In a world changing rapidly before our eyes, here are 22 scientists helping to advance our understanding in the coming year.
In 2018, climate scepticism and other scientific untruths have slipped into the mainstream via some world leaders and the darkest corners of social media.
However, science is fighting back, thanks to the work of a number of international thought leaders, scientists, researchers and communicators, just by presenting the cold, hard facts of the world around us.
As an associate dean of research at the School of Biotechnology at Dublin City University (DCU), Prof Christine Loscher is currently trying to find bioactive molecules at the bottom of the world’s oceans for autoimmune disease treatments.
With numerous citations in peer-reviewed journals, Loscher is also an accomplished speaker having set an example for science communication with her TEDxDCU talk on foods of the future. She has also been a driving force behind Researchfest, a session at Inspirefest where researchers give short talks about their work.
An award-winning science journalist, author and broadcaster, Angela Saini is a former MIT fellow, with a master’s in engineering from the University of Oxford. Her journalistic work has received accolades from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of British Science Writers. She regularly presents science programmes on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, and her writing has appeared in New Scientist, the Guardian, The Times, Science, Wired and more.
Her 2017 book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, received widespread critical acclaim and she has already confirmed her next title will tackle issues of race and science. Saini will be speaking at Inspirefest 2019 ahead of the publication of her new book at the end of May 2019.
One of the highlights of Inspirefest 2017 was hearing the inspirational aspirational astronaut Dr Niamh Shaw describe how she plans to be one of the first Irish people in space. A scientist and engineer turned performer and artist, Shaw recently spent time at a simulated Mars site in Utah and wrote and performed Diary of a Martian Beekeeper, which highlights the human side of space exploration.
Someone looking to pick apart the era of so-called ‘fake news’ is Dr Bahareh Heravi, lecturer and assistant professor at the School of Information and Communication Studies in University College Dublin (UCD). She is the founder and director of the college’s Data Journalism CPD programme and founding co-chair of the European Data and Computational Journalism Conference.
Prior to joining UCD, Heravi was a research fellow and research group leader at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway, where she founded the Insight News Lab research group and led a number of R&D projects in the news and media area.
DCU sexuality studies PhD student Caroline West is attempting to find answers to questions that few dare ask. This includes recently leading a study on current attitudes and media commentary around pornography in Ireland.
West is something of a pioneer in sexuality studies as the field is only about 40 years old. This means there’s not yet a cohesive body of research to build on, and what little research there is has been conducted in different countries from different perspectives using different materials and language, and targeting different demographics.
With a passion for chemistry and everything to do with crystallography, Dr Claire Murray is an Irish scientist who has spent almost six years at Diamond Light Source in Oxforshire, UK. During this time, not only has she has helped analyse one of Rembrandt’s famous artworks, but also a huge project that collected samples of calcium carbonate from across UK schools.
Murray is a strong advocate for STEM participation among women and minorities, having helped put together posters of leading Irish women scientists and publishing them on social media for the world to see.
As a professor of comparative immunology at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Prof Cliona O’Farrelly is a leading figure in her field having led a career-long interest in the hepatitis C virus and D-blood treatment scandal starting in the 1970s.
O’Farrelly was appointed as TCD’s first chair of fellows earlier this year, making her the first woman to be appointed to the position. She is also a strong advocate for engagement in STEM among students and postdoctoral researchers, something that saw her earn a Mentoring Award from Nature in 2014.
UK researcher and science writer Dr Elizabeth Tasker finds herself a long way from home as an associate professor in astrophysics at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Her research focuses on computer models of star and planet formation, all while helping with JAXA’s global outreach and flourishing as a ‘stellar’ science communicator.
After writing her first book, Tasker began writing popular science articles, winning her a Daily Telegraph Young Science Writer Award. Her writings have since appeared in Scientific American, Astronomy Magazine and The Conversation, in addition to her own books.
When not researching organic LEDs for more efficient screen displays, physicist Dr Jess Wade is attempting to solve the diversity problem that is systemic in her field of science. Working at the Experimental Solid State Group at Imperial College London, Wade also established the Women in Physics community and helped write the Department of Physics’ Athena Swan application.
This work has seen her win many accolades, including the Institute of Physics’ Jocelyn Bell Burnell Award, the IOM3’s Robert Perrin Award and a Julia Higgins Award for her outreach work with schools and support of women in physics.
With Amazon Echos in many homes across the world, Donegal native Prof Máire O’Neill is trying to make them as secure as possible. Currently a principal investigator at the Centre for Secure Information Technologies at Queen’s University Belfast, O’Neill is also research director of the UK Research Institute in Secure Hardware and Embedded Systems.
O’Neill is leading the EU Horizon 2020 SAFEcrypto project to secure quantum computers and has said she would like to see a greater awareness among students about the practical benefits to society that engineering can bring, stressing the need for more minds to work on cybersecurity.
Aerospace engineer, astronaut-in-training and Mayo native Dr Norah Patten aims to be, among other things, the first Irish person to leave Earth’s orbit. Having previously worked as a lecturer at the University of Limerick, since 2016 she has been a member of the voluntary global faculty at the International Space University. She was the first Irish person to join Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere), the first and only crewed suborbital research programme.
One of Ireland’s leading researchers in the field of motor neurone disease is Prof Orla Hardiman, who is a principal investigator at FutureNeuro, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for chronic and rare neurological diseases. As director of TCD’s Biomedical Sciences Institute, she brought Ireland into the international Project MinE, which is searching across Europe for a genetic cause of the disease.
Hardiman has said she and her team of 35 researchers’ goals is to develop gene-targeted drugs based on this research, which will target the right people with the right dose at the right time. She is also a recipient of one of only eight prestigious Health Research Board Clinician Scientist Awards for her work in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
As head of international campaigns and policy at Sense about Science, Dr Síle Lane is part of a growing international movement to challenge the misrepresentation of science. Lane was one of the original founders of AllTrials, a global campaign for the registration and reporting of all clinical trials, helping reform libel laws to protect open scientific discussion in the UK.
In 2016, Lane founded the Dublin office of Sense about Science and launched Voice of Young Science in Ireland, a unique network of early-career researchers committed to playing an active role in public discussions about science.
El Salvadorian Dr Ernesto Diaz-Aviles is an adjunct assistant professor at UCD and a co-founder of the start-up Libre AI, which aims to democratise the field of artificial intelligence (AI) away from the famous names in big tech and the military.
He recently worked with the Google Digital News Innovation Fund to develop a prototype to predict and visualise the hidden interconnections of global risks that will be at the core of tomorrow’s news. Codenamed Minerva, the project leverages news data collections available on the web and applies AI to discover the multiple relations among global risks.
One of the engineers to watch in Ireland is Nina Kanti, who earlier this year was part of the award-winning Irish Hyperloop project, Éirloop, as its lead software architect. Despite planning to take last summer off after completing her degree, she decided this challenge was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
Michael H Moloney
Last February, the American Institute of Physics unanimously agreed to appoint physicist Dr Michael H Moloney as its new CEO, making him one of the leading figures of Irish science internationally.
Prior to this appointment, Moloney spent eight years as the director for space and aeronautics at the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Moloney also spent more than seven years as a foreign service officer for the Irish Government, serving at both the Irish Embassy in Washington DC, and the Irish Mission to the UN.
Currently a funded investigator with Connect, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for future networks at TSSG, Dr Alan Davy has led a number of Horizon 2020 projects. Most recently, Next Generation Internet, which will help research developers and designers examine perceptions of the internet a decade from now.
The Waterford man was also the leader of a €3m EU research project called Terapod to plot and plan the future of wireless technology way beyond 5G and ultimately deliver a system that is a thousand times faster than today’s optimum speeds.
Earlier this year, the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) announced that Science Foundation Ireland principal investigator Dr Colin Clarke would lead a prestigious EU programme to focus on the use of single-cell analysis in biopharmaceutical process development. Clarke’s team will work together with scientists across Europe over the course of the €29m four-year project, which will commence in 2019.
Clarke graduated with a PhD in bioinformatics from Cranfield University in the UK and specialises in the application of multivariate statistics and machine-learning algorithms to high-dimensional data.
Specialising in human-robot interaction and advanced transportation, Prof Aaron Steinfeld is an associate professor, principal investigator and co-director at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Since joining the institute in 2001, Steinfeld has contributed hugely to the field of inclusive transportation working on building robots that could one day help disabled people navigate major transport hubs.
Speaking this year, he said he was encouraged to advance this area because of his father who lived with a wheelchair. “While I don’t have a disability, I grew up with the idea that buildings, technology and transport should be accessible and useful to everyone,” he said.
One of those working to monitor the mysterious depths of the Atlantic Ocean floor is Prof Sergei Lebedev of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, who is a lead researcher on the SEA-SEIS project. This aims to deploy a grand total of 18 state-of-the-art ocean bottom seismometers to measure movement at the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of kilometres from Ireland’s coast, over the next two years.
Yaseen Noorani and Nicolas Orellana
At this year’s international James Dyson Awards, a pair of researchers named Yaseen Noorani and Nicolas Orellana from Lancaster University left a judging panel stunned with a wind turbine small enough to fit on a city rooftop.
Studying together for their master’s in international innovation, Orellana from Chile and Noorani from Kenya set out to tackle the problem of generating energy from urban winds. Orellana first became interested in the challenge of multidirectional wind after studying NASA’s Mars Tumbleweed Rover – an inflatable ball designed to autonomously bounce across the surface of Mars. The design was described by James Dyson himself as an “ingenious concept”.