Archive for Advanced Electromagnetism

A Midweek Lecture

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , on May 3, 2023 by telescoper

It’s halfway through the last week of teaching term, and it’s been a busy day. Earlier on, I gave my final “proper” lecture of the Semester in Advanced Electromagnetism, about the reflection and transmission of electromagnetic waves at interfaces. That’s basically optics, but done in terms of the electric and magnetic fields. I have two more classes this week, on Friday, but these will be revision tutorials devoted to going through past examination questions etc. I’ve had special requests for problems involving conformal transformations and the method of images, so that should be fun!

Meanwhile, my Computational Physics class are working hard on their projects, due in on Friday. My office is opposite the lab so I’ve had a few students coming to ask for help, but mostly they are just beavering away. I hope most of them are writing up by now. I just did a quick check and nobody has submitted anything yet. I suppose that, as usual, they will all wait until the last minute!

I have a telecon coming up in a few minutes, but after that I’ll be attending this public lecture:

The speaker, Professor Clare Elwell is a physicist at University College London, where she is the Director of the Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) Group. Specifically, Prof Elwell develops non-invasive techniques to study brain function, paving the way for defining early markers of autism, developing more targeted care following brain injury, and for better understanding brain development in global health settings. Prof Elwell described her pioneering work in using invisible near infrared light to probe the human brain. Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) is a portable, wearable, low-cost brain imaging technology which can be used to study the brain in newborn babies, toddlers and adults in a range of different scenarios.

I’ll post an update when I get home after the lecture. Actually, there’s no need because the lecture was streamed and a recording is now available. The lecture starts a fairly long way in and the sound didn’t start until part-way through the introductions so I’ve cued the link to the start of the lecture itself.

It was a very interesting lecture by a very engaging speaker. The audience was smaller than I’d expected, though, with less than a hundred in the theatre. This might be because it was scheduled in the middle of the last week of teaching term, which is a very busy time of year for academic staff.

Advanced Electromagnetism Theory Lecture Notes

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 31, 2023 by telescoper

As a member of academic staff who teaches in a publicly funded University, and in the spirit of the Open Access movement, I think that as far as possible I should put the content of my lectures in the public domain. I’ve decided today to do this with my final-year module on Advanced Electromagnetism. Here you go.

Any questions?

If you think that isn’t much for the 17 lectures I’ve given so far, just look at what I started with:

I reckon I’ve made quite a lot of progress!

The Term Ahead

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on January 29, 2023 by telescoper

It’s the day before the start of a new Semester in Maynooth. Last week we finished all due processes relating to the First Semester examinations and the provisional results will be uploaded to “The System” next week. They’re provisional at this stage because they’re not set in stone until the final meeting of the Examination Board. Obviously I can’t discuss the results here. I could comment here about how clunky the whole process is, including multiple downloads of spreadsheets and subsequent uploads somewhere else, but I won’t bother. Nobody seems to be interesting in fixing it. Perhaps by the time I retire “The System” will have been replaced by something that doesn’t waste an enormous amount of staff time. But I doubt it.

It’s a curiosity of the teaching allocation in the Department of Theoretical Physics that I do first-year and second-year modules (MP110 Mechanics and Special Relativity and MP201 Vector Calculus & Fourier Series) in Semester 1 while in Semester 2 it’s the third and fourth year students who have to put up with my ramblings.

The menu for this term involves MP354 Computational Physics 1, which entails just one hour of lectures per week but two two-hour lab sessions. Each student attends one of these sessions, so they get 3 contact hours per week but I have to look after both sessions. Our computer lab has a small cluster of Linux machines and, this term, a brand new display screen which I am looking forward to playing with. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the infamous ChatGPT copes with the Python coding exercises I give the students to do in class: I’ve only tried one so far, without much success. This is the first module I taught at Maynooth, back in 2018, so this will be the 6th time I’ve done it.

My other class is MP465 Advanced Electromagnetism, which I’m doing for the 3rd time now. This is a standard chalk-and-talk kind of module covering a well-established syllabus, and involving two lectures per week plus a tutorial. At least I’m teaching in a classroom rather than online like when I first did this module!

In 2020/21 (during the Pandemic restrictions) I did five modules as well as being Head of Department. At this time two academic staff departures left us severely short-staffed and struggling to deliver our programmes. My workload then was unmanageable and I asked to step down. I changed my mind when were eventually allowed to recruit two lecturers and saw out my three-year term to the end. I had better not repeat here what I think of the deliberate management decisions that left us reeling and had such negative effects on staff morale and on the education of students in the Department. I just hope the damage is not irreparable.

Although I am doing the same number of modules as last term, the number of contact hours I have to do is higher (8 versus 5) because of the labs and the fact that we don’t have tutors for 4th-year modules so lecturers have to do the tutorials themselves. Four modules a year is a much heavier teaching load than a Full Professor at a UK university would be expected to carry, but it seems normal in Ireland where the funding for sciences is far less than adequate. The impact on research productivity is obvious and is systemic. There are excellent physicists in Maynooth but they are given little time or other resources. It’s a big waste of potential. That’s another “System” that needs changing, but I see little appetite for change of the required sort at institutional level. It’s all about recruiting more and more students to be taught with fewer and fewer resources.

The impact of this on staff careers is severe: teaching loads are so heavy that it’s very difficult to reach the level of research productivity required for promotion. For myself, though, the next career step will be retirement so I don’t have to worry about promotion. Fortunately too, I enjoy teaching, so I’ll just get on with it. So I’ll stop writing and get on with preparing my first week of lectures and lab sessions!

The Start of Spring Semester

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2021 by telescoper

It’s February 1st 2021, which means that today is Imbolc, a Gaelic festival marking the point halfway between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, i.e. it’s a Cross-Quarter Day. To be pedantic, Imbolc is actually the period between this evening and tomorrow evening as in the Celtic calendar days were counted from sunset to sunset.

The first Day of February is also the Feast day of St Brigid of Kildare (c. 451-525), one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Colm Cille. One of her miraculous powers was the ability to change water into ale, which perhaps explains her enduring popularity among the Irish.

In Ireland this day is sometimes regarded as the first day of spring, as it is roughly the time when the first spring lambs are born. It corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau and is also known as the `Cross Quarter Day’ or (my favourite) `The Quickening of the Year’. According to legend it is also the day on which jackdaws mate. Given how many of them there are around Maynooth there should be a lot of action today.

Today is, appropriately enough in the light of all this, the start of the Spring Semester of teaching at Maynooth University, the fourth Spring Semester I will have experienced here although this is obviously not like the others in that we’ll be teaching online at least for the first half and probably for the entirety. I was planning to stay at home today but I realised I’d left some things I need in the office on campus so will have to go to collect them. That’s why I’m up early. That and the need to shake myself out of the lockdown torpor that has afflicted me since New Year. It’s time to get my act together, pull my finger out, put my best foot forward, etc.

This Semester I am teaching Engineering Mathematics II, Computational Physics I and Advanced Electromagnetism. The former, what you would probably call a `service course’, covers a mixture of things, mainly Linear Algebra but with some other bits thrown in for fun, such as Laplace transforms. Interestingly I find the Mathematical Physics students do not encounter Laplace Transforms in the first year, but perhaps engineers use them more often than physicists do? I think I’ve written only one paper that made use of a Laplace transform. Anyway, I have to start with this topic as the students need some knowledge of it for some other module they’re taking this semester. I reckon six lectures will be enough to give them what they need. That’s two weeks of lectures, there being three lectures a week for this module.

Once again my teaching timetable for this module is quite nice. I have lectures on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then the students have a choice of tutorial (on either Thursday or Friday). That means I can get through a decent amount of material each week before each tutorial. I don’t do the tutorials, by the way: that’s left to one of our PhD students, who gets paid for doing that and correcting the weekly coursework. There are about 50 students on this module, divided into two courses: Electronic Engineering and Robotics and Intelligent Devices. We don’t have Civil or Mechanical or Chemical Engineering, etc, at Maynooth, in case you were wondering. Lectures will be done as webcasts using Panopto but also recorded for later viewing.

My first Computational Physics lecture, which I will do from home, is on Thursday, after which there is a lab session which we will do via Microsoft Teams. That’s the way we did it after lockdown last year and it worked OK. Students attend one two-hour lab session in addition to the lecture, on either Thursday or Tuesday. The first lecture being on Thursday the first lab session will be Thursday afternoon, with the same material being covered the following Tuesday. Fortunately, Python is free to download and easy to install so it’s quite straightforward to run the labs remotely. Teams has a screen sharing facility so it’s quite easy for myself or my demonstrator to see what is wrong in the same way we would do in a laboratory class.

The Advanced Electromagnetism module is a new one for me but I’m quite looking forward to it. Being a final-year module its content is less prescriptive than others and I’ll be adding a few things that I find interesting. Both lectures for that one are on Wednesdays and again will be given as webcasts with recordings available later.

Today is a particularly busy day because in addition to my first lecture (at 2pm) I have a meeting of Academic Council (3pm via Teams), a Euclid telecon (via Zoom) and a meeting with my PhD student via Teams. I have also been trying to sort out tutors and tutorials for the forthcoming Semester: these don’t start until next week so there’s time, but it has been quite a challenge to get everyone sorted. Fortunately I think that’s now done.

Oh, and another thing. I signed up for Irish language lessons (Beginners Level) and will be having classes once a week from now on.

It’s going to be a very busy term but I reckon being busy is probably going to be a good way to get through the next few months.