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Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education and research at University College Cork has launched its next phase of expansion and development under the strategic direction of Professor Sarah Culloty, appointed as the Head of College of Science, Engineering and Food Science in June 2019.
Leading 600 academic and research staff, with over 5,000 students and generating 1,200 STEM-enabled graduates annually, Sarah has a significant part to play in STEM advancement in the southwest of Ireland in the coming years.
As Director of the Environmental Research Institute, and having previously served as Head of School, she brings a wealth of leadership and strategic vision to the post of Head of College.
“Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 estimates that 165,000 jobs will be created in the ICT, Science and Engineering sectors by 2025”, said Sarah in her inaugural speech to the College. “From cybersecurity to climate change, from photonics to astrophysics, sustainability to waste minimisation - STEM is the place to be right now.”
With high-quality graduates, prominent research clusters in key STEM areas, ICT doctoral training centres, and by producing world-class research, UCC is a key pipeline into industry in the Munster region and beyond.
“We have an enviable tradition of working with American businesses – whether based in Ireland, the USA or in numerous countries around the globe,” Sarah went on to say. “We have developed a range of comprehensive partnerships with these businesses in research and academic programmes. And they, in turn, support our students as they develop their careers in STEM.”
Synthetic organic chemists at University College Cork are very aware of the benefits of location – Munster is based at the heart of one of the most significant global clusters of companies involved in state-of-the-art pharmaceutical manufacture, including world leaders such as Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Janssen.
As Professor Anita Maguire - Vice President for Research & Innovation at UCC and a funded Principal Investigator in synthetic chemistry herself - explained: “Traditionally, the Irish sites of major pharma companies were involved predominantly in manufacturing. However, over the past decade, chemists at the Irish sites have become increasingly involved in R&D activities and in particular, the development of continuous flow technology.”
It is critical to the Irish economy, and to the south-west region particularly, that the rapidly evolving skills needs of these companies is met, and the SSPC centre at UCC has risen to this challenge.
SSPC, a world leading SFI pharmaceutical research centre, is jointly led out of UCC by Maguire and Dr Stuart Collins.
With successful research-industry collaborations already behind them with companies such as Lilly, Pfizer, GSK and Janssen, and with support from the IRC and SFI, the centre works to provide access to PhD chemist graduates, equipped to compete at the highest level internationally.
Prof Maguire praised the success of the research team: “Cork is an ideal location to lead a research team in synthetic organic chemistry - the PhD graduates from our team have migrated to exciting and fulfilling careers in the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland and internationally. One of our graduates, Sarah O’Keeffe, was recently appointed to the prestigious post of VP Small Molecule Design & Development in Lilly, Indianapolis.”
At undergraduate level, the BSc programme on the Chemistry of Pharmaceutical Compounds provides an ideal entry for students keen to develop a career as a chemist in the pharmaceutical sector. Set up by Maguire 20 years ago, the programme is now directed by Dr Collins and includes industry-led placements, workshops and lectures, feeding the pipeline to Cork’s vibrant pharmaceutical industry.
It is no surprise that UCC computer science and information technology (CSIT) graduates are also in demand to fill the high-tech skills needs of regional, national and international markets. And with recent professorial recruitment, including Profs Dirk Pesch and Utz Roedig, UCC is building its already significant profile around cyber security and human-computer interaction.
The aim of cyber security is to counteract those who would exploit computer systems, steal personal data or prevent systems from working reliably - and CSIT researchers are at the cutting edge of safeguarding our digital environment and data privacy.
Most computer systems surrounding us in our daily life are no longer traditional personal computers but instead are devices with an embedded internet connection – these form an interconnecting web known as the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT applications are familiar to us all – from home automation systems, automated factories, right up to smart cities. And that leaves us vulnerable.
The cyber security lab at UCC is investigating how to secure these interfaces, developing innovative security mechanisms to ensure secure and reliable operation of these critical infrastructures. For example, methods to authenticate IoT devices based on their RF signals, instead of using classical cryptography, thus making data and data transfer more secure.
Computer systems also generate enormous amounts of data, sometimes directly related to our health, our habits and preferences. Researchers are designing technologies to protect this information, including advanced encryption and methods for trustworthy computation.
Another exciting area of research that is emerging as technology becomes more and more invasive, is the study of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Our HCI team is working on projects to enhance our understanding of how technology impacts our lives and discovering new, intuitive and more accessible ways to interact with computers.
UCC is the first university in Ireland to bring the disciplines of psychology and computer science together, through a new undergraduate degree, BA Psychology and Computing, which serves the demand in industry for professionals with HCI expertise.
With two nationally-funded SFI doctoral training centres in Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Networks for Sustainable Societies - expected to graduate 60 doctoral-level students in these emerging skills areas over the next five years - the future is looking bright for computer science and information technology at UCC.
Professor Séamus Davis will spearhead a ground-breaking research programme to study Quantum Materials for Quantum Technology, in a joint appointment between UCC and the University of Oxford.
Davis’s career to date compares to the world’s best: obtaining a BSc in Physics at UCC in 1983, he would go on to become a global leader in the field of Quantum Matter.
For the past 10 years, Prof. Davis was the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor of Physical Sciences at Cornell University and Senior Physicist at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.
He is a Fellow of the prestigious US National Academy of Sciences. In 2005 he was awarded the Fritz London Memorial Prize, the greatest honour in low-temperature physics, and in 2009 he was awarded the Kamerlingh Onnes Prize, named for the Nobel Laureate who discovered superconductivity.
In 2016, he was a recipient of the prestigious SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal for his dedication to physics.
The Davis-led research programme will enhance the growing reputation in Ireland for quantum materials and quantum technology research. Moreover, establishing a flourishing joint research programme at UCC and Oxford will enhance the training and experience of the early-career researchers involved.
Having the Davis research team in Cork will ensure that UCC is at the forefront of research in Quantum Technology.
Commenting on his appointment, Prof. Davis said: “The rapidly accelerating Second Quantum Revolution promises truly transformative advances in science, industry, economy and society. In Ireland, a spectacularly sophisticated research ecosystem has been nurtured and has rapidly grown, and I am very much looking forward to returning home to Cork and to working with my colleagues in University College Cork.”
Professor Patrick O’ Shea, President of University College Cork illustrated the pioneering research that Professor Davis will be engaged in: “We are delighted to have Professor Davis as a colleague who will lead the Second Quantum Revolution in Ireland. His work at the interface between discovery and innovation will be crucial in advancing us into this new age of opportunity.”
The Environmental Research Institute brings together over 400 researchers from 20 different scientific disciplines, with expertise in the five broad research platforms of Environment, Sustainable Energy, Marine, Sustainable Agri-Food and Sustainable Materials.
As people around the globe become more aware and concerned about the negative effect humans have on our planet, research carried by ERI is becoming even more critical.
One of ERI’s newest Principle Investigators, Dr Marguerite Nyhan, is a recent recipient of the prestigious Emerging Leader Award from the Irish USA Alumni Association (IUSA), awarded on January 20, 2020.
Founded in 2012, the IUSA is a network of alumni of US State Department exchange programmes, including participants of Fulbright Scholarships, International Visitor Leadership Programme, J1 and the Washington Ireland Programme. The IUSA promotes US-Irish relations and develops the next generation of leaders in the US-Irish relationship.
The Emerging Leader award recognizes young alumni of US exchange programs, who have made a significant contribution to their community and have demonstrated the potential for leadership and continuing service.
Marguerite’s career to date exemplifies the strength of Irish-US ties fostered in UCC: While pursuing her PhD in environmental engineering, she was invited to Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a visiting researcher, and was subsequently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship. Upon completing her PhD, she was hired as a Post-Doctoral researcher at MIT and led the Urban Environmental Research Team within MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory.
Following post-doctoral work as a researcher at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, Marguerite was later recruited by the United Nations in New York City, where she worked as a Research Scientist and diplomat.
Returning to Ireland in 2019, Marguerite took up a position at UCC as a Lecturer in Environmental Engineering and as Principal Investigator/researcher with the Energy Policy and Modelling Group (EPMG) of MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and the Marine. She remains a Visiting Scientist at Harvard University in Boston, maintaining her international ties.
Marguerite has published research on using large ICT datasets for evaluating urban dynamics at a city-wide scale, evaluating emissions and exposures to pollution, and determining their human health impact. Recently her work has also focused on harnessing emerging technologies for sustainable development and humanitarian efforts.
As one of UCC’s rising stars, Marguerite is one to watch in the future (www.margueritenyhan.com).
UCC has been the leading university of the south of Ireland since 1845. Today it ranks in the top 2% of universities worldwide and is a research-intensive, student-centred, international top-tier university.
And STEM education and research fully supports the UCC mission, offering 12 undergraduate and 35 postgraduate courses, across a comprehensive range of STEM subject areas: life and biological sciences, physics, chemistry and maths, engineering and ICT.
The College’s academics play a major role in UCC’s large research centres such as Tyndall National Institute, Environmental Research Institute, APC Microbiome Ireland and the Food Institute.
The College leads or partners a number of national research centres such as AMBER (advanced materials and bioengineering), CONNECT (future networks and communications), MaREI (Climate Energy and the Marine), ICRAG (Applied Geosciences), INSIGHT (Data Analytics), LERO (software) and SSPC (pharmaceuticals).
Speaking at the College assembly, Head of College Prof Sarah Culloty summed up the positive mood prevalent in STEM: “We are scientists and engineers, we are problem solvers: focussed, adaptable, creators, evaluators adaptable, creators, evaluators and communicators.
Our high impact research ensures that our academics are leaders in their field.
Our graduates are independent and creative thinkers, digitally fluent, socially responsible and effective global citizens – they are ready for the exciting opportunities that lie beyond UCC.”
To find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and visit: www.ucc.ie/en/sefs/.