Archive for March, 2022

New Professorial Position in Astrophysics or Cosmology at Maynooth!

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 31, 2022 by telescoper

You may recall that back in November 2021 we received word that Maynooth University had been awarded one of ten new senior professorial positions under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here. The position we have been awarded is a Chair (Full Professorship) in Observational Astrophysics or Cosmology; you can find Maynooth University’s official response to the original announcement here.

The wheels have turned fairly slowly since the announcement but today at last the applications opened for the new Chairs, including the one in Maynooth. You can find the full announcement of the competition for all the positions here; you can apply for the position at Maynooth here. I think the advertisement will appear on a number of the standard job platforms (such as the Times Higher) too, although this is all being managed centrally. The deadline is in July 2022, and the provisional start date is January 2023 (although this is flexible).

Update: you can find an advertisement for the position on the Times Higher website here. A more complete advertisement can be found here.

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 in 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.

It is intended that the position to appeal not only to people undertaking observational programmes using ground-based facilities (e.g. those provided by ESO, which Ireland recently joined), or those exploiting data from space-based experiments, as well as people working on multi-messenger astrophysics, gravitational waves, and so on.

Exciting as this position is in itself, it is part of wider developments and we are expecting to advertise further job opportunities in physics and astronomy very soon! I’d be happy to be contacted by any eligible person wishing to discuss this position (or indeed the general situation in Maynooth) on an informal basis.

P. S. For those of you reading this from outside Ireland the job includes a public service pension, a defined benefit scheme way better than the UK’s USS.

Ancient Sound – Paul Klee

Posted in Art on March 31, 2022 by telescoper

Paul Klee, 1925, oil on cardboard, 38cm by 38cm, Kunstssammlung Basel, Basel.

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff on March 30, 2022 by telescoper

It’s time yet again to announce a new publication in the Open Journal of Astrophysics! This one is the 4th paper in Volume 5 (2022) and the 52nd in all.

The latest publication is entitled A SiPM photon-counting readout system for Ultra-Fast Astronomy and is written by Albert Wai Kit Lau & Yan Yan Chan (of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Mehdi Shafiee (Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan) and George F. Smoot & Bruce Grossan (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory).

This paper is in the Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics section, and is also the first paper we have published with a Nobel Laureate in the author list!

Here is a screen grab of the overlay which includes the abstract:


You can click on the image to make it larger should you wish to do so. You can find the arXiv version of the paper here.


Deciphering the past using ancient Irish genomes

Posted in Education, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 30, 2022 by telescoper

I thought I’d use the medium of this blog to advertise the forthcoming Dean’s Lecture at Maynooth University by Prof. Daniel Bradley of Trinity College Dublin which takes place tomorrow evening at 7pm.

Prof. Bradley

The abstract is:

Our genomes are our biological blueprints. Their DNA code also carries the traces of our family ancestry and at a deeper level, the history of the population we come from. With modern instruments we can sequence for the first time the DNA of people who lived thousands of years ago and read their long-lost biological stories. Genomes from ancient Ireland, including from those buried in famous megalithic tombs such as Newgrange and Poulnabrone dolmen, highlight the great migrations that brought different waves of people to the island, and also give us hints of the very different societies that prevailed in our prehistory.

I’ll be attending the lecture in person on Maynooth University campus but it will also be streamed via Youtube so if you find this sort of thing as fascinating as I do but can’t attend in person please do register here in order to get the link that will enable you to join the live stream.

Update: it was very interesting!

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth on March 29, 2022 by telescoper

The recent spell of good weather has given Maynooth University Library Cat plenty of opportunities to laze around in the sunshine. I saw him on two occasions yesterday, separated by about 90 minutes, and he didn’t seem to have moved at all in that interval. I suppose he’s conserving energy, no doubt for some nefarious nocturnal purpose.

Unfortunately the weather seems to be about to change, with overnight rain forecast tonight and much colder temperatures from tomorrow. Maybe this will provoke our resident feline to adopt such extreme measures as retreating into his box, or perhaps even moving about occasionally to stay warm.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics – Expanding the Editorial Board

Posted in The Universe and Stuff on March 28, 2022 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am Editor-in-Chief of a Diamond open access journal called the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This has been running nicely for a few years now and as the number of submissions ramps up I would like to expand the Editorial Board so the workload on its members and myself (who are all volunteers) does not become too onerous.

We apply a simple criterion to decide whether a paper is on a suitable topic for publication, namely that if it it is suitable for the astro-ph section of the arXiv then it is suitable for the Open Journal of Astrophysics. This section of the arXiv, which is rather broad,is divided thuswise:

  1. astro-ph.GA – Astrophysics of Galaxies.
    Phenomena pertaining to galaxies or the Milky Way. Star clusters, HII regions and planetary nebulae, the interstellar medium, atomic and molecular clouds, dust. Stellar populations. Galactic structure, formation, dynamics. Galactic nuclei, bulges, disks, halo. Active Galactic Nuclei, supermassive black holes, quasars. Gravitational lens systems. The Milky Way and its contents
  2. astro-ph.CO – Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics.
    Phenomenology of early universe, cosmic microwave background, cosmological parameters, primordial element abundances, extragalactic distance scale, large-scale structure of the universe. Groups, superclusters, voids, intergalactic medium. Particle astrophysics: dark energy, dark matter, baryogenesis, leptogenesis, inflationary models, reheating, monopoles, WIMPs, cosmic strings, primordial black holes, cosmological gravitational radiation
  3. astro-ph.EP – Earth and Planetary Astrophysics.
    Interplanetary medium, planetary physics, planetary astrobiology, extrasolar planets, comets, asteroids, meteorites. Structure and formation of the solar system
  4. astro-ph.HE – High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena.
    Cosmic ray production, acceleration, propagation, detection. Gamma ray astronomy and bursts, X-rays, charged particles, supernovae and other explosive phenomena, stellar remnants and accretion systems, jets, microquasars, neutron stars, pulsars, black holes
  5. astro-ph.IM – Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics.
    Detector and telescope design, experiment proposals. Laboratory Astrophysics. Methods for data analysis, statistical methods. Software, database design
  6. astro-ph.SR – Solar and Stellar Astrophysics.
    White dwarfs, brown dwarfs, cataclysmic variables. Star formation and protostellar systems, stellar astrobiology, binary and multiple systems of stars, stellar evolution and structure, coronas. Central stars of planetary nebulae. Helioseismology, solar neutrinos, production and detection of gravitational radiation from stellar systems.

The expertise of the current Editorial Board is concentrated in the area of (2), and a bit of (5), which is where most of our submissions come so we would like to have additional Editors in this area. In addition there are sometimes papers from large collaborations for which existing Editors may be conflicted.  We would also like to add some Editors from different areas (i.e. 1, 3, 4 and 6) so this call is open for volunteers from all other areas of astrophysics too,  especially stars/exoplanets, etc.

If you’re interested please let me know either by my work email or by using the contact form here:

If you join the Editorial Board we will invite you to an online training session to show you how the platform works.

Thank you in advance for your interest in this project, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Summer Time Again

Posted in History, Maynooth on March 27, 2022 by telescoper

Well, Spring has definitely arrived. We’ve had glorious weather for over a week now, exactly as I like it – sunny and not too hot. Yesterday for the first time this year I pegged my washing out on the line in the garden, and of course today the clocks went forward so we’re now on Irish Summer Time.

Among the many sensible decisions made recently by the European Parliament was to approve a directive that will abolish `Daylight Saving Time’. I’ve long felt that the annual ritual of putting the clocks forward in the Spring and back again in the Autumn was a waste of time effort, so I’ll be glad when this silly practice is terminated.
It would be better in my view to stick with a single Mean Time throughout the year. This was supposed to happen in 2021 but I suppose has been delayed because of the pandemic.

The marvellous poster above is from 1916, when British Summer Time was introduced. You might be surprised to learn that the practice of changing clocks backwards and forwards is only about a hundred years old. in the United Kingdom. To be honest I’m also surprised that the practice persists to this day, as I can’t see any real advantage in it. Any institution or organization that really wants to change its working hours in summer can easily do so, but the world of work is far more flexible nowadays than it was a hundred years ago and I think few would feel the need.

Anyway, while I am on about Mean Time, here is a another poster from 1916.

Until October 1916, clocks in Ireland were set to Dublin Mean Time, as defined at Dunsink Observatory, rather than Mean Time as defined at Greenwich. The adoption of GMT in Ireland was driven largely by the fact that the British authorities found that the time difference between Dublin and London had confused telegraphic communications during the Easter Rising earlier in 1916. Its imposition was therefore, at least in part, intended to bring Ireland under closer control of Britain. Needless to say, this did not go down well with Irish nationalists.

Ireland had not moved to Summer Time with Britain in May 1916 because of the Easter Rising. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes 21 seconds behind GMT but the change was introduced at the same time as BST ended in the UK, hence the alteration by one hour minus 25 minutes 21 seconds, i.e. 34 minutes and 39 seconds as in the poster.

Geometric Algebra

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 26, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday we had a very nice pedagogical seminar in the Department of Theoretical Physics by one of our PhD students, Gert Vercleyen, who talked about something that isn’t really to do with his main research topic. A departmental seminar is a good environment for research students to gain experience giving presentations. Anyway, the abstract for this talk was:

Anyone doing a degree in physics, engineering, or mathematics will, at a very early stage, need to learn how to deal with vectors. Typically the theory of vectors comes with several products, like the dot product which is useful for determining lengths and angles, the cross product which allows one to find orthogonal vectors, and in 2D the complex product which allows one to easily describe rotations and dilations. Each of these products has its benefits and problems. The dot product is not invertible, the complex product only works in 2D, and the cross product has too many issues to put in this abstract. The goal of the talk is to present an alternative product of vectors, the geometric product, that works in any dimension, allows one to get geometric data, and can be used to apply geometric transformations. I will describe how the usual products can be obtained from the geometric product and work out various examples. 

I was familiar with the basic ideas of this approach (related to Clifford algebra) which encompasses many ideas used frequently in theoretical physics – including quaternions for example (I have to mention them as I’m in Ireland) – in a single elegant formalism. I have never actually used it for anything however. Maybe that will change, though, as many interesting ideas suggested themselves during the talk.

If you’d like to learn a bit more at an introductory level about Geometric Algebra you could do a lot worse than read this paper which, unbelievably, is almost 30 years old. I mentioned at the end of the talk that the first author of this paper, Steve Gull, taught the first course in Mathematics for Natural Sciences I took when I was in the first year at Cambridge way back in 1982. Although he crammed a huge amount into that course, including the “standard” way of talking about vectors, rotations thereof using matrices, and a bit of cartesian tensors, he didn’t talk about Geometric Algebra.

I do think however that there is a case for starting in Year 1 with geometric algebra instead of the way we do it nowadays, not least because as well as being an elegant formalism it lends itself very easily to computational implementation; indeed, I note that there is a Python implementation of Clifford Algebra (which I have not yet played with). Also I think it’s harder to “unlearn” traditional methods and adapt to new ones as you get older.

Physics in a diverse world…

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

Regular observers of the arXiv will have noticed a recent deluge avalanche of papers from the recent Snowmass Community Planning Exercise. There are many excellent reports although they came out all in a flurry which has made it difficult to keep on top of them.

An example that I missed was one that appeared in the Physics Education section of arXiv that arose from a talk by theoretical physicist Howard Georgi given at the KITP Conference: Snowmass Theory Frontier on Feb. 23, 2022. The paper, entitled Physics in a diverse world or A Spherical Cow* Model of Physics Talent, doesn’t have an abstract but is quite short and is well worth reading. You can download it here.

Here is a short extract with which I agree fully the philosophy of which I have tried very hard to follow ever since I got my first Professorship in 1998 (though not always with the cooperation of all colleagues, and sometimes, in the past, against the opposition of a few):

If your career is established and you are not making an explicit and continual effort to encourage, mentor, and support all young physicists, to create a welcoming climate in your department, and to promote the hiring of diverse faculty members, you are part of the problem.

I’m hoping next week to be able to pass on some exciting news in this regard about Maynooth University.

I wrote some of my own thoughts from the point of view of LGBT+ diversity here but much of what I said in that context is of wider relevance.

But that brings us to the question of why we should care about whether LGBT students might be deterred from becoming scientists. This is much the same issue as to why we should worry that there are so few female physics students. The obvious answer is based on notions of fairness: we should do everything we can to ensure that people have equal opportunity to advance their career in whatever direction appeals to them. But I’m painfully aware that there are some people for whom arguments based on fairness simply don’t wash. For them there’s another argument that may work better. As scientists whose goal is – or should be – the advancement of knowledge, the message is that we should strive as hard as possible to recruit the brightest and most creative brains into our subject. That means ensuring that the pool from which we recruit is as large and as diverse as possible. The best student drawn from such a pool is likely to be better than the best student from a smaller and more restricted one.

Big companies haven’t become gay-friendly employers in recent years out of a sudden urge for altruism. They’ve done it because they know that they’d otherwise be discouraging many excellent potential employees from joining them. It’s exactly the same for research

*This is an allusion to the old joke for the tendency of scientists – especially theoretical physicists – to adopt highly simplified models of complex phenomena.

Nice Tutorial Problems

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 24, 2022 by telescoper

Back to the day job, teaching Advanced Electromagnetism, I put up these two nice tutorial problems about the Lorentz transformation of Electric and Magnetic fields, as a prelude to doing the fully covariant formulation of the Maxwell equations. You might like to have a go at these exercises: