President Higgins honours SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders

The SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award Ceremony held at Áras an Uachtaráin on 2 March, 2020 celebrates the success of the ten award recipients. The SFI Future Research Leaders programme recruits and retains outstanding early career researchers in scientific and engineering domains, with a focus on research excellence with impact to Ireland. Pictured l-r are:
Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland, President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, Dr Stephen Redmond, Future Research Leader Awardee, UCD and his grandfather John (aka Sean) Cullen.

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins has today honoured three UCD researchers with the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award at a special ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin. The programme recruits and retains outstanding and emerging early career research leaders with exceptional accomplishments in scientific and engineering domains.

Ten awards were given representing an investment of €15 million, with a duration of five years each, and which will support the additional recruitment of 40 research positions, including 18 PhD students, 15 postdocs and seven research assistants. In addition to the three awardees in UCD, there were four in Trinity College Dublin, two in Maynooth University and one in Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS).

Director of Science for Society in Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Ruth Freeman said: “The SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award recognises outstanding new research leadership and talent.  I am delighted to see the ten awardees choosing to come to Ireland to continue their work and congratulate them on their achievements. We are dedicated to supporting research leaders with ideas to drive innovation and assist Ireland and the world in meeting the many challenges we face, from climate change, supporting healthy ageing and understanding the universe.”

The UCD awards support research in health (the development of new therapies for lung cancer by applying the latest genomic technology CRISPR-Cas9), agriculture (utilising drones and artificial intelligence to improve and secure the future of barley production against the onslaught of climate change), and engineering(the design and development of artificial touch/tactile sensors to improve robotic and prosthetic grippers (e.g. artificial hands)).

See https://www.sfi.ie/  for details of all ten recipients and their research.

UCD’S Future Research Leaders

Associate Prof Stephen Redmond

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UCD School of Electrical and Electronic Enginnering

Design of tactile sensors for robotic and prosthetic grippers inspired by human touch

Award value: €1,479,655. Prosthetic and robotic hands often drop objects. While we have learned more about the science of how humans feel the slipperiness of an object, there is still much to learn. Given how little we know, it is unsurprising that there are no touch sensors for artificial hands which can practicably sense friction. This research aims to study how humans feel friction, and subsequently build artificial touch sensors which can do the same. The friction-based tactile sensors developed during this project would endow artificial hands with the ability to feel the slipperiness, significantly advancing the fields of prosthetics and autonomous robotics.

“I feel privileged to receive this prestigious award, which allows me to return home to Ireland to join the excellent and rapidly growing biomedical engineering program at UCD. I will contribute to that growth by establishing a world-leading research group working at the frontiers of tactile physiology, tactile sensor design, and autonomous robotic manipulation. I am grateful that Science Foundation Ireland has invested in this ambitious project, and I am confident that we will deliver scientific impact for the world and economic impact for Ireland. We are at the start of a revolution in autonomous robotics, and Ireland will play an active role.”

Dr Rory Johnson

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UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science

Discovering non-protein-coding vulnerabilities in lung cancer with CRISPR-Cas9

Award value: €1,546,106. Lung cancer is one of the greatest single causes of death in Ireland today, but we still lack effective therapies. This project aims to discover new types of genes that promote lung cancer, develop drugs to inhibit their activity, and thereby kill tumours. The project depends on the latest CRISPR-Cas9 “genome-engineering” technology, which allows one to delete genes from a cell’s DNA and thus test thousands of potential drug targets in a single experiment. In summary, this project aims to develop new therapies for lung cancer by applying the latest genomic technologies.

“I am delighted to receive the President of Ireland Future Research Leaders award from SFI. It provides for a long-term research programme in crucially important areas of genome engineering, noncoding RNAs and cancer research. I believe that this work will make a positive impact on Irish society, by developing new technologies, fostering scientific talent, and advancing towards more effective treatments for disease.”

Assistant Prof Sónia Negrão

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UCD School of Biology and Environmental Sciencei 

Looking into time - how abiotic stress impacts barley production and malting quality

Award value: €1,466,217. Barley is the key ingredient for the production of beer and whiskey. Climate change is driving the occurrence of extreme weather events resulting in elevated rainfall that severely adversely affects barley production. These yield reductions will significantly impact the malting industry, with forecasts estimating a sharp rise in beer and whiskey prices. Modern varieties of barley have lost their protection against such environmental conditions, yet heritage barley has these tolerance features. Here we combine advanced genomic techniques with imaging platforms, using drones and artificial intelligence, to quantify the effects of waterlogging in heritage varieties and secure future barley production.

"I am delighted and honored to receive this prestigious award from President Michael D. Higgins. I am extremely thankful for the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award as a recognition of my research potential. I am looking forward to contributing to a more sustainable production of barley in Ireland in the face of climate change and strengthening Ireland’s international reputation in Plant Science"