Seven centres away from research excellence
Prof Mark Ferguson of Science Foundation Ireland at Dublin's Science Gallery, announcing the details of the seven new research centres
Quick diagnoses of diseases in newborns, improved ways to make medicines, harnessing the vast energy from the waves and building computers that use light to hold information. All of these exciting projects and more will be pursued by seven new research centres announced earlier this week.
The new Science Foundation Ireland centres will transform Ireland’s research landscape, overtly linking the work of academic scientists with private-sector companies. More than 150 firms have committed to taking part in the seven centres including multinationals but also indigenous firms.
The plan is to phase out the existing Centres for Science, Engineering and Technology and the Strategic Research Clusters, and merge their research activity into the new centres. And more centres are on the way, said the foundation’s director general, Prof Mark Ferguson.
The Government has committed €200 million to these seven centres over the next six years, with the funding forming part of the foundation’s annual budget, currently just over €150 million.
For their part, the 156 collaborating companies – this number is also expected to grow – will contribute €100 million, provided either as cash or in-kind, for example access to equipment or services.
A high level of integration is expected, with the researchers moving back and forth between academic and company laboratories.
This will foster deep collaboration that will work for all the partners, says Ferguson. It should also help to produce graduates and postgraduates that already have many of the skills sought by companies involved in research-intensive businesses.
Details about the centres’ funding have yet to be released, but here is an initial look at the centres and the research they will pursue.
Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre (Amber)
Lead investigator:Prof John Boland, director of Crann, the nanotechnology institute
Academic partners:UCC, RCSI
The goal is to develop novel new materials for a range of industries including medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceuticals, says Boland. “Amber underlines the importance of materials to industry in Ireland.” Much of the work will be at the nano scale, where Ireland has an international reputation for the quality of its research. Many of the new materials developed and characterised in the Amber lab will have applications in bioengineering, for example using novel materials in a medical setting. Industrial partners will contribute about 43 per cent of the centre’s income.
Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC)
Lead investigator:Prof Fergus Shanahan, APC director and professor of medicine
Academic partners:Teagasc Moorepark, Mercy University Hospital Cork, CIT
APC works at the complex interface between food and medicine, says Shanahan. The centre hunts through the vast range of bacteria that populate the gut, looking for bugs that produce useful substances, such as antibiotics. Many of the APC discoveries can be used in the food industry to enhance the nutritional balance of foods and to create new foods, says Shanahan. “That opens up areas for companies to develop new foods that have diversity built into them.” The centre also produces highly qualified graduates who can move across directly into industry.
Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research (Infant)
Co-lead investigators:Prof Louise Kenny, professor at the department of obstetrics and gynaecology; and Prof Geraldine Boylan, professor of neonatal physiology, paediatrics and child health
Academic partners:Tyndall National Institute, RCSI