Belfast-born, Dr Downer succeeded Dr Ed Walsh eight years ago.
The Mayor of Limerick Diarmuid Scully last night led tributes to Prof Downer. Mr Scully said: “He managed to continue the huge dynamic progress at UL initiated by Dr Ed Walsh and brought a wealth of experience and knowledge which will be a lasting tribute to his work at UL.”
Most of Prof Downer’s academic career was spent at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
He is editor or co-editor of four books and author or co-author of more than 160 research publications.
His research efforts have resulted in much national and international recognition including the FJR Fry Gold Medal, the ESC Gold Medal, election as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and election as a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
In December 2003, Prof Downer was conferred with the honorary degree of LLD by Queen’s University, Belfast, and in June 2004 he was conferred with the honorary degree of DSc by the University of Waterloo.
Throughout his research career, Prof Downer has endeavoured to ensure that the results of his research are made widely available.
He has been president of the Canadian Society of Zoologists, president of the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs and vice-president of the Biological Council of Canada.
Professor Downer’s administrative experience was gained principally at the University of Waterloo where he was chair of the department of Biology, acting dean of Science and from 1989-96, vice-president, university relations.
Prof Downer served as President of the Asian Institute of Technology, an international postgraduate university based in Thailand, from 1996 to 1998. In this capacity, Prof Downer interacted with senior political and corporate leaders. He was a plenary speaker at the APEC economic summit held in Jakarta in 1997 and was a director of the JF Kennedy Foundation.
He assumed the presidency and vice-chancellorship of the University of Limerick in September 1998.
He chaired the Council of Heads of Irish Universities in 2001 and was chair of the Conference of University Rectors in Ireland in 2002. He also chaired the international advisory committee responsible for establishment of the University of Luxembourg. In addition to his academic responsibilities, he is chair of the Birr Scientific and Heritage Foundation, chair of the National Self Portrait Collection, vice-chair of the National Technology Park Limerick, vice-chair of the Hunt Museum, a member of the board of Shannon Development, the Westaim Corporation and of the Irish Peace Institute.