Back to the First Year

It’s a rainy Sunday evening and I’ve spent most of the day sorting out material for my first year module on Mechanics and Special Relativity. I’m looking forward to teaching a full class again. I like a big room and I particular like Physics Hall. The first lecture will be very introductory. I’ll be introducing the students to this character who appears a number of times in the Lecture Notes in various settings:

I’ll also be explaining how the subject of Mechanics began in the 17th Century when Sir Isaac Newton fell out of a tree and landed on an apple. Newton was of course building on previous work by Galileo and his colleagues Figaro and Magnifico, including the famous experiment in which he dropped a cannonball off a tower onto a pizza.

I’ve been looking through the enrolment figures for this year which look quite encouraging. The number of first-year students taking my module is up about 38% on last year, though last year was down on the year before. The other good news is that the number of new students on Theoretical Physics & Mathematics (who do not take the module I mentioned above) is more than double last year’s intake and higher than it has been in living memory. All this would be even better news if it weren’t for the workload issues arising from our being so short-staffed. I was hoping that we’d emerge from the pandemic in a better shape than we are now, having to rely on three one-year temporary lecturers (one of whom still hasn’t arrived in Ireland).

Talking of the pandemic, there’s no clear evidence yet of an increase in Covid-19 cases associated with a return to third-level education.

Our returning students in Maynooth started last week but other colleges in Ireland began earlier. I don’t know whether we can expect an upturn in infections resulting from this, but whether or not it will eventually happen I think it’s too early to see it just now. I remember last year when we started on-campus lectures only to switch abruptly to online teaching. I hope that doesn’t happen again. But it might.

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