Inspirefest speaker leads you back into Ireland’s inventive past with Ingenious tours

8 May 2015

Mary Mulvihill in action on one of her walking tours

The Ingenious Ireland walking tours are starting up in Dublin for the summer season, sharing Irish ideas and inventions that have changed the world.

Next time you dig into a packet of cheese-and-onion crisps, give a hat-tip to the Dubliner who invented them. Or if milk chocolate is more your thing, you have an inventor from Co Down to thank for that indulgence. And if you find yourself playing a computer game with realistic animation, it might surprise you to know that 19th-century equations from the brain of an Irish mathematician are enabling your entertainment.

Those are some of the gems on this summer’s Ingenious Ireland walking tour, which highlights Irish ideas and inventions that changed the world.

The two-hour tour is replete with interesting insights, stories and ‘wow’ moments that have fascinated Dubliners, tourists, corporate outings, retired groups and even hen parties, according to Ingenious Ireland, which is led by Inspirefest 2015 speaker and celebrated science storyteller and historian Mary Mulvihill.

Mulvihill will bring a particularly local flavour to proceedings on Thursday morning’s History of Science and Technology session at Inspirefest 2015, when she will bring us on a whistle stop tour of the remarkable women scientists and technologists that have hailed from Ireland over the centuries.

Other participants in this session will include Kathy Kleiman, the co-producer and co-writer of the The Computers: The Remarkable Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers. This is the story of six women missing from computing history – the women who programmed the ENIAC, the world’s first all-electronic, programmable computer (a secret US WWII project).  Kerry Howard will share the untold stories of Bletchley Park, part of her book about the women codebreakers, including Margaret Rock and Joan Clarke. Finally, Dr Nina Ansary will discuss the role of remarkable Iranian women scientists pre and post Revolution.

From earthquakes to moon landings

The Irish Ideas & Inventions that Changed the World walking tour includes all kinds of weird and wonderful things, says senior tour guide and researcher Dr Patrick Roycroft: they include how Waterford native and Nobel laureate Ernest Walton helped to usher in the atomic age when he and John Cokcroft ‘split the atom’ in 1932, how the first public dissection of an elephant took place in Temple Bar in Dublin, and how earthquake science was effectively born at Killiney beach.

That last nugget came courtesy of a controlled experiment carried out by Robert Mallet. His concept was simple: bury gunpowder in the beach and measure how the shockwaves travelled when the explosives detonated, and by doing so he effectively founded the modern science of seismology. “When it went bang, he measured how long it took to go through the beach and granite rocks,” explains Roycroft.

Another inventive mind was that of Mallet’s contemporary, Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, who in 1843 came up with quaternions, a type of equation that went on to underpin wireless communications, landing humans on the moon and rovers on Mars and making more realistic video games, to name a few of its impacts. “Some of his work continues to influence us today, such as 3D computer graphics and orienting space craft,” says Roycroft. “Without Hamilton’s 19th-century maths, that wouldn’t be possible.”

Chocolate and Tayto

But let’s wrap up with some tasty morsels about snacks: Hans Sloane from Co. Down came up with milk chocolate, and flavoured crisps have their origins in 1950s Dublin, says Roycroft: “Joseph Murphy, the founder of Tayto crisps, came up with the original cheese-and-onion flavour crisp.”

A ticket for ‘Irish Ideas & Inventions that Changed the World’ costs €15, the walks start at 11.30 at Science Gallery (Trinity College Dublin, Pearse St, Dublin 2) and you’ll be back there in time for lunch – your Ingenious Ireland ticket will get you 10pc off at the Science Gallery Cafe. Book here.

Inspirefest 2015 is Silicon Republic’s international event running 18-20 June in Dublin that connects sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Walking tour image courtesy of Catherine Cronin on Fllickr

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication