William Campbell and Vincent Roche win St Patrick’s Day Science Medals

16 Mar 2021

SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal. Image: Science Foundation Ireland

The 2021 SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medals have been awarded to Nobel Prize-winning parasitologist Prof William Campbell and Analog Devices’ Vincent Roche.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, has presented this year’s Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) St Patrick’s Day Science Medals to Prof William Campbell, a Nobel laureate and biologist based at Drew University, and Vincent Roche, president and CEO of Analog Devices.

This is the eighth year of the awards that are given annually to two recipients: a distinguished science, engineering or technology leader, and an industry leader. Both recipients must be living and working in the US with strong Irish connections. The winners are chosen by an independent selection committee that assesses the contributions nominees have made to the research and industry ecosystems in Ireland.

Speaking at a virtual event to mark the occasion, Martin said that the contributions of both Campbell and Roche had made “immense societal and economic impact and changed the lives of millions of people”.

“We are deeply proud of their inspirational achievements and leadership,” he added. “This prestigious prize highlights the enduring strength and profound connectivity of US-Ireland relations, which despite significant global challenges continue to grow from strength to strength.

“By placing research, development and innovation firmly at the heart of our economy, we can create new knowledge, better respond to societal needs and economic challenges, improve education, and increase the quality of our lives.” 

Academic winner: Prof William Campbell

Campbell is a biologist with a special interest in parasitology. He was born in Co Derry and raised in Ramelton, Co Donegal. Having studied at both Campbell College Belfast and Trinity College Dublin, a Fulbright travel grant brought him to the University of Wisconsin in the US where he completed his PhD on liver fluke. Campbell went on to work at pharma company Merck for many years and is now based at Drew University in New Jersey.

In 2015, he won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery of a drug called Ivermectin that treats parasitic diseases, which significantly lowered incidences of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. This work provided the basis for Merck’s decision to distribute the drug for free to millions of people in what became one of the first examples of a public-private partnership in international health. Ivermectin is currently being investigated as a treatment for Covid-19.

“I learned about parasitic diseases, first in Belfast, then in Dublin, and then in my adopted home in America. Through it all, my roots in Ireland were never forgotten,” Campbell said.

“I have had the good fortune to work both in industry and in academia, and to be associated with colleagues who made my work far more valuable than anything I could have done alone. It is my hope that US-Ireland partnerships continue to prosper for the benefit of science, both now and in the future.”

Industry winner: Vincent Roche

Roche, who is considered a leader in the field of semiconductors, is originally from Wexford and has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from what is now the University of Limerick. He is the president, CEO and a member of the board of directors at Analog Devices, a US-headquartered multinational semiconductor manufacturer.

He is the company’s third CEO since it was founded in 1965, having joined in 1988 and risen through the ranks of product line management, strategic marketing and business unit management. He has held senior roles in the company in Ireland, Massachusetts and California, and in 2001 was appointed vice-president of worldwide sales.

Roche also serves on the board of directors for Acacia Communications, a developer of high-speed coherent optical interconnect products for communication networks.

“I am deeply honoured to accept the SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal for Industry,” Roche said. “Ireland has been critical to Analog Device’s R&D and operational success ever since we established our first site in Limerick in 1976, just over a decade after our company’s founding.

“Many of Analog Devices’ cutting-edge technology innovations are the result of the rich collaboration between our US and Irish operations, as well as our long-term relationship with Ireland’s excellent academic institutions, research centres and the larger business ecosystem.”

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general at SFI, said the St Patrick’s Day Science Medals recognise “the global reach and influence of the Irish scientific and technology diaspora”.

“I am delighted to congratulate both William and Vincent on the outstanding research, leadership and innovation they have achieved throughout their careers,” he added.

“The incredible achievements and diversity of our Irish research diaspora continue to advance Ireland’s society and economy through excellent groundbreaking research and technology, generating new insights and creating new opportunities for both countries, academic communities and industry.”

Last year’s winners of the SFI science medals were robotics pioneer Prof Neville Hogan and Intel senior VP Dr Ann Kelleher. Previous winners also include Boston Scientific’s Michael Mahoney and renowned physics professor Margaret Murnane.

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021