Archive for Maynooth University

Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University Open Days!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on November 30, 2019 by telescoper

Today, Saturday 30th November 2019, is another Open Day at Maynooth University.

I used to give Open Day talks quite frequently in a previous existence as Head of School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex and now I’m at it again, giving talks on behalf of the Department of Theoretical Physics.

If you’re coming along today, please say hello either at the lecture (2.10pm)) or at the stall in the Iontas Building from 10.30 each day where you can chat about the course or anything else vaguely related to Theoretical Physics. There are other stalls, of course, but the Theoretical Physics one is obviously way more interesting than the others!

I might have time to take a few snaps during the day. If I do I’ll post them here. In the meantime here is a summary of my talk:

UPDATE: I didn’t get time to take any pictures because we were busy all morning. The subject talk in the afternoon was absolutely packed out – way more people than I’ve seen at any other open days here at Maynooth – and loads of questions at the end. Very enjoyable but rather exhausting. I think I might head home for a nap!

Open Day Friday

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on November 29, 2019 by telescoper

It’s a busy day today in Maynooth with two very important jobs to do. Until lunchtime I’ll be preoccupied with an Open Day here at Maynooth University, the first of this year’s cycle. Here’s the poster advertising them (with dates included):

You’ll see that I have a new role as Poster Boy for Maynooth University, though they have understandably put me at the extreme edge of the poster (bottom right). I’ve got plenty of people helping on the stall in the Iontas Building today but I do have to give a talk to prospective students. There’s another Open Day tomorrow, for which I’ll be on the stall and doing the talk for most of the day.

Here’s a little promotional video:

Today’s  Open Day winds down by 2pm after which my second major task of the day begins. But that’s a secret, at least for the time being.




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.



Feline Matters

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on September 19, 2019 by telescoper

In gratitude for Maynooth University’s recent rise in the Times Higher League Tables reported yesterday, the authorities have made appropriate offerings to the deity responsible for this good fortune:

I notice also that Maynooth University Library Cat is clearly the inspiration for this visualisation of an inspiralling system, though I’m not sure what amplitude of gravitational waves this event would produce.

All of which means that I’m about to go home for an evening’s relaxation before spending tomorrow in Dublin…

University Rankings Again

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2019 by telescoper

Last week saw the publication of the Times Higher World University Rankings which have once again predictably generated a great deal of sound and fury while signifying nothing very important. I can’t be bothered to repeat my previous criticisms of these league tables (though I will point you to a very good rant here) but I will make a couple of comments on the reaction to them here in Ireland.

First let me mention (for what it’s worth) that Maynooth University has risen from the band covering 351st-400th place to that covering 301st to 350th place. That means that Maynooth went up by anything from 1 place to 99 places. That’s two consecutive years of rises for NUIM.

(I’ll add without further comment that I arrived here two years ago…)

The Irish Media have not paid much attention to this (or to the improvement in standing of NUI Galway) but have instead been preoccupied with the fact that the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, known as Trinity College Dublin for short, has fallen by 44 places to 164th place; see, for example, here. Now there’s no question in my mind that Irish universities need an injection of income – especially in science subjects – in order to improve standards of education and research, but I don’t really understand the obsession with Trinity College. It’s a fine institution, of course, but sometimes it’s almost as if the press think that’s the only University in Ireland…

In response to its declining fortunes Trinity College has claimed that Ireland needs a `Rankings Strategy’. No it doesn’t. It needs something far more radical – a higher education strategy. The current government  doesn’t have one

Anyway, given the rate of Maynooth’s rise and Trinity’s fall it is a straightforward undoubtedly scientifically valid extrapolation to predict that in two or three years time, Maynooth will have overtaken Trinity in the World Rankings anyway!

(No, I’m not going to take any bets on that.)

Turning away from the exercise in numerological flummery that is the Times Higher League Tables, let me pass on some numbers that are actually meaningful. The week before term with not everyone yet registered, the number of students taking Mathematical Physics in the first year at Maynooth has increased by 31% since last year and the number on our fast-track Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (TP&M) programme has increased threefold. These increases are very pleasing. Although lectures proper don’t start until next week, I did an introductory session with the TP&M students this morning. It was very nice to be able to welcome them to Maynooth for what I hope will be an enjoyable time at Ireland’s soon-to-be top University!

Conferring Ceremony

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 12, 2019 by telescoper

So far it has been a very busy but interesting day, involving both the start of a new academic year and the end of the old one. Today I did three subject information talks – to different groups of students – about our Mathematical and Theoretical Physics courses here at Maynooth University. This is part of the pre-term  Orientation Week, designed to help new arrivals at the University settle into their courses and choose their options.

In between these sessions signifying the start of the new academic cycle,  I had to don academic garb in order to attend my first ever Graduation Ceremony at Maynooth, thus marking the end of the old.

These events are not actually called Graduation Ceremonies here in Ireland but Conferring Ceremonies. I was impressed that the local suppliers of academic dress, Phelan Conan were able to find and supply the correct 1989 vintage DPhil gown from Sussex University as opposed to the less interesting modern one.

Aula Maxima, Maynooth

Conferring Ceremonies in Maynooth are held in the Aula Maxima, on South Campus, which is an excellent venue with lots of atmosphere.I somehow found myself at the front of the academic procession and almost screwed everything up by entering through the wrong door, but a sharp poke in the back from a member of the Psychology Department set me on the right track and I ended up in the right place on the stage.

The ceremony, which was rather shorter those I’ve attended in UK universities, was conducted in a mixture of English, Latin and Irish and was quite enjoyable. The President, Philip Nolan, gave a very nice and well-chosen speech at the end before we spilled out into the drizzle for handshakes and photographs, thence into Pugin Hall for a lunch reception and then, for me at least, a rush back onto North Campus to give another subject information talk.

Whatever their name, graduation ceremonies are funny things. With all their costumes and weird traditions, they even seem a bit absurd. On the other hand, even in these modern times, we live with all kinds of rituals and I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate academic achievement in this way.

I love graduation ceremonies, actually. As the graduands go across the stage you realize that every one of them has a unique story to tell and a whole universe of possibilities in front of them. How their lives will unfold no-one can tell, but it’s a privilege to be there for one important milestone on their journey. Getting to read their names out is quite stressful – it may not seem like it, but I do spend quite a lot of time fretting about the correct pronunciation of the names. It’s also a bit strange in some cases finally to put a name to a face that I’ve seen around the place regularly, just before they leave the University for good. I always find this a bittersweet occasion. There’s joy and celebration, of course, but tempered by the realization that many of the young people who you’ve seen around long enough to grow accustomed to their faces, will disappear into the big wide world never to be seen again. On the other hand, this year quite a few graduates of the Department of Theoretical Physics are staying in Maynooth to do Masters programmes so they won’t all be vanishing without trace.

Graduation of course isn’t just about dressing up. Nor is it only about recognizing academic achievement. It’s also a rite of passage on the way to adulthood and independence, so the presence of the parents at the ceremony adds another emotional dimension to the goings-on. Although everyone is rightly proud of the achievement – either their own in the case of the graduands or that of others in the case of the guests – there’s also a bit of sadness to go with the goodbyes. It always seems that as a lecturer you are only just getting to know students by the time they graduate, but that’s enough to miss them when they go.

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying congratulations once more to everyone who graduated today, and I wish you all the very best for the future!



Maynooth Access Programme Launchpad Panel

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on September 8, 2019 by telescoper

Launchpad banner outside the Science Building last week

As I mentioned a while ago, one of the reasons I had to come back from Armagh before the end of INAM2019 was an event I had to attend on Friday to do with Launchpad.

Launchpad is the Maynooth University Access Programme (MAP) orientation designed to support and ease the transition to third level for students who are coming to Maynooth University through entry routes supported by MAP. These groups include under-represented school leavers, mature students, students with disabilities and members of the Irish Traveller community. Incoming students supported by MAP can get to know fellow first years, ask questions and find out advice from existing student ambassadors on how to navigate the University before starting a new course at Maynooth.

It’s worth mentioning one specific initiative related to mature students, namely the Certificate in Science, which is a programme for mature students who wish to undertake a foundation year in preparation for degree studies in Science or Engineering. In this one year, full-time programme of study, students undertake modules on Mathematics, Engineering Science, Computer Science, Experimental Physics, Mathematical Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Students who do well can progress from this course into one of the science or engineering degree courses on offer at Maynooth.

Anyway, the event I took part in on Friday was a panel discussion involving the MAP advisors from each of the Departments in the Faculty of Science and Engineering and a lecture room full of students just about to start their courses at Maynooth. There were similar panel discussions for the other Faculties. I have assumed the responsibility as MAP advisor for Theoretical Physics this year, as I think it’s important that as Head of Department I make it clear that this programme has a high priority for the Department. Because I haven’t attended any such events before I wasn’t sure what to expect of this session. I worried the students might be very shy about asking question and that as a consequence in might not be very useful. I’m very glad to have been proved completely wrong!

We had a huge number of questions from the audience on a whole range of topics, such as subject choices (especially for the Omnibus Science course), coursework requirements, note-taking and all kinds of other issues too numerous to mention, filling up the entire 90 minute slot scheduled for the event. It was  a very interesting and enjoyable session and great to see the students so engaged and enthusiastic. Thanks to all who attended and especially to the new students for playing their part!

Teaching term doesn’t start for another couple of weeks during period which there will be further introductory sessions for the MAP students and others. My calendar is already rather full, but I don’t mind that at all if the events are as enjoyable as Friday’s.