Archive for Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

The Time of the Pandemic

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews, Covid-19, Science Politics, Talks and Reviews with tags , , , , on May 11, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve posted before about the way the Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with my perception of the passage of time and today I’ve experienced another example because I was reminded that it was on this day (11th May) last year that I received my first shot of Covid-19 vaccine.

It’s very hard for me to accept that it was just one year ago that I was waiting in City West to get my injection as it seems in my memory further back than that in my memory. It’s not only how long ago things happened, but also even the sequence of events that has become muddled. I wonder how long it will take to restore any normal sense of these things?

Anyway, I’ve just updated the daily statistics on this blog and although case numbers remain relatively high they do seem to be falling steadily and things do seem to be under control in terms of hospital admissions and deaths. Only 254 people are in hospital with Covid-19 today and the trend is downward.

Maybe the time of the pandemic is drawing to a close?

Further evidence that things may be getting back to normal is that I’m giving the first in-person research talk I’ve done since before the pandemic started at the Irish Theoretical Physics Meeting (ITP22) at the end of this month in Dublin (at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, to be precise). I’m looking forward to giving a talk in the same room as real people. I’m even top of the bill (though only thanks to alphabetical order):

I’ve only got a 30-minute slot so I hope my sense of the passage of time returns at least to the extent that I keep to schedule. My PhD student is travelling to Newcastle next week to give her first ever conference talk at the UK Cosmology Meeting. Hers is a 5-minute talk, which is quite a difficult thing to do well, but I have every confidence it will be excellent.

And talking of research, I see that tomorrow sees the public announcement of the results of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework. Universities have had their results since the start of the week but they are embargoed until tomorrow, no doubt to allow PR people to do their work. I’ll probably post a reaction tomorrow, but for now I’ll just send best wishes to colleagues in the UK – especially in Cardiff and Sussex – who are waiting anxiously hoping for a successful outcome and say that I’m very happy to be here in Ireland, out of the path of that particular bureaucratic juggernaut.

Searching for Synge

Posted in History, mathematics, Television with tags , , on November 14, 2019 by telescoper

John Lighton Synge (above; 1897-1995), who was an expert on geometrical approaches to general relativity, was regarded by many as the most eminent Irish mathematician and physicist since Sir William Rowan Hamilton. Synge (whose uncle was the famous playwright John Millington Synge) was born in Dublin and had spells at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Toronto and various universities in the USA before taking up a position as Senior Professor at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) in 1948 from which he retired in 1972.

I have been asked by a friend to find out if there are any video recordings of Synge talking or lecturing. A quick google search turns up nothing, so I thought I would put this request out into the blogosphere to see if anyone is aware of anything.

Given the dates it seems likely that any recordings of him would be originally on film (or perhaps television) which would have to be transferred to digital format. Perhaps there is archive material at Trinity College or DIAS that could be suitable?

The Cosmic Web at DIAS

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 1, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday evening found me at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, complete with scary Hallowe’en beard, to give a talk.

Picture Credit: Prof. Luke Drury

It was a nice friendly audience and we had a lot of interesting discussions afterwards. As usual on such occasions I’ve put up the slides in case anyone wants to see them:

After the talk I headed back to Maynooth. It was a very rainy night, but at least some of the fireworks were going off despite the potential for damp squibs.

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.

Hallowe’en at Dias!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 29, 2019 by telescoper

I’m interrupting my short break to post a quick reminder that I’m giving a public talk at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) this coming Thursday, Dark Matter Day, October 31st 2019, coincidentally the same day as Hallowe’en, or in modern parlance Not-Brexit Day. 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 and is already almost full. You can also find some more details about the talk there.

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.

A Day at DIAS

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews with tags , , on March 27, 2018 by telescoper

Last night I flew back to Ireland for a few days of work here before the Easter Weekend. The schedule of flights from Cardiff to Dublin has changed for the spring, with the afternoon flight much later: at 7.45pm instead of 3.40pm, so I left from Cardiff after work on Monday and had dinner in the airport (an overpriced and barely edible beefburger).

Although there is no teaching in either on Maynooth or Cardiff this week I had to come to Ireland for a few reasons, including giving a seminar today at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) this afternoon which provided me with the chance to visit it for the first time.

It being a pleasant morning I walked to DIAS from Connolly Station after taking the train there from Maynooth. It’s about half an hour’s walk.

DIAS is actually spread over several sites. Officially my talk was at the School of Theoretical Physics, but there were some people there from the School of Cosmic Physics, which is located not too far away. There were also a few people from Maynooth there, as there are a number of collaborations going on between the two institutions involving staff and students. There was also a visitor from even further afield, in the form of Cormac O’Rafferty who also visits this blog from time to time.

Anyway I had a nice curry for lunch before the talk, which generated a lot of questions from which I infer that it was either confusing or stimulating (or possibly both). Here are the slides in case anyone feels like taking a look.

For a change I decided to take the train back to Maynooth from Pearse rather than Connolly, but as it was rush hour I found it packed.

Maynooth by contrast is very quiet with most students away for the break. I can also report that the annoying roadworks that have been going outside my Maynooth residence for months have now finished.

Anyway, thanks to my hosts at DIAS for inviting me and I hope my talk was reasonably bearable. Hopefully this will be the first visit of many!

The de Valera connection

Posted in History, mathematics, Maynooth with tags , , on February 14, 2018 by telescoper

This morning I took the early flight to Dublin, which was on time, and thence via the Airport Hopper to Maynooth. There were only two passengers on the bus, both going to the terminus, so it made good time, travelling all the way along the motorway.

Walking into the Maynooth campus I remembered an interesting little historical fact that I stumbled across last week, concerning Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil (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, but despite being captured he somehow evaded execution by the British. He subsequently became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and then President (Head of State) of the Irish Republic.

Eamon de Valera, photographed sometime during the 1920s.

The point of connection with Maynooth, however, is less about Dev’s political career than his educational background: he 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, which was then a recognised college of the National University of Ireland. The Department became incorporated in Maynooth University, when it was created in 1997. It is said that one of the spare gowns available to be borrowed by staff for graduation ceremonies belonged to de Valera. 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.

De Valera missed out on a Professorship in Mathematical Physics at University College Cork in 1913. He joined the the Irish Volunteers, when it was established the same year. And the rest is history. I wonder how differently things would have turned out had he got the job in Cork?

That’s one connection, but when I arrived in the office this morning I found another. An email had arrived announcing a conference later this year in honour of Erwin Schrödinger.  It was de Valera – a notable advocate for science – who in 1940 set up the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS); Schrödinger became the first Director of the School of Theoretical Physics, one of the three Schools in DIAS.