Notable Scientists: Boyle Medal Laureates

Inaugurated in 1899, the Boyle Medal awarded by The Royal Dublin Society, continues to recognise scientific research of exceptional merit and remains to this day Ireland's premier science award. The first ever recipient of the Boyle Medal was George Johnstone Stoney who is best remembered in the history of science for introducing the term electron, which he did in a paper in the Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in 1891. Since then a small number of Ireland’s most eminent scientists have had the honour of being acclaimed a Boyle Medal Laureate. Among them several with ties to UCD. 

1899 - Thomas Preston

Thomas Preston’s research was concerned with heat, magnetism, and spectroscopy. During his lifetime he established empirical rules for the analysis of spectral lines, which remain to this day associated with his name. Preston was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy in 1891 and continued his mathematical studies while teaching at University College, Dublin.

1917 - John A. McClelland

Professor John Alexander McClelland (1870−1920) played an integral role in research on the newly discovered X-rays, cathode rays (electrons), electric discharges and electric conductivity of gases. He is best remembered as the instigator of the UCD tradition of research into atmospheric electricity and atmospheric condensation nuclei, which was continued with such distinction after his death.  In 1900 Professor McClelland returned to Ireland where he was appointed Professor of Physics at University College, at the time under the charge of the Society of Jesus. During his tenure he managed to carry out useful work in spite of the lack of funds available to the college, receiving permission to use the better-equipped laboratories in Earlsfort Terrace.

1928 - Walter E. Adeney

The work of Professor Walter Ernest Adeney was principally devoted to research into the problems arising out of the discharge of sewage and waste products into rivers and tidal estuaries. From 1917 to 1921 he held the post of Professor of Chemistry in the Royal College of Science for Ireland. During this short period he established a school of research into fundamental problems in the self-purification of polluted waters.

1933 - Paul A. Murphy

Dr Paul Murphy’s first contributions to science were made under the guidance of Dr George H. Pethybridge in the years 1911 to 1913. This joint work on the bacterial and fungal parasites of the potato is best known by their contributions to knowledge of the genus Phytophthora especially the potato blight fungus and its long-sought resting spores. Murphy was appointed Professor of Plant Pathology when this activity transferred to UCD in 1927.

1942 - Joseph Doyle

Professor Joseph Doyle's work had a profound effect on the understanding of plant and conifer reproduction. In one of his early papers he showed how the grafting of a bud on a leaf stalk converts the petiole into a stem. He was able to prove that in addition to adapting the functions of a stem, supporting new leaves and supplying them with water and nutritive substance from the soil, the petiole is fundamentally changed in form and internal structure, and acquires the physical and biological characteristic of a stem. He was appointed Professor of Botany at University College in 1924.

1945 - Thomas J. Nolan

Professor Thomas Nolan was well known for his distinguished work in organic chemistry and its technical applications. He had a wide knowledge of and experience in general analytical work also. In 1925 he succeeded Dr Joseph Reilly as Assistant State Chemist in Dublin and six years later he became State Chemist.  1932 he followed Hugh Ryan as Professor in University College Dublin. During the remaining thirteen years of his life he and his students principally investigated products derived from our native lichens. Professor Nolan died in 1945 at the age of 56.

1959 - Robert McKay

Robert McKay was one of the foremost plant pathologists of his time. His earliest work was carried out in co-operation with Professor Paul A. Murphy to whom he was an assistant, and whom he later succeeded as Professor of Plant Pathology at University College Dublin. Professor McKay’s name will forever be associated with the pioneering investigations on virus disease, particularly those associated with the potato. One of the most interesting phases of this work was concerned with the establishment of virus-free stocks of pure varieties. From 1938 he acted as adviser in Plant Pathology to the Department of Agriculture. This gave him still wider contacts with fungal disease affecting economic crops and with their incidence and distribution throughout the country.

1961 - Phyllis E. M. Clinch

Phyllis Clinch was a world renowned scientist in the field of plant viruses. She played an integral role in raising the standard of potato and other plant crops, first in Ireland and then in many other countries. She succeeded Doyle as Professor at UCD. She is best remembered for her study of degenerative diseases in potato plants. She was able to identify symptomless viruses and importantly, damaging viruses that affected potato stocks. The knowledge she gained was made available to the Department of Agriculture and was soon applied to develop stocks of virus free potatoes, which in turn were supplied to farmers. This revolutionised the quality of potato stocks in Ireland, and quickly made an international impact as Ireland became the standard bearer for disease-free potato stocks. 

Phyllis Clinch was the first woman to have received a Boyle Medal.

1967 - Edward J.Conway

Professor Edward Conway was a respected biochemist whose early research into kidney function and the laws governing excretion by the kidney earned him international acclaim. He was appointed to the new Chair of Biochemistry and Pharmacology at UCD in 1932, a post he held until his retirement in 1964.

He is commonly remembered for his invention of the ‘Conway unit’, which is a simple but accurate method of measuring minute quantities by distillation using a glass dish with two concentric chambers. The method has been used to measure levels of ammonia, carbon dioxide or glucose in blood.  Professor Conway’s brilliance was widely acknowledged and he received many honours including Fellow of the Royal Society (1947), Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry (1957) and Member of New York Academy of Science (1960). The Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research at University College Dublin, which opened in 2003 is named in his honour. He died in 1965.

1969 - Vincent C. Barry

Vincent Barry was a distinguished chemist whose research aided the development of important drugs in the treatment of tuberculosis and human leprosy which are still used to this day. He graduated from University College Dublin in 1928 with a first class honours degree in Chemistry.  Following a period in University College Galway as assistant to Professor Thomas Dillon, he returned to Dublin in 1943 with a fellowship from the Medical Research Council of Ireland to investigate the chemotherapy of tuberculosis. He set up his laboratory in UCD’s chemistry department in Merrion Street and commenced his investigations. The laboratory team grew, with Barry appointed director, and moved to larger premises in Trinity College Dublin in 1950.

1970 - Thomas J. Walsh

Thomas Walsh was not only an internationally renowned scientist, but he also worked untiringly for the development of Ireland’s natural resources in general, and for the agricultural and food industries in particular. At an early stage in his career he realised that research had an essential part to play in the solution of problems besetting Irish agriculture. He realised also the importance of adapting research findings for an application under different conditions and as he himself said many times “research is not finished until the results are applied”.  He joined the staff of University College Dublin where he lectured in soil science from 1938 to 1945, and from 1945 to 1952 he worked as Soil Advisory Officer in the Department of Agriculture. In 1952 he was appointed Senior Inspector in that Department, with responsibility for soils and grassland research. When An Foras Taluntais (now Teagasc) was established in 1958, he was appointed by the Government as its first Director.

1971 - Patrick J. Nolan

Patrick J. Nolan was to become an outstanding physicist, specialising in the area of atmospheric physics. In 1954 a Chair of Geophysics was established in University College Dublin, to which Nolan was appointed and this post he held until his retirement from teaching in 1964. His greatest contribution in the field of Atmospheric Physics has been the development of the Photoelectric Nucleus Counter which he did with the late Professor L. W. Pollak at University College, Dublin, in the early 1940s. This counter became the standard instrument in use throughout the world for the measurement of Condensation Nuclei. With this counter it was possible for Professor Nolan and his research students to determine the size, charge distribution and coagulation coefficients of the nuclei. By operating the counter at higher overpressure he discovered the existence of ultra small nuclei.

1979 - Cormac O’Ceallaigh

Professor Cormac O’Ceallaigh is one of the most distinguished physicists in Irish history. His research field was that of cosmic rays and elementary particle physics, to which subjects he made many seminal contributions. Having completed his undergraduate studies at University College Dublin he travelled to Paris in 1934 to work in the laboratory of the great French cosmic ray physicist Pierre Auger and later to Cambridge(1935 to 1938) where he worked in the field of nuclear physics, coming directly under the eye and the influence of Lord Rutherford. Professor O’Ceallaigh’s most important work involved the strange new particles in cosmic ray interaction events which were just beginning to be discovered at the time, in particular the K mesons. In 1953 he was appointed Senior Professor and Head of the Cosmic Ray Section in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

1981 - Roy C. Geary

Roy C. Geary was undoubtedly the most eminent Irish statistician and economist of the twentieth century. He is best known for his contribution to mathematical statistics, notably the sampling theory of ratios, normality testing and the estimation of relationships where the variables are subject to errors of measurement. His scientific prowess is highlighted by the number of statistical terms named after him including ‘Geary's Ratio’, the ‘Geary-Khamis Dollar’, the ‘Stone-Geary Utility Function’, and ‘Geary's Theorem’. His contributions to economics, statistics, demography and national accounting remain to this day central to study in these fields.

Having graduated in 1916 from University College Dublin with a first class BSc, and undertaken further study at the Sorbonne in Paris.

1986 - James R McConnell

Reverend James R. C. McConnell was best known for his research into rotational Brownian motion, the electric and magnetic properties of matter and the theory of the negative proton (or anti-proton) whose existence was not confirmed until 1955. Born in Dublin in 1915 he entered University College Dublin in 1932 and graduated four years later with a first-class honours degree in mathematics. Ordained in 1939, he completed his studies at the Lateran University of Rome in 1940 and gained the degree of Doctor of Mathematical Sciences from the Royal University of Rome (La Sapienza) in 1941.

1988 - P. Kevin Carroll

Professor Peter Kevin Carroll is an Emeritus Professor at the School of Physics in University College Dublin. Having worked extensively in the area of high-resolution molecular spectroscopy his later work has concentrated on the emission and absorption spectroscopy of hot dense plasmas, in particular laser-produced plasmas. He began his research in UCD in 1948. He obtained a PhD in 1953 having completed his research between UCD and Queen’s University Belfast. Following a year spent working at the Aerospace Research Centre in Bedford Massachusetts he returned to take up an Associate Professorship of Optical Physics in UCD. After receiving a D.Sc. from the National University of Ireland in 1977, he became Chair of Optical Physics at University College Dublin.