From vapes to AI: Fresh funding for researchers tackling social problems

3 Nov 2023

Image: © naxaso/

The SFI and IRC Pathway programme awards, totalling €24m, will support multidisciplinary early-career academics as they interrogate climate, tech and health issues.

The Government is awarding funding of €24m across 43 different research projects as part of a bid to encourage emerging Irish researchers. The funding will go to academics working on projects on a variety of topics from EU AI regulation to treatment of irregular heartbeats.

Of the 43 projects supported, 29 will be science, technology, engineering and maths and 14 will be arts, humanities and social sciences. The funding is being allocated through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Pathway programme, which is a joint initiative with the Irish Research Council (IRC). The scheme focuses on researchers who are beginning their careers. The awards will enable postdoctoral researchers to conduct independent research for a four–year period. They will provide funding for a postgraduate student who will be primarily supervised by the awardee. Last year, 53 teams of researchers received €28.5m in funding under the programme.

Varied sectors and multiple disciplines

The Pathway programme also emphasises multidisciplinary collaboration. Announcing the funding allocation today (3 November), Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, singled out some particular projects, which he felt exemplified a broad range of research areas.

One of these projects will explore how to use AI to predict unexpected chemistries occurring in vaping devices. “I am particularly pleased to see we are researching the area of vaping and the impact it is having on the next generation of smokers. I believe the impact is significant and I am really looking forward to hearing the outcome of that work,” said Harris.

“There is also invaluable research into student mental health and wellbeing across the island of Ireland,” he added, referring to a separate project.

Another project involves the use of magnetic tracking tech to explore the future potential of VR. There will be a group looking at how to maximise power capture from wave energy converters and a group looking at increasing the sustainability of industrial-scale cheese manufacturing. On the medical end of things, there will be a project focused on the development of a next-generation non-thermal treatment for irregular heartbeats and a project that will study the hearing children of deaf adults.

Cultivating research talent of the future

“By supporting this activity, we are cultivating generational talent within Ireland’s research and innovation ecosystem that is focusing on key challenges and opportunities and on the issues facing this generation such as climate and technology,” said Harris.

The Government’s funding injection has received a helping hand from some co-funding partners: the Environmental Protection Agency, Met Éireann and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). These partners are committing a combined total of €1.95m for research to solve societal challenges.

Director of research and policy insights at SEAI, Margie McCarthy, said: “Investing in knowledge creation and research is key to developing policies which allow us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for a cleaner energy future. We are delighted to co-fund four exciting new projects from early-stage researchers as part of the SFI-IRC Pathway programme. These projects are exploring different ways to our renewable energy contribution including geothermal energy, wave energy, more sustainable battery technology and energy storage options.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic