Friday Fun Fact: Irish seminarians were used as guinea pigs to test voltage

Another fun fact thanks to Sean Dukes book, How Irish Scientists Changed the World.

Fr Nicholas Callan use seminarians as a way to measure voltage

Fr Nicholas Callan

Fr Nicholas Callan

In 1836 Fr Nicholas Callan started developing the induction coil, a type of transformer which produces high voltages from a low DC supply. However, at the time there were no instruments which could test the coils range of voltages. Using what he had to hand, the resourceful Fr Callan got a number of seminarians to hold hands. Fr Callan would then assess the voltage by seeing how high the last two students jumped in the air. Famously, one of the student once was knocked unconscious, the future Archbishop of Dublin William Walsh.

After this happened, Fr Callan was forbidden to experiment on students so he used turkeys. Attaching electrodes to a turkeys head, Fr Callan would deem the step up in voltage good if the turkey was killed by electrocution.

Teaching Training Update II – End of the road

Well that was a short road. The schools are back and a handful of rejection emails means that as it stands only 20% of schools in the Dublin area haven’t rejected my application. What’s more the School of Education will not accept me as a dual student of both the School of Education and the School of Biomedical and Biomolecular Science, which I would require if I am to submit my PhD thesis. So thus ends my road towards becoming a secondary school teacher. For now at least.

My Leaving Cert Moment

Last week saw just over 52,000 students receive their first round CAO offers. Eight years ago I got my own first round offer, science in UCD. But it wasn’t my first choice, nor was it my second. It was my fifth. The first four? All law courses. I was interested in doing law and becoming some form of law professional, but I also wanted to become a scientist. I was one of those rare students, at least in my school, which would have been happy with any of the ten courses on my CAO application. This is my new “Leaving Cert” moment. While I may not have gotten teacher training, I have applied jobs which I am just as equally excited about. I may not have gotten my number one choice eight years ago, but I was still happy with what I got. The same applies now. Onwards to the next great adventure!

Friday Fun Fact: The world’s first person known to be killed by a car was Irish

So this weeks fun fact comes from Sean Dukes book, How Irish Scientists Changed the World.

Mary Ward was the world’s first person known to be killed by a car

Mary Ward was an Anglo-Irish scientist during the 1800’s and she was one of only three women on the mailing list for the Royal Astronomical Society. However, despite her work in astronomy and microscopy, she is best known was the world first person to be killed by a car.

Mary Ward, Irish scientist and first person to be killed by a car

Mary Ward, Irish scientist and first person to be killed by a car

In late August 1869, Mary Ward, her husband Henry Ward, 5th Viscount Bangor were visiting her cousin William Paerson, the 3rd Earl of Rosse in present day Birr, County Offaly. William Parsons sons, Richard Clare Parsons (whom was 18 at the time), Charles Algernon Parson (whom was 15) had built a steam powered car which they would drive around the family estate. During her visit the Parson boys took Mary Ward for a drive, but she fell off and a wheel of the car ran over her braking her neck.

Teaching Training Quick Update I

Thought it was time for a quick update regarding my path to teacher training.

Finding a School, or not…

So I have a list of 207 post primary schools in Dublin which I am contacting to find a placement for my first year teaching placement. Alas, so far, the news isn’t good. As it stands there are 47 schools which either I can not contact (no one picking up the phone) or are reviewing my CV. The rest have all their placements filled. So outlook is a bit grim, but no one said it was going to be easy!

Paper work!

As you can imagine, lots of paper work involved. Apart from my Teaching Council application, all of the paper work I can fill out is done and sent off. This includes Garda vetting and subject declaration form for UCD. When you apply for the PME via you include a Teaching Council Subject Declaration form, this includes all the modules you did for your degree to ensure that you are qualified to teach the subject you said you can! The UCD on declaration form is to allow the School of Education to assign you to lectures and a supervisor.

My Path to Becoming a Science Teacher – Preamble

One January night in 2014 as I was cycling home down the N11, a thought struck me. “In about a year and a half, I will be finished (hopefully) my PhD and will be looking for a job. But what job?” By the time I was home, secondary level teaching was on my mind.

This wasn’t the first time teaching crossed my mind. When I started my undergraduate degree in 2007 in UCD, it was my plan to do the H.Dip (aka teacher training) after I graduated but after my first year undergraduate I thought, lets take this further, which is when I decided to do a PhD. Three years later, and with BSc after my name I started my PhD in the Mc Gee Lab, in UCD. I had a plan, the same plan as many fresh faced PhDs. Become doctor, do post doc, write papers, become lecturer, be a scientist. I wanted to become a lecturer, a professor, an academic, working at the very edge of human knowledge and pushing it by creating new information.

But for reasons I will talk about in another post, it was not meant to be however. As much as I love lab work, a career in academia as it stands, is wholly unsuitable for me. So naturally I looked towards my original plan, teaching in a secondary school.

Over the next few years, I will be detailing my journey which will see me finish my life as a scientific researcher and start on the path towards becoming a science teacher in Ireland.

Friday Fun Fact: It is Possible for Mammals to Breathe Liquid

So this weeks fun fact comes from the pages of science fiction or it would seems that way. But great science fiction is based on great science.

It is Possible for Mammals to Breathe Liquid

Given some life experience, and adult human might say that breathing in liquid will soon get you a Darwin Award, and they would be somewhat right. Somewhat. Breathing in liquid is something that we all have done, in the bath tub or at the pool, and I think we can all agree that it is something that would rather avoid. But the liquid we have most experience breathing is water. Mammals can not breathe water but we can breathe some liquids.


Octadecafluoronaphthalene, or perfluorodecalin to its friends

Step in oxygen-rich liquid, perfluorocarbon (PFCs). Comprised of only carbon and fluorine atoms, this liquid can have large volumes of gases dissolved into it, making it the perfect liquid to breathe. But don’t take my word for it, take James Camerons. In his 1982 movie, The Abyssthere is a scene (with some questionable animal ethics)  in which a rat is submerged into a pinkish liquid and survives.

But what about adult humans? Well, as far as I can tell, there have been no experiments on human adults breathing PFCs, other than some talk of the US Navy Seals. But newborns on the other hand are a different story. Step in Professor Emeritus, Pediatrics, and Physiology at Temple University, Thomas Shaffer. During the 1990s, Shaffer and others found that using the liquid breathing system on children born before 28 weeks increased survival rates from 5% to 60%

Friday Fun Fact: Banana Plants “Walk” Up to 40 Centimetres in a Lifetime

There is quite a lot of things people think they know about the banana, but like a lot of things that are common knowledge, they are mistaken. But one of the more interesting aspects of banana biology is the basis of today’s fun fact.

Banana Plants “Walk” Up to 40 Centimetres in a Lifetime

A banana plant

Banana plant

The reason they walk comes down to how they are cultivated. Bananas for human consumption are all clones of a single plant selectively bred to produce the delicious yellow berry (bananas are considered type of berry). The plants are grown asexually from offshoots of the plant. Generally, there are two shoots at any one time, one that is used immediately and one that will yield bananas in 7 months time. As the shoots grow along the ground rather than downwards, the pseudostem that produces the bananas can move slightly over the years. Thus the “walking”.

Some other things about bananas you might like to know:

There is no such thing as a banana tree. The correct term is banana plant. This comes down to the fact that banana plants do not contain a woody stem. As such they can not be defined as trees. Rather, they are herbs.

The wild type banana is rather different from the banana that is made from human consumption. Wild type bananas are rounder and contain a number of large, hard seeds.

Wild Type banana

Wild Type banana, notice the large seeds inside

There is a rather large diversity of banana species, writing in The New YorkerMike Peed had the following to say about the diversity.

There are fuzzy bananas whose skins are bubblegum pink; green-and-white striped bananas with pulp the color of orange sherbet; bananas that, when cooked, taste like strawberries. The Double Mahoi plant can produce two bunches at once. The Chinese name of the aromatic Go San Heong banana means ‘You can smell it from the next mountain.’ The fingers on one banana plant grow fused; another produces bunches of a thousand fingers, each only an inch long.

Sources: QI


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