A science and engineering initiative to the tune of €52 million has been launched at the University of Limerick. It is hoped that the Bernal Project will make a significant contribution to Ireland’s national research initiatives in the strategically important areas of pharmaceutical, biomedical and energy research and development.
Named after influential 20th century Irish scientist, John Desmond Bernal, who was regarded as the founding father of molecular biology, the project outlines a detailed plan to enhance research excellence in the fields of pharmaceutical science and engineering; energy and sustainable environment; modern and biomedical materials and engineering.
The Bernal Project involves the recruitment of 10 world-leading professors, a start-up seed fund to support their teaching and research activity and the construction of a new advanced research building on campus. The University of Limerick Foundation has committed to providing €36 million in philanthropic funding for this project primarily from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the project’s main sponsor to date with a commitment of €26.3 million. The balance will come from state funding and University funds.
To date, five leading international researchers have been appointed as Bernal Chairs: Prof Mike Zaworotko, Bernal chair of crystal cngineering, (one of the world’s top 20 chemists); Prof Ursel Bangert, Bernal chair of microscopy and imaging; Professor Bartek Glowacki, Bernal chair in energy; Prof Harry Ven den Akker, Bernal chair in fluid mechanics and Prof Gavin Walker, Bernal chair in pharmaceutical powder engineering. The next five professorships to be appointed will be in the following areas:
• Biomedical engineering;
• Biopharmaceutical engineering;
• Composites; and
Some 150 construction jobs will be created in building the new building with a further 75 long-term, sustainable research and teaching positions, amounting to a total of 225 jobs being created by the Bernal Project. The Bernal Laboratory will house fully-equipped laboratory facilities in a 7,459m2 building. The building project has begun with completion envisaged by 2015.
Speaking at the launch of the project, UL president Prof Don Barry said the imperative in growing the University of Limerick and contributing to the economic development of Ireland was premised on developing a deep knowledge infrastructure and human capital base. “This will attract investment and stimulate the development of high-end industry and services at the core of a revitalised ‘smart’ economy,” he said.
Dr Mary Shire, vice-president of research at the university, said: “Through the Bernal Project, the University of Limerick is attracting top researchers from some of the world’s top 100 ranked universities to bring their expertise to Limerick in support of Irish recovery and growth. This investment will have major significance in promoting Ireland as a location for foreign direct investment and job creation, particularly in R&D and advanced manufacturing.
“The Bernal Project provides an opportunity to align the strategic needs of the State with those of the university in their common goal to impact economic, educational and social development nationally,” she added.
Prof Kieran Hodnett, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, UL welcomed the announcement and said that the disciplines of science and engineering were the key to the economy’s future growth. “UL has a reputation for building effective industry partnerships and creating graduates ready to take on future scientific challenges,” he said. “The Bernal Laboratory creates a home for world-leading research in fields which are vital for Ireland’s recovery and building this institutions reputation.”
Each of the selected areas is already supported by major funding from Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (Higher Education Authority), Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the European Union and a variety of commercial sources.