Research on pregnancy, obesity and battery life backed by €154m science fund

Science Foundation Ireland believes Brexit could be an opportunity for sector in State

 Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, said Irish science was delivering after the State  ranked second in the world for chemistry, nanotechnology and for immunology research last year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, said Irish science was delivering after the State ranked second in the world for chemistry, nanotechnology and for immunology research last year. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

Pregnancy research to protect mother and baby, attempts to develop longer lasting batteries for smartphones and studies to help control obesity are amongst the thousands of research projects supported last year by Science Foundation Ireland.

Its 2015 annual report published on Thursday showed that its €154 million budget supported 28,000 jobs here either directly or indirectly.

The foundation used its Exchequer funds to help leverage another €130 million from non-governmental sources including €38 million from industry.

The budget is used to support its research centres, fund leading scientists and employ postgrads involved in cutting edge research, said the foundation’s director general Prof Mark Ferguson.

Ireland is placed 14th in the world for scientific citations, the number of references made to the workof scientists here. Ireland has also developed science areas of particular strength, subjects where we are well inside the top five.

“We are ranked second in the world for chemistry, nanotechnology and for immunology research. We are ranked third for animal and dairy and agricultural sciences and fourth internationally for materials science and mathematics,” the report says.

“The overarching message is Irish science is delivering, ” Prof Ferguson said at the report’s launch.

Seven of the foundation’s 12 main research centres supported during the year came up for international peer review during 2015 he said. “They found the science was excellent and the interaction with business was excellent.”

Ruthless

All of the centres were performing as expected, he said. “We are ruthless if they weren’t performing, we would be reducing support.”

Asked whether Brexit would have negative consequences for us, Prof Ferguson said: “Brexit has given us an opportunity.”

There would be scientists in UK labs who felt uncertain about their futures and while the majority of people leaving the UK would probably head for the US, Ireland could capitalise on their availability.

It was a matter of convincing them they have an opportunity here. “We want to take advantage of it (Brexit),” he said.

He understood the difficulties faced by the Government in terms of funding and also in terms of its stability. But there was broad support across the Dáil for Innovation 2020, Ireland’s plans for the future of science here.

“People agree on it,” Prof Ferguson said and TDs were supportive of its goals and aspirations.

He also referred to the Foundation’s on going plans for 2016 and these took account of whatever may happen when funding is agreed under this autumn’s Budget.

The Foundation had “reserve lists” for funding, proposals for new research centres and suggestions for a programme that brings leading international scientists to work in Ireland.

These lists were a good thing he said, it showed that there was an oversupply of good ideas and proposals, and these could be funded quickly if the Foundation’s budget was increased for 2017.