A Simple Slice of Science – Why do we get Jetlag?

A Simple Slice of Science – Why do we get Jetlag?

For this Simple Slice of Science Dr. Simple looks at Jetlag… what is it, why we suffer from it and can it be avoided? This question originally came in from Lisa at Mama.ie when she wrote this blog post (so it only took me five months to write this response… I can’t blame jetlag for that!).


Why do we get Jetlag?
Why do we get Jetlag?





The Irish Parenting Blog Awards – the event, the fun, the celebration

The Irish Parenting Blog Awards – the event, the fun, the celebration

I had a rare night out… I even went all the way to Dublin for it and it was so worth it. I got together with a fantastic group of bloggers, some I had met before, some I knew only virtually. We all descended on the Odessa for the Inaugural Glenisk Irish Parenting Blog Awards.

Photo courtesy of Sandra at
Photo credit – Sandra of A Modern Mommy’s World

There was great food accompanied by flowing wine and even more flowing conversation and some fun games and entertainment between courses to keep us all amused. It was all so enjoyable it was easy to forget that the awards were still to come. For that part we moved up to the roof top bar, a perfect location for the intimate and entertaining awards ceremony to continue. Sylda from Mind the Baby was the MC for the night (a natural), ably assisted by Lisa from Mama.ie, and then there was Deborah (At the Clothes Line) providing the atmospheric music.

The winners for each category were announced swiftly, with intermittent bouts of side splitting entertainment. For example, there was a highly amusing Netflix blogger quiz (House of Blogs)… two teams of three bloggers pitting their wits and knowledge against each other on some bizarre details from the wealth of IPB member’s blogs. Other laughs were of the unscheduled type, like when Deb from Fat Deb Slim read out the tongue in cheek acceptance speech prepared by the lovely Emily from Blog the Nest.

The finalists in each category were all very talented bloggers, all deserving winners and all so delighted whether they were the winner or the one congratulating. I was a finalist in the Best Special Interest Category, among such amazing blogs as Adopting my own son, Looking for Blue skies, Dairy Free kids and Minis and Mum. With such talent I was genuinely shocked when I was announced as the winner. Needless to say my “acceptance speech” lacked any finesse, humour or coherence what so ever. But what I lacked in words I said with a smile, a very big one. That smile is yet to fade. As all bloggers will testify, to realise anyone is even reading your blog is a compliment in itself, to have your writing acknowledged among peers that you so greatly admire is true delight.

The Smile (photo credit: Laura of Raising Elves)
The Smile (photo credit: Laura of Raising Elves)

The night was a wonderful success, all credit to the amazing work of the organising committee and the fantastic sponsors. Glenisk were the overall sponsors of the event, and I had a wonderful dinner companion in the lovely Nicola Watson representing Netflix.  Super Hands Baby sign were the sponsors of the category my blog was in. The possibility of opening a dialogue with your child before they have learned to talk is an idea that fascinates me.

I wish I had been aware of baby signing when my children were young. I love the idea of being able to communicate with your little one before they begin to speak. I imagine it can help to strengthen bonds and ease frustration but, what struck me when I first hear about it was that it may alter the time frame of the child’s earliest memory. This is a topic I am curious about and have researched and written on before. I wonder will future studies show that people who used baby sign in their infancy report earlier memories than those that don’t. One factor reported to influence when our earliest memories are finally anchored is our ability to have words or means to describe these early events.

One final mention about the awards night… the beautiful teapot trophies that each winner got to take home were created by fellow Irish Parenting Blogger, Patricia, from Colorines Wonderful. My lovely teapot was christened the moment I arrived home, with my five year old declaring it was time for tea.

The celebratory cup of tea
The celebratory cup of tea


Check out all the wonderful award winners here and thanks for all the nominations and votes. I’m still smiling 🙂

The Science of Soil

The Science of Soil

What is Soil?

Soil is the outermost part of the Earth’s surface, where plants grow. Without it we could not survive! Soil is made up of rock material of various sizes (from powdered rock to sand, pebbles and stones). Soil also contains minerals, rotting plants and animals and living organisms. It contains all the nutrients required for plants to grow and survive!

Why is soil so important?

Plants need soil to grow, not just for the nutrients that the soil provides but also as an anchor, a stable place where the plant can place its roots and support its growing structure.

The soil has many other important functions too…

  • Soil acts as a natural water filter, cleaning water as it passes through it
  • The soil provides billions of organisms with a place to live
  • The soil is very important in the cycling of nutrients – especially carbon and nitrogen

How is soil made?

There are a lot of factors that influence how soil is made. The first of these is what type of material the soil is being made from… the type of rock that the soil is made from is called the parent material.

Other factos that influence how soil is made are…

  • the weather,
  • the topography of the land,
  • what living organisms are around and….
  • time!

Did you know… it can take up to 1,000 years for just one inch of soil to form?


Soil is made when the parent material (rock) is broken down by the weather (wind, rain, sun, snow) eventually forming fine powder, sand and small rocks. The decomposition of organic matter and the activity of a variety of organisms help to improve the soils nutritional quality.

The soil is like a big recycling plant

Soil is not just for growing plants. It contains billions of other living organisms too… some can be very small like bacteria, fungi and algae and some can be very large like insects and even mammals.

All of these inhabitants help to break down dead plants and animals so that all the nutrients contained within them are returned to the soil.

Did you know… that in a tablespoon of good soil there are as many as 50 billion bacteria?


The earthworm plays a vital role is maintaining healthy soil and is often called “nature’s plough”.

Did you know… there are approximately 3000 species of earthworm in the world?


Learn more at home… make a wormery

You will need…

A large see-through container, sand, soil, worms, leaves and other vegetation, card or paper.

What to do…

  • Fill a large, see-through container with alternative layers of soil and sand.
  • Put a layer of leaves on the top.
  • Add enough water to keep the soil damp.
  • Collect some earthworms from your garden and add them to the wormery.
  • Cover the outside of your container with a large piece of card or paper to block out the light.
  • Put the wormery in a safe place and check on it every day- remember to keep adding water to keep the soil moist.
  • You should soon notice that the different layers of soil and sand are getting mixed together.

What is happening?

The earthworms mix the layers of sand and soil as they move through the wormery. This helps to distribute nutrients throughout the soil, making it more fertile.

Remember to return the worms safely back into the garden once you have finished.

Or you can watch the “how to” video…



A version of this article originally appeared in Science Spin, Issue 63, March/April 2014

Science Expo Malta 2015

Science Expo Malta 2015

I am just back from a week in Malta. I was attending the annual Science Expo and I was really impressed with how well it was organised and the level of enthusiasm and knowledge among the children. From primary school level, right up to third level, students came up with some great ideas, prepared, tested, recorded and then presented their projects with confidence.

The ideas presented varied widely from what conditions help us on memory tasks to investigating the use of apples to combat dust mite allergies (a subject close to my own heart). The place was abuzz with invention, innovation and imagination.

This project investigated the best herb or spice to combat a sore throat.
This project investigated the best herb or spice to combat a sore throat.

You can check out the winning projects on the NSTF facebook page.

One project looked at the effects of smoking on a number of levels. The team involved went as far as to set up a Facebook page to emphasis their research, a really great idea, you’ll find it here.


There were also a number of workshops running for the week.  I ran an interactive one on acids and bases, a workshop created to show children how easy it can be to do science experiments with things you may have in your own kitchen… because science is an anywhere kind of thing.

I was lucky to have my daughter with me for the week, she was a great help and even got to demonstrate the first experiment to the class.

(video credit: Iris Nijman)

This Inflating balloon experiment is a really simple one but I love the squeals of excitement when the balloon starts to grow, even when the children have anticipated what is to come.

The children enjoying their first experiment
The children enjoying their first experiment (Photo credit: Irish Nijman)

One class to visit my workshop was from the International School in Malta. I was charmed when at the end of the workshop, each child thanked me in their own language. There was 16 kids in total, and I received a thank you in 14 languages!

There were many other great workshops throughout the week, I was just disappointed that I could not sneak in and have a look at them all.

On a national level there was the forensics division of the Maltese police force, explaining to children some of the techniques they use as well as allowing children try some forensic experiments themselves. There was also a very informative shark exhibition run by the shark research centre on the island. My daughter attended their workshop and came back with lots of great facts to share with me.

There was also plenty of international outreach programs represented at the Expo.

Iris Nijman of Universe Aware ran a workshop informing children about the conditions on the planets in our solar system, then the children got to create their own alien that was adapted to life on one of the planets they had learned about. This was a great way to make the workshop interactive for the children and a unique way to make the information much more memorable.

Jeppe Petersen brought an interactive workshop on light to the Expo, funded by the Danish Youth Association of Sciences (UNF) at and the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology (MILSET). This workshop was hands on and tailored to each age group and each learning level.

In João Retrê’s workshop children got to make their own planets from the solar system and then place them in their correct location on a scaled model. A great way to get a grasp of the perspective of each planet and its size and distance from its neighbouring planet. This workshop was part of the Portuguese Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences outreach program.

Mel Evans, from Cheltenham University, posed some very interesting questions as part of her PhD studies… how accurately is science portrayed in films and what is our interpretation of it? Does the film industry have a moral obligation to depict science with accuracy or is it acceptable to go well beyond the realms of possibility? Do we think that what we see in a film is possible in reality? Mel posed all these questions as she shared and discusses a number of popular film clips and received some very interesting responses from the children and their teachers.

Simon Guilliams from Belgium presented his self-built tri-copter at the Expo. Simon was a winner at the Belgian Science Expo with the tri copter he built in his back yard, starting at the age of 14 and building and improving it over the last four years. His prize was a trip to the Maltese Expo and a chance for him to share his creation.




Of course our week in Malta was not all about science, we also got to see some of the island. We were a mere 15 minute bus drive from the beautiful capital, Valetta. We viewed this first by night, on a very informative walking tour of the city (organised by the NSTF). It was lovely to return again and see the same sites by day, soaking up the atmosphere as well as the Sun’s rays. There were many other activities organised for us by the NSTF, including a country walk at the North end of the island and harbour boat trip.