project ends, MARIO will still need some further finetuning to make him the best companion robot he can be, so he won’t be quite ready to roll off the conveyer belt just yet. But we believe that companion robots will be more readily available and more commonly seen in health care settings in the next five to ten years. The outcomes of the MARIO study will play a key role in helping to shape the future use of social robots in our health services. We will see how robots can be used to support older people and help them to retain their abilities and independence for longer Care robots can reduce carer burden and ultimately enable older people with dementia to stay socially connected and feel less lonely. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Author: Dr Seán Crosson, Huston School of Film & Digital Media Opinion: if we want to talk about sport's role in the cultivation of a community identity, we have to define what community actually means in the first place Sport has frequently been celebrated in this country as a key resource in facilitating and affirming community. It’s a feature that is relevant to all sports in Ireland, though there are few more fervent and enthusiastic expressions of Irish communal identity than those associated with followers of the national soccer team (as we saw with last month’s victory over Wales).   But what do we actually mean by sport’s role in the cultivation of a community identity? One should say initially that there is an implicit value judgement evident when you either talk about the importance of community or lament its breakdown. While the latter is not necessarily an entirely new phenomenon, the nostalgia for past communities may well be misplaced if such communities sustained intolerance to those that were considered different or did not fit neatly into narrowly defined interpretations of identity (as regrettably happened too often in Ireland in the past).  Indeed, several international studies have raised questions around the effectiveness of programmes established to foster community in association with particular sports. One study of the UK government’s employment of sport to facilitate community building found "ill-defined interventions with hard to follow outcomes". Sociologist Sean F. Brown noted that where "sport has been used for community creation, it has been successful only selectively and in ways that replicate power differentials found throughout the larger society, namely race and gender."  The growth of the GAA in Ireland owes much to the ability of the organisation to provide a focus for communal identification The communities that sport may facilitate are not necessarily communities we would wish to encourage. Indeed, they can amplify already exclusionary processes within particular societies. Sport may often not provide the positive focus affirmations of "sport and community" may suggest. As evident in distinctive team strips, songs and defined geographical spaces, sport has inherent practices that are as much concerned with dividing groups as bringing people together.  Part of the challenge here is how we define community in the first instance. There were already over 100 distinct and differing definitions available by 1955 within sociological literature alone. The expansion of the discipline and the arrival of the internet have added considerably to this list.  The definitions that do exist broadly align with two positions: one views community relating to a particular territory (e.g. GAA attachment to one’s county of origin) and the other relates to individuals with common interests who may not share a common physical space (such as those living in Ireland who follow any English Premier League team). How we define community with regard to sport also depends on a huge range of further issues, not least the relationship of each individual with sport. How a player experiences community differs considerably from a supporter, spectator or volunteer. The importance of community building is often invoked by organisations as a key function of sport. The GAA, for instance, places "Community Identity" as the leading value in its Mission Statement contending that "community is at the heart of our Association. Everything we do helps to enrich the communities we serve".  The growth of the GAA in Ireland owes much to the ability of the organisation to provide a focus for communal identification. The recognition and importance of county identification can be partly  attributed to the popularity of Gaelic games and the framing of the elite level of Gaelic sports along county lines. At an even more local level – the parish – GAA clubs are the key point of communal association in many instances, particularly with the decline of church attendances.  When we have a sense of belonging to a particular sporting community, few other experiences provide the emotional intensity of witnessing our favourite team succeed This extends well beyond the football or hurling games themselves. The local club can provide a crucial focus of support and recognition when members of the community die, particularly in tragic circumstances. GAA clubs are part of the mechanism through which a community gathers and grieves, whether with the guard of honour provided at the church or the events the club organises to remember the individual concerned.  These practices within GAA clubs point towards the key attraction of sport: our need to belong. Most followers of sport will admit that the entertainment value found in individual games (and many Irish soccer fans will likely concur) can often be quite limited. However, as evident in the frequent use of "we" in association with one’s favourite Premier League club by individuals who may never have visited the stadium or city concerned, it is the sense of belonging to a group outside ourselves that contributes to the intensity of our own human experience.  When we have a sense of belonging to a particular sporting community, few other experiences can provide the emotional intensity of witnessing our favourite team succeed. This is particularly so when our team is not expected to do so, as is often the case in the Irish experience.  Sport can provide the opportunity for many to meet and connect and share extraordinarily intense human experiences, as many of us did when James McClean played the ball superbly into the corner of the Welsh net. It is important, though, that we reflect critically on sport as an institution and its role in society. We should celebrate when it is used to positively support processes of integration, understanding and belonging – and we should be prepared to reject those who would employ sport to primarily celebrate difference. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Author: Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar and Deputy President The Brainstorm long read: when it comes to answering the Northern Irish question posed by Brexit, we should look to Germany and its experience with partition and borders "Are you Irish or Northern Irish?". That was the question from a fellow student at Kiel University in the north of West Germany in spring 1986. "Yes," I replied, which only confused her.  Having been born in Belfast and with dual citizenship but only one (Irish) passport, I explained that I could be both Northern Irish and Irish in the same way that she, born in Kiel, could be both North German and German. Politics had nothing to do with it, I argued, young man that I was. In autumn 1987 in Rostock, GDR, where I had just started a job as an English language assistant at the university, I asked a student from Schwerin: "tell me, do you consider yourself German?" "Of course I’m German," he responded indignantly, "what else would I be?" The question had insulted him. A divided country I hitch-hiked from Lübeck to Bremen, both in West Germany in summer 1988. The driver who gave me a lift looked at me in astonishment when he learned that I was working in East Germany. "We Germans live differently, we see the world differently than they do over there," he said. "But they are Germans too," I countered. "Yeah, sure, sort of," he said, "but not Germans like us!" His Germany had shrunk massively over the years since 1945. The Germans know what it means to live in a divided country - and that it hurts. What belongs together grows apart instead, and regional differences, present in every country, gain in significance. Different influences come from outside, not all music tastes are shared, each side has its own institutions and literature responds to different impulses. People don’t think about partition every day, unless they live in close proximity to the border. Life goes on, we make new friends, go to school or work, meet friends and family, marry, have children and bury our parents. Everyday life is similar but different than "over there" in the east or west, or "up there/down there" in the north or south. The Germans know what it means to live in a divided country - and that it hurts Over time, linguistic references to the country change. In English, we usually referred to the two German states as West Germany and East Germany, though the latter was sometimes "the GDR". In German, it was different. After 1945 the "Soviet Zone" became the "Zone", then "Middle Germany", then the "DDR" and in the end even the delegitimising inverted commas around DDR disappeared. The Federal Republic over time came to call itself just "Germany", thereby implicitly excluding the east from the term, and it simply ignored East German attempts to brand it with the letters "BRD", or FRG in English.  To this day, the website of the German Football Association records an incongruous looking result (not just in football terms) from the 1974 World Cup: GDR 1 Germany 0. If we were to take the word of the East German dissident Wolf Biermann, who even after his expulsion from the GDR in 1976 described it as "the better Germany", then perhaps that result should read: Germany 1 FRG 0. With time, the Irish Free State, formed after the partition of Ireland in 1921, simply became "Ireland" The "Six Counties" in the north-east evolved into "Ulster" or "the North of Ireland" or "Northern Ireland". Thirty years ago, common usage suggested that "Northern Ireland" and the "Republic of Ireland" together made "Ireland", at least in the English language. Nowadays, one refers to "Ireland" and "Northern Ireland" which together make "the island of Ireland", as if Ireland was a glorified Isle of Wight or Isle of Rügen off the British coast, while Great Britain itself, demonstrably an island, is often referred to as "the mainland".  This is semantic (and geographical) nonsense, but it is also belittling. Language is used here as an instrument of political power, and it is astonishing how even so-called Republican parties have unthinkingly adopted the phrase "the island of Ireland". That the Southern Irish state refers to itself simply as "Ireland" is exclusionary, analogous to old West German habits in respect of the term "Deutschland". Writing about identity Writers are extremely important in this context. Heinrich Böll, Günter Grassand Christa Wolf in Germany or Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness in Ireland are people whose writing crosses borders, even as they are received differently in different jurisdictions.  Because Danzig lay outside Germany’s post-1945 borders and because Grass was so deeply engaged with Germany’s past, he contributed significantly to the continuation of a common German culture after 1945, despite all the political divisions. Böll, on the other hand, mediated a very Catholic Rhineland conscience to the Protestant East (and not only to the East), while Wolf was a challenging East German conscience to a sceptical West. But they were all successful as creators and mediators of culture, because they were printed, read and understood. Even when Germany was still divided, Böll and Wolf – in spite of their different political environments – were regarded by most simply as "German" writers. Grass was never anything other. In the internal British Brexit debates, Ireland, North or South, played virtually no role and was hardly mentioned In Ireland, the Northerner Seamus Heaney mediated the Northern conflict in some of his earlier poetry to a Southern audience that knew little about it, and later went on to engage with Ireland’s entire heritage, whether it had its roots in Irish or Scottish Gaels, Anglo-Saxons, Normans or Vikings. Brian Friel’s play Translations (1980) engages with the colonisation and above all Anglicisation of the Irish-speaking Irish in the 19th century and as such offers insights into the value of their own identity and culture to today’s Irish people in North and South.  Identity is also a central theme of the play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (1985) by Frank McGuinness. McGuinness, from a Catholic background close to the border in Donegal, was praised for the sensitive way in which he explored the identity of Ulster Protestant soldiers in World War One, not least because literary, creative representations of Ulster Unionists had rarely been sympathetic to them. Thanks to our writers, the Irish border has even in the bad times seemed less impermeable than it might otherwise have been. Germany and Europe Until October 1990, the GDR was the unofficial thirteenth member of the EEC, a so-called "limping member" in German. Just like trade between West Germany and any member state of the EEC, imports and exports between the GDR and West Germany were tax and duty free. This was because the West German state constitutionally could not regard East Germany as "foreign". A protocol to the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957 about inner-German trade gave West Germany the right to regard such trade as "internal". But it also committed West Germany to ensuring that this did not damage the national economies of other EEC states. The United Kingdom, France and others looked on this arrangement with suspicion, according to a spring 1989 report in the German weekly paper Die Zeit. The British complained about illegal re-exports of East German goods such as steel and textiles by the West Germans. In addition, West German importers of East German goods enjoyed tax concessions that were intended to promote inner-German trade, but which were seen in other countries as distorting competition. Bonn simply insisted that Germany’s national interest demanded this, and nothing changed. The Northern Irish question In the internal British Brexit debates, Ireland, North or South, played virtually no role and was hardly mentioned. Occasionally a Remainer expressed fears for peace in Ireland, but Brexiteers either ignored or dismissed these concerns. In the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland ever since it has become more or less peaceful is regarded as a highly subsidised afterthought. It has its own political system and parties remote from the core of British politics, the current transient arrangement between the Tories and the DUP notwithstanding. Yet the Northern Irish question is an important one after Brexit, and has been recognised as such by the EU. Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 between London and Dublin, every Northern Irish person can claim dual citizenship, but doesn’t have to have two passports. My parents in Belfast, and many like them, are dual citizens living in their own country and holding an Irish passport. Among their friends and neighbours are dual citizens living in their own country who hold only a British passport. If a hard EU border is created, how would anyone propose to control entry and exit, given that both those passports are shared with other jurisdictions? Do we really want the relationships that have been built up here after all the economic and political efforts of the last 25 years to fall victim to a bitter British-European divorce? Both parts of Ireland have close economic links. 32 percent of Northern Irish non-UK exports go to the Republic, while 27 percent of imports come from there. Apart from Great Britain, the Republic is by far Northern Ireland’s most important trading partner. The North is less important for the Republic than vice-versa, but there has been significant investment in Northern Ireland in recent years. 33 percent of non-UK owned firms in Northern Ireland, for example, are owned by Southern Irish companies, the largest single national share, eclipsing by some distance even the USA.  The feasibility and practice of all-Ireland co-operation in areas such as health has been enhanced by the open border. Many institutions have remained all-Ireland ones, even almost 100 years after partition. The close economic, social and historical ties between the two jurisdictions mean that all of Ireland would suffer more than any other European country from the consequences of a hard border. Do we really want the relationships that have been built up here after all the economic and political efforts of the last 25 years to fall victim to a bitter British-European divorce? The fall of the Wall I left the GDR after two years on September 18 1989. I felt ill at the border, for I had left behind good friends who, of course, could not travel with me. I was crying by the time the border guard, a small, stern-looking older woman in her grey-green uniform, checked my ID. She looked at the passport with the multiple GDR stamps and then at my face and she asked what was wrong. "I don’t want to leave," I cried. Her face softened as she gently said: "Come back soon." I gave her a kiss. Not seven weeks later, I danced with joy in Nottingham, where I had started a PhD, when I saw on TV that the Berlin Wall had been torn down, that people were streaming into the West, that they could travel freely, and how they danced on that hateful wall. Those were emotional days for anyone to whom both Germanys meant something. I cried with joy in front of the TV three days later when I saw the images of masses of East Germans at the border queuing to get back home again. On December 18 1989, I just laughed when an East German friend arrived at Nottingham train station to accompany me on the journey home to Ireland for Christmas. It all happened that quickly. One last recollection from those days. In 1991, when I was lecturing in Maynooth, two of my former students from Rostock came visiting. They of course wanted to go North too. At the border outside Newry, our IDs were checked by heavily armed British soldiers, a completely normal experience for me at that time. However, my travelling companions were shocked when they looked out the window and saw a concrete watchtower no more than perhaps 50 metres from the road. These east Germans could see little or no difference between the towers on the Irish border and the internal German one that they had just put behind them. "No-one wants a return to those days" No-one wants a return to those days. Today, living in the West of Ireland, I can visit family and friends in Belfast without any checks whatsoever. Reunification is the most desirable outcome for me, primarily because I believe that that will create the preconditions for finally overcoming the divisions in our people, the wall in the head, whether religious or national. Sectarianism isn’t a consequence of partition, but it was certainly reinforced by it in both Irish jurisdictions. But I’m also clear that neither a United Ireland nor the United Kingdom is worth a drop of anybody’s blood. For this and many other reasons, the North needs a special arrangement post-Brexit The current, hopefully interim, political scenario is one that many people can live with, though it wouldn’t necessarily be their first choice. After all, the border has become less and less important over the last twenty years and times have become more peaceful. In Northern Ireland, 56 percent of the people voted to remain in the EU, a larger majority than voted to leave in the UK as a whole. A vote in the Republic on EU membership would be a complete waste of everyone’s time. At the end of the day, we are all Europeans. But for some people here who reject the current settlement, resurrected border posts would immediately be regarded as a "legitimate" target and violence could easily beget conflict and violence. For this and many other reasons, the North needs a special arrangement post-Brexit. In light of their own history, Germans should be able to grasp better than most that Brexit will have more serious consequences for Ireland than for any other country in Europe. This article is based on the author’s German-language piece, "Der Brexit, Irland und Deutschland", published in Merkur. Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken, in April 2017 This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Author: Dr John Walsh, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures Opinion: this week's Oireachtas na Gaeilge festival will highlight the diversity and creativity of the Irish language community, but the presence of many new speakers and younger enthusiasts is just as noteworthy   Thousands of Irish speakers will be in Killarney this weekend for the Irish language literary and cultural festival Oireachtas na Gaeilge. The annual highlight in the Irish language social calendar, the Oireachtas has grown significantly in recent years, particularly among young people, though it is largely ignored by the mainstream national English language media, who can be so quick to stereotype Irish speakers or trot out familiar tropes of Irish as a "dead language". Were such commentators to come to the Oireachtas, they would witness an incredible diversity and creativity, already familiar to Irish speakers but largely unknown in wider society. The Oireachtas is a microcosm of the entire Irish language community, that amorphous concept unfamiliar to most Irish people even if they are well disposed towards Irish and want it to survive. There will be a strong showing from every Gaeltacht area, particularly in the traditional sean-nós singing and dancing competitions. Fluent speakers of Irish from all over the country and abroad will also be present, some to attend events or to compete in competitions, others just to catch up with friends. Irish language organisations will hold meetings and launch initiatives and publishers and media organisations will be out in force.  A noticeable change in recent years has been the increase in the numbers of students of Irish attending the festival, often at the initiative of the Cumann Gaelach in their university. Some of those who have attended the festival for years complain that the increase in students has also led to an upsurge in the amount of English spoken. It might be that the Oireachtas has become the victim of its own success, as word spreads in universities that a great weekend will be had by all. New speakers are the product of the same education system that is much maligned for its perceived failure to revive Irish It is difficult to avoid conversations about the state of health of Irish at the Oireachtas, and the revival of the language will be the subject of this year’s annual seminar on Saturday. Inevitably, questions will be asked about the future of the Gaeltacht, the direction of government policy and the status of the language in schools.  The Oireachtas is a showcase for the vitality of traditional Irish language culture in the Gaeltacht, much of it involving young people. However, academic studies have confirmed that language shift to English is progressing rapidly in the small number of remaining Irish-speaking areas and that the future of Irish as a community language is in doubt. As happens in all languages, younger generations of Gaeltacht people are not speaking the same Irish as their parents or grandparents, but there is the additional concern that many children are not acquiring Irish at all or are abandoning it as teenagers or young adults.  The Oireachtas provides a meeting point for "new speakers", regular and fluent speakers who were not raised with Irish in the Gaeltacht but have adopted the language Strategic interventions in favour of Irish are known in the academic literature as "language planning". The government’s language planning process has rightly been rejected by many Gaeltacht groups because of the paltry funding awarded to it. Many Gaeltacht people attempting to raise their children in Irish feel a sense of betrayal by the state which is supposedly committed to the revival of their language. Who could blame them when so many basic services are not available in Irish? Or when many parts of the state apparatus even appear hostile to Irish, despite almost a century of language policy supposedly to promote the language?  However, the Oireachtas also provides a meeting point for what we call "new speakers", regular and fluent speakers who were not raised with Irish in the Gaeltacht but have adopted the language. Despite the shortfalls in the policies of successive governments, such new speakers are themselves the product of the same education system that is much maligned for its perceived failure to revive Irish.  Some new speakers may have strong connections to a Gaeltacht area and have acquired a local dialect, with varying degrees of success. Others do not consider Gaeltacht varieties to be appropriate linguistic models for themselves but are nonetheless highly competent and committed speakers of a more standardised Irish. There are also those who pay less attention to grammatical rules and may even have little understanding or experience of the Gaeltacht.  The wider the linguistic and cultural gaps, the greater the risk of tensions and misunderstandings between different kinds of speakers. There can also be heated discussions about the levels of commitment among Irish speakers in general. Although the Oireachtas may be expected to attract those who are already engaged, not everyone agrees on priorities and for some of those attending, Irish is more of a part-time interest than their main language of communication.  It is unrealistic to expect all Irish speakers to be equally committed or fluent, but the broad diversity at the Oireachtas is a reminder of the need for government to recognise that different types of Irish speakers have different priorities and needs. Further supports are required for the Gaeltacht where most fluent speakers are concentrated, but Irish also needs to continue recruiting new speakers elsewhere.  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Analysis: a Maths Week salute to some of Irish women who lead the way when it came to a career in mathematics By Colm Mulcahy and Michel Destrade Maths Week is currently in full swing, but it is worth recalling that mathematics has not always been made available to all of us. In the past 150 years, many women in and from Ireland have faced hurdles when it came to carving out an education and a career in mathematics.  From a 2017 perspective, a few dozen stand out as role models in a field where equality of opportunity is still elusive. Good examples of "Irish hidden figures", these pioneering women are only now getting belated recognition and they stand out as role models for the future generations of Irish mathematicians. Here are some of their stories. Margaret MacDonnell Our society has long been quite efficient at keeping women from developing and maintaining independent careers. In 1937, Margaret MacDonnell (nee Gillan, 1906-1989), who had a UCG maths MSc, was fired from her job as professor in Tourmakeady Preparatory College in Mayo after her marriage. She took legal proceedings against the Minister of Education and the Archbishop of Tuam and was awarded costs by the High Court. As recently as 1977, women who worked in banks or for civil service were forbidden by law from keeping their jobs once they married. We can now see Irish mathematical women at the highest levels of achievement in teaching, research and administration, both in Ireland and overseas The universities also played their role in this. While more women than men graduate with a third-level degree today, Trinity College Dublin didn't even admit women students until 1904. Elsewhere, Cambridge did not award degrees to women until 1948, despite allowing them to compete in examinations as early as the 1870s - hundreds of them were awarded degrees by the Royal University of Ireland instead - and Ecole Polytechique, one of France's most prestigious institutions, did not admit women until 1972.  Mary Everest Many of the early female high achievers had fathers or husbands who were mathematicians or scientists. Apart from teaching, opportunities were limited. For example, Mary Everest (1832-1916) from England married George Boole, who had tutored her earlier and was already resettled in Cork as the first professor of mathematics at Queen’s College (now UCC). We now know that she helped him assemble some of his landmark books there, and in 1909 she published her own book, Philosophy and Fun of Algebra.  Alice Boole  One of her home-schooled daughters, Alice Boole (later Stott, 1860-1940) never attended university or held an academic position, but was a pioneer in the visualisation of 4-dimensional shapes. She even produced three-dimensional central cross-sections of the six regular 4-D polytopes (a term she coined for higher dimensional Platonic solids) using cardboard models, which survive to this day at the University of Toronto.Several mathematically trained women were only able to find generally under-acknowledged and often unpaid work alongside their astronomer husbands.  Sophie Willock Dublin-born Sophie Willock (later Bryant, 1850-1922) benefited from her father’s expertise: he was a Fellow of TCD and later Chair of Geometry at the University of London. In 1884 she was awarded a DSc (in mental and moral science), probably the first woman in Britain or Ireland to be awarded this degree. She also became the first woman to have a paper published in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society. Apparently, she used to row in the Thames for exercise and cycle around Ireland in the summers (raising a few eyebrows along the way). Alice Everett  Alice Everett (1865-1949) was born in Glasgow and brought up in Belfast where her father was Professor of Natural Philosophy at Queen’s College. She studied mathematics there and at Girton College in Cambridge, but had to turn to the Royal University of Ireland to have her BA and MA degrees awarded. She worked at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, later did research in optics and, in the 1920s, in the engineering of early television. Kay McNulty Indeed, many Irish women played roles in the development of technology, including the early computers of the 1940s. For instance, the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was set up by the US army to compute ballistic trajectories at a time when no coding languages existed. Yet when it was unveiled in 1946 as "Big Brain" to the public, no mention was made of the six brilliant young women who had programmed it.  One of them was Kay McNulty (later Antonelli, 1921-2006), from Donegal, who had earned a mathematics degree in Philadelphia.  Sheila Power The most well-known mathematical woman to come from Ireland was probably Sheila Power (later Tinney, 1918-2010), whose father Michael was professor of mathematics at UCG from 1912 to 1955. A UCD graduate, she had a long career there after completing her PhD in 1941 in quantum mechanics under Nobel prize-winning Max Born at Edinburgh in two years at the age of 23. She then became one of the first three resident scholars at the brand new Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, which was set up at the instigation of then Taoiseach Eamon de Valera, himself a former maths teacher and aspiring academic.  De Valera’s granddaughter Nóra Ní Chuív is one of the very early Irish women to earn a PhD in pure mathematics, in 1973. There were a few before her, most notably Barbara Yates (1919-1998) at Aberdeen in 1952 and Siobhán O’Shea(later Vernon, 1932-2002) at UCC in 1964.  These pioneering women are only now getting belated recognition and they stand out as role models for the future generations of Irish mathematicians. The numbers of Irish women earning primary degrees in mathematical fields has picked up pace in the last five or six decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, about 30 women are known to have earned BAs or BScs in mathematical science somewhere on the island of Ireland. In the 1980s, it was at least 35, and in the 1990s about twice that figure.   This in turn has led to increased engagement in academia in mathematics and mathematical physics and to careers in the Met office, the Central Statistics Office, the private sector statistics and finance worlds, the actuarial profession and mathematical education. Of course, those graduates include many women who moved here from Britain, the USA, Romania, Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere.  We can now see Irish mathematical women at the highest levels of achievement in teaching, research and administration, both in Ireland and overseas. Since 2010, women have headed up mathematics departments in TCD, Cork IT, NUI Galway and University Of Limerick.  None has yet become a university president here, although it is worth noting that Ireland has a long tradition of mathematicians serving in such roles.  About the authors: Colm Mulcahy is Professor of Mathematics at Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, United States and Michel Destrade is Chair of Applied Mathematics at NUI Galway This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Monday, 13 November 2017

Analysis: from poetry and sports to history, dancing and storytelling, there's an abundance of ways to teach maths in a creative manner By Mary Scahill, Dr Cornelia Connolly, Dr Aisling McCluskey and Dr Tony Hall, NUI Galway (1) Think poetry Take your favourite poem or rhyme and try to notice the mathematics hidden within it. Maybe it’s a imerick or haiku or villanelle or even the spooky prophetic rhyming of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Like all great songs, these hold a mesmerising, ordered quality which comes from the basic mathematics behind their design. Have a go at writing your own haiku. The formula is simple: the first line of your poem should contain five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and the third line five syllables. (2) Google the Calculus Wars Learn how one of the most important and fascinating developments in mathematical history, calculus, was jointly invented by Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton, two of the most famous and brilliant minds in history. While at the time both mathematicians and their friends contested and claimed the original discovery, there is a consensus today that both Newton and Leibniz independently invented the calculus, which allows us to measure change, a very important function of maths in today’s complex and fast-moving world. (3) Some 19th century future thinking Computational thinking (or CT for short) is one of the big new ideas in computer science, mathematics and STEM education. As well as enabling us to do so many new activities which were previously unimaginable, computers are changing fundamentally how we think and learn. But computational thinking was first originated in the 19th century by Countess Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the great Romantic poet, Lord Byron. Countess Lovelace was the world’s first computer programmer - or, as she called it, "poetical scientist" - and she devised a sophisticated algorithm to compute Bernoulli Numbers. What she innovated in the 1840s is what we try to do today with computational thinking when we try to come up with systematic strategies for understanding a range of problems and challenges, and then use computers to provide or simulate solutions. Pick one of your favourite activities (such as making a cup of tea or hitting a sliotar with a hurley) and break it down into its basic, constituent activities and parts. Take away any unnecessary detail and try to notice patterns that can be repeated. There are many great and free computer applications, which you can use to program (simulate) your algorithm. Use the online version of Scratch to create a simple computer program to implement your algorithm. (4) Tune up with Pythagoras Best known for his eponymous theorem (you know the one: for any right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides), Pythagoras also made remarkable contributions to the mathematical theory of music. The Greek philosopher noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers and that these ratios could be extended to other musical instruments. Discovery of the chromatic, diatonic and enharmonic scales are said to be the work of Pythagoras. The next time you witness someone tuning a musical instrument, reflect on the mathematical link and if the musician is using Pythagorean tuning to get ready. The probability of a particular athlete or team winning is just mathematics (5) Telling stories Storytelling is regarded as one of the most powerful formational processes in education. According to the late educational psychologist Jerome Bruner, storytelling is a uniquely human activity that serves as a key foundation for all our learning and development. It allows us to structure and make sense of our world, while also playing a very important dual role in mediating and inspiring our imagination. Oral storytelling can transform the abstract, objective, deductive mathematics experiences in the classroom into a subject imbued with narrative, subjective feelings and meanings. Many different stories can be wrapped around mathematics, including science fiction, history, stories of adventure, fairy tales and detective stories. Similarly, different types of mathematics such as arithmetic, measurement, statistics, and algebra can be embedded in the oral narrative through problem solving, algorithms, concepts and communication. Literature and storytelling can enrich mathematics education. Why not design your own whodunit, or fictional quest, where answering mathematical problems and questions allows the sleuth to decode answers to solve the mystery? (6) You dancing? You asking? There are many cross-curricular possibilities with mathematics and dance. Students can discover topological ideas while learning different dancing positions in salsa. They can use maypole dancing to investigate geometric patterns or folk dancing links with group theory and permutations. There are multiple possibilities and permutations to connect ideas and patterns in mathematics with dance. Here’s a way for students to learn about patterns and geometry through the medium of dance. Groups make up different clapping patterns which can then be combined to create a unique rhythm. Each group then creates a simple dance, to form a geometric shape of their own choosing. To follow on from this, the groups perform a mathematical transformation through dance. For example, one group performs a translation, by using dance moves to glide across the floor, whilst maintaining their geometric shape. A second group performs a rotation and a third, performs a reflection, again choreographed with dance moves. Finally, all the choreography is brought together as groups perform their mathematical transformations and their clapping rhythms simultaneously. Developing spatial awareness, collecting data and recognising mathematics in daily life is invaluable. (7) Maths and sports Statistics and probability play an important role in sports. In basketball, mathematics is used to calculate average points a player scores in a game, while mathematics is used in bowling to find out how many points were scored in each frame. The importance of player statistics is becoming more central in GAA, football and rugby. The probability of a particular athlete or team winning is just mathematics. (8) The arts’ equation   Mathematical tools are used in an essential way in the creation of art, architecture and in design. A simple example, that also connects art and mathematics, is where children can use partially completed diagrams to come up with the formula for the numbers to populate Pascal’s triangle. The activity can then be developed further through the medium of art with groups of children participating in a "colour by numbers" activity to create four Pascal’s Triangles, which when joined together form the image of a 3-D cube. A follow-on activity could involve students in discovering the many hidden number patterns that lie within Pascal’s triangle, again through the medium of art. (9) Maths in nature The Fibonacci sequence is where each number in the sequence is found by adding up the two numbers before it (ie the sequence of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc). Students could be introduced to the Fibonacci sequence by connecting mathematics and nature. The Fibonacci numbers are evident in some patterns, which occur naturally in nature. Many plants and trees replicate the Fibonacci sequence in their growth patterns. In some plants, the arrangement of leaves around a stem follows the Fibonacci sequence, while many trees exhibit the Fibonacci sequence in their growth points where branches are formed. Using craftwork to create a tree, which reflects the Fibonacci sequence, allows students to express their creativity while learning mathematics. Encourage children to work in groups, to figure out the Fibonacci sequence for themselves, given only a set of cards containing the relevant numbers. The children can develop their knowledge by participating in an arts and crafts activity during which they each design a leaf or a flower to create a "Fibonacci Tree" (see below). In assembling the tree, the students should ensure that the growing patterns of both the branches and leaves follow the Fibonacci sequence. (10) Vroom vroom The three concepts of distance, speed and time bring together mathematics and science. Developing spatial awareness, collecting data and recognising mathematics in daily life is invaluable. As an example of this, children are introduced to the concepts of distance, speed and time in class and for the follow-on activity 1m strips of cardboard are covered in a variety of different materials such as cooking foil, cotton and cloth. Children use a dinky car and a smartphone to calculate the speed of the car over the different surfaces and record their findings. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Friday, 17 November 2017

News: a NUI Galway film about people living with with Parkinson's disease has won a New York film festival award Feats Of Modest Valour is an award-winning documentary chronicling the lives of three people managing the physical reality of living with Parkinson’s disease. Produced by CÚRAM, the Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway and directed by Mia Mullarkey and Alice McDowell for Ishka Films, it won the Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York for portraying the life of a scientist in an accurate and inventive way.  The film features Co Mayo farmer Brian Carney, Croatian second World War survivor Milena Lulic and Irish actor Tom Hickey talking about how they deal with the disease. We also meet researchers from CÚRAM, led by Dr Eilís Dowd, working on a therapeutic approach which they hope will revolutionise treatment of the condition. This is done by delving into the brain of someone with Parkinson’s disease and showing how dying cells can be replaced by stem cells supported by a natural biomaterial scaffold.  "This is a film about science and medicine, about scientists and patients, about art and music, but most of all, about hope", explained Dr Dowd. "It was a genuine privilege to work on this project with such talented filmmakers and such inspirational patients."  This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Analysis: Fontanelle, the soft spot in an infant’s skull, opens up a new window into the brain activity of newborns. By James Blackwell, Niall Colgan and Michel Destrade, NUI Galway In a world first, a team of French and Swiss researchers have obtained real-time functional 3D images of newborn babies’ brains. They’ve done this by placing an ultra-fast ultrasound probe on the baby’s fontanelle, the soft spot opening in the skull of infants. Functional imaging allows the assessment of the oxygenated blood flow in the brain. Some newborns, especially premature babies, have an increased risk of brain lesion and it is very important to monitor their brain activity during their first weeks. This is usually done by EEG (Electroencephalography), which records electric changes, but does not provide the location of abnormal activity. Alternatively, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) can provide high-resolution pictures using blood oxygen level dependency as a measure of the brain’s activity. The patient must lie perfectly still for a long duration, but it’s hard to convince a newborn baby to do just that However, there are a number of drawbacks to the latter technique that make it unsuitable for babies. It uses standard MRI scanners and the patient must lie perfectly still for a long duration for accurate measurements, but it’s hard to convince a newborn baby to do just that. The scan itself is lengthy and can be accompanied by a heating effect that newborns may not be able to regulate. Finally, MRI also requires moving an infant from a sterile maternity environment into the general hospital, which is impractical and costly for newborns. By contrast, ultrasound imaging is routinely used in pregnancy and is fast and painless. One of its limitations is that it cannot penetrate bone so the main use of ultrasound in brain imaging for accurate measurements has been limited to neurosurgery, once a part of the skull has been removed.  A newborn’s skull is not fully fused and two spaces between the bones of an infant's skull called fontanelles exist for about six months However, a newborn’s skull is not fully fused and two spaces between the bones of an infant's skull called fontanelles exist for about six months where the sutures intersect. They are covered by tough membranes that protect the underlying soft tissues and brain, but are soft enough to allow the ultrasound to penetrate. A team of researchers from the Institut Langevin at the Robert Debré University Hospital in Paris and the Children’s University Hospital of Genevahave devised an ultrasound probe capable of recording 10,000 images per seconds through the fontanelle. In fact, they were able to determine the resting metabolic activity of babies at the bedside using the blood oxygen levels as a contrast.   The researchers managed to see tiny veins and slow blood flows in the brains of about ten infants. They believe this technique will allow pediatric doctors to monitor infant brain activity and link it (or not) to early-life events such as blood pressure drop, seizures or the taking of medical drugs. Their findingshave just appeared in the journal Science-Translational Medicine. Neuroscientists need improved, non-invasive methods to inform medical decisions and treatments According to the World Health Organization, more than one in ten babies are born prematurely each year. Given that the chances of severe disability increase with the level of prematurity, neuroscientists need improved, non-invasive methods to inform medical decisions and treatments. Chief physicist Brendan Tuohy has referred to "functional ultrasound as a major advancement in neuroimaging" and that it will "allow for convenient continual monitoring of the activity and resting state in paediatric practice, providing new insights into neurodevelopment, neuroprotection and repair of the developing brain" Ultrasound scanning provides a more cost-effective and widely available method of determining brain activity at a fraction of the cost of MRI. Using safe repeatable brain imaging to determine the structure, function, and metabolic function of the brain during illness and early days of life could provide key insights into the role and development of the newborns.   James Blackwell, is studying Applied Physics at NUI Galway. Niall Colganis a Lecturer in Medical Physics at NUI Galway and a Clinical Medical Physicist at University Hospital Galway. Michel Destrade, is Chair of Applied Mathematics at NUI Galway. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here  

Friday, 24 November 2017

Opinion: this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign focuses on education and that also means looking at what's happening in Irish schools and third-level institutions By Stacey Scriver and Lindsey Bacigal, NUI Galway The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign began at Rutgers University in 1991 as an annual international campaign to communicate the message that gender-based violence is a violation of fundamental human rights. This campaign brings together activists, government leaders, students, academia and the private sector across the world to demand an end to gender-based violence. The 2017 theme is "‘Together We Can End GBV in Education" and it aims to build awareness and advocate for an end to all forms of gender-based violence in education. Gender-based violence is any form of physical, sexual or psychological violence directed towards an individual on the basis of stereotypes, norms or roles associated with sexual or gendered identity. Gender-based violence in education is a global issue affecting all states, cultures and regions, all genders, and in all levels of education. It can manifest in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment and assault, bullying of LGBTQI+ individuals, dating violence, and unfair and unequal treatment of students due to their gender or sexual identity. Perpetrators include teachers, lecturers and other staff, students, partners and acquaintances of students, and non-affiliated persons who target those in education, for instance while they travel to and from school. Such experiences are common. A multi-country study led by NUI Galway’s Global Women’s Studies programme on the economic and social costs of violence found that 51 percent of adult women surveyed in Ghana who had attended an educational institute in the last 12 months had experienced some form of educational violence. In South Sudan and Pakistan, figures were 82 percent and 18 percent respectively. Another study in Peru found that almost 50 percent of female students had experienced some form of violence by their partner in the past 12 months. Experiences of gender-based violence have serious and often long-term impacts, including psychological, physical, social and educational impacts The Irish experience Violence in education is not only a problem for the global south. Evidence shows that men and women in Ireland are also impacted by violence in and around educational institutes. A recent USI survey of students at third-level institutes in Ireland found that nearly one in five women surveyed experienced some form of unwanted sexual experience during their time at college. A survey of 4,000 young people in the LGBTQI+ community found that 70 percent disagreed that schools were safe places. Furthermore, one in five stated that they had been harassed and bullied in public areas, including schools. Experiences of gender-based violence have serious and often long-term impacts, including psychological, physical, social and educational impacts. In interviews conducted as part of the Rape and Justice in Ireland project, survivors in third level education described the impact on their studies: missed classes due to the presence of perpetrators (other students), fear of becoming distressed during class, lost concentration, and, for some, dropping out of courses. Similar evidence was found in Peru where students who had experienced violence had higher rates of presenteeism and absenteeism, higher rates of course failure and were more likely to consider dropping out. These impacts result in reduced future opportunities, meaning that the negative impact of gender-based violence in education spreads through the economy and society. Education is a human right and essential to achieving goals of equality, development and peace and governments and institutions have an obligation to ensure a safe environment for students. Across the world there have been innovative attempts to address this issue. The What Works to Prevent Violence Program, supports and evaluates interventions to identify the most effective means to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. On the agenda Projects include the Right to Play Intervention in Pakistan, a schools-based sport and play programme which trains teachers to challenge the acceptability of violence against women and girls and to work with children to shift social norms that perpetuate and condone violence. In Kenya, the Women and Girls Empowerment and Boys Transformation Program to Prevent VAWG targets school aged children to prevent sexual violence. In Ireland’s third level sector, initiatives have been developed to reduce sexual violence by building a deeper understanding of consent in relationships. For instance, NUI Galway is piloting ‘Smart Consent’ workshops and leading on this training, working with other higher education institutes to roll it out nationally. Gender-based violence in education is a global issue affecting all states, cultures and regions, all genders, and in all levels of education Raising awareness and knowing the problem is an important step to addressing it. Towards this end, the the Centre for Global Women's Studies at NUI Galway is organising a series of events during the 16 days of the campaign. The events include a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook, a talk on sexual violence in Irish educational institutions on November 29 and a guided walk that brings participants through the campus, to highlight various issues regarding gender-based violence in education on December 6. This latter event will be held on the anniversary of the "Montreal Massacre", where 14 female students were murdered at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, and will culminate in a ceremonial lighting of the Quadrangle as part of "Orange the World" initiative. NUI Galway President, Dr. James Brown, VP for Equality and Diversity, Professor Anne Scott and Prof. Niamh Reilly, one of the originators of the 16 Days Campaign at Rutgers University, will provide addresses. We all have a role to play in ending gender-based violence in education. Participating in the 16 Days of Activism campaign and developing understanding and awareness of how this issue affects young men and women globally and locally is one small, but significant, way to contribute. This article first appeared on the RTÉ Brainstorm platform. Visit here

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A scientist from NUI Galway recently took part in a research sampling expedition at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Northern Ukraine, to sample its soils and investigate what effect the 30 years of exposure to radiation has had on the soil’s microorganisms that inhabit this particular area. DNA from these soils will be sequenced using cutting-edge techniques to reveal in minute detail its population of bacteria and will provide results in early 2018. The outcomes will help determine why radiation is persisting in the soil, and offer new clues as to how to speed up recovery of the ecosystem. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion in 1986, the most well-known nuclear accident in the world, deposited excess radioactive material throughout Europe. To this day, parts of Scandinavia and the British Islands have higher than expected levels of radiation in their soil due to contamination from Chernobyl. Near the exploded reactor, in the border between the Ukraine and Belarus, soil radiation continues to reach high levels, and a large area has been set aside as a conservation area to isolate communities from the radioactive contamination called the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Despite a substantial decrease in background radiation levels since the accident, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone region remains highly contaminated with radioactive material, particularly its soils and aquatic sediments. Intriguingly, the persistence of specific radioactive compounds in this Zone’s soil greatly exceeds initial projections. The most contaminated area within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is the Red Forest, whose name is derived from the red colour of the dying trees following the disaster. In September 2016 a forest fire burned through the Red Forest, leaving patches of burned and unburned vegetation. The combination of forest fire and radiation made the Red Forest an open-air laboratory for the study of the effect of multiple environmental stresses on ecosystems. Microbiologist, Dr Alexandre B de Menezes from the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway met with colleagues from the University of Salford, the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the Ukraine’s Chernobyl Centre at the Red Forest where they sampled the radioactive soils. Speaking about the research, Dr de Menezes from NUI Galway, said: “The Red Forest soil is a reservoir of radioactive particles, but we know next to nothing about how soil microorganisms cope with 30 plus years of radiation exposure. This research will not only teach us about the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on these microorganisms, but also reveal basic knowledge about how microorganisms, which are often ignored when we think of ecological disasters, help to sustain an entire ecosystem under great environmental stress.” The soil DNA was extracted at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and will now be used for DNA sequencing. Dr de Menezes will use bacterial DNA sequences from the Red Forest soil to provide insights into whether some bacteria are associated with higher soil radiation, determine if the soil bacterial communities in high radiation areas were more sensitive to the forest fire disturbance and identify new biological mechanisms that could aid in controlling soil radiation. The recent nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, and rising geopolitical tension have re-surfaced concerns regarding the impact of radioactive contamination on communities and ecosystems. This increased threat highlights the need to understand the long-term impacts of catastrophic nuclear accidents and their ecosystems to enable effective containment and remediation measures to be developed. This study is partly funded by the British Ecological Society. -Ends-