Archive for the Maynooth Category

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.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir

Posted in History, Literature, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2021 by telescoper

Well, it’s St Patrick’s Day, which means I’m actually taking a day off and attempting not to read work emails or do work-related things for the day. It’s a lower-key St Paddy’s Day than usual but it’s nice to take a break.

Not many facts are known about the life of St Patrick, but it seems he was born in Britain, probably in the late 4th Century AD, probably somewhere around the Severn Estuary and probably in Wales. It also appears that he didn’t know any Latin. When a young man, it seems he was captured by Celtic marauders coming up the River Severn and taken as a slave to Ireland. He eventually escaped back to Britain, but returned to Ireland as a missionary and succeeded somehow in converting the Irish people to Christianity.

Or did he? This interesting piece suggests his role was of lesser importance than many think.

However it happened, Ireland was the first country to be converted to Christianity that had never been part of the Roman Empire. That made a big difference to the form of the early Church here. The local Celtic culture was very loose and decentralized. There were no cities, large buildings, roads or other infrastructure. Life revolved around small settlements and farms. When wars were fought they were generally over livestock or grazing land. The early Irish Church that grew in this environment was quite different from that of continental Europe. It was not centralized, revolved around small churches and monasteries, and lacked the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church. Despite these differences, Ireland was quite well connected with the rest of the Christian world.

Irish monks – and the wonderful illuminated manuscripts they created – spread across the continent, starting with Scotland and Britain. Thanks to the attentions of the Vikings few of these works survive but the wonderful Lindisfarne Gospels, dating from somewhere in the 8th Century were almost certainly created by Irish monks. The Book of Kells was probably created in Scotland by Irish Monks.

The traffic wasn’t entirely one-way however. A few weeks ago I saw a fascinating documentary about the Fadden More Psalter. This is a leather-bound book of Psalms found in a peat bog in 2006, which is of similar age to the Lindisfarne Gospels. It took years of painstaking restoration work to recover at least part of the text (much of which was badly degraded), but the leather binding turned out to hold a particularly fascinating secret: it was lined with papyrus. The only other books from the same period with the same structure that are known are from the Coptic Church in Egypt.

That doesn’t mean that whoever owned the Fadden More Psalter had actually been to Egypt, of course. It is much more this book made its way to Ireland via a sort of relay race. On the other hand, it does demonstrate that international connections were probably more extensive than you might have thought.

Anyway, back to St Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated 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. Indeed, St Patrick has never been formally canonized. In the thousand years that passed any memory of the actual date of his birth was probably lost, so the choice of date was probably influenced by other factors, specifically the proximity of the Spring Equinox (which is this year on Saturday March 20th).

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.

The traditional St Patrick’s Day parades etc will not take place this year because of Covid-19 restrictions, but that doesn’t mean everyone is ignoring the day. Indeed here’s a picture of the spire of St Patrick’s College lit up in celebration:

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir!

Matter and forces in quantum field theory – an attempt at a philosophical elucidation

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 16, 2021 by telescoper

I thought the following might be of general interest to readers of this blog. It’s a translation into English of an MSc thesis written by a certain Jon-Ivar Skullerud of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University. I hasten to add that Dr Skullerud hasn’t just finished his MSc. It just appears that it has taken about 30 years to translate it from Norwegian into English!

Anyway, the English version is now available on the arXiv here. There isn’t really an abstract as such but the description on arXiv says:

This is a translation into English of my Masters thesis (hovedoppgave) from 1991. The main topic of the thesis is the relation between fundamental physics and philosophy, and a discussion of several possible ontologies of quantum field theory.

I note from here that hovedoppgave translates literally into English as “main task”.

I haven’t read this thesis from cover to cover yet – partly because it’s in digital form and doesn’t have any covers on it and partly because it’s 134 pages long –  but I’ve skimmed a few bits and it looks interesting.

 

 

A Year of Closure

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , on March 12, 2021 by telescoper

Today is 12th March 2021, which means it is exactly one year since Maynooth University campus closed because of Covid-19. Last year 12th March was on a Thursday and I remember doing my Computational Physics lecture in the morning and a computer lab in the afternoon and then hearing we couldn’t go back to teaching the following day. After that, as it is this year, it was the Study Week break (which includes the St Patrick’s Day holiday). Last year we all trued to use the opportunity to move all our teaching online.

I certainly didn’t imagine that a full year later we would still be working from home. Although the current lockdown isn’t as strict as that of last Spring we’re still told not to come on campus unless it is strictly necessary, and all teaching remains online.

When the campus closed last year I was living in a small flat with no internet connection, so the only way I could do my teaching was using my mobile phone data. It wasn’t great but I did the best I could.

At least I was able to use the semi-unlocking of the lockdown in late summer to complete the purchase of a house. I’ve been much more comfortable doing teaching from here for the last six months or so, although not leaving the house except to do shopping has led to an extreme sense of isolation which is not all ameliorated by endless online meetings via Zoom and Teams. That, together with the heavy workload, is all very wearying. It further annoys me how many people think “working from home” means not “working very much” or not “working at all”. What it does mean is never getting away from your work, except when you’re asleep.

I’ve noticed over the last few months that the agoraphobia from which I’ve suffered sporadically over the years has very definitely returned. Agoraphobia can be defined as:

…an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centers, or simply being outside their home.

My long-term agoraphobia has been about the threat of physical violence caused by a traumatic event in the past, but now it is more general. I see too many people not taking proper precautions (face masks, social distancing, etc) that it gets me very anxious for a new reason. Supermarkets are bad enough, but it’s more general. I’m now starting to realize that I’m going to find it difficult ever to return to a “normal” life of crowded lecture theatres and campus buildings after this pandemic ends, whenever that happens.

This morning I did a tutorial (via Teams) which was my last teaching session before the mid-term break. I was exhausted even before term started so it has been a very difficult six weeks. It’s not just the teaching, it’s also the relentless stream of demands from upstairs for other things to be done. There seems very little understanding from that direction of what life is like on the front line, to be honest.

My appointment as Head of Department for Theoretical Physics was nominally three years. I am now about halfway through that term and can’t wait for it to end.

Unfortunately there isn’t much light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel. Case numbers in Ireland remain high, and are falling slowly at best; they have actually been increasing for the last few days. Vaccination rollout is also very slow, thanks to supply issues (chiefly with AstraZeneca).

I am now fairly confident that teaching at least for the Autumn Semester of 2021/22 will again be online, as there is little chance of staff being vaccinated by the end of the summer. I know colleagues in other Irish universities who are planning for this eventuality too.

Fears for STEM at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on March 11, 2021 by telescoper

On Monday I reported that Maynooth has selected a new President in the form of Professor Eeva Leinonen who is currently Vice Chancellor at Murdoch University in Australia. I was initially pleased to see the announcement, but news is coming out now that is filling me and my colleagues in STEM subjects with a sense of alarm.

According to this article Professor Eeva Leinonen effectively shut down all STEM subjects as separate disciplines at Murdoch University, removing the status of researchers from staff in these areas (i.e. putting them all on teaching-only positions) and turning all their teaching into support activities for other disciplines. As a consequence of this Murdoch University no longer awards degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For further information see here.

Since this news has come out I have been filled with dread that the new President will do the same here in Maynooth where the Faculty of Science & Engineering is already smaller than those of Arts and Social Sciences.

The incoming President does not take up her role until October 1st but in the meantime I hope she will clarify what her intentions are so that the perception of her being anti-science does not cast a shadow over recruitment of students and staff here.

I therefore call upon Professor Eeva Leinonen to make a public statement on her plans for STEM subjects at Maynooth.

Reminder: What is Quantum Technology? – A Public Lecture by Prof. Sir Peter Knight

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

I thought I’d post a quick reminder that tomorrow, Thursday March 11th (at 7pm), the Maynooth University Faculty of Science and Engineering will present its first ever Dean’s Lecture.of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. This is a public event, consisting of a talk followed by a Q&A session. I’m told that over 350 people have signed up for this talk but there’s still room for a few more.

The topic of the talk is quantum technology and it is presented by Prof. Sir Peter Knight who is Senior Research Investigator at Imperial College London. He retired in 2010 as Deputy Rector (Research) at Imperial. He was knighted in 2005 for his work in optical physics. Knight was the 2004 President of the Optical Society of America and 2011-2013 President of the Institute of Physics. He is Editor of Contemporary Physics, Chair of the UK National Quantum Technology Programme Strategy Advisory Board, chairs the Quantum Metrology Institute at the National Physical Laboratory, was until 2010 chair of the UK Defence Scientific Advisory Council and remains a UK Government science advisor. His research centres on quantum optics and quantum technology. He has won the Thomas Young Medal and the Glazebrook Medal of the Institute of Physics, the Ives Medal and the Walther Medal and Prize of the OSA, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society and the Faraday Prize of the IET.

Here is a description of the talk:

We already live in a quantum-enabled world with devices powered by quantum mechanics affecting our everyday world (lasers, telecoms semiconductor chips, and much more). But we are now poised to exploit a hitherto largely unexplored technology capability enabled by some of the stranger aspects of quantum physics: quantum coherence and entanglement. These new capabilities include novel sensing, timing, imaging, and of course computing. I will describe these new quantum coherence capabilities and plans to develop the next generation of quantum technologies. Quantum Information Science is advancing our understanding of the physical world in remarkable ways. But it is also driving novel and disruptive technologies. I will describe plans for ensuring the advanced quantum science and demonstrator platforms in imaging, sensing, communications, and computing developed over the past five years or so will drive the formation of the quantum technology sector and embed quantum technology in a broad range of industries.

The event is free but you will need to register here.

P.S. I will have a small part in this event – welcoming people to it and generally directing traffic.

The Next President of Maynooth University

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on March 8, 2021 by telescoper

 

After a process that has taken several months to complete, Maynooth University has at last appointed its next President!

Here is the official press release (I added the link to Professor Leinonen’s current affiliation):

Maynooth University appoints an international researcher and current Vice-Chancellor as its next President

The Governing Authority of Maynooth University today appointed Professor Eeva Leinonen to be its next President effective from 1 October 2021.  Professor Leinonen will succeed Professor Philip Nolan who has led the University for the past 10 years.

Professor Leinonen has held the role of Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University, Perth, Australia since 2016, having previously been Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.  Prior to moving to Australia in 2012, she was Vice Principal (Education) at King’s College London.

Originally from Finland, Professor Leinonen has a background in linguistics and psychology.  She engages with researchers in Finland and Italy in ongoing research into pragmatic language development in children and contextual processing deficits of children and young adults with autistic spectrum disorders.

The Chairperson of the Governing Authority, Dr Mary Canning, said she was delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Leinonen as the next President of Maynooth University. Dr Canning believes that Professor Leinonen’s track record in the leadership and management of higher education institutions internationally will be of great benefit to Maynooth University, the Irish Universities Association and the higher education system in general at this critical time.  She wished Professor Leinonen well as she takes up her new role.

In accepting her appointment, Professor Leinonen said that she was honoured to have the opportunity to lead this fine university in the next stage of its development.

“High quality innovative education, world class research that has positive societal impact and transformational educational opportunities for all who can benefit irrespective of background are hallmarks of Maynooth University and resonate closely with my approach to university education.”

“I am very much looking forward to working collaboratively with colleagues across the University, with students, the Governing Authority, Academic Council, the Irish education sector and the many partners and supporters of Maynooth University to build on the University’s impressive achievements gained under the leadership of Professor Nolan and previous Presidents.”

I’d like to take the opportunity to wish Professor Leinonen all the very best for her time in the role!

 

 

Reminder: Job in Theoretical Physics at Maynooth!

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on March 7, 2021 by telescoper

I’ve got a very busy week in front of me as we head towards the St Patrick’s Week Study Break so I thought I’d take the time to remind you all while I remember that we have a fixed-term job available in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, the deadline for which is a week from today. You can find the details here.

The position is for 10 months, starting in September 2021, and is to provide teaching cover for Professor Jiri Vala who will be on sabbatical next year. He originally intended to take his sabbatical this academic year, starting in September 2020, hence the previous advertisement of this post, but it was postponed for reasons of Covid-19 and the previous position was not filled.

I know it is a relatively short appointment, but it seems to me that it would provide a good opportunity for an early-career academic, perhaps someone straight out of a PhD, to gain some teaching experience.

The deadline for applications is 23.30 on Sunday March 14th, i.e. about 4 weeks away, and you should apply through the jobs portal here.

If you’d like to know any more please feel free to contact me privately.

Oh, and please feel free to pass this on to anyone who may be interested!

Postgraduate Programmes in Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 2, 2021 by telescoper

We have a (virtual) Postgraduate Open Day coming up on Tuesday 9th March at Maynooth University (for which you can register here). To go with that here is a short video of our new Postgraduate Coordinator Dr John Regan answering some frequently asked questions about the programmes we offer in the Department of Theoretical Physics:

If you have any other questions then you can register for the Open Day where we will have staff on hand to answer them in a live Q&A session.

You could also follow the Department’s Twitter feed here: