Why we need to learn to love Irish research


13 May 201653 Shares

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Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, chair of the Irish Research Council (centre) with (from left) researchers Niamh Moore-Cherry, John Howard and Amber Cushing, Lisa Godson, Ciara Breathnach and Armida de la Garza, and Dr Eucharia Meehan, director of the Irish Research Council. Photo via Marc O’Sullivan

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Irish Research Council chair Prof Jane Ohlmeyer tells us why we need to celebrate Irish research and give early-stage researchers our attention and enthusiasm.

At the Irish Research Council, we’re proud of the achievements of our early-career neuroscientists, engineers, sociologists and historians, but we’ve realised there’s a low level of public awareness about their excellent and extremely valuable research.

This is all the more surprising given Ireland’s rich heritage of groundbreaking discoveries. Irish researchers have been at the frontier of curiosity-driven, internationally-renowned research – from Robert Boyle’s pioneering experimental methods in physics and chemistry in the 1600s, to Kathleen Lonsdale’s world-class work on X-ray crystallography and the benzene ring in the 20th century.

Inspirefest 2016

Punching above our weight

Today’s researchers are the newest members of this proud lineage of pioneering work, and they’re punching significantly above their weight across a range of disciplines. Ten Irish researchers rank among the top 1pc of researchers currently working on the world stage, and Ireland is in ninth place on the most recent Thomson Reuters InCites global scientific rankings. Overall, we rank in the top five in a number of disciplines, including nanoscience, nanotechnology, immunology, computer sciences, and neurosciences and behaviour, based on Essential Science Indicators and Web of Science.

As regards the arts and humanities, QS Rankings places Irish universities amongst the top 100 universities, which makes them amongst the top 0.5pc of universities in the world.

These are major achievements for a country of this size. At the Irish Research Council, we want to make sure the public are aware of this exciting world-class Irish research and recognise why it’s so important.

‘Overall, we rank in the top five in a number of disciplines, including nanoscience, nanotechnology, immunology, computer sciences, and neurosciences and behaviour’

Talent-spotting excellence

Since it was established in 2012, the Irish Research Council has been in the business of talent-spotting excellence, particularly among early-career researchers.

Increasing public knowledge of Ireland’s research achievements is also an integral part of our remit under the Government’s Innovation 2020 (I2020) strategy. In fact, I2020 designates the council as the body responsible for delivering a forward-thinking funding programme to support frontier research. This is a role we’re well qualified to take on, given our long track record in funding curiosity-driven research.

Irish Research Council, Prof Jane Ohlmeyer

Irish Research Council chair Prof Jane Ohlmeyer with Damien English, TD

The impact of Irish research

Researchers in Ireland are conducting amazing work that can enhance our understanding of the world and lead to the development of new ideas that have an impact on all our lives.

The Irish taxpayer is well served by this research because it helps us to be better informed about some of the challenges facing Ireland today. We fund researchers who – for example – are using the immune system to kill cancer, studying space weather to understand climate change, devising new forms of flood defences, tackling the issue of suicide prevention and uncovering the history of childhood diseases in Ireland.

Through our Decade of Centenaries programme, we are supporting flagship research related to 1916, from projects on the Battle of Mount Street Bridge to how nuns and schoolgirls fared during the Easter Rising.

‘Our researchers are driven by questions about our society, health, economy, heritage, and environment, and we all have a stake in their discoveries’

Showing the love

Throughout 2016, the Irish Research Council is running the #LoveIrishResearch campaign, aimed at increasing awareness of – and promoting – Irish research and researchers.

We want to engage members of the public in this fascinating work, and highlight researchers’ achievements and discoveries across 70 academic disciplines.

The campaign includes competitions and awards, regional and institutional showcases, publications, and public events. We have been engaging with the online community through our blog, Facebook and Twitter, where we circulate themed monthly calendars of public activities, and information about our researchers’ breakthroughs, achievements, and public outreach. So far, this has included posts on research relating to World Parkinson’s Day, Mother Earth Day, and Poetry Day Ireland.

We hope the campaign’s emphasis on the variety and depth of research underway in Ireland helps the public connect with those conducting this work. Our researchers are driven by questions about our society, health, economy, heritage, and environment, and we all have a stake in their discoveries.

Please join us and follow #LoveIrishResearch on Facebook, Twitter and on our website.

Prof Jane Ohlmeyer

Prof Jane Ohlmeyer at the launch of the #LoveIrishResearch campaign. Photo via Jason Clarke Photography

By Prof Jane Ohlmeyer

Irish Research Council chair Prof Jane Ohlmeyer is the Erasmus Smith’s professor of modern history at Trinity College Dublin and the director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity’s research institute for the arts and humanities. Ohlmeyer was a driving force behind the development of the Trinity Long Room Hub and the 1641 Depositions Project. She is an internationally established scholar of early modern Irish history and has held fellowships and teaching positions in the UK, India, Brazil and the US.