Explore UCD

UCD Home >

Internship, Careers & Student Life Blogs

 Student Life

 In this section, students and graduates will share their experiences of life as a student.

  Physics student Lána Salmon describes how she travels to UCD each morning.

Each morning at 7am I hop on the bus and run upstairs to grab the front seat. I’m not sure how it became my seat, but it’s got the best views in the house. When people find out that I commute from Celbridge, a town near Maynooth on the Kildare-Dublin border, the look on their faces is usually one of horror. This look is usually followed by a couple of questions – ‘Why didn’t you go to Maynooth?’, ‘Are you going to move closer to campus next year?’, ‘Are you insane?’, among other variations.

I always wanted to go to UCD and I wasn’t going to let a journey time change my mind. Science in UCD was the perfect fit for me, even if it was a little further away than other courses. I have never considered moving out. Partly because I like coming home each evening and partly because the commute has sort of become a part of me and my routine.

Like with every routine it took a bit of getting used to. The early mornings of first year, especially in the winter, were tough. I would struggle to keep my eyes open on the bus.  But I motivated myself to get up early so I could go to the classes I enjoyed in the course that I love. I couldn’t argue with that – I was enjoying college so much that the tiredness was just a side effect.

Once I adjusted the early mornings on the bus were just a part of my day, and one that I looked forward to. As a music lover, I used this time to listen to music, or look over course notes from the day before. Some mornings, I would just sit and look out the window at Dublin City and the hustle and bustle of early morning Dublin. 

In first year, the hour and a half on the bus got me ready for each exciting day. I was still getting used to college life and the commute was a part of that. Now as I enter fourth year the days are longer and I find I need that hour and a half of quiet in the morning. It wakes me up and more importantly wakes my brain up!

Regardless of the time of my first class, I get on the bus at 7am.  When I step onto campus I feel refreshed, ready to go and start work. Whether I am going to a 9am lecture or to the library, the day has started.

A lot of people worry about the tiredness or the stress of commuting every day. But there are upsides to it – you get yourself into a routine and end up getting more work done. You get to come home every day (nothing beats your dinner made and your washing done!), and you get a little time to unwind each morning and evening. If you think you’ll struggle with it, give it a try. It’s not as bad as you think.

I find now that I don’t need the motivation to get up in the morning, it’s sort of in me. I know I am getting a headstart on the day, going to an exciting and dynamic campus to learn new and intriguing things to satisfy my curiosity. I’d travel much further than 30km for that any day.

  Lána Salmon attended Higher Options when she was in 6th Year & has now completed her undergraduate degree. These are her top tips on making the most of Higher Options…

Higher Options is a great opportunity to ask questions,  find out more about the options available to you and speak to people in different courses. However it can be easy to get carried away with the crowds and hundreds of stands. Here’s the top 5 things I wish I had done:

  1. Get there early:  When I went to Higher Options, I had never experienced early morning Dublin traffic. It was a disaster, and we ended up getting to the RDS late. It is definitely worth planning your day in advance to the most of your day there! Get in there early and start straight away.
  1. Questions, Questions: Have a look at the list of stands, pinpoint the colleges you’ve been considering and don’t be shy! My quest for the day was to find out which Science courses would allow me to do Physics and Maths – and nothing else! Even if you think you have no questions or queries, there’s always going to be a few things on your mind. They don’t have to be specific questions – maybe you’d like to know more about college life, accommodation, or sports facilities. You never know, the answers could end up making your mind up for you!

A little tip : If you can't decide between different courses or colleges, try asking the same questions to the different stands. Now is the perfect chance to compare the different colleges or courses you like to one another. It could end up showing you which course or college is more suited to you and your interests

  1. Go to a talk: Have a look at the timetable of talks on each day. There is something for everyone and I guarantee you won't find yourself stuck in a boring talk. I went to the talk on “Working in Science” and it really showed me what kind of careers lie beyond a Science course.
  1. Don’t just follow your friends: Within the crowds of the RDS hall it can be easy to follow your friends around and go to the stands they want to see. Make sure that you get what you want out of the day – speak to the colleges you want to speak to, not just the ones your friends are speaking to. I wandered off on my own and spoke to people at the Institute of Physics, and other stands that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise! Wander around on your own for a while and meet up with your friends after. You’ll cater more to your own interests and learn a lot more.
  1. Get the prospectuses you need (and free stuff!): There can be a lot of college guides, prospectuses and information packs given out on the day. Take the ones you need – don’t find yourself bogged down with heavy prospectuses you wont look at. I unfortunately took too many prospectuses and ended up carrying them around Dublin city for the rest of the day – only to throw most of them out! Bring a pen and paper to take down any information you get – but you’ll probably get enough free pens and paper to last you a lifetime (not to mention highlighters and rulers).

Higher Options can be a busy, overwhelming experience, but if you plan and prepare well you will get a huge amount out of it. Just by looking at the list of college stands and talks will give you an idea of what you can do for the day. Don’t hold back with your questions. When else will you get the opportunity to have all the colleges together in one room, all for your benefit. Make the most of it and enjoy it!

  Physics with Astronomy & Space Science graduate Lána Salmon describes fitting in at UCD Science and how her undergraduate degree experience changed her perception of scientists 

When I tell people that I study physics, they usually mention Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or Einstein. Before I entered first year in UCD Science, my impression of scientists made me think that I was going to be different. I was scared that I would be surrounded by Sheldons and that I wouldn’t fit in.

I am no Sheldon Cooper, nor am I an Albert Einstein – things don’t come to me naturally and I can struggle with maths. I am also a woman and I don’t think I had any image of a woman scientist to compare myself to before going to college. I remember the night before my first day in UCD Science I was wondering whether I will fit in, and what kind of people I will meet in my course. Will it be a room full of whiz kids and antisocial geniuses? As I sat down to our welcome lecture, I looked around at my new classmates and all of my preconceptions were proved to be wrong.

A room full of first year science students turned out to be a room full of normal, varied people. The people I met during Orientation Week and throughout my degree turned out to be the most diverse group of people you could imagine. I thought that scientists must all be the same, but I was proven wrong. In my class there was a hip-hop dancing theoretical physicist, a wind-surfing microbiologist and a rock climbing chemist, amongst many others. The people in my peer mentor group and in my classes were so fun and easy to get to know.

Sitting in a room with hundreds of new faces was scary but once I met my peer mentor group during orientation I felt a bit more at ease. My peer mentor, a second year physics student, showed me and 10 other new students around and helped us get to know people. It turned out that the 10 students in my peer mentor group were also in most of my lectures, so it was nice to see some familiar faces during the first week of lectures. One of the girls in my peer mentor group, and the first person I spoke to on the first day of college, ended up being in my class all the way through my degree. We did our summer internship together and now we’re beginning our PhDs together.

I was terrified that I would find it hard to get to know people but fitting in was much easier than I thought. The students in UCD Science are a tight knit group because science students have a few things in common – they are enthusiastic and passionate about their chosen subject and they are outgoing and social. The UCD Science societies are a great place to meet people and getting involved with these societies can introduce you to people in your class – for example I met a lot of people in my class at UCD Physics Society events like the Freshers pizza night and our trip to CERN in Geneva.

I think if you had asked me in first year what my final year class would look like, I wouldn’t have imagined the 5 of us in the Physics with Astronomy and Space Science class. We don’t fit the stereotypes, but that’s because the stereotypes are wrong. The diversity of the lecturers, tutors and students in UCD Science is what makes it an exciting and dynamic place to learn. If we were all Sheldons, UCD Science would be boring and predictable. It is the different personalities that make scientists unique and inspiring. Anyone can be a scientist and that’s why UCD Science is full of a diverse mix of people.

  Biochemistry & Molecular Biology student Alison Howett describes her Study Abroad experiences in McGill University in Montreal, Canada…

I was standing in the centre of Toronto airport, having missed my connecting flight and feeling slightly lost amid the other travellers eager to get on with their own business. The excitement of beginning my study abroad experience, which I had been looking forward to for months, was beginning to diminish. As I am writing this piece, almost a year later however, I would do almost anything to be back in that position. It did not seem like it in that moment, but I was about to embark on the best four months of my life so far.

The adventure really began in the October of my second year in UCD, when I attended an information session with UCD Global. I had always been keen on completing a semester abroad in University and attending this information session further ignited this interest. I was given a list of Universities that were study abroad options for students in the UCD School of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science and so my research began.

With the list encompassing universities from Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Canada the decision was not easy with each destination having its own selling point. In the end I settled on McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The reputation of McGill University as a world-renowned university, the bilingual aspect of Montreal, the notoriously friendly disposition of Canadians and the fact that the university ran modules that coincided with the UCD modules that I would be missing, were all factors that lead me towards my decision. An application to the UCD International Office, a few months of apprehensive waiting for a decision and an acceptance email sealed my fate.

Due to the extremes of seasons in Canada my exchange can be clearly divided into three seasons, the summer months of making new friends and adjusting to my new life, the fall months where Montreal became my home and the winter months which were filled with lots of layers and sadly many goodbyes.


The first few weeks of Montreal largely revolved around getting settled into Canadian life. McGill University campus, being situated in the centre of Montreal, had a different feel to the campus orientated organisation of UCD. Orientation events were organised in the first few weeks enabling both new students and exchange students to get a better feel for both the campus and the city whilst making new friends. An open – air pub was built on the grass at the front of the campus which was packed with students in the evenings, providing a place where you could mingle with new friends, save yourself from having to cook a meal and listen to some questionable music! I signed up to take part in Frosh – a week of events organised for Freshman and new students. It was definitely a memorable experience which included a boat party, a day spent at a beach club, pub crawls and night time concerts with members of your faculty….not exactly a typical university orientation!!

I was taking four modules whilst in McGill. The classes varied in size from over 300 to 80. Many of the classes were recorded and the students tended to be more vocal in the lectures, however, in many ways the classes were similar to those in UCD. It took a week or two to adjust from the summer holiday vibes of orientation week to the reality of returning to lectures and study! At weekends I made an effort to travel to some of the major north American cities with other exchange students. In the summer months, mainly using very long bus journeys I managed to travel to Vancouver, Banff, Calgary, Mont Tremblant, Quebec and Ontario!!


With the arrival of autumn, I felt as though I had really settled into the study abroad life. I was lucky in that I had found accommodation right in the centre of Montreal and a 10 -minute walk from the campus. I was sharing an apartment with 4 other students and the residence itself was largely occupied with students meaning there was little occasion to be lonely or at a loss for something to do. The apartment overlooked Saint-Catherine Street, the main shopping street in Montreal meaning we had first class viewing of the zombie march, Christmas parade and many other activities occurring on the street below.

I had organised the accommodation through the recommendation of a UCD student who had previously been on exchange in Montreal, however, some students opted to stay in a hostel and find accommodation upon arrival in Montreal. My memories of these months involved the dreaded mid-terms, the vibrant leaves (I have never seen such amazing colours), the Halloween celebrations and our trip to Toronto & Boston!


Winter gave me a whole new perspective on what we define as being cold. I remember walking home from my exam one evening, with the wind chill of -28oC , and feeling my mouth going numb. I left in late December so I avoided the even more menacing cold that arrives in January but I had experienced enough!! With the cold came the snow, cloaking Montreal in a blanket of white. Unfortunately, the Canadians are well adjusted to the weather and so there were no snow days given!

Trekking to class in snow boots, long coats and multiple layers became routine. Despite the cold and having to study for final exams, there was still time to have fun. Lots of Christmas markets had popped up around the city, I went on an unforgettable trip to New York and got into the Christmas festivities.


After a slightly stressful experience packing up my home for four months into a 20kg suitcase and a few tearful goodbyes, I ended up standing in Montreal airport, my flight being cancelled and my hopes of making it home for Christmas in jeopardy. It seemed apt that my exchange experience was ending almost exactly the way it had begun, with airport worries. This time however I had experience, independence and four months filled with happy memories on my side.

Although an exchange is not always plain-sailing and challenges will arise it is a priceless opportunity to travel, make international friends, become independent and experience a different university life. To anyone who has this fantastic opportunity I could not recommend it enough. As I sit here reminiscing about my study abroad time I can only but wish to be back in your shoes!!

  Final year Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Lána Salmon explains what she wishes she knew before starting her Orientation Week in First Year

Orientation is the beginners guide to University life. If you think that the start of college is just going to be a series of boring lectures, you couldn’t be more wrong. There are so many activities and experiences happening during Orientation week that it would be very hard to be bored. Not only does Orientation week make the transition into college smoother but it is a fun and adventure filled few days – a glimpse of the journey ahead. Here’s a few things I wish I’d been told before Orientation week:

  1. Check your course specific orientation timetable: Starting University can be very confusing and overwhelming – understanding timetables, doing registration, meeting new people, finding your way around campus etc. I think I got lost going to my first Orientation week welcome event (A helpful Orientation guide pointed me in the right direction!). Orientation week is about ironing out any of these worries and stresses before term starts. Each course has a course-specific orientation timetable to welcome you to your course, explain the nitty-gritty details and help you meet the new people in your course.
  1. Write down any questions you have: Between timetables, choosing modules and finding lecture theatres, starting your course can be a confusing time. Maybe there’s something on your timetable you don’t quite understand – my timetable had a module on it that I hadn’t chosen and didn’t recognise. After asking someone at the Advisory Session it was all fixed and a weight was lifted off my shoulders! Prepare any questions you have before going to Orientation – you will have the chance to speak to lecturers, advisors and students and ask them about their modules or any general queries you may have. Use this time to straighten things out before term starts. There is genuinely no such thing as a silly question! I remember having so many questions – How long does a lecture last? What is a tutorial? What happens if I’m sick and I have to miss a lab? The people at orientation are there to help you, use this opportunity to ask as many questions as you like!
  1. Get involved in your Peer Mentor Group: I am still in classes with people who I met on the first day of college in my peer mentor group, and 3 years later we are still friends! On your first day of orientation you will get a peer mentor- a 2nd or 3rd year student who is there to show you around campus, help you get to know other people and to answer any questions you may have. You will be in a group with 10-15 other people from your course so don’t be shy! Get to know the other people in your group, they will most likely be in your classes so it will be nice to see a familiar face from Orientation week once lectures start. I remember being so daunted with the number of people in my course, but having a smaller group to get to know was a nice way to meet people – and then they introduced me to their friends and so on!

A little tip: bring your timetable along to orientation and have a look at where your lectures and tutorials are. If you don’t recognise a building or room number on the timetable, maybe you can ask your peer mentor to point it out to you on your campus tour. My peer mentor was kind enough to show me where my first ever lecture was, which made going to college on the first Monday morning a little bit easier.

  1. Check any other social activities going on: UCD has so many events run by clubs and societies to cater for everyone’s interests, and orientation week is no different. There is really something for everyone, so check the social timetable and see what's on. It’s a nice way to meet new people with similar interests, and maybe even to spend some time with your new peer mentor group or new friends from your course. 
  1. Enjoy yourself! I know it can be easy to get stressed with all the new experiences, people and places, but Orientation week is exciting and action-packed. Speak to people about the worries and questions you have – there are so many people to help you, from lecturers to Student Advisers to your Peer Mentors. Some of my fondest memories from first year are from Orientation week and the weeks that followed. Immerse yourself in college life – speak to new people, explore the campus and go to some events. All of these new experiences are part of the journey, make the most of it and enjoy it!

  Final Year Chemistry student Andrew Keating describes his experiences in the UCD Mountaineering Club….

As with nearly every 1st year I wandered into the Fresher’s Tent and spent all my money joining as many clubs and societies as my wallet allowed. That Sunday UCD Mountaineering Club had a hike to Glendalough and I decided I would go if it wasn’t raining. Luckily we got one of the best days all year! The Fresher’s Hike is a great introduction into hiking if you have never done it before. It’s not too tough and you get the spectacular scenery of Glendalough. I got to meet so many new members to the club from every corner of Ireland and from all over the world, some of which are still my closest friends. I never really had an intention of climbing. I joined for the hiking. But I thought I may as well try it out and see if I liked it. Turns out I loved it! Climbing is one of those things where you just don’t know how good it is until you do it. Was I afraid of heights? Definitely, in fact I kind of still am, you just get used to it!

I spent much of my first year doing everything the club had to offer, whether it was the training sessions, hikes, trips away, and, of course, all of the many social nights! Like a lot of the members I just couldn’t get enough of the club. So I decided I would run for committee of the following year, I went for the position of treasurer. Unfortunately, I lost by just 2 votes! Nevertheless, I was later co-opted onto the committee as Health & Safety Officer.

My 2nd year in the club was even better. I got to help run the club with the committee, an experience I’ve never had. The best part about being on the committee is helping everybody because I remember what it was like to join the club with no clue what I was doing. This year the club ran a first aid course catered for the outdoors, a bare minimum for most outdoor work. It was unbelievably cheap! The idea of the club is to have as much cheap and fun events as possible. The most expensive club trip is the Wales trip which typically costs no more than €80. This includes a ferry and bus, 3 nights accommodation, and insurance. The trips around Ireland cost less than €50 and some of them even include a dinner made by the committee!

By the end of 2nd year I had done nearly everything the club had to offer. At some point I had the crazy idea of becoming Captain of the club. At the AGM I was elected captain for the following year. This was a new experience altogether. Along with the committee I had to run the club. We would plan the trips away, training courses, competitions, social events as well as the everyday training and supervision at the UCD Climbing Wall. On top of all that we had to organise and run the Irish Climbing Intervarsities which is the largest climbing competition in the country with clubs representing from all over Ireland. We ended up with nearly 250 competitors. It was stressful to say the least! Thinking back, I have no idea how I managed to balance that and college. It’s safe to say I had a great committee that made my life a lot easier. If it wasn’t for them I’m not sure I would have managed it all.

Now as I am just starting my final year in UCD, I look back at all the fun I’ve had and I can’t really believe it. I’ve got to see some beautiful areas and climbed in awesome places. This past summer I went climbing in Germany with friends who joined the club on Erasmus as well as friends still in the club.  I have learned so many new skills and have kept myself fit but the best thing about the club is the people. They are, by far, the nicest and most accepting people I have ever met! Everybody is so different and interesting. To put it into perspective one member, Naomi, was only meant to stay here for 1 year on Erasmus but the club was so great she decided to leave Germany behind and move over here!

  Case Western Reserve University student Kelsey Darrah describes her Science Study Abroad experience in University College Dublin…

My first year of college, I must have had such a horrible midterm week that I decided to make an appointment to meet with our study abroad advisors at my home university, Case Western Reserve University. I had spent all my life in my hometown in Northeast Ohio, and then stayed in the area to attend college in Cleveland. As a physics major, studying abroad felt like something that wouldn’t be possible for me without delaying my graduation. In addition, I was worried about the financial costs of my study abroad. My meeting with my advisor helped me clear my worries, and I was soon booking my flight to University College Dublin.

I initially chose Dublin for two reasons: Ireland spoke English and UCD had all the classes I needed to still graduate on time. What’s more important, however, are the reasons that I decided to return for a second semester and the reasons I’m glad I did.

My first semester abroad at UCD was nothing short of amazing. Despite being busy with my physics classes and doing research as a part of the Study Abroad Research Module, I spent a lot of time traveling. My favorite place I went to was with the International Student Society to Donegal. Not only did I get to spend my time rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking along the coast, but I also got to befriend someone from every continent on this trip, aside from Antarctica.

It was this experience of meeting new people from around the world, along with wanting to further immerse myself in Irish culture, that brought me back for a second semester. Many of my friends were also American my first semester, which turned out to be helpful for travelling and sightseeing, but I still left feeling a little bit upset that I didn’t come home with as many Irish friends as I had hoped. Soon after I returned, I was filling out an application for another semester at UCD, and with the help of the UCD Science Study Abroad advisor, Jamie Wells, I would be able to take all the physics classes I needed at UCD.

My second semester has been very different, and I learned that making Irish friends was as simple as getting involved. I decided to join the UCD Ladies Boat Club and spend my weekends rowing down the River Liffey. Being part of this team very exciting. We travelled to places such as Cork and Limerick for races, and I even got to meet the Irish silver medallists Paul and Gary O’Donovan! While I didn’t get to spend the weekends taking advantage of the Ryanair flights, it did give me beautiful blisters on my hands as well as cultural insight to Ireland that I wouldn’t have otherwise got.

Another important part of this semester was becoming more involved in my course. While it can be difficult to make friends, studying abroad often puts you in a situation of getting to know strangers. I slowly began to talk to other physics students in my classes, and before I knew it the highlight of my day was the time I got to spend in the “Nerd Castle,” a study room where the third and fourth year physics majors spend time between classes. This is the place that made me feel like I truly belonged in Ireland, and this was confirmed by one of my instructors telling me that I’m “one of them now” one day when he walked by. I felt pretty proud of this moment.

Often I get asked, “How’s this semester comparing to your last?” And the answer is that I can’t compare the two. My two semesters were both great, but comparing them is like apples and oranges. One semester was filled with travelling around Ireland and Europe, and the other has brought me closer to Ireland than I could have ever imagined. What I learned from both experiences is that it’s the people that make studying abroad in Ireland special and that even though Ireland may speak English, it can sound like a completely different language.

Current UCD Biology, Mathematics & Education student, Emily Lewanowski-Breen, describes her experience of attending an international conference as an undergraduate student

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the GIREP-ICPE-EPEC 2017 International Conference, which was hosted by Dublin City University from 2 July to 7 July. The theme of this conference was “bridging research and practice in physics teaching and learning”. Whilst I am studying to become a Maths and Biology teacher as part of the Science and Maths Education in UCD, I felt it would be beneficial for me to gain insight into the teaching and learning of physics since I will also be qualified to teach Junior Cert Science. Additionally, I thought it would be a great experience to discover more about the world of research as it is my dream to one day pursue a PhD in maths education.

However, I will admit that I was both nervous and excited about the idea of attending my first conference as I didn’t really know what to expect. How will the conference be structured? What if I don’t understand the presentations? Will I be the only undergraduate student there? These are a few of the questions that came to mind as I made my way to DCU on the first morning of the conference. However, despite my initial concerns, it turned out to be an incredible experience and I really enjoyed every minute of it.

So back to my first question- “how will the conference be structured?” Well, each day actually followed a similar format. The mornings began with a one-hour ‘plenary session’ in the Helix at DCU, whereby a researcher or academic spoke about their work in the field of physics and science education. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Dr Paul van Kampen from DCU on “the teacher as a young professional” as I could really relate to the points he discussed. For example, he spoke about the importance of encouraging active learning in the classroom, which is something that is central to the Science and Maths Education programme in UCD. In fact, we always strive to make our lessons as student-centred and engaging as possible through the incorporation of groupwork and questioning. We even trial or discuss our lessons with one another during our education lectures and provide constructive feedback, which I find really helpful.

This being said, I also enjoyed the talk presented by Dr Bethany R. Wilcox from Colorado School of Mines on the use of interactive techniques to encourage student participation in lectures as it was interesting to see how other students learn at third level. I was particularly fascinated by the multi-solution problems she discussed as it is something that I hope to incorporate in my own teaching.

These plenary talks were followed by the ‘parallel sessions’, which consisted of a series of 20-minute oral presentations that took place at the same time but in separate rooms. There were around eight sessions taking place at any one time so the hard part was trying to decide which one to go to! Thankfully, the conference programme had detailed descriptions of each of the sessions, which made it a lot easier to plan out my day.

This brings me to my second question – “What if I don’t understand the presentations?” Well, I am delighted to say that each of the talks and presentations were actually very accessible, which was great considering that I am not from a physics background. In fact, I learned so much over the course of the week and even got a lot of ideas and inspiration for my own teaching. I particularly enjoyed learning about multidisciplinary activities, which are essentially activities that incorporate more than one area of science, thereby developing students’ problem-solving skills. For example, they had a physics worksheet on electricity but it had a biology context, which was something I had never seen before, but now hope to incorporate in my own science lessons. I also enjoyed the presentation by Dr Shane Bergin from UCD on the impact that informal learning environments have on students’ science identity as it was a very engaging session and it was great to learn more about Irish initiatives such as ‘City of Physics’ and ‘Quavers to Quadratics’.

However, I was particularly intrigued by the flipped classroom model, whereby students watch videos of lessons at home, allowing class time to be devoted to discussions and activities. I had heard of this teaching approach before but hadn’t realised the potential impact it can have on students’ learning, so it was interesting to learn more about it during the parallel sessions. Nevertheless, I was also delighted that a lot of the ideas and concepts we learn about in the Science and Maths Education programme in UCD were actually discussed during the conference because not only did it allow me to feel more engaged in the sessions, but it made me realise how far I have already come as a pre-service teacher. The discussions on the different types of knowledge required by science teachers, for example, really resonated with me given that we constantly reflect on the development of our own knowledge for teaching as part of our degree.

So now to answer my final question- yes, I was the only undergraduate student at the conference but this didn’t bother me in the slightest because everyone was so friendly and welcoming. In fact, I have come to realise that conferences are great for networking, even for undergraduate students. It was just such an honour to meet researchers, academics, and teachers from all around the world; everywhere from Brazil and Colorado to Sweden and Australia. I was particularly fascinated to hear how the Irish education system and teacher training programmes compare to other countries and was delighted to share my own experience of the Science and Maths Education programme in UCD. Some of the people I met were actually really impressed by the level of collaboration and team-work within my degree and even asked me for advice on how they could encourage it within their own teacher training programmes…so that was pretty cool! In fact, meeting new people was perhaps one of my favourite aspects of the conference because I enjoyed hearing about their experiences and research interests and was glad that I could contribute my own ideas.

Overall, the GIREP-ICPE-EPEC Conference was a very enriching and worthwhile experience and I would like to thank Dr Shane Bergin for inviting me to attend the event. I was truly inspired by the people I met and their dedication to improving the teaching and learning of physics and science across all levels of education. I definitely gained a lot from the experience and feel more prepared to teach physics at Junior Cert level as part of my upcoming fourth-year placement. In fact, I would highly recommend other undergraduate students to attend conferences because not only do they provide you with the opportunity to meet researchers at the forefront of their fields, but they also allow you to discover what a career in research might entail. You never know, maybe you will be just as inspired as I was - after all, undergraduates are the researchers of the future.


 In this section, students and graduates will share their internship experiences.

 My name is Seán Roche, and I am currently in my final year of a BSc in Physics at UCD. During the summer of 2022, I spent 10 weeks in the University of Notre Dame, as part of the Naughton Fellowship REU program. Through the generosity of the Naughton Fellowship I was given the opportunity to experience international research under the supervision of Dr. Graham Peaslee, a professor of
experimental nuclear physics at the University of Notre Dame.

Dr Peaslee has developed accelerator-based techniques that can rapidly measure materials for chemicals such as PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkylated substances), a widespread family of man-made fluorochemicals who’s exposure has been linked to a myriad of health issues. As a substance, PFAS is incredibly toxic, and present in a wide range of products such as food packaging, clothes and firefighting equipment. In addition to its toxicity PFAS, known as a ‘forever chemical’ does not break down easily, and is present in rivers, lakes and critically, drinking water. As a member of Dr Peaslee’s team I was investigating the presence of polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) on materials such as ski wax, water samples, and even an earphones case. To test for PFASs, we looked for fluorine in samples as fluorine indicates the presence of PFASs using a method called particle induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy. This was a truly exciting opportunity for me to be part of cutting edge research with real world relevance.

I could not have hoped to get a better mentor than Dr Peaslee who generously combined research with my education. I learned how to operate the 3MV tandem accelerator along with two other undergraduate researcher students from America. Following this learning process I qualified as a Senior Operator and supported the Phds on the team, ensuring that the accelerator operated smoothly, collecting and preparing samples, carrying out measurements, collating data, and presenting results. My physics knowledge and research skills were augmented and strengthened with chemistry skills, as I learned how to use chemical equipment to correctly prepare the various samples used in the research. Collecting and handling samples from around Notre Dame and across the state of Indiana took me down interesting Indiana backroads that I can’t imagine many Irish students have visited. I especially enjoyed being part of the weekly team meetings, where I communicated my findings and further developed my presentation skills. It was a vibrant team consisting of 5 doctoral students, who were very friendly and supportive and not only allowed me to develop skills crucial for research but also taught me to appreciate the importance of teamwork and collaborative practice.

In addition to working with Dr Peaslee’s team, I was also given the opportunity to collaborate with a separate group of researchers from a Swedish institution on a comparative study of PFAS detection methods. I collected and analysed data using samples sent from the group, then reviewed, edited, and presented my results to the team ready for publication. I authored a paper using these findings, which was published in a collection of undergraduate research papers by The Notre Dame College of Science on their website.

The high quality learning experience I received in Notre Dame was matched by the cultural experience of working in the awe inspiring beauty of its campus. The University of Notre Dame is regularly listed as one of America’s most beautiful Universities for a reason. Every morning I cycled past its golden dome sparkling in the sunshine, I grew ever more appreciative of the wonderful opportunity I had been given by the Naughton Fellowship.

As part of the Fellowship there is an expectation that students serve as a cultural ambassador during their time in Notre Dame and I embraced this role with enthusiasm. I was privileged to be chosen as a Naughton Fellow and I understood my obligation to be a positive representative of Ireland.

There is a strong Irish presence in Notre Dame, the campus has ‘Go Irish’ everywhere you look in support of their football team, so as an Irishman I felt right at home. Being from Ireland (or ‘Irish Irish’ as I was referred to) gave me an almost celebrity-like status, something I grew to enjoy more than I’d care to admit. Together with my fellow REU friends we interacted with students, academic staff, and the wider South Bend population getting to understand their customs and traditions and sharing some of our own.

The nearest big city to Notre Dame is Chicago and it is here I flew into from Dublin. The campus is located in South Bend, 160 km from Chicago, in the middle of nowhere, in Northern Indiana. South Bend is roughly the same size as Limerick, my hometown, and although small relative to other J1 destinations, its size was not reflected in the amount of experiences I enjoyed over the summer. I socialised with my research colleagues in several of their homes, enjoying their hospitality, and in turn I organised visits to traditional Irish music seisiúns in Fiddler’s and popularised our iconic
karaoke nights in O’Rourke’s.

My REU friends and I embraced the numerous activities on our doorstep in South Bend, such as minor league baseball games, a blues festival for the local fire brigade, and the ubiquitous tail gate party outside the Notre Dame football stadium. Interestingly I learned that the truly American ritual of tailgating began during the 1800s in the American Civil War, when people would bring food to sit and watch skirmishes as they occurred.

Through the Naughton Fellowship I was lucky to meet and connect with an amazing group of people in Notre Dame and South Bend. I was given a hands on research opportunity working and learning with an amazing research team and I would sincerely like to thank the Fellowship for giving me this opportunity. I am continuing in my ambassadorial role with the Fellowship and I look forward to welcoming students from Notre Dame next semester as part of the Peer Mentor programme, where I can show them the real “céad míle fáilte”.

I would further like to thank UCD for nominating me for the fellowship, and of course to Dr Peaslee and his wonderful team at Notre Dame for sharing their knowledge, allowing me to work side by side with them and making me feel welcome at their institution. I will take the memories made and lessons learned from this incredible summer onto the next step of my educational and life journey.

I would strongly encourage anyone to apply for the REU programme at Notre Dame with The Naughton Fellowship. The experiences I had this summer and the new skills I developed were completely beyond the scope of what I could have imagined possible. It is amazing the opportunities that await when you say yes, and open your mind to new adventures.

 My Physics Summer Internship – The Unpredictability & Excitement of Research

This blog is written by Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Lána Salmon. Lána took part in the UCD Physics Summer Internship Program 2016. The program is designed and aimed at undergraduate students who are interested in developing their independent Physics research abilities, while being directed and supervised by UCD Physics academics. Further details of the programme are available on the UCD School of Physics website

Science can be very unpredictable! 5 weeks into my 8 week internship as part of the UCD School of Physics Summer Internship Program, I found myself a little stuck. My project focused on Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) – the most powerful electromagnetic explosions in the Universe that occur when a star collapses. Using data from the Swift and XMM Newton satellites, I was using X-Ray data to try and understand these bursts. 

Using a programme called XSPEC, I was using the X-Ray data to get two things:

  • Redshift – a measure of the stretching of light as objects move away from us, making the light look ‘redder’.
  • Hydrogen Column Density – a measure of the amount of gas this light passes through on its way to us.

My results were looking a bit funny. In most of the 32 bursts I tried, the redshift and column densities calculated by XSPEC were higher than the real values. 

I can’t deny that I felt lost at this point, but a chat over lunch to the other 15 interns – from UCD, Trinity, DCU and even France – made me feel a little less alone. A quick call to my supervisor – Dr. Antonio Martin Carrillo – gave me some new ideas. Having been taught by him before, I knew the internship with him was going to be challenging but also fun. His enthusiasm for astrophysics is infectious!

Antonio directed me to some papers to explain this. They claimed that dust and gas around the collapsed star complicates the results, or maybe the GRBs weren’t bright enough.

But Antonio also suggested that fixing the Hydrogen Column Density to a fixed value could help. I fixed this and obtained new redshifts. Low and behold, these were much closer to the real redshifts!

One thing I’ve learned from this internship is that in science you can never be too sure. I double checked my errors and plotted contour plots to see the distribution of my errors.

I then tried to see how this method works with brighter GRBs. I found that the redshift changes by only a small amount when the GRB is brighter. So the brightness of the GRB can’t be the reason for the wrong redshift calculated earlier! There must be a physical reason the redshift was wrong.

Maybe it’s the gas around the star, or the gas in our galaxy. Antonio came up with another idea on our last day – maybe the column density changes with time, therefore we can’t fix it to one value. That’s one of the exciting things about research, there are so many possibilities!

With one week left to go, I had to start preparing for the poster competition. I found it hard to condense all of these results onto one poster, but I did it! On our last day, myself and the 16 other interns gathered in the physics common room to be quizzed on our 8 weeks. 3 judges walked around and spoke to all of us, and it was very fulfilling to be able to discuss my poster with other astrophysicists to get their insights and advice.

The judges remarked that the standard of the posters was very high – that they would be acceptable at an international conference. They found it very difficult to pick a winner and were in awe that we were only undergraduates. It was nice to hear such lovely comments after all our hard work.

To my surprise, I won the poster competition! I think overall this internship showed me that a career in research can be exciting and unpredictable – at times frustrating – and a collaborative effort. Antonio was more than helpful throughout the whole 8 weeks – I have to thank him for passing on his enthusiasm and giving me the chance to try a career in research.

I look forward to exhibiting my poster at the Irish National Astronomy Meeting in UCD in September and getting to discuss my results with even more astrophysicists from all over Ireland.

I would like to thank the UCD School of Physics for their support of this program. I had an amazing 8 weeks among fantastic students and researchers. Since I now have to begin to think about my future plans, this internship has pushed me towards applying for a Research Masters. I look forward to this journey ahead!

Final year Computer Science student Clíodhna Connolly describes the benefits of her internship with Deloitte…

Going into Computer Science in UCD I knew I wanted, at some stage during my degree, to do an internship. I knew I’d have to allot time over one of my summers to try get my hands on one.

The summer of third year was when my efforts of applying finally came to fruition. Applying for internships and even graduate positions can be a lot more time-consuming than most would imagine. It’s not just your academic prowess that companies want to examine but what motivates you, what inspires you, what kind of people do you admire and also why do you want to work for their company. So early into February I applied to Deloitte, a company, at the time, I didn’t really know too much about, nor their technical positions. Shortly after applying I was invited to an hour-long interview in Deloitte HQ where I was interviewed by a department representative about the competencies I had spoken briefly about in my application, (a time when I showed leadership etc.). I was quite happy with how the interview went and a day later I got a phone-call from Deloitte saying I had got the role.  I now had a role as a Technology Consultant Intern lined up for the summer and although I still didn’t know much about what this entailed I was thrilled.

Summer finally rolled around and I found out more about what my internship involved. We had a two-day induction period which helped me a lot to know more about the company I was working for, the work that they do and the work that I’d be doing. My internship was a bit different from what some of the internships my other friends from college were doing. In Deloitte, it’s a very structured internship. At the beginning of June over 140 interns began either 6-week or 12-week placements. I was doing a 12-week placement and after the first 2-days of induction I saw on average only 2 other interns each day.

I quickly learnt that technology consulting means that you will spend almost all your time on client-site. After two days in HQ I was moved to Kilmainham where I worked in a Department of Social Protection office for the remainder of my internship. The aim out here was to help the department get more of their services online and they had thus hired consultants to help them achieve this task.

I worked on 2 different teams during my time out in Kilmainham. The first team was working on what was already a very established entity and so my work revolved mostly around testing as the development that was happening was a bit too in depth for me to take up in such a short time frame. After this team, I was moved onto another team where I really got to see much more software development. This team was working on a product that was still actively having major features added to it and so it was possible to give me a lot more development work.

When I originally went to Deloitte I had no web development experience and most of the technologies they were using to develop were entirely new to me. I had never used C# before, which was the primary language used for development, but after a little while spent reading through a beginner’s guide book and reading through the existing code base I had got my head around the majority of it. One thing everyone had told me about internships, although I never really believed them, was that the primary aim was for you to learn. This couldn’t be more true from the experience I had in Deloitte. I was given all the time I needed to familiarise myself with the systems and code they used and members of staff were always more than happy to help explain something if I needed it.

One of the perks of being involved in such a large company and such a large internship program was that there were an awful lot of interesting activities for us to take part in. Almost every Friday afternoon I would be invited back to HQ to be given a talk the other departments in Deloitte, what they do and what kind of people they might be looking for. Beyond this we also had a lot of days focussing on our personal development and to help us plan our careers.  We also had an Impact Day in which the aim is to give back to the community. On this day, myself and a few other interns went and painted apartments of some people with disabilities. Not only was it good to be helping people out but it was also nice to be out of the office for a while and doing something different.

A major asset of my internship at Deloitte was taking part in the Intern Innovation Challenge. At the beginning of our internship all the interns were divided into 44 teams of 4 or 5 and given a title to inspire us to come up with an innovative idea. My team and I were given the title “How to use Technology on Deloitte Engagements” and after listening to the struggles of a tax intern on our team we saw an opportunity for robot process automation to be implemented on the engagements our colleague was working through in order to free up his time for more productive and beneficial work. Somehow, despite our concept being a bit more serious and more difficult to understand than our competitors’ presentations, our group won first place. We had been shortlisted into a list of 8 groups and from there we all had to present to a group of esteemed Deloitte employees consisting of several partners and heads of departments. We were delighted we had won, not only to justify the work we had put in but also because 1st place had a top prize of €1000!

Overall, my time in Deloitte really highlighted for me how to apply the skills I had already learnt from my degree in UCD but also the skills I should focus some more on during my final year. The problem solving and software development skills I had learnt really stood by me well especially when I was adapting my existing knowledge to working with an entirely new language. The teamwork I had learnt in UCD, especially from my Project Management module, also stood by me as there was not one thing done in Deloitte alone. Unlike in college you are always a part of a group working on a project and it’s important that you already have some skills developed in this area. During one of the Friday afternoon talks I was told more about computer forensics and I found this area to be very interesting and because of this I have tried to incorporate this interest into my module choices in my final semester.

I would highly recommend an internship to anyone considering one. I know it can be difficult as it often clashes with J1s and interrailing etc. but there are real benefits that come from doing one. Both your college life and employment prospects can improve from the skills that you learn and who knows maybe even your internship might roll itself into a full-time graduate position like mine did!

Further information about careers at Deloitte including the Summer Internship programme is available at www.deloitte.ie/students

 UCD Chemistry graduate Niamh McKeever explains why she took a year out to complete an internship at APC Ltd

Deciding to do an internship

The choice to take a year out of your degree requires a lot of consideration so weighing up the pros and cons is a good first step. For example:


  • Gain experience in an area relevant to your degree.
  • Learn skills such as team work as well as specialised skills (in my case, lab based).
  • Earn money (depending on your internship type).
  • Have 1 year relevant work experience on your CV.


  • Leaving a year group you know and returning to a new one.
  • Starting work in an area that’s completely new to you.
  • Not knowing how difficult it would be to readjust into studying when returning to complete my final year.

In third year I knew I wanted a pharmaceutical industry placement and, for me, the pros completely outweighed the cons. What appealed to me was the opportunity to experience working in the field of chemistry and getting exposed to industry labs, knowing that my final year of my degree would allow me to experience academic research labs and have something to compare them to. I applied for 3-month long summer internships as well as a year-long internship offered by APC.

How the process worked

Before applying to any jobs, I prepared my CV and cover letters and I got them checked by a lecturer. It’s so important to have someone else look at your CV and cover letter and give you tips and changes you should make, whether it’s your lecturer, a friend or family member. Another useful thing is to research the company and the role you are applying for. This allows you to tailor your application to what they are looking for, specific skills in the lab, team work etc.

After the application process, I was invited for an interview. Again, researching the company is key. It allows you to find out why you want to work in the company and this enthusiasm will come across in the interview. I was excited to join APC because it was a young company based in UCD in the pharmaceutical R&D sector. After receiving a call to say I had got the position I was delighted. The process of applying for a year out is made easy by the science programme office. Once you go into them they’ll give you a form to fill out and process your application. Then you’re good to go and content that when you come back a year later you’ll have a place in final year.

Typical day in APC

Firstly, to explain what APC does. It is a consulting company that provides process development for pharmaceutical companies. This means that my internship would involve working in the lab, running and analysing experiments in order to improve a particular process that produces an API (active pharmaceutical ingredient). For working in a lab-based environment no two days are going to be the same as each project gives rise to different challenges and problems to overcome.

Typically, my role involved assisting the scientists and engineers on my team by analysing samples from their processes and determine various properties of the materials such as purity, water content and thermal characteristics. Apart from project work other things in the lab needed to be carried out like safety checks, calibration and maintenance of various instruments and checklists to complete to ensure the team has everything needed to carry out processes.

Outside of work there was a Sports and Social club that organised events like comedy nights, days at the races and dinners out. A year in a company is of course completely different to a year in college. The benefits you don’t think of are that your evenings and weekends are free and don’t have to be filled with studying (or the guilt of not!). Of course of the other side, in work there’s no month off for Christmas and other long college holidays but that’s something we all have to get used to eventually!

What I learned

My 14 months as an intern in APC gave me an understanding of the pharmaceutical industry and an experience of what a lab based job entails day to day. Luckily for me, it is something I enjoyed and an area that I knew I would want to work in again. As well as the experience I learned many fundamental skills for future jobs including operating different pieces of lab equipment, working as part of a team and using various types of software.

Regardless of whether I wanted to carry on in chemistry or take a different route after my degree the skills I learned are transferable to many jobs and would impress any potential employers in future job applications and interviews. It’s something I’m very glad I did and would recommend it to anyone who is eager to experience what working life is like.

Niamh McKeever, UCD Chemistry Graduate

Niamh has now graduated with a BSc Chemistry and is working as an Assistant Scientist (Small Molecule) at APC Ltd 

  MSc Toxicology & Regulatory Affairs graduate Stephanie Earl writes about her experience completing a Toxicology based research internship…

This past summer, I was required to undertake an internship and complete a toxicology-based research project as part of the MSc Toxicology & Regulatory Affairs. I was afforded the opportunity to work alongside Lynn Boylan MEP as a Toxicology and Regulatory Affairs consultant and researcher in the European Parliament Environment, Public Health & Food Safety Committee.

My research involved investigating the possible implications on food standards if UK/US agreement occurs post Brexit. I worked comparing and contrasting the different jurisdictional regulations relating to agriculture and food safety as well as investigating the possibility that non-EU approved food products would likely move across the UK/Ireland border and into circulation in the Irish food system and potentially impact the value and integrity of the Irish agri-food industry.

Though a UK/US agreement is hypothetical until Brexit negotiations are completed, it is important to look into the different jurisdictional regulations and relevant toxicology relating to food safety issues including the use of hormones and antibiotics as growth promoters, food safety practices i.e. chlorine washing of chicken, and the global phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance.

As some of the internship was spent in the parliament in Brussels, I was able to attend EU conferences as part of my research, as well as using the European Parliamentary Research Service, and conducting interviews with various stakeholders working in the relevant areas.

Those that shared their expertise with me included members of BEUC (The European Consumer Agency), the EPHA (European Public Health Alliance), Liam MacHale – Director of the Irish Farmers Association, MEPs including Lynn Boylan and Bart Staes, Alan Matthews – Professor Emeritus of European Agricultural Policy, Trinity College Dublin, Michael Hamell – Former Head of Unit, Directorate General for Environment, Current Associate Professor of Agriculture in University College Dublin, Frank Andriesson of the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety, Dr Gary Kearney and Dr James McIntosh of Safefood, and Dr Pat O’Mahony of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

These interviews, along with literature reviews were used to compile the report I produced for Lynn Boylan for use in the Environment, Public Health & Food Safety Committee, entitled “Implications of a UK/US trade deal on food standards post-Brexit”. I subsequently wrote my MSc thesis on “Inter-jurisdictional regulations on food standards and farming practices between the EU and the US: A post-Brexit scenario”, exploring the regulations surrounding the use of hormonal growth promoters, pathogen reduction treatments and antimicrobial resistance and the effects on human and animal health.

I had a fantastic experience working in the Parliament alongside Lynn Boylan, and this experience proved to be an invaluable one as it played a large part in my success in getting employed shortly after completing my MSc.

Stephanie Earl, UCD MSc Toxicology & Regulatory Affairs Graduate

 UCD Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Rachel Dunwoody writes the first in a series of posts about her internship experience helping to build the I-LOFAR radio telescope in Birr. This is the first of a series of 4 posts which will cover the 10 week internship in Birr building the telescope.

Myself and Kevin Flanagan are the two third year UCD Physics with Astronomy and Space Science students that are helping to build the I-LOFAR radio telescope in Birr over the summer. This is the first of a series of blogs and it will discuss the initial two weeks of our internship. LOFAR, standing for Low Frequency Array, is an international network of radio telescopes.

The core is in the Netherlands and there are 11 international stations across Europe. The Irish LOFAR station is the 12th international station built and gives Irish researchers and students the opportunity to be involved in state of the art astrophysics. This includes projects on solar physics, space weather, pulsars, big bang cosmology and cosmic rays to name a few.

An optical telescope looks at objects in space in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum (400nm – 700nm) where as a radio telescope looks at at longer wavelengths, from millimetres to hundreds of meters. An optical telescope will have a system of lens’ and mirrors to magnify the object that can be viewed using an eyepiece or camera. A radio telescope receives signals via one or many antennae which need to be processed to produce an image or spectrum of the observed field of view. For Ireland, a radio telescope is advantageous as the radio waves detected are not obstructed by clouds and observations can be made easily during the day as well as at night. During the day the Sun means that the optical waves from distant objects are often not detected as the Sun is much brighter.

I’ll admit I was nervous when I was first offered the internship as it had been advertised as being predominantly manual labour rather than a research based project. I have no claim to strength and no construction skills but it was such a unique opportunity, I had to take it. In reality, the major factor that influenced me to accept the position was Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the physicist from Northern Ireland that discovered pulsars. During my attendance of the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in Oxford, I asked Dame Burnell about her experience in building a radio telescope when she was a student. She convinced me to accept the internship by explaining how beneficial it is to learn how to build the instruments you use as a physicist as it gives you a better understanding of how they work. She also warned me to bring rain gear as building a radio telescope in Ireland was never going to be a dry and sunny experience. Thankfully, I listened to her advice!

Now I can tell you taking it was an excellent idea (as were the waterproof trousers!). On the first day, we had to complete a Safe Pass course with SOLAS. Safe Pass is a one day course for construction workers to highlight safety awareness on site. After this and the manual handling course I am more aware of the machinery on the construction site and ensure that I am always wearing my hi-vis jacket, hard hat and steel toed boots.

At the time, the four hours learning how to lift objects seemed a little excessive  but after all the lifting of palettes, plywood sheets and boxes of various sizes onsite, it turned out to be very useful.

Initially, we had to get all the cables for each of the 96 HBAs (High Band Antennas) and 96 LBAs (Low Band Antennas) laid out from the field to the container.  The information from these antennas are sent to the Netherlands for processing and storage. Each antenna required two cables which were either 85m, 115m or 135m long. These cables had to be laid out carefully in deep trenches that were dug out by excavators. This was so no kinks occurred which would inhibit signals being passed along them once the telescope is in operation. In week one we laid the HBA cables. This was during a heatwave (for Ireland anyway) so layers of factor 50+ sun cream were needed which made the dust stick to us. The cabling was completed by Friday before the rain of the weekend and the cables covered in sand to protect from any falling rocks and debris.

All in all everyone was proud of the productivity of the first week. In the second week, the LBA cabling began, but the lashing rain made this cabling a much more miserable affair. The trenches collapsed easily from us brushing against the walls. Standing too near the edge could cause a mini cave in of the trench wall which was treacherous for the exposed cables.

However, with everyone working together filling in sand as we went along and monitoring the walls of the trenches, we were finished by the end of week two. Another unexpected issue with the cabling was the influence of the local wildlife. One morning, six gnawed cables were discovered and the surrounding hoof prints indicated that the red deer decided the cables looked like a nice snack. Many attempts were made to deter the deer with noisy cannons and by placing plastic poles around the exposed cables. Now there is a tall fence so hopefully there won’t be any more chewed equipment!

As part of the internship we are provided with accommodation in Highpark House. The walk to the construction site only takes about 25 minutes and with a Tesco just  5 minutes away last minute cereal and chocolate buying is very easy.

This is my first experience living away from home, one house with 17 students is certainly a busy place. Finding room in the one fridge is always a challenge. In the evenings, we are all pretty tired from the hectic day on site and more often than not end up in the sitting room playing a card or board game and relaxing. On one of the clear nights, Alberto from DCU set up his telescope and we all observed Jupiter with its gas clouds and four moons. Next week, we will describe how we started building the HBAs and Kevin will keep you up to date on our progress!

Read the next three parts of our I-LOFAR blogs at www.myucdblog.com/tag/i-lofar/

 UUCD Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Kevin Flanagan follows on from Rachel Dunwoody’s first post in a series covering their internship experience helping to build the I-LOFAR radio telescope in Birr. 

This summer I’m fortunate enough to be part of the team which is helping to build the I-LOFAR (Irish-LOFAR) radio telescope in Birr, Offaly along with fellow UCD student Rachel Dunwoody. In Rachel’s first blog, she talked about how we laid the cables in the ground which will link the HBA and LBA antennae to the ILT container. I’m going to be talking about the next step in the operation, the construction of the HBA tiles. LOFAR is a large radio telescope located primarily in the Netherlands, but which has expanded to include stations in many countries across Europe, now including Ireland. The interesting thing about the construction of the I-LOFAR telescope is that it is largely carried out by students, under the supervision of Dr. Peter Gallagher and Dr. Joe McCauley from Trinity College, along with Hans and Zabet, two experienced supervisors who have each already helped to build 50 LOFAR stations!

I decided to apply for this internship largely due to the fact that it seemed so different to anything else I could have done this summer. It’s a very rare opportunity to be able to work on the construction of a large scale telescope such as this, which is in fact Ireland’s first since the famous Leviathan telescope was constructed on the same grounds of Birr Castle in the 1840s. I felt that it would help to give me a proper understanding of the work that goes into building such large scale telescopes. Telescopes like these are learnt about in class and the basics of their operation is theoretically understood, but chances to see their real inner workings and the practicalities of their operation and construction are few and far between.

The LOFAR telescope doesn’t look like what most people might imagine, it’s not a big radio dish like many radio telescopes of the past. It’s actually an array of antennae which each detect radio waves. There are two telescopes technically, one which works at higher frequencies (HBA) and another which works at lower frequencies (LBA). Combined the telescopes take up an area about the size of a football pitch.

The HBA was the first to be made. It consists of 96 tiles, each of which are constructed separately by teams of 3 to 6 people inside a large tent on the construction site. There are a number of steps to be carried out in creating the tiles, which are actually composed mainly of polystyrene, used due to its transparency to radio waves and low cost. It creates a structure for the antennae to stand in position and detect the radio waves without interference from the structure. A plastic container is first laid out, and a wire mesh, which is actually a mirror for radio waves, is placed inside, covering the bottom of the container. On top of this, a 4 x 4 grid is constructed with polystyrene. Each square of the grid is designed to hold a dipole antenna.

However before the antennae are placed inside, cables must be wound through the grid to connect each antenna to two summators (which basically collect all the information received by the tile).

Two cables are sourced from each square, due to the fact that each antenna receives two polarisations of radio signals, which basically means that they detect waves that oscillate along both the x and y axis. This means there are 32 cables winding through each tile. Winding the cables in such a fashion that the path they take is neither too long nor too short is an art in and of itself.

Once the cables are connected to the summators, the dipole antennae which we construct, which are triangular pieces of metal in a cylindrical polystyrene structure, are placed into each square. Receiver cards, which amplify the signal received by the antenna, are then placed in special slots in the polystyrene structure for each antenna and are connected to the antennae.

After this the tile is tested by a computer programme to ensure that all components are in working order. The tile is then covered with some remarkably strong polystyrene lids, strong enough that several people can stand on them. They can supposedly hold over a thousand kilograms each! This doesn’t mean that all the polystyrene is indestructible however. It’s actually very easy to break other pieces with a trailing leg as you step into the tile, so care must be taken and spare pieces are definitely required.

Before we started building the tiles, our supervisor Hans told us that the record for the most number of HBA tiles created in one day was held by Poland, who made 8 tiles in one day in 2015. Naturally, we all wanted to beat this record, not so much for the sake of getting the telescope built more quickly, but really just to beat Poland. So that’s what we did, on two consecutive days! After many days of honing our tile building skills, one day we managed to build 10 and a half tiles, and the next day, after starting work an hour early at 8am, we built 11 tiles. The Usain Bolt of HBA tile building they call us (okay not really).

After we complete each tile, it’s loaded onto a platform which is carried to the field by a transporter. The summators are then connected to cables which we previously laid in the ground, which connect the tiles to the ILT container, where the data is collected and then sent to the main LOFAR hub in The Netherlands.

It’s amazing to see the HBA come together as the tiles build up on the field. It’s really fulfilling to be able to see all of our work lead to the completion of the telescope! In the next blog, Rachel will give an insight into the experience that we had during a typical day of the internship!

Read the other three parts of our I-LOFAR blogs at www.myucdblog.com/tag/i-lofar/

 UCD Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Rachel Dunwoody writes the third in our series covering the construction of the I-LOFAR radio telescope in Birr.

In the last blog, Kevin explained how we built the HBAs (High Band Antennas) which was our focus for a few weeks down in Birr. As well as building the HBAs, they had to be laid out on the field. This blog will set out a typical day during the internship as part of the HBA deployment team.

7.20 am

Time to wake up (after a 20 minute snooze) and eat breakfast which was the only meal we had to prepare in Birr.

8.25 am

Our working day starts at 9:00 am but everyone aimed to be on-site from 8:50 am so we tried to leave the house at this time. We had to sign in and get our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Aside from the mandatory hard hat, hi vis and steel toed boots, there was often a need for a layer of either sun cream or waterproofs.

9.00 am

Once everyone was set for the day, there was a brief delegation of jobs and then we were set loose onto the site. One week, myself and Megan Weston from TCD were assigned the job of making the mirrors for the HBAs and helping with the deployment of the antennas. This was my favourite job as we got to spend time in the tent and outdoors. On sunny days, it became fairly sticky in the tent so it was great to escape to the breezy field. However, for the showery weather we weren’t stuck outside for the entire day. It was the best of both worlds.

9.00 am – 11.00 am

First we deployed 2 – 3 HBAs that had been completed the day before. The HBA tile had to be pushed on to the platform that sat on the prongs of a forklift. Kevin and I were part of the team that built the platform. Then 4 poles with sides that opened outward were placed into the tile which would lift the tile using the inner walls. Bungees from these poles were attached to the outer black sheet that held all the contents of the tile using clips.

Sean, one of the Conneely builders, would then drive it over and lay it onto the raised field. Megan and I would run around to meet the antenna. A harness was attached to an excavator. We ensured that the centre of the harness was centred on the HBA and then chains were attached so the tile could be lifted. Four of us would then walk the tile SLOWLY to the correct position in the field. A little manoeuvring was often needed to get the alignment precise. While it was being lowered, someone had to feed the two cables laid out in week one into the HBA through holes in the ground mat and connect them to the summation boards. This could be difficult as the mirror or black bag could move while the tile was being transported meaning that the small hole for the cable could be blocked. Once this was complete, the tile had to be covered using a top bag. Once the bag was in place atop the HBA, ‘’S’’ hooks on the bags were hooked into loops attached to steel anchors that had been drilled into the ground.

11.00 am – 12.50 pm

The mirrors for the HBAs were 5m x 5m grids to reflect radio waves of a long wavelength. Making the mirrors for the HBA required a handheld metal cutting machine. We had to learn how to cut along the mesh so it had a smooth edge that wouldn’t puncture the ground bags. The mesh was rolled out until the marker was reached, then cut. Once this was completed that part of the mirror had to be rotated and then another segment of the same size had to be cut and rotated. The two segments were aligned so that one square overlapped. These were twisted together using Hans’ magical tool – no one knew what to call it. Hans was one of the ASTRON  supervisors that helped us during the build. We always tried to have at least two mirrors ready so the HBA building wouldn’t be held up.

12.50 pm – 1.50 pm

Lunch time! We would all sign out and walk up to the café for our well-earned bottle of cold Ballygowan water, bit of fruit and freshly made sandwich or wrap. On a sunny day this would inevitably be followed by an ice cream from the café with competition over who got the largest!

2.00 pm

Back on-site, signed in and equipment on for more deploying of the HBAs interspersed with mirror making for myself and Meg. We would also help making the components of the HBA tiles that Kevin discussed in his last blog.

5.00 pm

This was the cut-off time for deploying HBAs as the builders went home. At this point Megan and I would ensure we had an ample number of mirrors for the next day and would often hop into a HBA to help finish up the tile before the day’s work was done.

6.00 pm

Once the tiles were finished up, the tent cleaned out and rubbish brought up to the shed, it was time to head home for a hot dinner and much needed showers.

8.00 pm

The evening was most often spent in the sitting room with guitars, games and sometimes a movie. For the girls of the house, smores and some colouring was part of an average evening, as well as spider catching… One night there was 5 in my room!

Being part of this project was a unique and rewarding experience and I’m very grateful to have been chosen as a member of the team. In the last instalment of the I-LOFAR blogs, Kevin will tell you all about the making of the LBAs and the switching on ceremony in Birr that marked the end of our part in the I-LOFAR story.

Read the other three parts of our I-LOFAR blogs at www.myucdblog.com/tag/i-lofar/

 UCD Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Kevin Flanagan writes the final blog covering the construction of the I-LOFAR telescope…

Following on from Rachel’s blog about A Day in the Life of an Intern, I’m going to talk about the construction of the LBA and the end of the project. With the construction of the HBA completed, it was time for us to move on to our next task. This was the construction of the second part of the telescope; the LBA, which detects radio waves of a lower frequency than the HBA. The LBA perhaps seems a little stranger than the HBA, as instead of comprising of straightforward rows and columns of antennae, the LBA consists of antennae which are seemingly randomly placed around the LBA field. Some of the grids for the antennae even overlap! There’s no apparent structure or order to where each antenna is placed. Another obvious difference is the lack of polystyrene, which after hearing countless claims from the other students about dreaming of polystyrene, was probably a good thing.

Construction of the LBA was a less arduous task than the construction of the HBA. The LBA tiles were constructed out on the field, so we said goodbye to our large tent in which the HBA tiles were created. This took away our main source of shelter whenever it rained, but we survived by retreating to the nearby Rosse observatory instead, outside which a gazebo could be put up. The LBA consists of 96 LBA tiles, each made up of a number of components. There’s the metal grid, which acts as a radio wave mirror, on top of which stands a hollow vertical pole, through which the cables previously laid in the ground rise up. On top of this pole is a pre-amplifier to which the cables connect, and from which the active element which actually detects the radio waves comes out. This active element consists of 4 insulated wires which each stretch halfway from the pre-amplifier at the top of the tile to one of the four corners of the metal grid. The bottom half of each length is made up of string for two corners and stretchable rubber for the other two, which give the pole a small amount of give to move in extreme weather conditions without the components snapping.

In order to stop plants and weeds growing on the field, plastic sheets were placed under each metal grid, and in the spaces between the tiles, geotextile material was laid down. On top of the geotextile material, gravel was placed. Of all the jobs that were done during the 10 weeks, gravelling was one of the toughest. Piles of gravel were dumped on the field by the builders using their transporters, and it was left to us to disperse the gravel across the field using wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes. Not exactly the type of job you might expect you’d be doing when applying for an internship to build a radio telescope, but it needed to be done! As the telescope was more or less finished by the time we were laying out all the gravel, it became a bit of a running joke that we’d be put out to do some gravelling just to give us something to do if there were no other obvious jobs to be done. Nonetheless, we did it to the best of our abilities and the LBA field looked well by the end. Dr. Peter Gallagher, the man in charge of the project, said that he thought it was the best looking LOFAR telescope of them all, and although this could be akin to a parent thinking their child is the prettiest or handsomest in their class, he could be right.

A fun thing we did as the end of the project neared is set up an exhibition on I-LOFAR in a pavilion on the grounds of Birr Castle. Some of the more artistically inclined interns assisted in designing posters for the exhibition and others (including me) helped to set up the exhibition itself. We tried to reflect the look of the telescope in the design of the exhibition, using wire grids to place posters on, which hung from the wall on thick metal wires. The practicalities of actually setting up the exhibition and getting the posters hanging proved more difficult than expected but we managed it eventually after several trips to the local hardware shop Fayles. It was a nice feature to have for people visiting the castle to allow them to learn about I-LOFAR and the history of astronomy that the castle has.

The official turning on of the telescope took place on July 27th, right at the end of the internship. Minister John Halligan attended along with the CEO of Eir, who sponsored the telescope, Lord Rosse, who is the owner of Birr Castle, and many other important people. The event was even featured on the news, where Rachel could be seen front and centre in the crowd with me briefly seen in the background. During the opening ceremony it started pouring rain, so it was a good thing we had stayed on site late the night before to put up a giant tent! (In fact we had put the tent together during the first week of the project in a different location. Moving it from the original location to the site of the opening ceremony in more or less one piece was entertaining to say the least) Following this we were invited into Birr Castle by Lord and Lady Rosse. There we were shown a 6 minute preview of the RTE documentary that’s being made about the telescope, which is due to air this year. We were all very impressed by this, and found it funny seeing the timelapse of the construction site included, with all of us scampering like hi-vis ants around the site.  Later in the day, we had dinner in Dooly’s Hotel, where we were joined by George Miley, an Irish physicist who wrote the original paper putting forward the idea of LOFAR! It was great to have him present on the day of the Irish LOFAR station officially opening. We finished off the night with some joke prizes being given out to the build team, by the build team. Many running jokes were referenced.

It felt quite strange leaving Birr once everything was finished. I had grown very used to travelling down to Birr on Sunday evenings and living in the house with all the other students. When I visited the site afterwards with my family it felt weird to be on the site but to not have to be doing work. I felt like I still had a duty to be working on something to help to get the site prepared. Overall it was a great experience, and one I’ll definitely remember in years to come. It’s not every day you get to help to construct a giant telescope!

Read the first three parts of our I-LOFAR blogs at www.myucdblog.com/tag/i-lofar/

 UCD Physics with Astronomy & Space Science student Fiona Gallagher explains her experiences on her 6-week summer traineeship in Prague…

The summer following my second year at UCD I was lucky enough to spend 6 weeks working in a scientific institute in Prague. This opportunity came in the form of an IAESTE Traineeship.

IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience…thank God for acronyms) is a global network that organises paid work experience abroad for students in technical and scientific disciplines. Following an interview in UCD with the IAESTE Ireland committee I was selected for an internship in the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague.

I was initially nervous to accept the position due to the fact that my major is physics, not chemistry. However, my concerns were addressed after some correspondence with my supervisor where he explained my work would be within a physical chemistry research group and would involve computational modelling of molecular properties which sounded pretty cool to me. Thankfully I would not need to handle delicate glassware and chemicals. (I was having flashbacks to leaving cert chemistry labs. So many shattered pipettes…)

Upon arrival in Prague I was met at the airport by an IAESTE Czech Republic committee member who settled my nerves and told me all about Prague and what I needed to know. Accommodation was organised for me in a student dorm near the metro line that brought me to my workplace. Within the first few days I had met other trainees from around the world living in the same dorm, including an engineering student from Norway who happened to work in the same institute as I did. Having her familiar face around my place of work helped me to settle in, even though we were not assigned to the same research group. It was also a perk having somebody to keep me awake during the 8am morning commute.

My first day was nerve-wracking as I met my supervisor and group and got shown around the state-of-the-art labs and facilities. Being honest, at first I felt wholly out of my depth as an undergraduate among PhD and Masters students. This feeling soon dissipated as I got to know everyone at a barbecue during my first week. My colleagues were mainly Czech and Slovakian researchers but they all spoke fluent English which made things a lot easier.

As for the actual work side of things, it was all pretty daunting at the start as I got to grips with the unfamiliar programs and software environments. I had no previous experience with the Linux command line which I needed to use to get anything to run! But after a few days of practice and some help from my supervisor I was running computations on basic molecules and felt a lot more confident.

Over the course of my traineeship I eventually worked my way up to larger organic molecules whose spectroscopic properties were being actively studied by the group. I compared and discussed my various computationally modelled spectra with those obtained experimentally by other scientists and we could then see which methods of computation worked best. Discussing my work with other researchers was rewarding and a confidence boost in my ability to do science!

I had weekends off work so I had the chance to travel with the other IAESTE trainees to different cities including Vienna and Dresden. A highlight for me was 3 days of camping and canoeing down the Vltava river in southern Czech Republic where I met some great people but also got awful sunburn… but it was worth it. I enjoyed plenty of traditional food and even got a taste for some Czech beers despite always hating the taste of beer back home.

Overall, I was delighted to get the chance to experience a new country and culture while also gaining valuable experience working in a scientific institute. It gave me an insight into what it would be like to work in research after my degree and now I think it is something I would happily consider doing. I would encourage anyone to take an internship if the opportunity presents itself because it’s such an eye-opening experience.

UCD College of Science

Room E1.09/E2.09 UCD O'Brien Centre for Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
Location Map