seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Establishment of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) is established in Dublin on June 19, 1940 by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940. The Institute consists of three schools: the School of Theoretical Physics, the School of Cosmic Physics and the School of Celtic studies. The Institute under the act is empowered to “train students in methods of advanced research” but does not itself award degrees. Graduate students working under the supervision of Institute researchers can, with the agreement of the governing board of the appropriate school, be registered for a higher degree in any university worldwide.

Shortly after becoming Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera investigates the possibility of setting up an institute of higher learning. Being of mathematical background, de Valera is aware of the decline of the Dunsink Observatory, where Sir William Rowan Hamilton, regarded as Ireland’s most influential mathematician, has held the position of Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Following meetings with prominent academics in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, he comes to the conclusion that astronomy at Dunsink should be revived and an institute for higher learning should be established.

The Institute is initially located at 64 and 65 Merrion Square and consists of the School of Theoretical Physics and the School of Celtic Studies, to which the School of Cosmic Physics is added in 1947. It is modeled on the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, which was founded in 1930. Most importantly, Erwin Schrödinger is interested in coming to Ireland, and this represents an opportunity not to be missed. The School of Celtic Studies owes its founding to the importance de Valera accords to the Irish language. He considers it a vital element in the makeup of the nation, and therefore important that the nation should have a place of higher learning devoted to this subject.

The founding of the Institute is somewhat controversial, since at the time only a minority are successfully completing elementary education, and university education is for the privileged. By this reasoning, the creation of a high-level research institute is a waste of scarce resources. However, Éamon de Valera is aware of the great symbolic importance such a body would have on the international stage for Ireland. This thinking influences much of de Valera’s premiership.

Work by the Geophysics section of the School of Cosmic Physics on the formation of the North Atlantic demonstrates that the Irish continental shelf extends much further than previously thought, thereby more than doubling the area of the seabed over which Ireland can claim economic exploitation rights under the international law of the sea. Fundamental work in statistical mechanics by the School of Theoretical Physics finds application in computer switching technology and leads to the establishment of an Irish campus company to exploit this intellectual property. The Institute has also in recent years been one of the main agents helping to set up a modern e-Infrastructure in support of all Irish research.

In 1968 the Royal Society recognises de Valera’s contribution to science in establishing the Institute by electing him to honorary fellowship.

Currently the Institute has its schools located at three premises on the Southside of Dublin at 10 Burlington Road, 31 Fitzwilliam Place and 5 Merrion Square. It also maintains a presence at Dunsink Observatory in north County Dublin.

(Pictured: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies School of Theoretical Physics, 10 Burlington Road, Dublin)

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Ernest Walton Awarded Nobel Prize for Physics

ernest-waltonErnest Thomas Sinton Walton, Irish physicist, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on November 15, 1951, for his work with John Cockcroft with “atom-smashing” experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so becomes the first person in history to artificially split the atom.

Walton is born on October 6, 1903, in Abbeyside, Dungarvan, County Waterford to a Methodist minister father, Rev John Walton and Anna Sinton. In those days a general clergyman’s family moves once every three years, and this practice carries Ernest and his family to Rathkeale, County Limerick, and to County Monaghan. He attends day schools in counties Down and Tyrone, and at Wesley College Dublin before becoming a boarder at Methodist College Belfast in 1915, where he excels in science and mathematics.

In 1922, Walton wins scholarships to Trinity College, Dublin for the study of mathematics and science. He is awarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Trinity in 1926 and 1927, respectively. Walton receives seven prizes for excellence in physics and mathematics, including the Foundation Scholarship in 1924. Following graduation he is awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and is accepted as a research student at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the supervision of Sir Ernest Rutherford, Director of Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory. At the time there are four Nobel Prize laureates on the staff at the Cavendish lab and a further five are to emerge, including Walton and John Cockcroft. Walton is awarded his PhD in 1931 and remains at Cambridge as a researcher until 1934.

During the early 1930s, Walton and John Cockcroft collaborate to build an apparatus that splits the nuclei of lithium atoms by bombarding them with a stream of protons accelerated inside a high-voltage tube. The splitting of the lithium nuclei produces helium nuclei. This is experimental verification of theories about atomic structure that have been proposed earlier by Rutherford, George Gamow, and others. The successful apparatus, a type of particle accelerator now called the Cockcroft-Walton generator, helps to usher in an era of particle-accelerator-based experimental nuclear physics. It is this research at Cambridge in the early 1930s that wins Walton and Cockcroft the Nobel Prize in physics in 1951.

Walton is associated with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies for over 40 years, serving long periods on the board of the School of Cosmic Physics and on the Council of the Institute. Following the 1952 death of John J. Nolan, the inaugural chairman of the School of Cosmic Physics, Walton assumes the role, and serves in that position until 1960, when he is succeeded by John H. Poole.

Although he retires from Trinity College Dublin in 1974, he retains his association with the Physics Department at Trinity up to his final illness. His is a familiar face in the tea-room. Shortly before his death he marks his lifelong devotion to Trinity by presenting his Nobel medal and citation to the college. Ernest Walton dies in Belfast on June 25, 1995, aged 91. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown.


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Birth of Arthur William Conway, UCD President

arthur-william-conwayArthur William Conway FRS, President of University College Dublin between 1940 and 1947, is born in Wexford on October 2, 1875.

Conway receives his early education at St. Peter’s College, Wexford and proceeds to enter old University College, Dublin in 1892. He receives his BA degree from the Royal University of Ireland in 1896 with honours in Latin, English, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy. In 1897, he receives his MA degree with highest honours in mathematics and proceeds to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, becoming University Scholar there in 1901. Also in 1901, he is appointed to the professorship of Mathematical Physics in the old University College and holds the Chair until the creation of the new college in 1909. He also teaches for a short time at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway marries Agnes Christina Bingham on August 19, 1903. They have three daughters and one son.

One of Conway’s students is Éamon de Valera, whom he introduces to quaternions which originate in Ireland. De Valera warms to the subject and engages in research of this novelty of abstract algebra. Later, when de Valera becomes Taoiseach, he calls upon Conway while forming the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Conway is remembered for his application of biquaternion algebra to the special theory of relativity. He publishes an article in 1911, and in 1912 asserts priority over Ludwik Silberstein, who also applies biquaternions to relativity. This claim is backed up by George Temple in his book 100 Years of Mathematics. In 1947 Conway puts quaternions to use with rotations in hyperbolic space. The next year he publishes quantum mechanics applications which are referred to in a PhD thesis by Joachim Lambek in 1950.

In 1918, Conway is the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate in South Londonderry and in the National University of Ireland, coming in second in both.

Conway continues his scholarship in the field of mathematics and theoretical physics, and makes a special study of William Rowan Hamilton. With John Lighton Synge, he edits the first volume of Hamilton’s mathematical papers and, with A. J. McConnell, he edits the second volume of Hamilton’s mathematical papers. Conway is also active in college life, being appointed Registrar, a position he occupies until his election as president in 1940. He retires in 1947 from the presidency of UCD. In 1953, some of his writings are edited by J. McConnell for publication by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

He is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy from 1937 to 1940.