Conversations with Leaders: Prof Mark Ferguson, Ireland’s science lead

7 Oct 2021

Ann O’Dea and Prof Mark Ferguson. Image: Luke Maxwell/Silicon Republic

As Prof Mark Ferguson nears the end of his 10-year tenure as director general of Science Foundation Ireland, he sat down to speak with Ann O’Dea for the latest in our new Future Human series.

Prof Mark Ferguson is nearing the end of his second five-year appointment as head of Ireland’s main scientific research agency, and as chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland. And so I was very keen to get his thoughts on both the recent past and the future of scientific endeavour in Ireland.

In another one-take fireside chat, in the fabulous library in Iconic Offices’ Masonry building, we had a frank discussion on the need for more funding for the best research, on where the challenges lie and, above all, where the opportunities are for research excellence.

Ferguson commenced as director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in January 2012 and was appointed chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland in October that same year.

He became professor in life sciences at the University of Manchester in 1984, aged just 28, making him the youngest professor in Britain at that time. As head of department and dean, he had a key role in the internationally acclaimed restructuring of life sciences at the Manchester university.

His own wide-ranging research interests have focused on cellular and molecular mechanisms in scarring and wound healing, developmental mechanisms in normal and cleft palate formation, and alligator and crocodile biology. He has been the recipient of numerous international awards, prizes, medals and honours for his research work, including a joint win of the 2002 European Science Prize.

Among numerous other accolades, Ferguson is a member or fellow of a number of learned societies, and was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999 for his services to health and life sciences.

Ferguson’s tenure will come to an end in early 2022, but first he shared with us some of his highlights over the past 10 years as well as his vision for the future of scientific research. The climate crisis ranked high in our conversation as did the potential for solar geo-engineering to have a role in reversing temperature rise – a topic which never fails to court controversy. And, of course, we chatted leadership styles.

This is the second in a series of Conversations with Leaders from the Future Human team at Silicon Republic. Check out our pilot episode with new Trinity College Dublin provost Prof Linda Doyle, and watch out for our next edition.

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Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human