Monday 21 October 2019

'Superhumans' now just a matter of time rather than possibility - scientists say ahead of pioneering new festival

Dr Sheila Donegan, Eoin Gill and Dr Cordula Weiss prepare for 'Superhuman', the Robert Boyle Summer School Picture: Patrick Browne
Dr Sheila Donegan, Eoin Gill and Dr Cordula Weiss prepare for 'Superhuman', the Robert Boyle Summer School Picture: Patrick Browne

Ralph Riegel

THE creation of 'Superhumans' is now simply a matter of time rather than possibility.

The Robert Boyle Summer School in Waterford is to debate issues such as genetic modification, designer babies, bionics and the use of genetics to prolong human life.

Dedicated to Lismore-born, Robert Boyle, hailed as the 'Father of Modern Chemistry', the Waterford event will run from June 20-23.

It will this year deal with the centuries old human fascination with prolonging life - and the potential of modern technology to take a major step down the road towards creating 'Superhumans'.

Organiser Eoin Gill said the modern technology and research is now making what was once science fiction into the possible.

“The Robert Boyle Summer School celebrates the life and work of Ireland’s most important scientist, Robert Boyle, and is Ireland’s only summer school for adults addressing science and culture," he said.

“We have a major crisis in today’s world with misinformation, fake news and populism drowning out evidence and reason. Society was happy to leave science to the scientists and scientists were quite happy with that too."

“Now, the public want to know more about science and what it will deliver for them and scientists want to engage with the public in an accessible way. The summer school was established as a meeting place where experts and the general public can meet and learn from each other. It is the only festival of its type in Ireland.”

Among this year’s expert contributors are Prof Niall Moyna, known for his work with television shows, Operation Transformation and Doctor in the House, as well as regular radio show contributor, Prof Luke O’Neill.

The four day programme opens with a fascinating talk by Prof Annraoí de Paor on 'Superhumans in Ancient Irish folklore: the career of Lugh Lámhfhada.'

It also includes a talk with Dr Natalie Kaoukji, Cambridge University, on what prolonging life might have in common with mechanical flight or breathing under water.

Adding a special touch to the 2019 programme will be a special garden party in Lismore Castle, now owned by the Duke of Devonshire, but which was Robert Boyle's west Waterford birthplace.

“Robert Boyle was the most influential scientist of his time back in the 17th Century. He compiled a list of things that he thought science might deliver. Many of the items on the list have been delivered by science. Many represent the interest of the times and many are related to enhancement of human life and performance.

“The first on his list is the ‘prolongation of life’– a preoccupation of sentient humans through history. Even though average life expectancy has doubled since Boyle’s time, it is still a preoccupation,” Mr Gill added.

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