o The Frog Blog: July 2010

Saturday, 31 July 2010

YouTube Saturday - Through the Keyhole: Creating Life

Through the Wormhole is a series currently airing on the Science Channel which aims to explore the deepest mysteries of existence — the questions that have puzzled mankind for eternity. What are we made of? What was there before the beginning? Are we really alone? These questions have been pondered by the most brilliant minds in history. Now, modern science may be able to provide us with answers. This short video looks at how life may have started on Earth and how similar conditions could be recreated in the lab.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Francis Crick

Francis Harry Compton Crick was a British biophysicist, who, with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, received the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their determination of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chemical substance ultimately responsible for hereditary control of life functions. Crick and Watson began their collaboration in 1951, and published their paper on the double helix structure on 2 Apr 1953 in Nature. This accomplishment became a cornerstone of genetics and was widely regarded as one of the most important discoveries of 20th-century biology. He died on this day, July 28th, in 2004. To find out a little more about Francis Crick, click here.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

YouTube Saturday - Apollo 15 Hammer & Feather Experiment

On the surface of the Moon at Hadley Rille, Apollo 15 Commander David Scott verifies Galileo's discovery that all objects in gravity fields fall at the same speed. In the vacuum of space, there is no air resistance. This is why the hammer and feather will hit the ground at the same time. A great video and a great teaching tool!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Guest Post - When is an Experiment Not an Experiment?

This is a guest post from Eoin Lettice, a lecturer in plant science and zoology in UCC. Eoin manages his own blog - Communicate Science - which contains excellent articles on a range of science topics. In this piece, Eoin outlines his views on science pupils entering third level after "successfully" completing second level science syllabi.

Just under sixty thousand students have just finished some of the most important exams they’ll ever face. As Leaving Certificate students around Ireland await their results, it may be useful to examine just what these students have gained, particularly when it comes to the sciences.

About 30,000 students sat an exam in biology this year, with twice as many females as males taking the paper. In physics, 5,246 males took the exam with just 1,751 females studying the subject. This brings the total for physics to just under 7,000. In a country where science and engineering are seen to be at the forefront of our national recovery, these physics numbers especially are disappointing. Over in the chemistry department, about 8,000 students took the final exam, with the genders much more evenly divided. About 6,000 students took an exam in agricultural science.

The statistics beg the question as to why so many students are attracted to biology rather than chemistry or physics. Perhaps they believe it to be easier, but colloquial evidence suggests that students who take another science exam other than biology often find biology the more demanding of the two. There may well be a large number of students who take biology as a means of ensuring they have that “one science subject” in case they wish to study science at third level.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Apollo 11 & Viking 1

Today in 1969, Apollo XI astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon, after their lunar module separated from the command module and landed on the lunar surface at 09:18 GMT on the Sea of Tranquillity. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin establish Tranquility Base while Michael Collins remained in the Apollo craft and orbited above. When Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface  he proclaimed, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Back on Earth nearly 700 million television viewers witnessed the event live as it happened. It is truly one of the greatest ever feats of engineering and human endeavour and a pivotal day in the history of mankind.

Also on this day, this time in 1976, America's "Viking I Lander" became the first spacecraft to land on Mars and perform its mission successfully. It landed at Chryse Planitia, and began transmitting pictures back to Earth. The image shows Chryse Planitia looking NW over the Viking 1 Lander. An antenna is at upper right. The wide, low plain is covered with large rocks, loose sand and dust. The image was taken on 30 August 1976, a little over a month after landing. Pictures from the mission included views of the Mars surface taken from the Viking 1 Orbiter from space.

Animated Explanations

Animated Explanations is a website full of animated movies, interactive tutorials and instructional videos, all free for you to view and to embed in your website or lesson presentations. Animations are available in areas like health, technology and work. Below is an excellent short animation on "What is Cholesterol?". There is also another excellent video animation on the human heart - click here.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Calaveras County Frog Jump

In 1865, Mark Twain wrote a short story about The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, in which he described a competition to see how far a frog could jump. Little did he know, but in the spring of 1928 an actual frog jump took place in Calaveras County in California and it has been repeated annually ever since. The competition is open to anyone (frog jockeys) who compete to see who's frog can jump the farthest! One at a time, contestants place a frog on the carpeted stage and watch how far it can go in three jumps. The distance is measured from the starting point to the end of the third jump, so sharp turns are not welcome. The contestants can stamp their feet or do other things (within the rules) to encourage the frogs. The most common frog used in the voracious Bull Frog and the record currently stands at 21 feet and 5 inches!

But science has now stepped into the celebrated festival. Last year researchers from Brown University carried out a study at the frog jump aiming to measure how far the bull frog could actually jump in a single bound. Academic research suggested that a distance of just 1.3 metres was the maximum physically possible for the bullfrog, but the researchers were able to see that the bullfrog could easily manage over 2 metres or 7 feet at the Calaveras frog jump - farther than possible for the calculated power of bullfrog muscles. The researchers speculated that the frogs amplify their power by using their leg tendons as a spring, stretching the tendons and letting them snap back all at once. Check out this brilliant video clip from YouTube - a snippet from Jump, the Emmy nominated "frogumentary" on the Calaveras Frog Jump!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

YouTube Saturday - Why Earth Science

Earth Science is an exciting area of study incorporating geology, oceanography, mineralogy, glaciology, soil science and atmospheric sciences - essentially investigation for planet earth functions. This excellent short video outlines how exciting this area can be and why we should study it!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Appliances of Science

This article also appears in today's edition of The Irish Times and was written by Frog Blogger, Humphrey Jones

The development of Apple’s iPhone has revolutionised our perception of the mobile phone. But how can it help us learn more about science?

Since its release, the iPhone’s potential as a multi-purpose device has been realised with the development of applications or apps, software programmes designed specifically for your mobile phone. Last year, there were 2.5 billion app downloads worldwide and this is expected to rise to 4.5 billion this year, 82% of which will be free.

The development of apps for the iPhone led other mobile phone manufacturers to alter the way they structured their operating systems and recently developers have expanded their apps to serve Nokia, Blackberry and Android Smartphones. And now, with the imminent release of Apple’s latest offering the iPad, apps are about to get bigger and better.

Currently, these apps range in their use, from business utilities to personal organisation tools to games or to satellite navigation systems. But science enthusiasts need not worry, because software developers have produced some brilliant applications aimed firmly at serving your inner “geek”.

Ten Recommended Apps for Science Enthusiasts

  1. Pocket Heart – A brilliant iPhone app, designed in Ireland, uses 3D animations to show the inner workings of the human heart. See www.pocketanatomy.com. Pocket Heart is also available for PC or MAC.
  2. The Chemical Touch – An excellent interactive periodic table for the iPhone and iPad. An essential for anyone studying chemistry. The full version also has a full catalogue of amino acids and nucleotides for those interested in biochemistry.
  3. Hubble - This iPhone and iPad application contains hundreds of stunning photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Explore the new worlds Hubble has discovered and learn more about astronomy. It’s free.
  4. Planets – Another app for the iPhone and iPad, Planets lets you explore the Solar System in 2D or 3D. Discover when you can see your favourite planet, and where to look in the sky in relation to the stars. It’s also free. Google Sky Map or Celeste, on the Android platform offer the same level of interaction.
  5. Science Glossary - This excellent iPhone app contains an extensive dictionary of science terms and phrases but also contains a brief biography of famous scientists. It’s also free
  6. Discovery News – A free iPhone app bringing you all the latest news from the Discovery Channel – again free.
  7. Mitosis – This app for the iPhone uses animations, videos and photographs to show you how plant and animal cells divide. An excellent application for those studying biology at any level and it’s free too!
  8. SciencePal - This app is on the Android platform and is actually of bundle of five apps for referencing a lot of your science needs. It includes Elements (an interactive periodic table) and The Solar System.
  9. Touch Physics – This addictive game, available on the iPhone, tests your knowledge and ability to manipulate the laws of physics in order to complete each round. Similar physics based games include Finger Physics, Angry Birds (one of the most downloaded apps in Ireland recently) and Saving Private Sheep for the iPhone or Space Physics on the Android platform.
  10. Speed Anatomy – This excellent iPhone app allows you quickly assess your knowledge of the human body.

    Tuesday, 13 July 2010

    Happy Birthday Erno Rubik

    Today is the birthday of Erno Rubik, the Hungarian mathematician, educator and inventor of the Rubik's Cube (1974). The Rubik's Cube became a popular toy of the 1980's but has experiencing something of a revival recently! Rubik's Cube consists of 26 small cubes that rotate on a central axis; nine coloured cube faces, in three rows of three each, form each side of the cube. When the cube arrangement is randomized, the player must then return it to the original condition of faces with matching colours, which is one among 43 quintillion possible configurations! To find out more about Erno Rubik click here.

    Saturday, 10 July 2010

    YouTube Saturday - Large Hadron Collider 3D Tour

    Take a virtual tour of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Recently scientists have smashed the beam collision record using the LHC and are closer to discovering the mysteries of the universe! (Click here for more info on that story). Click here to see our previous post on the Large Hadron Collider.

    Friday, 9 July 2010

    Dinosaur Still Has Mojo After 75 Million Years

    A researcher at Yale University has discovered a horned dinosaur about the size of a small rhinoceros with an ostentatious heart-shaped frill that even Lady Gaga might envy. He dubbed it Mojoceratops. According to one of the research team “a funky dinosaur needs a funky name’’, one which was devised over a couple of beers after a long day digging fossils in the field. 

    The Mojoceratops was apparently hiding in plain sight for years. Longrich was studying a dinosaur called a Chasmosaurus (pictured above) from museum fossil specimens when he realized that he was looking at a mishmash of two species. Mojoceratops lived 75 million years ago in what is Canada today and probably survived for only about 1 million years. The discovery was published this month in the Journal of Paleontology. Click here to find out more.

    Psychic Octopus & Stolen Penguins

    Well I must admit that I'm a little off the ball and somewhat slow to report these exciting stories. Summer holidays are disrupting regular blogging! But two of the major stories this week have been animal related - no frogs yet but what can you do? Firstly to Paul the Psychic Octopus, who lives in the Sea Life Aquarium in the German city of Oberhausen. Paul has successful predicted the outcome of all of Germany's World Cup games so far, including their 1-0 defeat to Spain earlier this week. Now he has predicted that Germany will win in Saturday's 3rd and 4th place play-off against Uruguay and Spain will defeat the Netherlands in Sunday's final. Click here to find out more and to see a video of Paul predicting that Spain would defeat Germany!

    Also in the news today is the story of Kelli the Penguin, who was stolen from Dublin Zoo yesterday and left to wander in Dublin city centre for a few hours (presumably for some sight-seeing or an open top bus tour) before being handed into Store Street Garda station. No ransom was sought for Kelli, who was returned to the Zoo yesterday evening and reunited with her partner Mick (who I presume is also a penguin). Kelli is said to be recovering well from the incident. Kelli is a Humboldt Penguin and is originally from Chile! This story does remind me about our long forgotten Penguin Corner which I hope to resurrect soon! For more on the story, click here.

    What's next? A tiger kidnapping?

    Saturday, 3 July 2010

    YouTube Saturday - The Pale Blue Dot

    The Pale Blue Dot is a famous photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 from a record distance, showing it against the vastness of space. By request of Carl Sagan, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its primary mission and now leaving the Solar System, to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space. The video below contains time lapse photography of our planet set along Carl Sagan reading from his book with the same name as the photograph 'The Pale Blue Dot'. A time for reflection here at the Frog Blog!

    Thursday, 1 July 2010

    Cure for Diabetes on the Horizon

    Scientists in Washington University in St. Louis seemed to have gone one step closer to finding a cure for insulin dependent diabetes. The scientists have cured diabetic rats during their experiments, using pancreatic cells of pigs. The scientists say this could also be effective for human sufferers of the disease. Embryonic pancreatic pig cells were injected into rats which then grew to become the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin and regulating blood sugar. Several weeks later, the scientists injected a second dose of cells, this time from adult pigs. The rats then seemed to be able to regulate their own sugars without the need for daily injections or, more importantly, anti-rejection or immune suppression drugs. The scientists are now going to carry out further tests on primates before offering the treatment to humans.

    Flying Car Gets FAA Approval

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well sort of ... but it's also a car. Whatever it is, it's flippin cool! The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have given the thumbs up to a new flying car. The Terrafugia Transition is the first street legal car that is also legally able to take flight. The Transition drives like a normal car, uses normal petrol, has front-wheel-drive and even comes with airbags. It get around 30 mpg. But unlike your regular car, it can unfold its wings and fly. You'll only need a one-third of a mile strip for a runway and you're off. It is powered by a rear propeller and flies about 115 miles per hour. It will come at a cost though - around €150,000 - and you will need a special licence to fly it. There are already 70 orders!