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%

Problems with fluoride

The following was a letter to the Editor of the Irish Times dated July 4 2012

Sir, – My two spaniels (Mel and Lou) drink rainwater in preference to tap water containing fluoride.

Animal instinct is worth noting when even the dogs in the street are aware of something unnatural grouped with bromine, chlorine and iodine in our drinking water.

Their teeth, by the way, are in perfect condition! – Yours, etc,



To which I wrote the following letter which was published on the July 5 2012

A chara, – Dermot Carberry (July 4th) brings up the old “problem” of water fluoridation, calling us to take heed of his pet dogs who prefer rainwater to tap water. Stating that his dogs’ teeth are in perfect condition might be a good example of a common saying, “correlation does not imply causation”. Time and time again, metadata analysis of independent experiments have shown that fluoridation is beneficial in preventing tooth decay.

Saying that “animal instinct is worth noting”, I can think of a few animal instincts that dogs have that humans might find less than palatable. – Is mise,



Every so often the issue of water fluoridation comes into the public forum and it is the same old story. Fluoride causes cancer/autism/insert some more scaremongering here, we shouldn’t have it in our water. As my letter stated a number of independent studies have shown that  fluoride is safe and does prevent tooth decay. How do I know this? Thanks to a little thing called the Cochrane Collaboration.

The Cochrane Collaboration (CC) “…aims to provide compiled scientific evidence to aid well-informed health care decisions. It conducts systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials of health care interventions and tries to disseminate the results and conclusions derived from them.” [Via wiki] Basically, the CC collects data from randomised controlled trials, the gold standard in scientific experimentation, puts it all together and sees if the data is positive, negative or insufficient to draw a conclusion. What makes this method powerful is it takes data from all studies that fit the criteria of the study, regardless of the conclusions of the individual studies. This means that any bias in a single study can be cancelled out by the other non-biased ones.

The anti-fluoride lobby really gets on my nerves for one major reason, for the most part they use scaremongering rather than discussing the real reason behind their fears, a common tactic. Often the real reason the anti-fluoride lobby is against fluoride in the water comes down to “mass medication”. That is to say objecting to having something put into a food stuffs without the consent of the person consuming it nor offering an alternative. On this issue, I feel that we should talk about this. We should take about with ethics behind such a system, but the anti-fluoride lobby are doing themselves no favours in using unfounded scientific claims to try to get their way in an underhanded manner.

Bottom-line, if you have a problem with something, say it as it is, don’t try to achieve your aim in am underhanded manner.

Friday Fun Fact: The Person that Coined the Term Electron was Irish

This weeks post is a fact which I only discovered myself this week and is yet another Irish contribution to the world of science.

The Person that Coined the Term Electron was Irish

 George Johnstone Stoney

George Johnstone Stoney b.1826 d.1911

George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist who became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Queen’s College, Galway, which is NUI Galway today. During his life time he published 75 papers, mainly in the journals of the Royal Dublin Society. Carrying out much of his scientific work at the laboratory at the RDS, he was the first person to receive the RDS Boyle Medal in 1899.

While he worked on a whole host of areas, from cosmic physics, to the theory of gases, to the gearing for bicycles and tricycles, he is most well known for his work on the “atom of electricity”. Proposing the term “electron” for this atom of electricity in 1891, his work was the bases of the particles discovery in 1897 by JJ Thomson.  After Thomson’s discovery, an Irish Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin, George FitzGerald, proposed calling them electrons and the name stuck. By sheer coincidence, FitzGerald was Stoney’s nephew.

Stoney died in London in 1911 but he is buried in St Nahi’s Church, Dundrum.

George Johnstone Stoney's grave in  St Nahi’s Church, Dundrum.

George Johnstone Stoney’s grave in St Nahi’s Church, Dundrum.

My ESOF2012: Day 3

What is the future of the PhD in the 21st Century?

Day three of ESOF2012 started off for me with “What is the future of the PhD in the 21st Century?” Here the speakers expressed how the PhD, while not broken, is not ideal either, often focusing teaching the student for a life in academia. This session aimed to provide possible answers to the problem with PhDs. Michael Lenardo, from the National Institute of Health, started his talk with a good example of how we are surrounded by technology, but often don’t know how/what to use it. Back in the early 1900’s, US President McKinley was shot a number of times in the gut while attending a technology expo. The best surgeons in the US were rush to operate on him, but alas, they couldn’t find all the bullets and he ultimately died. However, only 50 ft away from where the shooting occurred was there one of those new fangled X-Ray machine. He went on to say that as part of PhD training, we need to train people in creative thought.

The State of String Theory

American theoretical physicist and string theorist, Brian Greene at ESOF2012

American theoretical physicist and string theorist, Brian Greene at ESOF2012

The highlight of day three for me had to be the keynote address given by Brian Greene, the US string theorist. Greene gave a fascinating talk, which was designed so that people without a strong physics background could understand, a great example of science communication. This address stated why string theory is needed in light of trying to resolve the issue of general relativity and quantum mechanics. Afterwards he went on to explain that dark energy was the best explanation for why our universe in expanding at an increasing rate, rather than a decreasing one. Finishing with the idea of the multiverse, how “our universe is a single bubble in a bubble bath of universes.”

After lunch I attended Helga Nowotny’s talk “The Usefulnes of Useless Knowledge – And How to Find Uses and Users.” Here Nowotny said that there is really no such things as useless knowledge, just knowledge that people have yet to find a use for. This reminded me of the great TEDed talk given by Adam Savage entitled How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries.

I also attended “Saving Science Education” from kidsINNscience. Things didn’t start of well with the organiser, John Meadows of London South Bank Univeristy stating “…well we can’t.” Humphrey Jones of The Frog Blog details how lacking this talk was in his post “How Not to Save Science Education

ESOF2012 and Me

Euroscience Open Forum 2012

Euroscience Open Forum 2012

Today is the start of the five day Euroscience Open Fourm, which is being held in the Convention Centre in Dublin. ESOF is a Europe wide general science meeting held every two years in some European city. It aims to showcase advances in science and technology, create debate on what role science plays in society and it aims to provoke public interest in science.

This will be my first time attending ESOF, but there is a wealth of activities, from seminars and debates, to Science-2-Business and “Porridge with the Prof“, to keep me busy.

Throughout the event I shall be tweeting about it on my account @plavin1922 using #esof2012. Also at the end of each day I shall be writing a blog post on this very site about what I got up to and what I heard.

Today is a light enough day. Delegate registration starts at 1100hrs, with the “Fáilte Reception” taking place at 1600hrs. Afterwards is the Opening Ceremony, followed by a keynote address at 1800hrs. The keynote address “From insects to mammals: reflections on a European journey through basic research on immune defenses” is being delivered by Jules Hoffmann, who in 2011 shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the “…discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity.” Should be interesting.

I shall report back tonight about the first day!