DCU researcher seeking more from Moore’s Law crowned ResearchFest winner

1 Jul 2016

DCU PhD researcher Shauna Flynn presents her research subject at ResearchFest during the Inspirefest Fringe festival. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

The inaugural ResearchFest competition at the Inspirefest Fringe challenged judges with an exceptionally high standard from contestants – but only one could take home the prize.

Eight contenders took to the stage on the opening night of Inspirefest Fringe, hoping to end the night as the champion. Host Arlene O’Neill, who was instrumental in bringing the inaugural event into being, was a capable MC, while the panel of judges was wowed by the standard of presentations.

The eight PhD researchers selected to compete received some training from SNP Communications in advance of their big performance, but their exciting research and ability to distil complex subjects into clear, understandable language impressed the audience as much as their presentation skills.

There were no slides (though there were some clever props), and just three minutes to summarise a broad spectrum of research interests, from biomedical engineering and bioinformatics, to pain management, immunomodulation, and electronic engineering.

Prof Christine Loscher, Dr Sue Black, Maureen Taylor and Fergus McAuliffe set to judge the ResearchFest presenters. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

Prof Christine Loscher, Dr Sue Black, Maureen Taylor and Fergus McAuliffe set to judge the ResearchFest presenters. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

Following the eight presentations, the judges deliberated while the audience cast a vote for their favourite. Trusted with the tricky task were Dublin City University (DCU) research director Prof Christine Loscher, SNP Communications co-founder Maureen Taylor and Saving Bletchley Park author Dr Sue Black, led by Fergus McAuliffe, himself an accomplished science communicator.

The time taken by the judges on their final decision was a testament to the standard of entries, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the audience and by McAuliffe in his final presentation. But, like Highlander, there can be only one, and it came as a surprise to DCU School of Electronic Engineering researcher Shauna Flynn.

The Irish Research Council scholar did a tremendous job of explaining how she is using block copolymers to build more transistors into a silicon substrate. Flynn’s research could further the progress of Moore’s Law, which predicted that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every two years. Advances in technology to date have pushed this guideline to its limit and between the ‘70s and now, the number of transistors on a chip has shrunk from 2,000 to 5.5bn.

This has been made possible by shrinking the size of transistors from from 5,000nm in 1975 to modern 14nm transistors. These transistors are so small you could fit more than 7,000 across the width of a human hair. Should Flynn be as successful in her research endeavour as she was on-stage on Thursday night, she will find a way to fit billions more transistors in tiny, tiny spaces.

Flynn received a Samsung tablet to help with her further study and will also get further training from SNP Communications. As an additional part of her prize, she will be profiled by Siliconrepublic.com – so watch this space.

The other candidates who presented at ResearchFest were Dearbhla Burke, Fiona Malone, Natalia Cañas Estrada, Claire O’Connell, Kim Connick, Niamh Hunt and Robert Ahern, and you can read all about their fascinating research here.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

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.