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Science Foundation Ireland medals mark achievement and endeavour

Awards presentation forms an important element of State’s trade promotion activities in the US during St Patrick’s week

This year’s Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) St Patrick’s Day Science Medals were presented to Dr Eamonn Keogh and John Hartnett at a special ceremony in Washington DC last week. The medals are awarded to a distinguished scientist, engineer or technology leader living and working in the USA with strong Irish connections. Now in its 10th year, the competition was expanded in 2016 to include a specific award for an industry leader.

The medals recognise individuals who are not only outstanding in their fields of expertise, but who also have demonstrably assisted researchers in Ireland in either academia or industry — via mentorship, supervision, collaboration, industrial development, entrepreneurship or who have made significant contributions to developing the research ecosystem in Ireland.

“The awards process usually starts in August each year,” says Dr Michael Ryan, head of International at Science Foundation Ireland. “We run a promotional campaign to call for nominations. We always get a large number of excellent nominees. The nominees go through a review process and the selection panel decides on the winners.”

Eamonn Keogh, the winner of this year’s academic award, is distinguished professor of computer science at the University of California, Riverside. He is a leader in the area of data mining and is well known for the Matrix Profile, a data structure used to analyse time series data and the most cited idea in time series data mining in the last decade. He left Ireland with his Inter Cert in the mid-1980s and obtained his PhD at the University of California Irvine in 2001 while working full-time to pay for tuition. He frequently engages with Irish primary and secondary schoolchildren to encourage them to consider careers in Stem (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).


Industry award winner John Hartnett is the founder and chief executive of SVG Ventures | Thrive, a Silicon Valley-based global agri-food innovation platform that accelerates, invests and works with entrepreneurs, investors and Fortune 500 corporations to advance the future of food and agriculture globally. Based in California, Hartnett founded the Irish Technology Leadership Group which promotes the technology connection between Ireland, Silicon Valley, and the wider US.

The awards presentation forms an important element of Ireland’s trade promotion activities in the US during St Patrick’s week. “The way Ireland has managed to turn a national patron saint’s holiday into a massively successful annual trade mission must be unique in the world,” says Ryan. “We manage to get leading academic and senior executives from big corporations to meet us to discuss opportunities. But the St Patrick’s Day Medals are a small part of what we do in the US. The majority of our work there involves some very significant collaborations.”

Ireland has almost 1,000 academic and more than 400 industry collaborations with the US. Additionally, in excess of 1,500 US-based reviewers have participated in SFI’s peer review process over the past 15 years. “The US-Ireland Research & Development Partnership is a unique tri-jurisdictional initiative involving funding agencies from the US, Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland,” Ryan adds. “It came out of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement. Its goal is to increase the level of collaborative R & D amongst researchers and industry across the three jurisdictions.”

Since the programme launched in 2006, a total of 92 awards have been made across all themes and funders. Sime 85 US-Ireland awards with an SFI contribution have been made to date — 39 projects have completed successfully while 46 are active. SFI has committed more than €40 million to the US-Ireland programme for the 85 awards. This has been matched by about £30 million from partners in Northern Ireland and a further $57 million in funding from US agencies.”

Earlier this year, Minister for Further Science Simon Harris, together with US National Science Foundation (NSF) director Sethuraman Panchanathan, launched the new PhD Student Mobility Programme between the US and Ireland.

The programme is aimed at facilitating the exchange of PhD students in the areas of data science and ICT[information communication technology]. “About three years ago, we were talking to the NSF about the possibility of developing other programmes with them,” Ryan explains. “We thought it would be great if Irish PhD students could get exposure in US labs and then return home to continue their research in Ireland. Under the programme, Irish students go to work in US labs for a few months and American researchers come to Ireland and work in our centres for research training. We hope this will help future collaborations between researchers in Ireland and the US.”