Ireland is becoming innovative leader and going green. According to a survey by Science Foundation Ireland, the survey results revealed that while Irish people believe science can improve their lives, the impact of Covid-19 has changed their expectations. Today, Simon Harris, TD, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science, launched the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) 2020 annual report.
SFI-funded researchers contributed significantly to the global response of COVID-19 and other strategic areas of importance to society, the economy, and society. SFI’s Five-Point Plan encouraged the Irish Government’s National Action Plan. In 2020, EUR 22.8 million was invested in 84 COVID-19 innovation and research projects.
SFI’s report shows that researchers are still dedicated and committed despite all the challenges presented by COVID-19. In 2020, 5,888 scientific publications were reported.
Minister Harris welcomed the report and said, “I would love to congratulate SFI, its Higher Education, and industry collaborators for their hard work and determination in delivering an impressive program of work over challenging periods.”
SFI supported 1,966 postgraduates in 2020. Its researchers provided over 2,000 online education and public engagement activities to ensure that everyone has equal access to STEM subjects. I was delighted to announce a EUR52 million investment to support outstanding independent researchers in the new SFI Frontiers for the Future program. This will encourage more applications from women researchers, emerging investigators, and established investigators to SFI.
Significant progress in 2021 in achieving key strategic goals as set out in its new strategy, Shaping Our Future. These include enhancing challenge-based funding opportunities and improving collaboration across our research ecosystem through the SFIIRC Pathways Programme, which supports emerging research talent. In addition, SFI’s recently launched campaign “Creating Our Future” has prompted a national dialogue on research, which aims to create a better future for everyone.
SFI approved 343 new awards in 20 programs with a total value of EUR312 million to support a balanced portfolio of researchers from early- to mid-career to top-ranking research professors. The EU, charities, and other sources contributed another EUR255 million to this investment.
Professor Peter Clinch, Chairman of the Board at SFI, stated that “The deep collaborative partnerships SFI has developed with researchers, Higher Education Institutions, industry, and government have underpinned all of our collective success in 2020.
SFI funded almost 3,000 industry collaborations. This helped Ireland realize its ambition to become a leader in innovation and a place for research investment. SFI’s new Strategy Shaping Our Future 2020-2025, which was launched earlier in the year, demonstrates how SFI can deliver research impact today and prepare for tomorrow. A strong and sustained investment in research will be a key factor in the future success of Ireland and its citizens.
Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said that “despite the many challenges faced throughout 2020, SFI’s funded research community worked together to provide excel, cutting edge science with real-world impacts, often in rapid timeframes.” With EUR106 million from the EU, ten prestigious European Research Council awards, and Ireland winning for the first-time more competitive funding than its contribution towards the Horizon 2020 budget, we competed at the highest level of Europe.
SFI maintained its leadership in the field of Grand Challenges. In 2020, the SFI Future Innovator Prize challenge financing programme awarded its first EUR1million prize. In addition, SFI launched two new challenges in areas of national strategic importance: Zero Emissions (AI for Societal Health) and AI For Societal Good (AI for Societal Wellbeing).
SFI’s five-year vision, “Shaping Our Future,” is a roadmap to Ireland’s going green future. It will help us become a green, sustainable, deep technology, innovation, and sustainability leader. We will also ensure that we have the talent and skills to solve tomorrow’s challenges.
The 2020 SFI Annual Report Also Includes:
- 72 Frontier Awards were awarded EUR52 million to support research in areas like spinal cord injury, novel materials, and species diversity in food production. Women researchers are expected to lead 45% of the research grants.
- Five SFI Research Centres have been awarded a second six-year research program, which involved an investment of EUR193 million. This will support over 1,000 research positions at 17 Higher Education Institutions. Two hundred industry partners will also contribute EUR91 million to this commitment.
- Three awards were funded by the SFI Strategic Partnership Programme. These awards support academic researchers in building strategic collaborations.
- More than 5,000 international collaborations were held across 86 countries. This highlights Ireland’s contribution to addressing some of the most urgent global problems.
- Twelve awards were made in the SFI Public Service Fellowship Programme. This investment was EUR699,000.
- 33 Irish scientists were among the top 1% of the world’s most cited papers for 2020. SFI has funded 28 of these researchers. Clarivate Analytics published a prestigious list that recognized world-class researchers who have produced multiple highly cited papers and outstanding research performance.
- Through the SFI Discover Programme Call, EUR5.4 million was spent on 50 STEM projects.
- SFI Centres for Research Training Programme – 179 students started their PhDs in the area of Data and ICT Skills for the Future – 41% were women.
- With EUR1.8 million invested, four awards were made by the prestigious Royal Society-SFI University Research Fellowship Programme.
- Six awards were made by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council EPSRC – SFI Joint Funding Research Programme. The investment was EUR2.1 million. It supported research in the areas of energy systems and cryptocurrencies as well as chemical engineering that aims to improve the energy system _ecarbonization and materials sciences, and electronic development of new energy sources for wearable devices.
Economic and Societal Impact
Outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat plants in Ireland have presented a threat to workers and our wider society. Research funded under the COVID-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation Programme, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and led by Prof Grace Mulcahy (UCD), aims to better understand why meat plants are vulnerable to the transmission of COVID-19, and how to decrease the risks.
A system of all-island SARS/CoV-2 wastewater surveillance will be developed through Dr. Niall O’Leary and Prof Wim Meijer (UCD) research. UCD’s study showed that the COVID-19 virus could be detected in wastewater from the Republic of Ireland. It can also tell if infection levels are increasing or decreasing.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us something: Scientific innovation can greatly impact everyday life. There are many challenges that science can solve, but collaboration is the only way to identify them all and get the best results.
Collaboration does not simply apply to those working within the fields of science. As issues like climate change and the economy impact us all, we each have a role in highlighting essential areas in society and suggesting possible solutions for Ireland going green.
Science Week 2021 will be held from 7-14 November. The theme is Creating Our Future. It is powerful to believe that anyone can invent an idea that will inspire research and innovation. This message gives researchers a clear path to address some of the problems we face as a society.
Understanding The Issues
Although tackling the problems facing society will require collaboration and deep research, it is essential not to overlook the opportunities. While solutions and inspiring research are both worthwhile endeavors, understanding the stakes is key.
Climate change and protecting the environment are two of the most urgent issues facing the world. Despite Ireland’s small population, it is not impossible to be a global leader in the search for solutions to help Ireland going green.
We also have a unique opportunity because of Ireland’s geographic position. The island is in a prime location to monitor the air quality. In addition, its small size allows for the development of new technologies to combat climate change.
Research focuses on rising sea levels, greenhouse gas emissions, and the restoration of Ireland’s native forests. However, all walks of life should be encouraged to invent products, processes, and services that lessen the impact of man-made actions.
Other opportunities for innovation could stem from the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Delivering solutions is worth the effort, both in terms of economic recovery as well as the need to be able to manage any potential pandemics in the future.
While Brexit remains a topic of great debate in the media as well as in daily life, it is also a sign of the potential for growth. It is possible to generate growth and development by ensuring that Ireland has strong links with the UK while expanding our role in Europe.
These are just a few of the many key problems our society faces. Innovation is required to develop communities, promote Irish culture arts, and educate people about mental health issues.
How They Are Being Tackled
Breakthroughs can come from any source and have an enormous impact. Strong examples of breakthroughs include businesses reducing their carbon emissions by waste management and farmers trying to do the same with innovations in cattle breeding and diet.
In July 2021, the SFI Future Innovator Prize was presented to Galway’s TAPAS project. They created an innovative tool to measure the effectiveness of agricultural interventions in climate change adaptation.
It can combat climate change, and its benefits extend far beyond Ireland. This project is an excellent example of how properly researching a social issue can lead to real change. Moreover, it can be an inspiration to others to do the same.
Renewable resources aren’t just relevant to climate change. The pursuit of a more sustainable economy is another source of innovation and research.
Prof Kevin O’Connor is the leader of Farm Zero C. UCD, an initiative that seeks to make dairy farms carbon-neutral. Farmers can benefit from increasing biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will help reduce their carbon footprint and improve the sustainability of their businesses. In collaboration with Carbery Group, the project operates on and off the farm. It involves the development of trails at Shinagh Farm in West Cork.
While zero net carbon from farms is ambitious, it has many benefits. This research includes analyses on how planting different kinds of grasses and clovers on pastures and sustaining hedgerows can boost biodiversity and soil health, using renewable energy that decreases greenhouse gas emissions, and how transforming what we feed livestock impacts how we much methane gas they create.
How to Get Involved
It is crucial to start by trying to understand the issues. Participating in Creating Our Future, a powerful way to find practical solutions is the next step.
Participating in Science Week 2021 and beyond offers a unique opportunity to get involved in helping build a better world. It is an outstanding achievement to have direct input into research that leads to scientific advances for Ireland going green. This also proves that inspiration can come anywhere.