Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Mountain - Applications open

RTÉ Young Peoples is looking for applications for the second series of its science adventure show The Mountain. 

You can watch episodes of The Mountain here.

The Mountain is looking for teams of three children aged 11 or 12 on April 30th 2011. Participating teams will be required for one day and the series will be filmed on location in Carlingford, Co Louth, in May.

The Application Form and Terms & Conditions can be downloaded from the website. The closing date is Monday April 11th 2011.

For more information contact The Mountain at or at 01 208 3186.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Exploring Irish Marine Life

The wonders of Irish marine life will be investigated at Cork's Lifetime Lab with the launch of a fortnight of school workshops in collaboration with the “Explorers” Primary Marine Outreach and Education Programme.

The "Explorers" Education Programme brings the excitement of the sea into the classroom and has already been successfully rolled out to some 40 primary schools in the West of Ireland from Mayo to Clare, and in six schools in the greater Dublin area. The Cork project is a collaborative effort between the Marine Institute, Forfas Discover Primary Science, University College Cork and Lifetime Lab.  

The Explorers Education programme aims to integrate marine themes as closely as possible with lessons already taught in national schools through the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) curriculum and other cross curricular subjects and hopes to reach 500 primary school pupils in Cork. 

Workshops will run from March 28th to April 8th ,are available to primary schools free of charge, and  may be booked by contacting Lifetime Lab at 021 4941500 or

Mervyn Horgan Manager of Lifetime Lab said “We are delighted to be involved in the pilot series of workshops, we are always looking for new and innovative ways of engaging in science education and raising the awareness of marine science in Cork classrooms can only bring long term benefits”   He further added “We perceive Lifetime Lab as an extra classroom for every school in the city and county, a science nursery for institutions whose high level graduates ensure that Cork has a well educated and highly skilled workforce long into the future”.   

The Explorers Programme focuses on Ireland’s two greatest natural resources – our vast undersea territory and our young people,” said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute. “If Ireland is to develop a thriving marine sector in tomorrow’s world, then it will be the young people of today who will make it happen.” 

Pupils will engage in activities based around animals and plants that live in Irish waters, the power of the sea, the real map of Ireland and will also make their own submarine and periscopes.Classes participating in Discover Primary Science can use an explorers workshop visit to fulfill Step 2 of the steps required to achieve a DPS Award of Science and Math’s Excellence.

Science Live!

The RDS have launched the call for their Science Live Demonstration Lecture Bursaries.

The RDS Science Live Demonstration Lecture series involves funding science communicators to develop high quality workshops that are aimed at those in primary and secondary school.

The aim is to take science out of the classroom and focus on the interactive, practical elements of a topic in order that the students gain as much from the experience as possible.

Recipients of the RDS Science Live bursaries are required to conduct the demonstration lecture as part of the RDS Science Live Demonstration Lecture series held at the RDS every October and November.

For more details on how to apply, visit the RDS website.

Robert Bunsen - 200 years of science

 "As an investigator he was great, as a teacher he was greater, as a man and friend he was greatest."

- so said Sir Henry Roscoe about his colleague Robert Bunsen, the 200th anniversary of whose birthday we celebrate this Thursday 31st March.

Bunsen was one of the most influential chemistry teachers of his time - some of his students included the noted Irish scientist John Tyndall and Dmitri Mendeleev, the creator of the Periodic Table.

Bunsen was born in Germany in 1811 and is probably best remembered for inventing (or at least refining the design of) the Bunsen Burner. His father was a professor of modern languages at Gottingen and he received his doctorate from that university at the age of 19.

Bunsen-Kirchoff spectroscope

As well as being a noted chemist, Bunsen had a lifelong interest in geology and took a trip to Iceland, sponsored by the Danish government to study the eruption of Mount Hekla in 1845.

The chemist collected gases from the erupting volcano and analysed the volcanic rock. He also investigated the theory of geyser action and showed that the water from geysers was not volcanic in origin and that the boiling of water below the surface caused the water above to move upwards:

"To confirm his theory, Bunsen made an artificial geyser, consisting of a basin of water having a long tube extending below it. He heated the tube at the bottom and at about the middlepoint. As the water at the middle reached its boiling point, all of the phenomena of geyser action were beautifully shown, including the preliminary thundering. That was in 1846. From that day to this Bunsen's theory of geyser action has been generally accepted by geologists." (Darrow, 1923)

Bunsen's statue in Heidelberg faces the building where he and Kirchoff worked.

Kirchoff (left) and Bunsen (right)
He also discovered the elements cesium and rubidium with his colleague Gustav Kirchhoff.

Announcing their discovery of cesium (Latin caesium, "sky blue"), the scientists wrote:

"Supported by unambiguous results of the spectral-analytical method, we believe we can state right now that there is a fourth metal in the alkali group besides potassium, sodium, and lithium, and it has a simple characteristic spectrum like lithium; a metal that shows only two lines in our apparatus: a faint blue one, almost coinciding with Sr, and another blue one a little further to the violet end of the spectrum and as strong and as clearly defined as the lithium line."

The apparatus referred to here is the Bunsen-Kirchoff spectroscope, developed around 1865, which had its origins  in a "prism, a cigar box and two ends of otherwise unusable old telescopes". The pair discovered rubidium (Latin rubidus, "darkest red") a few after cesium using the same apparatus.

Bunsen never married and devoted much of his time to his work in the laboratory and his teaching. he received many honours for his work but once remarked: "Such things had value for me only because they pleased my mother; she is now dead." He died in 1899 after a ten-year retirement which he spent indulging his first love of geology.

Google are celebrating Bunsen's 200th birthday with a specially comissioned logo on their homepage:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ireland's Biodiversity Recorded

The National Biodiversity Data Centre has just published a document outlining the state of knowledge of Ireland's biodiversity in 2010.

This impressive report outlines the breathe of knowledge about Ireland's flora and fauna, while at the same time, highlighting where gaps in this knowledge occur.

The importance of such work cannot be over emphasised, given that services provided by Ireland's biodiversity are estimated to contribute at least €2.6 billion per year to the Irish economy. This figure is arrived at, given the importance of biodiversity in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism industries, as well as the significant contributions towards clean air, water and productive, healthy soils.
Figure 1 (Click on the image to see a larger version; NBDC)

As the report authors point out: "as the Irish economy seeks ways to revitalise itself, gaining a greater understanding of Ireland's biodiversity and protecting Ireland's natural capital should be one of the building blocks of that recovery".

Ireland has 11,422 species of insect; 8000 non-insect invertebrates; 5500 species of fungi and 2328 different species of plant (see figure 1).
Figure 2 (Click on the image to see a larger version; NBDC)

Despite this high level of knowledge about Ireland's rich biodiversity, the NBDC estimate that about 25% of the country's species are yet to be recorded. Significantly, they estimate that up to 5,000 more species of Irish algae need to be recorded.

The report also indicates the threat of extinction of Irish species, with 23% of known species currently threatened, according to IUCN red list data (see figure 2).

You can read the report in full here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm a Scientist and I'm out of here!

As I'm a Scientist, draws to a close for now, I'm sorry to report that this scientist has been evicted before the final on Friday next.

Over 2200 students across the UK have been voting in 6 different zones on the fate of 30 scientists and the democratic will of the students has been implemented in all its devastating abruptness!

I've really enjoyed my time on IAS. The camaraderie of the inmates/scientists, the joviality of the eager students, the bizarre, weird and almost universally thought-provoking questions have all been a contributing factor in this enjoyment.

I've taken part in about 11 live chats with individual schools and in many ways, these have been the best parts of the whole experience. Though challenging and frustrating in parts, the live chats provide for the sort of student-scientist interaction which is at the heart of the IAS project.

From an Irish point of view, it would be great to see more Irish schools and scientists taking part. Gallomar, who organise the project, and the Wellcome Trust, who provide much of the funding are open to Irish involvement - they have had Northern Irish schools take part previously and there is currently a school from Singapore taking part.

Australia now has its own IAS event and it would be nice to see an Irish event taking place. Perhaps Dublin 2012 might be an opportunity for developing such a project?

In the meantime, teachers and scientists who wish to sign up for the next IAS event (in June) can sign up to take part by going to

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm a Scientist: The story so far

Day Seven in the Big Brother house....So, things are going well over on I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here. We've all been receiving large volumes of questions to our inbox over the past seven days. Some of these are more scientific in nature than others.

For example, I've had "How are diamonds formed?" and "Is there other life in the universe?"; both very valid questions, but I'm stretching it a bit as a plant scientist trying to come up with a half decent answer. On the other hand, I've also been asked "What makes types of flowers different?" and "is it true that with some plants, the colour of their petals depends on the ph of the soil? and if so why?", which are right up my street!

Broadly speaking, the type of questions seem to be falling into a number of categories:
  • Questions about my research area (plants, soils, etc.)
  • Questions about life as a scientist: Are you married to a scientist? Do you have any social life, etc.
  • Questions about the sun/earth/universe ending (we all blame Prof. Brian Cox for these questions).
  • Questions about fantastic biological fights/races: Who will win in a fight -  a 30ft Grizzly or a Giant Squid?
  • Questions about our preferences for xbox, playstation, Call of Duty, etc.
  • General questions about all kinds of science topics.
In reality , there are lots more interesting and well thought out questions than strange ones - as we tell the kids: there is no such thing as a silly question; and I imagine the moderators do a very good job of weeding out some of the more obvious ones!

We've also been doing daily live chats with some of the classes taking part in I'm a Scientist. These feature many of the same types of questions, but it is fast-paced and edge-of-the seat-stuff as you get quizzed on a range of topics almost simultaneously by a classroom full of eager students. These chats are actually great fun, but you do feel a little 'shaken' afterwards!

All in all, I'm thoroughly enjoying my time as a member of the team. This coming week is when things get a little more interesting, with daily evictions voted for by the students. I'm happy to stay for as long as I can - but that's up to the students - the power is in their hands.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ireland and Oxford: The Science Connection

I hope you enjoyed St. Patrick's Day. Here's an Irish science connection that you may not have known about.

The wonderful Natural History Museum at Oxford University is a must visit for science fans everywhere. But did you know about the important Irish links to the building?

The museum building was completed in 1860 and was designed by the Irish architects Thomas Newenham Deane (who was born in Cork) and Benjamin Woodward (who was born in Co. Offaly). Deane and Woodward also designed the museum at Trinity College, Dublin.

Stone columns made from different British and Irish stone are a significant feature of the neo-gothic design.

Statues of some of the greatest scientists, stand around the ground floor but much of the planned stone carving around the interior remains incomplete.

O'Shea working on the Oxford museum
Although the university was happy to pay for the construction, the ornamentation was paid for by public subscription. Irish stone carvers O'Shea and Whelan (from Ballyhooly, Co. Cork) were employed to carve the interior but money ran out before they could finish the job.

Although they offered to do it for free, the university management accused them of "defacing" the building by doing some of this unauthorised work.

Some people suggested that the stone carvers responded by caricaturing the university management as parrots and owls in the carving over the main entrance. The carvers were forced to remove the heads and they remain headless to this day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Science Gallery: Dublin Zoo

Regular readers will know that we here at Communicate Science very much believe in the old saying that 'a picture paints a thousand words'. 

With that in mind, we sent our part-time roving reporter Daniel Lettice to Dublin Zoo recently to work his photographic magic and bring us some wonderful examples of the type of animals that the Zoo is home to.

Dublin Zoo was opened in 1831 and received all of its animals from the recently opened London Zoo.

The Zoo has had an interesting history since then: receiving its first giraffe in 1844; its first lions in 1855;surviving the 1916 rising by feeding some of the less fortunate animals to the lions; right up to the present day when it is one of the most visited attractions in the state.

Our first photo is of one of the Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) - the smallest of all still existing tiger subspecies. The tigers are critically endangered in the wild. Around 400-500 were thought to exist in 1998 and their numbers continue to decline.

Next, it's the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca): an easily recognisable yellow-eyed bird. This guy is a male - the males are virtually pure white, while the females have dark markings.

This hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) looks right at home in the water. Dublin's hippos are named Henri, Hoovie and Heidi. native to central and southern Africa, they are classified as 'vulnerable' in the wild.

Finally, an Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), from the herd at Dublin Zoo. they have smaller ears than their African counterpart and those ears (kind of) look like India! it's estimated that there are only around 35-50,000 Asian Elephants left in the wild.

Dublin Zoo is open all year round; except for Christmas Day and St. Stephens Day. It's really worth a visit.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Remarkable Trees

National TreeWeek came to an end in Ireland last weekend and to celebrate, some pictures of trees from the main campus of University College Cork:

The first is a very special tree - the largest of its types in Ireland. This Chinese Privet (Ligustrum lucidum) is 9 metres high and 3.19 m in girth and is classified by the Tree Council of Ireland as an "exceptional specimen tree".

The species is the largest growing of its genus, reaching up to 25 m in height.

The next is an impressive specimen of weeping willow (Salix babylonica). The species is native to China and gets its species name, apparently, from a misunderstanding by Linnaeus, who catalouged it, and thought it was a tree mentioned in the Bible: "By the rivers of Babylon... hung our harps upon the willows".

The last image is a pair of magnificant Giant Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) located at the entrance to the Boole Library. The species is the only living species in the genus and can live for up to 1800 years or more. The species contains the tallest trees on earth, reaching up to 115 metres in height.

You can see an interactive map of some of the important tree specimens on the UCC campus here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No Science Minister?

The failure of the new FG/Labour coalition to appoint a Junior Minister for science is very disappointing.

It is in contrast to the previous administration who, although they did a lot of things wrong, had a junior minister with responsibility for 'Science, Technology & Innovation'.

This junior ministry spot was held by Conor Lenihan who had his own unfortunate incident when for a period, it looked as if he would launch a book suggesting that evolution was a load of rubbish. In the end, and after some amount of controversy, he didn't launch the book.

Personalities aside, it is important that science is represented in this government. As a scientist, I would argue that there should be a full minister with a seat at the cabinet table. I realise that this may be a bit of a long shot, so a junior ministerial spot might be all we can expect.

Unfortunately, with the announcement of the 15 new junior ministers, it seems that science is nowhere to be seen.

Sean Sherlock, a very capable politician gets 'Research & Innovation' which, one assumes is a reincarnation of the 'science,technology and innovation' position. But if so, then why drop the reference to science? Has science become less important since the last Dail sat?

This may be just a perception thing and some would argue that it doesn't matter what the ministers are called as long as they get the job done. Fair enough, but as Enda Kenny seems to have realised, politics is often about perception and 'optics'.

I believe it is important that science is well represented at a national level. The omission of a minister with clear, defined responsibility for science does nothing to suggest that this new administration takes science and a knowledge-led recovery seriously. I believe it is a mistake not to have a science minister and not to have that person clearly identified as such.

I'm a scientist - what I hope to achieve

I'm surprised at how caught-up I'm getting in the preparations for "I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here!" I literally can't wait for it to start.

It's a mixture of nervous anticipation and just wanting to get on with it, something akin to the feeling before a race or going on stage, I suppose.

The event kicks off properly on Monday next, but we've been told that we may well start early because of the huge numbers of questions submitted by eager students wanting to interact with the scientists they've been assigned in individual zones. So far, the whole thing seems to have been organised fantastically well, with the website being easy to use for editing my profile, adding images, etc.

So why am I doing it? As you can probably tell, I have a huge interest in communicating science to the general public. Not just the facts of science but also the role, function and process of science. It's important to communicate about new scientific breakthroughs, but it is equally important, I believe to speak about how these breakthroughs come about, how scientists work and how that work is evaluated and peer-reviewed.

Hopefully, I'll get across some of that during the next two weeks.

The feedback from previous scientific participants has been good. Joanne Buckley, a winner from 2010, described the event as her "flat out fortnight" with a slow start but an "intense" final week.

I'd be lying if I said that the competition element didn't hold an attraction for me. I'm fairly competitive by nature, and I think the competitive edge will push each of the scientists participating on to give their all for the relatively short event, ensuring that both the students and the scientists themselves get the most out of their experience.

I'd be interested in finding out what the students themselves think of the event. Do they enjoy the live chats and online interaction with scientists? Does it encourage any of them to study science or to become scientists themselves? After all, it would be pointless in investing time and resources into such an event if it didn't have a real effect on student perceptions of science.

For the record, I'm sure it does. Having taken part in numerous open-days and career days, promoting science at third-level, I'm convinced of the value in potential young scientists meeting and chatting with 'real' scientists and having a few of their questions answered. Face-to-face is great, but social media and the internet is often where the new wave of young potential scientists are influenced and do their communicating. So, why not bring science to them!

Even if you're not taking part in the event, anybody can follow the process and view the questions and answers on the event website. If I have time, and I'm told that the event gets pretty frantic and all-consuming, then I'll update you on how the process is going next week.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

National Tree Week 2011

National Tree Week is running this week (from March 6-12) and once again there are a range of activities to get involved in.

The week is organised by the Tree Council of Ireland and this year, the theme is Celebrating Forests. This is in keeping with the United Nations designating 2011 as International Year of Forests.

Talks, tree-plantings, walks and fun events are organised throughout the country and you can see a full list of events here.

In particular, the Tree Council are runing a National Tree Week Photo Competition for photos taken at Tree Week Events.


A big thank you is in order for all those who entered our Communicate Science Poetry Competition. We received many more entries than we could post to the blog, so commiserations if you're poem didn't make it.

We've picked three poems which we particularly enjoyed and each of these three poet/scientists will receive a copy of Seamus Heaney's New Selected Poems to further inspire them. These books come courtesy of World Book Night.

And the winners (in no particular order) are:
Well done all!

This seems like a good time to sum-up my World Book Night experience. I signed up well before Christmas, not entirely sure what was going to happen, and certainly not really expecting to be picked as one of the 'givers'. When I was picked, I was a little nervous - I wanted to ensure the books went to homes where they would be enjoyed but also to places where books might not normally be a number one priority.

In the end, I received a lot of books to distribute (more than the 48 which had been mentioned) and spent much of Friday and Saturday giving them away. In some cases, I gave them to specific people. In others, I left them in a place where I knew they would be snapped up quickly. I left them in libraries, but I also left many on park benches and in bus stops. I hope there are many people around Cork who found one of the books and took it home and it brought a bit of happiness to them. Maybe, as the organisers suggest, they will pass the book on and the process will start all over again.

In general, although there were a few issues with the organisation of things like the website, the event seemed to run pretty well from my point of view. I was very happy that I gave away the book I did and can recommend taking part to others. You can sign up to take part in World Book Night 2012 on the website.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Atlantic Conference 2011

On March 10th 2011, the Irish Midlands will host an international conference exploring a variety of issues surrounding the development and promotion of science, technology, engineering and maths education.

The conference promises to be an informative and enlivening event. A range of key speakers from Ireland, UK and North America will develop a lively and stimulating forum for debate.

The key theme to be addressed is – how can educators inspire students to engage with science, technology, engineering and maths?

Keynote speaker at the event will be Ben Goldacre - a doctor, broadcaster and author of Bad Science.
Michael John Gorman of Dublin's Science Gallery, Sarah Baird from the Arizona Centre for STEM Education and Patrick Cunningham, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Irish Government will also speak.

The event takes place in Tullamore Co. Offaly and further details are avaliable on the website.

The conference is a project of Atlantic Corridor, a Department of Foreign Affairs funded initiative which seeks to develop links for the Irish Midlands for education and business projects with partner regions in Northern Ireland, the USA and Canada.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Science Poetry Competition: Finalist Five

The fifth of our finalists for the Communicate Science Poetry Competition. We'll pick the three winning poems shortly.

The competiton is now closed. You can see all of the finalists here.

by Emily Dodd


My Energy Saving light bulb,
You're my switch to make things right.
You're my graduated, understated, ice cream of de-light.


What you lack in elegance,
You redeem in radiance.
What I lack in eloquence,
You redeem in pounds and pence.


You're my personal sunrise surprise,
My shining light of bright demise.
My world is changed now through your eyes,
To summarise. - I love you


Awaken curiosity,
Unveil the eyes of all to see,
The marvel of technology,
In your potential energy.

I crave your luminosity,
But there are those who do not see...


They do not see your glory,
Blind to your wattage story.

My energy saving light bulb,
Oh why have they forsaken you?
Forgive them, forgive them.
For they know not watt they screw.

© This work is the copyright of the author and should not be used in any way without their express written permission.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Science Poetry Competition: Finalist Four

The fourth of our finalists for the Communicate Science Poetry Competition. We'll pick the three winning poems shortly.

The competiton is now closed. You can see all of the finalists here.

My Western Blot Limerick!
by Jeanne Garbarino

Run the proteins after I clear ‘em

A nice bath in five percent serum

Film in the cassette

Who’s placing the bet

That the signal will break the tedium

© This work is the copyright of the author and should not be used in any way without their express written permission.

Science Poetry Competition: Finalist Three

The third of our finalists for the Communicate Science Poetry Competition. We'll pick the three winning poems shortly.

The competiton is now closed. You can see all of the finalists here.

Cell wall, I love you
by Madhankumar Anandhakrishnan

Nobody knows how you came into being...
There's more to you than what we are seeing!

We dream of a day when your mischief stops;
But thanks to you, there are big grants and jobs!

Your bizarre lipids and proteins make the bug a bug...
No wonder, you're a nightmare to almost every drug!

There is a huge deal you owe.. to that layer of wax;
You teach me so much- from Rsym to Vmax...

So, you are my favorite entity of them all...
Good (well, not-so-) old mycobacterial cell wall!!!

© This work is the copyright of the author and should not be used in any way without their express written permission.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

World Book Night

Forgive me for straying away from the usual rigorous scientific conversation on this blog :) but, as regular readers will know, I'm taking part in World Book Night on Saturday the 5th of March.

I'll be giving away loads of copies of Seamus Heaney's New Selected Poems along with thousands of other 'givers' around Ireland and the UK.

I'll give some of the books away as prizes in our Science Poetry Competition, the closing date for which has just passed. I'll bring you more finalists and the winners shortly. The rest I'll find deserving and worthy homes for in keeping with the spirit of the event - to distribute books primarily to those who might not neccesarily go out and purchase one.

I'll let you know how I get on. For now, here's a photo of some of the books. It's a bibliophile's dream!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Science Poetry Competition: Finalist Two

The second of our finalists for the Communicate Science Poetry Competition. We'll pick the three winning poems after the closing date.

The competiton will close at midnight tonight! See here for details on how to enter.

Deserted by Science
by Matthew Watson

Deserted by Science
You’re new found reliance
On sugar and magnets outrageous
As everything burns
The planet still turns
And we all start to bleed, it’s contagious

So back to Dark ages
Where your angry god rages
You suck on the snake oil and venom
And grope in the dark
For the medical ark
‘Cos the charlatans know how to tell ‘em

We’re too tired to give
Took the alternative
Hope you’re happy with ‘nature’s’ advances
Help’s not from above
When push came to shove
Should’ve taken empirical chances

© This work is the copyright of the author and should not be used in any way without their express written permission.

Boole's house: too little, too late?

Cork City Council are to spend €135,000 'making safe" number 5, Grenville Place, Cork - the former home of noted scientist and mathematician George Boole.

In October, this blog was the first to report on the partial collapse of the former home of George Boole. In a series of posts and photo essays, we've covered the story in more detail than any other media outlet.

While there has been resounding silence from many elected officials on the matter, Cork City Councillor Kieran McCarthy has been pushing for the building to be saved and for other similary buildings to be repaired before such a devastating collapse happens.

In response to a series of questions by Cllr. McCarthy at a recent Cork City Council meeting, Tim Lucey, Cork's City Manager said the Council would be spending €135,000 to try and save the building.

The work, being carried out under Section 3.2 of the Sanitary Services Act (1964) is thought to involve removing the roof and internal floors of the  damaged part of the building and erecting a steel frame to support the remainder.

The City Manager confirmed that the City Council are paying for the work to be completed but that they plan to recoup the cost from the owner(s).

While the Cork City Council do not plan to purchase the historic building, Mr. Lucey said that the council would "subject to the consent of the owner, establish the level of interest in its future use/development, from the range of bodies which have expressed views to the Council on its historic importance".

Let's be clear about what is happening here. This money is being spent to further partially demolish the building. While the roof and floors have now been removed, the steel frame has yet to be inserted.

The City Council's role of protecting listed buildings has been forgotten. Cork City Council should purchase the building under derelict sites legislation (minus the cost of securing it up till now).

The current plan is a recipe for longterm dereliction on the site and for eventual complete demolition. If the Council, in conjunction with other interested parties, do not draw up a plan for the site in the near future, it will have wasted €135,000 and this historic building will be lost to the city.

At a time when we should be investing in our tourism offering and when our international reputation for science and technology is key to an economic renewal, it is disheartening to see such a iconic building on the verge of being lost.

While Cork City Council have stepped up and provided this money for temporary works, it is the least they could do given their total neglect of their duties to ensure that listed buildings are maintained properly by their owners.

Let us hope that this initial investment is the start of some real investment in terms of finance and willpower to save this building and that it is not too little, too late.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm a scientist update

As I've already announced on this blog, I've been asked to take part in the "I'm a scientist. Get me out of here!" event from next Monday. 

In the last few days I've been spending some time preparing my profile which the students will see when they log on to the site. I've been trying to strike a balance between giving some useful information about what I do, without coming across as boring or stuffy. For many of the students taking part, this will be one  of the first times they will have interacted with working scientists. It's important that the interaction is a good one.

The organisers tell me that it's important to have a smiley photo, hence my most smiley photo; and that the joke be a good one.

During the first week of the two-week event, students will be able to post questions for me to answer. Looking at the question archive for previous events, these can be quiet diverse:

Why is science so complicated?
Why can't we time travel?
If Homer Simpson was a real person, would he be dead by now?
Do you agree with the creation of nuclear weapons?
Do you think global warming will happen?
Do you like sudoku?
If you had to perform an experiment on Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus, which could you choose? They might die from this.
Do you have a social life?
Do you believe in God?
Are you a good scientist?

Students and scientists will also have the chance to interact on live group chats during the event. In the second week, students will begin to vote for their favourite of the group of five scientists and those with the lowest votes will be evicted. Last scientist standing at the end of the week gets £500 for science communication work.

Science Poetry Competition: Finalist One

The first of our finalists for the Communicate Science Poetry Competition. We'll pick the three winning poems after the closing date.

The competiton is still open! See here for details on how to enter.

Pulling the Thread
by Ben Parker

He used to say that with enough attempts
the true consequences of any act
would be revealed, like wallpaper, peeled
discloses the room’s unseen history.
And so, at parties, in bus queues, on trains
he would seize at loose threads on jumpers and pull
and, as far as I know, the thread would break
each time and he’d get shouted at, or punched.
But once, I was told, the cotton connected
with a memory of spider’s webs
and remained intact while the jumper, loosed
from its moorings, unfurled onto the floor.
He remained calm and continued to tug,
teasing out the cord like you’d coax the truth
from a taciturn child stood, embarrassed,
over the broken remains of a vase.
And then the trick, the silent switch from classic
Newtonian physics to a quantum playground
as cord catches on tendon, tendon on nerve
and with the quick release of a pulled root
sinew un-spooled and flesh and bone
was spun into perfect, fibrous yarn.
Dust motes abandoned Brownian motion,
protons twisted free from the atoms drag
and, if he hadn’t quit the scene and fled
the whole Möbius strip of existence
would have unfurled and fallen into line.
The last I heard, he was refining this theory,
going house to house, lifting up carpets,
opening draws, searching for answers.

You can read more from Ben Parker on his website.

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