o The Frog Blog: March 2009

Friday, 27 March 2009

End of Hilary Term

Today marks the end of the Hilary Term at St. Columba's and so begins a three week break in Frog Bloggage activity. We will return on the 20th April with a new Science Fact of the Week, our 16th of the year so far.

But if you are looking for a blog to peruse over the coming weeks, can I recommend the St. Columba's Habitat for Humanity Team blog. The 19 strong team, comprising 4 teachers and 15 pupils, are currently in Hajdúböszörmény in North East Hungary on a house building project. This is the school's third visit to Hungary with the charity. You can follow their progress on their blog (http://www.scchabitat.blogspot.com/) for photos and more. Good luck team!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The 'Theory' of Evolution and the Nature of Science

It is an obvious fact that there are many different forms of life on planet Earth. The most common organisms are bacteria – which are too small to see with the naked eye. There are however more bacteria in your mouth (dear reader), than humans that have ever lived. Other organisms are classified as Protoctista (or Protista), Fungi, Plants or Animals – each with their own way of feeding and growing. The accepted scientific explanation for this diversity of life is the theory of evolution by means of natural selection, an idea first put forward by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace (pictured below) in 1858, which has been continually embroidered and refined ever since.
The sort of thing which is sometimes said by those who feel uncomfortable with the explanation offered by this theory is “evolution is only a theory. It is a misconception that evolution is fact and that, as taught in most schools, it is proven science. To interpret evolution as fact is bad science.” This sort of comment is seriously misinformed, both about the nature of scientific knowledge and what constitutes scientific fact, and about ‘the scientific method’ and its use of the term ‘theory’.

Anyone indulging in a scientific enquiry should approach a problem with an open mind (as far as that is humanly possible), observe things objectively, and then draw the most reasonable conclusions possible in terms of explaining their observations. At this point a person’s explanation is called a hypothesis (not, as in everyday speech, a theory). In science, this ‘best guess’ hypothesis only becomes a theory after withstanding repeated and extensive testing.

‘Science’ is a human construct, and like all human intellectual activity is grounded in the surrounding milieu of those carrying out the enquiry at any given time, in any given place. At a philosophical level therefore scientific knowledge can never be wholly objective, and any scientific fact has to be open to reinterpretation in the light of new evidence. That being said, it is highly unlikely that the fact of the Earth orbiting the sun (rather than vice versa) will ever be reinterpreted (although only officially accepted by the Vatican in 1822), because scientific theories are based on the best and most objective evidence possible, without having to fit into an a priori belief system.

In the language of science therefore, all facts are theories. Admittedly this is not the way the word theory is used in everyday speech, but if you are going to criticise the workings of science, at least get your 'facts' right!

The Bodies Exhibition

Yesterday, the Form V and Form VI biologists visited the spectacular yet somewhat controversial Bodies Exhibition. All were thoroughly impressed and many continued to debate the exhibition's vivid and thought provoking displays yesterday evening and even this morning. Below is a review from Jessica Dean, a member of Form V.

The trip to the BODIES Exhibition in Dublin was a rather unusual one. It's not everyday that you can just mosey down to see preserved bodies, and though our first attempts were marred by the heavy snow, we prevailed and set off for an afternoon of preserved body observation. Though slightly apprehensive at first, the exhibition was in fact an amazing scientific achievement, and having the opportunity to scrutinize the human body in various motions and dissected forms was a fascinating prospect.

There were many different sections, one particularly impressive one was the display of two figures, though they were each composed from one single body. They stood opposite one another, displaying on one side - a body comprised of only the muscular system and on the other (which was mirroring the latter figure's position), showed only the skeletal structure. We made our way through this shocking, but awe-inspiring exhibition, and I think our primary reaction was definitely one of slight revulsion, though as we continued through, we were amazed by the intricate work that had gone into the display of the bodies. The exhibition not only demonstrated the body's muscular system frozen in various modes of action, but also the nervous and circulatory system, removed from the body and displayed in it's normal composition. Within this section, smaller and more detailed portions of the body were displayed, for example the circulatory system of leg, extracted and suspended in a glass chamber and thus it was possible to examine each of the exhibits closely and from different angles. We passed display cases which showed examples of certain organs that had suffered from specific diseases or viruses, including cancer, and also the lungs, ones which had once belonged to that of a smoker, comparing the results to a pair of healthy lungs displayed beside them. Within this same section it showed a biological breakdown of both the male and female forms. In one instance it showed a female, cut vertically into 3 segments displaying all of her internal organs,and shown beside this, were examples of both the male and female reproductive organs preserved beside one another.

The section which I think instantly drew our attention (and was probably the reason for us all emerging later with noticeably greener complexions), was the exhibits of the embryos and feotuses. Some of group chose to bypass this section completely, and though it was agreeably rather shocking, it was also amazing to have the opportunity to examine such things so thoroughly. They displayed not only the different stages of the developing embryo, but also the feotus at its more mature stages where its features were more distinguishable. Continuing onto the next biological stage it showed a newborn with its umbilical cord and placenta still attached. Few of us stayed long in this section and moved on to the last one which showed the body again frozen in different motions, and in the centre, a body displayed in segments, or rather slices, each one contained within a thin sheet of glass.

The exhibition is definitely a fascinating and amazing achievement, and despite our initial reactions of shock, I felt the trip was in fact more beneficial than any class dissection, as we finally were able to witness the pictures and diagrams from our books, which are essentially quite limited in their detail, in real physical form. I definitely think that this exhibition provides an important opportunity for people to experience and appreciate the wonders of the body and its intricate physical structure.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Alaska Volcano Rerupts

Mount Redoubt, The 3000 metre volcano erupted six times over Sunday and Monday, spewing clouds of gritty ash high into the sky. The recent activity is prompting local volcanologists to predict a major eruption soon. The ash is causing environmental disruption while mud flows have the potential to damage nearby oil storage facilities. The eruptions have so far sent clouds of abrasive ash drifting across communities north of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, which is roughly 100 miles southwest.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Science & Maths Style!

The English Department have pointed us to a great online version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, using only science and maths based questions. So if you want to try to win (an imaginary) one million dollars check it out by clicking here. It's great fun!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Science Fact of the Week 15 - Cows Have Four Stomachs

Cows have four stomachs, or more technically one four-chambered stomach. Cows are ruminants. Most ruminants have a four-chambered stomach, although camels only have three chambers. The first chamber is called the rumen. The next two are the reticulum and the omasum. These first three chambers are believed to be derived from the oesophagus. The last chamber is the abomasum which corresponds to the stomach of other mammals.

The combined four-chambered stomach is big. In medium sized cattle, the rumen by itself can hold between 100 to 300 litres. Ruminants eat fast and store large quantities of grass or foliage in the rumen, where it softens. Many species of tiny protozoans and bacteria live, without oxygen, in the rumen. These little animals and bacteria digest the cellulose in the plant material, thereby releasing the contents of the plant cells for digestion by the cow. Large amounts of saliva get secreted into the rumen to further the digestion.

The action of the various microbes produces various substances, including fatty acids which are absorbed through the rumen wall. In addition, any protein is converted into fatty acids and ammonia; the ammonia is used by the micro-organisms. After the plant material is processed in the rumen, it is later regurgitated. This material is now called cud, and the ruminant chews it again. The additional chewing breaks down the cellulose, which is difficult to digest, even more. The regurgitation and chewing of the cud is called rumination.

The chewed cud goes directly to the other chambers of the stomach (the reticulum, omasum, and abomasum, in that order). Additional digestion, with the aid of various microorganisms, continues in these other chambers. For example, in the omasum, some fatty acids and 60-70 percent of the water are absorbed. In the abomasum gastric juice (containing hydrochloric acid) is secreted, as in an ordinary mammalian stomach, further digesting the food. Also, those micro-organisms that used the ammonia and other nitrogen substances from protein in the rumen, actually get digested by the ruminant in the abomasum and small intestine, thereby providing the cow with protein. Thus can cattle can get a balanced diet from just eating grass or other foliage.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Tarantula by Miriam Poulton

As part of their Hilary Term assessment, Mr. Jones' TY Biology Set had to complete a project on an invertebrate of their choice. The results were excellent with some fine projects. Miriam Poulton did her project on the Tarantula. Below is an excerpt from the project and you can download the full article by clicking on the link below.

Containing the world’s largest spiders, the tarantula family is split into one hundred and thirteen genera and eight hundred and ninety seven species. They are generally very large and hairy, and in recent years have become popular pets. They are found in most tropical and desert climates around the world. The name tarantula originally comes from the town of Taranto in Italy, where it was originally used for the wolf spider, an unrelated species. They are also called, in various places around the world, baboon spiders, earth tigers, bird-eating spiders, barking spiders and whistling spiders. Like all spiders, the tarantula is an invertebrate and has an exoskeleton which it relies on for support. It has eight legs and eight semi-functional eyes. It has three main parts, the head, the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Click here to download the full article (.pdf format 351KB).

Thursday, 19 March 2009

13 Things That Don't Make Sense

13 Things That Don't Make Sense is a wonderful book by Michael Brookes, which looks at a number of phenomena that scientist struggle to get their heads around. These scientific mysteries include such questions as why can we only account for 4% of the universe?; the pioneer probes anomaly; evolution's problem with death; life on Mars and why we think we have free will? The accompanying website (click here) provides a brief introduction to each of the questions and allows for registered users to make comments or suggestions. A copy of the book will be in the library from the start of the Trinity Term, but in the meantime why not check out the website?

Have you any science questions you can't get your head around. Why not submit them to the blog. We will do our best to give you an answer!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

First Space Walk

Today, in 1965, Voskhod 2 was launched into space carrying Alekei Leonov and Pavel Belyayev aboard. On the second orbit Leonov left the spacecraft through the air lock while still tethered to the vessel. He was the first man to climb out of a spacecraft in space. While outside, he took motion pictures and practised moving outside of the spacecraft for 10 minutes. Voskhod 2 made 17 orbits at about 110 miles (177 km) above earth. However, the mission was not without it's problems. Leonov had problems re-entering the spacecraft because his space suit had enlarged slightly. He had to let air leak out of the suit in order to squeeze back inside. The ship also landed off-target near Perm, in the Ural mountains, in dense forest. The crew spent the night in the woods surrounded by wolves before being located, and when the ground crew finally located them, it took a day to chop through the forest and recover them on skis. Click here to see a space.com account of the mission on the 35th Anniversary back in 2000. Ed White, a NASA Astronaut, made the first American spacewalk on 3rd June 1965 during the Gemini 4 mission.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Science Fact of the Week 14 - Why Ireland Has No Snakes!

Today is St. Patrick's Day and everyone knows how St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland sometime back in the 5th Century. But there may be other explanations for our inherent lack of legless reptiles (we have, of course, only one reptile in Ireland, the Viviparous Lizard, see previous blog post). It's true to say there are no native snakes in Ireland. In fact, there never were any snakes here. So, why not?

Snakes first evolved from their lizard ancestors about 100 million years ago during the late Cretaceous Period, about the same time that Tyrannosaurus rex first appeared. Early snakes were small and wormy, resembling modern blind snakes. Ancient snake fossils are found only on southern continents, suggesting that snakes first radiated from Gondwanaland — a former super-continent comprising modern-day Antarctica, South America, Africa, India, and Australia. Migrating to Ireland wasn't an option at this time, as the area was completely underwater. Now snakes are found in deserts, grasslands, forests, mountains, and even oceans virtually everywhere around the world. Everywhere that is except Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica. One thing all of the few snake-less parts of the world have in common is that they are surrounded by water. New Zealand, for instance, split off from Australia and Asia before snakes ever evolved.

Another plausible reason for the lack of snakes in Ireland is the weather. It's quite cold here but just 12,000 years ago we were in the midst of the Nahanagan Stadial - with full blown 'ice age' conditions. The ice age began about 2.5 million years ago and, technically, continues into the present. During this time there have been alternating cold and warm periods (stadials and interstadials), and glaciers have advanced and retreated more than 20 times, often completely blanketing Ireland with ice. Snakes, being cold-blooded animals, simply aren't able to survive in areas where the ground is frozen year-round. Ireland thawed out for the last time only 11,500 years ago. Since then, 12 miles (19 km) of icy-cold water in the Northern Channel have separated Ireland from northern Britain (Scotland) which has adders and, in warm spells, grass snakes. In southern Britain, a third native species, the smooth snake is also found. So, there are no snakes in Ireland for the simple reason that they can't get here, and probably never did - as no fossil snakes have been found here either.
So where did the myth of St. Patrick and the snakes come from? Most scholars agree that snakes symbolize paganism, which St. Patrick is also credited for banishing from Ireland. Snakes, as symbols of evil, are prevalent throughout Christian mythology, most notoriously in the Garden of Eden as a tempter of Eve.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

St. Patrick's Day Exodus Weekend

Today is the beginning of the St. Patrick's Day Exodus Weekend. The school will close this afternoon at 1:00pm and classes will resume on the morning of Wednesday 18th March. We would like to wish all those who are travelling this weekend a safe journey, especially those attending the History Department's trip to Florence & Venice, and pupils returning home to all parts of Europe. Also, good luck to the Irish Rugby team against Scotland and, of course, Happy Paddy's Day!

Friday, 13 March 2009


The icy planet of Pluto is the ninth and furthest planet from our sun. The planet Pluto is also the smallest in our solar system; it is even smaller than many of the moons that orbit other planets. While attempting to locate the cause of Neptune’s orbital interruption, Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto on this date, March 13th, 1930. While mistaken in his belief that Pluto was the planet causing the disturbance, Tombaugh was correct about its presence. However, in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) formally downgraded Pluto from an official planet to a dwarf planet. According to the new rules a planet meets three criteria: it must orbit the Sun, it must be big enough for gravity to squash it into a round ball, and it must have cleared other things out of the way in its orbital neighbourhood. The latter measure knocks out Pluto and neighbouring dwarf plantet Eris, which both orbit among the icy wrecks of the Kuiper Belt. Pluto was named after the Roman god for the underworld, possibly because of the distance from the Sun.

The planet Pluto has yet to be visited by a spacecraft. However, NASA is hoping that the New Horizons craft will reach the planet on July 14th, 2015. We do know that Pluto is a dwarf planet made up mostly of ice. Like its atmosphere, this icy surface is composed of Nitrogen, Methane and Carbon Monoxide. Pluto is 4.34 billion km from earth and has a diameter of 2,301 km, making it roughly 400 times smaller than Earth and only 70% the mass of the Moon. Pluto itself has one moon, Charon. Pluto's unusual 90,613 day orbit causes an anti-greenhouse effect through freezing and sublimation. Unusually, it's orbit sometimes brings it closer to the sun than Neptune. This occured in 1989 and it then remained ahead of Neptune for 10 years. It won't happen again until 2226.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Astonishing Ants!

In yesterday's edition of the Guardian Newspaper, there was a fantastic article on, yes, you've guessed it, ants. The article focused mainly on the effect ants have on our lives. Below is a short excerpt, but click on the link to see the full article. Also check out the "In Pictures" links on the right - featuring astonishing ants!

"Without ants, the world would be a mess. Soil would be unable to sustain much life. Dead leaves, insects and small animals would litter the Earth's surface. Invertebrate pests would bloom, killing many of the food plants we need to survive. Thousands of species of flowering plants would disappear into extinction, robbed of a vehicle for their pollen ...". Click here for the full article.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Science Daily

The Frog Blog would like to recommend a wonderful website called Science Daily. The website provides up to date news on all aspects of science, mainly comprising brief summaries of articles in scientific journals. It is basically a massive version of the Frog Blog, but without the clear obsession with amphibians, the slightly humorous angle on science or indeed our frequent look back at science history. Well worth a look however if you are looking for information on science projects and such like. Check it out at http://www.sciencedaily.com/.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Obama Lifts Embryonic Stem Cell Ban

US President Barack Obama has overturned George W Bush's decision to ban federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The move, while very controversial, was a popular one on Capitol Hill yesterday. But, the use of human embryos for research has angered anti abortion activists. Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos. Specifically, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro (in glass) and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman's body. The cells are then grown in a laboratory using a cell culture technique. However, their use is not universally seen as progressive. But their is no doubt that they have tremendous medical potential and could open up possibilities for curing diseases such as Type I Diabetes or even Alzheimer's Disease. Click here to see a previous Frog Blog Post on the use of stem cells to cure one of the most common forms of blindness. For more information on Stem Cells click here for a fantastic website.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Examinations Week

Today marks the beginning of the Hilary Term Exams. We would like to wish all the pupils the best of luck in all of their exams. We would also like to wish the teachers the best of luck with their marking. Form III begin their Mock Junior Certificate today beginning this morning with English. Form VI continue with their Leaving Certificate Mock Exams also this week. All exams will conclude on Saturday afternoon, thus starting our St. Patrick's Day Exodus weekend. Good luck all!

Science Fact of the Week 13 - The Milky Way

A galaxy is a system made up of billions of stars, like our Sun, and there are probably more than one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. Earth is found in The Milky Way galaxy which consists of at least 200 and maybe as many as 400 billion stars. It is spread out as a thin disk, and from the outside it would look like a spiral galaxy (as shown above in an artist’s depiction). The Milky Way is about 100 000 light years across. The fact that it divides the night sky into two roughly equal hemispheres suggests that our Solar System lies close to the galactic plane. Our galaxy is visible from Earth as a band of light in the night sky, but the low surface brightness makes it difficult to see due to light pollution. Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to us and it is about twice as big as the Milky Way. The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy are on a collision course, and in a few billion years the two galaxies will make their first close encounter. The oldest star in the Milky Way is estimated to have an age of 13.2 billion years, nearly as old as the Universe itself. The Universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old, with an uncertainty of about 200 million years. There should be hundreds of dwarfs, small galaxies, gravitationally bound to the Milky Way, but only about 20 dwarfs have been observed. Scientists have been puzzled about the missing galaxies, and now it has been suggested that the galaxies are there, but we simply cannot see them because they owe their existence to cold dark matter. This matter does not emit any light, so you cannot observe it directly.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Kepler Space Telescope Launched

NASA have just launched their Kepler Space Telescope, a photometer telescope designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. Kepler will observe the brightness of over 100,000 stars over three and a half years to detect if planets similar to earth may orbit them. Kepler does not work like a normal telescope but uses a method known as the "transit method of planet finding". Essentially, when we see a planet pass in front of its parent star it blocks a small fraction of the light from that star. When that happens, we say that the planet is transiting the star. If Kepler sees repeated transits at regular times, is has discovered a planet! From the brightness change it can tell the planet size. From the time between transits, it can tell the size of the planet's orbit and estimate the planet's temperature. These qualities determine possibilities for life on the planet. Current orbiting telescopes can only see massive planets similar in size to Jupiter, but Kepler is able to see planets 600 times smaller. The mission is named in honour of German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Dr. Stone wrote a piece on Johannes Kepler several months back after attempting to gain entry into the Kepler Museum in Regensburg in Germany and you can read about his life and works by clicking here. Below is a simulated video of the Kepler Mission Launch from You Tube.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Famous Irish Scientists - William Rowan Hamilton

Born in Dublin in 1805, William Rowan Hamilton grew up to become one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Even at the beginning of his career, he was regarded by many as a second Newton. By the age of thirty, he was knighted for his scientific achievements.

His family, conscious of their son's early promise, sent him to live in Trim with his uncle when he was three years old. His uncle the Rev. James Hamilton, was an honours graduate in Classics of Trinity College, and a bit of an eccentric. Hamilton is said to have displayed his genius at a very early age. By the age of five, William Hamilton started learning Latin and Greek, and by the age of seven he was already speaking Hebrew. His uncle, being a linguist, taught him, and by the time Hamilton turned 13 he had already learned 15 languages including Sanskrit, Malay, Persian, Arabic and Hindustani as well as many modern languages.

His talents in natural sciences emerged at a very early age too. At the age of ten he read a Latin copy of Euclid, his introduction to Geometry. Hamilton started studying Mathematics at 13 when he studied Clairaut's Algebra, through French. In 1822 at the age of 17, he found a mistake in Laplace's Mechanique C'eleste, a five volume work of mathematical astronomy. This brought him to the attention of Dr. John Brinkley, Astronomer Royal of Ireland. Hamilton entered Trinity College at the age of 18, studying classics and science. While a student in Trinity he received an "optime" (a distinction that was very rarely awarded) in Greek in his first year. Two years later, he received another optime, this time in mathematical physics. In 1827, at the age of only 22, he was nominated as Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College. Hamilton's home thereafter was at the observatory at Dunsink, which lies about five miles from the centre of Dublin.

His most famous discovery is of Quaternions (a non-commutative extension of complex numbers) was made. On Monday Oct 16th, 1943, when he was walking along the Royal Canal with his wife, the idea of Quaternions came to him, in a dramatic flash of inspiration. In his excitement he carved the formula in the stone of Brougham Bridge. This can still be seen today.

Quaternions opened up a vast new field of mathematics. However many mathematicians at the time found them too difficult to use. Today they are the basis of computer graphics. In 1834, he published "General Methods in Dynamics " which was to be the most important of all his mathematical discoveries. This mathematical method, which allows light to be treated as waves or particles equally, virtually predicted modern wave mechanics. Atomic fission and laser beams are just some of the modern developments that are grounded in this same maths. Hamilton also predicted the unexpected phenomenon of Conical Refraction in bi-axial crystals, which served to immediately highlight his name, and won him the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, in 1835.

Hamilton's later life was unhappy. The death of his sister and friend William Wordsworth (the acclaimed English romantic poet) and an unhappy marriage resulted in troubled times for Hamilton. After two years of abstaining, he became addicted to alcohol. In 1865, he died from a severe attack of gout.

Hamilton is still regarded as Ireland's finest mathematician and one of our great scientists. Today there is a Crater named after William Hamilton on the moon, in memory of this great mathematician. In addition, the Hamilton Mathematics Institute in Trinity College Dublin is an institute dedicated to fostering mathematics and related disciplines. The Institute also aims to improve the public understanding of mathematics.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Why do stars twinkle?

The scientific name for the twinkling of stars is stellar scintillation (or astronomical scintillation). Stars twinkle when we see them from the Earth's surface because we are viewing them through thick layers of turbulent (moving) air in the Earth's atmosphere. Stars (except for the Sun) appear as tiny dots in the sky; as their light travels through the many layers of the Earth's atmosphere, the light of the star is bent (refracted) many times and in random directions (light is bent when it hits a change in density - like a pocket of cold air or hot air). This random refraction results in the star winking out (it looks as though the star moves a bit, and our eye interprets this as twinkling). Stars closer to the horizon appear to twinkle more than stars that are overhead - this is because the light of stars near the horizon has to travel through more air than the light of stars overhead and so is subject to more refraction. Also, planets do not usually twinkle, because they are so close to us; they appear big enough that the twinkling is not noticeable (except when the air is extremely turbulent). Stars would not appear to twinkle if we viewed them from outer space (or from a planet/moon that didn't have an atmosphere).

This question was posed by Robbie Hollis in Form IV.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Still Blue - National Geographic Article

In this month's issue of National Geographic there is a fascinating article on Blue Whales, and in particular a strong pod of whales off the coast of Costa Rica, which was once near extinction. The article provides detailed information about the wondrous species that is the Blue Whale. There is also a series of stunning photos (like the one above showing a diver with a Blue Whale calf) which give an amazing insight into the world's largest ever animal. For the full article click here. Thanks to Jake Jacobsen (Form IV) for recommending the article. For more facts about the Blue Whale, check out a previous Science Fact of the Week on the Blue Whale by clicking here.

Website Update

Just to update our readers on a series of updates to some of the websites in St. Columba's College. The main school website has being undergoing a major update over the past few months and have just uploaded their new Homepage. The introductory page plays a series of 10 random photos from the school and, impressively, changes each time you visit. Click here to visit the St. Columba's College Homepage. But, not to be outdone, the Science Website (our resource area) has also been completely redesigned. The new design aims to bring the website in line with both the new school website and the design concept of the Frog Blog. Please let us know what you think. Email us here to give us your opinion.

Joy Adamson

After we recently published a series of photos of the Desert Cheetah, Mr. Canning, one of the English Teachers in the school, reminded me of a series of books written by Joy Adamson. She was a naturalist and author, best known for her book, Born Free, which described her experiences in raising Elsa from cub to lioness. This book has become a worldwide best seller and has also been adapted for the screen. But Mr. Canning also told me about how she had rehabilitated a cheetah at her Kenyan home, Elsamere. Pippa the cheetah was raised as a pet and given to Adamson at the age of seven months in hopes that she could be released like Elsa was. Pippa had four litters before her death. Adamson wrote The Spotted Sphinx and Pippa’s Challenge about Pippa and her cheetah family. Adamson was murdered on January 3rd, 1980.

So why not check out some of the works of Joy Adamson and learn for yourself about the life of Pippa and Elsa.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Cosmic Gall by John Updike

What! A poem? On the Frog Blog? But surely this is reserved for our English Blogging compatriots? But no, Cosmic Gall tells the story of the Neutrino, tiny elemental particles with no charge and no mass. Thousands pass through us every day, completely unnoticed. The picture above is of Austrain theorist Wolfgang Pauli (pictured here in 1933) who wrote a famous letter in which he dared to hypothesise the existence of a new particle - the particle now known as the Neutrino. Ms. Sheila Flynn, one of our Physics teachers recommended the poem to the blog and here it is:

Neutrinos they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed – you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Recommend DVD - Earth, Power of the Planet

The Frog Blog would like to recommend another DVD to our readers. This DVD, Earth - Power of the Planet, is another BBC production and tells the story of how Earth works and how, over the course of 4.6 billion years, it came to be the remarkable place it is today. Presented by Dr Iain Stewart the great forces that shape the earth are examined - volcanoes, the ocean, the atmosphere and ice - the programme explores their central roles in our planet's story. How do these forces affect the earth's landscape, its climate, and its history? CGI gives the audience a ringside seat at these great events, while the final episode brings together all the themes of the series and argues that earth is an exceptionally rare kind of planet - giving us a special responsibility to look after our unique world. This is a series that shows the earth in new and surprising ways. Extensive use of satellite imagery reveals new views of our planet, while time-lapse filmed over many months brings the planet to life. Offering a balance between dramatic visuals and illuminating facts, specialized imaging and gripping narrative, this ground-breaking series makes global science truly compelling.

Genetically Engineered Wheat

Scientist's at the University of Zurich and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre have identified a wheat gene sequence which provides protection against leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew, three very common world wide diseases of wheat and other cereals. While genetic engineering plants for food consumption is controversial, it is more desirable as it is more environmentally friendly and profitable than strategies like spraying pesticides. The newly identified resistance gene – known as Lr34 transporter protein – is the first of its kind to be found in a commercial crop that is capable of delivering resistence to multiple pathogens. Whereas one gene usually only protects against a single disease for a limited time under commercial production, Lr34 provides long lasting disease resistance and acts against multiple diseases. The findings were published yesterday in the highly regarded, Science journal. Let us know what you think, email us by clicking here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Mass Whale Beaching in Australia

Nearly 200 pilot whales and six bottle nose dolphins remarkably beached themselves on King Island, in the Bass Strait in Australia. Nearly 140 of the whales have already died in what is described as an unprecedented event. But this is not the first time such an event has happened in the area, with nearly 400 whales beaching in Tasmanian waters over the last couple of months alone. The whales and dolphins became stranded on Sunday evening and authorities are now fearing some form of human involvement in the incident. For more information check out The Times Online for a full report and a video link.

Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke is one of the most neglected natural philosophers of all time. Among his accomplishments are the invention of the universal joint, the iris diaphragm and an early prototype of the respirator. He also invented the anchor escapement and the balance spring, which made more accurate clocks possible; served as Chief Surveyor and helped rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666; worked out the correct theory of combustion; devised an equation describing elasticity that is still used today ("Hooke's Law"). He assisted Robert Boyle in studying the physics of gases; invented or improved meteorological instruments such as the barometer, anemometer, and hygrometer; and so on. He was the type of scientist that was then called a virtuoso - able to contribute findings of major importance in any field of science. Hooke's reputation in the history of biology largely rests on his book Micrographia, published in 1665. Hooke devised the compound microscope and used it to observe organisms as diverse as insects, sponges and bird feathers. Micrographia was an accurate and detailed record of his observations. Hooke was also a keen observer of fossils and geology. Hooke was the first person to examine fossils with a microscope and in doing so he had grasped the cardinal principle of palaeontology - that fossils are the remains of once-living organisms that can be used to help us understand the history of life. Hooke realized, two and a half centuries before Darwin, that the fossil record documents changes among the organisms on the planet, and that species have both appeared and gone extinct throughout the history of life on Earth.

His health deteriorated over the last decade of his life, although one of his biographers wrote that "He was of an active, restless, indefatigable Genius even almost to the last." He died on this day, March 3rd, in London in 1703. It is safe to say that Robert Hooke never really received the recognition for his work during his lifetime, this is in part due to the negative impact of a major falling out with Sir Isaac Newton, a former colleague of Hooke.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Science Fact of the Week 12 - The Great Barrier Reef

At over 2000 kilometers long the Great Barrier Reef
is the largest living structure on Earth.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is the largest coral reef in the world, running roughly parallel to the coast of Queensland, Australia, for almost 2,000 km. It consists of 900 islands stretching over an area of approximately 344,400 square km. Australia has almost 1/5th of the world's reef area and most is located in the GBR. Washed by the warm waters of the South-West Pacific Ocean the perfect environment is created for the world's largest collection of corals. The GBR is has been listed by the World Heritage Trust as a protected site and is therefore managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority to ensure that its beauty is maintained for many generations to come. Thousands of visitors come to marvel at the spectacular sight every year.

The waters of the Great Barrier Reef provide the world's richest marine habitats - teeming with exotically coloured fish and diverse marine life. Amongst other things there are approximately 1,500 fish species, 400 coral species, 4,000 mollusc species, 500 species of seaweed, 215 bird species, 16 species of sea snake and 6 species of sea turtle. The corals, which form the framework of the reef, are colonial cnidarians that secrete an exoskeleton of calcium carbonate.