o The Frog Blog

Monday, 25 February 2013

Closing The Frog Blog

I have decided, after much deliberation, to close the Frog Blog. After over 1300 posts I feel it is now time to hang up my blogging boots and concentrate on work, my newly expanded family and any new science communication projects that arise.

Since I began the Frog Blog back in the summer of 2008 with my St. Columba's College colleague Jeremy Stone. We wanted to create an online space to bring current scientific research from the lab to the classroom, allowing our pupils explore science beyond their often dull and lifeless curriculum. We also wanted to provide a platform for our pupils own science writing, emulating our colleague Julian Girdham's excellent SCC English blog. 

The Frog Blog evolved quickly in the first year, moving beyond its intended audience and into the wider Irish science education stream and later the science communication community in Ireland. We both took a greater interest in science education theory, technology in the science classroom and science communication in general. We both found blogging a rich experience, which enhanced our teaching and personal learning. We also felt our pupils benefited too, gaining a deeper appreciation of the wider scientific world through the blog or our interactions with them. The blog was received well from the public and we picked up a number of awards, including an Eircom Spider and an Irish Blog Award. 

Jeremy returned to the UK in 2010, taking up a teaching position in his native Devon. I inherited the blog fully then and quickly put my own personal spin on the posts. I became more vocal on how science is both taught in Irish schools and how it is communicated to the public, particularly on Irish national television while continuing to write posts on current science news, apps for science enthusiasts and science events. I thoroughly enjoyed maintaining the blog, gaining a great deal of personal satisfaction from the experience. Most importantly of all, it provided me with invaluable connections to science teachers, scientists and science communicators across the country - something I couldn't have achieved without four years of blogging.

But now it is time to hang up the blogging boots, so to speak. While I still enjoy keeping an eye out for the latest science news and events, I feel that the blog has run its course. In the coming months I would like to focus on my classroom teaching a little more, spend more time with family (particularly with the arrival of my daughter Caragh) and possibly explore some new science communication / education projects in the coming year. I loved being involved in the Science 140 project this year and in the production of 'A Neutron Walks Into A Bar' - hopefully other projects like that will emerge for me to explore. I will still keep an active interest in science news through the twitter machine (@TheFrogBlog) and look forward to conversing with you all online.

But for now, I say goodbye!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Science Writing Competition for Secondary Students

Ireland's new science magazine, Walton,  has just announced a new science writing competition aimed at Irish secondary school students. They want to challenge Irish students to write about any topic in science, technology, engineering and maths that are interested in. See below for competition details. It's a great opportunity to get your writing published or explore a new topic in science. Here's the blurb: 
  • Each entrant shall submit an article of no more than 800 words before the 1st of January 2013. 
  • The article can be on any STEM topic they like. 
  • The article must contain links or details of source material (if possible). 
  • There will be 2 categories: Junior Certificate or Transition Year /' Leaving Certificate
  • The winning article from each category will be chosen by the editorial staff of Walton Magazine for inclusion into the Spring 2013 Edition (available at the end of January). 
  • The winners will also receive a free 1 year subscription to the magazine, merchandise and free entry to the BT Young Scientist Exhibition 2013 in the RDS from the 9th to the 12th of January. 
  • The Spring 2013 edition of Walton will be a "BT Young Scientist Special" with details of the projects, interviews and news from the weekend. 
  • Students from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland only are invited to enter. 
  • Send ALL entries by e-mail to ger@waltonmagazine.com before the 1st of January 2013 with the following details: 
    1. Full Name 
    2. Home Address 
    3. E-mail 
    4. Phone Number 
    5. Age and Category 
    6. School Name and Address 
So get researching and writing and be in a chance to win loads of great prizes. You can also follow Walton Magazine on Facebook and Twitter. Good luck.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Edublog Awards 2012

The Frog Blog needs your vote! I was delighted to discover earlier in the week that the blog is a finalist in two categories in this year's international Edublog Awards - for 'Best Teacher Blog' and 'Best Ed Tech Blog'. My colleague Julian Girdham, from SCC English, is also a finalist. SCC English is again featured in the 'Best Group Blog' category, which it won in 2008, as well as the 'Best Class Blog' and 'Best Use of Videos and Media in Education ' for its excellent series of ShowMe's on key moments in Macbeth.

The winners in each category is determined by a public vote and voting remains open until Sunday 9th December. To vote for the Frog Blog or SCC English follow this single link.

Many thanks to those who nominated us!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

YouTube Saturday - Tour of the ISS Orbital Laboratory

Today's video features Sunita Williams of NASA recording an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory on the International Space Station on her final days as Commander of the ISS. Just hours after recording she returned to Earth with her colleagues Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide  in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for a landing in the deserts of Kazakhstan. It provides a great insight into life and work on the ISS.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Top Tweets of the Week

It's been another busy week on the twitterverse - here are some of my favourite tweets of the week.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Mars Surface Radiation Levels Deemed "Safe" Amid Exciting Rumours

Data from the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on board the Curiosity Rover reveal that the levels of radiation on the Martian surface would be safe for astronauts - roughly the same levels as on-board the International Space Station. Unlike our home planet, Mars does not have a magnetosphere (our north and south poles) which naturally protect us from the Sun's harmful radiation so it was expected that the levels of radiation may proved lethal to humans. However, Curiosity instruments show that Mars's thin atmosphere provides some protection against the Sun's harmful rays.

Curiosity monitors the weather carefully on Mars and have detected daily changes in the atmospheric pressure. The daily cycle of higher pressure in the morning and lower pressure in the evening results from daytime heating of the atmosphere by the Sun, resulting in what scientists call "thermal tides". The Sun heats the atmosphere on the side of Mars it is facing. This causes the air to expand upwards, triggering a decrease in air pressure. On the dark side, the atmosphere deflates and becomes denser as the temperature drops quickly. The net effect  is that the denser atmosphere provides a better level of shielding so charged-particle radiation is less when the atmosphere is thicker. This shielding effect could protect astronauts who visit the red planet, although Curiosity has yet to see the effects of solar flares on Mars's atmosphere.

This latest news comes amidst huge speculation that the Curiosity team have made a major discovery. One of the scientists which built and now operate the rover has said the mobile laboratory has made an "earth-shattering" discovery. Officials from NASA are keeping schtum on the matter. The speculation is that organic compounds, like amino acids or carbohydrates, may have been discovered by Curiosity's SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars). These would indicate that life exists or had existed on the red planet. Only time will tell if this latest rumour is true or over-hyped.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Nanoscience Offers Hope to Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Researchers in Chicago have revealed how a new nano-particle drug delivery system can halt the effects of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in mice and may offer hope to people with other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, asthma or food allergies. 

This new breakthrough, which highlights the potential benefits of nanoscience to medicine, reveals how  biodegradable nanoparticles were used to create a new "stealthier" delivery system for treating MS. The nanoparticles allowed the active antigens to trick the immune system into stopping its attack on myelin (the protective insulating coat on nerve cells - it literally gets on your nerves!) and halt the effects of MS in test mice. 

In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin membrane that insulates nerves cells in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. When the insulation is destroyed, electrical signals can't be effectively conducted, resulting in symptoms that range from mild limb numbness to paralysis or blindness. 

Importantly, the new nanoscience influenced treatment does not suppress the entire immune system as do current therapies for MS, which make patients more susceptible to everyday infections. Rather, when the nanoparticles are attached to myelin antigens and injected into the mice, the immune system is reset to normal. The immune system stops recognizing myelin as an alien invader and halts its attack on it.

What's very exciting is that the technology could be applied to a variety of immune-mediated diseases including Type 1 diabetes, food allergies and airway allergies such as asthma. Stephen Miller from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, outlines the ijmportance of the development.
"This is a highly significant breakthrough in translational immunotherapy. The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that's delivered."
In the study, the researchers attached myelin antigens to the nanoparticles, which are easily produced and made from a substance already approved by the Federal Drug Administration, and injected them intravenously into the mice. The particles entered the spleen, which filters the blood and helps the body dispose of ageing and dying blood cells. There, the particles were engulfed by macrophages, a type of immune cell, which then displayed the antigens on their cell surface. The immune system viewed the nanoparticles as ordinary dying blood cells and nothing to be concerned about. This created immune tolerance to the antigen by directly inhibiting the activity of myelin responsive T cells and by increasing the numbers of regulatory T cells which further calmed the autoimmune response.

Exciting stuff! The results of the study are published in Nature Biochemistry.

Edublog Awards 2012 - My Nominations

It's that time again folks - the Edublog Awards - recognising the best teacher / education blogs worldwide. Ireland has some excellent educational blogs, many run by my friends and colleagues, and here are my nominations.

  • Best new blog - NewEnglishBlog (i.e. Newbridge College English Blog)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

YouTube Saturday - Dara O'Briain's 'Story of Physics'

Dara O'Briain's excellent new show - The Science Club - is both entertaining and informative. One feature of the show are the excellent animations included and this one, from last Tuesday's episode, is just brilliant! It's the story of physics, as told by Dara, with loads of info, fun and excitement. Be sure to catch the next episode Tuesday at 9pm on BBC 2. See this excellent animated video from episode one on the 'History of Inheritance'.

Friday, 16 November 2012

NASA Discover Most Distant Galaxy Ever

NASA astronomers claim to have found the most distant galaxy ever seen. Using the soon to be retired  Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Given the catchy title, MACS0647-JD, the galaxy is very small compared to our Milky Way and is approximately 13.3 billion years old. What we are really seeing is what MACS0647-JD looked like just 420 million years after the Big Bang - just 3% of the age of the universe.

The galaxy was detected using an effect known as gravitational lensing, where large clusters of galaxies are used as "natural zoom lenses" to enlarge the appearance of galaxies behind them. Astronomers were able to detect a hint of light from MACS0647-JD because light from the galaxy took a detour, around 8 billion years into its journey, along multiple paths around the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making the images appear several times brighter than they otherwise would have, enabling the astronomers to detect the galaxy more efficiently and with greater confidence. 

The galaxy appeared as a small blob much smaller than our Milky Way, suggesting it may have been glimpsed as it was in the early stages of the formation of a larger galaxy. Of course, the newly discovered galaxy may not actually exist now or may have merged with other galaxies.

The new images suggest that MACS0647-JD was only 600 light-years wide, but a typical galaxy of a similar age ought to be more than three times this width. Our Milky Way measures 150,000 light-years across. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Total Eclipse Stuns Oz

Tonight the Moon passed in front of the Sun, casting a 150km wide shadow across the planet, starting in Australia's Northern Territory, then crossing the north eastern tip of the southern continent before swooping east across the South Pacific. No Pacific islands were in its direct path. Only certain areas of the eastern Australia coast witnessed the total eclipse, plunging the region into total darkness for a few fleeting minutes. A partial eclipse will be visible from east Indonesia, the eastern half of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and southern parts of Chile and Argentina.

Thousands of science enthusiasts, amateur astronomers and scientists have flocked to the eclipse zone in the hope of catching this rare occurrence - the next total eclipse won't occur until March 2015.  Although weather forecasters predicted cloudy skies, making the likelihood of catching photos like the one above slim, there were some gaps allowing onlookers witness the amazing feat first hand. The best places on land to see totality was along a 100 kilometre stretch of coastline on north-east Australia, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea. Cairns is the only city on the eclipse trail. The video has just been recorded from the beach at Cairns!

A total eclipse is possible because, by coincidence, the Sun's distance from Earth is about 400 times the Moon's distance, and the Sun's diameter is about 400 times the Moon's diameter. Because these ratios are approximately the same, the Sun and the Moon as seen from Earth appear to be approximately the same size. The next total solar eclipse likely to be visible from Ireland won't occur until January 2090, although we should see a partial eclipse, around 80%, in March 2015. 

Science Week @ St. Columba's

Science Week is a national celebration of all things science, with thousands of events taking place across the country this week. This year’s theme is ‘everyday experimenting’ and encourages the general public to carry out some simple experiments at home, school, work or anywhere for that matter. 

Here at St. Columba’s we have a wide range of activities planned for the week including a series of talks from some of Ireland’s leading scientists, including UCD zoologist Emma Teeling and TCD physicist Nigel Buttimore. Some Form I and TY pupils are participating in a online science initiative called ‘I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Of Here’. The pupils actively engage with five Irish scientists via the I’m a Scientist website, participating in live chats (supervised by their teacher) and asking questions, and finally voting for their favourite scientist. It’s been really exciting so far and gets the thumbs up all from teachers and pupils alike. In addition, the science teachers are posting daily challenges, amazing science facts and holding a great astronomy competition. There are some great Science Week goodies on offer too, including Mr. Jones’s new book of science facts ‘A Neutron Walks Into A Bar’ (which would make a great stocking filler by the way, with all proceeds going to cystic fibrosis research). 

On Saturday afternoon thirty St. Columba’s pupils will also get a chance to meet Paolo Nespoli, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut who is visiting Dublin for Science Week. It will be a great opportunity for pupils interested in science and astronomy to meet a real astronaut – Paolo has been to the International Space Station on two separate missions. 

It's a jam packed week, with a real science buzz around, but if you are looking for even more excitement, why not try some of these simple experiments you can do at home - I promise you will be amazed! For more information on Science Week and the activities happening around the country visit scienceweek.ie

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Science Club with Dara O'Briain

Tune in to BBC2 tonight at 9pm to see polar bears, giant DNA strands, enormous sperms cells and tiny astronauts leap out of Dara O'Briain's skull!! 

Ok well that might not happen. But what we are promised is some exciting science explained in an innovative, entertaining and unique way. The new six part series will see Dara and his team (which includes Alok Jha, Tali Sharot and others) tackle a new topic each week, examining it from lots of different and unexpected angles - with hilarious consequences no doubt. Topics will range from extinction to sex, Einstein to space exploration and brain chemistry to music – all underpinned by first-class science. 

That enough for me! Tune in tonight at 9pm! It will be awesome - even if there aren't tiny panda bears.

Design Your Own 'Nano Superhero' with CRANN

If you missed Science Gallery's wonderful nanoscience exhibition MAGICAL MATERIALS then shame on you!! It was brilliant and proved a huge hit with schools in particular. The exhibition had a superhero theme, six in all, depicting the magical powers of nanomaterials. Now CRANN and Science Gallery have announced that their annual nanoscience competition for schools will continue with the superhero theme. This year they want you to design your very own nano superhero!

Students (with individually or in groups of 4 or less) are asked to designing and name their own superhero, listing his/her unique powers as a result of nanoscience. They can depict their superhero in a poster or a video. There are some great prizes on offer including an iPad, iPod Nanos (see what they did there) and cash!! In addition, the top 3 winning entries will be featured in an international nanoscience conference, EuroNanoForum, taking place in the Convention Centre, Dublin in June 2013. These 3 winning superheroes will be brought to life by a professional cartoon artist.

Visit the CRANN website for more information or download a poster for your school or classroom. More details on the competition can be found in the attached PDF. So put your thinking caps on and start designing your nano superheroes! You have loads of time - the closing date for entry is Friday February 15th 2013.

For more information on CRANN's brilliant Nanoscience pack for Transition Year science - Nano in my Life - click here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

YouTube Saturday - Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell

This amazing documentary, recently broadcast on BBC, explores the inner world of the human cellular structure via the narrative of a viral infection from within the world of a single cell. Update: Embedding of the video is no longer supported - click here to view on YouTube.