Scholarships were secured by researchers in the Schools of Science, Engineering, Humanities, Health Sciences and Business reflecting WIT’s diverse research landscape
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, has announced €28m in funding for new research projects under the Irish Research Council (IRC)’s flagship Government of Ireland programmes. The investment will fund 330 awards in total, namely 254 postgraduate scholarships and 76 postdoctoral fellowships.
Record number of WIT researchers
A record cohort of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) researchers succeeded in securing funding under the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship Programme. The programme is unique in the Irish research landscape funding individual awards for bottom-up, non-directed, excellent research across all disciplines. Scholarships were secured by researchers in the Schools of Science, Engineering, Humanities, Health Sciences and Business reflecting the diverse and pioneering research landscape at WIT.
Future research leaders
“The Irish Research Council Government of Ireland awards are extremely competitive and attract applications from all over the world. The programmes provide the foundation for the development of cutting-edge skills and expertise and awardees will become future research leaders across academia and beyond, including industry and the public sector,” said Peter Brown, Director of the IRC.
Quality of research at WIT
Dr Geraldine Canny, Head of Research at WIT congratulated the awardees, stating, “The high success rate in these competitive postgraduate scholarships across a range of disciplines is testimony to the quality of research being carried out at WIT. Some of these societally relevant projects also involve national and international collaborations, which will extend the reach and impact of WIT, as we transition to become a Technological University.”
Awardees from the School of Science
Five postgraduate researchers in the School of Science secured scholarships to conduct research in areas spanning environmental biotechnology, microbial profiling, conservation genetics, and biochemistry and molecular biology:
Shell waste? Waste product or untapped resource is the title of Brakemi Egbedi’s research project, supervised by Prof Helen Hughes.
Microbial profiling of liquid feed for pigs and the impact of strategies to optimise feed microbial quality on the pig gut microbiome is the title of James Cullen’s research project (Eco-Innovation Research Centre), supervised by Prof Gillian Gardiner, and co-supervised by Dr Peadar Lawlor and Paul Cormican.
Designing Novel Antibiotic Particles for Inhalation Therapy is the title of Nasser Al-Hajj’s research project, supervised by Dr Helen Fox and Dr Niall O'Reilly from the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology (PMBrc) research centre and Department of Science, WIT.
Bridging the gap between conservation genetics and red squirrel conservation management is the title of Rebecca Synnott’s research project, supervised by Dr Denise O Meara.
Development of an enhanced gene therapy for Canavan disease using directed evolution is the title of Sarah Foley’s research project, supervised by Dr Lee Coffey and Dr Laurence Fitzhenry (PMBRC, WIT) and Prof Guangping Gao, Horae Gene Therapy Centre & Viral Vector Core at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMASS).
Commenting on the importance of this research for industry and the southeast, Dr Mark White Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Graduate Studies added that, “biotechnology, agriculture, ecology and conservation are very much at the centre of WIT’s strategic focus. The strategic areas covered by these projects are highlighted in the regions application to become a Technological University and align with the regional focus of smart specialisation and job growth.”
Awardees from the Schools of Humaties, Health Sciences, Business and Engineering
A further four postgraduate researchers from the Schools of Humanities, Health Sciences, Business and Engineering were successful recipients of the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship programme:
A Little Gallic Flair for a Small Irish City? Intoxicating Scenes for Creative Cities is the title of Sarah Fleming’s research project (Department of Applied Arts, School of Humanities), supervised by Dr John O’Brien.
An exploration of how contextual factors in Irish healthcare influence the implementation success or failure of Advance Healthcare Directives? (and how can these be modified to increase chances of success?) is the title of Teresa Dowling’s research project (Department of Nursing and Healthcare, School of Health Sciences), supervised by Dr Sara Kennedy and Dr Sinead Foran.
Risk disclosure in green bond prospectuses and its impact on pricing: An EU exploratory study is the title of Paraic Mc Gee’s research project (Department of Accountancy and Economics, School of Business), supervised by Dr Tom Egan and Prof Sheila O’Donohoe.
Electrochemical Characterisation of Electrode Kinetics in Vanadium-Iron Flow Batteries is the title of Varsha Sasikumar’s research project (Department of Built Environment, School of Engineering), supervised by Dr Andrea Bourke and Dr Robert Lynch.
Speaking of the importance of developing and promoting research, Minster Harris said: “Now more than ever, the benefits of investing in research and innovation are clear, and this starts with fuelling the pipeline of excellent early-career researchers. Support for basic research and investment in cutting-edge expertise across different disciplines is vital for Ireland, and this will be key to ensuring that we can overcome national and global challenges now and in the future.
Shell waste? Waste product or untapped resource
Brakemi Egbedi’s research project supervised by Prof Helen Hughes.
Ground shells in their natural and pretreated forms would be used as bioadsorbents for the treatment of industrial wastewater as well as for the recovery of nitrate and phosphate from such waters. In addition, the shells would be tested for their antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant and toxicity properties for potential use in pharmaceutical applications as antimicrobial agents in the fight against multi-drug resistant antimicrobial bacteria. Project outcomes will be of direct significance to the fisheries/shellfish industries and pharmaceutical companies. It is envisaged that this research will lead to the development of a mini-circular bioeconomy within the shellfish and pharmaceutical industries in Ireland.
Microbial profiling of liquid feed for pigs and the impact of strategies to optimise feed microbial quality on the pig gut microbiome
James Cullen’s (Eco-Innovation Research Centre) research project, supervised by Prof Gillian Gardiner, and co-supervised by Dr Peadar Lawlor and Paul Cormican. This project is a collaboration between WIT, the Pig Development Department in Teagasc Moorepark, and the Animal Bioscience Research Centre in Teagasc Grange.
The project will firstly determine the microbiome and metabolite content of liquid compared to dry pig feed as well as the impact of feed type on the pig gut microbiome. It will then investigate the impact of strategies used to optimise the microbial quality of liquid feed for pigs (deliberate fermentation and sanitisation of feeding systems) on the bacterial and fungal communities in the feed, and in the gastrointestinal tract of pigs. Findings from this project will lead to the development of pig industry guidelines, which will inform investment decisions on installing/replacing expensive feeding systems. These guidelines will also provide vital information to farmers regarding the most suitable strategies to implement for producing liquid feed, in order to maximise health, growth and feed efficiency of pigs.
Designing Novel Antibiotic Particles for Inhalation Therapy
Nasser Al-Hajj’s research project, supervised by Dr Helen Fox and Dr Niall O'Reilly from the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology (PMBrc) research centre / Department of Science, WIT.
This project aims to develop a novel inhaled antibiotic and antibiofilm fixed-dose combination powder for the treatment of Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. The optimized formulation will have a potential impact of increasing the antimicrobial susceptibility of P. aeruginosa which will boost the antibiotic’s efficacy and improve the therapy outcome.
Bridging the gap between conservation genetics and red squirrel conservation management
Rebecca Synnott’s research project, supervised by Dr Denise O Meara.
This project involves two species, the native red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and the invasive North American grey squirrel (S. carolinensis), the latter of which has a negative impact on red squirrel populations due to competition for food and habitat and the spread of diseases such as the squirrel pox virus. The aim of the research is to use genetic tools to help understand and inform best practices for the management and control of invasive grey squirrels, and the conservation, restoration and recovery of native red squirrels. The work on grey squirrels involves the use of DNA analysis to understand how they move throughout the landscape to recolonise areas from where they have previously been removed as part of on-going efforts to help conserve and restore red squirrel populations. The work is important as it is contributing towards the implementation of the European Union Regulation (No 1143/2014) on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, and to support Irish and British government commitments to the restoration and conservation of red squirrels at national levels.
Development of an enhanced gene therapy for Canavan disease using directed evolution
Sarah Foley’s research project, supervised by Dr Lee Coffey and Dr Laurence Fitzhenry (PMBRC, WIT) and Prof Guangping Gao, Horae Gene Therapy Centre & Viral Vector Core at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMASS).
Canavan Disease (CD) is a rare genetic neurodegenerative condition that is caused by mutation(s) in the ASPA gene, which encodes for aspartoacylase (ASPA) enzyme, vital for the synthesis of myelin and neuronal function and development of white matter throughout the brain. CD mutations cause a deficiency in ASPA enzyme, resulting in disease progression. This research project aims to use directed evolution to identify mutations in the ASPA gene observed to have a positive effect on ASPA activity. This research will produce a library of evolved enzymes that carry randomised mutations, each will be screened to identify potential enzymes that offer enhanced activity. Work to date has focused on optimising ASPA expression and recovery. Enhanced ASPA proteins identified will be trialled via in-vivo testing using disease models in UMASS, with a viral vector (AAV) delivery system, developed by Prof Gao and his research team. This animal study will identify the in-vivo efficacy of enhanced ASPA gene therapy solutions, informing future research and therapies towards treating Canavan patients in the most effective manner.
A Little Gallic Flair for a Small Irish City? Intoxicating Scenes for Creative Cities
Sarah Fleming’s research project (Department of Applied Arts, School of Humanities) is supervised by Dr John O’Brien.
This research project investigates the role of culture and creativity as a driving force of urban regeneration, by means of a comparative study of culture-led urban regeneration within Ireland and France. The focus of the study is the research and analysis of urban centres in which culture-led urban regeneration programmes have been successfully implemented. The main aim of the study is to determine the means by which Waterford, as a small-scale city and regional capital of the South-East region can overcome limitations, such as size and scale and become a ‘Creative City’, where regeneration is focused on the development of the Night-time economy and cultural quarters. The project will contribute to the development of Waterford City and the South-East region, and by concentrating on regional cities will make a valuable contribution to an area that is under-researched. It is envisioned that through conducting and disseminating this research, an original and innovative toolkit for culture-led urban regeneration can be achieved, collaborators can partake in dialogue, and policy proposals can be conveyed to decision makers.
An exploration of how contextual factors in Irish healthcare influence the implementation success or failure of Advance Healthcare Directives? (and how can these be modified to increase chances of success?)
Teresa Dowling’s research project (Department of Nursing and Healthcare, School of Health Sciences), supervised by Dr Sara Kennedy and Dr Sinead Foran.
This research aims to understand the impact of Advance Healthcare Directives legislation will have for patients and their families and to understand the challenges that will arise from its enactment, and to identify policies to overcome these. The purpose of this study is to examine how contextual factors in Irish healthcare can be modified to ensure the successful implementation of, and maximum benefit from, Advance Healthcare Directives. The beneficiaries of this study will be all healthcare and social care professionals, and the public at large, who will benefit from wider knowledge of advance care planning opportunities.
Risk disclosure in green bond prospectuses and its impact on pricing: An EU exploratory study
Paraic Mc Gee’s research project (Department of Accountancy and Economics, School of Business), supervised by Dr Tom Egan and Prof Sheila O’Donohoe.
This research seeks to examine the information disclosed in green bond prospectuses in order to unravel the nature and the extent of the risks for investors. Using a sample of 700 EU corporate green bond prospectuses from 2014 to 2020, a quantitative textual analysis will examine the risk disclosure prior to issuance. The relationship between this risk disclosure and the initial pricing of the bonds will then be examined to ascertain how disclosure manifests itself into price. The research is timely as it will assess the impacts of sustainable finance disclosures and price prior to the EU Green Deal. The findings will contribute to the academic literature where there is a paucity of research on the risks from sustainable debt financing. Furthermore, the findings will be of interest to the investment community, especially institutional investors, as it will shed new insights into the riskiness of green bonds. It will also be of interest to green bond issuers, and policymakers, including the European Commission.
Electrochemical Characterisation of Electrode Kinetics in Vanadium-Iron Flow Batteries
Varsha Sasikumar’s research project (Department of Built Environment, School of Engineering), supervised by Dr Andrea Bourke WIT and Dr Robert Lynch.
The importance of renewable sources and dependency on wind, hydro and solar energy will increase within the upcoming years. Developing improved energy storage will become imperative in the near future to maximise the use of renewable energy. Low-cost, electricity storage is often described as a game changer by the energy industry. There is a significant need to develop low-cost, flexible, and safe energy storage devices that can offer an alternative to lithiumion batteries. Vanadium-iron flow batteries are a promising solution. This project involves an investigation into the kinetics of the electrochemical reactions at carbon electrodes in mixed vanadium-iron flow batteries. In order to better understand and improve the performance of batteries, it is important to investigate the electrode kinetics. Energy storage is the key to the reliable and efficient dispatch of energy from renewables. Through this project it is aimed to develop an energy storage system with improved electrode-kinetics to enable cost-effective storage of renewable-energy.