Queen's scientists on the hunt for source of gravitational waves

Yesterday saw the announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO, in what is being described as the most important breakthrough in physics for decades.  Now scientists from Queen’s University Belfast are leading the hunt for the source of these ripples in space.

In a spectacular announcement yesterday, The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, (LIGO), a US based experiment, announced that they detected exactly the same pattern of space distortion in two different experiments separated by a continent and the time difference between the detections matches the speed of light across the USA.

The remarkable discovery has been years in the making, as the work on these two extraordinary detectors started in the early 1990s. In September 2015 they finally achieved the unprecedented new precision that produced this discovery.

The LIGO team have detected a signal from two massive black holes (each about 30 times the mass of the sun) spiralling around each other and finally crashing together. The ripples in space and time from such an event were predicted by Einstein is his theory of General Relativity over 100 years ago. Finally, the elusive signals appear to have been found.

These signals are expected to come from pairs of black holes and neutron stars merging together and they may be relatively common in the Universe. The next step is to try and actually see these violent events with telescopes working in the optical and with telescopes that detect x-rays and radio waves. Scientists at Queen’s University are playing a leading role in this search and today released their findings from their first attempt at pinpointing the source of these gravitational waves.

Queen’s have been partners in the Pan-STARRS project since 2008 and together with NASA, the University of Hawaii and Harvard University they are using this powerful telescope system to survey the sky to find what caused the gravitational wave. They were given confidential access to the information about the discovery back in September 2015 by LIGO and immediately pointed the Pan-STARRS telescope at the large sky area the source was thought to be in.

Professor Stephen Smartt, Director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s, and who leads the project explained: “Finding gravitational waves and then looking for the source is like the difference between hearing and seeing. If you hear an explosion, you know roughly what direction it came, but you then immediately turn your eyes to see what caused it. This is exactly what we are doing with Pan-STARRS.

“The LIGO experiment “hears” the ripple and can only indicate roughly were on the sky the waves came from. That area is about the size of 2000 full moons. We point Pan-STARRS at that area and see if we can pinpoint any unusual looking explosion or outburst in optical light.”

In explaining the results of their first search, Professor Smartt explained: “We didn’t find anything in our data that was likely related to the gravitational wave source. That’s not totally unexpected. We found over 50 new sources that are normal supernovae – exploding stars that we find all the time. We didn’t see any hint of unusual behaviour. There are two likely reasons. One is that the predicted sky area was so big a large part of it was in the southern hemisphere and we couldn’t see it from Hawaii. The other is that the source may have been too faint for us to detect it. But we have shown that we can search these sky areas quickly and in the future we can take longer exposure times to look for fainter sources”

Dr Ken Chambers from University of Hawaii added “This is the first detection of gravitational waves and our collaborative project with, Queen’s, Harvard and NASA is one of the best in the world at trying to identify the sources. We are going to be looking very hard for these merging black holes and neutron stars over the next few years.”

Queen’s University will continue to work with NASA, Harvard University and the University of Hawaii over the next three years to find the source of the gravitational waves.

For a video of Professor Stephen Smartt speaking about his work visit:

Media inquiries to Claire Kelly, Communications Officer for Research, Queen’s University Belfast, or 02890975391

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Queen’s reveals £100K earnings boost for postgraduate students

Queen’s has revealed that employees could earn an average additional wage premium of over £100,000 over their working life by undertaking a postgraduate degree.

The news comes as the University embarks on a campaign to encourage those thinking of further study to find out more about the numerous opportunities open to them at Queen’s Postgraduate Open Day on Friday (12 February).

The ‘Have You #GotAMasterPlan?’ campaign, highlights how undertaking postgraduate taught study is widely recognised as one of the key ways in which people can increase their earnings potential, progress their careers and differentiate themselves in the job market.

Those who undertake Postgraduate Study have been reported as earning, on average, £2,550 more a year in Northern Ireland than those who hold an undergraduate degree, according to the Northern Ireland Skills Barometer*.

In addition, a Universities UK Report ‘Taught Postgraduate Employability and Employer Engagement: Masters with a purpose’ reports that there are generally higher rates of employment at six months following qualification with a postgraduate degree.

Queen’s existing postgraduate students gave the University a satisfaction score of 90 per cent in the most recent national HEA Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey.

Professor Margaret Topping, Dean of Queen’s dedicated Graduate School said: “Postgraduate study provides employees with the opportunity to differentiate themselves in the job market along with the ability to increase earnings and improve job satisfaction.

“In addition to having access to high quality staff and learning facilities, The Graduate School at Queen’s provides personal development programmes, employer workshops, conferences and social events allowing postgraduates to make key connections.

“Employers are frequently telling us that it is our postgraduates who turn out to be invaluable to them, bringing analytical thinking, honed problem-solving skills, specialist knowledge and the ability to innovate within their organisations. I would urge anyone who is considering the next stage in their career to register at and attend our Postgraduate Open Day.”

Queen’s Postgraduate Open Day on Friday, 12 February offers the chance for those considering taught postgraduate study to meet staff and students from all Queen’s Postgraduate Taught courses, as well as employers and representatives from support services covering everything from how to apply to Queen’s, information on funding, where to live and how to use a Masters to further career development. There will also be a chance to tour Queen’s dedicated Graduate School.

Queen’s Postgraduate Open Day takes place from 11am to 4pm on Friday, 12 February, 2016.

Anyone interested in attending Queen’s #GotAMasterPlan? Postgraduate Open Day can find further information and register online by visiting

For those unable to attend, Queen’s will be streaming the event live via Periscope


Media inquiries to Communications Office, Queen’s University Belfast. Tel: 028 90 97 5384 or email

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Queen’s UniServer project awarded almost €5 million of European funding

The UniServer project “A Universal Micro-Server Ecosystem by Exceeding Energy and Performance Scaling Boundaries ” led by Queen’s University Belfast has been awarded €4.8million from the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program and began in February 2016.

The principal aim of UniServer is to facilitate the evolution of the Internet from an infrastructure where data is gathered in centralized data-centres widely known as The Cloud, to an infrastructure where data is handled in a distributed and localized manner close to the data sources enabling essentially Edge Computing.

UniServer brings together experts from the world’s leading processor, server-on-chip and software development industry – ARM, Applied-Micro and IBM – as well as emerging application developers - Worldsensing, Sparsity and Meritorius. In addition to Queen’s University, the consortium is also made up of the University of Athens, the University of Thessaly and the University of Cyprus.

Project coordinator, Dr. Georgios Karakonstantis from the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen’s University, said: “Having seen the latest estimations that 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, we realized that new scalable micro-servers will soon be needed and thus formed a strong consortium to develop them.  

“UniServer aspires to deliver, by 2019, a unique fully working prototype able to exploit the intrinsic system heterogeneity with lightweight software mechanisms for improving the energy efficiency and performance of micro-servers.  Working with our colleagues, the UniServer platform will support classical cloud applications such as financial trade management and analysis, while enabling the development of new applications at the Edge of the cloud such as smart traffic control and in-home directed advertisement.”

UniServer represents the second major, but financially the largest, project to be co-ordinated in Northern Ireland using funding from Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever developed.    

The project will employ at least 20 established professors and principal engineers as well as new research fellows and PhD students helping to reinforce Europe’s strong position in traditional and new multi-billion euro markets.

For further information on the project visit:

Media inquiries to Claire Kelly, Communications Officer for Research, Queen’s University Belfast, and 02890975391.

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Queen’s opens its doors for the NI Science Festival

Queen’s University is opening its doors to the public as part of this year’s Northern Ireland Science Festival.

Queen’s is hosting 17 events across campus throughout the 11 day festival, which will offer the public the opportunity to experience first-hand the world class, cutting edge research that takes place at the University.

The events include an insight into how forensic geology can help solve crimes, how smartphones can help us understand how we listen, and getting hands-on with science experiments in the brand new Centre for Experimental Medicine.

The Northern Ireland Science Festival, which is in its second year, has 100 events across more than 25 venues, focusing on the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The full list of Queen’s University events:

Name of Event



Celebrating Science at Queen's

18 Feb

Riddel Hall, Queen’s University

From Fossil Humans to Stone Age Tools

19 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

Get Mapping With GAP

20 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

How To Survive an Apocalypse

20 Feb

David Keir Building, Queen’s University

Mummy Mania

21 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

Sherlock Holmes, CSI & Geology

21 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

The Poet & The Poison

21 Feb

Ulster Museum

Seriously Enjoyable Psychology

22 Feb

Whitla Hall, Queen’s University

The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman

22 Feb

Whitla Hall, Queen’s University

Big Data

24 Feb

20 College Green, Queen’s University

Sir Bernard Crossland Lecture

24 Feb

Riddel Hall, Queen’s University

For The Love of Open Mapping

24 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

Smart Listening

27 Feb

Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University

Know Your Enemy

27 Feb

Centre of Experimental Medicine, Queen’s University

What They Ate. Looking at Diets of the Past

27 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

The Dating Game

27 Feb

School of GAP, Queen’s University

Pluto - The Dynamic & Beautiful Dwarf Planet

27 Feb

Larmour Lecture Theatre, Queen's University


For a full programme of events, including availability, times and locations, please visit:

Media inquiries to Claire Kelly, Communications Officer for Research, Queen’s University Belfast, and 02890975391.

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Minister gets a taste for local food at Queen’s

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell has launched Queen’s University’s initiative to promote local food producers as part of Northern Ireland's Year of Food and Drink 2016.

Queen’s will host a series of food markets, open to the public, the first of which will take place on Tuesday 9 February from 11am to 4pm at Elmwood Hall, University Road.  

Praising the initiative, Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Jonathan Bell said: “I am pleased to see Queen’s University involved with the Year of Food and Drink working with local producers to showcase our vibrant food sector.  Good quality food and dining is a vital part of the tourism experience and many visitors say it is a key factor when choosing Northern Ireland for a short break. The Year of Food and Drink has already generated significant interest and I have no doubt as we move through this very special year it will continue to deliver real results for tourism in Northern Ireland.”

Brian Horgan, Head of Campus Food and Drink at Queen’s said: “We are delighted Queen’s is playing host to this series of food and drink markets. It is a fantastic way of exposing our quality local produce to a wide audience, including our 1,700 international students at Queen’s. As a University we want to celebrate and embrace the cultural diversity of our staff and students and this is certainly an enjoyable way of doing just that.”

Pictured at the launch of the new local food markets with Minister Bell is Kelly Hart, Campus Food and Drink at Queen’s, Sé Gorman from Café Krem - a local food trader and Yifei Xu, a second year finance student at Queen’s. Yifei is originally from the Fuzian province in China.


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thur-Fri) at Queen’s University Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5310 Email:

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Queen’s University in bid to increase European cancer survival to 70 per cent by 2035

To mark World Cancer Day, scientists at Queen’s are launching a Europe-wide initiative, ‘Vision 70:35’, to increase cancer survival to 70 per cent by 2035. 

Led by Professor Mark Lawler, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast and Vice President European Cancer Concord (ECC), the initiative is in collaboration with the European Cancer Patient Coalition and other European partners. 

Speaking ahead of the launch, Professor Lawler said: "Vision 70:35 emphasises the scale of our ambition to improve cancer survival rates by an additional 20% over the next 20 years.  We believe that this target is achievable, provided we share best practice and promote innovation and research across European nations and regions.  It is further evidence of Queen’s University’s commitment to advancing knowledge and changing lives. We are actively addressing issues such as early diagnosis, equal access and the role of precision cancer medicine to achieve our 70:35 target”

Margaret Grayson, Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum said: "Vision 70:35 is a patient focused initiative.  It provides hope for our cancer patients and their loved ones, and emphasises how research can play a big part in improving cancer outcomes."  

Professor Peter Selby, University of Leeds and President ECC, said: “Our Vision 70:35 can deliver, but only if we work together. ECC is partnering with many pan European Organisations including the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO), the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL), the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), The European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) and the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM)   in order to achieve this ambitious target.”

Professor Patrick Johnston, President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This 70:35 Vision represents a significant opportunity to drive a European-wide initiative that champions the role of innovation and research in providing the best level of cancer care.  I am delighted that Queen’s is continuing to provide leadership in an ambitious strategy that has the potential to deliver real benefits for all European citizens.”

Vision 70:35 is the key implementation phase of the European Cancer Patient's Bill of Rights, a Queen’s University-led initiative which was launched in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 2014.  

In order to emphasise how working together can help improve cancer outcomes, a series of handshakes will be performed between partner organisations on World Cancer Day, starting in London, passing through Brussels and a number of other European capital cities and culminating in a symbolic joining of hands by MEPs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Professor Lawler will symbolically shake hands in Brussels with Professor Dominique de Valeriola, Director of the Institute Jules Bordet, Brussels, Belgium and President, Organisation of European Cancer Institutes.


Media inquiries to Claire Kelly, Communications Officer for Research, Queen’s University Belfast, and 02890975391.

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First for Northern Ireland: Queen’s Professor appointed to Court of Arbitration for Sports

A Queen’s Professor has been appointed as an arbitrator to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Known as the international court of justice for sport, Professor Jack Anderson, from Queen’s School of Law, is the first person based in Northern Ireland to be appointed to the organisation in its 20 year history.

The organisation is often referred to as the world’s supreme court of justice for sport and CAS arbitrators hear disputes referred from all the main global sporting bodies, including FIFA, the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee.

Professor Anderson is recognised globally as an expert in the study of match-fixing in sport having worked with Interpol, FIFA, FIFPro, World Rugby. He is a member of a United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime Expert group on combatting match fixing in sport, and his work on sports law is cited frequently in sports arbitration awards globally and in sports-related judicial proceedings. He is also the editor-in-chief of the International Sports Law Journal, the leading periodical in the area.

Speaking about this appointment, Professor Anderson, said: “I am delighted and honoured to have been appointed as arbitrator to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. I look forward to bringing my experience as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb) and Queen’s to this role, and likewise, in ensuring that my experience of CAS, as a globally leading institution, informs my teaching and work with my students.”

The current CAS arbitration panel consists of former Supreme Court judges, senior barristers, former Olympians, leading experts in the fields of sports medicine and administration and those with an international reputation in the field of sports dispute resolution and law.

Professor Anderson took up his role in January, 2016.

Media inquiries to Communications Office, Queen’s University Belfast, Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3091 email:

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Queen’s University in new European partnership to fight against invasive species

The rapid spread of invasive species across Europe, which currently threatens native plants and animals at a cost of €12 billion each year, is to face a major new barrier.

Leading scientists at Queen’s, the Institute of Technology, Sligo (project-lead) and Dublin-based INVAS Biosecurity, have announced a new partnership after securing €320,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for new research towards controlling, preventing and eventually eradicating such alien species.

The funding comes as EU member states await the publication of a list of up to 50 priority species that governments will be compelled to take steps to manage and eradicate.

The new funding will allow the world-leading researchers at Queen’s, and their partners, to further develop the scientific evidence which is helping inform the crucial new list.

Invasive Alien Species represent a major threat to native plants, animals and habitats, and currently costs some €261 million on the island of Ireland per year and £1.7 billion in Great Britain.

The EPA funding follows a major report by Queen’s, IT Sligo and Inland Fisheries Ireland which was published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 2015. The report highlighted the Top 20 Issues that are critical to the global management of invasive species and reinforced Ireland’s position at the forefront of international efforts to control them.

Speaking about their next step in the battle against the invaders, Professor Jaimie Dick, from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Invasive species are non-native animals and plants that are introduced into a natural environment where they are not normally found, with serious negative consequences for their new environment.

“New EU regulations came into force in January 2015 to address these species and their threat to biodiversity, the economy and human health. Since then, the EU has been considering risk assessments and scientific evidence – which includes Queen’s research – to draw up a list of ‘species of concern’, which will be published in the near future.

“Member states will be obliged to eradicate, or at the very least contain, each of the species on that list. But in order to do so, they will need to know the best ways to detect, control and eliminate each species. Queen’s world-leading research already plays a key role in informing guidance and best-practice in this area. This latest funding from the EPA will enable us to continue this work, in partnership with IT Sligo and INVAS Biosecurity, to develop evidence-based approaches to predict and prevent incursions by invasive species, and to eradicate those that are already causing havoc around Europe.”

Dr Frances Lucy from IT Sligo said: “We are very grateful to the EPA for providing this funding from their 2015 Sustainability Research Call and IT Sligo recognises this support in our role as the project leader.”

Dr Joe Caffrey from INVAS Biosecurity said: “This funding provides a great opportunity for applied invasive species scientists from our three institutions to conduct collaborative and ground-breaking research, the results from which will be applied to solve serious real-life problems for our environment and economy.”


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thur-Fri) at Queen’s University Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5310 Email:

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Scientists Sequence First Ancient Irish Human Genomes

Facial reconstruction based on the skull of the woman from Ballynahatty created by Elizabeth Black

A team of archaeologists from Queen’s University and geneticists from Trinity College Dublin have sequenced the first genomes from ancient Irish humans, and the information buried within is already answering pivotal questions about the origins of Ireland’s people and their culture.

The team sequenced the genome of an early farmer woman, who lived near Belfast some 5,200 years ago, and those of three men from a later period, around 4,000 years ago in the Bronze Age, after the introduction of metalworking. Their landmark results are published today in international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

Ireland has intriguing genetics.  It lies at the edge of many European genetic gradients with world maxima for the variants that code for lactose tolerance, the western European Y chromosome type, and several important genetic diseases including one of excessive iron retention, called haemochromatosis. 

However, the origins of this heritage are unknown. The only way to discover our genetic past is to sequence genomes directly from ancient people, by embarking on a type of genetic time travel.

Migration has been a hot topic in archaeology. Opinion has been divided on whether the great transitions in the British Isles, from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture and later from stone to metal use, were due to local adoption of new ways or whether these influences were derived from influxes of new people. 

These ancient Irish genomes each show unequivocal evidence for massive migration. The early farmer has a majority ancestry originating ultimately in the Middle East, where agriculture was invented. The Bronze Age genomes are different again with about a third of their ancestry coming from ancient sources in the Pontic Steppe. 

Dan Bradley, Professor of Population Genetics in Trinity College Dublin and who led the study, said: “There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island and this degree of genetic change invites the possibility of other associated changes, perhaps even the introduction of language ancestral to western Celtic tongues.” 

Dr Eileen Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Osteoarchaeology at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “It is clear that this project has demonstrated what a powerful tool ancient DNA analysis can provide in answering questions which have long perplexed academics regarding the origins of the Irish.”

Whereas the early farmer had black hair, brown eyes and more resembled southern Europeans, the genetic variants circulating in the three Bronze Age men from Rathlin Island had the most common Irish Y chromosome type, blue eye alleles and the most important variant for the genetic disease, haemochromatosis. 

The latter C282Y mutation is so frequent in people of Irish descent that it is sometimes referred to as a Celtic disease. This discovery therefore marks the first identification of an important disease variant in prehistory.

“Genetic affinity is strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome some 4,000 years ago,” added PhD Researcher in Genetics at Trinity, Lara Cassidy.

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




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