A taste of Trinity’s research

Trinity’s Festive Research Showcase provided an insight on undergoing research in Trinity

Earlier this week, the Science Gallery was host to a research showcase comprising academics from each of the three faculties at Trinity. Dean of Research, Professor Linda Doyle, introduced each of the speakers and emphasised that this festive-themed event, the first of its kind, looks to showcase the breadth of research that takes place in Trinity.

The first speaker of the night was Dr Aline Vidotto, from the School of Physics. She was recently awarded a prestigious grant from the European Research Council for her research on exoplanets. To begin, she gave some background information on the nature of exoplanets. She explained that when an exoplanet transits a star, it causes a eclipse, with the stars light being dimmed by about 1-2%. Until its recent retirement, the Kepler spacecraft played a major role in our discovery of exoplanets, with over 2,000 being identified. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will continue the legacy of Kepler in discovering exoplanets, but its technologies will allow for more data collection on the atmospheres of these exoplanets. Vidotto’s own research is on the effects of stellar winds on their orbiting exoplanets, completing this by entering gathered data into numerical simulations. The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE) is another part of her research, which she is carrying out as part of an international team. With CUTE, it is hoped that the development of a small satellite, set to launch in 2020, will allow for more information to be gathered on the composition of exoplanets’ atmospheres.

Second up to speak was Dr David Shepherd from the School of Religion, who spoke of his research on the portrayal of the nativity scene by Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female film director, who played a major role in the emergence of cinema in France. In her film on the Life and Passion of the Christ (1906), Shepherd tells us that unlike previous adaptations, Alice Guy put a strong emphasis on the role of women in the life of Christ; in the nativity scene, a large number of women arrive at the stable to show solidarity with Mary and the baby Jesus, which gives a strong feminine presence to the scene. Shepherd tells us that for many years, the film was not even credited to Guy, but instead to her assistant, revealing just how much the film industry was dominated by men in its early stages.

Dr Charilaos Yiotis from the School of Natural Sciences discussed his research on the effects of carbon dioxide levels on two large groups of plants, the Conifers, which include Christmas trees, and the Angiosperms, including flowering plants such as holly and ivy. He said that while in the Mesozoic Era, around 250-66 million years ago, conifers were the dominant plants and covered both warm and cold environments, the shift in their range correlates with changes in levels of carbon dioxide. As carbon dioxide levels began to decline towards the end of the Mesozoic, the angiosperms thrived as they were better suited and adapted for carbon dioxide diffusion at lower levels, due to differences in the structure of the stomata where gas exchange occurs in their leaves. Yiotis and his team have shown that conifers get more overall benefits relative to the angiosperms as carbon dioxide levels increase. Additionally, they have shown that there is a greater pool of enzymes for photosynthesis in conifers, which combined with the greater relative increase in efficiency, may give conifers a competitive advantage against angiosperms and as a result allow for an extension of their range. A continuation of current consumption levels, and therefore carbon dioxide emissions, would lead to an increase in temperature by 3.5 °C. Such temperature increases would make the climate comparable to that of the Mesozoic Era, which in turn could see significant changes in the dynamics of competition between the conifers and angiosperms.

Assistant Professor Deirdre Daly, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery spoke of her work on the Maternal Health and Maternal Morbidity in Ireland (MAMMI) study, which seeks to improve our medical understanding of the health problems faced by women before and after giving birth to their first child. Women who participate in the study fill in a number of surveys during pregnancy and for 12 months after birth. Among the problems identified through the study was that in many cases, women who visited their GPs were not asked about basic health problems which can arise after giving birth. While maternity care currently applies for three months after birth, the MAMMI study shows the need to extend maternity care to 12 months. Daly hopes that by providing medical professionals involved in maternity care with this improved understanding on women’s experiences after birth, the quality of care can be improved.

Finishing the event with a festive-themed topic was Darryl Jones from the School of English, who is also the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. He spoke about the role ghosts have played throughout history, and how interpretations and portrayals of ghosts in literature and film have changed frequently, but our fascination with them has remained unchanged. In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who are representative of some of the main ghost types. As Jones tells us, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future encompass the key forms which ghosts have taken in literature. They may bring back memories, give guidance, or foreshadow the future, all the while creating a strong sense of mystery and unease which makes us all the more intrigued, according to Jones.

All in all, by experimenting with showcases such as these, Trinity can provide a good platform for people from outside and inside the College to get a taste for the wide range of research conducted here by experts in various fields.

Ciarán Ó Cuív

Ciaran Ó Cuív is the Deputy SciTech Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister Zoology student.