8 Irish innovations that rocked the world in 2014

31 Dec 2014

The Long Room, the main chamber of the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin

Ireland continues to excel above its size in science and technology and what has become abundantly clear is its young people’s hunger to learn and build, with children as young as nine receiving world acclaim.

Irish schoolgirls triumph at Google Science Fair and collect Grand Prize

Remember the names Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow from Kinsale Community School as they are already some of the brightest young minds in science. The girls were named the overall winners of the Grand Prize, as well as the 15-16 Age category, at the Google Science Fair last September.

The girls’ project investigated the use of diazotroph bacteria as a cereal crop germination and growth aid, which can not only address food poverty, but could also reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint by reducing the use of fertiliser, something which has caught the attention of the world as the need for food becomes increasingly more evident.

The students originally rose to prominence following their success at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Award in 2013, where they had also won the grand prize.

The girls’ work was considered so important that the three were included in Time magazine’s The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014 list, and they will no doubt go on to greatness.

Ciara Judge, Sophie Healy-Thow and Émer Hickey presented with their Rising Star awards by Eamonn Sinnott, general manager, Intel Ireland, at Silicon Republic’s Women Invent Tomorrow event in Dublin in June. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

A great day for Irish science as schoolboy comes second in European contest

This year’s winner of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Award, Paul Clarke from Dublin, came in second place in Mathematics at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists with his project entitled, ‘Contributions to cyclic graph theory.’

Paul’s project investigated and provided sufficient and necessary conditions for unsolved problems in the contemporary field of cyclic graph theory.

His discoveries led to significant breakthroughs in the field of mathematics, where mathematicians had been perplexed for a number of years. 

Paul will now be putting his €5,000 prize toward developing the theory further.

Paul Clarke in Warsaw after his achievement

Intel to turn Dublin into world’s first ‘internet of things’ city

At Siliconrepublic.com’s Innovation Ireland Forum (IIF) last October, the overarching theme was clear: Ireland, with the right focus and encouragement, can become a leader in the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) in the same way Silicon Valley led the ‘internet of screens’.

One such step we saw this year was Intel and Dublin City Council forming a partnership last April to make the city a ‘Global Demonstrator for Smart City Sensors’ using Intel’s Quark-based Gateway platforms.

The data that is gathered by sensors across the city will be made available to citizens and other stakeholders on an open basis, enabling the development of apps that will give Dubliners real-time information about air quality and noise levels.

Speaking at the IIF, Intel’s VP of the IoT, Phillip Moynagh, said of Ireland’s chances, “What can we do here in the Ireland collective and how can we be part of this revolution in the way that California led the charge in the ‘internet of screens’?

“A 100-kilometre stretch of coastline paved the way for the internet; it’s not the big that beats the small, it’s the fast that beats the slow.”

The O’Connell Bridge in Dublin

Limerick student’s life-saving technology wins €2,500 James Dyson Award

Twenty-two-year-old Cork native Donal Lehane made a name for himself in September this year, after picking up one of the most coveted prizes for young Irish inventors: first prize in the Irish leg of the James Dyson Award. Lehane won for the feeding system he designed after witnessing his cousin struggle with feeding tubes after her birth.

Called Nutria, the device aims to prevent the fatal risk of incorrect insertion of feeding tubes into patients’ stomachs.

While Nutria didn’t go on to win the international grand prize, Lehane is still busy at work developing a whole range of different inventions and has so far designed more than 21 prototypes, disassembled one microwave, three vacuum cleaners, two retractable dog leashes, four measuring tapes, and three scalpel blade holders, as well as retrofitting countless medical products to the various prototypes.

University of Limerick student Darren Lehane with his Nutria invention

Irish chip at heart of Google’s multi-billion-dollar bet on future of smartphones

In Android smartphones of the future, its beating heart may come from Irish shores as a revolutionary chip designed by Dublin company Movidius is the core of Google’s ‘Project Tango’ smartphone, a 3D-sensing device that maps and learns the world around it.

Myriad 1, the first generation of the Movidius Vision Processor Platform, is a new ultra-low power, high-performance and programmable architecture of computational chips, software and development tools that enables a range of devices to intelligently understand and contextualise their surroundings and as part of an agreement with Google, Movidius’ Myriad 1 vision processor platform will power Project Tango.

By mapping space and motion in real-time with detailed precision and accuracy, Myriad 1 aims to mirror human vision with a new-found level of depth, clarity and realism on mobile and portable connected devices.

Irish researchers’ breakthrough doubles battery life of phones, laptops and e-cars

As many people who have had a laptop for a number of years will tell you, the energy capacity and length of use is severely debilitated as time goes on, but if a team of Irish researchers from the University of Limerick (UL) are correct, a new nanotechnology that doubles the life of batteries, even after they are charged and discharged more than 1,000 times, can revolutionise how they are manufactured.

The research team revealed its findings last February.

“The typical lithium-ion battery on the market today is based on graphite and has a relatively low capacity,” said Dr Kevin Ryan, lead on the project.

“This limits the amount of energy that can be stored. In our research, we used an alternative element, germanium, which is of a higher capacity.”

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) under the Principal Investigator Programme, as well as EU funding through the GREENLION Project, supported the research.

Green battery charger image via Shutterstock

UCC team develops medical device alternative to open-heart surgery

Despite the advances in modern medicine, open-heart surgery is still a risky procedure. In August, however, a team from University College Cork (UCC) developed a non-surgical solution to saving people’s lives.

Director of UCC’s Centre for Research in Vascular Biology, Prof Noel Caplice, himself a practising interventional cardiologist, led the research project in UCC, which included collaborators in the Mayo Clinic in the US.

Caplice began this project in the Mayo Clinic, where he and his colleagues designed a mesh device that could be attached to a stent, which could deliver millions of cells and promote bypass in an obstructed artery.

The device has been tested successfully in a large animal model with similar-sized arteries to humans, and the next phase of this research will involve testing on patients who require bypass surgery but have been deemed unfit to undergo the procedure.

Prof Noel Caplice, UCC, with his medical device

Irish professor Des Higgins in top 10 most cited papers of all time

In October this year, Irish professor Des Higgins’ work on bioinformatics placed him in the journal Nature’s top 10 most cited research papers of all time, making him the only Irish person in the ranking.

By doing so, he has joined an elite list of academics who have led the way in their particular fields and, in Higgins’ case, the world of bioinformatics, which is fast becoming one of the most exciting fields in science.

Another paper by Higgins also managed to make it into the top 30, in 28th place, The CLUSTAL_X windows interface: flexible strategies for multiple sequence alignment aided by quality analysis tools.

Prof Des Higgins of University College Dublin. Image via University College Dublin

Image of the Long Room at the Old Library, Trinity College Dublin, via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic