Waterford event to celebrate the stories of Irish women in STEM

25 Jun 2021

Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell speaking at Inspirefest 2015. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Waterford Institute of Technology has organised a day of events sure to be of interest to anybody who wants to find out about Irish women scientists past and present.

The annual Robert Boyle summer school event will celebrate Irish women who have made significant contributions to the STEM industry.

This Saturday, 26 June, will see free online public talks and panel events featuring leading women working in STEM, as well as discussions highlighting the work of historical scientists from the recent past.

Now in its ninth year, the event is co-ordinated by Waterford Institute of Technology’s STEM engagement centre, Calmast.

Although the festival normally takes place in Boyle’s birthplace of Lismore in Waterford, it is running remotely this year.

President Micheal D Higgins, who is patron of the Robert Boyle Summer School, has welcomed the festival organisers’ decision to focus on women in STEM.

“This year’s Robert Boyle Summer School presents a valuable opportunity to not only celebrate the women who have excelled in the area of science, leaving behind their lasting legacy, but to also contemplate the challenges that have been overcome by those women and all who walk in their footsteps today,” he said.

The summer school will kick off by looking at some compelling stories of Irish women in science, technology, engineering and maths from the past. Their stories will be presented by Elizabeth Bruton, curator of technology at the Science Museum, along with Clodagh Finn from the Irish Examiner, and Colm Mulcahy professor emeritus, Spelman College, US. This first session of the day will be dedicated to the late journalist, broadcaster and author Mary Mulvihill, a leading light for women in STEM in Ireland.

This will be followed by a conversation with distinguished women, including Dervilla Donnelly, emeritus professor of chemistry at University College Dublin; Regina Moran, vice-president of strategic programmes and change at Fujitsu; and Dr Vida Hamilton, national clinical advisor and group lead of acute operations with the HSE.

The audience will then journey back to the 17th century to learn about Lady Ranelagh with American historian Dr Michelle DiMeo, who has produced the first authoritative biography of the woman born Katherine Boyle in Youghal, Co Cork in 1615.

Lady Ranelagh was Robert Boyle’s older sister and scientific collaborator, as DiMeo’s research shows. Her book about the scientist will be launched at this year’s summer school.

The event’s keynote address will be delivered by Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell. The Lurgan, Co Down scientist discovered pulsars as a graduate student in radio astronomy in Cambridge. Her discovery opened up a new branch of astrophysics – work recognised by the award of a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.

Bell Burnell will recount how she inadvertently discovered pulsars and reflect on what this might mean for the future.

The event will then look to the future with a panel discussion between visionaries in science and policy, including Bell Burnell, Dr Eucharia Meehan, registrar and CEO of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and Dr Ruth Freeman, director of science for society at Science Foundation Ireland.

The event’s organiser, Dr Sheila Donegan, said the event will be of interest to anyone who is willing to learn more about the world and the women who shape it: “It is for people who are interested in ideas and where they come from,” she said.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.