Research into more efficient batteries, better ways of predicting climate change and treatments for childhood cancers are just some of the projects being supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in conjunction with a number of co-funding partners.
Partnerships with other organisations help SFI to support a greater number of research projects and makes the overall funding process more efficient, explains SFI head of individual-led research, Dr Roisin Cheshire. “We work in partnership with other organisations to invest in programmes of cutting-edge research that can meet the needs of our society,” she says.
The partnerships work by SFI acting as the lead agency running programme calls, carrying out the review processes and selecting the fundable projects. The partners then choose the projects they want to co-fund. These programmes include the SFI-Irish Research Council (IRC) pathway programme, the frontiers for the future programme, and the research infrastructure programme.
“At present we partner with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the Children’s Health Foundation, the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), Met Eireann, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Cheshire adds.
“Our partners benefit from SFI’s world-class research review process which guarantees research excellence,” she says. “This results in a cohesive, efficient ecosystem where numerous parties avail of the same review process.”
Each call includes a list of the areas that funding partners might be interested in. “This is really useful for the research community,” Cheshire points out. “For example, in the recent SFI-IRC pathway programme the EPA indicated that it is interested in projects that protect and improve the natural environment and human health. Individual-led research calls are completely open as long as they are within the broad Stem area but knowing that there are specific areas of interest to funding partners can provide important guidance to researchers. It doesn’t mean they will be viewed any more favourably in the review process, but it can help with funding after that.”
Partners don’t necessarily fund all the projects in their areas of interest, or indeed any of them. “We produce a list of fundable projects at the end of the review process. Our partners can pick the ones they want to co-fund, usually on a 50/50 basis. They might not wish to fund any projects in a particular call, of course.”
One of the main benefits of the partnerships is that they can result in additional projects being funded. “We tend to have more fundable projects than there is funding available for,” Cheshire explains. “Telling an applicant that they are excellent and fundable, but we just don’t have the budget is very difficult. The researchers may come back to us the following year seeking funding but the sooner we can support these projects the better. When partners come on board to fund some projects it frees up some of our budget to fund more projects.”
In some cases, a partner can choose to fund a project completely rather than co-fund it.
The partnerships also help forge relationships between the funders and the research community. “Once the funding awards are made, we monitor the projects and sometimes carry out on site reviews at the midway point. We bring in experts to do the reviews and give constructive guidance. That can be very useful for early career researchers. We also encourage funding partners to get involved in that process.”
She points to some of the research projects being co-funded at present. “Karen Taylor of the University of Galway is establishing a long term record of natural climate variability to help with better predictions of future climate. This project is being co-funded by the EPA and Met Eireann under the SFI-IRC Pathway Programme.”
Also in the climate science area, Gordon Bromley of the University of Galway is investigating the impact of historic oceanic shifts in Ireland with the aim of improving future climate projections. This project is co-funded by GSI under the SFI frontiers for the future programme.
Other SFI-IRC pathway programme projects include research by Bharathi Konkena of Trinity College Dublin into new materials to increase the capacity of batteries and by Andrei Ermakov of Maynooth University who is research new more efficient wave energy conversion technology. Both of these projects are co-funded by SEAI.
Children’s Health Foundation co-funded projects include research by Melinda Halasz of University College Dublin and Cormac Owens of Children’s Health Ireland who are examining the development of neuroblastoma in children, one of the deadliest childhood cancers, with the aim of developing more effective treatment approaches.
“CHF funded projects require a clinician to be part of the research team,” Cheshire adds. “It is great to be able to bring researchers and clinicians together to address some of the awful illnesses affecting children.”