Monday, November 29, 2010

The Doppler Effect

Today, November 29th, is the birthdate of the Austrian physicist Christian Doppler who was the first to describe how the observed frequency of light and sound waves is affected by the relative motion of the source of the wave and the detector.

Born in 1803, Doppler's work explains why trains (and other vehicles) moving towards us sound different from those which are stationary and those moving away from us. The Doppler Effect, proposed in 1842 is explained by the source of the wave (the train) moving towards the observer so that each successive wavepeak is emitted from a postion closer to the observer than the previous wave.

Therefore, each wave takes a little less time to reach the observer than the previous one.This means the wave peaks are sort of bunched together ahead of the vehicle, giving a higher pitch to he sound. The opposite is true behind the train, the wave peaks move further apart giving a lower pitch to the sound.

Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory" explains the Doppler Effect:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mammal size exploded after dinosaurs

A team of international scientists have shown that when the dinosaurs became extinct some 65 million years ago, mammals began to get bigger - a lot bigger!

The study published this week in the journal Science, shows that mammals became a thousand times bigger than they had been once the dinosaurs were out of the way.

"Basically, the dinosaurs disappear and all of a sudden there is nobody else eating the vegetation. That's an open food source and mammals start going for it, and it's more efficient to be an herbivore when you're big," says paper co-author Dr. Jessica Theodor, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary.

The mammals considered as part of the research includes Indricotherium transouralicum, a hornless, rhino-like herbivore that weighed about seventeen tonnes and stood about 18 feet high at the shoulder. That animal lived in Eurasia almost 34 million years ago.

The researchers gathered data on the maximum size for the major groups of land mammals on each continent, including Perissodactyla (odd-toed ungulates like horses and rhinos), Proboscidea (which includes elephants, mammoths and mastodon), Xenarthra (anteaters, tree sloths and armadillos), as well as a number of other extinct groups.

"that's really rapid evolution"Theodore says the results confirm that ecosystems can reset themselves relatively quickly after a major disruption: "You lose dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and within 25 million years the system is reset to a new maximum for the animals that are there in terms of body size. That's actually a pretty short time frame, geologically speaking," she says. "That's really rapid evolution."

The scientists found that mammals grew to a maximum of about 10 kg when they shared the earth with dinosaurs but up to 17 tonnes once the dinosaurs were gone.

The research, funded by a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network grant, was led by scientists at the University of New Mexico, who brought together paleontologists, evolutionary biologists and macroecologists from universities around the world.

John Gittleman from the University of Georgia in the US was also involved in the research and says that there is a much better fossil record for mammals than for many other groups. "That's partly because mammals' teeth preserve really well. And as it happens, tooth size correlates well with overall body size" says Gittleman.

"During the Mesozoic, mammals were small," said Gittleman. "Once dinosaurs went extinct, mammals evolved to be much larger as they diversified to fill ecological niches that became available. This phenomenon has been well-documented for North America; we wanted to know if the same thing happened all over the world."

 Image: The largest land mammals that ever lived, Indricotherium (left) and Deinotherium (middle), would have towered over the living African elephant (right). [Credit: Alison Boyer/Yale University]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

George Boole Lecture

Professor Des McHale will deliver the Annual Boole Lecture at UCC on December 7th 2010.

The Boole Lecture is an annual event that was established and is sponsored by the Boole Centre for Research in Informatics, the Cork Constraint Computation Centre, the Department of Computer Science, and The School of Mathematical Sciences.


Venue: G5 Western Gate Building, UCC at 8:00 pm

Admission is free. All are welcome

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Opposite the window of the room in which I write is a field, liable to be overflowed..."

In the last few months, I've written extensively on the subject of George Boole and his legacy in Cork and, in particular, his former home at Grenville Place.

Number 5, Grenville Place suffered a severe collapse last month and has subsequently required significant partial demolition.

While I don't believe last year's severe flooding in Cork City centre (the first anniversary of which was marked on Friday last) was a significant cause of the collapse, it appears that Boole could have warned of us of the possible dangers faced by this part of the city.

Grenville Place is one of two sites in the city where the quay wall was demolished by the impact of the flood waters. One year on, the sandbags still remain in situ and the historic quay walls remain in ruins.

According to the Boole collection of papers in UCC's Boole Library, the emminant mathematician was in Cork during the 'Great Flood' of 1850 when he was trapped upstairs in his lodgings at Grenville Place and his friends were forced to traverse the streets in a boat. How familiar this sounds to those present near Grenville Place last year.

Number five was where Boole wrote his most important work: An investigation into the Laws of Thought, on which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities.

On page 321 of this text, Boole discusses risk and uses and example which planners would have done well to have noted:

"Opposite the window of the room in which I write is a field, liable to be overflowed from two causes, distinct, but capable of being combined, viz., floods from the upper sources of the River Lee, and tides from the ocean."

This field now forms part of UCC/Mercy Hospital lands at Distillery Field and is traversed by Cork City Council's Banks of the Lee walkway. The site suffered severe flooding on November 19th 2009.

Ironically, opposite the window of the room in which I write is the same field and as we have again seen, it is liable to be overflowed.

{Image Credit: bosco via Flooding at Grenville Place, Cork with Distillery Field across the river}

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great News for Science Blogging

Congratulations to Frog Bloggers Jeremy Stone and Humphrey Jones for taking home the 'Big Mouth' award from the Eircom Spiders which were held in Dublin's Burlington Hotel last Thursday night.

The fact that two science blogs were nominated in this category and that the Frog Blog took the prize home is great news for Irish science blogging which is going from strength to strength at the moment.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Agriculture: Here are the what are the answers?

A multidisciplinary team of 55 agricultural and food experts from 23 countries have come together to identify the 100 "Questions of Importance" to the Future of world agriculture.

Dr. Colin Sage, from UCC's Department of Geography was the sole contibutor from Ireland.

"We need to build greater resilience and adaptability into the global food system and that is likely to involve giving more serious attention to encouraging shifts in patterns of consumption as well as to finding ways of producing more food more sustainably" said Dr. Sage.

The authors began with an initial list of 618 questions before reducing them to the top 100 over a year long period. Thirteen themes were identified as priority to global agriculture and food production.

These themes include "Climate, watersheds, water resources and aquatic ecosystems" as well as a theme on "Crop genetic improvement" and "Consumption patterns and health".

The report was published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability and is free to download here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Science Snapshot Eight: Infra-red

Science Week in Ireland concludes today. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we posted a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we may feature it in the future.

Today's image also comes from the Elder Museum of Science & Technology in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

It simply features yours truly photographed on a infra-red camera.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Science Snapshot Seven: Physics in motion

Science Week is ongoing in Ireland and continues until the 14th. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

Today's image comes from the Elder Museum of Science & Technology in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

It features an amazing three metre high sculpture containing nine Betancourt devices and more than twenty mechanisms through which thirty balls continuously run.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A sincere word of thanks

I'd like to say a very special Thank You to everyone who voted for me in the Eircom Spider Awards. I really do appreciate it. Voting has now closed.

The results will be announced on Thursday 18th November at a ceremony in Dublin. Fingers crossed!

A scientist walks into a bar....

Update 13/11/2010
And the winner is.... Eukaryote for this beauty:

Man walks into a pharmacy and says "how much is your adenosine triphosphate?" The pharmacist says "to you, it's 80p"

Boom, Boom!!
Eukaryote will get a book token for his trouble.
Thanks for all your entries.

To celebrate Science Week, I'm looking for the best short science joke. But you have just until 5pm (Irish Time) today to get your entries in.

So, this is going to be short and sweet. You can tweet your joke, remembering to use the hashtag #scijoke , and the whole joke must fit into one tweet (140 characters). You can follow me on twitter @blogscience

You can also leave your joke as a comment to this post, but you need to observe a similar maximum length.

I'll dig out a nice prize for the best joke of the day (which may also be the worst....I love terrible puns), so spread the word and get joking.

Science Snapshot Six: Darwin's Bulldog

Science Week is ongoing in Ireland and continues until the 14th. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

Today, it's an image of Thomas Henry Huxley as depicted in a statue in London's Natural History Museum. Huxley became known as "Darwin's Bulldog" because of his firm defence of Darwin's theories.

Huxley's debate with Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford is seen as a turning point in the public acceptance of evolution.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

North Mon 200 & Cork Scientists

This evening marks the launch of a publication to mark the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the North Monastery CBS in Cork City.

The book, entitled North Mon 200 is available to purchase in all good bookshops and online at :

The school is the alma mater of a long list of distinguished past-pupils including former Taoiseach Jack Lynch and former Cork Lord Mayors Terence McSwiney and Tomas MacCutain.The 'North Mon' also has an impressive scientific track record and teachers who have worked there include Br. James Burke, the renowned educationalist and science teacher and John Philip Holland who developed one of the first ever submarines.

Burke was a Christian Brother who taught at the North Monastery in Cork City and was renowned for his work in developing practical scientific and technical education in Ireland during the late 19th century. Amongst his achievements includes bringing electric light to Cork in 1877, two years before Thomas Edison invented the electric bulb. He was a pioneer and advocate for practical, scientific education in Ireland and represented Ireland at the World's Fair in St Louis, Missouri in 1904.

Writing in The Glamour of Cork, Daniel Lawrence Kelleher (1919) describes an aging Burke as:
"This big, slow-footed, heavy, smiling, half-blind old man [who] has put into practice the most enlightened methods of education.
"Behold him in his class, a combination and anticipation of Montessori, Pearse and a hundred others, a curious wheedling old fellow, the father, uncle and guardian of his pupils, and no master at all in the narrow sense; or another time at the Trades Hall talking to workers back to childhood by his overflowing interest.
"A teacher out of a million, his lesson a preparation for life rather than for any examination test, his shining spirit a light always for any who saw the flame of it, alive".

Holland, a Christian Brother colleague of Burke at the North Monastery, is credited with developing the first submarine to be commissioned by the US Navy (USS Holland), and the first Royal Navy submarine- the Holland 1.

Many thanks to North Monastery Past Pupils Union for the use of images from their collection.

Science Snapshot Five: California and Cork Link Up

Science Week is ongoing in Ireland and continues until the 14th. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

Today's snapshot comes from the Blackrock Castle Observatory (BCO) in Cork. It features scenes from their recent "First Friday at the Castle Open Night" which took place on Friday last (5th November) and kicked off Blackrock's programme for Science Week.

The image above captures the scene in the packed interactive theatre at BCO. Ben Burness, astronomer at Chabot Space & Science Center (CSSC) in Oakland California can be seen on the screen to the right on a live video link from the dome of one of Chabot's telescopes.

The left hand screen in that image shows transition year students at BCO creating cool astronomy images from data supplied directly from the telescopes in California.

The image below shows the magnificant Chabot Space and Science Center at night. BCO has already featured in one of our Science Snapshots this week and is well worth a visit!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Primary Schools Showing Their Science Skills

The RDS are calling on primary schools across the country to exhibit at Ireland's largest science event.

The 2011 RDS Primary Science Fair will take place from Thursday, January 13 - Saturday, January 15, 2011 at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in the RDS.

The organisers are looking for 120 primary schools to display a class science project at this major exhibition. The Fair is open to 4th, 5th and 6th classes in the Republic and Stage 2 in Northern Ireland.

Last year's Primary Science Fair saw 100 schools exhibiting projects on subjects which ranged from Swine Flu, Eco Classrooms, Soiders, Waterworks, Electric Motors, Lighthouses, Wind Power and Slime!

Speaking to the Communicate Science blog, RDS Foundation Administrator Alexis Steberger said the fair was "a great way for primary schools to exhibit at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition".

All schools who are interested in taking part are invited to submit an expression of interest through the online form at

Get moving though, because the deadline to express an interest is this Friday, November 12th at 5pm.

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Discover Science in Cork

DISCOVERY, Cork's Science Festival will will host Family Days this weekend, as Science Week draws to a close.

Discovery has been hosting activities for schools in Cork's City Hall since Monday, but this weekend, the general public get a chance to have some science-themed fun.

"Discovery educates through enjoyment. Experimenting with slime, creating an electronic circuit or zapping the microbes in your gut – that’s chemistry, physics and biology you’re learning, as well as IT!" says the Discovery spokesperson.

The event is organised by Cork City Learning Forum and the Chair of that organisation, Ted Owens says: "This event aims to encourage young people to be inquisitive and to seek a better understand of how things work - hopefully it will also provide the motivation for more young people to pursue a career in these important fields".

The event will include MEGAMOLECULES - scaled up models of everyday, molecular structures; as well as a Science Magic Show by Declan Kennedy on Sunday.

Other exhibitors include Cork's Lifetime lab, CIT, the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (the guys behind the 'Science Raps' competition), UCC, TYndall, Blackrock Castle Observatory and many more!

The event takes place in Cork's City Hall. For more details see the Discovery Website.

Eircom Spiders

Science Snapshot Four: Science Live!

Science Week is ongoing in Ireland and continues until the 14th. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

Today's snapshot comes courtesy of the RDS and features images from the recent RDS Science Live for Teachers event which took place last Saturday, November 6th.

The event is designed to encourage teachers to find new and innovative ways to teach the primary school science and maths curriculum.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Top Science Sites for Science Week

Since it's Science Week and with all this talk of awards and websites going on, I present to you my (current) top ten science websites for general science fun! These may be particularly useful for younger students of science, but will be enjoyed by all.

Now, if you were to ask me next month, the list could be completely different, given the huge number of great science sites out there. However, here, for the record is my top ten (in no particular order).

Have I missed out on any? What's your favourite science site? Let me know.

I'm a Scientist
Based loosely on the TV programme "I'm a celebrity", students and scientists get to chat online and school students get to ask all the questions they like. The 2010 event is now over, but already the 2011 version is shaping up to be lots of fun.

How Stuff Works
Organised by the people behind the Discovery Channel, this site allows you to find out the science behind every day and some not-so-every-day things. Find out how sunglasses, fireworks and zips work!

The Frog Blog
A great Irish science blog edited by Humphrey Jones. Don't let the name fool you though; frogs aren't the only thing on offer. Check out this site for articles on everything from vampire squid to science education.

NASA Science
This site is stuffed with brilliant imagery from space programmes and excellent explanations of complex stuff like the Big Bang and Dark Matter. Just the thing for this space themed Science Week.

Guardian Science
An excellent source for the latest science news, this website also contains a range of science blogs (to which I occasionally contribute) which are excellent for encouraging debate around scientific issues.

Secret Life of Scientists
Another declaration of interests here, because I also contribute to this site as a guest blogger. This US-based site is brought to you by the people behind the NOVA science programmes available on PBS. It takes a look at the scientists themselves, asking why they became scientists and what else they like to get up to outside the lab.

Science Gallery
Another Irish site, this comes direct from the Science Gallery based at Trinity College Dublin. Check out their upcoming exhibitions and their excellent science blog.

Scientific American
Back to the US now and although I really can't stand the font used in their new design, it is still the place to go for "the science that matters".

The Scientist
Now, here's a site that has also had a makeover but with much more successful results (are you listening Scientific American?). Excellent and in-depth coverage of the latest news in the biosciences. Their Naturally Selected blog is always informative.

Science Week
Can't leave this one out being the week that it is. Check this site for all the latest science week news and to find out where and when cool science events are happening all over the country.

Have I missed out on any? What's your favourite science site? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Hope of saving Boole's former home?

Cork's City manager says he will examine "all options" for saving the former home of renowned mathematician George Boole according to a report in this morning's Irish Examiner by Eoin English.

"One the property is secured we will look at further long-term measures" he told City Councillors at last night's Council meeting.

Tim Lucey said he recognises the value of the building which suffered a partial collapse last month and was first reported on this blog. Since then, significant levels of support have been expressed for saving the building from total collapse and restoring it to its former glory.

He told the meeting that part of the roof had been removed to make the structure safe, but that they still had some concerns over the remaining structure. Four quotations have been received by the council for "temporary structural support works".

An online petition calling for the restoration of the building has been established and is gaining significant levels of support.

Organic veg no more nutritious

New research from Denmark shows that there are no significant health benefits to be had from eating organic vegetable compared to conventionally-grown vegetables.

The researchers examined the nutritional contents of carrots, onions and potatoes grown under both regimes and in particular, they looked at the concentrations of polyphenol antioxidant compounds such as flavonoids and phenolic acids- compounds which are believed to reduce the risk of dementia, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

The results of the study, published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry show that in onions and carrots, there was no difference in the amount of these compounds between conventionally and organically grown crops; while in potatoes there was a small increase in organically grown potatoes.

The researchers point out that the slight increase in the potato samples may be due to these plants being grown on a different farm.

As reported in an interview in this morning's Irish Examiner, Grace Maher of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association claimed that this was "an isolated study" and that their research showed that people bought organic because "it is free from pesticides, free from GM materials...we also believe that organic food is more nutritious."

Despite what people might "believe", the evidence that organic food is no more nutritious has been shown previously.

A study in July 2009 by the UK Food Standards Agency showed that there was no significant differences in nutrition between organic and conventionally grown plants. So, the idea that this is an "isolated study" is incorrect.

The incorrect assumption that organically-grown produce tastes better than other foods has also been disproved by a team of Irish researchers.

As reported on this blog earlier this year, scientists based in Dublin Institute of Technology have shown that a panel of consumer tasters could find no significant difference between organic and non-organic potatoes.

As I've pointed out here in the past, while there may be some environmental benefits in "going organic" the effect on the food itself and on consumer health seems to be in some dispute.

Science Snapshot Three: Castles in the Air

Science Week is ongoing in Ireland and continues until the 14th. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

The next picture is a shot of Blackrock Castle in Cork City. A castle was built on the site first around 1600 at the behest of Queen Elizabeth 1 who suggested it would "repel pirates and other invaders" from the City of Cork.

The original castle was destroyed in 1827 by fire and it was rebuilt (as it currently stands) by 1829. The castle came into public hands in 2001 when Cork City Council purchased it.

It now houses Ireland's first fully interactive astronomy centre and a team of astronomical researchers from Cork Institute of Technology.

The castle and astronomy centre is open to the public and has picked up a number of awards for its exhibitions.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Self-pollinating plants more likely to become extinct

Scientists have shown in a recent study that plants that pollinate themselves are more likely to become extinct.
Working with the nightshade plant family, which includes potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and tobacco, the researchers compared speciation and extinction rates for nightshade species that mate exclusively with other plants, versus species that can pollinate themselves.

As Boris Igic, a biologist at the University of Illinois explains: "Plants just can't walk over to potential mates like we do. Many species rely on wind or pollinators coming to them." About half of all flowering plants have another option, said Igic - they can fertilise themselves.

The results collected showed that despite short-term benefits of solitary sex (including not having to rely on wind currents and insects to the job), the plants which exclusively self-pollinated suffered over time.

"Species that can pollinate themselves have much higher extinction rates," says Igic.

The researchers say that a lack of genetic diversity may be the cause of the increased extinction rates the self-pollinated plants. Plants that can pollinate themselves are simply less likely to inherit the genetic variants that enable them to adapt to changing environments.

"It's like playing the stock market," says Stephen Smith, a co-author on the study. "If you put all your eggs in one basket you might win big in the short term. But if you don't maintain a diverse portfolio, in the long run you're less able to endure the market's ups and downs."

Black Hole Radiation Simulated in Lab

For the first time, scientists have been able to simulate the type of radiation likely to be emitted from black holes.

A team of Italian scientists fired a laser beam into a chunk of glass to create an analogue (or simulation) of the Hawking radiation that many physicists expect is emitted by black holes.

A spokesperson for the research group said: "Although the laser experiment superficially bears little resemblance to ultra-dense black holes, the mathematical theories used to describe both are similar enough that confirmation of laser-induced Hawking radiation would bolster confidence that black holes also emit Hawking radiation."

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking first predicted this sort of radiation in 1974 but it has proved elusive to detect, even in the lab. This research group was able to use a "bulk glass target" to isolate the apparent Hawking radiation from the other forms of light emitted during such experiments.

Black holes are region in space where nothing can escape, not even light. However, and despite their name, they are believed to emit weak forms of radiation (such as Hawking radiation). Physicists expect that this radiation may be so weak as to be undetectable.

The research appears in the current issue of Physical Review Letters (Free) and is also reviewed in Physics (Free).

The experimental setup for Hawking radiation detection

Science Snapshot Two: Skulls and Crossbones

Science Week kicked off yesterday in Ireland. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

The next picture is a selection of skulls on display at University College Cork's Schools Open Day which took place last month.

The skulls are part of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmaental Sciences' (BEES) extensive zoological museum.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Science Snapshot One: Copper Coast Geopark

Science Week kicks off today in Ireland and runs until the 14th. For more details of events taking place around the country, you can visit here.

Here on Communicate Science, for the duration of Science Week, along with our usual posts, we'll be posting a 'Science Snapshot' every day. If you have a Science Snapshot you'd like to share, you can email here and we'll post the best later in the week.

The first shot is an image of Colette O'Brien's sculpture along Waterford's Copper Coast in the Copper Coast Geopark.
The sculpture, entitled Ice, Fire and Water, is designed to represent the common forces that shaped the Copper Coast and the other European Geoparks in north west Europe.

It is a massive piece of limestone, carved and shaped by the artisit in various places with mosaic areas attached.
Collete O'Brien is based in Co. Kilkenny and her work in the Copper Coast Geopark overlooks Dunabrattin Head near Boatstrand.

The Copper Coast Geopark is located between Tramore and Gungarvan and comprises of 25 kilometres of spectacular coastline consisting of scalloped beaches and dramatic, rocky headlands.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Secret Life: A teacher affects eternity

My latest guest post for PBS NOVA's Secret Life of Scientists blog is now online. This week's episode features theoretical physicist and jazz saxophonist Stephon Alexander talking about his love of music and how he was inspired to become a scientist.

You can read the post and watch the episode here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

George Boole Petition

As of this evening, close to 700 people have put their names to a petition to show support for the urgent repair and/or restoration of George Boole's house at Number 5, Grenville Place, Cork.

As first reported by the Communicate Science blog, the building suffered significant structural damage last month when the roof and a number of floors began to give way. Engineers and contractors have since examined the building and have removed the roof and and number of floors from part of the house. For pictures of this work, see here.

Barry O'Sullivan of the Cork Constraint Computation Centre and the Department of Computer Science at University College Cork (where Boole worked) set up the petition which describes the house as being of "enormous importance to the legacy of George Boole and UCC, Cork and Ireland's connection with him".

As of 5pm today, the petition had been signed by 698 people, many of them academics with interests in computing, mathematics and science but many also outside of academia. A quick glance at the petition shows that those interested in supporting this cause include people from as far away as Florida, Vienna, Harvard University in the US and Uppsala University in Sweden, to name just a few.

While the details of saving, restoring and refurbishing the building (which is in private ownership) are complicated, it is great to see such support being shown for a worthy cause.

You can view and sign the petition here.

Girl Power: Female Boa Constictors Reproduce Alone

New evidence shows that boa constrictors can reproduce without sex. But one boa constrictor had babies asexually and the old-fashioned way. Her sexually produced snake (left) is shown beside one of the asexually produced females (right). [NCSU]

Scientists in the US have made a discovery which revolutionises the way we thought reptiles reproduced, by showing that female boa constrictor snakes can produce offspring without mating.

It was found that a so called "super mom" could produce large litters of all-female babies which show no evidence of male influence. The offspring has no genetic fingerprint that males were involved in the reproductive process and they all retained the distinctive recessive colour mutation.

This is the first time that asexual reproduction (producing offspring without mating) has been seen in boa constrictors.

Dr. Warren Booth, lead author of a paper just published in Biology Letters describes why boa constrictors may use both sexual and asexual forms of reproduction: "Reproducing both ways could be an evolutionary ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ for snakes. If suitable males are absent, why waste those expensive eggs when you have the potential to put out some half-clones of yourself? Then, when a suitable mate is available, revert back to sexual reproduction.”

Whereas mammals are well-known for having X and Y sex chromosomes (males have one X and one Y; females have two X chromosomes), snakes have Z and W chromosomes.

Male snakes have two Z chromosomes and females have a Z and W. The female babies produced asexually in this study all had two copies of the W chromosome. This has never been seen before and was previously believed to be impossible.

Booth pointed out that the "super mom" snake had the opportunity to reproduce the "old-fashioned way", as there were a number of male snakes available. He also doubts that environmental changes triggered this rare change in behaviour in the snake.

Further studies will look at the development of the new offspring to determine how they reproduce when they reach sexual maturity.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Irish Scientist Investigates The Plague

An international research team led by an Irish-based scientist have shown for the first time that Plague originated in China and stems from a single bacterium that has mutated many times.

The Plague has devastated many parts of Europe, Africa and Asia in various waves throughout history and still exists in various parts of the world, including the west coast of the USA.

Professor Mark Achtman, based at the Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork, and his team have just published the results of their studies in the scientific journal Nature Genomics. More on this story here.

Professor Achtman explains it all in this video from UCC:

Communicate Science @ The Eircom Spiders

It is with some degree of shock and surprise that I can announce that Communicate Science has been nominated for an Eircom Spider 'Big Mouth' award.

The 'Big Mouth' category is decided by a public vote so if you like what you've been reading then go and vote for Communicate Science here.

The full shortlist is a 'who's who' of Irish bloggers all worthy of their place, but special mention must go to fellow science bloggers Jeremy Stone and Humphrey Jones from The Frog Blog. It is great to see two science blogs in the shortlist.

So, click here and vote for us, it will take just a few seconds, and spread the word - we need all the votes we can get!


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