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Investigating Ireland’s Greatest Scientists with Vernier

As part of the Irish Leaving Certificate Senior Physics syllabus, students from the Christian Brothers Boys’ Secondary School, in Dungarvan, Ireland, study the contributions of Ireland’s two greatest scientists: Robert Boyle and Ernest T. S. Walton. It just so happens that these two giants in science have a local connection – they were both born in the southeastern coastal county of Waterford, not too far from the school.

Principal John Murphy with students Joseph Foley, Michael O'Donnell, and Brian Hallissey at Lismor Castle

Principal John Murphy with students Joseph Foley, Michael O’Donnell, and Brian Hallissey at Lismor Castle

Three enterprising students, Joseph Foley, Michael O’Donnell, and Brian Hallissey, under the guidance of their school principal, John Murphy, wanted to make the work of Boyle and Walton more meaningful. They came up with the idea of traveling to the scientists’ birthplaces and performing experiments related to their scientific discoveries. So, the students loaded up some Vernier technology and took a road trip.

The first stop was Lismore Castle, birthplace of Robert Boyle. Lismore Castle is situated on the banks of the River Blackwater. The castle is currently owned by the Devonshire family. Boyle’s great-great-grandniece, Charlotte Boyle, married William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire. (Scientist Henry Cavendish was the son of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire.) While visiting the castle, the boys performed the modern day Boyle’s law experiment using a Vernier Gas Pressure Sensor connected to a LabQuest.

Next, the group set out for the birthplace of Walton. Along the way, they collected global positioning data using the Vernier GPS sensor. The image below shows the route they took. The map was created by exporting the GPS data to Google Maps using Logger Pro software. The color of the path represents the speed they were traveling, where red indicates higher speeds and violet slower speeds.

The final stop on the trip was Abbeyside in Dungarvan, the birthplace of Ernest T.S. Walton. Walton was a physicist that, for part of his career, worked under Ernest Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. (The Cavendish Laboratory was endowed by William Cavendish, the 7th Duke of Devonshire, which connects Walton in another way to Boyle.) Walton earned a Nobel Prize in Physics for successfully splitting a lithium atom and identifying the products as helium nuclei. While here, the boys used the Vernier Digital Radiation Monitor to measure the background radiation count.

The project proved an unqualified success for all concerned, and was the hub of much discussion among the students of Dungarvan CBS Secondary School. Principal Murphy noted, “Without the Vernier sensors and the portability of the Vernier LabQuest, this particular type of fieldwork would not have been possible.” We will need to watch these young men to see if their travels will take them to be the next great scientists from Ireland.

If you have questions or comments regarding this project, contact John Murphy (hourigan1@gmail.com). He would love to hear from you.

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