o The Frog Blog: May 2010

Monday, 31 May 2010

Science Fact of the Week 54 - The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a large gorge on the surface of the Earth which was created by the flow of the Colorado River, and is one of the natural wonders of the world. The canyon is close to 1 mile (1.6 km) deep, from 4 to 18 mi (6.4-29 km) wide and an impressive 217 mi (349 km) long. Nearly two billion years of the Earth's geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted.While the specific geological processes and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are the subject of debate by geologists, recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to the point we see it today. The exposed geological strata, layer upon layer, rising over a mile above the river, represent one of the most complete records of geological history that can be seen anywhere in the world.

The nearly 40 major sedimentary rock layers exposed in the Grand Canyon range in age from about 200 million to nearly 2 billion years old. Most were deposited in warm, shallow seas and near ancient, long-gone sea shores in western North America. Both marine and terrestrial sediments are represented, including fossilized sand dunes from an extinct desert. Currently, the Grand Canyon is home to approximately 80 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 25 types of reptiles and five species of amphibians. Plant life on the canyon is rare, as there is little soil, but varies from subtropical at the base to subarctic near the rims. The floor of the Grand Canyon contains fossil footprints of over 20 species of reptiles and amphibians, yet no fossilised reptile bones or teeth have ever been uncovered.

The Grand Canyon was set aside by the U.S. government in 1908 as a national monument and is now set inside the Grand Canyon National Park.

Richard Julius Petri

The inventor of the Petri dish, Richard Julius Petri, was born on this day (31st May) in 1852 in Barmen, near Wuppertal in Germany. In 1876 he qualified as a military doctor in Berlin, and from 1877 worked as an assistant to Robert Koch (a famous bacteriologist and later a winner of a Nobel Prize). At that time bacterial cultures were generally grown in a liquid broth, but another of Koch’s assistants Fanny Hesse introduced the use of agar jelly, kept under a bell jar, as a medium on which to culture bacteria. Petri found that this method produced many contaminated cultures, and in 1887 came up with the idea of placing a slightly larger glass lid on top of the dish containing the culture and thus the Petri dish was born. A Petri dish is a shallow, cylindrical dish made of plastic or glass with a cover, used for tissue cultures and to hold solid media for culturing microbes.

Petri went on to run a tuberculosis sanatorium and then to work in the Berlin Museum of Hygiene. As was typical of German medical doctors of the time, he was rather vain and a strict disciplinarian who enjoyed the trappings of uniform. He became somewhat corpulent, and one contemporary observer is said to have remarked that the military sash around Petri’s stomach reminded him of the equator around the globe. Petri died in Zeitz on December 21st 1921.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Sperm Counts

Human Sperm
It’s a wonder that any of us are here at all! Human sperm is some of the least effective in the animal kingdom – and the situation seems to be getting worse. Writing in the London Independent, Steve Connor picked up a story last month about how researchers believe that a man's fertility as an adult may be largely laid down in the few months before and after his birth.

Around 20% of healthy men between the ages of 18 and 25 have abnormally low sperm counts, and the sperm they do produce is often of very poor quality (with only 5% to 15% of sperm cells being ‘normal’).

Almost 20 years ago now Professor Niels Skakkebaek of the University of Copenhagen presented research to the World Health Organisation showing that human sperm counts had fallen on average by about 50% since the end of World War II. The speed of this drop suggested that the explanation might relate to lifestyle changes rather than genetic factors, and various explanations were put forward: from exposure to chemical pollutants to the (then) modern fashion for tight underpants.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

YouTube Saturday - Sea Snails & Hermit Crabs

I still maintain that some of the best videos from YouTube originate from the BBC and here is another gem. This excellent clip shows a Giant Sea Snail making a meal of a smaller Tulip Snail and it is not long before a group of eager Hermit Crabs seize the opportunity to grab a new home. The clip is taken from the Blue Planet series - which you can buy on Amazon for a mere €10 (click here). To watch more high quality videos on the BBC Earth YouTube channel click here, or visit the BBC Earth website for all the latest natural history exclusives and fantastic new wildlife videos by clicking here.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Frogcast 5 - Preparing for the Leaving Certificate Physics Exam

The next instalment in our series of exam preparation podcasts involves an in-depth look at the Leaving Certificate Physics exam. Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones is joined this time by Dr. Mary Singleton, the physics teacher in St. Columba’s College. Mary’s pupils have been very successful in recent years, with over 45% of pupils achieving an A grade in 2009. Humphrey and Mary together outline the structure of the exam paper, offer advice to pupils preparing for the practical questions in Section A and the long questions in Section B, give tips on producing good graphs and diagrams and look at the topics you should not avoid. Use the player below to listen in or search for "The Frog Blog" in iTunes.

Also available in this series are podcasts for the preparation for Leaving Cert Biology, Agricultural Science and Chemistry

Thursday, 27 May 2010

New Pterosaur Discovered by Dublin Scientist

Scientists from University College Dublin, led by Nizar Ibrahim - an expert on north African dinosaurs, have identified a new type of pterosaur (giant flying reptile or pterodactyl) that existed about 95 million years ago. The flying dinosaur was unearthed in Morocco and is described as having a lance-shaped lower jaw, making it look like a huge heron, and a wing span of over 6 metres. The dinosaur would have lived in what is now the Sahara Desert - at the time a "lush green tropical paradise" according to Mr Ibrahim.

The team also discovered rare dinosaur footprints, including some that record several animals walking along the same trail. As well as finding hundreds of dinosaur teeth, they also unearthed bits of giant crocodiles, two more pterosaurs and some new species of fish. The scientists have named the new pterosaur Alanqa saharica from the Arabic word 'Al Anqa' meaning Phoenix, a mythological flying creature that dies in a fire and is reborn from the ashes of that fire.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Atlantis Lands After Successful Mission

The Space Shuttle Atlantis has touched down at the Kennedy Space Station after a successful final mission. See a video of the shuttle landing below!

Phytoplankton Bloom off Irish Coast

NASA have just released a photograph, taken on the 22nd May this year using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on their Terra satellite. The vibrant colours on show are from tiny organisms, phytoplankton, that grow explosively in the North Atlantic—from Iceland to the shores of France—in the spring and summer. According to their webiste:

Phytoplankton require nutrients to reproduce, and phytoplankton blooms are often tied to events that bring nutrients to the ocean surface, such as volcanic dust plumes. MODIS acquired this image after weeks of eruptive activity at Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, however this is not thought to the cause of the new bloom. The North Atlantic Ocean contains plenty of iron, and these waters experience massive phytoplankton blooms every spring and summer. Great photo though!

Record Number of Basking Sharks Off Donegal Coast

This article first appeared in today's edition of The Irish Times and is written by LORNA SIGGINS, Irish Times Marine Correspondent.

IRELAND’s northernmost point is currently “teeming” with a record number of basking sharks, according to marine researchers. More than 100 of the world’s second largest fish were tagged by the Irish Basking Shark Study Group off Donegal’s Dunaff and Malin Head within the past week. This compares with 106 tagged during the entire season last year, according to the study group’s leader, Dr Simon Berrow. The sharks were up close to the sea surface, mouths wide open, as they could filter up to 1,500 cubic metres of water an hour, he noted. “So the amount of food available for them must have been colossal. There were many more around that we just couldn’t tag – it was absolutely spectacular.”

Malin Head was identified by the group last year as one of the top European “hotspots” for the sharks which are also known as liabhán chor gréine – the great fish of the sun – due to their tendency to swim just below the surface. However, the numbers counted over a four-day period within the last week exceeded the group’s expectations. The group also believes that reported sightings of breaching whales off this coast may in fact be basking sharks.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Goosegrass (Galium aparine)

TY Biologists get hooked on goosegrass
Yesterday some Transition Year biologists got a bit hooked on ‘goosegrass’ (quite literally) when carrying out a botanical survey of the College grounds. This is a common plant throughout Ireland and indeed across Europe, Canada and parts of the USA. It grows in hedgerows, amongst tall herbage or low shrubs, and is a common weed in gardens and arable fields. The best known feature is of course that the leaves and stems stick to clothing etc. because they are covered in fine hairs with little hooks at the end. This allows the plant to climb over other plants and shade them out. Other common names include: stickywilly, sticky weed, cleavers, catchweed, everlasting friendship, grip grass, loveman, sweethearts and Robin-run-the-hedge. It is a member of the Rubiaceae (madder) family and is a bedstraw. It is thus distantly related to the coffee plant Coffea arabica.

Stems are square in cross-section and can grow up to 2 m long and sprawl along the ground or over other plants. Leaves are simple, elongate and slender, about 2 cm long, and are borne in whorls of 6-8 all the way along the stem. Flowering occurs from June to August and the flowers are small (2-3 mm) and white with 4 petals – occurring in most of the leaf nodes. Fruits are small, hard and spherical, turning from green to purple and occur in pairs. They are covered in small hooks and act as burrs which cling to fur and feathers etc. to aid dispersal.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Frogcast 4 - Preparing for Leaving Certificate Chemistry

So far the Frog Blog have produced podcasts designed to aid pupils in the preparation of Leaving Certificate Biology and Agricultural Science. We now continue our series of podcasts (or Frogcasts) by taking a close look at the Leaving Certificate Chemistry examination. In this episode, Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones is again joined by Peter Jackson, a chemistry and biology teacher here in St. Columba's College. Peter outlines how the examination paper is divided into two sections, A and B, and explains how one should approach the questions in each section. He offers study tips and advice on structuring your answers and on the topics that come up most frequently. Peter has recently published a new Essentials Unfolded revision book for Leaving Certificate Chemistry which is available in all good book shops now! Click here to find out more.

To listen to the podcast, click on the player below or subscribe to the Frog Blog Frogcasts on iTunes by clicking here.

Astronomy News - Hubble & Jupiter

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured evidence of a Sun-like star "eating" a nearby orbiting planet. Astronomers knew that stars were capable of swallowing planets in orbit around them, but this is the first time the event has been "seen" so clearly. The planet, which is called Wasp-12b, may only have a mere 10 million years left before it is completely devoured by the star. It is now the hottest known planet in our galaxy and may yet prove the shortest lived. It is now so close to its star that it completes an orbit in 1.1 Earth days and is superheated to more than 1,500C. The planet was too far away and moving too fast for Hubble to photograph - the above image being a recreation. Because of this proximity, the planet's atmosphere has ballooned to nearly three times the radius of Jupiter and is spilling material on to the star. And speaking of Jupiter. Scientists are baffled by the gas giant's missing belt of gas. Photos of the planet have shown that the belt seems to have (temporarily) disappeared. This could be down to cloud formation on the planet or changes in the weather pattern. This is not the first time, however, that the belt has gone missing and it never fails to return.

Science Fact of the Week 53 - Rattlesnakes by Hannah Wentges

Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous snakes containing approximately thirty species with numerous subspecies. They get their name form the rattle located at the end of their tails which is used as a warning sign when the snake is threatened. Rattlesnakes eat mice, rats, small birds and other small animals. They subdue their prey quickly with a venomous bite instead of constricting them. The venom immediately stuns or kills their prey.

Most rattlesnakes mate in the spring and all species give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. The young are self-sufficient from birth and since they do not need their mother then, she does not stay with them for long. The rattle is made up of a series of nested, hollow beads which are actually modified scales from the tail tip. Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new rattle segment is added. They can shed their skins several times a year depending on food supply and growth rates. Newborn rattlesnakes do not have functional rattles; it is not until after they have shed their skin for the first time that they gain an additional bead, which beats against the first bead, known as the button, to create the rattling sound.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

YouTube Saturday - International Biodiversity Day

Today, March 22nd, is International Biodiversity Day (Incidentally, 2010 is the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity). International Biodiversity Day aims to help people understand how important biodiversity is for healthy and sustainable development on earth. This week's slice of YouTube is the officicial video of International Biodiversity Day and outlines the importance of maintaining a diverse Earth.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Wild Ireland & International Biodiversity Day

My sincere congratulations to The Irish Times on the production of the truly wonderful 48-page magazine, Wild Ireland, which was included free in today's issue. The magazine was brimming with wonderful stories displaying Ireland's natural riches, from city wildlife to the Burren's awe inspiring variety of plants, to the Kerry slug and to our coral reefs. There was even space for profiles on our only frog, newt, lizard and toad! Brilliant! (I also very much appreciated the complimentary copies that were sent to schools today).

The magazine was issued to celebrate International Biodiversity Day, which takes place tomorrow. Several events are planned around Ireland (and the world) but the hub seems to located within the excellent Science Gallery, in Dublin city centre. Click here to find out what is happening. Friend of St. Columba's, Karin Dubsky from Coastwatch is organising several events around Dublin and in the Science Gallery. Pupils from SCC are also performing in the Science Gallery, reciting poetry and singing! Enjoy and get exploring Ireland's biodiversity!

Scientists Create Artificial Life

Bacteria with Synthesised DNA
Scientists in the US have succeeded in creating artificial life in a development which promises to revolutionise biotechnology. The research opens the way for scientists to create new life forms that can be genetically programmed to carry out a variety of functions, such as producing carbon-free fuel or made-to-order vaccines and providing new forms of food and clean water. However, the study also raises ethical concerns about the technology falling into the wrong hands, and, for instance, being used to make biological weapons, or by scientists to "play God" with life.

The research team, led by controversial scientist Craig Venter, who previously directed one of the teams which decoded the human genome, said he had created synthetic life in the form of a new species of bacteria that operates entirely under the control of a man-made set of genetic instructions, originally stored on a computer. They synthesised the genome of a bacterial cell and used it to "boot up" the empty cell of another species of bacteria, which then replicated freely as if it were carrying its own set of genetic instructions instead of a set made in a laboratory. It is also reported today that US President Barack Obama has asked his bioethics advisers to study and report on the research findings and that the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee has also scheduled a hearing for next week to discuss the implications of the development. Dick Ahlstrom has more on this story in today's Irish Times.

Click here to read more.

Ireland's Mammals - Badgers

The badger is one of Ireland's largest, most distinctive and misunderstood mammals. Badgers are heavy, thick-set animals with powerful limbs. Easily recognisable, the head is white with two vertical black stripes from ears to below the nostrils. The rest of the body is grey but in there may be variations. Erythristic badgers have a sandy coloured fur, often deepening to a more reddish tone. Albino badgers are more rare. They too lack the melanin pigment and are pure white. A typical adult measures about 1m in length.

The badger is found throughout the temperate parts of Europe and Asia, from Ireland in the West to Japan in the East. It is found in all European countries including some of the Mediterranean Islands (Crete and Rhodes), only being absent from the most northern parts of Scandinavia and Russia. Ireland and England have the healthiest populations and badgers can be found in all counties here. It is "estimated" that Ireland has a total population of around 250,000 badgers. However, although badgers are a protected species under the Wildlife Act of 1976, thousands are killed on roads every year and many more are killed illegally i.e. on farms and also by people involved in badger digging and baiting activities (Badgers have been linked to Bovice Tuberculosis).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Mystery of Matter is Behind the Great Darkness of Our Universe

This article first appeared in today's Irish Times and has been reposted with the kind permission of the author, William Reville.

One of the biggest mysteries in science is the fundamental nature of the largest component of the fabric of the universe – dark energy. Identified for sure only in 1998, dark energy constitutes 74 per cent of the total mass-energy of the universe and is responsible for the current accelerating expansion of the universe.

There is very good evidence that the universe began about 13.7 billion years ago in a huge explosion (Big Bang) at a point. The universe has been expanding outwards like a balloon from this point of origin ever since. It was long thought that this expansion is gradually slowing down under the braking influence of gravity. However in the 1990s, to the great surprise of astronomers, it was discovered that, far from slowing down, the expansion of the universe is currently accelerating, propelled by a mysterious dark energy that acts like negative gravity.

Recommended Apps - Vision Learning Science Glossary

The Science Glossary from Vision Learning is an excellent free app for your iPhone, iTouch or iPad. This extremely useful app provides an extensive glossary of several hundred scientific terms and definitions, with easy to understand text. The app also includes loads of mini-biographies of influential scientists from all over the world. Technical terms within each glossary definition are linked to related definitions, providing easy navigation through the app. And many terms are linked to the learning modules on their excellent website, allowing you find out more about each topic.

A simple to use and essential app. Click here to view or download the app on iTunes or here get more information on their website.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Megalodon Nursery Unearthed in Panama

Here is a link to a great story we just tweeted about on our busy Twitter Page. Scientists have found a collection of Megalodon teeth on two sites in the Isthmus of Panama, most likely to be juvenilles. Megalodon were giant prehistoric sharks. Click here to view a previous Frog Blog post of Megalodon.

A megalodon nursery has been unearthed in the Isthmus of Panama - ancient shark fetuses may been 13 feet long http://bit.ly/aNcDGJless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Orbiting Frog

We love two things here at the Frog Blog - astronomy and (well dah) frogs! So when I came across this excellent blog entitled the Orbiting Frog, I had to take an interest. What initially struck me was the brilliant design but the quality and range of the articles kept me reading. The Orbiting Frog focuses on stories in astronomy, space and general science and has a great Science At Home section which looks at simple experiments you can do at home. The blog is run by Robert Simpson who is currently studying for his PhD in Star Formation at Cardiff University in the UK. Well done Robert on producing a truly an excellent resource! Orbiting Frog is also available on Twitter. Click here.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Pinocchio Frog Discovered in Indonesia

A bizarre new species of tree frog has been discovered in the Foja mountains rainforest on the Indonesian island of New Guinea. The frog, which has been nicknamed the Pinocchio Frog, has an unusual spiky nose. Amazingly, the frog's "nose" points upwards when the male calls, but deflates and points downwards when he is less active. The frog was first found sitting on a back pack in the researchers campsite. The find is amongst the latest release from a team of scientists from Conservation International and the National Geographic Society which reveals the stunning diversity of flora and fauna of the region. The find includes several more new species including a huge tame woolly rat, a yellow-eyed gargoyle-like gecko and a tiny forest wallaby, the smallest documented member of the kangaroo family. The results of the find will feature in the June edition of the National Geographic magazine but they have a full library of photos from the find on their excellent website. Click here to visit that photo library now or here to read an article from today's Guardian Newspaper about the research. The photo above is from National Geographic.

Frogcast 3 - Preparing for Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science

Continuing our series of podcasts, Humphrey Jones, the Agricultural Science teacher in St. Columba’s College, takes a look at the Leaving Certificate Ag Science paper and tries to offer some advice and tips to pupils preparing for the exam in June. Mr Jones takes a look at the structure of the exam, focuses on particular questions, and outlines how marks are awarded in each area. He also offers some advice on approaching the short questions, scientific explanations, the experiments and drawing diagrams and graphs in the exam. The Ag. Science paper can be difficult to predict, but knowing how the exam is laid out and marked will allow you to structure your answers effectively to obtain full marks . Use the player to listen in or subscribe to the Frog Blog Frogcasts on iTunes by clicking here. To listen to a podcast to help you prepare for the LC Biology exam, click here. Next up - chemistry!

Mr. Jones and the Frog Blog team would like to gratefully acknowledge the help, time and advice of one of Ireland’s most successful Agricultural Science teachers, Stephanie Flannery from De la Salle in Waterford City, in the preparation of this podcast. Thank you Stephanie!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Science Fact of the Week 52 - The Big Bang

The Big Bang theory is an effort to explain what happened at the very beginning of our universe. Discoveries in astronomy and physics have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that our universe did in fact have a beginning. Prior to that moment there was nothing; during and after that moment there was something: our universe. The big bang theory is an effort to explain what happened during and after that moment.

According to the theory, approximately 13.7 billion years ago, just before the Big Bang, the entire contents of our universe was compressed into the confines of an atomic nucleus (this is possible because matter did not exist as we think of it now - only energy). Known as a singularity, this is the moment before creation when space and time did not exist. According to the Big Bang theory, a massive explosion (or expansion to be more accurate) occurred which created not only fundamental subatomic particles and thus matter and energy but space and time itself.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

YouTube Saturday - Steve Spangler Liquid Nitrogen

This week's slice of YouTube is of the brilliant Steve Spangler carrying out a great science experiment on the Ellen show using liquid nitrogen. He actually has a YouTube channel if you would like to see more of these experiments - click here - and he has a great website where you can get information about great experiments you can do at home - click here. He's great!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Atlantis Prepares for Final Mission

The Space Shuttle Atlantis
The crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis are making last minute preparations for the craft's final launch into Earth's orbit - and the third last shuttle mission. The 25 year old feat of engineering is now fueled for lift off and, weather permitting, will launch later this evening. Atlantis carries a small laboratory and docking compartment that will be attached to the Russian side of the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations nearing completion after more than a decade of construction 220 miles above the Earth. Atlantis is also carrying up fresh batteries for the station's power-generating system, food, laptops and a spare communication antenna. The mission is to last 12 days.

Only two other shuttle flights remain. Once the shuttles are retired, NASA will leave station deliveries to commercial companies and other countries, and focus on eventual trips to asteroids and Mars. There has been some suggestion that Atlantis, or another shuttle, should remain at the ISS in case of emergency. However, it is more likely Atlantis will end up in a museum, with an estimated cost of around $30m.

UCD Scientists Reveal Secrets of Feathered Dinosaurs

Archaeopteryx lived 140 Million Years Ago
While nearly all scientists now believe that modern birds are the decendents of dinosaurs, new research suggests that while many species of feathered dinosaurs have been discovered (Archaeopteryx being the most famous - pictured), these species were unable to truly fly. A team of researchers from the University of Manchester and University College Dublin have calculated that the feathers were too weak - the shafts of the feathers being too thin - to support flight by flapping their wings and at most these dinosaurs were able to glide from tree to tree. Most likely, however, these species used their feathers to allow them to jump higher and pounce on their prey while travelling along the ground. Dick Alhstrom has more information on this story in today's Irish Times - click here.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

New Frog Found in India

Scientists in India have discovered a new bright reddish-orange coloured frog, which has been named Raorchestes resplendens. The new species has multiple glands and extremely short limbs and seems to be located only on the highest mountain peak of the Western Ghats in India. The frog was found in the Eravikulam National Park and is restricted to an area of just 3 square km near the summit of Anamudi. Despite intensive searches in suitable habitats close to the locality, the team of scientists, from Delhi University and University of Brussels, were unable to locate this species in any other place. The BBC have more on this story - click here.

It's Reef Jim, But Not As We Know It!

Yesterday, while spending a relaxing Wednesday afternoon strolling in Dublin, I finally managed to drop into the Science Gallery – a magical place where art and science collide – to view the rather oddly, yet accurately, titled Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef exhibition. Essentially, this exhibition features a multitude of coral reefs, all masterfully created using crochet. The idea of “knitting up a sponge” or “crocheting a coral” might seem odd – and yes it is a bit surreal at first – but this exhibition works so well in the surroundings of the Science Gallery. I was utterly enthralled with the brilliant colours on display and the great message portrayed - that coral reefs are under threat and must be protected! I also enjoyed my introductory lesson in hyperbolic symmetry. There are a number of different "themed" reefs: the toxic reef (produced using plastics (which 10% of all produced end up in the ocean and have the potential to cause significant damage to coral reefs), the beaded reef (created using beads of all shapes, sizes and colours) and the bleached Bone Reef (a reminder that "stressed" corals can bleach their brilliant colours).

Created and Curated by Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef features pieces of crochet from over 3000 people worldwide (including Ireland - in fact some of my favourite pieces were Irish made). It is a magical experience - as the Science Gallery always seems to be. So, get your boots and go!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Preparing for the Leaving Certificate Biology Examination - Podcast

A warm welcome to visitors who've been directed here via today's 'Noticeboard' in the Irish Times Education section and are looking for the Leaving Certificate biology podcast. The podcast features Humphrey Jones and Peter Jackson, biology teachers here in St. Columba's College. Peter has been marking biology papers in the Leaving Certificate for nearly 30 years and, with Humphrey, he describes the structure of the Leaving Certificate Biology Examination and offer advice to pupils preparing for the exam this June. Use the player below to listen in or subscribe to the Frog Blog Frogcasts on iTunes by clicking here. Further podcasts on other science subjects will be published over the coming weeks - next up Agricultural Science.

"Essentials Unfolded - Chemistry" by Peter Jackson

The Celtic Press publishing company have been producing a range of simple revision books in a variety of junior and leaving certificate subjects which allow for quick yet thorough revision of all the key topics. Now, a new chemistry revision book is available, written and produced by Mr. Peter Jackson - our science colleague here in St. Columba's College.

This brilliant revision book contains all mandatory experiments, all the necessary diagrams (in easily reproducable format), all definitions and a full and comprehensive drilling of the course content. Essentials Unfolded - Chemistry is available in all good book shops now (I've always wanted to say that!)

Peter featured last week in our podcast on preparing for the Leaving Certificate Biology exam. Click here to find out more and to listen in.

Recommended Apps - The Chemical Touch

Everyone studying science, at all ages and levels, needs a Periodic Table at some point. So, here comes The Chemical Touch, a brilliant, easy to use Periodic Table for your iPhone, iPod or iPad. The Periodic Table is truly brought to life with the app's excellent touch sensitive and colourful homescreen. Flick between each element's atomic mass, density, melting point, boiling point or even radii easily, with no fuss. You can also gain access to the Wikipedia site for each element via the app. All of this is available on the free version, The Chemical Touch Lite, and can be downloaded here. But wait, why not splurge out 79c for the extended version - it's worth it. The full version has a full database of amino acids and nucelotides - essential for anyone studying biochemistry or even Leaving Cert Biology. The full version can be downloaded by clicking here. An easy to use app for scientists of all ages! The developers website is available here and a full user guide here. One of the best so far! To see all our featured iPhone apps for science education click here.

Monday, 10 May 2010

New Frog Species

The BBC have just tweeted about a new species of frog which has been discovered in Madagascar that lays its eggs and grows its tadpoles in dead leaves that litter the forest floor. The frog is the first amphibian known to reproduce in this way. Follow the link in the Tweet below for more information.

A new species of frog is the first known to lay its egg and grow its tadpoles in dead leaves that litter the.. http://bit.ly/d0QJZSless than a minute ago via twitterfeed

Science Fact of the Week 51 - Earth's Extremes

This week's Science Fact is a collection of facts about the extremes of our home planet, Earth.

Highest Point on Earth: At 29,029 feet (8848 meters), Mt. Everest is famed as the highest peak on earth. And that’s true but it’s also not true. It all depends on how one looks at it. Technically, Mt. Everest’s rocky peak is the highest bit of land from sea level. But because the earth isn’t a perfect sphere, certain lower points are in effect “higher” in space or further away from Earth's core. Mt. Everest is less close to the moon and stars than another mountain which is relatively unknown. And that is Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador (pictured above). It’s just over 20,000 feet high, so while it’s not as tall as Mt. Everest, it is actually closer to outer space due to the shape of the earth.

Deepest Point in the Oceans: The Marianas Trench, off of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, is the deepest point in the world’s oceans. It it over 7 miles – more than 36,000 feet – deep. If Mt. Everest were placed in the trench the summit would be more than a mile under the surface. The pressure at the bottom of the trench is more than 1,000 times stronger than at sea level. The United States Navy sent two naval officers to the bottom in a vessel called the Trieste in 1960. Amazingly, they observed fish, shrimp and other creatures living on the bottom of the sea floor.

Coldest Place on Earth (and the driest and windiest): Antarctica is a land of extremes. It’s not inhabited year round by humans because it’s simply too cold. In 1983 scientists recorded extreme cold temperatures as low as -129 Fahrenheit. It’s also the wettest place on earth, but simultaneously the driest. The reason it’s the “wettest” is not because of rainfall; since Antarctica is covered by 98% ice, it’s technically very wet. However since it’s also the aforementioned coldest place in the world, it gets very little precipitation – less than 2 inches a year. Which makes Antarctica a desert. A brutally cold ice desert with a massive trench full of even more…ice. Three for the price of one!

Fake Science

Fake Science is a brilliant photo blog which posts a mock "greeting card" style picture relative to the world of science. It is pure genius! Below is their humerous view on how oil is extracted from the Earth. Fake Science is available by clicking here. They also have a twitter page, which you can access here


Saturday, 8 May 2010

Meet Tommy Boa

It's now official - our new pet snake is to be called Tommy Boa (after the Irish rugby international Tommy Bowe). It was a close contest - with just one vote separating the top two. Thanks to everyone who voted and to Ed Majekodunmi (real name, honest) for suggesting the winning name.

YouTube Saturday - Into the Universe

That time of the week again and this week's YouTube video of choice is a clip from Stephen Hawking's new series Into the Universe. Into The Universe "is an epic new kind of cosmology series, a Planet Earth of the heavens. It takes the world's most famous scientific mind and sets it free, powered by the limitless possibilities of computer animation. Hawking gives us the ultimate guide to the universe, a ripping yarn based on real science, spanning the whole of space and time -- from the nature of the universe itself, to the chances of alien life, and the real possibility of time travel". Into the Universe airs tomorrow night at 9:00pm on the Discovery Channel (UK) and is repeated constantly.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Neanderthals and Humans Share DNA

The genome (genetic blueprint) of the Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, has been decoded, revealing some exciting results. By comparing the results with the genome of the modern human (Homo sapiens), it has been determined that Neanderthals and humans may have interbred sometime in the past. The research shows that many living European and Asian people have a small number of Neanderthal genes—about 1% to 4% of the genome. However, no evidence of Neanderthal genes are been found in the small sample of living Africans used, strengthening the theory that modern humans spread from Africa to Asia and Europe around 60,000 years ago, where they met and seemingly interbred with Neanderthal groups. Homo sapiens populations that stayed in Africa would never have met Neanderthals.

Scientists mapped the Neanderthal genome from fragments of DNA taken from three Neanderthal fossil bones, each from different individuals. The fossils come from Vindija Cave, Croatia, and are around 44,000 years old. For more on this story click here.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Oh, How We Love Apps!

We love iPhone, iPad and iPod apps here at the Frog Blog and have featured some excellent ones recently on the blog (Click here to see our recommended apps so far). Well, our good friends over in SCC English tweeted a link to an excellent list of the "100 Most Educational iPhone Apps" earlier today which contains even more and in a range of subject areas. Thanks very much lads. We must also give credit to Russell Tarr (@russelltarr) who originally tweeted the link!

100 Most Educational iPhone Apps: http://tinyurl.com/nyvemw. RT @russeltarrless than a minute ago via web

25 Years Fighting the Future

This excellent article appears in today's Irish Times Science Today section.

The ozone hole 25 years on: a budget cut nearly thwarted the discovery of the gaping ozone hole over the Antarctic, and it was revealed almost by accident, writes DICK AHLSTROM.

You would think that something the size of North America couldn’t possibly go unnoticed. But it did and remained hidden for many years before British scientists told the world a massive ozone hole had opened up over Antarctica. That discovery reached the journal Nature 25 years ago, in the process sparking an international effort to find a way to close the hole. The result was the Montreal Protocol, the most successful international treaty yet agreed.

The report in Nature in 1985 almost never arrived however. The device that recorded the data was there not to measure ozone but to help predict the weather. And it was nearly shut down as unnecessary when researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) faced cost cuts. Yet the discovery was made and against the odds. “It was a whole string of coincidences and a lucky break for us,” says Jonathan Shanklin, who with group leader Joseph Farman and Brian Gardiner carried out the research that confirmed the springtime opening of a hole in atmospheric ozone.

Alexander von Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt was a German natural scientist, archaeologist, explorer and geographer, who made two major expeditions to Latin America (1799-1804) and to Asia (1829). During the first, equipped with the best scientific instruments of the time, he surveyed and collected geological, zoological, botanical, and ethnographic specimens, including over 60,000 rare or new tropical plants. He charted and made observations on a cold ocean current along the Peruvian coast, now named the Humboldt Current. In geology he made pioneering observations of stratigraphy, structure and geomorphology and he understood the connections between volcanism and earthquakes. Humboldt also named the Jurassic System. He died on this day, May 6th, in 1859 aged 89. For more information on the life and works of Alexander von Humboldt click here.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Twitter Launches Embeddable Tweets

Twitter has launched a means of embedding tweets into your blog or website (below is one our tweets from the Frog Blog Twitter Page). To embed a tweet, first find the tweet url (click on the time stamp of the tweet e.g. 2 hours ago). Secondly go to Blackbird Pie on Twitter's Media page, insert the url and click Bake It. The tweet will be shown below and the code for inserting the tweet is also provided. Then simply add the code directly to your site or blog post. It's easy! Go on, give it a go!

Well, the ash is back. So, while waiting for your flight why not see how volcanoes work! http://tinyurl.com/6q7zq4less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Frogcast 2 - Preparing for the Leaving Certificate Biology Exam

Well, it has been a while but finally episode two of our Frog Blog Podcasts (or "Frogcasts") has arrived. In this new episode, Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones speaks to fellow St. Columba's College biology teacher Peter Jackson, who has been marking biology papers in the Leaving Certificate for nearly 30 years. The pair discuss the structure of the Leaving Certificate Biology Examination and offer advice to pupils preparing for the exam this June. Use the player to listen in or subscribe to the Frog Blog Frogcasts on iTunes by clicking here.

Woolly Mammoth Antifreeze

A new study has revealed that the DNA of the extinct Woolly Mammoths (obtained from a mammoth 43,000 years old) contained a gene for the production of an "antifreeze protein" which would have allowed their blood (specifically their haemoglobin) to work more effectively at lower temperatures. The protein would not have prevented their blood from freezing but would have made it work more efficiently at sub-zero temperatures. Other modern animals have independently evolved a similar system of protecting their haemoglobin, namely the Reindeer and Musk Ox. Of course, Woolly Mammoths were well adapted to the cold with their thick fur, wool layer, small ears and a blubber layer. 

Thomas Henry Huxley (4th May 1825 – 29th June 1895)

Thomas Henry Huxley
Thomas Huxley was an English biologist and polymath who was born on this day in 1825. He is best known as “Darwin’s bulldog” – and supported the theory of evolution in a famous debate with Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford in 1860. Huxley was a marine biologist, palaeontologist and comparative anatomist of high repute, who laid the taxonomic foundations for the Phylum Cnidaria and uncovered the link between birds and dinosaurs (amongst other things). He also invented the word ‘agnostic’ and wrote on capitalism, racial inequality and Rome’s Pantheon. Huxley probably did more than anyone to establish the legitimacy of the role of science in the British school system, saying that science should simply be seen as “organised common sense”.

Huxley’s father was a maths teacher in Ealing School and Huxley, who was one of eight children, had to leave school at the age of 10 when the school closed. He then set out to educate himself, and taught himself German as well as reading James Hutton on geology and becoming an expert in theology. He started training as a medic and got taken on in the British Navy as an assistant surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake for her voyage to New Guinea and Australia – from where Huxley sent back reports on various marine invertebrates.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Recommended Apps - Hubble

As reported last week, the Hubble Space Telescope is 20 years old this year and, during this period, this amazing feat of engineering has provided hundred of mesmerising images of deep space. So, if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch and you would like to find out more about Hubble and the universe, this app is for you. The brilliant Hubble App features every Hubble Space Telescope news release and its supporting materials, designed to further your knowledge of astronomy. It consists of news release texts, pictures, animations and video clips on topics ranging from dark matter, supernovas, planetary nebulas, views of the galactic core and browns dwarfs. There is also  a "shake for fact" feature, which is brilliant fun.

To view in iTunes or to download this excellent app, click here.

Science Fact of the Week 50 - The Planet Mercury

The planet Mercury is a terrestrial planet, the closest to our sun, and the smallest in the Solar System. It is named after the Roman god of commerce, travel and thievery. Being so close to the Sun, the planet Mercury can experience extremely high temperatures. The temperature on Mercury may reach 450 degrees celsius during the day. But, amazingly, at night the temperature may drop as low as -170 degrees celsius. This drop in temperature is down to the fact that the planet Mercury has little or no atmosphere. The sunlight on Mercury’s surface is 6.5 times as intense as it is on Earth due its closeness to the sun.

Mercury's surface resembles that of Earth's moon, scarred by many impact craters resulting from collisions with meteoroids and comets. Some of these craters, near the planet's poles, are believed to hold some frozen water, permanently shaded from the Sun's heat. While there are areas of smooth terrain, there are also lobe-shaped scarps or cliffs, some hundreds of kilometres long and soaring up to 1.6 kilometres high, formed by early contraction of the crust. Mercury is the second densest planet after Earth, with a large iron core having a radius of 1,800 to 1,900 kilometers (1,100 to 1,200 miles), about 75 percent of the planet's radius. However, Mercury is only about one-third the size of the Earth.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Transition Year Work on the Common Kingfisher

The eurasian or common kingfisher Alcedo atthis is perhaps one of our most attractive but elusive birds, often just glimpsed as a flash of turquoise zipping along the banks of undisturbed streams and rivers. They are wide-ranging, and are found from Northern Europe through the Mediterranean and Middle East to Asia and New Guinea. Kingfishers belong to the Order Coraciiformes, and are about 16 cm to 18 cm long when adult, with a distinctive orange, blue and black plumage and red legs. They feed on small fish and water insects, and have also been known to prey on frogs, worms, spiders and centipedes. They have a characteristic fast-flapping flight which is followed by a gliding phase, and a distinctively harsh call (but no ‘song’).

Kingfishers are typically found near slow-flowing streams and rivers, and perch on overhanging branches in order to hunt. They are highly territorial, and remain solitary until pairs form in the Autumn (they are generally monogamous). Nests are built at the end of burrows dug in to vertical sandy banks by both members of a pair. About 5-7 glossy white eggs are typically laid, and incubated by both parents in the daytime, but only by the female at night.

Success for Form I Scientists!

Four members of the First Form spent a very enjoyable day last Saturday in Trinity College, taking part in the annual Salters’ Institute Festival of Chemistry. Philippa Carroll, Arthur Moffitt, Roman Sharykin and Aoife Smith gained second place in the ‘Salters’ Challenge’ – competing against teams from 17 other schools in an exercise involving paper chromatography and the identification of various mystery white powders by chemical means. The team correctly worked out from their analyses that the fictitious murderer in their puzzle was the cook!

After lunch the young scientists engaged in the multi-phase separation of a complicated mixture of chemical ingredients, and then watched a highly engaging ‘science show’ involving many loud bangs and unexpected colour changes (amongst other things). The team took full advantage of the opportunity to work in a full-scale university science laboratory, and enjoyed meeting and working with pupils and teachers from other schools. A big vote of thanks is due to the Salters’ Institute and to Trinity College Departments of Chemistry and Education for hosting us so well.

YouTube Saturday - The Evaporating Mediterranean Sea

This week's YouTube pick is from the BBC Earth Channel. This excellent video outlines how the Mediterranean sea is constantly evaporating, losing three times as much water as it receives - remaining at current levels because water from the Atlantic tops it up.