TCD Scientists to study the link between illness, brain dysfunction and dementia

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin will study the interaction between acute illness and brain dysfunction after they were awarded significant funding – a projected $1.2 million over five years — from the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Assistant Professor in Neuroscience in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity, Colm Cunningham, will use the funding awarded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the US National Institutes of Health to explore why – and how — the brain is sometimes left vulnerable to the negative effects of acute illness.

Although it has not been widely appreciated until recently, acute illness can have negative effects on brain function and can even injure the brain. Delirium is a frequent neuropsychiatric complication of acute illness in the elderly that encompasses profound disorientation and confusion. As well as being extremely distressing and often causing extended stays in hospital, it is now clear that these episodes also accelerate the onset and progression of dementia.

The pathophysiological mechanisms by which acute illness induces cognitive dysfunction and lasting brain injury are poorly understood and this award by the NIH is aimed at unravelling the molecular mechanisms by which inflammation outside the brain alters inflammation inside the brain (neuroinflammation). In particular, the studies will focus on how the loss of a key brain chemical, acetylcholine, whose levels decline with age, alters the activation of brain immune cells called microglia and leaves the brain vulnerable to the negative effects of acute illness.

Professor Cunningham commented: “Evidence that inflammation throughout the body can trigger dysfunction and injury in the brain has been slowly accumulating, but this award allows us to really get into the detail of how the brain becomes vulnerable when acetylcholine levels decline and to examine the role that inflammation plays in disrupting brain performance and integrity. With fantastic tools made by our collaborator John Lowry in Maynooth University, we can also now start to look at how brain metabolism is changing during acute illness.”

Dr Molly Wagster, Chief of NIA’s Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Branch, said: “We are delighted to support this collaborative investigation into the molecular underpinnings of delirium, a condition once thought transient but that we now know can cause long-term — or even permanent — cognitive problems in older people.”

Although those studies will rely exclusively on mouse models, the group are also pursuing this story in elderly patients who experience acute inflammation in the form of hip fractures, as co-investigators in a collaborative project just funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK. The ASCRIBED study, led by Professor Chris Fox in the University of East Anglia, takes advantage of a cohort of elderly hip-fracture patients from whom brain fluid (CSF) is being collected in order to track the inflammation and brain injury ‘biomarkers’ that are produced as a consequence of the inflammatory trauma of hip fracture.

Professor Cunningham added: “Together, it is hoped that these two studies can begin to piece together how acute inflammation triggers delirium and acute brain injury and to what extent this drives the progression of dementia.”

Trinity and St James’s Hospital announce plans for new cancer institute

Ireland’s first cancer centre to set gold standard in cancer patient care

The intention to develop a new cancer institute was jointly announced by Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital at the launch of Cancer Week today. The first of its kind in Ireland, the new cancer institute will set a new standard for cancer care nationally, integrating medicine and science in cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship. Based on similar leading international models, it will be located in one designated facility at St James’s Hospital.

Cancer in Ireland is projected to double by 2040 with increases in all types of cancer. The population need for the development is therefore acute.

Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast said: “The cancer institute will consolidate our strengths in clinical and scientific research for the ultimate benefit of patient care. It will deliver substantially improved outcomes for cancer patients by providing research-led diagnosis and treatment, and promoting a better understanding of cancer through interdisciplinary research.”

“We will be educating the next generation of cancer clinicians, health professionals and scientists. Both Trinity and St James’s Hospital share a long history together training medical doctors, nurses and health professionals who have treated the people of Dublin and Ireland with expertise and dedication. With this new institute we intend to lead the way in innovative new cancer treatment.”

St James’s Hospital CEO, Lorcan Birthistle said: “This cancer centre will place research, education and treatment side by side which is in line with the model for the very best cancer centres internationally. The best outcomes for patients are achieved in centres that combine high volume and highly specialised evidence based cancer care with scientific and technological advances. This exciting joint development between Trinity College and St James’s will achieve this goal.”

Trinity and St James’s Hospital have been scaling up for the new cancer institute with the recruitment of key new clinical academic and research appointments in oncology. Accreditation for the new institute is also being sought from the Organisation of European Cancer Institutes that sets the gold standard for leading cancer institutes in Europe. It will benchmark performance against international standards and direct the cancer services and research to the next level.

Minister for Health, Simon Harris said: “I welcome this association between the health sector and third level education on cancer care involved in the collaboration between Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital. Such combined working holds great potential to ultimately benefit the patient experience.”

The announcement was made at the opening of the International Cancer Conference at Trinity College Dublin as part of Cancer Week. It was made ahead of the government publication of the National Strategy on Cancer.

Cancer – the Irish context

The National Cancer Registry estimates that the incidence of cancer in Ireland will increase by 50% in 2025 (compared with 2010) and by 100% in 2040 based on population changes. While there have been improvements in cancer care in Ireland over recent years, most indicators show survivorship rates for many cancer types remain lower than in comparable developed countries.

Trinity College Dublin Welcomes US First Lady, Michelle Obama and Daughters for Visit

 

The Obamas touring Old Library at Trinity College on Monday
The Obamas touring Old Library at Trinity College on Monday

Trinity College Dublin welcomed US First Lady,  Michelle Obama and her two daughters, Sasha and Malia to visit the Old Library today. The leading Irish university was the first visit as part of their itinerary in Ireland.

Welcoming the Obamas, Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast said:

“We are delighted to welcome  the US First Lady and daughters, to Trinity College, Ireland’s  oldest university which has produced some of the world’s great minds across the sciences and the humanities, including two Nobel Laureates, Samuel Beckett in literature and Ernest Walton in science.”

“We are honoured by your visit which goes to strengthen our relations with America. As a country, America has welcomed many of our graduates over the years where a large number of our alumni are living.  Our graduates who play a critical role in shaping the knowledge economy are our diaspora.”

“Your visit has particular meaning for us today  given the connections we have as an institution with President Obama’s own  ancestor,  John Kearney  who in the 18th century was also a Provost here in the university.”

 

The Obamas visited Trinity’s Long Room situated in the College’s 18th century Old Library building.

During their visit  they were escorted by the Provost where they were shown the Book of Kells, a 9th century gospel manuscript written and illustrated by Columban monks, famous throughout the world for its beautifully intricate decoration and representative of Ireland as a seat of art and learning.

The First Lady and her daughters were also given a presentation on their own family genealogy and connections to Ireland, compiled by one of Trinity’s own spin out heritage and archives companies, Eneclann.  It researched President Obama’s Irish ancestry from Falmouth Kearney, President Obama’s second great-grandfather to his seventh great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney.   The Kearneys  belonged to  the Church of Ireland and John Kearney, who was a distant cousin of  the President, went on to become the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, and later Bishop of Ossory. He held the Chair of Oratory in Trinity from 1781 until his appointment as Provost in 1799.   As part of the genealogy exhibition the Obamas were shown an original 19th century map provided by the National Library of Ireland of lands of Gorthgreen from where some of the family originated.

The Obamas also saw the College Harp − Ireland’s oldest harp dating from the 15th century and on which Ireland’s national emblem is based.

In concluding their tour of the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, Provost, Dr Prendergast,  wished the First Lady and her daughters a pleasant visit and emphasised the need to continue forging  innovative  research and academic synergies and partnerships with leading universities in America.

Cancer Week 2016 kicks off with optimistic outlook on new era in treating cancer

From training the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells, to robotic cancer surgery, the options for treating cancer are entering a new era.

Cancer Week Ireland 2016 kicks off today with a conference at Trinity College Dublin to explore new frontiers in personalised cancer care. Scientists and clinicians will discuss the future of treating cancer and how personalised and targeted therapy using the latest techniques in immunotherapy, surgery and genomic profiling are fundamentally changing the way we approach this disease.

In fact, cancer is not one disease at all, and there is no single magic bullet cure. Even within specific cancer types such as breast, prostate or lung, there are considerable differences between tumours of the same type in different patients, and between cancer cells within a tumour.

While treatments in the 1960s and 1970s employed one-size-fits-all blunderbuss type therapies, often with highly toxic side effects, the key to current and future cancer treatment lies in individualised innovative approaches for each patient’s particular cancer. This involves combining new and traditional therapies, an increased use of genomic profiling and new methods of determining a patient’s likelihood of responding to various treatments. Science, technology and clinical treatment have moved far beyond what many people commonly understand about cancer and how science and medicine are fighting it.

Dr David Gallagher, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Consultant Medical Geneticist at St James’ Hospital Dublin who heads up the cutting edge Cancer Genetics Unit in St James’ explained: “Over the past decade cancer treatment has become more precise. Personalised treatments have been used to target specific abnormalities in patients’ cancers with some notable success stories such as the breast cancer drug Herceptin. However, most cancers are too complex to succumb to single targeted treatments and consequently, progress in this area slowed somewhat after their discovery. Attempts to combine multiple targeted therapies have been hampered by the overlapping toxicities of the individual drugs, and for a period of time the promise of personalised cancer care plateaued.”

Dr Gallagher continued: “In the past one to two years optimism is returning. Treatments that modulate the immune system, effectively turning the person’s immune system against their cancer have produced some remarkable results. These agents are now being combined with targeted treatment, in addition to traditional chemotherapeutic agents and radiation, to make the cancers even more recognisable to the person’s immune system, thus priming them for targeting.”

“Another significant recent development is the emergence of, what’s known as, germline genetic predictors of response to treatment. What this means is that an individual’s core DNA that they inherit from their parents not only determines what diseases they get, but also predicting their response to different treatments.”

“Finally the growing awareness of the relevance of the epigenome – chemical compounds that can tell the genome what to do – in the formation of cancer, and the ability to target the epigenome, holds considerable promise for stopping and reversing cancer very early in its development.”

Dr Gallagher concluded: “These innovations will change cancer care dramatically over the next decade. Our greatest challenge may be to ensure that our creaking healthcare system maintains pace with this progress.”

Initiated by the Irish Cancer Society and Trinity College Dublin, Cancer Week Ireland is encouraging a national conversation about cancer this October. That conversation hopes to create a greater understanding of what cancer is, how we can better prevent it, detect it, treat it and how to survive and thrive afterwards.

Between Monday 17th October and Sunday 23rd October, communities and organisations around the country are hosting events for patients, medical professionals and members of the public, to be part of the conversation. All events are available on cancerweek.ie

Some of the key events taking place during Cancer Week Ireland are:

  • ‘Living Well with Cancer’, the annual National Conference for Cancer Survivorship organised by the Irish Cancer Society, (Saturday, 22nd October, Aviva Stadium Dublin).
  • The tenth International Cancer Conference, hosted by Trinity College Dublin, (Monday, 17th October, Trinity College Dublin).
  • ‘Cancer Prevention: from Denis Burkitt to the Human Genome Project’, a talk by the 2017 recipient of the Burkitt Medal, Dr Paul Brennan, Head of the Genetics Section of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC/WHO), Lyon, France. (Tuesday, 18th October, 16.20pm, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Trinity College Dublin).

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said “Cancer treatments have advanced significantly over the years and this is evidenced by increasing survival rates. Cancer survival rates in Ireland are at an all-time high, but the number of people diagnosed with cancer here is rising and is expected to double by 2040. It is therefore vital that we continue to invest in cancer research in order to better understand and treat this extremely complex disease.”

About Cancer Week Ireland

Cancer Week Ireland is the brain child of the Irish Cancer Society and Trinity College Dublin. Ireland’s first Cancer Week took place in 2014 and the theme was ‘Living with Cancer’.

This inaugural Cancer Week brought together national and international experts to discuss improvements in cancer treatments, as well as tackling the physical and emotional consequences that a cancer diagnosis can bring.

In 2015 the Cancer Week concept continued to grow and led to another successful week-long programme of events in September on the theme of cancer research and clinical trials.

Now in its third year, Cancer Week is rolling out nationally to become Cancer Week Ireland. This year it wants to start a national conversation about cancer and how more people are surviving as more advances are made in detection and treatment.

For more information and to see a list of events taking place, please visitcancerweek.ie.

New programme to Advance Clinical Research Capability

A team of Irish clinical academics have secured one of seven major awards that have been made across the UK and Ireland by the Wellcome Trust as part of an initiative to increase clinical research capability.  The scheme, which will be known as the Wellcome – HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme, will support the intake of eight postgraduate trainee doctors a year for a five-year period, providing fully integrated clinical and research training up to consultant level.

The award represents an overall investment of almost €13 million with €7.5 million coming from Wellcome and the Health Research Board (HRB) matched with a further combined contribution of €5.5 million from the Health Service Executive and the Health and Social Care Research and Development Office, Northern Ireland, and the partner Universities.  The partner universities involved in the programme include Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, NUI Galway, University College Cork, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Queen’s University Belfast.

Lead investigators within each institution include:

  • Professor Michael Gill (Trinity College Dublin, Director & Co-Investigator)
  • Professor Paddy Mallon (University College Dublin, Deputy Director & Co-Investigator)
  • Professor Conall Dennedy (NUI, Galway, Co-investigator)
  • Professor Joe Eustace (University College Cork, Co-investigator)
  • Professor Ray Stallings (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Co-investigator)
  • Professor Peter Maxwell (Queen’s University Belfast, Co-investigator)
  • Dr Mark Watson (Molecular Medicine Ireland, Co-ordinator)

The programme will be open to applications in autumn 2016 for an intake beginning in July 2017 and is being coordinated through Molecular Medicine Ireland, an inter-University collaborative entity owned by NUIG, RCSI, TCD, UCC and UCD.

Announcing the programme today, Minister for Health, Mr Simon Harris TD noted that

A research-active health system is proven to have better outcomes for patients.  Patients will be the long-term winners as this collaborative investment will fundamentally improve both the number and calibre of Clinician Scientists working in our universities and health services.  I’m really pleased to announce this significant investment in the future of the health service, and I know the positive impact for patient care is going to be very real.  I very much look forward to seeing this important programme in action over the next few years.  I welcome the strong collaboration that is core to this research award, and I am particularly pleased that Northern Ireland is part of it, making this an all island and multi-institutional Programme.

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister, Ms Michelle O Neill MLA said;

This is the largest ever investment in academic medicine through an all island collaborative partnership and it will make a real difference to the health of people across the island of Ireland and further afield.  I want to congratulate all those involved in securing this programme and in particular pay tribute to the role played by Professor Peter Maxwell, from Queen’s University in Belfast.   This initiative demonstrates what can be achieved through collaborative working across the whole island of Ireland.

Professor Michael Gill, Principal Investigator and Director of the Wellcome-HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training Programme said,

Our goal in securing this award was to enable a fundamental change in the training of future academic clinicians on an all-Ireland basis. At its core is a fully integrated clinical and research programme that will provide seamless, supported and mentored training of the highest standard, targeting future clinical academic leaders in the universities and health care system.

The programme will identify, recruit, and mentor doctors during their postgraduate training who have the potential to become future academic leaders. They will be supported through a structured career pathway, aligned with our national research strengths and postgraduate specialities. In doing so, this programme will position Ireland well to meet future challenges in clinical innovation and excellence in healthcare.

Our application has the full support of all major stakeholders; the Postgraduate Forum representing specialist training bodies, the Health Services North and South, the Universities and the Health Research Board.  Trainee Clinician Scientists will be based at six major Irish universities in Belfast, Cork, Dublin and Galway, and will be able to take advantage of existing clinical research infrastructures and supports in their associated hospitals, many of which have been funded by the HRB.

Deputy Director of the Programme, Professor Paddy Mallon, Associate Dean for Research, Innovation and Impact at the UCD School of Medicine commented,

This exciting programme represents real systems change in how we train clinician scientists in Ireland and is designed to attract the very best physicians and support them in pursuit of the research excellence. This programme would not have been possible without the investment in national structures for clinical research and training that has been committed over the past decade or more. Funding of this prestigious programme reflects international recognition of the sound infrastructure available within Ireland to conduct the highest quality clinical research.

According to Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board,

We are committed to fostering a research-active culture among health professionals so they can continually evolve and improve care.  It is great to see that the ongoing collaboration between the HRB and Wellcome Trust continues to extend new opportunities to researchers in Ireland.

Dr Anne-Marie Coriat, Head of Research Careers at Wellcome said;

This is one of seven new clinical PhD programmes across the UK and Ireland that Wellcome has funded.  Training small groups of PhD students in programmes provides an opportunity to develop cohort focussed training opportunities and further embed clinical academic training within universities and university hospitals.

 

Brief overview of Programme Structure

Wellcome – HRB Irish Clinical Academic Training

Year 1

Clinical (70%) Academic (30%) Accredited for clinical training. Fellows appointed as Clinical Lecturer and allocated to clinical positions in a university affiliated hospital with protected time to participate in education/research. Three core modules and one elective module will be taken, chosen from an existing Clinician Scientist Curriculum at Molecular Medicine Ireland or from additional modules in any partner institution. Fellows will be supported to make their final choice of supervisor and will submit their research proposal. Progression to PhD will follow independent review of the proposal and interview. With extensive support, we expect low drop-out rates.

Year 2-4

Joint clinical (10%) / Academic (90%). One year accredited for basic or higher specialist training (BST or HST). Continue as Clinical Lecturer. Fellows will complete their research under supervision and will take additional taught components relevant to their PhD. They will maintain limited clinical activity approved by the relevant training body that does not disrupt research.

Year 5-7

Joint clinical (80%) / Academic (20%). Accredited for HST. Continue Clinical Lecturer appointment. Fellows will return to training positions in hospitals aligned with their host university under the guidance of their supervisor and Mentors. Fellows will complete requirements for clinical training while continuing to participate in research, working with their supervisors and mentors to apply for suitable post-doctoral fellowships.

About the Funders

Wellcome

Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate.

Health Research Board

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead agency in Ireland responsible for supporting and funding health research, information and evidence. We are motivated and inspired by our vision; Healthy people through excellent research and applied knowledge (www.hrb.ie)

Scientists make major breakthrough in understanding inflammation

  • The action of cells that spark inflammation causes a ‘re-wiring’ of their mitochondria, which amplifies the inflammation response
  • Targeting the cells responsible for the initial spark may keep the process under control and offer new treatment options for a host or inflammatory diseases

 

Scientists have made a major breakthrough in understanding the workings of the cellular machinery involved in a host of inflammatory diseases. Their discovery opens the door to potential new therapies if they are able to target specific cells and keep our natural inflammation response under control.

The scientists found that ‘macrophage’ cells, when activated, re-wire energy powerhouses called ‘mitochondria’ to amplify the response – sometimes to the point that a normal bodily reaction to infection or injury is way over the top.

This elevated response is implicated in a number of inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and septic shock.

Macrophages have two jobs in the body; they must react quickly to an infection by kicking the body’s inflammation response into action, and they must then depress that initial response and repair tissues that are damaged as a result.

However, the scientists found that the initial macrophage activity diverts mitochondria from their normal role of producing energy, to instead producing toxic compounds that amplify inflammation.

The scientists now hope that they can find ways of suppressing macrophages to an appropriate level, so as to reduce associated tissue damage when the body’s inflammation alert status has amped up too far. The scientists, from the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin, report their findings today in the world’s leading life sciences journal Cell.

Co-lead author, Dr Evanna Mills, said: “Mitochondria are well known as the key energy generators in our cells, but we found that during inflammation they switch from that role to instead making toxic products from oxygen using an enzyme called succinate dehydrogenase, which promotes inflammation.”

Co-lead author Dr Beth Kelly added:  “Preventing this process turns the macrophage into a more benign anti-inflammatory cell, so if we can find a way of mediating the macrophage response, we might be able to preferentially calm down the inflammation.”

The work is a joint collaboration between the Inflammation Research Group at Trinity, which is led by Professor of Biochemistry, Luke O’Neill, and the Medical Research Council Mitochondrial Biology Unit, Cambridge UK, which is led by Dr Mike Murphy.

It involves a major effort by nine institutions, including the Universities of Cambridge, Helsinki and Tampere, Harvard Medical School, the Medical Research Council UK Cancer Unit, Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute Glasgow, and the Max Planck Institute, Germany.

Professor O’Neill said: “Our work contributes to a burgeoning area in immunology termed ‘immunometabolism’. We have great hope that this area will go on to yield a whole new understanding of the complexities of inflammation, which might ultimately benefit patients via new therapeutic options.”

The work in Trinity was supported by Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the European Research Council.

Inside Trinity

inside-trinity

The 19,985 people that work, live and study on campus are the primary focus of a new documentary  ‘Inside Trinity’. The four part series is a vibrant and breathing portrait of their lives – capturing the depth and breadth of human and educational experiences that happen within Trinity’s campus, extending from Front Arch on College Green to the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute on Pearse Street.  Loosehorse Television and RTÉ, partnered with Trinity to produce the series which was filmed over the past year.

Filmed throughout the 2015/16 academic year, ‘Inside Trinity offers a fascinating glimpse of a great Irish institution at work.  The cameras capture the whole gamut of life:  study, teaching and learning, research, sports and lots more.

The first episode was aired last night and will be  broadcast on  RTÉ 1 Television for the next three weeks (10.15pm, Thursdays). Last night’s episode featured Freshers’ Week at the beginning of another academic term  with all the different clubs and societies  on Front Square. It featured the then Students’ Union President, Lynn Ruane as she moved her family into Trinity and settled into her new role. We also caught up with some of Trinity’s leading academics who talked about their work.

The next three episodes will show  our students and staff involved in a range of educational activities.   Sports clubs, Trinity Access Programmes and the Library also have prominent roles. Tune in of a Thursday evening for some very  interesting viewing.

 

 

US Vice President Joe Biden Receives Honorary Doctorate from Trinity College

US Vice President Joe Biden received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin today − his first such degree from a university outside the United States.

The Doctor in Laws recognises the Vice President’s contribution to world politics. In line with Trinity’s traditions, an oration was given in Latin honouring Vice President Biden. The ceremony was overseen by Trinity’s Provost and President, Dr Patrick Prendergast, and the university’s Chancellor Mary Robinson who is herself a former president of Ireland.

Several members of the Biden family were also welcomed to Trinity as part of the Biden family’s visit to Ireland. The Vice President was also awarded with a gold medal by students of the Philosophical Society and later gave a speech to Trinity students and staff. Students included those who were awarded PhDs at the same ceremony.

Vice President Biden joins a long list of distinguished honorary degree graduates from Trinity including former US President John F Kennedy who was awarded a degree on his historic visit in 1963.

Welcoming the US Vice President, Trinity Provost & President Patrick Prendergast said: “We are delighted to welcome the Vice President to Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s most prestigious and highest-ranking university which has formed some of the world’s great minds across the arts and sciences, including Oscar Wilde, Edmund Burke, Samuel Beckett and William Rowan Hamilton.

“We are honoured by your visit which goes to strengthen our relations with the US. As a country, America has welcomed many of our graduates over the years where there are more than 7,300 Trinity alumni currently living. Our graduates play a critical role in shaping the knowledge economy.”

“This year one alumnus has been a particular source of pride for both our countries, the Irish American William C. Campbell who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine. He left Trinity and Ireland in the 1950s with a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a PhD in the US and his career prospered there. Through his groundbreaking research he has almost eliminated river blindness and made a real difference in world health.”

“Our relationship with the US is a reciprocal one. Trinity has had a long history of receiving students from top universities right across the US. Ireland is the sixth highest receiver of American study abroad students in the world with growth in demand outpacing many other European destinations. We also welcome many US postgraduates through Fulbright and Mitchell Scholarships.”

“While the appeal for some is linked to their Irish heritage, for most of our US students, the motivation to study at Trinity is rooted in a spirit of adventure and a desire for a truly international education at a world class university.”

After the award of the degree, Dr Prendergast accompanied the Vice President to the Library of Trinity College Dublin to visit its famous Long Room in the 18th century Old Library building. It is home to famous manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and Book of Durrow but also a series of literary collections of global renown. They include letters and manuscripts belonging to another famous Trinity graduate and Nobel Laureate, Samuel Beckett and also writings by W.B. Yeats, one of the Vice President’s favourite poets.

The Vice President was shown the Book of Kells, the 9th century gospel manuscript written and illustrated by monks, famous throughout the world for its beautifully intricate decoration and representative of Ireland as a seat of art and learning.

US Vice President Joe Biden Receives Honorary Doctorate from Trinity College

US Vice President Joe Biden received an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin today − his first such degree from a university outside the United States.

 

The Doctor in Laws recognises the Vice President’s contribution to world politics. In line with Trinity’s traditions, an oration was given in Latin honouring Vice President Biden. The ceremony was overseen by Trinity’s Provost and President, Dr Patrick Prendergast, and the university’s Chancellor Mary Robinson who is herself a former president of Ireland.

Several members of the Biden family were also welcomed to Trinity as part of the Biden family’s visit to Ireland. The Vice President was also awarded with a gold medal by students of the Philosophical Society and later gave a speech to Trinity students and staff. Students included those who were awarded PhDs at the same ceremony.

Vice President Biden joins a long list of distinguished honorary degree graduates from Trinity including former US President John F Kennedy who was awarded a degree on his historic visit in 1963.

Welcoming the US Vice President, Trinity Provost & President Patrick Prendergast said: “We are delighted to welcome the Vice President to Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s most prestigious and highest-ranking university which has formed some of the world’s great minds across the arts and sciences, including Oscar Wilde, Edmund Burke, Samuel Beckett and William Rowan Hamilton.

“We are honoured by your visit which goes to strengthen our relations with the US. As a country, America has welcomed many of our graduates over the years where there are more than 7,300 Trinity alumni currently living. Our graduates play a critical role in shaping the knowledge economy.”

“This year one alumnus has been a particular source of pride for both our countries, the Irish American William C. Campbell who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine. He left Trinity and Ireland in the 1950s with a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a PhD in the US and his career prospered there. Through his groundbreaking research he has almost eliminated river blindness and made a real difference in world health.”

“Our relationship with the US is a reciprocal one. Trinity has had a long history of receiving students from top universities right across the US. Ireland is the sixth highest receiver of American study abroad students in the world with growth in demand outpacing many other European destinations. We also welcome many US postgraduates through Fulbright and Mitchell Scholarships.”

“While the appeal for some is linked to their Irish heritage, for most of our US students, the motivation to study at Trinity is rooted in a spirit of adventure and a desire for a truly international education at a world class university.”

After the award of the degree, Dr Prendergast accompanied the Vice President to the Library of Trinity College Dublin to visit its famous Long Room in the 18th century Old Library building. It is home to famous manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and Book of Durrow but also a series of literary collections of global renown. They include letters and manuscripts belonging to another famous Trinity graduate and Nobel Laureate, Samuel Beckett and also writings by W.B. Yeats, one of the Vice President’s favourite poets.

The Vice President was shown the Book of Kells, the 9th century gospel manuscript written and illustrated by monks, famous throughout the world for its beautifully intricate decoration and representative of Ireland as a seat of art and learning.

TCD Physicists Discover a New Form of Light

Physicists from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics and the CRANN Institute, Trinity College, have discovered a new form of light, which will impact our understanding of the fundamental nature of light.

One of the measurable characteristics of a beam of light is known as angular momentum. Until now, it was thought that in all forms of light the angular momentum would be a multiple of Planck’s constant (the physical constant that sets the scale of quantum effects).

Now, recent PhD graduate Kyle Ballantine and Professor Paul Eastham, both from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics, along with Professor John Donegan from CRANN, have demonstrated a new form of light where the angular momentum of each photon (a particle of visible light) takes only half of this value. This difference, though small, is profound. These results were recently published in the online journal Science Advances.

Commenting on their work, Assistant Professor Paul Eastham said: “We’re interested in finding out how we can change the way light behaves, and how that could be useful. What I think is so exciting about this result is that even this fundamental property of light, that physicists have always thought was fixed, can be changed.”

Professor John Donegan said: “My research focuses on nanophotonics, which is the study of the behaviour of light on the nanometer scale. A beam of light is characterised by its colour or wavelength and a less familiar quantity known as angular momentum. Angular momentum measures how much something is rotating. For a beam of light, although travelling in a straight line it can also be rotating around its own axis. So when light from the mirror hits your eye in the morning, every photon twists your eye a little, one way or another.”

“Our discovery will have real impacts for the study of light waves in areas such as secure optical communications.”

Professor Stefano Sanvito, Director of CRANN, said: “The topic of light has always been one of interest to physicists, while also being documented as one of the areas of physics that is best understood. This discovery is a breakthrough for the world of physics and science alike. I am delighted to once again see CRANN and Physics in Trinity producing fundamental scientific research that challenges our understanding of light.”

To make this discovery, the team involved used an effect discovered in the same institution almost 200 years before. In the 1830s, mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and physicist Humphrey Lloyd found that, upon passing through certain crystals, a ray of light became a hollow cylinder. The team used this phenomenon to generate beams of light with a screw-like structure.

Analysing these beams within the theory of quantum mechanics they predicted that the angular momentum of the photon would be half-integer, and devised an experiment to test their prediction. Using a specially constructed device they were able to measure the flow of angular momentum in a beam of light. They were also able, for the first time, to measure the variations in this flow caused by quantum effects. The experiments revealed a tiny shift, one-half of Planck’s constant, in the angular momentum of each photon.

Theoretical physicists since the 1980s have speculated how quantum mechanics works for particles that are free to move in only two of the three dimensions of space. They discovered that this would enable strange new possibilities, including particles whose quantum numbers were fractions of those expected. This work shows, for the first time, that these speculations can be realised with light.

The journal article can be viewed here.