Annual Report 2001 - School of Physical Sciences

annual report 2001

school of physical sciences

Unit Report
  • School winner of President's research award.
  • Launch of Web-based Masters Programme.
  • EU Marie-Curie Training Site award for the NCPST.
This year saw substantial development of the School in teaching, research and other education-related activities. A major teaching development was the launch of a wholly web-based Graduate Diploma/Masters programme in Plasma & Vacuum Technology. Developed and championed by Dr. David Vender, and jointly offered by D.C.U. and Queen's University Belfast, this postgraduate programme is aimed at people in employment. The School views this as a key development in terms of the use of exclusively web-based teaching, the sharing of a joint programme with another university, and the targeting of a new constituency for students. Meanwhile, the principal undergraduate degree programmes (Applied Physics and Physics with a language) have seen a decrease in new entrants in line with the national trends in numbers selecting science/engineering. The new Common Entry to Science route onto D.C.U. programmes is also proving to be very attractive to school leavers, and is providing additional members for the Applied Physic degree. The School has been very active in liaison activities with second level schools, which is expected to produce dividends in future years. Approximately ninety schools were visited by School staff or arranged visits to the DCU Physics laboratories, and overall we estimate that four thousand students had first-hand contact with DCU or its staff during 2000-01. Regarding activities at national level, Prof M Henry and Dr J Costello are both members of the Government Taskforce on the Physical Sciences, which is due to report in early 2002. The taskforce will make recommendations for improving the uptake of physics and chemistry in schools and of science and engineering courses at third level.

From the current graduating class, the Lynam award for first place went to Mr Adam Kelly, while the Fryar medal for best final year project went to Mr Anthony Murphy. Our congratulations and best wishes go to all our graduates. This year also saw the successful completion of M.Sc and Ph.D theses by research. Dr Catherine Freehill, Dr Daaniel Godden and Dr Philip Ryan were awarded PhD degrees, while Mr Cathal Dunne, Mr James Fryar, Mr Dermot Gorman and Mr Paul Quinn graduated with M.Sc. degrees. Our congratulations go to all the students and their supervisors.

A recent graduate of the Applied Physics programme (Mr Lee Carroll, Fryar Medal Winner in 1999/2000) was awarded the 2001 S.P.I.E. scholarship made annually to students who are deemed to have "outstanding potential for long-range contributions to the field of optics". Lee also achieved the rare distinction of having his final year project work published in the scientific literature.

Research in the School is based largely within two national research centres funded under the HEA PRTLI programme. The National Centre for Plasma Science & Technology (N.C.P.S.T.) under the guidance of the Director, Prof Eugene Kennedy and the Associate Director, Dr Miles Turner, has had considerable resources added to the research infrastructure, and the installation and commissioning of new equipment and facilities have proceeded according to plan. The international standing of the NCPST is evidenced by the recent success in the competitive EU Marie-Curie Training Site Programme. The NCPST proposal entitled "Research Training in Plasma Science & Technology" was favourably evaluated by the EU Commission Services with the help of independent experts. The funding received will enable the NCPST to receive doctoral research students for extended visits as Marie-Curie Fellows over the next four years. Within the NCPST, Dr Bert Ellingboe, Director of the Plasma Research Laboratory, has quickly built up the research team in that section and the commissioning of a very substantial equipment donation from LAM Research is nearing completion. D.C.U. continues to lead Ireland's involvement in EURATOM, in conjunction with partner laboratories in D.I.A.S., N.U.I.C., and N.U.I.D. The Plasma Research Laboratory was successful in both the Enterprise Ireland Applied Technology Research Programme (ATRP) and in the EU Framework V Programme, with substantial funding now secured for several years to come. The main research areas are negative ion production methods (Dr B Ellingboe), the modelling and simulation of plasmas (Dr M Turner), and the development of plasma diagnostic techniques (Dr D Vender).

The School has a major role in the National Centre for Sensor Research (N.C.S.R.), directed by Prof Brian MacCraith. The main focus in the current year has been on the development of new laboratories and facilities, and the growth of multidisciplinary activities. Major developments include a UHV-STM imaging facility (shared with the NCPST), and a customised microfabrication facility for photonic devices. The completion of new laboratories early in 2002 will mark a ffurther milestone in the evolution of the Centre. Within the NCSR, the Optical Sensors Laboratory (Prof B MacCraith and Dr C McDoinagh) is among the largest research groups in DCU. Major achievements this year include one US patent award, five patent applications, three industrial contracts won and one large ATRP project (Intelligent Food Packages) funded. The main research areas are environmental monitoring, especially sensor development for water quality and pollutants. Projects funded under the Optronics Ireland PAT are increasingly focussed on technology transfer, with a class 1000 clean room now installed for the fabrication of photonic devices. The President's research award was won this year by Prof MacCraith to whom we extend warmest congratulations.

The school has maintained its record for collaborative research between groups and centres. The Surface Science Research Laboratory (Dr G Hughes and Dr A Cafolla) won Enterprise Ireland support for a novel research programme on organic materials in silicon technology, in conjunction with the Semiconductor Spectroscopy Laboratory (Prof M Henry). Dr Hughes has an on-going involvement with the Brookhaven National Laboratory in the USA. Dr. Enda McGlynn, also of the Semiconductor Spectroscopy Laboratory, has made substantial progress on several research projects in the area of pulsed laser deposition of optoelectronic materials in conjunction with Dr. Jean-Paul Mosnier of the Centre for Laser Plasma Research (C.L.P.R.). Other research projects in C.L.P.R. include absolute photoionisation cross sections of ions (Prof E Kennedy and Dr J-P Mosnier) and the development of short wavelength imaging diagnostics (Dr J Costello). The C.L.P.R is also involved in a major international EU funded project, associated with the new VUV Free Electron Laser Facility under development at DESY, Germany, while the Semiconductor Spectroscopy Laboratory is a partner in an international experiment at CERN.

Other research projects in the School include optical wave-guides (Dr. Vincent Ruddy) and remote sensor platforms (Dr Brian Lawless). Dr Eamonn Cunningham has commenced a collaboration with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in a new astrophysics project.

The development and refinement of the DCU strategic plan has been a large part of the universty's work in the past year, and School staff have been to the forefront in this work as members of the various theme groups and as coordinators of proposal development for sub-themes. The fruits of this work will impact strongly on the School in coming years, and we look forward to this with optimism.

The School is fortunate in the professionalism and expertise of its teaching, research, technical and administration personnel who have all contributed handsomely to the work described above. Mr. Alan Hughes, Mr. Mick Aughey, Mr. Des Lavelle, Mr Victor Fagg, Mr Pat Wogan, Mr Bernard Tyres and Mr Ray Murphy (Analyst Programmer) have maintained excellent standards in the technical support of teaching and research. Congratulations go to Dr G Hughes and Dr M. Turner, both of whom have been appointed to Senior Lecturer positions. The School Office staff (Ms Marian Shortt and Ms Siobhan Walsh) continued to provide a professional support service to staff and students. This year saw the departure of Ms Shortt from the School office after many years of loyal service and she has our best wishes for happiness and prosperity in the future.

Finally, the achievements of the undergraduate PhysEng Society (Ms Sarah Bent, Mr Brian MacLochlainn, Ms. Imelda McKenna and their colleagues) in successfully hosting the 2001 International Conference for Physics Students from the 10th to the 16th of August of this year deserve particular recognition. The conference, attended by about 230 delegates from 18 countries all over the world with many delegates having won competitions to represent their country, was hosted for the first time in Ireland by DCU. Guest lecturers included Nobel prize winner Sir Joseph Rotblat who lectured on the "Preservation of Life in a Nuclear Age". This very ambitious and highly successful undertaking on the part of the undergraduate students provided a fitting finale to the year.