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.


Women make better surgeons; Trump plans Moon return; Women brain’s wired to be selfless; voice key to emotional state

Patients are 12 less likely to die 30 days post-op if the operation was performed by a female surgeon (Source: gender.stanford.edu)

Broadcast on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan on East Coast FM 12/10/17


Schizophrenia linked to abnormal blood vessels in the brain

Dr Matthew Campbell, TCD, has, with co-workers, discovered a link between faulty blood vessels in the brain and the development of schizophrenia

Faults in in blood vessels in the brain may play a major role in the development of schizophrenia, a condition which affects about 1 per cent of Irish people.

That’s according to new research from scientists at at TCD and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) published in Molecular Psychiatry.

The network of blood vessels in the brain regulates the transport of energy and materials in and out of the brain, moving across the blood-brain barrier (BBB).

Abnormalities in the BBB may be a critical factor in the development of schizophrenia and other brain disorders, the Ireland-based researchers report.

“Our recent findings have, for the first time, suggested that schizophrenia is a brain disorder associated with abnormalities of brain blood vessels,” said Dr Matthew Campbell, Assistant Professor of Neurovascular Genetics at TCD.

“The concept of tailoring drugs to regulate and treat abnormal brain vessels is a novel treatment strategy and offers great potential to complement existing treatments of this debilitating disease,” said Dr Campbell.

“While it is very well accepted that improving cardiovascular health can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks, we now believe that drugs aimed at improving cardiovascular health may be an additional strategy to treating brain diseases in the future,” Dr Campbell added.


Student competition to build a mini-satellite launched

A competition has been launched for secondary students to build a mini-satellite.

A competition to design, build and test a mini-satellite, which is open to second level students, was launched this week to coincide with Space Week.

CanSat 2018 is a simulation of a real satellite, but built inside an empty soft drink can.

In 2016 Ireland finished 3rd in the European finals and in 2017 Ireland finished 2nd in the European finals, so this year Ireland is hoping for an overall win in Europe.

CanSat Ireland is open to post primary students, Transition Year and upwards. The competition is designed to give students experience of a real space project and aims to encourage them to consider careers in science and engineering.

CanSat Ireland started in 2012 and is co-ordinated by the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) Ireland.

The winner of the national final then has the opportunity to represent Ireland by participating in the European CanSat Competition which challenges teams from other European countries to compete against each other.

Schools interested in participating in CanSat should contact Alan Giltinan at Blackrock Castle Observatory by email at alan.giltinan@bco.ie and by phone at 021 4326125


A GP’s guide to invasive spider bites produced by venom scientists

False widow spider Steatoda nobilis

The False Widow spider is an invasive species which has arrived here from the UK over the past 20 years or so, with three bite cases reported in Ireland.

Dr Michel Dugon at NUI Galway led a team based at the Venom Systems and Proteomics Laboratory in developing the world’s first verified identification and symptoms checklist for GPs and the public on how to treat False Widow bites.

This spider’s bites are not fatal, but symptoms can include a large swelling within three minutes of being bitten followed by a dry, necrotic wound, and when the swelling subsidies, inflammation can follow for a few days afterwards.

The False Widow lives in urban settings close to buildings and houses inhabited by people, so the news scientists have developed a symptom checklist for GPs who may have to treat people bitten by this spider certainly come a relief.

Dr Dugon’s team developed the GP guide to identifying and treating people suffering from False Widow bites while examining five reported case of bites from this spider in Ireland and the UK. The findings were reported in Biology and Environment as well as Clinical Toxicology.

“Whilst it is extremely unlikely that a bit will ever be fatal, we do need to consider bites from False Widows as a potential health risk given the increase of this species not just in the UK and Ireland, but also mainland Europe and the US,” said Dr Dugon (pictured here below) 

Dr Michel Dugon

“We hope that our study will help to address some of the public’s concerns about these spiders and will provide healthcare professionals with the information required to accurately diagnose and report bites associated with the False Widow,” said Dr Dugon. 

To read the study in Biology and Environment, visit: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3318/bioe.2017.11

To read study in Clinical Toxicology, visit:

NUI Galway Provide First Definitive Identification Guide on False Widow Spider Bites, visit: https://youtu.be/3YEaGnl4Mlg

Alcohol drug found to be effective against lung cancer

Dr Martin Barr, School of Medicine, TCD, whose team has found that the anti-alcohol abuse drug, Antabuse, is effective against lung cancer

The FDA-approved alcohol aversion drug, disulfiram (Antabuse), has been found to be very effective in combating chemotherapy resistance in lung cancer.

Scientists based at TCD and St James’s Hospital, Dublin, have reported the finding for the most common type of lung cancer – non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – in the journal Oncotarget.

“Disulfiram is an already approved drug will well tolerated side effects which can be taken orally,” said Dr Martin Barr, Adjust Assistant Professor and a lead investigator in the Thoracic Oncology Research Group, based at TCD and St James’s. 

“Its potential use may give chemotherapeutic drugs such as cisplatin, a new lease of life in the treatment of resistant drug tumours,” Dr Barr added.

Antabuse has been used to treat alcohol addiction for over 60 years and works by restricting the activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) the main enzyme involved in removing alcohol from the body.

It works by preventing the body from metabolising alcohol, and so the person consuming alcohol will start to feel sick.

Antabuse has now been also found – also by inhibiting ALDH – to decrease tumour cell growth and increase the body’s killing action against lung cancer stem cells. The killing of cancer stem cells is important, because this can prevent the cancer from recurring.

The scientists at TCD and St James’s, working with the Cancer Stem Cell Group at the Coombe Hospital, Dublin, found that lung cancer cells that have high levels of ALDH activity – which is a marker for the presence of cancer stem cells, – become resistant to chemotherapy.

This resistance means that cancer cells can survive chemotherapy and may explain why a large number of lung cancer patients receiving certain types of chemotherapy suffer a relapse in their cancer afterwards.

The development of new drugs is an expensive, time consuming business, and cancer scientists have begun to assess drugs already approved to treat non cancer illness such as Antabuse, for their effectiveness against cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide and accounts for more deaths than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. In Ireland there are more than 2,300 new cases of lung cancer per year and over 1,800 deaths.

Thought control of computers; the Irish angle

Listen below to piece broadcast (in edited form) on Drivetime RTE Radio 1 on 23rd August ’17


Scientists are working on brain computer interfaces which can enable devices to be control by thoughts alone (Credit: http://www.medium.com)

The power to read thoughts has long been a favourite topic of science fiction writers, but researchers in Ireland and around the world are now working on systems, called brain-computer interfaces, where human thoughts – in the form of electrical signals – can be read and understood by computers, and acted upon.

If this sounds far-fetched, then consider the fact that Facebook revealed in April that it has 60 engineers working on thought reading technology that scans a human brain 100 times per second to pick up the silent internal conversation in our head and translate it into text.

Or that superhero of the US scientific entrepreneurial community, Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla electric cars, the SpaceX rocket systems, and much else, in March, launched a new venture called neuralink, which aims to create devices that can be implanted in the human brain to allow for direct thought-based communication with computing devices.


The applications for BCIs have been, up to now, aimed at helping people that have are unable to communicate with the outside world such as those with ALS, or locked in syndrome, or someone that has had a severe stroke.

But, there is also another strand of research emerging, where BCIs are being developed to augment, or improve, human abilities. That might be to help a person with hearing difficulties better focus on whom they want to listen to in a crowded room, or to help elite athletes tune into their brain activity which reflects when they are performing best at their chosen event.

The BCIs are either wearable, where a user must wear a cap with many electrodes, or where a device is implanted into the person’s brain.


It’s clear that we are all going to have to get used to the idea that our private thoughts, or headspace, may not, in future be so private after all. Many of us will no doubt baulk at the idea of anyone getting access inside our heads.

Yet many others will welcome the ability to communicate, move and better perform various tasks that his powerful new technology can provide.


Alan Smeaton, Caoilainn Doyle, Dublin City University

Liam Kilmartin, NUI Galway

Tomas Ward, Maynooth University