SFI awards €53.7m to 76 projects with a focus on health and climate

10 May 2022

Image: © beoyou/Stock.adobe.com

The latest SFI Frontiers for the Future grants will support 216 people in research positions as they work on a diverse range of projects.

Today (10 May), Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, announced funding for 76 research grants valued at €53.7m through the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Frontiers for the Future programme.

The awardees are from 10 higher education institutions around the country: University College Cork, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Maynooth University, NUI Galway, TU Dublin, University of Limerick, Tyndall National Institute and Dublin City University.

The research projects will investigate various aspects of health and climate such as childhood ADHD, future coastal sea levels, next-generation batteries, antiviral drugs to treat Covid-19 infections, safety-critical software, the link between obesity and cancer, and the future-proofing of crops to withstand flooding.

SFI director general Prof Philip Nolan described the projects as “wonderfully diverse”.

“But they have one thing in common: they ask fundamental questions and will lead to important scientific breakthroughs, with important applications in areas such as climate action, biodiversity, human and animal health and digital transformation, with real and lasting benefits to our society and economy.”

Among these grants, 58 ‘high-risk, high-reward’ projects will receive around €32.3m to facilitate innovative and novel approaches to research, while 18 larger-scale collaborative research programmes will receive roughly €21.4m in funding.

“I am delighted to support this programme which funds individual-led research, with an emphasis on fundamental research at the cutting edge of science and engineering which will help us build a better future for Ireland through discovery, innovation and impact,” Harris said.

He added that the funding will support 216 people in various research positions to further develop their research careers. This number includes 93 postdoctoral scientists, 105 PhD students and 18 research assistants.

In line with its gender strategy, SFI said 42pc of the research grants are going to projects led by women researchers. SFI also said 32pc will be led by emerging investigators early in their research careers. In 2020’s Frontiers for the Future programme, 45pc of the 71 research grants were awarded to women.

The programme is being run in collaboration with Geological Survey Ireland and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which are co-funding a number of the grants.

Health and climate

One of the supported researchers is Maynooth University’s Dr Niamh Cahill, who aims to develop state-of-the-art software to better understand and predict changes in Irish sea levels to improve costal defence strategies and reduce the impact of extreme sea-level changes.

Meanwhile, Trinity College Dublin’s Prof Valeria Nicolosi seeks to develop the next generation of batteries beyond lithium-ion technology by using novel materials. It is hoped the project will find ways to overcome the scarcity and distribution issues associated with the use of lithium and cobalt.

RCSI’s Prof James O’Donnell will investigate how the body controls the levels of a critical component used in blood clotting, to help identify more effective ways to treat people with inherited blood-clotting disorders.

University College Dublin’s Dr Alexey Lastovetsky aims to develop software that can reduce the significant energy needs associated with daily computer use, without compromising functionality and performance.

Also at University College Dublin, Dr Tancredi Caruso and Dr Jonathan Yearsley will investigate how microbes in the soil support the ability of plants to resist extreme weather events, in order to improve the resilience of agriculturally important plants.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic