10 Irish breakthrough innovations of 2015 that are a bit special

29 Dec 2015

It’s been another year of masterful innovation from Ireland, with 2015 seeing our young innovators winning global recognition, and accomplished scientific luminaries announcing Ireland’s entry into the space race.

If, while compiling the list of 10 Irish breakthrough innovations of 2015, we had named just a fraction of the awesome scientific achievements of this year, we’d have ended up with a list five-times as long.

A few established names who have made careers for themselves for a number of years now just had to be omitted, despite their accomplishments.

To name just a few of these, Donegal man William C Campbell received the Nobel Prize for Physics, Louise Kenny won an international award for her and INFANT’s work, Ciara Clancy was named Cartier Awards Laureate for Europe, and 26-year-old Irish-based researcher Haytham Assem was named the youngest-ever IBM Master Inventor.

So here are, in no particular ranking order, 10 breakthrough innovations we saw this year.

BTYSTE winner 2015 – Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy

At the beginning of each year, we’re treated to some of the coolest projects ever at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE), with some previous winners even going on to take the world by storm.

This year’s project differed from the norm, however, in that there was no previously unsolved mathematical formula solved or biological advancement made. Instead, a social sciences project won the competition, from Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy of Coláiste Treasa, Kanturk, Co Cork.

Their extensive research offered incredible insight into alcohol consumption among young people, and investigated how parents’ own drinking habits impact on this.

O’Sullivan and Murphy also entered the record books as only the second-ever mixed-gender team to take home the top prize, following Emma Donnellan and Henry Byrne in 1987.

Limerick student makes history in global James Dyson Awards

Cathal Redmond Express Dive

Cathal Redmond with his Express Dive invention. Image via Marie McCallan/Press 22

We’ve covered a number of highly-successful former entrants to the James Dyson Awards for the nation’s, and the world’s, best inventors, but this year marked a particular achievement for University of Limerick (UL) graduate Cathal Redmond, who finished as the joint runner-up in the James Dyson Awards with his underwater breathing system, Express Dive.

Finishing as joint runner-up in the competition meant that Cathal was one of just three students – out of more than 700 entrants from 20 countries worldwide – to receive an international prize, and was the first Irish student in the 11-year history of the Awards to win one of the major honours.

Cathal’s design is a major improvement on current scuba diving equipment, allowing the user to quickly surface and re-fill the tank. Furthermore, it costs just €400, compared with standard equipment, which costs nearly eight-times as much.

For his efforts, he won €7,000 from the James Dyson Awards committee to further develop his successful concept.

Irish space race launched at Inspirefest by Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor

Susan McKenna Lawlor Cumar

Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor (right), Founder and MD, Space Technology Ireland, with Dr Lucy Rogers, Writer, It’s Only Rocket Science. Photo: Conor McCabe

Among many of the dignitaries at Inspirefest last June was one of Ireland’s brightest minds in the field of astrophysics, Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor, who stunned many in the audience with her audacious plan that was literally out of this world.

Speaking during a panel at the event, Prof McKenna-Lawlor laid out, at that time, the idea that Ireland would launch its first spacecraft into Earth’s orbit.

As one of the directors of Space Technology Ireland Ltd (STIL), she said to the prospective investors in the audience that a sum of just €5m would be required to launch the spacecraft, which we would later learn was to be called Cumar, after the Irish word for confluence.

With the mission of gaining a better understanding of space weather, Cumar will also be carrying a sculpture already commissioned from an Irish sculptor, who will use space-qualified materials in its construction.

By the end of next year, we should expect to have Ireland’s first spacecraft in orbit.

Irish invention may revolutionise biopharma production


PATSule, at Tyndall National Institute. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

The Irish biopharmaceutical industry, and the pharmaceutical industry in general, remains one of Ireland’s key areas in scientific advancement and, last October, another major breakthrough was made.

Developing a sensor called PATsule, research institutions in Dublin and Cork believe the invention could improve biopharmaceutical production of medicines, offering manufacturers vastly better readings throughout the process.

The PATsule sensor, jointly developed by the Tyndall National Institute in Cork and Dublin’s National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), is able to move freely throughout a bioreactor, providing a stream of data to monitor factors that might affect product yield or quality.

This is a major improvement on current sensors, which are required to be in fixed positions in bioreactors and provide less accurate readings than the PATsule, making this improvement vital in an industry which makes up half of Ireland’s national exports.

Designed in Ireland: Irish chip drives Intel’s wearables revolution

Intel Curie module

Intel’s Curie SOC, named after Marie Curie, which was designed here in Ireland

With significant help from Ireland’s Philip Moynagh, Intel’s VP of the internet of things (IoT), this country has established itself as one of the biggest innovators in connected hardware in Europe, even the world.

In October in Rome, two years after Intel revealed its Galileo development board at the Maker’s Faire, the company revealed its Genuino 101 dev board for entry-level makers and educators, powered by the low-power Intel Curie module which was developed at the global chip giant’s Irish operations.

Led by Intel’s Noel Murphy, the design team who worked on the Intel Curie module has created an application processor that is at the heart of the Genuino board, all designed by the Leixlip-based team.

The potential for the Curie module is almost limitless given its size, but the first real application could play into future wearbale technology, allowing it to be placed within a jacket – or anything you want, basically.

Europe’s 5G charge will be led by Irish researchers


Joe Tynan and Robert Mullins of CogNet at the TSSG in WIT

Despite the fact that there remain areas in Ireland, and the world, without 4G, or even 3G, the world of telecommunications is powering ahead with the next generation of mobile internet. Much of the development in this area will come from Waterford.

Back in July, the TSSG research group at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) announced it has achieved a major coup by beating off competition from all over Europe to win a €6m EU public-private partnership (PPP) under Horizon 2020 to help build the 5G networks of the future.

The 30-month CogNet (Cognitive Networks) project will develop solutions to provide a highly automated and more intelligent level of network monitoring and management, improve operational and energy efficiencies, and quality of experience for the end user, and facilitate the requirements of 5G.

“We now have an opportunity to play in the premier league of European telecoms,” said coordinator Robert Mullins at the time.

Irish students’ bright LED idea wins international prize

LED win Cork

Pictured (l-r): Aoife Dolan, Ellen Fitzgerald and Niamh Nyhan from Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, Cork. Image via Naoise Culhane

Last June, three Irish students celebrated their crowning as winner of the seventh annual International Environment and Sustainability Project Olympiad (INESPO) in Amsterdam, claiming the prize for their ‘bright’ LED streetlight idea.

For their project – which beat projects from 47 other countries – Ellen Fitzgerald, Aoife Dolan and Niamh Nyhan from Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, Cork, analysed the immense waste of energy seen in Irish streetlights.

According to their findings, €40m is spent each year maintaining streetlights, but, with the help of their LED bulb, they could easily replace the existing bulbs, making them last much longer and work more efficiently at a lower annual cost.

The bulbs are specifically designed to be compatible with current streetlights, making the scheme cost-effective.

Irish physicists develop advanced solar flare warning system

Solar Flare TCD

Solar flare image via Shutterstock

Much like Cumar will do very soon, physicists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies will soon be able to see exactly when a solar storm occurs, with the aim of preparing us for an imminent impact that could seriously damage everything from our mobile phones to entire electrical grids.

Coordinated across Ireland and the UK, TCD’s recently-established magnetometer array can detect activity in the Earth’s atmosphere and give at least 10 minutes of notice to those who need to know the information most.

The system will allow for much more detailed future research and offer a historical model to work from during future research, offering rich detail of what occurred during a particular atmospheric event.

Within the next year, the system will be up to full capacity, with hopes of catching a solar wave before it’s too late to warn those who need to hear of its approach.

Irish-led team discovers new strand of ancient European human genome

Georgia genome TCD body

The remains discovered by the team. Image via Daniel Bradley/TCD

It seems that each year we discover something about ourselves and our species we didn’t know before and, in November, an Irish-led team added yet more knowledge to the history books.

The work of an international team led by scientists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and Cambridge University in the UK led to the important discovery of a new genetic strand of an ancient human European hunter-gatherer descendent.

From the team’s analysis, the genomes discovered on two specimens obtained from a secluded cave in Georgia showed that they lived in the Caucasus thousands of years apart – 13,300 and 9,700 years ago.

This new discovery showed how a lineage diverged from western European hunter-gatherers around the time of the first migrations of early modern humans into Europe about 45,000 years ago, and from the ancestors of early farmers around the time of the glacial maximum, 25,000 years ago.

Led by Prof Daniel Bradley, the TCD team were one of the leading forces behind what is considered of major importance in the greater human-ancestry jigsaw.

Irish coral reef discovered off Kerry coast a total surprise

Coral reef found in Porcupine Bank Canyon

The incredible coral reef discovered in Porcupine Bank Canyon. Image via QuERCi/Graham Ryan

It might come as a surprise to many in Ireland that we have, not too far off our western shore, a coral reef that looks like it wouldn’t be amiss in the warmer oceans off the coast of Australia.

Located 300km off the coast of Kerry, just 700m below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, lies a bed of cold-water coral that surprised the Irish team who were taking part in the QuERCi survey (Quantifying Environmental Controls on Cold-water coral reef growth).

In fact, the discovery was something of a first for much of Irish marine biology, with one of the team members saying they were “amazed with the sheer abundance” of coral that had yet to be discovered.

Innovative thoughts image via Shutterstock

Updated 04/01/2016

This article has been amended to include the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies along with TCD on developing the advanced solar flare warning system.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic