Following a challenging year for the scientific community, the Irish Research Council has announced the 2020 winners of its Researcher of the Year awards.
The winners of the Irish Research Council’s Researcher of the Year awards for 2020 have been announced, recognising the organisation’s awardees and alumni working in academia, industry, civic society and the public sector. The awards are granted across three categories: Researcher of the Year, Early Career Researcher of the Year and the Impact Award.
In addition to these awards, the council announced four early-career researchers who have won Medals of Excellence. The medals recognise excellence in the 2020 postgraduate and postdoctoral funding calls run by the Irish Research Council in STEM, as well as arts, humanities and social sciences.
For her research on the public sphere and information in referendums and elections, Dr Jane Suiter of Dublin City University (DCU) was named Researcher of the Year. Suiter is an associate professor at the School of Communications and director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at DCU.
She is also a senior research fellow on the Irish Citizens’ Assembly and her research includes analysing populist messaging and the political communication characteristics and systems that support or hinder it.
Also highly commended by the judging panel in this category were Prof John Goold of Trinity College Dublin and Prof Orla Muldoon of the University of Limerick.
From kelp to Covid
Dr Kathryn Schoenrock of NUI Galway was named 2020’s Early Career Researcher of the Year for her research into kelp forest ecology. These marine ecosystems are structured by brown seaweeds, and as a postdoctoral researcher in Ireland, Schoenrock has led one of the first intensive kelp forest monitoring efforts over the past three years.
Her work in this field has made her the authoritative voice on Irish kelp forest ecology, and the productivity and biodiversity of these systems in nearshore waters. Kelp habitats are known to house thousands of marine species and are considered important underwater carbon sinks for storing atmospheric CO2.
Also highly commended in this category were Dr Brynne Gilmore of University College Dublin (UCD) and Dr Joe Davies of Maynooth University.
The final major category winner was Dr Colin Keogh of UCD who received this year’s Impact Award. This award is given to a current or former Irish Research Council awardee who is making a highly significant impact outside of academia.
This year, he started a global open-source response to the ventilator shortage caused by Covid-19, building out a team to design and develop open-source ventilators to assist the treatment of patients.
Keogh is also the co-founder of Sapien Innovation, a consultancy specialising in applied innovation, creativity and design thinking services, and of The Rapid Foundation, a social enterprise that aims to disperse 3D-printing technology to third-world locations.
Medal of Excellence winners
Four early-career researchers were awarded Medals of Excellence. Each of these awards have been named after previous chairs of the Irish Research Council.
Edmond Gubbins of Mary Immaculate College was awarded the Eda Sagarra Medal for being the top-ranked postgraduate researcher in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) category.
Shane Sommers of University College Cork (UCC) was awarded the Jane Grimson Medal for being the top-ranked postgraduate researcher in the STEM category.
Dr Edward Molloy of UCC was awarded the Maurice J Bric Medal for being the top-ranked postdoctoral researcher in the AHSS category.
And finally, Dr Tara Dirilgen of UCD was awarded the Thomas Mitchell Medal for being the top-ranked postdoctoral researcher in the STEM category.
Congratulating this year’s winners, Irish Research Council director Peter Brown said: “The standard this year was exceedingly high, and the judging panel found it difficult in many cases to choose a winner, which is a testament to the high calibre of researchers we have here in Ireland.”