Archive for November, 2008

Old year, new year

Year’s end, and we say goodbye to the Year of Planet Earth, and hello to Darwin 200 Year and the International Year of Astronomy.

Art, society, culture

Lyrical senses: Artszone, Lyric FM’s great arts programme, often carries features that cross into science. Melissa Murray has looked at codes, from quantum computers to DNA. Now, she starts a series on the five senses. First Fridays, 7pm.

Dark matter: two Irish people — Cork-born poet Maurice Riordan, and Northern cosmologist, Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell – have edited an anthology of poems on space and astronomy, from John Donne to Paul Muldoon’s reflections on an expanding Universe. Includes work commissioned from poets inspired by discussions with space scientists.

New sciences in society: from nanoscience to stem cells . . . a symposium, Negotiating new sciences in society, aims to examine public attitudes, and ethical and regulatory issues, with speakers from France, Denmark and USA. 22-23 January 2009 at DCU. Contact: padraig.murphy@dcu.ie

da-vinci-machine Spiderfish: mechanical artist Michael Kelly, and artist Susan Williams, cross boundaries (and species) to make great educational devices to excite young people about science with their company Spiderfish. Projects include da Vinci machines for The Ark, and re-creations of ancient mechanicals for Save the Robots.

Capitalising on culture: Science@Culture reader, Finbarr Bradley, has co-authored a book, ‘Capitalising on Culture, Competing on Difference’. For a sustainable competitive advantage, the book argues, Ireland must harness resources such as social and cultural capital, and national identity, together with science and research. Published by Blackhall.

Are you infectious? are you a microbial artist, viral marketeer, or carrier of dangerous ideas? Then TCD’s Science Gallery wants to hear from you now! Starting April 2009, INFECTIOUS will run for three months at the gallery with performances, talks, microbial art… Closing date for proposals is now, December 1. Wish they’d told us earlier!

Women, science and film: know of any documentary films about women in science, science by women, and stereotypes and gender equity? Christelle Viaud-Mouclier, of TCD’s WISER Centre, is looking for films to screen in a documentary series. Contact her with suggestions: viaudmoc@tcd.ie


Where are the Irish science bloggers? Despite issuing a wide call, and a ‘fluffy link’ from Damien Mulley! we netted only two new Irish science blogs (see blog roll, right). Why are you all so quiet? Too busy with administration? Nothing to say? If you know of any bloggers I’ve missed, send me their details.

Make a mini movie? Short films, real science. Planet SciCast invites you to make a short movie explaining some aspect of science. If it’s about physics, you could win a prize! (closing date 9th January). Check out some previous winners: central locking, from St Joseph’s, Lucan, Dublin; and under pressure, Ballyclare high school, Co Antrim. Read instructions carefully – especially re use of (c) music in your movie.

Street science: Five scientists working in controversial areas – human-animal embryos, nuclear power, GM foods, MMR vaccine and nanotechnology – leave their comfort zone and face some of their harshest critics, in a new series all this week Street Science, BBC Radio 4 (December 1-5).

Let there be light: UCD physicists Alex Montwill and Ann Breslin have just published a comprehensive guide to light, from atoms to galaxies. Packed with diagrams, explanations and historical asides (e.g. Galileo and the Inquisition), with lots of fascinating background, such as photography and image making, it is aimed at science teachers and undergraduates, but may also appeal to the scientifically-literate general reader.

boi-coverjpg Birds of Ireland: This beautiful new book on the facts, folklore and history of Irish birds, is by one-time IT consultant, Glynn Anderson, now a guide at the National Botanic Gardens. Gorgeously illustrated, it covers names, culinary uses (apparently puffins taste like anchovies!) and much more. Perfect for the bird watcher in your life this Christmas. Author and publisher can take a bow.

Mars, a cosmic stepping stone: another new Irish book! This one by IT Tallaght physicist, Kevin Nolan, a great communicator, and published by Springer. We haven’t seen the book, but hear it is comprehensive, well illustrated, and aimed at the general reader.

A very short introduction to…: Oxford University Press has a nice series of pocket-sized ‘introductions‘ to a range of topics. Recent ones that caught our eye include relativity (by Russell Stannard, who wrote a delightful book on relativity for nine-year-olds), statistics, and a short history of life by dinosaur expert Michael Benton. Worth checking out.

Special talks online: the personal side of robots, Hollywood special effects, and the future of space tourism . . . if you missed the sell-out Science Week talks, fear not: they are now available online.

City of Science 2012: in case you missed the news, Dublin unanimously won selection as European City of Science 2012 (it was Barcelona this year, and Turin in 2010). Expect a varied programme of events for scientists and the general public.


The Galaxy Song: brighten up your day . . . MontyPython’s wonderful and astronomically accurate galaxy song, now on the new MontyPython channel!

Conferences & opportunities…

NUI centenary: a two-day conference marking the centenary of the National University of Ireland, place in Dublin Castle December 2-3.

Science careers ‘webinar’: US journal Science and SFI are running a web ‘state of the nation’ discussion on science in Ireland. Your chance to put questions to SFI’s head, Prof Frank Gannon, and Ireland’s chief scientific adviser to the government, Prof Patrick Cunningham. December 10, 4pm GMT. Register in advance.

Geo-science: building the future one-day RIA seminar to create a five-year plan for Irish geoscience. December 3, Dublin

Medicine, health care and history: call for papers for a two-day conference on the history and context of medicine and health care, taking place in UCD April 16-18, 2009. Send proposals now!

Out & about

A divided land: did you know, Ireland was once split in two? And that the seam, where the two parts joined, runs from Limerick to Louth? Admittedly, this was several hundred million years ago, but you can still read the story in the rocks. Hear master storyteller and geologist, Dr Padhraig Kennan of UCD, recount this exciting journey, in the last public lecture for the year of Planet Earth. Dublin, Wednesday 3; Killarney December 4.

Young scientist exhibition: the annual jamboree, aka the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition January 6-10. Always worth a look, both for the prize-winning projects and the sideshows.

darwin-portraitDarwin – the man and the myths: probably the first official Irish event in the Darwin 200 calendar: a talk by QUB science historian Prof Peter Bowler, appropriately at the RIA, where Darwin was an honorary member. Monday 19 January, 6pm. Adm free, booking advised.

Our place in space: your chance to see moon rock and meteorites, in the National Museum’s geo-science exhibition at Turlough Park, Co Mayo. Other museum events this winter include a look at the winter solstice and how it might have been celebrated in Stone Age Ireland. Kildare Street Dublin, December 21 3-4pm, ages 7+.

Where will medicine be in 2040? That’s the question Nobel laureate Prof Andrew Fire will ask in IT Tralee at a one-day conference of the Centre for Innovation in Distributed Systems. December 11.

Winter ramble: forget Christmas shopping, and join the ranger team at Wicklow National Park for winter ramble on Saturday, December 13.

Osteoarthritis, treatments and therapies: researchers from NUI Galway’s Regenerative Medicine Institute will talk about possible new regenerative therapies for osteoarthritis at a public forum, Galway December 9, 7:30 p.m.

Sustainable yuletide: how to save electricity, choose eco-presents, and deal with leftovers . . . and all in one hour! Public talk (booking advised), December 13, Temple Bar, Dublin

The greatest eclipses: the Irish Astronomy Society December talk is about solar eclipses. December 1, 8pm, Dunsink Observatory.

tyndall-iopThe human body, ultimate physics: the physics of aneurysms, flatulence, perspiration and even kicks . . . All in this year’s Tyndall lecture for schools by medical physicist Dr Kevin McGuigan (RCSI). Venues around the country January-February. Booking essential.

Extreme engineering: STEPS, the programme to encourage more people into engineering, is running seminars and events for teachers and students in December, with a special for guidance teachers on December 9.

How research is changing Ireland: from wearable sensors to new drugs, an exhibition marking 10 years of research funded by the Higher Education Authority, is at TCD’s Science Gallery until Tuesday, December 2. Catch it now – shame it’s only there for a few days. Adm free.

The Sun, and weather: Irish Meteorological Society’s monthly talk will be by Dr John Butler of Armagh Observatory, who studies historic weather patterns and variations in solar activity. December 4, Dublin, 8pm.

Living in the Sun’s atmosphere: where would we be without the Sun? Dr Lucie Green (Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UK) gives Astronomy Ireland’s Christmas lecture, December 8, 8pm, Dublin.

Next scheduled edition: mid-January, 2009

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There may still be some last-minute tickets for Monday’s talk about CERN’s god-damn particle accelerator, and Friday’s gathering to celebrate poetry and landscape.  Plus, a reminder that the December/New Year bulletin will be published on December 1st — don’t forget to send me details now of December and New Year events.

(Click on the title above, to link to the bulletin)

The ‘big bang machine

Check out the possibility of last-minute tickets for Monday night’s talk about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the particle accelerator that was all the news a couple of months ago, and where physicists hope to discover evidence for the Higgs boson, aka the ‘god(damn) particle’, so-called because it is so elusive.  CERN’s new director, Prof Rolf Heuer, will be doing the honours on Monday, November 24 at the RDS. Organised by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS).

gsi-landscapePoetry and landscape: likewise, we hear there may be some late tickets available for what promises to be a lovely event joining the spoken word and striking landscapes and marking International Year of Planet Earth, with seven Belfast-based poets, among them Michael Longley. Dublin, November 28, 5.30 for 6 pm. Free, booking essential. (gsni@detini.gov.uk)

December & New Year edition: Finally, a reminder to send me details of any events that you know of happening in December and early January — the next edition of the bulletin will be published on December 1.  E-mail: science.culturebulletin@Gmail.com

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Science Week 2008

Science Week 2008

No excuse for staying in and watching telly this week — when you could be out there making lightning and rainbows!
The Weather Show (Dublin City Library, Saturday, November 15) is just one of the hundreds of events taking place around the country for Science Week, with something for everyone.
Full details are online at a dedicated website, where you can find details of events taking place near you — with over 400 taking place, there’s plenty to choose from.
The programme includes science shows for all the family, talks for adults, interactive exhibitions, robot workshops . . . a science fair at Sligo Institute of Technology, a Discovery exhibition in Cork City Hall and a new planetarium at Blackrock Castle Observatory.
We look forward to seeing you at some of the events — don’t forget, we’ll be talking about Lara Croft and the ‘Cabra Calculator’ on Thursday, and chairing the Lab Coats and Lace talks on Saturday.We’re also keen to hear your comments and feedback on Science WeeK (see the comment space, above).

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In this packed edition: lab coats and lace, exploding vegetables, the meaning of life, decoding the heavens, the poetry of plants and landscapes, and lots of Science Week happenings. Plus, you can join yours truly for a sustainable science cafe, and to hear about Cabra and Lara Croft.

Art, society, culture

Poetry and landscape: the spoken word and striking landscapes join in a special event for International Year of Planet Earth, with seven Belfast-based poets, among them Michael Longley. Dublin, November 28, 6 pm. Free, booking essential. (gsni@detini.gov.uk)

flowerjpgThe poetry of plants: our relationships with plants and gardens have found expression in art, music and literature. All will be explored in a symposium with Anna Pavord (author of The Tulip), Matthew Jebb (National Botanic Gardens), and garden designer Andrew Wilson. TCD Saturday, November 15. Coincides with an exhibition of early printed botanical and gardening books. Until December 23.

Visual Stuttering: aerial photography, farming and the Burren landscape combine in a new arts project by Eileen Healy, celebrating local culture and rural communities. Farm-owners with an aerial photograph of their farm should contact Healy.

Picasso, science and Ireland: Why is a Picasso mural hanging in the Wellcome science and art collection? And what is the Irish connection? (Clue: Tipperary-born crystallographer JD Bernal is involved.) All will be revealed at a Wellcome supper on Wednesday, November 19. Other Wellcome events include an evening devoted to the art, science and culture of hair (November 14). London, November

Turn it off! As Dublin turns on its Christmas lights a month early, a short film project starts. Turn It off features ‘brites’, LED creatures that tour the city leaving graffiti about energy wasted on lighting. The solar-powered production – possibly a world first for short film? – will be completed over the winter.

Swarm Music: how can studying bees help musicians improve their improvisation? just one of the topics in a one-day event exploring music and the mind at the Wellcome Collection, London, Saturday, November 8.

Structural steel, forged drawings: . . . and if you are in London, this sounds worth catching: current exhibition by former US shipyard steelworker turned sculptor, Richard Serra, who produces enormous forged steel pieces. The Gagossian Gallery had to be rebuilt to accommodate their massive scale. Until December 20.

Science, leisure and spectacle: a talk about the 19th-century popularity of animal displays, by science historian Dr Juliana Adelman, one of a lunchtime series at the Humanities Institute of Ireland. Friday November 14, UCD. The following week, the topic is maps, memory and meaning.

Microbes make art: how microscopic bacteria are inspiring artists, also science on screen, and science and truth… November events at the London Science Museum DANA Centre. Worth a visit if you are in London.

Science Week

Over 400 events are taking place around the country for Science Week, starting on November 9, and including a science fair at Sligo Institute of Technology, a Discovery exhibition in Cork City Hall (with a new planetarium at Blackrock Castle Observatory), and promising something for everyone from young school students to teachers, adults and the general public. Check out events in your area at Science Week.ie

On the air waves

The sound of elephants dreaming: sound in its many guises, including an explanation for ghost “sightings” (should that be hearings?), plus noisy dreaming elephants. Sound Stories is one of the best, and arguably the most scientific programme on RTE radio this season. Happily all the programmes from this and previous series are archived online. Take a bow presenter Luke Clancy and producer Kevin Brew.

The Investigators: the Irish science TV series returns, featuring research done here on everything from crops of the future and climate change to ageing and even Ireland in space. We enjoyed what we saw of series 1 – despite being sponsored by a range of scientific institutions, which could have been the kiss of death. Thursdays, RTE 1

Comedy and science: how does aspirin go to where your pain is? Great Unanswered Questions, a new comedy series on BBC Radio 4, covers a lot of science, thanks in part to the presence of Dr David Booth. (The answer? The aspirin is guided by prostaglandins released at the injury)

The naked scientists – now ‘up all night’: if you fancy your science stripped bare, then this is for you: a team of Cambridge scientists has bee nbroadcasting their Naked Science radio series to BBC regions since 2003, but now are available on late night Radio 5 Live and, thanks to the web and podcast, also online.

Blogging about science

We’ve started compiling a list of science blogs (see right), including some interesting physics teachers postings. We are particularly keen to hear about Irish science bloggers – e-mail us details of any you know.


Recommended! Decoding the Heavens: a wonderful tale about the Antikythera mechanism. This intriguing device from ancient Greece, is over 2000 years old, incredibly sophisticated, and arguably the world’s first computer. Jo Marchant marshals drama, and tells of the research to solve the puzzle. Perfect for anyone interested in the history of astronomy or even astrology, in the history of science and instruments, in archaeology and ancient Greece and Rome. Delightful.

Zoology and the meaning of life: “maverick zoologist” (his words) and human ecologist, Dr Brendan Connolly, has just published a book that attempts to make sense of it all. In The Natural Religion (to distinguish it from those that draw on the super-natural) he looks to zoology and science to formulate his philosophy. The index runs from abortion and adolescence to xenotransplantation and Yellowstone Park, by way of meiosis and gluons. Perhaps the Sceptics will add him to their list of speakers? His publicity material shows a sense of humour, though the 226-page text looks more sober. We’re looking forward to reading it.

How well do you know fiction’s mad scientists? Test your knowledge with this quiz. (Fullabene? Great name for a drug!)

The Periodic Table of Videos: . . . one for each of the 118 elements, with properties, discovery and uses, from a team at the University of Nottingham.

The physics of pressure cookers: Did you know the pressure cooker was a French science invention from the 1700s? May explain why French cooks are so fond of them. They are also useful at Everest base camp (cooking at high altitude), and at sea (where fuel can be scarce). Not to mention, quick and tasty food, incl wild mushroom risotto in a jiffy. Googling recently for “pressure cooker” served up this tasty morsel about the science.

Conferences & opportunities…

Lab coats and lace: the lives and legacies of some inspiring Irish women scientists and pioneers including botanists and early geologists, the fabulous Boole sisters, rebel medical doctors and the fight against TB. Short talks by contributors to a forthcoming WITS collection of biographies. WITS and the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, Saturday, November 15, admission free, all welcome.

Biometrics – enhancing security, or invading privacy? The Irish Council for Bioethics half-day conference on the scientific, ethical and legal issues thrown up by biometric technologies, with speakers from Ireland and overseas. Dublin, Wednesday, November 26. Adm free.

From guns …to glassworks: one-day conference on the archaeology of Irish industry with recent excavations from sites such as an Emergency-era explosives works in Dublin, and the glassworks at Belfast’s Sirocco Works. Takes place in a former Carroll’s tobacco warehouse, now the award-winning Louth County Museum which celebrates the region’s industrial history. Saturday, November 15. €25, incl lunch & coffee.

Climate change in Cork: the Irish Environmental Network conference on ‘partnership for climate change’, will cover a range of research from water resources to landscape architecture. Cork, November 14

Conflagrations & calamities: annual conference of the Economic & Social History Society of Ireland is this weekend (November 7-8, Limerick), on the disasters and change, including long-term impact, contemporary responses, and how disasters shape historical memory.

Out & about…

The ‘big bang machine‘: Your chance to hear about CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the particle accelerator that was all the news some weeks back? – when incoming director, Prof Rolf Heuer gives a talk in Dublin on Monday, November 24 at the RDS. Organised by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS).

How 2 teenagers built & sold a company for millions: Patrick Collison, born in Limerick in 1988, tells how he and his brother founded a web business, Auctomatic, and sold it 10 months later for millions of dollars. One of this year’s Science Week high-profile lectures, taking place in Dublin November 10-14. Adm free, booking essential (lectures on Hollywood special effects, robots and space tourism have already sold out.)

Cabra, quaternions & Lara Croft: join yours truly for a Science Week talk about Irish mathematician and physicist, William Rowan Hamilton. Cabra Library, Dublin, Thursday, November 13 6:30pm.

Build a robot . . . see inside a playstation, make your own silly putty. Some of the things you can do at Discovery, an interactive science exhibition in Cork City Hall, with workshops in schools, November 16-19

Tsunamis, earthquakes & deepsea life: Ulster geologist John McCloskey is an expert on earthquakes and tsunamis. Hear him give a public lecture for Year of Planet Earth in Cork on November 27. Other Planet Earth events this month include a talk about the new microbes discovered in deep sea drilling (Dublin, November 12 & Limerick, November 13).

Exploding vegetables: the RDS helps scientists to develop entertaining demonstration lectures aimed at school students. This year’s crop of talks includes exploding vegetables, and a physics talk that will range from rockets to rainbows. Full details of dates here.

Bubbling over at Cabra: the library in Cabra (North Dublin) will fill with bubbles of all shapes and sizes on Wednesday, November 12 at 4pm. Part of Science Week. Info: cabralibrary@dublincity.ie

Are we too posh to push? Join yours truly for a Science cafe with a sustainable twist. In association with the Environmental Change Institute & Galway One World Centre. Galway, Thursday November 20 7:30pm

Enhance your critical thinking toolkit: the Irish Sceptics November talk is how to argue badly and (still) influence people, by philosopher and author Julian Baggini, who specialises in bad arguments, and persuasive rhetoric. Dublin, Tuesday, November 18.

The stars, the stars: One advantage of long winter evenings is the return of the night sky. This month’s astronomical events include Astronomy Ireland’s one-day Expo, with planetarium, telescopes, meteorites and talks, including hunting for asteroids by Dave McDonald, one of two Irish-based amateur astronomers who recently discovered new asteroids, and China’s space programme, by author Brian Harvey. Saturday, November 8, TCD. Exhibition free, charges apply to the talks. The discoveries of Russian space science is this month’s talk at Dunsink Observatory by the same Brian Harvey for the Irish Astronomy Society (Monday, November 17). The South Dublin Astronomy Group’s talk is about light pollution (November 6, 8pm, Dublin), all welcome.

Moon rock and meteorites: Ireland’s largest ever meteorite, and a piece of moon rock are among the items in a new exhibition marking International Year of Planet Earth at the National Museum in County Mayo. Until February 2009.

Bio energy in Ireland: could biomass be a useful energy source in Ireland? Teagasc biomass expert, Dr John Finnan, is talking about this for the Irish Meteorological Society Thursday, November 6, Dublin all welcome.

Quantum puzzles: Prof Anton Zeilinger, University of Vienna, is giving an Institute of Physics lecture on quantum puzzles and their use in information technology in UCC (November 10) and DCU (November 11).

TCD makes a show of itself: sentiment index for financial markets, games for mental health, hand wash monitoring device for hospitals… some of the TCD IT projects you can try out at a special open demonstration night, Science Gallery November 6, 7.30pm, with refreshments!

The Royal Botanic Gardens of Jordan: experts from the Irish gardens are assisting the world’s newest botanic garden, in Jordan. Hear about the project, Wednesday, November 26, Dublin.

DIY astrolabes: make your own astrolabe, dabble in crystal experiments, and learn how to turn milk into butter… science week events at the National Museum.

God, black holes & the Universe: Armagh Observatory’s annual Robinson lectures will be given by Prof Peter Brand (University of Edinburgh). The public talk (Thursday, November 20) is on God and the Universe; the school’s talk on Friday will be on black holes. Adm free, booking advised. Honouring the observatory’s founder, Armagh archbishop Richard Robinson (1708-94).

Wild Wicklow: join a national park ranger for a conservation hike around Glendalough. Organised by Wicklow Mountains National Park. Saturday, November 22. Places are limited, booking essential.

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