What’s going on at the cutting edge of Stem in Ireland

From brain surgery to seaweed, there is no limit to where Stem research can take you

Prof Arlene O’Neill, Director of Trinity Walton Club and students or Alphas of the programme

Prof Arlene O’Neill, Director of Trinity Walton Club and students or Alphas of the programme


University of Limerick Brain surgery has just become a lot safer, thanks to the invention of a new bone-repair material containing hydroxyapatite, DirectInject. Researchers at UL worked alongside research and development staff at Stryker, a medical device and medical equipment firm.

The new invention will save critical time for surgeons in theatres; those extra ten minutes can have major benefits for patient outcomes. Steve Harris, director of Stryker, says that Ireland’s research and development talent base has been a crucial factor in the success of the product.

Dublin Institute of Technology We all know that that more fruit and vegetables can keep us healthy and help prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but it’s not always easy to get them into our diet.

At DIT’s School of Biological Sciences, Alex Lloyd is working with a team of researchers to explore how to fortify everyday foods with ingredients that can improve our health, such as L-sulforaphane which is found in broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Could a daily shot help reduce disease risk and obesity?

Trinity College Dublin Three Irish scientists have discovered how winds shape sand dunes on Mars, using image data from the HiRise camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and comparing these with wind models that were tested on Earth (in Northern Ireland’s Magilligan peninsula, Co Derry, to be precise).

One of the PhD students even went to Nasa for the summer to work on next generation spaceflight research.

Dublin City University More than 30 researchers at DCU’s water institute are focused on solving water-related problems, including flooding, water quality, access to safe drinking water, wastewater treatment, energy efficiency and water sustainability. They’re collaborating with Kingspan and Dublin City Council to develop an affordable smart-sensor network that could help provide solutions to flooding and which is easily downloadable and accessible. With this technology, residents, farmers and local businesses could be alerted to rising river levels.

In another project, they’re working with ABP Food Group on new technologies to improve wastewater management through ammonia removal, biothermic digestions and “microbubble” technology.

Waterford Institute of Technology What use is seaweed? It’s used in food, but it also may have compounds that are beneficial to our health, improving memory, eyesight, skin and the immune system, while lowering cholesterol and helping to fight infections.

Postdoctoral researchers at WIT are exploring how it could be a valuable source of antimicrobial and antifungal compounds which could be used in wound dressings. They could also be used as a biofungicide or biopesticide in agriculture and forestry.

NUI Galway Science doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it is deeply entwined with other subjects and disciplines. An interdisciplinary team of scientists from NUI Galway, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and Ecole Normale Supérieure Cachan in France, have come together to examine if market crashes exhibited the same early warning signs as natural calamities.

Their investigation reveals interesting answers and suggests improved metrics for forecasting a market crash. The study was published in the open access science journal, Plos One.

University College Cork Science is a vital tool for shedding light on Earth’s natural history. We all have our own images of long-extinct animals that pre-date humankind (think dinosaurs), but how do we really know what they looked like? Scientists at UCC, led by Dr Maria McNamara, have delved into the past and discovered that fossil records can indeed retain evidence of skin colour and pigments.

Their work focuses on the fossilised remains of a snake that lay in the Spanish undergrowth 10 million years ago, but their research opens the door to understanding what many other animals looked like. Knowing the colour of an animal can also give researchers an insight into some aspects of its behaviour and evolution.