The wonder of the cell

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; we need to put the wonder back in to science education. Currently the science syllabus in school couldn’t be more devoid of wonder if you went through it with a microscope and deliberately sucked out all the good bits. To put the wonder back in we need to go beyond scientists, teachers and educationalists; we need help from those who are expert in the field. We need artists. We need poets. We need to listen to children.

I don’t eat, read and sleep science because I think we need more engineers. I don’t teach science because it may someday produce graduates who could be good for the economy. We seem to have been down that road before and it didn’t quite work out too well.

I like science (in fact let’s be honest about it – I love science) because of the sense of wonder and awe it leaves me with. And the more I know the more amazed I get. I’m still learning basic biology – up until now it has mainly been just enough to teach with, so when I teach about the cell at junior cert level I stick up a diagram on the board and go through the main parts of the cell and their functions. What a disaster. What a disservice to my students. I may not know all that goes on inside the cell, and they may not need to know, but at the very least they do need to appreciate the complexity, the incredible organisation and the beauty of the cell. Which is why we need artists.

I have seen Harvard University’s The Inner Life of the Cell many times, and have never failed to be blown away by it, but recently watched one of the animators give a talk on TED, explaining the background to the production. It’s well worth watching.

 They finish up with a 3 minute clip from an ABC news report on the animation. As the anchor-guy says; it makes you want to go back and take Biology.

 Now that’s what I’m talking about.

The Inner Life of The Cell

ABC news report

David Bolinsky on TED

Finally there is a three hour documentary going from the history of the discovery of the cell right up to the present day where scientists are almost at the stage where they can manuafcture cells on demand (once agian scientists need outside help to guide them methinks).

Like, why would you watch Cornation Street of an evening when you could get all the drama here?

 All the above clips can now be accessed from the livingthings webpage of


Exploring the ocean’s hidden worlds


Another wonderful story from the World of Science:

Ocean explorer Robert Ballard takes us on a mindbending trip to hidden worlds underwater, where he and other researchers are finding unexpected life, resources, even new mountains.

I am very ignorant of what’s out there in the deep blue briny, but I do know of two wonderful sources of information in this regard; Redmond O’ Hanlon’s Trawler and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (get the illustrated version – it’s well worth the extra expense).

Ten Great Ideas

Been thinking about my previous posting.

What are the ten great ideas in Science that we don’t emphasise?

The average student remembers bugger-all about science, but if we were told there were ten things that a student had to remember, what would they be?

1. Kinetic Theory – Everything is made up of atoms and vibrate at temperatures above -273 degrees Celsius.

2. Evolution

 3. Global Warming

4. Each atom is 99.9999% empty, and so therefore all objects which appear solid are almost completely empty space.

5. Deep Time: The age of the universe, the age of the Earth, the age of first life, and the age of humans

6. Science does not offer Absolute Proof

7. Fundamental Attribution Theory: Humans are genetically hard-wired to apportion blame for our own mistakes to others while wishing to take the credit for achievements which are outside our control.

8. Quantum Theory

9. What Science doesn’t know

10. Mass Extinctions