o The Frog Blog: November 2010

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Science Gallery Christmas Cards!

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

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

Monday, 29 November 2010

What Are Stem Cells?

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

Saturday, 27 November 2010

YouTube Saturday - Galapagos

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

Friday, 26 November 2010

100 Million Year Old Crocodile Discovered

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

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

Jupiter's Belt Returns

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

Science on the Simpsons

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

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Science Rap Competition Winners

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

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

GM Foods - What Are The Issues?

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 November 2010

Frog Bloggers @ The Spiders

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

Science Quotes - Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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


Carbon Emissions News Brightens up the Day (A Bit)

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Our First Twitterversary

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

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

YouTube Saturday - Powering the Cell - Mitochondria

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

Friday, 19 November 2010

Eircom Spider Big Mouth

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

Birds of St Columba's - Rook

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

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Antimatter Trapped at CERN

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

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

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

Recommended Apps - Pocket Universe

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

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Poison Rocket Frog Discovered

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

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

T Research - Winter 2010 Edition

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

Weird & Wonderful Animals - The Axolotl

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

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

By Pia Klippgen, Form IV

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Virus Attack

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

Oldest Dinosaur Embryos Unearthed

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

Monday, 15 November 2010

A New Age of Digital Textbooks

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

Science Quotes - John Dalton

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

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

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

Saturday, 13 November 2010

YouTube Saturday - Using Colour to Find Alien Planets

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

Friday, 12 November 2010

Birds of St Columba's - The Raven

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

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Irish Times BANG - Feel The Future

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

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

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

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



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

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

Weird & Wonderful Animals - The Pistol Shrimp

During World War II, submarines discovered that they couldn't detect enemy ships. Something was interfering with their sonar. The cause? It was a 5 cm long shrimp with a 2.5 cm claw.

Pistol shrimps have one normal claw and one oversized claw. The claw stays open until a muscle causes it to snap shut. When the claw snaps shut, a jet of water shoots out from a socket in the claw, at speeds up to 100 km/h (62 mph). Behind the jet of water, a bubble of air forms, called a cavitation bubble. When the bubble implodes, it produces a sound greater than 200 decibels (Human eardrums bursts at 150 decibels), thus immobilising its prey. This feat is pretty amazing, a 5 cm shrimp makes the loudest sound in the vast oceans filled with thousands of different species of animals. However, the pistol shrimps have an even more amazing feat.

When the cavitation bubble bursts, not only does it make a loud noise, it also produces a flash of light which lasts no longer than 10 nanoseconds. The light is produced because the bubble is compressed so quickly that the air inside cannot escape. As a result, it becomes superheated, and the temperature of the bubble reaches up to at least 5000 degrees celsius. That's close to the temperature of the sun's surface!

Pistol shrimps use their snapping claw to stun and kill their prey, and the pressure and the loud sound when the cavitation bubble bursts is able to stun and kill a small fish. When the snapping claw of the pistol shrimp is disabled or amputated, the other claw will grow in size to replace it.

I think that the next time someone calls me a 'shrimp', I'll take it as a compliment!

Written by Jay Kim, Form IV

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Irish Times BANG - Time Travel

The Irish Times today release a new science monthly - called BANG! This supplement is aimed at teenagers but they hope that everyone will find the articles interesting, informative and fun. There is a huge range of brilliant articles in the first edition from the science of Lady Gaga, what to expect in 2020, a history of human space travel, the Science Gallery's Green Machines expo and details on a brilliant science photo competition. ! Also in BANG is an article by Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones on why no one has invented time travel yet - keep reading to find out why! BANG also has its own Facebook page, a Twitter feed and all features are available online too at www.irishtimes.com/society/science.

Wouldn't having a time machine be deadly? You’d never be late again, you could meet your heroes from the past, see what you’re future self will be like or even bring home a pet dinosaur!

Time travel has been a source of fantasy for years, since H.G Wells wrote his famous book, The Time Machine, way back in 1895. But do time machines belong purely in the realm of science fiction or is there an element of science fact involved? And, more importantly, if time travel is possible, why hasn’t a time machine been built yet. Let’s look at the science!

Incredibly, time travel is theoretically possible! As we travel through space we also travel through time. In fact, scientists refer to our position (in space) as a combination of our three dimensional co-ordinates and our position in time – the fourth dimension – which they call space-time. 

According to Stephen Hawking all you need to time travel is a wormhole, a super-massive black hole or a rocket that can go “really really fast”. Wormholes are tiny tunnels in space and time, which allow tiny particles (smaller than electrons or photons) to take short-cuts through time and space. These exist all around us but in the smallest of scales – the quantum scale (wormholes are just a billion trillion trillionth of centimetre wide and only last for a fraction of a second). 

Frog Blog Shortlisted for the Eircom Spider Award

The Frog Blog has been nominated for an Eircom Spider (Ireland's premier internet awards) and needs your vote to secure a famous victory. We have been nominated within the BIG MOUTH category - a group of active Irish bloggers, tweeters, forums and facebookers - with the winner being decided by a public vote. Voting just takes a couple of seconds and concludes on Friday. So, if you haven't done so already, please take the time and vote for your favourite science blog - it is Science Week after all! Click here to vote!

Birds of St Columba's - Jay

The Jay
Jay (Garrulus glandarius) In my 36 years in the College I have seen this most colourful member of the crow family only three times: each time it was while walking down the driveway that now leads to the nursing home. They are easily identified by their reddish brown plumage and the bright blue bars on their wings. Being very good mimics of other species it is difficult to identify them by their call. They are inhabitants of mixed woodland, particularly oak so the Deerpark is ideal territory for it. They hoard acorns and eat many invertebrate pest species so they are generally a useful species. They nest in large shrubs or trees laying about six eggs

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Birds of St Columba's - Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) This Eurasian species is very similar to the Carrion Crow and was, until recently (2002), thought to be a race of the same species. They are more sociable than the carrion crow and they have very distinctive grey and black plumage. They are carrion eaters, i.e. they eat dead animals, but their diet is very varied and they can even be seen raiding bins. They are quite common around the college. The nest made of twigs is usually found in a tall tree and the lay four to six brown speckled blue eggs from April onwards. In Irish folklore the bird is seen on the shoulder of the dying Cú Chulainn, perhaps waiting to pluck his eyes out.

Science & Biology Inspection Report

Back in April 2010, St. Columba's College received an inspection from the Department of Education and Skills on our Junior Science and Leaving Certificate Biology practices. This week the official report was released and we are delighted that it is extremely positive and confirms the high standards we set for ourselves here at St. Columba's. Here are some of the highlights of the inspection report - with the full report available here.
"The level of resources to support both teaching and learning in the subjects is very good. Senior management allocates a generous budget to the subjects. The majority of lessons are conducted in one of the school’s four laboratories, one of which is a dedicated biology laboratory. The laboratories and preparation rooms are located in the science building. Each laboratory is fitted with modern information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, including internet access, and digital projection facilities. Teachers make constant use of these facilities. There is a comprehensive science and biology library for use in lesson preparation, and an extensive video and DVD collection. Data logging equipment is present and used. Within the science building, the enhancement of computer facilities for student use is worthy of consideration."
"The fascinating world of science is successfully revealed to students in many ways in St Columba’s. The school has a very successful science news website, www.frogblog.ie containing a range of science articles which aim to enthuse and inform students about wider science stories and issues of the day. It includes articles produced by students. There is also a science department website www.sccscience.com with sections for subjects containing course notes and examination material for downloading. Corridors in the science building exhibit poster presentations of interesting science facts and there is an extensive display of natural history specimens. Many animals and plants are kept within the biology laboratory in aquariums and vivariums including freshwater species, tropical fish, terrapins and a python."

Recommended Apps- Space Brains

To celebrate Science Week, Discover Science & Engineering (along with Blackrock Castle Observatory and Armagh Planetarium) have released a brilliant app to test your knowledge of the cosmos! Space Brains is a brilliant new quiz and trivia app for the iPhone and iPod Touch which contains 1,000 questions on all things astronomical. Questions range from what year man first stepped on the Moon to how many planets there are in the solar system. The quizzes can be set to varying degrees of difficulty and also contains a range of game types, including a Pass 'n' Play style game for class or family fun! Even better news - it's completely free!

Click here to find out more about Space Brains and to download.

Weird & Wonderful Animals - The Vampire Squid

The Vampire Squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) was first discovered in 1903 and was mistaken for an octopus it has large fins at the top of its body that resemble ears. These fins serve as its primary means of propulsion as it literally flies through the water by flapping these fins. As with other squid, it can also use jet propulsion to move by expelling water through a specialized siphon jet located just under its mantle. It grows to the length of 6 inches long. It is found in the temperate and tropical oceans, deep down below 700 metres, meaning it lives in some of the most oxygen deprived areas of the sea. When it is scared it does not eject ink like many octopus, but a big cloud of mucus containing orbs of blue lights which can last up to 10 minutes! Another truly weird yet wonderful animal.

This post was written by Nicole Cosgrove, Form IV

Monday, 8 November 2010

Fake Science - Why Do Zebra's Have Stripes

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! They are back with a gem - on why zebras really developed their stripes. Click here to see more of Fake Science!

The Frog Blog Science Week Art Competition

This week is Science Week and we want you to draw, paint, sketch or sculpt on any aspect of science, discovery, space and nature! Entry is completely free and open to anyone in primary or secondary school in Ireland. Just photograph or scan your work and email your entries to contact@frogblog.ie. The winner will receive a €50 iTunes Gift Voucher with the runner-up receiving a €25 iTunes Gift Voucher! Closing date for entry is Monday 15th November - get cracking! To download a poster for you school, click here.

It's Science Week!

Science Week kicks off today marking the beginning of the biggest public campaign for science on this island. In a time of economic uncertainly, the work done by scientists in the area of research and development offer our government a glimmer of hope in the murky economic fog. The aim of Science Week is to promote the relevance of science, engineering and technology in our everyday lives and to demonstrate just how important it is to the future development of Irish society and the economy.

The theme for Science Week Ireland 2010 is ‘Our Place in Space’ where we will examine and explore the latest happenings in astronomy and what Ireland’s role in the Space industry is today; as well as learning about how our ancestors studied the planets, and the vital role played by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in helping us to make sense of our universe. There are a huge number of science events organised around the country (for events around the Dublin South area click here). Here at SCC we plan a number of in-house events to promote the sciences and will be actively blogging and tweeting throughout the week! For more information on this year's Science Week visit their brilliant website or follow them on Twitter.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Conodonts - Our Favourite Fossils!

Conodont elements are some of the most beautiful yet enigmatic fossils known (the image above shows conodonts atop a pinhead). They came from a group of extinct worm-like animals, at least some of which are known to have been about 4 cm long. These were relatively common in the seas of Palaeozoic times, and are thought to have been primitive craniates (‘agnathans’). In general these animals are only represented in the fossil record by these small (0.2 mm to 13 mm), disarticulated, tooth-like skeletal elements made of calcium phosphate – probably forming part of their ingestive apparatus.

Conodont elements were first described by Christian Heinrich Pander in 1856, although he thought he was looking at fish teeth, but it was not until 1983 that the nature of the conodont-bearing animal was first revealed – following a study of Carboniferous sediments from Granton, Edinburgh. The animals described are 40 mm long and 1.9 mm wide, and the conodont elements form an apparatus in the head region – just behind 2 lateral lobes. The body is divided into a series of v-shaped muscle blocks, and an asymmetrical series of fin rays are commonly preserved about the tail. This suggests that the animal was an active swimmer.

Conodont Animals?
Conodont animals of the Upper Palaeozoic generally had a range of differently shaped elements in their apparatuses (e.g. ‘bars’, ‘blades’ and ‘platforms’), and the way in which these fitted together to function in 3D has been much debated. One of us did some work on this as a Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin, and had great fun making scale models of the elements and trying to fit them together in a meaningful way (Stone, J. J. and Geraghty, D. A. 1994 ‘A Predictive Template for the Apparatus Architecture of the Carboniferous Conodont Idioprioniodus’, Lethaia, 27, No. 2, pp. 139-142.).

Saturday, 6 November 2010

YouTube Saturday - Nature by Numbers

An excellent short animated movie which looks at how numbers, geometry and nature collide. It explores Fibonacci's number, or the devine ratio, a pattern of numbers which seems to correlate with natural structures. 

Birds of St Columba's - Magpie

Magpie (Pica pica) This is one of the more striking members of the crow family and is a native of most of Europe. Its black and white plumage is striking and the final touch is the iridescent blue/green bars on its wings. Its long tail is also attractive. Its behaviour is however not as attractive as its plumage, since it is a scavenger collecting bright objects to adorn its nest. It has even worse habits: stealing both eggs and young of birds and anything else that comes to hand. Their raucous calls early in the morning are also annoying. Their nest is a hollow dome of twigs usually in a large bush or small tree.

Guest Post - How Teachers Influence Science Learning

We invite anyone to submit posts for the Frog Blog and this guest post is courtesy of Beatrice Owen who, in this post, recalls her experience of science in school and offers some tips to teachers to make it more appealing to our teenage audience.

Science was never my favourite subject at school, but by the time I had reached my senior school years, I had developed a new found liking for chemistry. Thanks to the unbounded enthusiasm of a new teacher in school and his eccentric yet brilliant teaching methods, I found that I enjoyed not just chemistry, but science in general immensely. This ultimately led to me earning higher grades in science. That was when I realised that the ease of learning a subject had a lot to do with how it was taught – what you absorb in class is what impresses you the most. The rest – homework, assignments, and textbook revisions for exams – they’re all extraneous and ultimately count only towards your grades. In short, it is the teacher that makes the most significant difference to the way you understand and love a subject.

When you enjoy a subject and respect the way it is taught you don’t mind doing your homework and assignments because they’re interesting too, and you put in extra effort because you want to please your favourite teacher. If your classes are peppered with projects and experiments this makes learning more fun and interesting. I believe the best way to learn science is through a hands-on approach, by putting into practice what you’ve learned as theory. If you enjoy a subject, exam preparation isn't seen as a chore; when you love the subject, you don’t have to put in a lot of effort to study for exams and tests because you’re already familiar with most of the concepts. Science is not just a subject that you must take at school – rather, it becomes a learning experience that you treasure and retain for a lifetime.

So yes, you could say that your interest in science is kindled and stoked by those who teach it – if they are passionate about the subject and know it well, if they’re good at passing on this knowledge to keen learners with sharp minds, and if they’re capable of capturing and holding the attention of their class, then there’s no reason why science cannot be a favourite and easy-to-learn subject for most students.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Dublin's Science Attractions

The following article appears in the latest edition of Science Spin, Ireland's only dedicated science, nature and discovery magazine. It is written by Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones and recommends some scientific places of interest in Dublin - the City of Science 2012.

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

Within the Dublin area there are some excellent activities of scientific interest to take in on a one or two day trip. Here are some suggestions:

The Science Gallery
The Science Gallery, found within the grounds of Trinity College, is one of the most interesting, unique and exciting science attractions in Ireland, if not Europe. The museum changes its exhibitions regularly and arranges events, talks, debates and workshops around the exhibiting topic. Coming up in November and December is their new exhibit – Green Machines. According to their brilliant website: Green Machines is Science Gallery's autumn/winter exhibition which will look at how cutting edge design from around the world is helping us generate solutions for a sustainable future”. The Science Gallery is a must for all science enthusiasts and entry is free! Visit www.sciencegallery.com for more information.

Weird & Wonderful Animals - The Yeti Crab

The Yeti Crab (Kiwa hirsuta) was first found in the South Pacific Ocean as recently as 2005. This rare crustacean is a decapod (ten footed animal) and is approximately 15cm long. It is recognisable for its soft white fur that covers it’s thoracic legs and claws, hence giving it the nickname the “yeti crab”. Because of it's unusual features the species is classified in a new genus and family (Kiwaidae). Their eyes are extremely small and they lack any pigment, therefore is thought to be blind. The bizarre creature lives very deep down in the ocean near hazardous hydro-thermal vents and so, in order to protect itself from poisonous toxins, the "fur" on their pincers house filamentous bacteria which help purify the hydrothermal water in which it lives. 

This piece was written by Form IV pupil Kezia Wright.

Birds of St Columba's - Jackdaw

The Jackdaw
Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) This is one of the most common members of the crow family (Corvidae) because it is tolerant of man. Flocks of them are frequently seen flying and tumbling acrobatically around the Warden’s house making their typical chattering sound. They are essentially black with a charcoal grey neck. They nest in chimneys [which they block to the annoyance of the human residents] and other hollows in buildings, so they have plenty of prime accommodation here. They lay a clutch of four to six green eggs with brown/black blotches from mid April onwards in a nest made of twigs and lined with straw and hair. Their diet consists of insects, seeds and scraps.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Shuttles, Comets, Holograms & Invisibility Cloaks!

In a busy day in science news here are some of the stories which really caught our eye! 

The Space Shuttle Discovery's launch has been delayed until Friday. The shuttle was due to make its final journey to the International Space Station but NASA officials have decided to postpone the launch due to poor weather. For more click here.

A "recycled" satellite, Deep Impact, will come within 700 km of the comet Hartley 2 some time this afternoon. Despite the fact that it will be travelling close to 12.5 km/s Deep Impact will take a series of photos of the inter stellar orbiter. Pretty cool. For more read this article in today's Irish Times.

Scientists are making some of movie's best gadgets come to life. A group of scientists in Arizona have developed the ability to produce 3D holographic videos, similar to those from Star Wars. Click here for more on this super cool invention. Another group of scientists, this time from Scotland, believe they are close to developing the technology for the production of "invisibility" garments, similar to the one sported by Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins! More on this story here.

Form I Science Trip to Northern Ireland 2010

Here are some pictures from the recent Form I Science trip to Northern Ireland.

Renewable Energy: The SeaGen Electricity Generator

Following on from our recent Science Trip to Northern Ireland, Eleanor Moffitt (Form I) gives us her take on renewable energy.

The SeaGen Generator
We all use a lot of electricity. We just flick a switch and lights come on, or press a button for our dishes to be washed. We now have to start thinking about new ways of creating electricity. Energy sources are divided into two groups: renewable and non-renewable. When non-renewable sources have been used-up they will be gone forever, as they take millions of years to form e.g. coal, oil and natural gas. These resources are easy to use but they can be harmful to our Earth – causing greenhouse gases/climate change and acid rain when they are burnt.

Renewable sources of energy never run out, and are kind to our environment. Wind power, H.E.P., solar and tidal energy are some things which can be used to make renewable electricity. On our Science trip we visited the Sea Gen electricity generator in the Narrows of Strangford Lough. When the tide goes in the water rushes through the narrow channel linking the Lough with the sea and spins turbines which generate electricity. I think this is a great invention, and one of the best ways of creating renewable electricity, as the tide never stops coming in and out.

Birds of St Columba's - Little Egret

Little Egret
A Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) was spotted yesterday morning in Marlay Park. This member of the heron family is a native of southern Europe and most of Asia, but is extending its territory northwards, probably as a result of global warming. It is about 50 cm long and feeds on amphibians, fish and insects. Between May and July the female lays up to three eggs and both parents incubate the eggs and tend the young. Last year (2009) the most northerly breeding colony was at the Wetlands Trust centre at Castle Espie on the shores of Strangford Lough which was visited recently by Form I on their science trip.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Scientists Put Their Finger On Why Early Humans Slept Around!

This article appears in today Irish Times and is written by friend of the Frog Blog Dick Ahlstrom, the Irish Times Science Editor. It has been reproduced here with permission from the author.

Early humans were a promiscuous lot, getting into rows and sleeping around. Evidently it all comes down to the length of your fingers, according to fossil research published this morning.

Our distant cousins the Neanderthal were similarly pushy when it came to matters sexual. The scientists from the universities of Liverpool, Oxford, Southampton and Calgary could not comment on whether this aggression manifested itself in the old “hit them over the head with a club” approach when forming meaningful relationships.

They were, however, able to draw conclusions about ancient human behaviour by measuring finger lengths from fossilised remains. Details of their work are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Science Spin

The latest issue of Science Spin, Ireland's only dedicated science, discovery and wildlife magazine, is out now and available to download (for free) from their brilliant website. You can also pop along to your local newsagent and pick up a printed copy (for pupils of SCC the latest issue is in the library). Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones continues to contribute to School Spin, a section of the magazine aimed at teachers and pupils of science. In this issue he recommends some places of interest in the Dublin area for teachers  organising a science field trip, provides some discussion topics on GM foods and recommends some more science apps and DVD's. Click here to read the latest issue.

Butterflies of St. Columba's - Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Microglossum stellatarum) This rare summer visitor to the College is an absolute wonder to see and hear as it hums around the garden. It hovers over a flower and its amazingly long proboscis is extended into the flower it is feeding on. Like it avian counterpart it can also fly backwards. I have only seen it once about five years ago when it visited my garden to feed on Sweet William. It is not recorded as an Irish species but when I contacted TCD I was told that it is not all that uncommon during very fine summers. I have seen it frequently while on holiday in Portugal and Spain.

This brilliant photograph was taken by Harry Brooke in Form VI.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Syphilis in Europe

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease of humans which is caused by the spirochaete (spiral shaped) bacterium Treponema pallidum. The bacterium is transmitted in bodily fluids and can also be passed from mother to child in the late stages of pregnancy.

Treatment with antibiotics is now relatively straightforward, particularly if the disease is caught early – but in the past syphilis seems to have been endemic in many urban societies, at least from the 16th Century onwards. The first major epidemic to be recorded occurred in 1495, amongst French soldiers fighting for Charles the VIII in Naples.

In 1492 the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus had made the first of his 4 journeys to America, and the timing caused some to suspect an American origin for the disease in Europe. Recent analysis of bones from the London graveyard of St Mary Spital, by Brian Connell from the Museum of London, has shown that Syphilis was in fact rife in England long before Columbus’s voyage. Skeletons which have been carbon dated to the 13th Century show clear signs of syphilitic bone lesions.

Frog Blog Shortlised for Eircom Spider

Woo hoo! The Frog Blog has been shortlisted for an Eircom Spider Award, within the Big Mouth category. The Big Mouth award is given to the "most influential voice online in Ireland ... who commands the biggest tribe, who’s a trusted source in their community?" (So you can imagine our surprise at our inclusion). The list of nominee contains an impressive list of active Irish bloggers, online journalists, "Facebookers" and tweeps, and they cover a wide range of topics from science to politics. The winner will be decided by a public vote so click here to vote for the Frog Blog and make us a a surprise winner!

A special mention also to Eoin Lettice from the Communicate Science blog and Ronan Palliser from our favourite photo blog who are also nominated within the Big Mouth category. Eoin has also been a guest blogger on the Frog Blog - click here to read his guest post - and is a brilliant ambassador for science in Ireland. It is brilliant to see two blogs within this category that are shouting for science!

Common Cold Cured in Cambridge?

The common cold could be a thing of the past after scientists discovered a previously unknown way that the human immune system tackles viruses, which could lead to a new generation of anti-viral drugs. Scientists at the world-famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge have discovered that antibodies can fight viruses, such as the common cold and gastroenteritis, from within infected cells. The discovery of this previously unknown mechanism means treatments could be created to "supercharge" people’s immune system, helping them to fight off viruses when they strike. The researchers believe these new drugs could be ready for clinical tests in a matter of years and might even take the form of a nasal spray or inhaler. However, it may take a while before we see these treatments on pharmacy shelves. For more information on this exciting scientific breakthrough click here and for a brilliant series of images explaining how the new drugs might work click here.

Butterflies of St. Columba's - Painted Lady

Painted Lady
Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui) This is a migrant species which comes up from the south and is only seen occasionally, but when it visits there can be large numbers of them as in 2009. At first glance it can be mistaken for a tortoiseshell but closer inspection shows that it lacks the distinctive blue semicircles along the trailing edge of the hind wings. It is on the wing between June and August. The yellow-green striped, purple to black caterpillar has long spines on each segment and feeds on thistles.