Trinity Launches I–LOFAR Alumni Campaign

Trinity has a long and distinguished tradition in astronomy and philanthropy. Dating back to the 1780s, a bequest from Provost Andrews funded the first Chair of Astronomy and the construction of Dunsink Observatory.

In recent years, astronomical research at Trinity has gone through a renaissance; the popular undergraduate degree in Physics and Astrophysics was established, and the School’s Astrophysics Research Group has grown to new heights. Such is the international reputation of Trinity Astrophysics, that a paper by the group was published on the front cover of the December 2013 issue of Nature Physics.

But this is just the start. The School now leads an all-Ireland consortium of universities that aims to bring a cutting-edge European radio telescope – LOFAR – to Ireland. We are asking for your support to make this happen.

LOFAR leads the way for a new generation of digital radio telescopes. These telescopes give astronomers fresh insights into the early universe after the Big Bang, find new planets, and enable us to better understand our closest star, the Sun. The current Earl of Rosse is so enthused by the Irish LOFAR project that he has generously donated the use of the remarkable site in the Birr Castle Demesne. This builds on Ireland’s great scientific heritage of the Birr Leviathan Telescope.

In order to realise an Irish LOFAR station, we need to raise €1.5 million. We have already received donations from alumni and leading figures in Irish business and we are now delighted to invite you to help bring LOFAR to Ireland.

Follow in the footsteps of Provost Andrews and help us to make LOFAR a reality in Ireland. Your gift will help build the LOFAR station, and will make a lasting difference to the School’s national and international reputation.

The LOFAR station will ensure that both Trinity and our young and emerging innovators can benefit from opportunities that the LOFAR project allows us to access.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email. do hope that you can support this important project and share our ambitions with your friends and family.

With many thanks for your support, and best wishes for the New Year.
Professor James Lunney
Head of TCD School of Physics
Professor Peter Gallagher
Head of I-LOFAR

PS. If you make a gift today, your generosity will be recognised at and in the Trinity Donor Report. Thank you.

Funding Sought In Europe For Birr Castle Radio Telescope Project

A MAJOR scientific project to be based in Birr, was showcased in the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, where funding is being sought for the Birr Castle Radio Telescope Project.
The Irish LOFAR project aims to establish a next-generation radio telescope at Birr Castle. LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) is a next-generation radio telescope that is currently being deployed across Europe, with stations already operating in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK and France. Other stations are planned in Italy, Poland, Latvia and Ireland. Speaking at a special seminar in the European Parliament on Tuesday, where details of the ambitious project were unveiled to MEPs and the European Commission, MEP Mairead McGuinness said the potential of the project to place a LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) telescope in Birr was beyond imagining.

The event in Brussels was also attended event organiser Peter Gallagher Associate Professor of Physics at Trinity College Dublin, and key note speakers Brendan Parsons, Earl of Rosse and descendant of William Parsons who built the Leviathan telescope in Ireland, Joe Hogan the founder of Irish network operator software vendor Openet and European Entrepreneur of the Year 2013, and Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. Mairead McGuinness said ‘it was inspiring to listen to Brendan Parsons, the Earl of Rosse, outlining why he believes that this development was the most logical and most productive successor to the great Leviathan telescope developed by his ancestor William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse in 1845.’ ‘The proposed site in Birr Castle Demesne is extremely radio quiet, making it ideal for radio frequency astronomy. It has established itself through history as a place of science and innovation in a rural setting.
I-LOFAR delegation at the EU Parliament. From left to right: Prof. Peter Gallagher (I-LOFAR lead/TCD), Lord and Lady Rosse, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (TD), Mairead McGuinness (MEP), Dr. John Quinn (UCD), Clodagh Memery (TCD Foundation), Prof. Rene Vermeulen (International LOFAR Telescope Director).

‘The funding requirement of €1.5 million would be money well spent,’ McGuinness added.
The I-LOFAR project will give Irish researchers access to an additional tool for astrophysics and ICT research; our greater understanding of mathematics, physics and technology will be invaluable for students. The town of Birr, where the Irish LOFAR will be situated, is going to be transformed into an “E-Town” and a destination for the ICT industry.

 Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD, local FG deputy told the meeting that the project would bring ‘enormous benefits’ to the midlands.  ‘A local fund raising group has been established to bring the project to the region. The project has huge importance for regional enterprise development and in giving today’s children an opportunity to engage with science in the future.’ Deputy Corcoran Kennedy also offered her full support to the project and committed to ensuring that there was political support for the project.

Lord Rosse said Birr would have a very unique scientific attraction if the project went ahead. ‘It is important to see the development of I-LOFAR in the context of a great scientific tradition,’ he said.
The project thus far has raised €300,000 with the ultimate target being €1.5 million. Birr has to fundraise €750,000, 50 per cent of the total cost.

This week Cllr Michael Loughnane of Birr Town Council pointed out that in the overall scheme of things €750,000 is not a large sum of money and a similar project in Poland costing several million Euro was financially supported by the EU. ‘If this exciting project goes ahead,’ he remarked, ‘it will be good for Birr because it will mean we will have one of the fastest broadband systems in Ireland, which in turn could attract businesses to open in the town.’ Cllr Loughnane called on Minister Richard Bruton to give some capital funding to this project.

Birr might also benefit from a significant increase in visitors to the town, as it’s likely that large numbers of students and tourists will visit a proposed visitor centre.

Professor Gallagher said I-LOFAR will give Ireland an opportunity to join a flagship international science project which is revolutionising our understanding of the universe. For €1.5 million investment, Professor Gallagher explained, Ireland can build a world-class radio telescope in Birr and join a €150 million European network of radio telescopes – a project which would be the largest international science project that Ireland has ever participated in.

The radio-telescope bears no resemblance to a traditional telescope constructed of lenses mounted in a cylindrical eyepiece, but is instead an array comprised of several large black panels resembling solar-panels positioned close together in a field.  The radio telescope in Birr will be connected by fibre-optic cable to Europe via Birr Technology Centre, establishing Birr as the most connected location in the midlands – drawing the attention of technology companies seeking a location to establish their business.  Prof. Gallagher said that he is hopeful the proposed telescope might someday bear fruit worthy of winning a Nobel Prize and that its creation would allow connections to be forged between universities and businesses, as well as fascinating students and inspiring them to study science, technology and mathematics at undergrad and postgrad levels.  He explained Birr is a perfect location for its construction because it is flat and does not suffer from radio interference to the same degree as many other locations in Europe. So silent is the radio interference in Ireland, Prof. Gallagher explained, that some Dutch scientists recently declared Ireland to have as little radio interference as Mongolia.
Prof. Gallagher recalled that in July 2010 Lord Rosse gave Prof. Gallagher and his team access to some outhouses accommodating sheep near the Wetherlock. Immediately they set about installing the necessary electrical supply to feed a working observatory and Prof. Gallagher said that it was the first step towards understanding the location and setting up a workable link with Trinity College in Dublin.

I-LOFAR at the EU Parliament in Brussels on November 5

I-LOFAR Briefing at EU Parliament

Meeting room WIB 05M003 (12:00 – 12:30)

Speakers will include: 

  • Mairead McGuinness (MEP)
  • Prof. Peter Gallagher (I-LOFAR Lead/Trinity College Dublin)
  • Joe Hogan (Openet/European Entrepreneur of the Year 2013)
  • Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy (TD – Member of Irish Parliament)
  • Sir Brendan Parsons (Earl of Rosse)

I-LOFAR Lunch at EU Parliament

Members Restaurant (12:30 – 14:00)

I-LOFAR Symposium

Enterprise Ireland Conference Room, Park View, 180 Chaussee d’Etterbeek, 1040 Brussels (14:30 – 18:00)

Session I chaired by Leo Enright
14:40 – 15:00 The LOFAR Radio Telescope and Multi-disciplinary Sensor Network
 Prof. Mike Garrett (Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (ASTRON) Director)
15:00 – 15:20 An Opportunity for Europe and Ireland: I-LOFAR
Prof. Peter Gallagher (Irish LOFAR Lead/Trinity College Dublin)
15:20 – 15:40 Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators
Dr. Pedro Russo (EU Universe Awareness International Manager)
15:40 – 16:00 Coffee
Session II chaired by Peter Gallagher
16:00 – 16:20 Astronomy and Innovation – An Entrepreneur’s Perspective
Mr. Joe Hogan (Openet CTO/European Entrepreneur of the Year 2013)
16:20 – 16:40 Building the Polish LOFAR Telescopes
Prof. Andrzej Krankowski (POLFAR Vice-Director)
16:40 – 17:00 EU R&D and Smart Strategies
Mr. David Harmon (EC Research & Innovation)
17:00 – 17:30 Discussion
If you would like to attend any of the events above, please email

Brussels Seminar: “I-LOFAR: A driver for smart and sustainable growth in Europe’s regions”

On the afternoon of 5 November 2013, a seminar on “LOFAR-A driver for smart and sustainable growth in Europe’s regions”, will take place in Brussels, Belgium.
LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) is a next-generation radio telescope that is currently being deployed across Europe, with stations already operating in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK and France. Other stations are planned in Italy, Poland, Latvia and Ireland. The Irish LOFAR project, I-LOFAR, will be showcased during the seminar.
The impact of LOFAR on a wide range of astrophysical topics will be immense. Among other science cases, it will complete the most extensive surveys of galaxies at low frequencies; and provide a new insight into the Sun-Earth connection. LOFAR will also have applications in geophysics, meteorology, and agriculture. The project challenges researchers in ICT and industry to develop new methods for transporting, storing and processing large data volumes, technologies key to the development of the next generation internet. Further, it creates links between universities and industry, inspires school children with the wonder of cutting-edge science, and fascinates the general public.
Since LOFAR stations are best located in isolated places, they offer the opportunity to bring cutting-edge science and related business activities to rural areas. This will trigger smart and sustainable growth and create jobs in the respective regions. For example the town of Birr, where the Irish LOFAR will be situated, is going to be transformed into an “E-Town” and a destination for the ICT industry. During the seminar, it will be explored how the development of research infrastructure projects like LOFAR can be supported by research and regional development policy of the EU and its member states.
The seminar will be followed by a dinner in the European Parliament with high-level key note speakers. Registration will open soon.
If you require further information, do not hesitate to contact

LOFAR Array and Visitor Centre Awarded Planning Permission

We are delighted to announce that Offaly County Council has been awarded planning permission for the LOFAR radio telescope array and visitor centre in Birr Castle Demesne.

The team will now focus their efforts on raising additional funds to make the project happen. To date, the Irish LOFAR team has raised over EUR 200k from Dermot Desmond, Denis O’Brien and has received continuous support from the CTO and Founder of Openet Ltd, Joe Hogan.
“This is an important step for the I-LOFAR project,” according to Prof. Peter Gallagher who leads the I-LOFAR consortium. “We now need to raise about EUR 1 million to purchase a LOFAR radio telescope and install it in Birr. Its an exciting project for Ireland and the midlands, that will bring us into a EUR 150 million international science project.”
The I-LOFAR project will enable Irish scientists to engage in the largest international science project that Ireland has ever engaged in, and in addition, the project will inspire students to study science, engineering and computer science, and bring additional tourists into the Birr area.

LOFAR to bring cutting-edge network of radio telescopes to Ireland

Dublin, June 6, 2013: Irish astronomers launch campaign to build a “cutting edge” LOFAR radio telescope in Birr Castle Demesne and to connect Ireland to a leading European network of radio telescopes.

To coincide with the European Space Expo’s visit to Trinity College Dublin in June, the Irish LOFAR radio telescope consortium hosted a reception to formally launch a drive to raise funds to build a LOFAR radio telescope in Birr Castle Demesne.

The proceedings – hosted by Irish TV presenter Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain, who was an ´ambassador´ for the Dublin City of Science 2012 – is part of a week-long visit to TCD by the spectacular European Space Expo during the Irish Presidency of the EU.

Prof Peter Gallagher, who leads the Irish LOFAR radio telescope team, explained the importance of the EU-wide initiative for Ireland.

He said, “I-LOFAR will benefit Ireland in various ways.” “An Irish LOFAR station will connect Ireland to a cutting-edge network of radio telescopes that has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of the universe.”

At an estimated cost of 1.5m euros the aim is to build an Irish LOFAR station, connecting it to the 150m euros international LOFAR telescope network which is already deployed across Europe.

The I-LOFAR would be located in Birr Castle, near the 3rd Earl of Rosse’s Leviathan telescope, which was the largest optical telescope in the world from the mid-1800s to 1920s.

Prof Gallagher adds, “I-LOFAR will fascinate students and inspire them to study science, engineering and mathematics at college. Producing graduates with these skills is key to Ireland’s economic recovery and the developing a smart sustainable economy. Large-scale science projects such as LOFAR are key to capturing students’ imaginations.”

He points out that LOFAR is also a “stepping stone” to the mega science project “Square Kilometre Array” (SKA) as well as the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP).

An Irish LOFAR station will, he says, enable Irish universities and companies to become “engaged” in SKA and also the developing capacity for radio astronomy in South Africa.

Dr Gallagher said an Irish station would produce “vast quantities” of data and, when operational, would be the biggest source of “big data” in the country.

He said it is expected to bring significant economic benefits, adding, “I-LOFAR will draw attention to the area as a location for technology companies and attract additional tourists into the region.”

I-LOFAR Presentation at Birr Town Council

Thanks to Michael Loughnann, Chairman of Birr Town Council, and Denis Duggan of Shannon Development Agency for organising a lovely evening all about I-LOFAR in Birr. Peter Gallagher, the I-LOFAR consortium head, gave a presentation on the project to around 40 people, which included local business owners, teachers, and town councillors, who all seemed to meet the I-LOFAR project with great enthusiasm and interest.

Many were interested in the development it will bring to the local IT and broadband infrastructure, and the impact it will have on tourism and the local economy. There was huge interest on what I-LOFAR will mean to schools, both locally and all over the country. A number commented on it’s potential as a national landmark for school science tours and day-trips, where children can come to see a state of the art scientific facility in the midlands of Ireland, and learn about the engineering and science involved in the project.

It was great to see such interest from the Birr residents, and also fantastic to hear numerous ideas of how to progress  to building a LOFAR station in Birr in the near future. Thank again to the Council and SDA!

Peter’s presentation can be downloaded from

First Solar Radio Burst Observed by I-LOFAR Test Array!

The I-LOFAR test array of four Low Band Antennas (LBAs) hooked up to two low cost e-Callisto receivers was installed at Birr Castle Demesne on April 18 and 19, 2013. As luck (of the Irish?) would have it, the test array picked up a number of Type III radio bursts on April 22, which were associated with a very impulsive M-class flare in sunspot group NOAA 11726 These are shown in the figure above, together with X-ray data from NOAA’s GOES satellite.

Solar radio bursts come in lots of different forms, ranging from long-duration broadband Type IV storms from electrons in large post-eruption coronal loops, to highly impulsive Type III bursts from near-relativistic electrons streaming along open magnetic field lines. The latter are associated with periods of elevated solar activate, when solar flares and coronal mass ejections are being produced by the Sun.

Unfortunately the Sun has been very quiet in recent times, so you can imagine how happy we were when only three days after installing the Birr test array, a solar flare occurred. And what’s more, a nice clear set of slightly polarised Type III bursts were picked up by the array – proof that the array is working and that Birr Castle is a great site for an International LOFAR Station!

I-LOFAR Test Array Installed at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly

The I-LOFAR test array consists of 4 Low Band Antenna (LBA) elements which were installed at Rosse Observatory ( in Birr, Co. Offaly. The I-LOFAR test array will test the capabilities of the LBA antenna elements individually and also linked together. The site seen in the photograph has a great view of the southern sky and also extremely low radio frequency interference which makes it ideal for the construction of the I-LOFAR station on the ground of Birr Castle.