Trinity Innovation Awards 2019 – Celebrating Innovative Research
Some of Trinity College Dublin’s top researchers were honoured at the Trinity Innovation Awards 2019 last week in Regent House. The prestigious event, led by Trinity Research and Innovation (TR&I), featured researchers from multiple disciplines across the university.
The awards ceremony highlights the world-class economic, social, and cultural impact of Trinity, not just in Ireland but on a global scale. The intention is to emphasise the university's outreach into society, and the drive and determination of its researchers to make a difference and seek out ground-breaking ideas. TR&I Director Leonard Hobbs commented that “at this year’s event, we celebrate our colleagues whose innovative research has led to commercial success, along with our colleagues whose work has had a significant societal impact across a wide breadth of disciplines from nanoscience to neuroscience, digital humanities to creative technologies and immunology to oncology.” The ceremony was launched by Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast, who stressed the value of innovation and entrepreneurship, and systems and structures that have been implemented at Trinity in order to facilitate these qualities among its students and staff.
Ten awards were presented on the night, recognising exceptional innovators for activities such as industry engagement, social impact, and new inventions. New campus companies from Trinity – companies with original intellectual property derived from Trinity research – were also celebrated at the event. The central award of the night, the Provost Innovation Award, went to Sean Mitchell and David Moloney, founders of Movidius, a company which pioneered low-power vision and neural network processing in “edge” technology devices. The company raised $100 million in investment over ten years and, when it was acquired by INTEL in 2016 this was the largest M&A (merger and acquisition) to date for an Irish technology company. Since then, the team has grown from eighty to three hundred members. The Provost stated that “both Sean and Dave have consistently demonstrated excellent entrepreneurial and leadership attributes throughout their careers in the globally competitive semiconductor business.”
Sean and David are both Trinity alumni, having completed PhDs here fifteen years ago. Sean, who gave the acceptance speech on the night, spoke about the value of innovation, stating that “the idea of persistence or resilience in my experience plays a very core role in innovation.” Giving advice to early career innovators and entrepreneurs, Sean encouraged colleagues not to give up in the face of hardship and setbacks: “You have to persist, you will be disappointed, no matter how good your ideas, you will get knocked down, but you have to persist.” Sean suggested that here in Ireland, “we have some of the most creative, talented people in the world.” Several of those people were in attendance at the event that evening. One of these was Professor John Gilmer, co-founder of Trinity campus company Solvotrin Therapeutics and Head of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, who won the “Campus Company Founders Award”. John’s interest in prevention of cancer metastasis led to his discovery of a novel class of aspirin prodrugs, which he patented here at Trinity and led to the foundation of Solvotrin. He played a key role in raising over €15 million in funding over the past eight years, growing Solvotrin’s product portfolio which now generates significant export sales and supports 35 jobs in Ireland.
This kind of entrepreneurship was also recognised through the “Ones-to-Watch” Award, of which there were two this year. One went to Dr David McCloskey and one to Dr Stephen Dooley, both from the School of Physics. This award is presented to academics whose research is most likely to result in the next campus company, commercial licence deal, or industry engagement. David – who is the Ussher Assistant Professor in the Science of Energy and Energy Systems – is interested in the areas of heat transport in nano and microscale systems and non-contact thermal imaging techniques. He is collaborating on projects with several companies including Nokia Bell Labs and Western Digital. He has been widely recognised for his innovative work, most recently with an SFI Zero Emissions Challenge Future Innovator Prize.
Stephen, who is focused on clean energy technologies, has won and impressive €4 million in competitive research funding. He holds an SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant and an ERC development award, as well as multiple research contracts with major multinationals in the energy and petrochemical sectors.
Another campus company founder was recognised under the “Inventors Award” category. From the School of Engineering, Professor Tony Robinson’s work in heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and applied energy research has led to the founding of Nexalus, which focuses on gaming, high performance computing, and data centres.
A second Inventor was also awarded this prize: Professor John Donegan from the School of Physics, who is a Fellow of Trinity and an expert on laser systems. John holds 23 invention disclosures and has had eight patents granted. He has engaged extensively with industry, including a highly significant collaboration with Western Digital.
Outstanding achievement in industry engagement was recognised on the night with a new “Industry Engagement Award”, presented to leaders of the AMBER Institute Lorraine Byrne and Mick Morris. Lorraine and Mick have built an extensive network of industry research partnerships, and the award particularly honours their work with pharmaceutical company Merck Millipore. Merck is a global leader in specialised pharma and chemicals, with 40,000 employees, and has an established membrane manufacturing facility in Cork, which has 700 employees. Cork is now the location of choice for the development and manufacture of all future Merck life science membrane products. Lorraine and Mick led a team at AMBER which supported research and innovation in the Cork facility. As a result of this, a number of university researchers have moved into employment with Merck, and AMBER continues to partner with Merck in Ireland, the UK and the USA.
It is clear that Trinity’s innovative leadership has a direct impact on people in Ireland, and on Irish society. “The Social Impact Award” category directly acknowledges this impact. This year, there were two recipients: Dr Joan Cahill from the School of Psychology and Professor Carmel O’Sullivan from the School of Education. Joan’s work in using technology to support human behaviour change and optimise aspects of wellbeing – particularly relating to the balance between work life and personal life – has been hugely significant and she has numerous collaborations including with Aer Lingus and the Health and Safety Authority.
Carmel’s research examines arts-based, active learning approaches in order to address social challenges. She works in arts education, drama with children and young people with an autism spectrum disorder, early childhood arts education, and creativity in teaching and learning. One of her projects is Career LEAP, which is funded by the City of Dublin Education and Training Board and the Dublin North East Inner City (NEIC). This research project incorporates perspectives from young people, youth workers, and the business community with the goal of helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds secure sustained employment, access to formal education, and/or apprenticeships. This project, soon to enter its fourth year, has had an almost 90% success rate in providing this help to young people in Ireland.
Trinity’s top academics can enable this kind of impact on our society and culture. One of the preeminent figures from Trinity’s community who has displayed such impactful leadership and extraordinary vision is Professor J.M.D Coey. Professor Coey was presented with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his work in the area of solid state magnetism. With over 800 publications and 35,000 citations, his name is synonymous with the subject. He is recipient of six international prizes, the most recent being the prestigious Max Born Medal and Prize, awarded this year by the German Physical Society. The practical applications of Professor Coey’s research work have been demonstrated most notably in the manufacture of digital storage. His pioneering approach to working collaboratively with industrial laboratories paved the way for the development of new magnetic memory/storage devices underpinning the current digital revolution. In 1994, he founded the campus company Magnetic Solutions Ltd which was acquired by Tokyo Electron in 2012. His collaborative research with INTEL led to new next round of miniaturisation in the industry. In addition, he was founder of the Trinity Science Gallery which, since opening in 2008, has welcomed over two million visitors. A pioneer in his field, his approach to working collaboratively across industry and academic boundaries is a great example to all who follow in Trinity’s tradition of research excellence with impact.
This kind of impactful research excellence is evident through the five Campus Companies recognised on the night: OneProjects, Azadyne, Exhaura, Nexalus, and Head Diagnostics (iTremor). These companies engage in work from such diverse areas as gene therapy for glaucoma, therapeutic drugs for MS, cooling technologies for computers and medical devices that can detect concussion and improve the treatment of an irregular heartbeat. When a Trinity Campus Company raises investment, launches a new product based on Trinity research, or creates a new job for someone, it highlights the possibilities created through Trinity innovation.
Upon winning the Provost Innovation Award-winner, Sean Mitchell, in his speech, commented that he looked forward to a continuation of Trinity’s “history of tremendous innovation.” Given the excellence of the Trinity academics in attendance on the night – the winners and nominees, and their teams and collaborators – this “tremendous innovation” looks set to continue well into the future.