o The Frog Blog: September 2012

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 .....