Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Due to the halt on refurbishment, little improvements have been made with regard to emergency exit from the upper floors. For that reason, the balcony galleries, containing many thousands of specimens, will no longer be accessible to the general public. This is a real shame, but we should be thankful for small mercies and the fact that the bulk of the museum is now, once again, open to the public.
According to our recent survey 57 % of readers who responded had previously visited the museum on Dublin's Merrion Street. If you haven't been, now is a perfect time to go. It's free, so bring a friend!
Monday, April 26, 2010
This week, four finalists for the "So you want to be a scientist?" competition were announced. These came from the some 1,300 ideas which were submitted since January.
The amateur scientists will now work with experienced researchers to design and implement their experiments and collect and analyse the results, They'll present the results at the British Science Festival in September when the judges will pick an overall winner.
The four finalists are:
Sam O'kell, a croupier, who wants to test his hypothese that concert crowds are more dense between 6-10 feet from the stage rather than at the very front.
Ruth Brooks, a retired special needs tutor, wants to protect her plants by establishing the homing distance of the Garden Snail. "How far away do I ahve to dump them before they find their way back to my garden?"
Nina Jones, a 17-year-old A-level student, is interested in Facebook and particularly what makes up a typical Facebook profile picture. Adults seem to show a big event in their lives, while teenagers tend to use a picture of themselves having a great time. Nina will see if this is true and why it occurs.
The final place (which was a very close call by all acounts) went to John Rowlands who wants to "investigate the frequency and brightness of noctilucent clouds".
Ideas which made the shortlist, but just missed out on a place in the final include an investigation by a gallery owner into why more people come into the gallery when he places a mannequin in the window. Do art lovers not like to be on their own?
Another shortlisted amateur scientist wanted to see whether getting a choir to sing a piece of music based on the sounds of bees to the hive once a week would increase honey production.
Angus Johnson on the other hand proposed an investigation into the ability of men and women in their ability to find one item amid a clutter of other objects. Are men much messier than women?
Science writer and broadcaster Dr. Adam Rutherford welcomed the competition noting that "science is not a bank of knowledge. It's a way of knowing. Qualifications and working in professional labs certainly does help, but if you've ever looked at something and thought "hmmm, how does that work?" or "what happens if I...?" then you're thinking like a scientist already."
If you're in school and interested in trying your hand at some scientific experiments, then you can try the BT Young Scientist Competition or SciFest.
For information on Nestcam 2012, see the website.
Hot on the heels of our own tweeting debut, congratulations are in order for Derek Mooney and his Mooney Goes Wild team (RTE Radio 1) for continuing their Nestcam experiments.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Why don't the general public consider Irish scientists worthy of this title? Do they know enough about them? Do they really value their work?
On the back of this assault on our collective egos, Science.ie launched a poll to find the Greatest Irish Scientist. Robert Boyle (of Boyle's Law fame) was the most popular with almost two thirds of the vote (32.2%). William Rowan Hamilton (21.2%) and Ernest Walton (17.8%), a mathematician and nuclear physicist respectively, came in next.
The full top ten is as follows:
Science.ie poll results – top 10 Irish scientists:
1. Robert Boyle, who turned chemistry into a science
2. William Rowan Hamilton – the algebra he invented in 1843 helped to put a man on the Moon more than a century later
3. Ernest Walton, whose pioneering work began the atomic era
4. Kathleen Lonsdale, the X-ray crystallographer who revealed the structure of benzene and diamond
5. Dorothy Price, instrumental in the fight against tuberculosis, introducing the BCG vaccine to Ireland in the 1930s
6. John Tyndall, the first person to answer the question “Why is the sky blue?” successfully
7. Harry Ferguson, who revolutionised farming when he invented the modern tractor
8. Sir George Gabriel Stokes, for his important contributions to fluid dynamics, optics and mathematical physics, including Stokes’ theorem
9=. Fr Nicholas Callan, who invented the modern induction coil, still used in car ignitions
9=. Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine
9=. William Thompson, who formulated the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics
No room it seems for George Boole, Br. James Burke or Br. John Philip Holland.
Boole was the first Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College Cork (now UCC), where the library is now named in his honour. He invented Boolean logic which formed the basis of modern computer logic and makes him, in hindsight, a founder of modern computer science.
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. The first image in this post shows Holland standing at the hatch of a submarine.
Thanks to North Monastery Past Pupils Union for permission to use photos from their collection. Expect to hear much more about both Burke and Holland in 2011 when the North Monastery schools celebrate their bicentennial.
Monday, April 19, 2010
The Stromboli Project, has released a set of images which show the Eyafallajokull eruption surrounded by lightning caused by electrical discharge within the column of ash. See the full collection of photos here.
Friday, April 16, 2010
You can now follow Communicate Science on twitter. We're @blogscience
This is a satellite image from the British Met Office from 08.30 this morning (Friday 16th April, 2010) showing the volcanic ash plume (in orange) drifting downwards over UK and Irish airspace. You can see a full sequence of these images (one taken every 30 minutes) on the Met Office website.
The British Met Office is one of nine global Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAAC) which monitor all volcanic eruptions worldwide for their potential impact on air travel. It is one of only two World Area Forecast Centres (the other one is in Washington) and provides forecasting of upper winds and temperatures for all flights throughout the world. This enables airlines to optimise safety and fuel consumption for their aircraft.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Some excellent news for Irish science with the announcement that the Natural History Museum of Ireland will re-open on Thursday 29th April.
The museum has been closed since 5th July 2007 when one flight of a staircase collapsed suddenly and without warning with about 20 people on it. Eleven people were injured in the collapse. According to a report prepared for the Office of Public Works (OPW) by Price and Myers Consulting Engineers, a sound "like someone biting into a crisp apple" was heard and the flight of stairs gave way.
"such staircases are common to many large 18th and 19th century houses"The stairway was a cantilevered staircase which are common to many large 18th and 19th century houses in Ireland. They are designed to have one side of each stair (or step) attached to the supporting wall of the building. This takes part of the load of the stairway. The rest of the load is passed down the stairs from step to step - the weight coming from above is held by the back of the step, that step is then supported by the step below. This is repeated all the way down the stairs.
The report to the OPW suggested that the failure of the staircase started at the bottom, where it was most heavily loaded and "progressed rapidly up the flight".
On inspection of the collapsed stairway, it was evident to the engineers that pieces of stone had been inserted into the steps to repair wear and tear. This work was probably done over 20 years ago " when little was known of the mechanics of these staircases".
Having carried out stress testing on the collapsed stairway, the report concludes: "It is clear that the introduction of the inserts has very considerably weakened the threads". The remaining flight of stairs at the museum, which did not have such inserts was not affected and after testing has been confirmed as perfectly safe.
It was unfortunate that the collapse should have happened in 2007, as it was the 150th anniversary of the opening of the building as the Museum of the Royal Dublin Society.
A €15 million redevelopment plan for the museum was approved by the National Development Plan in February 2008 and staff began the task of documenting all of the collections (some 10,000 exhibits) on site in preparation for a move to accommodate the necessary building work. This redevelopment plan included the construction of an Earth Science Gallery underneath the front lawn of the building which would exhibit geological collections.
However, by December 2008, the restoration plan was put on hold due to financial constraints and by 2009 a temporary exhibition space was opened at Collins Barracks, Dublin.
A 2005 report by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) notes that the museum comprises "an irreplaceable and priceless national collection of world-scale historical importance in a setting of the highest architectural significance". This is important to note. The Merrion Street building has often been referred to as a "museum of a museum" given the traditional layout and design which ironically survives due to a lack of public spending on the building.
It is a unique entity, believed to be the last national natural history museum in the world to retain the 'cabinet' layout of the 19th century style.
The report to the RIA insists that the museum should be preserved "as it stands with a minimum of modernisation" but that an extension should be provided to expand and provide more modern interpretive elements, teaching and refreshment facilities and access by the disabled.
"removal of the natural history collections would be symbolic of the notion that science has no part in Irish culture" -RIAA move away from its current location in the heart of Ireland's government district (it is adjacent to Leinster House) is discouraged by the report: "It is the only wholly scientific institution in this complex and removal of the natural history collections would be symbolic of the notion that science has no part in Irish culture".
Given the current state of public expenses, it is hardly surprising that the museum will re-open this month with the minimum of work having been done to the fabric of the building. This is not to detract from the work of the staff over the closure - they have re-cataloged much of the collections and provided new labeling.
As for the Earth Science Gallery and the extension to house new exhibition space and disabled access, these have been put on the long finger once more. It seems the Natural History Museum is destined to stay much as it has been for the past 150 years. Not because there isn't a need to upgrade teaching, exhibition and access facilities, but because the government cannot bring itself to spend money on the much needed improvements. A government which continues to call for its young people to study science, but will allow its science museums to, very literally, collapse.
You may want to complete our poll on the Natural History Museum. Have you ever been? The poll can be found on the top right hand corner of this page.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
A cherry blossom grows on the banks of the The Pond, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. See our earlier post on cherry blossoms here.
"All life depends on plants"
Monday, April 12, 2010
It was collected in South Africa in 1773 and brought to Kew in 1775 where it now grows in the Palm House.
The Eastern Cape giant cycad, as it is known, has been used as a food source in its native range by removing the stem pith, burying it, rotting it, digging it up, kneading and baking it.
Image: The cycad is re-potted in 2009.
There will be lots more photos from Kew in the next post.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
One of London's greatest achievements in my view is the excellent underground system which, despite inevitable 'glitches' manages to transport Londoners, commuters and tourists into, out of and around that great city everyday of the year. As much as the underground system is dependent on the sheer volume of passengers carried to make it viable, London as a city is dependent on the underground system (along with the rest of its public transport system) to make the city itself viable and able to grow in terms of its size and population. There is little doubt that the London Underground (LU) was a contributing factor in the decision to award the 2012 Olympics to the city.
While traveling underground recently, I noticed that the 'Poems on the Underground' series has taken a distinctly scientific diversion.
Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986 and has inspired similar programmes on public transport systems in Dublin, Paris, New York and Shanghai. The programme sees poems displayed in LU carriages in place of advertising and during the Spring of this year, six poems offering reflections on the subject of science were used to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of The Royal Society.
The extracts include one from William Blake, the great anti-science poet of the early Romanticism movement, who attacks what he saw as barren materialism with his own visionary powers.
The Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson is also featured with his poem 'In Memoriam' where he tries to come to terms with the new science of evolution and geological time.
Contemporary poems are also featured from Miroslav Holub, Anne Stevenson, David Morley and Jamie McKendrick.
Miroslav Holub, a Czech scientist and poet (he was an immunologist) proves that an in-depth scientific knowledge can inspire some successful writers. An extract from his poem 'In the Microscope' is used in the initiative which is supported by The British Council, London Underground, Arts Council England and the Royal Society.
Judith Chernaik, founder of Poems on the Underground said: "Many poets have been inspired by science and some scientists have also been successful poets.
"We hope these poems will entertain Londoners and visitors to the Capital, as they travel on the Tube - itself one of the great technological achievements of our times."
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Of Frank Mitchell and the book in question: "Perhaps the last of the great Irish Scientists of the natural world for whom the term 'natural historian' is genuinely appropriate...Reading the Irish Landscape, has been extensively remodelled, expanded, updated and lavishly illustrated."
This competition is listed on:
It's just a little bit of science!
I'm a plant scientist, so expect lots of plant-related posts but also lots on science in general and science communication.
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This is me
- Eoin Lettice
- I'm passionate about the need to enthuse, inform and engage everyone in society about science. I'm a full-time researcher and lecturer and a part-time blogger. I'm interested in all things to do with science. In particular, education and communication of science - especially biology. This blog represents my personal views.
Here's what you missed
- ► 2012 (81)
- ► 2011 (167)
- Number of the Week: 7,323
- 43 % have never been to the Natural History Museum...
- So you want to be a scientist?
- More Tweeting - Mooney Goes Birdwatching
- In Search of Greatness
- Spectacular Images of the Eyafallajokull Eruption
- Forecasting Volcanic Ash Movement
- Natural History Museum - a history of neglect?
- Science Gallery: London & Kew Picture Special
- Number of the Week: 235 years
- Science on the Underground
- Science Photo Competition
- ▼ April (13)