Archive for Maynooth

That was the Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass that was

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 25, 2021 by telescoper

I’m a bit late getting round to writing something on the blog today because it has been yet another hectic day. Between my usual lecture this morning and Computational Physics Laboratory session this afternoon we also had our long-awaited Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass (held via Zoom).

This event had been delayed twice because of Covid-19 so we were glad that it went ahead today at last!

We were a little nervous about how well it would go but as it happened I think it was a success. We had approaching a hundred schools tuning in, from Wicklow to Tralee, Longford to Monaghan, Donegal to Cork and many places between. The level of engagement was excellent. We held a question-and-answer session but were a little nervous in advance about whether we would actually get any questions. As it turned out we got a lot of questions with some very good ones among them. Reaction from students and teachers was very good.

For those who couldn’t make it to this morning’s session we did record the presentations and I’ll make the video available via YouTube in due course.

Now, I’ve been Zooming and Teaming (with a bit of Panopto thrown in) all day so if you don’t mind I’ll now go and vegetate.

The Vernal Equinox 2021

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 20, 2021 by telescoper

It is 9.37am Local Time in Ireland on Saturday 20th March 2021 which means that the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) is taking place right now!

The Spring Equinox jumped back a day last year because 2020 was a leap year and now is gradually moving forward again. Of course the actual date depends on where you are in the world. The date last year was 20th March (early in the morning) in Ireland, but 19th March (late at night) in New York.

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. Nobody really knows 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.

Particle Physics Masterclass at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 26, 2021 by telescoper

I have already informed you of a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology at Maynooth that will take place on March 25th 2021. For more information on that event including instructions on how to book see here.

Now it’s time to announce the International Masterclass on Particle Physics. The  Department of Theoretical Physics has hosted such event for secondary school students each Spring, apart from last year when it was cancelled because of Covid-19.  The next event will take place online on 21 and 22 March 2021. You can find more information, including instructions on how to book a place, here.

These Masterclasses give secondary school students the opportunity to discover the world of quarks and leptons for themselves, by performing measurements on real data from CERN, meeting active particle physics researchers and linking up with like-minded students from other countries.  We will join thousands of other secondary school students at more than 100 universities and laboratories around Europe and worldwide in a programme stretching over four weeks.

Physics at the most fundamental level – the smallest and most basic building blocks of matter – is an exotic world.  But a few introductory talks and working with data from CERN will give the students insight into the fundamental particles of matter and the forces between them, as well as what went on during the Big Bang.

On Sunday afternoon, the students are introduced to particle physics, experiments and detectors in lectures given by active particle physics researchers.  On Monday, after a virtual visit to the ALICE detector at CERN, they work on their own with data from ALICE Afterwards they participate in a video conference with students from other countries and moderators at CERN, where they discuss and compare their results.

For more information on the Particle Physics Masterclasses, see the International Masterclasses web site.

I don’t know. You wait ages for a Masterclass in Physics at Maynooth University, and then along come two in quick succession!

Údarás na Gaeltachta

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on February 25, 2021 by telescoper

In today’s lunchtime Irish Language lesson we learned a bit about the Gaeltacht, i.e. Irish speaking areas in Ireland. Here is a little video:

You will see that most of the Gaeltacht is in the Western extremes of the country because these are the regions that largely escaped the English encroachment and suppression of the Irish language. One thing I wasn’t aware of before today however is that there is a part quite near Maynooth in the form of the town of Ráth Chairn (English: Rathcairn) about 40km away in County Meath. The people who live there were originally from Connemara so they speak the Gaeilge Chonnacht. This is where our teacher comes from, actually, so if I ever develop any ability to speak the language I’ll probably have do so with a Connacht accent!

Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 23, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of the blog – both of them – may remember that we planned to present a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology on January 14th 2021 but this had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. After today’s announcements by the Government of  a phased return to school starting on March 1st we have now decided to proceed with a new date of March 25th 2021.

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, who should be returning to classrooms on March 15th, but 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!

A Year of Covid-19 in Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , on February 22, 2021 by telescoper

One useful thing about having a blog is that I can look through my back catalogue of posts quite easily to remind me exactly when things happened. Doing that over the weeked I discovered that it was exactly a year ago today that I travelled from Maynooth into Dublin to see a production of Fidelio. That was a few weeks before Covid-19 related travel restrictions were introduced. I was planning to fly to Cardiff in March but couldn’t do so because of the collapse of FlyBe.

And so it came to pass that I now haven’t left Maynooth for an entire year. I have of course moved house, but only by a few hundred yards. I have spent 12 months entirely within a 5km radius.

The only time I’ve (accidentally) broken the rules was when, during a walk up the Moyglare Road, I accidentally strayed into County Meath. Travel across county boundaries is verboten, you see. The County boundary is shown on the map, to the North of the town, and is closer than I had thought.

Anyway, it looks as I’m going to have a 5km horizon for some time to come. The state of play with Covid-19 as of yesterday isn’t particularly promising. Case numbers and hospitalizations are falling, but very slowly.

The reduction in new cases is only around 15 per day on average and at the current level of around 800 that’s far too high to be even thinking about opening up again.

Why is this reduction so slow? The answer to that question is fairly obvious: far too many people are flouting the existing rules. I have hardly been outside the house since Christmas, mainly to follow the health advice, but also partly because it annoys me to see so many people out and about ignoring social distancing, face coverings, and the rest. The sad thing is that by not taking responsibility now, these people are ensuring that this wretched pandemic lasts even longer.

Ireland’s vaccination programme is going steadily with over 100,000 fully vaccinated and twice that number having received one dose.

Note the considerable variation in vaccination progress across the different countries*. Denmark is top of the heap, probably because it has a fully computerised nationwide health system. Things would obviously be going faster had one of the major suppliers not decided to renege on its contract with the EU but, despite the sharp practice from AstraZeneca, there is expected to be a big increase in vaccines available from April onwards, with about three million doses available between April and June.

*The UK has adopted a different strategy from most others, by giving one dose to as many as possible as quickly as possible by delaying the second dose. This may turn out to be an effective approach. I’m not sufficiently expert to comment.

Today is the start of week 4 of Semester Two of the academic year at Maynooth University. That means we have three weeks to go until the mid-term study break (which was when the first lockdown began last year). Halfway to halfway through the Semester, in other words.

The way things are going I think I’ll be remaining within the 5km horizon until June at the earliest, and probably until September, assuming I’m not carted off to an institution before then.

A Little Local History

Posted in Biographical, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2021 by telescoper

I’ve lived in Maynooth for over three years now and for a large part of that time my home was a flat on Straffan Road near Court House Square. Across the road from where I lived is Lyreen House (sometimes called Larine House). The Lyreen, incidentally, is the name of the small river that runs through Maynooth, on which the old mill was built.

The house was built in the 1780s and is now used as a day care centre. Towards the rear it has a very pleasant walled garden; from the side looking across Straffan Road it looks like this:

The car is not always there. Note the rather unattractive grey pebbledash rendering which is I’m afraid rather ubiquitous on old buildings in this area. I think this is because many of these buildings are made from limestone which needs to be protected from weathering. There is a lot of this rendering on the South Campus at Maynooth University too.

Anyway, I walked past Lyreen/Larine House every time I went to work without ever really thinking about its history. Then, yesterday, I saw this:

The picture at the bottom shows Lyreen House as seen looking South from Court House Square, with Straffan Road to the right. The article in the local paper explains that during the War of Independence a hundred years ago, it was for a time used as a barracks for the Black and Tans! I had absolutely no idea about that until yesterday!

Nowadays the view looking North through Court House Square towards Main Street is this:

The white building to the right is Brady’s pub. The structure you see is a monument to the victims of the Great Hunger in a pleasant seating area that is often used for craft fairs, musical performances and other gatherings. Or at least it was in the pre-Covid era.

What you don’t see is any sign of a Court House. That is because it was destroyed by the IRA in 1920. This is what it looked like after the attack.

The War of Independence in County Kildare didn’t see anything like as much violence as other parts of Ireland, abut that didn’t mean there wasn’t a strong Republican presence here. When rumours circulated that the British were going to use the Court House as a garrison the local IRA decided to deny them that opportunity by setting it on fire (though they first ensured that everyone inside was taken to safety).

The Old Court House lay derelict for many years and was eventually demolished. Then a public convenience was built on the site. This was not only an eyesore but also a smelly and unpleasant place that people generally avoided. It  was then demolished and the monument was constructed in 1993.

I walked through Court House Square last night on a rare trip out of my house to collect a takeaway for my dinner. I noticed that the Christmas lights and nativity scene were still there, almost a month after Christmas. I wonder when they’ll take them down?

 

 

NUI Dr Éamon De Valera Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences

Posted in History, mathematics, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 21, 2021 by telescoper

I found out yesterday that the National University of Ireland is commemorating the centenary of the election of Éamon de Valera as its Chancellor. To mark this occasion, NUI will offer a special NUI Dr Éamon De Valera Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Mathematical Sciences. This post is in addition to the regular NUI awards, which include a position for Science & Engineering.

Éamon de Valera, photographed sometime during the 1920s.

Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil (formerly 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, who subsequently became Taoiseach  and then President of the Irish Republic.

You may or may not know that de Valera 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,  a recognized college of the National University of Ireland. The Department became incorporated in Maynooth University, when it was created in 1997.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.

Anyway, the Fellowship will be awarded on the basis of a common competition open to NUI graduates in all branches of the Mathematical Sciences. All branches of the Mathematical Sciences will be deemed as including, but not limited to, all academic disciplines within Applied Mathematics, Pure Mathematics, Mathematical Physics and Statistics and Probability.

You can find more details of the position here. I should say however that it is open to NUI graduates only, though it can be held at any of the constituent colleges of the National University of Ireland. Given the de Valera connection with Maynooth, it would be fitting if it were held here!
The deadline for applications is February 9th.

Postponed: Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 10, 2021 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog may recall that the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University  planned to host a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology on January 14th 2021 (i.e. next Thursday). Unfortunately the closure of schools in Ireland until at least the end of January has given us no alternative but to postpone this event. It’s not cancelled though and we intend to run it as soon as possible: the date is now set provisionally for 25th February.  Limited places remain available and bookings are still open. You can find more information, including instructions on how to book a place, here.

Here is the official poster and the programme (timings still apply, but not the date..):

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 courses.

For updates please follow the Department’s on twitter-feed:

Three Years in Maynooth

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on December 1, 2020 by telescoper

It’s 1st December 2020 which means that it’s now been three whole years since I started my job as Professor of Theoretical Physics in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, in County Kildare in the Irish Republic.

Until the Summer of 2018 I was working part-time at Cardiff and part-time in Maynooth, which required a lot of flying to and from between Wales and Ireland.  That situation would have been impossible to sustain during the pandemic for reasons of quarantine and also because FlyBe went bust. The timing of my move to Maynooth was providential in many ways apart from that.

I didn’t think it would take me the best part of three years to buy a house in Ireland, but owing to a combination of circumstances it took until the end of this summer to do that. Still, all’s well that ends well and I’m very happy with my home.

When I first arrived in Maynooth I stayed in St Patrick’s House (above), part of the Roman Catholic seminary on Maynooth University’s South Campus. I took this picture of the corridor I was on the night I arrived because it reminded me of  The Shining:

The arrival of the Covid-19 Pandemic earlier this year has been another completely unexpected development. I wonder what fate has next in store?