o The Frog Blog: August 2010

Monday, 30 August 2010

Sunday Business Post Back to School Gadget Lowdown

A sincere thank you to both Adrian Weckler of the Sunday Business Post, who in his brilliant back-to-school technology feature in yesterday's edition made some very generous comments about both The Frog Blog and our English Department colleagues. On the SCC English Blog:
"For students who want to engage in their English curriculum, this is a must-visit website. Maintained by the English department of St Columba’s College in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, it provides notes, interpretations and even tutorial podcasts on curriculum texts. The award-winning website also has Twitter feeds and sections optimised for smartphones."
And on The Frog Blog:
"This is another superb website from St Columba’s College secondary school in Co Dublin. This contains downloadable material on preparing for Leaving Cert science exams. It also has a new story every day about different aspects of science or the environment from the outside world."
The other sites recommended were Skoool.ie, Scoilnet, Wikipedia and Education.ie.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

YouTube Saturday - Roller Coaster Physics

This week's YouTube video takes a quick look at the physics of roller coasters and gives a brief introduction to positive and negative G forces. From Time Warp.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Guest Post - Moose Give Scientists New Insights into Arthritis

Whenever we observe animals in the wild, we often do so to find out more about our environment and its inhabitants. However, a herd of moose have actually provided scientists with clues as to the origins of arthritis in humans, especially osteoarthritis.

As part of a 50-year research project, the moose were observed and their behavior documented. These moose now have arthritis, and researchers speculate that the causes of their disease may be routed in poor nutrition starting from an early age. Combining the moose research with other recent studies about human arthritis has lead experts to the conclusion that osteoarthritis - the most common form of arthritis among humans - is much more complicated than previously thought.

Before, osteoarthritis was thought to be caused by the general wear and tear of growing older. If you lived long, the reasoning went, and then you'd probably suffer damage to bones and muscles after prolonged use. Adding to the age factor, arthritis was said to be made even worse if you were overweight or obese. Furthermore, scientists have also established that genetic predisposition is at least partly to blame as well.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Standards in Maths and Science

Over at More Stress Less Success, Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones outlines his views on the recent debate concerning standards in Leaving Certificate mathematics and science. He believes that while the percentage of pupils obtaining top grades is too low and that the number of pupils failing maths and science subjects are too high, it is unfair to compare us to other educational systems, like A-Levels or the IB, when maths remains compulsory for all sitting their Leaving Cert, when all pupils sit at least six subjects and when the Leaving Certificate has not been prone to the obscene levels of grade inflation as seen in other systems. He suggests pupils should sit only three or four subjects at Leaving Certificate if we really want to improve maths and science scores. For the full article, click here.

YouTube Saturday - Fish vs. Terrapin

Who would win in a fight between a fish and a terrapin? Luckily for us good ol' National Geographic have the evidence to show that terrapins may not have it all their own way. In this video an emperor cichlid fish pushes and shoves a much heavier terrapin to protect their young from being eaten. Enjoy!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Clare Wind Farm Gets Green Light

The green light has been given for a €200 million community owned wind farm in County Clare, the largest in Ireland. West Clare Renewable Energy Ltd. (WCRE) plans to construct 28 3MW wind turbines on the western slopes of Mount Callan, a 391-metre high mountain located between Ennis and Miltown Malbay. The company says the ambitious project will be capable of generating enough electricity to power every home and business in County Clare. The Scheme is also predicted to reduce CO2 emissions over its life time by a massive 4,400,000 tonnes of carbon and to provide up to 300 jobs during the construction phase.

Clare based entrepreneur Padraig Howard is one of the people behind the project (Mr. Howard is also a Founding member of another ambitious wind energy project Spirit of Ireland), noted that there is a potential 80,000 new jobs to be created in the green economy by 2020 according and that Clare has easily the potential to create 10,000 thousand of these jobs by 2020. What a fantastic prospect and a brilliant use of our natural resources! Well done to all concerned and to the Clare County Council for recognising the significance to approving planning permission for such an ambitious breakthrough project.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Leaving Certificate Results 2010

Congratulations to the St. Columba's class of 2010 on achieving a set of outstanding Leaving Certificate results. Our Warden (our name for the principal) outlined some of the impressive statistics on the St. Columba's College website earlier which highlights the extraordinary efforts of this year's cohort.
  • An average points score of 459 per candidate (our highest ever and, once again, will see us among the highest achieving schools in Ireland).
  • 40% of candidates achieved 500 points or more.
  • 62% of candidates achieved 450 points or more.
  • 76% of candidates achieved 400 points or more.
  • 93% of candidates achieved 350 points or more.
  • 96% of candidates achieved 300 points or more.
  • 77% of candidates achieved a grade A, B or C at honours level.
The results in the sciences weren't bad either - more to come on that soon. Over the past five years pupils of St. Columba's have attained an average of 442 points per candidate in their Leaving Certificate. We, along with all the staff, would like to offer our sincere congratulations to all pupils in St. Columba's, and nationally, who received results today. Click here to download full analysis of this years results, with a comparison with those of the past four years.

Monday, 16 August 2010

That Mitchell & Webb Look on Richard Dawkins

The brilliant That Mitchell and Webb Look is one of the funniest sketch shows on television. In this sketch the boys take the proverbial out of Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion. Enjoy!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

YouTube Saturday - Schrödinger's Cat

Last Thursday would have been the 123rd birthday of Erwin Schrödinger, the great Austrian theoretical physicist (Click here to read our recent short biography of  Schrödinger). One of his most famous "thought experiments" is commonly known as  Schrödinger's cat - the famous illustration of the principle in quantum theory of superposition (matter behaving like particles and waves), proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. Schrödinger's cat serves to demonstrate the apparent conflict between what quantum theory tells us is true about the nature and behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true about the nature and behavior of matter on the macroscopic level. Below is a great video which attempts to explain the famous thought experiment. (Please ignore the presenter's dodgy haircut).

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Schrödinger by Chrisopher Smith
Erwin Schrödinger was an Austrian theoretical physicist who shared the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics with the British physicist Paul Dirac. He was born on this day in 1887 and he resided in Ireland from 1940 to 1955.

Erwin Schrödinger was born on August 12, 1887 in Vienna, the only child of Rudolf Schrödinger, who was married to a daughter of Alexander Bauer, his Professor of Chemistry at the Technical College of Vienna. Erwin's father came from a Bavarian family which generations before had settled in Vienna. Having successful obtained a broad education, Schrödinger went on to study theoretical physics, chemistry and mathematics at the University of Vienna from 1906 to 1910. It was Fritz Hasenöhrl's lectures on theoretical physics which had the greatest influence on Schrödinger. He graduated in 1910 but then took up voluntary military service.

In 1914 Schrödinger's first important paper was published developing ideas of Boltzmann. However, with the outbreak of World War I, Schrödinger received orders to take up duty on the Italian border. His time of active service was not wasted as far as research was concerned, however, for he continued his theoretical work, submitting another paper from his position on the Italian front. In 1915 he was transferred to duty in Hungary and from there he submitted further papers for publication. After being sent back to the Italian front, Schrödinger received a citation for outstanding service commanding a battery during a battle.

In the 1921 he took up a lecturing post at the University of Zurich. There, in a six-month period in 1926 he produced the papers that gave the foundations of quantum wave mechanics. In those papers he described his partial differential equation that is the basic equation of quantum mechanics and bears the same relation to the mechanics of the atom as Newton's equations of motion bear to planetary astronomy. Schrödinger's wave equation, was made at the end of this epoch-during the first half of 1926. It came as a result of his dissatisfaction with the quantum condition in Bohr's orbit theory and his belief that atomic spectra should really be determined by some kind of eigenvalue problem. For this work he shared the Nobel Prize for Physic with Paul Dirac in 1933.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Perseids Meteor Shower

The Perseids Meteor Shower has been observed for around 2000 years, and are the result of Earth passing through a cloud of dust left behind Comet Swift-Tuttle. As Earth moves through this cloud, the particles fall into our atmosphere and burn up, creating spectacular streaks of light in the sky, known as meteors or shooting stars. This shower is named after the constellation Perseus, from which the meteors appear to come from in the sky. If you trace back the path of a Perseid, you will find that it appears to come from a point in the north east. The Perseids will peak this year over the next few days and, with good weather predicted for this week, it is the perfect chance to see the meteorites over Irish skies.

This year's Perseid Meteor Shower will, for the first time, be reported on live on Twitter. The Virtual Astronomer the British Astronomical Association will host the Twitter Meteorwatch. They are inviting people to use the hash tag: #Meteorwatch  when tweeting and to "get involved, ask questions, do some science, follow the event and enjoy the wonders of the night sky". Images and other information will be tweeted as it happens. Live! Everyone is welcome to join in, whether they are an astronomer, have a slight interest in the night sky or just wonder? For more information visit their website, www.meteorwatch.org

In other astronomy news, if you look to the westerly skies during the twilight hours you may be able to see three planets in a cluster. Mars, Venus and Saturn are forming a triangle in the early evening as you face directly west. The three planets will appear as very bright objects in the sky. On Thursday, the crescent moon will join the three planets and will provide a great opportunity for a great photo! So much to see in the night sky at the moment!

Recommended Apps - Pocket Heart for iPad

Pocket Heart on the iPad
Our favourite science app for the iPhone, Pocket Heart, just got better. A new upgrade now makes it easier to use, with new exterior and interior heart modelling, improved quizzes and is now compatible with the latest iPhone operating system, IOS 4. But better still, Pocket Heart is also now available on the revolutionary iPad with for even more detail. Pocket Heart can be useful for students of biology, for parents or for medical professionals hoping to communicate how the heart work to patients. Click here to see  our previous review of Pocket Heart or here to see our ten recommended apps for science enthusiasts. You can also read Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones' article from the Irish Times, The Appliances of Science, on how iPhone apps make learning and communicating about science easier and more enjoyable.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Why is Cloned Meat So Hard to Swallow?

Please pardon the dodgy pun, but why is cloned meat so hard to swallow? The controversy over the recent Food Standards Agency (FSA) revelation that meat from the offspring of a cloned animal somehow made its way to UK consumers continues to intensify. But what is all the fuss? Is this meat not safe to eat? The European Parliament have sanctioned the consumption of cloned beef meat and dairy products in the EU, including the UK, provided proper permission is sought. As does the United States for that matter. So permission was not sought in this particular case, does that mean we should all be panicking? Well no, because let’s face it; none of the beef meat we eat is “natural”!

Think about this for a minute. Suppose you are sitting down to eat a nice juicy, medium rare fillet steak from a non-cloned animal. Do you think this meat is natural? Well it most probable isn’t because it is very likely that the father of the animal you are currently thinking about eating resembled something close to a turkey baster! Artificial insemination is common practice in most Irish and UK farms (even organic farms) with an individual bull, should he be of exceptional genetic merit, likely to father tens of thousands of sons and daughters, probably without ever actually copulating with a cow. Is this natural?

Now let us think for a moment about the genetic origins of the bull, the father of our juicy steak. If the bull is a pure breed (let’s say Angus) then it is very likely that he, or his offspring, have bred with close relatives in an effort to increase their genetic merit (in this case muscle mass). Are you comfortable with this thought? The idea that your juicy steak is inbred, possible with genetically inherited deformities?

YouTube Saturday - What Really Goes on in the Large Hadron Collider

"Rock star physicist" Brian Cox talks about his work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Discussing the biggest of big science in an engaging, accessible way, Cox brings us along on a tour of the massive complex and describes his part in it and the vital role it's going to play in understanding our universe. From Ted.com

Thursday, 5 August 2010

"Catodile" Unearthed in Tanzania

An artists impression of Pakasuchas
A bizarre crocodile like creature, with feline features, has been unearthed in 105 million year old rock in Tanzania. Its teeth don't resemble anything like those of modern crocodiles and are much more cat like. The animals also had other feline characteristics like slender limbs and a flexible backbone that would have helped it move with agility and grace.

The newly discovered animal, which has been named Pakasuchus kapilimai, appears less heavily armoured as other crocodiles, except along the tail. This suggests the creature was quite mobile and probably actively foraged on land, unlike water-dwelling crocs. Other aspects of its anatomy suggest it was a land-dwelling creature that likely feasted on insects and other small animals to survive. The researchers found one complete specimen and portions of seven other individuals. The name derives from Ki-Swahili and Greek - paka translates to cat and souchos is ancient Greek for crocodile. For more information read Ian Sample's piece in today's Guardian.

Solar Tsunami Produces Spectacular Aurora

Last Sunday, the side of the Sun facing Earth erupted in a blaze of activity known as a "coronal mass ejection". These solar storms throw up to approximately 10 billion tons of superheated gas off the surface of the star and hurtling into space at around a million miles an hour on a path towards Earth. It covered the 93 million mile journey from the Sun to the Earth in just three and a half days. On entering the Earth's atmosphere, these particles of gas (collectively called a plasma) interacted with the planet's magnetic field, producing some spectacular displays of aurora - the northern and southern lights. The northern lights were visible last night in northern Europe, North America and Russia. The above picture was taken over Lake Superior in the US.

This increase in solar activity has been expected, with our nearest star moving into a new cycle of maximum activity, some say waking up after a period of "solar sleep". This increase in solar activity is said peak in 2013. Our favourite astronomy blog, The Orbiting Frog, has more on this story. (It's not our favourite because it has a frog in its name, but it helps) 

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

William Rowan Hamilton

Today marks the 205th year since the birth of William Rowan Hamilton, one of Ireland's greatest scientists. We featured a biography of Hamilton in March of last year which is featured below. This biography is from our series of posts entitled Famous Irish Scientists.

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

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

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Plenty More Fish in the Sea?

How many fish in the sea? Well that simple question inspired a team of scientists to carry out the most comprehensive census of marine life ever, which has revealed a staggering 230,000 species of marine life including 1200 new species. The team of 360 scientists carried out the survey in 25 locations worldwide over the past 10 years. The results show that the most common sea creatures are crustaceans, which account for nearly 20% of the world's marine species. Crustaceans include animals such as crabs, lobsters, krill and barnacles. Interestingly, the species often used in conservation campaigning – whales, sea lions, turtles and sea birds – account for less than 2% of the species in the world's oceans according to the study. Scientists do warn, however, that there may be mass extinctions in the world's oceans should the temperature continue to increase. But populations are more greatly affected by over-fishing, habitat destruction from coastal development, pollution, trawling as well as other human activities. Below is a short video from National Geographic about the census.