The origin of Callan in Maynooth University

Many of you reading may have noticed (I know I did on fresher’s week) that there is more than one location in Maynooth University that goes by the name Callan. For those curious enough to wonder why, I attempt in this article to describe the importance of this name in Maynooth University’s history and also explore a forgotten scientific figure in Irish history; a priest/ scientist named Nicolas Joseph Callan. This man was an inventor and created an item which continues to be important to this day. I felt as a result of this that it would only be right to associate the name Callan with something more positive than campus map confusion.

After being ordained as a priest in Maynooth in 1826, Callan went to the Sapienza University in Rome and became very familiar with the work of two pioneers in the study of electricity; Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta. After being appointed to the chair of natural philosophy in St. Patrick’s College Maynooth (known to you and I as Maynooth University) Callan began working with electricity. In Callan’s time electricity was only a toy with no real use, Callan saw potential for power through batteries. In a slightly worrying turn, Callan began to test electric shocks on volunteer students to see the power of the currents he was producing. Callan produced his first ‘induction coil’ in 1836 adding a series of complicated extras which turned it into a device we still use today; an electricity transformer. This technology would later be used to create the ‘Maynooth battery’, a device which does exactly what it says on the tin. Among Callan’s’ other inventions was an early method of stopping metal from rusting through ‘galvanising’ it.

While we take many of these inventions for granted now, Callan, the mysterious scientist with a name that causes much confusion, was at the cutting edge of science in this very university in the nineteenth century. I hope that this article, even if it does not help you find your way around Maynooth any better, gives you an insight into a forgotten scientist’s work. Nicolas Joseph Callan, while the cause of some strife today, made many achievements in the past which I believe should be acknowledged.

Author’s Note: All information in this article was taken from the Maynooth University Electronic Engineering Department website.