Science Week 2019: From planting trees to researching bees

13 Nov 2019

Prof Mark Ferguson of SFI. Image: Luke Maxwell/

We visited the SFI Science Summit 2019 to learn more about this year’s Science Week and to hear from some of Ireland’s top researchers.

We’re in the middle of Science Week 2019 and the country is buzzing with all things curiosity, creativity and collaboration. 

To find out more about what this week promises, we visited the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Science Summit in Athlone to hear from some of the country’s researchers about the potential societal impacts of their work. 

Director general of SFI and chief scientific adviser to the government of Ireland, Prof Mark Ferguson, described the event as the only one that “pulls together about three or four hundred of the leading investigators across the island of Ireland”. 

Irish research

One of those investigators was Prof Kevin O’Connor, who was awarded the title of SFI Researcher of the Year at the event. O’Connor is director of the Beacon SFI Research Centre, where he and his team work to transform our natural resources into something of value for a “better, more sustainable society”. 

Beacon’s projects are dedicated to realising the Irish bioeconomy, which increases resource efficiency by using food processing and marine residues and side streams. 

Elsewhere, Dr Orla O’Sullivan was the winner of the SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year for her work on the gut microbiome. That’s something each of us has and is made up of a collection of microbes that regulate our hormones and our inflammatory responses. O’Sullivan’s research has focused on elite athletes and the greater diversity their microbiomes hold. 

We also heard about a project targeting the healthy activity of bees, as well as novel implants to treat chronic neuropathic pain. 

Climate action

Ferguson also spoke about the overarching theme of Science Week this year – climate action. This theme will see SFI planting between 30,000 and 40,000 trees to help combat the climate emergency.

The summit’s audience also got the chance to see Stephen James Smith perform his poem on the subject, commissioned by SFI in a bid to carry the message of climate action to new and more diverse audiences.

With the range of events on offer throughout the week, SFI is hoping to spread the important and positive message that “you can make money and do good for the planet as well”. 

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021