Public Outreach

Public Outreach

Public Outreach

SFI bringing science to schools

SFI bringing science to schools

Professor Mary McCaffrey, a Principal Investigator of this School participates actively in the SFI Outreach Programme. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) strongly encourages outreach by SFI-funded researchers to advance public understanding of science and engineering. Visits by Principal Investigators, PhD Students or other members of their research teams, to Primary and Post-primary schools to give talks on their own research, on more general science and engineering topics, or on careers in science & engineering, are considered particularly valuable exercises that can have enormous impact for the next generation of Irish scientists and engineers.

Visit to St Brendans primary school, Birr, Co. Offaly

Text from St Brendans primary school:

'St Brendans primary school was delighted to welcome Professor Mary McCaffrey, School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, UCC to the school. The Professor leads a team in UCC investigating micro cell biology and we were fortunate to get her to speak to our 5th/6th class groupings which are working on a science award project with Ms Fiona Ward. This was the professors first ever talk to a primary school group and she was so impressed with the attention, interest, curiosity and passion for science displayed by the boys. She brought samples of bacteria to show them and discussed the role of cells in our bodies and the impact of drugs/ doping in sport. She was asked into the role of cells in beating diseases including cancer and concluded her fascinating talk by guiding them through her own path in education to her current position in UCC. Hopefully this will inspire and motivate our boys to follow their passsion in life with hard work and dedication to make a difference in this world. Many thanks to Ms Ward for all the preparatory work and to Professor McCaffrey for making the long journey to Birr.'

Public Lecture Series

Public Lecture Series

Professor William Reville (now Emeritus Professor) in the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, College of Science, Engineering and Food Science (SEFS), organised an Annual Public Lecture Series than ran on Wednesday evenings from 2007 until his retirement in 2013.

The following staff from this school participated in the Public Lecture Series:


Professor David Sheehan

Living with oxygen: biology at the edge of toxicity.

The Earth’s atmosphere comprises about 20% molecular oxygen but, in the past, there have been extended periods of geological time when levels of oxygen have been much lower and also much higher. The fossil record suggests that there has been an intimate connection between molecular oxygen levels and key steps in biological evolution: adoption of aerobic energy metabolism, development of larger cells, appearance of multicellular organisms and the phenomenon of gigantism in insects. Paradoxically, while molecular oxygen is currently essential to most lifeforms, it can give rise to toxic derivatives called “reactive oxygen species” which can kill or damage living cells. Biology has adapted to this challenge by evolving extensive antioxidant defences but, sometimes, things go wrong and cells experience the phenomenon of “oxidative stress”. This talk will explore the long relationship between Biology and molecular oxygen and focus on key steps in the history of that relationship which are relevant to disease states and life in extreme environments.

Wednesday, 27th March 2013


Professor Mary McCaffrey

How research on the Ras protein superfamily helps our understanding of health and disease.

The Ras protein superfamily are key regulatory biomolecules, controlling processes ranging from cellular growth to how materials are transported within cells. It is not surprising therefore that malfunction in the Ras proteins is associated with a wide range of diseases. Research in this field has been extremely active since the discovery of Ras as an Oncogene, a gene which causes cancer to develop, some decades ago. The lecture will describe the Ras protein superfamily function and will then focus on the importance of the Rab11 sub-group of proteins and their roles in processes ranging from how our cells take up glucose from blood after we eat a meal, to cell migration and its importance in aggressive cancers, as well as some of the mechanisms of how we form memories.

Wednesday, 13th February 2013


Professor James Heffron

Toxic chemicals in consumer products: human health implications.

Many synthetic and natural chemicals are present in a very wide range of consumer products, for example, perfumes, cosmetics, household cleaning agents, furniture, carpets, food containers, toys, fuels and hardware equipment. Some of these chemicals entered the food chain accidentally as in the 2008 Irish pork crisis or deliberately as happened recently with baby food manufactured in China. Some of these chemicals have toxic properties and may cause various adverse human health effects depending on the dose/amount and the duration of exposure. The new EU chemical safety assessment system REACH aims to prevent harmful chemicals being used in industry generally and to protect the consumer from harmful exposure. In this review, I will comment on the nature of these chemicals and their toxic potential in exposed humans, and how exposure can be reduced or prevented.

Wednesday, 7th March 2012


Dr Tom Moore

Debating Benatar: should the human species pursue its own extinction?

As Darwinian entities with strong physiological and psychological drives towards personal survival and reproduction, humans share many similarities with their animal cousins. However, humans have developed a capacity for self-reflection and cultural innovation that is uniquely highly developed. Part of the current human cultural repertoire is the anti-Darwinian practice of voluntarily limiting one’s personal reproduction through sexual abstention, contraception or abortion. In his book ‘Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence’, the South African Philosopher, David Benatar, argues that such practices should be encouraged, and that the human species has a moral obligation to become extinct because this would reduce the amount of suffering on the planet. Benatar’s counter-intuitive views appear surprisingly difficult to refute. If you enjoy debating challenging and provocative ideas, I invite you to join me in discussing his disturbing conclusions.

Wednesday, 18th January 2012


Professor William Reville

The weeds fight back - how weeds developed resistance to Roundup.

The biggest cash crops in the world have been genetically engineered to resist the chemical pesticide Roundup. However, the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection is allowing the weeds to become resistant to glyphosate, the
key ingredient in Roundup. Science must now devise new strategies to protect these crops, while critics increasingly question the wisdom of relying on genetic engineering.

Wednesday, 11th January 2012


Professor Tommie McCarthy

My DNA, my genome, my life.

The human genome is of a sequence of 3,000,000,000 DNA base pairs and carries the full blueprint for human life. The cost of human genome sequencing has plummeted from over a billion euro in 2001 to €10000 in 2010 and will cost less than a summer holiday by 2015. As your genome contains key information about your future health, your character and other traits, discussing genomes will become a regular topic of conversation in households across the globe. In this lecture, a layman’s guide to the human genome will be presented and the pros and cons of having your genome sequenced will be explored.

Wednesday, 2nd March 2011


Professor James Heffron

The effects of exposure to low-level ionising radiation.

The human population is exposed to chemicals in the home, the workplace and during recreation. Great concern is expressed when the population is exposed to dangerous chemicals such as the recent episodes of exposure to melamine, benzene, lead from toys, Sudan dyes and dioxins in foodstuff s. While we know a great deal about the toxic actions of high levels of chemicals our knowledge of long-term eff ects of low dose exposures is generally poor. Current research in this area will be analysed.

Wednesday, 4th March 2009


Professor William Reville

Darwin's Legacy.

The theory of evolution through natural selection is probably the most important and influential scientific theory ever formulated. It is not only the central unifying theory in biology but has important implications for many other fields, e.g. religion. Even today some people refuse to accept the theory and it can generate heated debate. In this lecture the theory will be explained in outline and some of its major implications will be discussed.

Wednesday, 14th January 2009


Professor Rosemary O'Connor

The hows and whys of cancer

Cancer will soon be the leading cause of death in the developed world and will double in incidence in Ireland within the next fifteen years. In this lecture, Rosemary will talk about the nature and causes of different cancers. She will also talk about the new kinds of therapies that are becoming available.

Wednesday, 12th March 2008.


Dr Cora O'Neill

Alzheimer's Disease: progress in understanding a complex brain disorder.

Alzheimer's is a slowly progressive degenerative disorder of the brain that is the most cause of dementia as we age. The disease was first described by Alois Alzheimer 100 years ago. The causes of Alzheimer's disease are complex and far from understood, although significant progress is being made. This lecture reviews the key areas of progress in our understanding of the cell and molecular causes of Alzheimer's disease and summarises the many challenges still remaining. The progress towards development of effective treatments for Alzheimer's will also be briefly reviewed.

Wednesday, 27th February 2008.


Professor William Reville

Intelligent design.

Teleological arguments for the existence of God based on evidence of design in nature have a very long history. The latest manifestation is simply called Intelligent Design (ID). ID claims to see, using scientific reasoning, the work of a superintelligent Designer in the complexity of life and asserts that this complex 'design' cannot be explained by the theory of evolution through natural selection. This lecture will demonstrate that the complexities of life can be explained by evolution, that ID arguments are fatally flawed and that ID itself is not science.

Wednesday, 23rd January 2008.


Dr Tom Moore

Autism and the Battle of the Sexes.

Autism is a serious neurological disorder that may be increasing in frequency. Our current understanding of the causes of autism, which predominantly affects boys, suggests that the disorder is predominantly genetic in origin. However, the lack of progress in identifying major susceptibility genes suggests that autism is a very complex disorder and environmental influences on the condition cannot be ruled out. Dr Moore will discuss what we currently know about the causes of this condition and will outline his recent findings on the genetics of autism, which suggest that genes that are selected to function differently in males and females may be involved. Such genes are said to be 'sexually antagonistic' because a gene variant that is beneficial in one sex may be harmful in the other. Dr Moore proposes that when a male individual inherits 'female optimal' gene variants (and vice versa) this may predispose to diseases such as autism.

Wednesday, 28th February 2007


Professor William Reville

The effects of exposure to low-level ionising radiation.

The effects of low level ionising radiation on health have been intensely studied since the late 1940s. The model developed to estimate the risk of contracting serious ill health from exposure to radiation is the linear no threshold (LNT) model. The original data on which the LNT model was based was good for higher levels of radiation but poor for the lowest levels of exposure and conservative estimates were made about risk of exposure to the lowest levels. There is now much evidence, including data from Chernobyl, that the assumptions underpinning the LNT model for low level radiation were much too conservative. Low level radiation is not as dangerous as we feared.

Wednesday, 21st February 2007


Summer student hosting

The academic staff in the School host Summer research undergraduate students in their laboratories and provide students with the opportunity to conduct research and work with post-doctorial and postgraduate students, developing both their reseach skills and team working skills. Our Summer Opportunities section has further information.


Dr Paul Young and Professor Tommie McCarthy, School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology select and advise teams to enter the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. The iGEM competition sees student teams given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer. Working at their own universities, the teams use these biological parts and new parts of their own design, to build biological systems, and operate them in living cells.

2014/2015 UCC iGEM team

UCC students and Dr Paul Young at the 2014 iGEM competition

The UCC iGEM 2014 team pictured at their poster during the iGEM competition, held in Boston Oct 31st – Nov 3rd.
Back (L to R): Gavin King, Shama Chilakwad,, Daniel Collins, Patrick Xie, Dr. Paul Young (Academic Advisor).
Front (L to R): Leanne O’Sullivan (3rd year Biomedical Science), Timothy O’Flynn, Ian McDermott, Cian O’ Donnell, Russell Banta.

Members of the first Irish team to compete in the iGEM competition are; Russell Banta (4thyear Chemistry), Shama Chilakwad (4th year Genetics), Daniel Collins (4th year Genetics), Gavin King (4th year Biochemistry), Ian McDermott (4th year Biochemistry), Cian O’ Donnell (1st year Biological and Chemical Sciences), Timothy O’Flynn (4th year Genetics), Leanne O’Sullivan (3rd year Biomedical Science) and Patrick Xie (MSc in Engineering). In addition, to participating in the iGEM competition (LINK TO, the team have set up a company, Benthic Labs, which successfully secured a place on the SynBio axlr8r programme. SynBio axlr8r offers start-ups expert mentoring, laboratory space, access to state-of-the-art facilities and 30,000 USD in funding.

Co-commissioner of a Charles Jencks DNA sculpture

Professor John Atkins is a co-commissioner of a Charles Jencks sculpture, “?What is Life?” installed in the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin. The DNA component is very similar to Jencks’ previous DNA sculptures in Clare College Cambridge and in Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory close to Watson’s home, though at 18 feet tall is somewhat bigger.

The RNA component is original and Professor John Atkins interacted with Jencks on its design during numberous trips to Scotland and London. The was opened by J.D. Watson on the 60th anniversary of his co-discovery of the structure of DNA and accepted on behalf of the Irish people by Minister Brian Hayes at the opening ceremony, at which Professor Atkins also spoke on behalf of the Commissioners.

A brochure was produced for this very important event: Charles Jencks Sculpture ?What is Life?

Radio interviews

Each week of Drama On One’s science season (RTE Radio 1) features a companion piece on the science aspects of the featured play. On April 21st and 27th 2013 respectively, Professor John Atkins provided commentary on Genetics-What is Life?


In 2013 and 2014, Professor John Atkins, together with Dr J.D. Watson and West Cork Education Centre launched a Science competition for students. This competition was specifically designed to increase awareness of Genetic understanding and research. Professor Atkins is a committee member of the West Cork Education centre, a regional government education centre for schools.

School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology

Scoil na Bithcheimice agus na Cillbhitheolaíochta

University College Cork, Western Road, Cork.