Secondary Schools Debate Topical Science Issues

Monday, 6 April 2009

Secondary school students representing all the Provinces of Ireland participated in the final of the Debating Science Issues (DSI) competition on Thursday, 2 April, at the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin. Students from St Mary's Secondary School in Macroom, Co. Cork emerged as the All-Ireland winners. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the debating competition is coordinated by NUI Galway's Regenerative Medicine Institute REMEDI, a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET), in conjunction with science research and discovery centres throughout Ireland. The All-Ireland final involved students debating the motion that 'Opposing evidence-based theories such as evolution damages all science'. Other national finalists included St Dominic's High School, Santa Sabina, Sutton, Co. Dublin, Belfast High School, Belfast City, and St Attracta's Community School, Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo. DSI is a dynamic debating competition, which invites young people to engage in debate on the cultural, societal and ethical implications of advances in biomedical science. Open to students in the senior cycle of secondary school, the competition provides a great opportunity for students to expand their communication and scientific skills. Debates in the national finals involved students defending their arguments on the scientific and ethical implications of both embryonic stem cell research and evolution theory. This All-Ireland competition is unique in involving a number of research centres and secondary schools from both the Republic and Northern Ireland; REMEDI, NUI Galway; Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre and TYNDALL Institute, UCC; Biomedical Diagnostics Institute, DCU; Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Dublin and W5 in Belfast. Judges on the day included Lorcan O'Raghallaigh of Discover Science and Engineering; Dr John Denari of IRCSET; Bridget Kelly of CLARITY, UCD; Tom Ziessen, Public Engagement advisor of the Wellcome Trust; Dr Annie Curtis of SFI; Greg Smith of NUI Maynooth; Emily de Grae of the Irish Council for Bioethics; Dr Jennifer Ralph from SFI and Dr Charlotte Holland of DCU. Dr Annie Curtis, Scientific Programme Manager, SFI, commented: "This debate competition is an excellent example of the education and outreach programmes being carried out by the SFI CSETs. This collaborative approach to education and outreach is key to encouraging young people to consider career opportunities in science and engineering. It is important that we attract young people into careers in science and engineering as Ireland's future economic success is dependent on having this highly skilled workforce". Professor Frank Barry, Scientific Director of REMEDI at NUI Galway: "We hope that this collaborative outreach competition will be a useful tool in facilitating increased awareness of the important research taking place in Ireland among young people and the Irish public in general. It is imperative, however, that this is not one-way traffic. While it is important for research centres to communicate to the public, it is equally important for us, as scientists, to listen to what the public, including young people, think of our work. At a time when scientific research itself is taking so many different directions, it is critical that we open the doors for discussion so that we can ensure that everyone has their say on the societal and ethical implications of biomedical research".
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