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The event brought together professional historians and physicists with an interest in the history of their subject including Ireland’s most eminent physicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh, a lecturer in physics in the School of Science at South East Technological University (SETU) in Waterford, was proud to be awarded funding from the 2022 Research Connexions support scheme, an award that facilitated his work as Programme Director for the 4th International Conference on the History of Physics.

The Research Connexions programme provides the academic community at SETU the opportunity to apply for internal funding to enhance their research activity and to increase the quality of research at the university. The programme comprises of fourteen funding pathways designed to enable specific research activity ranging from support for research related skills training, software purchases to ‘buy out’ from teaching hours freeing academic staff to make research applications and carry out research.

Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh secured funding under Research Connexions Pathways 5 and 8; pathway 5 facilitates a small buyout of teaching time in order to support peer reviewed research output, while Pathway 8 supports the involvement in national or international conferences.

The challenging role of Programme Director

The International Conference on the History of Physics was the fourth in a series of international conferences organised by the UK Institute of Physics (IoP) in conjunction with the European Physical Society (EPS). “I have been a member of the International Planning Committee for this series of conferences for some years and it was a great honour to be invited to act as Programme Director for the fourth conference,” explained Cormac. “It was quite a challenging role as it involved acting as coordinator and director of a large international committee tasked with drawing up a coherent, balanced conference programme from over a hundred submitted abstracts.”

The event which took place in Trinity College Dublin aims to bring together professional historians and physicists with an interest in the history of their subject. The keynote lecture ‘The Discovery of Pulsars – A Graduate Student’s Tale’, was given by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Ireland’s most eminent physicist and discoverer of pulsars. “There is little question that the funding and teaching relief I received from Research Connexions was critical as it allowed me to work in close collaboration with leaders in the field of the history of modern physics, delivering a highly successful conference,” Cormac added.

General relativity and cosmology

Research Connexions funding also allowed Cormac to continue his own research into the history of modern physics, in particular research into the development of 20th century theories of physics such as general relativity and cosmology. These theories continue to be of major interest as new evidence of fascinating relativistic phenomena pour in from modern satellite telescopes. However, as Cormac remarked, “there are very few funding schemes at national or international level for the study of how such theories develop, so the Research Connexions scheme was vital in allowing me to continue my research.”

Under Pathway 5, which supports some release from teaching hours, allowing staff time to prepare and develop quality research publications for dissemination, Cormac prepared a paper that was later published in the prestigious international journal Physics in Perspective.

Going forward, Cormac is delighted to have been invited to continue to act as a member of the International Planning Committee for the next IoP/EPS conference on the history of physics.

The Einstein Collected Papers project

More recently, he has been invited to act as consultant editor for the book ‘The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein Vol 17: 1929-1931’. A world-renowned collaboration between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the California Institute of Technology, the Einstein Collected Papers project is tasked with the translation and analysis of the scientific and personal papers of Albert Einstein.