Donnacha O’Driscoll, Site Manager, Insight at UCD, discusses education and public engagement and all things lunar.
At the heart of what Insight and all other SFI centres do is the delivery of societal benefits through science research and development. A key component of achieving this impact is the engagement of the general public with science and technology. A lack of understanding of scientific principles and an often negative perception of the affects of new technology have increased the challenge of effective public engagement.
Addressing this issue requires actions by many, at many levels. For my part I have been engaging with the public through my passion interest of astronomy and in particular my love for all things Lunar. (I know, it takes all kinds!) I regularly present talks and demonstrations to adult groups and schools. I find that even those with little or no interest in science are often keen to hear about the night sky and space travel and the recent Science Week proved to be a great opportunity to get out to meet folk and chat about the Moon.
The theme for two of my talks presented in Gorey and Bunclody was the history of rockets and the future of space exploration. The desire to discover the heavens has existed since time immemorial and the story of that desire encompasses some of the most dramatic and interesting people in the fields of science, politics and literature. The imagination, creativity and application involved in space exploration is as much a story about the development of human society as it is about astronomy.
I also presented a talk on the importance of the Moon in Galway. The Moon is a great topic to engage people. It is an object everyone is very familiar with and it is a key element, not just in science and astronomy but in art and culture and many other aspects of everyday life. And yet most people know very little about it. In the presentation I not only discuss the well known tidal affects and nocturnal life activity influenced by the Moon but also some lesser known facts like the role the Moon played in the evolution of life, its effect on climate and seasons, even volcanic activity and continental drift is affected by our nearest neighbour. People love to learn about things they are already somewhat familiar with and the level of engagement is always very satisfying.
The week’s activities culminated in a collaboration between, UCD, SFI, Insight, the Irish Astronomical Society, the OPW and my own outreach project, www.themoon.ie. Between 7 and 10 pm on Saturday evening over 200 people came to the visitor centre in the Phoenix Park to view the night sky with a number of astronomers who had brought a range of telescopes. Demonstrations explaining various astronomical phenomenon were given and I gave a number of talks on the Moon. Ages ranged from 5 to 80 year olds and from all walks of life. Included in the talks was a buyers guide to buying your first telescope. Many were genuinely surprised as to how interested they found the whole experience and that is a big win. Science has a bit of a mystique to it which at times deters people from engaging with it. Through events like this, we are helping to break down that mystique and hopefully easing the way for more public engagement for our Centres and delivering on our societal impacts.