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Why is the sky blue?

Why is the sky blue?
Cashel, Connemara, 2014


For many a year scientists and poets alike pondered on why the sky was blue. Many thought that it was due to small droplets of water vapour in the atmosphere and indeed many still do. If the droplets of water vapour did indeed cause the blue colour we see, there would be more variation of sky colour depending on the variation of humidity, and this isn’t the case. A cloudless sky is as blue in Saudi Arabia as it is in Connemara.

So what does cause it?

We can thank County Carlow and one of its resident scientists John Tyndall for the answer to this question.

John Tyndall discovered why the sky is blue.
John Tyndall discovered why the sky is blue.

Tyndall discovered that when light passes through a clear fluid which has small particles suspended in it, the blue light scatters more strongly than red light. This can be easily shown with a tank of water and a little soap; when a beam of white light flows through the tank from one end to the other, at the sides the beam of light can be seen through a blue light while the light seen directly from the end is reddened.

The Tyndall Effect can be seen in this piece of opalescent glass where the orange light shines through while the blue light gets scattered within the glass.

Tyndall Effect
Tyndall Effect


So the next time you look up at the sky while the sun shines white light at the earth, its the blue light being scattered by the molecules in the sky that is giving the sky its blue colour while the red and orange colours shine through to us on the ground, giving the sun its yellow/red/orange hue.



Project Maths

Project Maths

Building Blocks to Success
Building Blocks to Success Project Maths

Last August, CMA wrote the  response below ‘Project Maths – An Opportunity for Career Success’ to an Irish Times Project Maths related article, in which the Irish Times argued that mathematics was being dumbed down. In fact, at CMA, we regard Ruarí Quinn’s new reforms as a great opportunity for all students and believe that Project Maths can in fact have a very positive impact on critical thinking and problem solving generally. It was interesting to see the Guardian today 12th march 2014 publish a short animated video on Greece’s Mathematical Legacy which underlines the universality of mathematics and serves as a reminder that mathematics is essentially a philosophy and a way for us to learn about he world we live in, regardless of what career of profession one finds oneself in.

At CMA, we encourage students to become fluent in the key concepts that underpin the mathematics syllabuses and believe that through a combination of visualisation and learning through discovery in dynamic and stimulating lessons and associated activities, that a real fluency can be achieved, which will lay down the foundations to confidence and success.

The following video, featuring Greek revolutionary thinkers, was published in the Guardian today and was produced by the Royal Institution, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and animation by 12foot6 and narrated by James Grime. It fits in very well with CMA’s ethos and commitment to problem solving, critical thinking and educated risk taking students, regardless of the career path they are on or or contemplating.

Project Maths – An Opportunity for Career Success

According to a recent article in the Irish Times by Sean Byrne August 22nd ( Project Maths is leading to a dumbing down of standards and leading to ill equipped students entering third level. Unfortunately with regards to the Mathematics Curriculum Mr Byrne has missed the point entirely.

Project Maths is the great leveller, where now a fundamental understanding of the key concepts will lead to exam success and indeed to further success in third level. The era of rote learning is over, and this can only be a good thing for all levels. Learning through discovery where mathematical fluency and confidence is the goal, it does indeed lead to a less stressful educational environment and contrary to what Mr Byrne has to say on the matter, stress does not equate to a better education, and this is especially true of mathematics.

Mr Byrne cites the exclusion of Integration and a much reduced Calculus syllabus as part of the problem. Again Mr Byrne fails to appreciate the ethos of project maths and the benefits that will accrue from it. It stands to reason that when key concepts are well understood, coming across Integration in First Year university for the first time will not pose any real problems to students as they will have had the necessary building blocks to understand and appreciate Calculus in all its complexities.

In the recent pre Project Maths years, lecturers would complain that students had rote learnt everything and didn’t have any real fundamental understanding of many of the key concepts in mathematics. IBEC have voiced their concerns many times, and in fact, the OECD were of the same opinion which led to Project Maths being developed in the first place.

Project Maths is a great opportunity for students to conquer mathematics and widen their career choices dramatically. As a former university lecturer, I would have most definitely preferred students who had a really solid knowledge of a limited number of key mathematical concepts while not having covered calculus in depth for example, than a student who had rote learned his or her way to an honour in maths and which did include a comprehensive calculus course.

I would encourage all students to embrace project maths and discover how a fundamental understanding of key concepts can open up doors in many other subjects, as maths is really all about learning how the world works and how we relate to it. Mathēma : Greek word ‘to learn’.

Aengus O’Connor
Director, Connemara Maths Academy