Learning London: Science Museum


The Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid and partners.

London’s Science Museum is so interesting that we went two days in a row. We hadn’t had our fill after just one visit, so we woke up Sunday morning and said “Let’s go back!” Incidentally, entry is by donation, so you can give what you like.

In the photo gallery below, you’ll see the Science Museum’s spacious entry hall and some images on the display about space exploration. You’ll see images from other parts of the museum that cover technological developments over time (related to transportation, homes, and appliances).

There’s special exhibit on Mathematics that includes visualization of air flow around a small aircraft (a display designed by the late/great architect Zaha Hadid) and there are displays about bridge and tower design.

I’ve included a few images from the special exhibition on technology in India–feeding my fascination with step wells. We also visited the exhibit on “Superbugs” to better understand the evolution of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Down the Rabbit Hole, from Bath to London


Beautiful “ferry” trees at Avebury in the UK’s Wiltshire region.

Last week I crossed the threshold into a brave new world. I traveled over to the UK, my soon-to-be home, twice to learn more about the place.

First, to celebrate Ireland’s bank holiday weekend, my partner Aongus and I flew to Bath. We rented a car so we could visit Stonehenge, the flight of locks at Devizes (the Caen Hill flight of the Kennet and Avon canal), Avebury which is similar to Stonehenge but larger, and the picturesque village of Castle Combe. In the city of Bath, we toured the ruins of the old Roman baths, the bell tower of Bath Abbey, Royal Crescent and the townhouse museum at One Royal Crescent, and weir and the Putney Bridge, as well as getting Watsu treatments and a night time soak with spectacular views from the rooftop pool at the Thermal Spa.

Stonehenge was spectacular, but Avebury had an even more mystical feel. The majestic old fairy trees with their thick boughs and knotted roots make it feel as if you’re stepping foot into C.S. Lewis’ Narnia or the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created for Alice. (Both of these were English writers, who could well have stood beneath the same magical trees we found here.) Wikipedia provides a quick reference to the meaning of ferry trees: “Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred, whether as symbols, or due to medicinal properties, or because they are seen as the abode of particular nature spirits. Historically and in folklore, the respect given to trees varies in different parts of the Celtic world.”


Meeting with UCL’s Professor Nick Tyler.

After flying home, I flew back to London on short notice for four meetings on Wednesday–because my new colleagues at University College London had time to meet me and it was “review week” at DIT.

These meetings were in preparation for the start of my new Marie Curie research fellowship in January. The EU is providing funding for me to work at UCL for two years, to further upgrade my skills in educational research. During my short visit, I met with my primary supervisor Professor Nick Tyler who has an amazing record of research in transportation engineering and educational innovation. I also met with my secondary supervisor, Professor John Mitchell, who directs UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE). I also got to meet with the newest member of CEE’s research team, Dr. Inês Direito, who I’ll get to collaborate with in projects. All this in addition to visiting UCL’s European Office and quick chats with two other colleagues, Emanuela Tilley and Dr. Arnie McKinley, both originally from my own side of the Atlantic.

Overall it was a very productive day, and I even got two grant proposals read in route.

Across the span of the week, I had great experiences at work and at play. I can’t wait to get back to London, Bath, and the Wiltshire region of England for more learning, and more novel adventures.


Inishbofin Island: Picturesque Wonderland off the Western Coast of Ireland

Arriving on Inishbofin by ferry from the coast of Ireland near Clifton, we anticipated a unique combination of rest, relaxation, and outdoor adventure. Aongus and I had spent a weekend here one year ago, and we were blessed with beautiful skies and sunshine then (enough, by the way, to turn my Irishman purple). Early this summer we returned, hoping for a sequel of delightful adventures. And that's exactly what we found.

Now don't get me wrong, our cycling and sunbathing were at times delayed by sprinkles. You'll see from the photos that windbreakers were needed, even in June. But our three days in this little paradise couldn't have been lovelier. The weather and pace of life were just right. And a happily exhausted duo we were by the end of our cycling day, toasting life over pints of Guinness.

Inishbofin island is home to a hundred or so folks and it boasts a few hotels, restaurants, and pubs, along with a couple tiny little stores. It's reached by passenger ferry.

When visiting, it's wise to bring most of what you'll need over from the mainland, and to plan activities and wardrobes around clouds and rain.

If the sun shines, it's a bonus.

Discovering your own little patch of beach and some sunshine is a delight beyond compare. Add in a hike, a bicycling adventure, and some yoga on a cliff overlooking the beach and a normal day becomes shear magic.

The peace and tranquillity you may find on this little island can soothe a weary soul. The sunshine, though fleeting, will call you back again and again.



Father Al and the Internationals

The chaplaincy of Dublin Institute of Technology, Fr. Alan Hilliard, Susie Keegan, and Suzanne Greene the administrative assistant, assist DIT’s visiting students, who come from all around the world. The chaplains organize trips and events in addition to providing helpful advice and pastoral assistance. 

So far this year, I’ve helped out with two events they organised–a trad music event at the back room of the Cobblestone pub, and a day trip to Glendalough national park and ancient monastic city.

Dublin’s Botanical Garden in its Autumn Glory

img_5149-1The Dublin sun shone again today, making the Botanical Garden ideal to visit. The Victorian-age green houses, sprawling green lawns, and falling leaves drew crowds of enthusiastic park-goers. We strolled the paths, viewed plants from around the world (including many sorts of Venus fly-trap), enjoyed the sensations and colors,  and played in mountains of leaves.

img_5164Then, Aongus and I took a break in the Garden cafe for lunch, and wrapped up our trip to this part of town with a jaunt into the adjacent Glasnevin Cemetary for a stroll, a history lesson, and coffee (with his beloved “coffee slice”). By sunset, when we left the Cemetary, the gate back into the Garden was locked, so we took the side exit out, beside The Gravediggers pub and stopped in for a pint and a half of Guinness.

I’m the half pint!

Research Methods of Forensic Engineers

 Catherine Simpson is here at DIT tonight describing the research she does as a Forensic Engineer. You can also call her an expert in thermal modeling and a Building Services Engineer.

She can make digital models of buildings and predict their future energy performance. She can also go into a functioning building to identify, analyze, and rectify errors in thermal performance. She says that very often, buildings do not end up performing the way experts predicted. These are skills she uses:




Catherine says Forensic Engineers must avoid using clues as if they were actual evidence (of the problem and its causes). These are clues: complaints, anecdotes, consultant reports, BMS data, ad hoc solutions, staff theories, and staff observations. On the other hand, these are useful forms of evidence:


Catherine models problems digitally and physically. She also develops theories that she can combine to test her theories:


Catherine gave an example of a shopping mall that had a very windy atrium and a very steep heating bill. No one could identify the causes of these problems. But after six years experiencing these problems, the owners called her in.

With careful analysis of data she collected (using dozens of different routes, including studying air flow by blowing bubbles in crowded spaces where smoke tests couldn’t be used) she identified a number of problems. One was a poorly placed rotisserie oven that was triggering vents to open. Another problem was that the building controls “thought” the building’s vents were completely closed when many were only partially closed.

Catherine devised a £50k solution to closing the vents in winter that is saving the owner £60k every month, in heat alone. There were reduced wind drafts and reduced tenant complaints. She says it saved about £500k in capital and restored people’s confidence in the facility.

Here’s one tool she uses to measure air speed:

She also uses thermal imaging to study air infiltration, like so:



We use this kind of technology in our Energy Cube project. This is a picture from that class last week:

Catherine’s work involves fixing problems and also providing expert witness testimony. Forensic engineering seems fascinating! Catherine is a veritable Nancy Drew.

Forensic engineering, she says, is like a jigsaw. You’re given clues, you find evidence, simulation gives context, you test theories, and ultimately prove a solution. She obviously loves her job!

Crafting Lisbon

Orange trees along the entry IPS.

Orange trees along the entry IPS.

My Friday visit to the architecture school of the Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) was icing on the cake after a week of engineering interviews, conducted across the bay from Lisbon at Escola Superior de Tecnologia do Barreiro (a branch of the Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal, where I had interviewed students their experiences as engineering students as part of my Marie Curie research project).

You might recall that I delivered workshops at IPS and IST as a Fulbright scholar, back in 2013 (click here for more).

For a little more fun on my last day in Lisbon on this trip, I took the Metro over to IST. There, I visited the first year studio to hear student teams present their urban analyses of Lisbon districts. I toured the 2nd-5th year studios with my gracious faculty hosts and I wrapped up the afternoon discussing recent work with PhD students from the Architecture Research Group who I’d met on my previous trip to Portugal. The doctoral students — Maria Bacharel Carreira, Luisa Cannas da Silva, Mafalda Panheco, and Sajjad Nazidizaji — and thier professor Teresa Valsassina Heitor took me for a beer at the end of the day.

IPS's Escola Superior de Tecnologia do Barreiro

IPS’s Escola Superior de Tecnologia do Barreiro (image from http://www.estbarreiro.ips.pt/)

Many thanks to my colleagues at IPS, Bill Williams and Raquel Barreira, who helped arrange and conduct interviews. Thanks also to the ISP students who provided interviews and the IST teachers and students who shared their work with me. I can’t wait to visit again!