Summer 2022- Marie Murphy

The STEM Teacher Internship Programme (STInt) is a Dublin City University initiative to inspire innovative learning by facilitating collaborative STEM partnership between educators, companies and researchers. 115 STInt internships have been completed since it's inception in 2016.  As of 2021 there are 25 host organisations taking part in the programme. CÚRAM is proud to be part of this innovative initiative and welcomes our first Intern for the Summer of 2022.

Marie Murphy, is the first STEM Teacher Intern to spend a summer at CÚRAM. A mature student, she has recently completed a Bachelors in Mathematics and Education with NUI Galway, a course primarily aimed at training secondary level Mathematics and Applied Mathematics teachers. To add to her knowledge and experience, she applied to and was accepted on the STint programme. This blog will summarise her experiences at CÚRAM over the coming weeks.

Week 1

My name is Marie Murphy, I am a mature student and I have just completed my Bachelors in Mathematics and Education with NUI Galway, a course primarily aimed at training secondary level Mathematics and Applied Mathematics teachers. To add to my knowledge and experience I applied to and was accepted on the STint programme. This is the STEM Teacher Internship. The STint programme places pre-services STEM subject teachers into industries involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This gives teachers real world experience of the subjects that they will teach, taking STEM out of the textbook and into reality and gives solid connections from the classroom to industry.

For five years I have walked past the walls and windows of the Cúram laboratories between where I park my car and the university and apart from the Biomedical Sciences sign, I had no idea what was going on in there! However, it was my number one choice when I applied to STint as I believed this is where the real action is happening. This was the place that employed engineers, mathematicians and scientists from every discipline. Little did I realise until I began my internship this week that the scope of their knowledge base was much broader than I could have imagined.

Over the coming weeks I plan to keep a blog diary of my experience.

This week the most important thing I learned was what an Education and Public Engagement Department is. I have been primarily placed in with the Education and Public Engagement Office. I had no idea that a Medical Research and Development Centre had such altruistic goals. The primary focus of Cúram is to benefit people through medical and scientific means, they take their community outreach and teaching very seriously. Although I am only days in the door, I can see that working with schools, teachers, disadvantaged communities and improving the knowledge and health of the community is at the heart of what they do. From the people I have met the goal to improve the lives of those around them is not a task but a passion. I am already so thrilled to be a part of this. It is a dream come true to be in a position that allows me to connect with people and be the change in the world that I want to see.

On a different note, the most fascinating thing I learned this week is about the laboratory research into recovering tendon injuries. (Now I’m no scientist so this is a very basic understanding). Cúram are developing a living substitute tissue based on the knowledge learned from the tendons of horses. As horses are athletes with very large tendons, there’s a lot to learn from them. And tendon injuries in humans and horses are tricky business. Those who know me personally can expect me to be talking about this all week. It is really cool!

Week 2

One of the goals within the Education and Public Engagement department is to go out into the communities and put into action their goals of education and health. On Friday Sarah had planned to visit one of the Galway primary schools to educate the students on healthy bodies and activity. These sessions get the children to participate in exercise and have fun. Keeping our bodies healthy through exercise is encouraged during the activity.

On this occasion I offered to incorporate karate into the lesson. I have taught children’s’ karate for over ten years and run my own dojo. The team were happy to get me involved and gave me the opportunity to get into my karate dogi and bring in the kick shields and focus mitts. We arrived in the school before the start of classes and the students were excited as they watched us arrive. Sarah and I worked as a team with the students bringing a combination of warm up games, karate drills and escapes. By the end of the session all of us were buzzing. There were some great questions from the students too. The final one was how to say goodbye in Japanese, which is Sayonara.

The most fascinating thing I learned this week is that CÚRAM study blood clots. They collect, dissect, and store the clots. Around 2000 people die every year from a stroke, which is a clot in the brain. My husbands mother died from a stroke a few years ago, so the topic is close to home. The documentary ‘A Tiny Spark’ , which is on the CÚRAM webpage focuses on research being led by Dr Karen Doyle, which involves analysis of removed blood clots to see what information they may yield. This is the first study of its kind in the world and is an international collaborative study between NUI Galway, hospital partners in Beaumont Hospital and throughout Europe and the Mayo Clinic, USA.

Week 3

This week I was fortunate to attend the CÚRAM annual Summit. The Summit assembled researchers and scientists for a three day event. Although I was a little apprehensive about what to expect, within minutes I was walking around like a wide eyed child. My role was in a meet and greet administration position which gave me the advantage of meeting all the attendees. My informal chats with participants introduced me to subjects that I had never considered. A CÚRAM scientist told me about growing brain cells which could have an impact on treating degenerative brain diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease. I met two scientists at dinner who recently moved over from India there was great fun and banter learning about the how cultural differences resulted in quite different pandemic experiences. And after Jessamyn Fairfield introduced us to her hometown Las Alamos, New Mexico I discovered that there was a secret town populated solely by scientists and engineers. In my imagination this looks like the sci-fi tv show Eureka!

During the presentations, the reception was quiet, so I sat and attended several of the talks.

It would be impossible to cover the scope of all the talks and topics and my brain is still trying to unjumble some of it. But I do have favourite moments.

On Monday Claire and Lindsay presented “Communications Training.” This workshop focused on how to communicate scientific research to non-scientists. One of the most impactful things I realized was how vital it is to bridge communication between scientists, their research, and the public. Scientific knowledge is continuously progressing but if the general public are hesitant to believe how can progress and change happen?

Dr Bharat Tripathi, spoke about his research “Shear Shock Waves in Brain in Context of Traumatic Brain Injury”. This was one of the talks that I was really looking forward to. Last semester I was in Dr Tripathi’s Mathematics lectures on Non-Linear Systems and this talk was the applications of those incredibly complex formulas in action. As a maths nerd, I loved this talk. My son plays rugby and impact injuries studied from the perspective of Applied Maths is a dinner time hot topic in our home.

Dr Manu Platt from Georgia institute of Technology’s talk “Technology for Me, but not for Thee”, highlighted racial, social, and other forms of discrimination. In advance of hearing him speak I felt that I knew about these issues already. This experience was different. Hearing someone talk who walks in the shoes of a black well educated American and how the world is for him and the social groups that he is involved with made me sit up and pay attention. Although I can’t remember all the words he said, I do remember my emotions and the feelings brought to the surface. Being in that room during his talk has changed me, I will aim to do better in this world.

Week 4

I began this week finishing a Curious Young Minds poster that I’d been helping design. Lindsay, from the Education and Public Engagement team, is a creator of The Curious Young Minds project. The project aimed to provide an opportunity for children and their parents living in Direct Provision in Galway City to engage in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) subjects through accessible, fun, hands-on workshops. I have discovered that there are more than 7,000 people living in Direct Provision centres across Ireland and children make up almost 30% of Direct Provision residents. The Curious Young Minds project directly engaged with children and families living in this residence. Teaching them about science through art and other fun activities. CÚRAM developed a toolkit about Cardiovascular research for the children with art and science activities to enhance learning. This Toolkit is a bit like a card game with science information on one side of the cards and art-science activities on the other side. It is a super idea and the children who participated had a direct input in creating the Toolkit cards. Later in the week I had some input in the finishing touches to the Toolkit cards. It is heart-warming to think of the children living in Direct Provision participating in science games and activities.

Later in the Summer there will be a Summer Camp run by CÚRAM for these children and some other local children. They plan to have fun and games and also learn about science.

I have also had the pleasure this week of working with a new intern from Boston. Sarah arrived this week and is the same age as my own children. Being the inquisitive person that I am I have really enjoyed exchanging questions and knowledge with Sarah about the similarities and differences in the life of a Boston student and a Galway student.

Week 5

I am feeling very lucky this week. Some of my work has involved excursions to places that I have never been before. Early in the week I visited the National Aquarium in Salthill. I have lived in Galway for over twenty years, and I have never taken the time to go to the Aquarium. I suppose with a local attraction there is the feeling that you can go anytime and then you just don’t get around to it!

Sarah Ling our Boston student who is interning at CÚRAM and myself went out to see the Marine Meets MedTech exhibit located on the first floor of the Aquarium. I will be doing some research there in August. I wanted to see the exhibit so that I could better plan my research. I was delighted to go to the Aquarium and see the sea creatures. In advance of visiting the CÚRAM Marine Meets MedTech exhibit, Sarah and I smiled and marvelled at the stingrays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, spider crab and lots of other fish. After the spider crab and past the shallow tank with river fish there is the marine-inspired CÚRAM display. The display shows how scientists are studying sponge slime to fight cancer and harmful microbes. Algae from the Ocean can be used for controlled release of medicine. And scientists are copying the sticky quality of barnacle glue to create surgical glue.

Then on Thursday we went to the Galway Film Fleadh. I am sorry to say that I have never been to this event before either. I am certainly going to have to holiday at home and appreciate the wonders that Galway has to offer much more. I watched seven documentaries, and I although I thoroughly enjoyed them all, my favourite was the CÚRAM documentary. CÚRAM in conjunction with Ardán, the non-profit organisation within the audio-visual industry have created a short documentary called “The People There to Catch Us”.

“The People There to Catch Us’ tells the story of Tom Hope and Rachel O’ Mahony, two cancer survivors who work alongside researchers at Precision Oncology Ireland (POI), to help improve the lives of others living with the disease. Tom explained how he is on number of committees with oncologists, radiologists, urologists, and scientists. Tom explained how talking about his experience as a patient has affected medics opinions on treatments. The most insightful thing that I learned from the documentary was that sometimes the best treatment for a cancer patient can be no medical intervention beyond monitoring. Cancer doesn’t always grow. Doctors take the quality of the patients life and the patient as an individual into consideration when recommending treatments.

Week 6

This week I have been connecting with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) students. The UROP program is designed to support underrepresented undergraduate (UG) students development by providing 20 fully paid summer internships in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) laboratories across NUI Galway for six weeks between May and August 2022. This project is a collaboration between CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, the Women in Science (WiSTEM) student society, the College of Science and Engineering and the University of Sanctuary Initiative at NUI Galway.

The projects that the students are working on are incredibly interesting and varied. It is just mind boggling to get a snapshot of the research going in the world of science, it is so vast! The research covers topics like: Exploring drivers of deep-sea species diversity; The role of green hydrogen in Ireland's energy transition; An implanted device to improve heart function in heart failure; Artificial Intelligence for Medical Image Segmentation. To fully appreciate the research work done by the UG students there will a poster exhibit in August. This way everyone can better understand all the research covered. My initial role to assist the UROP interns was to run a poster designing workshop. In my first meeting of the UROP interns I covered how to prepare a poster for the occasion of the exhibit. We discussed planning, design, presenting and how to be cautious around intellectual property. It was really great to meet the students. Over the next few weeks, I hope to be in contact with the group much more and get to better understand the work that they are doing.