Fun Friday – Exploring Light!

What is light?

Theophilos via photopin cc

 Light is a type of energy called “Electromagnetic” (EM) radiation. When we see light we see it in straight lines called rays.

The scientific study of light is called Optics.

All Electromagnetic energy (including light) actually travels in waves.  Light is the only type of EM energy that we can see (this is called the visible spectrum).  Other types of EM radiation include radio waves, microwaves and (Ultra Violet) UV waves.

San Diego Shooter via photopin cc
Did you know… some animals can see light that is not visible to humans?  Bees, for example, can see UV light.  This allows them to follow UV patterns on many flowers which lead them to the source of nectar.


The colour of light

buttersweet via photopin cc
Light travels in waves; the wavelength of light determines its colour.  Light with the longest wavelength is red; light with the shortest wavelength is violet.

Sunlight appears as white light but it is actually made up of all the colours of the rainbow. Sunlight can be split into all of its different colours and that is how a rainbow is made.

Did you know… the brightness of light is measured in lumens? Our eyes are usually comfortable with a brightness up to 3,500 lumens.

How is a shadow made?

halfrain via photopin cc
When light rays hit an object they bounce (reflect) off it.  This is how shadows are made, they are the dark patches behind an object that light cannot get through.

Did you know… the biggest shadow we will ever see is a solar eclipse?

How fast does light travel?

The speed of light is 300,000 kilometres (or 186,000 miles) per second.

Distance in space is measured in light years; it is the distance that a ray of light travels in one year – 9.46 trillion kilometres (5.8 trillion miles).

Did you know… it takes light less than one and a half seconds to get from the Moon to the Earth? It takes nearly eight minutes for light to get from the Sun to the Earth.

only_point_five via photopin cc

Did you know… sunlight can reach a depth of about 80 metres (262 feet) in the sea?


Experiments to try:

1.     Make a rainbow

wangsa via photopin cc
You will need… a plastic container, a piece of white card, a mirror and a sunny day!

What to do… fill the plastic container about two- thirds full with water and place it on the ground outside, in direct sunlight. Place a mirror into the water and prop it up at an angle so the sun shines on it. Hold the white card away from the mirror and move it from side to side or back and forth until you capture the rainbow on the card!

So what is happening?… water bends (refracts) light that passes through it.  Each colour bends a slightly different amount so the colours separate. The separated colours are bounced off the mirror and the image is caught on the piece of white card.

2.     Turn a rainbow into white light!

You will need… a circle of white card, a pencil and some markers or colouring pencils.

What to do… divide the circle of card into seven equal sections and colour each section in a different colour of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.  Make a hole in the middle of the circle and push a pencil through it.  Then spin the pencil on its point and watch the colour wheel turn white!

So what is happening?… as the colour card spins fast enough our eyes cannot see each colour separately and so we see all seven colours at the same time – when you mix all seven colours of the rainbow together you get white!

What’s in a blink?

Some of the best “gems” we get from our children are those moments before they go to sleep.  Our children are still young enough to want five minutes with Mum or Dad at bed time.  As frustrating and distracting as I sometimes find the task, once I lie down in the bed next to them and tune into their thoughts and ramblings, I am always grateful that I took the time.

In fact, these precious moments have been the inspiration for many of my blog posts here.  This one is no exception… I lay down with my nine year old daughter last night at bedtime and the first thing out of her mouth was…

…”Mom, how many times do we blink in a day?”
Humans usually blink about 10 to 20 times a minute.  A blink flushes the eye with fresh tears, supplying essential nourishment to maintain a healthy eye surface.  This can refresh the eyes, clear away any dust and debris and prevent infection.  Blinking can also brighten and refresh images received by the retina.

How long does a blink last?

A blink typically lasts about half a second.  If you add all this up we actually have our eyes closed for at least 120 minutes a day.  Blinking does serve the necessary purpose of moisturising the ocular surface but apparently the rate at which we blink exceeds the requirement for clearing the eye.  So are there other reasons for this process?
Yes! Recent studies  have shown that blinking also gives our brain a little “nap”, switching from cognitive to non-cognitive focus (from conscious focused mode to day-dreamy imagination mode), a “micro” respite from the task at hand.  This process allows us to “reboot” and refocus!

Do women blink more than men?

When I mentioned to my husband that I was writing this blog on blinking he said “Oh, do you mean how women blink more often than men?”  I went off, a little indignant to double check, and I am happy to report that this one is a myth.  There is no discrimination between the sexes on blinking rate.  Other factors, such as fatigue, environment and medication can of course effect how often we blink.

Blinking and social cues?

Although we tend to blink unconsciously we do still follow certain social cues or natural pauses. An interesting study observing an audience watching a short video found that they synchronized their blinking to occur at points in the video that required less attention or where they were less likely to miss something of importance.

During social conversation we are more likely to time our blinking with pauses in speech, both for the person talking and, a second or two later, the person listening.

The frequency of blinking also depends on the particular type of social interaction and the emotional state of the person.  Blink rate tends to increase after a lie has been told, for example, but remains unchanged when telling the truth.  Stress, anger and anxiety also increase blink rate.  People suffering from depression have exhibited faster blink rates as well as those with certain mental health issues.

What about blinking in other animals?

Some animals (such as the tortoise) blink their eyes independently of each other. Some have a very slow blink rate (such as cats and rabbits).When birds blink their lower eye lid comes up to meet the upper lid, in mammals it is the reverse.An interesting study conducted on the blink behaviour of 71 different species of primates reported a correlation between primate size and increased blink rate.  Of even more interest was the observation that blink rate increased in species that lived in larger greater group sizes and experienced more social interaction.

 Blinking and Art…

I came across an interesting reference to blinking while writing this blog that I thought it was worth sharing.   It refers to the famous Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci.  The enigmatic face of Lisa Gherardini captured on the canvas has lead to centuries of speculation as to the secret behind her smile.  It appears that da Vinci used a layering and blurring technique that causes our eyes to re-adjust every time we blink, thus restarting the puzzling scrutiny of that mysterious expression.
The Mona Lisa – image source Wiki Commons

Some favourite Science quotes…

  • Science does not know its dept to imagination
  • Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge
  • Touch a Scientist and you touch a Child
  • Equipped with his five senses, man explores the Universe around him and calls the adventure Science
  • One teaches best by example
  • The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music
  • If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself

Mystery Creature revealed – Leaf nosed snake

Week 24th to 30th June 2013

How did you do with this week’s Mystery Creature?  A few correct answers… it is the Leaf nosed snake (Langaha madagascariensis)!

photo credit: wil p via photopin cc

These snakes are unique to Madagascar and have these unusual extended “nose” appendages.  The shape of the snout varied between the sexes (sexually dimorphic), the female’s is more broad and serrated and the male’s is longer and more pointy.  The females are typically  grey in colour while the males are usually brown on top and yellow on the underside of their bodies.

photo credit: David d’O via photopin cc

The nasal appendage is present from birth, though it is folded in to expose the egg tooth.

Leaf nosed snakes feed mainly on lizards and frogs and are thought to be ambush feeders.  They are arboreal snakes and are often observed hanging straight down from branches, noses pointing to the ground.  Their shape and colouring camouflage them well.  They are found in deciduous dry forest and rain forests.

Fun Friday – exploring Acids and Bases

Fun Friday – exploring Acids and Bases

I know, I know, I shouldn’t call in Fun Friday when I am posting it on a Saturday, but ignoring the fact that I am a day late with this regular blog post, I hope you enjoy!

Exploring Acids and Bases

What are Acids and Bases?

Acids and Bases are chemicals that occur naturally in lots of different substances.
Acids can be found in things like lemons and vinegar; Bases (also called Alkali) are found in toothpaste or many cleaning products. Bread soda is a base.

Lets learn more!

The Bronsted-Lowry Definition of an acid and a base is…
  • Acids are substances that gives up hydrogen ions (H+).
  • Bases are substances that accept hydrogen ions (H+).
  • These hydrogen (H+) ions can change things in many ways, including taste and colour!

Did you know… that the word acid comes from the Latin word acidus meaning sour!

Lemons contain an acid called
citric acid that gives them that
sour taste!

The pH Scale

The pH scale is a scale that measures how acidic or basic a substance is.
The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. The scale for acids goes from 0 to 7. A very strong acid has a pH of 0. The scale for bases goes from 7 to 14. A very strong base has a pH of 14.
Something with a pH of 7 is said to be neutral (neither an acid or a base). Pure water has a pH of 7.
photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc


“Did you know… that bee sting venom contains an acid called formic acid!”

Acids and bases in plants!

An indicator is something that can determine whether a substance is an acid or a base. Many indicators are natural chemicals.
A group of chemicals called anthocyanins are naturally present in a number of different plants such as apples, grapes, the leaves of many trees and flowers such as roses and poppies.
photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc

The colour of anthocyanin changes depending upon the acid levels (pH) of the plant. The bright red and pink colours of Autumn are due to anthocyanin and acid levels in leaves (for more on this see my previous
post “Carrots, Cabbages and Cups of Tea“).

Anthocyanin changes colour from red to pink, to purple, to blue, to green as the pH changes from 0 to 14.
photo credit: Parvin via photopin cc

“Did you know… Hydrangea flowers can change colour depending on the pH of the soil. In acidic soils chemical reactions occur to make aluminium available to the plant, turning the flowers blue, in alkaline (basic) soil these chemical reactions cannot occur so the flowers remain pink.”


Experiments to try at home:

Make your own sherbet

You will need… icing sugar, citric acid, bread soda, flavoured jelly crystals, a teaspoon, a tablespoon and a mixing bowl.
What to do… add one teaspoon of citric acid and one teaspoon of bread soda to the bowl. Add three tablespoons of icing sugar and two tablespoons of flavoured jelly crystals. Mix all together then place a small amount on your tongue! The sherbet should bubble a little and you should feel a tingle on your tongue!
So what is happening?… you have just created an  acid-base reaction in your mouth! When the citric acid, bread soda and saliva in your mouth combine they react together to give off a gas, called carbon dioxide, that forms tiny bubbles that you feel fizzing on your tongue!

Cabbage juice experiment

You will need… a red (purple) cabbage, a knife, a saucepan, a sieve, an ice tray, clear vinegar, water and bread soda
What to do… cut up half the red cabbage and add it to a pan.  Ask and adult to cover with water and bring it to the boil then leave to cool.  Once cool pour the cabbage juice through a sieve, collecting the juice in a bowl.  Pour the juice into an ice tray and freeze until it hardens into ice-cubes.
Half fill three glasses, one with water, one with clear vinegar and one with water mixed with half a teaspoon of bread soda. Now drop a cabbage juice ice-cube into each glass and see what happens.
Cabbage Juice ice cube experiment


So what is happening?… red cabbage contains anthocyanin. When the cabbage juice mixes with the acid (vinegar) it turns a red/pink colour; when it mixes with the bread soda solution (base) it turns a blue/green colour.  The water is neutral (pH 7) so it does not alter the purple colour of the cabbage juice.
All things Lavender

All things Lavender

I spent a lovely evening down at my local school yesterday.  As part of a community initiative we had a series of workshops given by local parents – it was my turn last night.

I decided to do my workshop on lavender, my most favourite plant and the pride and joy of my garden (and by garden I am referring to the overgrown wilderness that currently exists around my house).

My Lavender Garden
My Lavender Garden

Why do I like lavender so much?  Apart from the beautiful colour, delicate flower and amazing aroma I like it because there are so many things you can DO with it!I admit I only tend to be drawn to plants that have a function or use to me! That is probably why I like my herbs so much (they appeal to the green witch within).

Lavender fulfills the criteria for functional plant in more ways that I can count!  Culinary, cosmetic, medicinal and ornamental… it has it all.  I thought I would share some of the recipes and uses I have come across for lavender and look into a little bit of the science behind the plant.

A look at the plant


Lavender (Lavandula) is a genus comprising almost 40 different species of plant.  It belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae. The name Lavender comes from the Latin word lavare meaning to wash, a reference to the fondness of the Romans for use of the herb in their baths.  The plant appears often in historical reference, being used in ancient Egypt as part of the embalming process.

The lavender plant is a shrub like plant that is native to the Mediterranean and many parts of Africa and Asia.  The size of the plant varies between species but is typically between 30 to 90 cm.  The common colour of the flowers are the classic “lavender” colour but the range can vary from white to pink to blues to purples. The plant is grown commercially to harvest it’s flowers.  It is the small hairs or spikes on the plant, located between the petals and the stem that produce the oil that give the lavender its lovely scent.  This oil is distilled to produce lavender essential oil.

Lavender essential oil is used in perfumes, cosmetics, clinical applications and aromatherapy.  Different plants are favoured for different scents or different active components.  The most common essential oil is extracted from Common or English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)  but other species such as lavender stoechas  (Lavandula stoechas), spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)are also used.

Although each different lavender essential oil shares a common chemical composition they differ in the dominant chemicals found in each and thereby differ in their clinical applications.


Clinical applications of Lavender


Anti stress, anxiety reduction, sleep aid


photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc
photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

Lavender has been used for years as a calming agent and a means to reduce stress and anxiety and enhance restfull sleep.  As well as using essential oils for these remedies, the dried flowers, tincture and teas may also be used.

Studies have shown that lavender does have a mild sedative effect and both men and women exposed to lavender essential oils at night time showed an increase in deep or slow wave sleep (SWS) resulting in more enegry the following morning.  They also showed an increase in light sleep (stage 2) and a decrease in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

Lavender aromatherapy treatment has also been shown to result in a measurable decrease in stress levels, and is associated with a decrease in anxiety and stress related headaches.

Antibacterial, antifungal and anti inflammatory


Lavender oil was commonly used in hospitals in recent history because of its associated antibacterial properties.  It was also used in the treatment of cuts, wounds and burns.  There are plenty of studies confirming the antibacterial properties of lavender, particularly lavender essential oils.

Lavender oils have also shown a significant effect on decreasing the growth of a number of fungi associated with common skin and nail infections.  It has also possible applications in the treatment of sinusitis.  The antifungal and antibacterial properties of lavender have made it useful in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema and acne.

Studies confirming the anti inflammatory nature of lavender reinforce its associate with healing allergies,  rhinitis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, burns and general swellings.

Side effects or areas of caution


Some people have reported an adverse effect when using products containing lavender, most notably skin reaction and irritation when lavender essential oil is rubbed directly into the skin.
Exposure to lavender in strong concentrations has also been linked in some people to side-effects including headaches, nausea and irritability.
A study published in 2007 suggested a strong link between prepubertal gynecomastia (benign male breast development) and the use of products containing lavender and tea tree oils.
It is usually recommended that pregnant and breast feeding women avoid the use of lavender oil due to a lack of evidence supporting it’s safety at these stages.


Cosmetic applications of Lavender


Lavender is used in a variety of cosmetics such as soaps, bath products, cleansers, toners, hair products, moisturisers and creams.  It is added to these products for a variety of reasons… for its scent, antiseptic and antibiotic properties, to relax and soothe and to ease swelling and inflammatory pain.


How to harvest and dry Lavender


The ideal time to harvest your lavender is when the flowers have their true colour and are just beginning to open.  Cut at least 10 to 15 cm below the flower.  Gather the cut lavender together in small bunches and secure with an elastic band or equivalent.  Hang the bunches upside down in a dry, well aired space (away from direct sunlight) for two to three weeks, until the flowers are completely dry.
Once the flowers are dry they may be used in a variety of ways.  If you want to remove the dried flowers from the stem hold thestem over a large bowl and gently rub the flowers with your fingers and the flowers should fall off easily.  This is a great activity to do while watching tv or chatting as it is time consuming to harvest the flowers from a large bunch of dired lavender (but a very pleasant task).


Make your own Lavender bath bombs


The original recipe is from James Wong’s book “Grow your own Drugs” . I have made some minor modifications;
  • Lavender bath bomb
    Lavender bath bomb

    1 – 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers

  • 1 tablespoon citric acid
  • 3 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 teaspoons sunflower oil (or other vegetable oil)

Combine all the ingredients together in a dry bowl.  Add more or less sunflower oil as required, you want to get a consistency of damp sand.  Rub the inside of a cookie cutter with some sunflower oil and place it on some grease proof paper.  Pack the bath bomb mixture into the cookie cutter, pressing down firmly to ensure it is tightly packed.  Leave in a dry place overnight to allow the sunflower oil to evaporate off and the bath bomb to dry hard. Gentle push the dried bath bomb out of the cookie cutter, wrap in cling film or tinfoil
and store in a dry place.

When you are ready to use your bath bomb just pop it into your bath and watch it fizz away releasing the little lavender flowers and the lovely scent of lavender.  The fizzing is due to the reaction between the citric acid (acid) and the bread soda (base/alkaline) once water is added, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.

Make your own Lavender oil


To make your own lavender oil fill a clean, dry, seal able container with dried lavender flowers and then cover with sunflower oil (or another vegetable oil).  Seal the container and place in a dry place for at least two weeks, shaking once or twice a day.  The length of tine you leave it determines the strength of the smell of lavender in the resulting oil.After two weeks strain the oil through muslin or a fine sieve into a clean dry container or bottle and seal.  This oil can be applied directly to the skin or added to bath water.


Some Culinary uses of Lavender


Apart from the medicinal, cosmetic and ornamental applications of lavender, it is also great as a flavour in our foods.  The flowers are often added to sugar to give it that delicate lavender taste.  The preference in our house when it comes to combining lavender and sugar is to make lavender syrup….

Lavender syrup


  • 250 ml water
  • 3 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers (or fresh flowers)
  • 350 to 400 g sugar

Place the lavender and water into a saucepan and place on a medium, heat to a simmer and leave for five minutes.  Add the sugar and stir continuously until all the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool then transfer to a suitable container, cover and refrigerate for two to three days.

Strain through a fine sieve or muslin into a sterilized container, seal and store in the fridge for up to three weeks.

It never lasts more than a few days in our house though as the kids just love it poured over a warm fresh batch of drop scones.

Lavender syrup and drop scones, the perfect combination
Lavender syrup and drop scones, the perfect combination

On the subject of refreshments I thought I would share two recipes… one for the children and one for the adults.Lavender syrup can be used much like honey or maple syrup, as well as on pancakes it is great over ice cream or used to sweeten drinks and cocktails.

Children first, while hit by complete lavender fever we decided the ideal drink for the kids would be an adaptation of my mother in laws wonderful lemonade recipe…

Lavender Lemonade


  • 1 pint of water
  • 8 oz of sugar ( approx. 200g )
  • zest from three lemons
  • 3 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers

Add water, lemon zest and lavender to small pot and place over medium heat; allow to simmer for five minutes then add the sugar and still until dissolved.

Remove from the heat and add …

  • the juice of three lemons

Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then strain through a sieve.  Serve chilled and dilute to taste (about one part lemonade to two parts water).

The lavender gave the lemonade a lovely subtle flavour and turned it pink
The lavender gave the lemonade a lovely subtle flavour and turned it pink

Lavender cocktail


There are a number of cocktails that work well with lavender, vodka, martini and gin seem to be the alcohol base among the most common.  I decided to seek expert advice and so I asked fellow Galwegian and Sunday Times Food Columist Mona Wise (@WiseMona) for her suggestion.  Mona recommended adapting a French 75, substituting the sugar or syrup for lavender syrup.  As this cocktail is made with Gin and Prosecco I did not need any persuading to try it out.
photo credit: Dinner Series via photopin cc
photo credit: Dinner Series via photopin cc

Here is a recipe …

  • 2 parts gin
  • 1 part lavender syrup
  • 1 part fresh lemon juice
  • Prosecco (or sparkling tonic if preferred)
Combine the gin, lavender syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake well and then strain.  Add to glass and then top up with prosecco.

Garnish with a sprig of lavender.

I am really looking forward to experimenting with this recipe again this weekend, I have a group of close friends coming over tomorrow night and I think this will make an impressive aperitif!

Lavender Tea


For those looking for a non-alcoholic lavender drink I can highly recommend lavender tea.  I usually use one teaspoon of dried lavender to one cup of boiled water and allow to sit for five minutes.  I can vouch for its effect for inducing a really good nights sleep.

There is a great blog about Lavender Tea and how to grow lavender from seeds over at Greenside Up.  They also sell a beautiful “Time for Tea” seed collection;

I have never grown lavender from seed before but I think that will change now – I am keen to try out all the seeds in the collection. It is on my “Lavender List” for this year.  I also want to make lavender soap and some other lavender cosmetics, as well as try my hand at making lavender wands and lavender icecream but I think that will be a blog for another day!


Cautionary Note:

I do not use any chemicals on, or near my Lavender; the suggested uses and recipes given within this blog are recommended for chemical-free lavender, it is a good idea to either use your own home grown lavender that you know if “free-from” or buy  from an organic and/or reputable source.

I was going to include the attractiveness of lavender to certain insects, particularly bees.  I think that would make a whole blog within itself so I have left that for another day.  However, as pointed out to me by @unusual_plants, we need to be very aware of any products we use with our home grown lavender, in the interest of our little buzzing buddies.  This includes checking the content of the compost you may choose to plant your lavender in as they may still contain such bee threatening compounds as neonicotinoids!

If you enjoyed this blog, tried some of the suggestions or have any questions please leave me a message in the comments below!

Mystery Creature – Elephant nose fish

Week 17th – 23rd June, 2013

A good few correct answers this week… This week’s Mystery Creature goes by the name of Elephant Fish, Elephantnose Fish or, most commonly, Peters’ Elephantnose Fish (Gnatonemus petersii).

photo credit: Joachim S. Müller via photopin cc

Peters’ elephantnose fish is common in certain parts of Africa, found in muddy, slow moving rivers and pools with heavy vegetation.  it are nocturnal, preferring to hide away during the day.  It grows to about 20 -25 cm in length and is grey/black to brown in colour.  The most striking feature of these little fish is their trunk like “nose”, which is not actually a nose at all but an extension of their mouth, or more specifically their chin.

These fish have quite poor vision but can navigate and seek out food very well using active electroreception; they generate small electric fields by flexing muscles in their tails and then detect any interference in the path of these fields.  Its “trunk” like mouth extension is covered in more than 500 electroreceptors (which are also found on much of the body) which can detect the feedback signals.  The fish moves forward with its “trunk” pointing downwards, passes it back and forth, just like a metal detector.  Active electroreception can be likened to echolocation in other animals such as whales and bats.  The detail these fish can gleam from their electrical scan of their environments is quite remarkable.  In order to process the information they are constantly receiving their brains are very large, larger than that of a human, relative to their overall body size.

In their native environment they feed on small worms and some aquatic invertebrates.  They have become popular additions to domestic aquariums though, particularly in America, and appear to accept common fish food in such environments.

Father’s Day tribute – and the science behind the bond!

Father’s Day tribute – and the science behind the bond!

It is Father’s Day here in Ireland.  A day to reflect on our own bonds and experiences with that special man in your life that has known you since birth!  My own story is a wonderful one, my Dad and I are very close and my life memories are filled with lots of special moments with him.

My Dad meeting his 6th grandchild for the first time!

I have a lot to thank him for…

…the weekends he gave up to bring me to yet another horse riding competition or event (only really appreciated this one when I had kids of my own, up until that it never occurred to me that he would have anything else to do ;0)  )
…the lovely way he explained to me how special I still was to him when my little sister was born!
…the day he took off from work and brought me to Galway to see what a nice place it was… this was after I got my “Leaving Cert” results and realised my dreams of becoming a vet were gone… he knew me well enough to know not to try to talk me out of my “depression” but to open my eyes to other possibilities in a different way!  Considering I have now lived in Galway for most of the past 24 years, I think he can chalk that one up as a success!
…the way he stayed up all night reading my PhD thesis when I first showed it to him… and I mean ALL of it… he even had the typos and edits ready for me the next day!
…the way he treated every drawing, every card, every poem I gave him as a child as an amazing work of art… in fact it seems he still has them all!
…the way he is still the one I go to for advice!
…the way the sound of his voice will still make me cry if something has just upset me.
…the way I can see our bond live on with his relationship with my children!

So I thought today would be a good day to reflect on what a wonderful man he is… and to take a look at the science behind the bond between a father and his children.

A lot has changed in a father’s role since I was born.  My Dad was certainly not present at my birth, he was at work and came to see me once he got the call that his first daughter was born!  By the time my own children were born things were very different…my husband was not only present at their births but was actively involved in the whole process, he was my “hypnobirthing” partner and helped me stay relatively calm and focused throughout each birth!

My Dad was also not as “hands on” as most men are now… nappy changing, bottle preping and the like were not really part of his repertoire.  However there is no denying the strength of the bond he has with all three of his children.

The science behind the bonding process between mother and child is more commonly known and understood but there is a definite and undeniable bond formed between father and child also, and although less studied there  are many scientific explanations emerging.

It is now known that expectant fathers may also experience hormonal changes coming up to, during and after the birth of their child.  Studies have shown a drop in levels of testosterone and an increase in prolactin and cortisol levels in men during the weeks coming up to the birth.  These hormones are more commonly associated with expectant mothers.  Prolactin levels are also seen to be higher in fathers than in men with no children, and higher in fathers with young children than with older children.

Studies have also shown an increase in oxytocin levels in fathers after the birth of their child.  This is the hormone that is strongly associated with aiding strong bonding between mothers and their babies.  Fathers have shown an increase in active play and interaction with their infants after receiving oxytocin.

Research is still ongoing into the reasons for these hormonal changes and more importantly the role they play in forming and strengthening the male parental bond.  It is possible they play a role in calming fathers, in increasing their sensitivity to the smell and touch of their young children and in encouraging more play and interaction between father and child.  In other words they may help dampen down the aggressive side of the male and bring out his “inner child”!

Regardless of the science and the research behind it, there is sometimes no need to examine and explain the love, care and affection between a father and his children…

….so today I want to say a big HAPPY FATHER’S DAY  to my wonderful Dad and a big thanks for all the love, support and encouragement he has always given me!  I hope you like my unconventional gift Dad x

#FunFriday – exploring Magnets

#FunFriday – exploring Magnets

What is a Magnet?


A magnet is an object that can produce a magnetic force around it called a “magnetic field”.  Magnets attract certain types of metals such as iron, nickel and cobalt.


Let’s learn more!


A magnetic field is not visible to the human eye, however iron filings can be used to show the pattern of a magnetic field. The magnetic field around all magnets is strongest at it‛s ends – these ends are called the Poles. One end is called the North Pole and the other is called the South Pole, just like the Earth.

If you put the poles of two magnets together they will either pull together (attract) or push apart (repel); Different poles attract (North and South), similar poles repel!

photo credit: daynoir via photopin cc
photo credit: daynoir via photopin cc

Did you know… small iron rocks on the Earth‛s surface are often natural magnets and these are called Lodestones.

The Earth as a magnet


The Earth is one big magnet – it‛s magnetic field is created by the iron that is in the core of the Earth. The Earth‛s magnetic field is strongest at the North Pole and the South Pole.

photo credit: *~Dawn~* via photopin cc
photo credit: *~Dawn~* via photopin cc
Did you know… many objects is space are magnetic including the Sun!

photo credit: Najwa Marafie - Free Photographer via photopin cc
photo credit: Najwa Marafie – Free Photographer via photopin cc


Did you know… the Earth‛s magnetic field deflects charged particles that come from the sun (Solar Wind) and this creates the wonderful lights called AURORA that can sometimes be seen in the sky.

Magnetic compasses use the Earth‛s magnetic field to determine North, South East and West.




An electromagnet is a magnet that is produced when an electric current is passed around a piece of iron.  Unlike true magnets, electromagnets are only magnetic while the electric current is switched on!

Did you know… the first person to notice that electric currents produce magnetism was a Danish scientist called Hans Christian Oersted, in 1820.
Some countries have started to use high speed trains called “MagLev” trains that are operated by powerful electromagnets.
photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer via photopin cc
photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer via photopin cc


These wheel less trains float on magnetic tracks and can reach speeds of more than 500 km/h.

Two experiments to try at home:

Make a compass:

You will need… a circle of paper, a needle, a magnet and a bowl of water.
What to do… thread the needle through the circle of paper so that nearly all the needle lies on one side of the paper (see below). Stroke the needle 30 times in one direction with one end of a strong magnet.  Lift the magnet between strokes. Float the circle of paper on top of the water in the bowl (needle side up).  The paper should spin around slowly for a few moments and then stop.  The needle should now be pointing North-South.  You can confirm this with a compass if you wish!
So what is happening? The needle contains little particles of iron that are all jumbled up.  When the needle is stroked with the magnet it makes all the iron particles align in the same direction (North-South); the needle is temporarily magnetised!

Make an electromagnet:

You will need.. 1 metre of thin insulated wire, a large iron nail, blue tac, a 1.5 volt battery, paper clips;
What to do… wind the insulated wire tightly around the nail at least 30 times then ask an adult to strip back the insulation from both ends of the wire, exposing about 2 cm of the wire beneath.  Using the blue tac stick one end of the wire to the + side of the battery and the other end to the – end.  Now see if your electromagnet can pick up some paperclips.  If you disconnect the batter the paperclips should fall!!
photo credit: Steve Wilhelm via photopin cc
photo credit: Steve Wilhelm via photopin cc



So what is happening? When the wire is attached to the battery it creates an electric current that runs through the wire, temporarily magnetising the iron particles in the nail. When the battery is disconnected the nail no longer acts as a magnet!


Hope you have fun with these this weekend!  If you have a question or something to add please drop me a note in the comments below!
House Martins – the next generation!

House Martins – the next generation!

We waited a long time for the return of our friends, the House martins, this year.  We were so pleased last year when two pairs built nests on our house, in fact, they inspired my first blog!  House martins tend to repair and re use their nests each year so we were sure they would return.  By the end of May though they still had not arrived and we began to give up hope.  Finally, just at the end of May we spotted the familiar flight of their small bodies outside the window and the household celebrated!

Last year we had two nests under the eaves on our house.  This year, as well as repairing the old nests, more couples arrived and built adjoining nests and one more on the South facing end of our house… so now we have five nests… more rejoicing (you get the idea – we REALLY like House martins in this family).
The first nest built on our house!

One pair of nests is literally built over a door into our kitchen so we get to enjoy the cheery little guys every time we come in and out.  My nine year old daughter has inherited her father’s obsession with them and took to checking on them every morning as soon as she awoke.  They make a really chatty, cheery sound and always seem to pop their heads out and greet us as we pass, like gossiping neighbours chatting over a garden fence!

The big excitement this week was when we spotted the ejected egg pile below one of the nests.  The first batch of chicks have hatched!  Eight egg halves in total so four chicks which is in keeping with the norm.  The eggs are tiny as you can see below.  Hard to imagine how small the chicks are.  The will be fed by both parents for the next couple of weeks and then will fledge about 22-32 days old.  The young fledglings usually return to the nest for another week or so and will be fed by the parents during this time.
Evidence of four hatchlings!
Look how small the eggs are!

As amazing as it is to realise how small the hatchlings are, it is an equal marvel to wonder how the whole family fits into the nest after the chicks have grown.  It is an amusing and charming site to see so many little heads beeping out of such a small space.

photo credit: orangebrompton via photopin cc

The house martins will usually have a second brood before the end of the Summer.  Occasionally the first year birds from the first brood will assist in feeding the second brood.

I will be posting more photos and facts on these charming “house guests” as the Summer progresses.  Perhaps you have something to share on the subject too?  If so share it in the comments below!