Monday, October 31, 2011

Vote for Communicate Science

We're very excited here at Communicate Science because we've been shortlisted for an Eircom Spider 'Big Mouth' Award for the second year running. Now we need YOU to help us win!

The Big Mouth award is one of two categories which is decided by a public vote. It's great to see science blogs included in this national award and we hope that you'll consider voting for us.

How To Vote:
Via Facebook:
To vote, you need to go to the Eircom Spiders Facebook Page , scroll down and select Communicate Science from the list of nominees in the People's Choice 'Big Mouth' Category (you'll spot our logo), click vote and it's done!

Via Email:
You can also email your vote to with the category name (Big Mouth) in the subject line. Get Voting!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween can influence timing of childbirth

A US study has shown that some pregnant women may be able to control the timing of their child's birth depending on whether or not Halloween is approaching.

Scientists from Yale University looked at birth records for the ten years between 1996 and 2006. They showed that, compared to the days around Halloween, there was a 5.3% decrease in spontaneous births and a 16.9% decrease in cesarean births for Halloween day itself.

The scientists believe that this may be due to negative associations of "witches and death" with the festival. They also looked at birth rates in and around Valentine's Day for the same period and noticed a significant 12% increase in cesarean births and a 3.6% increase in spontaneous births.

The scientists noted the positive associations of "flowers and love" with Valentine's Day.

Effect of Halloween on timing of birth (Source: Levy et al., 2011)
Of course, the researchers expected the jump in induced and cesarean births around Valentine's Day and the corresponding dip at Halloween. What they didn't expect was that these patterns would also be seen in the "spontaneous" births.

The researchers conclude that the term "spontaneous births" is erroneous and it appears that pregnant women can "expedite or delay spontaneous births, within a limited time frame, in response to cultural representations".

It seems that the cupids and cherubs of Valentine's Day is a much more appealing prospect for an expectant mother rather than the ghouls and skeletons of this time of year.

Happy Halloween!

Levy et al. (2011) Influence of Valentine's Day and Halloween on Birth Timing. Social Science and Medicine 73(8): 1246-1248. LINK

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

You can now follow (and 'like') Communicate Science on Facebook.

If you are a Facebook user, you can keep track of all the latest news and views in science by checking out our page.

You'll find it here.

Also, for all the latest science news and views - follow us on our Twitter site @blogscience

Top Irish Laser Scientist Wins Boyle Medal

Margaret Murnane, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, United States, has been awarded the prestigious RDS Irish Times Boyle Medal for Scientific Excellence for her pioneering work which has transformed the field of ultrafast laser and x-ray science.

Inaugurated in 1899, the Boyle Medal continues to recognise scientific research of exceptional merit and since its inception has been awarded to 38 distinguished scientists, including George Johnstone Stoney (1899), John Joly (1911), Garret A. FitzGerald (2005) and Luke O’Neill (2009). In 1999 the awarding of the Boyle Medal became a joint venture between the Royal Dublin Society and The Irish Times. It is now awarded biennially - alternating between a scientist based in Ireland and an Irish scientist based abroad. This year’s award celebrates the work of an Irish researcher working outside of Ireland and carries with it a cash prize of €20,000.

Professor Murnane’s distinguished work has focused on the development of lasers which can operate at the fundamental limits of speed and stability. She designed the first laser able to pulse in the low trillionths of a second range (10 femtoseconds) which allows time almost to be halted to capture a freeze-frame view of the world. She has also developed a tabletop x-ray laser using very short laser pulses to generate coherent beams of x-rays. The output x-ray beam has all the directed properties of a laser - rather than the incoherent, light bulb-like, properties of the x-ray tubes used in science, medicine and security.

Upon hearing the news that she had won, Professor Murnane said “I am deeply grateful to be honoured with this award. I am certain that I would not be where I am today without the love for learning instilled through the strong education I received in Ireland through my primary, secondary and University years. It is undoubtedly this foundation which has given me the confidence to go out and put my stamp on the world. It makes it even more significant for me to learn that I am only the second female Boyle Medal Laureate in the Medal’s history.” Professor Murnane was born in Limerick and is a graduate of University College Cork, where she achieved B.Sc and M.Sc degrees in physics.

Speaking following their deliberations, the 2011 RDS Irish Times Boyle Medal International Judging Panel said that “Margaret Murnane is an international leader in her field and has made a significant contribution to laser and x-ray science. Not only is her fundamental research groundbreaking in itself, the application of her work has the potential to make a significant impact across virtually all scientific and medical disciplines.”

The Panel also noted that Professor Murnane has shared her technology with hundreds of scientists worldwide. A laser built directly from her design was the critical element in the ‘frequency comb’ work for which the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded.

The International Judging Panel selected Professor Murnane from a shortlist of five outstanding world-class Irish scientists. The members of the 2011 International Judging Panel included Professor Fulvio Esposito (Chair, Italy); Professor Alexander Borst (Germany); Professor Sir John Enderby (UK); Professor Mary Fowler (UK); Dr Peter Goodfellow (UK); Professor Sir John Pendry (UK) and Professor Dervilla Donnelly (Ireland, Chair of the National Judging Panel).

Professor Murnane will be conferred with her Medal and give a public lecture at the RDS on November 29, 2011. The lecture will be free of charge and open to the general public.

The RDS, founded in 1731, continues to fulfill its commitment to advancing agriculture, arts, industry and science. The awarding of the Boyle Medal for Scientific Excellence is an integral part of the RDS Foundation’s Science programme which aims to support excellence in scientific endeavour and communication, to emphasise the importance of science and technology in economic and social development and to encourage people to see science as provoking, challenging and fun.

For further details about the Boyle Medal and to reserve tickets for Professor Murnane’s public lecture please contact Karen Sheeran on; 01 240 7289 or  visit

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Robert Boyle Website Launched

Last September we brought you news of the Robert Boyle Science Festival, taking place in Lismore, Co. Waterford from 17th-20th of November.

The organisers have now launched a new website ( to promote and accompany the festival.

The festival is particularly timely given that 2011 marks the 350th anniversary of the publication of Robert Boyle’s famous scientific paper entitled, “The Sceptical Chymist”. This document set the scene for the establishment of the academic topic we now call the Chemical Sciences.  2011 is also the International Year of Chemistry.

More details on the programme of events for the festival can be found in our earlier post and at the festival website.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Eircom Spiders 2011

I'm delighted to announce to that the Communicate Science blog has been shortlisted for an Eircom Spider 'Big Mouth' award for the second year running.

The 'Big Mouth' category will be decided by a public vote - details soon.

The full shortlist includes our friends at the Cork Independent and the wonderful Science Calling blog by Maria Daly.

Also, congratulations to the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) at UCC who's website has been nominated in the 'Education' Category.

It's great to see so many great science websites being recognised in these important awards.

The award ceremony will take place on 10th November in the Convention Centre, Dublin. The ceremony will be hosted by comedian and science enthusiast Dara Ó'Briain.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Quantum Locking and Hoverboards

Anyone who grew up in the 80's and 90's will be familiar with Marty McFly's 'hoverboard' from Back to the Future II. That's what I was reminded of when I saw this video from an American science fair.

It's an interview and demonstration from researchers at Tel-Aviv University of a phenomenon known as Quantum Levitation or Quantum Locking.

A thin superconducting layer of yttrium barium copper oxide (about 1µm thick) is coated on a sapphire wafer. The magnets on the track then create a magnetic field which penetrates the superconductor when it is cooled below -185 degrees Celsius and causes the disc to float in midair due to what is known as the Meissner effect.
More on the physics of how this works here.

The science is not new, but it's a great demonstration of the powers of superconductors and the potential they may hold for new technologies...perhaps including hoverboards.

Lifetime Lab “Chemistry It’s Elementary” Show

Cork primary school pupils will help celebrate 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry with Lifetime Lab as “Chemistry Its Elementary” comes to Cork Institute of Technology on Thursday October 20th and Friday 21st October.

Over 1200 school children from across the city will  journey from alchemy to chemistry on a whistle stop tour of gases and the states of matter, density, acids and bases, chromatography, crystals, metals, fireworks and much more over.
“Chemistry Its Elementary” introduces primary school pupils to the elements, the building blocks of our universe, beginning with Hydrogen and finishing with Calcium. It’s Elementary showcases chemistry through lots of activity and interaction, offering an introduction to the periodic table and the first twenty elements; where they are found and the  quirky things they do. There will be lots of experiments and information about the elements, their properties, their occurrence and their uses with many of the experiments suitable for teachers to recreate in class.

Mervyn Horgan, manager of Lifetime Lab said “We were looking for an event to mark the international year of chemistry and received fantastic support from MSD, CIT and PharmaChemical Ireland when the idea was discussed; through close collaboration and synergy Lifetime Lab is able to bring a marquee science event to a large Cork audience, we also included transport to and from the venue making the event more accessible and attractive for schools to participate”.

“Chemistry – It’s Elementary “will be at Cork Institute of Technology on October 20th and 21st with three shows per day 9.30am,11.00am and 12.30pm.Further information is available from Lifetime Lab at 021 4941500 or

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Science Online

Good news for those interested in Irish science news and views: you can now get all of the latest posts from Ireland's best science bloggers in one place at the new Irish Science Blogs Tumblr.
Set up by the Frog Blog's Humphrey Jones, you can also follow the stream on Twitter @IrishSciBlogs

In other science communication developments, a new group called Online Media Group for Science (OMG Science; great name, right?) has been set up to share information in the form of case studies on how various people and organisations (in the UK for now) use online media for science communication.
It looks like this will be a useful source of ideas and inspirations with case studies already posted from the Ideas Lab, Wellcome Trust and Guardian News and Media all well ahead of the curve on online science communication.

Monday, October 17, 2011

UCC appears in How I Met Your Mother

So, lots of people are familiar with the hit US comedy 'How I Met Your Mother'... a story about a group of New York friends and their antics. 

Perhaps the character who has reached cult status from the show is one Barney Stinson played by Neil Patrick Harris. Imagine the surprise then, when we see Barney show an image of University College Cork's Quadrangle at the start of his "College... it's a confusing time" presentation during the latest episode (Series 7, Episode 5, about 8 minutes in).

Given that UCC is Ireland's only five-star university, its natural he would have chosen such an image! As Barney would say, Legend....ary!


Friday, October 14, 2011

Bread and Circuses: Putting plants back at the centre of our city

As part of my regular series of posts for the new Cork Independent Blog, I look at the recently announced 'Mardyke Gardens' project and argue that, far from being a waste of money, it could serve to refocus much needed attention on the importance of plants to society.

"While I don’t expect the Mardyke Gardens project to feed the world, it is essential in that it refocuses all our minds on the important of plants, both for their integral beauty and uplifting place in our lives and in our city; and also for the economic benefits they can provide for us. If this project is handled correctly and the scientific elements emphasised, it may well encourage people to look at plants afresh and begin to face the challenges of a rising global population, knowing that plants are central to all our lives on earth."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mallow Science and Maths Fair

The Teaching and Learning Dept. of University of Limerick will host Mallow Science and Maths Fair this Sunday 16th October from 12 noon to 3.30pm.

And what is the Mallow Science and Maths Fair?
An action-packed fun day for all the family, with many attractions:
Chemistry Magic Show
Live demonstrations and interactive displays
Stars and Planets Show
Superheroes Talk…
Who wants to be a Maths Millionaire/..
Balloon Rocket Car...
Give-away items, entertainment and lots, lots more ….

This event is free of charge and booking is not necessary
For further information contact: the NCE-MSTL at 061 234786

Check out the poster for the event here (pdf).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Father of Seismology Celebrated

Irish Scientist Robert Mallet is regarded by many as the 'Father of Seismology' (the study of earthquakes), but despite this he is one Ireland's many unsung scientific heroes.

Now, an exhibition at University College Cork will serve to celebrate the work of this great nineteenth century Irish scientist.

The exhibition, entitled Robert Mallet: Irish Engineer and Scientist, A Commemorative Exhibition will be open at UCC's Boole Library today and run until the 24th of October. The exhibition was curated by the RDS and comes to Cork thanks to the  College of Science, Engineering and Food Science and the School of Biological , Earth and Environmental Sciences at UCC. The exhibition is generously supported by the Heritage Council, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and The Irish Times.

Mallet, an engineer, geophysicist and seismologist, was born in Dublin on 3rd June 1810, the son of John Mallet who owned a successful iron foundry business. The business, under Robert Mallet's leadership was to provide the ironwork for the Fastnet Rock lighthouse along with the ornate railings around Trinity College, Dublin.

Mallet was elected to the Royal Irish Academy aged just 22, he was a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the British Science Association) and the Royal Geological Society of Ireland.

Mallet's 1846 paper, "The Dynamics of Earthquakes" is considered to be one of the foundations of modern seismology and in 1849, Mallet along with his son, John William,  set out to conduct experiments on Killiney Beach, Co. Dublin.

Mallet buried a container of gunpowder under the beach and detonated it, measuring the energy wave that the explosion created. Using a seismoscope, the father and son team were able to detect and measure the detonation a half a mile away, as the energy travelled in a wave through the sand.
Detail from "Great Neapolitan Earthquake"

Mallet also had a major impact on the fledgling science of seismology when he travelled to Italy at the end of 1857 to study the after affects of the "Great Neapolitan Earthquake".

Writing from his home in Glasnevin, Dublin on 28th December, 1857, Mallet wrote to the Royal Society in London, requesting funding for the trip to Italy:

"The very recent occurrence of a great earthquake in the Neapolitan territory presents an opportunity of the highest interest and value for the advancement of this branch of Terrestrial Physics.
"Within the last ten years only Seismology has taken its place in cosmic science - and up to this time no earthquake has has its secondary or resultant phenomena - sought for, observed, and discussed by a competent investigator - by one conversant with the dynamic laws of the hidden forces we are called upon to ascertain by means of the more or less permanent traces they have left, as Phenomena, upon the shaken territory.
"I have long looked for the occurrence of an opportunity so favourable for inquiry as that which has been just presented. It is one so rare, and in so peculiar and suggestive a region, that I venture to urge, through your Lordship, the Royal Society, that it should not be permitted to be lost to Science.
"I respectfully offer, my Lord, if such be the will of the Royal Society, to proceed at once to Naples and the shaken regions, to collect, discuss, and report the facts.
"In the humble but earnest confidence that I can in this do good service to Science, I submit to the Royal Society whether it see fit to make such a grant, and to entrust the work to me; if so, I should be prepared to set out by the middle of next month."
The scientist used the new invention of photography to record some of his results and the resultant publication: "Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology' is considered a seminal work.

By 1861, Mallet had moved to live in London, where he died in 1881.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Death is life's best invention - Steve Jobs

Inspiring words from the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Communicate Science @ Cork Independent

From today, I'll be regularly contributing to the brand new Cork Independent blog. The blog covers a diverse range of topics - from Business to Food and Politics to Technology and I'm really looking forward to contributing some science-themed posts to the mix.

I'll still be posting just as frequently (and irregularly :) here, but this is a chance to reach a new audience and excite more people about the wonders of science.

My first post looks at this week's Nobel Prize controversy. Canadian scientist Ralph Steinman has thrown the Noble Prize organisers into a crisis after it was discovered that he had passed away a few days before they had awarded him the Nobel Prize for more.

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