Thursday, January 29, 2009

High Definition technology at Lightwave

It was great to be taking part in the Science Gallery's Lightwave show this year. We'd a High Definition RED camera at the Agtel stand (pictured) on Monday night showing how we're using the very latest solid state technology to capture light for story telling on our corporate video productions (including science communication!).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Science in Obama's inaugural address

It was a nice surprise that President Obama included a mention of Science prominently in his inaugural address by promising that "We will restore science to its rightful place".

But what exactly is that rightful place?

New Scientist has a good overview of the speech itself, and I'm heading up to DCU later today (Thursday, 22 January) for their symposium on 'Negotiating New Sciences in Society' where this is bound to be discussed.

There's a wide variety of topics being covered at the DCU symposium. All of them are very relevant to the increasingly important area of "Science in Society" which researchers, funding agencies, politicians and even tax payers are paying more and more attention to.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"The Sun" smashes NASA embargo - or does it?

There was a great "world exclusive" front page on The Sun newspaper in Ireland and the UK last week with the headline screaming "Life on Mars". It was a brilliant and entertaining science story summed up by the strapline "NASA historic discovery of methane on the Red Planet."

I was really surprised to see it because I get most science press releases and they're usually under "strict embargo" - and there was no sign of this particular story anywhere else that I could see. Including the US press. Weird.

All was revealed in a post on Roy Greenslade's blog on the Guardian site today:
Had The Sun really managed to obtain a story from a US-based source before the US press had got to hear about it? The answer, it would appear, is "yes." And the story behind the story offers an intriguing insight into the way news stories are managed, the cosy world of press releases enjoyed by science journalists (and many other specialist journalists too) and the ongoing problem of using embargos.
I'll let Paul Sutherland who broke the story describe what happened - here's the description on his own blog:
When it appeared, there was uproar. A US-based science journal rang The Sun's newsdesk at 3am demanding the story be removed from the paper's website.

They claimed the news was embargoed and were no doubt horrified to learn that it was in the process of being printed on the front of three million newspapers.

But, as the journal itself soon realised and accepted, no embargo was breached because I had no access to, nor indeed knowledge of, any privileged information.

My story was based entirely on good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism.
Paul Sutherland goes on to describe in detail how it turns out that even though there was an embargoed press release in very limited circulation, his story really was an old fashioned scoop where he put together a complicated jigsaw to figure out what NASA were up to.

It's not often that science journalists have an opportunity to stray away from the constraints of journal issued press releases, and I'll leave the last word to Roy Greenslade:
His scoop has certainly stimulated controversy among the community of science journalists, in the States and in Britain. Some of them are clearly upset about Sutherland acting like a reporter while others are wondering whether he has a point about the passivity of a news-managed journalism.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Science fair winners announced

I was delighted to see that a really original and practical project won the Irish BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition the other day. The exhibition is the largest of its kind in Europe and one of the longest running school science fairs in the world.

The importance of the event was emphasised by the presence of An Taoiseach Brian Cowen to announce the winner - and here are the main points from the official press release:
John D. O’Callaghan (aged 14) and Liam McCarthy (aged 13), 2nd year students from Kinsale Community School, Co Cork have won the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2009 with their project entitled, “The Development of a Convenient Test Method for Somatic Cell Count and its Importance in Milk Production”.

An Taoiseach Brian Cowen accompanied by Chris Clark presented the group with a cheque for €5,000, a Waterford Crystal trophy and the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 21st European Union Contest for Young Scientists taking place in Paris this coming September.

John and Liam’s project impressed the judges so much that it was a clear decision for them. “John and Liam are two farmers’ sons from Cork. They were concerned with the financial losses incurred if milk sold from their farms had high contents of somatic cells. Somatic cells reflect infection in the mammary gland of the cow and downgrades the processability of the milk during cheese making.

Current tests for somatic cells are expensive and slow. After searching the boys discovered that if a small amount of detergent is mixed with a fresh sample of milk the mixture becomes progressively more viscous as the somatic cell content of the milk rises. With this knowledge in mind they derived a simple apparatus that could be used by the farmer to quickly test the milk and determine its status. This will be of tremendous commercial help to farmers and is a marketable product. Thus what they have achieved is utterly practical and brilliant in its simplicity,” commented the judges.

1,095 students competed this week in 500 projects from 31 counties across Ireland.