Margaret Murnane and David McCourt win St Patrick’s Day Science Medal

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This year’s recipients of SFI’s St Patrick’s Day Medal include renowned physics professor Margaret Murnane and Granahan McCourt Capital CEO David McCourt.

For the past five years, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has marked the celebration of Ireland’s patron saint with the St Patrick’s Day Science Medal, recognising distinguished Irish scientists, engineers or technology leaders living and working in the US.

With An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, currently in the US ahead of the annual March visit, this year’s winners of the medal were revealed as Margaret Murnane, professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Colorado; and David McCourt, founder and CEO of Granahan McCourt Capital.

Laser trailblazer

Murnane, a Limerick native, is a visionary in her field of photonics and one of the most acclaimed research-active physicists in the US. She also holds the prestigious claim of being one of only two female physicists in history to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.

Her many achievements include designing some of the fastest lasers in the world, with the ability to pulse in the range of the low trillionths of a second; and creating a table-top, affordable x-ray laser, allowing the wider research community to harness the potential of x-rays in their work.

Having first studied physics in University College Cork, Murnane went on to complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, and remains a supporter of the Tyndall National Institute.

Speaking of her award, Murnane said: “Today I am proud to say that the education I started in Ireland and continue to develop in the US has allowed me to follow my interests and create technology and systems which can be used across different areas of research in both countries today.

“As an Irish citizen living in America, it heartens me to see the continued collaboration between the two countries to ensure the research community in both Ireland and the US can produce the very best work.”

Broadband innovator

As the other award winner, McCourt holds Irish citizenship and has a home in Co Clare. He has been incredibly active in Ireland’s academic ecosystem in terms of funding, employment, innovation and as part of the Irish Government’s Global Economic Forum.

McCourt’s early innovations led to the development of technology that lowered the cost of building cable systems by 80pc – this has since gone on to become the industry standard.

In Ireland, McCourt’s company has been highly active in expanding access to broadband through its part-owned company, Enet, which is currently the only remaining bidder for the Government’s National Broadband Plan.

His achievements include being the first ever recipient of the White House award recognising extraordinary accomplishments by private sector businesses (1984) and attending the eG8 Forum at the invitation of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to advise political leaders on the digital ecosystem.

“I am delighted and honoured to accept the SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal from SFI. I have long been an advocate for Ireland as a place to do business,” McCourt said.

“As an employer in Ireland, and with my own interest in R&D, I greatly value the culture of innovation and collaboration that exists between Ireland and the US.”

This year’s award also marked a somewhat sad occasion, as one of last year’s recipients – founder and president of Alltech, Pearse Lyons – died just a few days ago.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with