From the study of time-travel through wormholes to use of drones in search & rescue operations: the contribution of Leinster researchers

By Irish Research Council

Posted: 4 July, 2016

What do medical implants, time-travel and the study of drones all have in common?

They’re all the focus of research currently being conducted by researchers from the province of Leinster!

For June, our #LoveIrishResearch theme was ‘Research Heroes’ so, we have been showcasing people – both past and present – who have made significant contributions to Irish research.  And next up, following on from our look at Ulster researchers, we’re honing in on research achievements by Leinster natives…

Heroes of the Past

John Tyndall was born in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow in 1820. He became one of the most prominent physicists of the 19th century, making his mark particularly through his discoveries in the molecular physics of radiant heat, providing the experimental basis for the science of meterology, and opening up the debate on the “greenhouse effect.”

Born almost 30 years later, on Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin in 1848, Margaret Lindsay Huggins worked with her husband William to pioneer one of the major tools of observational astronomy: the dry gelatine photographic plate. By applying this technique to astronomical spectoscopy, she helped lay the foundations for the development of astrophysics.

Another Dublin born native we’re highlighting is William Rowan Hamilton. Born on Dominick Street, Dublin in 1805, he became a renowned physicist, astronomer and mathematician. He made significant contributions to the study of algebra and optics, but is best known for his work on dynamics, particularly his formulation Hamiltonian mechanics, which has proven central to the study of electromagntism and the development of quantum mechanics.

Our final Dublin native is Phyllis Clinch. Born in Rathgar in 1901, she made a significant contribution to our understanding of plant viruses, especially degenerative diseases in potato plants. Her work was of major importance to agriculture in Ireland at a crucial time in the country’s economic development.

Moving over to Kildare, we have Kathleen Lonsdale. Kathleen was born in Newbridge in 1903 and became a world-class physicist, crystallographer and professor of Chemistry. Her major scientific contributions were in the field of X-ray crystallography, including her discovery that the benzene ring is flat.

Kilkenny man William Frederick Archdall Ellison is next up on our list! Born in Thomastown in 1864, William was a clergyman and astronomer who established a reputation for excellence in optics and telescope making. He used a new material, carborundum (or silicon carbide), to reduce the labour of grinding lenses, and constructed his own spectrohelioscope, which allowed him to study solar features such as prominences and flares.

Anne Jellicoe from Laois, born in Mountmellick in 1823, is the third woman on our list. As a statistician, social reformer, and educationalist, she was a pioneer in the nascent field of social science research in Ireland. From the 1840s, she investigated the conditions of Dublin’s slums, prisons, and factories, and championed education of the working classes, especially women and girls.

From Longford, the economist and statistician Francis Ysidro Edgeworth is our next noted researcher. He was born in Edgeworthstown in 1845 and made many original contributions to economics and statistics, including the concept of “mathematical psychics” in which quasi-mathematical methods are applied to the social sciences.

Moving over to Co. Louth, we have Darver man Nicholas Callan. Born in 1799, he was a priest and pioneer in the field of electrical science, particularly as regards three areas: electromagnets and the induction coil, batteries, and electric motors. In 1836, he invented the induction coil, a device for producing high voltage currents, and which was essential in laying the groundwork for the development of limitless electricity supply in the modern world.

Some 20 years before Nicholas Callan, Francis Beaufort was born at Flower Hill, Navan, in 1774. A hydrographer and rear-admiral in the Royal Navy, Beaufort applied objectivity and accuracy in meteorological observation and developed the wind scale (now known as the Beaufort Wind Scale) which relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land.

John Joly, born in Bracknagh, Co. Offaly in 1857, had a prolific career in which he made significant contributions as a geologist, physicist, engineer and inventor. His output included the invention of the steam calorimeter, which would prove important in the kinetic theory of gases, and development of the “Dublin Method” of radiation treatment for cancer, which was a forerunner to modern radiotherapy.

Westmeath man Kenneth Essex Edgeworth is next. He was born in Streete in 1880. A soldier and engineer who became an economist and theoretical astronomer in his retirement, Edgeworth is best known for his proposition in the 1940s that there was a vast reservoir of cometary material beyond the orbit of Neptune. This was later proven and became known as the Kuiper belt.

Heading down to the sunny South-East, Thomas Walsh was born in Piercetown, Co. Wexford, in 1914. Thomas was a scientist and agricultural administrator who made a significant contribution to developing the discipline of soil science in Ireland, the agricultural and food industries, and the country’s natural resources more generally. Walsh was a lecturer and researcher in the field of soil science, who applied his research to policy development within the Department of Agriculture and elsewhere.

Last, but by no means least, on our list of past research heroes, is Evelyn Mary Booth. Born in Annamoe in 1897, Evelyn was a renowned Irish botanist and early environmentalist who published “Flora of County Carlow” in 1979. She made a valuable contribution to fields of conservation and natural history in Ireland and, especially in the area of plant studies.

All in all, a pretty impressive Leinster list of historical high achievers in research!

Heroes of the Present

Lots of Leinster natives are now following in the footsteps of these great past researchers, including:

  • Andrew Quigley and Anna Donnla O’Hagan are both from Dundalk, Co. Louth.  Andrew’s project seeks to develop analytical methods for the analysis of vitamins in infant formula, while Anna’s research looks at the effects of current flight time limitations (FTL’s) and sleep deprivation on the fatigue levels and flying skills of Irish commercial airline pilots.
  • David Lynn, from Navan and Laura Gormley, from Dunshaughlin are flying the flag for Meath. David’s project aims to develop advanced tools for analysis of large datasets in astronomy, while Laura’s project is an evaluation of the practices used by professionals working in the field of intellectual disability.
  • Representing Kildare are both Páraic Kerrigan, from Kildare Town and Nicola Kavanagh, from Newbridge. Páraic’s project is a historical and theoretical study of the relationship between queer identities and Irish media from 1974 until 2014, focusing specifically on the ways in which gay visibility was permitted in Irish broadcast media, while Nicola is conducting research into innovative strategies to combat staphylococcal induced bone infection using nanotechnologies.  Her work will help us combat the enormous challenge that healthcare associated infections represent to patient care in the Irish hospital and healthcare system.
  • Peter Taylor is the Wicklow representative on this list. Peter’s project proposes to prove that the self-force prevents time-travel through wormholes, which, in turn, implies that the self-force is the universe’s agency for chronology protection.
  • Next to Carlow, where Fidelma Byrne from Tullow is continuing the legacy of researchers from the county. Fidelma’s project is a transnational comparison of the management of the Fitzwilliam estates in Yorkshire and Ireland, between 1815 and 1865. Through this comparison, her research allows for an analysis of evolving power relations between landlord, agent and tenant to determine what impact policies had on these communities.
  • Contemporary Wexford researchers include Justin McGuinness, from Wexford Town. Justin’s project, in the field of mathematics, is concerned with the formation and design of wave-power devices from a hydrodynamic perspective.  This area of research is very important within the field of ocean energy and fits in with activities within existing and forthcoming national and international programmes.
  • Representing Kilkenny is Caragh Stapleton. Caragh’s research aims to explain the still unknown predictive factors of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC), which currently include age, skin type and immunosuppressant treatment. To do this, she is examining the genetic variations influencing the development of skin cancer among kidney transplant recipients.
  • Next to Laois, where Eóin McEvoy, from Mountmellick and Ailbhe Booth, from The Heath, Portlaoise are both contemporary researchers. Eóin is using mathematics to engineer medical implants that will stimulate cardiac activity, while Ailbhe’s work focuses on self-regulation in early childhood, which is the ability to control impulses and manage emotional and behavioural reactions.
  • Flying the flag for Offaly is Michael Sheridan, from Kilcormac and Ronan Egan, from Serbane. Michael’s project uses direct age estimation modelling in order with a view to revolutionizing the assessment and management of Dublin Bay prawn, otherwise known as Nephrops norvegicus, while Ronan’s project is in algebraic design theory, an emerging branch of discrete mathematics that unifies traditional themes in combinatorial design theory with algebraic techniques and perspectives.
  • Michelle Maher, from Mullingar and Paulina Szklanna, from Moate are the Westmeath representatives. Michelle’s research seeks to understand the power relations in pension policymaking in Ireland. She adopts a historical, institutionalist perspective on pension policy in Ireland as it evolved from 1960 to 2010 to identify significant developments in policy and the power relations between the important policy actors. Paulina’s research is helping to uncover new characteristics of early-onset preeclampsia, a common and serious complication of pregnancy with potentially life-threatening consequences for both mother and baby.
  • Finally to Dublin where Evan O’Keeffe from Carpenterstown  and Orla  Lehane from Dundrum are representing the many researchers from this county. Evan’s  project  considers  how  unmanned  aerial  vehicles,  also  known  as  drones,  can  be  improved  to help  first  responders  in  post-disaster  search  and  rescue  operations,  while  Orla’s  research  explores how  or,  indeed,  if  counter-narratives  to  violent  extremism  can  be  created  for  a  variety  of  target audiences and intervene in the radicalisation process.

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