2 November 2020: Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, has today announced 71 grants valued at €53 million to support frontiers research across 12 Higher Education Institutions through Science Foundation Ireland.

Commenting on the programme, Minister Harris said: “Congratulations to all the researchers who have received funding today as part of the SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme. I am delighted to support this programme which funds individual-led research, with an emphasis on areas of high-risk, high-reward, which will help us build a better future for Ireland through discovery, innovation, and impact." 

“I am pleased to see the successful outcome of the new gender initiative that sees 45% of the research grants announced today led by female researchers. The funding will support researchers who are already carrying out excellent work in Ireland, as well as those in the early stages of their research careers who hold incredible potential.  It is through investment like this that Ireland will become an innovation leader and provide solutions and opportunities for our society and economy.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “This was a highly competitive process and I’m delighted that we are able to fund 71 new research grants through the SFI Frontiers for the Future programme. These are highly skilled, talented, and dedicated researchers and it is crucial that we invest in their excellent ideas and research, to maintain and build on Ireland’s global standing in research, innovation, and discovery.  I would like to thank the Higher Education Institutions for their support in delivering this new programme.”

Working across 12 Higher Education Institutes, 231 research positions will be funded including 95 Postdoctoral scientists, 101 PhD students and 35 Research Assistants/others across a variety of different areas.

The programme also sought to provide opportunities to address gender imbalance in line with SFI’s Gender Strategy, 45% of the research grants supported will be led by female researchers.

The programme was run in collaboration with the Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 38 industrial collaborators are engaging in the research programmes.

The SFI Frontiers for the Future programme comprises two funding streams:

  • Projects – 45 high-risk, high-reward research projects will receive €25 million to facilitate highly innovative and novel approaches to research.
  • Awards - 26 larger scale innovative, collaborative excellent research programmes that have the potential to deliver economic and societal impact will receive €28m in funding.

  • A project led by Professor Tia Keyes at Dublin City University will develop probes that highlight specific stretches of DNA inside living cells, which will have applications in assessing cell damage during screening of new drug candidates.  
  • Dr Aideen Ryan at NUI Galway will seek to understand how the sugars that naturally coat cancer cells affect how the cancer cells grow and interact with their surroundings. If successful, the project could point to a new way to treat cancer.
  • Professor Luke O’Neill at Trinity College Dublin has discovered an off-switch for inflammation in the body called itaconate. This project will look at itaconate more deeply, with a view to developing potential new treatments for inflammatory diseases, a class that includes rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease and Crohn’s disease.
  • An award led by Professor Vincent O’Flaherty at NUI Galway will develop new additives for animal feed and manure, to reduce agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions and get more value from manure.
  • Prof Emma Sokell and Prof Fergal O’Reilly of University College Dublin will develop a laboratory scale x-ray source that will be sufficiently low cost and simple to deploy that it will make x-ray technology, currently only available in large scale research facilities outside of Ireland, available to a broad range of industrial and scientific applications.
  • Dr Olive Lennon at University College Dublin is exploring how to improve robotic devices designed to help people re-learn how to stand and walk after a stroke, by sensing when a person intends to walk.
  • Professor Leonie Young and Prof Arnold Hill at the Royal College of Surgeons will look at how potentially reversible genetic changes and activities are involved in the spread of breast cancer to the brain, with a view to informing new treatments and better outcomes for patients.
  • Personal Voice Assistants (PVAs) such as Amazon Echo, Siri or Google Home are commonplace. Professor Utz Roedig at University College Cork will lead a project to develop methods that let us use PVAs securely, and in a way that respects our privacy concerns.
  • Bats have mastered the art of ageing healthily. Professor Emma Teeling at University College Dublin is leading the LongHealth project looking at ‘anti-ageing’ molecular mechanisms in wild bats. The research will identify bat anti-ageing processes that could protect human health as we age.

  • Exercise builds your bones, but how? Professor David Hoey at Trinity College Dublin will lead research on how bones respond to exercise by releasing tiny vesicles or sacs of material that encourage the body to build more bone. They hope to explore these vesicles for new therapies for osteoporosis and bone defects.
  • At Teagasc, Dr Olivia McAuliffe, aims to transform waste products from food production to valuable products using bacteria in a process called fermentation.
  • Dr Sarah Hudson, at University of Limerick, aims to design innovative systems to convert novel antibiotic power into stable therapies for treatment of bacterial infections.
  • Dr Shane Donohue, at University College Dublin, with support from GSI and EPA, aims to develop way of monitoring the impact of floods and extreme weather on the condition of man-made slopes (e.g. embankments, dams), so that repairs can be targeted, and failures avoided.
  • Professor Ronan Sulpice at NUI Galway will carry out research on how sea lettuce could be grown in coastal regions to ‘depollute’ wastewater and estuaries.   
  • At University College Cork, Professor Michael Prentice will explore how to help bacteria build ‘microcompartments’ to be used as natural chemical factories and storage in anti-cancer treatments.     
  • People with dementia are seldom involved in the design of technology to support their care. Dr Dympna O’Sullivan at TU Dublin and Dr Julie Doyle at Dundalk Institute of Technology are working with people with dementia to co-design a computerized toolkit that enables self-care for people with dementia, to help them remain healthy and independent at home for longer.
  • At Maynooth University, Dr Arman Farhang is developing new data transmission and receiving technologies to improve links for applications such as vehicles in future wireless networks, contributing towards a safer, smarter and highly connected society.


The research will be undertaken in the following Higher Education Institutions -  Dublin City University (DCU); Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT); Maynooth University; National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG); RCSI, University of Medicine and Health Sciences; Teagasc; Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin); Trinity College Dublin (TCD); Tyndall National Institute (TNI); University College Cork (UCC); University College Dublin (UCD) and University of Limerick (UL).

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View full list of Projects and Awards