I am delighted to tell you that Is Eolaí Mé is starting next Tuesday 20th September, on Cúla 4, TG4, at 17.25pm. It has been almost a year since filming of the show wrapped, you can take a look at my behind the scenes account here. As consultant and script writer on the show, I am extremely excited to be able to finally watch it on TV.
Here is a little preview…
What to expect
Each show will be jam packed with lots of amazing Science. The presenters, Una and Peadar will explore a different theme each week… and explore is definitely the right word to use; they will be out and about finding fun ways that science is used in real life. From rocket launching to surviving an indoor storm and so much more in between. I
Is Eolaí Mé is presented by Peadar Ó Goill & Úna Ní Fhlatharta and produced by Fíbín.
Each week Una will be joined by a group of children, keen to help her roaming reporting on the science topic of the day.
When Peadar is not out testing his endurance skills in the name of science, he will be in his amazing loft lab, testing theories, trying out the latest experiments and even sharing ones to do at home.
Peadar will be joined in his loft by some amazing young scientists who are always up for the adrenaline-pumped science challenge of the day.
Then there are the antics of An t-Ollamh Ullamh and his reluctant side-kick, Aodh, that will definitely add an hilarious comic angle to each programme.
And all that is only the tip of the iceburg, you will be amazed at just how much science is packed into the half-hour programme. So set your alarm clocks, tell your parents and teachers and get ready for kick off next Tuesday! The show will air twice a week, for double the fun; Tuesdays and Thursday at 17.25, and, of course, also available on TG4/Cúla 4 player.
I’ll leave you with this little video… showing Peadar running across a bath of white liquid! How does he do it? You’ll have to tune in to find out!
Check it out… Is Eolaí Mé, every Tuesday and Thursday, 17.25 on Culá 4, TG4. Starting 20th September, 2016.
Dreams, we all have them, some we remember, some we don’t! There are those who want to analyse every detail of their dreams, seeing them as portents to future events or windows into our souls. Some dismiss dreams as a nothing more than random images as a byproduct of brain activity.
Regardless of what camp of dream analysis you belong to, you may like to know a bit more about the why, how and when of dreams, to fill in the blanks and give a better understanding of what happens when we close our eyes at night.
Are there different types of dreams?
Dreams are a series of images, emotions, senses or events that we experience while we sleep. They are created in the brain, during different brain impulses and can last from a few seconds, to more than half an hour. There are a number of different types of dreams, the classifications vary depending on who you talk to, but in general we experience regular dreams, lucid dreams and nightmares.
The three basic types of dreams are…
Regular dreams usually occur when we are in a deep sleep phase, such as the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep.
Lucid dreams usually occur when we are in a lighter stage of sleep. We are at least partially aware that we are dreaming and we can consciously change the course of the dream if we so choose.
We are all familiar with nightmares and they are not just for children. They are dreams that evoke strong emotions and reactions within us, usually fear, terror, anger or anxiety.
What happens when we dream?
In order to talk about dreaming we must first look at what happens when we sleep and the different stages involved. There are five stages of sleep, stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage.
We pass from each stage of sleep sequentially, usually falling into a deeper sleep with each stage. Once we have completed a full cycle (stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM) we return to the first stage and the cycle repeats. A full cycle takes between 90 and 110 minutes.
This is a very light stage of sleep, our bodies relax, our muscle activity slows and we experience slow eye movement.
Our eye movements stop, our muscle movements reduce and our brain waves slow down; Our heart rates slow and our body temeratures drop a little. We also experience burst of rapid brain wave activity in this stage, these are called brain spindles. Adults spend about 50% of their sleep time in this stage, this reduces with age.
We enter deep sleep, with some periods of very slow brain waves recorded.
The periods of very slow brain waves extend.
Our eye movement becomes erratic and jerky, our heart rates rise, breathing becomes more rapid and our limbs become temporarily paralysed. We spend about 20-25% of our sleep time in this stage (infants can spend up to 50% of sleep in the REM stage).
The REM stage of the first cycle of sleep is fairly short (about ten minutes) but increases in duration with each cycle (up to an hour in the final cycle).
Stages 1 to 4 of sleep are collectively referred to as the non-REM stages (NREM).
We dream at all stages of sleep but most of our dreams are thought to occur during the REM stage. Studies show that we tend to have different types of dreams at different stages of sleep; In the early stages, we have very short dreams but they are more realistic and relatable. As we move into deeper sleep our dreams tend to become more fragmented. As the night progresses and we experience longer REM states our dreams become more obscure and disjointed.
Why do we dream?
There are a number of theories as to why we dream, but scientists are still not sure. Some say that dreaming is an asinine activity that serves no purpose, but most agree that this is not the case, although they may argue as to the true value of dreams.
Dreaming has no purpose at all
In 1977 psychiatrists J. Allan Hobson and R.W. McCarley theorised that dreams don’t actually mean anything at all. They called their theory the ‘activation-synthesis hypothesis’ and stated that dreamsare merely electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories.
Dreaming is an ancient biological defence mechanism
Evolutionary biologists studying dreams and their function have proposed the Threat Simulating Theory (TST) of dreaming.
The threat simulation theory of dreaming states that dream consciousness is essentially an ancient biological defence mechanism, evolutionary selected for its capacity to repeatedly simulate threatening events.
Basically, dreams are seen as a simulation, a way to prepare our bodies and hone our skills for the right response in potentially threatening situations. By experiences threats and events in our mind (like being chased by a wild animal!) we can train our bodies to respond correctly if or when the threat really does appear in real life. We can develop our neuro-cognitive mechanisms.
The TST also suggests that people under threat in their everyday lives will dream more, as a way to exercise and prepare for the dangers they may experience each day. There is some evidence to suggest this is the case.
Scientists in favour of this theory also quote the fact that a convincing 70% of our dreams are made up of such threatening scenarios.
Dreams help us solve problems
It is possible that dreams help us unravel and review all the complexities we have experienced during our waking hours. Without the restrains of our conscious, logical thinking we can view things from a completely different angle. Some people can wake after a night of sleep with their eureka moment, solving a niggling problem, literally while they catch some z’s. Perhaps the most famous case is that of the chemist August Kekule, who supposedly discovered the benzene ring structure after dreaming of atoms linking together in a chain and then twisting, like a snake biting his own tail, into a ring structure.
The famous American writer, John Steinbeck called this the ‘committee of sleep‘…
It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it
How does all this free thinking work? Daytime events and often recorded in fragmented forms in different regions of the brain. The ‘memory’ is held together by interaction of those brain parts with the hippocampus. During certain stages of sleep these connections are lost, but brain activity in each of these regions may continue. This ‘untethered’ brain activity can provide the freedom of thought and creativity that is constrained in the waking hours.
We dream to fulfil our desires
This brings us back to Freud who believed that our dreams were a manifestation of our basic, unconscious desires and urges. He believed that to better understand our own psychological makeup, and issues, we needed to record and analyse the content of our dreams.
We dream to help us process our emotions
Do we dream to help us process emotional events in a safe way? When we sleep the levels of certain stress hormones in our bodies are reduced, therefore we can reflect on a stressful situation or event, in a safe place, where the stress response has been toned down.
Studies have observed high activity in the amygdala during the REM stage of sleep. This is the area of the brain associated with emotions. This suggests that, while sleeping, our brains access emotional events and memories while the stress neurochemicals (norepinephrine) are suppressed, allowing us to process and resolve any emotions or traumas. We wake feeling better about an event that may have caused us stress the day before.
Dreaming is an important part of our memory storing process
The process of dreaming may help us strengthen, connect and store memories. In order to full consolidate our memories we need to strengthen links between different areas of the brain that have recorded information from the memory, and to integrate the information with previously stored knowledge.
The most basic function of dreaming consists of connecting new material with old material in memory systems; reorganising the memory systems, guided by emotion. (Hartmann, 2011).
Sleep creates an optimal environment to allow memory links to be repeatedly activated without the interference of external stimuli. This reactivation strengthens the neurological pathways that link the various parts of the memory as well as creating links with older memories and learning.
MRI studies have shown that brain areas associated with short and long term memory consolidation (hippocampus and amygdala) are activated while we dream.
Different types of memories may be consolidated at different stages of sleep; the episodic memories are best processed during NREM stages, while more sensory, procedural and emotional events are likely integrated during REM stages.
How long do dreams last?
Dream length varies, but on average our dreams start off short and get longer as the night progresses. Although some dreams may only last for seconds, our first dream of the night is usually about five minute long, our last dream can be as long as 45 minutes. As most of our dreaming occurring during the REM stage of sleep, as this stage gets longer, so too do our dreams.
Most people have at least two to three dreams per night, with the average being six to seven. We spend about two hours a night dreaming, which can add up to a whopping six years of dreaming in a lifetime!
These theories and insights are fascinating but there is still much to learn. Scientists will continue to research, study and debate the importance of the dreaming process, but, looking at how much of our lives we spend dreaming it is certainly a worthwhile study.
What kind of music do animals like? Can cows tell the difference between classical and rap? Which animals are partial to a bit of REM and what do Forrest Gump, horses and music have in common? Science has the answers!
Before my first child could even speak we had noted her reaction to music. Just having the radio on in the background we often observed a change in her posture or mood depending on what was playing; in fact, we frequently had to turn off the radio when a slow or sad tune would reduce her to tears.
This has fascinated me ever since, from the effect of music on our mood, our health, and our brain development. I never gave much thought though to the effect, if any, of music on animals. That is, until today. A good friend called round for a chat and fascinated me with something she had heard on the radio about the effect of the theme tune to Forrest Gump on the emotional state of horses. My interest was piqued. With a little research, it seems many animals respond in different ways to different types of music, just as we do. And for the animals that have no interest in ‘human’ music at all… there is now species-specific music created just for them!
Music with a Meow in mind
It would appear that cats are not terribly impressed with any of the music composed for our human ears. They show little or no reaction to it. However, this prompted a small team of scientists (Snowdon and Savage) and a composer, David Teie, to look at just what might appeal to our feline friends. With much study and research, they created music with cats in mind, composed of tones, pitches and frequencies that would most appeal to cats, and mimic what is in their natural environment. They have reported that the cats they studies showed an increased interest and preference in the species-specific music (with greater positive responses in younger and older cats when compared to middle-aged cats).
REM keeps these cows ‘udderly’ content
Many farmers know that playing music to their cows keeps them calm and happy during milking. In 2001 a study run by a group of Psychologists from the University of Leicester, UK, played music of different tempos to herds of more than 1,000 Friesian cattle. The results were impressive: they played a variety of music, from slow, classical, techno and rap to the animals for 12 hours a day, over nine weeks. While they found no increase in milk yield when playing fast tracks to the cows, they reported a 3% increase in each animal when slow music was played; that is about 3/4 of a litre or one and 1/2 pints of milk extra per cow, per day.
What tunes did the cows seem to enjoy the most? “Everybody hurt” by REM and “Bridge over troubled water” by Simon and Garfunkel were apparently popular for increasing milk yield and keeping the ladies calm!
Based on this knowledge, the British Columbia Dairy Association decided to jazz things up a little by inviting people to compose some mellow cow tunes and enter them into their “Music makes More Milk” contest. Finalists had to impress the jury of five Holstein cows. The winning tune (if you really need to know) was titled “A Moo down Milk Lane”.
Moving on from bovine Moosic we finally come to the horse part of this story! What do our equine friends think of our human music?
Music keeps them ‘stable’
A 2015 study on purebred Arabian race horses looked at the emotional and performance levels of the horses when exposed to classical music in the stable area. The initial results of the study suggested that the horses exposed to classical music exhibited reduced stress levels (determined by measuring cardiac activity variables) and an increase in performance (as measured by their overall wins). These observations peaked at the two to three-month phase of the study and then dropped back to normal levels over time (suggesting that the horses became accustomed to the music and it had less effect).
The music used in the study was specifically composed with horses in mind. What about human music?
That’s a ‘neigh’ for jazz
A 2013 study tested horses’ emotional responses to classical, country, rock and jazz. The results from this small study suggested that classical and country music had the most calming effect on the animals tested and the fast tempos and minor keys of the jazz music put the animals more on edge.
Then someone decided to try a little Forrest Gump theme music! (Finally!!)
Trot Forrest Trot!
From specific genre to a specific piece of music… the Forrest Gump theme tune. This classical piece, by Alan Silvestri, was chosen for its ‘repeatability’. The study was carried out using horse from the French National Stud. 48 horses were fitted with newly designed horse headphones; half of the horses were played the Forrest Gump theme tune while travelling in horseboxes; the other half were played the music while being shod by a farrier. Both these events will typically increase stress indicators in the animals.
And the results? The horses that were played music during transport showed the greatest reduction in stress indicators. This could be very good news for trainers and owners of horses that often have to travel internationally for events. The effect in the animals that were being shod was less effective, although both groups showed a quicker heart rate recovery afterwards.
Personally, I find these results fascinating. I grew up around horses and found them very sensitive creatures, in tune with everything in their surroundings. I love the idea of reducing their stress in any way possible. And I listened to the Forrest Gump theme tune while I wrote this piece, it certainly brought me to my calm place!
Have a listen.
What do you think? Have you ever noticed a pet respond to a particular type of music? What kind of music was it? Or what favourite piece would you like to see used in these experiments? Have you any favourite animal music stories of your own? Let us know in the comments below!
We are back with more bottle science experiments! How did you get on with the first five we shared last week? We have had plenty of feedback from people who tried them out and really enjoyed them so here are five more bottle science experiments to try!
You can find experiments 1 to 5 in this post!
REMEMBER: YOU NEED ADULT SUPERVISION FOR ALL THESE EXPERIMENTS
6. Using Friction to defy gravity
7. The Hovercraft Experiment
8. The Cloud in a Bottle Experiment
9. Bottle Rocket Experiment No. 1
This video doesn’t include the science of how it happens, so here it is! As you know from previous experiments… when we mix the vinegar and the bread soda the react rapidly making a salt, water and Carbon Dioxide gas. Gases usually take up more space than liquids or solids so the sudden production of Carbon Dioxide gas causes a rapid increase in pressure inside the bottle. The gas wants to break out of the confined space within the bottle but the cork is in the way. With enough pressure the cork is forced off and the gas escapes.
Newton’s Thirds Law of motion states that…
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction!
This law is what makes the rocket shoot into the air. The first ‘action’ is the cork shooting off the bottom of the bottle; this produces the ‘equal and opposite’ reaction of the bottle rocket shooting off in the opposite direction! It all follows the laws of physics!
10. Bottle Rocket Experiment No. 2
This rockets follows the exact same law as the previous experiment, except this time the pressure is built up by the air we pump into the bottle. This pressure eventually builds up forcing the cork, and the water, out of the bottle and the rocket is then propelled off in the opposite direction, shooting up into the sky.
And there you have it! Ten fantastic experiments to do with a plastic bottle. If you missed the first five you can find them here! Please let us know what you thought of this series and how you got on. If you like these video experiments and would like some more just let us know in the comments below and we will get working on a new series straight away!
Do you love science and want to try out some experiments yourself? Do you worry that you’ll need special equipment and expensive kits? FEAR NOT! There are so many science experiments you can do with things you have around your home RIGHT NOW! Just remember to always ask an adult’s permission. Finish drinking your water and save that bottle because we are going to share TEN amazing experiments with you… you’ll never look at a plastic bottle in the same way again!
A few months ago I promised to share ten experiments you can do with a simple plastic bottle. If you have been following me on Face Book you will have noticed that I have shared one every week and we reached ten no problem; I’ve compiled all the instruction videos here so that you can pick and choose which ones you want to do (or, even better, try all ten).
The reason I started this was because I was sick of seeing science experiment kits full of rubbish (I am not saying all science kits are rubbish, but I have seen my fair share lately). I wanted to show you that you can do plenty of science experiments from things you have around your own home. And what better example to use than a simple, humble, plastic bottle. A great example of reusing and recycling.
PLEASE NOTE: ALL THESE EXPERIMENTS REQUIRE ADULT SUPERVISION!
Without further ado… here are first five Science Experiments you can do with a plastic bottle:
make a fire extinguisher
2. Inflate a balloon
3. The Sneezing Alien Experiment
4. and 5. Ocean in a bottle experiment and Lava Lamp experiment
Those are the first five experiments. Have lots of fun with them, check back next week for the next five experiments. Remember to keep those bottles!
As always, we love to get comments and feedback so do let us know if you try some of these experiments; we’d love to know how you get on, did you make some of your own modifications and improvements to the experiments? Would you like us to share more video experiments?
We love questions here at the Science Wows HQ; We generate a lot on a daily basis, and we answer many too. I was delighted to try out the new Facebook live tool for a Q & A session and got to answer lots of question sent in on all the STEM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Many of these questions were sent in by children, and, from the quality of the questions, and the inquisitive minds behind them, I am sure these are the STEM experts of the future.
If you sent in your question – thanks so much! If you want to send one in for another time then leave your question in the comments below or drop me a line.
Here is the video, if you missed it, or want to rewatch, I hope you enjoy and maybe pick up some new facts.
Here are all the questions asked; If you want to find the specific answer to that question in the video I have included how many minutes into the video it was answered. Under each question below is an additional fact, not included in the video… for some extra WOW!
Oran and Oscar wanted to know…
“Why is it blurry when you look underwater with goggles?” (1 min 20 secs)
Did you know that… if you get a really good pair of goggles or a scuba mask, then that extra air between the glass and your eyes will correct for the blurry vision problem and the light entering your eye will be bent correctly, allowing for a nice clear image? In fact, you may even see things clearer and larger – the mask can make things appear up to 33% larger and 25% closer!
“Why do crickets make that noise and where do they go during the day?” (5 mins)
Did you know that… crickets need warm weather to chirp, as they are cold blooded creatures. If the weather gets too cold they will not be able to generate enough energy for their normal chirps and their sounds will actually slow down or stop!
Elissa, Nia and Matthew asked …
“What are mosquitos for?” (12 mins)
Did you know that … the annoying buzzing sound we hear when a mosquito is near is the sound of their wings flapping at an amazing speed of 300 to 600 beats a second? That still doesn’t make the sound any more pleasant though, does it?
Photo credit: James Gathany (CDC)
Dermot is obviously an environmental thinker as he wanted to know …
“How do you convert wind power into electricity?” (11 mins)
Did you know that… humans have been harnessing the power of the wind for a very long time? The first windmills date back to 200B.C.
Ruairí had lots of questions, like …
“Why does your skin go brown after the Sun?” (17 mins 40 secs)
“Did you know that… the more sun exposure we get, the more the melanin producing cells move closer to the surface of the skin. We look like we are getting a darker tan but, more importantly, the melanin absorbed the harmful UV rays from the Sun, protecting our skin from damage.”
“What’s in the centre of the Earth?” (23 mins 30 secs)
Did you know that… scientists estimate that the temerpature of the Earth’s core is 6,000 Celcius? That is about the same temperature as the surface of the Sun.
“What’s inside a leaf?” (27 mins 30 secs)
Did you know that the colour changes we see in leaves in Autumn are due to different pigments inside the leaves? The colour we see depends on which pigments are present. Some pigments are more dominant than other so if they are present in the leaf they dictate what colour the leaf is. Some pigments we find in leaves are choropyl (green), Carotene (orange/yellow), tannin (brown) and anthocyanin (red/purple).
“What is inside a bird that helps it to fly?” (20 mins 30 secs)
Did you know that… some birds, such as ostriches, penguins and Emus are too heavy to fly? These birds (called ratites) are thought to have started out as flighted birds but have evolved flatter breastbones, shorter wings, weaker pectoral muscles and heavier bodies.
“Why is fruit good for us?” (7 mins 30 secs)
Did you know that… tomatoes are actually considered fruit and that raspberries and strawberries are not true berries, but bananas are?
“Why does your skin go wrinkly in the bath?” (4 mins)
Did you know… it takes five minutes of constant exposure to fresh water for the wrinkles to appear on our fingers, palms, toes and soles of our feet? It takes even longer when in sea water.
Amanda, from Spider Working, is a real lover of cats and she wanted to know…
“Why do cats have whiskers?” (24 mins)
Did you know that… cats are longsighted so their super sensitive whiskers allow them work out everything in their close environment with greater detail? This is particularly important when deciding when to pounce on their prey.
Did you know that… although monkeys like the sweet taste of bananas, they do not actually eat many in each day? Monkeys kept in captivity usually get no more than one banana a day, their diet is balanced with lots of other fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts.
Cathal sent in a question while on holidays; he wanted to know…
“Why do you always feel cold when you get out of the pool, even though it is hot out?” (30 mins 10 secs)
Did you know that… the water that stays on our skin after the pool, or a shower, eventually evapourates into gas? To do this it need some heat energy, and some of this heat energy is taken from out bodies, making us feel extra chilly.
And finally, A question in from four brothers… Brendan, Liam, Iarla and Conor; these boys rescued a dying bumble bee by feeding it a sugar solution. They wanted to know…
“If the sugar thing really worked and why was the bee so shaky afterwards?” (28 mins 35 secs)
Inspirefest 2016 was a creative, innovative and diverse conference full of wonderful role models to inspire future generations in STEAM
I have just returned from an amazing event. If you have been anywhere near me in the last few days you will know how much this event has inspired me, moved me and changed me, because I have not stopped talking about it! The event was Inspirefest, and it certainly lived up to its name!
Through a series of wonderful and diverse speakers, the audience were entertained and amazed. We laughed, we gasped and we even shed some tears.
The event covered a wide number of topics over two days, from tech to fashion, to diversity, to finance, to communication and so much more in between. There is so much to talk about, to share, but I have decided to focus on one particular element – a subject close to my heart – inspiring STEAM in children of all ages.
We got an introduction to this from the onset, when Noel Murphy from Intel brought his two daughters on the stage to give us a musical demonstration using wearable tech. It is mind blowing to think that computing has shrunk so much that a tiny chip can be placed in clothing and jewellery, allowing us to perform tasks with the simple movement of our bodies. Aishling and Orla gave us all a bit of a laugh as they played music by simply moving their limbs.
Aishling and Orla helping dad, Noel Murphy, demonstrate some applications of wearable tech.
Alex Bernadotte shocked us with the revelation that we can predict, with a fair amount of accuracy, the life trajectory of an 18 month old child, based solely on their ZIP code. That is a very sobering thought. Only 9% of students from the lower income families will achieve a bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties. We need to redress the balance. We need to make STEAM available to children regardless of sex, ethnicity, religion or social background. We need to provide support, inspiration and the right role models. That is why Alex set up Beyond 12.
Alex shared her own personal story of a life that began in Haiti and attaining her goal of a place in an Ivy league College. The reality, however, was that it got a lot harder from there, with no family experience of such a lifestyle; without personal role models and practical support, she really struggled to stay on track, physically, academically and emotionally. Beyond 12 was set up to bridge the gap between the education systems, to redress the balance of college attendance among lower income students and to provide real-life role models and support systems for those who do achieve these goals.
Throughout the conference, there were many examples of positive role model, perhaps none more so than Mary Carty, co-founder of Outbox Incubator. Mary really impressed us with her passion and drive. She noticed that, too often, STEAM was considered a ‘boys only’ club. She saw the amazing potential in so many young girls, so many of our daughters, our nieces, our friends. Together with Anne-Marie Imafidon, Mary stopped talking and started doing. She set up Outbox Incubator and last year, 115 girls from six countries came together to learn, share, inspire, create and find like-minded people, just like them. Girls like 13-year-old Niamh Scanlon .
EU DIGITAL GIRL OF THE YEAR (2015)
Niamh Scanlon took to the stage herself, and, with calm and confidence, shared what the outbox experience really meant to her. She told us about the apps she has developed… two so far… one to allow e-car owners locate the nearest available charge point and one for journalists, to allow them interview and connect with people in different time zones (with a video option included, what an amazing idea?). Listening to Niamh talk, I don’t think there is any doubt that all her innovative concepts will come to fruition through her own creation, determination, and optimism. It is clear, however, than Outbox Incubator has provided her with all the right tools for these, and future endeavours, as well as a strong and supportive network.
There are many more girls like Niamh – such as Edel Browne, Vanessa Greene and Elle Loughran, all of whom formed a discussion panel on the future generation of innovators. Our future is in good hands!
"The Next Generation" Panel (L to R): Edel Browne, Elle Loughran, Vanessa Greene, Mary Carty, Naimh Scanlon and Anne O' Dea
This one really made me sit upright in my chair. Dónal Holland of Soft Robotics Toolkit explained the latest developments in soft robotics and their medical applications. I liked it from the onset because Dónal showed us some soft robotics bases on balloons and simple plastic meshing (my kind of science!). What I really like about Soft Robotics is their outreach initiative… they have developed the Soft Robotics Toolkit, a free on-line resource allowing anyone develop their own soft robotic device.
But they didn’t stop there; they looked for feedback and when they realised that children were using this technology – they went back to the drawing board, adapting and innovating so that their information could be used with simple, available materials. They changed the tools in their toolbox. Now children all over the world are making robots with cardboard and glue; at this stage, I was practically bouncing on my seat.
This is amazing, this is inspiring… and this is what we will be doing this Summer!
“Innovation is a blend of creativity that exists in those that can see beyond what is currently available” Zoe Philpott, Inspirefest 2016.
POSITIVE ROLE MODELS
Brenda Romero from Romero Games gave a very entertaining talk. For the most part, Brenda drew laughter, but at one point she brought tears to our eyes. She told us how her daughter, as a seven-year-old, was told by a group of boys that she couldn’t play games… she was a girl! She had the perfect quip – not only could she play games very well, but her mother designed them! (What a perfect example of a positive role model for young girls.)
But this wasn’t what brought the tear to our eyes… Brenda showed us a card her daughter had made for her around that time, saying how she wanted to make a game with her mum one day. Then Brenda announced that her daughter, now 12, is going to be making that game this Summer with her mum, as a little project together. (I’ll pause while you go get a tissue!)
Brenda’s story made me think a lot about how my own children perceive the world; I’m a mother of two boys and one girl. I want STEAM to be available to all my children, and all children out there, regardless of age, sex, race, culture, demographic or religion. Do my kids think they can or can’t do things, just because of their sex?
I asked them!
Firstly, I shared the story of what the boys said to Brenda’s daughter when she was seven. Their jaws dropped (and I felt very proud of the fact that this shocked them all!).
Secondly, I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up….
My daughter: an author and illustrator
My older son: a graphic designer and engineer who designs superhero characters
My younger son: same as his big brother… and a scientist
They certainly didn’t seem to see any barriers in the way of their aspirations and dreams. The only thing I realised after asking the question, was that my question was wrong; I was asking them what they want TO BE… but each of my children told me what they were ALREADY. My daughter has enough books written and illustrated to fill a library; my engineering son has folders full of superhero designs and my little scientist? Well, anyone who follows me on Facebook will know that he is always doing experiments, raiding my supplies and overshadowing me in our videos.
I will leave you with one last example of a positive role model, one that encourage kids to embrace individuality, enjoy their childhood and embark on meaningful adventures. It comes in the form of a doll. This doll is 18 cm high, she looks like a child… because she is for children! She can stand on her own two feet, because we all want our children to be able to do that. She can be anything she wants to be… an archaeologist, a ballerina, a kite-flyer, a superhero.
Her name is Lottie… and, inspired by a six year old girl called Abigail, she is the first doll in space. I’ll leave you with this video by Elena Rossini, telling Lottie’s story (you way want to reach for those tissues again).
For me, this sums up so much of what Inspirefest was all about – inspiration from the cradle up!
Disclosure: I received tickets to attend Inspirefest 2016; all opinions expressed are my own.
This question comes in from the very lovely, and very curious, Kayla, aged six, who can sometimes be found over at My little babóg blog. Kayla would like to know…
Where do tears come from?
Where do tears come from?
Tears are made by little glands above our eyes, called tear glands, or lacrimal glands. There is one gland above each eye; each produce tears that travel to the eye through tiny pipes, called ducts. There are a number of these tear (lacrimal) ducts behind our upper eye lids.
Our tear ducts are constantly producing tears, to keep our eyes clean and moist, but we don’t usually even notice. When we blink we wipe the tear fluid over our eyes, keeping them moist. This fluid is then drained off from the eyes through more ducts. It is only when we start producing a lot more tears that we start to notice them. The ducts that drain the fluid away cannot cope with all the extra tears and they start to run down our cheeks.
What are tears made of?
Tears are basically made of slightly salty water. They also contain enzymes that kill bacteria and vitamins and minerals. Some tears contain proteins, called hormones, that can change how we feel.
Why do we cry?
Scientists are still working this one out. We do know that we cry different kinds of tears in response to different things. Science defines crying as the process of producing tears in response to an emotion – be it sadness, fear, anger or happiness. When we produce tears to clear something out of our eye or to moisten the eye… Then we call this lacrimation.
So how does it all work? Well, the emotional crying seems to be triggered as a response to activity in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This part of the brain responds to our different emotions and can produce chemicals, called neurotransmitter, that will travel to specific parts of the body and induce a response. In the case of crying, the neurotransmitter produced is called acetylcholine and it triggers tear production in the lacrimal gland.
The reason why our brain responds in this way to emotions can vary. Babies, for example, cry to communicate with us… Telling us the are tired, hungry or in pain. This makes sense as they do not have many other forms of communication available to them. But why do we still cry here we are all grown up? It may be that crying creates other responses in our bodies, our heart rate changes, our breathing alters and other chemicals are released into the body. Crying can make us feel better.
Crying also allows us to show people how we feel! We may have evolved our crying mechanism to let people know what we are feeling, or to get sympathy or support.
Sometimes we cry when we see others hurt or sad and this created empathy, something that allows us build strong bonds and create supportive communities.
What different types of tears are there?
As I said above, we have three types of tears and they are…
Basal tears – these are the ones we produce to keep our eyes moist;
Reflex tears – we produce these in response to something else, usually something that is irritating our eye… From a small piece of dirt to a strong chemical, such as the vapour off a cut onion.
Emotional tears – these are the ones that get switched on by our emotions, even if we try to suppress them! These tears make us human!
What would happen if the Earth’s gravity suddenly disappeared?
This was a recent question from my 10-year-old son… it certainly got some interesting discussions going around the kitchen table. When I opened up the question on my Facebook page I got more input from Cathal (5) and Ciarán (7) (from the Bumbles of Rice blog); they reckon that if you were indoors you would float upwards, or feel like you were being pulled up… and bump your head! A very good point boys; In fact, the bump on the head would be the least of your worries!
Before I go any further though, it is important to say that this cannot actually happen, we can’t just turn off gravity, so when we discuss what would happen if we did, we are talking more science fiction than science; it is good to keep that in mind!
SO WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO YOU?
As Cathal and Ciarán said, you would no longer have a force keeping you on the ground . The Earth would keep spinning, as it does, but you would no longer move with it, you would move in a straight line, upwards. In fact, rather than feeling like you are floating away from the Earth, you would probably feel like the Earth is dropping away from you!
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THINGS AROUND YOU?
Anything not stuck down in some way would move in the same direction you would. Anything inside a building would get stopped by the ceiling, anything outside would float off into space, pretty quickly.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE AIR?
Not only would solid objects float off into space but our air, our atmosphere would too; which means that unless you had an oxygen tank to hand you’d have no air to breathe.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE LAKES, RIVERS AND SEA?
Liquids would leave the Earth’s surface too, so all the water on our planet, in lakes, rivers and seas would start to float off. A first, water would probably start floating off in large blobs, but as the atmosphere of the Earth disappears then the heat of the sun would penetrate to the Earth’s surface even more than it does now and water would probably start to boil off, into steam that would float off into space.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE BUILDINGS?
So initially we said that if you were inside a building you would find yourself up at the ceiling; If you had an oxygen tank then you might be OK for a while. But you would start to feel those temperatures rise pretty quickly. The Earth would start to feel an incredible pressure which would ultimately mean that the buildings attached to its surface would start to break up and float away. Then rocks and clumps of earth would break off and float up too.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO THE WHOLE EARTH?
Eventually, the whole Earth would break apart and float away into space, but we would be long gone by then.
So while the notion of floating around in zero gravity might, at first, seems appealing, when we look at the idea a little more closely we realise it is not a very nice concept at all. Fear not, as I said at the beginning… this cannot happen, it is just an imagining of what would happen if it did.
While scientists cannot really predict what would happen if we suddenly lost gravity on Earth, they can tell us the short term effect that lack of gravity (or weightlessness) has on our bodies… by observing what happens to astronauts while in space.
Image source: pixabay.com
Initially astronauts lose their sense of orientation, they find it hard to tell up from down. This disorientation can also make them feel sick for a while.
Another issue they report is feeling like their arms and legs are disconnected from their body!
The change in pressure can affect their vision a little, this may be due to the altered pressure on the eye ball, brain and spinal fluid (some astronauts report more long term problems when they return to Earth; recent studies have found a genetic link to this problem, but the exact mechanism is still unclear).
They usually get used to these issues pretty quickly but there are greater health effects the longer they stay in space.
Due to the lack of weight on their bodies, their muscles and bones begin to weaken; this is why astronauts spend so much time in space exercising!
An astronaut will actually get taller in space; without the pressure of gravity on their bodies, they can stretch about an inch or more. Of course, once they return to Earth they soon return to their usual height.
Astronauts immune systems can become weak in space too (the number of white blood cells that help to fight infection can reduce) and healing can be slowed down.
Now that we have learned a little about gravity and the lack of it, here is a fun experiment; try out this gravity defying trick with a glass of water and amaze your friends and family!
GRAVITY DEFYING EXPERIMENT
YOU WILL NEED:
A small piece of stiff paper or cardboard (large enough to cover the mouth of the glass)
WHAT TO DO:
Fill the glass to the very top with water.
Place the piece of paper over the mouth of the glass, making sure there are no air bubbles underneath.
While holding the glass in one hand, and keeping the paper in place with the other, quickly turn the glass upside-down, over the basin (or ask an adult to do this for you).
Once the glass is inverted remove your the hand that is holding the paper in place.
The paper should stay in place and the water should stay in the glass.
Watch all the amazed faces of your family and friends as they observe your gravity defying feat!
THE SCIENCE BIT:
While this appears to be an experiment about defying gravity, it is actually all down to air pressure. The lack of air in the glass produces a difference in air pressure on either side of the paper. The air pressure on the underside of the paper is greater than the pressure on the water side, pushing the air up and keeping the paper in place.
I hope this experiment works for you without anyone getting wet feet! Be sure to let me know if you try it!
Toxin, venom and poison… are they just different words for the same thing? The answer is… sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
You see a venom can be a toxin, which can be a poison but not always.
I looked to the Oxford English dictionary, to see if it could shed some light on the issue;
Poison… A substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed
Venom… A poisonous substance secreted by animals such as snakes, spiders, and scorpions and typically injected into prey or aggressors by biting or stinging
Toxin… A poison of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and acting as an antigen in the body
Has that made it any clearer for you? I can’t say it was much help to me. There has to be a more simple explanation. The truth is that these words are often used to mean the same thing, sometimes all three words can be interchanged, sometimes not. They do all tend to have a similarly negative effect on the body, by one means or another, they impact or disrupt the biological function of the affected organism.
Sometimes we need the right question, in order to get the right answer, or in this case, the right series of question. Hopefully, these questions will help define what each is, and the differences between them.
IS IT NATURAL OR MAN-MADE?
If it is man-made (synthetic) then it is a poison!
Toxins and venoms are always organic (biologically produced chemicals), but sometimes poisons are as well. Time for another question.
WAS IT TRANSFERRED BY TOUCHING OR BITTING?
If it was transferred by touch then it is a toxin (which could also be called a poison, in more general terms). Toxins are usually small biological chemicals that can enter the body by absorption through the skin. They can be accumulated through the food chain, so, the organism with the toxin may not have produced it itself, but most likely accumulated it from something it ate, or something that it ate, ate… (we could keep going back the food chain here but you get the idea?).
Just to confuse the matter slightly, organisms that produce toxins are referred to as poisonous organisms.
Here is just one example… the poison dart frog, considered one of the deadliest animals on earth. The poisonous dart frog stores its toxin in glands just below the skin. The toxin is called Batrachotoxin and, when agitated, the frog can literally sweat the toxin onto its skin. The level of danger to humans depends on the species of dart frog; the small golden poison dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis), for example, is only 5cm long but harbours enough toxin to kill 10 grown men.
Transferred by biting not touching? We have another question for that.
DID YOU BITE IT OR DID IT BITE YOU?
If you bite it and suffer the consequences, then it is a poison (which could also be called a toxin, depending on what you ate!); if it bites you and you suffer the consequences, then it is a venom!
I use the term ‘bite’ loosely here as venom can be administered by bite, spike or sting. Basically, venom has to be ‘injected’ into the skin in some manner.
Venom is usually a biological compound that is produced by the organism that administers it. It is also usually a large compound and therefore cannot enter the body through absorption through the skin.
Time for another example… we all know the classic snake scenario but sometimes nature is a little more inventive; None more inventive that the Iberian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl). This animal has evolved some amazing defence mechanisms – it literally extends its spiny ribs out through warts in its body. At the same time the newt secretes venom onto its skin, covering the ribs so they deliver the toxin into the body of their assailant, as they pierce their skin.
Sounds like the stuff of science fiction, doesn’t it… but sometimes fact is more amazing that fiction.
Of course, many venoms contain neurotoxins that are of course toxins, which can be referred to as poisons, which brings us back to the start of this post that sometimes a venom is a toxin, is a poison; but not always.
I hope you found this helpful, maybe you have a few tips of your own? Leave them in the comments below, I always love the feedback.