Public engagement

Black holes are simultaneously fiendishly complex (as solutions to Einstein’s field equations of general relativity) and wonderfully simple; a black hole can be completely characterised by just three numbers: its mass, spin and charge.

They also don’t suck in everything around them. That is, unless you are very close to them, black holes act like any other massive body. For example, if you were to squeeze the Earth down to the size of a small coin it would become a black hole. This black-hole-Earth would not suck in the moon, which would keep orbiting around the coin-sized Earth.

These are just some of the ideas we try to get across when discussing our research with a broad audience. We also have a black hole virtual reality experience to help people to picture what a black hole is. For Oculus Quest users, you can now download it from the SideQuest Store, and it will soon be available for mobile devices. You can read our privacy policy here. There is a video demonstrating it on YouTube:

Below is a list of some of our recent and upcoming public engagement activities:

Upcoming events

August 2022: Professor Alicia Sintes for the University of the Balearic Islands will give a public lecture at UCD O’Brien Center for Science on August 31st, 2022, at 18:00 on Gravitational Physics.

Keep an eye out here and our personal twitters (Niels Warburton, Josh Mathews ,Ben Leather, Phil Lynch) for the announcement of our next talk, demonstration or other event!

Recent activity

May 2022: Christiana Pantelidou gave a talk entitled “Black holes: the dark heart of General Relativity” at the first ever Pint of Science event in Co. Donegal. This was followed by a Q&A session as well as activities that included how gravity could be viewed as the curvature of spacetime, how time gets curved around a black hole and of course, a demonstration of our virtual reality black hole experience.

June 2020: Science Asylum: “How Weird Can Orbits Get?” – Science YouTube Creator, Nick Lucid , consulted with Phil Lynch for his video explaining gravitational orbits. As well as providing details of initial conditions for Nick’s Schwarzshild geodesic calculations, Phil also provided a Kerr geodesic calculation animation, as seen here.

May 2020: Science Gallery Dublin Livestream – Niels Warbruton, Josh Mathews and Phil Lynch were invited to partake in a livestreamed interview with Trinity PhD student, Luara Murphy, as part of the online “Invisible” exhibition, organized by the Dublin Science Gallery. They discuss the science behind our black hole VR experience, the inspiration behind the project, and the role VR can play in science communication.

March 2020: Invisible at Science Gallery Dublin – Our group was invited to provide set up an installation of our black hole VR experience for the “Invisible” exhibition. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibit had to be moved online. To aid with this, we released the Oculus Quest version of the experience for free on the SideQuest store.

November 2019: Science Week – For Science week this year our group travelled to Birr Castle. First we met with first year students from Coláiste Iósaef in County Limerick and Phil gave a talk on gravity, spacetime and black holes. Leanne and Josh discussed careers in science research and how to get there and then we followed up with some activities. These included Kevin and Ben showing how gravity could be viewed as the curvature of spacetime, our virtual reality black hole experience and more.

Next up that evening we attended the Astronomy on Tap event at The Chestnut pub organised by I-LOFAR and Birr Castle. Niels and Ben both gave great talks about black holes and gravitational waves and each were followed by questions from the audience. We also demonstrated our black hole virtual reality experience and participated in a science quiz.

Both talks were streamed together live on YouTube and the video is still racking up an impressive amount of views! Check it out at the link below:

November 2019: Mayo Dark Sky Festival – Many of the members of our group (Niels Warburton, Leanne Durkan, Kevin Kiely, Philip Lynch and Josh Mathews) travelled to Newport in county Mayo to attend the festival.

The group in Newport.

Niels gave a great talk about black holes and gravitational waves and afterwards was asked some excellent questions by the members of the audience, young and old.

Philip, Josh, Kevin and Leanne presented the black hole virtual reality experience which gave attendees the opportunity to engage with black holes and gravitational physics in greater depth and ask about a further wide range of topics.

The black hole virtual reality experience in action.

September 2019: For Culture Night 2019, members of the group travelled to Dunsink Observatory (former residence of Sir William Rowan Hamilton) for a night of astronomy, history and scientific outreach. Our black hole virtual reality experience was on show and proved to be extremely popular, with a long queue consistently over the night.

Leanne Durkan, Philip Lynch and Josh Mathews each gave “light speed” talks about the nature of black holes, gravitational waves and why we study them.

Roughly 800 people attended the Dunsink Culture Night event which was a collaboration between research groups from DIAS, Trinity College Dublin and UCD.

September 2019: Former group member Dr Anna Heffernan published an article Finding form in Einstein’s gravitational waves on the European Union’s CORDIS website.

July 2019: Congratulations to one of our PhD students, Leanne Durkan, on winning the UCD ThesisIn3 competition. Leanne had to explain the subject of her research on binary black holes in 3 minutes. Leanne goes on to represent UCD in the international competition. You can see her entry for that below.

May 2019: Niels Warburton gave a talk on “Black Hole Astronomy” at a Dublin Pint of Science Festival event. The talk blurb was:

“Black holes, as their name suggestions, emit no light. How then do we find and study these illusive objects in the vastness of the cosmos? In this talk I will discuss how the influence of a black hole on nearby objects allows us to infer their existence. This can lead to electromagnetic observations of nearby luminous matter such as orbiting stars or surrounding accretion disks. One black hole can also orbit another, spiralling inwards before merging in one of the most violent events in the universe. This disturbs the fabric of space and time which we measure on Earth as gravitational waves”

Philip Lynch and Josh Mathews also showcased our virtual reality black hole experience at this event.

January 2019: Professor Scott Hughes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave a public lecture at UCD entitled “Einstein’s Ears: The new astronomy of gravitational waves“.