St Patrick’s Day Science Medal ‘a major honour’ for professor

Prof Katherine Fitzgerald presented with award in Washington by Taoiseach

A professor of medicine has been awarded the 2015 St Patrick's Day Science Medal, a distinction presented to an Irish-born scientist, engineer or technology leader living and working in the US.

Prof Katherine Fitzgerald is based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where she is professor of medicine.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny presented the award in Washington on Monday afternoon during a round of scheduled events associated with St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

He also presented a Certificate of Irish Heritage to Dr France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation in the US.


‘Incredibly excited’

“I feel incredibly excited and honoured to receive it, it is a major honour,” Prof Fitzgerald said.

She has made a huge impact on research into the immune system and infectious diseases.

Her research has been published in leading journals such as Nature, Science and Cell and her work has been cited more than 25,000 times.

“We are focused on trying to understand how the immune system discriminates between friend and foe,” Prof Fitzgerald said ahead of the event.

Inflammatory response

Her research group studies the triggering of the inflammatory response if a pathogen appears. “At the same time, the response must be commensurate with the threat. We don’t want the immune system to damage the host.”

Prof Fitzgerald noted concerns amongst the research community in Ireland that current Government science policy had unbalanced the research funding system with a top-heavy preference for close to market research.

“That is a huge concern,” she said, adding it was important that all research areas receive funding.

The Taoiseach presented Dr Cordova with a Certificate of Irish Heritage.

A world-leading astrophysicist, she has published more than 150 research papers. Her great-great-grandfather was born in Finglas, Dublin in 1835 and emigrated to the US in 1858.

Science Foundation Ireland organises the annual award, which also recognises efforts to assist researchers in Ireland in either academia or industry.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.