European Researchers’ Night at Trinity brings research into public eye

The move to virtual leaves no shortage of research-related events and fun

European Researchers’ Night is an annual initiative that aims to bring researchers and their work into the public eye and to encourage those from all backgrounds to engage with research. Last year over 1.6 million people attended European Researchers’ night events spread across 400 European cities. In Trinity, the PROBE pop-up festival in Front Square brought the public and Trinity researchers together to participate in hands-on experiments, citizen science, and eye-opening discussions. This year the virtual event will naturally look a little different, but promises to be equally engaging and informative as previous years. 

START (Start Talking About Research Today) is Trinity’s event being held to mark Researchers’ night this year. Though this takes place on November 27, the online format means that a large amount of interactive content has been available to access from as early as November 18. Like the in-person event, START is set to cater to a wide range of age groups and scientific backgrounds. Some events aim at introducing children to scientific research through interactive workshops at their level, while others are more in-depth. The event also covers all the multidisciplinary aspects of research, including many areas of the arts and sciences. 

Replacing the physical tents and marquees filling Front Square for European Researchers’ Night 2019, 2020’s (virtual) Tent of Bad Science will be a space where the public can tune in to hear some big names discuss big scientific questions. Expect talks on science versus fake news, trust in science, protests in the pandemic, and even the science of storytelling. These will take place in the week running up to Researcher’s Night and the public can tune in for free. 

The virtual nature of the event this year in some ways allows the public to dive deeper into the world of research than any Research night before. This year you can take a virtual tour of a tuberculosis research lab in Trinity and let the researchers studying the disease show off their work. Dr. Seónadh O’Leary will guide you through her research on how smoking affects tuberculosis by damaging immune cells in the lungs. And in standard Research Night format, questions are strongly encouraged!

If you’ve had enough virus talk for the time being, what about learning to read Homer in ancient Greek? Professor Ahuvia Kahane will be holding a live demonstration using online Chicago Homer software that allows readers to study Homer in ancient Greek without any knowledge of the language. The talk will also include an introduction to the Greek alphabet, which is displayed on the Chicago Homer software. 

From Greece to a little closer to home, participants can hear about the research being carried out in Trinity’s Phonetics and Speech Lab and their work with Irish speech recognition technology, Think Alexa but as Gaeilge. In order to create successful technology, the lab needs as many voice recordings as possible and is aiming for míle glór (a thousand voices). Participants on the night can record some sentences for the Abair team and hear about the importance of speech recognition technology or text to speech technology in Irish, particularly as an aid for those with disabilities. 

If you are tired of endless zoom quizzes, you can enjoy the thrill of a virtual escape room being held for Researchers’ Night: Back to The Future Escaping the Climate Crisis. Like any traditional escape room, there is a backstory. “The year is 2050 and Earth has been devastated by the climate crisis. It’s too late to save the planet now; the only solution is to go back in time and set humanity on the right course. Your colleague will travel to the year 2020 and finish off the vital research needed for a green, sustainable Ireland.” Participants can book a free slot and take part in climate-based quizzes and puzzles with up to 6 friends. This event is online from November 27 to 29. 

Interested in the molecules that make up the world around us? Trinity researcher Dr. Christina Trujillo has developed a site for Researchers’ Night where you can explore what many important, weird, or wonderful molecules look like, in a 3D simulation. You can carry out a simulation to see how soap fights coronavirus particles, and see for yourself why it really is essential to wash your hands!

European Researchers’ night stands apart as being one of those real cases where you can learn through having fun. An event that certainly aims at this is the Kid’s Science: Coronavirus workshop, which teaches about viruses like Covid-19 through arts and crafts and experiments. The workshop will look at what viruses are, how they affect us, and how social distancing and soap stop their spread. The open event is being held from 7-8 pm on November 27th.

Children aged 7-14 can also take part in a competition combining geology with toys. Participants are asked to build a diorama using their toys to tell a story about Ireland’s past environments that geology helps to study. After a little research to pick a geological period that interests them, they can get to work with lego pieces, playdough, and household objects they can find to build a scene that takes them back in time. The most creative and scientifically accurate dioramas will be rewarded with fantastic book voucher prizes. Entries are open until the 24th of November, and winners will be announced on the night!

If art and architecture are more up their street, children (around the 9-11 age group) can take part in a virtual tour of the sculptures at St. Canice’s Cathedral Kilkenny, fill out activity sheets and attend a question and answer session with heritage expert, Sarah Myers. They can learn about the history of stone in Kilkenny, and about the medieval stonemasons who created the sculptures around the cathedral. 

The world of cryptography, ciphers, and codes will be explored in another children’s workshop (10-12 age group). Participants can have a go at writing their own secret messages using different ciphers. They can also participate in an interactive game The Code Of Kells, where they put their new knowledge of codes to the test to figure out who stole the Book of Kells. The workshop takes place on November 26 from 4-5.30pm. 

The programme for Researcher’s night here at Trinity is bursting at its seams, with something for all ages and backgrounds to enjoy. 2020 has been a difficult year for research and researchers alike. But events like START at Trinity not only help to shine a light on the perseverance of research in these difficult times but also to renew that spark of curiosity in us all. 

Lucy Fitzsimmons

Lucy Fitzsimmons is the SciTech co-Editor of Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister student of Chemical Sciences.