Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Science Festival makes its debut

Festival will show off region's skills and opportunities in STEM sector

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland's top science and technology talents are set to be showcased as part of a new 11-day festival.

The inaugural NI Science Festival will show off the region's skills and career opportunities within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) creative industries.

It's the first large-scale festival of its kind in Northern Ireland, and is expected to draw in excess of 10,000 people to dozens of events when it kicks off in the new year.

The festival - which starts on February 19 - will boast around 70 events, and include talks from a host of international speakers across the scientific and business worlds. Many of the events will be completely free.

Organisers are also trying to smash the record for the biggest ever science lesson - with over 1,000 children set to descend on the Odyssey Arena for the Guinness World Record attempt.

Festival director Chris McCreery said the event was aimed at showing off Northern Ireland's "rich heritage in the fields of science, technology and engineering".

"It's about encouraging more children and young people to get into these things - and we are targeting adults as well. It's partly to promote and sell our great industry - it's something we don't shout about enough.

"There will be a host of themes, mind, body, sound, light and a lot of other special events."

A number of organisations including the Ulster Museum, W5, the Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP) and Northern Ireland's universities have been helping to get the new event off the ground.

Figures have shown the interest in STEM subjects is growing - with some 82% of secondary school students here believing the four areas will offer them the best career opportunities.

And according to a NISP study, Northern Ireland has one of the fastest growing knowledge economies in the UK - increasing in size by a third over the last five years.

"We aim to celebrate, educate and engage our next generation of scientists and technology professionals," Mr McCreery said.

"Northern Ireland is the home of a whole host of innovations across engineering, physics, aeronautics and health, and this festival is all about taking pride in our contribution to science and creating an engaging celebration for folks of all ages and levels of knowledge."

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry said Northern Ireland's growing skills base in STEM subjects will be "key drivers behind the economy in the 21st century".

"In order to grow an innovative and competitive economy, it is vital that we enthuse our young people to study and pursue a career in STEM," he said.

"I am pleased to support the first ever NI Science Festival which will showcase skills, careers, initiatives and talent from Northern Ireland and beyond to a wide ranging audience.

"This is another innovative collaboration between Government, employers, academia and our local STEM representatives."

Among those speaking will be Dr Robert Pepper of IT giant Cisco, in a lecture entitled 'The Internet Paradox'.

Scientist Monica Grady - who was part of the Rosetta comet landing team - will also host a discussion about our universe. The BBC will also be throwing open its doors to those of all ages for a host of live talks and demonstrations - with everything from gaming, to robotics, as well as coding and digital art.

It's been a busy year for Northern Ireland's technology event calendar, with Belfast playing host to the Friday Night Mashup as well as the launch of the Web Summit.

The NI Science Festival runs from February 19 to March 1. For more information visit www.nisciencefestival.com.

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