o The Frog Blog: 2010

Thursday, 30 December 2010

County Clare Science Attractions

The following article appears in the latest edition of Science Spin, Ireland's only dedicated science, nature and discovery magazine. It is written by Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones and recommends some scientific places of interest in Co. Clare.

Science field trips are a great way to enthuse your pupils about the world of science and nature. We are exceptionally lucky in Ireland to have so many attractions of scientific interest within easy reach and a few short days away can provide a huge range of teaching and learning opportunities. In each issue of School Spin, we will focus on a particular area of the country, highlighting the scientific attractions assessable within the area. This issue’s suggested field trip activities are all within Co. Clare.

Co. Clare has an abundance of activities for the science and nature enthusiast and is a brilliant place for a science, or more specifically, a biology field trip. A three day visit to Co. Clare can provide a jam packed itinerary for a school trip, which can be targeted specifically at science or made cross-curricular. Here are some suggested places to visit:

The Burren
The Burren, which means “Stoney Place”, is one of the most unique areas of Ireland, both geologically and biologically. It was formed over 340 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period, at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea. The limestone pavement, for which the Burren is famous, was formed by the calcium rich skeletons of marine organisms that lived in those shallow seas. Over the years, through glacial, tectonic, chemical and human influences, the Burren has evolved into what we see today. The result is a wonderfully rich landscape of swirls, tiers, cliffs, caves, hollows and pavements, classical features of a 'karst' landscape. Over 70% of Ireland’s plant species are found here including 22 of our 27 native orchids and it is awash with mammal life too – including all of Ireland’s 7 species of bat. A good place to introduce the history and geology of this wonderful place is the Burren Centre in Kilfenora. Open from March to October, the centre has a wonderful exhibition and their website (www.theburrencentre.ie) has downloadable “education packs”. Saying that, the only true way to explore the Burren is to get out and explore the landscape and its wonderful wildlife on foot! For more information on the Burren visit www.burrenbeo.com.

The Aillwee and Doolin Caves
The geological structure of the Burren lends itself to the formation of wonderful cave complexes and the caves at Aillwee and Doolin have been brilliant adapted as show caves. The visitor tours are excellent and well suited to a school audience and are a must see when in Clare. Doolin cave is home one of the largest free standing stalactite in the world – The Great Stalactite – and has recently opened a new visitor centre. The caves are open all year round with more information available on their websites: www.aillweecave.ie and www.doolincave.ie.

Chocolate & Strawberry Genomes Mapped

Strawberries and chocolate, the ultimate combination, and now the topic of the latest story in the world of science. A group of researchers in the US have mapped the genomes (genetic make-up) of the wild strawberry and that of the cacao tree (whose beans are used to make chocolate). The researchers believe that their findings could lead to the development of a generation of “super strawberries” that resist pests, smell better, tolerates heat, requires less fertilizer, has a longer shelf life, tastes better and has an improved appearance. The wild strawberry is closely related to other fruits like peaches, apples and raspberries, the genetic map may also help breeders of these crops to produce new varieties. As for the cacao tree, the team of researchers don't think that their results will change the flavour of chocolate but think that the research could provide information for greater protection from diseases and improved productivity. Another benefit of the genetic work could be better livelihoods for millions of cocoa farmers. Hopefully it will lead to tastier treats too!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

YouTube Saturday - The Frog Chorus

Merry Christmas from the Frog Blog. We are now on our Christmas holidays so the posts will become less frequent. However, here is a special YouTube Saturday to celebrate the holiday - We All Stand Together from Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus! Enjoy the holidays everyone!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Apollo 8

Today, in 1968, American astronauts on Apollo 8 became the first men to orbit the Moon. The three-man crew consisted of Frank Borman (Commander), James A. Lovell, Jr. (Command Module Pilot) and William Anders (Lunar Module Pilot). Not only was this the first manned flight to and from the Moon, but Apollo 8 served to validate many of the technical procedures necessary to support upcoming lunar missions. During ten lunar orbits, the astronauts took star sightings to pinpoint landmarks, surveyed landing sites, took both still and motion pictures and made two television transmissions to Earth. It was also the world's first manned flight to escape the influence of Earth's gravity. Launched on 21 Dec 1968, the mission lasted 6 days 3 hours until recovery on 27 Dec 1968.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Google Body

Google have just launched an exciting browser application for exploring the human body. Google Body allows you peel back the layers of the body, revealing detail on the muscular, skeletal nervous, circulatory and breathing system. The  art work is excellent and the easy to use program is ideal for introducing your pupils (or yourself) to the human body or for in-depth study. The easy to use "sliders" allow you zoom into a particular area of the body, change transparency for the different layers and even rotate your image. You can even switch on labels for your diagram.

It's completely free but may require you to update your web browser as the application required WebGL. Here is a link to the latest version of Google Chrome Beta. Click here to visit Google Body.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

YouTube Saturday - Measuring Beauty

This week's YouTube Saturday is a fascinating short video from the BBC science show 'The Human Face', which was aired way back in 2001. In this clip, comedian John Cleese and model and actress Liz Hurley investigate how mathematics can reflect our perception of beauty. Includes some great tests that you can try out yourself! Do parts of your body divide into the ratio 1 to 1.618?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Voyager I Nearing Edge of Solar System

Voyager I was launched on September 5th 1977, on a mission to study the outer edges of the solar system and, eventually, interstellar space. Amazingly, 33 years after its launch Voyager I has now reached the outer boundarie of the solar system, photographing Jupiter and Saturn close up along the way. Voyager I is now about 10.8 billion miles from the sun, traveling in a region of space known as the heliosheath, a turbulent area between the sphere of space influenced by the sun and magnetic forces from interstellar space that lies beyond.

Flying along at about 38,000 mph, Voyager 1 is continuing its  path towards interstellar space, where its mission is expected to last at least another 5 years. However, NASA believe that the spacecraft may have enough plutonium power to last it to 2025. It is currently so far from Earth that radio signals, traveling at the speed of light, take 16 hours to reach the spacecraft. Its twin, Voyager 2, is traveling at a more leisurely 35,000 mph and will leave the solar system in a southerly direction a few years after Voyager 1. To see some of the amazing photographs taken by the Voyager Spacecraft click here.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Irish Times BANG - Ireland's Ice Age

In this month's Irish Times BANG science supplement, Dick Ahlstrom looks at what could happen if the Gulf Stream stopped?

A frozen Shannon, white Christmases and icy noses. If the Gulf Stream current stopped we could always have freezing winters like those in Siberia, writes Dick Ahlstrom

Ireland had some extreme weather during early December but this is nothing compared to how things would be if, for some reason, the Gulf Stream ocean current stopped. Without its warm waters flowing past us we would be plunged into long freezing winters with average annual temperatures similar to those in Siberia or northern Canada.

Winter would start in August and not finish until May. We would get metres of snow a year and our lakes, rivers and even the mighty Shannon would freeze over. We would all need triple glazing and thick insulation in our homes to keep warm and we might have to start sharing the neighbourhood with polar bears.

Just how much the Gulf Stream (and its extension the North Atlantic Current) does for us can be seen by looking at a globe and noting our latitude on it compared to Canada’s Hudson Bay.

The town of Churchill, on the bay’s western shores, lies at 55 degrees north and has an annual average temperature of -7 degrees. Derry lies on the same line of latitude and has an annual average of nine degrees.

Scientists have speculated about what would happen if the Gulf Stream slowed or even stopped and the predictions all suggest big changes for Ireland. If the warm current, which also moderates Britain’s climate and allows certain Norwegian ports to remain ice free through winter, stopped or even slowed we would begin to experience winters like those in Churchill in Canada.

The severe winters would mean that a white Christmas would be virtually guaranteed. We would lose much of our agriculture but we could get into winter tourism with dog sledding and snowmobiles.

But what might cause such a dramatic event? Climate change may provide a switch that could shut off the Gulf Stream. A strong warming trend could bring changes that would interfere with a global system of ocean currents known as the thermohaline circulation.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Irish Times Bang Science Monthly #2

The second edition of the BANG, a brilliant science mag for teens, is out now and is available in today's edition of the Irish Times! Again, there are some great features including a brilliant look at the history of time, a review of the best inventions of 2010, physical computer games , could you be Doctor Who, dissected view on what's been happening this month in science. (To see all the features from today's edition click here). There is also a great photo competition! BANG are also on Twitter and Facebook!

Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones once again contributes and in this issue writes about "Why Haven't They Invented ...... A Cure For The Common Cold". 

Irish Times BANG - A Cure For The Common Cold

We’ve all been there: runny nose; aching muscles; sore throat; a nasty cough; shivering; severe headache; violent sneezing; fever – all the typical symptoms of the “common cold”. But how come, in this the age of modern medicine, no one has come up with a cure for this nasty little infection?

On average, every Irish adult gets infected by cold-causing organisms twice a year and every Irish child is infected an astonishing six times a year, making the cold the most common viral infection in humans and the number-one reason why most people go to the doctor (and miss school).

A typical cold lasts for around a week and, while not life threatening, can be an awful experience. Most colds are caused by a group of complicated viruses called rhinoviruses. These microscopic pathogens are pretty much found everywhere and, from time to time, can break through the protective lining of your nose and throat when you inhale them.

When you are infected, your body produces chemicals called histamines which are responsible for most of the symptoms of the cold. The rhinoviruses are not able to live in your body for very long so generally can’t cause serious problems such as pneumonia.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Where Have All The Passionate Physics Teachers Gone?

This excellent piece first appeared yesterday on the Guardian Science Blog. It is written by Alom Shaha, a physics teacher in the UK, and he asks simply "where have all the passionate physics teachers gone" and pleas for more physicists to become teachers. An excellent post from one of the UK's best teachers and an inspiration to us all. This post has been published here with the author's permission.

My name is Alom Shaha and I am a physics teacher. Far too often, the response I get from introducing myself like this is, "I hated Physics at school", to which I usually reply, "You wouldn't have if I had taught you!"

I'm not just being cocky. Physics is a stimulating, beautiful, exciting subject and I don't think it's that hard to get schoolchildren to appreciate at least some of those qualities. It depresses me that any physics teacher would do such a poor job that his or her students leave school "hating" a subject that covers some of the most interesting and important ideas humans have ever had.

I fear I'll be meeting more and more people who will tell me they hated physics at school – and it won't be their fault. And it won't be the fault of their physics teachers either, because, strictly speaking, these people won't ever have had an actual physics teacher. They will have been deprived of this because of a crisis in English education: there simply aren't enough physics teachers to go round. Instead, the subject is far too often being taught by "non-specialists", teachers who are usually qualified in chemistry or biology. Many of these teachers have not studied physics beyond GCSE and some even actively dislike physics.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Five Scientific "Facts" Humankind Thought Were True

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the field of science is that it often changes the way we understand reality as scientific progress continues onward. For example, many of you are probably familiar with the recent declassification of the dwarf planet Pluto based on shifting standards of astronomy. Or maybe you're familiar with the popular idea that we lose a majority of our body heat through our head, which researchers recently proved false. Changes like this constantly occur and will continue to occur. One simply has to look at the history of science to understand how exciting the course of scientific progress truly is. Here are five of the most commonly accepted scientific beliefs as they were debunked over the course of time.

The World Is Flat
Interestingly, this belief is often wrongly attributed to the people of Columbus' era, when in fact it was already largely dismissed by Aristotle and the ancient Greeks, who believe that the world was a sphere around which the solar system rotated. The belief that the world was flat was actually popularized by many culture's religions and myths regarding the creation of the world. For example, ancient Egyptians believed the world was flat; it was often illustrated as a flat disc afloat in a primordial ocean. This belief didn't fall completely from favour until 1st century AD intellectual Pliny the Elder confirmed that everyone believed in the spherical nature of the earth.

The Ptolemaic Solar System
Another popular belief in the ancient world was that the solar system all revolved around the earth. Both Aristotle and Ptolemy advanced this belief, and so it was accepted as fact throughout ancient Greece as well as ancient China. This belief lasted until the mathematical work of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler helped to shift humankind's understanding of the solar system from a geocentric model to a heliocentric, or sun-centred, model.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

YouTube Saturday - The Sun, Our Local Star

This week's YouTube Saturday is a "bumper edition", featuring three videos, each a part of one of the European Space Agency's (ESA) brilliant Vodcast. The video podcasts are presented by Rebecca Barnes, from ESA Science, and contain brilliant information on a range of topics within astronomy. They use actual footage from some of ESA's missions, like SOHO, as well as brilliant animations to bring their vodcasts to life. In this episode (number 8 in their series) investigates our closest star, the Sun, and finds out why it is the central engine of the Solar System. She also takes a look at Ulysses, SOHO and Cluster, the European space missions that have been key to advancing our understanding of the Sun. To see all of ESA's Vodcasts click here.

Friday, 10 December 2010


To kick off an occasional series of twenty or so articles called ‘Probably One Of Our Top 10 Scientists Of All Time’, we look at Democritus. He was the first person to develop a view of the world based on atoms, although he was a natural philosopher who did not routinely employ ‘the scientific method’ in his intellectual pursuits, and certainly wouldn’t have described himself as a scientist (a term first coined in 1833 by William Whewell). In this context we consider anyone a ‘scientist’ who is genuinely inquisitive, relatively open-minded, and has an urge to try and make sense of the world around them based on common sense and observation. Scientific enquiry does not occur in a cultural vacuum after all, and we are all products of our time! By all accounts Democritus was a highly inquisitive person, and is famously translated as saying “I would rather discover one scientific fact than become King of Persia.”

Democritus was born in Abdera in Thrace, northern Greece, in 460 BC, and died at the remarkable age of 90 (or perhaps even older). He was a follower of the little known Leucippus and together they are credited with first putting forward the concept of atoms. Contrary to many of their more famous rivals they interpreted Nature in a mechanistic way – such that natural phenomena were free from the interventions of gods and supernatural causes. Their ideas on the nature of matter and the workings of the body etc., were thus remarkably close to our present day science-based world view. Perhaps unfortunately for them, and indeed for the whole of western science, their ideas were given little credence – and for over 1,000 years the writings of their arch opponents Plato and Aristotle held sway. Indeed it was said by Aristoxenus that at one point Plato wanted to burn all the works of Democritus, and was careful never to mention him in his own writings.

Democritus believed that things consisted of an infinite number of very small particles called atoms (from the Greek atomos indivisible). These atoms were seen as eternal, and it was believed that there were many different kinds of atom, which could move about randomly – occasionally colliding and joining to form a new substance. Whilst each atom was indestructible, the things they created by combining with others were not. Democritus summed up his views by saying “nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion”. This concept of matter was in opposition to the ideas of many contemporary philosophers, who saw water, air, fire and earth as primordial substances from which all else was formed – in a world largely ruled by the whims of gods.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

ESA Kids Website

The European Space Agency (ESA) has an excellent website directly aiming at kids of all ages (even big kids). The website contains a massive variety of content from interesting articles, videos, activities (like model building toolkits), a kid's art gallery, games, colouring books and more. Of course there is also loads of easy to use factual content including a section on "our universe", "life in space", "lift - off" (which looks at ESA's missions, launchers and mission control centre), "Earth" and a section called "useful space" which looks at how studying space helps us in our everyday lives (weather forecasting, mobile phones, GPS etc). All in all, this easy to use website allows anyone learn more about space, space exploration and the work of ESA. Bookmark it now! Click here to visit ESA Kids. To visit the main ESA website click here or here to visit the ESA Education Resource Website.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Christmas Science Facts from Communicate Science

Communicate Science, an excellent Irish science blog run by Eoin Lettice (from UCC) is running a series of excellent posts on "Christmas Science Facts". Eoin is going to publish a Christmas themed story every day, for 20 days, from now until Christmas. It's now day three and Eoin has some information about holly for us. The other Christmas science facts have been on gender differences in reindeer and on frankincense, one of the gifts supposedly carried by the Magi. So why not follow Eoin's series over the next three weeks - I can't wait to see what's coming next! Click here to visit Communicate Science.

Recommended Software - Stellarium

Stellarium is a brilliant piece of astronomy software which gives you a three -dimensional view of the night sky, from any part of the world and at any time or date. It is ideal for planning a telescope session a day or two in advance or simply for learning about what we are seeing in the sky on a given evening. The software not only allows you pan in all directions, but you can zoom to a section of the sky and see planets, star clusters, nebulas, constellations or galaxies in extraordinary detail - just like you would if you were viewing them with a microscope. Full co-ordinates are provided so you can then get out you binoculars, telescope or simply look up to see them for real. It comes preloaded with 600,000 stellar objects in its database which you can upgraded to over 10 million! There are also a series of "plug-ins" which show how various astronomical events play out - for example a solar eclipse. The software is extremely powerful, yet very simple, and is in use in many planetarium projectors. But best of all, Stellarium is completely free to download! A must of the anyone interested in astronomy. Click here to download.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

An Aspirin a Day Keeps Cancer at Bay

Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that taking a small dose of the over-the-counter drug aspirin can reduce the risk of death by cancer by 20%. The findings are based on an overview of eight trials involving over 25,000 people. These trials were primarily concerned with reducing heart attacks, but information on deaths from cancer was also collected. The team of researchers found that a low dose of aspirin taken every day reduced total deaths due to cancer because the drug affects several common individual cancers, including cancer of the oesophagus, the lungs, the stomach, the pancreas and possibly the brain. They also found that the benefits of taking aspirin increased with age. Aspirin is already considered a "super-drug" which can be used to treat heart attack and stroke patients as well as everyday symptoms of common colds and as a pain reliever. However, aspirin does have some side effects, principally bleeding of the stomach and gut, but the researchers are quick to point out that the benefits greatly outweigh the potential harm. For more on this important breakthrough see a great piece in today's Irish Times by Dr. Muiris Houston. 

Frog Blog on Tour

Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones set off to the NEMO Science Centre in Amsterdam this morning to take part in the Galileo Teacher Training Programme. The four day workshop is run in conjunction with the European Space Agency and will give the participants the opportunity to gain practical skills to enable them to enhance their teaching of the physical sciences, particularly in the area of astronomy. Mr Jones will learn about, and gain practical experience in, new tools and software which will enhance the teaching and learning of astronomy as a means of making pupils more enthusiastic about science. The four days pack in a series of workshops on various topics including how to access and use the ESA science data archives, reviewing ESA Education Resources, using image processing software, using robotic telescopes in the classroom and much more. Should be fun! Mr. Jones will be giving feedback on the workshop via Twitter throughout the week. Click here to see his Twitter page.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Science Quotes - George Boole

"To unfold the secret laws and relations of those high faculties of thought by which all beyond the merely perceptive knowledge of the world and of ourselves is attained or matured, is a object which does not stand in need of commendation to a rational mind."

"It is not of the essence of mathematics to be conversant with the ideas of number and quantity."

"Probability is expectation founded upon partial knowledge. A perfect acquaintance with all the circumstances affecting the occurrence of an event would change expectation into certainty, and leave nether room nor demand for a theory of probabilities."

SCC English Shortlisted for Three Edublog Awards

Our esteemed English department colleagues over at SCC English has been shortlisted in three categories in this year's Edublog Awards. The winners are decided by a public vote and voting is now open! SCC English is shortlisted in the following categories:
  • Best Group Blog (which SCC English won in 2008 and came third in 2009).
  • Best Educational Use of Audio for their excellent "Patterns of Poetry" series.
  • Best Resource Sharing Blog.
You can vote in a few seconds by going to the Edublogs site here, or via the individual links on SCC English here.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

YouTube Saturday - The Amazing Sengis

The Sengis, or Elephant Shrew (although not technically a shrew at all), is an amazing little creature known for its swift running and ability to jump distances up to a metre. Its keen senses of sight, hearing and smell alert it quickly to danger - just like in this video from the BBC series LIFE, where a lurking lizard awaits!

Friday, 3 December 2010

"Alien" Bacteria Use Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus

As predicted in yesterday's post, NASA have revealed that they have found a new type of extremophile bacterium which can use arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA, fats and proteins. Until now, scientists believed that life depended on six elements: oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus - with arsenic actually being extremely poisonous to most living things. This new bacterium, which has been christened GFAJ-1, breaks the rules in this regard and can utilise the poisonous element, instead of phosphorous, to survive. The bacterium is only found in once place on Earth, Mono Lake in California (pictured above) and, we are told, its discovery may well lead to a whole new branch of microbiology. However, the hype surrounding this discovery seems to have been inflated, and the perceived scientific implications (most notably that life doesn't necessarily rely on the six elements we once believed, thus living things could be found on planets and moons that don't have these elements or have very extreme environments) are not as significant as NASA has portrayed. So it seems we will have to wait a little longer for NASA to actually find aliens, and hopefully their next alien discovery might not be on Earth! 

The Guardian have a number of great pieces on NASA's discovery here and here.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

NASA To Reveal "Astrobiology Finding" Today

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is due to hold a press conference shortly to make a statement about a new "finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life"! The news has caused a bit of a stir online with rumours spreading about whether they have found alien life on other planets. However, it seems that NASA is to reveal that it has discovered a bacterium living in a lake, rich in poisonous arsenic, near California's Yosemite National Park. The finding is important because the bacterium uses arsenic in place of phosphorus - an element previously considered vital for all forms of life. NASA is sure to assert that, if there can be life without phosphorus, then there are thousands more planets which could sustain life of some sort. However, no one is really sure what they are going to reveal and some believe they may reveal they have found bacterial life on Mars! No matter what the real story is, it's certainly fun speculating! Looking forward to the press conference and we will update you on the story as the news comes in.

Weird & Wonderful Animals - Sea Dragons

Found in the warm southern waters of Australia, the Sea Dragon surely must be considered the most beautiful of Earth's weird and wonderful animals. By far the most ornately camouflaged members of the animal kingdom, they blend seamlessly into the seaweed and corals that dominate their habitat. Closely related to seashorses, it is the male sea dragon that carries the young, holding them in a spongy brood patch on the underside of the tail where females deposit their bright-pink eggs during mating. The eggs are fertilized during the transfer from the female to the male. The males incubate the eggs and carry them to term, releasing miniature sea dragons into the water four to six weeks later. There are two species of sea dragon (which belong to the Syngnathidae family by the eay) , the leafy sea dragon (Phycodurus eques) and weedy (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). Leafies are generally brown to yellow in body colour with olive-tinted appendages. Weedies have less flamboyant projections but more colourful, typically red colour with yellow spots. Below is an extract from BBC's Life series and looks at the unusual mating habits of the leafy sea dragon!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Irish Science Blogs - A Working List

Good news!!! The number of science blogs in Ireland seems to be on the increase. This is a brilliant development and it is very reassuring to see scientists, researchers, students, teachers and anyone with an interest in science reaching out to the Irish public. However, since these blogs are emerging so quickly, it can be difficult to keep track of all of them. So, in an effort to help Irish science bloggers network with individuals with similar aspirations (namely the communication of science - no matter what our target audience is) and to allow members of the Irish public find all these new blogs, I want to make a comprehensive list of all of Ireland's science blogs - both from individuals and organisations. Below is a list of 30 50 Irish science blogs which I am aware of (and their associated twitter accounts). If you are an Irish science blogger or know of another science blog out there, please add the address as a comment below. Once the list is complete, I think it would be great to have a "science blogger meet-up" to discuss the role of science blogs in science communication and to consider an idea I posted earlier in the year - namely the creation of an Irish science blogging network.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Mouse

Scientists in Harvard have successfully reversed the ageing process in genetically modified mice! The mice were genetically altered to age faster than normal but, when given a special type of oestrogen, the mice returned to a younger state. The rodents became fertile again, their brains, livers and other internal organs grew, and the mice performed better on cognitive tests. The rejuvenation is down to the production of a enzyme called telomerase in the mice (which was triggered by the oestrogen injection), which protects DNA during replication. Telomerase performs a similar function in humans so, in theory at least, the study might give hope to people who suffer from progeria and other accelerated ageing disorders. But, the mice used in the experiment were genetically modified, so the scientists will now look to see if the enzyme has an effect on normal mice before getting too excited about the results. Earlier experiments saw mice develop cancer with high levels of telomerase.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Science Gallery Christmas Cards!

The brilliant Science Gallery in Dublin's Trinity College has a new range of original Christmas Cards with a scientific twist! There are seven different designs available including Darwin's Phylogenetic Christmas Tree, Double Helix Tinsel, All I Want for Christmas, ASCII Reindeer, Big Bang, Binary Christmas Tree and ASCII Snowman, all designed by "science doer" Shaun O'Boyle. The cards are €2.50 each or €12 for a pack of 7! All are available to buy now in the brilliant Science Gallery Shop, along with a great selection of books, toys, stationary and gifts. They also have a special section for "Kris Kindle" ideas. 

Finally, don't forget to pop in and visit the Green Machines exhibition currently on in the Science Gallery!

Monday, 29 November 2010

What Are Stem Cells?

The Irish Stem Cell Foundation (ISCF) is Ireland's national stem cell research organisation and a member of the International Consortium of Stem Cell Networks. The organisation seeks to educate and improve current governance to make Irish medical research more competitive internationally and to educate and thus reduce risk to the Irish patient. As part of their education programme they have produced this excellent video presentation to explain what stem cells are and how they may be used in the future.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

YouTube Saturday - Galapagos

This week's YouTube science video is from the BBC's brilliant series Galapagos, one of our recommended DVD's for science teachers. This excellent three part series, narrated by Tilda Swinton, brings these magical islands to life, exploring their unique geology and biology as well as their influence of the work of Charles Darwin. This clip from the first episode, Born of Fire, looks at how the islands were formed.

Friday, 26 November 2010

100 Million Year Old Crocodile Discovered

Scientists have unearthed a previously unknown species of crocodile which lived about 100 million years ago. The croc had longer legs than modern-day crocodiles and, based on the characteristics of its teeth, probably fed on fish. It was found in Thailand’s northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.

The new species, dubbed "Khoratosuchus jintasakuli" after the nickname of the province “Korat” where the fossil was found, is from the Cretaceous Period and is thought to have lived on land. It's longer legs allowed it to run quite quickly. The skull of the three year old specimen is just 20 cm (8 inches) long.

Jupiter's Belt Returns

Last May we reported that one of Jupiter's gas "belts" had disappeared, baffling scientists. Well, no need to fear because the belt has returned! The stripe's disappearing act in May was most likely due to clouds shifting altitudes, with white ammonia clouds obscuring the clouds below. This phenomenon has allowed astronomers to study the weather and chemistry of the gas giant's atmosphere. In addition to the return of the belt the planet's "Great Red Spot" had darkened, but astronomers say it will now lighten again as the belt re-forms. The stripe has come and gone several times in recent decades but the mechanism by which it returns remains mysterious.

Science on the Simpsons

Science on the Simpsons is an excellent website containing dozens of brilliant, fun and informative video clips from everyone's favourite cartoon family. Topics on offer include natural selection, Newton's Laws, energy conversion, conservation of mass and even the Coriolis Effect. Below is one video which sees Mo appearing on a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" style TV show and turning to his friend Homer, the nuclear power plant employee, for help with a question on sub atomic particles! A classic! For more Science on the Simpsons click here.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Science Rap Competition Winners

Well done to the winners of this year's Science Rap competition, Rory O'Conner (better known as E=MC Rory) from Fermoy and Catherine Finn from Dublin. Organised by Discover Science and Engineering, along with Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre of University College Cork, the Science Rap competition "challenged students to unleash their inner rapper and express themselves and their thoughts about science and technology through rap music".

Students were asked to write their own rap based around this year's Science Week theme - "Our Place in Space" - and post their rap on YouTube. Below is Rory O'Connor's winning entry and all of the winners can be viewed here. Each receive a nice shiney new iPad - very jealous. Congratulations to all the winners, runners up and indeed everyone who entered!

GM Foods - What Are The Issues?

This post is designed to aid teachers and pupils in a classroom discussion on the issues around GM Foods. This article first appeared in the November issue of Science Spin and was written by Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones.

GM or “genetically modified” foods are food products that have been produced by plants or animals whose genetic makeup has been altered artificially. Such alteration is called genetic engineering and involves changing an organism’s DNA, usually by introducing a new gene. These changes can result in foods growing more quickly, growing larger, varying in colour or becoming resistant to a certain disease or pest. GM foods have been grown since the 1990’s, mostly in the United States, and are typically plant crops like soya, maize or rapeseed, although some GM foods are produced from animals. The growth of GM crops has proven very controversial amid concerns over their effects on human health. A class discussion on GM foods is a great way to explore the science behind their production, their potential benefits and their harmful effects.

Sexual Reproduction vs. Genetic Engineering
During sexual reproduction, two gametes (sex cells) fuse forming a new organism. This organism is genetically different from its parents (i.e. its DNA is slightly different from both parents), with different characteristics. The changes are random and generally unpredictable. This is generally called cross or selective breeding and has been the principle means of creating new strains of crops or new breeds of food producing animals in agriculture. In some sense, all crops are genetically modified through natural and artificial selection, and by selective breeding and crossing. When we talk about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), however, we mean something more specific: organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified beyond what can be achieved through regular sexual reproduction. For discussion: Is selective breeding natural? Is it ethically right to alter genes in organisms?

How are GM Foods made?
GM foods are produced from GMO’s, organisms whose DNA is altered slightly without sexual reproduction - the changes are not random but specific, and their effects are more predictable. Most GMO’s are produced by introducing a gene sequence from another organism (e.g. a bacteria resistant to a pesticide) into the DNA of a food producing crop (e.g. potato). The result is the newly formed potato has a built in pesticide, therefore not requiring pesticides to be sprayed on the crop during the growing season. For discussion: Is producing GMO’s going against nature? What are the risks? Can these genes be transferred to “natural” crops? Are pesticide resistant crops preferable to crops sprayed with pesticides?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Frog Bloggers @ The Spiders

Last Thursday evening the Frog Bloggers attended a glittering award ceremony - The Eircom Spider Awards. We had been nominated in the "Big Mouth" category and certainly did not expect to win. But thanks to the large number of people who voted for us we managed to take home the unique trophy and the "honour" of Ireland's biggest mouth (we think that's a good thing). Anyway, below is a short video summarising the events of Thursday evening and  features the Frog Bloggers speaking briefly about what we do!

Science Quotes - Charles Darwin

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”


Carbon Emissions News Brightens up the Day (A Bit)

Oh well, it’s not all doom and gloom here due to the financial crisis – the good news is that global carbon emissions are down (a little). Sadly however, this is largely due to the effects of the recession it is thought, rather than a long term victory for green energy campaigners. The bad news is that economic recovery is likely to result in the upward trend in carbon emissions becoming re-established.

Exeter University’s Pierre Friedlingstein is reported in Nature Geoscience (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/index.html) as saying that the 1.3% drop in emissions from fossil fuels in 2009 was not as dramatic as expected. Whilst emissions did fall markedly in Japan and Europe for example, there was still a steady rise in countries such as China and India.

Having seen some of the Geographical evidence for global warming presented by Trinity College’s Professor Pete Coxon in his talk last year here in St. Columba’s College, it seems all the more important that we try to spread the message that the future lies in so called ‘clean energy’ and in decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions. So turn off those lights, turn down the heating and let's all eat seasonal vegetables..! For more on this story see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11799073

When we say 'Geographical evidence' by the way, take a look at this excellent piece on global warming which was recently tweeted by the lads from Harvard Best of Science.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Our First Twitterversary

One year ago today we joined the Twitterverse and I must admit that Twitter has become a bit of an addiction over those twelve months. It allows someone to reach out beyond a "static" blog and interact more efficiently with people with similar interests, aims and ambitions. More specifically it has allowed the Frog Bloggers form links with the science communication and education worlds and fully realise the enormous potential of the internet in achieving our main goals - principally to enthuse and excite people about science and technology no matter what age the reader is. To date we have "tweeted" 3164 short messages via Twitter, 481 people take the time to follow us and we follow 635 of the best of Twitter's 45 million users. We look forward to another jam packed year and thank you for reading, retweeting, direct messaging and favouriting!

Our SCC English colleagues recently celebrated their first twitterversary too and Julian Girdham wrote an excellent piece on the value of Twitter - click here to read.

YouTube Saturday - Powering the Cell - Mitochondria

This week's YouTube video is an excellent animation of the inner workings of the mitochondrion - the power supply of our cell. The mitochondrion are tiny "organelles" within each of our 100 trillion cells, which convert our food into an energy source our cells can use. This video was suggest by Enda O'Connell via Twitter.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Eircom Spider Big Mouth

A huge thank you to everyone who voted for the Frog Blog in this year's Eircom Spider Awards. We were delighted (and extremely surprised) to accept the Big Mouth Award at last night's gala event. I'm sure many were as shocked as we were when the winner was announced but we are delighted that so many took the time to vote for us and recognise that "big mouths" can shout about more than politics, economics or business. It is great to see someone shouting for science and education being recognised by the Irish public. Thank you all so much!

Birds of St Columba's - Rook

The Rook
Rook (Corvus frugilegus) This gregarious species can be seen in large numbers on the games fields in wet weather feeding on worms and leather-jackets just below the surface of the grass. They are however omnivores like most of their tribe eating grain, carrion and human scraps. They are easily identified by their black body and creamy/grey beak. They nest in colonies called rookeries in high trees. They individuals we see here nest in Marlay Park. They are intelligent with one even taking a piece of wire and bending it to fish a grub out of a container.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Antimatter Trapped at CERN

Atoms of antimatter (antihydrogen to be precise) have, for the first time, been successfully produced and trapped by CERN scientists, including two from Ireland. It is the trapping of these particles that is most significant as antimatter particles have been produced before but instantly annihilate when they come into contact with "normal" matter. Antimatter is a fundamental particle of regular matter with its electrical charge reversed. The common proton has an antimatter counterpart called the antiproton. It has the same mass but an opposite charge. The electron's counterpart is called a positron.

The team of scientists in CERN produced 10 million antiprotons and 700 million positrons during their experiments and from that were able to successfully stabilise 38 stable atoms of antihydrogen, which lasted on average just two tenths of a second each. The antimatter particles were trapped within a strong "magnetic" bottle - with the particles held in place using magnetic fields. While this doesn't seem like a very long time (and it isn't) it has allowed the team of scientists make some initial research into their properties. The team now hope to continue their work and make more stable atoms to further study these elusive particles. All in all though, this is an extremely important step in realising the potential of antimatter and has been greeted with great excitement from the scientific community. For more information on antimatter read a previous post here.

Dick Ahlstrom from the Irish Times has more on this story here!

Recommended Apps - Pocket Universe

We love astronomy here at the Frog Blog and one of the best astronomy apps available at the moment is Pocket Universe. Available for the iPhone and iPad, Pocket Universe helps you learn the constellations, bright stars and planets simply by pointing your iPhone at the sky. The app uses the built-in compass of your iPhone and  displays the same view of the sky you see - but one that's complete with names and information. You can then find out more information about that planet, star or constellation with a click of a button. There is a brilliant feature which lets you see the movement of the planets in tonight's skyline - as a time lapse animation. I also love the International Space Station (ISS) tracking facility which will predict when you can see a passing in the night sky. All in all it's a brilliant investment for the amateur astronomer at just €2.39. 

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Poison Rocket Frog Discovered

Conservationists in Columbia have discovered three new amphibian species, while searching for "old" species. The amphibians include two previously unknown types of toad and a new species of rocket frog (pictured above). The toads include a beaked toad just two centimetres long, which resembles the dead leaves where it hides, and an extremely unusual toad with bright red eyes that is three to four centimetres in length and lives at an elevation of 2,000 metres. Scientists are unsure how to classify this new species. The rocket frog (a type of poison dart frog) is thought to grow to a maximum size of three centimetres long. 

The group responsible for this discovery, Conservation International, have been carrying out a search for "lost" species of frogs over the past year and have found several species once thought extinct (see a recent story about lost amphibians discovered). The group hope to rediscover 100 species of frog and toad believed to be extinct before the end of the year. For more on this story click here.

T Research - Winter 2010 Edition

The winter edition of T Research is available online now. T Research is an excellent magazine produced by Teagasc which highlights the research carried out by the Irish agriculture and food development body, along with their partners. This issue includes some extremely interesting and well written articles including a brilliant feature by Dr. Lance O'Brien on how we will feed the world in 2050 and an interesting look at the infant formula sector in Ireland. T Research is always a good read and a great insight into scientific research within food and agriculture sector. To see the latest issue of T Research click here.

Weird & Wonderful Animals - The Axolotl

The Axolotl is a species of salamander exclusively found in central Mexico, mainly in Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco. The axolotl, unlike their other Mexican mole salamanders cousins, do not undergo metamorphosis so remain aquatic and gilled. Amazingly the axolotl can regenerate lost limbs so biologists are keen to study them closely. 

A sexually mature adult axolotl, at age 18–24 months, ranges in length from 15–45 cm, although a size close to 23 cm is most common and greater than 30 cm is rare. Their heads are wide, and their eyes are lidless. Their limbs are underdeveloped and possess long, thin digits. Males are identified by their swollen back end lined with papillae (nipple like structures), while females are noticeable for their wider bodies full of eggs. Axolotls have barely visible teeth, which would have developed during metamorphosis. Currently there are few axolotls living outside of captivity as their natural habitat has been increasingly polluted resulting in their populations declining to almost none. They are truly one of the world's weirdest and most wonderful animals!

By Pia Klippgen, Form IV

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Virus Attack

Ever wonder what happens in your body when you get an infection? This brilliant video uses excellent animation to demonstrate how your viruses, like the cold or flu, infect your body. It shows how viruses trick your cells into allowing them pass through their cell membranes then reprograms the cell to become a virus "factory".

Oldest Dinosaur Embryos Unearthed

Palaeontologists have unearthed the oldest known dinosaur embryos. The embryos were found in well preserved fossilised eggs and are thought to be 190 million years old. They belong to Massospondylus, a member of a group of dinosaurs called prosauropods that were ancestors to the giant, plant-eating sauropods. Sauropods are the iconic four-legged dinosaurs known for their long necks and long tails. The embryos were close to hatching, a fact known because of the level of ossification in their bones (how much of their skeletons had turned to bone). The fossils also show that the future hatchlings would have been "oddly-proportioned" and would have looked very different from the adults of the species. The embryos were only 8 inches long while the adults would have been close to 20 feet long. For more information on this story click here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A New Age of Digital Textbooks

The first all digital science textbook, Life on Earth, is due to be completed within the next two years. The authors of the digital textbook, the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, plan to release each chapter as it is completed, with the first chapter (on Cell Division) being released within a couple of weeks. The textbook will be completely free to download too and should be available on various formats from iPad to PC. The new text book will contain an abundance of animations, videos, sounds as well as text to enhance the learning experience and move away from the age of static print texts. Below is a short video containing more information about the textbook and the likely content - I am so excited!

Science Quotes - John Dalton

"Matter, though divisible in an extreme degree, is nevertheless not infinitely divisible. That is, there must be some point beyond which we cannot go in the division of matter. ... I have chosen the word “atom” to signify these ultimate particles."

“I think (banks) are doing better today than they were yesterday, and clearly they need to be doing better tomorrow.”

"No new creation or destruction of matter is within the reach of chemical agency. We might as well attempt to introduce a new planet into the solar system, or to annihilate one already in existence, as to create or destroy a particle of hydrogen."

Saturday, 13 November 2010

YouTube Saturday - Using Colour to Find Alien Planets

This week's YouTube Saturday sees NASA astronomer Carolyn Crow explain her recent discovery that will help identify characteristics of extrasolar planets in the future. By comparing the reflected red, blue, and green light from planets in our solar system, they and their team were able to group the planets according to their similarities. The planets fall into very distinct regions on this plot, where the vertical direction indicates the relative amount of blue light, and the horizontal direction the relative amount of red light. In the future this could help identify Earth like planets before we have the telescope technology to see them in detail. A very simple but interesting discovery.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Birds of St Columba's - The Raven

The Raven
Raven (Corvus corax) I have often seen this bird flying over the College and it is usually its very deep rasping croak that directs my gaze upwards. They are of course famous for their residence in the Tower of London where they are kept to prevent destruction of the White Tower and a tragedy befalling England. They are thought to be very intelligent since they can be taught to do tricks, solve puzzles and even imitate human speech. They are omnivorous birds eating seeds, animals, garbage and carrion. They nest in tees or ledges and the individuals seen here nest in the mountains behind the college.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Irish Times BANG - Feel The Future

Forget science fiction, what do scientists think will be the big breakthroughs by 2020? From aliens to new energy sources, they tell CLAIRE O’CONNELL (from the Irish Times BANG Science Mag) their big ideas – and how likely they are to happen.

Talking to your computer - Prof Barry Smyth, digital chair at UCD and director of the Clarity Centre for Sensor Web Technologies

HOW? This will require the combination of improved speech-recognition systems and more powerful so-called natural-language interfaces that are capable of dealing with the complexities of human language. This revolution is well underway. Even today most computers can accept voice commands and do a very good job when it comes to understanding simple instructions; many popular car makers are even building voice-recognition interfaces into their standard builds, and my iPod allows me to control music playback through a voice interface.

HOW WILL THAT CHANGE MY LIFE? I think that this type of interface will fundamentally change the way that we interact with computers and information service. Most likely computing devices will increasingly fade into the background of life so that we are no longer confronted with physical boxes called computers. Instead we will access online information and services through a variety of different devices (phones, TVs, tablets) with voice commands providing a far more natural interface to these services.



Using bacteria to keep us thin and healthy - Prof Cliona O’Farrelly, professor of comparative immunology, Trinity College Dublin

HOW? Fairly soon we’ll be able to get profiles of the thousands of species of bacteria in your gut that make up your own personal “microbiome”. We’ll have learned which bacteria are good for metabolising fat, carbohydrates and protein, which ones produce essential nutrients and which ones keep pathogens (disease-causing organisms) at bay. We will even know how they regulate immune responses in the gut. We will also need to learn how to promote the growth of one species over another.