o The Frog Blog: 2012

Monday, 10 December 2012

Science Writing Competition for Secondary Students

Ireland's new science magazine, Walton,  has just announced a new science writing competition aimed at Irish secondary school students. They want to challenge Irish students to write about any topic in science, technology, engineering and maths that are interested in. See below for competition details. It's a great opportunity to get your writing published or explore a new topic in science. Here's the blurb: 
  • Each entrant shall submit an article of no more than 800 words before the 1st of January 2013. 
  • The article can be on any STEM topic they like. 
  • The article must contain links or details of source material (if possible). 
  • There will be 2 categories: Junior Certificate or Transition Year /' Leaving Certificate
  • The winning article from each category will be chosen by the editorial staff of Walton Magazine for inclusion into the Spring 2013 Edition (available at the end of January). 
  • The winners will also receive a free 1 year subscription to the magazine, merchandise and free entry to the BT Young Scientist Exhibition 2013 in the RDS from the 9th to the 12th of January. 
  • The Spring 2013 edition of Walton will be a "BT Young Scientist Special" with details of the projects, interviews and news from the weekend. 
  • Students from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland only are invited to enter. 
  • Send ALL entries by e-mail to ger@waltonmagazine.com before the 1st of January 2013 with the following details: 
    1. Full Name 
    2. Home Address 
    3. E-mail 
    4. Phone Number 
    5. Age and Category 
    6. School Name and Address 
So get researching and writing and be in a chance to win loads of great prizes. You can also follow Walton Magazine on Facebook and Twitter. Good luck.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Edublog Awards 2012

The Frog Blog needs your vote! I was delighted to discover earlier in the week that the blog is a finalist in two categories in this year's international Edublog Awards - for 'Best Teacher Blog' and 'Best Ed Tech Blog'. My colleague Julian Girdham, from SCC English, is also a finalist. SCC English is again featured in the 'Best Group Blog' category, which it won in 2008, as well as the 'Best Class Blog' and 'Best Use of Videos and Media in Education ' for its excellent series of ShowMe's on key moments in Macbeth.

The winners in each category is determined by a public vote and voting remains open until Sunday 9th December. To vote for the Frog Blog or SCC English follow this single link.

Many thanks to those who nominated us!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

YouTube Saturday - Tour of the ISS Orbital Laboratory

Today's video features Sunita Williams of NASA recording an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory on the International Space Station on her final days as Commander of the ISS. Just hours after recording she returned to Earth with her colleagues Yuri Malenchenko and Aki Hoshide  in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for a landing in the deserts of Kazakhstan. It provides a great insight into life and work on the ISS.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Top Tweets of the Week

It's been another busy week on the twitterverse - here are some of my favourite tweets of the week.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Mars Surface Radiation Levels Deemed "Safe" Amid Exciting Rumours

Data from the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on board the Curiosity Rover reveal that the levels of radiation on the Martian surface would be safe for astronauts - roughly the same levels as on-board the International Space Station. Unlike our home planet, Mars does not have a magnetosphere (our north and south poles) which naturally protect us from the Sun's harmful radiation so it was expected that the levels of radiation may proved lethal to humans. However, Curiosity instruments show that Mars's thin atmosphere provides some protection against the Sun's harmful rays.

Curiosity monitors the weather carefully on Mars and have detected daily changes in the atmospheric pressure. The daily cycle of higher pressure in the morning and lower pressure in the evening results from daytime heating of the atmosphere by the Sun, resulting in what scientists call "thermal tides". The Sun heats the atmosphere on the side of Mars it is facing. This causes the air to expand upwards, triggering a decrease in air pressure. On the dark side, the atmosphere deflates and becomes denser as the temperature drops quickly. The net effect  is that the denser atmosphere provides a better level of shielding so charged-particle radiation is less when the atmosphere is thicker. This shielding effect could protect astronauts who visit the red planet, although Curiosity has yet to see the effects of solar flares on Mars's atmosphere.

This latest news comes amidst huge speculation that the Curiosity team have made a major discovery. One of the scientists which built and now operate the rover has said the mobile laboratory has made an "earth-shattering" discovery. Officials from NASA are keeping schtum on the matter. The speculation is that organic compounds, like amino acids or carbohydrates, may have been discovered by Curiosity's SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars). These would indicate that life exists or had existed on the red planet. Only time will tell if this latest rumour is true or over-hyped.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Nanoscience Offers Hope to Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Researchers in Chicago have revealed how a new nano-particle drug delivery system can halt the effects of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in mice and may offer hope to people with other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, asthma or food allergies. 

This new breakthrough, which highlights the potential benefits of nanoscience to medicine, reveals how  biodegradable nanoparticles were used to create a new "stealthier" delivery system for treating MS. The nanoparticles allowed the active antigens to trick the immune system into stopping its attack on myelin (the protective insulating coat on nerve cells - it literally gets on your nerves!) and halt the effects of MS in test mice. 

In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin membrane that insulates nerves cells in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. When the insulation is destroyed, electrical signals can't be effectively conducted, resulting in symptoms that range from mild limb numbness to paralysis or blindness. 

Importantly, the new nanoscience influenced treatment does not suppress the entire immune system as do current therapies for MS, which make patients more susceptible to everyday infections. Rather, when the nanoparticles are attached to myelin antigens and injected into the mice, the immune system is reset to normal. The immune system stops recognizing myelin as an alien invader and halts its attack on it.

What's very exciting is that the technology could be applied to a variety of immune-mediated diseases including Type 1 diabetes, food allergies and airway allergies such as asthma. Stephen Miller from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, outlines the ijmportance of the development.
"This is a highly significant breakthrough in translational immunotherapy. The beauty of this new technology is it can be used in many immune-related diseases. We simply change the antigen that's delivered."
In the study, the researchers attached myelin antigens to the nanoparticles, which are easily produced and made from a substance already approved by the Federal Drug Administration, and injected them intravenously into the mice. The particles entered the spleen, which filters the blood and helps the body dispose of ageing and dying blood cells. There, the particles were engulfed by macrophages, a type of immune cell, which then displayed the antigens on their cell surface. The immune system viewed the nanoparticles as ordinary dying blood cells and nothing to be concerned about. This created immune tolerance to the antigen by directly inhibiting the activity of myelin responsive T cells and by increasing the numbers of regulatory T cells which further calmed the autoimmune response.

Exciting stuff! The results of the study are published in Nature Biochemistry.

Edublog Awards 2012 - My Nominations

It's that time again folks - the Edublog Awards - recognising the best teacher / education blogs worldwide. Ireland has some excellent educational blogs, many run by my friends and colleagues, and here are my nominations.

  • Best new blog - NewEnglishBlog (i.e. Newbridge College English Blog)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

YouTube Saturday - Dara O'Briain's 'Story of Physics'

Dara O'Briain's excellent new show - The Science Club - is both entertaining and informative. One feature of the show are the excellent animations included and this one, from last Tuesday's episode, is just brilliant! It's the story of physics, as told by Dara, with loads of info, fun and excitement. Be sure to catch the next episode Tuesday at 9pm on BBC 2. See this excellent animated video from episode one on the 'History of Inheritance'.

Friday, 16 November 2012

NASA Discover Most Distant Galaxy Ever

NASA astronomers claim to have found the most distant galaxy ever seen. Using the soon to be retired  Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Given the catchy title, MACS0647-JD, the galaxy is very small compared to our Milky Way and is approximately 13.3 billion years old. What we are really seeing is what MACS0647-JD looked like just 420 million years after the Big Bang - just 3% of the age of the universe.

The galaxy was detected using an effect known as gravitational lensing, where large clusters of galaxies are used as "natural zoom lenses" to enlarge the appearance of galaxies behind them. Astronomers were able to detect a hint of light from MACS0647-JD because light from the galaxy took a detour, around 8 billion years into its journey, along multiple paths around the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making the images appear several times brighter than they otherwise would have, enabling the astronomers to detect the galaxy more efficiently and with greater confidence. 

The galaxy appeared as a small blob much smaller than our Milky Way, suggesting it may have been glimpsed as it was in the early stages of the formation of a larger galaxy. Of course, the newly discovered galaxy may not actually exist now or may have merged with other galaxies.

The new images suggest that MACS0647-JD was only 600 light-years wide, but a typical galaxy of a similar age ought to be more than three times this width. Our Milky Way measures 150,000 light-years across. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Total Eclipse Stuns Oz

Tonight the Moon passed in front of the Sun, casting a 150km wide shadow across the planet, starting in Australia's Northern Territory, then crossing the north eastern tip of the southern continent before swooping east across the South Pacific. No Pacific islands were in its direct path. Only certain areas of the eastern Australia coast witnessed the total eclipse, plunging the region into total darkness for a few fleeting minutes. A partial eclipse will be visible from east Indonesia, the eastern half of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and southern parts of Chile and Argentina.

Thousands of science enthusiasts, amateur astronomers and scientists have flocked to the eclipse zone in the hope of catching this rare occurrence - the next total eclipse won't occur until March 2015.  Although weather forecasters predicted cloudy skies, making the likelihood of catching photos like the one above slim, there were some gaps allowing onlookers witness the amazing feat first hand. The best places on land to see totality was along a 100 kilometre stretch of coastline on north-east Australia, overlooking the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea. Cairns is the only city on the eclipse trail. The video has just been recorded from the beach at Cairns!

A total eclipse is possible because, by coincidence, the Sun's distance from Earth is about 400 times the Moon's distance, and the Sun's diameter is about 400 times the Moon's diameter. Because these ratios are approximately the same, the Sun and the Moon as seen from Earth appear to be approximately the same size. The next total solar eclipse likely to be visible from Ireland won't occur until January 2090, although we should see a partial eclipse, around 80%, in March 2015. 

Science Week @ St. Columba's

Science Week is a national celebration of all things science, with thousands of events taking place across the country this week. This year’s theme is ‘everyday experimenting’ and encourages the general public to carry out some simple experiments at home, school, work or anywhere for that matter. 

Here at St. Columba’s we have a wide range of activities planned for the week including a series of talks from some of Ireland’s leading scientists, including UCD zoologist Emma Teeling and TCD physicist Nigel Buttimore. Some Form I and TY pupils are participating in a online science initiative called ‘I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Of Here’. The pupils actively engage with five Irish scientists via the I’m a Scientist website, participating in live chats (supervised by their teacher) and asking questions, and finally voting for their favourite scientist. It’s been really exciting so far and gets the thumbs up all from teachers and pupils alike. In addition, the science teachers are posting daily challenges, amazing science facts and holding a great astronomy competition. There are some great Science Week goodies on offer too, including Mr. Jones’s new book of science facts ‘A Neutron Walks Into A Bar’ (which would make a great stocking filler by the way, with all proceeds going to cystic fibrosis research). 

On Saturday afternoon thirty St. Columba’s pupils will also get a chance to meet Paolo Nespoli, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut who is visiting Dublin for Science Week. It will be a great opportunity for pupils interested in science and astronomy to meet a real astronaut – Paolo has been to the International Space Station on two separate missions. 

It's a jam packed week, with a real science buzz around, but if you are looking for even more excitement, why not try some of these simple experiments you can do at home - I promise you will be amazed! For more information on Science Week and the activities happening around the country visit scienceweek.ie

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Science Club with Dara O'Briain

Tune in to BBC2 tonight at 9pm to see polar bears, giant DNA strands, enormous sperms cells and tiny astronauts leap out of Dara O'Briain's skull!! 

Ok well that might not happen. But what we are promised is some exciting science explained in an innovative, entertaining and unique way. The new six part series will see Dara and his team (which includes Alok Jha, Tali Sharot and others) tackle a new topic each week, examining it from lots of different and unexpected angles - with hilarious consequences no doubt. Topics will range from extinction to sex, Einstein to space exploration and brain chemistry to music – all underpinned by first-class science. 

That enough for me! Tune in tonight at 9pm! It will be awesome - even if there aren't tiny panda bears.

Design Your Own 'Nano Superhero' with CRANN

If you missed Science Gallery's wonderful nanoscience exhibition MAGICAL MATERIALS then shame on you!! It was brilliant and proved a huge hit with schools in particular. The exhibition had a superhero theme, six in all, depicting the magical powers of nanomaterials. Now CRANN and Science Gallery have announced that their annual nanoscience competition for schools will continue with the superhero theme. This year they want you to design your very own nano superhero!

Students (with individually or in groups of 4 or less) are asked to designing and name their own superhero, listing his/her unique powers as a result of nanoscience. They can depict their superhero in a poster or a video. There are some great prizes on offer including an iPad, iPod Nanos (see what they did there) and cash!! In addition, the top 3 winning entries will be featured in an international nanoscience conference, EuroNanoForum, taking place in the Convention Centre, Dublin in June 2013. These 3 winning superheroes will be brought to life by a professional cartoon artist.

Visit the CRANN website for more information or download a poster for your school or classroom. More details on the competition can be found in the attached PDF. So put your thinking caps on and start designing your nano superheroes! You have loads of time - the closing date for entry is Friday February 15th 2013.

For more information on CRANN's brilliant Nanoscience pack for Transition Year science - Nano in my Life - click here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

YouTube Saturday - Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell

This amazing documentary, recently broadcast on BBC, explores the inner world of the human cellular structure via the narrative of a viral infection from within the world of a single cell. Update: Embedding of the video is no longer supported - click here to view on YouTube.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Top Tweets of the Week

The week on Twitter was dominated, for me at least, with the Science 140 project and the launch of A Neutron Walks Into A Bar. So most of my Top Tweets of the Week feature some #Neutron inspired tweets as well as other nuggets of science brilliance.

A Neutron Walks Into A Bar ... Launch Night Photos

On Tuesday last the Science 140 book - A Neutron Walks Into A Bar - was officially launched in Dublin's Science Gallery by Dr. Aoife McLysaght. Many thanks to all who attended - we had a great night and were delighted with the reaction the book received.

All photos below are by Lensmen

Team Science 140 - Me, Aoibhinn, Maria & Paul at the launch

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Pumped - A Great New Competition for Schools

Pumped is an exciting new competition for second level pupils (under the age of 16) which challenges them to think about teenage health issues and use their imagination to create a short 90 second video. There are some great prizes on offer including iPads, iPods and iPod Nanos. The winning school will also received €5000 for their science department. Organised in association with Bayer and the Irish Heart Foundation, Pumped will award the prizes to the best short videos which explain an aspect of the following four themes: Kids Need Good Grub, Fit For Fun, Smoking Stinks & Fats and Sugars - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Judges will be looking for "entertaining and persuasive videos on one of the four topics. They want to see that students have researched the topic and understand the science behind it and the reasons why students took the approaches they did. They also want to see creativity and clear messaging on your chosen subject." Click here to see all the "Frequently Asked Questions" on Pumped or download a poster for your school here. Only one entry from each school is allowed however and all work must be original. The Pumped website also contains loads of resources for anyone thinking of getting involved.

Visit Pumped.ie now to find out more.

YouTube Saturday - Felix Baumgartner's Free Fall

It's been all about Baumgartner this week so this week's featured video had to be about the record holding free-faller.
After flying to an altitude of 39,045 meters (128,100 feet) in a helium-filled balloon, Felix Baumgartner completed a record breaking jump for the ages from the edge of space, exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier flying in an experimental rocket-powered airplane. Felix reached a maximum of speed of 1,342.8 km/h (833mph) through the near vacuum of the stratosphere before being slowed by the atmosphere later during his 4:20 minute long freefall. The 43-year-old Austrian skydiving expert also broke two other world records (highest freefall, highest manned balloon flight), leaving the one for the longest freefall to project mentor Col. Joe Kittinger.
Watch his amazing feat in 90 seconds. Awesome!  

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Neutron Walks Into a Bar ... - OUT NOW!

If you have been following the Science 140 project, of which I am one of the co-ordinators, you'll have no doubt heard about all the wonderful science tweets we received over April, May & June of this year. Over the summer, the Science 140 team were busy collating all the best tweets for our book - A Neutron Walks Into A Bar - which goes on sale today. You'll find it in bookshops across Ireland (and in selected stores in the UK) and online (see the links below) and we sincerely hope you enjoy it. Please let us know what you think of the book via Twitter using the hashtag #neutron and remember - all royalties go directly to cystic fibrosis research. For more information about this partnership, click here

A Neutron Walks Into A Bar (RRP €14.99) is also available through:

T-Research: Autumn 2012 & Reader Survey

The latest issue of Teagasc's excellent research and innovation magazine T-Research is out now and is available both in print or online. This quarter's issues features articles on how we might feed an ever growing human population, picking the right food solutions for weight management, supporting rural enterprise developments and wood energy potential of farm. It's another excellent issue, with articles of interest for anyone with an interesting in food or farming. It is particularly useful for students and teachers of agricultural science in second or third level. Click here to see this season's issue and all previous back issues.

Teagasc are keen to hear from their readers on how T-Research can be improved. With that in mind, they are undertaking a short online survey (only five minutes) in an effort to hear suggestions and make improvements to their mag. You'll find the survey here and your input can help mould the future of the magazine.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

YouTube Saturday - Science Friction: Stem Cell Research

This week's featured YouTube video is from the excellent RTÉ documentary series, 'Science Friction'.  Presented by Liz Bonnin, the show embarks on a journey to meet the different people, both within and outside the science community, whose lives are touched by the controversy surrounding the embryo. It's an excellent way to create debate amongst pupils on the future of stem cell research.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

New Irish Science Magazine - Walton

Ernest Walton is one of Ireland's greatest scientists and our only scientific Nobel Prize recipient. He received the award in 1951 for his ground-breaking work in artificially splitting the atom in the early 1930's - the first man to do so. It's fitting then, that Ireland's newest magazine publication - a dedicated science and technology mag - bears his name. 

'Walton' is an impressive new science and technology magazine created by a group of young Irish scientists from a variety of backgrounds; engineering, chemistry, biology and maths. It's first edition has just been released and contains some excellent articles exploring the latest in Irish and international science news. There is an exposé on the humble spud from Communicate Science's Eoin Lettice, a review of the sometimes exorbitant costs associated with scientific endeavours, an analysis of the effectiveness of Project Maths while Maria Delaney from ScienceCalling.com outlines how the Science 140 project created 'A Neutron Walks Into a Bar...' book. There are also articles on the coldest place in the universe, why the sky is blue and the history of piracy. 

It's a great read and something which I can see evolving in the future (as so often these things tend to do). I must commend the young scientists on their ambition and great work in bringing their idea to fruition. Walton is released seasonally with the first edition available to view online for free. I'm already looking forward to the next edition.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

YouTube Saturday - Why is it Dark at Night?

This week's YouTube Saturday video is recommended by St. Columba's College TY pupil Bethany Shiell. It's another excellent video from Minute Physics and answers the age old question of "why is it dark at night". The answer isn't as clear cut as you think.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Top Tweets of the Week

It was another bumper week on Twitter - here are my top tweets of the week.

Stem Cells Used to Create Baby Mice

Scientists in Japan have successfully transformed mouse stem cells into viable eggs, which were later fertilised  in-vitro to create healthy baby mice. The research was led by Mitinori Saitou from Kyoto University and may provide hope for infertile human females in the future. The team of researchers harvested stem cells from adult mice and, with some genetic giggery-pokery, altered a number of genes to create cells very similar to the primordial germ cells that generate sperm in males and eggs in females. Last year, the researchers reported successful production of sperm cells using this method and now eggs too. The new eggs cells produced were mixed with other body cells and transplanted into living mice, where the cells matured into fully-grown eggs. The eggs were extracted, fertilised them in vitro and implanted them into surrogate mother mice. The fertilised eggs successfully formed baby mice, which themselves were able to reproduce.

While the work is a massive advancement, Saitou warns that much is still needed to be done before the technology can be used on humans. There was only a 4% success rate in the new eggs becoming baby mice so the technology is not perfect. However, it is likely that the research will help scientists understand the process of fertility in more detail and Saitou and his team will continue their work on monkey and human cells in the coming years to find out if the technology is transferable.

The research was published in the latest issue of the Journal Science. Click here for more information or here to learn more about stem cells from the Irish Stem Cell Foundation.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

YouTube Saturday - Horizon: Mission to Mars

As the Mars Curiosity Rover (MSL) busies itself on the surface of the red planet, I was reminded on this excellent episode of BBC's Horizon from a few months back. The brilliant episode, which was repeated on the Beeb a few days ago, took a behind the scenes look at NASA as final preparations were being made for one of their most ambitious and most expensive missions ever. With Curiosity recently beaming back images proving water once flowed freely on the Martian surface, hopefully Curiosity is getting closer to answering the question "is there, or has there ever been, life on Mars?".

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Top Tweets of the Week

Ironically, after committing to a weekly post on my favourite tweets of the week, I have barely looked at Twitter over the past seven day. In reality, I have barely had enough time to breath. Saying that, I felt obliged to trawl through my list of Irish science tweeps for at least some tweets which grabbed my attention  - so here goes.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

YouTube Saturday - Brian Schmidt on the Expanding Universe

This week's YouTube Saturday video sees 2011 Nobel Prize winners for physics Brian Schmidt explain how it felt to discover that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Top Tweets of the Week

I love Twitter - it's the source of endless inspiration, information and giggles. In this new weekly post, I hope to share a handful of tweets that caught my eye over the past few days. Some recognise great achievements, some great science, some great news and other great fun! Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

IBM Scientists Capture Image of Atomic Bonds

Scientists working for IBM have, for the first time, captured images of individual atomic bonds within a molecule of graphene (a one atom thick sheet of carbon atoms). Created with an atomic force microscope (AFM), the image shows a nanosized graphene molecule (a little flake of graphene) and clearly visualises the bonds in the molecule. Interestingly, the image shows that some of the bonds are longer than others. The bonds at the centre are shorter than those on the outside, which contain viewer electrons. The scientists say the imaging technique will help them understand more about graphene - a magic nano material which may have thousands of uses. 

AFM works by passing over a tiny oscillating tip over the surface of the material being scanned. The tip then measure the forces between the itself and the sample, such as a molecule, to create the image. The same technique has been used to capture an image of a single carbon monoxide molecule. The AFM devices are incredibly sensitive and must be carried out at a temperature close to absolute zero, around -268 degrees Celsius. 

The research can be applied to created Organic Light Emitting Diodes (or OLEDs) which could be used to create ultra thin TV's or mobile phone screens. The research will also help in the development of organic solar cells and other electronic devices. It will also lead to greater understanding of chemical reactions. 

For more information on this cool discovery and technology, click here or here for loads of pictures from the research team. The paper was published in the journal Science.

Image Credit: Flickr

Monday, 17 September 2012

Smart Futures Competition - Win a MacBook, iPad or Nokia Phone!

Smart Futures are offering a chance to win a MacBook laptop, an iPad2, and a Nokia Lumia 800 in their brilliant new competition. It couldn't be easier to win one of these amazing prizes - simply log into www.smartfutures.ie and answer the simple question to be in a chance to win. The answer is hidden somewhere in their website, so there are no excuses!

The Smart Futures website aims to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to all second level students in Ireland. They are hosting a STEM Careers Week from 22nd to the 26th October 2012, where companies will answer career questions from students and guidance counsellors about
how to get into a STEM career. You can visit the Smart Futures website now to post your questions to a panel of  experts who can guide you on what subjects to choose, what skill sets are required and how to get started in your future career in science, technology, engineering and maths! There are also loads of videos, explaining exciting career options in ICT today. 

Click here to visit Smart Futures, participate in the competition, explore the website and post your questions for the STEM Careers Week.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Science Gallery's 'Magical Materials' is Wonderfully Magical

Science Gallery's latest exhibition kicked off today - an interactive exploration of the world's most mysterious substances. MAGICAL MATERIALS allows gallery visitors investigate the cutting edge of material science, experimenting with some of the world's most intriguing new plastics, alloys, fabrics and technologies.

The exhibition looks fantastic, having got a sneak peak earlier in the week. The interactive exhibits are divided into six categories - each with their own dedicated original super-hero! FLOROGIRL sees over the exploration of some of nature's amazing materials and their future applications, in DESIGNED BY NATURE. AERO explores how nanoscience is being used in wound treatment, sensor technology, medical imaging, self cleaning substances and air detoxifying solutions in CLEAN & CLINICAL. The FLEX over sees POWERFUL & PLIABLE, examining the latest materials that exhibit amazing strength, including graphene, which is 200 times stronger than steel. It also looks at  flexible phone and computer displays, printable batteries cells and lasers. HYDROGIRL examines the latest magic textiles, including super-hydrophobic (water repelling) materials and synthetic fabrics that can conserve body heat and promote increased blood circulation, in SMART CLOTHES. MORPH casts an eye over the SENTIENT MATERIALS exhibit, which allows visitors see and experiment with some of the most futuristic materials in the world. These include paints that can self heal, ferrofluids and memory plastics. Finally, my favourite super-hero NANOMAN (purely because he claims to have a suit made of carbon nanotubes - awesome) looks at the strongest and potentially most useful future materials. These materials exhibit extraordinary strength but also have some amazing properties, like superconductivity and thermal conductivity. INVINCIBLE & INVISIBLE also includes demonstrations of invisibility cloak technology, magnetic levitation and gold orb spider silk strength. 

MAGICAL MATERIALS may prove one of the most popular Science Gallery exhibitions. I think it has something really special and will appeal to kids of all ages. It should also prove popular with school groups, linking perfectly with CRANN's 'Nano in my Life' pack for Transition Year students. MAGICAL MATERIALS is the first collaboration between neighbours Science Gallery and CRANN, TCD's nanoscience research centre, which has contributed to Ireland's position near the top of the material science league tables. 

The exhibit launch coincides with the start of Nanoweek, a week long series of events to raise public awareness of the potential of nanoscience to improve our quality of life. Next week, Science Gallery hosts NanoScience 2012 Conference, an event bringing together "national and international speakers from the research and industrial communities, who will demonstrate how nanoscience research is impacting a range of industry sectors".

MAGICAL MATERIALS opened today in Science Gallery and will run until October 14th 2012 and, as always, is free to attend. Make sure to check it out - you won't be disappointed.

YouTube Saturday - The Story of You

Scientists are getting closer to fully understanding the complexity of the human genome or genetic code, finding out how DNA carries instructions for making the building blocks of our bodies and on how to put them together. It is now over 10 years since the human genome was sequenced for the first time and scientists are still trying to interpret how the complex 3 billion letter code actually works. 

Now a new project called  ENCODE, which stands for the Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements, is set on  identifying all the important regions of the human genome. ENCODE allows scientists share their work to help find out what each region of the sequence does. Already, we know that 80% of the human genome has a specific function - much higher than what was originally thought. The excellent video below outlines how our knowledge of DNA, genetics and the human genome have evolved over the past hundred years or so and how ENCODE can help solve the puzzle. The video is narrated by science enthusiast and comedian / musician Tim Minchin. Thanks to Aoife McLysaght for sharing the video on Twitter earlier this week.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Frontiers of Physics 2012

Physics teachers - mark your diaries! The Teachers of Physics Annual Conference will take place on Saturday, September 22nd 2012 in Trinity College Dublin. Organised by the Institute of Physics in association with Trinity College and the PDST, the event promises a wide variety of  lectures, demonstrations and workshops, suitable for physics teachers at all levels, throughout the day. 

The conference aims to inform teachers of the exciting and innovative work at the frontiers of Physics, provide teachers with examples of simple and inexpensive physics demonstrations, reveal the latest developments and resources available in physics teaching. and provide an opportunity for teachers to exchange ideas and network. There is truly a brilliant line-up, including talks from TCD's Prof. Jonathan Coleman & Dr Peter Gallagher, Dr Karen Bultitude  from University College London and Dr Steve Myers from CERN. It's not to be missed.

Interested teachers are asked to register online before Monday September 17th. Registration costs €30 (which includes your lunch) or €20 for student teachers.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

YouTube Saturday - How Do Nerves Work?

This week's slice of scientific YouTube comes from the excellent Ted-Ed website. There is an excellent lesson supporting the video, which explores how nerve cells function in the human body, comprising a short quiz, a more challenging "thinking" activity and loads of supporting resources. Of course, Ted-Ed allows you "flip" the video to create your own lesson, if you feel the questions or activities don't suit your own students. According to the Ted-Ed website, this lesson reveals that "at any moment, there is an electrical storm coursing through your body. Discover how chemical reactions create an electric current that drives our responses to everything from hot pans to a mother’s caress". Click here to visit the lesson on Ted-Ed now (but maybe watch the video first).

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

'I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here' Comes to Ireland

The brilliant 'I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here' science outreach initiative is coming to Ireland, coinciding with Science Week. It's a free online event where school students get to meet and interact with scientists, It's a bit like X Factor, where the scientists are slowly voted off by the participating students based on how well they answer their questions.

Scientists, from a range of different fields, are pitted against students in five rounds of intense, fast-paced, quick fire online live chats. Students get the chance to ask scientists all the questions they want to, then vote for their favourite scientist. The last scientist standing picks up a grand prize of €500 to help them communicate their work with the public.

The event will run from Monday 12th – Friday 23rd November, taking in Science Week and there will be five zones - including one general and one space themed zone (sponsored by ESERO). The I'm a Scientist team are looking from input from teachers on what other zones they should run. They have a survey here to help them decide and would appreciate as much feedback from teachers, students and scientists as possible.

'I'm a Scientist' has enjoyed several years of success across the water and it is hugely exciting to see this innovative and engaging project make its way to Ireland. Visit www.imascientist.ie for more information and be sure to sign up. Here is a short video introducing the concept.

Getting Set for TEDx

A sold out TEDxDublin takes place this Saturday in the Bórd Gáis Energy Theatre, with the impressive line up of speakers promising to share their unique insights on the theme ‘A City of Ideas’. There is a strong scientific, artistic and architectural feel about the line up, which consists of fifteen speakers in all, that is sure to keep the packed auditorium on the edge of their seats throughout the day. 

Hosted by Science Gallery and supported by Science Foundation Ireland, TEDxDublin will be a day-long feast of ideas and inspiration - kicking off at 1pm and running through to 8pm. The fifteen speakers include Irish artist Dorothy Cross, comedian Maeve Higgins, Daniel Libeskind, architect who designed the new World Trade Center in New York City, geneticist Aoife McLysaght, Professor of Psychology Ian Robertson and journalist Trevor White. 

And, in case the audience fancy a break from proceedings, they can tuck into grub at the Irish Village Markets food market, catch up on some TEDTalks videos and much more. I'm really looking forward to the event and hoping to hear some "ideas worth spreading".

Monday, 3 September 2012

Welcome to Spider Season (Ugh, is it on me?)

It’s that time of the year again folks. Make sure to carry out a daily bed check, shake your towels before drying yourself, double check the toilet bowl before sitting down and practice your best curses (I find Jebus works well). Yup, it’s spider season. 

It is at this time every year when our eight legged tormentors get fed up of frolicking amongst the tall grasses or the corner of the garden shed and decide that under your telly or in your bath would be a nice place to find that “special someone”. Millions of horny spiders will be seeking the warmer, more inviting, nooks and crannies of your home to make more menacing baby spiders.

But before ye all start yelling “Kill it, kill it with fire!!”, unconsciously shuddering and frantically rolling up the RTÉ Guide while eyeing up the (enormous dog-sized) spider which ran the gauntlet from behind the coal bucket to that crack in the skirting board (which you’ve been meaning to fix for ages), maybe you could decide to take a more humane, almost scientific, approach to spider hunting this year? 

There are around 370 types of spider in Ireland, from the thousands of microscopic dust mites that inhabit your pillow (literally eating your dead skin cells while you sleep) to Ireland’s largest spider, the Raft Spider, with a whopping 10cm leg span. Most Irish spiders are venomous but, luckily, their fangs aren’t long enough to penetrate our skin so can be deemed harmless. However, only a number of species will visit your home. 

The most frequently spotted domesticated arachnids include the Common House Spider (Tegenaria domestica), the Giant House Spider (Tegenaria duellica) and of course, the Daddy Long Legs (a large groups of spiders arachnids from the Order Opiliones). Many of the braver ones we see are the males, who wander around your gaff looking for a female’s web. After mating with her for a few days, he dies. The female, overcome with emotion at the loss of her loved one, then eats him. Nice. 

So, instead of trying to kill the lost and lonesome spider in the bathtub, remember he is likely just looking for love. So, instead, why not play a little game of capture, classify and release? House spiders are easily coerced into glass jars. Take a snap, refer to this little guide to identify, and then release him into the garden. Sure, he’ll come back and bring his mates, but at least you can mend decades of mental torture with some spidery kindness. 

And remember too, that these terrifying unwanted guests help rid your house of other terrifying unwanted guests! House spiders eat flies, beetle, earwigs and even moths, thus protecting your new dress or “good” shirt! See, they’re not that bad after all! 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

YouTube Saturday - 10 Useless Human Body Parts

This one is self explanatory - the top ten body parts we no longer need. Coming in at number 10 .....

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Scientists Discover New Health Benefit of Chocolate

If we ever needed another reason to love the Swedes then here it is. A group of Nordic scientists, led by Professor Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, have discovered that consuming chocolate can reduce the risk of men having strokes in later life. Previous studies had linked moderate levels of high cocoa chocolate consumption to reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases but this is the first study to link their consumption to strokes also.

The study, which took over 10 years to complete, involved surveying over 37,000 men on their chocolate consumption and a comparison with their medical history. They found that men with a moderate level of chocolate consumption, a weekly average of 63g, had a 17% less chance of developing a stroke in later life than men who ate none. Even milk chocolate seemed to provide the necessary health benefits. Larsson also carried out a meta-analysis to confirm her findings and found similar results in studies across Europe and the US. 

The health benefits of chocolate are often associated with chemicals called flavonoids, which are also found in tea as well as fruits like apples and grapes. These chemicals can make blood less sticky, allowing blood flow more freely through arteries and veins and prevent blockages, and help dilate arteries to reduce blood pressure. High cocoa content chocolate contains higher levels of flavonoids. However, it should be said that chocolate is also high in sugar and fat, so should only be eaten in moderation (spoil sport I know). But, considering the good news, I think everyone deserves another piece of chocolate today!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong - The Apollo 11 Launch in HD

With the sad loss of Neil Armstrong last week - the first man to walk on the Moon - I thought I'd share this wonderful, often forgotten, video of the Apollo 11 launch way back in 1969. This amazing super slow motion high definition video was shot using the Camera E-8 on the launch umbilical tower at an astonishing 500 frames per second. The 30 second footage is stretched to 8 minutes in this video with each of the stages explained expertly by the narrator. RIP Neil Armstrong.

Win a Trip on the 'Celtic Voyager'!

Would you like to win a trip on-board Ireland iconic marine research vessel, The Celtic Voyager? Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) have teamed up with the Marine Institute to offer ten Transition Year students the chance of a lifetime - a unique opportunity to conduct scientific research on-board the Celtic Voyager in Galway Bay on Sunday October 7th. The lucky winners will leave from the docks in Galway for a marine survey centred on the core disciplines of Benthic Ecology, Fisheries Biology, Marine Geophysics and Oceanography. The expedition will be led by experienced scientific personnel from the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART - maybe the best acronym ever?) and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. The students will use the state of the art equipment on-board the sophisticated vessel working alongside scientists to investigate physical, chemical and biological aspects of Galway Bay and learning about potential careers in marine science and technology along the way. 

So, what do you have to do to get a place on-board? Well, essentially it's a photo and caption competition. To apply send a photograph which captures the theme "Water, Our Greatest Resource" and a 200 word description to the GMIT Schools Liaison Office Facebook Page. Make sure to include you name, your School, a contact email, your 200 word description and, of course, your photo! The closing date for entry is the 21st of September 2012 so get snapping!!!! One more thing - make sure to get permission from your parents and TY Co-ordinator before entering and good luck! 

I wish I could go! :-(

A Busy Day on Mars

Yesterday was an extremely busy day on Mars for the Curiosity Rover. NASA's 'Mars Science Laboratory' or MSL sent back its first high definition photo from the Mars surface, revealing a geological "unconformity" on the slopes of Mount Sharp. The MSL's 100mm telephoto lens, one of 17 on board (including a 3D camera developed with Titanic & Avatar director James Cameron - can't wait to see the product of their collaboration), snapped the strata along the foothills of Mount Sharp with scientists deducing that one expected layer is missing. The NASA scientists hinted that is likely caused by volcanic or seismic activity but further tests will confirm or deny this. Curiosity will make its way further up the foothills of the mountain in an effort to discover if life ever existed on the red planet.

Yesterday, Curiosity also relayed the first human voice on the surface of Mars. NASA boss, Charles Bolden (who attended ESOF back in July), got the honour.
"Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars."

"The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet."

"Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future."
And if that wasn't enough, Mars got its first taste of Earth music when Will.i.am's 'Reach for the Stars', was played over the Martian airways. Below is a short video where the Black Eyed Peas front-man explaining how it all came together.

Curiosity now makes its way towards its landing site to analyse the scour marks left by the rocket-powered crane that lowered the rover onto the planet's surface. Curiosity will zap Martian rock, using its ChemCam, to analyse the vapour. Its DAN instrument will look for hints of past life on Mars while its Sam instrument will sniff and analyse the Martian air. Keep up to date with Curiosity - visit the official website here.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Debating Science Issues 2012

Debating Science Issues (DSI), a public speaking competition for secondary schools with a science twist, has launched again this year. Funded by Discover Science & Engineering, DSI aims to engage young people in debate on the cultural, societal and ethical implications of advances in biomedical science. Areas like stem cell research, nanotechnology, vaccination or genetically modified foods are amongst the topics up for discussion. Schools that become involved are treated to a three hour interactive workshop from one of the partnering research facilities to ensure they are up to speed on the science but also to get a chance to learn core debating skills. It's a great opportunity to explore often controversial science topics in a competitive environment while learning new skills. St. Columba's took part last year and our pupils found the experience incredibly interesting and engaging. We signed up again for 2012 and are looking to improve on our performance this time 'round. 

If you want to sign up, visit the DSI website to see your nearest DSI partner. The competition is limited to just 40 schools, so strike while the iron is hot. Their website contains loads of useful information including a Schools GuideTopic Guides as well as some interesting feedback from participating teachers and pupils. In fact, the word cloud below shows the most popular words from the feedback they received from teachers who took part in the DSI programme last year.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

YouTube Saturday - Curiosity Decent

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks you will of course know that NASA's latest mission to Mars, the Curiosity Rover, made a safe touch down recently. New video footage has been released of the final decent of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), taken by the MARDI descent imager, which shows the fall in high definition. The item falling to the left of the screen is the protective heat shield. I love this!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A Neutron Walks Into a Bar

The Frog Blog has been relatively quiet over the past couple of months compared to manic blogging earlier in the year. This has been primarily down to my time spent on the Science 140 project, a crowd sourcing sci-comm project I have been working on with Maria Delaney, Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin & Paul O'Dwyer. As you are probably aware of at this stage, Science 140 involved asking twitter folk to explain scientific principles in less than 140 characters. The product of the three month project is now coming to fruition with our book, A Neutron Walks Into a Bar, containing the best #science140 tagged tweets about to go to print. Here is a sneak peek at the cover for the book and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Now I know you can't judge a book by its cover but I think it rocks! The book will be released on October 18th 2012 (we'll be having a little "do" to launch the book and would love loads of Irish science folks to come along) and will be available to pre-order on Amazon shortly is available to pre-order on Amazon now! 

SCC Pupils Continue to Excel in Science & Maths

Last year the St. Columba's College 'Class of 2011' performed exceptionally well in their Maths & Science examinations, surpassing the national averages in all subject areas, despite the usual media frenzy surrounding declining standards in these subjects. Today, amidst the debate over Project Maths, the 'Class of 2012' have  matched the acheivements of last year's pupils, performing brilliantly in Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics & Agricultural Science. We are immensely proud of our pupils, who leave the school with a love and passion for the subjects and with exam success.

In Maths, 52% of our students studied at Higher Level (compared to 22% nationally). Of those, 22% achieved an A grade (9% nationally), 39% achieved a B grade (36% nationally) and the remainder achieving a C or D grade. At Ordinary Level, all pupils achieved an A, B or C grade.

In St. Columba's last year, 91% of pupils studied at least one science subject for their Leaving Certificate. In Biology, the trends of recent years continued. 98% of pupils sat the exam at Higher Level (75% nationally) with 29% of these achieving an A grade (16% nationally), 44% achieving a B grade (27% nationally), 17% achieving a C grade (26% nationally).

In Chemistry, 93% of students sat at Higher Level (82% nationally). Of these 15% achieved an A grade (20% nationally), 23% achieved a B grade (28% nationally) and 46% achieved a C grade (24% nationally). While these results are not as impressive as previous years, they still represent a very impressive set of results.

In Physics all pupils sat the examination at Higher Level (74% nationally) of which 27% achieved an A grade (19% nationally), 45% achieved a B grade (30% nationally) and the remainder took home a C grade. When you consider the numbers sitting at Higher Level the results are even more impressive.

In Agricultural Science all pupils sat the exam at Higher Level (79% nationally). Of these, 25% of pupils achieved an A grade (9% nationally), 25% achieved a B grade (a similar statistic nationally) and the remaining 50% achieved a C grade (30% nationally).

The science teachers of St. Columba's College are immensely proud of our pupils achievements in science (and indeed in all subjects) and wish them well in their future studies or endeavours. Last year, over 50% of our pupils went on to study a STEM course in university after their time in St. Columba's and we hope many will consider a similar path this year too. Overall, the St. Columba's class of 2012 achieved an astonishing average points total of 451 with 34% of pupils achieving over 500 points, 74% over 400 points and 88% over 300 points. For a more comprehensive analysis of our pupils results visit the St. Columba's College website. For nationally statistic click here.