o The Frog Blog: 2009

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Merry Christmas

St. Columba's College closes for the Christmas holidays today as pupils make their way home to their families. The pupils will return to the school on January 11th 2010. The Frog Blog would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone in the college community, and beyond, a very merry Christmas.

We now take a well earned break from blogging for a few weeks, well at least from daily posts. We may post the odd story from time to time, should some interesting stories emerge. We hope you've all enjoyed our range of posts over the past few months. If you have any suggestions for future stories or even a series of posts please contact us by email. Merry Christmas and thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Last Penguin

On the New Yorker website, Fen Montaigne presents an audio slide show where he shares images he took during the austral summer of 2005-2006 while working with the ecologist Bill Fraser, and discusses how global warming has caused a decline in the number of Adélie penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. Click here to visit the website and view the clip.

Monday, 14 December 2009

CSPE Adopt a Polar Bear Project

As part of their Junior Cert. CSPE Action Project, Form IIIc is raising awareness about the plight of polar bears and their shrinking habitats. The project aims to raise money through a raffle to 'adopt' a polar bear with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Other aspects of the project have involved speaking to the whole school in chapel about the project, designing posters to publicise the raffle and the issue of climate change, communicating with the WWF about the adoption, a 'did you know?' fact leaflet and of course selling tickets.

Incidentally the draw for the raffle is due to take place before the start of our Christmas entertainment tomorrow night in the BSR...and last minute tickets will be on sale. For more information about the Adopt a Bear programme, click here. Why not give the gift of an adopted animal to someone this Christmas. Click here to see the wide range of animals up for adoption. If you adopt an animal, you get a cuddly toy, frequent updates about how your animal is doing and "loads more fun stuff".

Science Fact of the Week 39 – Large Hadron Collider

This is the final Science Fact of the Week of this term and indeed 2009.


The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. The LHC lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference, as much as 175 metres beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. In the LHC experiment, two beams of subatomic particles called 'hadrons' – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world will analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC. There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions, but what's for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator, as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe

The Frog by Hilaire Belloc

How's about a bit of frog poetry to kick start the week?

The Frog by Hilaire Belloc

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As "Slimy skin," or "Polly-wog,"
Or likewise "Ugly James,
"Or "Gap-a-grin," or "Toad-gone-wrong,"
Or "Bill Bandy-knees":
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Digging Up Dinosaurs

Strange landscapes, scorching heat and (sometimes) mad crocodiles await scientists seeking clues to evolution's genius. Palaeontologist Paul Sereno talks about his surprising encounters with prehistory -- and a new way to help students join the adventure.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

Below is a video from National Geographic, showing the wonderful motherly habits of the tiny Strawberry Poison Dart Frog. These tiny frogs transport their young on their back, from the leaf litter to high up in a tree (a climb equivalent to a human climbing the Empire State Building) in order to provide a safe nursery ground for their young. One frog might have to do this six or seven times over a space of two weeks for each of her tadpoles, providing food in the form of her own unfertilised eggs. (Please forgive the annoying narration)

Friday, 11 December 2009

New Dinosaur Discovered: Tawa hallae

A new dinosaur has been discovered in New Mexico which sheds significant light on the evolution of the group. The new species is from the late Triassic Period - a small, early relative of Tyranosaurus rex and Velociraptor. It is 2 m long, bipedal, has short forelimbs with sharp claws, and downward curving teeth and has been christened Tawa hallae, after the Native American Hopi word for the sun god. The discovery also highlights how dinosaurs dispersed across what was then the "supercontinent" Pangaea. Tawa hallae is believed to be 215 million years old and its existence demonstrates how dinosaurs split into their three major groups - theropods, sauropods and ornithischians - very early in their evolution. Tawa belongs to the theropods: bipedal dinosaurs that were mainly carnivores. The line included the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor. For more information on this significant find, click here.

Cannibalism in Polar Bears

The number of witnessed cases of polar bears eating young bear cubs seems to be on the increase. The picture above shows a male polar bear dragging the grisly remains of a cub that it caught and killed in the Hudson Bay area, Canada, after separating it from its mother. Some scientists are saying that this is related to climate change and the increased difficulties being placed on the bears hunting habits. The bears are may be forced into eating their own kind when the slower formation of Arctic ice leaves them with a shrinking platform from which to hunt seals. However, Inuit leaders dismissed the idea of any link between cannibalism and climate change saying that this was a "common occurrence". Never the less, the picture tells a harrowing tale.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hard Shell Turtle Washed Up on Clare Beach

A hard shelled loggerhead turtle was found yesterday washed up on a Clare beach. The loggerhead is an endangered species and its natural habitat is warmer waters. Below 10 degrees, it goes into a comatose state, as was the case with this animal. Local wildlife expexts from Shannon Dolphin & Wildlife Foundation were quick to act. The turtle, christened 'Imirceach' or 'Little Migrant', is now in Lahinch Seaworld in quarantine. It is hoped that the turtle can be returned to its natural habitat in the Azores early next year.

Balding Bear Bares All

A Spectacled Bear named Dolores (pictured above), which is resident in Germany's Zoo Leipzig, is going bald. Although not believed to be life threatening, Zoo experts are working to cure the bears' unfortunate condition. Spectacled bears—also called Andean bears—live in the mountains of South America and are the continent's only bear species. However, this is not the first time this has happen to a spectacled bear in captivity. Keepers in a zoo in Ecuador cured an affected bear there by feeding it a natural diet of fruits and bamboo and by providing added enrichment items, such as toys and exotic foods, into the bear's enclosure. Four months later the fur grew back. Hopefully Dolores and her friends will soon have a full coat of fur too. For more information on the spectacled bear (and to see what they look like with fur) click here.

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 21, 1833. Alfred Nobel is best known as a chemist and inventor of dynamite and other, more powerful explosives but also for the annual prizes which bear his name. Today, December 10th, is the anniversary of his death in 1896 and also the anniversary of the first Nobel Prizes in 1901.

An explosives expert like his father, in 1866 he invented a safe and manageable form of nitroglycerin he called dynamite, and later, smokeless gunpowder and (1875) gelignite. He quickly created an industrial empire manufacturing many of his other inventions. Nobel amassed a huge fortune, much of which he left in a fund to endow the annual prizes that bear his name. The first Nobel Prizes were handed out for achievements in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The sixth prize, for economics, was instituted in his honour in 1969. For more information on the life and work of Alfred Nobel click here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Science Gallery - New Exhibition

The Science Gallery, found within the grounds of Trinity College, has a new exhibition which runs to the 13th December. It's called "What If" which "probes the space between reality and the impossible and where designers meet scientists to explore the future". It tries to answer questions such as "WHAT IF...animals could be used as a life support machine? (picture above) WHAT IF...you could smell the perfect partner? WHAT IF... you could modify clouds to snow ice-cream?".

"What If" is curated by leading London based design duo Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. It's definitely worth checking out but some exhibits may not be suitable for young children. For more information on the Science Gallery click here or for details on the What If exhibits click here. Admission is free too!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Green Party Frog Survey

John Gormley, our Minister for the Environment, is commissioning a national "frog survey", as reported today on the Fine Gael website. The cost of the survey is estimated to be in the region of €125,000. Some might say that this is the government "spawning" our hard earned cash as the new budget looms, but us Frog Bloggers reckon he should "hop" to it. In the end, he might end up counting them all himself. It will be easy enough though, as we only have one type of frog in Ireland, Rana temporaria, or the common frog (shown above). Click here to find out more about Ireland's only frog!

Copenhagen Climate Change Summit

As you might be already aware, there is a major meeting of the world's leading climate change experts in Copenhagen this week. In all, representatives from 192 countries are trying to iron out the main issues around climate change and agree on what needs to be done to prevent further global temperature increases. To keep up with the issues and find out what is happened at the summit, the Frog Blog recommends the Guardian's dedicated website on the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit (available by clicking here). The site is full of videos, comments and up to date news. Enjoy.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Virgin Atlantic SS2 Revealed

Last week, Richard Branson revealed his new Virgin Galactic Space Ship 2 (SS2) which will begin transporting space tourists into the upper atmosphere in the coming years. SS2 is 12ft long and is designed to carry six "space tourists" and two pilots beyond the Kármán line (the generally acknowledged boundary of space, 100km up). For a few minutes, they will experience weightlessness while gazing out of aeroplane-style windows at the curvature of the Earth, the thin surface of the atmosphere and, perhaps, other planets. By then the rocket's engines will have been switched off, so the ensuing silence will add to the power of the experience. SS2 has been in development for nearly five years, alongside the construction of White Knight Two (shown above transporting the SS2) – the 140ft wingspan "mothership" that will ferry the smaller rocket ship 50,000ft into the sky before it detaches, then blasts up to the edge of space at up to 2,600mph. Amazingly, while each Space Shuttle mission is estimated to cost around $1bn, a Virgin Galactic flight (obviously much shorter, and far less complex) is put at less than $2m.

Science Fact of the Week 38 - Uranium

Uranium is a heavy, lustrous, silvery-white metal, capable of taking a high polish. It occurs in many isotopes and is used for nuclear fuels and nuclear weapons. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on earth. It was first discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, who isolated an oxide of uranium while analyzing pitchblende samples from the Joachimsal silver mines in the former Kingdom of Bohemia located in the present day Czech Republic. Uranium was named after the planet Uranus, discovered only eight years earlier in 1791. Uranium is quite a common element, is 40 times more naturally abundant than silver. A uranium-238 atom has 92 protons and 146 neutrons in its nucleus. Uranium is of great importance as a nuclear fuel. Nuclear fuels are used to generate electrical power, to make isotopes, and to make weapons. This is because uranium is radioactive.

The phenomenon of radioactivity was accidentally discovered in 1896 when Henri Becquerel put a rock in a drawer. The rock contained uranium, and the drawer contained a photographic plate, which was well-wrapped and shielded from the light. Some weeks later, when Becquerel unwrapped and developed the plate, he found rays of light on the photograph emanating exactly from the point of contact where the rock had been resting on it. Being a scientist, he was astounded. He could think of no possible way in which an inert rock could spontaneously be releasing energy -- especially such a penetrating form of energy. Moreover, the energy release had taken place in total darkness, in the absence of any external stimulation -- there was no chemical reaction, no exposure to sunlight, nor anything else. Becquerel had discovered radioactivity.

However, it took until 1938 to discover that uranium could be split to release energy, that is fission. This was accomplished by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman. In fact, one tonne of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tonnes of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil. There are currently 104 operating U.S. nuclear power plants that produce over 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Tilt of Uranus

Below is an extract from an article from New Scientist.

Please try to resist the childish jokes, but the fact is that the odd tilt of Uranus may be the result of a particularly large moon. Uranus spins on an axis almost parallel with the plane of the solar system, rather than perpendicular to it – though why it does this nobody knows. One theory is that the tilt is the result of a collision with an Earth-sized object, but this "hasn't succeeded in explaining much of anything", says Ignacio Mosqueira of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. Why, for example, are the orbits of Uranus's 27 known moons not also tilted.

Now Gwenaël Boué and Jacques Laskar at the Paris Observatory in France have come up with another explanation: Uranus may once have had an unusually massive extra moon. If the moon had 1 per cent of the mass of Uranus – and orbited at a certain distance – it would slightly unbalance the planet and increase its wobble about its axis. After about 2 million years, the wobbling could have become exaggerated enough to tip the planet on its side. Read on.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ireland's Mammals - Lesser Horseshoe Bat

Bats, like all mammals, are covered in fur, they have warm blood, they give birth (rather than laying eggs) and they suckle their babies with milk. Of the nine species of bat that are resident in Ireland, the Lesser Horseshoe Bat (or Rhinolophus hipposideros) is one of the rarest. It is called the lesser horseshoe bat because it has a horseshoe-shaped flap (called a noseleaf) around its nostrils. The Lesser Horseshoe Bat is one of the world's smallest bats, weighing only 5 to 9 grams, with a wingspan of 192-254 mm and a body length of 35-45 mm. Because they have a weak echolocation (or navigation) system, lesser horseshoe bats need to have landscape structures such as trees, woodlands, walls and hedgerows in order to be able to find their way around and hunt for food.

The lesser horseshoe bat is found in parts of the west of Ireland, from Mayo to Cork. Lesser horseshoe bats use old abandoned stone buildings with slate roofs for their summer roosts. Modern buildings are often unsuitable. Most lesser horseshoes hibernate in mines, caves, cellars or ice houses during the cold winter months. They do not huddle together in groups during hibernation, like other species do, though there may be a number of bats in one hibernation site. Lesser horseshoes feed at dusk, hunting for midges, moths, crane flies and caddis flies. They catch their prey in flight or pick them off vegetation.

Young are born in maternity colonies in late June or early July. If the colony is disturbed, the mother may carry her baby to a new roost. The young bat grows quickly and is independent after about five weeks.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

We loved the "short" version of his book (A Short History of Nearly Everything) and now there is a "really short" version. Bill Bryson again travels through time and space to bring the world, the universe and everything to a younger audience. Packed with photographs, cartoons and illustrations this is the perfect book for enquiring minds who want to uncover the wonder and mysteries of science. Dare we say it, another great stocking filler.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Science Fact of the Week 37 - Largest Reptile

The largest living reptile on Earth is the Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile. Males are an average of 5 meters in length and weigh over 450 kilograms, but specimens 7 meters long and weighing 1,000 kilograms are not uncommon. Saltwater crocodiles, or "salties," as Australians affectionately refer to them, have an enormous range, populating the brackish and freshwater regions of eastern India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia. They are excellent swimmers and have often been spotted far out at sea. Classic opportunistic predators, they lurk patiently beneath the surface near water's edge waiting for potential prey to stop for a sip of water. They’ll feed on anything they can get their jaws on, including water buffalo, monkeys, wild boar, and even sharks. Without warning, they explode from the water with a thrash of their powerful tails, grasp their victim, and drag it back in, holding it under until the animal drowns.

Population estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000 worldwide, and they are considered at low risk for extinction. But saltwater crocodiles hides are valued above all other crocodilians, and illegal hunting, habitat loss, and antipathy toward the species because of its reputation as a man-eater continue to put pressure on the population. They reproduce in the wet season, with the female crocodile laying up to 60 eggs at a time. When the crocodiles are born, only a very small number of these survive in the wild and grow to be adult crocodiles. Amazingly, the temperature of the egg determines the sex of the offspring.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Atlantis Touches Down

Rather unusually we didn't follow NASA's latest shuttle mission this week. The fact that it is exam week didn't help. Well anyway, here is photo from the NASA website of Atlantis touching down in Florida after completing mission STS - 129, a delivery of spare parts to the International Space Station. Only five shuttle flights remain, all to the space station next year. Station construction will essentially end at that point, so NASA used the trip to send up as many hefty spare parts as possible. None of the other visiting spacecraft — from Russia, Japan and Europe — can carry so much in a single load. Atlantis, which delivered nearly 15 tonnes of gear, left the space station 86% complete. The shuttle is due to be replaced by the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule. For more information on the space shuttle, click here. To watch a video of the touch down, click here.

Diagram Maker

Diagram Maker is a drawing resource for producing neat, accurate diagrams of experimental apparatus. Students who struggle to draw neat diagrams for assessments can be encouraged to use this resource to produce high quality results independently. Teachers may wish to use it to draw diagrams that can be used on worksheets. This is similar to computer packages for drawing, with the bonus of including the main pieces of science experimental equipment as versatile line diagrams, that can be selected and positioned. Click here to use Diagram Maker.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Hammerhead Shark Vision

New research has revealed the reason for the oddly shaped cranium of the hammerhead shark. Scientists in the US have discovered that the odd shape of the head allows the sharks, which can grow up to 20 ft long, to have a 360 degree field of vision in all directions. Not only do they have front, back and side vision they can also see vertically and judge depths, claims the study. The evolution of the odd shaped head has been a mystery to scientists for many years, and many reasons such as manoeuvrability, smell and inbuilt "sonar" have been hypothesised. But this is the first time it has been proved that the odd shape improves their eyesight. The researchers used a machine called an "electroretinogram" to test the field of vision - firing a tiny beam of light at the shark in a darkened tank from all directions. Electrodes embedded in the shark then picked up any signals sent from the eye to the brain. Comparing them with pointy nosed species, the team found that the scalloped hammerheads had the largest visual field for each eye. Both eyes together offer all round vision and even overlap at the front, creating an effect like binoculars. Fascinating stuff. For more information click here.

National Geographic's Weekly Space Photos

National Geographic publish newly released photos of our universe each week on their brilliant website. This week's publication includes photos of the Crab Nebula (shown above), a solar sunami, the Earth from the ISS, dust from Centaurus and an artist's depiction of the birth of a star. The Crab Nebula is described as "the remnant of a stellar explosion 6,000 light-years from Earth that was so powerful people saw the burst in A.D. 1054, according to NASA". Click here to see more.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Science Essay Competition Winners

Congratulations to the winners of our Science Week Essay Competition. The winner in the senior section is Aoise Keogan Nooshabadi (Form IV) for her excellent essay on “Time”. The junior prize is won by Ben Richardson (Form II) for his essay on “Stars”. They both will receive a €50 voucher for HMV. Well done.

To read Ben's essay click here and for Aoise's click here.

Famous Irish Scientists - William Hayes (OC)

William Hayes (FRS) was a physician, microbiologist and geneticist who made significant contributions to modern genetics and molecular biology. William Hayes established the research field of bacterial genetics, when he discovered the processes of genetic transfer during cell reproduction. He will also be remembered for his superb classic textbook: The Genetics of Bacteria and Their Viruses (1964).

He was born on the 18th January 1913, in Edmondstown and attended school here in St. Columba's College from 1927. He is reported to have done extremely well in his entrance exam. His formal schooling did not include science but, as was the custom of the day, focused on the classics. In 1929, he won the Lord Pembroke Prize for Mathematics. Bill particularly appreciated the efforts of one master, Dr Sandham Willis (after whom a classroom is named in St. Columba's), who encouraged William to read beyond the school curriculum.

After his time in St. Columba's, Hayes attended Trinity College studying medicine. There he started to learn bacteriology and immunology under Professor J.W. Bigger, which stimulated his interest to the point that he enrolled to take an extra year to read for an Honours Degree in Natural Science in which he could specialize in bacteriology. After completing this degree, he continued to work with Bigger as his assistant. In 1941, Hayes joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and spent time in India during the Second World War. On his return from the war, he took up a post in Trinity College Dublin as a Lecturer in Bacteriology. In 1949 he used his presidential address to the pathology section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland to explain the recent developments in bacterial genetics and their significance for medicine. He submitted his accumulated published work for the degree of Doctor of Science and this degree was duly conferred by Dublin University in 1948. Subsequently, he accepted a post as Senior Lecturer in Bacteriology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith in London in 1950. Here he continued to carry out research in the area of bacteriology and genetics. In 1964 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). This led the way to a change of scenery for William and in 1968 he moved to Edinburgh and was appointed as Professor of Molecular Genetics in Edinburgh University. However, in Edinburgh he had little time for research as his teaching commitments were high.

In 1974 he moved to Australia and was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Genetics, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University where he stayed for four years. He continued his research there, most notably on E. coli. He retired from teaching in 1979, but was a visiting fellow of the Botany Department of ANU until 1986.

He died on the 7th January 1994 from heart problems. He will be remembered as one of Ireland's great modern scientists but also as a great Columban. A plague in his honour is on view in the Science Building of St. Columba's College.

St. Columba's on Twitter

The school is now on Twitter! The tweets are available on the News page on the main website, with up to date news on events and the school schedule. You can also visit the main twitter page by clicking here. SCC English are also on twitter! It has been a great twittery week in all!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Our NetVibes Page

Do you want to see and read what we like to see and read? Well now you can by visiting the Frog Blog's NetVibes page. Netvibes is a personalised start page or personal web portal, organised by tabs, which allows you to keep up to date with your favourite websites, blogs, twitter pages, facebook and more. There are also loads of games and widgets to play with. The Frog Blog Netvibes page contains feeds from the best in science and education websites, both nationally and internationally. Click here to visit now!

Penguin Wallpapers

Penguin Corner has been a little neglected of late, and we haven't provided any new wallpapers for a while. So, let's kill two (flightless) birds with the one stone.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

On the Origin of Species Anniversary

Today, November 24th, marks the 150th anniversary of the first publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. It was met with significant resistance at the time, especially from the church, but remains a seminal work of literature. If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, why not check the book out of the library today (there are several copies). It is well worth a read and is easy to follow, if a little long winded. Since then, there has been enormous debate as to whether Darwin's theory of Natural Selection is without flaw.

National Geographic today publish a series of six articles looking at some difficult to explain phenomena in the story of evolution. They then outline the evolutionist argument. A great article and worth checking out. Click here.

Edublog Awards Nomination

The Frog Blog's nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards are as follows:

Good luck to one and all!

Library Staff Selection

Our school librarian, Mr. Tom McConville has recently launched a new display in the library. This will showcase the books that have influenced selected teachers in St. Columba’s College, both professionally and personally. The first such display is from Mr. Peter Jackson, a chemistry and biology teacher in St. Columba's (who incidentally celebrates his birthday tomorrow). He has written a short piece on each book also. All of these books are great reads and definitely worth checking out.

Peter Jackson Book Selection A

Monday, 23 November 2009

Science Fact of the Week 36 - Hydrogen

Hydrogen is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, flammable gas that is the simplest of all chemical elements. The hydrogen atom has a nucleus consisting of one proton and one electron. Although on Earth hydrogen ranks ninth among the elements in abundance, making 0.9% of the mass of the planet, it is by far the most abundant element in the universe, accounting for about 75% of the mass of all matter. Collected by gravitational forces of stars, hydrogen is converted into helium by nuclear fusion, a process that supplies the energy of the stars, including the sun.

Hydrogen is present in all animal and plant tissues in the form of compounds in which it is combined with carbon and other elements. In the form of hydrocarbons, it is a constituent of petroleum and coal. It also constitutes nearly 11 percent of the mass of seawater. The hydrogen content of the Earth's atmosphere remains low because of the continual escape of the gas into space.

Annual Geogrpahy Lecture - Dr. Neil Stronach (OC)

Last night in the BSR, scientist Dr Neil Stronach, Old Columban, cheered us all up in this gloomy November weather with a fine illustrated talk about his time working in national parks in Tanzania, as the Annual Geography Lecture. He showed many slides of wildlife in places such as Serengeti. He also spoke about how he had been inspired while at SCC to pursue a science career by his biology teacher, Bud McMullen, who returned yesterday evening to hear the lecture. Neil Stronach now lives in Cork, and for twelve years was director of Fota Wildlife Park; he is now a consultant in Biodiversity and Wildlife Conservation Management. (From St. Columba's News)

Interview with Charles Darwin

Rowan Hopper, from New Scientist, asks the questions. Charles Darwin delivers the answers? Well, this seemingly impossible interview is now brought to life. Using Darwin's words, Hopper recreates the questions which nobody had a chance to ask. Below is an extract from the article, but click here for the full "transcript".

Hopper: What was it like, coming up with the idea that changed the world?

Darwin: Like confessing a murder.

Hopper: The emotional and physical struggle you went through must have taken its toll.

Darwin: I have suffered from almost incessant vomiting for nine months, & that has so weakened my brain, that any excitement brings on whizzing & fainting feelings.

Hopper: You would clearly rather I didn't excite you further, but I must say that when I grasped your idea that life has been changing, evolving, for billions of years, I was captivated.

Darwin: You cannot imagine how pleased I am that the notion of Natural Selection has acted as a purgative on your bowels of immutability. Whenever naturalists can look at species changing as certain, what a magnificent field will be open.

Hopper: Quite so. Now I must put to you the question that authors are inevitably asked: how did you get your ideas?

Darwin: It seemed to me probable that allied species were descended from a common parent. But for some years I could not conceive how each form became so excellently adapted to its habits of life. I then began systematically to study domestic productions, & after a time saw clearly that man's selective power was the most important agent. I was prepared from having studied the habits of animals to appreciate the struggle for existence, & my work in geology gave me some idea of the lapse of past time. Therefore when I happened to read "Malthus on population" the idea of Natural selection flashed on me.

Saturday, 21 November 2009


We're now on Twitter! Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are much shorter than convenetional blog posts, only 140 characters. We hope to use twitter to update you, the reader, on our daily activities and thoughts on the Frog Blog. To follow us on twitter click here to visit our twitter page. Our most recent tweets are available on the right of the page, just scroll down a tad. While you're at it, why not become a friend of the Frog Blog on Facebook by clicking here.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Golden Spider Awards - Results

OK, so we didn't win. But it was an honour being shortlisted, so they say. Many congratulations to the worthy winner within the Best Blog category, Ronan Lyons, for his excellent blog which focuses on the Irish economy, world economy and the property market. His site is very well designed, presented and very much relevant to today's blog reader. Well done.

But science education websites were not left out in the cold last night. Discover Primary Science took home the spider for Best Education, Research & Training Website. The primary science site is an excellent resources for both primary and secondary teachers of science. Well done to one and all. Oh yeah, we're back as the Frog Blog again!

Science Spin Article

In this month's Science Spin, Ireland's top science magazine, Tom Kennedy writes about plans to create a complete encyclopaedia of all earth's living things. Below is an extract from the article. Click here for the complete article or here to find our more about the Encyclopaedia of Life.

"Biologists have joined together in an ambitious project to create an encyclopaedia of all the world's known species, plant and animal. This is the first time that a comprehensive description of the world's diversity has been attempted. The venture is called the EOL (or Encyclopaedia of Life) Project. The number of known species is close to 2 million, and biologists estimate that there could be in the region of 10 million different forms of life on Earth.The actual number of different species depends on how strictly we define the term, and while we all know the difference between a horse, a dog and a cat, it can take the keen eye of a birdwatcher to distinguish between one type of crow and another. Even so, a jackdaw is a lot different from a rook. Apart from a significant difference in size, a jackdaw is not going to become matey with a rook, or indeed any other type of crow, and this is one of the ways that scientists can tell one species from another. About thirty types of crow inhabit the world, and each of these species could be regarded as a distinct gene pool."

Science Spin has a great website, blog and radio show (podcasts available by clicking here). Check them out. To view this month's web issue of Science Spin, click here.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Toad Blog (Just for Today)

Today, in solidarity with the Republic of Ireland soccer team, and in particular reflecting our sense of disquiet with Thierry Henry, the Frog Blog will temporarily change its name to the Toad Blog. We do not want to be associated with anything Frenchy today! Allez les verde, oh I mean, come on Ireland!

Please wish us luck in the Golden Spider Awards tonight in the Burlington Hotel. We are up for Best Blog along with our SCC English comrades!

Darwin & Evolution

The Irish Times Science Daily supplement (which we are loving these days, keep it up guys) features two excellent articles today. The first is a look at Charles Darwin's evolution as a scientist, particularly as a geologist (click here), while the second looks at how fifteen recent scientific studies (all of which were published in Nature) are providing powerful "evolving evidence" for the theory (click here). Featured below is number one, the origin of feathers. We published a long series of posts on Darwin's bicentenary earlier this year. Click here to see.

The Origin of Feathers

The fossil record is one of the main pillars of evidence on which the theory of evolution stands. But critics claim the fossil record is fatally flawed because of the lack of “transitional forms” that illustrate intermediates in the transition of one major group of animals to another. The critics are wrong, and the first two cases I will cite describe examples of transitional forms. Evolutionists tell us that modern birds are descended from dinosaurs. A famous fossil that provides evidence for this was discovered in Bavaria in 1861. The fossil is called Archaeopteryx . The creature displays reptilian features, such as teeth and a long, bony tail, but it also has wings and flight feathers like a bird. It is commonly interpreted as a fossil of the earliest known bird. But has the fossil record thrown up any dinosaurs with feathers – unambiguous transitional forms?

Yes. Fossils found in China in the 1980s showed a variety of dinosaurs with feathers and feathery plumage. Many of these feathered dinosaurs could not have flown, which means that feathers evolved for reasons other than flight (heat insulation, for example). Flight was an extra opportunity that was exploited by creatures already carrying feathers.

New Lungless Amphibian Found

A new amphibian species, which looks like a giant worm, has been discovered in Guyana. The newly discovered species can survive on land with no nostrils, lungs, or legs. The creature is part of the wormlike group of amphibians known as caecilians (one of which is pictured above). Only one other caecilian species is known to live without lungs. In general, the presence of lungs is among the key characteristics that make amphibians different from fish, but this species breathes through its skin.

Until recently, scientists thought salamanders were the only amphibians that lack lungs. But in 1995 researchers found the first known lungless caecilian, and in 2008 another team reported a tiny, land-dwelling, lungless frog (click here to see a National Geographic story on the lungless frog). The new species is even more of a surprise because the animal, Caecilita iwokramae, is strikingly different from the other known lungless caecilian. Caecilita lives on land and is just 11 cm long, while its lungless relative is fully aquatic and reaches 70 cm in length.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


WHO-POOP-ED is a great website allowing you discover how scientists use animals' poo or dung to find out more about them, especially their diet. It's a fun game, where you have to match up the poo with the animal. You'll learn about how the poo is influenced by the kinds of food the animal eats and the structure of its digestive system. One of the animals included is the ostrich, featured in this week's Science Fact of the Week. It's great fun, so check it out by clicking here. Thanks to SCC English for the link. Who knows how they found that one?

Ireland’s Mammals – The Grey Seal


The Grey Seal, or Halichoerus grypus, is one of two types of seals in Irish waters, the other being the Common Seal. The Grey Seal occurs in greatest numbers on the western seaboard of Ireland although Grey Seals are found in Dublin Bay and at the Saltee Islands, Co Wexford. In fact half of the world’s population are found around the British Isles. It is a medium sized seal, with the bulls reaching 2.5–3.3 m in length and weighing up to 300 kg; the cows are much smaller, typically 1.6–2.0 m long and 100–150 kg weight. It differs from the Common Seal by its straight head profile with nostrils that are well apart, and fewer spots on its body. The body is streamlined to allow easy swimming and both the fore and hind limbs have been modified into flippers used to propel the seal through the water. These seals, whilst quite large, are very well adapted to swimming and the marine environment. They have a lifespan of between 26 and 38 years old.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Cell Size & Scale

Here is a link to a brilliant web flash animation showing how cell and organelle sizes compare across the living kingdoms. The animation allows you to slide a cursor to zoom in, slowly revealing smaller and smaller objects. From coffee bean to ameoba to skin cell to X chromosome to lysosome to HIV virus to carbon atom. An excellent animation suitable for all age groups. Click on the image above or here to see the animation. There is also a great flash animation looking inside plant and animal cells. Click here to see. Thanks to Piero for the links!

Parasitic Mind Controlling Flies

Phorid flies are parasitizing on fire ants, a new scientific study has revealed. Details of the flies gruesome reproductive habits are truly fascinating. It has been disclosed that the flies lay their eggs in fire ants. The egg develops into a maggot, which then seems to be able to control the movement and behaviour of the ants. The maggot "directs" the ant to a moist, leafy place—phorid larvae are vulnerable to drying out—a safe distance from other fire ants. The maggot then eats the energy rich brain of the fire ant, causes the head to fall off (see picture above) and then hatches around 40 days later. Nice?

For more information on this grisly and fascinating act, click here. Thanks to Aoise Keogan Nooshabadi (Form IV) for leading us to this great story!

Monday, 16 November 2009

ICT in Education Smokescreen?

The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and Minister for Education, Batt O'Keeffe, have announced plans for a €150 million investment in ICT in education. The government promises that every school classroom in the country will have a laptop and a projector within three years. Details have not been released on how the project, penned Smart Economy, Smart Schools, will be implemented and rolled out or what training and staff support will be on offer. However, any investment in ICT in education is a good thing, and we at the Frog Blog welcome the development. However, it has emerged that the money for this project will be channelled out of current funds available for school buildings. Is this just a smokescreen? We also have doubts about whether the resources will be put fully into use, and wonder why there was no mention of interactive whiteboards in the proposal.

Science Fact of the Week 35 - The Biggest Living Bird

The largest and strongest living bird is the ostrich, or Struthio camelus. The ostrich is a flightless bird native to Africa. It is the only living species of its family. Males can be up to 9 feet (3 m) tall and weigh over 150 kg, but are typically about 8 feet (2.5m) tall and about 100 kg. Although ostriches cannot fly, they are very fast runners, reaching speeds over 40 mph. They may use their wings as "rudders" to help them change direction while running. An ostrich's powerful, long legs can cover 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) in a single stride. These legs can also be formidable weapons. Each two-toed foot has a long, sharp claw. Their small, flat heads and long necks are almost bare and the rest of their body is covered with longer feathers. The plumage of adult males is glossy black, and the wings and tail feathers are white. The females and young males are greyish-brown. A flock is usually made up of one male and two to six females.

Each female lays two to five eggs in the communal nest. Consequently, the clutch will range from 12 to 16 eggs. Each egg will weigh about 1.5 kg. The nest is simply a cavity scooped from the ground. The dominant pair (male and female) take turns sitting on the nest. If threatened while sitting on the nest, the hen will press her long neck flat along the ground, blending with the background. Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. In the wild, they are found in dry and sandy regions of Africa, and are very well adapted to desert life. Ostriches typically eat plants, roots, and seeds but will also eat insects, lizards, or other creatures available in their sometimes harsh habitat. When fully grown they have one of the most advanced immune systems of any animal. The ostrich has the largest eye of any land animal - measuring almost five centimeters across. Ostriches have been raised in captivity as a source of food.

The biggest bird ever to live was another flightless bird, the Giant Moa, native to New Zealand, which went extinct in the late 1700's or early 1800's. They were over 13 feet tall! However, the extinct Elephant Birds of Madagascar would have been the heaviest birds, weighting over a tonne each.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Journey of Oil

They say a picture tells a thousand words. Well that is certainly the case in this presentation, from Ted.com, as Edward Burtynsky follows the path of oil through modern society. Using stunning large-format photographs, oil is followed from wellhead to pipeline to car engine and beyond. This short but excellent presentation is a real insight into the world of oil manufacture and the landscape created by it. For more information and to see the photos in more detail, click here.

Friday, 13 November 2009

New Dinosaur Fossil - Sauropod Ancestor

A new dinosaur fossil has been uncovered in South Africa which may reveal the secrets of how some of the giant dinosaurs of the Jurassic Period got so big. Sauropods, the largest of the dinosaurs, were giant plant eaters which walked on all fours and had long necks and tails. This newly discovered dinosaur, Aardonyx celestae, appears to be a close relative of the sauropods that would have walked on two legs for most of the time yet would have walked on four legs when eating. Palaeontologists also believe that this animal would have eaten in the same way as a sauropod, gulping food with its gaping mouth. In Aardonyx, this binge-eating adaptation probably paved the way for sauropods to evolve their titanic sizes, the researchers say. For more information on this story, click here.