young scientist



I don’t imagine many people picked up on it, but it was a little embarrassing to hear both of the presenters mis-pronounce the name of one of Ireland’s most famous scientists at the presentation of the Young Scientist awards last Saturday.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell made one of the most important discoveries in Cosmology EVER in 1967 when she discovered the first pulsar (pulsating radio star).
Imagine a star which has the mass of the Sun, but only the size of the Earth, which rotates not once in 24 hours like our Earth, but ONCE EVERY SECOND. That’s what Bell Burnell discovered.
Since then pulsars have been discovered which rotate almost ONE THOUSAND TIMES EVERY SECOND!
Controversy followed when her supervisor (Antony Hewish) and Martin Ryle were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1974 but she wasn’t. I can’t ever recall her making an issue of it, although other prominent astronomers at the time did (notably Fred Hoyle).

Hewish himself must have been getting fairly fed-up being asked about this.

“You know, in the popular mind, she is the key person in the discovery of pulsars,” he says. “I’m totally fed up with it this stupid business that Jocelyn did all the work and I got all the credit, I get fed up with that comment because it’s just blarney, I mean it’s just totally wrong.

“If she’s disgruntled about the Nobel, well that’s too bad quite honestly. It’s a bit like an analogy I make – who discovered America? Was it Columbus or was it the lookout? Her contribution was very useful, but it wasn’t creative. And I don’t think you do get the Nobel prize for that”.

Photo and quote taken from  The Belfast Telegraph

Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell to give her her full title – she was awarded a DBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2007) has done much to promote girls doing Science, and Physics in particular (she is also president of The Institute of Physics).

So it was a little embarrassing that first Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain (herself a physics graduate) and then straight after Ray D’arcy referred to her as Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnett.
Perhaps it was their cue cards.


It’s been a pretty cool few days

After a number of months  of trying (off and on, mind), I finally managed to get the url for the blog changed to
Thanks to my colleagues at St. Columba’s College English department for the idea.

After putting in quite a bit of work into Young Scientist Projects for the first time this year, we have had four out of the eight submitted accepted for presentation next January. Busy times ahead. They’re almost all in Second Year, and when we spend time on it in class, those not preparing for the Young Scientist Exhibition will be preparing for the Scifest equivalent next May.

Then I got a phonecall on Saturday from Aoife O’Donoghue, who is the Tyndall Outreach Officer, to inform me that one of my leaving cert students won first prize in the senior category of Science Snaps, their Science Photography competition (Shhh . . . Shane doesn’t know yet).
Not that I that anything to do with it mind; I tried to promote an internal Science-Photo competition at the beginning of the year and had the grand total of three entries. So at least this should help in promoting it if it runs again next year. And Mary Mulvihill over at Science@Culture might even be impressed with the quality of the entries.

And then I came across this on Youtube, and I don’t know why but I cried. My wife thinks it might have been the beautiful music in the background.

Ideas for Young Scientist competition

I put together a list of (124) possible Young Scientist projects for my second-year class. Most of them are taken from previous years and hopefully it will give them some ideas. 

Closing date is October so you need to get cracking. You don’t need to have the project finished by then, but you will need to have a one-page description ready to send off. Remember only about half of the applications are accepted for presentation.
The good news is that we will be concentrating on this over the next two weeks, so no boring science textbooks.

I pushed this with fourth years before but got nothing but frustration for my troubles. So this year I was going to concentrate on second-years, but some of my fourth-years have actually come up with some very interesting ideas.  Hold this page.

The list of projects is here.

The Young Scientist homepage with rules is here.

Now get cracking!

Some of my science class investigating the action of saliva by trying to eat three crackers in under a minute – is there a science project here?

Laptops from €249

This form Dell

Laptop Computer

From €249 plus delivery.

I don’t know the specs but I reckon they would be ideal for working with dataloggers in Science projects like Scifest and Young Scientist, and I can’t imagine they are more expensive than the alternative mobile dataloggers; LabQuest and Xplorer GLX

You would still have to use their software and sensors, but still . . .??

Nice project for Scifest

Here’s another nice idea for generating electricity; ideal for Scifest or Young Scientist project if only to investigate its feasability.

The students’ test case . . . was a prototype stool that exploits the passive act of sitting to generate power. The weight of the body on the seat causes a flywheel to spin, which powers a dynamo that, in turn, lights four LEDs.

“People tended to be delighted by sitting on the stool and would get up and down repeatedly,” recalls Graham.

The Crowd Farm is not intended for home use. According to Graham and Jusczyk, a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second. But get a crowd in motion, multiply that single step by 28,527 steps, for example, and the result is enough energy to power a moving train for one second. “


Scifest 2008

The Young Scientist competition is a wonderful idea and makes you wonder why our students can be so enthusiastic about this and yet so uninterested in studying Science in school. Could it perhaps be anything to do with us as teachers, what we teach or maybe how we teach it.

I have had some mixed feelings about the competition itself however. The decision as to whether you get accepted or not is based on a form which is filled out well ahead of time. I don’t know how the organisers could improve upon this (or maybe they have since I was last involved) but it means that a pretty basic project could get spruced up in the report such that the final presentation bears little resemblance to the report which was sent in.
Aaron Dormer was a student of mine from a few years back and spent a year putting together a large scale model plane and built his own aerodynamic testing station. I helped him with the report and was as positive as I could be about the whole thing, only to find that the project was not even considered worthy of presentation at the fair itself.
In fact I don’t think I have ever had a student or group enter.

That’s why I love Scifest

Put together by Sheila Porter it’s all on a much smaller scale, so almost all projects should be accepted for presentation. It may not have all the hoopla of Young Scientist, but it should get me back into this way of teaching.

Our (my) mode of teaching is very traditional and as a result very poor. I know about formative assesment, constructivism and all the other isms, but it’s just so very, very, very hard; and I mean VERY HARD to change my bad habits. Hopefully this will give me a suitable kick up the arse, and allow me to recognise that an old dog can actually learn new tricks.

I already have one group looking on the net for material, and I got to thinking; wouldn’t it be great if each group had their own blog and were encouraged to submit comments on their peers’ blogs?

Maybe I’m getting carried away!