o The Frog Blog: January 2009

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Charles Darwin - His Further Studies

In 1825, At the age of 16, Darwin followed in his father's footsteps and began his university studies in medicine in Edinburgh. Charles's brother Erasmus also came to Edinburgh in 1825 for a hospital residency after completing his course work at Christ's College in Cambridge. At first they were both enthusiastic about learning if not about lectures, taking out more books from the library than all the other students combined. But Erasmus stayed in Edinburgh for only four months, after which he returned to Shrewsbury to assist his father, leaving Charles to face the trials of medical training alone.

Edinburgh was the best choice for studying medicine for Charles, but unfortunately it proved not to be something for which he had any particular enthusiasm. Although he had spent the summer of 1825 in Shropshire helping his father treat the local poor, and found it satisfying, he found little to like at Edinburgh. While he found the lectures "intolerably dull" - even those on zoology, which was to become his life-long passion, he did start to take a few tentative steps into the world of science, including becoming a member of the Royal Medical Society. He found the anatomy sessions disturbing; he attended two surgeries, both done without anaesthesia. After the second, a particularly gruesome operation on a small child, he swore never to return to the operating room. Charles spent the summer of 1826 hiking through North Wales with friends, and then went to Maer, the Wedgwood estate, to hunt rabbits, birds, and foxes.

In his second year, 1826–1827, Charles was just as dissatisfied with his lectures and had lost his enthusisam for the library. He did, however, become a friend of Dr. Robert Grant, a physician and lecturer at Edinburgh with a particular interest in marine biology. Grant took him to meetings of the Wernerian Society, where he heard lectures by the master bird-watcher John Audubon and others. During the two years at Edinburgh Darwin almost certainly heard about the idea of evolution for the first time. But the evolution he heard about remained a vague, mysterious process that depended on unknown mechanisms. It was starting to seem clear to some that all living beings were related, but as of yet it was difficult to say how they were related.

The combination of his lack of interest in medicine with his absolute squeamishness at the prospect of surgery boded ill for his success in the profession. His father scolded him for his "indolent" lifestyle. After Charles's second year at Edinburgh, Robert Darwin, realising that Charles would not follow in his footsteps, encouraged him to seek another occupation. His father sent him to Christ's College in Cambridge to study to become an Anglican Parson. He became a close friend and follower of botany professor John Stevens Henslow and met other leading naturalists who saw scientific work as religious natural theology. He completed his studies in 1831, and after he graduated he was offered a situation by Henslow for a self-funded place with captain Robert FitzRoy on HMS Beagle, which was to leave in four weeks on an expedition to chart the coastline of South America. His father objected to the planned two-year voyage, regarding it as a waste of time, but was persuaded by his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood, to agree to his son’s participation.

The next post will describe Darwin's trip on the Beagle and how it inspired him to develop his Theory of Natural Selection.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Internation Space Station

The International Space Station (pictured above) can be seen passing in front of the moon in the Irish skies this week. Should the weather improve, there will be ample opportunity to see this amazing feat of engineering in the night sky. Astronomy Ireland's website outlines further details of the times and even offer a text service to inform you when you can see it. You can go to their website by clicking here.

Respiration Summary

Respiration is the enzyme controlled breakdown of glucose into carbon dioxide and water, yielding energy which is used to synthesise ATP for use in cellular reactions. Attached find a two page summary of the process of respiration for use with Leaving Certificate Biology. Click here to download.

The First Pace Maker

Today in 1957, an external artificial pacemaker with internal heart electrode was first used. To maintain a patient's heartbeat rhythm, an electrode was sewn to the wall of the heart and connected through the chest to an external desk-top pulse generator. A team of scientists at the University of Minnesota, led by Dr C. Walton Lillehei, made this medical advance. However, such bulky equipment was not a good long-term solution since infection often occurred along the electrode wires, and the device required no interruption in the house electricity. So Dr. Lillehei also initiated research on the use of a small portable external pacemaker for these patients with heart block. This ultimately led to the development of the billion-dollar pacemaker industry.
The picture above shows a pacemaker as seen on an X-Ray and to the right, a diagram outlining how pacemakers are fitted to a patient.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Biology Prize - Last Chance to Enter.

The closing date for entries into this year's Biology Prize is tomorrow. Any pupil interesting is to submit a 500 word summary on any Biology topic of their choice via e-mail to info@sccscience.com. The best entries will be selected to present their chosen topic at a later date. Good luck.

Charles Darwin - The Early Years

Darwin (or "Charley" as he was known by his family) described himself as being "a rather naughty child". This is borne out in his stories of stealing fruit from the orchard trees on the side of his parents' house, making up wild stories, and striving to be the centre of attention in the family. He was also a very clumsy boy. Darwin recounts one story of his childhood in which he was strolling along a stone wall, apparently lost in thought, and walked right off the edge and fell about eight feet to the ground!

Charley had excellent athletic abilities, being a swift runner and an excellent rock thrower. There are some indications that he was a rather gullible child. On one occasion a childhood friend of Darwin's convinced him that if he went into any shop in Shrewsbury and wore a special hat which he moved in a certain way for the shopkeeper, he could take whatever he wanted for free. Well, Darwin tried the hat in a bakery shop, took some cakes, moved the hat for the shopkeeper, and headed out the door. Imagine the shock when the man made a rush for poor Darwin as he dropped the cakes and ran for dear life!

Ironic as it may seem, Charles Darwin was a lazy young man, and a slow learner in school. He was at first educated by his sister, Caroline, before attending Revd. Case's grammar school in Shrewsbury. He was a rather shy student but he did take great pleasure in showing off his athletic skills to the other school boys. It is not known how well Darwin did at Revd. Case's school, but it is safe to say that he was an unremarkable student.

The first sparks of interest in natural history were developed very early in his childhood. Darwin relates how his mother, Susannah, taught him how to change the colour of flowers by giving them water mixed with food colouring. He was also, at a very early age, interested in the variability of plants, and was perhaps influenced here by the gardens his father kept at the house. As a young boy he delighted in collecting minerals, insects, coins, stamps and other odd bits. Darwin did not, however, put much study into these objects, and seems to have collected them for the mere pleasure of it. Darwin also had an extreme fondness for dogs - easily winning their affection, and took great pleasure in fishing along the River Severn that flowed along the back of his parents' house.

How did his love of natural science develop? His increased interest in natural science was spurred on by events outside his formal education. These events were: (1) the many hikes he went on in North Wales, (2) a book he read many times during this period, and (3) helping his brother, Erasmus, in his chemistry lab in the back garden. They conducted experiments from 1822 until Erasmus set off for Christ's College, at the University of Cambridge, to study medicine.
At the age of sixteen, Charles was taken aside by his father Robert and told that it was time for him to make something of himself. He would go to the University of Edinburgh, where his father and grandfather had trained to become doctors. His brother Erasmus, who had been studying medicine at the University of Cambridge, would join him there. On Saturday we will publish some detail about his time in Edinburgh!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Charles Darwin - Build up to the Bicentenary

On February 12th 2009, the world will mark the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. There are many events which have been organised to commemorate this day. The BBC are broadcasting a new documentary series based on the life and works of Darwin, hosted by Sir David Attenborough; Darwin's home, Downe House, will become a World Heritage Site; the HMS Beagle is being rebuilt; Cambridge will play host to a number of Darwin exhibits and events throughout 2009 - and many other events are on the cards.

As Darwin fans, we at the Frog Blog will be joining-in the celebrations by posting a series of short pieces about the life and works of the great man. We start tomorrow with "the Early Years".

Stem Cells in the News

British scientists will apply this year to start patient trials of an embryonic stem-cell therapy for the commonest cause of blindness. If approved, the study will be the second of its kind, after US regulators last week cleared the first human trial of the powerful master cells. The US decision to approve the trial of a paralysis treatment by the Geron Corporation will open the way for a team at University College London to test a similar therapy for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) on patients.

Embryonic stem cells are master cells found in human embryos that give rise to all the specialised tissues in the body. They have exciting medical potential as a source of replacement tissue for treating disease or injury, though their use is controversial because they involve the destruction of human embryos. The Geron trial, which will begin in the summer, will be the first to test on patients a therapy based on embryonic stem cells. It will investigate the safety and effectiveness of injecting specialised spinal cells grown from the master tissue into people paralysed from the chest down.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Thoughts on Schools and Creativity

Our thanks are due to well known author Belinda Seaward for alerting us to this interesting talk on creativity and how school systems often serve to stifle it. This is an amusing and often thought provoking look at what schools are for by Sir Ken Robinson.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Science Fact of the Week 8 - The Human Body

With the Bodies Exhibition in town, I thought it might be nice to publish a series of interesting facts about the human body!

Did You Know?
  • A human being loses an average of 40 to 100 strands of hair a day.
  • A cough releases an explosive charge of air that moves at speeds up to 60 mph.
  • Every time you lick a stamp, you consume 1/10 of a calorie.
  • A foetus acquires fingerprints at the age of three months.
  • A sneeze can exceed the speed of 100 mph.
  • Every person has a unique tongue print.
  • According to German researchers, the risk of heart attack is higher on Monday than any other day of the week.
  • An average human drinks about 60,000 litres of water in a lifetime.
  • A fingernail or toenail takes about 6 months to grow from base to tip.
  • An average human scalp has 100,000 hairs.
  • It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown.
  • Babies are born with 300 bones, but by adulthood we have only 206 in our bodies.
  • Beards are the fastest growing hairs on the human body. If the average man never trimmed his beard, it would grow to nearly 30 feet long in his lifetime.
  • By age sixty, most people have lost half of their taste buds. By the time you turn 70, your heart will have beat some two-and-a-half billion times (figuring on an average of 70 beats per minute.)
  • Each square inch (4 square cm) of human skin contains of twenty feet (6 m) of blood vessels.
  • Every human spent about half an hour as a single cell.
  • Every square inch of the human body has an average of 32 million bacteria on it.
  • Fingernails grow faster than toenails.
  • Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour - 0.8 kg a year. By 70 years of age, an average person will have lost 50 kg of skin.
  • At rest, a person breathes about 14 to 16 times per minute. After exercise it could increase to over 60 times per minute.
  • New babies, at rest, breathe between 40 and 50 times per minute. By age five it decreases to around 25 times per minute.
  • The total surface area of the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) is the size of a tennis court.
  • The lungs are the only organ in the body that can float on water.
  • The lungs produce a detergent-like substance which reduces the surface tension of the fluid lining, allowing air in.
  • An average adult body contains about five pints of blood.
  • All the blood vessels in the body joined end to end would stretch 62,000 miles or two and a half times around the earth.
  • The heart circulates the body's blood supply about 1,000 times each day.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Other Frog Blogs - But not as good!!

Strangely, there is more than one Frog Blog out there in the big bad web! So I thought it might be nice to see how the other frog bloggers are getting on. Here are a few other Frog Blogs to check out.
So I think it is safe to say that we are still the No. 1 Frog Blog.
All the others are just trying too hard!!!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Bodies Exhibition

The world famous Bodies Exhibition starts in the Ambassador Theatre, Dublin from today for a limited run. The exhibition features human bodies and organs, preserved in a polymer, arranged in various positions which highlight the natural beauty and complexity of the human form. The exhibition has been a world wide phenomenon and has attracted crowds across the nations. Some pupils in the senior school will get a chance to visit the exhibition next week, where a pupil report will follow! The picture above gives a brief indication of what is to be expected. The exhibition has a wonderful website, which you can access by clicking here.

Friday, 23 January 2009

The Common Frog

Last week we wrote about the Natterjack Toad, one of Ireland's three native amphibians. Today is the turn of our only frog, the common frog!

The Common Frog (Rana temporaria) is considered to be widespread and common in Ireland but vulnerable in the rest of Europe. The Common Frog is found in countryside and urban garden ponds and in a range of habitats from lowland farmland to mountain bog and forestry plantations. The frog breeding season may only last a few nights in a pond, after which the adults move away to forage for food on land in other types of habitat. In winter frogs hide in frost-free refuges, under tree stumps, in turf stacks or in rock piles, where they enter torpor until the following spring. Common Frogs' flanks, limbs and backs are covered with irregular dark blotches and they usually sport a chevron-shaped spot on the back of their neck. Common Frogs have relatively short hind legs and possess webbed feet. Their eyes are brown with transparent horizontal pupils, and they have transparent inner eyelids to protect their eyes while underwater, as well as a 'mask' which covers their eyes and eardrums. Males are distinguishable from females due to hard swellings on their first finger. These are used for gripping females during mating.Also, during the mating season, males' throats often turn bluish. Although not feeding throughout the breeding season, adult Common Frogs will feed on any invertebrate of a suitable size. Favourites include insects, (especially flies) snails, slugs and worms. Common frogs are active almost all of the year, only hibernating when it gets very cold and the water and earth are consistently frozen. In the Ireland, common frogs typically hibernate from late October to January. They will re-emerge as early as February if conditions are favourable, and migrate to bodies of water such as garden ponds. Common frogs breed in shallow, still, fresh water such as ponds, with breeding commencing in March. The adults congregate in the ponds, where the males compete for females. The courtship ritual involves croaking, and a successful male grasps the female under the forelegs.

Modern Language Blog

Congratulations to the Modern Languages Department of St. Columba's on the formation of their new Blog. Happy Blogging. Bonne Chance!!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

6 inch Kidney Stones!!!

Doctors yesterday removed a 15 cm (6 inch), 1.5 kg (2 lb 8 oz) Kidney Stone from a Hungarian Man, Sandor Sarkadi. He stared in disbelief at the enormous kidney stone that had just been removed from his body. Sandor must have been in absolute agony while the mighty object grew and grew inside him - the largest kidney stones do not normally get much bigger than a golf ball!

Kidney stones are known technically as renal calculi, and are formed when materials dissolved in the urine precipitate out in the pelvis of the kidneys (or ureters) to form solid crystalline lumps. They are usually formed of calcium oxalate, uric acid or calcium phosphate. These stones can be extremely painful and can block the internal flow of urine as well as producing blood and puss in the urine (haematuria and pyuria respectively).

There seems to be a range of possible causes of kidney stones including amongst other things: ongoing dehydration, ingestion of large amounts of oxalate (e.g. chocolate, nuts, soya beans, rhubarb and spinach), a high protein diet and hyperthyroidism.

Famous scientists who have suffered from kidney stones include: Sir Isaac Newton (opposite), Robert Boyle, Nicholas Steno and William Harvey!

Nominated for Irish Blog Award

The Frog Blog has been nominated in the "Best Specialist Blog" category at this year's Irish Blog Awards. We are joined by our award winning colleagues, the English Blog, who were nominated in the Best Group Blog category. Let's not get too carried away. The list is very long and we will let you know if we make the short list. But considering we are so young, we're dead happy (or hoppy?). There is no public vote but please wish us luck! You can check out the full (and I mean full) list of nominations in each of the categories by clicking here.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

New Website Homepage

The Science Department Main Website has a new (simpler) homepage. The main site links to the Blog and to the Resource Website. Go to http://www.sccscience.com/ to see the changes for yourself!

First X-Rays Used for Medicine

Today marks the anniversary of the first x-Rays used in Medicine. The event occured on January 2oth 1896. As with many scientific discoveries, x-Rays were discovered by accident. A year earlier, a German physicist named Wilhelm Roentgen made the discovery while experimenting with electron beams in a gas discharge tube. Roentgen noticed that a fluorescent screen in his lab started to glow when the electron beam was turned on. This response in itself wasn't so surprising - fluorescent material normally glows in reaction to electromagnetic radiation - but Roentgen's tube was surrounded by heavy black cardboard. Roentgen assumed this would have blocked most of the radiation. x-rays are basically the same thing as visible light rays. Both are wavelike forms of electromagnetic energy carried by particles called photons. The difference between x-rays and visible light rays is the energy level of the individual photons.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Science Fact of the Week 7 - Anti-Matter

Antimatter sounds like the stuff of science fiction, and it is. But it's also very real. Antimatter is created and annihilated in stars every day. Here on Earth it's harnessed for medical brain scans. Simply put, antimatter is a fundamental particle of regular matter with its electrical charge reversed. The common proton has an antimatter counterpart called the antiproton. It has the same mass but an opposite charge. The electron's counterpart is called a positron. Antimatter particles are created in ultra high-speed collisions. One example is when a high-energy proton in a solar flare collides with carbon. In this case it can form a type of nitrogen that has too many protons relative to its number of neutrons. This makes its nucleus unstable, and a positron is emitted to stabilize the situation. But positrons don't last long. When they hit an electron, they annihilate and produce energy. So the cycle is complete, and for this reason there is so little antimatter around at a given time.

To better understand the elusive nature of antimatter, we must back up to the beginning of time. In the first seconds after the Big Bang, there was no matter, scientists suspect. Just energy. As the universe expanded and cooled, particles of normal matter and antimatter were formed in almost equal amounts. But, theory holds, a slightly higher percentage of normal matter developed -- perhaps just one part in a million -- for unknown reasons. That was all the edge needed for normal matter to win the longest running war in the cosmos. When the matter and antimatter came into contact they annihilated, and only the residual amount of matter was left to form our current universe. Antimatter was first theorized based on work done in 1928 by the physicist Paul Dirac. The positron was discovered in 1932. Science fiction writers latched onto the concept and wrote of antiworlds and antiuniverses.

Antimatter has tremendous energy potential, if it could ever be harnessed. Laboratory particle accelerators can produce high-energy antimatter particles, too, but only in tiny quantities. Something on the order of a billionth of a gram or less is produced every year. CERN, a research institute based in Switzerland have been producing Anti-Matter since 1995, but in tiny amounts. Recent data released by CERN states that when fully operational their facilities are capable of producing 107 antiprotons per second. The Anti-matter is held within a Penning Trap, a storage device that uses magnetic fields. Meanwhile, antimatter has proved vitally useful for medical purposes. The fleeting particles of antimatter are also created by the decay of radioactive material, which can be injected into a patient in order to perform Positron Emission Tomography, or PET scan of the brain. It could also be used as a fuel for the production of energy. None the less, Anti-Matter is no work of fiction, as many believe, and has many future uses if technology can keep up. Click here for more info!

Many thanks to Ian Fraser for suggesting Anti-Matter for the Science Fact of the Week.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Natterjack Toad

I can't believe we are a few months into The Frog Blog, without some factual froggage or in this case toadage! Over the next few weeks we will bring you up to date with Ireland's amphibians. Today is the turn of our only toad, the Natterjack.

The Natterjack Toad is a Western European species being particularly common in Spain and Southern France. In Ireland they are native to only a few parts of Co. Kerry, particularly around the areas of Cromane and Dooks near Killorglin (my home town). It is thought to be an immigrant from the end of the Ice Age. The Natterjack is easily recognised by the yellow stripe along the centre of its olive green, wart covered back. These warts can be either yellow, red or orange in colour. The legs are pale grey with green blotches and the underside is also pale grey and spotted with green. The most important feature that distinguishes the Natterjack from other species of toad is the length of the hind legs. Natterjacks have much shorter hind legs than other toads and frogs. Males and females are of similar size and grow to about seven centimetres from snout to vent in about two or three years. They prefer habitats with loose, sandy soil, such as sand dunes and lowland bogs. They dig burrows in the soft sand and they tend to live in groups. Natterjacks are mostly nocturnal. They tend to rest under large stones, or in crevices and burrows during the day. Their short limbs mean that they are unable to leap very far and are generally seen running. They are also poor swimmers and are known to drown quickly in deep water if they cannot get ashore. Natterjacks emerge from hibernation in March and head off for their breeding sites. Adults feed on insects, particularly moths, as well as spiders, woodlice, snails and worms. The tadpoles feed on algae and vegetation until they are about 38 days old when they begin to feed on animal tissue.

Male toads arrive at the breeding sites first, which are usually in very shallow water and are often brackish. The females spawn a string of eggs, maybe 3000-4000, which hatch within 5-8 days. Natterjack toad tadpoles are the smallest of all European tadpoles. Depending on the environmental temperature, metamorphosis can take anywhere between 5 and 16 weeks.
Spawning occurs between April and July and the nighttime croaking of the male can be heard at great distances.

The Natterjack has a coat which can be poisonous to its predators.


Friday, 16 January 2009

The Black Death

As part of their microbiology module Transition Year biologists were recently asked to write a 100 word composition on the outbreak of bubonic plague which ravaged medieval Europe in the 14th century. Here are three examples of their work.

The Black Death by A McCabe
The Black Death broke out in Mongolia in the 1330s. Rats were affected and their fleas transferred it to humans. Plague caused fever and swelling of the lymph glands – forming “buboes”, hence the name bubonic plague. It became widespread because of the busy trade connections. In October 1347 the European breakout emanated from Italian ships returning from Asia. They docked in Sicily and the plague spread rapidly. By 1349 the disease had reached Ireland. Medieval medicine could not compete and, although the effects were reduced in Winter when fleas were dormant, after 5 years 25 million people had died in Europe.

The Black Death by A. Shirley
The Black Death or Bubonic Plague, one of the deadliest diseases in human history, was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis (see above). The plague started in the 14th Century, apparently spreading from central Asia or northern India. Infection happened when rat-borne fleas transmitted the bacteria by biting humans. The plague caused a fever and sometimes black spots on the victim’s legs and chest. There was no effective treatment and those affected usually died within a day or two. One in four of Europe’s population were wiped out in just five years.

The Black Death by R. Nolan
The Black Death was one of the deadliest bacterial diseases in history. It is believed that the disease travelled from central Asia around 1331. It spread through rat-based fleas (see above) which travelled on ships. Early symptoms resembled flu but escalated quickly. The appearance of swellings (‘buboes’) around the body was a classic sign of bubonic plague. Other symptoms included coughing blood and purple skin patches. The disease killed most victims in 4-7 days. The final death toll amounted to an estimated 75 million people, about half of which were in Europe. Jews and God were blamed but no remedy was found.

Beached Fin Whale Dies Tragically in Cork

An magnificent 20m fin whale has died after it became beached at Courtmacsherry, Co Cork, this morning. Rescue efforts got under way after the whale beached itself in the harbour. The crew of the Courtmacsherry Lifeboat said that time was against them because the tide was going out.

The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), also called the finback whale or razorback, is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales. It is the second largest whale and the second largest living animal after the blue whale, growing to nearly 27 meters (88 ft) long. Long and slender, the fin whale's body is brownish-grey with a paler underside. There are at least two distinct subspecies: the northern fin whale of the North Atlantic, and the larger Antarctic fin whale of the southern ocean. It is found in all the world's major oceans, from polar to tropical waters. It is absent only from waters close to the ice pack at both the north and south poles and relatively small areas of water away from the open ocean. The highest population density occurs in temperate and cool waters. Its food consists of small schooling fish, squid, and crustaceans including mysids and krill.

This is yet another in the rising number of whale beachings over the past number of years.

Heart Dissections

Mr. Jones's VI Form Biology class yesterday did a number of dissections. The heart and kidney were on the menu and below are some pics of the pupils at work. There is often a mix of pupils who just can't wait to get stuck in and those who "want to label". Mr. Jones' class were 50:50!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Elephantiasis by Shane Lavin

Also known as Lymphatic Filariasis, elephantiasis is a rare disorder of the lymphatic system caused by parasitic filarian worms such as Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi and B. timori, all of which are transmitted by mosquitoes. Elephantiasis occurs most commonly in tropical regions and particularly in parts of Africa.

It is characterised by the gross enlargement of a limb or areas of the trunk or head. There is abnormal accumulation of watery fluid in the tissues, causing severe swelling. The skin usually appears thickened and pebbly, and may become ulcerated and darkened. Fever, chills and a general feeling of ill health may also be present.

The swelling is a result of obstruction of the lymph flow and possibly of blood circulation. The lymphatic system blockage can be due to the recurrent attacks of a bacterial infection which causes inflammation of the lymphatic vessels.

Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?

Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze (and 114 other questions) is a hilarious yet informative look at some of the world's commonly (and less commonly) asked questions relating to science. The book is a collection of questions and answers from the New Scientist Magazine's "Last Word" section and is completely produced by the readers of the mag. It is well worth a look and if you enjoy it, why not check out other New Scientist publications like "How to Mummify Your Hamster" and "What Eats Wasps?".


Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Biology Prize 2009

Entries are now being accepted for this year's Biology Prize. Pupils (from Forms IV, V or VI) are asked to provide a 500 word synopsis or summary of any Biology topic of their choice. It may be broad or narrow but must be interesting and unique. Pupils should research the topic thoroughly and include references in their synopses.

The top 5 - 6 proposals will then be asked to prepare a 15 minute PowerPoint Presentation on their topic and be able to answer questions within it. These presentations will take place in early February.

All prize entries must be submitted by e-mail info@sccscience.com by Friday January 30th 2009.

Good luck and get working!!


Tuesday, 13 January 2009


Today, in 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered Callisto, the fourth satellite of Jupiter. Galileo originally called Jupiter's moons the "Medicean planets", after the Medici family and referred to the individual moons numerically as I, II, III and IV. Galileo's naming system continued in use for a couple of centuries until, in the mid-1800's other moons of Jupiter were discovered and to avoid confusion the names Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were officially adopted. It is now known that Callisto is larger than the planet Mercury, and composed mostly of water and water ice with large quantities of ice exposed on the surface.
(Adapted from Today in Science History)

What is DNA Profiling!

Since 1987, forensic DNA analysis has made appearances in U.S. courtrooms. Originally known as "DNA fingerprinting," this type of analysis is now called "DNA profiling" or "DNA typing" to distinguish it from traditional skin fingerprinting. Although used in less than one percent of all criminal cases, DNA profiling has helped to acquit or convict suspects in many of the most violent crimes. Every single cell in our bodies contains DNA, the genetic material that programs how cells work. 99.9 percent of human DNA is the same in everyone, meaning that only 0.1 percent of our DNA is unique! Each human cell contains three billion DNA base pairs. Our unique DNA, 0.1 percent of 3 billion, amounts to 3 million base pairs. This is more than enough to provide profiles that accurately identify a person. The only exception is identical twins, who share 100 percent identical DNA.

At a crime scene, DNA is everywhere. It is present in all kinds of evidence collected at the scene, including blood, hair, skin, saliva and semen. Scientists can analyze the DNA in evidence samples to see if it matches a suspect's DNA. Above, you can see how DNA evidence is collected and analyzed. In the past, DNA analysis required an evidence sample at least the size of a small coin. Today's techniques can multiply the DNA, producing millions of copies from tiny amounts of evidence, such as the saliva from a cigarette butt. This approach is also helpful for analyzing poor-quality DNA in evidence samples collected from dirty crime scenes. Once the sample is obtained, a profile is produced. No two profiles are the same!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Google's Environmental Footprint

Dr Alex Wissner-Gross, a physicist from Harvard University, has revealed that using Google can increase your enviromental footprint. Websites have real-world environmental footprints. Their files are stored on servers, viewed by personal computers, and connected via networks. To operate these components, all of which are necessary to create a complete website experience, electricity must be consumed. And to generate much of that electricity, fossil fuels like coal and natural gas are usually being burned. The Harvard professor has estimated that each Google search generates an estimated 5-10 g of CO2, in part because Google's unique infrastructure replicates queries across multiple servers, which then compete to provide the fastest answer to your query. On the other hand, just browsing a basic website generates about 20 mg of CO2 for every second you view it. Since millions of people are surfing the web every hour of every day, that carbon footprint adds up to an astounding 2% of international emissions each year. In fact, according to the American research firm Gartner, the carbon footprint of information and communications technology exceeded that of the global aviation industry for the first time in 2007. More information on this can be found on a facinating Times article by clicking here!

Science Fact of the Week 6 - The Aurora Borealis

After the Christmas Holidays, I would like to welcome back our Science Fact of the Week Feature! This week it's the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights!

The sun gives off high-energy charged particles (also called ions) that travel out into space at speeds of 300 to 1200 kilometres per second. A cloud of such particles is called a plasma. The stream of plasma coming from the sun is known as the solar wind. As the solar wind interacts with the edge of the earth's magnetic field, some of the particles are trapped by it and they follow the lines of magnetic force down into the ionosphere, the section of the earth's atmosphere that extends from about 60 to 600 kilometres above the earth's surface. When the particles collide with the gases in the ionosphere they start to glow, producing the spectacle that we know as the auroras, northern and southern. The array of colours consists of red, green, blue and violet.
The Northern Lights are constantly in motion because of the changing interaction between the solar wind and the earth's magnetic field. The solar wind commonly generates up to 1000,000 megawatts of electricity in an auroral display and this can cause interference with power lines, radio and television broadcasts and satellite communications. By studying the auroras, scientists can learn more about the solar wind, how it affects the earth's atmosphere and how the energy of the auroras might be exploited for useful purposes.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

New Poll - Which is your favourite science subject!!

We are running a new poll! Scroll down and find the poll on your right and click on your favourite science subject! You can select more than one if you just love 'em all!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Science Blog - A top site!!

Check out "The Science Blog" (http://www.scienceblog.com/) for a rich array of interesting, humorous and informative posts on all things science. The site features up to date news on scientific findings, theories and facts on all aspects of science, from zoology to astronomy!! It's well worth a look! I found the article on how laughing gas make people more suggestable very interesting, which you can read by clicking here!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Our Young Scientists

Well done to Eamon McKee and Ling Fan Gao who competed in this years BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition. The prize giving ceremony is taking place as I write this! The boys completed their project on how household radiation affects plant seedlings. Well done! A picture of them will be posted soon!

Coastal Erosion on Rossbeigh Strand, Co. Kerry

While visiting Kerry this Christmas, I paid a visit to one of my favourite places in the world, Rossbeigh Beach in Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry. An amazing six mile expanse of sand, directing outwards into Dingle Bay, Rossbeigh is one of the finest beaches in Ireland, and a childhood haunt where I used to frequent for a swim or a run on a regular basis. But to my surprise and horror, I found that Rossbeigh had recently been hit by coastal erosion. Over 1,200ft of the famous sand dunes disappeared into the sea in mid December, creating a five-acre island of sand out of what remains of the northern end of the spit. It's now only a matter of time before this is washed away too, taking with it the historic Rossbeigh Strand Tower which has been a landmark at the entrance to Castlemaine Harbour for over a century. Concerns have also been raised over what now remains of the strand. More ominously, home owners in areas such as Incharee and Dooks could now be under threat as the sand dunes had acted as a natural barrier from the open Atlantic. While coastal erosion is a natural phenomenon, local residents have warned that they may take measures into their own hands in an effort to bolster what remains of the strand. The unprecedented move follows news that Kerry County council simply does not have the money to fund coastal protection works, claiming that the cost would far exceed the recent €4m repair project at Inch which has left the local authority with a €2 million debt. Inch has already soaked up the €250,000 coastal protection budget for next year. I certainly hope that the beach can be restored and protected, as so many fond memories were made there. The picture above shows the beach in it's glory. I didn't have my camera with me when I visited but will post a picture outlining the damage as soon as one becomes available.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is an English theoretical physicist who is one of the world's leaders in his field. His principal areas of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (formerly held by Sir Isaac Newton). Afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; ALS), Hawking is confined to a wheelchair and is unable to speak without the aid of a computer voice synthesizer. However, despite his challenges, he has utilized his intelligence, knowledge and abilities to make remarkable contributions to the field of cosmology (the study of the universe as a whole). Hawking wrote the book A Brief History of Time. This book attempts to explain a range of subjects in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes, light cones and superstring theory, to the nonspecialist reader. Its main goal is to give an overview of the subject but, unusual for a popular science book, it also attempts to explain some complex mathematics. The author notes that an editor warned him that for every equation in the book the readership would be halved, hence it includes only a single equation: E = mc². In addition to Hawking's abstinence from equations, the book also simplifies matters by means of illustrations throughout the text, depicting complex models and diagrams. The book is considered by many to be an "unread bestseller", which is a book many people own but few have finished. He was born today, Jan 8th, in 1942

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A Happy New Year to our Reader

From all of us here at the Frog Blog, a happy new year to our reader (we know you're out there). Here is a new penguin picture just to kick off 2009.


The Irish Seal Sanctuary, Garristown

Yesterday Anna and I spent a wonderful afternoon visiting the Irish Seal Sanctuary in Garristown, where we were shown around by the very knowledgeable (and kind!) Brendan Price. There are 14 pups resident at the moment, mainly grey seals (as they tend to breed late in the year), although we were also introduced to Benny an extremely placid common seal. In general it is not a good idea to try and touch seals, but Benny is a bit of a special case – and we were able to stroke him and get up close and personal (see picture). We were also lucky enough to meet a very relaxed looking badger who is awaiting a hip operation after being hit by a post van.
Seal milk is extremely rich and grey seals suckle for about three weeks, before gradually switching to a diet of fish. To stand a good chance of surviving, the pups need to triple their weight during the period of suckling.

The sanctuary has a series of small pens for the younger pups, and a large pool for those nearing their release date. We saw the 4-00 pm feed, and watched some of the younger pups trying to get the hang of eating fish for the first time. Having already had a morning and midday feed, the five older pups in the big pool seemed a bit half-hearted about their evening meal, preferring instead to chase around with each other – which is probably a good sign!

The work of the sanctuary is carried out by volunteers, who come from all around the world. The seal pups are treated for any illnesses, and fattened up with the sole aim of being reintroduced into the wild as soon as possible. The policy is to try and release the pups as near to where they were found as possible, and forthcoming releases are flagged up on the ‘news’ section of the sanctuary website: http://www.irishsealsanctuary.ie/