UCC and Trinity professors strike gold after years of excellence

1 Feb 2017

Image: Sergign/Shutterstock

Two of Ireland’s “foremost contributors to the world of learning” have been awarded the 2016 Royal Irish Academy Gold Medals in recognition of their careers.

Professors Louis Cullen and Fergus Shanahan, of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Cork (UCC) respectively, were recently acknowledged for their extensive work in the fields of history and science.

Receiving the Royal Irish Academy (RIA)’s 2016 Gold Medals, the professors were credited with making a demonstrable, internationally recognised, outstanding scholarly contribution in their fields.

Shanahan is the director of the APC Microbiome Institute and chairman of the department of medicine at UCC. He has produced over 500 peer-reviewed publications in international journals, in addition to books, chapters and invited editorials.

Through the institute, Shanahan has helped to place Ireland at the forefront of studies in microbiome science and inflammatory bowel disease. The RIA acknowledged that his award was a result of his excellence and impact over the past three decades.

“More than anyone, Prof Shanahan put Ireland on the world stage in what has become one of the fastest-developing areas of biology, on a par with the human genome,” said the RIA.

“His interests are in mucosal immunology, gut microbiota, inflammatory bowel disease and most areas that affect the human experience.”

Fergus Shanahan (left) – chairman of the department of medicine at UCC, director of APC Microbiome Institute – with his RAI Gold Medal. Image: Johnny Bambury

Prof Fergus Shanahan of UCC (left) shows off his RAI Gold Medal. Image: Johnny Bambury

Predicting the significance of microbiota to the food and pharma industry almost two decades ago, Shanahan’s reign at the research institute has seen it attract significant FDI – his group claims that nine international companies operating in Ireland would never have done so without the existence of the institute itself.

Last year, its researchers discovered a direct link between gut bacteria and myelination, expanding our knowledge of neurological performance. Such achievements saw funding from the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Grand Challenges Explorations’ come through the doors.

Meanwhile, Cullen has Louis Cullen has “been at the forefront of Irish historical studies for more than 50 years”, according to the RIA.

As a professor of history at TCD, Cullen’s work has focused on modern Irish economic and social history, and he has published many pioneering works on this subject.

Cullen also works on pre-modern Japanese history, for which he learned Japanese to help drive a new research career at TCD. The RIA claims that this established him as one of the leading international scholars of the Tokugawa period.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic