Charles Parsons – faster sea travel faster and electricity for the masses


Irish scientists, episode 3: Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine engine was first broadcast on East Coast FM on 26th November 2016


Charles Parsons’ Turbinia yacht, pictured here, outpaced the assembled British navy at Spithead in 1897 with its steam powered turbine engine (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Charles Parsons is considered to be in the top five of Britain’s greatest engineers of all time, by virtue of his enormous contribution to sea travel, and the shipbuilding industry, and making electricity available to the masses.

Parsons’s huge impact on the world has been far less heralded in Ireland, his native land. Hew grew up and spent his  early adult years at his family’s residence in Birr Castle Co. Offaly before moving to England.

The greatest achievement of his stellar engineering career was the invention of the steam turbine engine in 1884, an entirely new type of engine, which extracted thermal energy from pressurised steam in an ultra-efficient manner.

This thermal energy could be converted, through a series of intermediary steps, into electrical energy in such an efficient manner that, it became possible, for the first time, to generate enough electrical energy to make it available to the wide mass of people, not just the well-to-do elite.

Today, 90% of the electricity in the USA is still generated through steam turbine engines.

This engine also transformed the nature of sea travel, as steam turbines could provide the power necessary for large ships to cross the Atlantic far quicker, and for passengers to travel in comfort without rattling, shaking and noise.

The steam turbine was famously put into Parsons’s yacht, the Turbinia, and used to outpace the assembled British naval fleet at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review at Spithead in 1897.

After this unsolicited, but powerful demonstration of the power that a steam turbine could provide, the British navy decided that it would commission the turbine to be used in its new generation of battleships, the Dreadnoughts (launched in 1906)

This helped to provide Britain with an edge in its naval arms race with Germany in the run up to World War 1.

William R Hamilton – Dubliner whose maths navigated spacecraft to the Moon

This was first broadcast on East Coast FM on 19-11-2016


The Mars Curiosity Rover, pictured here, navigated its way to the surface of Mars in August 2012 thanks to equations invented by an Irishman in 1843 (Credit: NASA)

This episode covers the story of a Dubliner born in 1805, who became one of the greatest mathematicians the world has ever seen.

Hamilton invented mathematical equations, called quaternions, in 1843 which are still used today to navigate and land spacecraft (eg the Moon in 1969 and Mars in 2012) and as software ‘under the hood’ which depicts the relative movement of figures in 3D space in the top selling computer games.

GPS in cars, is largely based on Hamilton’s mathematics, and radio waves were predicted by James Clarke Maxwell before they were invented based on Hamilton’s totally unconventional, brilliant new mathematics.

Hamilton was  objects rotate in 3D space, dared to imagine it. Came up with quaternions, totally unconventional and knocked traditional mathematics on its head. Thinking about this problem for years.

Mathematicians thought he was crazy, didn’t accept it, but then came to be called the ‘liberator of algebra’ – new way of thinking of mathematics.

Hamilton connected to fact we can hear audio on the radio, James Clark Maxwell predicted oscillating waves of energy traveling at speed of light – radio waves were detected, used by maxwell to predict these waves exist before they were found.

Hamilton was a brilliant, popular scientist. He was moody; a romantic, with a dark side, who survived an early crisis in his life to go on achieve great things.

This is his story.





‘Irish Scientists’ on East Coast FM reviewed by Irish Independent

‘Irish Scientists’ the six-part radio series currently running on Saturday mornings (7:30am) on East Coast FM was reviewed in the Irish Independent on Saturday by Darragh McManus. The relevant sections are in bold.
One slight quibble with any otherwise very positive review; the piece should have mentioned the show’s award-winning producer, Colette Kinsella, Red Hare Media.
Since Donald Trump’s election there have been thousands of words written about “culture wars”, in the US and around the world. The soul of a nation, or a people, is expressed in its culture, I suppose.
Here in Ireland we consider certain things to be an intrinsic part of ours: the music, the language, Gaelic games, that fabulous literary heritage. There is another, unheralded one, though: science.
In a recent interview, Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin lamented how the Irish scientific tradition isn’t celebrated as much as the arts, and it should be: this country has produced a great number of scientists whose work has been truly pivotal.
One of those is John Holland, who made for a fascinating documentary, How Irish Scientists Changed the World, on East Coast FM (Sat 7am). He’s the first of six subjects explored by documentary-maker Sean Duke: others will include mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, Jocelyn Bell Burnell who discovered pulsars, and the first person to split the atom: ETS Walton.
Born in Liscannor, Co Clare, John Holland is now known as “the father of the modern submarine”. As Duke pointed out, Holland didn’t exactly invent the idea of a fully submersible vessel – that concept has been around since Ancient Times – but he was “the first to come up with a design that actually worked”.
After school with the Christian Brothers, he had quit Ireland for the US in the late 19th century, where he fell in with the Fenian Brotherhood while pursuing his Icarus-in-reverse dreams of creating a boat that could travel underwater. After a few false starts and some hair-raisingly courageous (even reckless) experiments, Holland succeeded in his mission.
In 1900, the US Navy bought Holland’s design to produce the world’s first combat submarine. Other countries, including Britain and Japan, quickly followed.
This was a riveting, rollicking story, parts of which came across as more like a work of fictional Victoriana than real history. Man, they really bred them differently in those days.
Another side of Irish culture, of course – possibly its greatest expression – is music, be that in terms of what we produce here or the Irish influence globally. Sin-é: Jeff Buckley’s Irish Odyssey (Radio 1, Sat 7pm) looked at the latter through the prism of the late singer, who would have been 50 this week if he hadn’t tragically drowned in 1996.
Buckley was of Irish stock on his father’s side, and got his entrée into the music business at Sin-é, the semi-mythical (and now defunct) Irish café which caused a storm in New York’s East Village during the early nineties. Steve Cummins’ documentary unpicked the threads of Buckley’s other Irish links, including friendships with musicians like Glen Hansard and Mark Geary, and a trip to Dublin to play, rather amusingly, the Trinity Ball.
Buckley came across in contributors’ reminiscences as a sweet-natured guy, though naturally what strikes you most is that absolutely incredible voice. It might seem a bit wrong to say this, in the immediate aftermath of Leonard Cohen’s death, but Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah is not only the song’s finest iteration – it’s one of the most spine-tingling vocal performances ever committed to record.
A third side of this week’s cultural triangle is the GAA, which featured on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 9am), broadcasting from the 2016 Science Summit at Croke Park. Pat spoke to stadium director Peter McKenna and Dublin football hero Philly McMahon. McMahon was an intelligent, perceptive and very interesting interviewee, especially when talking about the scourge of illegal drugs in Ireland. 

John Philip Holland – inventor of the modern submarine

The first episode in a six part radio series on Irish scientists began yesterday morning on East Coast FM (7:30am), featuring John Philip Holland, inventor of the modern submarine

The series is presented by myself and written and produced by Colette Kinsella, an award winning independent radio producer with Red Hare Media.


John Philip Holland, pictured below, from Liscannor Co Clare, was not afraid to test and pilot his own submarines designs for the Fenians and the US navy.


Donegal Scientist Wins Nobel for part in drug that saved millions of lives; science and The Martian; twin-saving surgery; weight loss harder than 80’s

Click above to hear discussion on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan

Willian C Campbell

William C Campbell, from Ramelton County Donegal became only the second Irish scientist to win a Nobel Prize recently for work on developing a drug against parasitic worms which have saved millions of lives (Credit: Nobel Media AB 2015)

William C Campbell from Ramelton, County Donegal, depicted here on the right has become only the second Irish scientist to win a Nobel Prize (the other being the atom-splitter Ernest Walton) with a quarter share of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. We discuss his life and work.

The Martian is a thrilling film, which showcases the spectacular Martian landscape like no film before it, but how accurate is the science it depicts?

Up to 20 per cent of identical twins suffer from blood flow problems from their mother’s placenta. This can lead to brain damage, or death, but new surgery pioneered in Ireland at the Rotunda hospital is having twins’ lives.

Weight loss for many of us seemed a lot easier, back in the 1980’s. Now, scientists have come up with evidence to suggest that indeed it is harder to maintain a healthy weight today than it was a generation ago.

This item was first broadcast on East Coast FM on the 8th October 2015

Jocelyn Bell Burnell: The injustice of Nobel ‘theft’ changed science


Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, pictured her in her early days, should have been Ireland’s second Nobel Prize winner in science (Credit:

Twenty-four-year old Jocelyn Bell Burnell gave an interview to the English press in August 1968 along with a male colleague, after she had discovered a new type of star, a pulsar. Her discovery would gift two male colleagues a Nobel Prize and immortality.

During the interview, which the Lurgan born scientist was told to do by her bosses, Jocelyn noticed the reporter’s serious questions were aimed at the man, while she was asked about her ‘vital statistics’, her hair and whether she was the same height as Princess Margaret. The photographer asked her to loosen a few buttons on her blouse.

The effect was, as Jocelyn told the InspireFest 2015 meeting in Dublin’s Bord Gais Theatre yesterday (18/06/15) that she ended up feeling ‘like a piece of meat’. She wanted to say something to these men treating her that way, but she bit her lip. This was still a society where men, and most women too, felt that a woman’s place was only in the home.

She couldn’t risk taking a stand, and alienating her more senior male colleagues, who wanted her to talk to the press and gain publicity for the lab. She felt that making such a stand on principle would have risked her future career, and she was an ambitious young woman. She said nothing, but when the time was right, years later, she said plenty.

She had begun her PhD at Cambridge  1965, working under Antony Hewish and Sir Martin Ryle. These men were interested in quasars, which are bright and send out a lot of radio waves. The idea was to search for quasars by looking at natural sources of radio waves in the cosmos using something called a telescope array.

An array is a group of linked telescopes, and a special array was constructed for the project at a four-acre site at the Mullard Astronomy Observatory near Cambridge. This was built largely by Jocelyn’s herself. Before she did any research she spent her time initially banging stakes into the ground and connecting miles of copper wire.

Finally, in July 1967, the array was ready.

It was Jocelyn’s job to go through the mountains of paper data produced by the array in these pre computer days. She went through it all, inch by meticulous inch, looking for features that the senior men were interested in. By the end of one post-doctoral project she later calculated that she had gone through 3 miles of paper; a heroic effort.

One day she found something that didn’t fit in, and brought it to her lab bosses. The men poo-poohed it, and essentially told her to get back to what she should be doing. Jocelyn persisted, and eventually, she managed to convince them what she had found – a series of unexplained regular, repeating radio waves – was worth more investigation.

It was found that Jocelyn had made an amazing discovery; she had found a new type of star, called a pulsar, or pulsating star. It was a massive event in astrophysics, and her more senior colleagues were now more than happy to take credit where it wasn’t due.

To put a tin hat on the affair, which remains one of the great scandals of science, the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974 went to Sir Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish “for their pioneering research in radio astrophysics: Ryle for his observations and inventions, in particular of the aperture synthesis technique, and Hewish for his decisive role in the discovery of pulsars”.  Jocelyn – outrageously – didn’t even get a mention.

It was normal in those days for senior lab scientists, who were almost always men, to take credit for everything that happened in the lab. These days we would call what they did to Jocelyn morally inexcusable and perhaps criminal (theft of intellectual property).

It is remarkable that the two men who accepted the Nobel for a discovery they didn’t make were happy to do so, and so nothing wrong with it. That too says a lot about the sense of entitlement at the senior levels of science back then. It was just impossible to give a Nobel prize to a 24-year-old woman, even if everyone knew she deserved it.

If that wouldn’t make you bitter or resentful what would? A Nobel Prize for Jocelyn, or a par share in it at least, would have been a career defining event, and any laboratory or university in the world would have laid out the red carpet for her after that. It didn’t happen, and her scientific career followed a tougher, altogether less garlanded path.

And yet, despite the horrendous injustice she has suffered Jocelyn is not bitter. That is to her great credit. The story of what happened to her, many scientists now believe, helped the cause of women in science by bringing their plight into sharp focus.

The scandal has also helped the cause of younger researchers everywhere – men and women – because it led people to challenge the notion that senior scientists in the lab should be automatically given total credit for the work of their post-docs and PhD students.

The Nobel committee today wouldn’t dare to perpetrate a Jocelyn-style injustice on a brilliant young researcher, man or woman. These days, young researchers are mostly credited for original work, and the position of women in science has vastly improved.

Take a bow Jocelyn. You may have been robbed of a Nobel prize all those years ago, but your story, and the example you have set, have helped change science for the better.

Check out InspireFest 2015 and  InspireFestFringe2015

Some thoughts in memory of Mary Mulvihill; an outstanding Irish science journalist

Mary Mulvihill

Mary Mulvihill, one of Ireland’s most gifted science journalists, has died, aged 55

I first came across Mary Mulvhill in 1994 when she was Joint Editor of Technology Ireland, the flagship science and technology magazine published by Enterprise Ireland.

I’d returned from the US, still a journalistic ‘greenhorn’ where I’d just finished a Masters in science journalism at New York University. I was keen to get some freelance science writing experience under my belt.

I put a call in to Technology Ireland, as one visit to Eason told me that it was the only publication of quality in the country which appeared interested in covering science; Mary took my call.

From the very first instant we spoke, I realised I was dealing with someone of substance. She was open to ideas being pitched at her, but she had high standards, so I knew the ideas had to be good and well thought out.

After struggling to answer a few of Mary’s questions during that first phone call, I made sure that I had my homework completely done before I rang her again.

She was a tough, but talented editor, and a meticulous fact-checker. It’d be safe to say, very little got past Mary. If a piece went in, it would inevitably come back with questions and things that had to be dealt with before publication.

There were no easy short-cuts with Mary. She set the standard, and, us freelancers, had to make sure we met it.

In time, I took over myself as Joint Editor and later Editor of Technology Ireland. I began to respect her even more, as I learned what it took to produce a magazine with content of a high standard, over many years.

Mary was more than an editor, she was a beautiful writer too with a gift for an ‘eye catching lead’. A piece she wrote about Nicholas Callan, the priest scientist, based at Maynooth, who played an important part in the development of electricity for the masses in the 19th century, comes to mind.

Callan had famously electrocuted turkeys to test the levels of voltage he was producing in his magnets, coils and batteries. He had been forbidden to test voltages on his clerical students after one of them collapsed.

Mary began telling her Callan story with the lead in: “This is a story about a priest, a battery and a turkey”

How could anyone not read on after that introduction? The rest of the story demands to be read. Pure Mary, brilliant journalism.

Mary, of course, wrote a number of books, including the classic “Ingenious Ireland”. She, like me, was hugely interested in Irish scientific history, and the mark that our scientists had made on towns and cities here and around the world.

If any teacher is trying to inspire their students to take an interest in science, I’d urge them to read this book. It’s Mary’s masterpiece, based on an immense amount of research, meticulous fact-checking and proofing, and writing flair.

Mary just had a natural gift for telling stories, and that, at the end of the day, is the only way to interest people in science, or anything else, for that matter. Human beings respond best to stories. Mary knew this.

She was also a brilliant radio broadcaster, involved in multiple RTE Radio 1 science-themed programmes going back many years. On radio, she used her calm, assured voice to draw people in, and, to tell her stories.

Mary’s work was consistently at a high level, over many years, whether she was writing books, doing pieces for The Irish Times, giving talks or tours, or training scientists how to speak to the public. If Mary was involved, you knew it’d be great.

On a personal level, I respected Mary enormously. She had backbone, principles, a good sense of herself and how she wanted to live her life, and wasn’t going to be easily swayed. That was part of what made her such a formidable journalist.

She could be very kind too.

I recall back in 2007, when my mother passed away aged 68, I was devastated. I’d lost one of my best friends, as well as my mother and felt disorientated and depressed for several months afterwards.

During that time, I met Mary on her bike passing through Terenure. She could see I was upset so I told her of my loss. We talked and talked and she said some nice things that day which helped me.

Little did I think that only 8 years later, I would be writing about the passing of Mary herself, at the age of just 55.

A giant of Irish science journalism has departed, and she’ll be missed.

Contentious issue of scientific publishing up for discussion at Boyle Summer School

Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle, the great Waterford scientist, who helped bring science into the modern age of experimentation and publication (Source: Wikipedia)

The past, present, and most importantly, the future of scientific publishing will be up for discussion at 2015 Robert Boyle Summer School in Lismore, which runs from 25th to the 28th June.

Is it right that the publishers of leading scientific journals should charge people to read about research from around the world, including Ireland, that has often been funded by taxpayers?

It’s an ethical question, as well as a scientific, and a business one, which has been brewing up for a number of years. Yet it’s not the only issue surrounding the vigorous debate which has been going on about how research should be disseminated.

The Saturday afternoon session at this year’s Boyle School will feature a panel discussion on scientific publishing and publications which I will be chairing, and I’m looking forward to that very much.

The organisers chose scientific publishing as the theme this year to mark 350 years of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Robert Boyle was a prolific contributor to the ‘Phil Trans’ as it is known. It is still published by the Royal Society and is the oldest scientific journal in the world.

Since Boyle’s day scientific journals have evolved into ‘peer reviewed’ journals, where the quality of research and whether it deserves publication is judged by a scientist’s peers.

The evolution of such journals has helped drive modern science forward, but there has been growing concern in recent years about how research is published, and who benefits.

There is no doubt that even the most reputable scientific journals in the world are run as commercial entities. Up until the age of the Internet, the fact that they were businesses, with awesome power, was rarely questioned.

Now, publicly funded scientists and funding bodies based on taxpayers input are asking whether it is right that the fruits of research should be controlled, judged and exploited by commercial publishers. It’s a legitimate question to pose.

The School will have a number of high quality speakers attending this year including Aileen Fyfe, a historian at St Andrews University; Dorothy Bishop, Oxford University, a neuroscientist and science publishing commentator; and John Pethica a leading physicist at Trinity College Dublin and the Royal Society.

Michel Hunter, the author and world-leading expert on the work of Robert Boyle will also be in attendance.

For more details click HERE

What’s It All About? on RTE Radio 1, Maths on Mars (Episode 4)

Pure Maths Formula

Without maths men would not have walked on the Moon, and we wouldn’t appreciate Mozart or Beethoven’s great harmonic symphonies [Credit: Wikipedia]


When many of us think of maths, we might instinctively suppress a yawn as we recall boring theorems, dull algebra and uninspiring teachers.

Yet without question, maths is exciting, challenging and responsible for some of humanity’s greatest achievements.

The landing of two men on the Moon in 1969 would not have been possible without maths, nor would we be able to appreciate the great harmonic symphonies of Mozart or Beethoven.

Without maths, in fact, there would be a lot less beauty in the world, and in this episode we explore the majesty, beauty and even poetry of maths.

The seven minutes of Martian terror

In August 2012 the most complicated robotic landing of a craft in the history of space exploration took place on the surface of Mars.

It was an amazing feat of engineering. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), weighing about two tonnes, landed safely with all its high-tech equipment.

The spacecraft decelerated in the Martian atmosphere from 13,000 miles per hour to zero miles per hour on the surface, using all manner of engineering tricks.

Throughout the complex landing and navigation sequence a type of mathematical equation, devised in 1843 by an Irishman in Dublin, proved crucial to its success.

That man was William Rowan Hamilton, a brilliant mathematician from Trinity College Dublin, and the equations in question are called quaternions.

We talk to the chief NASA engineer responsible for landing the MSL on Mars about the importance of quaternions to the success of the mission.

Miguel San Martin describes the terror he felt when his team had to wait seven minutes for a signal from Mars to confirm the craft was safe or destroyed.

It was a moment of high tension involving eight years of preparation and an investment of $2.5 billion – and quaternions were at the heart of the drama.

View video depiction of seven minutes of terror below:

Moon landings: The Dublin link

Regan Hutchins describes the often troubled life and work of one of Ireland’s greatest mathematicians, William Rowan Hamilton.

WR Hamilton, a Dubliner born on Dominick Street, lived in the 19th century, but his mathematics continues to have enormous impact on the world today.

For example, his work is considered crucial to the navigation and landing of spacecraft, and is also used to design the latest high-tech video games.

His most important piece of work stemmed from an insight he had while walking along the banks of the Royal Canal one bright morning in 1843.

Regan Hutchins visited the spot at Broom Bridge in Cabra with Dr. Fiacre O’Cairbre, senior lecturer in maths at NUI Maynooth, where Hamilton had a flash of inspiration about quaternions.

Regan also paid a visit to Hamilton’s home in Dunsink Observatory with Professor Iggy McGovern from Trinity College Dublin, to find out more about Hamilton’s life.

Pythagoras and musical harmony

The reason we hear music as “nice” or “not nice” depends on mathematical ratios, Dr. Bob Lawlor, NUI Maynooth, told our reporter Lorcan Clancy.

Pythagoras, the famous mathematician of the ancient world, invented the theorem we learned in school, but he also developed the original musical scale.

It is thought Pythagoras gained insight into how mathematical ratios explain pitch and harmony by listening to blacksmiths striking anvils.

He built a monochord – an early single-stringed instrument – and found that pitch was inversely proportional to the length of the monochord string.

This work by Pythagoras explains why we can recognise a discordant sound in the midst of a beautiful, harmonic piece of music.

We humans, it seems, prefer symmetry, even when it comes to music.

Maths can forecast volcanic eruptions

You might be surprised to learn that scientists are still unable to predict the precise time, date and location of a volcanic eruption.

However, scientists like Professor Chris Bean (University College Dublin), a mathematician by training, are getting far better at forecasting the chances of an eruption.

We visited the UCD campus to talk to Chris about maths and its importance in his volcano work.

Maths is used to forecast the weather. It’s not possible to predict that it will rain on Grafton Street at 2pm tomorrow, but we can say there is a “strong chance of showers”. The same applies to how scientists predict volcanic eruptions.

Chris Bean was inspired to apply his mathematical skills to the study of volcanoes after watching the Mount Saint Helens eruption in 1980 on TV.

Sensors are placed on the volcano to measure things like how the ground is shaking, the nature of gas leakages, and the surrounding water chemistry.

Mathematics are used to analyse the resulting data, which then allows scientists to make reliable forecasts.

Each volcano is different, but the scientific strategy is the same: monitor the patterns leading up to a known eruption to try and predict the next one.

Why do we use certain numbers?

Fiacre O’Cairbre tells Lorcan Clancy why certain numbers like 12 are important to us.

The use of 12 as a so-called base number – a basic multiplication unit underpinning a system of numbers – has its origins in the ancient world.

The fact that there are seven days in a week can be traced back to the Babylonians who believed there were seven planets, including the Sun. The Babylonians dedicated one day each to a planet, which is how we came to have seven days in a week.

Meanwhile, the reason that 60 is important, says Fiacre O’Cairbre, is because it is the smallest number divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

The Babylonians saw that 60 was a good base number for doing divisional calculations in real world, such as dividing up inheritances or bags of grain.

Today, base 10 is the key to the metric system. However, number systems go in and out of fashion and today’s system could change again in the future.

The majesty of maths in ancient Ireland

There is plenty of evidence that the people of the ancient world, the builders and architects at least, had a very good knowledge of mathematics.

The builders of Stonehenge, for example, clearly had an understanding of squares and circles, but in Ireland we something just as fascinating.

The Céide Fields near Belderrig, north Mayo, were discovered by Patrick Caulfield in 1934 when he found stone walls buried beneath the bog.

Researchers, including Patrick’s son Seamus Caulfield, have since unearthed a huge, buried landscape 5,500 years old.

Our reporter Lorcan Clancy visited the Céide Fields Visitor Centre and spoke to site manager Greta Byrne about why the site is so special.

Lorcan also spoke to Seamus Caulfield, who began work on the Céide Fields in 1970, and who gave up his job as a teacher to become an archaeologist.

Seamus describes how the buried Fields, which cover thousands of acres of north Co. Mayo, were systematically divided up thousands of years ago.

For more on the Céide Fields visit

How Irish Scientists Changed the World

Title: How Irish Scientists Changed the World

Publisher: Londubh Books, (November 2013)

Author: Sean Duke

The list of Ireland’s scientific greats include: Ernest Walton, born in Dungarvan, that built the machine, using odds and ends, on a shoestring budget that split the atom in 1932. John Holland, born in Liscannor that designed the world’s first combat submarine. Annie Maunder, born in Strabane, who described the link between sunspots and global warming, and cooling, and Robert Boyle, the Lismore born 17th century genius who established experiment at the core of the scientific method.

John Tyndall born in Leighlinbridge, discovered greenhouse gases, defended Charles Darwin and produced best selling books of what we would call popular science today. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, born in Armagh, and the only living scientist in the book, discovered a new type of star called pulsars, which were the signature of the slow death of a giant star, larger than our Sun.

There are three big scientific names, all Nobel winners, that the book lays claim to on behalf of Ireland. Guglielmo Marconi, the father of radio, whose mother was from Enniscorthy, Maurice Wilkins, one of three people awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the DNA double helix had two Dublin-born parents, and Ernest Schrodinger, one of the greatest physicists of all time, and one of the great names of ‘quantum mechanics’ – the science of the very small – became an Irish citizen.

There is lots more to discover in the book, and many surprises along the way. I have attempted to bring these scientists to life, to describe their science, and their legacy to the world, and illuminate their often very colourful private lives.

-Sean Duke


“I urge everyone to buy this book – whether it’s science you want, or the lives of geniuses, it’s a great read” – Professor Patrick Prendergast, Provost Trinity College Dublin. 

“The best book I have read this year by far” – Terry Flanagan, Mooney Goes Wild, RTE Radio 1.  

“If you have teenage family members who are doing the Leaving Certificate but are struggling to find inspiration, they’ll enjoy this” – Sunday Business Post .

“Irish scientists deserve much more recognition than they traditionally receive and, happily, this book is an important and enjoyable way of understanding and celebrating their work” – Irish Medical Times. 

“Scientists will enjoy learning about the private lives and anecdotes surrounding their champions, while non-scientists will easily delve into scientific topics such as global warming, wireless technology and electricity” – Trinity News. 

“This is a fascinating book, with gripping accounts of these seventeen scientists. I would love to see young scientists reading it.” – Sherkin Comment. 

Contents Page

If you have any comments or queries about the book, send me an email to:

-Sean Duke