When it comes to its Irish Research Council funding, it’s all about excellence in people, says Prof Alan Smeaton. He was speaking to us ahead of the Innovation Ireland Forum on Friday.
Dublin: 21.10.2014 10.31PM
A new €52m science and engineering initiative called ‘The Bernal Project’ is to generate some 225 jobs as it aims to boost Ireland’s national research drives in areas such as pharmaceutical, biomedical and energy research.
Ireland’s head of Government, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, is at University of Limerick (UL) to launch the project named after the 20th-century Irish scientist John Desmond Bernal, who is also known as the 'founding father of molecular biology'.
Broken down, the 225 jobs include 75 long-term research and teaching positions by UL, and 150 short-term construction jobs on a new building at UL to facilitate the Bernal Project.
The Bernal Laboratory will house laboratory facilities in a 7,459 sq-metre building.
Construction, which has begun, is set to be finished by 2015.
John Desmond Bernel was born on 10 May 1901 in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. He became renowned for pioneering X-ray crystallography in molecular biology, and was often nicknamed 'Sage' by his close friends. He died in London on 15 September 1971. Image via Wikipedia Commons
In terms of the funding for the initiative, the University of Limerick Foundation has pledged to provide some €36m in philanthropic funding. This will come primarily from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the project's main sponsor to date. It has committed €26.3m. The balance will come from State funding and university funds.
The Bernal Project will aim to help put Ireland on the global research and innovation map, via research excellence and impact in fields such as pharmaceutical science and engineering; energy and sustainable environment; and modern and biomedical materials and engineering, according to UL.
In terms of the long-term recruitment for the Bernal Project, UL is seeking 10 world-leading professors.
The university is also looking for a start-up seed fund to support its teaching and research activity.
To date, five international researchers have been appointed as Bernal chairs. They include Prof Mike Zaworotko, Bernal chair of crystal engineering. He is one of the world's top 20 chemists, according to UL. Also on board is Prof Ursel Bangert, who has taken up Bernal chair of microscopy and imaging, and Prof Bartek Glowacki is Bernal chair in energy.
Prof Harry Ven den Akker has been hired as Bernal chair in fluid mechanics, while Prof Gavin Walker is Bernal chair in pharmaceutical powder engineering.
Kenny said he the Bernal Project will not only create jobs in the construction phase but is the kind of development Ireland needs as the country continues to highlight its attractiveness for inward investment and jobs in research and development.
"The 150 construction jobs will be a great boost for the sector and I also welcome the 75 high-quality, high-skilled permanent jobs in the project, which builds on the 3,000 new jobs being created each month," he said.
Dr Mary Shire, vice-president, Research at UL, said that via the Bernal Project, the university is attracting top researchers from some of the world's top 100 ranked universities.
She said such researchers would bring their expertise to Limerick in support of Irish recovery and growth.
"This investment will have major significance in promoting Ireland as a location for foreign direct investment and job creation - especially in R&D and advanced manufacturing."
As well as this, Shire said the project is an opportunity to align the strategic needs of the State with those of the university in their common goal to impact economic, educational and social development nationally.
Each of the selected areas that the Bernal Project will home in on is already supported by funding from Programme for Research in third-level Institutions. This is managed by the Higher Education Authority, Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the European Union and a range of sources from industry.
University of Limerick campus image via Shutterstock