Friday, January 14, 2011

Skies Light Up - Cork Celebrates Science

Dublin wasn't the only place in the country celebrating science this evening. As the RDS heaved with students, parents and teachers for the BT Young Scientist award ceremony, Corkonians were celebrating the achievements of a pioneer of scientific education in Ireland.

As part of the North Monastery 200 celebrations, the memory of Bro. James Burke was celebrated with a series of talks and presentations as well as a spectacular laser display. The display was planned to commemorate a corresponding light display which Bro. Burke arranged in 1877 to demonstrate the impact electricity could have on the lives of the citizens of the city of Cork.

Remember, this was two years before Edison invented the light bulb. One speaker this evening noted the extreme levels of poverty prevalent in the city at the time. Public lighting was by gas and domestic lighting was by candle light. The massive light display organised by Burke must have been an awesome sight for the people of Cork.

This was typical of a man who truly believed that education, and science in particular, could be a force for good and a beacon of light in the world. He believed that science and technology could lift people out of poverty and give them a role to play in a new, technological age.

But what of this evenings events? It had a lot to live up to. If we recall where the city and citizens of Cork were at in 1877 (not least, in darkness) the huge beam of light that Burke produced much have been something to behold. To achieve the same effect in 2011, a demonstration of nuclear fission would be required!

Nevertheless, the organisers put on a poignant ceremony and exciting laser display which captured the spirit and imagination of Bro. James Burke. As the bust of Burke, sitting atop the building which bears his name, looked down over the city he made his home for most of his adult life, the sky was once again lit up just as he imagined it would be and proved it could be. He would have been proud.

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