SFI reports 25% rise in research-industry collaborations


SCIENCE FOUNDATION Ireland (SFI), the Government organisation that allocates €180 million annually for research in science and technology, has released its annual report.

The report shows that there are now more than 300 partnerships and collaborations between SFI-funded researchers and industry, a 25 per cent increase on 2008.

Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Conor Lenihan said SFI’s work was “contributing to the success in attracting foreign direct investments to Ireland”.

Ireland has risen dramatically in world rankings for research output and quality in recent years and is now 19th in the world for research output.

Researchers in Ireland now publish more research on a per capita basis than the United States, Germany, France or Spain, while Ireland is ranked third in the world for immunology research.

Researchers were also successful in winning nearly €70 million in matched funding from non-government sources to accompany their SFI grants.

Partnerships between SFI-funded researchers and industry have taken a variety of forms. In some cases SFI has paid 75 per cent of the salary for researchers who have taken their work into the private sector. It has also worked the other way – private companies have also sent their staff to work with researchers in universities.

Intel has two of its staff working alongside researchers at the Crann nanoscience research centre in Trinity College Dublin working on the next generation of computer processor chips.

One such collaboration last year involved Cork start-up Treemetrics which develops scanning technology for trees in a forest, allowing for more efficient use of the timber resources in the forest.

The company has exported the technology to 14 countries. In developing it, Treemetrics teamed up with an SFI-funded computer science research team in University College Cork to help develop the technology; a patent based on the collaboration is currently being processed.

Treemetrics chief executive Enda Keane said: “We found out by pure chance that there was a world-leading optimisation lab in our own city and we quickly picked up the phone.

“The most important point is, they delivered the technology for us – it has given us a real edge. They delivered what we wanted and exceeded our expectations in terms of how they delivered it.”

The report also reveals that SFI pays its 54 staff an average of €77,481 per annum. A spokesman said this was because the organisation employs “high-end” staff with PhD qualifications and a minimum of five years of previous experience in industry or academia.

Communications director Dr Graham Love said the foundation needed highly qualified staff since they acted as the “gatekeepers” to billions of government funds for research and development.

Director general Prof Frank Gannon was paid a salary of €298,403 in 2009 and a performance-related bonus of €36,022 based on his performance in 2008 in meeting certain “stretch goals”. (No bonus was paid for 2009.)

The 13-member board of SFI were paid €129,000 in 2009 for attending six board meetings.