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Posted: 16 May 2006

UCD postgraduate student triumphs at national ‘science speak’ competition

Stephen Nolan, UCD School of Biomolecular Science and UCD Conway Institute, won first prize at the ‘Science Speak’ national intervarsity in Dublin’s RDS on the 15 May 2006.

At the event, hosted by the seven Irish Universities (under the banner Irish Universities Promoting Science) in association with the RDS and the Irish Times, one postgraduate student from each University delivered a presentation on their scientific research in a non-scientific manner to a public audience and a panel of celebrity judges.

Pictured: Stephen Nolan, winner of first prize at the ‘Science Speak’ national intervarsity in Dublin’s RDS
Pictured: Stephen Nolan, winner of first prize at the
‘Science Speak’ national intervarsity in Dublin’s RDS

The celebrity judging panel included Adi Roche (Director, Chernobyl Children’s Project), Peter Brabazon (Programme Director, Discover Science and Engineering, Forfas), Kathriona Devereux (Presenter, RTE Scope), Paul Reynolds (Crime Correspondent, RTE) and Dick Ahlstrom (Science Editor, Irish Times). Pat Kenny (Presenter, RTE) was compere on the night.

In his presentation titled ‘Kidney Disease - When Good Cops Go Bad,’ Nolan explained what happens in kidney disease at the cellular level and how sometimes our white blood cells - the body’s own defense mechanisms - can cause more harm than good. As a UCD postgraduate student, he is currently investigating the effect of the white blood cells on kidney cells and how they can contribute to kidney damage. The ultimate aim of his research is to prevent this ‘self-attack’ phenomenon and to reduce the frequency and severity of kidney disease.

The other presentations at 'Science Speak 2006' were:

  • Edel Sugrue
    School of Chemical Sciences, DCU
    'Need for Speed'
  • Jenny Ullgren
    Dept of Earth & Ocean Sciences, NUIG
    'Oceanography: 'traffic reports' from the ocean
  • Ciaran Mac an Bhaird
    Dept of Mathematics, NUIM
    'Solving equations and Gausian sums'
  • Nicolle Wilke
    Dept of Electronics, UCC & Tyndall National Institute
    'Microneedles - forget about pain and anxiety'
  • Gillian Roddie
    Dept of Zoology, TCD
    'Reservoir Dogs'
  • Jim O'Doherty
    Physics Dept, College of Science, UL
    'Skin deep? Scratching the surface to reveal skin health'

The public audience and the celebrity judges were fully-engaged and entertained by each of the seven postgraduate students’ presentations on the night. But Nolan emerged the winner of the non-jargon science research presentations with his talk: ‘Kidney Disease - When Good Cops Go Bad.’

The prizes, sponsored by Wyeth Biotech, were presented by Minister Mary Upton TD.


Stephen Nolan:
‘Kidney disease: when good cops go bad!’


The kidneys consist of millions of tiny tubes called nephrons, which perform the very important function in the body of constantly purifying the blood, much like a sieve. In kidney disease or kidney fibrosis the kidney becomes scarred and begins to malfunction as excess amounts of proteins gather inside the kidney, causing swelling which blocks the tubes preventing them from filtering and cleaning the blood, like a sieve when it becomes blocked. Damage to the kidney can cause it to be invaded by the body’s defensive white blood cells as they attempt to cure the problem. However sometimes these white blood cells can cause more harm than good and can cause c change in cell type within the kidney. Cells which normally form a functioning part of the kidney ‘transform’ into cells which release proteins and thus add to the progression of the disease. My work involves investigating the effect of the white blood cells on the kidney cells and how they might work together to aid the damage to the kidney.

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