Monday 25 February, 2019 - Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, today announced the twelve teams in the running for the SFI Future Innovator Prize, a new challenge-based prize programme calling on researchers to develop innovative approaches to societal challenges facing Ireland. With five teams to be shortlisted in April of this year, an overall winning team will be announced in December and receive a prize award of €1 million, providing the opportunity to implement an innovative solution with potential to deliver significant impact to Irish society.

Congratulating the competing teams, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, said: “The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation launched the SFI Future Innovator Prize with Science Foundation Ireland to encourage bright minds across the country to work together to identify major challenges facing Ireland’s society, and to propose creative and impactful solutions to them. It is very exciting to enter into the next phase of the competition with twelve teams of diverse and interdisciplinary individuals. Their innovative ideas are of a superb standard and I am confident that ultimately, the prize award of €1 million will support research that will provide Ireland with positive, tangible impact.”

The SFI Future Innovator Prize, funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland, is part of an overall government plan to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland. Challenge-based funding is a solution focused approach to funding research that uses prizes and other incentives to direct innovation activities at specific problems. The SFI Future Innovator Prize challenges the country’s best and brightest unconventional thinkers and innovators to create novel, potentially disruptive technologies in collaboration with societal stakeholders and end-users.  

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, said: “The excellent standard of the projects demonstrates the importance of continuing to implement competitive and challenge-based funding in the Irish ecosystem, which will ensure that obstacles which impact the everyday lives and the future of our citizens are addressed in novel ways. I want to congratulate each of the teams for succeeding to this phase of the competition, and to wish them all the very best of luck with the next stage.”

The 12 proposed projects aim to address problems across a number of strategic challenge areas such as sustainable manufacturing, reducing the impact of packaging, novel technologies for life sciences and medicine, improved outcome for patients of such illnesses as cataracts, osteoarthritis, cancer, Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and sepsis, minimisation of mining emissions and the cost of electric vehicles, pain management, and improved healthcare delivery.

The challenge areas and issues to be addressed are as follows:

  • Challenge area: Reducing the Environmental Impact of High-Tech Surfaces Manufacturing

Team: Dr Eoin Flynn (Materials Chemistry, UCC); Dr Paul Young (Biochemistry and Cell Biology, UCC); Dr Keith Alden (AMBER SFI Research Centre, TCD)

Project: Designed Environmentally Sustainable Thin-Films Utilising Renewable Biopolymers (DESTURB)

  • Challenge area: Creating Next Generation Personalised Orthopaedic Implants

Team: Prof Rocco Lupoi (Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, TCD); Prof David Hoey (Biomedical Engineering, TCD); Patrick Byrnes (Research and Development Manager, Croom Precision Medical)

Project: Genetic algorithm aided optimisation of the mechanical structure of orthopaedic implants for revision‐free life cycles

  • Challenge area: Reducing the Burden of Sepsis

Team: Dr Elaine Spain (Analytical Chemistry, DCU); Dr Kellie Adamson (Diagnostics and Therapeutics and Biomaterials Science, DCU); Prof Gerald Curley (Sepsis Lead, RCSI Network of Hospitals, Beaumont Hospital)

Project: SepTec: Improving Outcomes for Sepsis Patients

  • Challenge area: Harnessing Gene Editing to Treat Rare Diseases such as Epidermolysis bullosa (EB)

Team: Prof Wenxin Wang, Dr Irene-Lara Sáez and Mr Jonathan O’Keeffe-Ahern (Charles Institute of Dermatology, UCD); Dr Nan Zhang (Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UCD); Dr Sinead Hickey (Research Manager, DEBRA Ireland)

Project: A disruptive, non‐viral gene editing platform technology for treating genetic conditions

  • Challenge area: Reducing the Environmental Impact of Packaging

Team: Dr Adriana Cunha Neves (Biochemistry, IT Carlow); Dr Brian Casey (Biomaterials, IT Carlow); Martina Moyne (Product Design, IT Carlow)

Project: Developing bioplastic packaging that improves user convenience using human‐centred design engineering processes

  • Challenge area: Enabling Next Generation Biological Imaging

Team: Prof Dominic Zerulla (Physics and Plasmonics, UCD); Dr Dimitri Scholz (Biology and Director of the Conway Imaging facilities, UCD); Peter Doyle (consulting the European Commission with the Brussels Photonics Team on strategic innovation and business development)

Project: Real‐time imaging of nanoscale biological processes via plasmonically enabled nanopixel arrays

  • Challenge area: Enabling Better Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Team: Dr Eric Moore (Analytical Chemistry, TNI/UCC); Mr Martin O'Sullivan (Lead Surgeon, BreastCheck Southern Unit and UCC); Liosa O'Sullivan (Patient Advocate)

Project: Development of a technology for clinicians to improve the breast cancer diagnostic pathway through real time point of care detection of breast disease.   

  • Challenge area: Reducing the Environmental Impact of Mining Emissions

Team: Prof Igor Shvets (Physics, TCD); Sebastian Harenbrock (Research Fellow, TCD); John Guven (Senior Geologist, iCRAG SFI Research Centre, UCD)

Project: Reducing mining industry emissions through spectroscopic-based sorting of mineral ores and machine-learning algorithms

  • Challenge area: Creating Eco-Friendly and Cost-Effective Super Magnets for Electric Vehicles

Team: Dr Ansar Masood (Physics and Material Science, TNI); Dr Paul McCloskey (Material Science, Microelectronics and Chemical Engineering, TNI); Wassim Derguech (Senior Software Engineer, Jaguar Land Rovers)

Project: A novel sustainable electric motor using high‐grade permanent magnets based on common metallic elements

  • Challenge area: Reducing the Burden of Chronic Pain

Team: Dr Alison Liddy (Biomedical Engineer and Chemist, NUIG); Dr Martin O'Halloran (Senior Lecturer in Medical Electronics, NUIG); Dr Chris Maharaj (Consultant Anaesthetist & Pain Specialist, University Hospital Galway); Dr Barry McDermott (Pharmacist, Veterinarian and Medical Device Engineer, NUIG); Dr Conor Judge (M.D., Electronic Engineer and ICAT Research Fellow).

Project: A novel hydrogel to address chronic pain in Irish patients

  • Challenge: Minimising Hospital Waiting-lists and Optimising Healthcare Caypacit

Team: Prof Barry O'Sullivan and Helmut Simonis (School of Computer Science and Insight Centre for Data Analytics, UCC); Dr Jane Bourke (Economics, Technology Adoption and Health Care Innovation, UCC); Prof Martin Curley (Director, HSE Digital Academy)

Project: An artificial intelligence and data analytics system for minimising hospital waiting-lists and optimising healthcare capacity in Ireland

  • Challenge area: Enhancing Visual Acuity through Disruptive Customized IOL Design

Team: Prof Fengzhou Fang (Centre of Micro/Nano Manufacturing Technology, UCD); Dr Jufan Zhang (Engineering, UCD); Barry Walsh (Technical Transfer, Alcon Ltd)

Project: Disruptive customized design and production of accommodative intraocular lenses (IOLs)

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “I am pleased to congratulate the twelve teams who have made it to this stage of the SFI Future Innovator Prize competition. Challenge-based funding is of strategic importance to Ireland, ensuring that publicly-funded research can address significant national and global issues including environmental protection, disease diagnosis and treatment, optimal healthcare, and developing methods of sustainable manufacturing. Competitive funding strategies empower innovators to collaborate in unconventional ways on creative ideas that can ultimately be put into practice, and the proposed projects which we are announcing today are an excellent reflection of that. I would like to commend each team on their hard work and dedication, and to wish them every success in the rest of the competition.”

The competing teams are led by academic researchers and “Societal Impact Champions” drawn from a range of disciplines and stakeholder groups such as industry and civil society in an effort to support convergent and collaborative problem-solving. Competing teams come from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University (DCU), NUI Galway (NUIG), University College Cork (UCC), Institute of Technology Carlow (IT Carlow), and Tyndall National Institute (TNI), as well as a number of world-leading SFI Research Centres.