SFI sets aside €2.8m for 42 STEM public outreach projects

21 Jan 2016

Pictured l-r: Niamh Lyons, Interim Director at Science Foundation Ireland with Tadgh Crowley, UCC, Sean O'Brien, Learning Hub, Limerick. Image via Shane O'Neill Photography

As part of its remit for 2016, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has set aside €2.8m to fund 42 different public outreach initiatives to promote science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

With aims of these 42 STEM projects reaching an audience of 3.6m people in Ireland by the end of 2017, the SFI has said that the projects selected have a great chance of achieving their target of a more engaged and scientifically informed public.

Following a recent report, the SFI says it found that large swathes of the country are lagging behind in terms of engagement with STEM subjects or awareness of what it even means, particularly in Leitrim, Carlow, Monaghan, Roscommon, Cavan, Louth, Clare and Kerry.

The foundation’s target is to increase the national knowledge of STEM topics from the current figure of 49pc, to at least 60pc in the coming years.

Publishing the list of recipients, the SFI has shown that the largest sum of funding from the €2.8m total has been awarded to the Engineering Ireland STEPS programme, totalling €420,000.

With this additional funding, Engineering Ireland said that the STEPS programme will be working under the Smart Futures programme, to drive the uptake of STEM subjects at second and third level through enabling direct engagement between trained engineering volunteers at schools and career events across the country.

By the end of this year, it hopes to have a volunteer available to interact with every school that makes such a request.

New documentaries and books

A number of other initiatives have received large funds of as much as €220,000 each, including Cork Institute of Technology’s Blackrock Observatory to help children learn about space, the highly-regarded Festival of Curiosity in Dublin and Dublin City University’s Problem-Solving Initiative.

A number of broadcast, film and print initiatives will also be receiving continued funding similar to 2015, with additional projects including a six-part travel series with TV3 exploring scientific accomplishments; a six-part series with Setanta Sports looking at the science behind sport; 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.

Niamh Lyons, Interim Director at the SFI, said at the launch: “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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic