December 2015 Press Releases

Queen’s researchers in starlight discovery to solve missing water mystery

Queen’s researchers have collaborated with a team of International astronomers to use the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to study the atmospheres of ten hot, Jupiter-sized exoplanets in detail - the largest number of such planets ever studied.

The team was able to discover why some of these worlds seem to have less water than expected — a long-standing mystery, with their results published today (Monday 14 December 2015) in the Nature journal.

Until now, astronomers have discovered nearly 2000 planets orbiting other stars. Some of these planets are known as hot Jupiters — hot, gaseous planets with characteristics similar to those of Jupiter. They orbit very close to their stars, making their surface hot, and the planets tricky to study in detail without being overwhelmed by bright starlight.

Due to this difficulty, Hubble has only explored a handful of hot Jupiters in the past, across a limited wavelength range. These initial studies have found several planets to hold less water than expected.

Now, an international team of astronomers has tackled the problem by making the largest ever study of hot Jupiters, exploring and comparing ten such planets in a bid to understand their atmospheres. Only three of these planetary atmospheres had previously been studied in detail; this new sample forms the largest ever spectroscopic catalogue of exoplanet atmospheres.

Dr Neale Gibson from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s School of Mathematics and Physics is one of the authors of the study. He said: “Planets are probably the most diverse astronomical bodies in the universe, and outnumber the stars, but until now we have only been able to look at the planets in our own Solar System and a handful of others. For the first time this study reveals the diversity of 'hot Jupiter’ atmospheres, and has enabled us to finally solve a long-standing problem in exoplanet science.”

The team used multiple observations from both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Using the power of both telescopes allowed the team to study the planets, which are of various masses, sizes, and temperatures, across an unprecedented range of wavelengths.

All of the planets have a favourable orbit that brings them between their parent star and Earth. As the exoplanet passes in front of its host star, as seen from Earth, some of this starlight travels through the planet’s outer atmosphere. This leaves a unique fingerprint, which astronomers can study when the light reaches earth.

These fingerprints allowed the team to extract the signatures from various elements and molecules — including water — and to distinguish between cloudy and cloud-free exoplanets, a property that could explain the missing water mystery.

The team’s models revealed that, while apparently cloud-free exoplanets showed strong signs of water, the atmospheres of those hot Jupiters with faint water signals also contained clouds and haze — both of which are known to hide water from view. Mystery solved!

David Sing of the University of Exeter, UK, is the lead author of the paper. He said:“I’m really excited to finally ‘see’ this wide group of planets together, as this is the first time we’ve had sufficient wavelength coverage to be able to compare multiple features from one planet to another. We found the planetary atmospheres to be much more diverse than we expected.”

Professor Stephen Smartt, Director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s said “This is a stunning result from Dr Gibson who has had an outstanding year. He won a Royal Society fellowship in 2015, bringing it to Queen’s to carry out this type of world leading research.”

The study of exoplanetary atmospheres is currently in its infancy, with only a handful of observations taken so far. Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will open a new infrared window on the study of exoplanets and their atmospheres.

The Nature paper is available online here:


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thur-Fri) at Queen’s University Communications Office. Tel: +(0)4428 9097 5310 Email:

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Stephen and guide dog Zym celebrate graduation

Stephen Campbell and his guide dog Zym will be celebrating this week as Stephen graduates from Queen’s University with a Masters in Software Development.

Stephen, from Coosktown, lost his sight when he was 16 years old. He completed what is usually a very visually demanding course with the help of a ‘screen reader’ – a piece of software that verbally reads the information on a screen -  even complex computer coding. Stephen is then able to input his own coding using the computer keyboard.

During his time at Queen’s, Stephen lived along with his guide dog Zym in specially adapted accommodation at Queen’s Elms Student Village, which included a dog run for Zym to relax or exercise or outside.

Looking forward to his graduation Stephen said: “Queen’s assisted me in every way possible to enable me to complete my Master’s Degree course and fully embrace student life. The support I received from my lecturers in the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, from Disability Services and from Queen’s Accommodation was invaluable. And I must say a special word of thanks to Zym, who accompanied me to my lectures every day. At this stage, he probably knows as much about software coding as I do!”

Stephen is currently applying for jobs in the IT sector, while Zym is enjoying his retirement after eight and half years as a working guide dog.

Stephen will celebrate his graduation alongside his parents. 

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Mexican student Belfast bound for graduation

One of Queen’s University’s newest graduates is travelling from her home country of Mexico to receive her degree certificate in Belfast this week.

Monica Romero, from the Mexican town/city of Mexico City, will graduate with a MA in Society, Space and Culture from Queen’s School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology.

Monica said: “Queen’s has a strong reputation internationally for excellence in human geography. The University has a thriving international postgraduate community, which I am delighted to have been a part of. Belfast is a great study destination and I would advise any international student to consider coming to Queen’s to avail of the many opportunities on offer here.”

Speaking about her degree, Monica continued: “I have a particular interest in migration and the MA in Society, Space and Culture allowed me to develop my knowledge and skills in that area. Since finishing my studies, I have returned to Mexico to work for the Office of Migratory Matters at Ibero-American University, where I am able to apply my learning on a daily basis.”

The office is responsible for researching and analysing information regarding the migration process between Mexico and the United States.

Monica will celebrate her graduation alongside her boyfriend, Daniel Rodriguez and friend Charmaine Mathew.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Lindsay overcomes depression to complete PhD

Lindsay Broadbent from Castlerock will celebrate graduating with her PhD in Virology and Immunology at Queen’s today (Friday 11 December).

During her PhD research at Queen’s, Lindsay investigated innate immune responses to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. RSV infects every child by the age of two and can cause bronchiolitis and pneumonia. With no vaccine or treatment available for RSV, it is not known why some children suffer from severe disease and why some children only get a mild cold.

Lindsay said: “The support and guidance I have received from Queen’s staff has made this all possible for me. I had to take a break from my undergraduate studies because I suffered from depression, but my personal tutor Samantha Taylor, was fantastic. She was there for me to talk to and was very understanding but she was also very practical and gave me some great advice.  My PhD supervisor, Dr Ultan Power, has also been fantastic and I'd like to thank him for his support and guidance.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my PhD at Queen’s. Through learning how to understand the immune response we can start to begin to formulate a treatment. As part of my post-doctorate, I am working with Queen's and a company who have developed a potential prophylactic against RSV. We are assessing its effectiveness in primary paediatric airway cells.”

Lindsay will join the 95 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Lindsay will celebrate her graduation with her Mum, Dad and partner Kris.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Meghan has her eye on the ball at Queen’s graduations

Meghan Van Portfliet from Colorado, USA, has her eye on the ball at Queen’s graduations. Meghan will graduate with distinction with a Masters of Business Administration, having recently returned from Shanghai where she represented Queen’s at one of the world’s largest international GAA tournaments. 

Meghan came to Belfast from the Centennial State to study for the renowned International MBA at Queen’s University Management School.

During her time at Queen’s, Meghan embraced University life to the full, participating in a range of extra-curricular activities alongside her studies, a highlight of which was representing Queen’s at the Fexco Asian Gaelic Games in Shanghai.

The Asian Games are the largest Gaelic Games tournament in the world outside Ireland. Meghan part of the novice ladies gaelic football team, made up of 12 female students from seven countries, all of whom only took up the sport while studying at Queen’s. The team reached the semi-final of the competition in October 2015.

Off the football pitch, Meghan was a finalist in the Queen’s Students’ Union Dragons Den competition, competing against more than 80 entrants to secure a place among the final eight competitors. She was also part of the Enactus team which travelled to London for the UK wide competition and were ranked in the top five teams in the UK. Enactus is a global student society whose member work to improve society through entrepreneurial activities. Meghan and her fellow Enactus students provided business advice and guidance to social enterprise ‘Loaf’ to assist them in opening a new café at the Royal Victoria Hospital. The café employs people living with disabilities and profits are reinvested to ensure employment opportunities continue to be available to this demographic.

Meghan further developed her entrepreneurial skills through her involvement in the InnovateHER programme, which is run by the Students’ Union to equip women with the skills to become successful in business. Through Queen’s Management School, she also raised money for Marie Curie through the FaciliTAYTOrs programme.

Meghan said: “The Queen’s experience extends much further than the lecture hall. Queen’s has a thriving postgraduate community and the International MBA gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded students from around the world. I had every opportunity to develop my entrepreneurial skills, and apply those skills in a real business setting while making a positive impact on society. I plan to continue to embrace those opportunities while pursuing a PhD in Management.”

Meghan hasn’t hung up her football boots just and continues to train with Queen’s ladies gaelic football team.

Meghan will celebrate her graduation alongside her boyfriend David Kernaghan and his parents.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Japanese graduate among Queen’s newest global citizens

A Queen’s Management student graduating in this year’s winter ceremonies, is preparing for a top job with Ernst & Young in Japan, following his graduation this December.

Hiroshi Maekawa from the city of Ashiya in Japan will graduate with an International MBA from Queen’s University Management School.

Speaking at his graduation, Hiroshi said: “Queen’s has given me opportunities and skills far beyond the classroom.  Queen’s nurtures its students to become global citizens as well as proud Queen’s graduates and I’m delighted to be able to take the Queen’s name and my experiences to Japan after I graduate.”

Having successfully gained employment, Hiroshi will join the 95 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Hiroshi will celebrate his graduation with his mother and his sister, Yoshie and Hitomi who have travelled from Japan for the occasion.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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From Uganda to Belfast – Cyprian celebrates at Queen’s graduations

Cyprian Misinde, graduates today from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work with a Doctorate in Childhood studies (DChild).

Cyprian, was born in a small village called Lwala Pubona in Eastern Uganda. He previously studied in Makerere University, Kampala after receiving a government scholarship to undertake a Bachelor of Arts degree.

In 2011, Cyprian enrolled on the DChild programme to pursue his PhD with a Commonwealth Scholarship and support from Queen’s. 

He was apart from his wife and three children for long periods during his three years of studying in Belfast.

Cyprian said: “Queen’s University has changed my life, my thinking and perspective. Although I missed my family and home I really enjoyed my time at Queen’s and my course exceeded my expectations. Working in world-class facilities at Queen’s made my research possible.”

Cyprian’s research developed a new method for determining child poverty in low income countries. This method provides sensitive measures of key necessities of life such as the quality of water supplies or roofing and flooring materials.

He is currently working as an assistant lecturer in Makerere University. His plans for the future include pushing forward and developing his research in a practical way using this new method to determine child poverty in Uganda.

Cyprian joins the 95 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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A Lidl bit of Disney magic at Queen’s graduation

Chris McVeigh from Belfast will graduate from Queen’s Management School today, having completed a work placement at The Walt Disney Company in Florida.

Chris, who will graduate with a MSc in Marketing, is now working in the Brand Development department in Lidl Ireland, having secured a place on Lidl Ireland's Graduate Management Development Programme, which is placed in the top 10 in the GradIreland rankings. 

Speaking at his graduation Chris said: “Studying at Queen's was a fantastic experience. The course afforded me the opportunity to work on significant marketing projects as well as being able to engage with expert lecturers and guest speakers.

“Prior to undertaking my Masters course I had the opportunity to gain international experience working for The Walt Disney Company in Florida during my undergraduate placement year. I believe that this experience coupled with the experience at Queen's will help me throughout the graduate programme at Lidl and in roles beyond that.

“Since starting at Lidl I have worked at major events including the National Ploughing Championships, which is visited by 300,000 people annually. I'm currently working on Lidl's Christmas Villages. The Belfast Christmas Village launches on the same date as my graduation and runs until the 13th December.” 

Chris will celebrate his graduation with his mum, dad and brother.  

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Graduation a family affair for Belfast siblings

Brother and sister Michael and Suzanne Whitten will celebrate their graduations at Queen’s University today (Thursday 10 December).

The East Belfast duo will both receive Masters degrees from the University. Suzanne has completed a MA in Moral, Legal and Political Philosophy while Michael will receive a MA in Musicology.

This is the second double celebration for the Whitten family as the siblings first graduated together in 2014, and they are hoping for more joint celebrations in the future as Suzanne has already returned to Queen’s to pursue a PhD and Michael is hoping to do the same next year.

Michael said: “Suzanne and I have really enjoyed our time at Queen’s – so much that we’ve both decided to return to the University to study for a third qualification.”

Suzanne added:  “Whether you are studying for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, Queen’s promises a complete and fulfilling student experience and I am looking forward to continuing that as part of the University’s vibrant postgraduate community.”

Suzanne and Michael will celebrate their graduation alongside their mum and dad.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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One of the greatest Ryder Cup captains to be honoured at Queen’s

One of the one of the greatest Ryder Cup captains of all time is to be honoured at Queen’s University today (Thursday 10 December 2015).

Paul McGinley will be presented with the degree of Doctor of the University in recognition of his distinction in sport.

Born in Dublin in 1966, he became a professional player in 1991 and won his first title on the European Tour at the 1996 Hohe Brucke Open, formerly the Austrian Open. The following year he and Padraig Harrington won the World Cup of Golf for Ireland. He made three Ryder Cup appearances as a player and is famous for his ten-foot putt on the 18th which won Europe the Cup in 2002. He was Vice-Captain to Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and to Jose Maria Olazabal in 2012. His successful captaincy in 2014 is recognised as an inspired example of team leadership.

Speaking ahead of receiving his degree, he said: “Queen's has a great sporting tradition and as one of the UK and Ireland's leading Universities they have always been at the forefront of sporting provision and opportunities. To receive this recognition from such a prestigious university is a considerable honour.”


Media inquiries to Claire Kelly, Queen’s Communications Office, on or 02890975391.

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First class success for nursing graduate at Queen’s

Karen Palmer will celebrate graduating from Queen’s today (Wednesday 9 December) with a First Class Honours degree in Learning Disability Nursing.

During her time at Queen’s, Karen led a group of six students to undertake an International Elective placement in Romania, The Chosen Romania Foundation.

Karen, who is from Donaghadee, coordinated many fundraising efforts which have gone towards raising over £21K for equipment in her placement facilities;  beds for the learning disabled children, young people and adults living in the ‘child protection hospital’, where before they lay on mattresses on the floor.

Other equipment and materials were also supplied to the Chosen Romania Potters House Mission, which cares for the street children of Timisoara and where Queen’s University has a dedicated Study Room as a mark of thanks to the efforts of the nursing students undertaking their International Elective Experience in Timisoara, Romania.

Speaking at her graduation, Karen said: “Queen’s gave me so many opportunities and experiences that I never thought would have been possible for me. By studying Learning Disability Nursing not only have doors been opened to me as a new career, but I have also discovered a new passion- I will continue with fundraising efforts for the Chosen Romania Charity and I really hope to return in the near future.”

Karen qualified for the Degree Plus Award at Queen’s and represented the students in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Queen’s Student Union Volunteering Excellency Awards in which the School received the School of the Year Award 2015.

Having successfully gained employment as a Staff Nurse with Abingdon Manor Care Centre and also continuing her studies, Karen will join the 95 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Karen will celebrate her graduation with her partner, Andy Donovan, her two daughters and her parents.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Double celebration for Omagh twins at Queen’s graduations

Twin sisters, Emma and Lucy Bradley from Omagh will celebrate their graduation from Queen’s in this year’s winter ceremonies.

Emma will graduate today (Wednesday 9 December) with a BSC in Midwifery Science and Lucy will graduate with BSc in Adult Nursing.

Both sisters began their university journey at Queen’s on the same day, in the same lecture and now they will both celebrate graduating together at the same ceremony.

They studied together in common classes for the first year, but after that studied in separate classes for their two courses.

Speaking ahead of her graduation, Emma said: “The thing I loved most about my time at Queen’s was that the tutors were so passionate about what they did and they really got us workplace-ready.  I would highly recommend midwifery and nursing to any school-leaver.”

Lucy added: “Belfast is a great place to study. We have thoroughly enjoyed the Queen’s experience and made lifelong friend along the way.”

Both sisters have successfully gained employment, joining the 95 per cent of Queen’s students who are in employment or further study six months after graduating.

Emma is working at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry and Lucy is working in the surgical orthopaedic ward in Musgrave Hospital.

The twins will celebrate their special day with their parents Joan and Seamus, grandmother Noreen McBride and extended family and friends.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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JP celebrates second graduation from Queen’s

JP Corrigan from Ballycastle will graduate with a MSc in Applied Psychology with a Clinical Specialism in this year’s winter graduation ceremonies at Queen’s.

JP has studied at Queen’s for the last eight years, having completed both his undergraduate and postgraduate degree, he is now currently on the training programme for his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

JP said: “I was lucky enough to secure a place on the training programme for the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and I am thoroughly enjoying it. The staff at Queen’s want to help you to succeed. I am currently in my first year of training which has been amazing so far.

“I know the competition is tough for this course but I would encourage any Psychology graduate thinking of doing this course to go for it. A degree from Queen’s is more than just a qualification, it’s a chance to gain experience and opportunities that can be taken into working life.”

JP is currently on a work placement in a psychological therapies service in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and hopes to continue to work in adult mental health.

JP will be celebrating his graduation with his parents and his partner.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Award winning poet graduates from Queen’s with Masters

Award winning poet Padraig Regan, from Belfast, will celebrate graduating from Queen’s University today (Wednesday 9 December) with a Masters in Poetry from Queen’s School of English.

Padraig was awarded the Eric Gregory Award, which is given by the Society of Authors, for poets from the UK who are under 30, for a manuscript of up to thirty poems. His poems have been published in Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Magma and Ambit. One poem was selected for Best British Poetry 2015 and highly commended in the Forward Book of Poetry.

Padraig, who has studied at Queen’s for over four years said: “To study poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre with such wonderful poets like Sinead Morrissey and Leontia Flynn has been invaluably helpful."

Padraig has also received the Northern Bridge studentship, which is awarded on a competitive basis to PhD students at Queen's, Durham and Newcastle universities.

He will continue to study his PhD at Queen’s, which will examine work of Anne Carson and a creative component which will be an adaptation of the fourteenth century poem Pearl.

Padraig will celebrate his graduation with Tara McEvoy and Nathan Morrow-Murtagh.

Media inquiries to the Queen’s University Communications Office on 02890973087 or

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Presidential Honour for Queen’s University Chancellor

The Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Mr Tom Moran, has been honoured with an Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award for his work on Peace, Reconciliation and Development.

Presented by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, the Presidential Distinguished Service Awards recognise those who have served Ireland with distinction and those who have actively contributed to Ireland in a sustained manner.

Tom Moran was born on Staten Island to Irish American parents and is a successful businessman and well-respected humanitarian. He is chairman of Concern Worldwide (U.S.) Inc., an international humanitarian relief organisation that operates in 30 of the poorest countries of the world.

A noted philanthropist when it comes to causes in the arts, culture, business and heritage worlds, he has contributed to many humanitarian and community causes. He has also been an influential voice in the Irish peace process, acting as one of a group of unofficial peace envoys to Northern Ireland throughout the 1990s and has championed reconciliation here between the communities.

With ancestral roots in Fermanagh and Cavan, Tom is listed as one of the top 100 Irish-American business people in the USA. He has been President and Chief Executive Officer of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Company since October 1994, the first person to have been appointed President from within the Company.

Delighted to receive the award, Tom said: “It is a great honour to accept this award from the President of Ireland. I hope that in some small way I, along with many others, have helped make a difference for the better. My connections with the island of Ireland run long and deep and, through my role as Chancellor of Queen’s University, I look forward to continuing them in promoting a positive future for its people.”

Welcoming Tom’s award, the University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston said: “This award is testament to the role that Tom has played across the island of Ireland over the last 25 years in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. It also recognises his steadfast commitment to helping others and his charitable, philanthropic and educational work.”


Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Officer, Claire Kelly on and 02890975391

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