What is your background?
When I was 11 I got an opportunity to visit NASA in Cleveland, Ohio and that really shaped the course of my life. After spending many years developing my own space career, I wanted to bring something back to the younger generation at home. In 2013, while I was working at the Irish Centre for Composites Research, I created ‘The Only Way is Up’ project. This project sent Ireland’s first student experiment to the International Space Station (ISS). We ran a competition for transition year students to submit space experiment ideas and a team of judges selected the winning experiment. It investigated the effects of microgravity on reinforced concrete and it was developed by 4 young students from Limerick. After spending several weeks preparing the experiment, it finally launched to the ISS on July 13th 2014 on-board the Orb-2 resupply mission. The experiment was activated by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and it spent 10 weeks on-board before arriving back to Earth.
We then had an opportunity to use the top class research facilities at the University of Limerick to perform post space-flight analysis. The 3D x-ray analysis showed that the space experiment solidified around the wall of the tube, whereas the ground experiment set at one end of the tube – due to the gravity. It definitely showed that building in space needs a lot more research in the micro-gravity environment first.
What you have planned next?
Next for me is Planet Zebunar, which I will be launching later this year. I have seen first-hand the impact and excitement that space and exploration can bring to the next generation. Having identified a big gap in the market for well-constructed and well researched Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) products for children, I created Planet Zebunar.
We have created a purpose built STEM brand; the products are inclusive, non-gender specific and offer an immersive experience through the combination of offline and online technologies. We have strong brand ambassadors and have built the foundation of Planet Zebunar by engaging with our target market, customers and relevant professionals. Our mission is to develop a community of STEM enthusiasts and inspire the next generation of leaders and doers. Watch this space!!
Tips for people / schools looking to get involved?
There are lots of opportunities for schools, both primary and secondary, to get involved with science, maths, space and engineering. For example, just this past week we had Engineers Week, which offered a fantastic array of events throughout the country. Space week will be held in October and Science week in November – so lots of things for schools to get involved.
What inspired you, how others / kids can get to do something similar to what you do?
Honestly for me it was that trip to NASA when I was a child. After that, role models like Eileen Collins (the first female space shuttle commander) showed me that if there is something you really want and are willing to put your mind to it – it just might be possible.
Dr. Norah Patten is the founder of Planet Zebunar, a start-up company in Ireland which specialises in designing and producing inclusive, educational Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) products for the next generation. Norah is a faculty member at the International Space University; she has a BEng in Aeronautical Engineering and a PhD in Engineering from the University of Limerick. In 2016, Norah participated in the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Program, funded by Enterprise Ireland. She was a recipient of the Emerging Space Leaders Grant and a Next Generation Plenary panellist at the IAC in 2015. Through a partnership with NanoRacks, Norah initiated and managed ‘The Only Way is Up’ project in 2014 which launched Ireland’s first student experiment to the International Space Station. She has industrial experience from The Boeing Company and Bell Labs Alcatel Lucent, is a regular speaker at public events, and has featured on national television and radio. She was listed by Technology Voice as one of Ireland’s top 38 women in technology in 2015.
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— NorahPatten (@SpaceNorah) February 9, 2017