Category Archives: Science

Dublin’s Culture Night – what fun!

Pearse Museum

Pearse Museum

It was busy in town with crowds visiting the many houses, galleries, houses, museums that took part in Culture Night. The pleasant, dry weather certainly helped matters, and everywhere there was excited talk as visitors moved from venue to venue. All in all it was a great event, and what I enjoyed most was the good nature and the genuine interest shown by Culture Vultures, both young and old!

The event has become one of the Dublin’s main attractions, for locals and tourists alike, and a real ‘must-see’. It offers unique opportunities to visit places that are often closed to the public and, as such, is engaging like no other event and growing year-on-year. And with venues from all corners of the city taking part; from Dunsink Observatory in the west to Windmill Lane Studios in the east and Malahide Castle in the north to the Pearse Museum in the south, there was something for everybody to see and enjoy. And, for those wishing to move quickly between venues there was a Free Culture Night Bus service. Yes, everyone was involved!

Dunsink Observatory

Dunsink Observatory

There is so much to see that you have to have a plan, something that is usually gets forgotten about after visiting a few venues. But that is part of the fun and it adds to the sense of discovery that is so important. That’s what happened to mine, anyway, but I was more than happy with I saw, and heard. For music is a big part of the event and there was so much on offer. There were formal shows in Dublin Castle and Smithfield Square and any number of impromptu performances in small venues and in the open air. Outside the National Gallery I saw four young trumpet players, in dress suits, playing Classical Music that got a loud round of applause. It was different, something that is very much the theme of the event.

Thomas Moore's harp

Thomas Moore’s harp

I enjoyed a guided tour of the recently, and beautifully revamped, National Gallery that was abuzz with excitement. Then it was along a noisy Nassau Street and into the beautiful Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street. This is a veritable treasure house of Irish history where you may indeed spend more time that you might have planned. You can see Ireland’s oldest manuscript that dates from the sixth century, and the collected works of the great singer and writer Thomas Moore, along with his harp. In the Meeting Room there are chandeliers and benches from the House of Lords that was abolished under the Act of Union of 1800.

Then it was into the Mansion House where the guide gave our group a very swift and informative tour of the building that has been the Mayoral Home since 1715, the oldest in the British Isles. The famous Rotunda was added in 1821 for the visit of King George IV, and ironically it was where the First Dáil assembled on 21st January 1919 and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.

It was a great night and I just wish that I had the time to visit other wonderful places and meet more enthusiastic visitors. Maybe the organizers might consider extending the event to a two-night affair, but I am very happy to see it thrive and grow and continue to bring so much fun and excitement to so many.

The Mansion House

The Mansion House

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Ireland’s Oldest Museum

Zoological Museum, TCD

Zoological Museum, TCD

For those interested in animal history a visit to country’s oldest museum is not only a must but a real joy. The Zoological Museum was established in Trinity College nearly 250 years ago, and has more than 20,000 items. Some of the earliest donations came from wealthy collectors, and artifacts from Captain Cook’s expeditions in Australia and the South Sea Islands. You can see a platypus, kangaroo and a Tasmanian Tiger that has, sadly, been extinct since 1930.

Narwahl tusk

Narwahl tusk

There is something here for everyone, from the big to the tiny, from an elephant skeleton to trays of beautiful butterflies, and ‘live’ exhibits of worms, beetles and a rather large, hairy spider! Most of the items are in glass cabinets and there computer tablets where you can get information of what you are viewing. On the main counter you can see and touch a very impressive Rhino’s skull, elephant teeth, animal hides and the almost mystical narwhal tusk that was taller than my guide, Lauren. There are jaws of a Great White shark with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Even lying on the table, unmoving, they are a scary proposition. You can stick your head in (if you dare!) and have your photograph taken, and it’s as close I ever want to get to those choppers.

JAWS

JAWS

One of the best collections is that of the Blaschka Glass Models of marine invertebrates. These were made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in Germany in the late 1800s and were used in schools and colleges as colourful, visual aids. And in the next cabinet is a replica skull of the Piltdown Man who was meant to be the ‘missing link’ between apes and man. This was later exposed as a hoax.

Little Monsters

Little Monsters

Engagement is the word to describe a visit to the museum that is open every day until August. There is a small fee, but then there is much to see and enjoy.

 

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Pitch Drop Experiment – It takes time…

My friend had told me, jokingly, not to hold my breath and I didn’t. Looking at the Pitch Drop experiment in Trinity College recently all I could do was laugh, for if I was to see the drop drip I would have to wait about ten years. Holding my breath was out of the question, but the experiment, quirky as it is, did certainly hold my attention.

Trinity College

Trinity College

The Pitch Drop experiment was setup in October 1944 by a colleague of Nobel laureate Sir Ernest Walton, and remained unmonitored for decades on a shelf in a lecture hall where it gathered dust. The experiment was to measure the viscosity (thickness) of pitch, and when in 2013 scientists noticed that a drop had formed the glass jar in which the experiment was housed was moved and a webcam setup to record the ‘drop’. And it came to pass that on 11th July 2013 at 5pm the first ever ‘drop’ was recorded. Based on analysis of the experiment the scientists in Trinity College estimated the viscosity of the pitch to be about two million times that of honey, and about twenty billion times the viscosity of water.

THE experiment

THE experiment

A similar experiment was setup in 1927 by Professor Thomas Parnell in the University of Queensland (Brisbane) and this is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest, continuously running laboratory experiment. And in 2006 Parnell and current Professor, John Mainstone, were awarded the Ig Noble Prize in Physics for the experiment!

After waiting for a black drop that never came my friend and I went to a well-known, local hostelry where the black drops, thankfully, dropped much more quickly. Slainte.

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Robert Mallet – Father of Seismology

Robert Mallet

Robert Mallet

Making a significant contribution to science and being recognised for it would be enough for most people, but not Robert Mallet who is also credited with creating new words that are in daily use.

Mallet was born on 3rd June 1810 in Ryder’s Row (off Capel Street), Dublin where his father, John, owned a foundry. After schooling in Great Dominick Street he entered Trinity College in 1826 where he studied Science and Engineering. He graduated in 1830 and went on a long tour of the Continent where he visited numerous foundries learning the latest techniques that he would use in Dublin. By the early 1830s, with the introduction of railways into Ireland, the foundry was busy and Mallet became a wealthy man. He had become a partner and the name J&R Mallet, Dublin appeared on their work all over the country. You can see them at the bottom of Trinity College railings on Nassau Street and on an iron, mooring bollard on the West Pier, Dun Laoghaire.

J & R Mallet, Dublin

J & R Mallet, Dublin

He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832, and by the mid-1840s he was using his mechanical and engineering skills to investigate and interpret earthquakes. His work On the dynamics of Earthquakes was a breakthrough and was the beginning of the science of seismology. He, in fact, created the word in 1858 along with seismoscope and epicentre. He famously blew up Killiney Beach while testing his theories in late 1849! Assisted by his son, John, and some soldiers, explosions were set off and he recorded the time taken for the shock wave to travel through the ground.

Mooring bollard, West Pier

Mooring bollard, West Pier

In 1877 he was awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London, its highest award, and he was also elected as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Sadly, his eyesight was affected by an unidentified disease in the early 1870s and he spent his last years virtually blind. He died on 6th November 1881 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery.

 

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Royal College of Physicians – A Place of Excellence

John Stearne

John Stearne

In 1654 Dr John Stearne, who was a Professor of Medicine in Trinity College, founded what was then called The Fraternity of Physicians of Trinity Hall, with the aim of improving the practice of medicine in Ireland. Surprisingly, it was originally housed in Trinity Hall, a former prison on what is now Trinity Street.

Sir Patrick Dun Library

Sir Patrick Dun Library

In June 1667 a Royal Charter was granted by King Charles II, and this was amended in 1692 as the original charter was considered ‘insufficient to compass the noble design’. Sir Patrick Dun was President at the time and he played a very significant role in the College’s history. He bequeathed his extensive library to the college which is housed in the building and still in use. And when the hospital on Grand Canal Street that bore him name was opened in 1812 the College had its first permanent home in almost a century.

The College bought the premises at 6 Kildare Street in 1860 but before it could move in a fire destroyed the property. It was not until 1864 that the College had a new home; and the addition of the Kildare Street Club racquet court and its conversion into the Corrigan Hall in 1874 have made ‘No 6’ one of the city’s most attractive and interesting buildings.

Stairs

Stairs

Staircase

Beautiful interior

Ladies first: 1877 saw the Elizabeth Walker Dunbar become the first woman to be allowed to practice medicine in the British Isles, and Kathleen Lynn (1874-1955) also made a mark. She qualified in 1899, was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and its Chief Medical Officer during the 1916 Easter Rising. She was imprisoned, subsequently elected as a Sinn Fein TD, but never took her seat. She established St Ultan’s Hospital, Charlemont Street, in 1919 and was granted a state funeral when she died in 1955.

Kathleen Lynn

Kathleen Lynn

No. 6 is a great building with beautiful interiors, and a popular city centre venue for conferences and weddings.

 

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Chester Beatty Library – A World of Colour

Chester Beatty

Chester Beatty

The Chester Beatty Library is one of Dublin’s most interesting places to visit and the only museum in Ireland to be awarded European  Museum of the Year (2002). The exquisite collections of prints, manuscripts, paintings and early printed books from Western Europe, through Egypt, the Middle East to China are exceptional. They offer an insight in the rich history of great cultures and religions over the past three millennia.

Alfred Chester Beatty was born on 7th February 1875 in New York City. He graduated as an engineer from Columbia University in 1898 and went west to work in the mining business in Denver. Two years later he moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado and made a fortune mining gold. He was a millionaire in his early thirties, and for health reasons moved to London and established a successful consultancy firm and was often called ‘The King of Copper’. An avid collector since he was a boy he travelled widely buying and amassing the fabulous collection that is now housed in the renovated Clock Tower Building in Dublin Castle. The museum opened on the 7th February 2000, the 125th anniversary of Beatty’s birth. He moved to Dublin in 1940 and was made a Freeman of the City in 1954, and granted Honorary Irish Citizenship in 1957. And he was accorded a state funeral when he died on 19th January 1968 – a very unique honour indeed for a private citizen.

Clock Tower Building

Clock Tower Building

The short video about Chester Beatty just inside the Library’s entrance is informative and well worth a view. In the bright Atrium you will find the Library gift shop and, with so much on show coming from the East, the busy Silk Road Café. And the Roof Garden is not to be missed.

It’s a great place for all ages, and the word that most comes to mind when I think about my visit is – colourful. Check it out.

CBL - Entrance

CBL – Entrance

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William Rowan Hamilton – Genius

WRH in the Royal Irish Academy

WRH in the Royal Irish Academy

The word genius is defined as ‘a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creativity or originality associated with the achievement of new advances in a domain of knowledge’ and it most definitely applies to William Rowan Hamilton.

Hamilton was born on the 4th August 1805, the fourth of nine children, to Archibald Hamilton, a solicitor, and his wife Sarah and lived at 38 Dominick Street, Dublin. When he was three years old he was sent to live with his uncle James Hamilton, a teacher and linguist, who ran a school in Trim, County Meath, and showed an exceptional talent for languages from an early age. By the age of thirteen he had acquired the same number of languages, including ancient Latin and Greek, most modern European languages and Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit. Late in life he often relaxed by reading books in Persian or Arabic!

South Telescope

South Telescope

When he was eight he lost a mental arithmetic contest against the American prodigy Zerah Colburn who was touring Europe and astounding audiences with his ability. After his loss Hamilton devoted his time to mathematics and less to the study of languages. The year before he entered university he spotted an error in Laplace’s Mechanique Celeste, and this brought him to the attention of John Brinkley, the Royal Astronomer of Ireland. He said of Hamilton: ‘This young man, I do not say will be, but is, the first mathematician of his age.’  

He entered Trinity College when he was eighteen and studied mathematics and Classics gaining an unprecedented ‘optime’ in both. Soon afterwards, in 1827, he was appointed, while still an undergraduate, Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College. Although this was a great opportunity for Hamilton, which included a decent salary and the title of Royal Astronomer of Ireland, it was also a place for his sisters to live. However, he spent most of his time studying mathematics and very little effort was devoted to astronomy. He was, however, twice awarded the Cunningham Medal, the highest honour bestowed by the Royal Irish Academy. And in 1835 he was knighted for his services to science; and both he and Michael Faraday were awarded the Queen’s Medal by the Royal Society that same year.

Plaque on Broom Bridge

Plaque on Broom Bridge

While on his way along the Royal Canal to a meeting in the Royal Irish Academy on 16th October 1843 the discovery of quaternions took shape in his mind. He etched the equation on Broome Bridge and the famous event is celebrated each year with a walk from the observatory to the site. Today quaternions are used in computer graphics, signal processing and orbital mechanics. As such, their use can be found in todays’ spacecraft attitude-control systems, and their discovery played a significant role in putting Man on the Moon. That’s out of this world, and something the Dunsink Astronomer would have loved.

Dunsink Observatory

Dunsink Observatory

 

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