10 luminaries pointing Irish innovation in the right direction

7 Dec 2015

We continue to list the leading lights in Ireland’s Sci-Tech 100, with today’s instalment featuring illuminating innovators.

Ireland's Sci-Tech 100

This week, the Innovation Showcase will transform the Convention Centre Dublin into a hive of Ireland’s promise and prowess in research, development and innovation (RD&I), and it’s no surprise that a small island renowned for its scholars has achieved so much in scientific innovation over the years, thanks in no small part to these people leading the charge.

1. Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Renowned astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

Armagh native Jocelyn Bell Burnell is easily one of Ireland’s most well-loved and celebrated astrophysicists, drawing particular plaudits for her keynote during Inspirefest 2015 describing her decades-long career.

In November, Bell Burnell was awarded an honorary degree from Dublin City University (DCU) for her contributions to our knowledge of space, most notably, her discovery of pulsating radio stars – known as pulsars – in 1967.

The mysterious distant cosmic event was once considered a possible sign of intelligent alien life, but Bell Burnell’s work helped prove otherwise. While this discovery earned international acclaim, the fact that Bell Burnell was overlooked for the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics is seen by many as a great injustice.

2. Martin Curley

Martin Curley, Intel

Martin Curley, founder, Intel Labs Europe

Intel Labs Europe founder Prof Martin Curley was recently recognised as one of three European CTOs of 2015.

Curley spearheaded the creation of Intel Labs Europe to strengthen and improve Intel’s alignment with the European R&D ecosystem, and to help improve European competitiveness and society.

Since its founding, Curley has helped increase the number of Intel researchers in Europe six-fold – from 800 to more than 4,500 – and more than doubled the number of labs to over 45.

3. Kieran Drain

Kieran Drain, CEO, Tyndall National Institute

Kieran Drain, CEO, Tyndall National Institute

Dr Kieran Drain is a tech industry veteran. CEO of Tyndall National Institute since January 2013, his involvement with R&D stretches back some 40 years and includes a long list of leadership roles in tech companies internationally.

Tyndall draws together some 460 researchers, scientists and engineers, and bridges the gap between research and end-market applications. Under Drain’s leadership, the institute filed five patents during 2014, birthed 10 spin-outs and achieved a turnover of more than €30m.

At the helm of Tyndall, Drain has overseen a number of key breakthroughs, including some that could challenge Moore’s Law to achieve higher functionality of electronics, and lower-cost electronics.

4. Orla Feely

Orla Feely, VP for research, innovation and impact at UCD

Orla Feely, VP for research, innovation and impact at UCD

Prof Orla Feely became vice-president for research, innovation and impact at University College Dublin (UCD) 18 months ago and, in this role, has been a pioneer of RD&I in Ireland.

Writing in The Irish Times last month, Feely noted how Logentries – a UCD spin-out that sold for €63m – was the perfect template for research and innovation. “Our ability nationally to generate spin-out companies from research is now well up to international standards,” she wrote.

“The challenge now is to make these companies competitive and investable as early as possible, and to ensure that supports are in place at each stage of their evolution so that we see more of our spin-outs emulate the success of Logentries.”

5. Mark Ferguson

Mark Ferguson, Science Foundation Ireland

Mark Ferguson, director-general, SFI

Prof Mark Ferguson is the director-general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government, making him one of the most influential people in the scientific community in Ireland.

The Northern Ireland native has had a distinguished career leading up to his most recent appointment, starting in 1984 when, at the age of 28, he became the youngest professor in the UK. What followed was a distinguished academic career as well as an entrepreneurial spell as co-founder of biotechnology company Renovo – which he led to a £67.5m IPO on the London Stock Exchange.

Under Ferguson’s leadership, the SFI last year invested €155m in five new state-of-the-art research centres nationwide and Ireland jumped to 16th spot in the list of the most advanced countries globally.

6. Brian MacCraith

Brian MacCraith, president, DCU

Brian MacCraith, president, DCU

Prof Brian MacCraith has been president of DCU since 2010 and, under his leadership, the university has become a centre of innovation and future thinking. Since his appointment, DCU has opened its Innovation Campus, which is home to a number of IoT companies and plays host to regular hackathons in its dedicated hackathon space.

MacCraith also created a President’s Award for Innovation, and DCU has launched an ambitous Shaping the Future programme.

An advocate of changing our thinking to improve STEM education in Ireland, MacCraith is also a champion of diversity in STEM as demonstrated onstage at Inspirefest in June.

7. Anita Maguire

Anita Maguire, VP of research and innovation, UCC

Anita Maguire, VP of research and innovation, UCC

As vice-president for research and innovation at University College Cork (UCC), Prof Anita Maguire is actively engaged nationally in policy development in relation to research, STI (science, technology and industry) policy, academic industry collaboration and strategic development of the pharmaceutical industry.

At UCC, she has played a strategic role in the development of teaching and learning, including the introduction of medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry at undergraduate level for the first time. A member of the Advisory Science Council and the Irish Research Council, she was elected to the Governing Body of UCC in December 2003.

8. Eucharia Meehan

Eucharia Meehan, director, Irish Research Council

Eucharia Meehan, director, Irish Research Council

Dr Eucharia Meehan has been director of the Irish Research Council (IRC) since its inception in 2012, supporting a vibrant research community in Ireland.

In 2015, over €18m was awarded by the IRC to various researchers for projects on anthropology, medtech, data analytics, astronomy, cyberbullying, meteorology and climate change, the synthesis of anti-HIV drugs, and seaweed wound dressings.

Meehan has also striven to ensure that there is gender parity within the Irish research community, announcing the Gender Strategy and Action Plan earlier this year.

Under her leadership, the IRC has also expanded the sphere of Irish research, partnering with community and voluntary body The Wheel to pair academic researchers from higher-education institutions with community and voluntary organisations and charities.

9. Killian O’Driscoll

Killian O’Driscoll, projects director, NIBRT

Killian O’Driscoll, projects director, NIBRT

Killian O’Driscoll is projects director at the National Institute for Bioprocessing and Training (NIBRT) and a leading light in the development of a world-leading pharmachem cluster in Ireland.

NIBRT is a global centre of excellence in Dublin based on an innovative collaboration between higher-education institutes, Government and industry. In a recent interview with Siliconrepublic.com, O’Driscoll articulated the ultimate goal of NIBRT, to “develop Ireland as a global biopharma cluster”.

A Trinity College Dublin alum, O’Driscoll holds an honours degree in genetics plus a master of science degree from University of London. He previously held project management positions with Microsoft’s European Operations Centre and Ericsson’s Competence Development Centre.

10. Eleni Pratsini

Eleni Pratsini, director, IBM Research Ireland

Eleni Pratsini, director, IBM Research Ireland. Photo via UCD

Since becoming the head of IBM’s Research Lab in Ireland when it opened in 2010, Dr Eleni Pratsini has overseen a number of projects which could one day turn urban centres in Ireland and around the world into incredibly efficient smart cities.

Under her tenure, research has been particularly focused on analysing data from a wide range of industries, such as transportation, emergency management, marine, healthcare, education, and infrastructure, to help cities become more efficient in managing local resources.

“Our projects are supporting the needs of each citizen,” she said in conversation with Siliconrepublic.com, “and they range from person-centric care and citizen care co-ordination through to connected cars and smarter energy and renewable energy management.”

Arrow image via Shutterstock