Washington D.C., 14th March 2018 – An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, has today presented Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) prestigious ‘St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal’ to Professor Margaret Murnane, Professor of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Colorado; and David McCourt, Founder and CEO of Granahan McCourt Capital, for their significant contribution to academia, research and industry. 

Now in its fifth year, the SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal recognises the outstanding contributions of Prof Margaret Murnane and David McCourt in their respective areas, as well as their role in supporting and engaging with the research ecosystem in Ireland. The Medal is awarded annually to a distinguished Irish scientist, engineer or technology leader living and working in the USA.

Congratulating the recipients at an award event held in the United States Institute of Peace in Washington D.C., An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, said: “On behalf of the Irish Government and Science Foundation Ireland, I am delighted to present the SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal to these two inspiring leaders from industry and academia. Prof Margaret Murnane and David McCourt are both members of the Irish diaspora who are contributing significantly to research and innovation in their respective areas.”

The Taoiseach continued: “Project Ireland 2040, our recently launched National Development Plan, puts research, development and innovation at the heart of our economy.  In recent years we have made considerable achievements in STEM research and industry. This national strategy will continue to push that forward; benefiting our economy, bettering our society, recognising our scientific heritage and integrating it into our modern culture.

At the core of this growth and development is the mutually beneficial research environment that has been created between the US and Ireland. In Ireland, a range of US multinationals work on shared projects with SFI Research Centres, hiring STEM talent and playing a very important role in our long-term science strategy, Innovation 2020. A recent study by Science Foundation Ireland has shown that over one hundred US companies are building intellectual property on basic and applied research funded by the Irish government, and that one in four of these companies employ people in Ireland. The Medal winners that we honour today are excellent examples of Irish diaspora STEM talent contributing to, and being hugely impactful in the US and beyond.”

Limerick native Prof Margaret Murnane is a visionary in her field of laser science and one of the most acclaimed research-active physicists in the US. Prof Murnane is elected to the US National Academy of Sciences. Her many achievements include designing some of the fastest lasers in the world, with the ability to pulse in the range of the low trillionths of a second. Today she continues to develop faster and more powerful laser systems. This work has enabled major advances by allowing researchers to image particles being studied in fields from physics and chemistry, to biology, medicine and technology. Just last year she was awarded the Optical Society of America’s Frederic Ives Medal/Quinn prize. The award recognizes overall distinction in optics and is the highest award given by the OSA.

Prof Murnane also created a table-top affordable X-ray laser allowing the wider research community to harness the potentials of x-rays in their work. Prof Murnane, who was born and raised in County Limerick, first studied physics in University College Cork before completing her PhD at the University of California at Berkeley. She continues to play a significant role in research and the promotion of science in Ireland, in her keen and ongoing support of the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.

On accepting her SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal, Prof Margaret Mary Murnane said: “My passion and love for physics first came from my father who was a teacher, and this grew when I attended University College Cork and completed my Bachelors there. Today I am proud to say that the education I started in Ireland and continue to develop in the US has allowed me to follow my interests and create technology and systems which can be used across different areas of research in both countries today. In my work with the Tyndall Institute, I have seen first-hand the fantastic research taking place in Ireland which has applications around the world. As an Irish citizen living in America, it heartens me to see the continued collaboration between the two countries to ensure the research community in both Ireland and the US can produce the very best work. Today, I am very honoured to receive the SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal.”

As an Irish citizen living in America, it heartens me to see the continued collaboration between the two countries to ensure the research community in both Ireland and the US can produce the very best work.
Prof Margaret Mary Murnane , St. Patrick's Day Science Medal 2018 recipient

A holder of Irish citizenship and with a home in County Clare, David McCourt has been incredibly active in Ireland’s academic ecosystem in terms of funding, employment, innovation and as part of the Irish Government’s Global Economic Forum. From early in his career David has been an innovator, developing a revolutionary technology that lowered the cost of building cable systems by 80%, which went on to become the industry standard. His drive, expertise and experience saw him founding the network and telecommunications company Granahan McCourt Capital, of which he is CEO.  In Ireland, Granahan McCourt has been highly active in expanding access to broadband through its part-owned company, enet, which operates next-generation, open-access telecoms infrastructure. David is also pioneering technology to develop ‘Broadband in a Box’ which aims to bring internet connectivity to the most underserved technology areas in the world.

A strong supporter of Irish research, he has provided considerable support to one of SFI’s Research Centres, CONNECT, through substantial partnerships with his companies. Among his achievements David can include being the first-ever recipient in 1984 of the White House award recognising extraordinary accomplishments by private sector businesses. He also attended the eG8 Forum at the invitation of President Nicolas Sarkozy, to advise political leaders on the digital ecosystem.

At the event in Washington, Mr McCourt said: “I am delighted and honoured to accept the SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal from Science Foundation Ireland. I have long been an advocate for Ireland as a place to do business. As an employer in Ireland, and with my own interest in R&D, I greatly value the culture of innovation and collaboration that exists between Ireland and the US. I believe that collaborative research with industry will continue to produce transformative advances that will enhance both our economies and societies.”

I believe that collaborative research with industry will continue to produce transformative advances that will enhance both our economies and societies.
David McCourt, St. Patrick's Day Science Medal 2018 recipient

Congratulating the recipients, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “The global reach and influence of the Irish scientific and technology diaspora plays a huge role in promoting Ireland internationally. The outstanding work and research carried out by Margaret and David has had a profound impact across the globe; their work has not only served Ireland extremely well, but it has also significantly enhanced our reputation as a nation of innovative and creative people. As a country, we should be immensely proud of the success and influence that they have had in their respective fields.”

Prof Mark Ferguson explains how a St. Patricks Day Medal recipient is considered for the prestigious award.