Archive for May, 2022

Revisiting the Case for Irish Membership of CERN

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on May 31, 2022 by telescoper

At last week’s Irish Theoretical Physics meeting I had the opportunity to have lunch with particle physicist Professor John Ellis (of King’s College London). Among other things we discussed whether or not it was likely that Ireland might join CERN. Currently Ireland has no official relationship with CERN, not even associate membership, which makes it anomalous among European countries. In November 2019 I blogged about the issue here.

There was a move reported in the news here in Ireland of a report from a Committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas making the case for Ireland to join CERN. You can download the report here (PDF) and you’ll find this rather striking graphic therein:

You will see that there are only three European countries other than Ireland that don’t have any form of membership or other agreement with CERN: Latvia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova. The fact that almost everyone else is in is not in itself necessarily a good argument for Ireland to join, but it does make one wonder why so many other countries have found it to join or have an agreement with CERN while Ireland has not.

As the document explains, if the Irish government  were to decide to take Ireland into CERN then  it would first have to become an Associate Member, which would cost around €1.2 million per year. That’s small potatoes really, and  the financial returns to Irish industry and universities are likely to far exceed that, so the report strongly recommends this step be taken. This Associate member stage would last up to 5 years, and then to acquire full membership a joining fee of around €15.6 million would have to be paid, which is obviously a much greater commitment but in my view still worthwhile.

There were some positive noises when the document came out, but that was near the end of 2019. Not far into 2020 the pandemic struck and the idea sank without trace. Perhaps now is a good time to raise the issue again?

While I strongly support the idea of Ireland joining CERN I do have a couple of concerns about the case as presented in the Oireachtas report.

One is that I’m very sad that the actual science done at CERN is downplayed in the  report. Most of it is about the cash return to industry, training opportunities, etc. These are important, of course, but it must not be forgotten that big science projects like those carried out at CERN are above all else science projects. The quest for knowledge does have collateral benefits, but it a worthy activity in its own right and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

My other (related) concern is that joining CERN is one thing, but in order to reap the scientific reward the government has to invest in the resources needed to exploit the access to facilities membership would provide. Without a related increase in research grant funding for basic science the opportunity to raise the level of scientific activity in Ireland would be lost.

Ireland recently joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a decision which gave Irish astronomers access to some amazing telescopes. However, there is no sign at all of Irish funding agencies responding to this opportunity by increasing funding for academic time, postdocs and graduate students needed to do the actual science. In one respect ESO is very like CERN: the facilities do not themselves do the science; we need people to do that. The jam is already spread very thinly in Ireland so having an extra thing to spread it on will not necessarily be a good thing for science in general.

Professorial Position in Observational Astrophysics or Cosmology at Maynooth!

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on May 30, 2022 by telescoper

With about a month to go to the deadline, I thought I would take the opportunity to remind readers that Maynooth University has a Chair (i.e. Full Professor) position in Astrophysics or Cosmology under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here and announced this Chair position originally here.

You can find the full announcement of the competition for all the SALI positions here; you can apply for the position at Maynooth here. The position is now also advertised on the AAS Jobs Register here.

The deadline for applications is in July 2022, and the provisional start date is January 2023 (although this is flexible). As well as a good salary (starting at €124,683 at current rates, rising by annual increments to €157,611) the position comes with membership of the Irish public service pension scheme, a defined benefit scheme (comparable to the older version of the UK’s USS which has now been scrapped).

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.

Two New Publications at the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2022 by telescoper

Last week was rather busy. Amongst other things I managed to complete the publication process for two more papers in the Open Journal of Astrophysics (one on Tuesday and one on Thursday) although there was a small delay in registering the metadata so I didn’t fully announce them until yesterday. I’ve only just managed to find time today to advertise them here. These two are the sixth and seventh papers in Volume 5 (2022) and the 54th and 55th in all respectively. Both the new papers are in the folder marked Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics.

The first of these two new publications is entitled “The Impact of Quadratic Biases on Cosmic Shear” and is written by Tom Kitching and Anurag Deshpande of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey (UK).

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 this paper directly here.

The second new publication is entitled “Cosmo-Paleontology: Statistics of Fossil Groups in a Gravity-Only Simulation” and is written by Aurora Coissairt, Michael Buehlmann, Eve Kovacs, Xin Liu, Salman Habib and Katrin Heitmann all from the Argonne National Laboratory which is just outside Chicago in the USA.

Here is the overlay of that paper which includes the abstract:

Once again 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.

We have quite a few more papers in the pipeline so expect to be announcing more quite soon, probably early next month.

Mahler & Schubert at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday evening, after a very pleasant wine reception at the end of ITP2022, I walked to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for my second concert in two days. Before the lockdown I used to go regularly to the Friday evening performances by the National Symphony Orchestra but until last night I hadn’t attended one since February 2022. Since I was in Dublin anyway and Mahler was on the menu I couldn’t resist this one and have now at last added to my stock of souvenir programmes. Last night’s concert was actually the last of the season but hopefully I’ll be able to go more frequently from September when the next season starts.

Last night’s performance began with Mahler’s Blumine which began life as the second movement (marked Andante) of his First Symphony but which was subsequently deleted. We heard the four-movement version of the work (i.e. without this part) in the second half of the concert. Blumine is a nice enough piece, relaxed and lyrical, but it is difficult to see how it was supposed to fit in with the rest of the symphony which is now always performed without it. Still, it served as a very good warm-up for the orchestra which, under the direction of Jaime Martín, established a polished tone and warm colour for this piece and for the rest of the evening.

After Blumine a large fraction of the orchestra left the stage to leave a pared-down version for some Lieder by Franz Schubert performed by legendary Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter who was resplendent for the occasion in an emerald green dress.

You wait two years to go a concert and then along come two in the space of two days! Only one of the songs, the first, Romanze from the incidental music for the play Rosamunde, was actually orchestrated by Schubert; the other were written with piano accompaniment and then orchestrated by others. I have to say I didn’t find the addition of a full orchestra added much to these songs, many of which have a rather spare piano accompaniment that works superbly well. A good example is An Sylvia which has its origins in Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I love the sprightly version of this with piano accompaniment but the orchestrated version was much slower, as if weighed down by the arrangement. Still, these pieces were beautifully sung and that made them very enjoyable. After rapturous applause, Anne Sofie von Otter returned to give an encore of the old song The Last Rose of Summer which, as you can imagine because it is set to a traditional Irish tune, went down very well with the Irish audience.

After the interval the full orchestra returned to deliver a powerfully impressive performance of Mahler’s First Symphony. The programme notes remind us that for much of his life Gustav Mahler was celebrated as a conductor rather than a composer, and the First Symphony was not well received largely because it was deemed in some quarters at the time to have a structure that was insufficiently symphonic. There’s no reason why we should pay much attention the opinions of over a hundred years ago. The symphonic form has been pulled around in many directions since this work, not least by Mahler himself, and I think Mahler 1 is a very fine work. I always particularly enjoy the 3rd movement, with its occasionally raucous evocation of a Klezmer band.

The final movement brought the piece – and the whole concert – to a thrilling climax. Near the end, the entire brass section of the orchestra (7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, and a tuba) stood up at which point I thought “this is going to be loud”. It was. Gloriously loud.

I’ve said before on this blog how much I enjoy watching a full orchestra in action. From my position at the right of the auditorium I had a great view of the double basses who were working very hard but clearly enjoying themselves.

Anyway, last night’s concert was broadcast live on the radio and also streamed and you don’t have to take my word for anything because you can watch the whole thing yourself here:

John McLaughlin & The Fourth Dimension

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 27, 2022 by telescoper
John McLaughlin last night (Picture Credit National Concert Hall)

Last night I went to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a superb gig by guitarist John McLaughlin with his band The Fourth Dimension. This was the first time I’d seen him live though I have known some of his music on disc, especially two albums he made with Miles Davis in the late Sixties, Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. Since then John McLaughlin has been consistently regarded as one of the best jazz guitarists ever. He is now eighty years old but apart from the fact that his hair is white you would never guess that. He looks as fit as a fiddle, and last the band played for over 90 minutes without a break.

John McLaughlin (who was born in Doncaster but who referred to Ireland as “the land of my ancestors”) is currently on a European tour and he began his concert last night with a heartfelt expression of his gratitude for being able to perform in person with his band after a gap of over two years. This period has been particularly difficult for Jazz musicians who depend so much on mutual interaction when performing. The first number they played was called Lockdown Blues

The band The 4th Dimension brings together excellent musicians from different cultures and musical traditions, integrating their all cultural influences in a unique way while at the same time preserving the spontaneity of jazz. The result is hard to classify – there’s definitely more than an echo of McLaughlin’s earlier musical work in jazz/rock fusion, but with diverse elements of world music thrown in. His own musical style is instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard music from his back catalogue, but subtly altered to suit his current band.

Gary Husband (right in the picture), who is from the UK, played keyboards (and drums on a couple of numbers). Ranjit Barot – Indian by birth and living in Mumbai – was the main drummer (sometimes playing together with Husband, hence the two kits in the picture); he also made various vocal contributions. On electric bass (left) was the extraordinarily virtuosic Étienne M’Bappé who is of Senegalese origins. The band played collectively but also in various combinations with and without McLaughlin, who tended to move around the stage generally encouraging and directing the traffic.

It was a fantastic gig with a wide range of musical influences being evidence. I noticed two pieces made famous by Pharaoh Sanders – The Creator has a Master Plan and The Light at the Edge of the World – but there were also numerous references to McLaughlin’s work with Indian musicians.

It was a very enjoyable performance that generated a huge response from the audience. The NCH wasn’t quite full, but it was a good crowd. I think I was in danger of forgetting how much I enjoy watching musicians as well as listening to their music.

So after a break since February 2020 I’ve finally resumed concert-going. It’s not only the musicians who have missed live music! As a matter of fact I’ll be back at the National Concert Hall this very evening after the final day of ITP2022, for a very different concert…

Fuzzy Cosmology at ITP2022

Posted in Biographical, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 26, 2022 by telescoper

As I usually do when I give a talk (which hasn’t been for a while) I’ve uploaded the slides for the presentation I gave at the Irish Theoretical Physics meeting at DIAS this morning. The title of the talk was Fuzzy Cosmology and the abstract reads:

I discuss some applications of the Schrodinger-Poisson wave-mechanical approach to
cosmological structure formation. The most obvious use of this formalism is to “fuzzy” dark matter,
i.e. dark matter consisting of extremely light particles whose effective de Broglie wavelength is
sufficiently large to be astrophysically relevant, but it can be used to model more general scenarios
and has a number of advantages over standard methods based on Eulerian perturbation theory. I
illustrate the formalism with some calculations for cosmic voids and discuss its application to the
cosmological reconstruction problem(s).

I think it went reasonably well despite there being a hitch at the start because the touchpad on my laptop stopped working. Fortunately I was able to produce an emergency mouse. Anyway, here is a picture of me taken during the talk to prove I was there..

Gravity Competition!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 26, 2022 by telescoper

There’s a competition running at ITP2022 that involves holding out a copy of the book Gravitation by Misner Thorne & Wheeler in one hand at arm’s length for as long as you can following the instructions below:

The current record is an impressive three minutes! How well can you do?

UPDATE: The winner of the competition was John Brennan, formerly of Maynooth University, with a time of 3 minutes and 29 seconds!

ITP 2022

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

Just a quick note to say I’ve spent today not only out of the office but out of Maynooth at the first conference I’ve attended since before the pandemic started. The Irish Theoretical Physics Meeting (ITP22) is taking place from today (Wednesday 25th) to Friday 27th at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. I’ll be commuting from Maynooth for the rest of this week. There is quite a big contingent from the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth in fact.

My talk isn’t until tomorrow morning but I chaired one of the sessions this afternoon. It’s an interesting meeting with an eclectic mixture of talks and lots of time for the sort of face-to-face discussion we’ve all missed for so long. If that weren’t enough it’s also a nice change from marking examinations…!

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags on May 24, 2022 by telescoper
Picture Credit: Joost Slingerland

I’ve been at home today, doing the last of my examination marking, doing some Open Journal business, and preparing a presentation for later this week so I’m indebted to my colleague Dr Joost Slingerland for the above picture of Maynooth University Library Cat.

I’ve seen him quite a few times recently, as I’ve been on South Campus to collect exam scripts etc, and he seems in fine feline fettle. In the picture he looks like he’s guarding his Library from unwelcome visitors.

Soon the exams will be over and the campus will be relatively quiet again, though no doubt he will continue to be kept well provisioned and not short of company when he wants some.

The Death of the Hubble Parameter

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags on May 23, 2022 by telescoper

It’s been a very busy day so in lieu of a proper post I thought I’d recycle an old joke with a new picture I took on my way to collect some examination scripts earlier today for marking.

I’m sad to have to use the medium of this blog to report the tragic death of the Hubble parameter. It had been declining for some time and, despite appearing to pick up recently, the end was somewhat inevitable. Condolences to the other parameters, especially Ω (who was in a close relationship with H), on this sad loss.

An older version of this joke, posted 11 years ago, can be found here.