o The Frog Blog: March 2010

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

New Address Problem Solved

The recent problems with our new address (http://www.frogblog.ie/) seems to be solved and is back online. All appears to be working fine and the old address (which will remain as the principle address for a few more months) seems to working fine also. Apologies about the disruption to the blog over the last week. If you do have a link to the Frog Blog, please update as soon as you can! Thanks again for your patience!

Psychic Toads

The Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
Back in April 2009, a large earthquake (6.3 on the Richter Scale) hit the town of L'Aguila in central Italy. There was no warning. Yet, somehow, a group of breeding toads are thought to have "sensed" the earthquake days before it struck. The toads were living in a lake 74 km from L'Aguila and were observed leaving their spawning ground a few days before the earthquake and returning a few days after. A group of scientists were studying the toads at the time and now they have released a study in the Journal of Zoology outlining the strange behaviour. It is suggested that the toads may have been able to detect the release of radioactive radon gas from the ground, which would have been released in greater amounts due to the seismic activity. Animal super senses are not new. We know that pigeons can detect the Earth's magnetic field while navigating, that sharks can detect one drop of blood in 100 litres of water and that bats can use ultra sonics to "see in the dark". The Independent Newspaper in the UK have more on this brilliant story. Click here to read more!

New Address Problems

We've been having some problems with the new address (http://www.frogblog.ie/) over the past few days (really the problem has been maintaining access to the old address) so we have decided to suspend the new address  for a short while until we can get everything sorted. Apologies! We'll let you know when everything is fixed again! Thanks!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

CERN Success

Inside the LHC
CERN have collided two particles in their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the first successful experiment to mimic the initial conditions which created the universe and continue their search for the elusive Higg's Bosum, or God particle. Two protons smashed together, both close to the speed of light, earlier today releasing considerable energy. The results of the experiment will take a long time to be analysed and many more experiments are planned before conclusions can be drawn. But, the world will listen when CERN reveal the secrets of the universe as the repercussions could be massive for all of us. The BBC have an excellent guide to the LHC. Click here to visit. To see our previous article on the LHC, click here.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Animation of Oxygen Transport

YouTube is an excellent resource for teachers. As well as providing many useful and interesting videos (we feature many of them in our "YouTube Saturday" slot) there are some fantastic animations available, which can easily be incorporated in your lessons. Here is an excellent animation outlining the mechanism for the transportation of oxygen in the human body, from its collection in the alveoli of the lungs, its binding to haemoglobin in the red blood cells and subsequent absorption by tissues in the body. It is an excellent introduction to oxygen transport or osmosis.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Red Kites Found Dead

From Bird Watch Ireland
Two more of Ireland's reintroduced birds of prey have been found dead, this time in Co. Wicklow. The two red kites have since tested positive for poison, less than a month since the corpse of a gold eagle was found poisoned in Sligo. The kites, which were re-introduced last July by the Golden Eagle Trust, are thought to have fed on a poisoned carcase, left out to kill foxes poaching on newly born lambs. The rising trend of such incidents is surely a worry for the Golden Eagle Trust, who will find it more difficult to obtain birds for re-introduction if this continues. The Frog Blog would like to congratulate the Golden Eagle Trust for their excellent work and wish them all the support in the future!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Earth Hour

Cities around the world are marking Earth Hour today in a symbolic gesture to highlight climate change and call for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The businesses and homes in Ireland are asked to turn off their lights at 8:30pm this evening, for just one hour, in an effort to reduce our energy consumptions. Already today many cities have turned off their lights, including Sydney in Australia, where the lights of the Sydney Opera House were cut earlier this morning. Iconic buildings in Paris, New York and all around the world will also turn off their lights today, at 8:30pm local time. The event is organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and they saw the day begin when the residents of New Zealand's Chatham Islands switched off their diesel generators, leaving just 12 street lamps burning. Earth Hour will conclude in Samoa after nearly 24 hours.

YouTube Saturday - Victoria Falls

This short but sweet video shows some amazing shots of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. It's from the new BBC Nature Channel on YouTube. It worth checking out.

Friday, 26 March 2010

New Look, New Address

The Frog Blog has a new address, http://www.frogblog.ie/ to go along with our recent new look. But don't be too worried, the old address will still work for a while yet. You might want to update your favourites (wishful thinking I know) and your links in the mean time, before the old address, blog.sccscience.com, becomes null and void. We feel that our new address will be easier to remember, give our blog a better identity while also emphasising our "Irishness". The St. Columba's Science Department Resource Site will also change address in the coming months (but we'll give you plenty of notice). The blog may go down over the next few days, so please be patient with us!

Easter Break

The pupils and teachers of St. Columba's begin their Easter break today, returning to the college on April 19th. The Frog Bloggers would like to wish everyone a very Happy Easter. The blog activity will not cease but will slow down over the coming weeks (there will be no Science Facts of the Week in this period for example). So stay with us!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Christiaan Huygens & Titan

Today in 1655, Christiaan Huygens (1629-95), the prominent Dutch scientist, discovered Titan, Saturn's largest moon. He determined its period of revolution but did not name the satellite. The moon wasn’t named until almost two centuries later when Sir John Herschel, discoverer of Uranus, assigned names to the seven moons of Saturn that were known at that time. Saturn's largest moon was named simply "Titan," since the word means "one that is great in size, importance, or achievement." Titan is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.

Huygens also discovered the rings of Saturn through a telescope of his own design. His contributions to mathematics, astronomy, time measurement and the theory of light are considered fundamental. He was also a great inventor, inventing the pendulum clock and the first accurate time-keeping device. He is also attributed to discovering that light consists of waves. He generally receives credit for his discovery of the centrifugal force, the laws for collision of bodies, for his role in the development of modern calculus and his original observations on sound perception. Huygens is seen as the first theoretical physicist as he was the first to use formulae in physics. He was also a great influence on the work of Issac Newton.

No Scientist in Ireland's Greatest

RTÉ are asking us to vote on the greatest Irish person ever. They have compiled a "long - list" of 40 famous Irish faces (dead and alive) but no scientist appears on the list. Why not? The Irish have contributed so much to science and discovery, that surely the public should be given the chance to know more about them (the top 5 will have a hour long documentary produced by RTÉ on their life and achievements). But the shocking omission is even more staggering when you see the people who have made the list. Yes, there are many a poet and politician, but also featuring are Stephen Gately, Colin Farrell, Joe Dolan, Ronan Keating, Padraig Harrington and Louis Walsh! Surely we can replace these minor celebrities with people like Robert Boyle (pictured on the left), John Holland, John Tyndall, William Rowan Hamilton or Francis Beaufort?

Mary Mulvihill's excellent blog recently featured this story and there is now an online poll on Science.ie. So vote now and mark a scientist as one of Ireland's greatest!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Ireland's Science Blogs

Recently, Susan Carleton from the Stony River Blog published a list of her Top 25 Irish Science Blogs. Oddly, the list contained 27 blogs but we won't criticise one of our biggest fans! Below is her list, with a couple of additions from the Frog Bloggers to bring it up to a round 30!
  1. The Frog Blog
  2. Night Sky
  3. Irish Science
  4. Mary Mulvilhill
  5. MyScience.ie
  6. UCD Science
  7. Communicate Science
  8. James McInerney
  9. Science.ie
  10. Life Science.ie

Why No Minister for Science?

Why do we no longer have a "Minister for Science"? In his latest reshuffle, Brian Cowen has renamed his departments, changing the name of the Department of Education & Science to the Department of Education & Skills. So where has science gone? Surely not to the newly penned Department of Enterprise, Trade & Innovation. Science is far too important a portfolio to be added to an already under performing department. Mr Cowen stresses that the restructuring of the government departments is in an effort to create more jobs and in particular the movement of rebranding of science to innovation seems to be in an effort to refocus and streamline a programme of funding in Research & Development in the third level education sector. This apparent move seems to be in an effort to produce more jobs in the science R&D sector (a novel idea but this government has a poor history in the area) but I expect I feel the grassroots of science will be ignored. Also, why is this area being moved out of the Department of Education? Does Brian Cowen not trust his Tánaiste anymore? Does he think she will have enough to handle with proposed industrial action in the primary and secondary sector? I think Mr. Cowen needs to reconsider his restructured cabinet and re-establish science as a full government portfolio.

Is Our Universe One of Many?

Astronomers have discovered a series of galaxies, close to the edge of our universe, being pulled towards a single point in the sky. This unexpected motion appears to be separate from the expansion of the universe and the researchers even suggest that a force beyond the visible universe is the culprit. The discovery has been named "dark flow". The fact that this "dark flow" seems to originating from beyond the known universe is allowing some scientists speculate that there may be other universes beyond ours, a multiverse of sorts. To find out more about this fascinating discovery, click here.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Attack of the Mutant Penguins?

A mutant all black feathered penguin has been found in the Sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia. The "one in a zillion" penguin owes its colour to a mutated gene, which rather unusually has caused a full colour change. Below is a video from National Gepgraphic. Click here to read the full story.

VSS Enterprise First Flight

Photo from New Scientist
Virgin Galactic's new "space craft", SpaceShipTwo has taken it's inaugural flight, sitting attached to its launch craft Eve. SpaceShipTwo, which has now be renamed the VSS Enterprise, reached an altitude of just under 14km. The total length of the flight was around 3 hours. This first flight will be followed by a series of further test flights in the coming years with the first commercial flights proabably nearly five years away. Then, the new ship will be able to bring passengers into the upper atmosphere, over 100km above the surface of the Earth.

Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds

Last Tuesday evening I sat down to watch some telly. Click, flick, click. Ahhhh! Richard Hammond, of the BBC, doing another science programme? Ah surely there will be plenty of explosions? Hammond, famous for presenting on Top Gear, has produced other "factual" science programmes, most notably the highly forgettable  Brainaic series, a painful collection of "experiments" which generally involved explosions and caravans. So this new programme surely was going to be much of the same? And, to by initial despair, yes it was. Predictably, the programme began with Richard Hammond blowing up the side of a cliff.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Science Fact of the Week 47 - The Heart

Your heart is a specialised muscle, designed to pump blood around your body. In fact, the heart is two pumps. The right side of your heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The left side of the heart does the exact opposite: It receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body. Your hearts has four chambers, two on each side. Blood from all over the body enters the heart through the VENA CAVA, the main vein in the body. The blood flows into the first chamber, the right ATRIUM. A valve then opens and the blood flows into the next chamber, the right VENTRICLE. From there, the blood is pumped out of the heart, through the pulmonary artery, to the lungs (here oxygen replaces carbon dioxide in the blood). The blood then returns to the heart through a vein called the pulmonary vein and enters the left ATRIUM. Then again a valve opens and the blood flows into the left VENTRICLE and is then pumped all over the body through the AORTA, the main artery in the body. The left side of the heart therefore needs to be bigger and stronger then the right side.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

"Exquisite" Raptor Unearthed in Mongolia

Illustration by Matt von Rooijen
Scientists have discovered yet another new species of dinosaur that appears to be closely related to the Velociraptor, the dinosaur made famous by Jurassic Park. The new dinosaur has been named Linheraptor exquisitus and represents an entirely new genus within the family Dromaeosaurid, or "running lizards", the group of dinosaurs many scientists believe to be the descendants of all modern birds. Linheraptor is said to have been over 1.8m long and lived between 65 and 145 million years ago. The researchers discovered its fossilised skeleton in mud dating from the Upper Cretaceous period in Mongolia. The fossilised skeleton was in almost perfect condition, with complete claws and teeth, despite its considerable age. For more information about this exquisite new find, click here.

YouTube Saturday - The Private Life of "Fungi"

The Private Life of Plants is one of the BBC's and David Attenborough's greatest works. The series is famous for the use of time lapse photography to show the wonders of plants and their life cycles. The series also contains information on Fungi, which are of course not plants, and this short piece demonstrates the brief but incredible life of fungi in a woodland.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Mystery of Sperm Cells Revealed

A new research study, published in National Geographic News reveals how human males produce 1,500 sperms cells every second. For the past 40 years scientists have thought stem cells in the testes called germline stem cells become sperm only through a simple, two-step process. But the new study reveals for these germline stem cells can become sperm in several different ways, according to new experiments carried out on mice. Since sperm are short-lived, they must constantly be replenished, hence that 1,500-per-second production rate. Unlocking such mysteries of sperm development could someday lead to infertility treatments or even the elusive male birth control pill. Fascinating article and well worth a look. Click here to view.

Stressed Dolphins

A new study, from researchers in Newcastle University, has revealed that swimming with dolphins can traumatise them. The researchers, who carried out their work on the east African island of Zanzibar, are now calling for regulation to minimise the potential long-term negative impact on the animals. They claim that dolphins spend less time feeding, socialising and resting when swimming with humans. It wasn't that long ago, however, that dolphins were hunted off the coast of Zanzibar, once threatening the numbers in the area. The researchers are still encouraging people to visit the area, but want local guides to follow guidelines and avoid potential stress to these wonderful cetaceans.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Behind the Scenes in the Natural History Museum

There is a wonderful article in today's Guardian which takes a look behind the scenes of London's Natural History Museum (a museum that I recently visited with our Form IV and V trip to London - click here for a full report). This wonderful museum is home to one of the greatest collections of living things on the planet (ironically they are all dead of course). In the article, Patrick Barkham tells us how "going behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum is a rare treat; this is a working museum as magical as anything in fiction. Dust motes sail across crepuscular alcoves, where curators hunch over miniscule specimens on a gloomy mezzanine floor that looks unchanged from Bates's day. The smell of naphthalene – mothballs – is overpowering. Maxwell Barclay, head curator of coleoptera and hemiptera (beetles, to non-scientists) has travelled to Bolivia, Thailand, Taiwan and Peru. Unlike Bates, he collects intensively for just three weeks. Transporting finds is not a problem: thousands of beetles will pack into a small suitcase". Brilliantly written, Barkham is like a child in a sweet shop. Click here to read the remainder of the article.

And We're Back!

Welcome back to all our pupils and staff today, after a long St. Patrick's weekend. Our blog returns too, with a whole new look. You may have noticed no Science Fact of the Week on Monday. Sorry, but they will return next week. Just a short run in now to the Easter break but we will try to fit in plenty before then.

Contaminated Chicken

A new study suggests that 98% of chicken produced in Ireland is contaminated with a potentially harmful bacteria, which is the most common cause of food-borne illness here. The campylobacter bacterium is a major cause of gastroenteritis through the consumption of contaminated poultry which has been under-cooked. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting.

The study by the European Food Safety Agency also says Irish chicken had the second highest incidence of the bacteria among 26 EU countries in 2008. The level of incidence in Ireland was nearly one-third higher than the European average. Commenting on the findings, the FSAI said a study it is in the process of completing has found that 13% of external surface packaging on chicken products and 11% of retail display cabinets were contaminated with campylobacter. It must be noted, however, that the bacteria are killed by proper cooking, while strict kitchen hygiene also helps to reduce the risks involved. For more information click here.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Exodus Weekend

Later this morning the pupils will complete their Hilary Term exams and head home for the St. Patrick's Day exodus weekend. The teaching staff will also head home for a break, finishing our marking and getting ready to write pupil reports. So may I wish you all a very happy St. Patrick's Day and see you all later next week!

YouTube Saturday - Anaconda

Here is a great little video showing a female Venezuelan anaconda stalking and attacking its prey. One of National Geographic's "Best of 2009" videos.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Farm Visit Photo Album

The members of Mr. Jones' Form V Agricultural Science class recently visiting two farms in Kells, Co. Meath. The farms were owned by George Armstrong, who specialises in spring barley with some beef animals and Peter Strong, who specialises in Sheep but has some areas of forestry as well. Visits like these are extremely important to these pupils as they get a chance to see the theory they learn in the classroom transferred in practical terms on the farm. Each pupil will produce a project on each of the visiting farms which goes into their portfolio of practical experience, which in turn accounts for up to 25% of their overall leaving cert grade. We would like to thank the owners of the farms for facilitating our visits and also Nichola Armstrong for providing us with a wonderful meal and welcome. Here are some photos from the visit.

Don't Downgrade Elephant Status

The trade of elephant ivory has been restricted since 1989, after countries attending the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted to end the slaughter of the gentle giants for their "white gold". It is estimated that between 700,000 and 1 million elephants were slaughtered during the 1980's for the sale of ivory, including many young immature animals. Since the ban was introduced the number of poachers have declined and the numbers of elephants have increased again. But today, the African nations of Tanzania and Zambia are petitioning CITES to "downlist" the elephants' conservation status and allow for the sale of stockpiled ivory (they claim this ivory was collected from elephants that died of natural causes). However, fears are that removing the ban would allow for an increase in poaching once again. CITES are planning to meet in Doha tomorrow. Let's hope they see sense and not allow the status of the African Elephant, one of the world's most beautiful creatures, to remain as a protected species. To read more about this intriguing story click here.

50 Science Facts Everyone Should Know

The X-Ray Vision-aries Blog just published their "50 Simple Science Facts Everyone Should Know (But Doesn't)" on their fun informative blog. It is definitely worth checking out. Here are number one and two.

1. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. While data on deaths and injuries resulting from the potentially fatal combination of water and electricity is extremely difficult to find, it remains a sadly common accident.

2. Do not mix ammonia and bleach together. While death does not generally factor into the equation, blending ammonia and bleach together releases extremely harmful chlorine and other noxious gases that can cause serious damages to the lungs and brain – if not actually killing you.

Click here to read them all. They are not all that morbid.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Colour Changing Frog

Scientists have found a new frog species in Papua New Guinea, which undergoes an amazing colour change from a black, yellow-spotted youngster to a peach-coloured, blue-eyed adult. According to a report in National Geographic News, the frog, known as Oreophryne ezra, was recently discovered in a tiny, mountaintop cloud forest in southeastern Papua New Guinea. Though a few other frogs are known to switch colours as they mature this seems to be the most striking change ever discovered. But why the amphibian undergoes such a drastic transition is far from black and white (see what I did there?). The juveniles look like poison dart frogs, possibly in some way mimicking their poisonous cousins, but why they lose this advantageous colour is a bit of a mystery.

Family Genome Mapped

American scientists have for the first time unlocked the genetic code of an entire family, and made a startling discovery -- that parents pass on fewer mutations than previously thought. Scanning the genomes of the four member family enabled the research team to pinpoint the mutations that caused two rare diseases in the two children in the family. By comparing the DNA sequences of all four family members, the authors found that the parents gave 30 mutations each, for a total of 60, to their children. Previous studies had estimated that parents pass 75 gene mutations each to their children, with many of those changes not having any consequence. Understanding how parents pass mutations to their children may help narrow the search for genetic causes of diseases, said the research team at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington. The research team even managed to pinpoint with astonishing accuracy where parental chromosomes crossed with their children's to create a new genetic trait.

Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming was a Scottish bacteriologist, born in Darvel, Strathclyde, who is most famous for discovering penicillin. In 1928, while working on influenza virus, he observed that mould had developed accidently on a staphylococcus culture plate and that the mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. He experimented further and he found that a mould culture prevented growth of staphylococci, even when diluted 800 times. The active substance, which he named penicillin, initiated the highly effective practice of antibiotic therapy for infectious diseases. Fleming shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey, who both (from 1939) continued Fleming's work. He died on the 11th March, this day, in 1955. Click here for a full biography.

Recommended Apps - My Homework

This excellent, easy to use, iPhone application is useful for everyone, pupils and teachers alike and at all levels, from primary to third level. It is a simple yet effective way of keeping track of your homework, projects or study (or in the case of teachers, what homework you have given to a particular class). It’s extremely easy to use and requires little set up. You can keep track of your homework by class or by due date. It is presented in a fun and interactive way. It is also free and I have no hesitation recommending this to anyone. A brilliant piece of software and another great example of how iPhone apps can benefit educators and pupils alike. To find out more or download My Homework, click here.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Science Fact of the Week 46 - Volcanoes

Volcanoes can be mountains. But unlike most mountains in the world, formed from folding continental plates, uplift and erosion, volcanoes are created when material from inside the Earth escapes to the surface. A volcano can also be described as a place on the Earth's surface (or any other planet's or moon's surface) where molten rock, gases and pyroclastic debris erupt through the crust. Volcanoes vary quite a bit in their structure - some are cracks in the earth's crust where lava erupts, and some are domes, shields, or cone-like structures with a crater at the summit.

Magma is molten rock within the Earth's crust. When magma erupts through the earth's surface it is called lava. Lava can be thick and slow-moving or thin and fast-moving. Rock also comes from volcanoes in other forms, including ash (finely powdered rock that looks like dark smoke coming from the volcano), cinders (bits of fragmented lava), and pumice (light-weight rock that is full of air bubbles and is formed in explosive volcanic eruptions - this type of rock can float on water).

The word volcano comes from the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. Vulcan was said to have had a forge (a place to melt and shape iron) on Vulcano, an active volcano on the Lipari Islands in Italy. The largest volcano on Earth is Hawaii's Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa is about 10 km tall from the sea floor to its summit (it rises about 4 km above sea level). It also has the greatest volume of any volcano, 42,500 cubic kilometers. The largest volcano in our Solar System is perhaps Olympus Mons on the planet Mars. This enormous volcano is 27 km tall and over 520 km across. To find out more about volcanoes, click here.

National Tree Week

To celebrate National Tree Week Form III b has planted a mountain ash on the college grounds as part of their Junior Cert. CSPE Action Project. Every year, at this time, the Tree Coucil of Ireland raises awareness around the country of the importance of trees to our environment and the addition they make to our quality of life. There are hundreds of events and thousands of trees planted during this week, country-wide. Last Wednesday Kezia Wright and Josh Kenny spoke to chapel about the aims of tree week. Other members of the set have made awareness raising fliers and posters while Mark Agar and Ilya Zyzlaev quite literally did the spade work! The slogan for this week's celebrations is 2010 - Plant Again. Hear, hear. For more information on National Tree Week, click here.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Biology Prize 2010 - Winner Annouced

The winner of this year's Crofton Prize for Biology is Rebecca Kuelby, Form VI. Rebecca produced and excellent project on porocarcinoma (cancer of the sweat glands), delivering a brave, powerful, informative and personal presentation. Rebecca used PowerPoint to highlight the main points of the topic but was clearly confident in her knowledge to sustain the attention of all in attendance. Credit must be given to all five finalists, who delivered excellent presentations and captivated the audience. Distinctions will be awarded to two runners - up, Chris Faerber and Dalton Tice for their projects on ACT Cartilage Transplantation and the effect of sea lice on Irish salmon respectively.

Friday, 5 March 2010

"Extinct" Frog Returns

We normally don't have two frog related stories in one day (the Frog Blog isn't really about frogs) but when a story surfaces we must go with it.

A species of frog once presumed extinct for nearly 30 years has turned up in the Southern Tablelands in Australia. The Yellow Spotted Bell Frog was thought to have been wiped out in the 1970's after the chytrid fungus arrived from Africa and started to affect the species negatively. But all is well as more than 100 adult frogs were discovered and a breeding programme in Taronga Zoo is now underway. For more information on this story click here to visit the BBC website.

Science & Art Meet in New Book

A new book, Art + Science Now tries to amalgamate the sciences and the arts by featuring the work of more than 250 artists from around the world who have used using themes in science, kenetics and robotics in their work. Our favourite piece is DFA 18, Triton (shown above) and features a deformed frog (with eight legs, caused by pollution) and is the creation of Brandon Ballengée, an environmental artist who says his work "attempts to blur the already ambiguous boundaries between environmental art and ecological research". It's eye-catching stuff. The artist, Ballengée used a chemical process to make the skin and tissues of the frog transparent, while staining the bones. Brilliant.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

How to Fossilise Your Hamster

How to Fossilise Your Hamster (and other amazing experiments for the armchair scientist, to give it its full title) is another gem from the people that brought you "Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze"?, "Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?" and "Does Anything Eat Wasps?". If you are looking for a light read but want to learn something too, then check this out of the library today. If you want to buy your copy, click here to visit amazon.

Forth Railway Bridge

Today, in 1890, the Forth Railway Bridge was opened, spanning the Forth river between Edinburgh and Dundee, Scotland. It remains the main railway link over the "Forth", crossed by about 200 trains a day. It was built between 1882 and 1890 for the Forth Bridge Railway Company, a consortium set up by the North British, North Eastern, Great Northern and Midland Railways. Pioneering the use of mild steel (in place of wrought iron) in large structures, it was designed by John Fowler and Benjamin Baker and built by Tancred Arrol and Co. Its total length being 8300-ft is comprised of 3 double cantilevers and high approach girders. It is currently being painted, a job that takes over four years. To find out more about this amazing bridge, click here.

Trials of a Tadpole

Here is a great video from National Geographic with some excellent shots of developing tadpoles. Just a little bit of extra froggage for ya!

New Photo of Earth Unveiled

As humans debate the science and politics of the environmental impact on our planet, we may sometimes forget to stand back - say, from about 700 kilometres away - and admire the neighbourhood we live in. Scientists at NASA have released these photos of Earth, showing what they say are the truest colour images of our glorious globe ever captured. Using the Terra satellite, circling high above us, astronomers assembled thousands of images shot over months by the remote sensing device MODIS. Every patch of earth and splash of water was photographed for the mosaic, dubbed the Blue Marble series. Even global city lights were superimposed on the land surface. And if you look very closely, it looks like you left an upstairs window open in your place. For more from the series click here.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Earthquake Shortens Day

Here is an extract from an article in Today's Guardian Newspaper.

The earthquake that struck Chile on Saturday may have shifted the Earth's axis and created shorter days, according to scientists at Nasa. Richard Gross, a geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the 8.8 magnitude quake could have moved the Earth's axis by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8cm) – enough to shorten a day by about 1.26 microseconds.

A large quake can shift huge amounts of rock and alter the distribution of mass on the planet. When that distribution changes, it changes the rate at which the planet rotates, which determines the length of a day. "The length of the day should have got shorter by 1.26 microseconds," Gross told the Bloomberg news agency. "The axis about which the Earth's mass is balanced should have moved by 2.7 milliarcseconds."

Click here to read the full article.

Frog Blog 500th Post

In the 15 months since we began posting on the Frog Blog we now celebrate our 500th post. And, wow, what a journey this has been. The Frog Blog started out with a simple aim, to enthuse the pupils of St. Columba's College about science. Aided in its inception by Julian Girdham, our English Department colleague, we quickly became aware that this would be more work than we originally thought. However, it has proved far more rewarding than we could ever imagined. The blog has grown into a "monster", with daily posts, a Twitter page (over 270 tweets so far), a Facebook profile, a NetVibes page and even podcasts (or frogcasts as we so call them - new one coming soon!). We now reaches a much larger audience than originally envisaged, from the US to Australia. One might question how we find the time to do all this AND teach a full allocation of lessons? But we manage, just! But little things keep you going, a positive comment here, a nice little tweet there and even the odd accolade now and again (most recently we were nominated for an Irish Blog Award and earlier this year we were shortlisted for a Golden Spider Award - even got to don the ol' tuxedo!).

So thank you all for your support, especially our colleagues and friends (A massive thank you to Julian Girdham, who not only inspired us to start the journey, but was also the provider of much needed advice and technical support). Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to log in now and again. To mark this important stage in our development as a blog, we would like to give you a little extra froggage, a frog themed wallpaper containing many of the frogs we feature in our headers. So, hop to it and click on the image above to download! Thanks again!

Frog Bloggers, Humphrey Jones & Jeremy Stone.

Fears for Golden Eagle Survival

Last night I was watching Duncan Stewart on RTÉ's new series of Eco Eye. In this episode he was talking to members of the Golden Eagle Trust about the successful reintroduction of birds of prey into Ireland, including Golden Eagles and White Tailed Eagles (Click for a previous post). I was reflecting on the beauty of these animals yet how delicate their habitat is now, mainly due to the persistent practice of placing poisoned carcasses to kill foxes and crows in land where these majestic animals nest and prey. Sadly, however, many of the national newspapers report today that another golden eagle has been found dead in Sligo, poisoned by nitroxnil poured over a dead or aborted lamb carcase. This brings the total number of poisoned birds of prey – comprising White tailed eagles, golden eagles and kites –in Ireland to nine over the past two and a half years. It is no coincidence that we are right in the middle of the lambing season. This is not practiced by all farmers, only around 3%, but has an enormous effect on the work of the Golden Eagle Trust. Unfortunately, this practice is not illegal, and the Golden Eagle Trust believe the government must act. In fact, late last year, the Golden Eagle Trust lodged a formal complaint with the European Union concerning the failure of the Irish Government to implement legislation protecting Ireland's rare scavenging birds of prey. We must stop this now, before we lose these majestic animals for ever. Click here to read more about this story.

We have a series of posts on Ireland's Birds of Prey. Click here to see these posts.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Taking Schoolbooks Out of The Bag

Kudos Shane Hogan, a teacher in CSB Secondary School, Charleville, Co. Cork. Mr. Hogan's letter to the editor was posted in yesterday's Irish Times and featured a huge amount of "good sense". He writes of the need to encourage pupils to walk or cycle to school and of the major barricade to the problem - heavy schoolbags. What he proposes is simple: "when a student buys a schoolbook they should be provided with an electronic copy of that same book, whether on disc, memory card or download key. The book can then be left in the school locker, and homework or study done using the electronic copy on a home computer. The schoolbag need only contain copies, pens, pencils, etc". Makes sense to me! Unfortunately, just because something makes good sense doesn't mean Minister Batt O'Keeffe will do anything about it. In fact, he is more likely to implement a proposal that makes no sense at all. To read Mr. Hogan's full letter, click here.

Leaving Cert Biology Revision Exercises - Ecology Crossword

The second of our Leaving Cert Biology Revision Exercises is a crossword on ecological terms and phrases. The quiz can be completed online, just click the number on the crossword, revealing the clue, and input your answer. When you are finished, click "check". Click here to start.

Icons of Irish Science - RTÉ Podcasts

RTÉ Radio 1 broadcast a series of radio programmes, called Icons of Irish Science, way back in 2008. Science.ie now reports that these programmes are available as podcasts on the RTÉ website (click here). Presented by Pauric Dempsey of the Royal Irish Academy, the programmes feature some of Ireland's most famous scientists and explore how their discoveries impacted on the entire world. Click here to view episode details and listen to the podcasts. Episodes from the 2005 series are also available by clicking here.

Our Recent Twitter Updates

Here is selection of our tweets from last week. You can follow us on twitter by clicking here.

Monday, 1 March 2010

T Research - Spring 2010 Edition

The Spring Edition of T-Research, Teagasc's research and innovation magazine, is now available to download for free online. If you're not familiar with the publication T-Research "aims to disseminate to a wider audience some of the important scientific work being undertaken in Teagasc and in other collaborating research institutions". This edition features a host of great articles including a review of the impact of the economic downturn on part-time farmers, a look at a new vaccine system, details on Teagasc's new land cover and habitat maps and a great article on how researchers in Johnstone Castle (and their collaborators) are finding ways of protecting environmental water quality from microbial pathogens. I love this magazine, and find it incredible useful to show my Agricultural Science pupils that agriculture is a rich area of science. It's not just about "farming the land", but has a major effect on our lives. The work carried out by Teagasc is key to the future prosperity of the farming and food sector in Ireland. Click here to download the Spring 2010 edition of T-Research and see all previous editions.

Pupil Work - Cartilage Transplantation by Chris Faerber

The Biology Prize takes later this week. This is one of the essays shortlisted for presentation on Friday. It refers to cartilage transplantation and is written by Chris Faerber, Form VI.

Cartilage is a stiff yet flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the bodies of humans and other animals, including the nose, ear and knee. It is mainly composed of specialised cells called chondrozytes (or chondrocytes). There are three distinct varieties of cartilage: elastic cartilage, fibro cartilage and hyaline cartilage. In the following synopsis I would like to look at the latter in detail.

A very common example of hyaline cartilage can be found in the knee. Due to the fact that it is not as hard and rigid as bone but stiffer and less flexible than muscle, it suits the knee perfectly as it needs to withstand the high pressure caused by the femur and tibia moving on it. The poor blood supply, together with the stress applied by the bones, promotes degenerative processes such as osteoarthrosis. It involves the degeneration of the cartilage present in the knee joint, eventually leading to exposure and damage of the bones. The patient increasingly experiences pain upon weight bearing, including walking and standing. Osteoarthrosis affects about 8 million people in the UK and 27 million in the United States and is one of the leading causes of chronic disability and the resultant inability to work.

Recommended Apps - Planets

Another great free iPhone Application for science is PLANETS. Explore the Solar System in 2D or 3D. Is that dot in the sky a star or a planet? Answer that question with this brilliant application. Discover when you can see your favourite planet, and where to look in the sky in relation to the stars. Planets provides lots of interesting information including the location of the sun, moon, and planets in the sky, maps of stars and constellations, rise and set time of the sun, moon, and planets, current and future moon phases, 3D globe view of all planets and the moon as well as facts sheet for each planet, including moon names. It's a must for all astronomy fans. Click here to view Planets on the iTunes App Store. This app is also now available for the iPad!

Science Fact of the Week 45 - Poison Dart Frogs

Poison Dart Frogs, members of the Dendrobatidae family, wear some of the most brilliant and beautiful colours on Earth. Depending on individual habitats, which extend from the tropical forests of Costa Rica to Brazil, their colouring can be yellow, gold, copper, red, green, blue, or black. Their elaborate designs and hues are deliberate warnings to potential predators.

Some species display unusual parenting habits too, including carrying both eggs and tadpoles on their backs (Click here for a previous video post). Although this "backpacking" is not unique among amphibians, male poison arrow frogs are exceptional in their care, attending to the clutch, sometimes exclusively, and performing vital transportation duties.

Dart Frogs are some of the most toxic animals on Earth. The five-centimeter-long Golden Poison Dart Frog (pictured above) has enough venom to kill 10 grown men. Indigenous Emberá people of Colombia have used its powerful venom for centuries to tip their blowgun darts when hunting, hence the common name.

Scientists are unsure of the source of poison dart frogs' toxicity, but it is possible they are able to use plant poisons which are carried by their prey, including ants, termites and beetles. Poison dart frogs raised in captivity and isolated from insects in their native habitat never develop venom.

The medical research community has been exploring possible medicinal uses for some poison dart frog venom. Some uses include pain killers, anesthetics and diet suppressants. Click here to see a gallery of photos showing the huge colour variation of the Dart Frogs.