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I-LOFAR Education Centre Opens for Innovative Thinkers

On 30th May 2019, the I-LOFAR Education Centre opened its doors on the grounds of Birr Castle in Offaly. Birr was chosen as the location of the Centre following the marked developments Offaly and the Midlands region saw after the installation of the I-LOFAR radio telescope in 2017. The attention brought to Offaly after such a scientific feat garnered more research and job opportunities, increased tourism, and improved scientific education. Establishing the I-LOFAR Education Centre came as a natural progression for the scientific community centered around Birr. The Centre will also coexist with the current Science Visitor Centre that highlights the history of Irish scientific achievements.

Funding for this project required the collaboration of multiple actors. The Offaly County Council applied for a grant from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’s Rural Economic Development Zones (REDZ), and it secured a total of €316,870 to put towards the development of the Centre. The Council also worked in conjunction with the Department of Rural and Community Affairs, Trinity College Dublin, and Birr Scientific & Heritage Foundation Ireland to bring the project to fruition.

The biggest programme coming out of the launch is the Astronomical Midlands Schools and Public Engagement Programme, the goal being to foster conversations around STEM within the greater community. The programme has three major components: Space4Exploration, Space4Students, and Space4Teachers. Space4Exploration seeks to shape the environment of the I-LOFAR Education Centre so that it is a thought-provoking, versatile space for all who use it. Space4Students will consist of day or week long space camps for students of age 10 to 14, and they will run both during the school term and holidays. Lastly, Space4Teachers will provide upper primary and lower secondary school teachers the opportunity to partake in CPD workshops that use the National Junior Certificate themes of Earth and Space as a base. Participants across all programs will have access to the I-LOFAR Education Centre’s cutting edge 3D video globe, interactive flat screen displays, LOFAR radio telescope wall, and large video wall to augment their learning experience and foster innovative thinking.

The I-LOFAR Education Centre will be joining other STEM-based initiatives—such as Midlands Science, Coderdojo and the VEX Robotics Initiative—to encourage students in Offaly and the Midlands to pursue careers in this field. With this focus on STEM education, the region hopes to see an increase in science capital and technological innovation in the coming future.

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