o The Frog Blog: September 2009

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Virology by Milly Murphy, Form V

Virology is the study of viruses; their structure, classification and evoloution, their ways to infect and exploit cells for virus reproduction, the diseases they cause, the techniques to isolate and culture them and their use in research and therapy.

The study of viruses has been in the news recently as scientists are trying to develop a vaccine for influenza A H1N1 (swine flu). A strain of this virus killed about fifty million people during the 'Spanish Flu' pandemic in 1918. Information about this virus has been pieced together using perserved tissue samples of the flu's victims. Such research has proved successful in the past, for example when Baruch Blumberg discovered the hepatitus B virus and subsequently developed a vaccine against it. The existence of viruses that infect bacteria was first recognized by Frederick Twort in 1911 which led to an explosion in virology research, since bacteria could be grown in culture easily. In the future, the study of viruses could lead to a cure for many (currently) incurable and fatal diseases.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

New Feathered Dinosaur Found

A newly discovered, profusely feathered dinosaur may help scientists gain further understanding of bird evolution and how they first took to the air. The nimble creature, which stood about 28 centimeters tall at the hip, is the oldest known fossil to have feathers and is estimated to be between 1 million and 11 million years older than Archaeopteryx, the major link between birds and reptiles.

Several fossils of the creature, which has been dubbed Anchiornis huxleyi, have been unearthed in northeastern China, a group of scientists reported recently. The rocks containing these feathered fossils were laid down as sediments between 151 million and 161 million years ago. For more information on this story click here.

Human Aquatic Ape Theory

Elaine Morgan is a tenacious proponent of the aquatic ape hypothesis: the idea that humans evolved from primate ancestors who dwelt in watery habitats. Below, watch her spirited defence of the idea -- and her theory on why mainstream science doesn't take it seriously. From Ted.com.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Irish School Wins F1 in Schools World Championship

Congratulations to Team Koni Kats from St. David’s Secondary School in Greystones, County Wicklow who took the top honours at the fifth Formula One in Schools Technology Challenge World Championships held last week in London. At a glittering awards ceremony attended by Lewis Hamilton and VIP guests from the world of Formula One and education, the talented students were presented with the Bernie Ecclestone World Championship Trophy and coveted Automotive and Motorsport Engineering scholarships to City University London. They were also given an exclusive tour of the McLaren Technology Centre .

Thirty one teams from 20 countries were vying for the champions title, with the Koni Kats team showing their design, development, engineering and presentation skills, as well as excellent team work, to lift the Bernie Ecclestone trophy and beat their international rivals. The team also captured two other awards: Best Presentation and Best Engineered car, en route to their championship title. The Koni Kats team comprising Conor Daly, Eoin O'Connell, Sean Cleary and Adam Gammell were thrilled to take victory.

Current F1 champion, Lewis Hamilton presented Koni Kats with the Best Engineered car award, which was supported by his F1 team, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. Hamilton praised the Irish team for their high level of engineering, which has set new standards for the F1 in Schools Challenge.

The Frog Blog would like to congratulate the boys on their fine win, a superb achievement. For more information on the competition in Ireland click here or click here to view the F1 in Schools Ireland Blog. This is another great achievement in science and technology for Irish pupils, after two pupils from Kinsale took first place in the European Young Scientist Competition last week.

Science Fact of the Week 29 - Polar Bears

The polar bear Ursus maritimus or the "sea bear," evolved about 200,000 years ago from brown bear ancestors, although the polar bear has a more elongated body and a longer skull and nose. The polar bear is superbly adapted for survival in the far north. The polar bear's legs are stocky and the ears and tail are small. However, their feet are very large to distribute load when walking on snow or thin ice and to provide propulsion when swimming; they may measure 30 cm across in an adult. Polar bears have superb insulation with up to 10 cm of blubber (fat) under their skin. Polar bear fur consists of a layer of dense underfur and an outer layer of guard hairs, which appear white to tan but are actually transparent. The polar bear has an extremely well-developed sense of smell, being able to detect seals nearly 1.6km away and buried under a metre of snow.

Polar bears can be found throughout the Arctic. The five "polar bear nations" where the ice bears are found include the U. S. (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Denmark (Greenland), and Norway. Polar bears are the world's largest land predators. They top the food chain in the Arctic, where they prey primarily on seals. Adult male polar bears weigh up to 700 kg, with females weighing considerably less. The largest polar bear on record, reportedly weighed 1,002 kg. Although most polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their time at sea, hunting on the ice.

Polar bear numbers are currently stable but many scientist believe that their numbers could decrease by as much as 30% by 2050, mainly due to the threat of global warming. Biologists now estimate that there are only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the world. Polar bears depend on the sea ice for hunting, breeding, and in some cases to 'den'. As the climate gets steadily warmer, the summer ice begins to retreat further in the Arctic circle, thus reducing the area available for polar bears to hunt. Polar bears are currently listed by the World Conservation Union as a "vunerable species".

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Welcome Open Day Visitors

The Frog Blog would like to welcome all visitors to St. Columba's on this our third open day. We hope you enjoy the facilities of the college and are impressed with our science building and classrooms.

US Woman Gets Pregnant Twice... in 2 Weeks!

In a highly uncommon medical feat that has doctors baffled a US woman, Julia Grovenburg,  discovered she was pregnant not once, but twice at different times. The 31-year-old woman went for an ultrasound to check on her 11-week-old baby and was amazed to find out that she was pregnant with two babies. Doctors believe Arkansas couple Julia and Todd conceived baby girl Jillian first, and two-and-a-half weeks later conceived baby boy Hudson. Because the babies were conceived at different times and have different due dates, they will not be twins. The babies are actually due in different years, at the end of 2009 and start of 2010. However, both are likely to be born together, either naturally or by Caesarean section, in December.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Combined History / Biology Trip to London

In January 2010, the Biology and History Departments of St. Columba's College have arranged a new cross-curricular trip to London. This exciting new trip is set to combine the numerous historical sites of London (The Tower of London, Imperial War Museum, Cabinet War Rooms & British Museum) with the abundant attractions of scientific interest (The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the new Darwin Centre). The tour will also aim to visit some of London's other general attractions and even provide for a West End show. The group will be based in South Kensington, with easy access to all of London’s main attractions.

The expedition will take place from Friday January 22nd to Monday 25th January (The 1st Exodus Weekend of the Hilary Term), giving us four days and three nights in London. The tour is open to members of Form IV, Form V and Form VI. Information has been sent to parents. To confirm a place parents must email info@sccscience.com to confirm or fill out the permission slip attached to the email sent. Places are at a premium, and filling fast already.

We believe this is an excellent opportunity to explore the wide range of activities London has to offer, while in a safe learning environment. If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here.

Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

The closing date for receipt of entries to this year's BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition is fast approaching. Entries are accepted from any second level students from Ireland, North and South, who are aged between 12 and 18 years on 31st October 2009. There are four categories in which you can enter a project: Biological & Ecological Sciences, Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences, Social & Behavioural Sciences as well as the Technology sections. Entries are submitted online. For more information or to submit an application, click here to visit the offical site of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2010.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Howard Florey - Penicillin Pioneer

Howard Walter Florey was born on the 24th September 1898 in Adelaide. Through his work on penicillin he was to become indirectly responsible for the saving of millions of lives across the world, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1945. So how is it then that, outside his native Australia, Florey’s name is so little known – whilst that of Sir Alexander Fleming is immediately associated with the ‘discovery’ of penicillin?

In 1938 Florey started working with the biochemist Ernst Chain in Oxford University, looking at naturally occurring substances which were capable of killing bacteria. They started off investigating the properties of lysozyme, a substance found in human tears and saliva, but then moved on to investigate antibacterial substances made by micro-organisms. During this research Chain came across an article written by Alexander Fleming ten years earlier in which he noted that in one of his Petrie dishes bacterial colonies did not grow in the vicinity of a particular mould (fungus) called Penicillium notatum. Fleming surmised that the mould must produce an antibiotic substance – which he tentatively named ‘penicillin’, although he was not able to isolate any for direct use as a medicine.

Although highly regarded for his intellect, Florey was viewed as something of a ‘colonial outsider’ in Oxford and, in a move that was ahead of its time, he set up a team of scientists to work on how to isolate, purify and clinically administer penicillin. On Saturday 25th May 1940 Florey’s team injected 8 mice with lethal doses of streptococci bacteria – 4 mice were subsequently treated with penicillin and 4 were left untreated as ‘controls’. By Sunday the 4 treated mice had recovered, and the 4 others were dead. Publication of these results spurred the British government, now embroiled in the Second World War, to take an interest in Florey’s work.

In 1941 the new drug was tested on Albert Alexander, a policeman who’s face had become infected following a scratch from a rose thorn. He was near death, and had already had one eye removed and the other lanced due to a build up of septic pus. After just one day of treatment he began to recover, but the supplies of penicillin soon began to run out despite desperate attempts to recycle it from the patient’s urine. Sadly Alexander had a relapse and died, and this led the team to concentrate future trials on children who, being smaller, would require less of the drug. By 1943 Florey was able to try penicillin on wounded soldiers in N. Africa – with seemingly miraculous results.

Today there are over 60 different types of antibiotic in common use, but new types are continually needed due to bacteria mutating to become antibiotic resistant – examples being the various hospital ‘superbugs’ such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

The Variety of Life by Max Kavanagh

Everywhere we look on this planet there is life in some form or another, whether it is microscopic bacteria or a huge killer whale. There is thought to be over 100,000 trillion living things on Earth and approximately 20 million different species. All of these life forms are divided up into five separate groups ('Kingdoms') which contain every form of life known to man. These groups are; Monera, Fungi, Protista, Plantae and Animalia. However, at the moment there is confusion as to whether “viruses” are actually living things as not all contain DNA (but a close relative called RNA), and they are not made of cells. Each different group is classified according to their structure. The group Monrea contains all bacteria, Fungi contains fungi (!), Plantae contains every plant on the planet, Animalia contains every animal, while the group Protista contains everything that is left, things which don’t quite fit into any of the other groups. The study of the classification of living things is called taxonomy.

Animals that live on the Earth today did not walk the Earth in time past; likewise animals that once walked the Earth are now extinct. This is due to evolution. The way that evolution occurs was explained by Charles Darwin when he compared the differences in species in the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia in Argentina. In evolution an organism may change over time in accordance with its surroundings, this is what Darwin suggested. Many species have changed significantly over many thousands and millions of years, and have even changed into completely different species. For example our own species Homo sapiens, are the descendants of the species Homo erectus. This is true for every species on Earth. Many species have also become extinct e.g. the dodo and, further back in time, the dinosaurs. It is thought that every living thing is descended from one form of bacteria, similar to those which still live today.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Armand-Hippolyte-Louis Fizeau

Armand Fizeau was born in Paris on this day, 23rd September 1819, and was to become one of the foremost physicists of his time. Following in his father’s footsteps, he initially studied medicine, but eventually ended up in the Paris Observatory and the College de France – a centre of innovative research since the sixteenth century.

In 1849 Fizeau became the first person to accurately measure the speed of light across the surface of the Earth – shining a beam of light through the teeth on the edge of a rotating wheel to reflect off a mirror placed 8 km away (on top of the hill of Montmartre) such that the distance moved by the wheel in the time taken for the light to return could be used to calculate the light’s speed. Fizeau also discovered that light travels faster in air than in water, which added weight to the theory that light travels as a wave rather than as little ‘corpuscles’. Working with Foucalt (of “Foucault’s pendulum” fame), Fizeau took the first clear photographs of the sun’s surface; and investigated many aspects of the nature of infra-red radiation and light – correctly relating the ‘red shift’ exhibited by stars to their velocity (i.e. the Doppler effect). The fruitful collaboration with Foucault apparently came to an end after a quarrel in 1850, although working with E. Gounelle in this year he measured the speed of electricity.

Subsequently Fizeau experimented with the use of a capacitor to increase the effectiveness of induction coils (devices which convert low voltage direct current into high voltage alternating current), and with the thermal expansion of solids. He was elected a member of the French Académie des Sciences in 1860, and was appointed Superintendent of Physics at the École Polytechnique in Paris in 1863. After a long illness Fizeau died at the age of 76, at the champagne town of Venteuil, east of Paris, on September the 18th 1896.

In a storm we see a flash of lightning slightly before we hear the associated rumble of thunder because light travels faster than sound. Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, along with radio waves, microwaves and gamma rays – and indeed nothing can travel faster than these electromagnetic waves. We now know that, in a vacuum, they travel at 299,792,458 m/s (about 700 million miles per hour).

New Movie - Creation

Creation opens in our cinemas this week and tells the story of the life of Charles Darwin as he struggles with the publication of his theory of natural selection. The story describes how Darwin was torn between his love for his deeply religious wife and his own growing belief in a world where God has no place. This is the extraordinary story of Darwin and how his master-work "The Origin of Species" came to light. The film stars real life husband and wife, Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. Below is the offical trailer for the movie. We look forward to seeing it here at the Frog Blog and hopefully bringing our pupils to see it too. A movie review will be posted as soon as we see it!

Froggie Wallpapers

By popular request, here are some more frog related wallpapers for your desktop or laptop!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

National Ploughing Championships

Today marks the beginning of the National Ploughing Championship, which takes place this year in Athy Co. Kildare. This is the biggest farming event of the year and the largest agricultural show in Europe. Over 180,000 people are expected to attend over the coming days, witnessing over 300 competitors take part. The event is not just about ploughing, with over 900 trade stands on site, ranging from agricultural machinery to breeding stations. The Ploughing Championship is a great family day out and well worth a visit. Expect heavy traffic in the area though, as people flock to the event in the afternoon.


At over nine metres in length, Triceratops horridus was among the largest ceratopsians (dinosaurs with horns and frills) and one of the last to become extinct. Its name means "three horned face" (although not all Triceratops discovered had three horns). Most had a small horn on their nose and two large horns on their brow. Triceratops was a herbivore, which means it only ate plants. It made up the bulk of the plant eating population just before the end of the Cretaceous Period, and its remains commonly occur in rocks representing areas that used to be coastal lowlands. Its head, sometimes as much as three metres long, was the largest ever possessed by a land animal. It had large eyes but a small brain for its overall size. It is believed that Triceratops was not the brightest animal ever to have lived although it was probably quite feisty. Many specimens have bones damaged in combats with rivals or predators. The world in which Triceratops lived did not contain any of the 'flowering plants' (Angiosperms) which dominate so many of our environments today, and Triceratops would probably have grazed on cycads and ferns. Animals that lived at the same time as Triceratops included Tyrannosaurus (click here to see previous Frog Blog post), one of Triceratops' main predators.
The first Triceratops remains were discovered near Denver, Colorado, in 1887, when they were identified as the remains of a recently extinct species of buffalo.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Science Fact of the Week 28 - The Moon

The moon is Earth's only natural satellite, and is a cold, dry orb whose surface is studded with craters and strewn with rocks and dust. The moon has no atmosphere, in other words there is no air on its surface. Most scientists believe that the moon was formed after the Earth collided with a Mars-sized object, early in its history around 4,500 million years ago. This caused a big chunk of the Earth's structure to break off and go into orbit around the Earth. This catastrophic collision occurred just about 60 million years after Earth first formed.

The moon is approximately 384,000 km from Earth on average, and it orbits around the Earth once every 28 days. As the moon orbits it also rotates on its own axis so that the same side of the moon always faces the Earth. The moon's mass is about 1/81 of the Earth's mass but its gravitational force is about 1/6 that of the Earth. The temperature on the Moon ranges from daytime highs of about 130°C to night time lows of about -110°C. On the moon, the sky always appears dark, even on the bright side (because there is no atmosphere). Also, since sound waves travel through air, the moon is silent; there can be no sound transmission on the moon.

The first people to set foot on the surface of the moon were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (on NASA's Apollo 11 mission, which also included Michael Collins) on July 20, 1969. Apollo 12-17 continued lunar exploration with the last person setting foot on the moon in 1972. NASA plans to return to the moon by 2018.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Remedi Annual Science Essay Competition

The Frog Blog would like to encourage pupils in St. Columba's and across Ireland to take part in the Remedi Science Essay Competition. This event has become one of the most important all Ireland science events for secondary school science pupils. Applications are invited from senior cycle pupils from the Republic and Northern Ireland for scientific essays of individual work of no longer than 1000 words around the theme “Are people’s DNA sequences their business and nobody else’s?” The competition is run with support from Remedi, NUI Galway and Science Foundation Ireland. For more information on this competition click here to visit their website or here to download an entry form. Entry forms are also available from Mr. Jones. The closing date for entries is Friday 30th October 2009.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Science Gallery - Bubble Expo

The Science Gallery, situated in Trinity College, is currently presenting Bubble, a fantastic exhibition of all things bubbly. At the exhibition you can discover how bubbles are formed, what sound they make, discover the physics of bubbles and even create giant bubbles in which you can surround yourself. According to their website "BUBBLE allows the visitor to get their hands wet, step inside the bubble and learn about the physics of foams. This ever-changing exhibit puts the visitor at the centre of creativity, and with a range of workshops and experiments the LATHER LAB will be your chance to delve deep into bubbles". The Science Gallery is completely free and is a great way to spend a few hours. The expo is particularly enjoyable for kids but all ages can appreciate it. They also have a fantastic cafe! For more information see http://www.sciencegallery.ie/.

Sense About Science

Sense About Science is a website which aims to respond to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues relevant to society at large. Issues discussed include items like fluoride in tap water and the MMR vaccine to controversies about genetic modification, stem cell research and radiation. They work with scientists and civic groups to promote evidence and scientific reasoning in public discussion. Recent discussions include alternative medicine, MRI, detox, radiation, health tests and swine flu. Many articles are available to download on pdf format too. A really interesting site for anyone doing a science project and well worth a look just for interest's sake. Thanks to Mr. McConville, our school librarian for recommending Sense About Science to the Frog Blog.

Congrats SCC English

The Frog Bloggers would like to congratulate, yet again, our colleagues in the English Department of St. Columba's College on their nomination for the Irish Web Awards. SCC English has been nominated in the Best Education & Third Level category, with some noteworthy opponents including the websites of third level giants Queen's University Belfast and the University of Limerick. We wish them luck in slaying the giants!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Irish Pupils Take Top Prize

The Frog Blog would like to congratulate Kinsale Community School pupils John D. O’Callaghan and Liam McCarthy on achieving the top prize at the EU Young Scientist Contest. On Monday evening, the two 14-year-olds, who won the overall prize in this year's BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition were presented with a cash prize of €7,000 and trophy at the awards ceremony in Paris. The project, entitled The Development of a Convenient Test Method for Somatic Cell Count and it's Importance in Milk Production, aimed to produce a cheap and efficient way for farmers to detect infection in milk cows which, since winning the BT Young Scientist award, has had the agri-science sector sitting up and taking notice.

The judges in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition described Liam and John’s milk testing project as "utterly practical and brilliant in its simplicity." The students had deduced that if a small amount of washing-up liquid was mixed with a fresh sample of milk, the mixture becomes progressively more viscous as the somatic cell content of the milk rises. The project also won them a special award from the Patents Office, for a project which best demonstrated the use of technology in new or improved applications, enhanced efficiencies and clever innovations.

This highlights yet again the fantastic standard at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition every year. This event is a great advertisement for the wonderful science teachers and pupils in this country. Well done lads.

Gene Therapy Cures Monkeys of Colour Blindness

Female squirrel monkeys can see in colour, but male squirrel monkeys are normally red-green colourblind because they lack pigments in the retina that detect those wavelengths of light. Now, researchers have performed gene therapy that allowed two adult male squirrel monkeys named Sam and Dalton to produce proteins that detect red light. As soon as the red-light-harvesting protein was made in the monkeys' eyes, the animals were able to discriminate between red and green spots in colour vision tests. The achievement is causing a stir among vision scientists and may have implications for understanding the evolution of colour vision. One in every six human males are colourblind, and this research may also lead to a possible cure in the future, although the scientists were quick to outline that this procedure may not work in humans.

Above is a simple colourblind test anyone can use. If you see the number 45, then your vision is normal. Colourblind individuals will just see random spots of colour.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

New Giant Rat Species Found

A new giant species of rat has been found in a the forests of Papua New Guinea. The 3 foot long rodent, around 5 times the size of a typical sewer rat, was actually quite docile, with a woolly, silvery fur. The discovery of this new rat species was a result of the first formal scientific expedition based around the fantastic BBC One program Lost Land of the Volcano, which was filmed between January and March of this year. The expedition unearthed 40 potentially new species, including a lost Bird of Paradise .

Dead Python Found in Enniscorthy

Fishery Officers making a routine inspection in the River Slaney, near Enniscorthy yesterday found something slightly unexpected, a 10 foot long African Rock Python. In case you might have forgotten, there are no native snakes in Ireland, so this animal must have been someones pet. The snake is believed to about 10 years old and had died recently. These snakes are known to be very aggressive and can live without food for up to a year. The African Rock Python is a large snake more at home on the Savannah which kills prey by squeezing it to death. Its usual diet as an adult in the wild is small mammals such as antelope but it can live on rats and rabbit.

Darwin Arrives in the Galapagos Islands

Today, in 1835, Charles Darwin aboard the ship HMS Beagle, arrived at the Galapagos archipelago, a cluster of islands on the equator 600 miles west of South America. During his five weeks studying the fauna in the Galapagos, Darwin found the giant tortoises differed considerably between the islands, depending on the type of vegetation available to them. Moreover, many islands developed their own races of iguanas. These observations contributed to his theory of "natural selection," that species evolved over thousands of millions of years. For more posts on Charles Darwin click here.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins follows up his highly successful, yet very controversial The God Delusion with his new book, the optimistically titled The Greatest Show on Earth - The Evidence for Evolution. Dawkins always writes in a clear logical fashion and is always easy to read so I am particularly looking forward to this book. By all accounts the frustration and anger evident from his last book has been replaced with a clear passion for presenting the evidence for Darwin & Wallace's theory of natural selection. I have just ordered my copy from Amazon and the Frog Blog will be donating a copy to the St. Columba's Library shortly. Please let us know what you think after you have read it. Available now from all good book shops and Amazon, let's hope The Greatest Show on Earth lives up to its name!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Science Fact of the Week 27 - Fastest Land Animal

The Cheetahs is without doubt, the fastest land animal on the planet, capable of reaching a whopping 70 mph. However, the cheetah can only run at this speed for approximately 200 - 300 metres, so it's a sprinter and would not do well in the marathon. Why would a cheetah need to be able to run so fast? Well, the only animal that comes in a close second to the Cheetah's amazing speed is its favourite prey, the gazelle. In order to catch up with a meal that's as swift as the wind, the cheetah had to evolve to develop the ability to run as fast, or faster than the gazelle, or face starvation.

The Cheetah is built for speed. It has long, slim, muscular legs, a small, rounded head set on a long neck, a flexible spine, a deep chest, special pads on its feet for traction and a long tail for balance. It is also the only cat that cannot retract its claws, an adaptation to help maintain traction like studs on football boots. Cheetahs usually prey on small antelopes such as gazelles or impala, but also hunt small mammals and birds. The cheetah gets as close to the prey as possible, then in a burst of speed it tries to outrun its prey. Once the cheetah closes in, it knocks the prey to the ground with its paw and suffocates the animal with a bite to the neck. Once a cheetah has made a kill, it eats quickly and keeps an eye out for scavengers—lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures and jackals will steal from this timid predator. Unlike most other cats, the cheetah usually hunts during daylight, preferring early morning or early evening.

Below is a video of a Cheetah chasing a Gazelle! Amazing.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway on the Co. Antrim coast in Northern Ireland was formed during the early Tertiary period some 62 - 65 million years ago, during a major episode of igneous activity, when the northern Atlantic Ocean was beginning to form. Three basaltic lava outflows occurred - known as the Lower, Middle and Upper flows. The hexagonal columns of the causeway occur in the middle basalt layer. The same formation can be seen at Staffa in Scotland (Fingal's Cave) and also occurs in the the surrounding landscape of North Antrim and in many other parts of the world.
The causeway area would have been situated much further south at that time, experiencing hot and humid conditions. This came about due to the fact that the Earth's crust is made of moving 'tectonic' plates, which float on the semi-molten aesthenosphere below. These plates move slowly, but over millions of years they can travel thousands of miles. The fascinating pattern that we see in the causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling. This caused the rock to shrink, and the resulting cooling joints produced the distinctive angular columns.
Of course, there is another explanation for the formations. Legend tells of Fionn MacCool, a local giant, who built the causeway as a means of travelling accross to Scotland to fight a rival giant. I visited the Giant's Causeway over the summer holidays and I would recommend a visit to anyone. The Antrim coast truly is an area of stunning natural beauty.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

New Human Fossils Found

New research suggests that a key stage in human evolution may have taken place on the fringes of Europe and not in Africa as has generally been thought. Fossils of Homo erectus, an ancient human relative, have been discovered in Georgia dating from 1.8 million years ago. Palaeontologists have unearthed remains of five of the primitive humans, suggesting that some of our oldest ancestors lived in the region at the time. These partial skeletons, which represent the earliest humans discovered outside Africa, challenge the theory that our ancestors evolved entirely on that continent and only left about 60,000 years ago.

The skulls and limb bones found at Georgia in 1999 and 2001 raise the possibility that Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans, evolved in Europe or Asia and later spread back to Africa. A fifth well-preserved skull, the most complete yet, has recently been discovered at the site and promises to give yet more information on the individuals living there. The Dmanisi fossils, which have been identified either as Homo erectus or a new species Homo georgicus, have already shown that ancient hominids began to leave Africa at least 1.8 million years ago, pushing back the accepted date for the first exodus from the cradle of humanity by several hundred thousand years.

For more information on this extremely interesting story can be found by clicking here.

DNA Fingerprinting

Today, in 1984, Sir Alec Jeffreys produce the first DNA 'fingerprint'. It was discovered by accident in England during work on tracing genetic markers in families. Jeffreys quickly realized this could be used as a basis for individually identifying people, as everyone has a unique genetic DNA profile (with the exception of identical twins). DNA fingerprinting uses this fact to identify or eliminate suspects in criminal cases and for identifying human remains. It is also used to resolve paternity and immigration disputes, and can be applied to non-human species, for example in wildlife forensic investigations. The first use of DNA fingerprinting in criminology was in the Enderby murder case in Leicester in 1986, which proved the main suspect innocent and subsequently helped to identify the real murderer.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Junior Certificate Results

Congratulations to our pupils who just received their Junior Certificate results today. The overall results were outstanding, with a number of pupils achieving 9 A's. In Science, the pupils did exceedingly well, with 88% of all candidates achieving an A, B or C in Higher Level. This compares very well with national averages. Well done to one and all.

Frog Fossils' Study Sheds Light on Life

An Article From Today's Irish Times

A UNIVERSITY College Dublin researcher is simulating how fossils form in order to help explain what palaeontologists read in the fossil record.

“Fossils are windows into the world of the past,” stated Dr Maria McNamara during a session at the British Science Association’s annual Festival of Science under way in Guildford. “People have been collecting fossils at least from Bronze Age times.” The problem is there are huge gaps in the record of life which stretches back several billion years.

Dr McNamara was nominated to deliver a prestigious Charles Lyell Award Lecture at the festival yesterday which she titled: What rots? How dead animals decompose and its importance for decoding the history of life. She described how fossils form when dead animals are buried in sediments to be preserved in rocks that later migrate back to the surface due to movements in the Earth’s crust...

She completed her PhD work on a study of 10 million- year-old frog fossils recovered from rocks that were originally sediments at the bottom of a 100 metre deep lake in Spain. These had undergone “exceptional preservation”, not just of skeletal bones but also soft tissues. Skin and internal organs had fossilised and could be studied in detail, she said. They could study the frogs’ physiology but also what they ate in their last meal.

Click here to visit The Irish Times Online to view the full article.

Famous Irish Scientists - John Tyndall

John Tyndall was born in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow in 1820, into a Protestant family of small landowners. His father, a man of some intellect, ensured that John received a good elementary education. He left school at 17 well grounded in mathematics, surveying and English. After a spell working with the Irish Ordinance Survey he took up a place as a teacher in Queenswood College Hampshire. He later completed a PhD in magnetism with Robert Bunsen (of the Bunsen Burner fame) in Hamburg. In 1853 he became Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institute, becoming Superintendent of the R.I in 1862, succeeding Michael Faraday. He became renowned for his public speeches, well capable of describing complex scientific terms in simple language people could understand.

John Tyndall was one of the most important scientists of the 19th Century. He made important contributions in physics, atmospheric science and geology and he was also the first to successfully answer the question "Why is the sky blue?". Tyndall was an inventor as well as researcher. He invented the fireman's respirator and improved on the fog horn, but his most important invention was his "light pipe", which he originally constructed using just a torch and a bucket of water. The modern version of this "light pipe" is the gastroscope, which is used in hospitals today to view the inside of a patient's stomach. Tyndall's "light-pipe" eventually led to the development of fibre optics. When not in the lab, he loved to study glacier forms in the Alps. He climbed Mont Blanc several times and eventually became the first person to climb Weisshorn in 1860. In the same year, he published a book on his adventures called "Glaciers of the Alps".

In his lifetime, Tyndall also made important contributions to thermodynamics, magnetism, electricity, telecommunications and electronics. As an educationalist he influenced the direction of science teaching at university and school levels. A truly great Irish Scientist.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Advance Notice - Conjugation of Moon with Five Planets

Today in 2040, the first visible conjunction during the 21st century of the crescent Moon with the five naked-eye visible planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - will occur. They will be seen clustered within a small distance of each other in the early evening sky. This event occurs once every 57 years, on average but occurred most recently in May 2000, but the Moon and the same five planets were lost to view because of the glare of the Sun from among them. However in 2040, the conjugation will occur well to the east of the sun and the planets will be clearly visible in the night sky. Set your alarm now!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Bad Joke

Mr. Jameson told me a really bad frog related joke today. All comments to the English Blog please!

A Frog and a Chicken are in a library. The chicken goes "Bok, bok, bok, bok, bok", at which the frog replys "readit, readit, readit".

Our sincere apologies.

Science Fact of the Week 26 - Bacteria

Bacteria are tiny living beings or microorganisms. They are single celled organisms called prokaryotes, which means that they do not contain a nucleus, but do have DNA. They are usually only a few micro-metres in length but normally exist together in billions. Bacteria are about the simplest cells that exist today. A bacterium is about one-hundredth the size of a human cell. Although bacteria are microscopic, they do come in different sizes and shapes. Bacteria are neither plants nor animals but some can photosynthesize, i.e. make their own food. These bacteria are known as Cyanobacteria or Blue Green Bacteria. A number of bacteria cause disease, these are called pathogenic bacteria. Bacteria are everywhere. A gram of soil typically contains about 40 million bacterial cells. The average human has around 1,000 trillion bacteria on their skin alone! There are also bacteria in our stomachs that help us digest the food our body can’t, and there are bacteria in our compost piles that help turn food waste into new soil.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Experiments Gone Wrong 1

I frequently come across videos on YouTube showing science teachers making some small errors in judgement or calculation. Here is the first in a series of videos we will post over the coming weeks of science experiments going horribly wrong! You call that a whitecoat?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Ireland's Birds of Prey - The Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks are small raptors with rather short blunt tipped wings and long tails. Sparrowhawks prey upon a wide range of other birds, females tending to take larger birds. Birds eaten include thrushes, tits, woodpigeons, finches and, as the name would suggest, sparrows. This is in addition to a number of small mammals. It is not uncommon for several Sparrowhawks to hunt over the same piece of ground. As a species they are on the increase throughout Ireland, to the extent that they are now the most common bird of prey on the island, with approximately 11,000 breeding pairs. The Sparrowhawk's colouring is bluish black for the male and a brownish colour for the female. They hunt primarily along hedgerows where they are exponents of flying fast and low, threading their way between saplings and hedgerow shrubs but garden bird tables are a common hunting ground also. Sparrowhawks build their nest close to the trunk in coniferous trees or in deciduous trees or uses old nests. The lays 4-6 eggs in May, which incubate for a period of 31-33 days with chicks fledging after 26-30 days.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Chem 4 Kids

The Frog Blog would like to recommend Rader's Chem 4 Kids website. This excellent site has been around for a long time, yet still provides great information and activities on a range of chemistry topics. This site is well worth checking out if you are revising your chemistry for Junior Cert or even your Leaving Cert. Each area has a series of questions to test your knowledge and the site is structured really easily and clearly. Let us know what you think of it, on our new Facebook Page. Click here to visit Chem4Kids.com.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Lollipop That Helps the Blind to See!

A new device to help the blind see has been developed by scientists. The electric lollipop or BrainPort captures images using a tiny camera and then converts the image into tiny tingles on the tongue. The tingles are then sent to the brain which then converts the tingles into pictures! After a few days practising people, who otherwise couldn't see, were able to make out shapes, read signs and even read letters. This amazing new device may help people to interact with their environment in ways never before experiences. Below is a video of an blind man using the device, with some amazing results!!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Science Fact of the Week 25 - The World's Smallest Frog

We're back and to kick start the new school year, we'll have our 25th Science Fact of the Week. And because it is the first one after a nine week break, we had to make it a Frog Fact! Welcome back to everyone and let's hope the Frog Blog has a good year in 2009 / 2010!

There is considerable argument about which is the smallest Frog in the world, but most scientists agree now that the award goes to the Brazilian Gold Frog (shown above). Adult Brazilian Gold Frogs measure only 9.8 millimetres. Its scientific name is Brachycephalus didactylus and it is found only in the forests around Rio de Janeiro. The total population is difficult to ascertain, as it is so small, but it is believed to be quite common. However, due to deforestation, the population is under threat. The Gold Frog is found on the forest leaf-litter in primary and secondary forests, where it also lays its eggs. Coming in a very close second is the Monte Iberia Eleuth. This little fella is found in a mountain range in Cuba. It is the smallest frog in the Northern Hemisphere and some adults can be smaller than the Gold Frog. The Monte Iberia Eleuth was only discovered in 1996 and very little is known about its habits. If you want to find out about the world's largest frog, click here to see a previous Science Fact of the Week.