Prof Sheila McBreen talks to’s Ann O’Dea about her career in astrophysics and her research into gamma ray bursts as part of the Creating the Future series.

Prof Sheila McBreen has received many accolades in her career. For her part though, McBreen is keen to emphasise the importance of teamwork. “They’re absolutely crucial,” she says. “Space is not an area where you can work alone, it’s all about teams and it’s vital to be part of the space agencies.

After completing a PhD in University College Dublin (UCD), McBreen worked in various institutions including the European Space Agency in the Netherlands and the Max Planck Institute in Munich. Now a professor in the School of Physics at UCD, she recently received a Frontiers of the Future award from Science Foundation Ireland.

With extensive expertise in the field of astrophysics, particularly the subject of gamma ray bursts, McBreen shared insights into her research and work, including her involvement in Ireland’s first satellite, EIRSAT-1.

As well as her impressive career, McBreen also talked about diversity within the physics community and her efforts to improve gender equality within the sector. While the physics world is notorious for gender imbalance, she said there has been progress over the years, citing the number of women in senior positions within UCD’s physics community.

“There’s eight of us now, which is fantastic,” said McBreen. “We can’t talk about representation unless we have the people to do it and I think that’s really key.”


Words by Colin Ryan