Page 1

ISSUE 37 Nov 09 €3 including VAT £2 NI and UK

SCIENCE

SPIN

IRELAND’S SCIENCE NATURE AND DISCOVERY MAGAZINE

Recording diversity The golden mean Researchers on the move Mining for lead Probing the depths

www.sciencespin.com

l LIVE LINK


l LIVE LINKS

www.projectblogger.ie

Need a Science Blog?

Project Blogger is the website for you! Project Blogger is an initiative of Discover Science and Engineering to provide Irish teachers and students with an educational web space to create your own science blogs and share your experiences in science with classmates from your own school and from other schools around Ireland.

Science blogs can range from curriculum experiments, SciFest and BTYoung Scientist projects or even just a science conversation! Your science blog is a useful way of collecting and storing all your project videos, podcasts, pictures, graphs and ideas in one place! Features on the Project Blogger website include science and engineering careers information with videos of our Science Ambassadors talking about what its like to work as a scientist or engineer. Also you can design your own avatar, customise your blog and choose from many trendy skins!

Each month, the busiest blogger of the month will win a prize of a 2GB USB man in the form of our mascot, Prof. Blogstein! The busiest blog of the month will then be displayed in the top position of Hydrogen on our periodic table of busiest blogs!


SCIENCE

SPIN

False Turkey Tail fungus, one among millions of species recorded in the Encyclopaedia of Life. Photo: Arthur Chapman.

Publisher Duke Kennedy Sweetman Ltd 5 Serpentine Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. www.sciencespin.com Email: tom@sciencespin.com Editors Tom Kennedy tom@sciencespin.com

l LIVE LINKS

Seán Duke sean@sciencespin.com Business Development Manager Alan Doherty alan@sciencespin.com Design and Production Albertine Kennedy Publishing Cloonlara, Swinford, Co Mayo Proofing and web diary Marie-Claire Cleary marieclaire@sciencespin.com Picture research Source Photographic Archive www.iol.ie/~source.foxford/ Printing Turner Group, Longford To use the live hyperlinks simply move your curser over the address and when the hand icon starts pointing click to open the site or email address. Articles published in Science SPIN may reflect the views of the contributors and not the official views of the publication, its editorial staff, its ownership, or its sponsors.

2

UPFRONT NOTICE BOARD

.

9

Geophysics to probe the depth Seán Duke reports on how to look under the surface without having to turn a sod.

10

Beauty is in the Phi

An award winning essay by Sam Hafford.

19

Mining landmark

Tom Kennedy describes how lead was mined at Ballycorus and Glendalough

Tom Kennedy reports on the launch of a programme to send researchers abroad.

Laser scanning is being used to collect data.

26

15

Reviews

A look at some recent books.

30

Encyclopaedia of life

Rise and fall

Tom Kennedy reports on a collaborative project to describe every known species .

16

22

Researchers on the move

Measuring forest biodiversity

Geological Survey of Ireland Suirbhéireacht Gheolaíochia Éireann

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 1

The interplay of land and sea around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.

32


www.sciencespin.com

UPFRONT

Celestial sphere AN amazing high definition panorama of the entire night sky has been created by the European Southern Observatory. The 360 degree image, covering the entire celestial sphere reveals our cosmic landscape in great detail. The image is online, and viewers can zoom in to explore the Milky Way. The observations making up the view were made from ESO’s telescope high up in the mountains of Chile. We get some idea of just how small we are by looking along the luminous swath of stars that make up our own Milky Way.

The panorama was painstakingly assembled from over 300 different overlapping fields, each photographed four times to get the maximum resolution. French astrophotographer, Serge Brunier worked with Frédérick Tapissier, who processed the images in collaboration with scientists from ESO. The image below was created by engineer and astrophotographer, Stéphane Guisard, from 1200 images collected over a period of a month. “This is an incredibly rich region of the sky,” he said, spanning from the constellation Sagittarius to the Scorpion. To the right is the Rho Ophiuchi and Antares region, and the Milky Way runs obliquely through the image. To start exploring go to www.gigagalaxyzoom.org

l LIVE LINK

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 2

SPIN


www.sciencespin.com

UPFRONT

Prof Anatoly Zayats from the School of Maths and Physics at Queen’s.

Super fast

METAL guides, 100 times narrower than a human hair, are to be used to chanel light in super-fast computers. In a joint research programme, scientists at Queens are collaborating with colleagues at Imperial College London on developing these guides. The ‘nanoplasmonic devices’ are being made to interact with light in a highly controlled manner. This makes it possible to use light instead of electric

GIZMO ERROR

currents in building computers. One of the main advantages of using light is that it is faster than electronics in transferring data.

Making waves

IN 1964 there was an earthquake in Alaska, and the resulting tsunami running along the west coast down as far as California caused extensive damage and the deaths of 35 people. Although the earthquake, with a magnitude of 9.2, was the second largest on record, it did not match the intensity of some earlier upheavals in the same region. A group of researchers from Durham in the UK, and the University of Utah, working with Plafker Geohazard Consultants, found evidence to show that earlier events had a greater impact, and that further rupturing is highly likely to occur. Within the last 1,500 years two other events were on a larger scale than the 1964 quake. Prof Ian Shennan from Durham University discovered this by examining and carbon dating peat layers. The area is the transition zone between two of the world’s most active plates, with one being pushed down into the depths. Earthquakes are to be expected, but as the researchers explain, where they occur has a big influence on their impact. The ocean off the coast of Alaska is shallow, and because displacement of water is high, rupturing under the sea would create a giant tsumani wave. Dr George Plafker explained that, because of the shallow sea, it would not take a particularly big event to create a giant tsumani. Earthquakes can occur at any time, there is nothing we can do to stop them, but as the researchers point out, being prepared could save a lot of lives.

Systems Biology Different strands of research are being drawn together in a new organisation, Systems Biology Ireland. The new organisation, one of the SFI funded Centres for Science, Engineering, and Technology (CSETs), is based in University College Dublin, and is being headed by Prof Walter Kolch. Systems biology involves looking at living processes in their entirety rather than focusing in on the individual components. As with the other CSETs there is a strong industry connection, and while SFI funding amounts to €14.8 m over the next five years, €4.7 m is to come from a number of companies, including Hewlett Packard, Agilent, and Siemens Ireland.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 3

ALAS were caught napping by repeating a well known urban myth in issue 36. In our print edition, we describe how a mobile phone can be used to unlock a car. Not true. As Ash McFadden from the Inishowen Planetarium pointed out, keyless remotes work with radio waves, not audio.

Staying on course

USUALLY we expect to get technology spin-offs from space, but in one of the latest developments, the process went into reverse. Sensors, developed for anti-locking braking systems in cars, are to be used to check the orientation of crafts in space. In space there is no such thing as up or down, so to maintain position, fast spinning gyroscopes are used. However, these are bulky, complex, and prone to failure. According to Stéphane Dussy from the European Space Agency, reliability became an issue after several failures in orbiting crafts. Aerospace engineers wanted to move on to more reliable micro-electromechanical systems, known as MEMS. Fortunately, these already existed, and had proved their reliability over 15 years of service in the auto industry. Most cars now use MEMS in airbags, in tyre pressure sensors, and to correct skids. Working with industrial partners, ESA developed a MEMS gyro suitable for use in space. This is not a gyroscope in the usual sense, and instead of rotating, it vibrates. A tiny electrical current makes a small silicon ring vibrate. As in the conventional gyroscope, any change in orientation produces a strain, and this has an impact on the vibration which can be measured. The finished device, just 10 mm wide, is to be used in ESA’s Sentinel 3 series of satellites, due for launch in 2013. The Sentinel 3 satellites will be used for global monitoring of the environment.


www.sciencespin.com

UPFRONT

Shedding teeth

SHARKS shed their teeth continually over their lifetime, and of course they have been doing this for millions of years. Because of this, shark teeth fossils are quite common in ancient sea beds. The abundance of shark teeth proved useful to a team of UK and German scientists as they tried to determine what the climate was like over the North Sea at a time 60 million years ago when more than half the Earth’s terrestrial life was being wiped out in a mass extinction. In a report from the group published by the Geological Society, Dr Silke Voigt from the Leibniz Institute

Tidal power

AN underwater turbine with an open centre for marine life to go through, became one of the Engineers Ireland Innovation award winners for this year. The open-centre turbine was devloped by Open Hydro as a system to generate electricity from tidal streams. Apart from allowing marine life to go through the centre, the turbine uses no oil lubricants, and because it rests on the sea bed, it stays out of sight. The turbine has built up a good track record, and Open Hydro has been selling electricity to the UK grid. Tidal power deals with France, Canada and the US are in the pipeline. Tidal power has an enormous potential, and it has an advantage over wind and solar in that output is a lot more predictable. Another award winner was Denis O’Connor, who became Innovative Engineer of the Year for developing an integrated environmental water management system for local authorities. The system uses a distributed data-access system to provide real-time information on water quality. for Marine Science explains that the ratio of oxygen isotopes, 16 and 18, changes with temperature and salinity. More of the heavier isotope 18 remains behind as the lighter 16 is carried off by evaporation. The shark teeth preserved this ratio as they dropped to the bottom, so they provided the researchers with valuable information about what sort of changes occurred when there was a combination of sea-level fall, uplift of the land, and volcanic activity. About 55 million years ago the North Sea became isolated from the surrounding oceans, and western Scotland is believed to have gone up by two to three km.

Top award for Irish students

Most of what scientists know about this period comes from land studies, so the shark teeth have been helping to reveal what went on at sea. Teeth recovered from sites off Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, and the London and Hampshire basins, represent a record covering 33 million years at a time of immense change. The closing in of the North Sea meant that it became more like a giant lake, progressively becoming fresher from the flow of rivers. Temperatures were high, and with freshening of the water, the diversity of life in the North Sea diminished.

FIFTEEN young scientists won awards in the EU Contest for Young Scientists, and one of the top three prizes went to Liam McCarthy and John D O’Callaghan from Ireland. Liam and John, from Kinsale Community School had previously been winners in the Irish BT Young Science and Technology exhibition for their project on developing a test to detect somatic cells in milk. Coming first out of 87 outstanding projects submitted from 38 countries was quite an achievement, as only the best from regional and national competitions go on to compete in the European competition. The three top awards, presented in Paris, were shared with entries from Switzerland and Poland. Fabian Gafner, from Switzerland received his award for an aeroplane with a reverse gear. Aleksander Kubica and Wiktor Pilewski from Poland won their award for their project on spiral zone plates. John and Liam had come up with a cheap and effecient method of detecting infection in milk Liam and John in Paris cows based in using ordinary wash-up liquid. A small amount of wash-up liquid in milk from receiving their award. an infected cow becomes more viscous than normal. A report from the awards ceremony will be included in the next isse of Science Spin.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 4


www.sciencespin.com

UPFRONT

Robotic fish

A LOW-COST robotic fish, equipped with sensors has been developed that can track down water pollution. A wireless connection allows sensors to feed data back to observers, and the fish, named WANDA, for Wireless Aquatic Navigator for Detection and Analysis, swims, like the real thing, by waving its tail. The fish was developed at the National Centre for Sensor Research at DCU by researchers working with the Intelligent Polymer Centre Institute of Wollongong in Australia. An intelligent polymer provides propulsion as an electrical charge makes the tail bend repeatedly from left to right. A camera allows WANDA to navigate underwater as it seeks out sources of pollution. According to the researchers at DCU, the robotic fish can be produced cheaply, and it is easy to deploy, even within pipework.

Delivering innovation Seven higher level colleges are collaborating on delivery of expertise to industry in the border, midlands, and western regions. The institutes of technology in Athlone, Dundalk, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny, and Sligo

are working with NUI Galway and St Angela’s College in Sligo under the banner of Líonra. Collectively, the colleges can offer expertise across a range of areas, including marine, energy, software, health, and agriculture.

Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin, Director of Athlone Institute of Technology commented that collaboration acts as a multiplier of available research strengths, and local companies can benefit by tapping into this knowledge.

Vervet monkey yawning, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. Photo Whit Welles.

Cos I’m worth it

LI

VE

LI

NK

www.marine.ie

l

IF the behaviour of monkeys are anything to go on, our standing in society depends a lot on what we have to offer. Researchers, Ronald Noë, Cécile Fruteau and Eric van Damme, found that the way for low-status vervet monkeys to became upwardly mobile was to gain control of desirable food. Velvet monkeys, who live in South Africa, are fond of apples, so the researchers rigged up a container that could only be opened by a low ranking female. The monkeys spend a lot of time grooming each other, but until the low ranking female gained the power to dispense pieces of apple, she was hardly ever groomed by the others. Once she gained that power, she became worth grooming. However, her elevated position was not really secure. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the researchers reported that as soon as the same ability to dispense pieces of apple was granted to another low status female, she took half the grooming ‘clients’ away from the first monkey.

email: institute.mail@marine.ie

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 5

l LIVE LINK


www.sciencespin.com

UPFRONT

Rubber weed

BREAK open a dandelion stem and a milky white liquid seeps out. This liquid is similar to the latex harvested in enormous quantities to make natural rubber. Without that rubber, car tyres would not be elastic enough, and according to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft research institute in Germany, about 30,000 everyday objects depend on this natural material. Most of the latex we use is harvested from rubber tree plantations in Southeast Asia, but during the Second World War, when supplies were cut off, the Russians, Germans, and the Americans turned their attentions to dandelions, and because disease has become the new threat, this is likely to happen again. Plantations in Asia and South America have run into difficulties keeping fungal attacks under control. In some areas of South America, disease is reported to be wiping out entire plantations.

Dandelions, as everyone with a patch of grass knows, are easy to grow, and very common, but they also have another advantage. Rubber produced from trees can cause allergic reactions, and this is a serious issue for clinical products. Rubber made from dandelion latex does not seem to present that problem. At the Franhofer Institute, Dr Dirk Prüfer has been experimenting with dandelions, and so far, his research team has not come across any allergic reactions. One of the problems with dandelion latex is that as soon as it is exposed to air it begins to polymerise, making it difficult to work on. “We have identified the enzyme responsible for the rapid polymerisation,” said Dr Prüfer, “and have switched it off.” Up to five times the yield of latex can be extracted from the modified plants. “If the plants were to be cultivated on a large scale, every hectare would produce 500 to 1,000 kilograms of latex per growing season,” said Dr Prüfer.

l LIVE LINKS

Web: www.gsi.ie Email: gsisales@gsi.ie

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 6


www.sciencespin.com

UPFRONT Racing ahead

The Koni Kats, the team from St David’s Secondary School in Greystones, Co Wicklow, came first in an international competition to design and build a model compressed air powered racing car. Apart from the Ecclestone World Champion Trophy, the team won engineering scholarships to City University London. The team, Conor Daly, Eoin O’Connell, Sean Cleary, and Adam Gammell, had already fended off competitors in the all-Ireland technology competition, F1, organised by the Irish Computer Society in partnership with Discover Science and Engineering. The competition presents students with a challenge to use CAD/CAM in designing, building and testing a light-weight model car. Students from over 30 countries competed nationally, and then the winners went on to the finals, which were held in London. Regional competitions for next year’s competition will be held in March, followed by national finals in April. The team representing Ireland in the international competition has already been selected. Team Blink, from St Ailbe’s Secondary School in Tipperary will be Ireland’s representatives in 2012. Team Blink is made up of Matthew Ryan, Olivia Breen, Daniel Bresnan, Nathan Dunne, and Simon Ryan. For more details www.f1inschools.ie l LIVE LINK Top: The Koni Kats, Sean Cleary, Adam Gammell, Eoin O’Connell, and Conor Daly. Right: Team Blink, Matthew Ryan, Nathan Dunne, Olivia Breen, Daniel Bresnan, and Simon Ryan.

Leading lights

Recovering uranium

EVER since the discovery of genes controlling bioluminescence, scientists have been busy looking at possible applications. At University College Cork, Dr Cormac Gahan has found that bioluminisence could be of great help in medicine. At a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology, held in Edinhurgh, he described how the pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, had been genetically labelled to emit enough light for ultra-sensitive cameras to follow its course as it infected lab mice. The Listeria was seen migrating to kidkeys and gall bladders. The same progression was studied in mice with cancer, and it was seen that the Listeria migrated very efficiently to the tumour tissue. This raised an interesting possibility, in that Listeria, instead of doing harm, might be harnessed as a carrier for genetic codes that could kill the tumour. “Bioluminescence imaging in bacterial infections,” commented Dr Gahan, “has great potential to provide information on the cause of infectious diseases.” Because the bacteria can be detected, sites of infection can be pin-pointed with great accuracy.

PLANTS store phosphate in a form termed phytic acid. Because animals cannot digest this molecule, they lack the enzymes, the phosphate goes to waste, adding to agricultural pollution. Bacteria, such as E coli, had no problem breaking down phytic acid, and when freed, the phosphate can bind to uranium, forming a precipitate. As researchers at Birmingham University have found, this reaction could be used to harvest uranium from nuclear power station waste. When first described in 1995, the reaction, using a more expensive source of phosphate, was considered uneconomic. However, the discovery that phytic acid from plant waste could be used as the source of phosphate means that costs could come down dramatically. According to the researchers, the commercial supply of inositol phosphate works out at £1.72 per gram of uranium recovered, but if calcium phytate derived from plants is used, costs drop to just £0.09 per gram. Professor Macaskie from Birmingham University said that “by using cheap feedstock, easily obtained from plant wastes, we have shown that an economic, scalable process for uranium recovery is possible.”

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 7


www.coford.ie

l LIVE LINK

l LIVE LINK

www.woodspec.ie

l LIVE LINK

www.woodenergy.ie

info@coford.ie

l LIVE LINK

Don’t miss out, for just €18 you can keep ahead of science Six issues a year packed with features and news about everything in Irish and international science, from astrophysics, biotechnology, and geology to marine life and zoology. l LIVE LINK

www.sciencespin.com NI sub £12, and for overseas rates see web site

Go on line for the Science Spin diary of events and science community notice board SCIENCE SPIN Issue 36 Page 8


NOTICE BOARD To book a space contact Alan Doherty at 01 2842909. Email: alan@sciencespin.com l LIVE LINK Notices include a live link in our digital edition

NOTICEBOARD is a lowcost small ad. section and is ideal for promoting destinations such as school and field trips, events and places of interest to visit.

www.projectblogger.ie l LIVE LINK

l LIVE LINK

www.coford.ie

Need a Science Blog?

Project Blogger is the website for you!

Rock around Ireland

Collins Barracks, Dublin 7 Tues-Sat 10am-5pm Sunday 2pm-5pm Mon/bank holidays closed Free car parking Luas Red Line Admission free

Peadar McArdle, director of the Irish Geological Survey guides us around our rocky landscape.

www.museum.ie Email: info@museum.ie

€15 paperback €20 casebound.

l LIVE LINKS http://www.museum.ie/en/exhibition/the-dead-zoo-at-large.aspx

Order direct www.sciencespin.com

Adverts appear in both the print and digital issues of the magazine, and with LIVE LINKS in the digital edition readers can interact with your notice and be transported to your website immediately, where they can book or sign-up for an event or download further information. NOTICEBOARD is now the place to be seen all year-round and at a price to suit all budgets. More information call Alan Doherty on 01 2842 909 or email him at alan@sciencespin.com

Science Spin

ON AIR Tune in and turn on to science with Seán Duke.

103.2 Dublin City FM 15:30 every Thursday

SOURCE

podcasts available the day after at http://sciencespin.podomatic.com

PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES

Geological Survey of Ireland

l LIVE LINK

Beggars Bush, Haddington Road, Dublin 4.

www.gsi.ie l LIVE LINK

Over 100 new images added to the collection every month

l LIVE LINK www.iol.ie/~source.foxford

www.marine.ie l LIVE LINK SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 9

Great value just €18 for a sub, and you can register FREE for the digital edition. To register email us at marieclaire@sciencespin.com


GEOpHYsiCs

pROBiNG THE DEpTHs he science of geophysics – which utilises several technologies to ‘look’ beneath the ground - is increasingly used by archaeologists, police, and environmental agencies. This field of science, which might end altogether the need to dig for information, can for example, pinpoint ancient building foundations, buried bodies, or illegal dumps. In the past the gathering of information from underground was totally dependent on digging. That has changed over the past 20 years or so, and now digging is used more sparingly and generally only after geophysics has been done on a site. In Ireland one of the people that have been at the forefront of the development of the field of geophysics is Dr Paul Gibson, based at NUIM.

T

BACKGROUND

Geophysics has been around a long time, but in Ireland, the field was given a major boost in 1995 when the European Structural Fund provided funding for the first higher diploma in GIS (geographical information system) remote sensing, which later turned into an MSc. offering. GIS is a system of

seán Duke reports on how we don’t have to dig to get a clearer view of what lies beneath. analysing data relating to a particular location, while remote sensing is the term used to describe the gathering of data on the Earth, remotely, from sensors on airplanes, or satellites. This GIS remote sensing course at NUIM trains students, among other things, in the use of geophysical techniques in the field. In the past 14 years, about 200 students have completed the course, and these are out working mainly in industry. The course continues to attract undergraduates from many fields, including archaeology, zoology and engineering. One of its great strengths, and one which helps to justify the €2,000 fee, is that students get work placement as part of the deal. Often students can use this as a ‘foot in the door’ to the workplace, and are taken on later on a full-time basis.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 10

The origin of geophysics lies in oil and gas, where a lot of money is spent on finding raw materials before any drilling starts. Drilling is expensive, and any technique that narrows down a potential drill area is valuable. However, it soon became clear that geophysical techniques could be applied to other areas where people wanted to ‘look underground’. The main areas today are: geological geophysics where rock structures are investigated; environmental geophysics where researchers can pinpoint the location of illegal dumps; archaeological geophysics which can reveal entire towns, villages or landscapes that lie buried underground; and forensic geophysics where police are trying to find buried bodies.

ARCHAEOLOGY

The use of geophysics has simply transformed the field of archaeology in the past 15 or 20 years. Whereas it used to be routine for archaeologists in Ireland to conduct ‘digs’ during the summer months, now the use of geophysics, and the superb


information it can yield on what lies beneath, means that digging is far less common and justifiable than before. The problem with digging, of course, it that it destroys, to an extent, the area that is the object of study, and is costly. Also, the great advantage with geophysics is that it can cover a huge area quickly and identifies archaeological ‘anomalies’ that are quickly apparent to the trained eye. So, for example, an area with no obvious archaeological value, apart from perhaps a ruined castle, can be revealed, with geophysics, to have once been a thriving town, sited on an important road. It means that even an uninspiring field, with no remaining features, could be revealed as a site of ancient importance. “Archaeology is a big one for a number of reasons,” explained Dr Gibson. “It (geophysics) is non destructive, non-intrusive, (a) very useful reconnaissance tool, cost effective. For archaeology, when you dig you destroy what you are studying. If you are faced with a 200 or 300 acre field you want to know: Where are the sites of interest? Where we should go, and, can we map the structure underground without having to dig?” Often, areas which look uninspiring to an archaeologist, suddenly, after the application of geophysics becomes very interesting indeed. Dr Gibson described an example of this when he found a 2,000 year-old Iron Age hut, underneath a flat, featureless piece of land in Co Carlow. Further investigations revealed ‘Burgess Plots’, which are dwellings that front onto a main road, but have strips of land going back behind. These plots allowed people to have a bit of valuable street frontage, as well as some land behind their dwelling. There was also a bailey, where animals were kept, roadways, enclosures, and an ancient dump, all located underneath the ground in an area where no trace remains on the surface. Similarly, as part of working collaboratively with the Discovery Programme – a public body set up

Without disturbing the ground underlying structures can be detected. Large areas can be covered quickly and there is no need for potentially destructive digging. to do advanced research in Irish archaeology – Dr Gibson unveiled a treasure trove of information at a site in Co Westmeath, where an old tower house, sat all alone in the landscape. There would be little justification for archaeologists to dig around the tower, and so geophysics was the best option. This picked up the presence of a military road, now buried, but mentioned in the historical record. The tower house was probably guarding the military road, said Dr Gibson. The road itself dated from the 10th century, and was made up of slabs. The medieval road builders dug down two metres, or about six feet, and filled the trench in with loose material before the slabs were put down. There are also details of Burgess Plots here, very good examples of these, with evidence for the houses on either side of the old road, as well as field and ploughing patterns. All of this is invisible from view at the surface, and it’s now possible to render the buried townland in 3-D.

“It used to be routine for archaeologists in Ireland to conduct ‘digs’ during the summer months, now the use of geophysics, and the superb information it can yield on what lies beneath, means that digging is far less common and justifiable” SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 11

The use of geophysics can often reveal that a landscape feature that was not regarded as highly important is, in fact, of great interest to archaeologists. For example, there is a mound near the village of Tulsk, in Co Roscommon that people were curious about, but little more was known. Dr Gibson, and his team used resistance techniques to survey the mound and came up with a lot of dark area, which indicates the presence of lots of buried stone. A dig confirmed the stone, and the excavations are now into their fourth year. Spurs, musket balls and coins were also found from the 14th and 15th century, and the theory is that this was the location for a guardroom to watch over the former Lord Lieutenant’s house – which is today the building that is home to the Dominican Convent. Also, near Tulsk, in a place called Carns, a site that was regarded as medieval was shown to be inhabited as far back as the Iron Age. The geophysics showed a series of ever larger circles out from a central circle – something like a dart board. The evidence pointed to an ever increasing settlement, used for thousands of years, and bodies were also found.

FORENSICS

The use of geophysics to find graves of murdered people is something that the Gardai have become interested in, in recent years. It can be used to find graves, as magnetic surveys can reveal the presence of metal objects such as belt buckles, ear rings, and keys that remain on the body. There are also fluids released after death, and these can be detected too, but it is a battle to find the trace of these fluids before all that remains of the body is the bones. The aim is to find ‘anomalies’ or features underground that stand out, and experts can, thus, pinpoint potential dig areas for the Gardai. In recent case of a missing person Dr Gibson was called in to use geophysics to try and locate a body in a forested area. This body, sadly was not found, despite the presence of the army, who deployed metal detecting equipment normally used to trace landmines, and two Garda ‘cadaver’ dogs. There was some excitement


“The presence of domestic waste underground, when resistivity is used, will yield massively low resistance values”

when the geophysics pointed to an anomaly, and this was confirmed by the two dogs. But it turned out to be buried metal wires, with paint, and the aroma of paint, apparently, can confuse the dogs, as it smells like the smell given off by buried bodies. The investigation, however, did manage to confirm that the body in question was not in this area, and that at least allows the Gardai to rule it out. The real benefit of geophysics to a murder investigation, where a body is missing, is that areas that might be suspect, which could comprise several hundred acres, can be covered, and anomalies found or not found, without digging. To find a body, a magnetic contrast must be established between the body, with a metal object or two attached to it, and the background. In the absence of metal objects, resistivity can be used to pick up the fluids emitted by a decomposing body. Studies have been done on buried pigs to watch how long they take to decay, and what is the pattern of fluid emission.

However, without metal objects on the body, it is a race against time, as resistivity is not effective to find just bones.

ENVIRONMENT

The problem of large-scale illegal dumping in Ireland has been an issue for a number of years. One of the difficulties for those charged with prosecuting the offenders is that an area that was used for dumping, even large amounts of material, can be covered over very effectively so that it is very hard to detect a dump by just looking at the surface features. One of the problems here is the money involved. In a story published online by the BBC as far back as 2004, it was determined that an average waste contractor in the Republic was being paid Stg£2,500 to remove a 20-tonne load of waste. After paying the driver and the landowner to permit the illegal dumping, that yielded a profit of Stg£2,200 – just for one lorry-load, and on some illegal dumps, eyewitnesses

Geophysics can make the task of finding bodies easier, and the search can be spread over a much wider area.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 12

reported multiple lorry loads arriving each day. With, perhaps four lorryloads per day arriving at a site, the profit to the waste operator would be €44,000 over five days. Today, however, the environmental enforcement network – made up of people in state agencies and the police on both sides of the border – can fight the illegal dumpers using geophysics. The presence of domestic waste underground, when resistivity is used, will yield massively low resistance values. This made it possible for Dr Gibson to pinpoint hidden landfills in Co Monaghan, for instance, beneath ‘perfect’ looking fields. As well as the waste, it was possible to pick up the trace of waste fluids, or leachates, spilling out from the dump into the surrounding area.

FUTURE

There are a number of specialized geophysics companies operating in Ireland, and even in these difficult times, their future looks bright. There are qualified graduates constantly emerging from courses at NUIM and UCC, and these graduates can find their way into the Gardaí, EPA, the Archaeological Survey of Ireland, join existing companies or set up their own. Dr Paul Gibson is proud of the student body that have emerged from his MSC at NUIM, which came to Maynooth from many different counties, and now represent a impressive network of contacts that present students can tap into. In terms of the general picture, Dr Gibson would like to see archaeological assessments conducted as part of environmental impact studies, but he is realistic about what is possible. The county councils, he said, make owners pay for archaeological studies that are done on their lands, following the reporting of finds, so this is a major disincentive for people to report. It could, for example, delay the building of a house, and cost thousands to do the surveying work. For that reason, he believes that geophysics will only be called in when developments are proposed that lie near, or beside areas of known archaeological value. But, that approach is not ideal, he said, as “there is a lot of unknown stuff out there.”


GEOPHYSICAL TECHNIQUES l Ground penetrating radar. An electromagnetic pulse is sent out towards a target area, and information is reflected from that area back to a receiver. The reflected pulse can be interpreted to reveal buried objects, or structures of interest. A machine can be run over a large area, and information gathered in real-time about where items are buried and how deep.

l Electro-magnetics. Here the geophysicist in the field generates an electro-magnetic field above ground, which creates a magnetic field underground. By measuring the magnetic field produces, sub-surface properties can be determined. This might, for example, be used to detect leachate from a dump, or salt water in groundwater, or the location of an aquifer.

l Electrical resistivity. A direct electrical current is inserted into the ground, and the resulting voltages that are created in the ground are measured. The voltage information can be used to determine rock types, or where an aquifer is located. Also if there are areas of high resistance that might indicate the presence of walls or buildings as it is very hard to send an electric current through the walls. It is possible to determine where walls are located, and what depth they will be found at.

l VLF. This acronym refers to the measurement of disturbances in the magnetic field of VLF, or very low frequency, radio waves. The nature of the disturbances can provide information on the location of geological faults, and mineral deposits.

l Magnetics. The idea here is to measure disturbances in the Earth’s natural magnetic field. These disturbances are usually caused by rocks laden with iron that are, therefore, magnetic. This could also be used to try and find a body, since it could pick up ‘anomalies’ produced by the presence of man-made, iron containing objects like belt buckles or coins.

Science Spin hits the airwaves A popular science show for radio, also called Science Spin, written and presented by Seán Duke, has begun broadcasting on 103.2 Dublin City FM. The show is aired every week, between 15:30 and 16:00 on Thursday, with podcasts available the day after each show at http://sciencespin.podomatic.com l LIVE LINK The aim of the show, as its catchline states is ‘bringing science to the people’. The goal is break down the barriers - such as the use of scientific ‘jargon’ by scientists - that can make science appear elitist and removed, or irrelevant to the lives of ordinary people. Science needs to be discussed on the public stage, as it is a key part of all of our lives. The half hour show is made up of three main segments: ‘What’s it all about’ where important concepts in science such as ‘nanotechnology’ or‘cloud computing’ are explained; ‘Scientific Lives’ where the personalities and lives of Ireland’s most important scientists are profiled; and ‘Head-to-Head’ where invited guests debate controversial areas of science, such as stem cell research, biometrics (the gathering of biological data, and tracking of individuals), and the huge technological enhancement of human fertility. Seán welcomes any feedback on any aspect of the show, and he would be delighted if listeners would take the time to send an email with suggestions for the show, or how the show can be improved. To get in touch with Seán, email: sciencespin@dublincityfm.ie SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 13

l LIVE LINK


There’s a lot more to

Science Spin than ever before!

l a We’ve u t r i go n e v So, now we are l LIVE LINK in print, on the web at www.sciencespin.com and you can flip through our pages online.

+

That’s not all

The links in our online issues are LIVE Lots more information is just a click away. You can also share your online issues of Science Spin with friends, and if you want to know when the latest issue is out, just log onto www.sciencespin.com and from there send us an email.

Registration is FREE.

l LIVE LINK

Alternatively, just email us direct at: marieclaire@sciencespin.com Print subscribers are automatically included in the register


NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR FOREST RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT AN CHOMHAIRLE NÁISIUNTA UMTHAIGHDE AGUS FORBAIRT FORAOISE

A novel approach to forest biodiversity assessment

Faro laser scanner in a native Irish woodland. errestrial laser scanners (groundbased devices that are related to Airborne Laser Swath Mapping and LiDAR systems) use laser to digitise the geometry of real environments with high precision by capturing large point clouds of structural data in a very short time. The result is a large volume of detailed, threedimensional information about a scene’s dimensions, spatial positioning and texture that has a number of applications in industry, architecture, science and engineering. This technology has gone through intense development and has recently been exploited for vegetation mapping in the forest environment. It can be used in forest inventory sampling as an alternative to traditional manual survey techniques. Terrestrial laser scanning can be used in forest inventories to assist in optimal harvest scheduling. An Irish company, TreeMetrics Ltd., based in Cork, has developed a fully automated laser scanning system for taking measurements from standing timber in a non-destructive manner to inform optimal harvest decisionmaking and reduce waste. A number of research projects have been undertaken to assess the potential of this technology in an Irish context and two such projects have been funded by COFORD in recent years. The current project ‘FORESTSCAN’ is directed by University College Dublin and carried out with partners Treemetrics Ltd. and Purser Tarleton Russell Ltd.

T

Three-dimensional image produced using terrestrial laser scanning in a plantation forest. The information gathered about the structure of forest stands by terrestrial laser scanning may also be useful in forest biodiversity assessment. Forests are particularly biodiversity rich ecosystems and hold most of the world’s terrestrial species. In Ireland forest biodiversity is regulated under the National Biodiversity Plan, as part of the global commitment to biodiversity conservation developed in accordance with the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity. We are committed to implementing Sustainable Forest Management and conserving biodiversity in our forests. To effectively achieve this goal we need ways of assessing forest biodiversity, which is a priority area for research at the present time. Assessing the biodiversity of a forest is an enormous, time-consuming task requiring significant taxonomic skills. However, a strong relationship exists between biodiversity and the structural components of a forest and so the measurement of forest attributes may provide an alternative for detailed assessment of biodiversity components such as species diversity within forests. Conventional methods of measuring forest canopy structure are labour intensive and error prone but may be estimated using remote sensing

in certain circumstances. As well as providing a means of measuring forest variables such as tree diameter, density and tree height it provides information on quantitative measurements of structural parameters such as canopy extent, volume and branch size, which may be related to biodiversity. The success of the application of laser scanning to forest canopy structure measurement led to investigations into its application in forest management and ecological investigations. Terrestrial laser scanning as a technology with application in the assessment of forest biodiversity is a rapidly developing tool, and is the subject of investigations at a number of organisations worldwide. Its potential for use in forest biodiversity assessment in an Irish context is currently being investigated at University College Cork where it is the subject of a collaborative project with Treemetrics Ltd. This EPA-funded project aims to apply laser scanning technology to the assessment of forest structure and to relate this information to the diversity of plants, invertebrates and birds in a range of forest types including native woodlands and commercial plantations, with a view to determining the usefulness of this approach. Manual surveys of biodiversity are being undertaken at these same study sites as part of the large COFORD-funded PLANFORBIO research programme. Further information can be obtained at http:// www.ucc.ie/en/planforbio/Training/ TerrestrialLaserScanning/.

For more information, contact: Dr Sandra Irwin Project Manager PLANFORBIO Programme Dept. of Zoology, Ecology & Plant Science Distillery Fields, North Mall, University College Cork, Cork Email: s.irwin@ucc.ie l LIVE LINKS http://www.ucc.ie/en/planforbio

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 15


Green spider from Portugal by Valter Jacinto. Spanish Dancer, egg ribbon of a gastropod off Hawaii by Ken-ichy. A curled up Pangolin, Manis temminckii from Serengeti by Kibuy.

l LIVE LINK

www.eol.org

RECORDING DIvERsITy Tom Kennedy reports on an ambitious project to create an encyclopaedia of all the world’s species.

he number of known species is close to 2 million, and biologists estimate that there could be in the region of 10 million different forms of life on Earth. The actual number of different species depends on how strictly we define the term, and while we all know the difference between a horse, a dog and a cat, it can take the keen eye of a birdwatcher to distinguish between one type of crow and another. Even so, a jackdaw is a lot different from a rook. Apart from a significant difference in size, a jackdaw is not going to become matey with a rook, or indeed any other type of crow, and this is one of the ways that scientists can tell one species from another. About thirty types of crow inhabit the world, and each of these species could be regarded as a distinct gene pool. Seeing the magnificant Sumatran tigers prowl around in Dublin Zoo might make us appreciate just how significant those gene pool differences

T

can be. It is thought that just about 400 or so of these animals exist in the wild. In your own back yard or garden, we come across the other extreme where a thousand or more species could be lurking in the dirt. Compared to birds and mammals it is a lot harder to distinguish one sort of invertebrate from another, but the beetles alone, of which about five qualify as ‘woodworm’ make up about a quarter of all the known species. Lots of biologists have specialised in one type of plant or animal, and some botanists have even gone to the extremes of classifying our native blackberry into a whole range of subspecies. It takes a specialist to look at species in such detail, but biologists also have to take a much broader view if we are to see life as a living, interactive, web. General works on biology have been around for some time, not least of these being Darwin’s accounts of

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 16

what he saw on his voyages, but until the launch of the Encyclopaedia of Life project ten years ago, there was no comprehensive description of the world’s diversity available that anybody, regardless of their expertise, could dip into. Of course, without the Internet this EOL project could never have taken off. The Encyclopaedia of Life has just celebrated two years of existence with the announcement that there are now over 150,000 pages of expert vetted content up on line. The EOL foundation has the aim of completing 1.8 million pages, one for each known species, within ten years. This ambitious project with a council drawn from more than 25 institutions around the world, was launched with support from a number of private foundations, institutes and companies such as Adobe and Microsoft. Information on EOL is available at no cost to everyone who cares to log in,


and one of the latest developments is to develop different language versions so that the encyclopaedia becomes truly global and not just a resource for English speakers. This move also helps in the collection of information, for EOL depends on the input of expert contributors. About 250 taxonomists and other experts are among the volunteers who help assemble images, provide data, or check the quality of content, and there are facilities on the site to submit observations and comments. One of the refinements is colour coding of images, which remain on a yellow background until authenticated by experts.

The level of collaboration, both with the public and with experts is high. For example, students from four universities, Harvard, Oregon State, the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, have worked on the creation of 100 fungi pages. Students can also query experts by submitting questions. The Biodiversity Heritage Library, as an EOL partner, had contributed links to 15 million pages from published literature, and the international Census of Marine Life project is expected to complete pages on 215,000 species by 2013.

Bee releasing pollen by Dmitry Mozzherin. False Turkey fungus by Arthur Chapman. Eye of European green toad, Bufo viridis, by Matt Reinbold. Gerenuk, Litocranius walleri, by shade of acacia tree, Keyna. Photo, Kibuy

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 17

The executive director for EOL is James Edwards, and he is based at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. The aim, he said, is to harness the eyes and collective brainpower of hundreds of thousands of users, and in many ways this project shows how on-line information has evolved. “There are literally thousands of websites dedicated to individual aspects of biodiversity,” he said. “This unique collaboration between more than 100 leading international organisations is making vast amounts of information available in a common format.” SPIN


Tracking the spread of the moth across Europe. Records show it in the south of England, but so far it has not appeared in Ireland.

THE Encyclopaedia of Life is not just a fixed list, but is interactive as was demonstrated by the tracking of an invasive moth. This moth, Cameraria ohridella, feeds on the well known horse chestnut tree, causing leaves to go brown long before they are ready to fall in autumn. Horse chestnuts, with their distinctive white ‘candles’ and crop

DIARY

com ts - Up - Even gazine Spin Ma Science

Upcom

EVENTS

ents ing Ev

ents ing Ev

Lectures, workshops, outings, and other science events — Include your details FREE on the Science Spin website Simply send us the essential details and we will post your notice in the events section

uickV ndar Q

eeting arch M l Rese logica h Geo is Ir st RM, 51 CD - IG 2008 lin - U March 2. Dub 08 - 2 uary 20 br Fe ent 29 nce ev ie Sc ry" ccess Centu UCD A e 21st bin ul D e in th 3. lth Issu 08 ea 20 H ic 3 March l Publ Globa sity: A C "Obe k - UC 4. Cor ly 2008 er el Kel 5 March red de Dr Rach ge of ure by herita ld. Lect enetic lin - G ral wor tu ub D na 5. d the 2008 plaine ans ex 5 March d Rom eks an ow Gre H ln 6. Dub 2008 nce 6 March an Scie d Rom reek an lin - G ub D 7. pain’ 2008 n and e, ‘Gai 6 March lectur ental vironm En lin 8. Dub ch 2008 e 11 Mar Lectur ge Geo - Ice A , TCD lin ub 9. D ancer" ch 2008 s of C 12 Mar d Why ows an "The H C C U ork 10 . C ch 2008 12 Mar

Email marieclaire@sciencespin.com with the following details • Region (for example Galway) • Date and day • Time • Title (as brief as possible) • Speaker or leader • Description (as brief as possible in one line) • Venue live link • Cost (if this applies) for more • Contact and web address if available

information

Show

11-20 Items

»

Diary date alert

This is an all Ireland listing, and Science Spin will be updating it at least one a week and possibly more often.

Inclusion in the free listing is at the discretion of the editors, and is normally confined to noncommercial or scientific events.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 18

iew

e Cale 08 » uary 20 S « Febr F S W T 3 M T 1 2 10 8 9 7 6 17 4 5 16 15 13 14 24 11 12 22 23 21 20 18 19 29 27 28 25 26

Climat e Irish ing th arness

e: H

at h Clim the Iris y and

rg e, 'Ene

nc onfere lin - C 1. Dub ergy for En 08 uary 20 29 Febr

www.sciencespin.com

l LIVE LINK

constantly, the progress of this destructive moth is being followed closely, and one of the suspicions is that the pest may be evolving. In some places it has been found to attack sycamore trees, which are also a prominent part of our green landscape.

of ‘conkers’ are widespread throughout Europe, North America, and Asia. The moth has not yet reached Ireland, but it has been spreading rapidly since it first appeared in the Balkans twenty five years ago. Instead of being an ornament to parklands, trees, although they do not die, lose their looks. Because the information posted on EOLs pages is being updated


F Beauty is in the Phi of the beholder! Sam Hafford, overall winner of the RDS McWilliams Science Writers’ Competition, explains how the rules of beauty can be reduced to an irrational mathematical constant.

THEY say if you could bottle beauty, you would make a fortune. Well, mathematicians - with the help of nature - figured out the secret of beauty hundreds of years ago and many of them died in poverty. So much for what ‘they’ say! You see beauty can be reduced down to a number. It even has a name. It is called phi. So, what exactly is phi? Phi is an irrational number that approximates to 1.6180339887. It can also be expressed as the mathematical constant φ. Phi has many aliases; throughout history it has been known as the golden section, golden mean, golden number, golden ratio, golden cut, the divine proportion. Important in mathematics, art and geometry, phi can be defined as ‘the proportion arising from the division of a straight line into two segments so that the ratio of the whole line to the larger part is exactly the same as the ratio of the larger part to the smaller part’. Quite a mouthful! As you will see this simple line division has had a massive influence on mathematics, philosophy, geometry, art and architecture to name but a few, and botany, physiology and cosmology to name a few more! Some of the greatest thinkers

Photo: Marc O’Sullivan

of all time have been fascinated by this number. From the ancient Greeks, Euclid and Pythagoras, to Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, and Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, the mystery of phi has perplexed, captivated and inspired many of our greatest artists, philosophers and scientists from as early as the 3rd century. For instance, Pythagoras and his followers believed so strongly in the power of the number, that they felt if they worshipped it, it would reveal to them the hand of God. Leonardo da Vinci paid homage to this number by incorporating the ‘divine proportion’ into his iconic painting the Vitruvian Man. As science guru Professor Mario Livio put it, ‘the Golden Ratio has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics’. Read on and you’ll see why. Now, one of the simplest methods of deriving phi is to use what is arguably the most famous mathematical sequence of all time - the Fibonacci sequence. For those of you not familiar with Leonardo Fibonacci’s famous series, here’s a crash course introduction. Beginning with the numbers 0 and 1, each subsequent number in the series is found by summing the two

F

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 19


numbers preceding it. For instance: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89 ,144.….. You will find that the ratio of each successive pair of numbers in the series is approximate to phi e.g. 5 divided by 3 is 1.666...; and 8 divided by 5 is 1.6. After the 40th term in the series the ratio is accurate to 15 decimal places. Phi can also be derived by solving the quadratic equation which comes from the geometric solution of a golden cut: n² - n - 1 = 0. The positive solution to this equation is the square root of 5 plus 1 divided by 2:

Phi is also one of the quirkiest numbers. It’s the only number known to man which, when diminished by unity equals its reciprocal. No other number to our knowledge possesses this quality. Find another number that does and you will be on a par with the person who solved de Fermat’s last theorem! So how does phi hold its own in relation to the more established and proven mathematical constants? Take for instance pi (π). This Greek letter expresses one of the most important mathematical constants in existence. Like our friend phi, pi is irrational, meaning it cannot be represented (√5 + 1) / 2 = 1.6180339... = Phi. as a terminating or repeating decimal. Therefore it cannot be expressed as a fraction, although the estimation is commonly The real beauty of this number lies in the fact that it is seen in mathematics text books. Equal to approximately ubiquitous; it is everywhere; it is in everything. As I will 3.14159, pi expresses the ratio of any circle’s circumference to exemplify, it not only crops up in G.H. Hardy’s metaphysical its diameter. Many formulas from mathematics, physics and notion of a mathematical reality that ’lies outside us’, but engineering are derived from pi. reveals itself in our physical world too. The real beauty of phi The constant e is another mathematical heavyweight. The lies in the fact that this magical number is within the grasp of irrational number e (2.71828.….) is commonly defined as the anyone who cares enough to look for it. Let’s look for base of the natural logarithm. e is a mathematical cornerstone it… in that its use is necessary to calculate exponential We’ll take some accessible everyday growth. And the exponential function, e, is the only examples to prove the point - and what function which is also its own derivative; the true could be more accessible than the loner of the mathematical world. When put head-to-head with these and other human body? It is here that you will find approximations of phi heavyweights, such as Planck‘s constant or in the most unlikely places. If the gravitational constant, phi could never you divide the length of your be described as an imposter. Two quantities forearm (elbow to wrist) by the are in the ratio of phi if the ratio between the length of your hand, you’ll sum of those two quantities and the larger get phi. The distance between quantity is the same as the ratio between your shoulder line and the the larger quantity and the smaller quantity. top of your head, divided This definition gives us some small idea of by the length of your head the importance of phi in relation to a whole will give you phi. Divide world of mathematical possibilities. your height by the distance So now, back to the main between your navel and purpose of this essay - beauty in the bottom of your foot and mathematics and the beauty again, you’ll come up with phi. of this divine ratio. How do And that’s just the human body. we define beauty? Well Examples are evident in nature here I believe the words too. Divide the length of a dolphin’s of philosopher Thomas dorsal fin by the height of its dorsal fin Aquinas to be as good as any and you will get an approximation of the a definition; ‘Beauty is that which golden ratio. Divide the distance between the pleases in contemplation’. In other two upper markings on the wings of a Death’s Head words, when we discover hidden patterns or moth by the distance between the two lower truths through the use of our mental faculties, A constant going back millions of markings and you will see they conform to a true beauty is uncovered. So contemplate phi. Look at the nautilus sea shell. You will years, as in the compartments of this this; you will find that the top models in the fossil Cephalopod. find that each new chamber is proportioned world have a phi-face; their head forms a by phi relative to the preceding chamber. golden rectangle with their eyes at its midpoint It couldn’t all just be a coincidence, could it? Well, evidence while their mouth and nose are each placed at golden sections from the worlds of business, astronomy and geometry suggest of the distance between their eyes and the bottom of their chin. that the answer to this question is no. In the stock market, George Clooney, twice voted Sexiest Man Alive, has a face that for example, phi-based analysis software is used to identify conforms to this proportion. key turning points in the timing of highs and lows and price Perhaps Thomas Aquinas liked to contemplate the sunflowers resistance points. Look at the planet Saturn’s magnificent icy in his garden? But did he realise that sunflower seeds originate rings and you will see that they show a division of the length from a central point and move radially outwards as new seeds by the width of the rings relative to phi. And in geometry, the are formed? In fact, it was only 15 years ago that it was proven five platonic solids; the tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, that the optimal angular displacement for newly-formed seeds icosahedron and dodecahedron are all prime examples of is a phi-defined fraction of a circle (0.618034*360, about 222.5 beauty in mathematics. Many of their proportions also conform degrees). The apparent opposing spirals of seeds observed in to phi. This list of examples is almost endless. The seeming sunflowers are an optical illusion due to the fact that the ratio randomness of so much of that which surrounds us is pulled of the successive Fibonacci members approximates phi. If you together by this fascinating number. count the apparent number of arms in these spirals, they’ll

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 20


always equal two adjacent Fibonacci numbers whose ratios to the succeeding numbers are slightly above and below phi. Yet another aesthetically pleasing example of the golden ratio. ‘Without mathematics there is no art’. These famous words of Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli are apt when one considers some of the most beautiful works of art ever created. And the reason? Phi has been used as the template for so many of these works. Take for instance, Michelangelo’s David. You will discover the sculpture’s proportions conform to phi from the location of the navel with respect to height and the placement of the joints in the fingers. Another example is Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished canvas Saint Jerome. Look closely and you will see that a ‘golden rectangle’ fits so perfectly around the saint himself that some scholars believe the artist deliberately painted the figure in proportion to the golden ratio. Knowing da Vinci’s fondness for geometry and the divine proportion, this may well be likely. A final, more modern representative of the golden number in art can be found in The Sacrament of the Last Supper by 20th Century Catalan artist Salvador Dali. You will find that the painting itself fits neatly inside a ‘golden rectangle’, and the golden proportion was used in the positioning of the figures. A section of an enormous dodecahedron even floats above the table, almost in explicit worship of this golden ratio. The polyhedron in the painting consists of 12 regular pentagons - all of which have golden connections. There is much substantial evidence here to suggest that these famous artists, armed with the understanding that conforming to this golden ratio would make their work more aesthetically pleasing, intentionally included it in their masterpieces. From the magnificent, structural extravagance of the Parthenon to the most perfectly designed human features, the inclusion of phi cannot be ignored. As we have seen, this wondrous number is everywhere. But it is more than just a number. It permits us to truly appreciate beauty beyond simply a mere aesthetic level. Perhaps beauty is more than just a metaphysical ideal. Perhaps we can explain beauty on a scientific level. Maybe phi is the key to unlocking the secret of beauty. Could it be that there is a format for aesthetically pleasing objects? If so, the golden ratio could very well be that format. It is no coincidence that many great artists, men who devoted their lives to the artistic expression of beauty,

included this ‘divine proportion’ in their work. Surely also, it is no coincidence that this fascinating number is found in the most naturally beautiful of objects. From the spiral of the Nautilus sea-shell to the majestic brilliance of Phidias’ Zeus, phi is present in both natural and man-made beauty. This simple number, so much more than just another ordinary decimal, allows us to appreciate the ordinary world in a most extraordinary way. Perhaps that in itself is beauty.

F REFERENCES (1) The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the Extraordinary Number of Nature, Art and Beauty by Mario Livio (2) The Divine Proportion: A Study in Mathematical Beauty by H.E. Huntley (3) A Mathematician’s Apology: G.H. Hardy (4) http://goldennumber.net/ (14 April) (5) http://britton.disted.camosun.bc.ca/goldslide/ jbgoldslide.htm (15 April) Sam Hafford, from Castleknock College, Dublin, was the overall winner in the 2009 RDS McWilliams Young Science Writers’ Competition. To find out more about the competition visit the RDS website www.rds.ie/youngsciencewriters l LIVE LINK The annual science writing competition is open to all second level students throughout Ireland. There are two categoriries, fact and fiction. Details and entry forms for the next competition will be available on the RDS website.

SPIN

Don’t miss out — SUBSCRIBE for just €18 and get six issues a year www.sciencespin.com Register for the free digital edition. Simply email marieclaire@sciencespin.com with the word register. l LIVE LINK

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 21


EXPLORING MINING

LANDMARKs

Tom Kennedy reports how prospectors followed a mineral rich line from the seashore at Killiney to the remote Glenmalure valley in County Wicklow. Part of the long flue running from the lead works at Ballycorus up to the landmark chimney. Half hidden by vegetation, the roof here has collapsed to expose the tunnel like interior. Photo: Tom Kennedy, Source Archives.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 22

O

ne of the most prominent landmarks in south County Dublin is the tower like chimney that tops the hill at Ballycorus. The 80 foot high chimney is a striking structure of granite, and it is high up and exposed to the winds for a very good reason. Its function was to carry away the noxious fumes generated by the lead works lower down to the west. A tunnel like flue runs back down the hill for about a mile, an amazing construction, and apparently the envy of smelters through the United Kingdom. In the early 19th century, Robert Kane, writing in his Industrial Resources of Ireland, described it as one of the best of its kind, and even now the chimney and flue make quite an impression. Most of the great granite steps, set into the outside of the chimney and spiralling upwards remain, and at one stage several courses of brick added to the already impressive height. Less visible, but more impressive in some ways, is the long tunnel, snaking its way through the undergrowth down to the old works. Long sections of this are still intact, and where the roof has collapsed, perfectly constructed archwork is exposed. Building the flue and chimney was a massive investment, and one of the ways the mining company got a return from this was to periodically scrape sulphate of lead deposits off the inner walls. Fluctuating prices for lead sometimes made it harder to make a profit, but the company seems to have had a more enlightened approach to cost control than many other industries of that time, for as Kane wrote, workmen with barrows were only allowed enter the flue after it was thoroughly ventilated. The former works is still occupied, but not as a smelter. After more than a century of operations, the Mining Company of Ireland moved out in the 1920s, but the high shot tower remains as a reminder of how extraction and refining of lead and silver was an important part of the regional economy. Originally, lead ore for the works came from a mine shaft running west from the chimney, and this is the area now strewn with blankets of spoil. Picking through the spoil can be a rewarding experience, for every so often a heavier lump of ore, in the form of grey coloured galena, lead sulphide, turns up. Cerussite, lead carbonate, also occurs.


The minerals occur at the junction of Wicklow granite with the much older surrounding rocks, and they were were carried up from the depths to fill cracks and crevices by enormous heat and pressure. Mining began there in 1805, and if we follow the same geological junction we find old lead mines to the east by the coast, and going south west inland by Glendasan Valley, Glendalough, and Glenmalure. Early prospectors obviously followed that trail, but not always with success. At the north end of Killiney beach, half hidden around an outcrop, where the granite of Dalkey Hill meets the Ordovician mica-schists, is the cave like entrance to an old mine, predating Ballycorus by half a century, and reported to have been worked for lead and copper. This mine probably never turned in a profit so it was abandoned, while Ballycorus remained sporadically productive, hitting a high in the 1840s when a silver rich vein was discovered. Even so, the original mine at Ballycorus never produced enough to keep the adjacent smelting works in full production, and as yields there decreased, the company carted in supplies of dressed ore from the much more productive mines in Wicklow and Caim in County Wexford. The shot tower erected in 1829, was described by Kane as “a handsome construction” with a spiral stairs within terminating in an “artistic iron verandah” on the outside. The tower was essential for production, for a great deal of the lead produced in the 19th century went into producing rounded pellets of shot, for then, as now, there was no shortage of guns. The shot was produced by dropping molten lead through a grid, and given enough distance, the balls of metal were solid before they reached the bottom. At the works, the ore was smelted, and the lead cast into ingots. Silver was separated out by a process that involved repeated heating and cooling. Lead has a lower melting point, so as the silver rich mix cooled, it solidified first and could be picked out. According to Walter Freeman, author of Pre-Famine Ireland, developing that silver extraction process added to company profits, and until this could be done, the more valuable ores had to be sent to England or Holland. That difference could mean a lot to a company exposed to fairly

The distinctive chimney with its spiral stairs and brick top to give additional height.

The shot tower with its iron balcony was used to produce pellets of lead.

The Ballycorus lead works as it was in the late nineteenth century.

Ore from Glendalough was brought to Ballycorus for smelting. Photographs: Geological Survey of Ireland.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 23


sudden fluctuations in pricing and competition from England. Taxation was a sore subject, hotly debated at public meetings in Dublin. When excise duties on imports of lead were dropped in 1828 the price fell from £30 to just £16 a ton, and Irish producers struggled to survive, yet survive they did. Five years later prices were up, and the Mining Company of Ireland began investing more in the Wicklow mines. By 1836 the company also had control of the Caim mine in Wexford, where 130 men were employed. Caim was once thought of as the most productive mine, producing high quality ore of 75 per cent galena, yet by 1846 the place had been virtually abandoned. The success rate in Wicklow, at Glendasan and Glendalough, was better and mining continued there for a longer period of time. Strangely enough, the rebellion of 1798 may have played a part, for the discovery of lead ore at the head of Glendalough and Glendasan Valley was made by Thomas Weaver, an engineer working on the construction of the Military Road, a project designed to bring troops up into the valley hot spots of rebellion. Thomas Weaver had also been sent into Wicklow to search for gold, so he had the expertise both to spot the veins of galena and to act on that knowledge. A company was formed, and mining began at Luganure, on the slopes of Camaderry Mountain in 1809. When the Mining Company of Ireland, owners of the Millions of years ago as great earth plates collided, the granite that forms the backbone of Wicklow pushed the older crust up and aside. In doing so, the edges of the older sedimentary rocks were subjected to enough heat and pressure to transform them into schists with their distinctive sheen. The world was in a turmoil, and super heated mineral rich fluids were forced up into the cracks and crevices between the granite and the schists. Eventually the cooling granite crystalised, and the injected fluids became the minerals that we value so highly now. Most of the minerals that occur along this junction are in the form of galena, sphalerite, and purite, together with an abundance of quartz, and crystaline calcite.

Lead at the end of the rainbow. Upper Glendalough with mine tailings over rocky scree, and the ruined crushing mill. Photo: Stephen Callaghan. Ballycorus smelter, took over in 1824 Luganure was regarded as the most important mine in Ireland, producing lead and silver in abundance. At the time, 200 men were working below and above ground, and about 120 tons of lead ore were being produced each month. Houses and a school were built for the miners, and the whole area must have been alive and not just with industry. One long line of houses rang out with so much music that it became known as Fiddlers Row. The same mineral rich junction between the granite and schist continues obliqely across from Glendasan to the upper end of Glendalough, and in 1850 miners were at work there as well. The mountain was riddled with a network of adits, and by 1859

both sides of the valley had been connected underground, perhaps deliberately because this helped solve some expensive problems connected to drainage of water and access to crushing facilities, which were located on the less productive Glendalough side. Although the Luganure Mine had always been more important, a massive decline in prices, from €20 a ton in 1887 to just €9 a ton in 1888, sealed its fate. The mine went up for sale and many of the miners emigrated. In 1890 Albert and Wyndham Wynne bought Luganure, and almost as an aside, Glendalough, not so much for the minerals, as for the grouse shooting. The Wynne family had long been associated with mining in the

Glendasan, the Hero Mine. The mountain was riddled with a network of adits, connecting one side of the valley to the other underground.. Photo: Stephen Callaghan.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 24


Miners at Glendalough just before the mines finally closed in 1951. Photo ‘Wicklow Mining Heritage’. The crushing building and old crushing machinery at Glendalough. Photos: Stephen Callaghan. Wicklow area, but it seems that all they could do with their latest acquisition was to pick through the mountains of spoil to gather ore that has been missed by the original miners. With the First World War there was a temporary return to work when the British government, concerned about a shortage of metals, stepped in with a £2,500 grant, but as soon as hostilities ceased, so did the support, and once more the miners were out of work. If nothing else, the Wynne family must have been persistent, for in 1948 St Kevin’s mine was opened up again at Glendasan, and for the nine following years 55 out of a workforce of 80 toiled away underground, driving one tunnel, known as Fox Rock, through the mountain for a distance of three quarters of a mile. Although it was said that there was no great shortage of ore, the mine became less productive, and for one last year, it was leased out to a Canadian company. In 1957, the year in which the mine had one of its rare fatilities when a drill hit dynamite, the mine closed, and this time there was no going back.

When a rock with galen, is broken open the lead sulphide ore has a metallic sheen. Photographed at Glendalough by Stephen Callaghan. The loss of jobs was a big blow to the area, leading one TD, Dr Esmonde into a heated exchange with the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Sean Lemass. With some persistence, Dr Esmonde kept asking the minister what did he propose doing about the “thirty disemployed”. Sean Lemass responded that he knew no more than what he had read in the papers, adding that: “This is a private company

Beyond Glendalough is the more isolated Glenmalure Valley, and here too, lead was mined, possibly from before the turn of the eighteenth century. Thomas Weaver, who was responsible for opening up the mines at Glendalough, recorded substantial underground workings, and in 1811 an output of 334 tons of lead was reported. Later, in 1853, the geologist, Warrington Smyth, noted a vein of lead extending for over 3,000 feet. Even more remote than the upper reaches of Glendalough, working the mines must have been quite a challenge, even for the investors. One of the mines, Baravore, was abandoned in 1853, but undaunted, optimistic investors raised £6,500 in £1 shares to reopen the workings in 1859. Most of this money seems to have gone into the ruins that we see today, and they were hardly finished when the venture collapsed. Unlike Glendalough, or the mine in Wexford, ore was smelted into lead at Glenmalure. Unfortunately, the evidence for this was obliterated not that long ago when the ruined smelting works was levelled for use as a car park. No doubt many of the people who park there now would have come to explore the industrial heritage.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 25

operating a private mining right and they are entitled to be protected against the publicising of their affairs.” The miners now had a choice, melt back into the background, or emigrate to apply their skills in Canada or Australia. Many families with mining connections remain in the area, and in a fascinating and valuable project, pupils from St Saviour’s NS, Rathdrum, and Scoil Naofa in Glendalough, talked to two former miners who recalled what it was like to leave the crystal clear mountain air and clamber into the gloom to spend hours on end hacking out lumps of rock. As the old miners explained, the men outside, who worked the crushers, earned less than those inside, and before they could become drillers, they first had to spend time as an assistant. The drills were operated by compressed air, and in a day one driller and his assistant could make thirty, five foot deep, holes. Dynamite inserted into the holes could blast out 15 tons of rock, all of which had to be brought out for crushing and sorting to extract the ore. It was hard work, but as the miners remarked, the financial rewards for working long hours underground were a lot better than they could ever earn working for the County Council. Above Glendalough’s upper lake the remains of buildings and crushing machines lie abandoned. Higher up the view back over the lakes adds to the atmosphere of isolation, and even when the mines were being worked, they were not that easy to reach. A stiff climb before and after a hard day’s work. Going up to one particular mine required such a climb that it became known as “Van Diemen’s Land”. The mine entrances are now just so many dead holes high up on the valley sides, and streaming down from them is the hard won broken rubble of a discarded industry. SPIN


INSPIRE On the mOve

The advance group of INSPIRE fellows. Pictures Conor McCabe/Jason Clarke Photography

S

cientists who never leave the lab are likely to settle into a life constrained by limited horizons. As Dr Dagmar Meyer, from the Irish Universities Association, points out, researchers need to network, and going abroad is a good way to make international connections. Dr Meyer was among those celebrating the launch of INSPIRE, a programme under which early career researchers can spend time working in leading institutions abroad. INSPIRE, run by IRCSET, the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, is similar in many ways to the long standing Marie Curie Fellowship, established to encourage greater mobility of researchers throughout the European Research Zone. Both programmes are, in fact, interlinked, and as IRCSET chief executive, Martin Hynes, explained, the INSPIRE programme has been tailor made for Ireland. Securing funding for this special programme, €5m from the European Commission, and €7m from the Irish government, he said, was a major achievement, and it is good news for Irish researchers. Because INSPIRE provides financial and other practical supports, researchers have nothing to worry about when venturing abroad, they learn how to collaborate, and

the launch of the InSPIRe programme means that more researchers will gain from experience abroad. tom Kennedy reports that the first eighteen are already on their way to some of the world’s leading institutions. they bring back valuable experience. As Dr Meyer remarked, INSPIRE is a fellowship of excellence, and instutions everywhere are starting to recognise it as such. In October the first group of eighteen researchers were presented with their awards, and at present they are on their way to instutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia and Yale, the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and the Max Planck Institut for Extraterrestriche Physik in Germany. The researchers will be away for eighteen months, and when they return, the INSPIRE support will continue for another year. The researchers represent a great diversity of interests including bioinformatics, healthcare, astrophysics, geophysics, energy, mathematics and palaeontology. Becoming an INSPIRE fellow, said Dr Meyer, means that researchers

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 26

become part of an existing Marie Curie network. Since that programme began, thousands of young researchers have benefited, she said, so there is now a huge network of people scattered throughout universities, industry, business, and state agencies. “If you count everyone,” she said, “you probably have forty to fifty thousand researchers,” and as a mathematician who went from Germany to France in 1999, Dr Meyer includes herself. When researchers go abroad, what sort of reception do they get? Jennifer Cleary, who runs the Euraxess office out of the Irish Universities Association office, explained that financial support is just part of the INSPIRE deal. When the Marie Curie fellowship programme was being developed, it was realised that moving from one country to another can be quite difficult, so a series of one-stop-shops were set up to provide down-to-earth advice on the practicalities of day-to-day living. Wherever researchers go, there is likely to be a Euraxess office nearby, and Irish researchers can start by talking to Jennifer in Dublin. “We get all kinds of queries,” she said, “even if not all are as strange as the one that came in on what to do with fifteen cats.” One of the most frequently asked questions, she said, is “where can my partner find work?”


York, David will be working on biomedical engineering.

l With a PhD in bioinformatics from DCU, Dr Ana Barat is off to the Institute Gustave-Roussy in Paris. At DCU Ana became interested in how genes were expressed as phenotypes, and at the Institute in Paris she will apply the techniques she developed to cancer research.

l Dr Eoghan Holohan became interested in how the Earth changes shape, and while working in his post doc at UCD he came across useful numerical codes that he could apply in modelling deformations, such as those that result from volcanic activities or the collapse of old mines. Measuring from the ground is difficult, but at the GeoForschung Zentrum at Potsdam he will be applying his codes to highly accurate satellite measurements.

l Dr David Coyle is interested in how information technology can improve psychiatric care, and following a post doc at TCD he is going to work with a group specialising in interdisciploinary design at the University of Cambridge l After working on information retrieval at NUIG Dr Ronan Cummins is going to the University of Glasgow where he will continue this line of research using artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence, he commented, makes it possible to rank materials into an order of relevance. l At the University of Limerick, Dr Ryan Enright worked at improving interactive surfaces at a nano level, and his fellowship brings him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he will continue this research. l Dr Susan Foley has been carrying out post doc research at UCD into gamma ray bursts. These great explosions of energy, she said, tell us a lot about the origin of the Universe, and, fortunately, they occur at a great distance from us. At the Max Plank Institut fur Extraterrestrische Physik in Germany Susan will be looking at how far these bursts occur. l At the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, Dr David Hoey applied his mechanical engineering skills to see how bone forming cells reacted to loading. Many cells have hair-like cilia on their surface, and David found that simply bending these could trigger bone formation. This significance of this is that in surgery, repair might be a better option than replacement. At Columbia University in New

Dr Maria McNamara who is looking at how soft tissue fossils form is going to Yale University.

On the mOve Dr Ryan Enright who is working on interactive surfaces at the nano level is off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

l Dr Tianji Li has already travelled around the globe in his study of wireless networks. From China he swent to NUI Maynooth, and his fellowship now brings him to the University of Texas, Austin. Wireless networks, he said have become very powerful, and pervasive, and one of his special interests is in making them work for people, like himself, who are always on the move. l Dr Robert Lynch studied at the University of Limerick before spending time in Germany working on his post doc research into electrochemistry. Now is he off to the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw, to find out how to cut the cost of producing electrodes for renewable energy devices. Our dependence on expensive materials, he said, could be reduced by using enzymes. l Most people associate fossils with bones, but as Dr Maria McNamara, who did a PhD at UCD, points out, soft tissues can also survive. Marie has a special interest in how this happens, and at Yale University she will be looking at how colour can still appear in fossils millions of years after they formed. l At DCU Dr Conor McLoughlin was studying the fine deposition of surface materials using plasma processes. As he explained, great improvements have been made in controlling the process, and at the Laboratoire de Cristallographie et Sciences des MatĂŠriaux in


France, Conor will be looking at how modifying the spin of electrons can influence the results. l Dr Conor Muldoon has been working with one of the CSETs at UCD on developing software for very small mobile devices. These can include such things as sensors for real-time environmental monitoring, he said, and he will continue this line of research with a wireless sensor network group at the University of Oxford. l Dr Muhammad Adi Negara came to Ireland from Indonesia to work on microelectronics at Tyndall, and he has also worked in collaboration with Intel. His next stop will be France, where he will continue researching at the Institut de Microélectronique Électromagnétisme de Photonique. l Dr James O’Shea from UCD said he sometimes feels unique when describing himself as a pure mathematician. His particular field of quadratic forms and algebra, he said, are quite relevant both to

the pure and to the applied side of mathematics. His fellowship brings James to the University of Konstanz in Germany which has a particularly high ranking among the world’s mathematicians. l Dr Anne Oxbrough from UCC has been studying spiders in Irish forests, and as she explains, they make good indicators of biodiversity. However most Irish forests are still quite young, and to study how invertebrates thrive in older plantations, Anne is heading off to the University of Alberta in Canada. A lot of what I will learn there, she said, will be relevant to Irish forestry as it matures. l Dr Aisling Redmond has been working at the Royal College of Surgeons on breast cancer. Of the 2,500 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Ireland, 30 to 40 per cent develop resistance to treatment, and her quest is to identify a marker that can act as a target for drugs. “With this fellowship I will spend some time

working at the Cambridge Cancer Research Institute.” l At DCU Dr Ondrei Stranik’s research concentrated on identifying the signs that indicated an impending heart attack. As a physicist he worked in collaboration with other researchers from a range of disciplines on developing a diagnostic tool. At the Institute of Photonic Technology in Germany his aim will be to increase the sensitivity of this test. l Dr Emma Whelan commented that she had spent the past ten years orbiting between TCD and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies where she studied star formation. Her work involves looking at how the outflow balances with the accretion as a star forms. Big telescopes, she said, are beginning to reveal a lot more about the the Universe, and apart from going to study at the Laboratoire Astrophysique Observatoire de Grenoble, she will also he heading off to the Keck telescope high in the mountains of Hawaii.

DIASPORA Researchers are being encouraged to network, and one of the tools that the advance guard of INSPIRE fellows will be using extensively is DIASPORA. This is a product developed in collaboration with IRCSET by IBM in Dublin. As John McGrath, one of the developers from IBM, explained, the aim with DIASPORA is to provide all researchers with a common platform for exchange and messaging, as easy to use as a popular social networking site, but operating in a much more secure business type environment. Based on IBM’s own tried and tested internal communications system, a focus group from IRCSET, including John Breslin from NUI Galway, winner of a Golden Spider Award for the interactive site, Boards, worked

with the company to incorporate all the features that researchers are likely to need or use. As John McGrath explained, DIASPORA has been designed to accommodate different levels of security, and in signing on, researchers after entering relevant information about themselves can choose how much extra to include. For example, there is instant messaging, bookmarking with live links to sites that might interest other researchers in a similar field, and there are facilities to put up MP3s or video demonstrations. Another feature that should be of help to researchers is ‘wikki’ where specialists can put up novel terms or proposed definitions so that everyone can comment on them.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 28

DIASPORA has just been launched by IRCSET, and as researchers begin to sign on, the community of users is expected to expand. As the community expands, the value of DIASPORA will also increase. Every IRCSET supported researcher will be up there with a profile, and a variety of links will make it a lot easier to find collaborators or network with people working in highly specialised fields. Apart from providing IRCSET with an ongoing link to the growing population of Irish researchers, chief executive, Martin Hynes, commented that one of the great strengths of DIASPORA is that the content is not being imposed by some centralised agency, but instead is to be primarily generated by the users themselves.


The Irish research scene edge crea l w

Edu c

in at

Kn o n

n

io t a

Dr Ryan, who has many years experience in high-technology industry, is one of the twelve consultants in the CIRCA group. The group have worked on a number of policy reports, and recently they were involved in a study of knowledge transfer into industry. Concerns about the low level of transfer, particularly into smaller firms, has been growing, so the report sought to identify why the huge investments in research are not rubbing off on Irish industry. Meetings were held with the colleges and with industry, and some of the findings quite rightly should give rise to alarm. For example, Dr Ryan commenting that “the universities have suddenly gone into the intellectual property business rather than research,” said that the value being put on potentially useful knowledge is often totally unrealistic. This barrier is being compounded by negotiations that people from industry described as “heartbreaking.” On the positive side, said Dr Ryan, the same willingness to deal with complex rules gives the colleges an advantage when it comes to applying for grants or funding. In many cases, said Dr Ryan, this is the sort of help that can be of benefit to industry. The study confirmed that there is a great deal of disenchantment with the whole process of knowledge transfer, and Dr Ryan expressed the hope that knowing where the problems lie could help everyone to come up with a better system. At present, he said, a lot of the players in the system do not actually know what they are supposed to be doing. One of the most telling remarks came from one of the academics. When asked about technology transfer, said Dr Ryan, this academic answered quite honestly that “I do not know if this is something that my university wants me to do.” Perhaps more significant was the point that spending time helping industry, rather than enhancing a career, is more likely to be an impediment. Academics don’t get credits, they don’t get promotion, and they don’t get respect from their peers for engaging with industry, and as Dr Ryan observed, this is a real problem, and if we are serious about transfer of knowledge these are points that have to be resolved. In spite of all these problems, the environment for Irish researchers has been completely transformed, and as Dr Ryan also observed, funding is actually available, even if we need to become a lot more efficient in making use of existing supports. The increased exposure of researchers to industry is also likely to have an impact. Support for placement as part of third level studies means that an increasing number of researchers feel at equally at home on both sides of the divide. For them, transfer is not much of an issue.

tio

t the IRCSET launch of the INSPIRE fellowship, science policy consultant, Dr Jim Ryan, described how researchers going abroad might be in for a surprise. In Ireland, most research is bundled together with education, but in many other countries this is not the case. Instead of being based in the universities, research is often shared out among a number of specialised instutions with no significant teaching role. As Dr Ryan explained, almost all research in Ireland is linked to third-level colleges, and there are just a few exceptions, such as the Marine Institute, and Teagasc. There are advantages, and there are disadvantages to this arrangement, he said, adding that “universities are not the ideal partners for industry.” To explain why this is so, Dr Ryan pointed out that we have knowledge creation, education, and innovation, where results of research are applied. One component of the overall system does not necessarily lead on to the next, and Dr Ryan observed that the universities were set up primarily to educate people. If this is their primary role, how can we expect universities also to be leaders in innovation? As Dr Ryan pointed out, academic experts often fail to understand what industry actually wants. To an academic, innovation can mean discovering something completely new, but for someone in industry, innovation can mean better use of existing knowledge. What industry wants, said Dr Ryan, are results that can be applied, and on this point, he observed that almost all innovation in industry is based on the application of existing knowledge. There are, of course, a lot of grey areas, and as Dr Ryan said, there are good examples of colleges and industry working together. However, this does not mean that knowledge transfer is working well, and as Dr Ryan explained, there is serious gap between college based research and Irish industry. A lot depends on what sort of knowledge is involved, and on the size of the companies. Large companies, he said, are more willing to participate in research because that might keep them ahead of competitors, and that is why we see a lot of collaboration with the multinationals. Smaller companies, on the other hand, cannot afford that luxury, and “a point that people often overlook”, he said, “is that the facilities on offer from the universities are of little interest to industry because they already have these in place.” All the small and medium sized firms might actually want, he said, is transfer of applications.

A

In n o v

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 29


REVIEWS

Irish fossils

WHEREVER sedimentary rocks occur we are likely to find the fossilised remains of plants and animals. Although Ireland has little to offer in the line of dinosaurs, there is an abundance of limestone and other sedimentary rocks, so fossils, often of great age, occur in most areas. Geologist, Patrick Gaffikin, has produced a short guide on where to

Stones of Belfast

BELFAST has so many streets of brick that if it were not for the stony Victorian core, it could almost be called the Red City. The terraces are a product of the same commercial expansion that gave Belfast its great buildings of cut and dressed stone. Designed to impress, the stone was selected as much for appearance as for function, and because of this, the centre of Belfast is like a geological showcase. As Patrick Gaffikin in Set in stone, a geological guide to the building stones of Belfast explains, a stroll through the city brings us face to face with rocks from places as far apart as

Shedding light on the Middle Ages

THE Dark Ages were not so gloomy, and the Renaissance was not so bright as we have been led to believe. In a fascinating exploration of the Medieval world, the author of this book, James Hannam, shows just how wrong it is to accept all the old popular myths about decay and ignorance. It is often been assumed that the decline of Rome led to the collapse of order and learning, but the evidence suggests that there was, instead, a flowering of thought and innovation. Rome rule was extremely rigid, and from what we know of its schooling, creative thinking was definitely not encouraged. The political landscape, as always, was undoubtedly a mess, but as James Hannam points out, “the compass, paper, printing, stirrups and gunpower, all appeared in western

look and illustrating what we are likely to find. Starting with one of the most ancient of all, the 550 million year old traces of Oldhamia in the slates of Bray Head, we can find trilobites, sea urchins, corals, and the curled shells of Ammonoids. Some, like the sea urchins, are still with us, others, like the trilobites are long extinct, and

many, like the marine conodonts that occur at Acton, Co Armagh, are so small that they can only be be examined under a microscope. Published as one of the Appletree Pocket Guides, this is an excellent introduction to Irish fossils. (TK)

Brazil and Norway. The volume of rock shipped or carted into Belfast was amazing, even by modern standards. Construction of the Robinson and Cleaver Building alone, with its distinctive corner turrets required 30,000 cubic feet of sandstone and 4,300 cubic feet of polished Aberdeen granite. With the help of a useful map, Patrick Gaffikin brings us around the buildings, explaining what sort of rock to look out for, and in many cases why they were used. For example, the base of that enormous Scottsh Provident Building to one side of Donegall Square rests on a plint of Swedish granite, chosen not just for looks,

but because granite makes an excellent damp course. The imported stones added variety, but local quarries, such as Scrabo, were important suppliers of sandstone, and this is the rock we see in the tall Albert Memorial. Black Kilkenny limestone also makes an appearance in Belfast, and Connemara Marble, which we learn is 600 million year old metamorphised lime mud from Galway, can be seen in the columns flanking the Ocean Building entrance. (TK)

Europe between AD 500 and AD 1500”, and to this we can add spectacles, the mechanical clock, the windmill, and the blast furnace. Spectacles, which made their first appearance in 1300, rapidly spread from Venice to the rest of Europe, and no doubt this new invention helped to accelerate the explosive spread of printing in the following century. Thousands of manuscripts found their way into print and scholars no longer had to worry so much about failing eyesight. One of the reasons why the Middle Ages got a bad name is that the Humanists, who came later, completely rejected scholasticism,

an approach that attempted to reconcile belief with classical philosophy. Such was the contempt they held for earlier works, that they either burnt the old manuscripts or used them for binding new, more acceptable, books. The Humanists, writes James Hannam, were “incorrigible reactionaries,” and apart from rubbishing some of the finest deductive thinking of preceding centuries, they helped to create a myth, gleefully seized on later by popular trendies such as Thomas Huxley, that the church stood in the way of progress. How many of us still think that the church opposed dissection, and that Galelio was forced to recant? As

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 30

Irish Fossils, a Pocket Guide. Patrick Gaffikin. Appletree Press.

Set in stone, a geological guide to the building stones of Belfast. Patrick Gaffikin. Environment and Heritsge Service, NI.

SPIN


James Hannam explains, the church did not in fact ban dissection, but they did forbid boiling of bodies. That particular prohibition began in a bid to stop a rather peculiar practice during the Crusades, when bones, rather than rotting bodies, had to be sent back for burial at home. The church did not approve, so when doctors, curious to know what went on inside the body, began disections, they could not “cook” limbs to make removal of skin easier. As for Galileo, the row had less to do with science than Roman politics. The pope, Urban VIII, appears to have been quite indifferent to Galileo and the Copernicanism view of the Earth circling the Sun, until put in an embarrasing situation by being questioned in public. Galileo had warned the pope, who was a great believer in hocus-pocus, not to make the central position of the Earth a matter of faith, because the church would be made look very foolish if Copernicanism was shown to be true. There the matter might have rested if Galileo had not made this into such an

issue by humiliating a power hungry pope in public. Up to then his views had been looked on as interesting, but not alarming, and, in all probability, if he had stuck to the science, he have been left alone. As James Hannam explains, the church, which had been inclined to hold that the Earth was off centre, because it would not be right for it to be too close to God, had no real reason to challenge Galileo. The truth, as is often the case, can be a bit more complicated than the stories suggest, and the flat earth idea is another myth that the author is keen to demolish. The realisation that the Earth is round goes way back into antiquity, but instead of constructing complicated maps, early navigators made flat charts that were much easier to follow. Later commentators, eager to reinforce their ill-informed views, saw these charts as further evidence of how little people knew about anything in the Middle Ages. There were wars, there was corruption, and as the great cathedral

God’s Philosophers How the Medieval World laid the foundations of modern science James Hannam Icon Books. Tom Kennedy

Weather Eye

AT the height of the Great War a writer in the The Irish Times wondered if German guns were responsible for a period of ‘abominable’ weather in Dublin. As Brendan McWilliams, more than 90 years later noted in his daily column, the idea that noise would cause rain to fall has been cropping up since Roman times, and in his usual erudite style, he followed this up with another article describing the American Congress granted Robert St George Dyrenfort $2,000 to send baloons loaded with explosives up into the air, and by happy coincidence, the first trial resulted in a deluge. Alas, this was a oneoff success, and Dyrenfort became known as ‘dryhenceforth’. Brendan McWilliams was one of those rarities, an expert who could write, and his daily Weather Eye column deservidly attracted a big following. It is interesting to compare them to the standard agency dross that, unfortunately,

of Notre Dame was being build, ten heritics, who refused to back down from their belief that God and the Universe were one, were burnt alive in the next street. There were also terrible plagues that left towns empty, but are these things really more awful than the horrors we see every day on the news now? It is all to easy to see the dark side, and forget that universities, free from interference, already existed in the 13th century, the concept of zero completely transformed mathematics, gothic arches enabled buildings to soar far higher than they had ever been before, and alchemists were not just concerned about gold, but were laying down the foundation for chemistry. As the author convincingly argues, we really need to revise a big and significant hunk of our history.

has taken the place of his column, and maybe there is a lesson there for newspapers on the potential value of ‘fillers’. One of the great strengths of Brendan’s column, apart from all those wonderful nuggets of miscellaneous information, was that he knew his subject, for, as most people are aware, he was a professional meteorologist, and he obviously enjoyed sharing his knowedge.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 31

As a one time columnist for the same paper, I often wondered how Brendan had the stamina to produce a well crafted column, not just weekly, but every day, and always with a fresh originality. Yet, this is what he continued to do for two decades, and readers were always eager for more, leading him to a regular slot on radio every Tuesday as part of the Pat Kenny show. His articles stand the test of time, and they are just as enjoyable to read now as they always were. A year after his death in 2007 an anthology of his Weather Eye series became a best seller, and with two decades to choose from, there was no shortage of material to fill another book with 100 of his final columns. Weather Eye, the final year Brendan McWilliams anthology compiled by Anne McWilliams Published by Gill & Macmillan Hardback, €14.99 Tom Kennedy


At Druridge Bay trees and bogland have been submerged because sea levels have risen faster than the land. The land we stand on is a lot less solid than most of us think. Some areas are going up, other places are going down, and this is quite independent of sea level changes. Geologists from durham University have been measuring the rate of change in Britain and Ireland, and their findings, published in the journal, GSa Today, show that the south is sinking. Prof Ian Shennan from durham University led a team looking at eighty sites around the Irish and UK coasts. The changes in elevation were measured by examining sediments in drainage ditches and road excavations, and the results were used to chart the degrees of subsidence or elevations since the Ice age. at the height of the Ice age the land pressed down by an enormous weight, sank. This sinking was greatest where the ice was thicker, so the north was pushed under more than the south. ever since the end of the Ice age the land has been on the rebound, and because the rise in the north is stronger, the south, like the other end of a seesaw, is being pushed down. Over time, these changes can be quite substantial. In northumberland, sediment from 7,000 years ago was five metres below sea level, while sediment from 4,000 years ago was one meter above the present sea level. In most of Scotland, the difference was even higher. In eastern england, the Fenland, sea levels 7,000 years ago were fifteen metres below the present level. The land there has been sinking ever since, and the researchers calculate that this will continue at the rate of from 0.4 to 0.7 millimetres a year. The play between land and sea changes is highly complex, and, for example, when sediments build up, their weight can accelerate subsidence. according to the researchers, this is happening in the Fenland, and along the lower Thames where flooding is already a serious issue. Tom Kennedy

Above, charting the annual rise and fall of land in millimetres. Investigating Loch nan Corr, Kintail, Scotland, once a marine bay, but now a freshwater lake.

SCIENCE SPIN Issue 37 Page 32


SPEAKING SCIENCE

COMMUNICATIONS TRAINING FOR 4th LEVEL & POST-DOCS AUDIENCE 4TH LEVEL STUDENTS, MSc, PhD CANDIDATES and POST-DOCS

PRESENTER SEÁN DUKE CO-FOUNDER AND JOINT EDITOR OF SCIENCE SPIN MAGAZINE Seán has 15 years experience as a science writer and editor. In addition to his role as an editor with Science Spin, Seán presents Ireland’s only regular TV science slot on Ireland AM, the TV3 breakfast morning show. He also is the creator and presenter of Ireland’s only weekly radio science slot on 103.2 Dublin City FM. Seán founded the Speaking Science initiative in 2008, in response to the need for scientists to develop better communication skills. To find out more about Seán visit: Web: http://sciencespin.com l LIVE LINKS Blog: http://seanduke.wordpress.com Pod: http://sciencespin.podomatic.com

CONTENT This one-day module is divided into five parts, each of which is aimed at helping 4th level students and post-docs develop the practical, ‘real world’ communication skills they require now, and for their future careers. The emphasis at all times is on interaction, discussion and activities. PART ONE: WHY COMMUNICATE? The reasons why scientists in Ireland today need to communicate are discussed, and the communication needs of each student are explored. In this part, we also introduce ourselves, and get to known each other better. PART TWO: AVOIDING SCIENCE JARGON One of the major barriers facing scientists in the bid to become better communicators is the issue of scientific jargon. This is tackled here. The goal is to ‘retrain’ everyone to unlearn jargon and use English. PART THREE: SCIENTIFIC WRITING SKILLS 4th level students and post-docs often state that they don’t like writing, are not good at it, and, thus, put writing jobs on the ‘long finger’. Here some rules and tips for good writing are explained, and then put into practice. PART FOUR: ORAL SKILLS It is absolutely essential for any scientist that wishes to have a successful career to be a good oral communicator. There are a number of elements that make for successful oral communication, and we detail those here, and put the techniques into practice. PART FIVE: OUTREACH More and more these days, scientists are asked to do ‘outreach’ projects, which means, for example, interacting with a lay audience, made up of all ages. It is critical to know how to tailor presentations, or conduct university tours, so that the audience, whether very young or old, can get the most out of it. HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE? In order to make a booking, or to get further details, please contact, Alan Doherty, Business Development Manager, Speaking Science, at:

alan@sciencespin.com l LIVE LINK or call: 01 284 2909.


Science Week Ireland will run from 8 - 15 November 2009 Log on to:

www.scienceweek.ie www.scienceweek.ie l LIVE LINK

for regular information and updates on events and activities near you. Science Week Ireland offers people of all ages the chance to explore, discover, experiment or invent their way to a better understanding of science.

Spin 37  

Irelands science, nature and discovery magazine

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you