Royal Irish Academy admits 15 new members

30 May 2014

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From left: Prof Anita Maguire, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, Dr Nuala C Johnson and Dr Iseult Honohan, newly elected members of the Royal Irish Academy (John Ohle Photography)

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Today, membership of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) rose by 15 as new members were officially admitted to the prestigious institution.

Membership of the RIA is the highest academic honour in Ireland, and today’s honourees were recognised for their achievements in fields such as ageing, pharma-chemical research, sensor technology, immunology and economics.

Need for basic research

Bestowing the honours was Prof Mary E Daly, the first female president of the Royal Irish Academy, who emphasised the need for fundamental or ‘basic’ research. “There is a major onus on Irish researchers to ensure that Europe remains a world leader in the 21st century,” she said. “But the emphasis on research that yields a return – in the form of patents, company formation or new drugs – tends to deny researchers the necessary breathing space; the time to reflect, to allow for the wrong turns; the brilliant idea that collapses or the unexpected lines of inquiry that might ultimately deliver something different from the original proposal, but something that is much more exciting.”

She added that, when the RIA elects members, it does so on the basis of a candidate’s quality of publications and research record. “This research may help in the treatment of disease, or it may enhance our understanding of a past civilisation,” she said. “Members of the Academy should not shirk from their responsibility to let people know that basic research is important and that government support for fundamental research is a hallmark of a civilised society.”

Women researchers honoured

Many of those who, as of later today, will be able to put the letters MRIA after their names are women. “At the forefront of Irish research are outstanding scholars such as Iseult Honohan, Nuala Johnson, Rose Anne Kenny and Anita Maguire, all of whom the Academy admitted as members today in recognition of their outstanding academic achievement,” Daly tells Siliconrepublic.com.

Prof Anita Maguire, who is professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and vice-president for research and innovation at University College Cork, says she is delighted to become an MRIA.

Prof Maguire’s work focuses on developing anti-viral and anti-cancer compounds, and controlling the three-dimensional structures and properties of these chemicals. “Becoming a member of the Royal Irish Academy today is a tremendous honour,” she told Siliconrepublic.com. “This recognition reflects the outstanding commitment and creativity of each of the members of my research team over the past 23 years in UCC.”

Another newly minted RIA member, Prof Rose Anne Kenny from Trinity College Dublin, has made major contributions to research in managing falls in the elderly and she is principal investigator on The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, or TILDA, which is gathering and analysing a nationally representative survey of over-50s in Ireland to build up an important bank of scientific, social and economic information. (You can see Prof Kenny deliver a short lecture at Dublin Talks here.)

Sensor technology work recognised

There are currently 482 members of the RIA and Prof Dermot Diamond from Dublin City University, who was today honoured as a member of the RIA for his work on developing sensor technology, says the membership is one of the few mechanisms we have in Ireland to recognise the significant contribution to academic excellence by an individual over many years. “It’s similar to an honours system in some respects, and crossing all academic disciplines,” he said.

The RIA is of importance both nationally and internationally, according to Diamond, who is a Science Foundation Ireland Insight investigator and director of the National Centre for Sensor Research. “[The RIA] is a national resource that can provide independent expert opinion on public issues […] and I look forward to assisting with this function in the future,” he said.

“Membership is [also] highly regarded internationally and, through networks of similar bodies, members of the RIA can make positive contributions to international bodies, and help maintain Ireland’s academic reputation through this activity.”

Also honoured as new members of the RIA today were Prof Andrew Bowie (TCD), Prof Padraic Fallon (TCD), Prof Richard O’Kennedy (DCU), Prof Mani Ramaswami (TCD), Prof Ciaran Brady (TCD), Geraldine Byrne Nason (Department of An Taoiseach), Prof Daniel Carey (NUI Galway), Dr Iseult Honohan (UCD), Dr Nuala C Johnson (QUB), Prof Morgan Kelly (UCD), Prof Paula Reimer (QUB) and Stephen Kingon (QUB).

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.