24 fresh voices planting new ideas in sci-tech in 2019

14 Dec 2018

Image: © scaiphotography/Stock.adobe.com

These influential voices have sown the seeds of new thinking in sci-tech, and we can’t wait to watch them grow in 2019.

Be they young newcomers on the scene, or experienced hands driving science and technology to new frontiers, our final selection for Sci-Tech 100 2019 is a collection of ones to watch, to listen to, and to learn from in the coming year.

From early-stage innovators, to change-makers in emerging areas, to communicators with a fresh approach for engaging new audiences, this final list is an uplifting and enlightening bunch that acknowledges the intersection of arts, design and society with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Sheree Atcheson

Deloitte UK’s Sheree Atcheson has spent 2018 in the spotlight, picking up countless awards and reaping recognition, not to mention announcing at Inspirefest 2018 her latest role as global ambassador for Women Who Code.

Sri Lankan by birth, Atcheson was adopted by an Irish couple and raised in rural Co Tyrone. Since a trip to Sri Lanka to reunite with her birth mother, she has been giving back to this community with I Am Lanka, a social responsibility project showcasing Sri Lankan change-makers. “Representation matters. We can’t continually talk about diversity and hire diversity, but only promote conformity,” she has firmly declared.

Simone George and Mark Pollock

A bald man in a wheelchair speaks to an audience from a colourful stage, while a dark-haired woman seated next to him looks on.

Mark Pollock and Simone George on stage at TED 2018. Image: Ryan Lash/TED

Explorer Mark Pollock and human rights lawyer Simone George took to the TED stage in April this year, presenting a joint talk that has been described as a “love letter to science” and “the most powerful, moving talk” ever seen at TED.

A determined endurance athlete, Pollock was the first blind person to race to the South Pole. In 2010, a fall from a second-storey window left him with a catastrophic spinal cord injury. His paralysis led Pollock and his fiancée George, a determined researcher and human rights lawyer, to explore the intersection between humans and technology. Finding a cure for paralysis in our lifetime is this Irish couple’s mission.

At Inspirefest 2019, they will discuss how they connected with San Francisco-based engineering company Ekso Bionics, which created a robotic exoskeleton that would allow Pollock to stand. Their story is one not to be missed.

Shaun O’Boyle

What’s it like to be an LGBTQ person in STEM? Dr Shaun O’Boyle truly understands why this perspective matters. At Inspirefest 2017, he was galvanised by Arlan Hamilton (his Sci-Tech 100 listmate) to take action and start a national conversation about the experiences of LGBTQ scientists in Ireland.

O’Boyle was welcomed back to the Inspirefest stage in 2018 to introduce House of STEM and the first ever international LGBTSTEM Day. Leading up to the inaugural event, O’Boyle also co-produced a radio documentary exploring what life and work is like for trans people in Ireland.

Aoibheann Mangan

The youngest entrant on our list, Aoibheann Mangan is a 12-year-old secondary school student living in Co Mayo. “It looks like a postcard – lovely! – but we have absolutely no broadband,” she told audiences at Inspirefest and many more events this year. “If I’m doing a school project, we get in the car, go to Tesco car park, and I sit there on the laptop until I finish.”

As a European Digital Girl of the Year awardee, Mangan has been using her platform to speak out on this urban-rural digital divide and is passionate that every child should get an equal opportunity when it comes to a modern education.

Eden Full Goh

Chinese-Canadian inventor Eden Full Goh wowed us this year with her innovative solar panel efficiency device made from readily available recycled materials. Her goal was to create a device to harness solar power and create potable drinking water simultaneously. The result – SunSaluter – is now capable of providing energy and safe water to those who need it the most.

While SunSaluter was originally patented, Full Goh announced at Inspirefest that it has been made open source for anyone to build. “We’ve impacted 17,000 people so far,” she said, “but I’d really like us to expand our reach.”

Karla O’Brien

Karla O’Brien’s Inspirefest 2016 speech was deeply impactful. “People reached out to me from around the world after my talk was shared on social media. So many of them in the same position I was – on hidden Facebook accounts, reaching out from secret email addresses.”

The reaction inspired the final-year computer science student to continue sharing her experience of being trans in tech, and she wrote in Siliconrepublic.com about exploring identity in online spaces. O’Brien’s writing and other art and creative works from members of TransGreystones will be on display in Signal Arts Centre in the new year.

Sinéad Burke

Sinéad Burke and Ann O'Dea dressed in caps and gowns at IADT's conferring ceremony.

From left: Sinéad Burke with Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea having received received Honorary Fellow awards from IADT. Image: Brian Farrell

Another Inspirefest favourite, activist Sinéad Burke is no stranger to a Siliconrepublic.com list – and every time we note this rising star, she finds new heights to reach.

After a year in the spotlight promoting diversity and inclusion in fashion, we’re excited to see how Burke will use her platform in 2019. When it comes to design, the fashion industry wields an immeasurable influence, and consumers’ choices are often at the whim of these trends. On the red carpet, Burke has recently been spotted in a dress traceable “from field to final” as fully organic and socially responsible, proving herself as the voice of a new consciousness.

Taylor Denise Richardson

Taylor Denise Richardson, also known as Astronaut Starbright, is a teenage philanthropist and STEM advocate who is determined to become a scientist, astronaut and engineer. For now, she is busy setting up book clubs and raising money so that kids like her can access media that will expose them to STEM and the arts.

Richardson realised the need for representation when she found she was the only African American at Space Camp. “Girls, especially black girls, deserve to believe they can do calculations and send astronauts to the moon,” she told the Inspirefest audience this year.

Zoe Philpott

Zoe Philpott wants to rewrite history to include the missing, forgotten women – and she’s building an army to do it. Having performed for years in a one-woman show about Ada Lovelace, she wants to uncover more diverse STEM role models. “The bulk of history was written exclusively by men, and so our culture is full of unconscious bias,” said Philpott during her second Inspirefest outing. To correct this, she wants us all to collaborate as ‘Ada’s Army’, rewriting a history that is inclusive and accessible.

Ada’s Army is still in early development and Philpott is planning a tour of UK libraries in 2019 to continue the conversation.

Tríona Butler

A woman with dark hair and a white blouse holds a Google Home Mini in her hand.

Tríona Butler. Image: Colm Mahady/Fennell Photography

Tríona Butler, the Tipperary-born but Silicon Valley-based UX lead is one of the designers of Google’s game-changing smart speakers. Butler has been working on the Google Home product suite for about five years and, while new interfaces such as voice and artificial intelligence (AI) are turning design on its head, she’s ready for the challenge.

“Now, it is very dynamic, requiring a different set of content for me versus you, today versus tomorrow, so we need to think about creating new visual UX systems that can respond to that, and voice is a whole different wave,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

Ronan Wall

A man in a grey shirt sits at a desk in front of a whiteboard with an equation written on it.

Still from ‘UCD Science: UCD Graduate Dr Ronan Wall on his career as a Rocket Scientist with MOOG ISP’. Image: UCD – University College Dublin/YouTube

A new era in Irish science began in 2018 when the European Space Agency confirmed plans to launch EIRSAT-1, Ireland’s first satellite. This cube satellite (cubesat) will be launched from the International Space Station, where it will join a multitude of other objects in Earth’s orbit.

The EIRSAT-1 project is led by University College Dublin (UCD) and it’s UCD’s Dr Ronan Wall who has been named as team leader for the mission. Wall was founding programme manager for the UK’s first national nanosatellite, UKube-1, which launched in 2014, so it looks like Ireland’s satellite hopes are in good hands.

Robert Forster, Elaine Spain and Kellie Adamson

Circula headshots of two dark-haired women and one bald man.

From left: Dr Elaine Spain, Dr Kellie Adamson and Prof Robert Forster. Images: SepTec

Prof Robert Forster, Dr Elaine Spain and Dr Kellie Adamson are the founders and inventors of SepTec, a new technology to detect sepsis in a matter of minutes. The team has enjoyed a string of awards this year, topped off with being dubbed Enterprise Ireland’s One to Watch at the 10th annual Big Ideas showcase.

Sepsis affects 30m people worldwide every year, with an estimated 6m dying from the condition, often within hours. Current systems for identifying and analysing sepsis can take from five hours to two days, but SepTec’s patent-pending screening tool can definitively identify specific sepsis pathogens directly from an unpurified blood sample within 15 minutes.

Forster is a principal investigator at Science Foundation Ireland’s FutureNeuro research centre and leads the Dublin City University (DCU) lab that invented the SepTec technology. He has raised more than €12m in funding. Research fellows Adamson and Spain are currently based at DCU and, once incorporated, will transition into the company full-time. Together, they are currently completing clinical device validation in collaboration with two Dublin hospitals and working hard to bring the SepTec device to the next stage of commercialisation.

Ciara-Beth Ní Ghríofa

side view of young girl with long brown hair speaking on stage in front of microphone and purple backdrop.

Ciara-Beth Ní Ghríofa speaking at ESB’s Generation Tomorrow launch. Image: @ESBGroup/Twitter

When Ciara-Beth Ní Ghríofa was diagnosed with autism at 14, she started working on ways to help people with this condition around the world. Focusing on the issue some people with autism have with making eye contact, she produced an app called Mi Contact to help. The app and a small pilot study of its effectiveness won Ní Ghríofa a BT Young Scientist award and she went on to win the 2017 BT Young Scientist Business Bootcamp.

Now 19, Ní Ghríofa is a Quercus scholar at University College Cork studying psychology and computer science, and the Mi Contact app is scheduled for launch in early 2019.

Lána Salmon

View through a clear window as a young woman writes equations on it.

Lána Salmon. Image: Vincent Hoban

Irish Research Council scholar Lána Salmon is seeking gravitational wave sources in space and helping to build the aforementioned EIRSAT-1. Three days after she started her PhD in astrophysics at UCD, the optical counterpart to gravitational waves was detected, garnering worldwide media attention. This spectacular timing led to Salmon working on a paper published in Nature – not a bad start to a PhD.

Salmon is also passionate about outreach and has translated many space resources into Irish. “Communication is integral for scientists. I think we have to get out there and engage with people about what we do,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

Liz McCarthy

A woman with short blonde hair holds a mic at a woodchip podium on a stage decorated with colourful triangles.

Liz McCarthy speaking at the Allyship in Tech event 2018. Image: James Keating/Yohei Ishikawa

Liz McCarthy leads Dogpatch Labs on strategic areas including diversity and inclusion, policy for start-ups, and tech for good. While she believes great work is being done in silos around diversity and inclusion, she also suggested that an ecosystem approach is needed to fundamentally change the Irish start-up scene.

“The culture in start-ups is deeply influenced by their environment, so it’s important that leaders who set the tone across the Irish start-up ecosystem – from start-up founders and community leaders to VCs and tech hub managers – take conscious steps to signal that inclusive behaviour is what’s expected,” said McCarthy.

Sheeza Shah

Headshot of a broadly smiling woman wearing a grey headscarf.

Sheeza Shah. Image: UpEffect

Through UpEffect, founder and CEO Sheeza Shah is supporting social entrepreneurs with a sustainable vision for planet Earth. Launched in 2016, this crowdfunding platform for social enterprises is dedicated to making the world a better place to live in.

In a few short years, Shah has steered the UK-based organisation to become what she describes as “the go-to platform for entrepreneurs who are driven not by how much money they can make, but how many lives they can impact”. She was recently named in the Financial Times top 100 black and minority ethnic leaders in UK tech.

Gerry Ellis

Gerry Ellis warned the 2018 Inspirefest audience that, with exciting new technology such as AI, people with disabilities often get left out of the conversation. Ellis, an accessibility consultant who also works in technology services at Bank of Ireland, has successfully championed accessibility issues on a global basis with international organisations such as the UN.

Ellis said it is vital that developers keep inclusion at the forefront of their minds. “When push comes to shove, technologists are changing the lives of people. They can change them for ill or for good, and it takes very little to move from one to the other.”

Sharon Omiwole

A woman wearing a white shirt and floral-patterned blazer gestures while delivering a presentation.

Sharon Omiwole. Image: FameLab

FameLab Ireland 2018 winner Sharon Omiwole drew on caffeine biochemistry to brew up a strong mix for science communication. At the competitive science communication event, this medical student from UCD stole the show with her short talk titled ‘Willy Wonka and the Coffee Factory’, which made use of several good communication practices. Using a cardboard Willy Wonka, Omiwole demonstrated how caffeine prevents a molecule called adenosine from binding to brain cells, thus preventing its usual calming effect.

Omiwole is keeping her options open as she studies medicine and dedicates her time to volunteering in the community, but has also said she sees science communication in her future.

Eoin Murphy

Another science communicator to watch in 2019 is Researchfest 2018 winner Eoin Murphy. His three-minute introduction to how the gene-editing tool CRISPR can be used to tackle Huntington’s disease saw him win a trip to Bletchley Park.

A full-time PhD science student at the Centre for Chromosome Biology at NUI Galway, Murphy’s work at the forefront of science and technology could have a significant impact on Huntington’s and other genetic diseases. “We are now moving to a point where the technology, such as CRISPR, may allow us to use [genomic] data to answer questions that we could not before,” he said.

Hugh Weldon and Ahmad Mu’azzam

Two smartly dressed young men in blazers smiling.

From left: Evocco co-founders Hugh Weldon and Ahmad Mu’azzam. Image: Dora Kazmierak

Hugh Weldon and Ahmad Mu’azzam are co-founders of Evocco, an app that helps consumers find out the environmental impact of their shopping. The early version of this concept began with Weldon and Mu’azzam teaming up for the MassChallenge Accelerator in Lausanne, Switzerland. In September, Weldon was named a Young Champion of the Earth by the UN.

Evocco is currently in beta mode and willing testers can sign up at Evocco.com. The duo are preparing for launch and intend to open a seed round in early 2019. “[Food] accounts for 30pc of global greenhouse gas emissions and so is an area where great impact can be made. However, it is just a starting point. In the future, we intend to move beyond food and help the consumer at multiple touchpoints to help them make positive impact every single day,” Mu’azzam told Siliconrepublic.com.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Updated, 10pm, 15 December 2018: This article has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to Queen’s University Belfast’s involvement in the EIRSAT-1 project.