Archive for the Talks and Reviews Category

The State of the Universe Talk

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff on April 26, 2021 by telescoper

When I saw the calibre of the other speakers in the Chalonge – De Vega Series organized by Norma Sanchez- including a number of Nobel Laureates – it was with some trepidation that I accepted the invitation to give a Colloquium, but there we are. I’m on the list. If you want to attend the Colloquium (via Zoom) you can register for it here. This series was originally named after Daniel Chalonge but was renamed to honour Hector de Vega, who sadly passed away in 2015.

I used to get invited quite often to the famous Norma Sanchez Schools and Conferences in Paris and Sicily (both Erice and Palermo) but then, about a year ago. I was suddenly stopped receiving invitations. I gather that a number of other colleagues have also been abruptly “cancelled” over the years. Anyway it seems I’m back on the list, at least virtually, possibly owing to some form of administrative error.

I remember one year in Erice at the end of a talk I gave (in the OHP/Transparency era) Norma Sanchez, who was meant to be chairing the questions and discussion started writing on my transparencies, crossing out the word “theory” and replacing it with “model”. That event made quite an impression on the audience who thought it was hilarious and people who were there often remind me of it. Coincidentally, I thought of that event when I wrote Saturday’s post. Since the forthcoming colloquium is via Zoom I think I’ll be safe from any such intervention this time.

The Eddington Eclipse Expeditions and Astronomy Ireland

Posted in History, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on December 10, 2019 by telescoper

After a full shift during the day at Maynooth University, yesterday evening I made my way into Dublin to give a talk to a very large audience in the famous Schrödinger Lecture Theatre in Trinity College, Dublin, an event organized by Astronomy Ireland. I have given a number of talks on the topic of the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions during this centenary year, but I think this one had the biggest audience! We adjourned to a local pub for a drink afterwards before I dashed off to get the last train back to Maynooth.

Here are the slides I used during the talk:

This time there was an important addition to my usual talk, courtesy of Professor Peter Gallagher of DIAS. He brought along the actual 4″ object glass used in the expedition to Sobral (Brazil) in 1919. I have previously only shown a picture of it. The appearance of the actual lens drew a spontaneous round of applause from the audience, and I have to admit it was a remarkable feeling to hold a little piece of history in my hand!

Obviously I was careful not to drop this item. It is on permanent display in Dunsink Observatory, by the way, if you want to see it yourself. I hope it made its way back here safely!

After the talk was over I was chatting to a couple of members of the audience when Peter Gallagher took this nice picture actually through the lens:

Picture Credit: Peter Gallagher

I look rather old in this picture. Obviously a trick of the lens.

How Ireland Made Einstein Famous

Posted in History, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on December 6, 2019 by telescoper

Before I depart for the weekend I thought I’d mention that I’m giving a talk on Monday evening (9th December) at 8pm in the Physics Building at Trinity College Dublin. The talk is followed by a reception in the Lombard Inn. Part of the advert is shown above but you can read more details at the Astronomy Ireland website.

If you’re around in Dublin on Monday then maybe I’ll see you there!

The Cosmic Web in Maynooth

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 5, 2019 by telescoper

Next week (10th to 17th November) in Ireland is Science Week and this will be celebrated by a number of events here in Maynooth, among which is a talk by yours truly on 15th November:

Here is a short description:

How can we map the distribution of galaxies over thousands of millions of light years? What does the Universe look like on these scales? How did get to look like that? And how do we know?This talk will explain how astronomers and cosmologists have come together over the past couple of decades to make huge surveys of the Universe, revealing the existence of a complex but beautiful `Cosmic Web’ with vast chains of galaxies strung out around immense dark voids. These observational breakthroughs have been mirrored by advances in theory and computer simulation that allow us to understand how this amazing structure was born 14 billion years ago in the Big Bang and has been growing and evolving ever since. Free and open to TY, 5th and 6th year students, this talk will be of particular interest in those interested astronomy, space, physics and the Universe itself!

It is on in the morning to make it possible for school students to attend and the talk is adapted to this audience, so it won’t be the same as the one I gave in Dublin last week. The timing seems to have worked because the lecture theatre has over 200 seats in it but is already almost full. There are still a few places available so if you’re in the area you can book here.



Halloween in the Dark Again

Posted in Biographical, Talks and Reviews with tags , on October 31, 2019 by telescoper

Although it’s still Study Week here in Maynooth I am back at work for the morning and then I’m attending a conferring ceremony this afternoon and later on I have to go into Dublin to give a talk at the Institute of Advanced Study. It’s Hallowe’en, of course, so no doubt there are quite a few weirdly dressed scary-looking people about, but one gets used to that working in a Physics Department. I just hope this evening’s talk isn’t an unintentionally horrible experience.

Anyway, it’s more than a decade since I posted my first blog about the real horror of Hallowe’en so, despite popular demand, I’ll take the excuse of a busy day to repeat it here.


We never had Hallowe’en when I was a kid. I mean it existed. People mentioned it. There were programmes on the telly. But we never celebrated it. At least not in my house, when I was a kid. It just wasn’t thought of as a big occasion. Or, worse, it was “American” (meaning that it was tacky, synthetic and commercialised). So there were no parties, no costumes, no horror masks, no pumpkins and definitely no trick-or-treat.

Having never done trick-or-treat myself I never acquired any knowledge of what it was about. I assumed “Trick or Treat?” was a rhetorical question or merely a greeting like “How do you do?”. My first direct experience of it didn’t happen until I was in my mid-thirties and had moved to a suburban house in Beeston, just outside Nottingham. I was sitting at home one October 31st, watching the TV and – probably, though I can’t remember for sure – drinking a glass of wine, when the front door bell rang. I didn’t really want to, but I got up and answered it.

When I opened the door, I saw in front of me two small girls in witches’ costumes. Behind them, near my front gate, was an adult guardian, presumably a parent, keeping a watchful eye on them.

“Trick or Treat?” the two girls shouted.

Trying my best to get into the spirit but not knowing what I was actually supposed to do, I answered “Great! I’d like a treat please”.

They stared at me as if I was mad, turned round and retreated towards their minder who was clearly making a mental note to avoid this house in future. Off they went and I, embarrassed at being exposed yet again as a social inadequate, retired to my house in shame.

Ever since then I’ve tried to ensure that I never again have to endure such Halloween horrors. Every October 31st, when night falls, I switch off the TV, radio and lights and sit soundlessly in the dark so the trick-or-treaters think there’s nobody at home.

That way I can be sure I won’t be made to feel uncomfortable.

Dark Matter Day at DIAS

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on October 7, 2019 by telescoper

Just a quick post to mention that I’m giving a public talk at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) on Dark Matter Day, October 31st 2019, coincidentally the same day as Halloween. I am particularly grateful to be invited to give a talk that evening because it allows me to avoid getting involved in trick-or-treat or any of that nonsense.

Here is the nice advert the people at DIAS have made for the event:

The talk is free, but you need to sign up here as the venue is not infinitely large. You can also find some more details about the talk there.

The Road to Armagh for INAM 2019

Posted in Biographical, Talks and Reviews with tags , , on September 4, 2019 by telescoper

In a week of firsts I now find myself for the first time in Armagh for my first ever Irish National Astronomy Meeting, INAM 2019. Unfortunately I can’t stay for the whole meeting as I have things to do in Maynooth on Friday, but I’m looking forward to the next day and a half.

By the way, I got here from Maynooth by bus, via Dublin. There is a direct service from Busáras in central Dublin to Armagh, which takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes. The bus carries on from there to Derry.

I may post a few updates from the meeting about the science talks. Mine is not until tomorrow afternoon so I can relax and enjoy the presentations before then.

Here’s a picture of the auditorium. Garret Cotter from Oxford is talking about Gamma Ray Astronomy..

The Road to Galway

Posted in Maynooth, Talks and Reviews with tags , on September 2, 2019 by telescoper

Well, today is my first working day in the office of Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University so I’m going to start as I mean to continue… er … by leaving around lunchtime.

Actually, no. I’m leaving after lunch for a very special reason: I’m getting the bus to Galway to give a talk at Galway Astronomy Club which is in the Harbour Hotel in Galway this evening.

It’s a three-hour trip on the bus (each way), so I’m leaving in time hopefully to have a look around Galway, which I’ve never visited before. Hopefully I’ll get time to upload a few pictures later on. Although I have plenty of work to do on the journey, I’m looking forward to travelling through such exotic locations as Enfield, Kilbeggan, and Athlone on the way.

Oh, and the talk is open to the public so if you’re in or around Galway this evening do come along!

Update: 14.15 I’m on the bus, en route and it’s raining.

Update: I made it to Galway a little bit late but still in time for a quick look around.

A bit of a rainbow..

The Harbour

The Venue.

Update: I’m back in the B&B on Nun’s Island. The talk seems to have gone down quite well. Thanks to Galway Astronomy Club for the invitation, for the very warm reception, and for the very interesting questions afterwards!

Lights all askew in the Heavens – the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions (Updated)

Posted in History, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on June 3, 2019 by telescoper

Here is a video of my talk at the Open Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society on April 12 2019. Was it really so long ago?

You can find the slides here:

Lights all askew in the Heavens – the 1919 Eclipse Expeditions

Posted in History, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on April 23, 2019 by telescoper

I completely forgot to upload the slides from my talk at the Open Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society on April 12 2019 so here they are now!

Just a reminder that the centenary of the famous 1919 Eclipse Expeditions is on 29 May 2019.