Interview with Dr. Niall Smith of Blackrock Castle Observatory
I spoke to Dr. Niall Smith before his talk at the Moon Cycle event in DIAS Dunsink Observatory. He is Head of Research at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and also Head of the Blackrock Castle Observatory (BCO). He has a long history with Dunsink Observatory stemming from when he volunteered at Open Nights as a teenager.
Niall remembers great stories involving people turning up to Dunsink in all sorts of weather from faraway places. During his Experimental Physics degree in UCD, Niall came to Dunsink to do summer work, internships and projects. This involved working with Brendan Jordan, who was the Chief Electronic Engineer at Dunsink, to develop a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) system for the Abastumani Observatory in Georgia. Niall says that Dunsink was important in keeping his interest in astronomy going, by being around astronomers and knowing there was some real astronomy going on. Niall says that there is a lot more astronomy happening in Ireland now than there was back then.
Strong links exist between BCO and Dunsink since the creation of BCO 10 years ago, especially with regards to outreach. BCO is a very new and different type of observatory. They have a science centre attached to the observatory with about 100,000 people visiting every year. This is used to promote astronomy and to use astronomy to promote critical thinking. Currently BCO echoes part of what Dunsink does, engaging with the public and putting context around why astronomy matters.
Over the years Niall has returned to Dunsink to participate in events. As he is now based in Cork, during Space Week and Science Week people from BCO come to do events in Dunsink. They are also involved in organising events bringing the younger generation of budding astronomers to Dunsink to do workshops involving practical workshops, the history of Dunsink and visiting the South Dome.
Brendan Jordan and others used to assemble instruments in the basement of Dunsink. Ireland has a heritage of building kit with Dunsink being involved with instrument assembly and development. This legacy is being continued by Professor Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) with the MKIDS project. BCO also continues this legacy by using the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope to test the new CMOS camera, the next generation camera.
Niall and BCO strongly support the growth of outreach and education activities at Dunsink Observatory, and all are looking forward to working together to train the next generation and to increase awareness of the great work done in Ireland in science and space.
Reported by Qi Qi Kennedy.