A well-known local science advocate believes that Galway should emulate its international status as an arts city by striving to become the European equivalent of California’s Silicon Valley.
Brendan Smith, Community Education and Outreach Officer for the Digital Enterprise Research Institute at NUI Galway, was presented with the Science Person of the Year Award at the recent Galway Science and Technology Festival.
He was given the award for delivering a range of pioneering science and technology learning initiatives to schools, colleges and to communities. Brendan Smith believes passionately that the city possesses many of the key ingredients needed to transform the region into a leading global hub for smart technologies’ innovation and development.
According to Brendan Smith: “Silicon Valley is home to many of the world’s largest information technology corporations as well as thousands of small start-ups. These organisations have established a symbiotic relationship with third-level colleges in the vicinity that provide the stream of young enthusiastic inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists needed to sustain their existence and success.
Brendan says Galway bears an uncanny resemblance to San Francisco possessing many of its main traits in abundance. Located on the west coast of the United States, the area is famed for its natural beauty that has engendered a quality of life ethos amongst the inhabitants. The city of San Francisco has also long being characterized by political, environmental and social liberalism; possessing a strong progressive artistic, music, cultural and community solidarity ethos with a youthful, student, cosmopolitan and outward-looking population.
Many of the leading corporations in the biomedical and information technology sectors such as Avaya, Boston Scientific, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Hewlett-Packard, Medtronic and SAP, are already based in Galway with established links to research institutes located in GMIT and NUI Galway such as DERI, Ryan Institute and REMEDI which are providing the scientific expertise to sustain their presence in Galway and underpin their status as leaders in cutting edge product development.
There is also the presence locally of indigenous high-tech manufacturing and services industries comprising Irish-owned companies such as Creganna and Storm Technologies.
Galway can rightly claim to be the country’s first and premier ‘Digital City’, building on an unbroken tradition of computing innovation that dates back to 1971 when Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), then the world’s largest minicomputer company, opened its first European manufacturing facility in Mervue. This proud technology heritage is exemplified by the fact that the ‘Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland’, which pays tribute amongst other things to the oftentimes hidden role of Ireland, women and youth in communications development, is based in the city at DERI in NUI Galway.
“What is also an abiding feature of Galway is the deep sense of ‘community solidarity’ as well as the high level of volunteerism that exists amongst many of the prime ‘movers and shakers’ in the industrial, political, educational and local government sectors. These individuals have over the years collaborated under the auspices of the Galway Education Centre, Junior Achievement and the Galway Science and Technology Festival, to deliver important learning initiatives in schools and colleges across the Western region.”
“In a modern industrial urban version of ‘Meitheal’ that was once the hallmark of traditional Irish rural community support, these visionaries have promoted and harnessed an army of young professional mentors from industry and third level colleges who give their time and energies to teach in primary and post-primary classrooms delivering science courses whilst acting as positive ‘role models’ for our young generation.”
Such courses will equip our children with a range of skills, from using mathematics to fostering critical thinking, necessary for transforming Ireland from being a nation of ‘digital users’ into a nation of ‘digital creators’ that would export worldwide a series of beneficial Irish-made smart tech products and services.
These formal learning programmes are now being complimented by the activities of electronic and computer coding volunteer clubs such as 091 Labs and Coderdojo which are often established by young people themselves to provide informal after-school digital maker’s environments where participants are encouraged to be creative and to experiment in new processes and ideas, writing software for instance for online games or to control the movements of robots.
The success of these initiatives is best shown by the dramatic uptake by schools in these mentoring courses as well as by the tens of thousands that attend the science shows and exhibitions during the annual two week Galway Science and Technology Festival.