The Irish Research Council (IRC) has announced the winners of the annual Researcher of the Year Awards, which recognise the very best of the council’s awardees and alumni working in academia, industry, civic society and the public sector.

School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Dr Colin Keogh, who completed his PhD earlier this year under the supervision of Professor Lizbeth Goodman, chair of creative technology innovation in the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, has scooped this year’s IRC Impact Award.

Dr Tara Dirilgen, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, was awarded this year’s IRC ‘Thomas Mitchell Medal of Excellence’ for being the top-ranked postdoctoral researcher in the STEM category.

In addition to Dr Keogh and Dr Dirilgen, Dr Brynne Gilmore, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, was highly commended in the Early Career Researcher of the Year Award category.

Healthcare, climate and business

The IRC Impact Award is given to a current or former IRC awardee who is making a highly significant impact outside of academia. Dr Keogh is an engineer, working in the innovation space and his research and work focuses on applying technology and innovation to solve problems in sectors such as healthcare, climate and business.

This year alone, he built out a team to design and develop open-source ventilators to assist with the fight against COVID-19.

He is also the co-founder of Sapien Innovation, an innovation consultancy specialising in applied innovation, creativity and design thinking services and co-founder of The Rapid Foundation, a social enterprise which aims to disperse 3D printing technology His work has included the design of 3D printed prosthetics for children with missing or ‘non-standard’ limbs.

Dr Keogh has also previously been named as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD vice-president for research, innovation and impact and Engineers Ireland vice-president, said: “Colin is a great researcher, always with an eye on impact. He is always looking for areas of need where his research can make a difference be it in the developing world, through his work with 3D printing, or his work in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”


Dr Colin Keogh said: "I am honoured to receive this award from the IRC. I hadn't expected to be able to apply my Doctoral work towards real-world issues, at such scale, so soon. My work and support from the IRC left me uniquely placed to apply new innovative approaches and techniques to the global Covid-19 response. I hope to be able to continue this research, and associated impact, at UCD."

Professor Lizbeth Goodman, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, said: “Colin is that very rare phenomenon, a truly excellent researcher who is also committed to creating pro-social change in society with real community impact.

"His work does not fit easily into the standard boxes for metric evaluation within a single discipline or methodology, it reaches well beyond in a post-disciplinary model of 'impact' enacted on a local, national and global scale.”

“He does not need to be guided to 'think out of the box' because he does not see a box to begin with, he sees potential and possibility, and he conducts ethical research with a determination to transform the academy from within.”

Every year, in addition to the Researcher of the Year Awards, the IRC presents ‘Medals of Excellence’ to four early-career researchers.

Each of the 'Medals of Excellence' have been named after previous Chairs of the Irish Research Council and recognise excellence in the 2020 postgraduate and postdoctoral funding calls run by the Council in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS).

The research carried out by Dr Tara Dirilgen, who won the ‘Thomas Mitchell Medal of Excellence’ for being the top-ranked postdoctoral researcher in the STEM category, sets out to explore how biodiversity below ground influences plants and pollinators above ground.

Her research investigates how below ground interactions, soil biodiversity and plant roots, effect plant-pollinator interactions and how the use of pesticides in crop protection might alter this. The findings will inform management of agricultural systems to promote both biodiversity conservation and food production.

Environment and pollination

Dr Dirilgen said: “I am delighted to be awarded this medal of excellence. The diversity of life that surrounds us, be it plants, insects, birds and so on, fascinates me to no end. With this comes the desire to understand biodiversity, the threats causing its loss and the subsequent impact on services the environment provides, such as pollination.”

“In particular I am keen to explore biodiversity in soil and how this may have effects above ground. I am driven by curiosity and wanting to add to the existing pool of knowledge that feeds into developing solutions to current threats to biodiversity.

“My proposal would not have been what it is only for the support and encouragement I received from a number of people, especially the enthusiasm I received from my research mentors, Dr Dara Stanley and Dr Saoirse Tracy.”

Dr Brynne Gilmore, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, who was highly commended in the Early Career Researcher of the Year category, is an applied global health researcher, focusing on strengthening and advancing the understanding of health systems and programmes primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

Within her work she partners with communities, non-governmental organisations, UN agencies such as the World Health Organization and academic institutions around the world to understand and improve community health and community engagement approaches, using theory driven evaluation.

Dr Gilmore said: “Global health is a multi-disciplinary field that aims to improve health equity worldwide by focusing on populations and health systems that are underserved. I am driven to this field to support the strengthening of health systems and interventions by bridging the gap between theory and practice, in order to reach health equity for all populations worldwide.”

Dr Jane Suiter, Dublin City University, has awarded the IRC Researcher of the Year Award and Dr Kathryn Schoenrock, NUI Galway was awarded the IRC Early Career Researcher of the Year Award.

'Standard exceedingly high'

Director of the Irish Research Council, Peter Brown said: “Our annual Researcher of the Year awards are about recognising the very best and brightest of the council’s current and former awardees. The standard this year was exceedingly high, and the judging panel found it difficult in many cases to choose a winner, which is a testament to the high calibre of researchers we have here in Ireland.

“We launched our five-year strategic plan this year and supporting excellent ideas and talent across all disciplines is at the heart of the Council’s mandate. Having a vibrant research community, and fostering public support for research is vital, as we continue to see the positive impact it has on society, the environment, and the economy.

"This is particularly true in the case of our three winners this year, who have all individually made an impact on society through their research. We are very proud of all of our awardees and I look forward to seeing what comes next for them.”

  1. Edmond Gubbins, Mary Immaculate College, was awarded the ‘Eda Sagarra Medal of Excellence’ for being the top-ranked postgraduate researcher in the AHSS category.
  2. Shane Somers, University College Cork, was awarded the ‘Jane Grimson Medal of Excellence’ for being the top-ranked postgraduate researcher in the STEM category.
  3. Dr Edward Molloy, University College Cork, was awarded the ‘Maurice J Bric Medal of Excellence’ for being the top-ranked postdoctoral researcher in the AHSS category.

Further information on all this year’s IRC Researcher of the Year Awardees via: