Trinity researchers win Science Foundation Ireland 2018 Science Awards

Posted on: 12 November 2018

Four Trinity researchers have won prestigious 2018 Science Foundation Ireland Awards at the annual SFI Science Summit today. The awards recognise the recipients as key leaders in the Irish research community and celebrate their contributions as Science Week 2018 kicks into gear.

Research Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, John Boland, won the SFI Researcher of the Year Award. Professor Boland is a former Director of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) and AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for materials science headquartered at Trinity.

Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Dr Tomás Ryan, won the SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year Award; Professor in Genetics in Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology, Jane Farrar, won the SFI Best Reported Impact Award; and RSC Chemistry Education Coordinator in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, Dr John O’Donoghue, won the SFI Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication Award.

Acknowledging the award winners, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Ms Heather Humphreys TD, said: “I am pleased to see the outstanding work of the Irish research community acknowledged through these SFI Science Awards. The recipients are among Ireland’s top researchers and the awards recognise the contribution they are making in a number of areas including industry collaborations, entrepreneurship, communication and public engagement. I would like to congratulate each awardee on their tremendous achievements, their discoveries will bring economic growth and societal development in Ireland.”

Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, Professor Mark Ferguson, also congratulated the award winners, saying: “Every year the Science Foundation Ireland Awards provide an opportunity to highlight some of the excellent impacts and achievements of our research community.  I want to congratulate the winners on their dedication and the contribution they are making to Ireland’s economy and society. I am confident that their success will be a source of inspiration to their peers and, more importantly, to the next generation of researchers in Ireland. At Science Foundation Ireland we very pleased to see the superb quality of research that our funding enables, and are proud that Irish research continues to be impactful and world-leading.”

Professor John Boland’s SFI Researcher of the Year award recognises his accomplishments as an SFI-funded researcher who has contributed significantly to the Irish research community throughout 2018 and his career.

His current research interests involve the electrical and mechanical properties of nanoscale materials, and the exploitation of nanoscale connectivity in device applications. He came to Ireland as an SFI Research Professor and has subsequently received three SFI Investigator awards. He is Ireland’s first Advanced ERC grant awardee in the Physical Sciences.

Professor John Boland accepts his award.

Commenting on his award, Professor Boland said:

I am delighted to accept this award from Science Foundation Ireland. Being recognised as Researcher of the Year is no small accolade and I am deeply honoured to receive it. Alongside my own work on nanoscale materials there are many diverse research projects ongoing across Ireland, and it is wonderful to see representatives from those being recognised. I want to thank SFI for this award and would like to congratulate the other recipients on their achievements.

The SFI Early Career Researcher Award, won by Dr Tomás Ryan, recognises his outstanding early career research talent. A graduate of Trinity, he began his independent research group here in 2017, with a focus on investigating the basic neuroscience of memory storage using a multi-disciplinary approach. The Ryan Lab is supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (PIYRA), and a Jacobs Foundation Fellowship.

Commenting on his award Dr Ryan said:

I am honoured to have been selected as Early Career Researcher of the Year by Science Foundation Ireland. It is both humbling and encouraging to be acknowledged for the work that my team and I are doing together. The neuroscience of memory is a complex and developing field in need of young, independent researchers with appropriate support, and it is reassuring to have SFI behind us.

It is a privilege to work in an environment where early career researchers are appreciated for their efforts and long-term potential, and are enabled to actualise their own research visions. I would like to thank SFI again for this award, and look forward to continued collaborative progress in investigating the intricacies of information storage in the brain.

Professor Jane Farrar won the SFI Best Reported Impact award, which recognises the potential impact of an SFI researcher’s award and their commitment to maximising the impact of their research.

Professor Farrar has three decades of experience in the field of inherited ocular disorders. Her team’s research interests have focused on how genetic information is driving the individualisation of medicine and enabling the emergence of innovative potent therapeutic solutions for unmet clinical needs.

Professor Jane Farrar (fourth from right) stresses the importance of a team effort in leading to research success.

Professor Farrar said:

The human eye (retina) is an amazing piece of biological machinery. It has over 100 million light sensitive cells that convert light energy into nerve signals which are transmitted to our brains and interpreted as images.  We now know that over 300 genes are involved in causing photoreceptor degenerations resulting in significant visual loss and our team has been involved in defining the genetic architecture of related disorders and designing novel therapeutic strategies to circumvent this genetic diversity.

The success has been achieved thanks to a huge team effort involving lots of people over the years, including Pete Humphries, Paul Kenna, Sophia Millington-Ward, Naomi Chadderton, Arpad Palfi, Marian Humphries, Sophie Kiang and many others. The research and associated outputs would simply not exist without the vital funding and support of Science Foundation Ireland, as well as other organisations including the Health Research Board, the Medical Research Charities Group, the Irish Research Council, the European Union Framework programme and others. We also work closely with patient organisations, in particular Fighting Blindness Ireland, whose support and funding is very important. Additionally, the team greatly values academic-industry partnerships to expedite the progression of research outputs.

Dr John O’Donoghue, won the SFI Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication award, which recognises outstanding contribution to the popularisation of science, and someone raises public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

Dr O’Donoghue develops and empowers third-level students to engage with schools and the general public. He has directly worked with thousands of secondary school chemistry students and their teachers nationwide and has designed and expanded new initiatives for education and public engagement. His Spectroscopy in a Suitcase programme has visited schools in every county, showing the real-world applications of chemistry, and his career events have provided students with dozens of valuable science role models.

Dr O’Donoghue said:

STEM Communication is integral to everything we do. It encourages collaborations between researchers, fosters a sense of community, educates and shares knowledge with the public. It helps drive the entire STEM sector forward. In particular chemistry communication is hugely important because chemistry is one of the most abstract areas of STEM and is frequently misinterpreted. I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing team of Trinity chemistry postgrads over the past number of years who have helped me run events and workshops for thousands of young students and the public, raising the profile and understanding of chemistry nationwide.

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