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Four UCC researchers receive Advanced Laureate Awards

11 Apr 2019
Twelve researchers across Ireland received the Advanced Laureate Awards, including Professor John Atkins, University College Cork.

Fundamental insights into the evolution of life on earth, reconstructing the fascinating news environment of an entire lost world, taking inspiration from nature to develop the next generation of batteries and examining the vellum of medieval Irish manuscripts, are the four UCC research areas that were awarded funding under the prestigious Irish Research Council’s 2019 Advanced Laureate Awards Programme today.

A crucial pillar of Ireland’s research ecosystem

In total the Irish Research Council invested $11.8 million in world-class frontier research, 12 researchers across Ireland received awards, and four of these researchers were from UCC.  These awards are crucial for Ireland, investing as they do in world leading research. It is imperative that the Advanced Laureate Awards become an annual pillar in Ireland’s research ecosystem” commented President of UCC, Professor Patrick O’Shea. Commenting today, Peter Brown, Director of the Irish Research Council, said: “The twelve researchers who will receive funding under the Advanced Laureate Awards Programme are all exceptional in their fields and have been selected following a rigorous and independent international peer-review process.”

The evolution of life on earth

“Our work has revealed fundamental insights into the evolution of the programming of life on earth” commented award recipient Professor John Atkins. “Dr. Gary Loughran and our UCC collaborator Professor Pavel Baranov have been crucial to its success. The new much appreciated award will provide exciting opportunities to gain atomic level understanding of the fascinating versatility in decoding the information embedded in the hereditary material. The work has potential for the design of compounds relevant to manipulating decoding versatility such as that utilised by viruses”. This research is built upon the major role of successive generations of researchers in UCC (Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology) and in TCD (Department of Genetics), together with collaborators elsewhere notably including the Departments of Human Genetics in Utah and Structural Biology in Stanford University.

Taking inspiration from nature to develop the next generation of batteries

“Developing the best rechargeable batteries with sustainable methods represents a major technological challenge for this new century. Batteries will be central to how our society shifts away from fossil fuel powered interaction, mobility and living” commented Professor Colm O’ Dwyer, who also received an Advanced Laureate award.

“Taking inspiration from material structures in nature that reflect certain colours such as butterfly wings, beetle husks and peacock feathers, this project will impose this type of ordered structure on new battery materials so that they can be monitored by carefully mapping out any changes in reflected colour to link it to specific details about how the material stores charge and behaves in a battery. This will allow us to screen new energy storage materials more quickly and help define the different conditions that are optimum for more sustainable materials in rechargeable batteries and other energy storage devices – whether it’s faster charging, longer lifetime, quick power delivery or higher energy” noted Professor O’ Dwyer.

Contributing to world knowledge on a central element in the history of civilization

“Our research project focuses on the materials in medieval Gaelic manuscripts. It will investigate systematically the makeup of inks used to write these books, and the proteins and DNA present in the vellum leaves on which the texts were written” commented Professor Padraig Ó Macháin, whose research also received an Advanced Laureate Award. In conducting this research Professor Ó Macháin will collaborate with Dr Daniela Iacopino of the Tyndall National Institute, and their research will be facilitated by the Library of the Royal Irish Academy. "It is enormously encouraging to receive this award," says Ó Macháin. "Funding such as this is essential if we are to journey beyond words and images into the very archaeology of the texts and the books themselves, so that our findings may contribute to world knowledge on a central element in the history of civilization - the hand-written book."

Reconstructing the news environment of an entire lost world

“Our ultimate goal, made feasible for the first time by this funding, is to reconstruct the fascinating news environment of an entire lost world, early modern Europe, at the birth of news” commented Professor Brendan Dooley, another of the award recipients. This research will explore the information connectedness of pre-modern European society by examining the regular circulation of news in a vast range of pre-newspaper networks. 

The manuscript newsletters in question are located in Florence, where they have been sitting mostly unused and unread for as many as four centuries. Professor Dooley’s team will be working closely with the State Archives in Italy, as well as the Medici Archive Project organization, a nonprofit based in New York, to implement a systematic extraction method for making sense of the whole mass of documentation and to connect the dots in an expanding pattern of exchanges stretching from Florence to Warsaw, from Paris to Madrid, from the Netherlands to Britain, Ireland and the American colonies. 

A total of 140 applications were received under this 2018 funding call. In addition to the twelve funded awards, a further 48 proposals were deemed to be excellent and fundable by the international panels of experts. Each awardee will receive a maximum of €1 million in funding, over a period of four years. 

“This scheme was specifically designed to address gaps in the Irish research and innovation landscape in the area of frontier basic research, as identified in Innovation 2020, Ireland’s five-year strategy for science and technology, research and development” the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh TD, stated at the announcement today.

For more on this story contact:

Eoin Hahessy | Head of Media | University College Cork  - M:+353 (0) 86 046 8950|E: eoin.hahessy@ucc.ie

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