Follow the money, do the research
The four scientists highlighted here are the latest recipients for starter awards. Since 2007, 22 starter awards and six advanced awards have been given to recipients in Ireland. There is an international aspect to these, with eight grants here awarded to non-Irish nationals, including the American Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman.
SFI has decided to up the ante, and has promised to support any ERC applicant from any country who has reached the final stages of ERC assessment but has failed to win a grant. It will give 50 per cent of the funding applied for or €500,000, whichever is smaller over two years, with the object being to help the applicant leverage an ERC award down stream.
Prof Emma Teeling
University College Dublin school of biological and environmental sciences and director of the Centre for Irish Bat Research
Bats aren’t everyone’s favourite creature but they have an amazing secret that could prove important for us. They enjoy remarkably long lives and Prof Teeling wants to learn how they accomplish this feat.
“What we are trying to understand is why bats don’t seem to age,” she says. The oldest bat known lived until a ripe old age of 42 years. This might not seem so impressive but there is a strong correlation between the size of mammal and longevity, and this bat would be equivalent to a human reaching 229 years.
“It is shocking that they can be so old because they are so small. Small mammals live fast and die young,” she says.
Of the 19 most long-lived mammal species relative to size, 18 are bats. The other is a naked mole rat. Bats should not be able to do this given the fact that they expend three times more energy over their lifetimes than we do, yet this doesn’t seem to make the m age.
Teeling is going to compare genomes across a range of mammals, to look for genes associated with longevity, and she will compare these against bat species.
Prof Stefano Sanvito
Deputy director of the Crann nanotech research centre, director of the computational spintronics group at Trinity College Dublin
We all know about silicon and its use in electronics, but Prof Stefano Sanvito is trying to find a different way. He is searching for alternatives to silicon using organic chemicals. His work focuses on something very basic, the movement of electrons through a substance. All simplicity ends, however, when you enter the complex world of the very small, where quantum mechanics dictates behaviour.
Sanvito adds to the complexity by studying electron flow through organic crystals. The ultimate goal is to develop organic semiconductors to make new kinds of sensors and transistors. “There are a lot of applications where silicon is not good, for example in flexible applications,” he says.