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Investment in 40 new projects to help transition high potential young talent to fully independent research leaders

Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr Seán Sherlock, T.D. has announced €23 million in new funding to help support 40 of Ireland’s most promising young research talent to become fully independent researchers. The funding which is being awarded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) will help ensure that Ireland’s most talented young researchers can be encouraged to remain in Ireland, while also helping to attract excellent young researchers from other countries to base themselves here.

Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr Seán Sherlock TD said:“Funding for researchers at the outset of their careers is an important element of the Government’s strategy for job creation in research and innovation under our Action Plan for Jobs. SFI’s funding schemes for early career researchers help ensure that excellent research with the potential for real economic and societal impact is properly supported in Ireland. Investment like this is important for Ireland’s developing international reputation for excellent research with impact. The 40 research projects being awarded by SFI today demonstrate the enormous talent and potential that exists among Ireland’s young researchers.”

The €23 million in funding delivered by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, through SFI’s Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) and Career Development Award (CDA) Programmes will support researchers and post-graduate students working on projects in areas such as sustainable and renewable energy, cancer research, neurological disorders, immunology, microbiology, biotherapeutics and Wireless Networks.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said:“Both of the programmes under which funding is being announced today will help promising young researchers to create and develop impactful careers here in Ireland and in turn enable the pursuit of scientific research that has potential economic and societal impact. These programmes are also an important factor in ensuring that Ireland can succeed in persuading top young scientific talent from abroad to base their research efforts here in Ireland.”

SFI’s Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) provides support for excellent postdoctoral researchers who wish to take steps towards a fully independent research career, while the Career Development Award (CDA) aims to support early and mid-career researchers who already hold a salaried, independent research post and who are looking to expand their research activities. Both programmes aim to support the development of young researchers with the potential to become excellent, fully independent research leaders in their chosen fields.

The 40 research projects awarded funding today will be funded by SFI through 12 research bodies, as follows: Trinity College Dublin (5), National University of Ireland Galway (5), Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (4), Dublin City University (4), University College Cork (4), University of Limerick (4), National University of Ireland Maynooth (3), University College Dublin (3), National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (3), Teagasc (2), Tyndall National Institute (2) and Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1).

A further 12 projects were also deemed scientifically excellent by the International Review Panel and are on a reserve list to be funded by SFI, if budgets permit later in the year.

Examples of projects supported:

Orla O’Sullivan (Teagasc Food Research Centre, Cork) SIRG

Orla’s research focuses on microbial diversity in the gut. Microbial diversity is highest in a healthy gut and Orla’s research will investigate if it is possible to improve that diversity and in turn improve the overall health of individuals. The research will also examine whether alterations in diet and/or lifestyle can influence microbial diversity and function.  Orla’s ultimate goal is to inform the potential development of nutritional supplements that can help improve human health.

Stephen Dooley (University of Limerick) SIRG

Stephen’s research will focus on understanding ways that cleaner and more versatile energy sources can be developed from indigenous biomass resources, including plant matter.  His goal is to find ways that help ensure that Ireland imports less fossil energy by creating environmentally benign energy technologies, particularly for transportation. He hopes that his research can help achieve this by informing a deeper and predictive understanding of how indigenous biomass, in particular, can be harnessed.

Patrick Hayden (Dublin City University) SIRG

Patrick’s research will investigate techniques that could improve the quality of laser-powered high-precision measurement. High-precision measurements on the composition and uniformity of drugs are useful to the pharmaceutical industry to help perform quality control as drugs are developed and produced. One method to perform these measurements is by measuring light emitted from the surface of the drug when a laser pulse is focused on it. The process is known as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) at short wavelengths and Patrick’s research aims to increase the efficiency of this process. The research could also have applications in other areas including archaeology and forensic science.

Aoife Morrin (Dublin City University) CDA

Aoife’s research aims to explore the potential for the analysis of skin in non-invasive or minimally invasive diagnostic approaches as an alternative to more invasive blood sampling. Skin is the largest human organ and contains rich analytical information related to a wide variety of medical conditions. Pressures on healthcare systems have resulted in a greater focus on enhanced efficacy of treatments and cost reduction. As such, there is a lot of research into new diagnostics that can address these challenges. Aoife intends her research to demonstrate innovative approaches to the analysis of skin that can be used for the early detection of various conditions including eczema flare-ups, liver failure, and skin cancer.

Alex von Kriegsheim (University College Dublin) SIRG

Alex’s research aims to develop new treatments to help prevent against bowel cancer in patients with colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both conditions lead to chronic inflammation of the gut, which can in turn increase the risk of bowel cancer. Alex hopes that his research can identify the ways in which this inflammation causes the growth of cancer cells and how the process can be halted through the release of important enzymes known as hydroxylases, which are blocked in chronically inflamed tissues.

Click Here for the list of Funded Projects

MikeCoey

A team of researchers from the AMBER centre at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) are behind the discovery of a new magnetic material they claim will revolutionise the ICT sector.

The material is made from an alloy of three metals, manganese, ruthenium and gallium (MRG), and is reportedly as strong as the strongest magnets available in the world today. However, it has the characteristic of not appearing magnetic at all to the untrained eye.

Known technically as ‘zero-moment half metal’, the material could potentially spawn a completely new line of materials research and open up numerous possibilities for electronics and information technology.

Led by Prof Michael Coey, the AMBER team said MRG has incredible potential and could lead to the possibility of limitless data storage, resulting in huge, superfast memory in personal computer devices. It could also eliminate the potential of external magnetic forces to ‘wipe’ computer data.

For 25 years, researchers worldwide have grappled with how to create a magnet such as MRG by trying to arrange numerous combinations of atoms in a way which was difficult without flouting the basic principles of physics.

Potential ‘big data revolution’

The AMBER research team claims to have solved this problem by using established industry-standard processes for making the electronic circuits on silicon chips, making it relatively easy for MRG to be adopted by computer and electronics companies.

Commenting on the discovery and its potential to lead a ‘big data revolution’, Coey said, “Magnetic materials are what make reading and storing data – either on personal devices or on large-scale servers in data centres – possible. Magnets are at the heart of every electronic device we use, from computers and laptops to tablets, smartphones and digital cameras.

“Given its unique insensitivity to magnetic fields, and the tenacity of its internal magnetic properties, MRG could now revolutionise how data is stored, which could have major implications for the future development of electronics, information technology and a host of other applications.”

PROF LUKE O'NEILL

Eleven researchers based in Irish universities have been ranked among the world’s top 3,000 by the multinational media body Thompson Reuters. Inclusion means the person’s research is listed in the top 1 per cent for the number of times their work has been cited by other scientists.

The list includes scientists and engineers in NUI GalwayTrinity College Dublin,University College DublinUniversity of LimerickUniversity College CorkBeaumont Hospital, Dublin and the University of Ulster.

All were gauged to be “highly cited researchers” who had had an “exceptional impact”, Thompson Reuters said.

Their work “has consistently been judged by peers to be of particular significance and utility”, the company said when releasing the list on the website highlycited.com.

Those selected will also be published in book form, the Thompson Reuters 2014 World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

Cutting edge

Inclusion in this publication means the researcher is among those “who are on the cutting edge of their fields. They are performing and publishing work that their peers recognise as vital to the advancement of their science”.

NUI Galway had three academics on the list: Henry Curran (engineering), Colin O’Dowd (geosciences) and Donal O’Regan (mathematics).

TCD had two: Luke O’Neill (immunology and also pharmacology and toxicology) and Jonathan Coleman (materials science).

UCD also had two: Colm O’Donnell (agricultural sciences) and Desmond Higgins (computer science).

UL had Michael Zaworotko (chemistry), UCC had John Cryan (pharmacology and toxicology), Beaumont Hospital had Mary Cannon (psychiatry and psychology) and University of Ulster had Brendan McCormack (social sciences).

The use of citation listings as a measure of research quality has sometimes been drawn into question but it remains a widely used metric despite this. Its strength lies in the fact that it reflects later access of the research by scientists working in the same area. If your paper is truly cutting edge then others will want to cite the original work within their research papers.

‘Huge testament’

Prof O’Neill yesterday expressed his delight at having been named on the list. “Being included in the top 1 per cent of anything is great,” he said. He described it as a “huge testament” to the work of his research team over the past decade.

Prof Coleman also praised the students and post doctoral researchers who work with him in the lab, and thanked funding bodies including TCD and Science Foundation Ireland. “Without them this would have been impossible,” he said.

TeagascAlberta

Edmonton, Canada…Teagasc, Ireland’s agriculture and food development authority, and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta in Canada have signed an agreement that will result in additional highly qualified personnel working in the agri-food sector.

This international agreement, signed in Edmonton, Canada on June 16, 2014, provides research funding to allow four PhD students to receive prestigious Walsh Fellowships and pursue their research to benefit the agri-food sector in both countries. Each Walsh Fellowship is valued at €22,000 per year (about $40,000 CAD) for four years. The funding is provided equally by Teagasc and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.  The students will be directed and supervised by professors of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) and co-supervised by Teagasc researchers.

Students will spend at least one year in Teagasc and one year in the University of Alberta in Canada, and will generally split their time equally between Canada and Ireland.

Dr. Frank O’Mara, Director of Research for Teagasc said, “Teagasc are continuously seeking collaborative arrangements with like-minded, leading research organisations around the world, to link with the foremost international scientists to deliver solid science for the future. Working with Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta is one such opportunity. I am confident this agreement will benefit the agri-food sectors in both Ireland and Canada. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m delighted we’re able to do it.”

Teagasc provides integrated research, advisory and training services to the agriculture and food industry and rural communities. It operates in partnership with all sectors of the agri-food industry and with rural development industries, employing approximately 1,100 staff at 52 locations throughout Ireland. It has developed close alliances with research, advisory and training agencies throughout the world and is continuously seeking to expand its international contacts.

Dr. Stan Blade, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions said, “Revenue from Alberta’s agri-food sector is an important component of the province’s economy but the sector has not grown significantly over the last decade. Teagasc has a superb record in creating new value-added opportunities in the food industry based on their expertise and facilities. Research and innovation supported through these inaugural Walsh Fellowships can help to accelerate growth in this sector, both in Alberta and Ireland.”

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, an Alberta government research funding agency, invests in science and innovation to grow prosperity in Alberta’s agriculture, food and forest sectors through new technologies, products, services or industry practices. It routinely seeks R&D partners in the areas of sustainable production, bioindustrial innovation, food innovation, ecosystem services and prion diseases.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to conduct their research in an international setting and leverage the expertise in both Alberta and Ireland,” said Dr. John Kennelly, Dean of the Faculty of ALES. “We live increasingly in an inter-connected world and it’s through partnerships like these that we’re able to provide excellent training to highly qualified students in an international setting so they may, in turn, provide solutions to global challenges in the agri-food industry.”

The Faculty of ALES provides solutions to global challenges in the fields of food and nutritional security, environmental sustainability, bioresource innovation, and individual and community well-being. An applied science faculty, ALES also draws on the social sciences, business and the arts and humanities to provide comprehensive solutions. We teach this approach to our students, providing them with well-rounded real-world skills as they enter the labour market.

Volcano

The Carlingford Igneous Centre, NE Ireland, erupted 60 million years ago, but a new study published in Nature Communications reveals it has much to teach us about currently active volcanoes.

Since the geological expedition of R.W. Bunsen to Iceland in the mid 19th century, scientists have been puzzled by the frequent co-occurrence of basalt and rhyolite at many volcanoes. Bunsen, who also invented of the Bunsen burner, was the first to describe this phenomenon of “bimodal volcanism”, but these fundamentally different lava types have by now been found together at sites across the planet. Crucially, the mixing of basalt and rhyolite in a volcano’s magma chamber is a major cause of violently explosive eruptions, but in the 160 years since Bunsen’s observations, no consensus has been reached on how bimodal volcanism actually originates. A new article in “Nature Communications” now re-ignites the debate and offers a fresh perspective on bimodal volcanism at continental volcanoes. Using detailed chemical analyses of rocks from the Carlingford Igneous Centre, the roots of a large, extinct volcano in northeast Ireland, an international team of scientists suggests that the key control on bimodal volcanism could, in fact, be the crustal rocks that lie below the erupting volcano.

Sixty million years ago, the North Atlantic Ocean was only beginning to form and America and Europe were slowly breaking apart. This process was exacerbated by an increased flow of molten rock from the Earth’s mantle, known as a mantle plume, which caused extensive volcanism throughout northeast Ireland, Greenland and western Scotland. Fissure-fed basaltic lava, as seen at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, was the most common type of activity, but a number of large volcanoes also formed. A key feature of these volcanoes was that they were short-lived and bimodal, producing significant amounts of light-coloured rhyolite and granite, as well as dark basalt. One such volcano was the Carlingford Igneous Centre, Co. Louth, Ireland. As the hot basaltic magma (>1200 °C) beneath Carlingford made its way from the mantle to the surface, it passed through the Earth’s continental crust, which is 30 km thick in this part of Ireland. “Luckily rocks from the crust and rocks from the mantle have characteristic chemical compositions, like geological DNA”, explains Dr Fiona Meade, the principal author of the article, “By using cutting-edge isotope analyses on the volcanic rocks from Carlingford, we can detect that the crust began to melt and that these melts were incorporated into the ascending magmas, transforming the basalt into rhyolite and granite”.

Significantly, the team’s work has shown that the continental crust was most strongly involved during the early stages of activity at Carlingford. It appears that while a first flush of crustal melt was easy to extract, melting became increasingly difficult and granite formation quickly stalled. This is because not all minerals in crustal rocks melt at the same temperature, and while some components are readily incorporated into the magma, others are left behind and will never melt. “This research suggests that crustal melts are vital for the formation of rhyolite/granite magmas in continental volcanic systems, and that once the crust can no longer produce such melts, the volcanoes rapidly return to producing basalt – forming a bimodal rock suite” added Prof Valentin Troll, the team leader and chair of petrology at Uppsala University (Sweden). “Evidence of basalt-rhyolite magma mixing is preserved at Carlingford, indicating that violent eruptions are likely to have been triggered early in the lifetime of the volcano, and while Carlingford has not posed any danger for 60 million years, it gives us a major insight into the processes that drive currently active volcanoes”, he concludes.

This project was initiated at Trinity College Dublin by Prof Valentin Troll and Dr Fiona Meade, who are now based at Uppsala University (Sweden), and was supported by an international team of co-workers from institutions in the UK, Italy and the Netherlands. The research was funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) and the TEKNAT faculty at Uppsala University.

For more information please contact Prof Valentin Troll (valentin.troll@geo.uu.se) or Dr Fiona Meade (meade.fiona@gmail.com).

FameLab

Pádraic Flood, a University College Dublin (UCD) science graduate, beat off nearly 2,000 scientists from 22 countries, to be crowned the 2014 FameLab International Champion, at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival, held last week.

Pádraic, who graduated from UCD in 2008 with a BSc (Hons), is currently completing a PhD in plant genetics at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.  Earlier this year he won the FameLab Benelux competition and represented the trio of countries at the FameLab International finals in Cheltenham.

Pádraic’s winning talk discussed improving photosynthesis to prevent food scarcity. He first took the audience into the leaf and told them about the mechanics of photosynthesis, leading to where light meets water, saying “it is at this point that light becomes life”. He then told the audience about food shortages in the future and how we might combat this through improving photosynthesis.

After winning the competition Pádraic said, “FameLab is fantastic, it opens a direct dialogue between scientists and the public, and I’m so glad to have been a part of it this year.”

For more click here

Perseid Meteor

Sky-watchers are in store for a once-in-a-lifetime meteor storm when the Earth passes through the tail of a comet. Astronomers are predicting that up to 1,000 shooting stars an hour could rain down on Earth hour as our planet passes through debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR this week.

The head of Astronomy Ireland, David Moore, has urged the public to get outside tomorrow night, Friday 23rd May, to try to catch a glimpse of the celestial fireworks that will fly from dusk till dawn.

“Imagine a thousand shooting stars per hour. It could be one every five to 10 seconds. It could be really spectacular,” he said. “Shooting stars are very rare and most people accidentally see one once every few years. If they go out for five to 10 minutes on that particular night they could see more than an astronomer sees in a lifetime. It is a very big event cosmically.”

For more click here or visit astronomy.ie

pintofscience

New scientific discoveries are happening all the time, fascinating developments which will change the future of the human race. But how often are you given the chance to really understand how these discoveries are made and what they mean?

The Pint of Science festival 2014 will see some of Ireland’s best scientific researchers hit pubs in Dublin and Cork to discuss their latest findings. This is your chance to get face-to-face with the people involved in carrying out current research! You can listen to them talk, join in games and quizzes, or just enjoy a chat over a pint. Find out what’s really going on in our bodies, our minds, in technology and much more!

Check out www.pintofscience.ie for more details!

johnny_coleman

Irish scientists have outlined how they managed to make the “wonder material” graphene, incredibly using dishwashing liquid and a kitchen blender!! Graphene is thin, strong, flexible and electrically conductive, and has the potential to transform electronics as well as other technologies.

The Irish-UK team (led by Prof Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College Dublin whose research we profiled in Series One of The Science Squad) poured graphite powder into a blender, then added water and dishwashing liquid, mixing at high speed. The results are published in the journal Nature Materials and their work has been reported by BBC News.

Because of its potential uses in industry, a number of researchers have been searching for ways to make defect-free graphene in large amounts. The material comprises a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. Graphite – mixed with clay to produce the lead in pencils – is effectively made up of many layers of graphene stacked on top of one another.

Prof Coleman  and colleagues tested out a variety of laboratory mixers as well as kitchen blenders as potential tools for manufacturing the wonder material. They showed that the shearing force generated by a rapidly rotating tool in solution was sufficiently intense to separate the layers of graphene that make up graphite flakes without damaging their two-dimensional structure.

However, it’s not advisable to try this at home. The precise amount of dishwashing fluid that’s required is dependent on a number of different factors and the black solution containing graphene would need to be separated afterwards. But the researchers said their work “provides a significant step” towards deploying graphene in a variety of commercial applications.

The scientists have been working with UK-based firm Thomas Swan to scale up the process, with the aim of building a pilot plant that could produce a kilo of graphene per day by the end of the year. In addition to its potential uses in electronics, graphene might have applications in water treatment, oil spill clean-up and even in the production of thinner condoms.

mayo-clinic

“Our aim is to commercialise up to 20 U.S medical technologies and to create 10 spin-out companies in Ireland from collaboration with one of theworld’s leading medical institutions”  Enterprise Ireland

A collaboration between Enterprise Ireland and Mayo Clinic, USA will see the commercialisation of up to 20 novel medical technologies in Ireland over the next 5 years with the aim of creating several high value medical technology spin-out companies.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. witnessed the signing of the agreement by Jeff Bolton, Vice President Mayo Clinic and Dr. Keith O’Neill, Director Lifesciences Commercialisation, Enterprise Ireland in Dublin today (10th April 2014).

Welcoming the collaboration the Taoiseach said “this agreement between Mayo Clinic U.S and Enterprise Ireland is highly significant from an economic perspective and builds on an Irish connection with Mayo Clinic extending back to the 19th century when the founders of the Mayo Clinic, brothers Will and Charlie Mayo, attended the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland”.

“Ireland is delighted to support the work of Mayo Clinic to develop medical technologies that will benefit patients worldwide and this project fits well with the medical technology strategy supported by the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs. There is great potential for job creation in 10 ‘spin-out’ companies Enterprise Ireland aims to create from this collaboration”.

The Irish Government will provide up to US$16M (€11.7M) through Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund for the co-development and licensing of novel medical technologies developed at Mayo Clinic U.S. into Ireland where they will be commercialised. This will involve further development and validation of the technologies by research teams in Irish Higher Education Institutes, and introductions to investors to bring the technologies to market. Enterprise Ireland’s aim is to create 10 spin-out companies in addition to licensing/commercialisation relationships in Ireland for each medical technology.

The first project is under way in NUI Galway, internationally recognised for its expertise in Biomedical Science and Engineering. The device patented by the Mayo Clinic is for the treatment of acute pancreatitis. A team led by Dr Mark Bruzzi of NUI Galway aims to design and develop a prototype device for human clinical use, build on animal studies conducted thus far and advance the therapeutic technology towards a ‘first in man’ clinical investigation.
On the commercial side, NUI Galway will validate the market and reimbursement model for the device and support the exploitation of the commercial potential of the technology in Ireland.
Investors Aisling Capital, New York and ACT Venture Capital are currently advising the team at NUI, Galway on the establishment of a spin-out company around this technology.

Speaking at the announcement Jeff Bolton, VP Mayo Clinic said “Mayo is committed to improving medicine throughout the world for the benefit of patients everywhere. This collaboration with Enterprise Ireland provides a unique way of furthering the research and development of novel technologies that have high potential to make a difference in patient care, alleviating the burdens of human disease. We expect that this collaboration will pay dividends in the United States as the commercialized technologies will be sold in the US for the benefit of patients. We also expect that many of these companies will create a US presence in and around one or more of Mayo’s practice sites.

Welcoming today’s announcement, Richard Bruton T.D., Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said “One of the key aims of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs is to put in place measures aimed at making it easier to commercialise and ultimately create jobs from ideas developed through publicly-funded research. Today’s announcement was made possible through State-funded research. This welcome agreement between the Mayo Clinic and Enterprise Ireland will further enhance Ireland’s reputation as a venue for commercialising advanced medical technologies with the aim of encouraging more high-value companies to establish in Ireland and creating high value jobs for this economy”.

Signing the agreement between Enterprise Ireland and Mayo Clinic, Dr. Keith O’Neill, Enterprise Ireland said, “this deal is a win-win as it will seed as many as 10 spin-out companies in Ireland whilst bringing advanced medical technologies to patients and providing a revenue stream back to Mayo Clinic to enhance its mission. We look forward to working with Mayo Clinic to create new companies around these world-class technologies some of which may, in time, establish a presence in Minnesota U.S, close to Mayo Clinic, benefiting the local economy there as well as in Ireland.”