Archive for the Maynooth Category

NUI Dr Éamon De Valera Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences

Posted in History, mathematics, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 21, 2021 by telescoper

I found out yesterday that the National University of Ireland is commemorating the centenary of the election of Éamon de Valera as its Chancellor. To mark this occasion, NUI will offer a special NUI Dr Éamon De Valera Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences. This post is in addition to the regular NUI awards, which include a position for Science & Engineering.

Éamon de Valera, photographed sometime during the 1920s.

Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil (formerly one of the two largest political parties in Ireland) and architect of the Irish constitution. De Valera (nickname `Dev’) is an enigmatic figure, who was a Commandant in the Irish Republican Army during the 1916 Easter Rising, who subsequently became Taoiseach  and then President of the Irish Republic.

You may or may not know that de Valera was a mathematics graduate, and for a short time (1912-13) he was Head of the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth,  a recognized college of the National University of Ireland. The Department became incorporated in Maynooth University, when it was created in 1997.Mathematical Physics is no longer a part of the Mathematics Department at Maynooth, having become a Department in its own right and it recently changed its name to the Department of Theoretical Physics.

Anyway, the Fellowship will be awarded on the basis of a common competition open to NUI graduates in all branches of the Mathematical Sciences. All branches of the Mathematical Sciences will be deemed as including, but not limited to, all academic disciplines within Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics, Mathematical Physics and Statistics and Probability.

You can find more details of the position here. I should say however that it is open to NUI graduates only, though it can be held at any of the constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland. Given the de Valera connection with Maynooth, it would be fitting if it were held here!
The deadline for applications is February 9th.

It’s raining…

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Poetry with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2021 by telescoper

Taking a short break from examination marking I had a look outside. I’m not sorry to be cooped up indoors given that it’s pouring with rain. In fact it rained all night and morning and is set to continue in the same vein until tomorrow.

While I was waiting for my coffee to brew I was thinking about some idiomatic expressions for heavy rain. The most familiar one in English is Raining Cats and Dogs which, it appears, originated in a poem by Jonathan Swift that ends with the lines:

Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats and turnip tops come tumbling down the flood.

My French teacher at school taught me the memorable if slightly indelicate Il pleut comme vache qui pisse, although there are other French expressions involving, among other things nails, frogs and halberds.

One of my favourites is the Welsh Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn which means, bizarrely, “It’s raining old ladies and sticks”. There is also Mae hi’n bwrw cyllyll a ffyrc – “It’s raining knives and forks”.

Related idiomatic expressions in Irish are constructed differently. There isn’t a transitive verb meaning “to rain” so there is no grammatical way to say “it rains something”. The way around this is to use a different verb to represent, e.g., throwing. For example Tá sé ag caitheamh sceana gréasaí which means “It’s throwing cobblers’ knives”.

Talking (of) cobblers, I note that in Danish there is Det regner skomagerdrenge – “It’s raining shoemakers’ apprentices” and in Germany Es regnet Schusterjungs – “It’s raining cobblers’ boys”.

Among the other strange expressions in other languages are Está chovendo a barba de sapo (Portuguese for “It’s raining toads’ beards”), Пада киша уби миша (Serbian for “It’s raining and killing mice”),  Det regner trollkjerringer (Norwegian for “It’s raining female trolls”) and Estan lloviendo hasta maridos (Spanish for “It is even raining husbands”).

No sign of any husbands outside right now so I’ll get back to correcting exams.

Cosmology Talks: Marika Asgari on Kids 1000

Posted in Cardiff, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 18, 2021 by telescoper

It’s time I shared another one of those interesting cosmology talks on the Youtube channel curated by Shaun Hotchkiss. This channel features technical talks rather than popular expositions so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but for those seriously interested in cosmology at a research level they should prove interesting. Since I haven’t posted any of these for a while I’ve got a few to catch up on – this one is from September 2020.

In this talk Marika Asgari tells us about the recent Kilo-Degree Survey (KiDS) cosmological results. These are the first results from KiDS after they have reached a sky coverage of 1000 square degrees. Marika first explains how they know that the results are “statistics dominated” and not “systematics dominated”, meaning that the dominant uncertainty comes from statistical errors, not systematic ones. She then presents the cosmological results, which primarily constrain the clumpiness of matter in the universe, and which therefore constrain Ωm and σ8. In the combined parameter “S8“, which is constrained almost independently from Ωm by their data they see a more than 3σ tension with the equivalent parameter one would infer from Planck.

P. S. The papers that accompany this talk can be found here and here.

For the Birds..

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on January 17, 2021 by telescoper

The Giant Robin of Newgrange

I saw the above picture of a robin on Twitter the other day and it reminded me of the one that visits my garden. I’ve never been quick enough to take a picture of him, but he’s every bit as plump as the one in the picture. If he were taller he’d be spherical.

The robin situation in my garden has seen an important development: another robin has arrived. The new one is smaller than the first and the first time I saw it I only noticed it because it was having a squabble with the plump one. I assumed it was a younger rival, but on subsequent days I saw the two of them together quite peacefully. Since male and female robins are virtually indistinguishable I wonder if they might be a husband and wife team? The fact that I saw them having a row lends support to this theory.

Another interesting thing concerned niger seed. I bought some of this a while ago, together with a feeder that purported to be designed for dispensing it. Niger seed is a fine oily seed very good for the smaller birds. Unfortunately the mesh in the feeder is too coarse and the seed just poured out as I filled it. I put the bag of seed away and filled the feeder with other stuff. Last week I remembered the bag of niger seed and decided to try putting some loose in the bird table. In no time a group of four chaffinches were tucking in. These were definitely two males and two females – the females are notably different in colour. Anyway, they love it – as do a number of other birds, including the robin(s) – and I’ve had to replenish the supply twice.

I usually wait until there don’t seem to be any birds present before going out to check the food supply, but this is a waste of time. Even if the garden appears empty, as soon as I go out there’s a whooshing sound and lots of chirps as birds that had secreted themselves in various trees and hedges take to the air to escape the scary human.

The birds provide a welcome distraction when I take a break from exam marking, as does writing a blog, but I guess I should get back to it now.

Thought For The Year

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on January 13, 2021 by telescoper

In the midst of the January examination period I’ve been thinking about how tough this year has been nd will continue to be for all students in third-level institutions, but especially the cohort currently in the first year of their course. I think it’s now fairly clear that nearly all their study this year will be done remotely. We on the teaching side have all tried to make the best of this situation but there’s no question that the learning experience we have been able to offer is not as good this year as in other years. On top of that the students – especially in the first year – have been denied the chance to get to know other students through personal interactions, clubs & societies, or through joint interests. Those of us who went to University in more normal times know that many of the friendships we made when we first arrived at college stayed with us for the rest of our lives.

Thinking about this I want to make a suggestion. It is that every student currently in their first year of study at a third-level institution should be offered the chance to start again in the autumn and repeat the whole academic year, regardless of how well they do this time round. Not all students will want to do this, and not all will be able to because of personal circumstances, but I feel we should at least offer them the possibility and back it up with funding for the repeated year. My own suspicion is that it would be a minority, but probably a significant minority, that would opt for this. It would cost money, but I think it would mean a lot to a considerable number of students.

I can anticipate an objection that students repeating their first year will take up places that would normally go to next year’s new intake. That depends on how many would take up the repeat offer, of course. Extra capacity may be needed for some but not all courses. But it also seems to me that this year’s Leaving Certificate students will have had their studies affected too. Perhaps final-year school students should be offered the chance to repeat their year too?

Would starting and/or finishing college a year later really be such a problem given the extraordinary nature of the Covid-19 crisis?

P.S. I’ve talked about the situation in Ireland, but everything I’ve said will apply elsewhere too.

Two Job Opportunities in Quantum Computing/ Quantum Information Processing in Maynooth!

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 11, 2021 by telescoper

Gratuitous Graphic purporting to represent Quantum Information Processing

Regular readers of this blog may recall an announcement that the Department of Theoretical Physics scored a notable success, or rather Dr Professor Jiri Vala did, in securing funding as part of a project called Quantum Computing in Ireland: A Software Platform for Multiple Qubit Technologies. To be eligible for this kind of funding, projects must involve businesses and this particular project includes IBM Ireland Ltd, MasterCard Ireland, Rockley Photonics and Equal 1 Laboratories, the latter two being SMEs based in the Dublin area. The project also involves the Tyndall National Institute (Cork); University College Dublin; and Maynooth University. This is the first large collaboration in Ireland in this area.

Well, now that the funds have actually arrived, I  thought I’d use the medium of this blog to pass on the information that the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University is looking two appoint not one but two theoretical physicists as postdoctoral researchers to work on this project.

The first position (for which you can find further details here) is  to work on modelling and simulations of quantum photonic systems for quantum information processing.

The second position (further details here) is to work on the development of compilers, quantum control protocols and algorithms for quantum information processing in quantum photonic systems.

The deadline for both positions is Sunday 31st January 2021!

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you think may be interested!

 

Postponed: Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 10, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog may recall that the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University  planned to host a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology on January 14th 2021 (i.e. next Thursday). Unfortunately the closure of schools in Ireland until at least the end of January has given us no alternative but to postpone this event. It’s not cancelled though and we intend to run it as soon as possible: the date is now set provisionally for 25th February.  Limited places remain available and bookings are still open. You can find more information, including instructions on how to book a place, here.

Here is the official poster and the programme (timings still apply, but not the date..):

I’ll be talking about cosmology early on, while John Regan will talk about black holes. After the coffee break one of our PhD students will talk about why they wanted to study astrophysics. Then I’ll say something about our degree programmes for those students who might be interested in studying astrophysics and/or cosmology as part of a science course. We’ll finish with questions either about the science or the courses.

For updates please follow the Department’s on twitter-feed:

Cold Spell

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth on January 9, 2021 by telescoper

It’s bitterly cold in Maynooth today. We haven’t had much snow but it sure is freezing. As I write it’s 1pm and the temperature is only -4°C. I went to put some stuff in the wheelie bin just now but the lid was frozen shut.

At least I’ve now figured out how to switch this thing on, so I’m nice and cosy indoors.

Outside it’s a different story though at the moment the garden is full of birds tucking into the food I’ve put out for them. They need food to maintain their body temperature or they will freeze to death. I can tell you that these days they’re emptying the feeders at a considerable rate of nuts.

The birds seem to be getting a bit more adventurous. The other day I went out to out refill the bird feeders and the robin who seems to think he’s in charge of my garden bobbed into the kitchen through the open door. He looked around, seeming very unimpressed, did a little poop on the floor and left the way he came in.

The robin is pretty much constantly visible in the garden these days, patrolling his territory and occasionally picking fights with other birds. I saw him have a go at a jackdaw yesterday. You’ve got to admire his nerve.

I’ve seen the resident wren a few times too. Wrens only eat insects so I was curious as to how they survive the winter. I’m reliably informed however that there are still plenty of insects (and other arthropods) around at this time of year. Many hibernate in various crevices (under logs, stones etc., or in nests). Other insect species are still active as adults throughout winter, e.g. smaller flies and moths, and some true bugs.

Meanwhile the swans on the Royal Canal have been having to cope with the ice by learning to skate (not entirely successfully):

Anyway hopefully the extreme cold will keep people indoors to reduce the rate of Covid-19 transmission.

There’s a Moose Loose Aboot this Hoose!

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth, Music with tags , on January 8, 2021 by telescoper

Artist’s Impression

I am working from home at the moment owing to Covid-19 restrictions on campus activity but I have been informed by on campus staff that an unauthorized mouse bas been seen in the Department of Theoretical Physics. This is a very serious situation as access to the Science Building is for essential work only and this does not include rodents, even if they have a PhD. Furthermore, the mouse is not wearing a face mask and, from what I have heard, is not observing proper sanitary procedures.

More importantly, our Covid-19 protocols require all visitors to the Department to be in receipt of a letter authorizing their presence. I have contacted Human Rodent Resources and no such letters have been issued.

I have therefore instructed all staff and students in the Department that if they see this mouse they should instruct it to leave and that any refusal to comply will be met with disciplinary action, initially taking the form of a formal written warning but escalating if necessary to a meeting with Maynooth University Library Cat.

There now follows a  message concerning these developments from Professor Brian Dolan.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Remote Exam Time

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on January 7, 2021 by telescoper

It’s the day before the start of the January examination period at  Maynooth University so I thought I’d do a quick post on the topic of examinations or, as they are right now, online timed assessments.

First, for readers elsewhere, full-time undergraduate students at Maynooth what is called 60 “credits” in a year, usually split into two semesters of thirty credits each. This is usually split into 5-credit modules with an examination in each module at the end of each semester. Projects, and other continuously-assessed work do not involve a written examination, but the system means that a typical student will have at least 5 written examination papers in January and at least another 5 in May.  This is very similar to the system in most UK universities that I am aware of except that a full year’s work over there is 120 credits so there’s a conversion factor of 2:1. A 5-credit module in Ireland would be a 10-credit module in the United Kingdom, for example, but otherwise the system is similar.

Each examination is usually of two hours’ duration. We’ve kept that length after moving examinations online, although students are given extra time to scan and upload their answers. The question papers themselves have been slightly adapted online use by having much less “bookwork”. Generally these asssessments are unsupervised and students are allowed to consult notes and textbooks so there is little point in asking them to copy out standard derivations and formulae. That means we can concentrate on the problem-solving aspects of theoretical physics, which are the most interesting bits (and perhaps the most challenging).

One big difference between our examinations in Theoretical Physics in Maynooth and those at other institutions I’ve taught at in the UK is that most of the papers here offer no choice of questions to be answered.  A typical format for a two-hour paper is that there are two long questions, each of which counts for 50 marks. Elsewhere  one normally finds students have a choice of two or three questions from four or five on the paper.

One  advantage of our system is that it makes it much harder for students to question-spot in the hope that they can get a good grade by only revising a fraction of the syllabus. If they’re well designed, two long questions can cover quite a lot of the syllabus for a module, which they have to in order to test all the learning outcomes. To accomplish this, questions can be split into parts that may be linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent to explore the connections between different ideas, but also sufficiently separate that a student who can’t do one part can still have a go at others. With such a paper, however, it is a  dangerous strategy for a student to focus only on selected parts of the material in order to pass.

As an examiner, the Maynooth style of examination also has the advantage that you don’t have to worry too much if one question turns out to be harder than the others. That can matter if different students attempt different questions, but not if everyone has to do everything.

But it’s not just the number of questions that’s important, it’s the duration. I’ve never felt that it was even remotely sensible for undergraduate physics examinations to be a speed test, which was often the case when I was a student. Why the need for time pressure? It’s better to be correct than to be fast, I think. I always try to set examination questions that could be done inside two hours by a student who knew the material, including plenty of time for checking so that even a student who made a mistake would have time to correct it and get the right answer. If a student does poorly in this style of examination it will be because they haven’t prepared well enough rather than because they weren’t fast enough.

The structure of the Maynooth examinations at more introductory level is rather different, with some choice. In my first year module on Mechanics & Special Relativity, for example, there is a compulsory first question worth 50 marks (split into several pieces) and then the students can pick two out of three shorter questions worth 25 marks each. This is a somewhat gentler approach than with the more advanced papers, partly adopted because we have quite a few students doing the General Science degree who taking Mathematical Physics as one of their 4 first-year subjects but will not be taking it further.

As both my examinations are not until next week, I’ll have to wait to find out how my students have done. This will be the examination taken at University level for most of my class, so let me take this opportunity to pass on a few quick tips.

  1. Try to get a good night’s sleep before the examination!
  2. Be ready well before the start and try to ensure you won’t be disturbed for the duration.
  3. If you’re doing an unsupervised examination
  4. Read the entire paper before starting to answer any questions. In particular, make sure you are aware of any supplementary information, formulae, etc, given in the rubric or at the end.
  5. Start off by tackling the question you are most confident about answering, even if it’s not Question 1. This will help settle any nerves.
  6. Don’t rush! Students often lose marks by making careless errors. Check all your numerical results on your calculator at least twice and – PLEASE – remember to put the units!
  7. Don’t panic! You’re not expected to answer everything perfectly. A first-class mark is anything over 70%, so don’t worry if there are bits you can’t do. If you get stuck on a part of a question, don’t waste too much time on it (especially if it’s just a few marks). Just leave it and move on. You can always come back to it later.

Oh, and good luck to anyone at Maynooth or elsewhere taking examinations in the next few weeks!

P.S. It snowed overnight in Maynooth, although only a centimetre or so…