Minister English Announces €2.8 Million Science Foundation Ireland Investment in STEM Public Engagement & Education Initiatives

Interim Director of Communications, Niamh Lyons and  Minister for Research, Innovation and Skills, Damien English, TD.
  • Investment by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland Supports Ireland’s Ambition to Have the Most Engaged and Scientifically Informed Public.

  • Public Engagement and Education Awards for 42 Projects Across Ireland to Enable Greater Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to Support Ireland’s Skills Base and Economic Infrastructure, Now and in the Future.

  • Minister English Announces Further Commitment to the Proliferation of Irish Science & Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover awards, Supporting the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs and its Recently Announced Science Strategy, Innovation 2020    

21st January 2016 - Farmleigh, Dublin, IRELAND - The Minister for Research, Innovation and Skills, Damien English, TD today announced details of a €2.8 million national investment in 42 initiatives aimed at engaging the Irish public in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) through Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover funding awards. This investment further supports our national aim to have the most scientifically engaged public; breaking down barriers and creating more accessible paths to skill acquisition and ultimately fulfilling careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Geographically dispersed, it is estimated that these STEM projects will touch 3.6 million people in Ireland by the end of 2017.

Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover funding was awarded competitively following rigorous international review where the STEM education and public engagement projects were required to address how they planned to enable greater STEM understanding and debate or support STEM education formally or informally.  In particular, projects were sought that targeted counties which currently have low levels of STEM public engagement activity (Leitrim, Carlow, Monaghan, Roscommon, Cavan, Louth, Clare and Kerry).  This will address objectives in the recently published science and innovation strategy, Innovation 2020, but more specifically will provide greater opportunities for the Irish public to increase their knowledge of STEM, moving the dial from 49% to 60% of people who feel informed about STEM.

This investment is made by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland’s annual education and public engagement Discover Programme awards.
The 42 STEM public engagement, promotion and education projects funded were across key activity areas:

Maths:  projects that support the enjoyment of maths and enable skills development.  These projects include a national problem solving competition; a programme bringing undergraduate maths students together with post primary students to understand maths; a mobile interactive exhibition exploring statistics through games; a project supporting numeracy skills to make maths more accessible.

Technology: projects that support engaging people with technology and developing digital skills.  These projects include a national competition to develop apps using Central Statistics Office information; a movement supporting girl’s hacking events; a robotics programme; and a programme supporting the community to develop digital skills through the 1916 celebrations.

Broadcast/Film/Print: projects that will connect to a larger audience through print or broadcast media.  Aimed at targeting those not traditionally interested in science, the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme Call makes significant investment in broadcast media for the second year. In addition to our partnership with RTE, this year the programme expands to include a six part travel series with TV3 exploring scientific accomplishments; a six part series with Setanta sports looking at the science behind sport; the support of two science documentaries as part of Galway becoming UNESCO City of Film; and a book series for young people to be distributed with a national newspaper.

General public events: projects that engage the public and young people through events.  These projects include an art exhibition and workshops; a ‘maker fair' where people can explore making technology and art; the science zone at the St. Patrick’s Festival Big Day Out; a project engaging people with renewable energy and how it works; a comedy improv club; a project that engages people in everyday physics through busking at outdoor events; a project engaging local libraries with STEM through interactive art installations; and the Festival of Curiosity, a summer festival celebrating the natural curiosity that is a part of STEM.

STEM informal education for schools: projects that support young people to engage with the subjects and themes of STEM outside of the formal curriculum.  These projects include a centre offering students an opportunity to explore topics such as climate change and energy; a project bringing physics, maths and music together; a primary science fair in Limerick; two projects using technology to bring the research science lab to life in the classroom; a project bringing STEM debate to classrooms and families; a project delivering a range of STEM education experiences using space as a theme; a project exploring the importance of diet and gut health using technology; and a project bringing STEM to disadvantaged young people.

STEM Careers Awareness: projects that support young people and their families to explore and understand STEM careers.  These include projects that support STEM professionals to engage the public with their career story; and a project that supports connecting young girls to STEM role models.

Regional/National programmes: projects that have national or regional participant reach and activities that address the broader purpose of STEM career awareness, supporting informal education and general public events such as national weeks celebrating STEM.  These include national programmes such as the Engineers Ireland STEPS programme and Maths Week; programmes delivering STEM activity to the Cork and Waterford regions; SciFest; and a project supporting third level colleges nationwide to engage communities in their work.

These projects complement current Science Foundation Ireland projects such as Science Week, Smart Futures and work carried out by the 12 Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres nationwide to engage and inspire the public in STEM.

Announcing the funding at an event at Farmleigh House in Dublin today, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Mr Damien English TD said: “The government launched its Action Plan for Jobs 2016 this week and one of our core messages is that we must continue to invest in science and technology to foster creativity and innovation, which will ultimately lead to job growth. The initiatives funded through Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover programme encourage the Irish public to stop and think about how science impacts upon them in their daily lives.  It encourages our young people to think about a career in STEM and it demonstrates to multinational companies considering creating jobs in Ireland that we as a nation are engaged with and committed to excellence in science, technology, engineering and maths. We are thinking globally but acting locally to create a learning environment in communities right across the country.”

Minister English added:From a very low base, Ireland has today become home to nine of the top ten global ICT companies, nine of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies, 17 of the top 25 global medical devices companies, and more than half of the world’s leading financial services institutions. Ireland is now in the Global Top 20 for the quality of our scientific research, and is ranked first in the world for its research in nanoscience, second in computer science and in immunology, third in animal and dairy science, and fifth in materials science.  It is vital that we continue to foster further innovation and STEM industries by encouraging the general public, and in particular our young people, to have an understanding and appreciation of the role of STEM in our society.”

Niamh Lyons, Interim Director at Science Foundation Ireland added: “The 42 projects which received funding today represent the most creative, educational and engaging STEM programmes in Ireland. The initiatives receiving funding were assessed by international experts and selected based on their potential to promote awareness and understanding of the importance and relevance of STEM in everyday life.”

“Inclusivity and accessibility to STEM is a key driver for Science Foundation Ireland and this is reflected in all of the initiatives that have received funding through the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme Call. As well as the basic aim of awareness and understanding, the funded projects also aim this year to extend the reach of STEM influence to people who have not yet been exposed to its benefits; equipping them with the knowledge and tools to either engage, study or work in STEM or more importantly support family members in their career and study choices., continued Lyons.

List of Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme Awards:
A total of 42 projects were approved for funding to a total amount of €2.8m. (* denotes projects with two year funding)