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SPIN ACTIVE Applied Science Technology & Innovation

l CAMPUS COMPANIES l GETTING R&D INTO IRISH SMEs l INNOVATION CENTRES l COLLEGE INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS


SPIN ACTIVE APPLIED STI

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nnovation is an essential part of Science Spin, and to extend our coverage on the applied side of science and technology a new supplement, Spin ACTIVE, has been launched. In Spin ACTIVE the main focus is on how business and industry can benefit by applying the results of research. Like Science Spin, Spin ACTIVE is being distributed in print and as a free-for-all digital pager turner. It also has a controlled circulation to those involved in the business side of innovation, new product development, and professionals working in industrial R&D. For more than five years, Science Spin has been giving Irish research unrivalled coverage, and now Spin ACTIVE is here to present news and information of practical use to people in business and industry. By presenting information in a way that readers can understand, Spin ACTIVE is addressing the gap between generation of knowledge and application of results. That gap is bad for science, bad for industry, and it is undoubtedly bad for the economy. As the recent State commissioned ‘value for money’ studies have shown the vast majority of Irish SMEs either feel excluded from technology transfer opportunities, or they have serious difficulties in matching up their everyday needs to the available third and fourth level expertise. A low level of spin-off to small and medium sized Irish firms raises serious questions on how the economy is supposed to benefit from continued investment in science and technology. This is not, as it might first appear, to be an issue of dividing science into two camps, ‘blue skies’, or ‘applied’. Ultimately pure science, which gave us lasers, induction, and monoclonals, may be far more valuable in every sense of the word than tightly focused applied research, but this is not the point. A failure to profit from results, no matter where they come from, is not the smartest way to to go about developing a ‘knowledge economy.” In spite of the very welcome support and uptake of research by multinationals, the transfer of results to Irish firms remains unacceptably low, and without question this is a problem that has to be solved. In the longer term, solving that problem could well be more important to the Irish economy than using public money to prop up a seriously defective banking system. If you find it hard to accept that, just look at how the global economy works, and see that the SMEs, not the banks, are the real drivers of growth and innovation. Without the SMEs the world’s economy would simply grind to a halt, so is it really too much to think that Ireland should be any different? Alas, for far too many people in the agencies and in adademia home grown firms are just a bunch of losers. Hands-on entrepreneurs, on the other hand, typically regard academics as hopeless dreamers. The truth of it is that both have a point, but these are just two extremes, and in a perfect world, both sides could be of great benefit to each other. Not that the match is easily made, mainly because one side often does not really understand the other, so while busy entrepreneurs skip the lecture but expect to get a quick fix for their latest problem, academics, who have no talent at all for marketing, aspire to become whiz-kids in business. Of course there are the exceptions, people who feel at home in both camps, but even so, a common, if not the dominant view among those who are actually in business, is that publicly funded research has nothing at all to do with them. By making our content relevant to both sides of that divide Spin ACTIVE aims to bridge that gap.

Your news, views and comments are always welcome. If you are involved in applied science and have something to say or wish to profile your research, this is your platform. Send in an email with the words ‘Register Spin Active’ and we will keep you up to date with our live links to the digital page turner edition. Spin ACTIVE is published with Science Spin, Ireland’s science, nature and discovery magazine. Editor: Tom Kennedy. Email: tom@sciencespin.com Business Development Manager: Alan Doherty. Email: alan@sciencespin.com Tel: 01 2842909 www.sciencespin.com

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Spin-offs from space

Techniques developed to speed up car assembly proved useful in the aerospace industry, and now the circle has come around. Technology used for docking in space are now being used for more accurate and faster assembly of components in the auto industry. At the Volkswagen Autoeuropa works in Portugal, object recognition technology developed for the European Space Agency has gone into action fitting dashboards into cars during assembly. The object recognition and positioning system was developed by MDUSpace in The Netherlands for use on ESA’s Automated Trensfer Vehicle which serves the International Space Station.

Cleaning up

Miguel Brito, who is in charge of business development at MDUSpace, explained that the positioning system, which is still being evaluated, could solve a major problem for car makers. Although highly automated, positioning components, such as dashboards, is difficult. Assembly lines do not move along at a steady pace, and robotic manipulators have to be steered carefully into place, otherwise car bodies can be scratched or damaged. Car manufacturers try to get around this problem by placing manipulators on the car itself, or by synchronising the manipulator with the production line belt. Neither approach is ideal. The manipulator puts stress on the car body, and synchronisation is not just difficult, but expensive to achieve.

The new system combines live camera feed with object recognising software. In space, the system on board the transfer vehicle detects reflection of light pulses from target points on the craft. The vehicle is guided into its correct docking position by following the reflected pulses. The European Space Agency has a technology transfer programme to encourage industry to share the benefits of space research. Technology transfer centres have been set up in The Netherlands, Germany and Italy. The centres provide entrepreneurs with technical and business supports. The Technology Transfer Programme also helps aerospace companies to spin-off new developments and it encourages researchers to set up companies.

At present Jennifer is looking at how this combined system could be scaled up to go into production. In a competition run by In 2007 thousands of people in Galway suffered the consequences the Institute, Jennifer took the first prize for her poster describing of drinking water contaminated by Cryptosporidium and hotels her research. Previously, Jennifer, who graduated with first class had to stock up on bottled supplies. The impact of the outbreak honours in Toxicology, represented the Athlone Institute at a panwas serious for health, and harmful to the local economy. Galway European conference in Amsterdam. was not the first place to be hit, and contamination of water One of her supervisors, Dr Neil Rowan, said that thanks supplies with Cryptosporidium is a worldwide problem. The to Jennifer’s research we are likely to see an improvement in micro-organism is quite common in sewage and there is always sterilisation technologies. a danger of seepage into drinking water supplies. In this approach, ultra-short bursts of UV light and plasma-gas The Environmental Protection Agency identified 64 suspect discharges generate an anti-bacterial shock backed by a soup sources of supply, and while promises were made to remedy the of free electrons, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide. Pathogens situation, a research student at Athlone Institute of Technology, cannot survive that treatment, yet the process leaves no chemical Jennifer Hayes, reports that only seven treatment barriers have residue. been installed so far. Compared to existing UV lamp treatment, which requires Jennifer, from Castlerea, Co Roscommon, is studying for her relatively long exposure time, this system has an impact in seconds. MSc in Health Science at the Institute, and she has been looking An extremely fast switching system means that stored power can at how treatment methods could be improved. Her research be delivered in pulses that can be varied both in intensity and suggests that a combined use of pulsed ultra-violet and plasma frequency from 10 to 10,000 pulses a second. gas discharge would be an effective in eliminating the problem. SPIN ACTIVE


SPIN ACTIVE Making it happen

FOR final year students at Ashfield High School in Belfast, just dreaming about going abroad was not the way to gain business experience. For a nine day trip to New York, they raised the money themselves by running discos, fairs and even a fireworks display. Apart from having a good time, the 22 students met with executives from Associated Press, Credit Suisse, Chromavision, and Junior Achievement. School Principal, Mr A McMorran, said the trip, the seventh to be run so far, is all about broadening horizons, and is a great experience for students who plan to go on into business.

Decisions decisions ...

TAKING responsibility usually involved assessing risks and making a lot of decisions. As we can see all too clearly now, bankers, regulators and politicians are not that good in weighing up risks, and Dr Dylan Evans, who lectures in Behavioral Science at University College Cork, maintains that gamblers can be a lot better at making critical decisions. Dr Evans in presenting some of his findings at a public lecture in UCC said that expert gamblers are less prone to bias in their assessments, so they can think about risks more clearly. Gamblers, he added, could teach us how to make better decisions. Dr Evans is author of The Science of Sentiment and The Belief Effect, and as part of his ongoing research he has a website at http://www.projectionpoint.com/

Energetic bodies

ATTACHING solar panels to the roof of a car is one way to capture energy, but scientists at London’s Imperial College plan to go one better. The car body itself has the potential to act as a solar collector, and their plan, in collaboration with Volvo, is to develop a composite material that is robust enough to act as an energy storing shell. With a more efficient system, harvesting energy from the roof, bonnet and boot, hybrid petrol/electric cars could go a lot further before having to stop for a fuel top up. Dr Emile Greenhaigh, co-ordinator of the project said the potential benefits are enormous, and not just confined to cars. “The future applications for this material don’t stop there – you might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging. We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.” One of the benefits for hybrid car makers is a big reduction in weight. At present hybrid cars are loaded down with heavy batteries, which only come into action when the car is cruising along. The researchers claim that the composites they are developing from carbon fibre and polymers, can store and discharge large amounts of electrical power much more efficiently than conventional batteries.

Software support

A matchmaking network has been set up to foster collaboration between software firms and third level research institutes. The Irish Software Innovation Network, ISIN, is being run by the Irish Software Association, and has been allocated €200,000 for the first three years of operations.

Michael Martin, manager of ISIN, said that there is ‘massive porential to boost innovation, enterprise and employment if we can get our software companies to work more closely with research institutes.” The services available through ISIN, he said, will be of particular value to companies that do not have the inhouse resources to conduct research. SPIN ACTIVE

Elected

PROF Gerry Byrne, who heads Mechanical Engineering at UCD, has become the first expert from Ireland or the UK to be elected as an International Fellow to the German Academy of Science and Engineering. Prof Byrne, who served as Dean of Engineering in UCD qualified as a mechanical engineer from the Dublin Institute of Technology in 1975 before going on to receive his doctorate from the Technical University Berlin. In recognition for his work and involvement in fostering engineering in Ireland, Prof Byrne was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy, honoris causa, by DIT in 2005. Martin extended an invitation to such companies. “We will meet with you to discuss your requirements,” he said, and “we will then identify potential academic partners and match the appropriate expertise to support your company.” Michael Martin can be contacted at IBEC, phone 01 6051550, email: michael.martin@ibec.ie


SPIN ACTIVE Glycobiology

SUGARS in many different forms play a huge role in biological processes, and researchers at NUI Galway have become leading experts in this field. One of these experts is Prof Anthony Moran, and as Editor in Chief he has collaborated with contributors from Europe, North America, Japan and Australia, in producing a 1,000 page academic text book on microbial glycobiology. At the launch in Galway Prof Moran said the book had come at a time when glycobiology is on the rise. Major developments in vaccine design, drug discovery and diagnostics, he said, depends on our growing knowledge of microbial glycobiology. At NUI Galway a research group, the Alimentary Glycoscience Research Cluster, was established in 2009. Publication of this book by Elsevier’s Academic Press, said Prof Moran, will help place the Irish group on the world stage.

PhDs are good for business

FIRMS employing PhDs are more likely to benefit from collaboration with research institutes, and according to a study published by the government’s Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, these companies are more than twice as productive in patenting new inventions. Chairman of ACSTI, Tom McCarthy, commented on the importance of aligning the training of PhDs

Exporting renewable energy

Compared to other countries, Ireland has a much better opportunity to export power from offshore wind and energy resources. Speaking at a renewable energy conference in Dundalk, Matthew Knight from Siemens said that Ireland could easily produce 10 gigawatts from offshore wind by 2050 provided an investment of €30 billion was made. That investment, he said, would also cover grid connections and interconnectors. Although the investment required is substantial, Matthew said it would result in Ireland becoming a major exporter of sustainable power.

to the needs of SMEs, and one of the recommendations made in the report is that higher education institutions adopt a more collaborative approach with enterprise. Placing post-graduates in industry as part of their studies is recommended, and indeed, this approach has proved popular, both with industry and students. On this point, the report states that: “The Council strongly endorses the Enterprise Partnership Scheme, which links private enterprise and eligible public bodies to cofund postgraduate scholarships

Diagnostics

For the past five years industrial, clinical and academic partners have been collaborating on research at the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute. The BDI, based at Dublin City University is primarily concerned with improvements in point-of-care biomedical diagnostic devices.

Forestery research

and postdoctoral fellowships, and recommends that resources are made available to scale up the programme.” The report continues: “Beginning with the PhD education and training period and continuing through to early postdoctoral research stage there should be an integrated programme of support and training specifically targeted at PhD students and early postdoctoral researchers to enable them to commercialise their research.” The report is available at: LIVE www.sciencecouncil.ie LINK The most recent partnership is with Millipore, an international supplier to life science technologies and services. Prof Brian MacCraith, director of BDI welcomed the collaboration as a wonderful opportunity to engage with an industry leader. Millipore has a broad range of interests, and their main focus with BDI is on improving in-process testing and real-time monitoring in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

Wood and forestry organisations throughout Europe have become partners in supporting a web site: www.innovawood-ssa.net. The aim of this project is to provide a useful link between knowledge producers and industry. About 100 research organisations are involved, and users can search the site to find experts by area and by speciality. www.innovawood-ssa.net

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SPIN ACTIVE Galway growth

ANNOUNCING plans for the next fourteen years, NUI Galway’s President, Dr James Brown, said that the university has now become the biggest employer in Galway city. Five new buildings are to be constructed, and according to the President, a third of the €130 million cost is to come from philanthropic sources. Research, particularly in the medical field, has created a demand for more facilities. These facilities, said Dr Brown, are an important support for the region’s thriving medical device industry, and the aim is to stimulate innovation. A target has been set to produce 200 PhD graduates a year by 2014. Under the plan, an average of five new companies are expected to spin-off every year.

Faster response using space technolology

TeChNOlOGy developed for use by the european Space Agency’s Columbus Module is now being used by the Dublin Fire Brigade to call up information about essential services. The technology, developed by Dublin based software company, Skytek, has been in use on board the International Space Station for the past three years where it is used to store, control and manage mission critical procedures. By adapting the technology, Skytek had been able to provide the fire service with immediate access to disaster procedures and information via a mobile computer. In many cases fire personnel have to deal with situations requiring specialised knowledge of the risks involved. For example, with accidents involving vehicles, there can be explosives in airbags, high voltage batteries, or recently developed hybrid systems that can raise issues on whether or not it is safe to use cutting equipment to release passengers. According to the company, emergency crews can now access data while on their way to the scene of an accident or fire. The system has gone into action in Dublin’s North Strand station and Swords. Dr Sarah Bourke from Skytec said the transfer of technology shows how an Irish company can successfully undertake innovation at a high level and then successfully commercialise the results. www.skytek.com E

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Spin offs on the rise

The number of companies formed to commercialise the results of college research is on the rise. According to the Technology Transfer Office, run by the third level institutes, 35 spin out companies were formed in 2009, three times the number reported for the previous year. The companies were formed across ten third level institutes, made up of the seven universities, Waterford Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Royal College of Surgeons. There has also been an increase in the number of licences issued to protect novel technologies, and compared to an average of 33 per annum up to 2007, last year, 102 licences were granted. Commenting on these results, Dr John Scanlan, director of commercialisation at NUI Maynooth, said that “What this process also demonstrates is that Ireland competes very favourably with other countries, in terms of funding invested in university based research and the production of spin out enterprises. In the US, where this activity is very mature and very valued, the equivalent research funding figure of about €50 million is spent per spin out created, while this figure drops to about €30 million per spin out for the UK. In Ireland, the figure for 2009 is about €20 million per spin out, which means that we have created what appears to be a very competitive method of commercialising IP in our universities. A key component is the excellent cross-section of talent in the TTO offices, mainly comprising ex-industry executives with broad knowledge in technology and business development.” SPIN ACTIVE

Digital expert

INrecognition for his contribution to digital camera technologies Dr Peter Corcoran from NUI Galway has been elected as a Fellow of the Institute of electronic engineers. This recognition is a rare honour, shared with just ten Irish based researchers. One of these is Dr Corcoran’s colleague, Prof Ger hurley, who was elected a Fellow of Ieee for his work in power electronics. Dr Corcoran is a co-founder of FotoNation, the market leader in red-eye removal technology. Redeye removal has become universal in digital cameras. Dr Corcoran also pioneered facetracking and face-analysis techniques that have now become standard in many digital cameras. his research continues into encoding of digital content using biometrics, and he commented that this is now the big challenge for electronic engineers. In a few years, he said, we will have consumer devices that ‘know’ their owners, thus solving major copyright and piracy problems.

Meat origins

PROF Frank Monaghan at UCD has found that chemical isotopes in meat can be used to determine the place of origin. For example, beef from Brazil, where cattle are fed maize, have different carbon and nitrogen isotope values compared to meat from grass fed stock. The isotope ratio can be detected by mass spectrometry, and according to Teagasc, the approach could be used to develop a test that could be applied to a range of meats including chicken.


Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units

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limate change and the sustainability ICARUS provides key climate data, crisis are the primary environmental services, advice and solutions, data challenges of contemporary society. to the scientific community, policy makers and community at large, both Mitigation and adaptation to global nationally and internationally, with the climate change has been identified as most up-to-date scientific knowledge, a national and international research for particular sectors and regions. It priority. Significant capacity is therefore produces numerous reports on behalf required in the area of environmental of public bodies and published the research, particularly climate change first regional climate-driven sets of science and impacts, in order to meet impact scenarios for Ireland in 2003. It is Ireland’s international treaty obligations. currently involved in a variety of climate The Irish Climate Analysis and Research change-related projects including: Units (ICARUS) was established in 2001 Climate change has moved centre stage in the water resources management and at NUI Maynooth in order to improve public consciousness and the media in the last modelling, agricultural impact scientific understanding of climate change decade. ICARUS aims to offer scientific insights and its impacts within Ireland and has to help Ireland play its part in tackling the major modelling, tourism, construction, global problem of this century. agriculture and forestry pests and since become a leading centre for such diseases, health, salmon survival rates, research. These objectives have been urban sustainability and planning, soil erosion modelling and achieved primarily through the analysis of climate trends and biodiversity modelling as well as issues of climate governance their causes, regional climate modelling and assessment of likely and economics. In recent months, ICARUS research on flood future impacts. Having won over €5.8million in research awards vulnerability and hydrological impacts of climate change has since 2001, output from the unit provides an important basis been widely disseminated, contributing to regular debates in for local and national government policy formulation and for fulfilling Ireland’s climate change obligations. the national media.

Recent projects Some of the current research projects at emissions have been located at sites ICARUS are: across Dublin as part of a joint research l NUI Maynooth’s High Performance initiative led by NUI Maynooth and Computing facility is working jointly with University College Dublin. The focus is to ICARUS along with the Irish Centre for understand how different types of urban High End Computing (ICHEC) to improve landscapes cope with carbon dioxide the performance of the computationally emissions and how planners might create intensive Weather Research Forecasting ‘carbon neutral’ or more sustainable (WRF) Model. The latest results of city developments in the battle against dynamical climate simulations show that carbon emissions. Globally, cities the WRF model is capable of capturing contribute about 80 per cent of the CO2 key temporal and spatial climate emissions attributed to human activities, variations across Europe at very high ICARUS analyses past climate trends and but the nature of these emissions is resolutions. their causes, regional climate modelling and rarely studied. Through this research the l A multidisciplinary project assessment of likely future impacts in order to scientists hope to better understand addressing adaptation to climate change improve scientific understanding of climate the urban processes involved and to in Ireland in a number of key areas such as change and its impacts within Ireland. determine the ability of particular urban catchment management, tourism, building spaces to capture CO2 after its generation. standards and planning, economics, and biodiversity will be completed in 2010 in collaboration with scientists at NUI, ICARUS scientists are recognised both nationally and Galway. internationally as having made a significant contribution l A multi-disciplinary team from ICARUS at NUI Maynooth, to climate change research and have actively contributed Trinity College Dublin and the Marine Institute have come to such policy initiatives as the National Climate Change together to study the effects of climate and climate change Strategy (2002), the Intergovernmental panel on climate on the aquatic environment, focussing on the Burrishoole change, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Third National Fishery, located just outside Newport, County Mayo. Intensive Report (2006) as well as the Greater Dublin Strategic Drainage monitoring of the catchment was initiated in the late 1950s, Study and various Local Authority planning guidelines and and the availability of long term datasets are critical to city development plans. unravelling and understanding the likely impact of climate change on species such as salmon, trout and eels. For more details: l Instruments capable of measuring the ability of http://research.nuim.ie surrounding trees and vegetation to consume carbon dioxide http://icarus.nuim.ie

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BIO-INSPIRED NETWORKING

Dr Brendan Jennings, Dr Sven van der Meer and Dr Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, Senior Investigators with the TSSG and Dr Willie Donnelly, Head of Research and Innovation.

Tom Kennedy reports that research at the Telecommunications Software Systems Group on self-regulation will give networks the capacity needed for the next generation Internet.

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he Internet is no more than 25 years old, yet it remains based on the technology of the 1970s. “You could say that it is now operating well beyond its initial design,” observes Dr William Donnelly, director of the Telecommunications Software Systems Group at Waterford Institute of Technology. With the rapid expansion of communications this reliance on relatively old technology has become a serious problem. The telecommunications solutions that worked well up to now, are just not flexible enough to handle an explosive growth in traffic. As Dr Donelly explains, convergence is adding to that problem because users now expect a high level of service no matter where they are or how they connect to a network. Most people have a mobile, they are surfing the net, booking or buying on line, and as readers of Science Spin will know, this feature can be viewed on screens around the world. Gigabytes of data are being crammed into networks that were originally designed to carry voice to voice calls. From fax

— remember that — we have moved on to sharing of digital snaps, ebooks, cloud computing, and the number of applications continues to rise. Yet, we all expect instant response, and near total reliability. Telecommunication engineers, said Dr Donnelly, have helped create these high expectations Our telephones can be relied on to work 99.99 per cent of the time, so uninterrupted service from networks is simply taken for granted. However, as Dr Donnelly observed, unless networks can be managed more efficiently, congestion is going to bring everything to a halt. “We now have users communicating with users, users communicating with machines, and machines communicating with machines,” said Dr Donnelly, and its not just one network, but many. “It’s a heterogeneous environment spanning many different network technologies.” In the past, engineers made predictions on what sort of traffic to expect, and planned accordingly, but as Dr Donnelly said, this linear approach no longer works because SPIN ACTIVE

the operating environment has become a lot more complex, and demand is completely unpredictable. To take just one example, following a big match or entertainment event, there can be a sudden surge in traffic as mobiles sent off snaps by the score for sharing. Oversizing the network is not the way to deal with these sudden and unpredictable demands, for that would mean that a huge and expensive capacity would lie idle for most of the time. In effect, instead of getting bigger, networks need to become smarter. “What we need now is a more dynamic communications framework,” said Dr Donnelly, and achieving this is the aim of his group’s research. If the next generation of networks are to work, he explained, they have to be self-governing, self-healing, sefoptimising, and self-protecting. As he admits, this is quite a challenge, but it is one that has already been overcome. Nature, he said, has been dealing with this kind of problem for millions of years, and that is why life has been able to survive so many upheavals that would have rendered linear systems of control extinct. Apart from checks and balances, one of the underlying characteristics of living systems is that resources are not always localised, but are held in reserve for delivery to any part of the body on demand. If we look at how the body works, there are numerous examples of autonomic control for highly complex systems. During exercise we convert glucose into energy, and Dr Donnelly compared this to using bandwith. If the exercise becomes more intense, and the glucose supply becomes inadequate, the body keeps going by burning up fat. In much the same way, a telecommunication network could be made much more efficient by having its equivalent of a fatty reserve. If we look at current management, he added, we usually find that there is just one fall back position, and this has been fixed by predictions. Thus, congestion in Cork might be routed to Portlaoise, but the system has no way


SPIN ACTIVE of knowing whether or not Portlaoise is already congested. As Dr Donnelly explained it would be possible to replace this simplistic predictive approach with a more sophisticated system with the automatic capacity to balance real time needs against real-time capacity. Such a capacity can be fine-tuned to distinguish between different levels of demand. For example, video conferencing demands a lot of bandwidth and if there is not enough capacity available in a network with fixed allocations, images start to judder. Fast response in borrowing that extra capacity from elsewhere would solve such a problem. Achieving this level of response, said Dr Donnelly, is not just a matter of making existing systems bigger, but is more a matter of integrating what we already have. Autonomic management would also keep costs down, and this has become a huge issue as service providers struggle to deliver more and more with the same resources. At present, said Dr Donnelly, service providers are buying enough bandwidth to satisfy expected demand. Having to buy in extra capacity can eat into profits, but

if they have better balancing out of demand, they can squeeze a lot more out of the existing system. Trying to maintain a high level of service by adding to existing networks would only make costs spiral up out of control, and Dr Donnelly remarked that its important for us to realise The Telecommunications Software Systems Group, based at Waterford Institute of Technology is widely regarded as one of the most successful research clusters in Ireland. Over 150 staff and research students are involved in collaboration that spans a number of institutions, including UCD, TCD, UCC and NUIM. There is a high level of support from industry, and partners include Ericsson, Cisco, IBM, Teléfonica ID, Alcatel Lucent, and HP. TSSG was established in 1996 and while it has good support from SFI, the founder and director, Dr Donnelly, said that one of the main strengths of the group is that it has very strong backing from industry. The size and diversity of the group, he said also means that research at TSSG spans a range from blue skies to applications of results.

Don’t be fooled

Anyone buying prescription only medicines over the Internet is taking a big risk. The drugs may appear to be genuine, but quite often they are worthless, or worse because no one can be sure what’s in them. In spite of the risks involved, a lot of people buy medicines over the Internet, and not always from reliable sources. So, when the package arrives, is there any way to check if the contents are safe? A company in Waterford has come up with a solution to that problem in the form of a handheld scanner. This instrument, the TruScan, takes a spectroscopic‘fingerprint’by comparing the chemical composition to an authentic reference sample. While extremely sophisticated, Dermot Harrington from Antech said the TruScan is easy to use, giving a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ indication within seconds. Antech specialises in supplying instrumentation to Ireland’s pharmaceutical and chemical industries, and according to Dermot, the TruScan has become one of best selling products. Under usual circumstances, he said, results like those given by the TruScan, could only be obtained in the lab. www.antech.ie LIVE LINK

that the way we communicate has changed dramatically over the past few years. We still tend to think in terms of traffic as on roads, where highways are built to accommodate congestion. “Imagine if everyone woke up tomorrow and decided to work elsewhere,” said Dr Donnelly, and this is much closer to the situation faced now by telecommunication managers. Demand is no longer localised, and with the rapid rise in mobile communications no one could possibly make predictions on demand. Traffic, said Dr Donnelly, is being driven by user behaviour, and we are getting patterns that we have never had to deal with before, such as virtual communities, geographically separate, but linked by telecommunications. Going back to the analogy with fat, Dr Donnelly remarked that a lot of high performance athletes manage to get the balance right, and we could be doing much the same in how we allocate bandwidth. In calculating the costs, he said, its not the fibre, but the inefficient switching that is so expensive. “Find different ways of getting into the network,” he said, “and a lot of problems would be solved.”

Biotech deal

An instrument developed by Stokes Bio in Limerick can speed up breeding of plants with desirable traits. The instrument produces a genetic profile from a continual flow of nanolitre-sized droplets. Up to 10,000 data points an hour can be evaluated, and samples are just one thousandth the size of those required up to now, making the system highly efficient than any available alternative. The development attracted the interest of the US plant breeding company, Monsanto, and in January a joint licensing and R&D agreement was announced. According to Stokes Bio, a number of these genotyping instruments will be delivered to Monsanto this year. Stokes Bio was established in 2005 by Mark Davies and Tara Dalton, with financing from Kernel Capital, as a spin-off company from the Stokes Institute at University of Limerick. In addition to Kernel Capital, the University of Limerick and Enterprise Ireland also are shareholders in the company. Mark Davies said that the technology can be applied in different ways, and he sees a potential for it in human healthcare. www.stokesbio.ie

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Adding vAlue on drug delivery

Tom Kennedy reports that research will give manufacturers better security while giving us a bigger share in product life cycles.

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iscovering a new drug can mark the end of a long quest by researchers, but for the pharmaceutical industry, this is just one part of the equation. Before anything can be produced, the industry has to work out how to produce the drug in bulk and in a form that can go on the market. As Professor B K Hodnett from the Solid State Pharmaceutical Cluster based at the University of Limerick explained, there can be no tolerance for variation, yet processes can be extremely difficult to control. Crystallisation, phase transformation, and mixing are just some of the stages likely to be involved, and if these processes vary, even slightly, materials may have to be reprocessed, or even discarded. Compared to other industries, the level of reprocessing, he said, is higher, and the main reason for this is that traditionally the emphasis was on monitoring chemical characteristics rather than taking important physical

characteristics into account. The Cluster although based at UL, involves collaboration between Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, University College Dublin, and the National University of Ireland Galway, and the aim is to match the wealth of chemical, engineering and other academic knowledge with practical production know-how from industry

Brendan O’Callaghan; Professor Kieran Hodnett, Dean Faculty of Science and Engineering, UL; Tom O’Callaghan and Liam Tully at the launch of the Solid State Pharmaceutical Cluster at the University of Limerick.

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to solve that problem of getting drugs into the right form. Most of the drugs we take, usually as pills, are are in powder or crystalline form. Crystals can vary, and although this might only be apparent under a microscope, the differences can influence how a drug is taken up by the body. Although drugs may be chemically the same, how they are presented usually determines when, where, and how they will be absorbed. It takes more than trial and error to get all of those processes right, and Professor Hodnett explained that knowing what’s involved at the molecular level and understanding the science behind reactions gives industry much more control, and apart from a better end result, there can be a considerable saving of resources. Wth more than 80 pharmaceutical companies manufacturing in Ireland the sector is responsible for a quarter of our manufacturing


SPIN ACTIVE output. One of the main reasons why those companies have done so well in Ireland is because the quality of production is high, and as Prof Hodnett observed, the way to keep this sector healthy is to provide a high level of support from research-based expertise. Manufacturing pharmaceuticals is highly competitive business, and likely to become more so as patents are starting to run out on some of the most popular drugs. Having a competitive advantage in process control, said Prof Hodnett is becoming more important for companies, and there is a related issue in how launch sites for new drugs are chosen. Patent protection only lasts for a limited number of years, so manufacturers cannot afford any delays in the start up of production. Decisions on where to locate initial bulk production are made on the basis of known track record and availability of expertise. Plants with a reputation for getting it right first time are always going to be the first choice for production of new drugs. Irish manufacturing plants already have a good reputation for getting it right, but going beyond this

Speed gene

Some horses are good for the short sprint and others are good longdistant runners. A problem for trainers is that is hard to predict what is the best course of action to take with young foals. Training a long distance runner for short sprints might be a waste of time. For some time, Dr Emmeline Hill at UCD has been arguing that the horse industry has a lot to gain by looking at problems like this from a scientific perspective. Emmeline has a PhD in Molecular Genetics from TCD, and she is certainly no stranger to horses. Her grandmother was Charmian Hill, the owner of Dawn Run, the only racehorse to have completed the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle (1984) and Gold Cup (1986) double. In 2004, as a Principal Investigator at UCD she was awarded an

The pharmaceutical sector in Ireland is represented by the PharmChemical group within IBEC, and one of concerns raised by this body is a high dependency on the manufacturing side of this industry. One of the reasons why this is of concern is that manufacturing and marketing is a relatively short period in the lifecycle of any new drug. In a twenty five year cycle, before patents expire, the first five to ten years goes into research and clinical trials. Two or three years of administration may follow, so it could be fifteen years before a new drug can be released into the market, leaving just five years of patent protection. As the PharmChemical group points out, manufacturers only come into the picture after a lengthy period of product development, so Irish industry has a lot to gain by moving back along the value chain. That means doing a lot more R&D, and this is one of the aims of the Solid State Pharmaceuticals Cluster. to improve products is a good way to secure the future. A number of academic researchers are associated with the Cluster, and there is active industrial participation

with companies such as Janssen, Schering Plough, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharpe and Dohme, Roche, Pfizer, Tyco, and Helsinn Chemicals involved.

SFI President of Ireland Young Researchers award. Her research aim was to add value to Ireland’s enormously important racing and breeding industry by applying scientific methods. In January, this approach led to what is being hailed as a breakthough for the industry. Dr Hill‘s research had identified genes that can be matched to performance, and this discovery in turn led to the development of a ‘speed gene’ test. Last year Dr Hill teamed up with a well known racehorse trainer and breeder, Jim Bolger, to set up a company, Equinome, to commercialise the results. The test, officially launched this January, is expected to have a big impact the way breeders think. “Breeding techniques for thoroughbred horses have remained relatively unchanged

for centuries,” said Dr Hill. “Breeders currently rely on combining successful bloodlines together, hoping that the resulting foal will contain that winning combination of genes. Until now, whether those winning genes have or have not been inherited could only be surmised by observing the racing and breeding success of a horse over an extended period of years after its birth.” Instead of years, the new test can identify genetic characteristics within weeks. Irish breeders are not the only ones to show interest in the test. Internationally, the industry is worth billions of euros a year. In 2009 Equinome was the overall winner of NovaUCD’s 2009 Campus Company Development Programme.

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Renewable energy, nanotechnology, space technology, computer animation and game development: A career for you? MyScienceCareer.ie is a new website which aims to provide resources for students, career guidance counsellors, teachers, parents and people of all ages who are interested in finding out more about a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Check out career profiles written by young professionals from all areas of science, along with useful resources such as video interviews, for some valuable insights into a career in science. Find out the difference between various sciencerelated jobs, what subjects you would need to study, what a typical day involves and what other areas could be open to you in the future by pursuing a career in STEM. Use the Resources section to direct you to some important websites that will help you to get more information on what colleges to consider, what points you may need and what options are open to you. Read about Ireland’s rich scientific history and famous Irish scientists of the past, as well as finding out more about our brightest Science Ambassadors of today.

www.MyScienceCareer.ie

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is an initiative of the national integrated awareness programme Discover Science & Engineering.


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