Philip Nolan
Professor Luuk Van Der Wielen, Director Bernal Institute, UL, UL President Professor Kerstin Mey, SFI Director General Philip Nolan and Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President Research at UL Picture: Alan Place
Monday, April 25, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has ‘clearly demonstrated’ the value of public investment in research, SFI Director General Philip Nolan has said.

Professor Nolan, who was a key member of the advisory group assisting Government in the battle against COVID, was speaking at University of Limerick this Monday.

The SFI Director General gave the keynote address at the event ‘Learning from the Pandemic - the Power of Data in Public Health’, taking place as part of UL Research Week.

He was joined by panellists Dr Catherine Motherway, Head of the Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital Limerick, Professor Cathal Walsh, Chair in Statistics, Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UL, Professor Aedin Culhane, Professor of Biomedical Sciences (Cancer Genomics) at the UL School of Medicine and Dr Mai Mannix, Director of Public Health, HSE Mid-West.

UL President Professor Kerstin Mey, who officially launched UL Research Week 2022 prior to the talk, moderated the event, which was organised by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at UL.

“The pandemic clearly demonstrates the value of public investment in fundamental research across a wide range of disciplines,” Professor Nolan stated.

“At the onset of the pandemic, when asked to build a team to monitor and model the development of the outbreak in Ireland, we were able to draw on the expertise of applied mathematicians, computer scientists, geospatial scientists, statisticians, epidemiologists and public health specialists to create the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG).

“A much wider body of expertise in virology, immunology, infectious disease, psychology and behavioural science was available to NPHET and Government. We should remember that this breadth and depth of expertise was available only because of decades of public investment in our higher education and research system.”

Professor Nolan emphasised the importance of increasing our level of investment in research across the full range of disciplines, and of sponsoring interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. He placed special emphasis on engaged research, research conducted in partnership with those it is intended to serve.

“It is only by coming together in partnership, across disciplines, and working in partnership with communities, practitioners, enterprises and civil society, can we hope to address really challenging problems like public health or climate change,” Professor Nolan added.

Professor Mey warmly welcomed Professor Nolan to the talk, paying tribute to the “calm and well-founded advice” he had given to the University in helping to develop models to get students and staff back to learning during the pandemic.

UL professors James Gleeson and Cathal Walsh, in particular, were hailed by Professor Nolan for their work on the IEMAG during the fight against COVID-19, with the SFI Director General saying the pair were “absolute pillars” of the modelling group.

UL Research Week 2022, which is taking place from April 25-29, showcases work taking place at the University and looks closely at ongoing efforts to address global challenges ranging from global health to geopolitics, biodiversity and sustainability, to the future of work.

Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President Research at UL, said: “The focus for 2022 is to highlight the many ways in which UL continues to discover new knowledge for a better world thus supporting the sustainable development goals with excellence and impact.”

Professor Nolan is also visiting CONFIRM, the SFI funded Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing, hosted by UL, this Monday.

CONFIRM is showcasing several ongoing fundamental and applied research projects in Smart Manufacturing. These include physical and cyber test environments for innovative manufacturing projects, digital twin modelling, factory in a box, modular manufacturing, several robotic work cells, autonomous guided vehicle solutions and supply chain optimisation through drone technology.

It is also demonstrating a Cyber Range that provides a secure, sandboxed virtual interactive environment that can simulate real-world threat scenarios and environments, including complex IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) environments and cyber-attacks on infrastructure, networks, software platforms and applications

Conor McCarthy, Director CONFIRM, said: “We are delighted to show CONFIRM’s excellent scientific research. The new technologies coming from Confirm show the importance of the Centre’s work in being at the forefront of new manufacturing innovations and helping Irish industry adopt digital solutions to overcome real life manufacturing challenges.”

For more details on UL Research Week 2022, see here.