Tallaght students set to make radio contact with the International Space Station

Fifth year students from Tallaght Community School pictured preparing for radio contact with with the International Space Station. (Pic: Colin O’Riordan) 

Tallaght Community School will this Thursday, 19th October become the first Irish school to make radio contact with the International Space Station (I.S.S.)

The I.S.S. travels in orbit around the Earth at a speed of 27,600km/hour and for a window of six to 12 minutes it will pass over Tallaght Community School.

The students will get the opportunity to speak to Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli while he takes a break from his extensive daily duties on board the ISS.

“The opportunity to talk to the astronauts on board the ISS will hopefully encourage students to pursue a career in STEM education, but also be a memorable moment in their journey through education in Tallaght Community School,” said Ian Boran, physics and maths teacher.

In 2014 Paolo was interviewed for an RTE Radio 1 science series called ‘What’s It All About? where he spoke about life on a previous ISS mission.

Paolo Nespoli, the Italian European Space Agency astronaut will speak to Tallaght students via a radio link (Source: European Space Agency)

Radio equipment on the ground in Tallaght will beam a line-of-sight signal to the ISS. The students in Tallaght have set up a radio station on the ground, using amateur radio equipment which includes an antenna, and a two-way radio system.

The ISS has been a channel for educating school students around the world about on the work that takes place on the ISS and life on-board the ISS.

Amateur radio is a hobby which facilitates learning about how radio technology works , communicating with others and long distance communication.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, is a global voluntary group that formalised a programme for helping schools to connect with the ISS through the use of amateur radio equipment.

The ARISS runs a competition where thousands of applications are received from schools worldwide to connect with the ISS, but only a few are chosen.

Schools in the home country of a specific astronaut on board the ISS received 70 per cent of the limited number of contact events per year.

So, for countries like Ireland, which have no astronaut on board the ISS, it is extremely difficult for a school to be chosen.


National Science Quiz takes place on Thursday


The 2015 National Science Quiz final took place in TCD, and here are some of those that were in attendance. (Credit: ISTA)

On Thursday, leaving certificate students from all over Ireland will take a break from their studies to take part in a National Science Quiz, starting at 7:30pm in 13 venues nationwide.

The top scoring teams will be invited to Trinity College for the Final. This year that will be Saturday 26th November the National Finals will take place in Trinity in the Edmund Burke theatre with
Dr. Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain as guest quizmaster. The National Final is sponsored by BioPharmaChemical Ireland.
This quiz was started by the Dublin Branch of Irish Science Teachers Association in 1990, and is  co-ordinated by Mary Mullaghy.
 Application Forms and all the required info available at www.ista.ie

Lucan make it two-in-a-row as ‘rap’ wins health video award

PUMPED Schools¹ Video Awards 9 (1)

A catchy rap produced by three girls at St Joseph’s College Lucan – Gabrielle Fullam, Tina Ehiguese and Lisa Browne – has won a national health video award (Credit here)

A catchy, creative ‘rap’ produced by three girls from St Joseph’s College, Lucan, has won the annual Pumped Schools Video Awards, aimed at promoting healthy hearts in teenagers.

The win made it an impressive two-in-a-row of national victories for the Lucan school, who also won the competition last year in its the inaugural year.

Gabrielle Fullam, Tina Ehiguese and Lisa Browne came up with a video that was the stand-out winner of a national competition with many high quality entrants.

The winning rap, grabs the attention, and encourages teenagers to take up a sport. It highlights how exercise can help relaxation, better sleep and academic performance.

The winning video is called ‘Active Teens, Healthy Hearts’. The awards are organized by Bayer, working in partnership with the Irish Heart Foundation and the Federation of Irish Sport.

The winning video:

The winning students each received a tablet computer and the St Joseph’s College science budget got a significant boost from the win of 5,000 euro.

The Lucan winners last year, for a project called ‘Tobacco Kill’s were Kifah Nur and Claire Williams.

The second place in the competition this year went to Coláiste Éinde in Galway with each team member being awarded an iPod Nano.

St Gerard’s school in Bray came third with each student receiving an iPod Nano.

The Awards come in the light of research last August that found that 31 per cent of teens say that they eat a lot of junk food, and 34 per cent that they have soft drinks at least daily.

The 2nd and 3rd placed videos can be seen at http://www.pumped.ie.

Young Irish scientist describes work at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab

The human-like robot, pictured here, called COG, is one of the exciting projects under development at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the US (Credit: Sam Ogden)

Ireland has many promising and talented young researchers. One of those is Dr James McDermott, who has just returned to the UCD following a stint at the famous MIT Computer Science Artificial Intelligence Lab.

James, who is based at the Complex and Adaptive Systems Laboratory (CASL) is working in the ‘exploding’ area of evolutionary computation. This is the field where computer scientists are gaining inspiration from Darwinian evolution to design advanced computers that can better learn, change and evolve.

We discussed the latest developments in evolutionary computation and artificial intelligence with James, as well as his experience of working with some of the world’s most talented computer scientists at MIT.

LISTEN: Interview with Dr James McDermott

Broadcast on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 22.03.2012

A cycle helmet with built-in sensors and indicators

Cycling in Dublin city is a dangerous business due to large volumes of traffic, unsafe or totally absent cycle lanes, and an inability of drivers to ready cyclists’ intentions.

Rory Hughes, a student at Gonzaga College, Ranelagh, can’t do much about the traffic or cycle lanes, but he has found a way to help drivers better anticipate cyclists’ behaviour on the road by inventing a cycling helmet with built-in indicators and a brake light.

Accidents can result when drivers misread cyclists’ hand signals, or miss such hand signals entirely due to a blind spot, inattention, or because of poor visibility. A cyclist turning right, for example, will be in trouble if a driver doesn’t spot a hand signal.

Enter Rory’s helmet, for which he deservedly won the Junior Technology Individual Award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, back in January.

His idea is simple, yet ingenious. A cycle helmet that signals to following cars when a cyclist wishes to turn left or right, as well as having a brake light to show slowing or stopping.


Rory Hughes of Gonzaga College, pictured here wearing his award-winning cycle helmet with built in sensors and indicators

When a cyclist wishes to turn left, all he has to do is lean his head to the left, and the indicator for left comes on, while a buzzer lets the cyclist know that the indicator has actually come on. The same applies in reverse for a right turn.

This job is accomplished by an arrangement of built-in sensors, and wires, which Rory built himself, sometimes working at school, and other times at home.

When the cyclist has gone all the way around the corner, the indicator light automatically turns off, using more sensors called gyroscopes – the type of sensors that are used onboard spacecraft to provide astronauts with a clear sense of how they are orientated in three-dimensional space.

The turning off mechanism for the indicator lights is achieved by use of a class of sensors called gyroscopes, which are also used in space, to orientate a spacecraft in relation to the Earth.

The original idea for a helmet with indicators actually came from one of Rory’s friends, but his friend’s idea involved wires and buttons, which Rory felt would annoy and turn off potential users of the helmet.

It was Rory that came up with the idea of putting the indicators and lights all inside the helmet, which, he felt, would make it easier and more comfortable for cyclists to use.

Rory clearly impressed the judges with his schematic diagram, detailing how he had connected all the wires, motion sensors, batteries, and buzzers inside the helmet.

He filed a patent on the idea during the work of the BT Show in January last – a process he said was complex and required a lawyer’s assistance.

Certainly, Rory is a credit to his school, and to his teacher, Mr O’Briain. As for where me might see himself in terms of a career he said: “I’d definitely like to get into technology and I love building things, hardware, and then programming them to do things.”

This was first published in the September-October 2011 edition of Science Spin magazine

What attracts people to a career in science?

Laura Brennan and Megan Oliver, pictured here, Transition Year students at Dominican College Drumcondra, wanted to discover the factors that attract and turn people off to science as a career. 

Why do some people want to become scientists, while others avoid science subjects in school at all costs?

Laura Brennan and Megan Oliver, Transition Year students at Dominican College Drumcondra, north Dublin, sought some answers to these important questions.

Both Laura and Megan are keen on science, and come from a school that is keen on science, judging by the number of projects at the BT Show in January this year from Dominican College. They are also at a crucial juncture in education, as they are about to enter the Leaving Cert cycle and need to make subject choices that will influence their careers.

The girls are ideally placed to judge what it is they like about science, what it is that others don’t like about science, and how can science be made a more attractive option for students at secondary level. The government should pay attention to their findings.


The first thing they are keen to ‘put to bed’ is the notion that teenagers are turned off science because of the perception that it is ‘nerdy’ and not something for the ‘cool’ set. They found, in their survey of their peers, that 80 per cent plus were not in the least put off by the perception of science as nerdy. One urban myth shattered then.

The reasons that science is not attractive to many, they believe, have more to do with the perception among some students that science is not relevant to their daily lives. For example, the students said, the group of students disaffected with science, don’t see why an understanding of the atom and its parts, has any relevance to their lives.

Another problem is that science is perceived as being hard, and that it is hard to get into university to study science subjects. This perception doesn’t stand up, said Laura and Megan, and they compared journalism and science at DCU. In 2010, they said, it took about 375 points to get in to study on a science course, while the journalism course was far more difficult to get into with, as it required 445 points. If people knew that it wasn’t so hard to get in to science in college, more might aim for it they said.

It was once the case that girls’ schools didn’t do science subjects, or perhaps only biology, and while things have changed in recent years, things are still not ideal for girls interested in science. They said there was not technology or technical graphics on offer at their school, while both were available at the boys’ school up the road. A lot more girls would be interested in technology than home economics, they said.

Ireland can learn from other countries in the teaching of science, the girls believe. For example, in Sweden, students have 800 hours of taught science per year, whereas Irish students do 600 hours. That extra exposure makes a big difference, the girls believe.

It is vital, the girls believe, that greater effort is made to spark an interest in science, and how the world works generally in students at a young age, before secondary school. For example, they said, people like to know how things work, so perhaps one way for primary teachers to ignite an interest in science would be to take things apart, such as a clock, and demonstrate how the pieces interact to make the clock tell time.

Also, it is important that students are taken out of the classroom situation more, and shown how science is relevant to their lives. For example, a trip to a science museum, or some other place could demonstrate the importance of science to all of us, they say.

The girls have some specific suggestions to increase the numbers of people taking science subjects at second level, as well as wanting to do science as a career.

Some suggestions from the students to encourage more people to aim for a career in science:

  • Science should be mandatory up to the Junior Certificate. At the moment it is possible for students to pass through secondary school without doing any science whatsoever.
  • There should be less Biology and more Physics and Chemistry on the Junior Certificate curriculum to encourage more interest in the latter two subjects.
  • There should be at least one 40 minute class per week dedicated to understanding the mathematics behind a scientific concept, and vice versa.
  • There should be less emphasis on rote learning and more on understanding.
  • Girls should be encouraged to take science subjects, and especially honours maths as many might still not be confident enough to sign up for these subjects.

West Cork students put green, slimy invaders to good use

The beautiful beaches of west County Cork have sadly, in the past few years, been overwhelmed by hordes of unwelcome, green, slimy, smelly, and noxious invaders.

No, this story has nothing to do with certain human visitors to the area. Rather this concerns the arrival of a green algae, ‘Sea Lettuce’ – or Ulva Lactuca to be precise.

It is not clear why the Sea Lettuce has arrived in rural Cork in such numbers. The two most popular theories are that it has something to do with global warming, as the Sea Lettuce is a creature that thrives in shallow, warm waters, or that it is linked to the pressure put on the local waste water plant.

It’s said that the Clonakilty waste treatment plant can’t cope with the increase in holiday homes in the area in recent times.  The inevitable result, it is argued, is the leaking of raw sewage into the ‘run off’ water, upon which the Sea Lettuce thrives.

But, no one knows the exact cause for sure.

Neither is west Cork alone, as this is a global problem now, one that has reared its head in places as far flung as Brittany, Beijing and Australia.


The local people in Cork have watched in horror as their beautiful beaches have disappeared under piles of green slime, sitting on top of the sand, emitting noxious gases and killing off some existing forms of sea life.

Enter three enterprising local Transition Year students, Muireasa Carroll, Mairéad Kingston and Denise Hurley, pictured above, from the Sacred Heart School in Clonakilty. They wanted to see if they could turn a ‘negative into a positive’.

They come up with a great idea. To harvest the Lettuce, use a machine to compress the water out of it, and mould it into briquettes for burning. They would then see if the Lettuce briquettes were a viable source of heat, and what gases they would emit.

They made their briquettes using a hydraulic pumping ramp. They tested the briquettes and found that they burned slightly longer than peat, with slightly less heat emitted. Also, the briquettes were ‘carbon neutral’. That meant that, unlike fossil fuel briquettes, they did not emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide ‘greenhouse gas’.

They appeared to have a viable ‘renewable fuel’ product that could be harvested cheaply from the strangled beaches in their locality. But, they didn’t stop there. They tested the briquettes for water concentration and found that even after they were compressed and moulded that the briquettes were made up of 25 per cent water.

If they can eliminate more water, they will have a product that burns even longer.

They also looked at the waste products from the burning of the briquettes – ash – to see if it could be put to good use. They found that the briquette ash was a very effective fertiliser and that it was also useful as a cleaning product to absorb stains.

All in all, it’s a brilliant idea, and reflects the move in recent years at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition discoveries that can help society to improve. Certainly, Sean Gallagher, one of the ‘Dragons’ from the RTE series ‘Dragons Den’ thought it was an excellent idea when he stopped to have a look while at the Show.

The girls are veterans of the Show and were also at the RDS in 2010. They impressed then too, enough to be offered a marketing course at TCD, which they took.

The Lettuce briquettes have been registered as a patent with the Irish patent office, and the girls want to develop the product into a business at some stage in the future.

They have also been invited to talk to local county councils, about their great idea.

But, for now, they have the Leaving Cert to attend to, but watch this space, this is an idea that could ‘find legs’ when the girls emerge from school in a few years time.

This project was the winner of the ‘Intel Students of Excellence Award, at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2011.

This article was first published in Science Spin (May-June 2011 Issue)

‘Rachel’s Water’ can prevent water shortages

Rachel Eustace, a second year student from Athy, has a novel idea for dealing with future water shortages in Ireland

First Published in March-April ed. of Science Spin

It seems odd that Ireland should ever experience water shortages, especially in recent years when rural Ireland has been repeatedly flooded by rainfall. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it always has been, but 14-year-old Rachel Eustace, a 2nd year at Ard Scoil na Tríonóid in Athy, has other ideas. She believes we should capture and use our rainfall.

In other countries people collect rainfall and use it for washing clothes, dishes and people. This rainwater is collected off roves and used for all purposes except drinking. In Ireland, we have good quality water available in rainfall, but we don’t bother catching it.

Rachael is clearly an articulate, very bright and practical girl. She wants to change the world, in her own way, but she has the talent to do it. It lifts the heart in Ireland’s darkest hour to see such enthusiasm, energy and talent in our young people. There is hope for us.

Rachel’s family gets most of its water from a well like their neighbours. During periods of heavy rain, and flooding, it is not possible to get water drawn from wells. This leads to the crazy situation where the fields all around can be flooded, while no-one has water.


Rachel thought to herself – and she is a practical girl remember – What can be done about it? She decided that she start to do something by taking samples of rainwater during rainy spells and send the samples off for testing to see whether rainwater was fit for drinking.

The people at Bord na Móna in Newbridge tested Rachel’s water samples, for water quality characteristics such as PH, conductivity, colour, turbidity and total hardness. The results came back. “They were all within standard – quite good results,” Rachel recalled.

These initial results were encouraging, but before Rachel could collect any more samples, the horrendous period of snow and ice before Christmas kicked in. There was no rainfall for sometime, as any precipitation simply fell as snow. Eventually, following the slow thaw, the first rains after the big freeze came and Rachel began collecting new samples.

These samples, which she numbered 3 and 4, were taken during the first rainfall events after the snow and ice. The samples were completely contaminated with bacteria, too many bacteria to even count. The reason for this was clear. During the freezing weather, the bacteria were not leaving the roofs of houses, they stayed there waiting to warm up.


Then when the weather finally did warm up, all the bacteria started to move, and they traveled down with the first rains of the warmer weather, down off the roof of Rachel’s home into her water collection container –a small, toy washing machine by the way. This mass migration of bacteria post-snow meant that there were massive concentrations of bacteria in these samples. This water was not drinkable, but the bacteria had at least left.

Two days later, the rain came again, and Rachel collected sample 5. This time the sample had no bacteria at all, she recalled. She was pleasantly surprised with the positive result. It showed that water quality collected from roofs can vary, but vary in a predictable fashion. The results show that it was important that  water is collected at least 15 minutes after rain starts to allow any bacteria present to make their way off the roof first. Also, to allow for a few days following a period of freezing conditions before samples are taken.

Based on all of this research Rachel came up with rainfall collection device. Her device had a screen to block out rocks and leaves. She used filter paper to stop muck and dirt getting into the water, and a micropore filter too, to stop smaller particles and bacteria. The water was then put in sterile bottle and exposed to ultra violet light. This light, many scientists now believe, can kill off 99 per cent of bacteria and viruses that may be present.

She had learned this from researching her topic, and applying it to improve her device.

Rachel was surprised by the positive reaction at the BT Show from members of the public to her water collection device. Some said it would be a great thing, once water charges came in, and water became expensive, while others asked her  when it will be available for sale. The interest got her thinking. She had not been planning to try and develop a saleable product, but now she feels she might like to do that. Her teacher, Ms Ní Fhaoláin agrees. No doubt we’ll be hearing more of ‘Rachel’s water’ in the future.

A ‘smartphone’ based defibrillator

Published in the Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

Eighteen people die from cardiac arrest every day in Ireland, with two per week under the age of 35, and a whopping 70 per cent of those die outside hospital.

That’s according to figures from the Sudden Cardiac Death Support Group. This means there is a significant number of people that collapse from sudden cardiac arrest at home, on the street, playing football, or any number of places.

These people may have had a chance of survival if a defibrillator device was applied to them quickly to get their heart going again, but that wasn’t available. Therefore, the idea of two Belvedere College students, Owen Killian and Lucas Grange [both pictured here outside their school- Owen is on the right] to use a mobile phone as a defibrillator is a potentially life saving one.

The idea is that when someone collapses, a person – ideally with medical training – would arrive on the scene carrying their smartphone defibrillator. The first thing the smartphone user would do would be to attach a small peripheral device, a little larger than a matchbox in size, to their phone.

This device would have electrodes already attached and ready to go, and it would easily fit into a coat pocket, doctor’s bag, or someone’s briefcase. The operator would then attach pads to the person in trouble, and a special phone ‘app’ would be opened that would analyse the rhythm of the heart.

At the same time, a call could be made to the emergency services to inform them of the situation and ensure that they would arrive for backup if required. The phone then comes back with a reading which tells the operative if the heart rhythm is ‘shockable’ or not. If the answer is yes, the device applies the shock, and talks the user – if a non medical professional – through the use of CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation).

Owen Killian said that there are other AEDs (automated external defibrillator) on the market, but they are not light, with the lightest right now being 400g. The Belvedere lads say that their AED is much lighter than what is available right now, cheaper, simpler, more portable, and not designed just for doctors’ use.

The boys have ambitions to develop their AED into a real world commercial product, and they have got it as far as the ‘proof of concept’ stage just now. At the moment they are working on developing the parameters for the device to analyse heart rhythms that are shockable and not shockable.

The students are modest enough to state, meanwhile, that being lucky enough to be in a school with such great science facilities and teachers has helped greatly. “The reputation the science department has built up over the years of being an innovative, accessible and driven section of the school is greatly deserved,” said Owen.