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vert bar IN THE NEWS 15th May 2006

Innovative on-line science education project for schools, The Eco-Sensor Project, launched at the National Botanic Gardens

An innovative science education project for schools was launched at the National Botanic Gardens on 15th May 2006, by Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, Rose of Tralee and Ambassador of the Discover Science & Engineering Programme. The project makes available educational information and live environmental data about the collections and displays of tropical and desert plants at the National Botanic Gardens to schools via mini-weather stations, connected to the internet with live wireless links.

Researchers from the National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR) of Dublin City University (DCU) have developed mini-weather stations to monitor environmental factors in the Great Palm House, the Succulent House and the Orchid House at the National Botanic Gardens. The mini-weather stations, called “motes”, have sensors to monitor temperature, humidity, light levels, atmospheric pressure and oxygen levels in the air in each of the different Houses.

The network of sensors sends real-time environmental data via wireless connections to an interactive website, eco-sensor web (www.ecosensorweb.dcu.ie) .

The launch was the culmination of four year's work by researchers at the NCSR to develop the sensor network to its current reliable standard and extend the reach of the project by introducing a hands-on primary school programme.

Present at the launch were Eco-Sensor team members Prof. Brian MacCraith, the project's Principal Investigator, Emma O'Brien, Project Manager, Clare Taylor, Science Education Assistant & Amra Pasic, Research Scientist.

Prof. Ferdinand von Prondzynski, President of DCU, Dr. Eucharia Meehan, Head of Research Programmes at the Higher Education Authority and Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson, Director of the National Botanic Gardens, all spoke highly of the many different facets of this project, and how they all tie together to excite an interest of science in primary school children.

The event took place at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. Following the launch, where the on-line educational website was demonstrated, guests visited the Great Palm House to see the eco-sensor web in situ. These Houses contain remarkable and diverse collections of plants from the world’s tropical and desert regions. In the Great Palm House the horticultural team of Kevin Kenny, Marie Hourigan and Stephen Farrelly led by Brendan Sayers, Glasshouses Foreman, have created an extensive ecological and educational display of tropical plants since 2005, demonstrating the complex structure of a tropical rainforest. The display includes a wide range of plants from Central America, particularly from Belize with which the National Botanic Gardens has close links. A diversity of tropical economic plants is also on show, surrounding a traditional Maya Indian house constructed by staff of the Belize Botanic Garden who visited Glasnevin in 2005.

The eco-sensor web provides schools with live environmental data and dynamic graphs that can be downloaded and used for classroom experiments and analysis. Environmental sensors also record the outdoor ambient environmental conditions too, so that students can contrast the environmental conditions outdoors with those necessary for tropical plants such as banana, sugarcane, vanilla orchid, cacti and other succulent plants to thrive.

Educational materials developed with the National Botanic Gardens educational staff team including Glyn Anderson, Máire Connor, Sinead Corcoran, Sara Douglas, Grainne Foster, Ann Hanafin, Brian Harding, Rosemary Holden and Liam Paterson, led by Felicity Gaffney are included in the website, presented in the form of short videos and slide shows, demonstrating the particular adaptations of plants to their tropical and desert habitats and the ways in which many plants are threatened in the wild, as well as what is being done by botanic gardens and others to conserve them.

As part of the project, staff from NCSR have already involved children at three Dublin primary schools got their first introduction to the eco-sensor network project. Visits were made to different schools to tell them about the eco-sensor network. The children learned about how we use our senses to build up a picture of the world around us and about some sensors we come across in our everyday lives. The classes taking part are 3rd & 4th class and 5th & 6th class from St. Catherine's National School (NS), 4th and 5th class from St Audoen's NS and 4th class from Scoil Treasa Naofa. These three schools are part of the Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative at the Digital Hub.

The eco-sensor website was designed by a young Irish media company called Do It Media (www.do-it-media.com).

The project was funded by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and undertaken as a partnership between the National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR) (www.ncsr.ie) at Dublin City University and the National Botanic Gardens, a part of the Office of Public Works (OPW).