Irish Times piece on the first Alchemist Café Dublin

Making science more attractive to the ordinary person is the aim of scientific discussion group, the Alchemist’s Café, which held its first meeting in a Dublin city centre pub in August.

The brainchild of five Master’s degree students of Science and Communication at Dublin City University (DCU), the focus of the group is casual, informal discussion about science.

The idea was inspired by the success of Cafés Scientifiques all over Europe. Each session will feature a key speaker on a subject of scientific importance, in an informal setting such as a café, bar, restaurant or theatre, followed by general discussion.
According to Mr Philip O’Reilly, one of the group’s organisers, it is about giving people the choice to make decisions.
“Science is not just for scientists. It’s about how if affects people’s lives,” he said.

There are already around 30 Cafés Scientifiques in the UK, including one in Belfast. Tuesday night’s inaugural meeting in the Westmoreland Bar in Dublin featured Prof Dermot Diamond of the National Centre for Sensor Research at DCU, on wireless sensor technology.
According to Prof Diamond, this is a huge area of scientific research at the moment. Its focus is the linking of information provided by sensors to communications technologies, such as mobile phones and TVs.

The technology could also be used to prevent sudden infant cot death syndrome, he believes. The infant’s breathing and heartbeat could be measured by wearing a sensor garment, such as a vest.

If there was irregularity in the baby’s heartbeat or breathing, a warning could immediately be relayed to the parent, in the form of a text message to a mobile phone.

Prof Diamond said that similar technologies could be used for monitoring environmental pollution.

Sensors could detect when the target level of a chemical is breached, and it is possible for this information to be relayed immediately to a remote location, such as a computer in the Environmental Protection Authority’s headquarters.

Prof Diamond also drew attention to the downside of this new technology, which could easily lead to intrusion into people’s privacy.

He said he decided to get involved in the project because he believes it is beneficial for scientists to get out and talk about what they do.

“It’s good to share the excitement of what’s going on with people and to debate the issues,” he says.

The organisers said they were very pleased with the turnout of 50 people.

The next Alchemist’s Café evening is scheduled for late September. Subject matter, date and location have yet to de decided, but all will be posted at alchemist_café@eircom.net

© The Irish Times

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