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.
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.
In late November last year I was contacted by Heather Montague who writes a column entitled “Avocations” for TU Delft’s Delta magazine. Heather expressed an interest in writing an article about me and my writing hobby outside of academia. Of course I was delighted to be asked about the article and the interview was done in early December along with a photograph of myself in writing action.
On Monday 6th February, the article along with the photo were published on the back of the TU Delta magazine for February. The article describes my writing adventures so far and the publication of my books about the science of superheroes and Santa Claus. The photo shows me in the middle of a writing binge surrounded by some of the Avengers. I am indeed in the middle of writing my 3rd book so watch this space for updates over the next few months.
You can check out the article online on the avocations page of the TU Delta magazine.
Below is an image of the full article and picture.
This year has been a remarkable year. While many will wave goodbye to 2016 with a level of distain and good riddance I’ve got to say from a personal point of view it’s been a good year. Naturally I acknowledge that we have lost many great artists and actors this year while on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean there was an interesting battle for the presidency that ended with a surprising result. But yes this year has been a good year for me in terms of BW Science.
Back in March, the Cursor Magazine/Newspaper put my mug on the cover in recognition of my first book “Secrets of Superhero Science”. The cover image of me in a laboratory in the ICMS building at TU/e was accompanied by a great article within the pages of the Cursor. Naturally I was very happy with their coverage of the book so when I published “Secret Science of Santa Claus” I contacted Judith van Gaal once more about writing an article on my second book.
Although I am officially based at TU Delft I am also a visiting researcher at TU Eindhoven and value my time, continuing collaborations and friends there greatly. I met with Judith earlier this month and we had a great chat about Santa Claus and the amazing science behind his Christmas Eve deliveries.
On the back of that interview Judith wrote a fantastic article for the Cursor which has appeared in the latest version of the magazine/newspaper. And like the first time I’ve made the cover the newspaper! Absolutely delighted to have done so and many thanks to Judith for writing a great article.
Here’s the article to read if you wish. It’s mainly in Dutch but there is some English text in there as well.
As you can see the layout is unique with a Christmas tree made from Christmas decorations. Very cool indeed. If you get a chance have a read of the article.
Earlier this month I was interviewed by Robert Visscher for an online article about Secrets of Superhero Science. Before the interview Robert had read the book and I certainly could tell that this was the case. He had a wide range of questions with some focusing on specific aspects or sections of the chapters in the book. During the interview, we discussed the current state of superhero films, my favourite superheroes and their films, the science behind the Iron Man suit, invisibility and the X-Men.
This week Robert published a fantastic article based on the interview on the website for NEMO Kennislink. The interview is in Dutch so it’s a perfect way for you to practice your Dutch. To read the article just click here.
At the moment I’m relaxing in Ireland, on the west coast in Kilkee, Co. Clare, getting some time to unwind after a hectic few weeks and months. Just over two weeks ago I had one of those crazy weekends consisting of two gigs with Ten Tap Trouble, work spilling over into the weekend, falling ill with the summer cold that has taken out so many over the last few weeks and Ireland played France in the second round of EURO 2016.
In the midst of all of that, on Saturday June 25th I spoke with Jonathan McCrea on Newstalk’s Futureproof program about the Secrets of Superhero Science. The interview touched on my infatuation with the superhero film genre, superhero film history and of course super-science and the science that could possibly lead to superpowers in the future. I spoke about the X-Men and genetics, Iron Man and the technology behind the suit and Spider-Man and spiderwebs.
If you want to listen to the interview just click here to hear the podcast. You’ll have to scroll a bit into the podcast to find my segment.
This week on Thursday July 14th I’ll be at Hodges Figgis in Dublin. Hope to see you there. I’ll be starting my super-science lecture at 18.00.