Prof Philip Nolan appointed director general of Science Foundation Ireland

20 Oct 2021

Prof Philip Nolan. Image: Maynooth University

The NPHET chair and former Maynooth University president will lead Ireland’s science funding agency from January 2022.

The board of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has announced that Prof Philip Nolan will succeed Prof Mark Ferguson as its director general.

Nolan will take up the position in mid-January 2022, when Ferguson steps down after 10 years leading the State agency responsible for investment in research and innovation.

SFI chair Prof Peter Clinch said: “A distinguished researcher in his own right, Philip has a proven record of achievement as a leader in research and innovation.”

‘The opportunity now is to build on this success, focusing on excellence in research and its translation into tangible benefits for our economy and society’

Nolan has served as director of the UCD Conway Institute for Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, deputy president of University College Dublin and, most recently, president of Maynooth University.

Over the course of a decade at Maynooth, he established a new strategy for the university’s research, teaching and public engagement activities. During his tenure, research income at the university increased by about 60pc.

In recent months, he was succeeded as president of Maynooth University by Prof Eeva Leinonen. But before wrapping up this role, Nolan was shot into the public eye as chair of Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), playing a critical role in Ireland’s Covid-19 pandemic response.

“Everyone in Ireland knows Philip as a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, and he’s been a constant and valued source of expertise in that role, for which we owe him a lot,” said Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD.

“If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of research and science. Science Foundation Ireland, as our national foundation for investment in scientific research, is a vital part of not only the response to Covid-19 but in our next steps, in the ways we grow our society and our economy,” Harris added.

Nolan said he considers his latest appointment leading SFI “a privilege”.

“SFI has led the transformation of Ireland’s research landscape, sponsoring outstanding research with global impact. The opportunity now is to build on this success, focusing on excellence in research and its translation into tangible benefits for our economy and society, to secure our position as a global innovation leader in science and engineering, and to ensure Ireland plays its part in addressing the complex challenges that face our society,” he said.

As Ireland’s science lead, Nolan aims to use research and innovation to shape a “healthier, more equal and inclusive, and sustainable” future.

Next year, Ferguson will step down from his role at SFI and as chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government following two successive five-year appointments. He recently sat down with Future Human founder Ann O’Dea for a fireside chat on both the recent past and the future of scientific endeavour in Ireland.

“Mark has led SFI out of the economic crisis and to great heights,” said Clinch, marking the end of Ferguson’s SFI leadership.

“He has been a strong advocate for the importance of investment in science as a key building block of Ireland’s economy and its importance for addressing major societal challenges such as Covid-19 and climate change. His commitment to excellence, combined with his innovative approach to funding programmes, has greatly advanced SFI’s and Ireland’s international reputation in research and the funding of science.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.