Reaching for the stars

A US government agency is offering $500,000 to the individual or firm in the private sector with the best idea for how to send people to a star, writes John Holden.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) like their ideas big. The US government’s 1980s space-based missile defense system, otherwise known as "Star Wars", was their idea. As is the 100 Year Starship Study – a century long project which aims to re-ignite the public’s interest in further space exploration as well as come up with real ideas to get to a star.

Checking for a pulse in Irish science

The Centre for Astronomy at NUI Galway is leading the way in the study of pulsars, another example of Ireland’s strong position in the global scientific community, writes John Holden.

“I ofen looked up at the sky an' assed meself the question - what is the moon, what is the stars?” Captain Boyle of the Sean O’Casey play, Juno and the Paycock, asked the question scientists are still trying to answer. And while Ireland’s reputation for serious scientific endeavour is all too often thought to amount to no more than Captain Boyle’s enquiry, the reality is anything but.

Using social media to curb sexual violence in the Congo

A new initiative led by the US government’s ‘Voice of America’ (VOA) group and social media company CitizenGlobal, attempts to fight back against the alarming number of rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, writes John Holden.

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured during the conflict between rebel soldiers and government in Congo over the last 15 years.

It is actually a tactic used by the rebels to force acquiescence upon the local population.

'I don't mind ridiculing people's beliefs'

Science’s outspoken envoy Richard Dawkins came to Dublin last week to participate in the first ever World Atheist Convention. His revulsion to the irrational is as fervent as ever. John Holden reports.


Richard Dawkins has a lot of enemies. As a consequence of his outspoken views on the perils of religious belief he has had to put up with hate mail, death threats and worse for decades.

Tuning up the internet

An Irish company is about to hit the big time with the launch of technology the whole world has been waiting for. By John Holden.

The internet has fundamentally changed global communications. But now that it is a well-established medium in society, the flaws need to be addressed. At peak times of the day, everyone has experienced slow internet speed, particularly when trying to watch videos on YouTube or make Skype video calls. The current fibre optic networks we use are not equipped to deal with ever increasing demand.

Science fiction inspiring science fact? Stranger things have happened.

Dr Mauro Dragone leads a European team of robotics experts in the quest for organic robotic intelligence. We may never worry about doing domestic duties again. By John Holden.

There is a Simpsons Halloween episode where the family get a new robotic home that automatically does all domestic duties and chores in the home. Marge chooses the voice of Irish actor Pearse Brosnan for the robot’s human response system. Then the house falls in love with Marge and tries to kill Homer.

The Heckman equation

Nobel Prize winner Professor James Heckman is working with the UCD Geary Institute studying the complex links between biology and disadvantage. Interview by John Holden.


Professor James Heckman is an economist of human development. As such, his work brings in the expertise of anthropologists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and any other ‘ists’ you can think of.


The biological evolution of economic problems?

Do rich kids go to college more often than poor kids because they’re rich? Or are there personality, genetic and environmental issues at play? A groundbreaking new research project at the UCD Geary Institute attempts to tackle large socio-economic questions through an inter-disciplinary approach that will draw in expertise from economics, biology, neuroscience and psychology. By John Holden.

Offaly to be the new centre of the universe

With a meagre investment of 3 million euro, Ireland could join the European-wide LOFAR radio telescope network that hopes to find, among other things, evidence for one of science’s most studied theoretical periods: the time just after the Big Bang. By John Holden.

What can you get for three million euro these days? A very fine house in leafy south Dublin? A golden handshake from AIB? Or maybe the opportunity to assist in proving the origins of the universe?