Dublin, Ireland, Monday 12th November 2018 – The winners of the prestigious 2018 Science Foundation Ireland Awards were revealed at the annual SFI Science Summit today. Joined by over 350 leading members of the Irish research community, Science Foundation Ireland is celebrating their researchers’ contributions to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

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.

SFI Researcher of the Year 2018

The SFI Researcher of the Year Award recognises the accomplishments of a Science Foundation Ireland funded researcher who has contributed significantly to the Irish research community in the year of the award and/or throughout their career. The successful researcher has achieved exceptional scientific and engineering research outputs combined with a clear demonstration of the ability to communicate their research.

Recipient: Professor John Boland, Trinity College Dublin and SFI Research Centre AMBER

Prof. Boland received his BSc degree from University College Dublin and PhD from the California Institute of Technology. He is a Professor in the School of Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin and a former Director of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) and AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research. 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.

Commenting on his award, Prof 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.

SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year

The SFI Early Career Researcher Award recognises outstanding early career research talent.

Recipient: Dr Tomás Ryan, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Tomás Ryan is Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology and the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. Tomás graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2005 with a B.A. (Mod) in Genetics. He completed his Ph.D. in Molecular Neuroscience with Seth Grant at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2009. Following a year as Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, University Cambridge, he relocated to the USA to work as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the group of Susumu Tonegawa (Nobel Laureate, 1987) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (2010-2016). He began his independent research group in 2017 at Trinity College Dublin, where he investigates the basic neuroscience of memory storage using a multi-disciplinary approach. Tomás also holds a joint faculty position with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia and a Visiting Research Scientist at HHMI Janelia Research Campus, USA. 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 receiving the 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 actualize 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.

SFI Industry Partnership Award

The SFI Industry Partnership Award celebrates a collaboration between an SFI-funded academic research group and industry.

Recipient: Dr Ivan O’Connell, Tyndall National Institute

Dr Ivan O’Connell is the Analog Mixed-Signal Principal Investigator at Microelectronic Circuits Centre Ireland (MCCI), hosted in the Tyndall National Institute. The SFI CONNECT targeted project (MCCIADC) is a large multi-year collaborative project funding both Masters and Ph.D., postgraduate students, with Analog Devices (ADI). This collaboration enables the researchers, within Dr. O’Connells’ research group to build close relationship with technical experts within ADI. Ivan’s primary research interests are in the area of Analogue Mixed Signal Circuits and data converters. He is particularly interested in the application of this research in the application areas including: Internet of Things, Biomedical, Smart Agri and Energy Harvesting. He is currently a principal investigator in a number of Innovation Partnerships. Dr O’Connell is an SFI CONNECT Funded Investigator and a successful SFI-NSF iCorps awardee.

SFI Best International Engagement Award

This award recognises the accomplishments of a Science Foundation Ireland-funded researcher/group specifically in the context of their international activities. 

Recipient: Dr Peter O’Brien, Tyndall Photonics

Prof. Peter O’Brien obtained his Degree and PhD in Physics from Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork respectively. He was a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He was founder and CEO of a photonic’s startup company developing specialised optical imaging systems for biomedical and pharmaceutical applications, which he successfully sold in 2009. Prof. O’Brien is currently collaborating in 12 H2020-EU projects, is Director of the European Photonic Packaging Pilot Line and Deputy Director of the Irish Photonic Integration SFI Research Centre (IPIC). He is an adjunct professor at the College of Optical Science, University of Arizona, Tucson and a visiting researcher at Columbia University.

SFI Entrepreneurship Award

The SFI Entrepreneurship Award celebrates an entrepreneurial achievement by SFI supported researchers.

Recipient: Professor Eoin Casey, University College Dublin

Professor Eoin Casey is Head of the School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, University College Dublin. He has been an academic in UCD since 2002 having previously worked in industry and at TU Vienna. He has a bachelor’s degree (1994)  and PhD (1999) in Chemical Engineering. His research is focussed on the materials-biology interface with a particular interest in how this can be applied to novel water treatment processes. His a co-founder of the UCD spin-out OxyMem and is a PI in the BEACON SFI Research Centre.

SFI Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication

This award recognises an outstanding contribution to the popularisation of science, and recognises an individual who raises public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

Recipient: Dr Niamh Shaw, Blackrock Castle Observatory and Cork Institute of Technology

Dr Niamh Shaw is an Irish engineer, scientist and performer. She presents the human story of science, creating theatre shows, public events and contributions to media with this focus. She has set herself  a life’s mission to get to space, as artist and explorer. She hopes that by sharing the human story behind such a venture, it will help us better understand our place in the story of space, and the beauty of our planet Earth. She is artist in residence at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, working closely with them on their many STEM promotion activities, including Space week. An alumnus of the International Space University’s 2015 Space Studies Programme, she was  the Humanities co-chair and Core Lectures Assoc Chair in 2018 & 2017 respectively. Her theatre work has toured internationally, and created by through SFI’s Discover 2014 & 2017 Programmes in partnership with CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory and  supported by European Space Agency, Arts@CERN, Culture Ireland, Arts Council of Ireland. She writes for BBC’s Sky at Night magazine.

Recipient: Dr John O’Donoghue, RSC Chemistry Education Coordinator at the School of Chemistry, Trinity College Dublin

Dr John 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 as well as designing and expanding 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.

SFI Best Reported Impact

The SFI Best Reported Impact Award recognises the potential impact of an SFI researcher’s award and their commitment to maximising the impact of their research.

Recipient: Professor Jane Farrar, Trinity College Dublin

Jane is a Professor in the School of Genetics and Microbiology, Trinity College Dublin and has three decades of experience in the field of inherited ocular disorders.  Jane and the team’s research interests have been focused on how genetic information is driving the individualisation of medicine and enabling the emergence of innovative potent therapeutic solutions for unmet clinical needs.

Recipient:  Professor Gianpiero Cavalleri, SFI Research Centre FutureNeuro & RCSI

Gianpiero Cavalleri is Associate Professor of Human Genetics, Deputy Director of the FutureNeuro SFI Research Centre and Director of the Human Genetic Variation Research Group at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics, RCSI. His research team is working on a diverse set of projects spanning population genetics, disease genetics and natural selection. 

SFI Research Image of the Year

The Research Image competition celebrates images captured by Science Foundation Ireland funded researchers during the course of their research.

Recipient:  Dr Sithara Sreenilayam Pavithran, Dublin City University


‘Liquid Crystal Seashore’

The microscopic image shows sea shore like feature in the liquid crystal (LC) material at the isotropic to nematic phase transition. This seashore like feature is developed in a temperature gradient LC cell made up of two glass substrates. In the region, like water bubbles near shore, is the thread like defects that develops at the isotropic to anisotropic transition temperature and these defects are the proof of uniaxial nematic phase transition. The part in yellow colour, looks like shallow water, is the pre-transitional region just below the conditions for phase separation of anisotropic nematic where molecules are slowly possessing orientational order. In the region in orange colour, looks like deep water, the orientational order of molecules are spontaneously arising below isotropic to nematic phase transition. The colour of the image depends on the temperature, shape of LC molecule and sample thickness.