Silent snaps – visiting cousins and a picnic basket

Silent snaps – visiting cousins and a picnic basket

We had the Best Summer Ever this year and finished it off with a trip to visit my sister and her three lovely children in South Hampton this week. We filled the sunny few days with trips to many of the lovely parks and greens, which meant a fair few picnics.

Here are a few photos to show how we spent the last few days of our Summer. As the lovely Luara over at the Dairy Free Kids blog is running a blog linky looking at what is inside everyone’s picnic baskets, I thought I might include this post too. If you want to see what people have been picnicking on this summer just click the linky image (picnic basket) at the end of this post to check out all the great posts.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As you can see, we kept it simple but fun. Remember to check out the linky to see what other’s have been putting in their picnic baskets this summer..


Do jellyfish give you the wobbles?

Do jellyfish give you the wobbles?

photo credit: Travis S. via photopin cc
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish; photo credit: Travis S. via photopin cc

Jellyfish have been getting a lot of attention recently for all the wrong reasons.

The news was afloat (pardon the pun) last week of deadly jelly fish off the Dublin shores. Red flags were raised and warnings were put in place on certain beaches as lion mane jellyfish (cyanea capillata) were spotted in the water.

We had our own jelly fish encounter on holidays a few weeks ago. Both my husband and brother got stung on a tiny beach off the south east coast of Mallorca. The culprits were small and innocent looking but still came with a real sting in their tail (puns are really flying today). They were the Mauve Stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) jellyfish and both men got stung on their arms… they managed to bite back the tears but they were definitely in pain. It took most of the day for the swollen ridges to recede.

We were very lucky as these small jellyfish came right to the shore.  My brother was stung within seconds of entering the water, in a place that our children had been swimming in just a few minutes before.

Mauve Stinger: photo credit: bathyporeia via photopin cc
Mauve Stinger:
photo credit: bathyporeia via photopin cc

Although we encountered these in the Mediterranean, they are, in more recent years, not uncommon in Irish waters. In November 2007 a large swarm of mauve stingers, about 16 km in diameter, completely wiped out more than 100,000 fish from a Salmon farm off the coast of Belfast, Northern Ireland.



Apart from the pain element, the stinging process of the jelly fish is remarkable and quite unique. Many jellyfish have tentacles that contain thousands of tiny nematocysts – these are cell like capsules that contain venom and a hallow, coiled, barbed tube. When triggered the coiled, bard tube is shot into the body of the prey and the venom is released.



Certain species of the Box jellyfish are considered the most deadly in the world, producing a toxin that attacks the heart, nervous system and skin cells. A sting from a Box jellyfish can prove fatal for humans, often due to a heart attack from the shock and pain.



    • Leave the water as quickly as possible, preventing the risk of further stings


    • Pour sea water (preferably warm) on the affected area. DO NOT use fresh water as this may cause further stinging


    • Use a credit card or similar to remove the stingers. These may be so fine that they are hardly visible. Hold the credit card at an angle of about 30 degrees and run it over the affected area. Do not touch the removed stingers as they can still cause pain


    • Once the stingers are removed it is then okay to rinse with fresh water


  • If further symptoms such as heart palpitations, muscles cramping or spasm, panic or stress occur seek medical attention



They certainly seem to cause a lot of bother and pain to humans but is there a “good side”? Some of the problems may be due to increased numbers of jellyfish. Is there really an increase in jellyfish swarms and what does this tell us about the seas in which they live?


There have been a number of large swarms or blooms of Jellyfish reported over the last few years. Scientific studies and surveys are ongoing to determine if what we are seeing are just natural ebbs and flows in the jellyfish population, or an annual and steady increase in numbers. Some feel that factors such as overfishing (removal of natural jellyfish predators) or human pollution of our oceans (increasing algal growth and plankton… jellyfish food) are causing a steady increase in jellyfish numbers. Others feel climate change is a factor. Perhaps what we are seeing is just a natural peak in the jellyfish life cycle. Time, and further research will tell, but the monitoring of jellyfish numbers will give us more insights into the state of our oceans.


It would appear that jellyfish play an important part in the story of evolution. Genetic sequencing and fossil dating have changed the evolutionary tree somewhat, with suggestions now that the comb jelly (a relative of the jellyfish) may be the earliest divergent animal lineage. These studies put the comb jelly in existence some 600 million years ago. Did we all evolve from a lump of jelly? The question has certainly made the evolutionary tree wobble, shaking a few of it’s branches.


Although jellyfish are carried by currents they can also move propel their bodies upwards in a pulse like motion. The shape and movement have been the inspiration in the design of a new lightweight robot. What is particularly remarkable is that the robot moves through air, not water. Most jellyfish live for about a year, some species have much shorter life spans but there is one, called Turritopsis nutricula, that is effectively immortal. It has am amazing ability to revert back to an earlier phase of it’s life cycle under certain conditions. Commonly called the “Benjamin Button” of the ocean, it  has naturally caught the attention of the worlds of science and medicine, inspiring advances in stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Some species of jellyfish, including the Mauve Stinger mentioned above, are luminescent. The gene responsible for this luminescence, and the luminescent protein it encode have been used by scientist and medics in a variety of research areas from crop advancement to cancer diagnosis. You have to admit, this certainly sheds new “light” of the humble jellyfish.

Despite their threat, jellyfish are certainly very interesting, unique and inspiring animals. Are you convinced or does the thought of them still make you quiver??



Jellyfish Facts
Jellyfish Facts
Silent snaps – making lavender wands

Silent snaps – making lavender wands

Lavender Wand
Lavender Wand

I LOVE lavender as many of you will already know. If you need convincing just check out my previous post on “All things Lavender“.

Every year I like to make something new with my little lavender harvest, last year I started making lavender wands and they were such a hit I got a lot of requests to make more this year. It is such a calming activity that I didn’t need much persuading. You can follow this tutorial that I found on line.

Here are my silent snaps to show you how it went …


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Fun Friday – Five Fantastic Facts about DNA and how to extract DNA from a banana

Fun Friday – Five Fantastic Facts about DNA and how to extract DNA from a banana

Dr. Simple was explaining a little about DNA in the last post, so I thought I would share one of the first experiments my children ever asked me to do with them…. they wanted to see DNA, so we extracted it from a banana.

Did you know that we share approximately 50% of our DNA with bananas?
Did you know that we share approximately 50% of our DNA with bananas?


You will need

… a banana, a fork, a bowl, washing up liquid, ice cold surgical spirits (or isopropanol – both available from a pharmacy), salt, a sieve, a glass jar.


What to do…

Remove the banana skin and mash the banana in the bowl, using the fork. Add two teaspoons of washing up liquid and stir slowly.

Add a teaspoon of salt and one to two tablespoons of water and stir carefully.

You want to avoid making bubbles.

Leave for five minutes then strain carefully through the sieve into the jar.

Tilt the glass jar and carefully pour the surgical spirits down the side of the jar, at least as thick as the banana layer.  This will form a separate layer on top of the banana mixture.

Do not mix.

After five to ten minutes you will see a long, stringy substance appear in the top layer. This is the banana’s DNA.

You can use a tooth pick to lift and examine the DNA.


So what is happening?

The salt and washing up liquid break open the banana cells, releasing the DNA.

The DNA will not dissolve in the surgical spirits (or any alcohol) so it floats in this layer.


Here are a five fantastic facts about DNA…

5 Facts about DNA
5 Facts about DNA

The experiment described above is just a quick and simple method that I have used before but if you want something more scientific and a lot more fun… check out Cell Explorers! They do amazing school visits, for junior infants right up to secondary level students,  which I am sure would be of interest to teacher or parents making suggestions in their own schools. Run by Dr. Muriel Grenon and her wonderful team of students and graduates these activities are really top class!  Contact them by email at



A Simple Slice of Science – How can I make two of me?

A Simple Slice of Science – How can I make two of me?

This week’s question for Dr. Simple is a real gem and comes from six year old Abigail (you might find her mentioned here too)…

How can I make two of me?

I think if Abigail is asking these questions at the age of six then she will really go far, don’t you agree?

Here is what Dr. Simple has to say on the matter… and don’t adjust your screens if you think you are seeing double!




Image source:

So there you have it! Hopefully a simple answer to a really wonderful question. It certainly opens up the discussion of whether we should be cloning or not. As a geneticist myself I wouldn’t be encouraging it, but I do have a much simpler answer… I reckon if Abigail could just build herself a Transmogrifier then she will really have nailed the whole cloning thing. She could turn herself into another Abigail and the job would be done!

If you do make one Abigail, can I borrow it?

Looking back over early memories lead to a whole set of new ones

Looking back over early memories lead to a whole set of new ones

Last Thursday an article I wrote about earliest memories, appeared in The Journal. A lovely bonus to the last day of what was already a great holiday. The next day I reluctantly took my attention off articles and holidays and sunshine (sigh) and turned it instead to packing! All else was forgotten as I scoured a big house full of 17 people, trying to work out what belonged to who, and visa versa.

photo credit: homelesshub via photopin cc
photo credit: homelesshub via photopin cc

Needless to say I didn’t need any encouragement when a coffee break was offered an hour into the task. As I settled into the break I retrieved my phone and was surprised to see it full of messages, texts and emails. It turned out my article on The Journal was receiving a bit of interest from the land of radio.

One message (thanks Lorna 😉  ) informed me that the article was being discussed on the Ryan Tubridy show. Woohoo! Here is the link if you want to listen…

Ryan Tubridy, 2FM (Friday 8th August, 2014discussion starts 1 hour 7 minutes into the program)

The subject of earliest memories became a topic of the show, with people sharing their own earliest memories.

Then I opened my email to find a message from Spin radio 103.8 looking to interview me on the article. Double woohoo (and a bit of nerves to boot!). Suddenly all thoughts of packing were forgotten and we all ran around like headless chickens trying to find a spot with WiFi and phone signal. We didn’t have much luck! Eventually I found a quiet corner at the top of the house and arrangements were made. I had just enough time for a quick swim to calm my nerves before the interview (I may have just thrown that one in there to make you all jealous 😉  ).

Swim over I found myself talking to the lovely Lauren and Gordon from The Spin… me hanging out a window in Mallorca and them, I imagine, sitting a little more comfortably in a studio in Dublin. That’s modern technology for you! Despite the nerves I really enjoyed the short interview, I was surprised how much fun it was. Unfortunately I don’t have an audio link for the interview.

A lovely end to a great holiday, and I am sure I will remember these events for a long time to come… just by writing about memories I created a few more. It was hard to get my mind back into the packing but we managed and took the long journey back home. The holiday was full of inspiration, l have lots to blog about over the next few weeks…even on holidays I’m still a scientist at heart!