A lightbulb is lit up against a pale blue background.
Image: © 8_visual/Stock.adobe.com

Bright sparks of STEM: 19 influencers you need to know about

12 Nov 2020

From tissue engineering to space travel, and cognitive science to cancer therapies, here are some exciting projects and people to watch.

Considering adding some STEM influencers to your Twitter or LinkedIn feeds? To celebrate Science Week 2020, we’ve put together a list of some of the people pioneering fascinating work across science, technology, engineering and maths.

Mairead Looby

Dr Mairead Looby is the site head for the manufacturing science and technology department at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) in Cruiserath, Co Dublin. Having originally trained as an engineer, Looby went on to specialise in bioprocessing and biotechnology and worked in Pfizer for 14 years.

Currently, she is leading the tech transfer of mammalian cell-culture processes into BMS’s $1bn biologics facility in Dublin and is the leading driver of strategic scientific R&D relationships for BMS Ireland.

Andrew Smyth

Fans of the Great British Bake Off will probably already be familiar with Andrew Smyth; he made it to the show’s final in 2016. But did you know that he’s also an aerospace engineer? Smyth is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and currently researches future aircraft concepts at Rolls-Royce.

Smyth is a great advocate for combining your passions, no matter how diverse they might seem. He’s a champion of ‘bakineering’ and regularly showcases the intersection of baking and engineering.

Lorna Martyn

As senior vice-president and head of technology at Fidelity Investments, Lorna Martyn is a global influencer in the world of STEM. Originally from Galway, she has worked in the sector for almost 30 years and joined Fidelity in 2004.

Martyn is an advocate for women in the field, securing her the ITAG Digital Woman of the Year Award in 2016 and the Women Mean Business Woman in Technology Award in 2019. Her recent LinkedIn series, Be What You See, is an example of her work helping people to consider careers in science, technology and related fields.

Shane Bergin

Dr Shane Bergin is a physicist and a dedicated STEM communicator. He lectures future teachers of maths and science at UCD, hosts a podcast on learning and regularly features on radio.

Paula Neary

Alongside her role as a managing director at Accenture Ireland, Paula Neary also sponsors Accenture’s STEM programme. Since she began leading the campaign, she has spearheaded four different reports on the challenges of getting more girls into STEM and the progress that has been made in Ireland.

One of the founding members of Connecting Women in Technology, Neary also worked with Dublin City University and the 30% Club to develop the STEM Teacher Internship programme and created the Girls in STEM event series.

Ruth Freeman

At Future Human 2020, Dr Ruth Freeman spoke to attendees about the role each of us can play in shaping policies of the future. Freeman is the director of science for society at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Before joining the agency in 2006, she worked as a researcher at Trinity College Dublin where she received her undergraduate degree and PhD in genetics.

If you’re interested in keeping up with scientific policy, education and public engagement, Freeman is definitely one to follow.

Fergal O’Brien

Curious about what’s going on in the world of bioengineering? RCSI’s Prof Fergal O’Brien is at the forefront of the field with his work in regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and biomaterials. He also works with AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for advanced materials and bioengineering.

At last week’s annual SFI Awards, O’Brien received the Industry Partnership Award for a project with AMBER and Integra LifeSciences that successfully developed two unique peripheral nerve repair technologies.

Abeba Birhane

Abeba Birhane is completing her PhD in cognitive science at UCD. Her research has brought her to fascinating places, such as AI bias and the impacts of data harvesting. Birhane is originally from Ethiopia and combines her knowledge of cognitive science and AI to research the rise of ‘digital colonialism’.

Brian Ó Gallachóir

For those passionate about climate action and renewable energy, Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir should be on your list. Ó Gallachóir is professor of energy engineering at University College Cork (UCC) and director of SFI research centre MaREI. Projects at MaREI span transitioning to a low-carbon economy, leading action against the climate emergency and harnessing energy from marine and coastal resources.

At the recent SFI Awards, he took home the Best International Engagement Award. Check out his Twitter for more insights.

Joan Higginbotham

Another STEM influencer who spoke at Future Human 2020 was Joan Higginbotham, a former NASA astronaut and the third black woman to travel to space. Higginbotham is now director of programme management at Collins Aerospace. Her career to date has been fascinating, from training as an electrical engineer to boarding Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-116.

Annette Byrne

Prof Annette Byrne is a leading physiologist and head of the Precision Cancer Medicine group at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). Her achievements to date include receiving the John Kerner fellowship in gynaecologic oncology from the University of California and contributing to the establishment of Ireland’s first comprehensive tumour xenograft facility and translational pre-clinical imaging centre at University College Dublin (UCD).

Having worked in the UK, the US and Ireland, her expertise spans brain, ovarian and colorectal cancer, radiation and chemotherapy, drug resistance and more.

Brian Rodriguez

Another physicist to add to your list is Prof Brian Rodriguez. Currently working at UCD, Rodriguez received his PhD from North Carolina State University. He also spent time in the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany.

His expertise covers biological systems, polar nitride semiconductors, scanning probe microscopy and more.

Marie Taylor-Ghent

Having spent almost two decades in analytics and technology, Marie Taylor-Ghent has her finger firmly on the pulse of digital transformation and business intelligence. She graduated in maths and is now PwC’s director of data and analytics, a role that sees her translate complex concepts and solutions into understandable business benefits.

Shubhangi Karmakar

Shubhangi Karmakar is a medical student at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), but her contributions to STEM go far beyond her studies. She is a science communicator through her work with Trinity Postgraduate Review, Science Gallery, House of STEM and more. She is also the founder of creative platform Repealist.

Simon Spichak

FameLab contestants are always worth checking out for engaging STEM content. This year’s winner, Simon Spichak, is a neuroscientist based in UCC and APC Microbiome Ireland. His current research involves a quest to better understand the relationship between our brains and the trillions of microorganisms in our gut.

Kriti Sharma

Someone who has been making waves in the world of AI for some time is Kriti Sharma. She is the founder of AI for Good UK, which provides scalable tech solutions for social good.

Sharma is a computer science and engineering graduate and is currently GfK’s vice-president of product. She has been named as a ‘30 under 30 in Tech’ by Forbes and recently won the Diversity in Tech Awards’ Grace Hopper prize for her work in STEM.

Cian Ó Maidín

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of tech innovation in response to Covid-19, Cian Ó Maidín is one to watch. An advocate for open-source tech, Ó Maidín is the founder and CEO of NearForm, the company behind Ireland’s Covid-tracking app.

He also took to the virtual stage at Future Human 2020 to share the company’s story, from its beginnings in Waterford to launching in the US.

Lucia Specia

Prof Lucia Specia is a globally recognised leader in natural language processing (NLP). She was recently appointed as a professor at DCU, where she will work with the Faculty of Engineering and Computing as well as Adapt, the SFI research centre for digital content.

Through NLP, researchers seek to allow humans and computers to interact using everyday language. Specia’s expertise involves multimodal and multilingual models at the intersection of language and vision.

Alison Liddy

Medtech is a growing area, particularly in the west of Ireland. It’s unsurprising, then, that one of the top people to watch in this field is a researcher at NUI Galway. Dr Alison Liddy studied chemistry and maths at the university before qualifying further at the University of Birmingham.

Her Hydrobloc project at NUI Galway was the winner of the SFI Future Innovator Prize earlier this year. It saw her team develop a nanogel to offer drug-free pain relief for patients with chronic neuropathic pain.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading