o The Frog Blog: August 2012

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.