o The Frog Blog: February 2011

Monday, 28 February 2011

TCD Cancer Breakthrough

Scientists in Trinity College Dublin have made a discovery which could lead to a breakthrough in future cancer treatment. The scientists, led by Professor Seamus Martin (Department of Medical Genetics), have shown that fledgling cancer cells seems to self destruct. Professor Martin’s team has discovered how a process called ‘autophagy’ – which literally means ‘self-eating’ – plays an important role in safeguarding against the development of cancer. The discovery highlights an unexpected role for a killer protein, called Noxa, in triggering the self-eating process that leads cells in the early stages of cancer to literally eat themselves to death. The process occurs naturally in cancer cells to prevent the cells from "starving" - growing too quickly without enough nutrients. Professor Martin and his team have discovered that in 30% of human cancers a gene called Ras triggers excess "autophagy" leading to the cancer literally "eating itself to death". The finding could lead to the development of tumour shrinking drugs. Commenting on the findings, Professor Martin stated:
“This discovery is an important step forward in our understanding of how cells in the early stages of cancer hit the autodestruct button and suggests new ways in which we may be able to re-activate this process in cancers that do manage to establish. This breakthrough has led directly from investment in research made by the Irish state over the past 10 years through important initiatives such as the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland.”
To find out more about the Medical Genetics Department in Trinity College click here. Read about Trinity College's 50 years of genetics - making it one of the most successful team of geneticists in the world. Below is a video of Professor Martin explaining the findings. The research was funded by the SFI.

Turtles Use Earth's Magnetic Field to Navigate Oceans

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) breed on the shores of the Mediterranean, West Africa, Brazil and along the south-east coasts of the U.S. Within 24 hours of hatching, they enter the sea, for the start of an epic swim that sees them loop clockwise around the Atlantic Ocean for thousands of miles until the females return to their birthplace to nest several years later. Just how they managed to navigate the oceans, avoid treacherous currents and return to their place of birth was a mystery to scientists, until now.

A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina have found that the turtles are able to pick up on magnetic signatures that vary across the Earth's surface in order to determine their position in space, both east-west and north-south.

The Earth's magnetic field lines are parallel to the Earth's surface near the equator and grow steeper as one reaches the poles. The magnetic field also varies in intensity, being generally strongest near the poles and weakest near the equator. Somehow the turtles are able to create a mental magnetic map by combining information about the angle of the magnetic field with its intensity - a kind of built in Sat Nav. Other animals, such as migrating birds, can also detect magnetic fields and the scientists believe that turtles may have similar "magnetoreceptors" in their brains.

Sometimes this magnetic map doesn't work properly, as we discovered a few months back when a young loggerhead turtle strayed into cold Irish waters. Click here to read a previous Frog Blog post on the "little migrant" or Imrrceach as he was named.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

YouTube Saturday - NASA STEREO Sun Mission

Seeing the whole sun front and back simultaneously will enable significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system. Recently we were able to get a first full view of the Sun as a of result of observations by NASA's two Solar TErrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery Blasts Off On Final Mission

Last night, the Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off to begin its final mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It comes after an almost four-month delay due to cracks, leaks and inclement weather, but NASA still has two more major launches before the planned retirement of the space shuttle fleet. The shuttle now has a two-day journey to the ISS. Today, the crew will scan the shuttle's thermal protection system using an orbiter boom sensor system attached to the end of Discovery's robotic arm. While this is going on, astronauts Steve Bowen, Alvin Drew, and Nicole Stott will prep the spacesuits that will be transferred to the station after docking and used during the mission's two space-walks. The mission, known as STS-133, will be the 35th shuttle mission to the ISS. It will last for 11 days, and will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the Express Logistics Carrier 4, and provide critical spare components to the ISS. As well as its six astronauts Discovery will also have another passenger on board, Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space. Discovery's first lauch was on August 30, 1984 and it has since completed more than 30 successful missions, including the mission which put the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

If the weather remains clear this evening you may well be able to see the Space Shuttle Discovery in Irish skies as it catches up with the International Space Station (currently orbiting Earth at approximately 17,500 mph). Get our your binoculars!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

IBM Supercomputer Beats Contestants on Popular American Quiz Show

Whenever we think about intelligent robots, we usually refer to futuristic movies like Star Trek or sci-fi novels like 2001: A Space Odyssey. But as computers become faster and faster and technology becomes ever more sophisticated, the gizmos and gadgets of our fictional worlds are becoming realities.

Recently, IBM, one of the earliest computer manufacturers, pitted their very own artificial intelligence computer system against contestants of the popular American trivia show Jeopardy! The televised game show normally features three contestants who respond to different clues to which they provide the questions. For example, contestants pick from one of several general categories, like History, Movies, or U.S. Cities. The show's host will provide a clue like, "This city is the capital Ireland", to which contestants must answer in question format, namely "What is Dublin?"

Watson, the AI computer system named after IBM's founder, was developed by several computer experts from IBM and a handful of universities. After the defeat of Chess champion Garry Kasporov by the IBM developed chess-playing computer Deep Blue, IBM had been trying to find a similar challenge to showcase the power of AI mega-computers. In 2004, developers found that challenge in Jeopardy! In 2006, when developers first began working on Watson, the computer could answer questions correctly only about 15% percent of the time. By 2008, with a dedicated team of 15 people, Watson was able to compete with most of the quiz show's champions.

So how does Watson work? Watson is basically a system of computers that has a large amount of information stored into it, including the full-text of Wikipedia. Watson was not connected to the Internet during the show, but had a stored database of over 200 million pages of information. Using very complex algorithms, Watson decodes the clue given by the host and searches its database for related keywords and phrases, after which he checks his answer statistically to see which of three responses he comes up with is most probably correct.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

National Frog Survey of Ireland

Amphibians (frogs, toads and newts) are one of the most threatened groups of organisms on earth, with a third of all species having suffered declines. Ireland has only one species of frog, the Common Frog, which is a key part of Irish ecosystems as a predator of insects and other invertebrates, as well as itself being prey for other species. The Common Frog (Rana temporaria) is Ireland's most abundant and widespread amphibian but there are concerns about its current status and possible recent population declines. As previously reported, a National Frog Survey is being carried out to gather up-to-date information on the distribution and abundance of the frog in Ireland and now they are asking for the public's help.

During the mid-term break, why not get the family together and take part in the National Frog Survey. They want you to record your sightings of frogs and frog spawn  across Ireland and submit your findings on the National Frog Survey of Ireland website using the online form. Click here to learn more about Ireland's Amphibians.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Irish Times BANG - The God BOD

Brian O’Driscoll is one of the best rugby players, so how does he do it? Claire O'Connell explores in this month's edition of BANG - the Irish Times Science Monthly for teens (and grown ups too)!

Run Brian, Run - When you have a rugby ball tucked under your arm and a bunch of fired-up players hell bent on tackling you to the ground, you need to run fast. And to do that you need to use your muscles.

Many muscles contain different types of fibres: slow twitch fibres that you use for endurance and fast twitch fibres for more rapid, explosive movements. The fast twitch ones are what you use when you jump to catch a ball, or when you sprint up the pitch to get away from opponents or score a try.

BOD is renowned for having a low centre of gravity, the point around which mass is evenly distributed. What’s so good about that? Quite a lot, if you want to be able to swerve around players easily, or scoop up a rugby ball on the run.

Having a low centre of gravity makes an object, or in this case a body, more stable – the centre of mass is relatively close to the ground, so it takes more energy to topple it.

Your centre of gravity is usually near your bellybutton, and when you take a wide stance and crouch down and forward you bring it lower to the ground. That way you give yourself a broader base and you can keep your balance more easily if you get a knock.

Centre of gravity is also an important factor when designing cars and buildings, to make them more stable.

Scientists Invent "Anti Laser"

In what might seem more in the realm of science fiction or a Bond movie, scientists have developed the first "anti-laser"! Lasers are narrow beams of light that emit photons but this new "anti-laser" absorbs light rather than emit it! By using a light absorbing material, the scientists were able to shine two laser beams, with similar wavelengths, at each other and they cancelled each other out! The new anti laser absorbed 99.4 percent of incoming light during the experiment but the scientist believe that they could be used to absord 99.9999% of light. So what could anti lasers be used for? Well, future computers may use light to transmit signals instead of electricity. Anti lasers could be used as optical switches or message detectors in these "optical computers". Other potential uses include radiology and imaging (or helping Bond defeat a mad man with a giant laser?) Exciting times!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

YouTube Saturday - The Honey Badger

The Honey badger or ratel is a tenacious little carnivore that has a reputation for being the "most fearless animal in the world", according to the 2002 Guinness Book of Records. As well as a particular fondness for honey, the honey badger is also quite partial to snakes. This brilliant short video from National Geographic shows just how fearless and ferocious this little creature is!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Aleksandr Oparin - On This Day

 Russian biochemist Aleksandr Oparin was born on this day in 1894 in Uglich on the river Volga, some 100 miles north of Moscow. He was fascinated with the problem of how life began, and from the early 1920s through to the 1936 publication of his short book The Origin of Life put forward the view that simple organic molecules like amino acids could have formed spontaneously in the seas of our nascent planet. Subsequent experiments by Stanley Miller and others (firing electrical discharges through a model of the primitive atmosphere) have shown this to be a highly plausible hypothesis, although many contemporary scientists favour muds, clays or micas as a preferred site for the early generation of biomolecules.

Miller's Experiment
Oparin dispensed with the religious argument that ‘life’ requires some metaphysical component, and looked to see how the simple molecules found in all cells could have first been generated. Using geological evidence he postulated that early on the Earth had a reducing atmosphere rich in methane, ammonia, water vapour and hydrogen, and cited these compounds as providing the building blocks of biomolecules. He suggested that given enough time these molecules would form a sea of organic soup, and eventually become organised into simple cells.

In his later life Oparin fell out of favour with the wider scientific community, mainly due to his endorsement of Lysenko’s rejection of Mendelian genetics – which hampered scientific and economic progress in the USSR through the 1940s and 50s. He died in 1980 and is buried in Moscow.

CSI Tallaght - Engineers Week Bus

Jay Kim, Form IV, recalls her trip to the Engineers Week CSI Workshop yesterday and some of the activities they carried out.

We arrived at our destination, a funky, luminous pink bus, parked outside the Tallaght Civic Theatre - quite a change from the typical museums or galleries that we see. For the day we were to become CSI trainees and were to be put through our paces exploring the different techniques used by forensic officers perform.

After ascending to the top floor of the funky bus, we took our seats in the "lab" and set about our first task  - a series of mathematical quizzes. The first quiz took a closer look at the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers whereby each number is the sum of the previous two numbers, for example- 1,1,2,3,5,8,13 .. and so on. Nature seems to follow the Fibonacci sequence, like the number of the flower petals in almost all flowers would be a Fibonacci Number. A rare flower wouldn’t follow the Fibonacci sequence, and that’s why the lucky four-leaf clover is very hard to find. Recognising patterns is key to forensic science!

In another puzzle, we had to identify different images cropped out from a large picture. One of the pictures was a close-up photograph of spores, and spores are often used in forensic science. If forensic officers know what the expected production and dispersal patterns of spores and pollen are for the plants in a given region, then they will know what type of ‘pollen fingerprint’ to expect in samples that come from that area. They could then test the suspect’s clothes or shoes to see if they contain any pollen from the specific area that the crime had been committed.

When there is a crime scene, the one of the first procedures for the forensic officer is to check for fingerprints. Everybody has a unique fingerprint and there are different patterns - loops, whorls and arches. The loop pattern is the most common fingerprint pattern, and if you are a criminal, it would be a lot harder to catch you, whereas, the more unique your fingerprint is (perhaps the mixture of all patterns), the more easier for the police to catch you. We made fingerprint stamps, and identified which patterns our fingerprints were. We also tried the powder analysis technique, which was extracting fingerprints from a surface with a sticky tape.

The trip was really interesting, as it was something different, because we personally had the chance to be mini-CSI investigators. Also it was a totally different experience, learning in a double decker bus.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Dublin City of Science 2012

In 2012, Dublin will stand proud as the European City of Science. A year-long programme of science events is scheduled, with thousands of people invited to attend the largest ever Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in  July of that year, in the recently opened and hugely impressive Convention Centre. ESOF is biennial conference where "research, technology and society meet". It is an interdisciplinary, pan-European meeting, held under the auspices of Euroscience, which aims to present the latest developments in science and technology, foster a dialogue on the role of science and technology in society and public policy as well as stimulate public awareness of, and interest in, science and technology. The event will bring together scientists and public policy officials to discuss the best of European science and to address all of the major global challenges, including Energy, Climate Change, Food and Health. It is expected that over 8,000 delegates will be present at the event. For more information visit their website: www.dublinscience2012.ie, download this leaflet or watch the short video below. (Follow our countdown to Dublin 2012 below)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Irish Times BANG Science Monthly #4

The latest issue of BANG, the Irish Times monthy science magazine for teens, is out now and available for free in today's Irish Times. This month's issue focuses on the science of sport and is jam packed full of brilliant features including a time-line of some of the most amazing feats of engineering (it is Engineers Week after all), some incredible animals, can winners be made in a lab, cutting edge feet, maths and sport, Brian O'Driscoll and the search for alien life! Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones continues to contribute articles on "Why Haven't They Invented ...." and this month looks at COLD FUSION.

So check out today's Irish Times or visit the Irish Times Science website. 

Irish Times BANG - Cold Fusion

A mere 93 million miles away from Earth is the Sun, our closest star. The Sun is so massive that it contains 98% of the total matter of our solar system and that 1.3 million Earths would fit inside it. The Sun is essentially a massive ball of hydrogen and helium, burning brightly for the last 4.6 billion years and supplying our planet with all its energy needs, either directly or indirectly. But what powers this massive fire ball. The answer is NUCLEAR FUSION.

Deep within the Sun’s core, where the temperature reaches over 15,000,000 oC and the pressure exceeds 340 billion times the pressure on the Earth’s surface, atoms of hydrogen collide with each other at extreme speed forming helium and releasing the excess energy.

Every second, in our Sun, 700 million tonnes of hydrogen are converted into helium, releasing 384 Yottawatts of energy (that’s an astonishing 384,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000W every second)!

So wouldn’t it be useful if we could utilise the fusion reaction of hydrogen for the production of energy on Earth? Absolutely, but the problem is that re-creating the high temperature and pressure of the Sun on Earth isn’t easy. Hydrogen nuclei strongly repel each other normally but in the high temperatures and pressures of stars they collide furiously releasing energy.

Fusion power has been achieved on Earth though, primarily in nuclear fusion bombs (Hydrogen Bombs), but also in controlled experiments but commercial fusion power for the production of electricity maybe several decades or so away. Several methods are being explored in order to do this including the use of lasers to superheat the hydrogen.

However, there could be another option, one that may be able to avoid the need for such high temperature to initiative fusion reactions – we’re talking COLD FUSION.

Fruit Flies Reveal the Secret of Smell

For years scientists believed that were able to detect smells when the receptors in our olfactory region of our nose matched the shape of the odour molecules. In essence, the odour molecule locked into the receptor that fit their shape. However, after an extensive study using fruit flies, a scientist in Greece has revealed that it isn't only about the shape of odour molecule that counts but also how it vibrates. This explained why similar shaped molecules could have different smells, (amazingly the molecules that gives us the smell of vodka and rotten eggs are almost identical). It also explains how we can detect thousands of different smells yet have only a few hundred different types of olfactory receptor.

Using two similar smelly chemicals (acetophenone and deuterated acetophenone) which have the same molecular shape, the scientists placed fruit flies in a maze, with both chemicals on either end. The fruit flies consistently chose one chemical over the other, ruling out the shape theory. The chemicals differed only by one chemical; one contained hydrogen and the other deuterium (essentially hydrogen with an added neutron in its nucleus), which vibrate at different frequencies. The team of researchers came to the conclusion that it was the vibrations of the molecules as they entered the receptors that determine their smell.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Famous Irish Scientists - George Johnstone Stoney

George Johnstone Stoney was born on this day, February 15th, in 1826. He was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the fundamental unit quantity of electricity. G.J Stoney was born near Birr in Co. Offally, in the midlands, and educated at Trinity College Dublin where he received his B.A in 1848 and began working as an assistant to the astronomer William Parsons, at his observatory at Birr Castle, where Parsons had built the world's largest telescope, the 72-inch Leviathan of Parsonstown (which is still there and open to visitors). He remained working with Parson until 1853, after he had completed his M.A, when he was appointed professor of natural philosophy at Queen's College, Galway.

Stoney is best known for his introduction of the term ‘electron’ into science. Although he is reported to have spoken of “an absolute unit of electricity” as early as 1874, his first public use of the term in print was in 1891 when he spoke of “these charges, which it will be convenient to call electrons” before the Royal Society of Dublin. He did however make more substantial contributions to science than this and in early spectroscopy his work was of considerable significance. He began, in 1868, by making a crucial distinction between two types of molecular motion. There was the motion of a molecule in a gas relative to other molecules, which Stoney was able to exclude as the cause of spectra. There was also internal motion of a molecule, which according to Stoney produces the spectral lines. He went on to tackle, with little real success, the difficult problem of establishing an exact formula for the numerical relationship between the lines in the hydrogen spectrum. This problem was ultimately solved by the quantum theory of Niels Bohr. For more information on GJ Stoney visit the Ingenious.ie website here.

An Inquiry-Based Approach to Teaching Junior Cycle Science

From Monday the 28th February, the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) and the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Teaching and Learning (CASTeL) will run a three part workshop entitled "An Inquiry-Based Approach to Teaching Junior Cycle Science" in Dublin City University.

The two hour long workshops (from 7:00pm to 9:00pm) aims to support teachers in their implementation of Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) in Junior Cycle Science. The teaching and learning materials used in this course have been developed as part of the ESTABLISH project, which is coordinated by CASTeL at Dublin City University. Teachers are asked to commit to three evening sessions over a six month period, to implement some changes in how they approach teaching selected Junior Cycle topics, from Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and to share their experiences with the course participants and facilitators. The first session will focus on assisting teachers to understand what is meant by inquiry and IBSE, introduce them to three different topics science with IBSE teaching and learning resources and support teachers in planning for using IBSE student activities and the second session. The dates for the other two sessions have not been finalised as of yet.

To apply for a place email your name, number and school details to Bríd Finn at sciences@pdst.ie.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Tutankhamun - His Tomb & His Treasures Exhibition

Coming to the RDS from this Thursday, the 17th February, is the amazing ‘Tutankhamun – His Tomb and His Treasures’ Exhibition. After already delighting over 1,700,000 visitors across Europe, the exhibition aims to bring you on a captivating journey through time into the lost wonders of ancient Egypt and reveals the epic story of the discovery of the forgotten tomb of the ‘Boy King’ who died under mysterious circumstances aged only 19. The RDS website tells us what to expect:
With the assistance of leading Egyptologists and using sketches and diary notes made by Howard Carter and original photographs taken by exploration photographer Harry Burton, three burial chambers and an extensive collection of the most important treasures of Tutankhamun have been authentically recreated.
The exhibition covers nearly 2,500 square metres and includes state-of-the-art multimedia technology to bring to life the story of Tutankhamun and the fascinating cultural and spiritual world of ancient Egypt; its funerary cults, gods and mysterious hieroglyphic script.

Replicas of 1,000 burial artefacts, intended to equip the young Pharaoh on his journey to the afterlife, have been painstakingly reproduced to scale by expert Egyptian craftsmen and can be viewed in the recreated burial chambers and in an extensive and detailed display. These include jewellery, cult objects, amulets, coffers, chests, chairs, weapons, a stunning golden chariot, large golden shrines and the iconic death mask; a rare and beautiful sight not seen since the original mask was displayed at the British Museum in 1972.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

YouTube Saturday - Evolution Made Us All

Today we celebrate International Darwin Day and this short little animated video / song is the perfect way to celebrate his immense contribution to science! So sing along and enjoy!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Scientists Confirm Lucy Walked Upright

Scientists have confirmed that our ancient ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, did indeed walk upright as had been previously believed. Archaeologists in Ethiopia have unearthed an arched fossilized foot bone which shows that these human ancestors, which included the famous fossil Lucy, had arched feet and therefore walked upright. Lucy and her kin walked the Earth 3.2 million years ago.

The arch in the foot would have provided leverage for Lucy so that she could push off the ground at the start of a stride and then help absorb shock when the foot met the ground again, in the same way our feet do. Our apes cousins have flatter, more flexible feet with a big toe for grasping tree branches, features that do not appear in A. afarensis. This is very significant as we now have a greater understanding of when our ancestors left the safety of trees and started to walk upright.

Weird & Wonderful Animals - The Streaked Tenrec

The Tenrecs are a group of weird and wonderful animals native to Madagascar. Hedgehog like in appearance, this diverse group of creatures live in a wide variety of habitats from aquatic to arboreal. Tenrecs are classified as insectivores but have evolved to fill a variety of ecological niches filled in other lands by hedgehogs, mice, shrews, opossums, and even otters. While a few species of tenrec are found in central Africa, they are most diverse in Madagascar which has around 30 species.

The Streaked Tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus) is a small tenrec found in Madagascar, Africa. It grows up to 19 cm in length and weighs up to 275 grams. It feeds on worms and grubs, does not have a tail and lives in groups of 15 or more animals. The species gets its name from the distinctive two-tone color of black background with yellowish brown strips running the length of the body. Its fur is coarse with barbed spines and a dense patch of spiky yellow bristles on its crown. But one of the most peculiar behaviours of the streaked tenrec is its ability to communicate with each other using "stridulation", the rubbing together of specialised quills on their backs producing high pitch ultrasound calls. Other tenrecs can then hear these calls through the forest undergrowth while other animals can not. Stridulation is not unique to this tenrec with animals such as crickets, beetles and vipers all known to communicate by rubbing together body parts. But the tenrec is the only mammal to do this and, amazingly, is also able to communicate using high pitched tongue clicks. Both of these sounds are not audible to humans, so specialised equipment was needed to detect them. A BBC film crew have, for the first time, recorded the tenrec demonstrate stridulation. Click here to visit the BBC News website and watch their amazing video.

Darwin Day at the Dead Zoo

Tomorrow is International Darwin Day and there are some great events taking place in the Natural History Museum (the "Dead" Zoo) in Dublin tomorrow. From 1pm to 2pm, Keeper Nigel Monaghan will give a presentation on Evolution Indoors, in which he will explore the evidence for evolution in the animals on display in the museum. This event is for adults only and no booking is required. Later in the afternoon (3pm to 4pm) there is an excellent family workshop, Cheeky Monkeys, where human links with our closest cousins, the primates, are explored. Again, no booking is required and the workshop is suitable for all ages! For a full list of all National Museum events click here. While you are there, don't forget to say hello to Spotticus the Giraffe!

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Bugscope is a brilliant project which provides free interactive access to a scanning electron microscope (SEM) so that students anywhere in the world can explore the microscopic world of insects. This educational outreach program from the Beckman Institute's Imaging Technology Group at the University of Illinois supports senior pupils worldwide. Bugscope allows teachers everywhere to provide students with the opportunity to become microscopists themselves - the kids propose experiments, explore insect specimens at high-magnification, and discuss what they see with our scientists - all from a regular web browser over a standard broadband internet connection. The service is completely free and teachers can even send their own insects in for analysis (or use theirs). Teachers from anywhere in the world can apply, but be aware of time differences. Their excellent website also has a great collection of photos and projects in their archives. Click here to find our more about Bugscope.

TCD Leads the Way in Development of Nanomaterial

This article appeared in today's edition of the Irish Times. It is written by Dick Ahlstrom, Irish Times Science Editor, and is republished here with his permission.

Irish led research has opened up a whole new family of “nanomaterials” that will support technologies in a wide range of areas. They can be used to deliver electricity from waste heat, in microelectronics and in tough “super materials” with unique mechanical properties.

The work is based on being able to take substances that are inclined to produce flakes and then strip these off in flat sheets that are just a few atoms thick.

Importantly, their process can be run on an industrial scale that is fast, low cost and capable of delivering billions of flakes from just a milligram of the material.

Trinity College Dublin’s Prof Jonathan Coleman headed the research, in collaboration with Dr Valeria Nicolosi of the University of Oxford.

He is a Science Foundation Ireland-funded principal investigator at the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (Crann) at Trinity and also a professor in the school of physics there. She worked with Prof Coleman, gaining her PhD before moving to Oxford’s department of materials.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

How to Live Forever ..... by Alok Jha

How to Live Forever (and 34 Other Interesting Uses of Science) is an excellent new book from Alok Jha, the science and environment correspondent at the Guardian newspaper. This extremely well written book aims to compress "almost everything" you need to know about science in to 35 tightly packed chapters. Dealing with an assortment of questions, from the very small to the very big, the book explores the majesty of the universe, cloned sheep, alien worlds, invisibility cloaks, how the mind works, quantum weirdness, parallel dimensions and time travel. The book is well written and the content (which can be heavy at times) is brought to life with humour and a relentless pace. The book is available via Guardian Books or on Amazon. (For pupils of St. Columba's, How to Live Forever is now available in the library)

In addition to writing news and comment, Alok Jha also presents the excellent and award winning Science Weekly Podcast for the Guardian - check it out here or on iTunes here.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Engineers Week 2011

Engineers Week takes place from the 14th to the 20th of February 2011 and promises to provide a wealth of activities, events and competitions to inspire any budding engineers out there. There are loads of ways to get involved including a great photo competition (closing date is today), workshops, a national volunteer day, quizzes and lectures with many of the activities taking place in the Engineers Week Bus. The aim of the week is to create a positive awareness and spark enthusiasm about the engineering profession to people of various ages with little or no engineering background. For more information on how you can get involved and to find out about events in your location visit their excellent website.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

CESI Conference 2011 - Building & Growing a Subject Blog

Greeting to those visiting us from the Computers in Education Society of Ireland Conference in Portlaoise. Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones and SCC English mastermind Julian Girdham will give a presentation at the conference today on "Building and Growing a Subject Blog". Below is an embedded copy of our Prezi presentation and here is an information sheet with links to many of the Web 2.0 tools, links, articles and more mentioned in today's presentation.

YouTube Saturday - Human Planet

The Human Planet is the latest offering from the BBC Natural History Unit. This excellent new series takes a closer look at the human species and, more specifically, its relationship with the natural world. The series aims to show the remarkable ways humans have adapted to life in every environment on Earth (Oceans, Desert, Arctic, Jungles, Mountains, Grassland, Rivers & Cities) and they do it in their usual breathtaking fashion. Human Planet is now airing on BBC ONE on Thursday evenings at 8pm and is narrated by the brilliant John Hurt. There has been four episodes so far, with four more to come and each episode has provided some spectacular views of human achievement in the harshest environments on our planet. Click here to visit their website. There is also an amazing gallery of images taken during the filming of the series.

Below is an extract from episode one, describing one of the most dangerous fishing methods used by our species. The clip reveals how a 100 strong crew in the Philippines dive to 40 metres, breathing air pumped through makeshift tangled tubes by a rusty compressor. Spectacular! The series will air worldwide later in the year but is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Water Flea Has More Genes Than Humans

Scientists have sequenced the genetic make-up or genome of the water flea (Daphnia pulex), revealing some incredible findings on this minuscule creature. This tiny (often less than half a millimetre), translucent water flea, that can reproduce both sexually and assexually and lives in ponds and lakes, has actually got more genes than any other living creature, including the human. The new study, released today in the journal Science, reveals that Daphnia pulex has 31,000 genes compared to humans who have about 23,000, making it the most complex genome of any animal sequenced so far. Many of Daphnia's genes are found in humans, more than any other insect or crustacean so far known to scientists, but they also have a huge number of unique genes (almost one third) and many of these were previously unknown to science. The reason for the high number of genes is believed to be linked with gene duplication in the tiny animal. The research will aid scientists with the study of the effects on pollutants on humans and Daphnia has now been nicknamed the "modern canary in the mineshaft" - an early warning system for pollutants and their effects on humans. Click here to read a piece in today's Irish Independent about this new finding.

Biology Prize 2011

Entries are now being accepted for the 2011 St. Columba's College Biology Prize. This year, pupils (from Forms IV, V or VI) are asked to provide a 400 - 500 word synopsis or summary of any biology topic of their choice. It may be broad or narrow but must be interesting and unique. Pupils should research the topic thoroughly and include references in their synopses. Application are made by filling out the online form here

The top 5 - 6 proposals will then be asked to prepare a 15 minute PowerPoint Presentation (or equivalent) on their topic, in front of an audience of their peers and a special guest judge. Presenters will be expected to have a thorough knowledge of their chosen topic and be prepared to answer questions within it. For any further questions please email: contact@frogblog.ie

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Nanoweek for Schools 2011

Nanoweek 2011 kicked off on Monday with the launch of a new DVD on nanoscience produced by Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) for secondary school students. The Nano in My Life DVD, which aims to excite and engage students on the basics of nanoscience and its applications in their everyday lives, was piloted in six schools during Science Week 2010. Throughout the week all INSPIRE institutional partners will be visiting schools in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Kildare and Dublin in an effort to introduce nanoscience to secondary school students and will include lesson plans/worksheets linked to the current school curriculum. For more information about these workshops contact Aoife O'Donoghue, Outreach Officer, Tyndall National Institute. For a full programme of events during Nanoweek, click here.

Astronauts Land on Mars - Sort Of!

Last June we reported that the European Space Agency (ESA) were planning a 500 day mission to nowhere. In fact, they were starting a 500 day simulated mission to Mars, without actually leaving Moscow. Well now, after 250 days of simulated flight, six astronauts have finally reached Mars, well kind of. The Mars 500 project is run by Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems with the participation of the European Space Agency (ESA). The highly trained crew are is made up of three Russians, two Europeans and one Chinese citizen (Alexander Smoleevskiy, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Diego Urbina, Romain Charles and Wang Yue). They have now reached the mid-point of their mission and are preparing for a space walk on the Martian "surface", wearing spacesuits and simulating geological investigations and other experiments.

The mission aims to investigate some of the psychological and physiological effects that humans might encounter on a long-duration space-flight. Conditions are kept realistic, even with a 20 minute radio delay between mission control and the cosmonauts. Mission control even mimicked emergencies during the past eight months, including blowing smoke into the module and cutting power for a day. However, probably one of the most significant issues with a mission to Mars, constant exposure to weightlessness for 500 days, could not be simulated during the experiment. The six crew members are due back on Earth in November!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Famous Irish Scientists - Sir Dominic John Corrigan

Sir Dominic John Corrigan, Baronet
Sir Dominic John Corrigan was a Dublin based physician, famous for the discovery of several types of heart defects and disorders. In fact, he is widely regarded as having made the first observations of heart diseases in humans. Educated in Maynooth, he studied medicine in Dublin before completing his studies in Edinburgh, after which he returned to Dublin and set up a private practice in 1825. As well as his private practice Corrigan held many public appointments. He was physician to Maynooth College, the Sick Poor Institute, the Charitable Infirmary Jervis Street (1830–43) and the House of Industry Hospitals (1840–1866). His work with many of Dublin’s poorest inhabitants led to him specialising in diseases of the heart and lungs, and he lectured and published extensively on the subject. He was known as a very hard-working physician, especially during the Irish Potato Famine.

Throughout his career, Corrigan received numerous honours. In 1847 Corrigan was appoint physician-in-ordinary to the Queen in Ireland, two years later he was given an honorary MD from Trinity College. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1856 (after being initially blocked) and in 1859 was elected president, the first Catholic to hold the position (he was re-elected president an unprecedented four times). He also held the position of President of the Royal Zoological Society of Dublin (now the Natural History Museum), the Dublin Pathological Society, and the Dublin Pharmaceutical Society. In 1866, Corrigan received the honour of being created a baronet, which led to his subsequent election as a Member of Parliament for Dublin in 1870. In parliament Corrigan actively campaigned for reforms to education in Ireland and the early release of Fenian prisoners.

Corrigan's name is now synonymous with heart disease and its treatment. Several conditions are named after him including Corrigan's Pulse (a rapid forceful pulse), Corrigan's Disease (abnormal valve control in the heart, also known as aortic valve insufficiency), Corrigan's Respiration (shallow breathing during a fever) and Corrigan's Sign (chronic coppper poisoning).

Corrigan died on this day, February 1st, in 1880, having suffered a stoke the previous December. He is buried in the crypt of St. Andrews Church on Westland Row, Dublin.