o The Frog Blog: September 2011

Thursday, 29 September 2011

St. Columba's College Open Day 2011

On Saturday next, October 1st, we at St Columba's College have our annual Open Day, from 10am to 1pm. This is a genuinely open invitation. Just turn up and you will get a tour of the College facilities, led by senior pupils, and be able to meet teachers and current parents. Our website has a huge amount of detail about the school for your interest, and you can learn there about the very high academic standards (including recent exam results) and the excellent extra-curricular life.

However, we thought we'd get together with our colleagues over at SCC English and write a joint post on what we offer as English and Science Departments to our pupils. Both Departments, as can be seen from our blogs, are forward-looking, enthusiastic and technically-innovative.

Here are some reasons to come to St Columba's from the perspectives of the Science and English teachers:-

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Science Raps Competition

Does science fagizzle your nizzle? Prove it .... by entering the Science Raps Competition. Run annually by the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork, the competition is open to all second level students in Ireland and it has some awesome prizes. 

To enter the competition students need to compose, perform and video a rap based on this year's Science Week theme - the “Chemistry of Life”. Entries are asked to take inspiration from everyday life - from lifesaving medication to microchips in our mobile phones, from the beauty products we use to the food and water we consume. 

Prizes of an iPad or iPod are on offer for the 2 categories: 16 years and under and 17 years and over. To enter simply video your own Science Rap, upload on YouTube and send the link with a completed application form to apc@ucc.ie. The closing date for receipt of entries is Tuesday, November 8th 2011. Winning entries from the 2009 and 2010 Science Raps Competitions can be viewed on the Pharmabiotic YouTube Channel. Below is last year's winner entry (in the 17 year old catergory) - E-MC Rory.

Full details on the competition rules and the application form can be found here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Science Round Up

It's been a busy few days in science (and apologies for only having time to tweet and not blog on them) so I thought it might be useful to collate some of the best science articles from the past few days. So here's whats been happening:

Isn't science amazing?

YouTube Saturday: I'm a Scientist - The Film

What are scientists really like? Are they all geeks in white coats? The public perception of scientists is often influenced by the way scientists are portrayed on TV and in movies. But scientist are, more often than not, just regular folk! In an effort to reveal just how normal scientists are, UK science communicator Stephen Curry (and friend of the Frog Blog) has produced an excellent short film looking at the life and work of six scientists - all at different stages in their careers. The result is a wonderfully honest and revealing insight in to the world of science and the people "in the white coats"! For more information on Stephen's video, visit the I'm a Scientist - The Film website.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Recommended Apps - DK: The Human Body

The Human Body is new app for the iPad from DK Multimedia - brilliantly presenting the inner workings of our bodies using detailed, accurate yet accessible text and stunning illustrations. Specifically designed for Apple's iPad, The Human Body contains over 270 specially-designed full colour and zoomable high resolution images, detail on 12 body systems, 99 story pages with illustrations, explanatory text and annotations, 4 stunning videos showing key processes in the body – the beating heart, inflammatory response, conception, and nerve impulse – each with detailed captions as well as a 3D rotatable human body with selectable layers.

Highly recommended for teachers, pupils or the general public, this app is ideal for anyone looking to learn more about how the body works - right down to a cellular level. It doesn't come cheap but I believe the €10.99 will be money well spent! (I've been using it in class over the past number of weeks and find it very useful for introducing a topic or giving a brief overview of a system). For more information or to download  DK: The Human Body visit the iTunes Store.

Shark Compound Paves Way for New Anti-Viral Drugs

A new breed of anti-viral drugs may be on the way - using a substance found in sharks! The compound, called squalamine, is found in liver tissue of dogfish - small sharks found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans (including off the Irish coast) - has been shown to fight several viruses that cause disease in humans including hepatitis and other nasty viruses. The chemical is thought to be one of the main reasons why sharks have a natural ability to resist viral infections.

The new study from Michael Zasloff - the man who discovered squalamine back in 1993 - reveals that the wonder compound can also disrupt a virus's life cycle and prevent it from replicating in both lab tissue cultures and in live animals. And it doesn't end there. Squalamine is currently being used in human clinical trials for the treatment of cancer and some eye disorders, and no significant side effects have been observed as yet. 

Current antiviral drugs are highly specific - each targeting just one strain of a virus - but strains can easily mutate and become resistant to the medication. Drugs produced from squalamine could provide resistance  against several different viral diseases.

The research appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For more information on this story visit the National Geographic News website.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Stem Cells Offer New Hope in Cancer Treatment

Results of a new study, published in the journal Cancer Research, suggest that adult stem cells from mice when converted to antigen-specific T cells - the immune system's cells that fight cancer tumour cells - are highly effective in fighting cancer. This type of treatment is called immunotherapy - where the treatment involves actively boosting the patients immune system by introducing new specific T cells. Professor of Medicine & Immunology Jianxsun Song from the Penn State College of Medicine, who led the research, describes how it works.
"Tumours grow because patients lack the kind of antigen-specific T cells needed to kill the cancer. An approach called adoptive T cell immunotherapy generates the T cells outside the body, which are then used inside the body to target cancer cells."
However, accessing enough T cells in the lab is difficult so Song and his team looked at using stem cells to solve the problem. By inserting DNA in to the stem cells, the research team changed the mouse stem cells into immune cells and injected them into mice with tumours. After 50 days, 100 percent of the mice in the study were still alive, compared to 55 percent of control mice.

A limitation of this potential therapy is that it currently takes at least six weeks for the stem cells to develop into T cells in the body. In addition, potential side effects need to be considered - stem cells may develop into other harmful cells in the body. Researchers are now studying how to use the process in human cells.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

YouTube Saturday - The Rubberbandits on Chemistry

The new Science Week website was launched late yesterday evening, unveiling a brilliantly designed interactive hub for all this year's Science Week events. The theme for this year's Science Week, which takes place from November 13th to 20th, is 'The Chemistry of Life' and the Science Week crew took to the streets to find out "Is Chemistry Important to Everyday Life?". The result is this excellent video, with some interesting contributions from the general public and a pair of not so well disguised Limerick lads - the Rubberbandits! Click here to visit the new Science Week website (and to see more science chat from the Rubberbandits).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Thyroxine Stimulating Hormone Linked to Bone Growth

New research has found that Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), a hormone produced in the pituitary gland that regulates hormone production in the thyroid gland, can promote bone growth as well as its usual thyroid functions. TSH, as the name might suggest, is normally involved in stimulating the thyroid to produce thyroxine and other hormones. Thyroxine is a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism and control your physical development. This new study proves for the first time that TSH also activates osteoblasts, the cells responsible for bone formation. This research results suggests that TSH, or drugs that mimic its affect on bone, may form part of future treatments for osteoporosis and other conditions involving bone loss, such as cancer. The findings were published online this week in the National Academy of Sciences journal PNAS.

"Osteoporosis is really an imbalance in the functions that create and destroy bone in the body" said Mone Zaidi from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where the research took place. "Our findings indicate that there may be a novel new method for addressing the lack of bone production. Our discovery that TSH causes bone growth also represents a new way of thinking about the role of certain glands and how they operate." 

Ireland has one of the highest incidence of osteoporosis in the world with nearly 300,000 Irish people suffering from the disease - with many unaware of their condition. One in 5 men and 1 in 2 women over 50 will develop a fracture due to Osteoporosis in their lifetime. The disease can also affect children. The risk factors associated with osteoporosis include aging, low body weight, low levels of the sex hormone oestrogen (principally caused by the menopause) smoking and some medications.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Fifty New Exoplanets Discovered

The European South Observatory (ESO)'s HARPS Telescope in Chile has discovered a whopping fifty new exoplanets, confirming its place as the the world's most successful planet finder. An exoplanet is a planet found outside of our solar system and scientists have discovered close to 500 so far. Most exoplanets discovered are "gas giants" - similar in structure to Jupiter but much much larger. However, sixteen of the fifty announced today are classified as "Super Earths" - a planet with a mass higher than Earth's, but substantially below the mass of the Solar System's gas giants.

HARPS stands for High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher and is responsible for finding over 150 exoplanets including HD 85512 b, a newly discovered planet estimated to be only 3.6 times the mass of the Earth. HD 85512 b is located at the edge of the habitable zone — a narrow zone around a star in which water may be present in liquid form if conditions are right. Such planets are often called "goldilocks planets" - not too hot, not too cold but just right!

This is the largest number of such planets ever announced at one time. The new findings are being presented at a US conference on Extreme Solar Systems where 350 exoplanet experts have congregated.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

YouTube Saturday - Are You Typical?

This excellent animated video from National Geographic looks at the typical form of the human species. It forms part of their excellent year long series '7 Billion' - which assesses the future of mankind as our population is set to tip 7 billion by the end of 2011.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

ISTA Consultations on Senior Science Syllabi

The Irish Science Teachers Association (ISTA) are this month hosting a series of consultation evenings on the new Leaving Certificate senior science syllabi. The first of these takes place tomorrow for members of the Dublin Branch - at 7:30pm in Blackrock College. The meeting will look at all the new syllabi. Other meetings are scheduled throughout the month in the various branches around the country - full details will appear on the ISTA website in due course. However, some dates have already been published with details below:
The meetings will form part of ISTA's formal response to the new syllabi to be sent to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) over the coming months. Individual teachers (or indeed parents, scientists and members of the general public) are able to provide personal feedback. Click here to visit the NCCA Consultation page. The consultation process will be open up until October 28th 2011.

Frontiers of Physics - Teacher Conference 2011

The Institute of Physics in Ireland, along with the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, will host a jam packed day of lectures, demonstrations, and workshops for teachers of physics at this year's 'Frontiers of Physics' Annual Teacher Conference. The impressive line-up of speakers includes eminent physicist Prof. Phillip Walton, son of E.T.S Walton, who will present a lecture entitled "Nuclear Power in Ireland - Facts and Fiction”. Other talks include “Bringing Nuclear Fusion down to Earth” by Chris Warrick, Culham Fusion Research UK, Dr Sheila Gilheany on “Physics in Ireland – the brightest minds go further” and Alison Hackett “IOPI – Top Ten Tips for Teachers”. There will also be a discussion on the 2011 Physics papers, which will form the basis of the IOPI report to SEC. The Registration Fee, which includes lunch is just €35 with the deadline for registration on Monday 19 September. “Freebies” will be given first to those teachers who register early! It is sure to be a wonderful event. For further information and to register your attendance click here.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

YouTube Saturday - Fermi & the Fabric of Space

Our 71st YouTube Saturday video comes from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. It details a new finding from the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope in which the team of scientists working on the project have unearthed new evidence that space-time (the fabric of space and time) is smooth as Einstein predicted, while pushing closer to a complete theory of gravity. The Fermi team is led by Irish physicist Julie McEnery, who features prominently in the video.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Tibet: Evolutionary Cradle for Woolly Rhinoceros

Palaeontologists have unearthed the skull of an ancient Woolly Rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) in the Tibetan plateau, rewriting the evolution theory of these giant Ice Age mammals. The remains are dated to around 3.6 million years ago, surprisingly one million years before the start of the Pleistocene Ice Age - the time when most scientists believe these animals evolves. This new find suggests that the Tibetan plateau may have been the evolutionary cradle for these hugely impressive and resilient animals, and having to adapt to the harsh Himalayan climate may have helped the animal's descendants survive the big freeze. The same could also be true for ancestors of other Ice Age animals like the Woolly Mammoth, Giant Sloth and Sabre-Toothed Cat. One anatomical feature of note on the woolly rhino's skull was is flat shovel like horn, thought to be used to sweep away snow to reveal vegetation - the woolly rhino fed on grass .