Nov 2018 Southern Star Newspaper

A young Kinsale student is playing a starring role in a new national series of science books which she played a major part in designing.  Gemma Whelan, aged 11, was motivated to get involved after cochlear implants enabled her to hear – and she wanted to share the science behind it with others. She is one of the nine members of Ireland’s most influential young people’s group, The Wonder Panel. The Dunderrow National School student was recruited through a national competition by University College Dublin which was looking for what it terms ‘stretchy thinkers’ – children full of wonder who enjoy figuring things out.

Gemma Whelan

UCD Wonder Panel member Gemma Whelan from Kinsale who will be starring in the Science Apprentice series of books

Gemma and the eight others have been working on the four Science Apprentice books for the past five months. The group of primary school age advisors have worked with the Science Apprentice team to form the questions and answers that make the books invaluable to Irish school children – and they even get to appear in the books themselves. ‘I got involved with the Wonder Panel and the Superbodies book because I have cochlear implants and can help other kids understand what they are. Without mine I’m profoundly deaf,’ said Gemma.

‘I had hearing aids before but they didn’t work that well so my parents brought me to Beaumont Hospital and the team fitted my first implant when I was three.’ A second implant was put in when the Cork native was 10 and today she can hear and speak clearly as a result.  ‘I charge the batteries every night and have to remember to keep them dry, which is a pain because I love swimming, but other than that they’re really great. ‘My friends think they’re cool – they’re amazed that without them I can’t hear them speak.’

The Science Apprentice books will encourage children and adults alike to explore the science, technology, engineering and mathematics of the world around us. Throughout the new four-part series we follow characters Izzy and Phil and the wonder panellists on an interactive journey exploring the human body, our environment, how things are made and why everything is not always as it seems. The books Superbodies, Up In The Air, Illusion and How It’s Made are produced by University College Dublin and partners and supported by the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme and the Environmental Protection Agency.  This series has been also co-produced by schoolchildren around the country through interactive workshops and discovery tours where Irish experts were on hand. Written by science journalist and writer Dr Claire O’Connell, The Science Apprentice books are available to order for schools.

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