Robotics pioneer awarded prestigious St Patrick’s Day Science Medal

Science Foundation Ireland honours Prof Neville Hogan, regarded as ‘father of rehabilitation robotics’

An Irish pioneer of robotics used in healthcare, Prof Neville Hogan, has been awarded the 2020 Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) St Patrick's Day Science Medal, one of the country's most prestigious scientific honours.

At a ceremony in Washington DC on Wednesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar presented the medal to Prof Hogan, professor of mechanical engineering and professor of brain and cognitive Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dr Ann B Kelleher, senior vice president and general manager at the technology company Intel, was the tecipient of the SFI St Patrick's Day Science Medal for Industry.

Now in its seventh year, the medals are awarded to US-based scientists, engineers or technology leaders with strong Irish connections, as chosen by an independent selection committee. They also recognise recipients’ roles in supporting and engaging with “the research ecosystem in Ireland”.


Prof Hogan is regarded as “the father of rehabilitation robotics” – also known as robotic therapy – which helps improve movement after stroke. Born in Dublin, he graduated from Dublin Institute of Technology (now TU Dublin) in 1970, before studying at MIT.

He has inspired many researchers worldwide and his work now extends into rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Irish connections

Prof Hogan said he was honoured to accept the medal, which not only recognised his work but also strong Irish connections across the US research community. “Working at the forefront of robotics to progress knowledge and discovery with the potential to transform our societies and economies, I am very proud of my Irish roots,” he added.

The strong Irish commitment to education was a major factor in the success of Irish people everywhere, he said, adding that he hoped US-Irish research collaborations “will continue to grow, as it is through these cross-border, multi-team partnerships that we will generate greater convergence and new innovations”.

Dr Kelleher is from Macroom, Co Cork, and a UCC engineering graduate. In 1993, she became the first woman to receive a PhD from the National Microelectronics Research Centre, the forerunner of Tyndall National Institute (TNI).

"I am a firm advocate for industry collaboration between Ireland and the US, given my career with Intel began in Leixlip, " she said.

She said the benefits of this collaborative relationship were considerable as evidenced by “the long and fruitful collaborative research engagement between Tyndall, multiple SFI Research Centres and US multinationals”.

Dr Kelleher is an adjunct professor of engineering in UCC and was appointed to the TNI board of directors in 2012 . She has been a strong advocate for gender equality, and for women working in engineering roles and senior management positions in the tech industry.

SFI director general Prof Mark Ferguson said the medal "shines a light on the incredible achievements and diversity of Irish researchers in the diaspora".

“I am delighted to see two highly deserving recipients in Prof Hogan and Dr Kelleher, whose leadership, vision and passion are helping to address significant national and global societal challenges,” he said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times