Archive for Maynooth

Post Easter Post

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on April 25, 2022 by telescoper

So here I am, then, back in the office after the Easter break for the remaining two weeks of Semester Two. I was supposed to be on leave last week but there’s so much to do that I ended up working most days apart from the Easter weekend itself, but at least I do so from the comfort of my own home and, occasionally, garden.

I had hoped to be able to spend the latter part of this week at the annual Euclid Consortium meeting which is being held this year in Oslo. Unfortunately because this year it falls within teaching term I’ve just got too much to do so I can’t go. I hope my colleagues and friends in Euclid have an enjoyable and successful time in Oslo. I hope to make it next year, wherever it is held.

Next Monday is the May Day Holiday so we have only 9 days of teaching left before the study break and examinations. Although next weekend is a Bank Holiday weekend, the powers that be in Maynooth have decreed that Saturday will be an Open Day:

It remains to be seen how many prospective students and their families will choose to interrupt their long weekend to visit campus on Saturday April 30th but I’ll be there. I know no bounds, you see…

The most exciting thing that happened last week was that a bloke from the Gas Board came to install a new gas meter. My colleagues were skeptical that he would actually turn up at the appointed time but he did. He completed the job in about half an hour, including time for a short lecture on why I should have a carbon monoxide meter put in my kitchen. The gas meter is actually on the front of the house and the gas man was kept under close surveillance as he worked by the local robin who has clearly decided that both front and back gardens are its own private property.

Last week the same robin made further visits to the inside of my house, even tapping on the window with its beak to be let in. I am increasingly concerned that it will decide that the inside of the house also belongs to it and I’ll end up being forcibly evicted.

It is an annual tradition at Eastertide to worry about whether Newcastle United will be relegated from the Premiership but after a string of good results they look reasonably safe. The players will be relieved to have avoided a public flogging by the clubs new owners, the Saudi Royal Family.

A Question of the Past

Posted in Biographical, Cute Problems, Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2022 by telescoper

I was tidying up some old files earlier today and came across some old examination papers, including those I took for my final examinations in Part II of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1985. There were six of these, in the space of three consecutive days…

I picked one of the questions to share here because it covers similar ground to my current (!) Advanced Electromagnetism module for final-year students in Maynooth. Sorry it’s a bit grubby!

It’s been a long time since I took my finals and I’d largely forgotten what the format was. The question above was taken from Paper II which consisted of nine questions altogether in three Sections, A (Solid State Physics), B (Statistical Physics) and C (Electromagnetism, from which Q9 above was taken; I think the course was actually called Electrodynamics & Relativity). The examination was 3 hours in duration and students were asked to answer four questions, including one from each Section. That means each question would be expected to take about 45 minutes.

Looking at the paper in general and the above question in particular, a number of things sprang to mind about differences between then in Cambridge and now in Maynooth:

  1. Our theoretical physics papers in Maynooth are 2 hours in duration in which time students are to answer four questions, so that the questions are a bit shorter – 30 minutes each rather than 45.
  2. Our papers are also on a single subject rather than a composite of several; we typically don’t offer the students choice; my Advanced Electromagnetism paper has four questions and students have to answer all four for full marks.
  3. The questions on the old Tripos papers are less structured. There is no indication of the marks allocated to each part of the question in the question above.
  4. As far as I can recall there was no formula booklet back in 1985, though there was a sheet of physical constants. My Advanced Electromagnetism examination this year comes with a couple of pages of useful formulae from vector calculus and key equations in EM theory. One might argue that the old Cambridge papers relied rather more on memory (especially when you take into account that everything was in the space of three days).
  5. Back to Question 9, it is true that this along with the other Electromagnetism questions is at a similar level to what I have been teaching this Semester. If I recall correctly the relevant course in Cambridge was of 24 lectures, the same length as the course I’m teaching this year.
  6. Students taking my course should know how to do both parts of Question 9 without too much difficulty.

On the final point, the easiest way to tackle this sort of problem is to do what the question says: determine the electric and magnetic potentials, derive the electric and magnetic fields from them, then work out the Poynting vector quantifying the energy flux. The part of this that survives in the far-field limit gives you the radiated power then – Bob’s your Uncle – the answer is basically the Larmor Formula which is ubiquitous in problems of this type. The case of an oscillating dipole is a standard derivation but this method works for any time-varying source, as long as you remember to include the retarded potentials if it’s not periodic.

Had I been writing this question for a modern exam I think I would at very least have ended the first part with “Show that the radiated power is…” and then given the formula, so that it could be used for the second part even if a student could not derive it.

A Bird in Rhetoric House

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on April 6, 2022 by telescoper

Following on from my post of yesterday, I just remembered that I recently saw this on Twitter:

Geo the Jackdaw

This is Geo the Jackdaw paying a visitor to the Geography Department of Maynooth University which is located in Rhetoric House. He was a regular visitor there before the Covid-19 campus closure and suddenly reappeared a few days ago after a gap of two years.

Geo is very tame, as you can see, but also full of mischief – he especially enjoys playing with pencils, knocking things over, and tearing up bits of paper.

In fact there are a great many jackdaws on campus – and lots of rooks too – but they’re mostly not as bold as Geo. Two jackdaws regularly visit my garden but they’re not at all domesticated and scarper as soon as I make an appearance, which is just as well because they’re usually engaged in some sort of vandalism.

Accommodation Not Wanted

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on April 6, 2022 by telescoper

A month ago I posted an item about the fact that I had offered the spare room in my house as accommodation for a refugee from the War in Ukraine. Over 20,000 refugees have now arrived in Ireland but I have just been told that the accommodation I offered is not suitable. That’s mainly because the greatest need is for homes suitable for families with children rather than single persons; I only have one room and it doesn’t have en suite facilities. Also most of the refugees are female and the assessors would probably be nervous about placing a woman in a house with a strange man like me.

I feel slightly less bad about this than I might have done before reading that only about 40-50% of the accommodation pledged to the Irish Red Cross has been assessed as suitable.

I also note that a number of host families are finding the job of providing accommodation to often traumatized people very difficult and many refugees have been returned to processing centres because the hosts are unable to cope. I might well have ended up feeling the same.

Anyway, at least I offered. I would have felt bad if I hadn’t. Now I’ll just have to try to find some other way to help…

The Vernal Equinox 2022

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on March 20, 2022 by telescoper

Just a quick note to say that the Vernal Equinox, or Spring Equinox, (in the Northern hemisphere) takes place this afternoon at 15.33 UTC (which is 3.33 pm local Irish Time). Many people regard this as the first day of spring. The weather in Maynooth is certainly spring-like. Of course in the Southern hemisphere this is the Autumnal Equinox.

The date of the Vernal Equinox is usually given as 21st March, but in fact it has only been on 21st March twice this century so far (2003 and 2007); it was on 20th March in 2008, has been on 20th March every spring from then until now, and will be until 2044 (when it will be on March 19th).

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. Although he may have been born in Wales, nobody really knows for sure precisely 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.

Paráid Lá Fhéile Pádraig i Maigh Nuad

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on March 17, 2022 by telescoper

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir!

Today being 17th March it is St Patrick’s Day, and there not having been a St Patrick’s Day Parade for the last two years in Maynooth, I decided to make the most of my morning off and go watch the festivities. Here are some snaps I took on Straffan Road as the Parade made its way into town. As you can see it was a bit overcast, and it was also a bit breezy, but it wasn’t cold and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves!

A Day of Computing

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2022 by telescoper

Last Semester, Thursday was what I optimistically called a “Research Day” (on the basis that I had no teaching on it). This Semester it’s one of my busiest teaching days, with lecturing in the morning and a lab session in the afternoon, both for Computational Physics.

For most of the last two years I’ve been delivering the lectures and running the lab remotely, but now that we’re back teaching face-to-face I gave the lecture in person and was in the lab with the class for this afternoon’s session. I’ve got about twice as many students this year as last year swill be running two lab sessions (one next Tuesday repeating the material from the Thursday one, and so on throughout the term).

Running the lab remotely worked reasonably well because Python is available to download for free and works on a standard Windows-based PC. In the lab however we use a Linux (Ubuntu) system, which gives the students the chance to try a different operating system (and one which is for many purposes better than Windows).

It’s good to be back running the computing laboratory class in person but I was a bit nervous this morning because since I last did it that way the machines we have in our laboratory have all been upgraded to a new operating system and have a new (and very different) version of Python (3.9 versus the now obsolete 2.7). I’ve been around long enough to realize that things can go wrong in such situations, so I warned the class during this morning’s lecture that there might be teething troubles. Sure enough we had quite a few technical glitches but, to be honest, it it could have been a lot worse. Next Tuesday’s lab should be a bit less stressful as we’ve fixed a few of the things that went wrong.

So, by no means a disaster, but a busy and quite stressful day. Time to go home and relax.

All Change for Semester Two!

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on January 31, 2022 by telescoper

So here we are, then, at the start of Semester Two at Maynooth University. When I arrived in the Department of Theoretical Physics I noticed a few differences:

August 2020 versus January 2022

All the signage relating to physical distancing has been removed. We are no longer required to observe 2m spacing between individuals in labs or anywhere else. That solves my potential problem about constraints in the Computational Physics lab (to the left of the picture).

Our little kitchen is also now back in operation so we can share that space for lunch or coffee, sitting around the table which has now been put back in place. Staff meetings can be held in person, though the meeting of Academic Council I have to attend this afternoon will still be via Teams. I don’t actually start teaching until tomorrow and will be in the office most of the day so will have to wait until tomorrow until I find out how busy the campus seems; we expect there to be more students around than last term.

Students are still to wear face coverings in lectures etc but other than that all restrictions seem to have gone, including those on eating and social spaces on campus. Everyone seems to have decided that this pandemic is all over. Only time – and perhaps the next coronavirus variant – will tell whether they are right.

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.