SFI Awards reveal Ireland’s leading researchers for 2018

12 Nov 2018

Prof Linda Doyle, dean of research at TCD, with Researcher of the Year award winner Prof John Boland, also from TCD. Image: Jason Clarke

To mark the start of Science Week, Ireland’s leading scientists have been named as winners at the 2018 SFI Science Awards.

Ireland’s contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) this year were put centre stage as part of the 2018 Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Awards at the SFI Science Summit held today (12 November).

With more than 350 members of the Irish research community in attendance, the awards aim to shine a light on those based in Ireland who have made substantial breakthroughs in their respective fields.

One of the highest awards, the SFI Researcher of the Year prize, went to Prof John Boland of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the SFI-funded AMBER research centre. His current research interests involve the electrical and mechanical properties of nanoscale materials, and the exploitation of nanoscale connectivity in device applications.

He came to Ireland as an SFI research professor and has subsequently received three SFI Investigator awards as well as being Ireland’s first advanced European Research Council grant awardee in the physical sciences.

Commenting on his award, Boland said: “Being recognised as Researcher of the Year is no small accolade and I am deeply honoured to receive it. Alongside my own work on nanoscale materials, there are many diverse research projects ongoing across Ireland, and it is wonderful to see representatives from those being recognised.”

‘The recipients are among Ireland’s top researchers’

Meanwhile, fellow TCD scientist Dr Tomás Ryan was named as SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year. Ryan began his independent research group in 2017 at TCD, where he investigates the basic neuroscience of memory storage using a multidisciplinary approach.

Ryan also holds a joint faculty position with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, and is a visiting research scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus in the US.

Commenting on the awards, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, TD, said: “The recipients are among Ireland’s top researchers and the awards recognise the contribution they are making in a number of areas, including industry collaborations, entrepreneurship, communication and public engagement.”

Other award winners announced included:

SFI Industry Partnership Award

Dr Ivan O’Connell of the Tyndall National Institute, for his work as the analogue mixed-signal principal investigator at Microelectronic Circuits Centre Ireland, based at Tyndall.

SFI Best International Engagement Award

Prof Peter O’Brien of Tyndall Photonics, who is collaborating in 12 EU Horizon 2020 projects and is director of the European Photonic Packaging Pilot Line as well as deputy director of the SFI Irish Photonic Integration Centre.

SFI Entrepreneurship Award

Prof Eoin Casey of University College Dublin, for his research focused on the materials-biology interface with a particular interest in how this can be applied to novel water treatment processes. This work led to him co-founding the UCD spin-out OxyMem and being a principal investigator of the SFI-funded Beacon research centre.

SFI Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication

Inspirefest speaker, engineer, scientist and performer Dr Niamh Shaw has set herself a life’s mission to get to space, as artist and explorer. She hopes that by sharing the human story behind such a venture, it will help us better understand our place in the story of space, and the beauty of our planet Earth.

Her theatre work has toured internationally through SFI’s Discover 2014 and 2017 Programmes in partnership with the Cork Institute of Technology’s Blackrock Castle Observatory and supported by European Space Agency, Arts@CERN, Culture Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland.

She shared this award with Dr John O’Donoghue of the School of Chemistry at TCD who develops and empowers third-level students to engage with schools and the general public.

SFI Best Reported Impact

With three decades of experience in the field of inherited ocular disorders, Prof Jane Farrar of TCD and her team have been focused on how genetic information is driving the individualisation of medicine and enabling the emergence of innovative, potent, therapeutic solutions for unmet clinical needs.

The second recipient of the award was Prof Gianpiero Cavalleri of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the SFI research centre FutureNeuro. He has worked with his team on a diverse set of projects spanning population genetics, disease genetics and natural selection.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic