Wednesday 22 November 2017

Obituary: Matthew Francis McCarthy

Former Registrar and Professor of Mathematical Physics at UCG

Great academic: Professor Matthew F McCarthy
Great academic: Professor Matthew F McCarthy Newsdesk Newsdesk

Matthew F McCarthy, who has died aged 78, was Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Physics in NUI Galway and former Registrar. Born in Cork on November 19, 1938 to Daniel and Margaret McCarthy, he lived in the Blarney Street area of the city until his early 20s. After primary and secondary education, through Irish, at the North Monastery CBS in Cork, he entered University College Cork in 1957 having obtained first place in both the entrance scholarship examination and civil service junior executive officer competition. He graduated with a BSc in 1960 and MSc in 1962. Both were in Maths Physics under the guidance of Professor Patrick Quinlan.

He left Cork for Nottingham and completed a PhD in Continuum Mechanics in 1965. In January 1965 he joined the Mathematical Physics department in University College Galway (UCG). As a member of a two-person department working in a new research area, he felt it was vital to establish strategic alliances at an international level. This resulted in him spending periods carrying out collaborative research in a number of American universities, including Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Berkeley, Rice as well as at Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, IBM Watson Research Centre and Bell Laboratories. An author of more than 60 major papers, his work was the first theoretical analysis of the transient response of materials such as quartz and this analysis provided the basis for devices used in the generation of large explosions. This led to him being awarded a DSc by the NUI in 1972 and election to the Royal Irish Academy in 1987. In recognition of his research in 1988 the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (IUTAM) chose to hold its first-ever symposium on elastic wave propagation in Galway.

He served as Dean of the Science Faculty from 1974 to 1980, during which period he was founding chairman of the school of marine science, precursor to the Martin Ryan Institute. He served on the board of the National Council of Education Awards (NCEA) from 1972-82. During this time he proposed to the science faculty in UCG that a transfer mechanism be established whereby credit should be given for NCEA qualifications. Appointed Registrar and Deputy President of UCG in 1992, this was the first time that the Registrar's position was full time and also the first time a non-head of department was appointed to the position. The brief was expansive, with responsibility for all academic resources and examinations. Described by colleagues as a man who went to a meeting with a full command of the facts, he knew how and when to cut a deal. In addition to this he had a desire to promote and reward people based on merit, achievement and academic capability. He had a great sense of humanity.

As Registrar he led the negotiations between the Western Health Board, Department of Health and UCG which resulted in the setting up of a pilot project leading initially to a university diploma and ultimately to a degree programme in nursing.

This was an important first for UCG. Degree programmes are now seen as the norm for nursing education.

In 1967 he married Celia Corbett and they went on to have four children. During a sabbatical to the US in 1982 he drove his wife and four children from coast to coast (Virginia to Berkeley) in a Dodge Station Wagon. A keen cook and gardener, he managed his one-acre garden with over 300 roses, until later years, mainly by himself.

Matthew McCarthy, who died on March 16, is survived by his wife and children Maeve, Brian, Roisin and Brendan.

Sunday Independent

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