Category: Science Communication


Meet RuBot

The date was 1974. The place? Budapest, Hungary. Erno Rubik, a passionate lecturer and admirer of geometry and 3D forms creates the world’s most addictive and perfect puzzle – the Rubik’s cube. It’s now thirty-seven years later and it’s still the best selling puzzle in the Universe.

There is even an annual World Rubik’s Cube Championship tournament, seriously, there is…check this out… http://www.speedcubing.com/

The first world champion was an American high school student who took the Budapest World Championship in 1982 by solving the puzzle in just 22.95 seconds! The latest record winner (2003) was Dan Knights of San Francisco who used the ‘Fridrich’ system to beat the cube in just 20 seconds.

There are 43 quintillion possible combinations with your Rubik’s cube. That’s 43 million million millions. There are about 30 million seconds in a year. You would need over a thousand million years assuming you could look at a thousand patterns every second just to see all the possible combinations.

Well recently I Volunteered to help out at the Discover Science Big Day Out. It was all about introducing the public, particularly children, to science and maths in a fun, engaging way. One of our main draws was this guy:

His name is RuBot II, his nickname; The Cubinator. Developed by Irish roboticist and inventor Peter Redmond. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is the world’s fastest Rubik’s cube solving robot.

And when he’s not solving puzzles, he’s on facebook, add him as a friend 🙂

http://www.facebook.com/pages/RuBot-II-The-Cubinator/80046476255?sk=wall#!/pages/RuBot-II-The-Cubinator/80046476255?sk=wall

Recently, DCU welcomed a panel of high ranking individuals including EU Commissioner (Research, Innovation and Science), Maire Geoghegan Quinn for the official launch of An tSlí Ghlas-The Green Way. It was an unveiling of Ireland’s first Green Economic Zone.

Founding groups hail from academia, local authorities and enterprise; Dublin Airport Authority, Fingal County Council, Dublin City Council, Ballymun Regeneration, North Dublin Chamber, DIT and DCU.

Other featured panellists included Tony Boyle, Chairman of the Steering Committee for An tSlí Ghlas, DCU President, Professor Brian MacCraith, Lord Mayor of Dublin and representatives from DIT as well as the Dublin Airport Authority. 

The issue of green economy is very much a Global issue which will become an irrefutable cornerstone of our society. The go-green message is being conveyed worldwide, as is the race towards the economic benefits of green-tech. Indeed, such an innovation may greatly enhance the meeting of such Global agreements as the Kyoto agreement.

The An tSli Glas initiative, it was told, emerged following a 2009 report by the Government High-Level Action Group on Green Enterprise. A top priority was/is to encourage and facilitate the link up of the ‘knowledge triangle’; education, innovation and collaborative research. This report highlighted that “Ireland need to develop green zones so as to establish an environment which can support the development of green enterprise and be used to market Ireland overseas.” It is thus intended that the formation of an tsli glas will assist in positioning us; Ireland, as a leader, particularly in the massive growth sector of Cleantech. The intention then is to not only excel in Cleantech research/innovation and enterprise but crucially, to then bridge a gap between business and investment whilst simultaneously nurturing trade partnerships with other international innovation hubs.

Brian MacCraith  discussed how  the aim is ultimately to position Ireland at the center of the clean technology innovation and enterprise. According to McKeown, 2010, the additiona of the green eceonomic zone will likely result indirectly in 10,000 new jobs over the next five years.

Hindsight is 20/20. Research. Plan. Execute. Evaluate. This makes your forward vision 20/20.

The European Commission have developed a plan towards revamping of research funding schemes in a bid to ensure the long term, solid future for European research and innovation.

What they have come up with then is; a “Common Strategic Framework” which is set out in a Green Paper. Here there are two important frameworks covered – the current Framework Programme for Research and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme – as well as the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which is designed to link up the three sides of the “knowledge triangle”, namely research, education and innovation. I have heard many calls for collaboration but never had I heard that term “knowledge triangle”. I felt it represented this An tSli Ghlas project excellently.  

I felt pleased that, even considering the considerable the current financial woes, Government and European support is coming in the way of investment and funding.  The Commissioner had made reference to the Europe 2020 plan ( “We need to reach the target of 3% of GDP spending on R&D that has been reconfirmed by Europe 2020”) so I conducted some research. I was delighted to find that this outlines a path towards not only funding but, providing easier access to funding. This, I believe, will be critically important for intensifying innovation in Ireland and across Europe. When discussing such “targeted initiatives” I felt this was an example of Hobson’s choice, i.e. there is no other option. For, I believe, the opposite of innovation, is stagnation.

During a recession, companies often seek to reduce monies spent, particularly on research and development. This has the derived result of stifling opportunity for innovation. This may occur where organizations have less cash flow, of which would have usually been used for re-investment in innovation (I-Ways, 2009). It is the case that across Industry, and indeed Society, that certain curbing of spending is required, especially in light of the Global economic recession. The message here then is that, where possibly, they should not completely stop investing in innovation, because innovation may represent a new invention, which could prove beneficial for the organisation.

It was at another even I attended; a conference named; “Dublin – A City That Works”, where I heard the Commissioner address this 3% of GDP investment into research and innovation and where she addressed the naysayers.

 “With budgets under pressure, Government might view research and development as an easy target for cut backs. Now is the wrong time to remove that discipline,” she said. “Without sufficient investment in research and development from both the public and private sector the potential to develop growth and jobs can’t be realised.”

 Maire Geoghegan Quinn is someone I have great admiration for. She is an excellent speaker, and on that day she really inspired me. She not only set aside the fear which lurks around the Irish economy but she highlighted a clear path back to greener times, greener represented green tech and also an associated economic result.

 She proclaimed; “I am confident that Ireland will recover its fighting spirit and seek out and capitalise on opportunities to build a new economy. An economy built on innovation. The Innovation Union will help you to do this.” Although she stood cool, calm and collected, her speech had the effect on my as would a powerful rallying speech. She discussed regaining confidence. I felt that where we are given a confident leader with a clear strategic plan, confidence can absolutely be restored.

 Listening to her speak I remembered another political speech I had heard. It was that of then Minsiter Batt O’Keefe at the Out on Your Own Event. Here O’Keefe addressed the crowd as though he was regurgitating a self help motivation book. Full of clichés, he lacked in any talk regarding a clear and coherent plan. With this omission, he had lost the confidence of the people, and in my opinion lost a great deal of credibility.

 So yes, Commissioner Quinn did play up to our egos a little when she said “Ireland, its people, its companies and its universities, must not lose the dynamism and optimism they have shown over recent decades. Ireland has faced and overcome adversity in the past, and great challenges have brought out the best in Irish people.” The difference is, I believe her, I believe what she is saying is true, the opportunity is immense. With the further explanation of targeted initiatives she allayed any fears, and she, as a leader was saying, I’m in control. In trying and uncertain times, that’s often what is needed. However, were she succeeded most, in my opinion was were she highlighted the role of each attendee of the event. I was inspired to play a role in Ireland “i-conomy” and the “Innovation Union”.

 Upon entering the Helix, I was already aware of some of the wider details re: An tSli Ghlas after reading various publications and online blogs/forums. The reasons I attended are many; having recently completed a degree in Marketing, Innovation and Technology, I have a genuine interest in policy making which can stimulate innovation. I thus felt my attendance was a responsibility as it is people like me; students, who may be future stakeholders of such an investment. 

I am also proud to say that I am a conscientious individual with a great awareness of and appreciation for Environmental issues. Furthermore, I have had the pleasure of meeting with Commissioner Quinn on four separate occasions (on various science communication projects.) During such occasions, I have always found her as being an outstandingly diligent, knowledgeable yet wonderfully coherent speaker. As I believe in her commitment towards growth generation whilst facing challenges such as; food security, energy efficiency and climate change, I was intrigued to hear how An tSli Ghlas would contribute to these issues. It was these factors which prompted me to attend on the day.

In a recent interview (europa) the Commissioner touched on a topic that is very close to my personal development; the area of Science Communication. She discussed encouraging “extensive and innovative debate, making use of the web and social media.” This area of social engagement in the Sciences is of particular interest to me and I will thus discuss this aspect later in the evaluation section.

As a marketing graduate, I was beginning to wear tired of the term “seen to be green”. This term is a societal trend whereby individuals and corporations long to be viewed as ethical, environmentally conscious entities. It was thus a pleasure to witness clear evidence of practical application of green methodologies.

Soon after attending this talk, I joined the An tSli Ghlas LinkedIn group. It was here that I learned about the Lahti project. Lahti, established in early 2010, is an example of an existing Cleantech Cluster, situated in Finland. This is ranked within the top three world’s best Greentech clusters, according to the International Cleantech Group (USA).

It appears that An tSli Ghlas boasts all the key ingredients that has led to Lahti becoming such a successful cluster. A key point throughout An tSli Ghlas lifetime thus far has been collaboration; for example, collaboration between founding groups and the intention for Industry and Academic interaction and Government engagement. An opportunity exists not only in terms of studying our Finnish counterpart’s success (as a learning experience) but to collaborate in certain key research and innovation projects.

I found this presentation to be excellent. It allowed me to relate with certain areas of interest, for instance;  innovation, technology, green environmentalism and science communication.

As stated , I have a keen interest in Science Communication and thus was interested in seeing the Commissioner.  Prior to the talk, I had read an interview (Euro barometer) which quoted the Commissioner as saying  “A World Cup of science would get even more people round the TV than the football one does”. The quote was in light of the research findings of a Eurobarometer survey which stated that close to 80% of Europeans are interested in science and technological developments.

Yes, in her speech she did hint at a need for social media engagement, but really I feel that the Commissioner should be doing more to engage, especially the average joe soaps and the young minds of today.

The survey went on to discuss how Europeans desire more information on and involvement in science. Over half (57%) complain that scientists do not put enough effort into informing the public about new scientific and technological developments. With relation to scientific decision-making, 29% stated a belief that public opinion should be considered where making decisions about science and technology, and a further 14% called for public opinion to be binding in such scenarios. Only 7% believed that the public don’t need to be involved in scientific decision-making at all.

Elsewhere, two thirds of respondents criticised governments for not doing enough to get young people into science, and three quarters opined that governments should support specific measures to boost the numbers of women in science. Furthermore, many believe that if there were more women in top research positions, this would improve the way research is conducted.

So I took exception to what the Commissioner had said. It led me to believe that she is out of touch with reality. Considering almost every publication of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores, university rankings, placements and the uptake of science, technology, engineering and maths by young people sends governments, public agencies, educators and scientists worldwide into a confused and worried state about the hows and whys of encouraging, particularly young people, to follow science as a career for future economic growth, innovation and advancement of society. So are scientists and researchers really doing enough? A world cup of science, I believe, is a great idea, I’m a science communicator. I work to open up public access to the sciences and to help provide a sphere for scientific debate through varied media (not just research papers), for example, exhibitions,  science journalism, blogs, education and outreach programmes. So yes, great idea. But do I believe it would “get even more people round the TV than the football one does”? No I do not. And my fear is that The commissioner may be underplaying the need for science communication as this relates to a clear Global and Societal Issue, which she seems either unaware of or has chosen ignorance instead.

Greentech is very much a Global issue. I have learned that globalization has been accepted and refuted. It has been both celebrated for creating growth and democratizing nations and vilified for exploiting labour and destroying nature. In drawing my conclusion, globalization in and of itself simply means, to me, that the world is becoming smaller and cross border trade is becoming easier. I am an e-commerce student and a disciple of Marketing, Innovation and Technology. My attitude is that, much of this change, is driven by e-commerce.  By connecting even the furthest corners of society to global information networks, IT, generally, has helped in creating a global economy. A global society has thus emerged where workers compete internationally and culture and trends know no borders. The assumed likelihood of my working for/with a multinational IT company is almost inevitable.

In 1997, Business Week magazine introduced the term “New Economy.” This incarnation was a reflection on a fundamental structural change in world economies. Driving this, so called “new economy” where two main forces; Globalisation and notably; ICT. The Module “Digital Economy” asked of me to complete an assignment with this subject in mind. Similarly, the a recent Market Entry assignment allowed me to research China. I learned that Near Field Communication is likely to transform the tickets Industry there. At this point I began to research NFC. Just recently have Google launched details of their NFC initiatives, which will soon launch in Ireland. NFC, I learned could revolutionize the purchasing process. This is of direct importance to me, an e-commerce student. In this instance, my heightened Global and Societal awareness allowed me to be “ahead of the curve” in terms of emerging opportunities/technologies.

The main learning, really, came as a reminder. Research and Innovation should not be halted, even in light of the economic crises. In fact, the opposite can be said that, now more than ever, Ireland should invest in this growth area of green tech in a bid for heightened green portfolio, increase domestic and foreign trade and job creation.

Irelands success at growing a knowledge and skills based economy, in the past decade economy, had prompted “The Economist” to describe Ireland’s “economic miracle” as “one of the most remarkable transformations of recent times.” Similarly, the Commissioner concluded her speech with an optimism that greentech may represent the next Industry which will propel Ireland to the top of International Innovation Leader boards. And with greentech, it is more sustainable, environmental, less reliant on Foreign Direct Investment and will have a long term positive effect of employment. “I am confident that Ireland will emerge from this immensely difficult period and go on to become one of the success stories of the first half of this century”. She said.

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.
~ Ancient American Indian Proverb

 

The Honourable Dr. Steven Chu recently made a 3 day trip to Ireland. His itinerary was packed with a series of engagements, one of which was his keynote address in DCU, entitled “A Random Walk in Science.”

Professor Brian MacCraith, DCU President, introduced Secretary Chu on stage. MacCraith noted the speakers’ impressive accomplishments and the “exquisite excellence of his work.” Dr. Chu, was awarded Nobel Prize (Physics) in 1997, following his work in developing a technique to cool atoms to low temperatures, as a means of trapping them and manipulating them with light. Alfred Nobel wrote in his Will that Nobel prizes will be awarded to those who confer the greatest benefits to mankind. As the US Secretary of Energy, he is at the forefront of Obama’s ambitious drive towards clean energy, away from a global climate crisis, whilst creating jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

As an environmentally conscious member of society, I feel obliged to not only learn about, but actively address the green agenda. Furthermore, a Dara Boland personal development plan would discusses a strive towards becoming a better Science Communicator. I work on various projects which seek to engage the public in Science debates. I thus approached this talk interested to see, not only what the Nobel Laureate would have to say, but how he would say it.

Although not from a core scientific background, I have a keen interest in, and great enthusiasm for, all things science. From this perspective, I was intrigued to witness the address of a Nobel winner. Also, I have had some research experience in the growth areas that are: Green energy and Smart City projects. One thing that struck a chord with me, was the raw passion with which accompanied Dr. Chu’s speech.

It is clear that he strives for positive change, and the best way to achieve this, is through effective policy making. It is for this reason that I admire his swapping of his lab suit for his business suit.

Another thing that impressed me was his stance on Global Warming. I have never bought into the conspiracy theories, made famous by the bestselling “Freakonomics” books. He showed the figures and stated that the theory has not yet been disproved. Another point made was that, even if we were 50% sure of the theory, the assumed threat of Global Warming is such that we would still be forced to take significant action.

Dr. Chu has some much esteemed fans. In announcing Dr. Chu’s selection, President Obama said, “The future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked to one challenge: energy. Steven has blazed new trails as a scientist, teacher, and administrator, and has recently led the Berkeley National Laboratory in pursuit of new alternative and renewable energies. He is uniquely suited to be our next Secretary of Energy as we make this pursuit a guiding purpose of the Department of Energy, as well as a national mission.” Following his speech, he has succeeded in gaining another, admittedly less notable fan; me.

A specific interest of mine lies in the field of science communication. I have worked in various “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) projects, in which I have tried to best communicate their merits, especially to people who are not involved in these areas. For instance, I would try and relate stories of science to children, in a way which intrigues them without oversimplifying the scientific concepts. From this perspective, I was interested to see how Dr. Chu would address a sold out Helix theatre, populated by students of all ages and academic disciplines. He resisted the temptation to dive into a deep scientific discussion, he sought not to alienate his audience.

From a policy perspective, he acknowledged the US responsibility to lead change. He underlined various green initiatives including large scale Public infrastructure such as Wind Energy, but also more simple and practical changes, such as changing to a “greener” refrigerator.

An IPCC (2007) report stated that global warming constitutes the most destructive power for our age. Soytasa and Saria (2007) highlighted how an increase of global carbon dioxide emission is a serious Global and Societal issue, which is becoming worse.

According to Blez and Peattie (2010)” Since 1975 the global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased significantly. The global increased of carbon dioxide is primarily due to fossil fuel use and land-use changes, while those of methane and nitrous oxide can be traced back to agriculture.”

Skove (2003) revealed that today’s total world energy demand is up five-fold from 1950 (nearly 200 million B/D of oil equivalent). Among the energy demand, more than 80% came from fossil fuels (nearly 60% by oil and gas). Many problems arise as a direct result of such Global variables, including; rising oil and gas prices coupled with their incremental depletion, a rising vulnerability of energy supply routes and the drastic inceases in carbon dioxide emissions (Soytasa and Saria 2007).

It is my opinion that Environmentalism constitutes a hugely relevant Global and Societal issue. In terms of awareness, it is true that people (and corporations as well as Governments) are becoming more aware and environmental conscious.

In some instances, societal stakeholders are compelled through e.g. legislation (for instance polluter pays initiatives such as carbon taxes) or Globally; the Kyoto agreement. It is also true that there exists a higher level of environmental consciousness, this can he fuelled by various societal outreach programmes including, for instance, the power of one campaign.

It can also be said that their exists a societal trend towards being “seen to be green”.  Often, individuals and corporations long to be viewed as ethical, environmentally conscious entities. This can also be seen in the rise to prominence of CSR projects. Even our Nootrol client contact stated that, the main reason he wanted to get involved was to “get the badge and put it on the website”.

“Corporate social responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is a nice thing to do or because people are forcing us to do it… because it is good for our business”

~ Niall Fitzerald, Former CEO, Unilever

Archie B Carroll presents the CSR Pyramid in the article “The Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility: Toward the Moral Management of Organizational Stakeholders.” He discusses four kinds of social responsibilities which constitute total CSR: economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic.

CSR as described by the European Commission as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholder on a voluntary basis, as they are increasingly aware that responsible behavior leads to sustainable business success” (Commissions of the European Communities, 2002 cited in Dahlsrud 2008 p.9). Corporate reputation can be defined in terms of a number of attributes that form a buyer’s perception as to whether a company is well known, good or bad, reliable, trustworthy, reputable and believable (Levitt, 1965.)

This trend can be represented when considering the work of McDonagh and Prothero (1997) where it was said; “marketing magazines have recently pointed out that, of the newspapers and magazines monitored by its database, the term ′environmental friendly′ was used only once in June 1985; by June 1989 this figure however had increased to the use of the term Thirty times a day. The combined mixture of increased concern about environmental problems on a global scale and increase pressure from environmental groups has meant led to an increased attention being paid to “green” issues in the media”.

The above statement clearly notes the increasing Global and Societal awareness of environmental issues. It also suggests that it can constitute a key marketing message of companies, where companies attempt to gain a competitive advantage via its environmental stance. This idea can be complemented by the work of Tracy (2011). Here she talked of a huge opportunities associated with being perceived as a low carbon operation. A particular point she made was with Regards smaller companies. Tracy postulates that Environmentalism can be used to great effect where a small company wants to build a competitive stance against a larger entity.  This can be supported by the work of Porter and Kramer where CSR is viewed as a means to improving a companies “competitive context.”

CSR is an element of sustainability marketing and by engaging voluntarily in Social Responsibility initiatives; companies can gain positive view from the public as well as begin their journey of becoming sustainable (Belz and Peattie 2010). One of the main aims for taking a corporate marketing orientation is a value creation which goes beyond profit maximization and includes long-term business survival alongside the meeting of societal needs (Podnar and Golob, 2007). Corporate social responsibility can be defined as the deliberate inclusion of societal interesting into an organisation which is said to impact on the triple bottom line; people, planet & profit (Berthelot, 2003). So although a CSR campaign may be difficult to align with marketing strategy, it may limit, for example, future government or lobby group intervention and therefore help ensure “long-term business survival.”

A former employee of Allianz Insurance, I worked in what they described as an environmentally smart premises, it is an energy efficient building. This company conducts regular carbon audits and there even exists a leader board upon which Allianz Ireland compete with their Global Allianz counterparts. So this is an example of strategic corporate policy.

However, the “green agenda” was also addressed in their marketing communication. I personally worked on an initiative which gave significant house policy reductions, where that premise achieved a higher BER or Building Energy Rating.

Ireland, like all countries across the Globe, are experiencing climate change, a global warming. Here, agriculture contributes the highest percentage of GHG emissions, attributing 29.2%. Transport and Energy come in at a joint 2nd position comprising 21%.

The US Secretary of Energy; Dr. Stephen Chu, is at the forefront of President Obama’s ambitious drive towards clean energy, away from a global climate crisis, whilst creating jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil. This can be linked to Ireland also as our Government are of like mind with that of the Americans, in terms of the energy agenda.

Minister (Former) Eamonn Ryan said, “Our overriding aims are to reduce this country’s dependence on fossil fuels taking advantage of our unrivalled renewable resources and to fight the global challenge that is climate change. These twin goals are also the basis for Ireland’s economic recovery.”

As was aforementioned, I have an interest in Green energy and specifically; Smart City projects. Green Energy was described as the “new industrial revolution.” In linking the science of the talk back to my academic background (commerce) Chu says it will be the countries which excel in green innovation that excel economically.

This could also be linked to another talk I had attended; that of the An tSli Ghlais, or The Green Way. Here EU Commisoner Maire Geoghan Quinn officially announced the new site, to be developed adjacent to DCU campus. The An tSli Glas initiative, it was told, emerged following a 2009 report by the Government High-Level Action Group on Green Enterprise. A top priority was/is to encourage and facilitate the link up of the ‘knowledge triangle’; education, innovation and collaborative research. This report highlighted that “Ireland need to develop green zones so as to establish an environment which can support the development of green enterprise and be used to market Ireland overseas.” It is thus intended that the formation of An tSli Glas will assist in positioning us; Ireland, as a leader, particularly in the massive growth sector of Cleantech. The intention then is to not only excel in Cleantech research/innovation and enterprise but crucially, to then bridge a gap between business and investment whilst simultaneously nurturing trade partnerships with other international innovation hubs.

This may also be linked to another interest of mine; Nootrol. Nootrol is a management information system, which is used in assisting companies in their carbon accounting process. I have worked, on a consultancy basis with a construction company, in using Nootrol in a bid to refine their carbon accounting initiatives.

The Irish Government should take heed of America’s Recovery Act. The “ARA” places extensive emphasis on clean technology, renewable energy, advanced vehicle and fuel technologies and a smart electric grid. Minister Eamonn Ryan stated to the media that, “Secretary Chu’s visit to Ireland and his interest in our initiatives proves that Ireland has taken our place as a global centre for the green economy. This transformation of our economy is the perfect countercyclical economic policy and has already yielded thousands of jobs.” According to SEAI Chairman, Brendan Halligan: “We need to have very ambitious plans when we look to a future of sustainable energy and a low carbon society for all.”

Prior to my undertaking of a masters in e-commerce, I had a rather minimalist understanding of social entrepreneurship, I viewed it as an individual’s application of business practices in establishing a non-profit organization. However, as Thompson (2002) suggests, such an assumption is in fact, a misconception.   Upon attending the Business in Society Mini-Conference, I began viewing it as any application of business practices to the operation of non-profit organizations. I then learned about, for example, the DCU in the Community project. Here social enterprise had found a place in a cultural setting, where collective, rather than individualistic, thinking prevailed.

Dr. Chu is, in my opinion, a social entrepreneur. According to Stewart, 1989, entrepreneurship is best thought of as an extended activity which may well be carried out by a team or a group of people. However, after attending the David McKernan Java Coffee seminar, I began to view social entrepreneurship as a completely different approach to the business of societal good. Johnson 2000, describes social entrepreneurship as an innovative approach for dealing with complex social needs. Furthermore, after completing the Nootrol assignment, I began to peruse the relationship between social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. The client was a builder, who, as a company, and a group of individuals, were participating in social enterprise, as a complementary activity.

I left the Helix with a fresh wave of enthusiasm, particularly relating to Global and Societal issue that is; Global Warming. I was inspired to, not only make small changes in my living patterns, but going forward, as a potential new era business leader, to always act as a eco-responsible leader.

Soon after the seminar, I began experimenting with IBM Innov8 system. Specifically, this allowed me to learn about; Smart traffic Solutions, Smart customer service solutions and Smart Supply Chain solutions. Although not solely related to environmentalism, Dr. Chu had centred much of his speech around Smarter City Projects.

The main learning though, really, came as a reminder. Research and Innovation should not be halted, even in light of the economic crises. In fact, the opposite can be said that, now more than ever, Ireland should invest in this growth area of green tech in a bid for heightened green portfolio, increase domestic and foreign trade and job creation.

Can you shoot a gun on the moon?

I am a “science ambassador.”  Been to Turin, wore the purple T-shirt. I, along with my five fellow ambassadors, first, had to endure a rather gruelling interview process however. Having reached the final elimination stage, we were subjected to NASA’s moon landing exercise. Ok, I’m being a bit overdramatic here, it was actually quite fun…

Anyway, these are the instructions to the exercise:

“You are a member of a space crew scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. However, due to mechanical difficulties, your own ship was forced to land at a spot 200 miles from the rendezvous point.

During re-entry and landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged and, since survival depends on reaching the mother ship, the most critical items available must be chosen for the 200-mile trip.”

Box of matches Food concentrate 50 feet of nylon rope
Parachute silk Two .45 caliber pistols One case of dehydrated milk
2x 100-pound tanks of oxygen Stellar map Self inflating life raft
Magnetic compass Five gallons of water Signal flares
First aid kit containing injection needles Solar powered FM receiver Portable heating unit

 

I’m guessing the guys and gals at Discover Science and Engineering, our then future employers, where looking for character traits but also:

  • Decision-making processes
  • Differences between individual and group decision-making
  • Leadership in groups
  • Conflicts in groups facing a competitive task

So, armed with everything from magnetic compasses to first aid kits we began the discussion; how to get to that meeting point…

I made a joke about missing that episode of “Bear Grylls, Born Survivor.” Nobody laughed; they must not be fans of the Discovery Channel. Ok. I thought, I know, I’ll go old skool with them; “what would Macgvver do?” No response, uh oh, bad start.

The box of matches where struck off the list (the lack of oxygen made them redundant) as was the first aid kit (as we decided no area of naked skin could be exposed, our anti-radiation space suits would make administering first aid difficult.)

Then we came to the guns. What potential uses are there for guns? Would bullets fly in a zero gravity environment? Would we have bullets? Why would we even need the bullets?? Shooting scary aliens? No. Shooting each other and indulging in a spot of cannibalism? No. Someone suggested using them as a metaphorical smoke signal… shoot the gun if we get lost, others will hear and come find us. No, the vacuum distorts/eliminates sound and inhibits it from travelling.

The group then decided that due to the absence of oxygen, the internal combustion which occurs in the gun chambers could not occur. It was decided that oxygen would be required to spark the mini explosion i.e. to shoot the gun.

Having decided unanimously that the guns served little purpose and the majority agreed that they wouldn’t function anyway; we drew a big X through them and moved onto the next item.

Call me crazy, but two months on and the question remains in my head, can you shoot a gun on the moon?

So, it was time to get to the bottom of this pressing issue, time to free my mind of this torment which had been left to linger. I did some research…

Bullets carry their own oxidising agent in the explosive of the cartridge (which is sealed, anyway) so there’s no need for atmospheric oxygen to ignite the propellant i.e. shoot the bullet. But, without the stabilising effect of the atmosphere, the wide temperature variations in space might be a problem. Direct sunlight might make the gun hot enough for the ammunition to explode spontaneously, whereas a gun kept in the shade would eventually become so cold that the primer in the firing cap might not go off at all. At very low temperatures, metals also become brittle and can stick together, which might cause the moving parts to jam.

So, my recommendation; next time you are travelling to the moon, leave your firearm at home. Lightsabers are so much cooler anyway.

Barcelona was brilliant. Fresh with the excitement of Spain’s World Cup glory, the atmosphere we were greeted with was electric.  The only negative thing we encountered were the bites, oh the awful bites…


It seems the locals weren’t the only ones out celebrating; the flies were out in force as well. Yes, each one of us got our comeuppances for parading around the town in shorts and t-shirts. We were covered in bites, head to toe, and my god they where itchy!
And so began a communal scratching of the heads and the debate ensued…
Why do we scratch an itch even though it makes it worse?
Everyone had an opinion:

Because we want to remove the irritant and satisfy the itch for a moment before it comes back with a vengeance”   ~Kevin

Two words: instant gratification”    ~Ellen

Because it feels so damn good! Sometimes a good itch is just what the doctor ordered”   ~Mark
Well guys, we have the answer…  (but unfortunately no real solution, well besides Michelle’s plea for us to “man up” and just stop itching!)

Yes, it seems that at the crux of our desire to scratch an itch is histamine, a chemical issued by most cells in our skin. Whatever the problem, a flea bite or prickly heat, if mast cells are on the case, they release histamines. It’s our body’s way of saying “check this out!” Histamines signal to immune cells to infiltrate the injured site and tackle the problem. At the same time they trigger nerve cells in the skin. The nerves send a message to the brain that says “ok guys, get scratching.” And until the mast cells are switched off, we just can’t stop!
Now you know…

So, the “science bus” tour is finished, our temporary home parked up and given a well deserved rest. Indeed, I think the ambassadors needed a rest also, but hey, you know what, I’ve missed you guys…there I said it!

We have a long way until 2012 yet, so I am going to continue the running of the website, and social networks. I will be reporting to you on any engaging stories I stumble upon, within the disciplines of; Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

What have I got lined up, you may be wondering? Well, the day after we arrived back from the trip, I jetted off to New York. Once Stateside, I threw on the old purple t-shirt and went exploring. Well, I discovered a vast array of interesting sights…

Look forward to blogs about; the New York Hall of Science, the New Jersey Liberty Science Centre, the Museum of Sex and the Bodies Exhibition!

Stay Tuned!

Bye Bye Bus, Hello Plane
Bye Bye Bus, Hello Plane

What a piece of work is a man

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The average pack of cigarettes takes 3 hours 45 minutes from a life.Bodies, the Exhibition

The body’s smallest muscles are found in the ears.

Girls brains account for 2.5% of body weight, boys;2%

People are born with an innate preference for either sweet or salty food

The tongue is made of 16 individual muscles.

The coccyx at the base of our spine is all that remains of our ancestor’s tails.

Childrens bones brow faster in Springtime.

Babies have 300 bones, adults have 206.

The Study of human anatomy has always operated on a basic principle: to see is to know. This principle led the Egypt, Greek, Roman and Islamic cultures to a more complete understanding of the human form. Public dissections during the Renaissance furthered this understanding, laying a foundation for our modern medical institutions. It is following this same principle (to see is to know) that “Bodies, the Exhibition” uses dissected human species to provide a visual textbook of the body.

We live in a world surrounded by business and technology; fast paced living with little time for reflection. When an illness is severe and our mortality is called into question, we may take the time to stop and ponder our existence. But once cured, we are off again, generally not thinking of the extraordinary, complicated human beings that we are.

Our bodies are indeed more intricately complex and wonderful then the computers and gadgets surrounding us. Yet many of us do not really know what lies beneath our skin, how our bodies function, what they need to survive, what destroys and what revives.

The Exbo is an attempt, I feel, to remedy this unfortunate set of circumstances. It offers a phenomenal view of the body, showcasing 20 real human specimens and 200 organs. It enlightens, empowers and fascinates. It inspires a sense of awe, wonder and excitement that really makes learning fun. I found it not only awe inspiring but also highly educational. Beyond this, it actually managed to change the way I view myself.

Sitting on the subway back to my hotel, I was awash with a fresh appreciation for life. I accept that, to all you “Bodies Exbo” virgins out there, that may sound a little far fetched, but trust me, it’s an awesome show.

Bodies, the Exhibition
Bodies, the Exhibition

We’ve had it all this year; bountiful banter, lots of laughter and oodles of tomfoolery. Thankfully, we have avoided any spillage of blood, sweat or tears.

But, as we approach the end of our journey, I am seeing a lot of tired faces. A chorus of yawns oft sweeps through the computer lab, which got me thinking… Why is it that yawning is contagious?

I put that very question to my fellow MECB colleagues and well, to be honest, it was a conundrum which nobody could answer, at least in any convincing manner.

So, I have looked into the matter, trawled through the web, compiled and summarized the most convincing theories, and here is what I’ve come back with; while the dictionary tells us that yawning is caused by being fatigued, drowsy or bored, scientists are discovering that there is more to yawning than what most people think. It turns out that rather than being a precursor to sleep, having a good auld yawn is actually designed to keep us awake.

Seeing, hearing or even reading about yawning, can induce a chain reaction of yawns. If you haven’t yawned yet, I suggest you may be a medical aberration or perhaps you should immediately consult your Doctor. Here are some theories I have found, which seek to explain this mysterious epidemic of contagious yawning:

The Physiological Theory

Our bodies induce yawning to draw in more oxygen or remove a build-up of carbon dioxide. This theory helps explain why we yawn in groups. Larger groups produce more carbon dioxide, which means our bodies would act to draw in more oxygen and get rid of the excess carbon dioxide. However, if our bodies make us yawn to drawn in needed oxygen, wouldn’t we yawn during exercise? Robert Provine, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a “leading expert on yawning,” has tested this theory. Giving people additional oxygen didn’t decrease yawning and decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in a subject’s environment also didn’t prevent yawning.

The Evolution Theory

Some think that yawning is something that began with our ancestors, who used yawning to show their teeth and intimidate others. An offshoot of this theory is the idea that yawning developed from early man as a signal for us to change activities.

The Brain Cooling Theory

The brain cooling theory says that when we contagiously yawn we are participating in an ancient, hardwired ritual that evolved to help groups stay alert and detect danger.

It’s not copying another person’s sleepiness, say scientists at the University of Albany in New York, who are behind the latest research.

“We think contagious yawning is triggered by empathic mechanisms which function to maintain group vigilance,” says Dr Gordon Gallup, a leading researcher at the university.

The Boredom Theory

In the dictionary, yawning is said to be caused by boredom, fatigue or drowsiness. Although we do tend to yawn when bored or tired, this theory doesn’t explain why Olympic athletes yawn right before they compete in their event. It’s doubtful that they are bored with the world watching them. But there are other theories. It’s been suggested contagious yawning could be a result of an unconscious herding behavior – a subtle way to communicate to those around us, similar to when flocks of birds take flight at the same time.

Herding behaviour

The belief is further supported by the observation of Robert Provine that paratroopers report yawning before jumping.

But there are other theories. It’s been suggested contagious yawning could be a result of an unconscious herding behaviour – a subtle way to communicate to those around us, similar to when flocks of birds take flight at the same time.

Another theory suggests contagious yawning might have helped early humans communicate their alertness levels and co-ordinate sleeping times.

Basically, if one decided it was time to sleep they would tell the others by yawning and they would do it in return to show they agreed.

Interesting stuff… Have I provoked a yawn out of you yet?


Love is not merely lust, it involves partnership as opposed to coupling.”

                                                                                                                Sir Jonathan Miller

Ok, I admit it, that sounds like one of my infamous one-liners. In fact, it’s the result of scientific research into love.

Amsterdam’s NEMO Science Centre boasts 12 interactive exhibitions. The “Journey Through the Mind” is one such “interactive gallery” on psychology, cognition and the brain. The exhibition is brimming with experiments and interactive games on; how we perceive and interpret the world, on feelings and emotions, the psychology of memory and learning, and how we interact with each other. The most striking exhibit was a video booth which allowed users record what the “big L word” means to them.

I found it inspiring. A week into the trip, and I have fast learned that science often constitutes serious business. Rarely is science communicated with a light hearted view. It got me thinking… what is love, why do we fall into it and what does science have to say about it?

I have then, decided to set my “bad boy” image aside and let my soft side roam free.

One of the most poetic explanations of love dates back to the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, in Plato’s Symposium. During a banquet, each participant was asked to explain the mystery of love.

Once upon a time, Aristophanes’ story goes, man and woman where still one: roly-poly impressive double creatures, with four arms, four legs and two heads facing each other on one and the same body. Their strength, pride and arrogance, however, had no limits. They aspired to climb higher and higher yet, all the way to the heavens, challenging the God’s themselves.

So enraged did the god Zeus become, that he furiously split the creatures in two, humbling their pride and diminishing their strength. Apollo rearranged the anatomy of the remaining halves into the odd and incomplete forms in which we now find ourselves. To this day, we roam around the earth, one half desperately searching for our other half, in order to reunite. The desire and the pursuit of the whole, concluded Aristophanes, is what we call love.

So then, what does science say about love? ‘Till recently, “serious” science treated romantic love as an invention of civilised society with spare time to indulge in flowery prose. Lately, I learned, scientists across a broad range of disciplines have had a change of heart about love. Research reveals that love rests firmly on the foundations of evolution, biology and chemistry.

The notion of romantic love, began to blossom on the plains of Africa when our ancestors started to walk upright. Bipedal walking forced the human pelvis to grow thicker than that of great apes, in order to bear the entire weight of the body, making the birth canal much smaller. This had serious consequences for child bearing. For while the birth canal was becoming smaller, the brain and head where growing larger.

Nature’s solution was to have babies born very early in their development. Unlike baby baboons or chimps, the human child is helpless for several years instead of a few months – the longest infancy in the animal kingdom. On open grasslands, one parent would have a hard and dangerous time handling a child while foraging for food, making it critical to pair up with a mate to rear the young. Love served the evolutionary process of pulling males and females into long-term partnership, which was essential for guaranteeing the survival of their offspring.

So, it seems we are biologically predisposed to love romantically. What seems on the surface to be irrational, intoxicated behaviour is in fact part of nature’s master strategy – a vital force which has helped humans survive, thrive and multiply for thousands of years.

So, love has everything to do with it, and is not just a second hand emotion after all…

“Revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly.” (Mao Tse-Tung, Chinese stateman)

 

A thought just struck me… a week into the journey, and we have driven through no less then 7 countries. However, we have hardly taken a minute to peruse the wonderful landscapes whizzing by our window. Instead, we have immersed ourselves in the equally wonderful world of the web.

Right now, if I was to take a quick glance to my left, I would be greeted with Switzerland’s magnificent Lake Gruyere. WOW, amazing! Back to work…

This networked bus is a testament to the hard work of the bus company (Ideas in Motion.) I mean, the atmosphere is such that we feel like we are in our very own office, and not, on a refurbished 17a Dublin Bus.

So, enough rambling, what’s my point? I guess, what I’m wondering is, to what extent has information technology (IT) effected our lives? And also how has it allowed us to find new meaning in our lives? Here goes…

In theses past few years, there has been an undisputable revolution in IT, and the already expeditious technological progression is hastening.

Innovation in, and ultimately adoption of, IT, has been supported by declining costs, technological improvement and increased competition. In looking back over the past say, five years, it is inextricably clear that information technologies have had a profound effect on numerous domains of society.

In part 2, I aim to focus on the effects on my personal and my fellow science ambassador’s lives. It should be noted that we have aboard a healthy blend of technology buff and technophobe. Although unique in so many ways, we are a regular clan, playing a small part in a wider social revolution.

The Rise and Rise…

There is likely more but, I can think of six exponential trends that are fueling this “revolution” (i.e. progression of IT in society) : 1.) The law of Photon, 2.) The age of Info Whelm, 3.) The Internet Revolution, 4.) Biotechnology, 5.) Nanotechnology and 6.) Moore’s Law.

It is inextricably clear that we are in the midst of a world altering virtual revolution.

According to Google, the World Wide Web is growing by a billion pages per day. The proliferation of Social Media is proof of a shift from hierarchies to networks. This transformation towards a network society, I feel, is as much organizational as a cultural question.

When looking at the growth of IT on a global level, figures and statistics can oft appear daunting and incomprehensive. To better understand the true impact of IT on society, one should look at it from a micro level.

Should I take a 360 degree sweep of the bus, I see my new friends tapping away on laptops. Scattered across the tables is an eclectic mix of technological paraphernalia;  dictophones, e-readers, Iphones, Ipods, cameras; hell, Kevin even has a pen which doubles as a scanner!

The ensuing innovations have, and going forward, will continue to have various social and economic impacts on family life and wider society. How we work, learn, communicate, entertain ourselves, interact with each other and socialize. For instance, when we where introduced to Amsterdam’s “Smart City” program, it highlighted the blurring of the lines between work and family life, but also how IT could, perhaps, diminish the role of cities.

So, technology and society are becoming inextricably interwoven. The aspects which have most relevance, to our team include; education, workplace and private life.

Onboard, we have 1 secondary school teacher, 2 university undergraduates, and 3 currently employed graduates. Ariff, the driver of the bus, is working towards an Open University Degree, by using distance learning.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I will expatiate on; just how IT affects the lives of each member of the team. Based on the derived extrapolations we will be presented with an accurate view of; how the IT Revolution is affecting our lives.

Until next time…