This morning I was up bright and early. Just before 7 am. Due to my incredibly busy schedule it was the only time that I could grab a quick run. As I ran around Waterford City with the sunrise approaching, the reflected of light of Venus was obvious just above the cloudless horizon, reminding the early morning commuters and runners/walkers that it still existed.
As I ran out of People's Park I reflected on the past week. A week of 29 talks and more than 1,750 km driven on the roads of Ireland. It's been a superhero-powered rollercoaster. Ranging from talks in Limerick to speaking on the stage at the Iontas Theatre in Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan where Christy Moore will perform over the coming days, it has been a memorable adventure. Superheroes and superpowers have been the centre of attention but the real superheroes and superstars have been the audiences - they make it all worth while.
For example, this morning I gave superhero talks in Dungarvan Co. Waterford. My first talk was to a an-girl 5th class group (10 and 11 years old) from a primary school. Their positivity and interest in science and superheroes was fantastic and hopefully some of the students will consider a career in STEM subjects in the future. One or two of the students were exceptional with some of them coming up with very creative ways of creating superpowers and even managing superpowers in the future. There may be no need for the Sokovia Accords from Captain America: Civil War in the real world thanks to the ideas of these students.
The superhero talks continue over the coming days. Tomorrow I'm in Edgeworthstown to speak at the Midlands Science Festival and next week I'm back in Dublin for more talks. My adventure finishes next week with a talk in Co. Clare.
It's so refreshing to meet so many people that are passionate about science, superheroes and the STEM subjects. Fingers crossed that some will be inspired to follow a science or engineering career after seeing some of the workshops this week.
At this very moment I'm sitting in a hotel bar in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan awaiting the arrival of my sustenance for the evening. The last two days have been for the majority spent on the road, listening to my specially prepared Spotify Science Week playlist. And yes there are some superhero musical scores in there in case you're wondering.
Yesterday started out with two talks at the University of Limerick (UL) at the Bernal building. The talks focussed on Iron Man and superheroes in general respectively. In total more than 450 attended the talks. It was fantastic to spread the word on superheroes, superpowers, science and STEM to such a large audience. The image at the top was taken at the start of the talk. I don't think I've ever seen a bigger picture of myself on a wall before.
After the talks at UL, I made my way across Limerick to speak at Thomond Community College. Finally, yesterday evening I gave an outreach talk in Roxboro in Limerick to an audience with Leaving Cert students and the general public. Once that talk finished I made my way up to Dublin in order to cut my today's journey to Monaghan in half.
Today was actually my first ever visit to Monaghan and I marked it by speaking at two all-girls schools in Carrickmacross and Monaghan Town. The students heard about advancements made by women researchers in the real world and the superhero films as well as the science behind the powers of some of the most powerful female superheroes in the films. For example, I promoted the great work of Jalila Essaidi BioArt Laboratories in Eindhoven, the amazing research of Associate Professor Ilja Voets and her team at TU Eindhoven. In addition I spoke about the development of the CRISPR/Cas system by Jennifer Doudna and her collaborators.
This evening I'll be giving a workshop at the Iontas Theatre in Castleblayney about the Secrets of Superhero Science. More super-science and superhero secrets to be revealed.
Until the next Science Week update, take care and always think super.
Yesterday my Science Week adventure got kick-started with a talk at the Ennis Community Centre with one of the most unique aspects of the talk being the venue.
First, it was a little cold in there but given that I was jumping around during the presentation I didn't really feel it. Second, there was a boxing ring right behind me, the gladiator arena used by Ennis Boxing Club when not hosting outreach talks about the prospects of a superpower-future. And finally all of this took place in an old chapel on of course - Chapel Lane. I've got to say it was a truly unique setting to give a talk about superheroes and superpowers.
There was a strong turnout for a bright but cold November Sunday afternoon for the talk. Plenty of curious minds and plenty of questions about having superpowers in the future. This year I've printed two postcards with red and green backs that I use during the workshops to do unofficial surveying. The highlights from the survey are that most people would like to have the eyesight of Hawkeye while not many are too keen on being cry-preserved in the future like the Winter Soldier. Probably deterred by the frosty ambience of the venue to be honest.
Onwards today to the University of Limerick and Thomond secondary school in Limerick before making the journey north for the Cavan-Monaghan Science Festival and further superhero presentations there tomorrow. The final presentation takes place just before kick-off of the Rep. of Ireland - Denmark World Cup playoff. I might need superpowers to see any part of it!
Think fast. Think super.
Time flies when you're doing science. In the blink of an eye Science Week Ireland has come around once again and I've a seriously busy week ahead of me. In fact Science Week started in earnest for me last week with a school visit to Castletroy College in Limerick.
For this year's Science Week I'll be presenting some brand new superhero-superpower based research from researchers around the world, some of whom I know from my research career in the Netherlands and Ireland.
There'll be lots of clips and references to the films, in particular the upcoming superhero films such as Justice League, which is released this coming week, Black Panther, which is out in February, and of course the film all superhero fans are talking about - Avengers: Infinity War.
First off this week I'm going to be in Ennis, Co. Clare to talk about the "Secrets of Superhero Science". If you're in the area and interested in hearing about some fascinating superhero-based science then drop by.
Over the coming days I'll keep you updated on my progress as I make my way around Ireland for Science Week 2017.
Most of the time my fundamental research at TU Delft and my superhero work walk side by side with no obvious overlap between the two topics. However, earlier this year, one of the PhD students in our group published a very nice paper about drag forces experienced by non-spherical particles in fluid flows. In the paper, they found that the drag force experienced by a particle in the flow could be calculated for any orientation of the particle provided you know the drag force when the particle is parallel to the flow and perpendicular to the flow.
Now like many science papers it is very technical but with some very nice illustrations and diagrams. After I read the paper I got the idea to write a popular science article about the work and link it to the drag forces that Iron Man might experience. When Tony Stark is in the suit he sort of looks like a non-spherical particle in a way.
The article was published last week on BBC Science Focus Online magazine and can be read here. The article has even shared the front page for some time with an article about Stephen Hawking. You can see this in the image below with my article on the bottom right of the image.
Stay tuned as I've another article in the pipeline.
Last week I spoke with the organisers of the Midlands Science Festival, which is arranging events as part of Science Week Ireland 2017. I'll be speaking at the Edgeworthstown festival on Saturday November 18th and very much looking forward to visiting Longford to spread the Superhero Science vibes.
Below is the interview. You can also check out the interview by clicking here.
Barry, we are delighted that you will be taking part in this year’s Midlands Science Festival. Can you tell us a little about what attendees can expect at your event?
First of all let me say that I’m really looking forward to being a part of this year’s Midlands Science Festival. When I was asked to be a part of the festival I had no hesitation in saying yes to the invite. Thank you very much for having as part of the festival.
The superhero genre has become one of the most popular in modern cinema. Each year numerous superhero films are released and 2017 is no exception. In fact just before Science Week Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League will be released. As a result superhero characters such as Thor, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash will all be the subject of media coverage around the time of the Midlands Science Festival. I’m sure that many people would love to have the superpowers of some of these characters.
During my talks at the Midlands Science Festival the audience are going to hear about some of the incredible scientific research from around the world that could lead to the superpowers of the superheroes in the future. I’ll be talking about the science behind Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Invisible Woman and many other superheroes. In addition I’ll also be talking about the ultimate superhero – Santa Claus. Every Christmas Santa travels around the world, a journey that is made possible thanks to his advanced science and technology. I hope to inspire some of the audience to think differently about science, to think differently about superpowers and to possibly pursue a career in science and engineering in the future. Who knows someone at the Midlands Science Festival could be the first person to build and wear a fully working Iron Man suit!
What is your background? Did you study science at university?
I have a degree in Applied Physics from the University of Limerick and a PhD in Computational Physics from the same university. In 2012 I moved to the Netherlands to continue my research career. I’ve worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Twente and Eindhoven University of Technology. Currently I’m working as a researcher in the 3mE faculty of the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). My current research is focused on biomass energy, computer simulations of fluidized bed reactors, collective motion in people and birds, and the rheology of polymer systems.
What initially steered you towards a career in science?
When I was younger I was enthralled by mathematics. I remember I finished “Busy at Maths 5”, my 5th class maths book, three months before the end of the school year. It wasn’t until I went to secondary school that I became fascinated by science. Back then I didn’t have access to a resource such as the Internet. Perhaps if I had access to such an amazing resource my interest in science might have started at a younger age. During my Junior Certificate years I always remember being fascinated by physics given that it combined mathematics with a study of how matter moves through space and time. When it came to my Leaving Certificate I selected a series of numerical subjects including applied mathematics, physics, chemistry and accounting. For a time I even contemplated becoming an accountant but the attraction of physics was too great to ignore. While growing up I was also captivated by the idea of time travel from films like the Back to the Future trilogy and Star Trek 4. I read quite a few popular science books about time travel and the possibility of building a time machine. These books highlighted the importance of physics and mathematics to realizing time travel, which, I should add, is not prohibited by the laws of physics (well time travel to the future is definitely possible). My reading, my interest in mathematics and passion for physics all served to influence my decision to pursue a career in science.
Please tell us a little about your books.
I’ve written and self-published two popular science books – Secrets of Superhero Science and Secret Science of Santa Claus.
In the Secrets of Superhero Science I describe the fundamental science that you would learn at school and current scientific research that could lead to superpowers in the future. I discuss the possibility of creating the X-Men, replicating the power of invisibility possessed by the Invisible Woman and the possibility of building Spider-Man’s web-slingers. In addition I also discuss the implications of introducing superpowers to modern society.
In my second book, Secret Science of Santa Claus, I discuss the science and technology behind perhaps the greatest superhero of all time – Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus delivers present to millions of children around the world. This extraordinary endeavour would be impossible without Santa’s innovative technological gadgets. In the book I describe the science behind Santa’s flying reindeer, his cutting-edge weather prediction methods and why Santa Claus is an ultramarathon runner. I also discuss how Santa’s gift-bringing will change onwards into the 21st century. Right now I’m busy working on my next book, which I hope will be ready for the first half of 2018.
Why are national events like Science Week so important do you think?
The importance of national events such as Science Week cannot be understated. First and foremost Science Week is a unique platform facilitating connection and engagement on scientific matters and concepts with the general public. I first presented workshops as part of Science Week in 2015. That week was a fantastic experience as I spoke about many topics in science at a number of schools around the country. I enjoyed being part of Science Week so much that I cameback again last year to speak in schools, bookshops and libraries. In addition I opened Science Week 2016 at the University of Limerick.
Science Week is an opportunity for researchers and those working in scientific communication to inspire the next generation of scientists in addition to astounding people of all ages. Science Week is a chance for scientists to tell the public about some of the incredible scientific advancements taking place right now and how it will impact on their lives in the near future. Importantly the science is explained in an accessible language and using relevant connections to the real world. When anyone attends one of my Science Week workshops I want him or her to engage with science in a unique way and to think differently about science. The relevance of science in modern society is often forgotten and even taken for granted. Science Week promotes the importance of science for the real world and encourages the general public to engage with science on a daily basis. Science isn’t just for one week. Science is for life.
My adventures in the superhero world has thus far afforded me the opportunity to speak at events and locations that I could never have anticipated. From speaking at Dutch Comic Con to hosting a conference on Superhero Science at TU Delft, it really has one great experience after another.
Last weekend I added an arts festival to the list as I spoke on a panel as part of the Galway Arts International Festival. The panel entitled "The Power of Superheroes" and took place at the Bailey Allen Theatre on the NUI Galway campus. I shared the stage with some inspiring speakers and contributors as Jen Coppinger, Maura McHugh, Declan Shalvey and myself spoke for one hour about the superhero genre. Conversation ranged from the definition of a hero to the impact of ethics on the superhero genre. Although we only spoke for an hour I think we could have spoken for four or five hours. The conversation flowed and the superhero chatter was inspiring. An audience of almost 100 people listened attentively and contributed some great questions for open discussion.
In terms of my superhero adventure thus far this is right up there as one of the highlights and I hope to get the chance to speak once more in the future at the Galway International Arts Festival. For those who have yet to attend the festival please consider adding it to your future agendas. The line up this year was magnificent with music from all genres, art, performances and talks. Musicians such as Brian Wilson, Passenger and The Coronas performed over the course of the two weeks. The festival is a great advertisement for the city of Galway.
With Wonder Woman being released in cinemas around the world this month, many of you might be dreaming of super-strength, bullet-proof bracelets or even the lasso of truth.
On Wednesday 7th June, the symposium " Secrets of Superhero Science" will take place at TU Delft as part of the International Festival of Technology (IFoT). This symposium will focus on Superhero Science and the possibility of creating superpowers in the future including bulletproof materials that could replicate Wonder Woman's bulletproof bracelets.
It's been a real adventure putting the event together in conjunction with the great team involved in the organisation of the IFoT in Delft. I've got to say I'm very much looking forward to hosting the event, hearing what the speakers have to say about their work and how their work relates to creating superpowers and hearing from the audience during and after the event.
I promise a fun, entertaining and educational event and I hope to see you there.
It's just under 2 and half weeks from the Secrets of Superhero Science symposium at the International Festival of Technology, and I've got to say I'm pretty excited about it. The preparations are going well and I've spoken to all of the speakers over the last few weeks. I can't wait to hear what they have to say and hopefully there'll be a big crowd present on the day to hear about their amazing research and the link with superpower technologies.
In the lead up to the event I'm hoping that there'll be some media coverage. Over the past weekend the first article about the conference was published in the NRC Weekend on the page "De Kleine Wetenschap", a page of articles on science for younger readers. The article was written by Karel Berkhout. You can find the article below. However it's in Dutch so my apologises to those without Dutch.
Since I published my book "Secrets of Superhero Science" back in February last year it's been an exciting superhero-filled superpower-fuelled adventure. And the adventure continues to astound!
Next month as part of the International Festival of Technology I will be hosting the 1st ever symposium on Superhero Science. The symposium - Secrets of Superhero Science - will bring together speakers from various fields to discuss their work and the implications for possible superpowers in the future. There will genetics, 3D bioprinting, exoskeletons, bullet-proof materials, nano-vision and ethics. I've got to say I'm hugely excited about the event and can't wait to host the incredible speakers I've got lined up for the symposium. A full list of the speakers can be found right here.
Stay tuned for more updates on the event over the coming days and weeks. It's going to be super!