Science: In Brief

Conor O’Donovan

Deputy Science Editor

Trinity astrophysicists launch citizen science project, Sunspotter

A group of astrophysicists, led by College’s Dr Paul Higgins, have launched – an online project developed in conjunction with the pioneering citizen science organisation, Zooniverse. Public volunteers are invited to aid researchers analyse thousands of satellite images of sunspots – enormous solar storms that emit large amounts of electromagnetic radiation, and can potentially threaten Earth’s satellite, radio and power systems. The project is based on a simple idea: crowdsourcing human brainpower to rank images by their complexity, a task which even powerful computers cannot yet complete accurately. Public help has been enlisted to deal with the large volume of data that remains to be analysed. gives individuals with no scientific training or expertise the opportunity to casually take part in new astrophysics research. In a press release, Higgins said, “Sunspotter volunteers will be the ones to thank for putting in the hard work and improving our ability to classify sunspots and predict solar storms”.

Young Life Scientists Ireland inaugural meeting held at Trinity

Saturday 1st March saw Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute host the first symposium of Young Life Scientists Ireland. Organised by a motivated committee of postgraduate students from third-level institutes across the country, the meeting began with a keynote talk by Prof Kingston Mills – director of the Immunology Research Centre at Trinity – on the potential of novel therapeutic approaches to human disease founded on new understandings in basic immunology. Poster presentations, parallel oral abstract sessions and career-focused workshops took place throughout the day. Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly – director of the Metabolic Research Laboratories at Cambridge University, and a Dublin native – delivered a captivating talk in the evening. He discussed his work and that of his colleagues, which has shed new light on the genetic causes of obesity and metabolic disease. Both keynote speakers, and the prizewinners for the best oral and poster presentations, were handsomely rewarded with stuffed microbial toys.

Anti-homosexuality bill twists scientists’ words

Widespread condemnation by members of the scientific community has followed the signing into law, by the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, of an anti-homosexuality bill. The bill will permit life imprisonment for acts of “aggravated homosexuality” (such as sexual acts with a minor) or sentences up to 7 or 14 years for attempted or actual homosexual acts, respectively. The president’s administration has been accused of misrepresenting the findings of a Ministry of Health-commissioned report, compiled by government health officials, scientists and mental health researchers, into the causes of homosexuality. The authors of the report have stood by their conclusions that there is no definitive genetic cause of homosexuality, that it is not a disease or abnormal, and that it can be influenced by such environmental influences as culture and peer interactions. The ruling National Resistance Movement party has, however, used the report to justify the government’s anti-gay bill, declaring

that homosexuality is a behaviour that “could be unlearnt”. Several scientific members of the report’s committee have resigned in protest over the government’s misinterpretation and inappropriate application of the report’s findings.