Archive for the Maynooth Category

Spring Return

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth on April 12, 2021 by telescoper

After a few days off last week following the Easter Bank Holiday weekend it’s time to get back into the swing of things for the four weeks of teaching term that remain. It’s back to school today for all school students in Ireland too, so good luck to them on their first day in the classroom since Christmas!

As well as (remote) lectures the next four weeks will involve us getting our papers ready for the examination period which starts on 14th May this year. All our examinations will be remote online timed assessments (as indeed they were last year). I’ve been teaching three modules this Semester so have no fewer than six examinations to write: three main exams plus three repeat papers for the resit period in August. The decision has already been made to make all the repeat exams online so at least these will be of similar style to the original May versions.

Then it will be marking and Exam Boards and various other things heading into the summer break. Hopefully I will get some holiday this summer as I didn’t get any at all last year. On the other hand there’s a strong likelihood that Senior Management will think of something else for Heads of Department to do that will make this impossible.

What happens at the end of summer all depends on Covid-19 of course, and specifically how Ireland’s vaccination programme goes. My personal opinion is that we should continue with remote teaching until all staff and students have had their jabs, which is unlikely to be the case before September at the current rate, but you never know. The speed of vaccination shows signs of increasing though, so we might be able to do it.

Despite the more rapid progress with immunisation over the other side of the Irish Sea, UK university bosses are apparently complaining that they haven’t got a date for returning to campus. This surprises me as they run on roughly the same calendar as here in Ireland so there are only a few weeks of teaching left there too. Why bother to go back at such a late stage? Unless of course it’s so they can charge students for a full term’s accommodation…


The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Posted in Maynooth, Television with tags , , , , , on April 5, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog – both of them – will know that I am a huge fan of Jeremy Brett‘s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the Granada TV productions of the classic detective stories by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle first broadcast during the 1980s.

It turns out that Virgin Media in Ireland is now broadcasting the series The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first episode of which, The Empty House, was on last night (Easter Sunday). I watched it with all the pleasure of meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen for years. It’s hard to believe that episode was first broadcast way back in 1986.

For those of you not up with the canon, this story (based on the original story The Adventure of the Empty House) is set three years after Holmes apparently fell to his death, along with his arch enemy Moriarty, at the Reichenbach Falls.

Holmes’s body was never found, for the very good reason that he didn’t die! It turns out he escaped and spent three years on the run exploring the world and evading Moriarty’s confederates. Much of the first episode is taken up with an account of these goings on, and the case that brings Holmes back to London is fairly slight, really just providing an excuse for his return. A murder in London provides Holmes with an opportunity to trap the last of his erstwhile opponent’s associates.

I did however experience a little frisson of surprise when I heard the identity of the victim of the murder at the heart of the story, namely the Honourable Ronald Adair, the second son of the Earl of Maynooth*…

*The title is fictional, there was a title Earl of Kildare but never an Earl of Maynooth.

Now, for bonus marks, and without using the internet, can anyone tell me the connection between Sherlock Holmes and the field of astronomical spectroscopy?

To see the answer, click below

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Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on April 3, 2021 by telescoper

I had another Irish language class on Thursday, in between various other things. I’m finding it a struggle since I don’t get much time in between the classes to revise or practice and also because there is quite a lot to learn that is very different from languages with which I am familiar. I spent a lot of time at school learning Latin and tend to filter new languages through that experience, which works reasonably well for French, Spanish and Italian but isn’t very good for Irish.

Some things in Irish are simpler than Latin: there are effectively only four cases for nouns in Irish as there is no real distinction between nominative and accusative. I mean the two cases are grammatically distinct but there is no difference in the word depending on whether it is subject or object of a verb. The other three cases are vocative (preceded by the particle a), genitive and dative. There is no ablative case; the dative is used instead.

Other things are more complicated. Last week we discovered that there are two versions of the verb “to be”. One is bí (which, as in most other European languages, is irregular in declination); the other is called the copula (“an chopail”)  which is used in limited (but quite common) circumstances such as linking a noun with a predicate clause. Confusingly, the form of the copula used in the present tense is “is” but it’s not part of the verb “to be”.

We learnt about these things when talking discussing the question

Cá bhfuil tú i do chónaí?

which is “where do you live?”, literally “Where are you in your habitation?”.  The way to answer this is something like

Tá mé i mo chónaí i Maigh Nuad. 

these sentences both involve the verb to be in the second person and first person respectively. Instead of Tá mé you could use Táim which is the equivalent of using “I’m” for “I am” in English.

It’s more complicated than that though because some place names have to be modified in this construction using an urú (eclipsis):

Maigh Nuad (Maynooth) begins with an M which is not modified but Doire (Derry) becomes nDoire, etc. The mutation from c to g after the preposition i also happens in Welsh, e.g. in the phrase Croeso i Gymru but in Irish you add the changed letter in front of the original rather than replacing it. For example, if I were living in Cork I would say

Tá mé i mo chónaí i gChorchai. 

The g is understood to replace the C for pronunciation purposes.

That brings us on to Irish place names, which are often very different from their anglicized versions. Here are a few examples:

  • Maigh Nuad (Maynooth)
  • Corcaigh (Cork)
  • Port Láirge (Waterford)
  • Doire (Derry)
  • Tir Eoghain (Tyrone)
  • Aontroim (Antrim)
  • Fear Manach (Fermanagh)
  • Béal Feirste (Belfast)
  • Gaillimh (Galway)
  • Thiobraid Árann (Tipperary)

The last one is not actually a long way from where I am. You can guess most of them but it’s a little confusing that the English versions are often conflations of two Irish words.

Good Friday Break

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Poetry with tags , , on April 2, 2021 by telescoper

Garden Update: the daffodils are done but the tulips are still going…

Well, here we are. It’s Good Friday, the start of an extra-long weekend (Friday to Monday inclusive). I’m making it a bit longer by taking a few days off next week too. It’s officially Easter break so there are no lectures next week anyway.

I need a break. This term has been exhausting, and the busiest bit is yet to come. We return for four weeks of teaching then, after a short hiatus, we’re into the examination period followed by marking, Exam Boards and all the rest. Oh and there’s the small matter of yet another virtual Open Day at the end of this month.

I’ve put out-of-office replies on my work email and won’t be attending to messages there until I get back to work at the end of next week. Part of me feels a bit guilty for doing that, but only a very small part.

As it’s a nice day, I spent a couple of hours this morning doing some remedial work in the garden. I may have a late lunch out there too as the weather is nice and I recently invested in a garden table and chairs which I have yet to use properly. If the weather holds I might get the mower out and give the lawn a trim. Judging by the constant noise this morning it seems that everyone in the neighbourhood is doing that too. Some people seem to enjoy the sound of their own lawn mowers.

Talking of which I also trimmed my beard this morning, for the first time since Christmas. I have also acquired some clippers and may actually cut the hair on my head at some point over the weekend too.

That’s enough inconsequential rambling for today. Here is a poem on the subject of Good Friday by Christina Rossetti:

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Relativity and Electromagnetism

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff on April 1, 2021 by telescoper

As a service to the public I thought I’d share one of my lectures. This is one I did yesterday, Lecture 16 in my module MP465 Advanced Electromagnetism:

I don’t know how I managed to pad this out to a whole hour.

The REF goes on

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 27, 2021 by telescoper

A few communications with former colleagues from the United Kingdom last week reminded me that, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the deadline for submissions to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework is next week. It seems very strange to me to push ahead with this despite the Coronavirus disruption, but it’s yet another sign that academics have to serve the bureaucrats rather than the other way round.

I know quite a few people at quite a few institutions that are completely exhausted by the workload required to deal with the enormous exercise in paperwork that is intended to assess the quality and impact of research at UK universities.

With apologies for adding to the stack of memes based on recent events in the Suez Canal, it made me think of this:

One of the major plusses of being in Ireland is that there is no REF, so I’m able to avoid the enormous workload and stress generated by this exercise in bean-counting. That’s good because there are more than enough things on my plate right now, and more are being added every day.

My memories of the last REF in 2014 when I was Head of School at Sussex are quite painful, as it went badly for us then. I hope that the long-term investments we made then will pay off, though, and I hope things turn out better for Sussex this time especially for the Department of Physics & Astronomy for which the impact and environment components of the assessment dragged the overall score down.

Not being involved personally in the REF this time round I haven’t really paid much attention to the changes that have been adopted since 2014. One I knew about is that the rules make it harder for institutions to leave staff out of their REF return. Some universities played the system in 2014 by being very selective about whom they put in. Only staff with papers considered likely to be rated top-notch were submitted.

Having a quick glance at the documents I see two other significant differences.

One is that in 2014, with very few exceptions, all staff had to submit four research outputs (i.e. papers) to be graded. in 2021 the system is more flexible: the total number of outputs must equal 2.5 times the summed FTE (full-time equivalent) of the unit’s submitted staff, with no individual submitting more than 5 and none fewer than 1 (except in special cases related to Covid-19). Overall, then there will be fewer outputs than before, the multiplier of FTE being 2.5 (2021) instead of 4 (2014). There will still be a lot of papers, of course, not least because many Departments have grown since 2014, so the panels will have a great deal of reading to do. If that’s what they do with the papers. They’ll probably just look up citations…

The other difference relates to staff who have left an institution during the census period. In 2014 the institution to which a researcher moved got all the credit for the publications, while the institution they left got nothing. In 2021, institutions “may return the outputs of staff previously employed as eligible where the output was first made publicly available during the period of eligible employment, within the set number of outputs required.” I suppose this is to prevent the departure of a staff member causing too much damage to the institution they left and also to credit the institution where the work was done rather than specifically the individual who did it.

Thinking about the REF an amusing thought occurred to me about Research Assessment. My idea was to set up a sort of anti-REF (perhaps the Research Inferiority Framework) based not on the best outputs produced by an institutions researchers, but on the worst. The institutions producing the highest number of inferior papers could receive financial penalties and get relegated in the league tables for encouraging staff to write too many papers that nobody ever reads or are just plain wrong. My guess is that papers published in Nature might figure even more prominently in this…

Anyway, let me just take this opportunity to wish former colleagues at Cardiff and Sussex all the best for their REF submission on Wednesday 31st March. I hope it turns out well

Intel, Leixlip and Maynooth

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on March 26, 2021 by telescoper

With all the doom and gloom going around I thought I’d just pass on some local news that’s good for Maynooth!

Intel’s Leixlip campus – the new construction is at the top end of the image, where the cranes are.

The giant multinational silicon chip manufacturer Intel has announced that it will be creating 1600 permanent high-tech jobs when construction is completed at its enormous new campus in Leixlip. Most of these will be graduate jobs and a sizeable fraction will go to physics graduates.  Many of Maynooth’s physics graduates and postgraduates go there already of course, but this will boost their employment prospects even further. Leixlip is on the border between County Dublin and County Kildare, and is just 5 miles away from Maynooth. The construction is expected to be completed by 2023.

Incidentally, `Leixlip’ is a name of Norse origin – it means ‘Salmon’s Leap’. Apparently there was a viking settlement there, positioned because of the abundance of salmon in the River Liffey which flows through on the way to Dublin. `Leix’ is similar to, e.g., the Danish `Laks’, meaning salmon, and ‘leap’ is similar to many words in modern European languages derived from proto-Germanic sources.

Another item of good news came through my door this morning. Preliminary works have started on the extension of the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) system to the West of Dublin as far as Maynooth. Currently the DART runs North-South between Malahide and Greystones:

The new DART line to Maynooth will run along the existing commuter route but will use overhead electrification so new structures will have to be built beside the track. The note I received this morning concerns preliminary ground investigations for the design phase. My house is reasonably close to the line, but not close enough for me to be disturbed by the noise from trains or other work. Of course this is all preliminary and it will take several years to complete but it’s good to see it started. When finished it should make it even easier to travel from Maynooth to Dublin and back!

That was the Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass that was

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 25, 2021 by telescoper

I’m a bit late getting round to writing something on the blog today because it has been yet another hectic day. Between my usual lecture this morning and Computational Physics Laboratory session this afternoon we also had our long-awaited Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass (held via Zoom).

This event had been delayed twice because of Covid-19 so we were glad that it went ahead today at last!

We were a little nervous about how well it would go but as it happened I think it was a success. We had approaching a hundred schools tuning in, from Wicklow to Tralee, Longford to Monaghan, Donegal to Cork and many places between. The level of engagement was excellent. We held a question-and-answer session but were a little nervous in advance about whether we would actually get any questions. As it turned out we got a lot of questions with some very good ones among them. Reaction from students and teachers was very good.

For those who couldn’t make it to this morning’s session we did record the presentations and I’ll make the video available via YouTube in due course.

Now, I’ve been Zooming and Teaming (with a bit of Panopto thrown in) all day so if you don’t mind I’ll now go and vegetate.

The Vernal Equinox 2021

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 20, 2021 by telescoper

It is 9.37am Local Time in Ireland on Saturday 20th March 2021 which means that the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) is taking place right now!

The Spring Equinox jumped back a day last year because 2020 was a leap year and now is gradually moving forward again. Of course the actual date depends on where you are in the world. The date last year was 20th March (early in the morning) in Ireland, but 19th March (late at night) in New York.

People sometimes ask me how one can define the `equinox’ so precisely when surely it just refers to a day on which day and night are of equal length, implying that it’s a day not a specific time?

The answer is that the equinox is defined by a specific event, the event in question being when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now until the Autumnal Equinox days in the Northern hemisphere will be longer than nights, and they’ll get longer until the Summer Solstice before beginning to shorten again.

Loughcrew (County Meath), near Newgrange, an ancient burial site and a traditional place to observe the sunrise at the Equinox

Here in Ireland we celebrated Saint Patrick’s day on March 17th, the reputed date of his death in 461 AD. Nobody really knows where St Patrick was born, though, so it would be surprising if the when were any better known.

In any case, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that Saint Patrick’s feast day was placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church. In the thousand years that passed any memory of the actual date was probably lost, so the Equinox was perhaps rebranded for the purpose.

The early Christian church in Ireland incorporated many pre-Christian traditions that survived until roughly the 12th century, including the ancient festival of Ēostre (or Ostara), the goddess of spring associated with the spring equinox after whom Easter is named. During this festival, eggs were used a symbol of rebirth and the beginning of new life and a hare or rabbit was the symbol of the goddess and fertility. In turn the Celtic people of Ireland probably adapted their own beliefs to absorb much older influences dating back to the stone age. St Patrick’s Day and Easter therefore probably both have their roots in prehistoric traditions around the Spring Equinox, although the direct connection has long been lost.

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Maynooth on March 19, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday I was summoned to a meeting on Campus so on the way there I took the opportunity to check up on Maynooth University Library Cat who I haven’t seen for over a month.

I’m glad to report that he’s every bit as active and energetic as usual.