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Posted: 10 August 2007

Summer School for Science STARs at UCD

Science teachers are going back to the classroom in UCD this summer as part of the SFI-STARs (Secondary Teachers Assistant Researchers) programme, now in its fourth year at UCD. 

The programme aims to re-invigorate science teachers’ interest in their subjects by getting them involved in research programmes such as examining state-of-the-art microchip production, analysing hepatitis viruses and setting up radio telescopes.  The hope is that they will bring their experience back to their pupils and encourage an active interest in science.

Under the programme, approximately 50 science teachers work with Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) funded research teams based in third level institutions throughout the country each summer.

Dr Stephen Gammell is a second level teacher working with Dr John Quinn from the UCD School of Physics analysing data from VERITAS, a new array of telescopes located in Arizona. These telescopes are being used to search for galactic objects that emit very high energy gamma-rays.

“Stephen is working with one of our PhD students on understanding the data we download from the telescopes. He brings extensive experience to the group and is writing software to check the integrity of the data,” explains Dr Quinn. “He is also working with some undergraduate students to set up a radio telescope on the roof of the UCD School of Physics.”

“This is my second summer working as a member of this research team and it really keeps me interested in science and its applications outside of the curriculum,” says Dr Gammell. “To bring the UCD research alive for my own students, I am preparing two scientific posters on astronomy and gamma radiation.”

Dr Quinn concludes that “Having Stephen in the group is very beneficial to our research and is an essential part of our outreach objectives to promote an interest in astronomy and astrophysics with students at second level.”

Over at the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology (CSCB), Professor Pat Guiry is hosting Peter Scully and Ciara O’Driscoll, who have joined a team of chemists searching for ways to make new economic and environmentally friendly catalysts with potential applications in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Peter and Ciara are a welcome addition to our lab as they give the group a chance to show the relevance of our research and demonstrate the full range of modern analytical techniques,” explains Professor Guiry. “We hope it enthuses them as they return to their schools to teach the next generation of scientists.”

“Working in the CSCB is very interesting because I’ve had the opportunity to utilise instrumentation not available in schools, such as mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy,” says Mr Scully. “I teach the theory of mass spectrometry and this combined practical experience will enhance my students’ overall understanding of this technique.”

In addition to the research experience, the teachers are invited to take part in a five week STAR Research Survival Skills support programme hosted in turn by education and outreach personnel in UCD, the RCSI, DCU and TCD.

The first workshop kicked off in the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology with 12 science teachers from Dublin, Wicklow and Limerick. Dr Jimmy Muldoon and Dr Dilip Rai ran a hands-on session where teachers became the pupils as they learned how to use state-of-the-art instrumentation to identify unknown substances. After lunch the workshop continued in the UCD School of Physics where Dr Dominic Zerulla and Mr Thomas O’Reilly demonstrated the unique properties of superconductors. The teachers then broadened their knowledge of genetic research methodologies as they took part in a biology techniques workshop hosted by Mr David Knowles in the UCD Conway Institute.

“The workshops are the first in a number of UCD Science outreach initiatives planned for 2007 and 2008. During Science Week there will be a two-day Science Festival and an Information Evening for parents, teachers and students about the options for studying Science at UCD”, explains Orla Donoghue from the UCD Science Programme Office.

Information on how to apply for tickets for these and other science outreach events can be found at


Science at UCD
University College Dublin has the largest science programme in Ireland, providing degree courses in biological, chemical, geological, mathematical, physical and computer sciences. The College of Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences provide teaching of the highest quality and carry out research of the highest international standard. There are 24 single honours degrees available as well a range of joint degrees comprising two science subjects. For more information visit

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Summer School for Science STARs at UCD