o The Frog Blog: November 2008

Friday, 28 November 2008

Fear of Physics? Not anymore!

Fear of Physics is an excellent website for pupils of Junior Science, TY Physics or Leaving Certificate Physics. It explains, in an interesting way, some of the puzzling aspects of everyday physics like: why don't satellites fall to the Earth or what is friction? The website contains games, quizzes, animations and more to get its point across - physics is nothing to be feared. I would recommend it for anyone doing a project in physics or anyone looking for a slice of interesting information! So here is the link - http://www.fearofphysics.com/ - physics explained, finally!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Science Department would like to wish all of our American friends, colleagues and pupils a Happy Thanksgiving.

He finally did it!!

Sorry, but I felt that with the exams currently on, we could all do with a bit of light hearted humour!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Tidal Power

Today, in 1966, President Charles de Gaulle opened the world's first tidal power station at the Rance estuary, in Brittany (shown above). La Rance is the most powerful tidal power plant in the world and uses Barrage Technology, and works very similarly to a dam. With its width of 700 metres, the barrage blocks the Rance estuary situated near Saint-Malo. The operation of the dam is similar to that of run-of-river power plants since its head is also low and there is a substantial flow rate. At high and low tide, the water builds up rapidly on one of the sides of the dam. When the difference in level is sufficient, the gates are opened and the water rushes into the dam. The turbines are reversible so as to be able to operate regardless of the direction of water flow. Each year, the power plant generates 500 million kWh. In July of this year, Tidal Power was used for the first time on the island of Ireland when Marine Current Turbines Ltd started to produce electricity in Strangford Lough using their SeaGen technology, a horizontal axis turbine. The system takes advantage of the fast tidal flow in the lough which can be up to 4 m/s. Although the generator is powerful enough to power up to a thousand homes, the turbine has a minimal environmental impact, as it is almost entirely submerged, and the rotors turn slowly enough that they pose no danger to wildlife. Below are photos of the working SeaGen installed in Strangford Lough and the turbines in the yard of Harland & Wolff in Belfast before installation. If anyone would like to research more on SeaGen and submit to the blog click here.

Leaving Certificate Biology - Photosynthesis Synopsis

Attached is a two page synopsis of photosynthesis available for all to download. It would be useful for Leaving Certificate pupils of Biology and contains details on the Cyclic and Non Cyclic Electron Pathways, the Dark Stage and Mandatory Practicals associated with this topic. The file is in pdf format and a free copy of Adobe Reader is available by clicking here. Click on the image of the chloroplast above to download the file. More detailed notes on photosynthesis and other Biology topics for Leaving Certificate (by Mr. Jones) are available by clicking here.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Examinations Week

The Science Department would like to wish all our pupils the very best of luck in their exams this week. Many will be sitting exams in Junior Science, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Geology and Agricultural Science and have been working hard all term. All of your hard work will pay off, eventually.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Humans and the Gramineae (Grass Family) by Stephanie Brann, Form IV

The Gramineae (grass family) are arguably the most successful family of the flowering plants or Angiosperms. The grasses are extremely important to human beings, as the family includes: wheat (shown above), barley, oats, maize and rice – all of which are vital foods across the world. Due to being cultivated by humans, grasses have replaced the native vegetation in many parts of the world.
Over 50% of the human world’s daily calorie intake comes from the Gramineae, particularly rice, wheat, maize, sorghum and millet. Recent trials have also shown that oats and other kinds of grain may help to lower cholesterol levels, and thus reduce the likelihood of coronary heart disease, and some types of cancer. Many of us are not aware that grains contain all the major nutrient groups: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals plus of course fibre. 100 g of red winter wheat for example contains 71 g of carbohydrate, 12.6 g of protein, 12.2 g of dietary fibre, 1.5 g of fat and 3.2 mg of iron. When comparing modern grains to ancient grains, it has been found that ancient grains may have been even more nutritious.
Bamboo is also part of the grass family, and is usually found in warm or tropical regions. Bamboos are the tallest in the grass family as they can sometimes grow up to a height of 30 metres. Bamboo has many commercial uses, such as in manufacture of furniture, paper, water pipes and scaffolding, and is also used for fuel. Bamboo scaffolding is thought to be better at withstanding strong winds than comparable steel scaffolding. Bamboo shoots are eaten as a vegetable, and bamboo grains are eaten locally in several parts of the world. There are many different species of bamboo in the genus Bambusa.
There are between 9,000 and 10,000 species of grasses, many of which are of use to humans. Grasses are used as animal feed, either for direct grazing or for straw or silage. They are also cultivated as lawns and as coverings for the playing surfaces of pitches for sports such as football, tennis, golf, cricket, rugby, GAA and baseball. Ornamental grasses are sold in garden centres and grasses can also be used to make biofuel and as thatching for roofs.
Arundo donax is a grass from which ‘reeds’ for woodwind instruments are made.
Grasses grown for their seeds to be eaten are called cereals. Rice is the staple cereal in south and east Asia, maize in Central and South America, and wheat and barley in Europe and northern Asia. Wheat for example is used to make flour for bread and pasta, and can be fermented to make beer and vodka. One side effect of wheat consumption is coeliac disease – a condition resulting from a response of the immune system to a protein found in wheat called gluten. This condition seems to be particularly common in Ireland, especially in the west of the country – possibly due to ancient genetic migration patterns of human populations.

UCD Entrance Awards

At a ceremony on Friday last, in the O'Reilly Hall in UCD, Lauren O'Connell (Medicine), Christopher Fenelon (Medicine) and Claudia Felstead (Veterinary) were presented with their 'high achievers' entrance awards. These are awarded to students who achieve 540 or over in their Leaving Certificate. As the vice-president of the university pointed out 'this represents the top 4% of the country'. Lauren, Christopher and Claudia achieved excellent results in the sciences, with each achieving at least one A1 in a science subject at SCC. It is with great pride that we see them continue to study the sciences at UCD.Our congratulations to them and all those other Columbans who have just started their university career. We wish them all the best in their studies.

Science Fact of the Week

800 Million people world wide are infected with Hookworms! That's approx 12% of the entire human population, and as many as 35 people in St. Columba's!

The hookworm is a parasitic nematode worm that lives in the small intestine of its host, which may be a mammal such as a dog, cat, or human. Two species of hookworms commonly infect humans, Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus. Necator americanus predominates in the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, China, and Indonesia, while A. duodenale predominates in the Middle East, North Africa, India and (formerly) in southern Europe. Hookworms are much smaller than the large roundworm, Ascaris lumbricoides, and the complications of tissue migration and mechanical obstruction so frequently observed with roundworm infestation are less frequent in hookworm infestation. The most significant risk of hookworm infection is anaemia, a lack of iron in the diet. The worms suck blood voraciously and damage the mucosa. However, the blood loss in the stools is occult blood loss (not visibly apparent).

Sunday, 23 November 2008

J.D. van der Waals - A Short Biography

Johannes Diderik van der Waals was born on November 23, 1837. He was a Dutch scientist famous for his work on the equation of state for gases and liquids, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1910. Van der Waals was born in Leyden, the Netherlands, as the son of Jacobus van der Waals and Elisabeth van den Burg. He became a school teacher, and later was allowed to study at the university, in spite of his lack of classical languages. He studied from 1862 to 1865, earning degrees in mathematics and physics. In 1866, he became director of a secondary school in The Hague. In 1873, he obtained a doctorate degree. In science his name lives on, where polar forces of attraction between molecules are called van der Waals Forces. Van der Waals died in Amsterdam on March 8, 1923.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

First Scheduled Concorde Flight

Today, in 1977, the first scheduled service from Paris to New York using the supersonic passenger jet, Concorde, took flight. Although services to Washington had taken place since 1976, but it had been banned from landing at JFK due to noise pollution. Concorde cruised at around 1350mph - more than twice the speed of sound - and at an altitude of up to 60,000 ft (over 11 miles high). A typical London to New York crossing would take a little less than three and a half hours as opposed to about eight hours for a subsonic flight. Travelling Westwards, the five-hour time difference meant Concorde effectively arrived before she left. She travels "faster than the sun". It made it's last commercial flight to New York in October 2003.

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Otter by Harry Brooke (Form IV)

Members of the 4th Form have been studying mammals this term and for their Michaelmas assessment have been producing presentations on the mammal of their choice. Harry Brooke chose the Otter and his PowerPoint Presentation can be obtained by clicking on the image above.

First Ever Manned Flight!

Today, in 1783, Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, a professor of physics and chemistry, and the Marquis Francois Laurant d'Arlandes became the first men to fly. Their hot-air balloon, built by the Montgolfier brothers lifted off from La Muettte, a royal palace in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. They flew nearly 6 miles in 25 minutes, reaching an altitude of around 300-ft. Spectators included Ben Franklin and King Louis XVI, who offered to send two prisoners, but Rozier wanted to deny criminals the glory of being the first men to go into the atmosphere. The Montgolfier brothers, Étienne and Joseph had publicly demonstrated the first unmanned hot-air balloon a few months earlier and a second with animals to verify that air travel was safe for living beings. A model of their balloon can be seen in the London Science Museum and is shown in the picture on the right! On a less lighter note (get it?) the pilot, Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, later died in his attempt to cross the English Channel when his balloon exploded. It was an experimental design using a hydrogen balloon and a hot air balloon!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

More Wallpapers

By popular request here are a few more wallpapers, frog and non-frog related!
Just click on the image for a larger version.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

BT Young Scientist Exhibition 2009

Congratulations to III Form pupils Eamon McKee and Lingfan Gao whose science project has been accepted into the 2009 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition which will be held in the RDS from the 6th - 10th January 2009. The boys' project is an investigation into how plants are affected by different forms of household radiation. Work on their investigations is well under way and they are ably guided by their science teacher, Ms Karen Hennessy. The boys will compete in the Intermediate Group category within the Biological & Ecological section. For more information on the exhibition, log onto www.btyoungscientist.com. This year's competition will the biggest yet, with 3,712 students applying with 1,616 projects in 32 counties across the island which includes a 25% increase in the number of projects from Northern Ireland. This is a clear indication of how the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition has grown from strength the strength throughout its 45 year history to become one of the largest events of its kind in the world. Year on year there has been a steady surge in the number of entries; from 669 entries in 2001 to an overwhelming 1,616 this year marking an overall increase of 240%. The achievement of Eamon and Lingfan is even more impressive considering only 500 projects have been accepted out of the 1616 that were originally proposed. Well done lads.

First Organ Transplant Using Stem Cells Reported

It is reported today that a Colombian woman has received the world's first tailor-made organ transplant, grown by seeding a donor trachea with her own stem cells to prevent her body rejecting it. The success of the operation, performed in June using tissue generated from the woman's own bone marrow, raises the prospect transplanting other organs may be possible without drugs to dampen the immune system, they said. Doctors work hard to match tissue type when transplanting organs so that the body does not completely reject the new organ, but patients usually have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives. Claudia Castillo sought help after a case of tuberculosis destroyed part of her trachea, the windpipe connected to the lungs (as shown in the diagram), and left her with breathing difficulties, prone to infections, and unable to care for her two children. The 30-year-old's only option other than the experimental surgery was for doctors to remove part of her lung - a choice that would have seriously degraded her quality of life, the researchers said. Castillo, who lives in Spain, had no complications from the surgery and left the hospital after 10 days. She is returning to normal activities and even called her doctors from a night club to say she had been out dancing all night, the researchers said. "We believe this success has proved we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care," said Birchall, one of the surgeons who performed the operation, who predicted the technique could be applied to other hollow organs similar in structure, such as the bowel, bladder, and reproductive tract.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Irish Seal Sanctuary

"True seals (or ‘earless seals’) are amphibious pinniped mammals, and are closely related to the group of mammals known as the Carnivora (which includes the dog and cat families). Pinniped means ‘fin-footed’, and seals are highly adapted for life in the sea, although they have to return to land to give birth. Other pinniped mammals are the fur seals (‘eared seals’), sea lions and the walrus.

There are two resident species of seal in Ireland: the common seal Phoca vitulina - pictured above - (called the ‘harbor’ seal in N. America) and the grey seal Halichoerus grypus - pictured below. Common seals occur in the Pacific and North Atlantic oceans, and are generally thought to be less aggressive and to look ‘cuter’ than grey seals. Common seals can be black, brown, grey or tan in colour with dark or light patches. The larger grey seal has a more dog-like head, and half the world’s population is found off the coasts of the British Isles. The common seal pups are born around June and July, and the grey seal pups are born later in the year from October to November.

Our friends at the Irish Seal Sanctuary in Garristown, north County Dublin are an entirely voluntary organisation who’s goal is to “provide shelter treatment and rehabilitation for rescued marine wildlife found in difficulty around Ireland’s coast”. They have an excellent website at http://www.irishsealsanctuary.ie/ which explains their work and has good links and details about individual seals etc. Please have a look!


Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist, born in Copenhagen, who was the first to apply the quantum theory, which restricts the energy of a system to certain discrete values, to the problem of atomic and molecular structure. For this work he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922. He developed the so-called Bohr theory of the atom and liquid model of the nucleus. Bohr was of Jewish origin and when the Nazis occupied Denmark he escaped in 1943 to Sweden on a fishing boat. From there he was flown to England where he began to work on the project to make a nuclear fission bomb. After a few months he went with the British research team to Los Alamos in the USA where they continued work on the project. He died on this day in 1962 in his home city of Copenhagen.

Frog Wallpapers

Here are some wallpapers for your laptop / desktop with extra froggage!

Just click on the image for a larger version

Monday, 17 November 2008

New Feature - Science Fact of the Week

The smallest bone in the human body is the stapes or stirrup bone located in the middle ear. It is approximately .11 inches (.28 cm) long.

Sound waves travel through the ear canal and make their way to the middle ear. The middle ear's main job is to take those sound waves and turn them into vibrations that are delivered to the inner ear. To do this, it needs the eardrum, which is a thin piece of skin stretched tight like a drum. The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear and the ossicles What are ossicles? They are the three tiniest, most delicate bones in your body. They include:

  • The malleus (say: mah-lee-us), which is attached to the eardrum and means "hammer" in Latin
  • The incus (say: in-kus), which is attached to the malleus and means "anvil" in Latin
  • The stapes (say: stay-peez), the smallest bone in the body, which is attached to the incus and means "stirrup" in Latin

When sound waves reach the eardrum, they cause the eardrum to vibrate. When the eardrum vibrates, it moves the tiny ossicles — from the hammer to the anvil and then to the stirrup. These bones help sound move along on its journey into the inner ear.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Science Unleashed Website

A fantastic new website has been set up for pupils of Junior Certificate Science. This Irish website provides pupils with the opportunity to explore videos, games, quizzes and weblinks , all of which are relevant to the Junior Certificate Science curriculum. Check the "Best of the Web" section to find 60 of the top interactive science websites available. It also contains 15 videos, each 12 minutes long, on different aspects of the Junior Science course. Science Unleashed is part of a collaborative project between RTE and the National Centre for Technology in Education (an agency of the Department of Education and Science). This collaborative project is entitled IMMERSE — Innovative Multimedia Educational Resources for Students and Educators. It has set out to develop innovative, interactive, curriculum-relevant resources for students and teachers in the Irish education system.

Check it out at http://www.scienceunleashed.ie/

First Blood Transfusion

Today, in 1666, the English physician, Samuel Pepys, made a record in his diary describing Richard Lower making the first documented blood transfusion. "Dr. Croone told me ... there was a pretty experiment of the blood of one dog let out, till he had died, into the body of another on one side, while all his own run out on the other side. The first died upon the place, and the other very well and likely to do well. This did give occasion to many pretty wishes, as of the blood of a Quaker to be let into an Archbishop and such like; but, as Dr. Croon says, may, if it takes, be of mighty use to man's health, for the amending of bad blood by borrowing from a better body." Two days later, on the 16th November, Pepys noted meeting with Robert Hooke, and hearing that the dog was very well.

Samuel Pepys' lengthy diary is one of the most famous first-hand accounts of life in the mid-seventeenth century. He wrote it in shorthand, and it contains detailed descriptions of the life of a man in his 20's and 30's engaged in important public service. Pepys was a high-level bureaucrat in the English government who witnessed the chief events of his day including major changes in government, a devastating outbreak of the plague, the Great Fire, and a war with Holland. Luckily for us, Pepys was observant and articulate. His account of the Great Fire is one of the most poignant pieces in the English language.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Boel Beats Bendy Banana Ban

Curvy cucumbers and nobbly carrots will be back on sale in Irish shops from next July, after the European Union yesterday gave the chop to "ridiculous" laws which banned them from the shelves. Irish grocers and supermarkets will soon be able to sell imperfect-looking fruit and veg, for the first time in 20 years. EU-wide marketing standards ensuring only the finest-looking produce reaches the shops were deemed rotten to the core by the EU’s agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel. EU standards stipulated the size and shape of 36 types of fruit and veg sold in Europe, from apricots to watermelons. Specific market rules are to stay in place for the 10 products which account for 75 per cent of EU fruit and veg trade – apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches/nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes. But 26 types of fruit and veg, including artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, onions, peas, carrots, plums, and ribbed celery will have their shape restrictions lifted. Commissioner Boel said: “Now household budgets are tighter and there is the problem of wasting food too, so it makes more sense than ever to allow people to buy mis-shapen fruit and veg if they wish.” Boel also strangely proclaimed that "...this marks a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the nobbly carrot" Seriously!

P.S. In case your wondering what the hell this has to do with science, Agricultural Science is a REAL subject! (As for the title - we do love alliteration here at the Frog Blog)

Mariner - 9: Mars Orbiter

Today, in 1971, Mariner-9, the first man-made object to orbit another planet, entered Martian orbit. The mission of the unmanned craft was to return photographs mapping 70% of the surface, and to study the planet's thin atmosphere, clouds, and hazes, together with its surface chemistry and seasonal changes. Mariner 9 was designed with the specific purpose of identifying potential sites for a future Viking spacecraft lander. Mariner 9 entered Mars orbit on November 13, 1971 and transmitted back to NASA a whopping 7329 pictures taken only 1390 km (862 miles) from the planet itself. Among these were the first pictures of the surface of Mars' two moons, Deimos and Phobos. From the Mariner 9 mission data, landing sites were picked for Vikings 1 and 2. These two identical spacecraft each consisted of a lander and an orbiter. Viking 1 was launched on August 20, 1975 and Viking 2 was sent up on September 9, 1975. The first landing ever to be accomplished on the surface of Mars was accomplished when the Viking lander set down on July 20, 1976 on Chryse Planitia (The Plains of Gold). Below shows a picture taken by the Viking lander during its surveillance.


Today in my V Form Biology class, we were discussing the role and function of the placenta during foetal development! A discussion ensued regarding placentophagy, or the practice of eating the placenta. As disgusting as it may seem, most mammals (the only animals that can form a placenta) eat their placenta. There is also a school of thought that holds that placentophagy naturally occurred to hide any trace of childbirth from predators in the wild, though the fact that the amniotic fluid is not similarly ingested by the mother seems to discount this theory. Most placental mammals participate in placentophagy, including, surprisingly, herbivorous ones. Pinnipedia (seals, sea lions and such) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) are exceptions to mammalian placentophagy, as is the camel. Placentophagy has been observed in Insectivores, Rodents, Carnivores, Ungulates (hoofed mammals) and Primates. Marsupials reabsorb rather than deliver the placenta, and therefore cannot engage in placentophagy they do, however, vigorously lick birth fluids as they are excreted.
So what about humans? Although the placenta is revered in many cultures, very few customarily eat the placenta after the newborn's birth. Those who advocate placentophagy in humans, mostly in modern America and Europe, Mexico, Hawaii, China, and the Pacific Islands believe that eating the placenta prevents post natal depression and other pregnancy complications. A variety of recipes are known to exist for preparing placenta for eating in spite of the extended taboo against eating parts of human beings. Consumption of uncooked human placenta carries risks associated with other human blood products, primarily risk of hepatitis B,C and HIV infection. However, eating one's own placenta does not carry those risks. Incidentally, the word placenta comes from a Latin word for a flat cake!

In case you are hungry, here is a simple recipe! Into the roasting pan, put one onion, red pepper, tomato sauce, bay leaves, pepper, salt and a clove of garlic... and 1 to 3lbs of placenta! Enjoy your lunch!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Edublog Awards 2008

The "Frog Blog" is delighted to nominate our colleagues in the English Department for the Edublog Awards 2008 for their excellent learning resource that is the English Department Blog (http://www.sccenglish.ie). This website has already been nominated for a Golden Spider Award this year and truly is a high quality learning resource. We would like to nominate them for the Best Group Blog.

For more information see http://edublogawards.com/2008.

VIth Form Geologists Model Bowen's Reaction Series

When magma cools and solidifies, different minerals crystallise out at different temperatures. One of the first minerals to form is olivine, and if the magma is at or near the Earth’s surface and cools quickly this olivine will remain as part of the rock produced. However, if the magma cools more slowly (i.e. at greater depth), there is time for the olivine to be broken down again, and for its atoms to be incorporated into a different mineral – such as augite. If cooling is suitably slow, this augite may in turn be broken down and reconstituted as hornblende...... and so on. This explains how identical magmas may cool to produce rocks with different mineral assemblages in them, and why for example olivine may be more common in basalt (which cools rapidly on the Earth’s surface) than in gabbro (which cools slowly deep beneath the Earth’s surface).

Bowen’s reaction series places the common silicate minerals (and quartz) in order of their crystallisation in a cooling igneous melt.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Humphry Davy

2008 marks the 200th anniversary of the first isolation of the elements barium, strontium, calcium and magnesium, by Humphry Davy in England.
Humphry Davy, a woodcarver's son, was born in Penzance in 1778. After being educated in Truro, Davy was apprenticed to a Penzance surgeon. In 1797 he took up chemistry and was taken on by Thomas Beddoes, as an assistant at his Medical Pneumatic Institution in Bristol. Here he experimented with various new gases and discovered the anaesthetic effect of laughing gas (nitrous oxide). Davy published details of his research in his book Researches, Chemical and Philosophical (1799). This led to Davy being appointed as a lecturer at the Royal Institution. He was a talented teacher and his lectures attracted large audiences. He discovered that the alkalis and alkaline earths are compound substances formed by oxygen united with metallic bases. He also used electrolysis to discover new metals such as potassium, sodium, barium, strontium, calcium and magnesium. Davy was now considered to be Britain's leading scientist and in 1812 was knighted by George III. With his assistant, Michael Faraday, Davy travelled abroad investigating his theory of volcanic action. In 1815 Humphry Davy invented a safety lamp for use in gassy coalmines, allowing deep coal seams to be mined despite the presence of firedamp (methane). This led to some controversy as George Stephenson, working in a colliery near Newcastle, also produced a safety lamp that year. Both men claimed that they were first to come up with this invention. One of Davy's most important contributions to history was that he encouraged manufacturers to take a scientific approach to production. His discoveries in chemistry helped to improve several industries including agriculture, mining and tanning. Sir Humphry Davy died in 1829.

Why he couldn't spell his name properly, though, one will never know!

Humphrey (with an "e") Jones

Bradyseism in the Pozzuoli area north of Naples

The Trattoria Vico Marinai in Pozzuoli just north of Naples provides a pretty good lunch, as I and my colleagues from the Classics and History departments discovered last Summer.

In the days of the Roman Empire Pozzuoli (or ‘Puteoli’) was one of the most important ports in Italy, receiving grain from Egypt and most of the exotic animals destined for the amphitheatres of Europe. Part of the old market place (or ‘macellum’) still remains, a little way inland from the modern ferry port.

When first excavated in 1750 a statue of the Roman god Serapis (a local version of the Egyptian’s Osiris) was found here, and the old market became misnamed ‘the Temple of Serapis’. Interesting as all this may be, it seems strange at first sight that a picture of this ancient ‘temple’ was chosen as the frontispiece of the world’s most influential geology book: Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell (published in 1830).

The reason why this ancient site has become a ‘Mecca’ for geologists lies in the fact that about 4 m above the base of each of the three remaining upright marble columns there is a zone where holes have been bored into the marble by the marine bivalve Lithophaga lithophaga. This implies that although the market place was of course constructed above sea level, at some time in the past 2,000 years, the columns have been submerged to a depth of 4 m or more – long enough for generations of boring bivalves to dissolve away their surface - and have then been raised up above sea level again.

In linking these vertical movements to local volcanic activity, rather than to a major catastrophe such as the biblical flood, Lyell encapsulated his ideas about uniformitarianism, and the present being the key to the past (see notes on Hutton in the blog entry for October 23rd). We now know that Pozzuoli harbour lies directly above a relatively shallow magma chamber which periodically fills and empties – causing the ground above to rise and fall. Such movements are termed bradyseism (“braddy” “sigh” “ism”), from the Greek bradus ­= slow and sism = movement.

The last two major eruptions of this magma chamber were 15,000 and 39,000 years ago, and the next major volcanic activity in the Bay of Naples area may well be centred here rather than further south near Vesuvius. The Pozzuoli area is currently undergoing a phase of slow subsidence, but over the past 20 to 30 years this has been periodically interrupted by relatively short and sharp episodes of bradyseismic uplift ranging from a few cm to a couple of m. Each of these mini-uplift phases can be accompanied by seismic activity. Damage was caused by a major earthquake in 1983, and because of this parts of the old town are still deemed unsafe and remain a no-go area, even today.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Natural Selection Game

Thanks to our friends at the SCC English blog for alerting us to this excellent interactive site all about Darwin. Enjoy the natural selection game, and remember that the more variation you have in a population the more likely you are to survive when conditions change!

The Sheep Game

By popular demand (and a little aggression from my 5th Form Agricultural Science & Biology class), here is a link to the famous "Sheep Game".

Have fun!!! http://www.sheepgame.co.uk/

Science Week 2008

Today marks the start of Science Week 2008, an annual celebration of science and technology. For more information on science week and on events running throughout this week, check out their website at http://www.scienceweek.ie/.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

New (Bad) Science Book in the Library

"Bad Science" by Ben Goldacre is a funny, interesting and satirical look at how the media report on scientific discoveries and theories. Many questions are explored in the book. For example: How do we know if a treatment works, or if something causes cancer? Can the claims of homeopaths ever be as true – or as interesting as the improbable research into the placebo effect? Who created the MMR hoax? Do journalists understand science? Why do we seek scientific explanations for social, personal and political problems? Are alternative therapists and the pharmaceutical companies really so different, or do they just use the same old tricks to sell different types of pill? We are obsessed with our health. And yet – from the media’s ‘world-expert microbiologist’ with a mail-order PhD in his garden shed laboratory, via multiple health scares and miracle cures, to the million pound trial that Durham Council now denies ever existed – we are constantly bombarded with inaccurate, contradictory and sometimes even misleading information. Until now. Ben Goldacre masterfully dismantles the dodgy science behind some of the great drug trials, court cases and missed opportunities of our time, but he also goes further: out of the inaccurate, he shows us the fascinating story of how we know what we know, and gives us the tools to uncover bad science for ourselves.

Edmund Halley - Born Nov 8th 1656

The English astronomer Edmund Halley was born on this day in 1656. He was a good friend of Isaac Newton. In 1705 he used Newton's new theory of gravitation to determine the orbits of comets from their recorded positions in the sky as a function of time. He found that the bright comets of 1531, 1607, and 1682 had almost the same orbits, and when he accounted for the gravitational perturbation on the cometary orbits from Jupiter and Saturn, he concluded that these were different appearances of the same comet. He then used his gravitational calculations to predict the return of this comet in 1758. Halley did not live to see his prediction tested because he died in 1742. But on Christmas night, 1758, the comet destined everafter to bear Halley's name reappeared in a spectacular vindication of his bold conjecture and of Newton's gravitational theory. Tracing back in the historical records for recordings of bright comets and their positions in the sky, it was concluded that Halley had been observed periodically as far back as 240 B.C. The most recent return was in 1986, and the predicted next appearance of Halley in the inner Solar System will be in 2061. Set your alarm now!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Ag Science Farm Visit - Pigs, Tillage & Beef

On Thursday November 6th, members of the Form V and Form VI Agricultural Science classes visited two farms in Co. Meath as part of their Practical Work Portfolio. The farms in questions were a Commercial Pig Unit in Moyvalley, owned and run by Roy Gallie. On his 250 acre farm he also grows winter wheat, spring barley and winter barley, which in turn feed the pigs. The well managed farm was competently and enthuasiastically presented by the farm owner, Roy, to the pupils. On his farm he maintains 180 sows, which in turn produce approx 3000 pork animals per year as well as 1000 F1 cross commercial breeding stock. All the females pigs, sows, on his farm are Landrace while the males, boars, are Large Whites. Afterwards, we travelled to the Kilucan and to the Wengtes farm. This farm has been recently purchased by Michael Wengtes, father of current pupils Rosemary and Hannah. There we were introduced to Pat Melvin, who maintains a stock of rare beef breeds, which are used for breeding and beef production. All of the animals are suckler, which means that the young suckle the mother, rather than being commercially milked. The unusual breeds include Dexters (both red and white), Irish Moiled Cattle (for more information click here), the french breed Vosgienne and many others. Pat was clearly passionate about his animals and what he was doing and it was rubbing off on many of the pupils also. I would like to thank both farmers for their wonderful presentations and for treating us so well. I would like to particularly thank the Wengtes family for being so accommodating and for feeding the troups before departing home. These farm visits are essential in allowing a practical subject like agricultural science to be successful in a school and I appreciate greatly the generosity of farmers in allowing us explore their farms.

Here are some more pics!