Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) was delighted to officially open its new science building on November 16 and was thrilled to be granted permission to name it after an inspirational Northern Irish woman, Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell who was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland.

The institute was delighted when Prof Bell Burnell agreed to attend on the day along with higher education minister Simon Harris.

Discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967

Prof Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist who, as a postgraduate student in Cambridge University, discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. This discovery eventually earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974.

At the time of the Nobel Prize announcement, Jocelyn Bell Burnell was not named, and the award went to her PhD supervisors. Several prominent scientists protested the omission of Prof Bell Burnell, though she always maintained that the prize was presented appropriately given her student status.

Earlier this year DkIT asked staff to nominate names for their new science building. It was decided to call the building in honour of Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell, due to her commitment to excellence in science and her belief in providing accessible education.

Dr Diarmuid O’Callaghan, president of DkIT, said: “DkIT has been at the forefront of delivering excellence in higher education the northeast, with an unwavering commitment to the learners, families, employers and enterprises of the region.

"Our new 1,300-sq-m science building, provides state of the art facilities for both undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students. 

"It will allow us to develop a number of new courses to meet regional and national needs in the sector and will lead to increased intake of students in both existing and new programmes. Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been a visionary in her field of expertise, astrophysics, and has relentlessly championed under-represented groups. We hope to emulate her example in the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Science Building.”

Minister Simon Harris said: “It’s great to be here at the Dundalk Institute of Technology to officially open the new STEM extension and what is a really important development for higher education in the North Eastern region.

“The construction of this building will improve the educational experience for current and future generations of students.

“The new STEM extension will be named the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Science Building. Apart from being a scientist from the region, Dame Bell Burnell represents inclusivity and improved education pathways for all, an area that is very close to my heart."

“Honouring Dame Bell Burnell in the naming of the building will provide greater opportunity for science students in the northeast and DkIT will also be recognising the achievements of a trailblazer of her time, who is also providing opportunities for a wider cohort of students in science than otherwise may have been the case in years past.

“I’d like to thank Dr Alan Wall and Mr Ciarán McCaffrey and all the team in the Higher Education Authority for their dedication and hard work on this project and also for their support to the institute.

"This project is being delivered under Project Ireland 2040 which recognises that investment in education is central to achieving a strong, future-proofed economy, balanced across the regions, and a just society in which all citizens are enabled to fulfil their potential."

One of the fastest growing industry sectors

Dr Edel Healy, head of School of Health & Science, said: “As the leading higher education provider in the region we are completely committed to STEM, one of the fastest growing industry sectors both locally and nationally. With this investment we plan to increase capacity on life science, health science and agri-food programmes, helping us to meet the growing demand from employers in our region for high-quality graduates in these specialised areas.  

"One of the exciting additions is its innovative new cell culture facility. Designed to accommodate the culture of cell lines, DkIT students will now get direct experience with the technologies and processes commonly used in current, sophisticated biotechnology settings.

"The commercial value of biotherapeutic medicines is forecasted to grow exponentially in the next few years. The success of the Irish biopharma industry is internationally recognised and this new Cell Culture facility at DkIT will provide our students with the most up-to-date skills, training, research, and innovation opportunities for the manufacture of biotherapeutics. This facility will also support collaborations with our industry partners, such as WuXi Biologics, ABP Food Group and Almac.”