Monday, February 17, 2014

Boole's home to be rebuilt as part of year of celebrations

As part of a year of celebrations to mark 200 years since the birth of George Boole, his derelict former home in Cork City looks set to be refurbished and restored.

The building at number five Grenville Place has been derelict since a structural collapse in 2010. Despite repeated calls for the building to be saved, it has languished forlornly since the initial collapse.

Now, as part of University College Cork's Year of George Boole in 2015, the building could be rebuilt and saved for future generations. 

George Boole was the first Professor of Mathematics at Cork and is regarded as the 'Father of Boolean Algebra' whose research laid the groundwork for modern computing. University College Cork is keen to reaffirm the association between the university and Boole and is planning a series of commemorations including a statue of Boole, various exhibitions and an international conference. More information on the Year of George Boole website.

Although a future use for the refurbished building has not been decided, UCC is believed to be working with Cork City Council and others on plans for the Boole's former home.

Such a large scale and high profile year of events is to be warmly welcomed. The fact that a centrepiece of this year might secure a piece of Ireland's scientific and architectural heritage, should bring to an end this sorry saga.

You can see what the building might look like in this presentation (powerpoint) from YOGB.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Temporary Hiatus

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that the rate of blog posts has decreased over the past twelve months. There have been some nice posts which I'm very happy with but I simply haven't had the time to devote to writing posts at the frequency I have in the past.
Like everyone else, pressures of a regular (and very enjoyable) day job,combined with trying to spend time with family and friends has meant something had to give. I also have one, very important project to complete.
For these reasons, I've decided to take a positive step and put the Communicate Science blog on hiatus for a couple of months. I'm sure this won't make a huge difference in anyone's life but my own - I do enjoy the enforced distraction of writing the blog- but can ensure readers that this will be a temporary ceasefire rather than the end for this corner of the internet.
Like the daffodils, I'm going underground for a few months to get some work done and will return, triumphant, in a blaze of glory in the Spring. If you simply can't wait that long, then I'll still be knocking around twitter @blogscience

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 - the year of the Vagrant Emperor

Check out this guy - a Vagrant Emperor (Hemianax ephippiger) dragonfly captured at Castleventry, West Cork earlier this year.

This individual is one of seven reported this year - a surprise since just two had been identified in Ireland since one was first recorded, in Dublin in 1913. The Dragonfly Ireland Facebook group describe the sightings this year as "absolutely inprecedented".

Dragonfly Ireland has also produced a useful map of Vagrant Emperor records in Ireland. (2013 records are indicated by orange circles; two reports were logged in 2011- orange squares; and the original Dublin sighting is indicated by a blue dot).

Dragonfly Ireland have produced this map of Vagrant Emperor sightings in Ireland.

One of the West Cork sightings was by 'friend of the blog' Kieran Lettice who reports that his family cat dragged the creature into the house (unharmed) one night in late September.After extracting it from the jaws of a proud feline, the emperor was photographed and released without any obvious injuries.

While Kieran and yours truly were able to make a preliminary identification, it fell to butterfly and moth expert Ken Bond to make a definitive identification.

The Vagrant Emperor is native to North Africa and is generally described as a rare long-distance visitor to UK and Ireland. Although it has even been found dead or dying as far North as Iceland, and even as far West as South America; its travels are quite remarkable given its size and fragile appearence. An emperor of vagrants, to be sure!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Walton sculpture unveiled - 'Apples and Atoms'

Apples and Atoms by Eilis O'Connell (Image: @TCDArtCurator)
A sculpture celebrating the life and work of  Ernest  T.S. Walton, Nobel Laureate for Physics, and former  graduate  and professor at Trinity College Dublin, was opened to the public by Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, this week at  a special ceremony at TCD. The sculpture titled ‘Apples and Atoms’   was designed by artist, Eilís O’Connell RHA.
Ernest T. S. Walton studied at Trinity where he was a scholar and won many College prizes, including a gold medal in experimental science. He graduated with joint honours in mathematics and physics in 1926 and went to Cambridge to do his postgraduate work. Thus began the momentous collaboration between Walton and his fellow physicist, John Cockcroft, which exploited linear acceleration methods to induce nuclear disintegration by artificial means, as observed by Ernest Walton, on April 14th, 1932. It was the first time that Einstein’s E=mc2was verified directly in a nuclear reaction. His and Cockcroft’s success, using artificially accelerated particles for experimenting on the atom, meant the research into the nature and structure of the atom was no longer restricted by having to rely on natural sources of radiation. In 1946, Walton returned to Trinity College, to become the Erasmus Smith Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy where he remained until 1985.
“Ireland is home to many science heroes and Ernest T.S. Walton is one of our leading ones. This sculpture pays homage to him as a scientist, teacher and truly celebrates his scientific legacy  that continues to educate and inspire our students of science today, ” said Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn.
Ernest TS Walton
Commemorating the 80th anniversary of the experiment, Trinity invited six artists to submit a design, honouring Ernest T.S. Walton’s research achievements as well as 30 years of dedication to science education. Eilís O’Connell’s design was selected by a panel that included representatives from the Walton family, the School of Physics, the College Art Collections, students and external visual arts professionals.
“The sculpture was commissioned to commemorate Ernest T.S. Walton as a significant figure in the history of the College and in the development of science globally.  It reinforces Trinity’s special connection with him and is an opportunity to honour him as a scientist as well as a champion of science education, an academic and an Irishman,” said Provost of Trinity, Dr Patrick Prendergast.
The sculpture by  Eilis O’Connell is a stack of mirror polished spheres, increasing in size as they rise upward which appear to defy gravity. It is located beside the Fitzgerald Building, home to the School of Physics. Reflected in the stack of spheres are specially planted native Irish apple trees that refer to the private man and his keen interest for growing fruit trees.
“The sculpture pays homage to Walton’s most important characteristics – his intellectual rigour and hands-on ability to physically build the particle accelerator and his nurturing ability as teacher and father.  A man is not defined solely by his academic achievements but also by the memories he leaves behind in others,” explained sculptor, Eilís O’Connell.
Ernest T.S. Walton generously presented his papers to the College Library in 1993; his family subsequently donated his Nobel medal. A small exhibition, which includes the medal, is currently on display in the Long Room, to mark the formal launch of the sculpture.

The commission was made possible by the support of the Walton family, the Provost, the School of Physics, the Trinity College Dublin Association and Trust, the Department of Education and Skills, the Institute of Physics in Ireland, the Fellows and alumni of Trinity and the Science Gallery.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bees Boost Irish Economy

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have shown that bees contribute almost €4 million to the Irish economy each year, simply by improving seed production in crops of oilseed rape.

Known for its brilliant yellow flowers, oilseed rape is being grown to an increasing extent in Ireland as farmers respond to a heightened demand for pure plant oil. This oil is an important source of biofuel and could ultimately reduce our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels as we seek greener, more environmentally friendly solutions to energy demands.

The crop is pollinated adequately by the wind, but, for the first time in Ireland, researchers were able to show that foraging bees transferring pollen from flower to flower greatly boost the all-important yield. When bees were experimentally excluded from visiting the flowers, seed production was, on average, 27% lower than when they had open access.

This discovery, which will soon appear in the international Journal of Insect Conservation, added to related findings that were reported in another article in the journal GCB Bioenergy. Both papers sprang from research conducted as part of the Sectoral Impacts on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (SIMBIOSYS) initiative, which received €1.6 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency over a five-year period.

In addition to the discovery that bees are important assets to oilseed rape farmers, the previous paper showed that these fields were buzzing with insect life comprising many species of bees, hoverflies and beetles.

Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity, and Director of the Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research, Jane Stout, who was the principal investigator on both papers said: “Oilseed rape fields are full of pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies. Although many people think of the honeybee as being our main pollinating species, bumblebees and hoverflies are also important pollinators of oilseed rape crops. We found hundreds of bees, especially in spring oilseed rape, where we estimated on average 600-800 colonies of bumblebees alone using the pollen and nectar from just one field.”

The diversity and sheer volume of pollinators in oilseed rape crops came as something of a happy surprise, because some reports had previously suggested that swathes of the plant might discourage farm-friendly insects. However, researchers caution that different patterns could arise when the crop is grown on a larger scale than was investigated. They also recommend interspersing fields that grow food and biofuel crops in the hope that such a patchwork quilt-like pattern will promote insect diversity and enhance the precious pollination service provided by the critters.

Researcher Dara Stanley, who worked with Stout on these projects, added: "Oilseed rape crops in Ireland are expanding hugely, and, if they benefit from pollination, this is both good news for farmers, and an incentive to conserve bees in agricultural areas.”

One major threat to bees comes from the use of certain pesticides called neo-nicotinoids, which have been implicated in recent declines of many species throughout Europe and North America. An EU ban preventing the use of these pesticides on oilseed rape was recently agreed, which will hopefully help the bees of Ireland keep up their good work in our farmers’ fields. However, there are concerns that use on other crops, which is still permitted, will negatively affect our furry friends.

Science on film - biodiversity in the gardens

Ireland's first and only dedicated science film festival, the UCD Science Expression Film Festival will take place from Thursday 31st October - Friday 3rd November. 

The 2013 edition of UCD Science Expression showcases some of the most exciting filmmaking inspired by and excavating science - from classic movies seen in a very different light to world-class features and shorts premiering at UCD Science Expression. The festival presents screenings, events and debate for enquiring minds of all ages.

Festival 2013 takes a unique journey through key themes including The Mind, Land & Identity, Frontiers of Discovery and Biodiversity and Ecology in The Lighthouse, IFI, Botanic Gardens and The Ark in Dublin.

See the full range of events on the festical website.

Sure to be a highlight is Biodiversity at the National Botanic Gardens. Taking place in Ireland's only inflatable cinema from Friday November 1st to Sunday November 3rd, the event will celebrate the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity with an eclectic programme of short films, inspiring wonder in the natural world.
Best of all, there's free entry and it gives you a chance to also check out the gardens' new sculpture celebrating the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA.

"What is Life" is a sculpture which was commissioned by Professors John Atkins of University College Cork and David McConnell of Trinity College Dublin as a public celebration of Science in Ireland and to specifically celebrate the 60th anniversary of the discovery of The Double Helix by Watson and his colleague Francis Crick in April 1953.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Blog Awards Ireland 2013 - Shortlist

If you're following me on twitter, you may already know that this blog has been shortlisted for Best Science\Education Blog in the 2013 Blog Awards Ireland. If you're not following me on twitter, why not?

This blog is joined in the shortlist by many other excellent blogs including last year's winner Science Calling, Beyond the Wild Garden and Inside the Brain.

While I have to question the wisdom of lumping science and education together in a category, I'm delighted the blog has been shortlisted.

The awards will be presented at a ceremony on October 12th. Good luck all!

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