Research News

Three UCD academics awarded research funding under US-Ireland R&D Programme

  • 17 March, 2021


A joint investment of €13.5 million was today announced through a tripartite research and development partnership between the USA, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. A total of seven awards will support more than 60 research positions across 14 research institutions, for three to five years.

The US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership, launched in July 2006, is a unique initiative that aims to increase the level of collaborative research and development amongst researchers and industry professionals across the three regions. The programme involves multiple funding partners, working together collaboratively to support the most excellent and impactful research.

The funding agencies involved in the awards being announced today are Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Health Research Board (HRB) in the Republic of Ireland; the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA, and the Health and Social Care R&D Division (HSC R&D) and the Department for the Economy (DfE) in Northern Ireland. 

Welcoming the announcement, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “The US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme continues to support and encourage strong collaborative relationships between our countries. It recognises and highlights Ireland’s significant scientific standing internationally and the societal and economic benefits that can be realised when we work beyond our borders. I wish all of the partners every success in this important collaboration.”

The programme, which uses a ‘single-proposal, single-review’ approach, focuses on prioritised thematic areas, including sensors, nanoscale science and engineering, telecommunications, energy and sustainability, and health. The Irish components of research projects in the area of health are jointly co-funded by SFI with the Health Research Board (HRB).

Commenting on the awards, HRB Chief Executive, Dr Mairéad O'Driscoll said: “Health research makes a real difference to people’s lives. We’ve seen how the recent pandemic has sparked huge public interest in both health and research. The HRB plays an essential role in advancing research, and is committed to supporting highly innovative international collaboration through the US-Ireland R&D Programme. I welcome the announcement of these new awards, which will generate health benefits in Ireland and internationally.”

Under the programme, Associate Professor Simon KellyUCD School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, will partner with Ulster University, NI and Columbia University New York and Northwell-Hofstra School of Medicine, US, to lead a neuroscience research project that seeks to identify the underlying neural mechanisms of decision-making in order to understand a core element of both normal and abnormal cognition.

The project, titled ‘Uncovering the neural architecture underlying decisions abstracted from movements,’ explores decision-making within the areas of neuroscience and cognitive neurophysiology.

Decision-making is a basic building block of cognition that is essential to almost all mental activities and, consequently, its disruption is central to the cognitive impairments associated with a wide variety of brain disorders. The research will focus on identifying the underlying neural mechanisms of decision-making in order to understand both normal and abnormal cognition in primate and human subjects.

Joining Associate Professor Kelly on the project are Professor Redmond O’Connell, Trinity College Dublin, Professor KongFatt Wong-Lin, Ulster University Belfast, NI, Professor Michael Shadlen, Columbia University New York, US, and Dr Stephan Bickel, Northwell-Hofstra School of Medicine US.

Last year, Associate Professor Kelly was awarded a Wellcome Trust Investigator grant for a project combining computational modelling and neurophysiology to study decision-making

Also awarded, Associate Professor Grace Morgan from UCD School of Chemistry will lead research in the area of molecular magnetoelectric materials to investigate new ways to harness the manipulation of electron spins in transition metal complexes to maximise their potential for use in new magnetoelectric devices. The project, titled ‘Molecular Magnetoelectric Materials,’ is partnering with Queen’s University Belfast, NI, and Florida State University, US.

Collaborating with Associate Professor Morgan are Professor Steven Bell, Queen’s University Belfast, NI, and Professor Stephen Hill, Florida State University, US.

Professor Frank McDermottUCD School of Earth Sciences and iCRAG, the SFI Research Centre for Applied Geosciences led by UCD, is partnering with Queen’s University Belfast, NI, and the NSF-funded Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, US, to investigate the use of microbes and enzymes to enhance methods of bio-based strengthening which can be used to stabilise soil slopes in areas of high land-slide risk and bind problematic waste such as asbestos.

The project, titled ‘Multi-scale Investigation of Bio-Based Mineral Precipitation in Carbonate Bearing Granular Soils and Construction Related Waste,’ has formed a centre-to-centre collaborative partnership to develop bio-based mineral precipitation for innovative in-situ ground improvement (stabilisation) and construction waste encapsulation.

The research will expand the domain of microbially-induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) and enzyme-induced carbonate precipitation (EICP) as ground-improving technologies. The application of these technologies will be extended from the silica sands currently being investigated by CBBG to carbonate-bearing soils typical for Ireland and ubiquitous carbonate-bearing construction and demolition wastes. Both technologies will be investigated as sustainable alternatives to cement-based technologies.

Collaborators on the project are Dr Rory Doherty, Queen’s University Belfast, NI, and Professor Edward Kavazanjian, Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, US.

In congratulating the researchers on these awards, Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director, Health and Social Care (HSC) Research and Development, Northern Ireland, said: “More than ever, we can see the immense value of international research collaboration, as supported by the US Ireland R&D Programme. This bringing together of researchers from across Ireland and the US is strengthening knowledge transfer and improving health outcomes with global impact. 

For more information on the programme, visit


More projects funded under the US-Ireland R&D Programme:

Trevor Cooper, Director of Higher Education in the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland) said: “The US-Ireland R&D Partnership supports ground-breaking trans-Atlantic research which will help to further develop Northern Ireland’s research and innovation capabilities, driving competition with the potential to deliver significant economic impact.”

Prof Rose-Anne Kenny based in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) will lead a research project that is focused on the areas of aging, epigenomics and behavioural and social sciences. Partnering with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and University of South California (US) they aim to identify new links between lifetime social and behavioural circumstances (e.g. low level of education and income, minority group membership, adverse childhood experiences, adult traumas and chronic stress), epigenetic clocks and subsequent physical health and cognitive function outcomes in people aged over 50 years.

At the Maynooth University Centre for Ocean Energy Research, Dr Oliver Mason in collaboration with Prof John Ringwood, will partner with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and Iowa State University (US) to investigate new ways of improving the efficiency of arrays or farms of Wave Energy Converters (WECs). The work will focus on how the size and shape of individual WECs, and different control strategies, can be designed to optimise the performance of the array in harvesting energy from ocean waves.

Prof Garry Duffy at the CÚRAM SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices led by National University of Ireland Galway, is partnering with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (US) led NSF Engineering Research Centre for Cell Manufacturing Technologies to develop a Global Cell Manufacturing and Delivery partnership. The team aims to develop technologies to allow ambient transfer of complex cell-based therapies for chronic disease including heart disease and non-healing wounds, which could reduce the costs of cell products while maintaining their safety and potency. The partners will scale-up, model and test a hydrogel-based ambient transport system to make it clinical trial ready.

Prof Gerard O’Connor, also based at the CÚRAM SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices led by National University of Ireland, Galway, is working with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and Boston University (US) in a Cardiac Organoid Systems Partnership to create a functional engineered cardiac tissue with electromechanical properties that mimic native human myocardium on a scalable laser-enabled manufacturing platform with the potential to transform the treatment of chronic heart disease.

About the US Ireland R&D Partnership Programme

The US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership is a unique initiative involving funding agencies across three jurisdictions: United States of America, Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland.
The overall goal of the Partnership is to increase the level of collaborative R&D amongst researchers and industry across the three jurisdictions. This collaboration aims to generate valuable discoveries and innovations which are transferable to the marketplace, or will lead to enhancements in health, disease prevention or healthcare.

The partner agencies in the Republic of Ireland are Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Health Research Board (HRB) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). It is facilitated by the National Science Foundation (NSF), US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), within the US Department of Agriculture in the USA. In Northern Ireland, the Health & Social Care R&D Division (HSC R&D), the Department for the Economy (DfE), and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) are partners.