History

Find out about the early days of the IOP in Ireland.

In the early 1960s all physics activities revolved around the universities.

Extra curricular lectures and meetings were focussed on academic physics topics. 

Conor P O'Toole was a physicist working in the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards (IIRS), which was the forerunner of Eolas which later became Enterprise Ireland. 

David J Murnaghan was the physicist at Saint Anne's City Hospital for the Diseases of the Skin and Cancer. Both were graduates of University College Dublin and were members of the Institute of Physics. 

They felt the lack of physics activities in Ireland related directly to their work. 

The common recognition of the need to try to fill this gap, lead to their meeting with Prof. Thomas E Nevin at University College Dublin. This meeting was followed by a letter sent to physics graduates working outside the academic world.

As a result a meeting was held in Buswell's Hotel at which some forty physicists attended. They came from many walks of life, including the Department of Post and Telegraphs, the Meteorology Service, hospitals, the Agricultural Institute, and textile firms. 

The outcome of the meeting was a wish to see if a Branch of the Institute of Physics could be set up in Ireland. An ad-hoc committee of O'Toole, Murnaghan and Nevin was given the task of investigating this possibility and the Institute in London was contacted.

It transpired that the physics community in Northern Ireland was also considering the formation of a northern branch. Following discussions between north and south it was agree that an all-Ireland Branch would be the goal. 

This was supported by the Institute's headquarters in London and greatly helped by the assistance of Dr H R Lang, the Institute's Chief Officer.

The formal establishment of the Irish Branch took place in University College Dublin on 17 May 1964. Prof. Felix Hackett, Emeritus Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, was the first Chairman. 

He had been on the staff of the Royal College of Science in Ireland, located in what is now Government Buildings, and transferred to University College Dublin when the Royal College ceased to operate. Conor P O'Toole, a University College Dublin graduate, was the first Honorary Secretary of the Irish Branch.

Prof Patrick M S Blackett, FRS of Imperial College London, was invited to give the Inaugural Lecture, held at University College Dublin on 3 November 1964. 

He presented the lecture “Government Organisation of Science and Technology” and the attendance was 180. At that time Blackett was scientific adviser to the Prime Minister Harold Wilson. 

Honoured guests at the lecture were the President of Ireland Eamon DeValera and the Minister of Commerce Dr Patrick Hilary. The establishment of the Irish Branch thus got off to a good start. 

Lectures during 1965/1966 included 'Physics of Fibres and Polymers', 'Semiconductors as a Source of Radiation' and 'Applications of Physics in Medecine'.

In passing it is interesting to note that DeValera and Blackett had met at the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Dublin in 1957. 

Later when Blackett was the President of the Royal Society, DeValera was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). Some years later (October 1966 to October 1968) the Nobel Physics Laureate Professor E T S Walton of Trinity College Dublin became Branch Chairman, and David Murnaghan, then working at Saint Agatha's Radiotherapy Clinic in Cork, was the Honorary Secretary.

It should be noted that prior to the establishment of the Irish Branch of the Institute of Physics, academics in the various universities had provided substantial encouragement for their students and graduates to become members of the Institute of Physics. 

This pool of members in Ireland provided the base from which the Irish Branch was subsequently formed.

IOP Ireland archive materials from 1964-2013 are now available. This has been compiled by Dr Peter van der Burgt of NUI Maynooth who is always interested in receiving more materials for inclusion. 

Please contact Peter at;
Tel: +35 3170 83782
Email: peter.vanderburgt@nuim.ie 


To commemorate the 40th Anniversary a special Anniversary Edition of the Newsletter (PDF, 5 MB) was published in the fall of 2004.