Bridge & Concrete Research in Ireland
MacNeill Theatre, Trinity College Dublin
Friday,7 September 2012
It’s my pleasure this morning to welcome to Trinity College Dublin for the second day of this conference. I know you were all here last night for the conference dinner in the Dining Hall, and I hope you enjoyed it.
I’m delighted to be with you this morning, not only because this is an important conference with international keynote speakers, but also because I am myself an engineer. My area is medical devices and bioengineering so I’m not a civil engineer, but of course I remember my civil engineering lectures as a Trinity undergraduate. Also I note this lecture theatre is named after a civil engineer and the first professor of the subject here in Trinity, dating from 1847.
Later this morning I will attend the funeral of a former Head of the School of Engineering, John Fitzpatrick. He was Professor of Mechanical Engineering here for eighteen years and no-one did more than John to build up the great international reputation of Trinity’s School of Engineering.
He was originally from Belfast, and was a strong advocate of engineering research - throughout his career he worked closely with industry, including in later years with Airbus and Rolls Royce. I think John would find it very fitting that the major conference in Trinity on the day of his funeral is an island-wide conference for engineering researchers, which promotes a sharing of ideas between engineers working in academia and those working in industry.
Conferences such as BCRI seem to me to be significant for three reasons - well, there are no doubt more reasons, but I’ve focussed on three:
- First, as enablers of large number of postgraduate students to present their research nationally, many for the first time. The importance of having such a well-established forum for postgraduate researchers can’t be over-estimated;
- Second, it provides a conduit for industry-academic exchanges. I know that there are industry practitioners, consultants and suppliers present today, as well as organisations such as the National Roads Authority, and Irish Rail.
- However the effect of the national economic downturn has nowhere been felt harder than in the construction sector and in civil engineering in general, which brings me to my third point. Because civil engineering and construction are under pressure due to the economic downturn, this makes it all the more important that conferences like this one are being held. We need to show that exciting research collaborations between industry and academia are still going on, and that they will ultimately drive innovation in the construction industry.
I hope the media picks up on some of the papers being presented at this conference. There is currently a shortage of civil engineers being produced by Irish universities, due to fall off in undergraduate admissions in this discipline. But society needs civil engineers. Shortages will pose problems for the economy in the future.
Civil engineering does, of course get some good media coverage. A few months ago, for instance, there was positive reporting on the airfiltering technology being developed here in the civil engineering department in Trinity - the technology reduces energy and maintenance costs. The department’s solar water disinfection project in Kenya also received good coverage. I’m sure there are many more such examples of positive stories from universities around the island of Ireland.
I spend a lot of time in speeches urging the government and the third level sector to make this country into an educational hub. I believe we have real potential to develop in this way, and that it provides the best hope for the future. Being an educational hub will involve, of course, excellent universities, but also efficient, facilitated and well-publicised collaborations between universities and industry. And it will involve socio-political emphasis on the importance to society of university research in general, of how the work of universities serves the public good.
I was thrilled, like so many others, that Dublin was City of Science this year, and that it all went off so well, despite the rain. Successfully hosting such large-scale international conferences will contribute to building Ireland’s scientific reputation. I would like, in this context, to thank the SFI for funding this conference under the City of Science festival.
I was also delighted to see so many Dublin universities and Institutes of Technology collaborating to make City of Science happen. This spirit of collaboration, such as we have here for this conference between Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Technology, maximises our strengths for the benefit of Irish higher education. I thank the Co-Chairs Dr Alan O’Connor from Trinity and Dr Colin Caprani from DIT for their leadership here, and all others involved in the Organising Committee.
If I may be allowed a somewhat derisory pun, in moving from the real to the metaphorical, the key lies in building bridges. Isaac Newton said “we build too many walls, and not enough bridges” .
On the matter of bridges, it seems to me, reading the Irish Times, that the whole country is obsessed with bridges, or at least with naming the new Liffey Bridge. I haven’t seen if there’s a letter in today's Irish Times, but if there isn’t it’s just an off day for bridges.
It’s now my pleasure to hand over to the Chair of the next sessions Professor Alexander Pavic of the University of Sheffield who will deliver the Joe O’Donovan Memorial Lecture, entitled Making Sense of Bridge Monitoring. Professor Pavic has particular expertise in vibration serviceability of slender structures, such as long-span floors, footbridges and grandstands.
The Joe O’Donovan Memorial lecture was instituted in 2010 to recognise the contribution made by Joe O’Donovan to civil engineering in Ireland. His firm, Roughan O’Donovan, designed the Taney Luas Bridge, the Boyne Cable Stayed Bridge, the Macken Street Bridge, and the marvellous Samuel Beckett Bridge - named if I’m allowed boast, for a Trinity graduate and indeed one of our first ever state exchanges with Ecole Normale in Paris - he liked it so much he never came home. Every time I look at that same Beckett bridge, I remind myself that if the boom years produced some horrible housing, they also left us with a few magnificent structures which our grandchildren and their grandchildren will rejoice in.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.