Summer 1 - Research Blog Post

Summer 1 - Research Blog Post

This Summer I was given the ability to study the Sun using the Irish Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR) situated in Birr, Co. Offaly. In particular my research was focussed on using Irish ground based astronomy to detect solar phenomena such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. This opportunity allowed me to not only find out about my chosen field of research but I also learned more about myself and my style of working.


There is a famous expression, often attributed to Isaac Newton, which states “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. This has all the workings of a perfect saying, especially in the scientific community. It humbly references previous works and nods to the possibility of shedding light and casting an eye on something unseen beforehand. It is poetic in its imagery. It is powerful and leads to useful humility in science. However, I have never seen anyone express the difficulty faced in climbing up the back of that giant, the enormous mound of previous literature.

The body of work in any scientific field is enormous, especially Physics. I struggled tremendously to find my footing in this regard. In every minuscule subdivision of every topic there are countless numbers of papers and theses published. I found it difficult, not only to decide what to read, but also when to stop reading. This is one thing which I had never before experienced in my prescribed-work, curriculum-focussed education. There is such a difference between simply learning a set of information and how to solve problems and questions from that set, and being let loose on a vague path with the goal of creating something. I recorded most of what I read, and looking back on this there is so many unnecessary and tangential topics that at the time felt important. I feel that this experience has shown me the importance of keeping a goal in mind while researching or working. While I knew what I wanted to do, sometimes it wouldn’t be at the forefront of my mind and I would become distracted with similar or interesting topics that were ultimately of no use to me.


Another insight this experience has provided to me was the impact that connections and setting time apart for myself has on my work. I found that in Birr, I was essentially cut off from the world. While I relish experiencing a new place and meeting new people (it is one of my dreams to travel someday without anyone or any contact), I had never had to do it while working as hard as I was. Usually time spent in a new place is taken up by doing things and meeting people but after a day in the office I oftentimes wanted to do nothing. I ended up staying late in the office because I had nothing to do at home. Comparing this to my time working in Trinity shows a stark contrast. I could meet people after work or organise lunch, coffee or an event on the weekends. I felt so much better and my work definitely improved. I would definitely take away that it is important to separate my work and time off, and that I should not get stuck at the office.


Overall I was happy that my research allowed me to detect numerous solar flares and other phenomena (including lots of background noise!). This research has been both an academic and personal journey in which I learnt a lot.


While I don’t think I saw any further than anyone else, I hope I have at least climbed a little bit higher.

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