I'm not sure that my leaving cert physics class of 2018 gave me sufficient credit for arranging, several months before their exams, a visit to the Leviathan telescope and I-LOFAR at Birr Castle - both of which then featured prominently in the Physics paper that summer. Have any students ever been so well prepared? Have any students ever had a guided tour of a full leaving cert question 6 months before the exam?Have any students ever shown less gratitude?
I'll leave that question there...
But not withstanding the lack of kudos coming my way, I repeated the trip with a bunch of willing volunteers last week, because it really is a great day out. We got to see the telescope, which is a thing of beauty in its own right. And we had a tour through the science galleries - which explain just how important it is historically. We got to see the original charcoal drawings that Parsons made while standing on his somewhat unsteady-looking platform, peering into the eyepiece and seeing the clear structure of distant galaxies - establishing for the first time that those other galaxies exist.
And then we got to walk across the beautiful grounds to get a guided tour of the I-LOFAR Irelands contribution to a Europe wide radio telescope that continues today the great work carried out here in the 1800s.
We finished off with a fun workshop, building putt-putt boats and testing them competitively on the garden pond. Throughout the whole thing we were minded really well by Alison and Aine - the entertaining and knowledgeable education officers of the Castle and I-LOFAR.
The first time I visited Birr Castle - in the 70s - the giant telescope was lying across the grass, slowly disintegrating. Its wonderful to see it restored to its former glory. Even if it never features on the Leaving Cert again, I heartily recommend the trip to anybody within a 2 hr drive of Birr - which is presumably about half the country.
The 2018 LC Physics paper: q 11 focuses on Birr, and LOFAR https://www.examinations.ie/tmp/1554643603_1475540.pdf