Archive for Maynooth

Great News for Astrophysics & Cosmology at Maynooth!

Posted in Education, Maynooth, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 29, 2021 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a quick post in reaction to the announcement by the Irish Government of ten new senior professorial positions under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here. Among the positions just announced is a new Chair in Observational Astrophysics or Cosmology at Maynooth University. You can find Maynooth University’s official response to the announcement here.

The pandemic has played havoc with my sense of the passage of time so I had to check my documents folder to see when we completed the application. It turns out to have been January this year; the deadline was 29th January 2021. It has taken much longer than expected to for the outcome of this, the second, round to emerge but I suppose it’s better late than never!

The key rationale for these SALI positions is clear from the statement from Simon Harris, the Minister responsible for Third Level education in Ireland:

“Championing equality and diversity is one of the key goals of my department. The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) is an important initiative aimed at advancing gender equality and the representation of women at the highest levels in our higher education institutions.

We have a particular problem with gender balance among the staff in Physics in Maynooth, especially un Theoretical Physics where all the permanent staff are male, and the lack of role models has a clear effect on our ability to encourage more female students to study with us.

The wider strategic case for this Chair revolves around broader developments in the area of astrophysics and cosmology at Maynooth. Currently there are two groups active in research in these areas, one in the Department of Experimental Physics (which is largely focussed on astronomical instrumentation) and the other, in the Department of Theoretical Physics, which is theoretical and computational. We want to promote closer collaboration between these research strands. The idea with the new position is that the holder will nucleate and lead a new research programme in the area between these existing groups as well as getting involved in outreach and public engagement.

The next step will be to launch a recruitment campaign, and more details will be available when the position is formally advertised. Let me just say for now that we intend the position to appeal not only to people who have their own observational programmes (e.g. using facilities provided by ESO, which Ireland recently joined) but also working on data from space missions, multi-messenger astrophysics, gravitational waves, and so on.

Colder Times

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on November 22, 2021 by telescoper

All of a sudden winter is here. Until now the temperature has stayed in double figures but it was much colder yesterday and this morning we had a hard frost. It has barely been above freezing at any point today. It was -2 °C at 7.30pm when I got home from work.

I now wish I’d bought some food for the birds at the weekend as the feeders are empty and I think my little avian visitors need some fuel. At least there are lots of berries around. A wood pigeon visits my garden regularly to feast on them and as a result is now as round as a football and probably too fat to fly.

On the subject of birds, this little chap appeared outside my office window last week. The distinctive red colour on the body doesn’t show up at all in the phone picture but, when combined with the black cap on its head, made me think it was a bullfinch. Bullfinches spend the winter here so maybe I’ll see this one again.

I suddenly thought today that it might be an idea to put some bird feeders in the space outside my office window. It’s enclosed by walls on all sides but open above. It would be a very safe space for birds to feed and it would be nice to encourage a few more avian visitors.

A Gift

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on November 9, 2021 by telescoper

It is with a sense of relief bordering on joy that I can report that after many weeks of delay because of visa issues the last of our temporary lecturers has finally arrived in Maynooth. He has been teaching online for half the semester but at least he can do the second half in person.

He also gave me a wonderful gift in the form of a sumptuously illustrated multi-lingual edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

Here is a glimpse inside:

I am familiar with Edward Fitzgerald‘s famous English translation of these quatrains with an AABA rhyming scheme by the Astronomer-Poet of Persia but skimming the volume I see that the translations into other languages are rather different. It must be difficult to find three rhyming endings for each quatrain without stretching the original meaning, so some of the translations don’t attempt this. Here is the German translation (not by Fitzgerald) in the book of one of the most well-known verses:

Es schreibt die Hand und schreibt
Weder dein Witz noch all dein Glaubensmut
Euft sie zurück, daß sie ein Wort nur tilgt –
Kein Tüttelchen löscht deiner Tränen Flut.

Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass at Maynooth!

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 4, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of the blog – both of them – may remember that, after a couple of postponements due to Covid-19, we presented a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology in Maynooth on March 25th 2021. Well, owing to popular demand, we’ve decided to do a re-run of the event on Friday 12th November 2021 ahead of the forthcoming CAO cycle. That’s a week tomorrow!

This will be a half-day virtual event via Zoom. It’s meant for school students in their 5th or 6th year of the Irish system. There might be a few of them or their teachers who see this blog so I thought I’d share the news here. You can find more information, including instructions on how to book a place, here.

Here is the updated official poster and the programme:

I’ll be talking about cosmology early on, while John Regan will talk about black holes. After the coffee break one of our PhD students will talk about why they wanted to study astrophysics. Then I’ll say something about our degree programmes for those students who might be interested in studying astrophysics and/or cosmology as part of a science course. We’ll finish with questions either about the science or the study!

I’m told that with a week still to go we already have over 750 science students based in schools from An Daingean to Arranmore Island, from Monaghan to Mayo and many counties in-between. Fortunately it is online so no travelling is involved. Unfortunately the participants don’t get to see the wonderful campus so here’s a gratuitous picture!

(And at 12 noon I don’t turn into a pumpkin but do have to run off to give a lecture on vector calculus..)

A Question of Accommodation

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on October 3, 2021 by telescoper

Two weeks into the Autumn Semester, we’ve now had a week of teaching first-year students and two-weeks for all other years. I won’t say there have been no challenges but I think it has gone as well as can be expected. In particular the students (at least in my lectures) have impeccably observed the protocols. Although I’ve had to improvise with the equipment they do seem to appreciate my attempts to record my classes too.

The biggest problem Irish universities seem to be facing as we emerge from the pandemic is student accommodation. The media are full of stories about this issue, pointing the social cost as well as the difficulty posed to students’ education; see, e.g. here. There is a chronic housing shortage in Ireland anyway and this is a specific manifestation of that general problem.

The situation here in Maynooth is particularly acute, with some students having to make 220km round trips by bus to and from Co Wexford. I saw that bus the other day, actually. It’s always been an issue with my Tuesday MP110 lecture (which starts at 5pm) that some students have had to leave early in order to get a bus home. Even more students are doing that this year. I’m definitely glad I decided to record my lectures for the benefit of these students who have to miss part of the class for no fault of their own.

So why is there a student accommodation crisis? One factor is that Maynooth has had a bumper year for recruitment. There is only room on campus for 1,170 students out of a total enrolment approaching 14,000 and those rooms were all snapped up weeks ago. It’s a similar situation elsewhere. Universities have not been able to construct sufficient numbers of sufficiently affordable student rooms to keep up with demand. This is partly because of high building costs and planning bureaucracy, but also because Irish third-level institutions are strapped for cash thanks to decades of underfunding.

But there’s another issue, caused by the lingering effect of Covid-19. A significant number of students at Maynooth usually rent rooms locally in a family home on a four or five days a week basis, sometimes with meals included. This sort of arrangement is highly unusual in the UK, so it surprised me when I first moved here that so many students live that way. On the weekends they go back to their families, often travelling a considerable distance to do so. Typically these students arrive in Maynooth on Sunday evening or Monday morning and leave on Friday afternoon or evening; we see lots of students waiting for buses on the Kilcock Road on Friday afternoons.

Because we’re not fully out of Covid-19 restrictions, the supply of rooms available on this kind of letting arrangement is greatly diminished because of the perceived risk of a tenant being infectious (especially for elderly landlords). I know personally quite a few people who used to offer this kind of accommodation but are not doing so this year, hence the particular difficulty. I hope this situation improves soon, but for the time being it leaves many students having to commute great distances. I hope this doesn’t lead to some with difficult journeys dropping out.

I actually feel a bit guilty about this myself. I have a spare room in my house in Maynooth. It’s not huge but it has a single bed and a small desk in it so would work quite well for a student. I don’t really need the money, though it would be useful, but given the crisis I’ve thought of offering it as a weekday let. I do think, however, that it would be very awkward for a member of University staff to be landlord to one of their own students (both for me and for the student). On top of that, after such a long time as a bachelor I’ve just got used to living on my own! It’s a bit selfish, I know, but I therefore decided not to do it, though if there is an emergency (such as if people get snowed in as happened a few years ago) I would obviously offer my spare room as temporary accommodation.

Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass at Maynooth!

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 28, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of the blog – both of them – may remember that, after a couple of postponements due to Covid-19,  we presented a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology in Maynooth on March 25th 2021. Well, owing to popular demand we’ve decided to do a re-run of the event on Friday 12th November 2021 ahead of next year’s CAO cycle.

This will be a half-day virtual event via Zoom. It’s meant for school students in their 5th or 6th year of the Irish system. There might be a few of them or their teachers who see this blog so I thought I’d share the news here. You can find more information, including instructions on how to book a place, here.

Here is the updated official poster and the programme:

I’ll be talking about cosmology early on, while John Regan will talk about black holes. After the coffee break one of our PhD students will talk about why they wanted to study astrophysics. Then I’ll say something about our degree programmes for those students who might be interested in studying astrophysics and/or cosmology as part of a science course. We’ll finish with questions either about the science or the study!

(And at 12 noon I don’t turn into a pumpkin but do have to run off to give a lecture on vector calculus..)

The Autumnal Equinox 2021

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 22, 2021 by telescoper

So here we are then. The Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) takes place this evening (Wednesday 22nd September)  at 20.21 Irish Time (19.21 UT).

Although  the term `equinox’  refers to a situation in which day and night are of equal length, which implies that it’s a day rather than a specific time, the astronomical equinox is more accurately defined by a specific event, i.e. 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 on days in the Northern hemisphere will be shorter than nights and they’ll get shorter still until the Winter Solstice.

Many people take the autumnal equinox to be the end of summer. There is a saying around these parts, however, that `Summer is Summer to Michaelmas Day’ (September 29th), which is not until next week. I must say, though,  though it doesn’t feel very summery today.

Anyway, this is Welcome Week in Maynooth and, barring any sudden changes of plan, we’re due to start teaching first year students on Monday 27th September. Returning students commenced on Monday 20th. I gave my first lecture on Vector Calculus yesterday. That was the first in-person lecture I’ve done for over a year. It was strange because I taught the same students online last year, but obviously never actually saw or heard them, as students generally mute their video and sound when attending lectures. Today was an improvement on that but everyone in the class was wearing a mask so I still haven’t really seen them! At lest this means that all the students were observing the necessary protocol, which is a relief, and the masks didn’t interfere with them responding to questions of mine or asking questions of their own.

We are still one lecturer short as the visa office in Dublin has been sitting on the application from our new member of staff since June 23rd. On top of my own things to do I’ve been setting up lectures for him so the students can view them in the lecture hall remotely. I’m not sure how long that will go on for, although it’s out of my hands.

Other than that I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to iron out problems with the timetable – of which there are unfortunately many – as well as preparing my own lectures. I want to record my lectures from the classrooms but unfortunately the University has chosen not to install decent video equipment so I’ve had to improvise. I recorded yesterday’s lecture using a webcam attached to the stand for my tenor saxophone. It seemed to work out reasonably well.

The Old Man of Killeaney

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , on August 28, 2021 by telescoper

I stumbled across this remarkable little clip completely by accident and thought I would share it here. It is part of an interview, broadcast in 1965, with a retired farmer by the name of Michael Fitzpatrick who was 107 when the interview was recorded. Mr Fitzpatrick was born in County Clare but moved to Killeaney, a townland just a couple of miles north of Maynooth, in 1940.

He would have been in his eighties in 1940 and moved as a result of a Land Commission scheme. I guess he moved with his family who would have run the farm and looked after him in his retirement.

He talks about the infamous Bodyke Evictions, which took place in the late 1880s, and which he witnessed personally. It’s amazing to imagine what those old eyes had seen in his lifetime, not only the cruelty and brutality of the system of land ownership in Ireland through the latter half of the 19th Century, the War of Independence and the Civil War of the 1920s, but also the dramatic changes in farming he mentions. Michael Fitzpatrick passed away a couple of years after this interview, at the age of 109.

I posted this in the local history Facebook page for Maynooth and it seems there are people who remember Michael Fitzpatrick and that his grandson, also named Michael, passed away recently after a long life of his own.

Packing Up

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on August 11, 2021 by telescoper
Inventory

So here I am sitting in a virtually empty house in Cardiff, the bulk of my worldly goods now in transit to Ireland. The house seems a lot bigger with nothing in it. It also feels a bit strange to see all your possessions listed in an inventory.

The 9th and 10th of August were the first opportunities to do the removal from my Pontcanna residence, so I flew over at the weekend to be here to supervise the packing. I paid for the removals firm to do the actual packing, which was well worth the extra money. The company told me it would take two full days to pack up, which surprised me. In fact they did most of it on Monday arriving at 9.30am and departing around 3pm. Yesterday they arrived at 8.30am and were finished by 10.30am. They could easily have done it all in one day but they only had a smallish van which they filled up before leaving on Monday.

My stuff now gets stored in a container in a warehouse for a couple of weeks or so before being delivered to Maynooth by ferry. They’re doing this removal as a return load, which means waiting for a lorry to arrive to the UK from Ireland which would otherwise return empty. Taking my stuff on the return journey makes it more efficient for them and also quite a lot cheaper for me. This seemed the best option as I am not in a particular rush to receive delivery. I’ve waited a year so a couple more weeks won’t matter!

The fact they finished early yesterday got me out of an awkward situation. The powers that be scheduled three repeat examinations simultaneously at 2.30pm yesterday so I assumed I would have to be scrabbling around with my mobile phone in amongst the boxes and packing materials, which might have been awkward.

As it turned out I had plenty time to walk across Bute Park to Cardiff University where a former colleague in the School of Physics & Astronomy was kind enough to let me use an empty office and eduroam did the rest. All three papers passed without incident, and I had the added bonus of a few pints in the Flute and Tankard afterwards.

Yesterday was A-level results day so there was much talk about the new academic year. It seems Cardiff University is going to resume face-to-face teaching in September. I hope the School of Physics & Astronomy gets a good intake of first-years and that all goes well for all students and staff as they prepare to resume some form of normality. Cardiff has been very good to me over the years and I wish everyone there all the best for the future.

Incidentally I popped in to the Data Innovation Research Institute (where I used to work) while I was at the School of Physics and Astronomy, just to see if I could say hello to anyone I used to work with. The office is just over the other side of a car park from the Queen’s Buildings. I found that the folks are being relocated from the old office to a new building along with Mathematics and Computer Science up near Cathays Station. There was only one person there, packing up his stuff for removal…

Extensive view of Carton House, County Kildare, with Maynooth in the distance – Willem van der Hagen

Posted in Architecture, Art, History, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 8, 2021 by telescoper

I came across the above painting on the Maynooth local history Facebook page the other day and thought I’d share it here. It’s by a fairly obscure artist called Willem van der Hagen who was Dutch but who settled in Ireland around 1720. The painting (oil on canvas, 107.6 cm by 133.6 cm) dates from around 1730 and was sold at Christie’s in 2017 for £428,750. The painting was probably commissioned by Henry Ingoldsby who inherited Carton Demesne on the death of his father Sir Richard Ingoldsby in 1712.

The view is of Carton House, a location very close to where I live and which I blogged about here. The grounds of Carton House are very pleasant for taking recreational walks.

The bird’s-eye view in the painting shows Carton and its demesne before the house was extensively remodelled in the mid-18th Century, although the layout is still recognizable in the modern house:

Th refurbishment of the house was undertaken by architect Richard Castle for the 19th Earl of Kildare between 1739 and 1745. The view in the painting dates from before this change and shows Carton at the centre of an elaborate formal garden. In the foreground, on the southern side of the house, avenues of lime trees radiate outward into the countryside from the enclosed entrance courtyard; on the northern side of the house can be seen a stepped series of walled gardens and terraced walks.

The gardens and demesne were also transformed when the house was rebuilt to reflect mid eighteenth-century taste. More recently the grounds have been turned into golf courses, one to the front and one to the rear as the house itself is now a golfing resort hotel so nothing remains of these extensive gardens.

In the distance to the far left you can see the ruins of the keep of the ancient FitzGerald castle in Maynooth, but St Patrick’s College was not built until the end of the 18th Century and much of the present-day town centre dates from the 19th Century so in those days Maynooth was a small place. The area between the castle and the walls surrounding Carton House demesne is now largely built-up although there is a pleasant tree-lined avenue leading from Maynooth towards the House as far as the Dunboyne Road.

In the right foreground you can see the Prospect Tower built by the Earl of Tyrconnell, which still stands. I always assumed this was some sort of folly but it was apparently intended as a mausoleum for one of the previous owners of the house.