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Frogs and Physics

IMG_0461Over the past week I’ve been working in collaboration with our secondary and post 16 science co-ordinator Emily Robinson and my good friend and colleague from the Photon Science Institute Mark Dickinson. Between us, we’ve been delivering some A-Level Study Day sessions based around our frog research – and it’s been great fun for all involved. Sessions have allowed students to get to learn all about how animals use colour, which has included investigating our natural history and live specimens in the museum and also spending time in Physics labs.

IMG_0375 Following a morning sessions in the Museum, where the pupils got to learn all about the frogs and had an introduction to the physics behind the colour of animals, the afternoons were spent in Mark’s Lab where the pupils used hi-tech spectrometers, Infra-red cameras, and thermal imaging equipment. Through this they have been able to learn how the use of thermal imaging and spectrometry equipment helps us understand reptile thermoregulation and the optical properties of amphibian skin. snake4 copy


The collaboration draws on the expertise and resources of both our departments, and this week we had students visit us from Whalley Range Girls School in Manchester and Blue Coats School in Oldham (pictured here in the thermal image with our royal python!).

We hope everyone from the schools enjoyed their visit and would like to say a big thank you  to all the demonstrators who helped on the days.

Trinidad… the dump

Trinidad and Tobago is using our planet as a C02 dump – it is the second highest per capita producer of greenhouse emissions in the world. Data from a study back in 2010 showed that even then, when they were rated 5th worst in the world, they were producing more than 40 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions annually. Over 80%  was coming from the growing petrochemical and power generation industry there.


Phytotriades auratus (c) Andrew Gray

Phytotriades auratus (c) Andrew Gray

The graph above shows the country’s CO2 emissions per decade compared to the global average: in 1990-1999 emissions were on average 17.4 tons of CO2 and in 2011 the figure was 42.4 tons. Since 1990 the rainforest in Trinidad has also been reduced from 47% to 44%, which adds to this impact.                    Sadly I recently discovered that the only endemic frog to Trinidad, the Critically Endangered Golden Tree Frog,  Phytotriades auratus, has lost much of its habitat and its future still hangs precariously in the balance. It lives in just one plant (a giant bromeliad) on the highest mountain tops where the trees on which the plants grow aren’t safe from being cut down or burning.

Tobago tree-dwellers


Sunset, Tobago, 2013 (c) Andrew Gray

At the moment I’m on the Caribbean island of Tabago, awaiting my flight to Trinidad that will signify the start of my next big adventure. I love being in the Caribbean, its such a wonderful place for chilling out and recharging the batteries. Even the palm trees look like their chilling, as they lean gracefully towards the beautiful ocean.

They provide shade from the heat of the midday sun as the waves crash ashore and the surf tickles my ankles, and they break my view of the horizon with their green and yellow fronds, dividing blue sky from blue water, and golden sand all around from the lush greenery from which they rise.  As the sun sets, they also provide a recharged herpetologist with the amusement he’s regained, as the sun-soaked lizards which live on these trees flash to him with their brightly-coloured dewlaps seeming to signify that they made it through the heat of the day and they’ll surely be there tomorrow ready to take on a new day.