6 members of Lero recognised in annual Director’s Prizes

2 Sep 2021

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The annual awards recognised contributions in research, education, outstanding commitment, and diversity and inclusion.

The Lero Director’s Prizes were awarded today (2 September) to honour the work and achievements of the centre’s staff.

Six members of Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for software, were chosen this year. This is the third year of the Director’s Prizes, which were moved online last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prof Brian Fitzgerald, director of Lero, spoke at the conference and told its members that software development is critical in impacting people’s lives at a fundamental level.

“Software impacts every aspect of our lives and can enable us to solve problems at a global and local level by harnessing the vast amounts of information that we as a society have accrued,” said Fitzgerald.

“These are ground-breaking tasks we set ourselves. However, we have a duty to lead the way and ensure that software is developed ethically and that we work hard to make sure there are no unintended consequences that could detrimentally effect individuals or society,” he added.

Below are the recipients of this year’s Director’s Prizes.

Research Excellence

The Prize for Research Excellence was jointly awarded to three researchers. Prof Conor Ryan and JJ Collins from the University of Limerick and Prof Mike O’Neill from University College Dublin all received the award for their work on grammatical evolution, which is an evolutionary computation technique.

Ryan has worked with machine learning methods for use in medical diagnostics and was a Fulbright scholar at MIT in 2013.

O’Neill is a researcher in genetic programming and his team won the HUMIES Gold Award for human-competitive artificial intelligence on cellular networks presented at the 2019 ACM GECCO conference in Prague.

Finally, Collins’ work has previously focused on map building and localisation in robotics, alongside reinforcement learning and the modelling of workflow patterns.

Education and Public Engagement

Prof Derek O’Keeffe of NUI Galway was awarded for his work in education and public engagement.

O’Keeffe describes himself as a “physicianeer” because he has trained and worked as both a physician and an engineer. He joined Lero in 2020 while his work as a consultant endocrinologist at University Hospital Galway and professor of medical device technology at NUI Galway continues.

Its at NUI Galway O’Keeffe has suppored the launch of the Physicianeer Programme, which invites first-year medical students to participate in a dual programme stream over eight years. While O’Keeffe admits this programme is not for everyone, the purpose is to facilitate those who have a dual mindset between medicine and engineering instead of making them choose one discipline to focus on. O’Keeffe claims the programme is the first of its kind in Europe.

Outstanding Service

Susan Mitchell was this year’s winner of the Prof Rory O’Connor Prize for outstanding service to Lero. Mitchell is operations manager at Lero and oversees aspects of operations including budgeting, financial reporting and the everyday activity of the centre.

This award is presented in memory of the late Prof Rory O’Connor, who was a member of Lero from its foundation in 2005 until his death in 2019.

Diversity and Inclusion

The award for diversity and inclusion went to Dr Cornelia Connolly of NUI Galway. Connolly is a lecturer at the School of Education and her research focuses on interweaving elements of educational design, educational technology and computer science education.

This award recognises an individual who has contributed to diversity and inclusion within the research centre. This entails supporting the centre in these goals, developing a research project in the area or being involved in education and public engagement initiatives to support inclusion and diversity.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news