o The Frog Blog: April 2009

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Robert Fitzroy & The Electron

Robert Fitzroy was a British naval officer, hydrographer, and meteorologist who commanded the voyage of HMS Beagle, on which Charles Darwin sailed around the world as the ship's naturalist. That voyage provided Darwin with much of the material on which he based his theory of evolution (Click here to see a previous post about the voyage of the Beagle). Fitzroy retired from active duty in 1850 and from 1854 devoted himself to meteorology. He devised a storm warning system that was the prototype of the daily weather forecast, invented a barometer (called the Fitzroy Barometer), and published The Weather Book (1863). His death was by suicide, on this day in 1865, during a bout of depression.

Also on this day, in 1897, Joseph John Thompson announced the existence of the electron. Thompson made the announcement at the Royal Institute claiming he had found a particle 1000 times smaller than the atom, which he called corpuscles (meaning small body). Despite being a well respected scientist of the time, many of his fellow colleagues didn't take too well to the theory as it was widely believed the atom was indivisible.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Extreme Sheep Herding

Check this series of extreme sheep herding out!

Most Distant Object in Universe Spotted

Astronomers have spotted the most distant object yet confirmed in the universe – a self-destructing star that exploded 13.1 billion (thousand million) light years from Earth. It detonated just 640 million years after the big bang. The object is a gamma-ray burst – the brightest type of stellar explosion. Gamma-ray bursts mark the dying explosion of large stars that have run out of fuel. The collapsing star cores form either black holes or neutron stars that create an intense burst of high-energy gamma-rays and form some of the brightest explosions in the early universe. A light-year is the distance that light can travel in a year, or about 6 million million miles. So astronomers are seeing this particular burst as it existed 13 billion years ago, because the light took that long to reach Earth. It was spotted by NASA's Swift satellite on April 23rd.

New Leaving Certificate Biology Notes - Fungi

Mr. Jones has edited his notes on Fungi, including more images and further information on Rhizopus. View the document below or go to http://sccscience.com/NEWSITE/biology.htm.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Octopus by Philip Blackley

The octopus is part of the Phylum Mollusca, belonging to the class Cephalopoda. This class of molluscs have their muscular foot in the form of tentacles on their head. Most cephalopods are active predators and eat other living things. They do not have external shells, except the nautilus, and they are the most intelligent of the invertebrates. They all move by jet propulsion.

The word octopus is of Greek origin and it means “eight-footed”. It has eight flexible arms (or "feet"), which trail behind it. Most species of octopus have no rigid skeleton and this allows them to squeeze through tight spaces. An octopus has a hard beak with its mouth in the middle of its arms. They are bilaterally symmetrical with two eyes and four sets of limbs, like all other cephalopods. They are very intelligent creatures. In the wild they can build traps and to escape from predators they spit out an inky-black substance and some can even change colour to blend in with their surroundings such as the Blue-Ringed Octopus.... See the remainder of Philip's project below. Philip is currently out of school. Get well soon.

Philip - Octopus

New ICT Blog

Our ICT Department has just launched their own Blog. The blog is designed to help both pupils and staff find articles to help with ICT issues as well as offer information on new technologies and websites that could be of use in a learning environment. The blog is run by Mr. Scott Crombie. The Froggies would like to welcome Scott to the club! You can view the blog at www.sccict.blogspot.com

Sheep Farm Visit

Before the Easter Break, members of the Agricultural Science sets from both Form V and Form VI visited the Strong Farm, outside Navan. The Strong's are sheep farmers and graciously allowed the pupils explore their farm, showing us the main buildings, the lambing pens, some new born lambs as well as their extensive forestry project. Below are a series of pictures taken by Sarah O'Mahony, Form V.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Who visits the Frog Blog

We've often wondered who visits the Frog Blog and where they come from. To assess our site traffic we use Stat Counter, an online service which is easy to use and absolutely free. The site allows you to see the number of visitors your site has each day, how they came across your site and even the type of browser used. Above is a map highlighting the visitors to the blog today so far and where they came from.

To sign up to Stat Counter visit www.statcounter.com.

Science Fact of the Week 17 - Swine Flu

Swine Flu is caused by influenza type A virus, there are regular outbreaks among herds of pigs, where the disease causes high levels of illness but is rarely fatal. It tends to spread in autumn and winter but can circulate all year round. There are many different types of swine flu and like human flu, the infection is constantly changing. Swine flu does not normally infect humans, although sporadic cases do occur usually in people who have had close contact with pigs. There have also been rare documented cases of humans passing the infection to other humans. Human to human transmission of swine flu thought to spread in the same way as seasonal flu – through coughing and sneezing. In the latest outbreak, in Mexico, it is clear that the disease is being passed from person to person. The outbreak in Mexico seems to involve a new type of swine flu that contains DNA that is typically found in avian and human viruses. The World Health Organisation has confirmed at least some of the cases are caused by this new strain of H1N1. It is genetically different from the fully human H1N1 seasonal influenza virus that has been circulating globally for the past few years. It contains DNA that is typical to avian, swine and human viruses, including elements from European and Asian swine viruses.

Symptoms of swine flu in humans appear to be similar to those produced by standard, seasonal flu. These include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills and fatigue. Most cases so far reported around the world appear to be mild, but in Mexico lives have been lost. Is it safe to eat pig meat? Yes. There is no evidence that swine flu can be transmitted through eating meat from infected animals. However, it is essential to cook meat properly. A temperature of 70C (158F) would be sure to kill the virus.

Scientists have long been concerned that a new flu virus could launch a worldwide pandemic of a killer disease. A new pandemic flu virus could evolve when different flu viruses infect a pig, a person or a bird, mingling their genetic material. The resulting hybrid could spread quickly because people would have no natural defences against it. The most notorious flu pandemic is thought to have killed at least 40 million people worldwide in 1918-19. Two other, less deadly flu pandemics struck in 1957 and 1968.
This, by the way, is the Frog Blog's 200th post! Well done us!

New SLSS Biology Website

A new online resource sharing website for Biology teachers, produced by the Second Level Support Service, has recently gone online. Once you are registered, you can get access to classroom presentations, mandatory investigation materials, images, animations and videos. All of the resources are free and teachers are encouraged to share their resources. Check it out at http://www.slssbiology.com/.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The European Garden Spider by Bevan Nunan

The European garden spider is common across all of Europe. It is also called the “Cross Spider” from the white cross shape it forms on its abdomen from cells filled with guanine. The colour can range from ginger to dark grey. Two of these spiders accompanied the Apollo spacecraft launched in 1973 for experimentation and it was found they could build their webs in micro-gravity conditions. As being from the Araneidae family or orb-weavers they build the wheel shaped webs we commonly see. When building a web they send out a silk string in the wind and attach it to another surface then climb halfway across it and send out another string forming a “Y” shape. They then build the rest of their web this way....

Saturday, 25 April 2009

TY Pupil Wins Essay Competition

The Frog Blog would like to congratulate Transition Year Biology pupil Kate Boyd-Crotty on winning the Three Rock Churches Environmental Group Essay Competition. Entrants had to write an essay under the title Creation Matters, and Kate wrote masterfully on the need for us all to be aware of the pressures we are placing on the environment through the demands of an ever increasing world population and a slavish reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels.

The Three Rock Churches Environmental Group is an ecumenical alliance of 6 churches in the local area, under the chairmanship of SCC parent Pamela Shiel. They are involved in a number of ongoing projects aimed at increasing environmental awareness and improving environmental sustainability. Amongst other things, the group is involved with several tree planting initiatives, and at Thursday’s award ceremony in Dundrum Methodist Church Hall we heard about the Moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) – popularly known as “the miracle tree”, which is being planted in arid tropical regions as an important source of nutrition (see http://www.vita.ie/ for more information).

Kate was awarded her prize by Irish Times columnist Sylvia Thompson who spoke illuminatingly on her view of the major environmental problems facing us today, and on how these chimed with the themes picked out in Kate’s essay. Kate picked up a book token as her prize, and there was also a generous cash donation to the College for use in suitable environmental projects of our choosing. We will liase with Mr. Swift who runs several such initiatives and who also oversees the CSPE “Action Projects” in Form III before deciding how to use the donation (more details will follow).

Title Bar Update

Many of you might have noticed that the frog on the top of the page keeps changing from time to time. That's because we've made a few new title images. We hope to change the frog every week, or at least try. Below are some examples.

We've also added a new Weblinks Page to the main science department website. Don't forget you can download course notes for all science subjects there. Go to http://www.sccscience.com/.

Famous Irish Scientists - Guglielmo Marconi

On this day in 1874 Guglielmo Marconi was born in Bologna. He pioneered the use of radio waves for communication, introduced the first microwave radiotelephone system (allowing the Pope to keep in touch with the Vatican when at his Summer residence), was first to outline the principles of radar, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909.

Marconi’s father was an Italian “country gentleman”, and his mother (nee Jameson - as in the whiskey people) was Irish – and grew up in Daphne Castle, County Wexford. Guglielmo had a comfortable childhood, and was educated privately in Italy. From an early age he took an interest in Physics, and when he was 21 he set up a wireless system in his father’s country estate at Pontecchio, which could transmit over 1½ miles. A year later he took his system to London to look for sponsorship and support – eventually setting up ‘Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Ltd.” in 1900. In 1901 he transmitted across the Atlantic using radio waves, from Poldhu in Cornwall to St. John’s Newfoundland (a distance of 2,100 miles). This led to the establishment of a commercial transatlantic radio link in 1907 between Clifden in Connemara and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia in Canada. For many years the standard domestic radio receiver was made by the Marconi Company - hence Michael’s opening speech in Brian Friel’s wonderful play “Dancing at Lughnasa”.

"When I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936 different kinds of memories offer themselves to me. We got our first wireless set that summer -- well, a sort of a set; and it obsessed us. And because it arrived as August was about to begin, my Aunt Maggie -- she was the joker of the family -- she suggested we give it a name. She wanted to call it Lugh after the old Celtic God of the Harvest. Because in the old days August the First was La Lughnasa, the feast day of the pagan god, Lugh; and the days and weeks of harvesting that followed were called the Festival of Lughnasa. But Aunt Kate -- she was a national schoolteacher and a very proper woman -- she said it would be sinful to christen an inanimate object with any kind of name, not to talk of a pagan god. So we just called it Marconi because that was the name emblazoned on the set."

Marconi truly changed the nature of long distance communications, and was bestowed with honours in his later life. He joined the Italian Fascist Party in 1923, and in 1927 Benito Mussolini was best man at his (second) wedding. Marconi died in Rome on July 20th 1937, and radio stations worldwide observed a two minute silence as a sign of respect.

Famous Irish Scientists - Robert Boyle

Born in Lismore Castle, Co Waterford, on the 25th January 1637, Robert Boyle is regarded by many as the founder of modern chemistry. He was born into a wealthy family, his father Richard was the first Earl of Cork. He was an excellent pupil and quickly learned six languages fluently. He attended Eton College before travelling through Europe as a teenager with a tutor. He is thought to have met Galileo while in Florence which prompted him to study astronomy and mechanics. On his return to Ireland he learnt of his father's death, and inherited a very large fortune as well as land in Ireland and England. Being financially secure, he set about using his money to study science.

His greatest achievements are in the study of the mechanics of air. He is probably most noted for his law concerning air volume and its relationship with pressure and temperature. To be precise, Boyle's Law states that "the volume of a given quantity of gas varies inversely with the pressure when the temperature is constant". Essentially, he is stating that if you double the pressure on a sample of gas, it's volume will half. He is also regarded as being one of the first to establish a real "scientific method", insisting experimental results should always be repeatable. He also was one of the first to propose the modern concept of elements, attacking the 2,000-year-old Aristotelian theory of four elements - earth, air, fire and water. He was friendly with Sir Isaac Newton, who shared Boyle's interest in Alchemy. He was also a keen theologian.

Robert Boyle died on the 30th December 1691 of paralysis but in his will he endowed a series of lectures, called the Boyle Lectures, where prominent academics could discuss the existence of God. These still continue today.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Like a Bull in a Supermarket (No China Shops in Mayo)

And now, some Agricultural Science News. Yesterday, in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo a bull escaped from the nearby mart and went shopping. The bull went into the nearby Supervalu Supermarket and sprinted down the aisles. It took a quick look in to the store room and then left through the front door. The video below tells the story and shows the truly remarkable CCTV footage. But, as a side note, the bull has been commended for supporting local business. On the way to Supervalu, it walked right past Tesco!

Penguin Corner Returns - The Erect Crested Penguin

Crested penguins all have flashy yellow or orange crests on the sides of their heads and red or reddish-brown eyes. Their beaks are red or orange in colour. However, there is a large variety of species classified as "crested", which all look very similar, and some appear on only a small number of islands in a very narrow range. The main differences between the species are size, shape and colour of the crest.

The Erect Crested Penguins are found only on the islands surrounding southern New Zealand. There are large numbers of them on Bounty, Antipodes and Campbell islands. The erect-crested penguins have long, silky feathers that stand straight. Spiky brush-like feathers grow from the base of the bill to the top of the head giving this penguin a distinct look. They can also raise and lower these feathers on the crest, which none of the other crested penguins can do. These birds are very sociable and nest in large colonies located close to colonies of Rockhoppers, another crested penguin. The total world population is about 200,000 breeding pairs. Their nests are shallow holes in the ground, which they line with plant material if available. After mating two eggs are laid but usually only one chick survives.

yTeach - A Resource for Science Teachers

yTeach is an online resource website for teachers of science. While based in the UK, many of the resources are equally applicable to both the Junior & Leaving Certificate science syllabi. To use most of the resources, one needs to register and pay a small fee for their use. However, they do offer a free 30 day trial and some of the resources are free! So check it out on http://www.yteach.co.uk/.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

"Missing Link" Skeleton Found of Seal Ancestor

The skeleton of a mammal (reconstructed above) has been unearthed in Canada, which may prove to be the missing link between seals and otters. The discovery of the skeleton, which is thought to have had webbed feet, may shed light on how mammals made the transition from land to water and ultimately in the understanding of how seals and walruses first evolved. The mammal would have lived approximately 23 million years ago and is thought to have walked upright on land but swam in fresh water to hunt. It is the oldest seal ancestor found so far and has been named Puijila darwini. Puijila is the term for "young sea mammal" in the Inuktitut language, spoken by Inuit groups in Devon Island where the fossil was found. The reference to Charles Darwin is in recognition that he had predicted such a "missing link" in the Origin of Species 150 years ago: "A strictly terrestrial animal, by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted in an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brace the open ocean".

In yet another illustration of the serendipitous nature of scientific research and understanding, it appears that the discovery of this important skeleton by geologist Natalia Rybczynski was entirely accidental. The story is that she was on the way to look at a nearby meteor impact crater when her vehicle ran out of fuel and ground to a halt. It was while she was waiting for team members to return with fresh fuel supplies that the first bone was discovered!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Best Wishes to Stephen Hawking

The Frog Bloggers would like to extend our best wishes to Prof. Stephen Hawking, who at this time is said to be comfortable in hospital after suffering with a chest infection. Prof. Hawking has been diagnosed with Motor Neuron disease since he was 21 and is almost completely paralysed. He is most noted for his book A Brief History of Time, first published in 1988 which spent 237 days on the top of the Time's Best Seller List.

Earth Day 2009

Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day. It is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. It is seen as a consolidation of efforts for maintaining the Earth's environment throughout the world. The date is significant, as it corresponds to the mass protest of 1970 which began the modern environmental movement.

The state of the planet is most certainly a concern as we continue to pollute the planet and, most probably, contribute to the enhanced greenhouse effect. The world now consumes two barrels of oil for every barrel discovered and it took 125 years to consume the first trillion barrels of oil – the world will consume the next trillion in only 30 years, according to Chevron. During the last one hundred years the global temperature has warmed between 0.7-1.5°C. It is predicted that global temperatures in 2100 will be 1.4-5.8°C warmer than they were in 1990.

So what can you do about it. The Earth Day website has a fact-sheet for schools and pupils which outlines simple things we can all do to help the environment. You can download it by clicking here. For more information, visit http://www.earthday.net/.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I finally got around to reading this wonderful book again over the Easter break, and what an enjoyable read - informative fluff as I like to refer to such books. Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything is an eminently readable look at the history of the universe and of the scientific discoveries that allowed us to understand it. What must have been an exhausting amount of research for Bryson has resulted in one of my favourite books. I thoroughly enjoyed his account of the formation of the universe, of Earth and the life thereon. But I also loved his humorous account of the scientists that have shaped our understanding of fields such as geology, particle physics and taxonomy. Amongst their greatest achievements are their personal stories, often tragic but always entertaining. He somehow makes Quantum Physics understandable (to a certain extent) while never losing the reader's attention on the boring or mundane topics (of course there are only one or two boring or mundane topics in science).

A Short History of Nearly Everything is available in the Library and I would recommend it to anyone who would like to learn a bit more about, well, everything!


Monday, 20 April 2009

Tree Found in Russian Man's Lung

It was reported last week that an otherwise healthy 28 year old Russian man was found to have a small fir tree growing in his lung tissue. He had originally been diagnosed with lung cancer after coughing up blood and suffering severe chest pains. X-rays confirmed a growth in his lung and the decision was made to proceed with surgery. However, when the doctor made his initial incision, he found a small tree growing in the moist and warm conditions of the lung. It is unlikely, however, that Artyom Sidorkin, our man in question, actually swallowed a seed. While the seed could have germinated it would have needed light to grow to the stage it was found in (almost 5cm long). Mr. Sidorkin studies plants for a living and probably inhaled a piece of a branch during his work. On the bright side, Mr. Sidorkin is no longer considered to have lung cancer!

Science Fact of the Week 16 - Atoms are Tiny

I want to mess with your mind for a bit and introduce you to the wonderful world atoms. Firstly, they are very small, one tiny particle of dust contains millions of atoms. One centimetre cubed of air (about the size of a sugar cube) contains approximately 45 billion billion atoms. Typically, an atom would have a width of one ten-millionth of a millimetre. Now that is small. Secondly, they are extremely abundant - there are lots of them. Well, think about it. If there are 45 billion billion in one cubic centimetre of air and, let's face it, there is a lot of air about, then it's safe to say there are a lot of atoms around. Atoms are everywhere. Look around you. Everything, absolutely everything, is made up of atoms.

But, now let's think of what atoms are made of. We all know, or at least should know, that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons are found in the nucleus of the atom, while electrons (for simplicity's sake) orbit the nucleus. Protons are themselves incredibly small. If you were to print out this page, the ink needed to print the previous full stop would contain approximately 500,000,000,000 of them. They are found in the nucleus of the atom, along with the atom's neutrons. The nucleus contains almost 100% of the mass of the atom, but is only one millionth of a billionth of the volume of the atom. Electrons, by the way, are even smaller than protons - 1,870 times lighter in fact!

But, I'll leave you with some more mind grabbing facts. Protons, neutrons and electrons are themselves made of even more unimaginably smaller particles. Protons and neutrons are made of particles called quarks and gluons, while particles called leptons form electrons and neutrinos (see John Updike's poem published previously on the Frog Blog). Other tiny particles include photons, which carry light energy.

Yes atoms are tiny, but are huge in comparison to some of the particles that are used to build them!

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Frog Blog named Scoilnet Star Site

The Frog Blog has been named a Scoilnet Star Site. We are delighted and hope that this allows more people to see the blog every day. Last month, over 8000 people viewed one of the many articles on the Frog Blog!

Scoilnet is the portal for Irish Education and links to some fantastic Irish produced websites. The Frog Bloggers are delighted to receive the Star Site tag. Thanks Scoilnet! To visit Scoilnet click here.