Invisible soldiers on the way; Cyber war, how real is the threat?; bottle feeding obesity link

America's Future Warriro will go beyond camouflage to become truly invisible. Nanotechnology in the fibers of the soldier's uniform will allow it to perfectly mirror the environment. Like a chameleon, this high-tech commando will take on the appearance of whatever he is standing against. Concept Photo by  Edit International. Copyright 2003.

The US army is aiming to create nano materials that will enable soldiers to virtually disappear against any background  [Concept Photo by Edit International]

Cyber terrorists, or hostile powers have featured in Hollywood films as being able to knock out air traffic control systems, power grids and financial centres, but how real is the threat?

Hiding from the enemy has always been important to military everywhere, but the US is set to take it to a new level with the development of uniforms that enable soldiers to virtually disappear against any background.

Breastfeeding up to six months, the evidences shows, reduces the rest of later obesity by about one quarter. We discuss

Click below to listen to a discussion on the topics above on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan on East Coast FM.

This was first broadcast on 7th May 2015

Alan Turing, the half Irish genius who broke the Enigma code

Alan Turing

The statue of the half Irish, Alan Turing (his mother was Irishwoman Ethel Stoney) on view at Britain’s Bletchley Park

Listen: HERE

Alan Turing is the mathematician credited with designing the principles for the world’s first computer, built during World War 2 to crack German codes. He’s also one of the founding philosophers of A.I. and more.

But did you know he was half Irish? He was by virtue of his mother, Ethel Stoney, who went to school in Dublin’s Alexandra College.

His parents – his father was Julius – had met on a trip back from India, and later got married in St Bartholomew’s Church in Ballsbridge.

Click HERE to listen to a discussion of Alan Turing, his life and achievements, as depicted in the film The Imitation Game, and the book upon which it was based Alan Turing: the enigma by Andrew Hodges.

The discussion featured on RTE Radio 1’s The History Show on 23/11/’14 with Myles Dungan.

The guests were myself, Sean Duke, science writer and broadcaster, Aoibhinn ní Shúilleabháin, mathematics educator at UCD and broadcaster, and Peter Arnds, comparative literature researcher at TCD.

Science thinks dating online is a bad idea; Britain goes nuclear again, should Ireland follow?; move over T-Rex, a bigger, badder predator has been found


Discussion of why science thinks it’s a bad idea to date online; and whether Ireland should be considering nuclear power?

Also, is it time to say move over T. Rex, it’s time to make way for the bigger, badder Spinosaurus – portrayed here on the right [Credit: Walking With Wikis]

Click below to hear a discussion of these topics on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan –  broadcast on East Coast FM on 9th October 2014

End of reading glasses; social media ‘unsocial’; making human organs; Icelandic volcano threat

Discussion of some of the week’s’ top science news stories on East Coast FM’s The Morning Show with Declan Meehan (broadcast on 28th August 2014) 


Cloud computing costs to fall thanks to TCD and IBM Dublin

CloudComputing (1)

Researchers in Dublin at Trinity College and IBM have developed mathematical algorithms that can reduce the cost of cloud computing (credit:

The cost of ‘cloud computing’ data storage services on the Internet can be cut by more than half thanks to new research by Dublin-based researchers at TCD and IBM.

Mathematical algorithms were used to develop a system called Stratus which allows companies to select the cheapest and ‘greenest’ cloud computing services on the planet.

All of the services on the Internet today are based in the ‘Cloud’, so Twitter, Facebook or Google mail requests are dealt with by one of thousands of PC servers located at a small number of warehouse-sized cloud-computing facilities around the world.

“The overall goal of the Stratus system is to allow companies to procure their cloud computing service in a way that best serves their priorities,” said Professor Donal O’Mahony, computer scientist at TCD.

“If they (companies) want to be super-green, it will shift the load one way,” said Professor Donal O’Mahony, Computer Science at TCD. “If they want to cut costs to the bone, it will shift it another way, or they can choose anything in between.

In their simulations, the scientists found that by tailoring the algorithms to reduce carbon output, they could achieve a 21% reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions.

Likewise, by targeting electricity cost reductions, they could achieve a 61% saving over simply splitting the load evenly.

The research has been published in the augural issue of IEEE: Transactions on Cloud Computing. A copy of the full journal article is available here.

UCD team break cryptography world record

Online security may have to be reviewed after a UCD team broke the world record for solving a famously hard problem used for encryption. Credit []

Online security may have to be reviewed after a UCD team broke the world record for solving a famously hard problem used for encryption. Credit []

A team of mathematicians from University College Dublin (UCD) has set a world record by breaking the code used by the security industry to protect credit cards and bank account details online.

Using a supercomputer provided by the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC), the research team from UCD’s Claude Shannon Institute solved a famously difficult conundrum known as the discrete log problem.

To perform secure transactions online, mathematicians create algorithms using numbers stretching to hundreds of digits. These numbers must be large enough to prevent decryption by criminals, but small enough not to slow down transactions, which should take place instantenously.

As part of the process, the Dublin-based research team, led by Professor Gary McGuire, broke the world record last week, previously held by mathematicians in France, by solving the discrete log problem using a 1,971 bit number. The largest number previously used to solve it was a 1,425 bit number.

McGuire, from the School of Mathematical Sciences in UCD, said secure online transactions were now reliant on the discrete log problem or its variations. Most use codes based on numbers larger than the highest number ever to be decrypted but not so large as to slow down transactions.

“Online banking, buying something on Amazon or your airline tickets – any secure website that you put your credit card in [is based on it],” he said. The problem is also used to secure e-voting machines around the world.

Michael Scott, chief cryptographer with CertiVox, an online security firm, said the achievement woudl force his industry to review security levels.

“All of our security depends on variations of the discrete logarithm problem, so if the problem isn’t as hard as we thought it was, then that could be a bit of a worry,” he said.

Scott said the UCD team’s success in cracking such a “tough nut” had been noted by those interested in cryptography. “Out in the cryptographic blogosphere people are talking about it – people are impressed,” he said.

The record for the biggest number used to solve the problem was set at 127 bits by Don Coppersmith from IBM in America in 1984. It has since been broken several times, with French researchers vying with each other and a Japanese team from Fujitsu, until the Irish triumph last week. The UCD team is making plans to break its own record.

McGuire decided to tackle the problem after reading about the Japanese world record last summer. He gathered a team of post-doctoral researchers, made up of Dr Robert Granger from England, Dr Jens Zumbragel from Germany and Dr Frank Gologlu from Turkey for the record attempt, and Science Foundation Ireland provided the funding. The team applied to ICHEC to use its supercomputer and created a mathematical formula to solve the problem.

Measured in bits – the most basic units of computer calculation – their record stands at 1,971 bits. In layman’s terms the number is 594 digits long.

McGuire said their formula meant they should be able to break their own record, given time. “We can push things on quite a bit,” he said.

“Over the next month we hope to go up to 4,000 bits. That would never have been imagined a year ago.”

World records

1984, Don Coppersmith (IBM), USA, 127 bits

1992, Daniel Gordon (Google), Kevin McCurley (Georgia IT), USA, 401 bits

1998, Damien Weber, Thomas Denny, (Universitat des Saarlandes) Germany, 512 bits

2001, Antoine Joux (Ecole Normale Supérieure), Reynald Lercier (Université de Rennes), France, 521 bits

2004 Emmanuel Thomé (Institute National de Recherche en Informatique et Automatique), France, 607 bits

2005, Antoine Joux, Reynald Lercier, France, 613 bits

2012, Fujitsu, Kyushu University, National Institue for Information and Communications Technology, Japan, 934 bits

2013, Antoine Joux, Frances, 1,425 bits

2013, Gary McGuire, Faruk Gologlu, Rogert Granger, Jens Zumbragel (UCD), Ireland, 1,971 bits

First published in The Sunday Times, Irish Edition, 3rd March 2013

Criminals & paedophiles becoming more sophisticated in their online activities

Source: McAfee

The Internet, like any other technology, can be a force for good, as well as bad. We are all well aware of the many benefits that the Internet brings to our lives, but there is a dark side too.

Increasingly, criminals of all hues, and paedophiles are making more sophisticated use of the Internet to lure new victims.

We talk to Dr Grainne Kirwan, an expert in this area, based at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, about what the   cyber criminals are up to, and how they have become more sophisticated in their online activities.

Interview with Dr Grainne Kirwan

Broadcast 1.12.2011 on 103.2 Dublin City FM

The ‘Cyber Policewoman’


The sophistication of online criminals is increasing all the time, and their activities extend beyond fraud and theft, into sinister areas such as paedophilia and cyber terrorism.

It is important, therefore, to understand the psychology of the online criminal, as well as that of their potential victims, and this is the work of Dr Grainne Kirwan, a cyberpsychologist based at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

LISTEN: Interview with Cyberpsychologist, Dr Grainne Kirwan

Broadcast, 10th November 2011, on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM