Thursday 5th November 2020: The winners of the prestigious 2020 Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Awards were revealed today by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, at the annual SFI Science Summit.

In advance of Science Week, this year the Summit has transferred to a virtual platform allowing members of Ireland’s research community to come together online to discuss the challenges and celebrate the significant contributions made over the past year to research and innovation in Ireland.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland congratulated the award winners, saying: “I am delighted to congratulate this year’s award winners on their inspiring success and dedication. The Science Foundation Ireland Awards recognise the expansive contribution that scientists make to our society and economy through innovative breakthroughs, industry collaborations, entrepreneurship, public engagement, and mentorship of the next generation. This year has been an eventful and challenging one for our research community.  I would particularly like to congratulate Prof Kingston Mills as our 2020 SFI Researcher of the Year. Well done to all, working closely together, the Irish research community continues to be impactful, inspirational and world-leading.”

This year there are eight categories in total, two categories with double awards and one joint award.

The SFI Researcher of the Year Award recognises the accomplishments of a researcher who has contributed significantly to the Irish research community in the year of the award and/or throughout their career. The successful researcher has achieved exceptional scientific and engineering research outputs combined with a clear demonstration of the ability to communicate their research.

Recipient: Professor Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology and Director Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Trinity College Dublin (TCD)

Kingston Mills is a graduate of TCD and trained at as a Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London and the National Institute for Medical Research, London (now the Crick Institute). From 1987-1992, he was the Scientific Staff at NIBSC, the research arm of the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. He returned to Ireland in 1993 to take up an academic position at Maynooth University, where he was Dean of the Science Faculty from 1997-2000.

He was appointed to a Personal Chair at TCD in 2001 and was Head of the School of Biochemistry and Immunology from 2008-2011. He is currently Leader of The Immunology, Inflammation and Infection research Theme at Trinity and co-leads the COVID-19 research Hub funded by SFI with additional co-funding from Allied Irish Bank through the Trinity Foundation. 

He has won continuous Principal and individual Research grants from SFI since its foundation in 2001 and was lead PI on a SFI strategic research Cluster and two Strategic Research Partnerships with Industry. He has co-founded 3 Biotech start-up companies, Opsona Therapeutics, TriMod Therapeutics, and Parvalis Tx.

Kingston heads an active research team focusing on T cells in infection and autoimmunity and has published over 300 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters that have been cited over 31,000 times (h-index: 96). He is an editorial board member of several Immunology journals and was section Editor of the Journal of Immunology for 4 years. He is a member of a number of international scientific advisory panels on Immunotherapeutics and vaccines, including two at the World Health Organization and is a member of the ERC advanced grant panel on Infection and Immunity. 

Commenting on receiving the Award Professor Kingston Mills stated: “I am absolutely delighted to receive this prestigious award from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). I have been committed to the fascinating field of Immunology for nearly 40 years, but my research achievements would not have been possible without the financial support from SFI, the commitment and dedication of my research team and the support of colleagues, especially those at Trinity College Dublin.”

Recognises outstanding early career research talent and in recognition of the high calibre of nominations in 2020, there are two individual recipients of the Early Career Researcher of the Year Award:

Recipient: Dr Matthew Campbell, Neurovascular Genetics laboratory, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Matthew Campbell graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) in 2006 with a PhD in Biochemistry followed by post-doctoral research in TCD in Human Molecular Genetics (2006-2012).  He established the Neurovascular Genetics unit in the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at TCD in 2013. 

Matthew is an international leader in the field of neurovascular barrier biology.  He has published and continues to publish in the world’s leading biomedical journals including Nature Medicine (2012, 2014), Science Translational Medicine (2014) and Nature Neuroscience (2017).  He has made seminal contributions to our understanding of the role of the endothelial tight junction complexes in both health and diseased states and his lab has active projects exploring the role of the inner retinal vasculature in a range of ophthalmological conditions. 

Matthew has received numerous awards for his research including the SFI President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (2013), the ARVO/Genentech Award (2014) in recognition of his research in Age related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the Irish Research Council (IRC) laureate award (2018) and more recently the European Research Council (ERC) consolidator award (2020).  He has raised over €5.7million in research funding and his work has led to the development of multiple intellectual property portfolios, some of which have been licensed to TCD based campus companies and multinational companies. 

Recipient: Dr Lorna Lopez, Lecturer and Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, National University of Ireland Maynooth

Dr Lorna Lopez is a Lecturer and Assistant Professor in Maynooth University. Lorna graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BA (Genetics) Natural Sciences in 2002, and The University of Edinburgh with a PhD (Psychiatric Genetics) in 2008. She leads human health research on discovering the genomic basis of neurodevelopmental disorders and her research expertise ranges from genomic to molecular and proteomic approaches in family and population-based studies, and always with a focus on understanding the genetic basis of mental illness and other brain- and medical-related traits. She is also a recent recipient of a prestigious ERC Starting Investigator Award.

The SFI Industry Partnership Award celebrates a collaboration between an academic research group and industry.

Recipient: Professor Fergal O’Brien, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, AMBER SFI Research Centre and Integra LifeSciences

Fergal O’Brien is a Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine, Director for Research & Innovation, and Head of Tissue Engineering Research Group in RCSI. He has brought his extensive experience to bear in leading this longstanding SFI AMBER partnership in collaboration with Integra LifeSciences. It provides an excellent example of how partnerships between academia and industry can lead to a highly productive research programme with key commercialisation outcomes. Integra’s longstanding engagement with RCSI began in 2005 as a collaborator on a SFI President of Ireland Young Researcher Award received by Fergal. Integra supplied his group with type-1 collagen which has subsequently formed the basis of over 60 high impact publications with more than 40 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers benefitting from the partnership - developing and characterizing biomaterials for a myriad of applications. An engagement in the area of peripheral nerve repair began in 2015 with Integra fully funding an exploratory study coordinated through the SFI Centre for Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research (AMBER) focused on the development of a new regenerative biomaterial. Since 2017, the collaboration has grown to a >€1million AMBER co-funded spoke project led by Prof Fergal O’Brien (RCSI) and Prof Conor Buckley (TCD) as PIs. This SFI AMBER project has successfully developed two unique peripheral nerve repair technologies, both of which have proven highly effective in repairing damaged nerves in pre-clinical trials. These technologies have been protected by three patent filings and transferred to the company under appropriate commercialisation agreements.   The AMBER researchers and business development team, supported by the Innovation Team in RCSI and Technology Transfer Office at TCD has worked to rapidly accelerate the development and translation of these biomaterials, helping Integra remain at the cutting edge of nerve repair treatments for the benefit of patients and society. 

This award recognises the accomplishments of a researcher/group specifically in the context of their international activities.

Recipient: Professor Brian O’Gallachoir, Chair of Energy Engineering, University College Cork, Director of MaREI, SFI Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine.

Brian Ó Gallachóir is Professor of Energy Engineering in University College Cork (UCC) and Director of MaREI, the SFI centre for energy, climate and marine. As Centre Director, he oversaw MaREI successfully securing €17m from EU programmes in the past three years. Brian has established new research capacity in Ireland in the area of integrated energy systems modelling. His research has underpinned significant policy developments including Ireland’s Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, Energy White Paper 2015, Government negotiations with the EU regarding 2030 climate targets, and recent changes to the public spending code in 2019. Brian’s collaborative research with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) also underpinned the EU decision in 2018 to increase its target share of energy from renewable resources by 2030 from 27% to 32%. Brian is elected Chair of the International Energy Agency - Energy Technology Systems Analysis Programme (IEA-ETSAP) since 2011. He has significantly consolidated cross-border research by co-establishing the All-Island Climate and Biodiversity Network and by leading the US-Ireland CREDENCE project on decentralisation and electrification of energy systems. He has showcased this research to the US Department of Energy and US State Department at SFI St. Patricks Day events. Brian expanded MaREI relationships with University College London and Loughborough University to jointly lead the Energy Resilience in the Built Environment Centre for Doctoral Training. He provides expert advice to the International Energy Agency and presented at UN Climate conference (COP 21) in Paris and COP 23 in Bonn.

The SFI Entrepreneurship Award celebrates an entrepreneurial achievement of researchers. This year there are joint recipients.

Recipient: Professor Fergal Mc Caffery, Department of Computing and Mathematics, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Director of the Regulated Software Research Centre

Fergal Mc Caffery is founder and director of the Regulated Software Research Centre, and a Professor of Computing Science in Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT). He is the Medical Device Software Engineering competency area leader in Lero and is a co-founder of Nova Leah (a spin out company from the Regulated Software Research Centre). Over the past few years, he has taken a part time career break to work with Nova Leah and also as Chief Scientific Officer for STATSports. He has been awarded over €16 million in research funding through highly competitive national and European funding calls to research the area of medical device software, including SFI awards of Stokes, Principal Investigator and a Lero Co-PI.

He has published over 200 peer-reviewed conference and journal papers and is on the editorial board/programme committee for a number of leading software engineering conferences and journals. Fergal has won numerous awards including the DkIT Established Researcher of the Year Award in 2017; the Lero Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2019. He was a finalist for the Irish Software Association/IBEC Outstanding Academic of the year Award in 2015 & 2019. He is internationally recognised for his contributions to medical device software engineering. Fergal’s research team have led the development of 5 International Standards/Technical reports for medical device software. He was the Leader for the development of IEC/TR 80002-3 for medical device software processes in collaboration with the ISO/IEC 62304 development team.  He also was appointed to the Health Products Regulatory Authority Advisory Committee for Medical Devices.

Recipient: Dr Anita Finnegan, CEO and Founder of Nova Leah

Dr Anita Finnegan is the Founder and CEO of Nova Leah, a world leader in the provision of cybersecurity risk management solutions for connected medical devices. She is an internationally recognised expert in the field of medical device cybersecurity risk management and is an active member of a number of International Standards Communities. Her PhD research focused on medical device cybersecurity through the use of security assurance cases. In addition to many peer reviewed journals and a number of book chapters, Anita authored, and was the international project leader for two technical reports (IEC/TR 80001-2-8 and IEC/TR 80001-2-9).

In 2016, Anita spun-out Nova Leah from the research work she conducted in The Regulated Software Research Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Through her work with Nova Leah, she has won multiple awards for innovation, security and technological impact. Nova Leah was named Emerging Company of Year at the 2019 Technology Ireland Awards in association with Ibec, KTI Spinout Company of the Year 2019 and was runner-up by DIGITALEUROPE for the European 'Future Unicorn Award' in 2020. Most recently, she was named as a finalist in the EU Women Innovator Prize. Nova Leah was featured in WIRED Magazine as one of 'Europe's 100 Hottest Startups' and Anita was listed in ‘50 Female Entrepreneurs Everyone Should Know’ by Crunchbase. As a global cybersecurity authority, Anita acts as an advisor to a number of key decision/policy maker groups.

This award recognises an outstanding contribution to the popularisation of science and recognises an individual who raises public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

Recipient: Professor Luke O’Neill, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Luke O’Neill is a world expert on innate immunity and inflammation. He is listed by Thompson Reuters/ Clarivates in the top 1% of immunologists in the world, based on citations per paper. He is co-founder of Sitryx, which aims to develop new medicines for inflammatory diseases. Another company he co-founded, Inflazome was recently acquired by Roche. Both companies were built from his SFI-funded research programmes.

Luke has won numerous awards for his research including the Royal Dublin Society / Irish Times Boyle Medal for scientific excellence, the Royal Irish Academy Gold Medal for Life Sciences, The Society for Leukocyte Biology (SLB) Dolph O. Adams award, the European Federation of Immunology Societies Medal, the Milstein Award of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society, the Lansteiner Award from the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Marsh Award from the Feinstein Institutes of Health, New York. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy, EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organisation) and a Fellow of the Royal Society. 

Luke also has a passion for communicating science to the public. He has a weekly radio slot on the Pat Kenny show on Newstalk. In 2018 he published with Gill the best-selling ‘Humanology: a scientist’s guide to our amazing existence’ and in 2019 Gill published ‘The Great Irish Science Book’, a Science book for 10-12 year olds. His latest book, also published by Gill is called ‘Never Mind the B#ll*cks Here’s the Science’

This award recognises outstanding mentorship provided by a researcher funded by Science Foundation Ireland. This year we have two awardees.

Recipient: Professor Pat Guiry, Full Professor of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Director of the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology, School of Chemistry, University College Dublin


Pat Guiry was born in County Tipperary and studied at UCD, BSc 1986 and PhD 1990, with Professor Dervilla Donnelly as his PhD supervisor. During his PhD he was awarded a French Government Scholarship to work with Dr Jean-Pierre Finet (Marseille) and a Fulbright Scholarship to work with Nobel laureate, Professor Sir Derek Barton (Texas A&M). He carried out postdoctoral research with Professor John Brown FRS (Oxford University) and held Tutorial Fellowships at Wadham College and St. Hugh’s College Oxford (1990-93). He joined UCD in 1993 and is the Director of the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology (2002-present) and Full Professor of Synthetic Organic Chemistry since 2006. His research interests include the design, synthesis and application of novel ligands in asymmetric catalysis, natural product synthesis and medicinal chemistry. He has supervised 55 PhD and 3 MSc students to graduation to date and has worked with over 20 postdoctoral researchers. His group has published over 140 papers, review articles, book chapters and patents with over 7,000 citations. Pat was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2013, is an elected member of the UCD Governing Authority and of the Senate of the National University of Ireland. He was the Science Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy 2016-2020 and is the Vice-President of the Institute of Chemistry in Ireland 2019-present. Pat was also selected to represent Ireland in 2020 in the Austria Cup (ITF World Team Tennis Competition) in Florida which was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid19.

Recipient: Professor Patricia Maguire, Professor of Biomedical Science, UCD College of Science and Director of the UCD Institute for Discovery

Professor Patricia Maguire is an interdisciplinary scientist interested in the intersection of Artificial Intelligence with Biomedical Science. She is professor in the UCD School of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science and Principal Investigator at the UCD Conway Institute, where she directs the translational ConwaySPHERE group together with Prof Fionnuala Ní Áinle and Dr Barry Kevane. Together they use unique tools to diagnose and understand a host of inflammatory-based diseases, including Early-onset Preeclampsia, Multiple Sclerosis, Venous ThromboEmbolism and COVID-19. She has demonstrated strong & outstanding leadership in research supervision leading a vibrant and successful research team in terms of both quality & scale, with 12 graduate research students to date having completed their theses under her direction.

Patricia is also currently Director of the UCD Institute for Discovery, which facilitates interdisciplinary connections in emerging areas of interdisciplinary research through for example its Visiting Professor or Rising Star Programmes.

The Research Image competition celebrates images captured by Science Foundation Ireland funded researchers during the course of their research. This research was undertaken as part of a project funded under the Covid-19 Rapid Response Research & Innovation Programme.

Recipient: Dr Niall Smith, Head of Research at Cork Institute of Technology / Head of Blackrock Castle Observatory

 Image-of-the-year.png

Image title: Talking Heads

Description: Laser-based imaging shows the stark contrast between a masked and unmasked medical dummy head arranged as if in conversation. Particles emitted from the nose and mouth are clearly evident from the unmasked head in both the volume and initial projected distance. Particles from the masked dummy head show significantly reduced forward emissions, but do reveal some vertical leakage, emphasising the importance of properly fitted masks. The image underscores in a simple visual way why mask wearing in social interactions is a key strategy for suppressing SARS-Cov-2.

Image credited to Dr Steven Darby (CAPPA Research Centre), Dr. Krishnakumar Chullipalliyalil (CAPPA Research Centre), Danielle Wilcox (Blackrock Castle Observatory)