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Meet 9 finalists set to dazzle the audience at Researchfest 2019

After whittling down a number of applications, the finalists for the Researchfest 2019 pitch competition have been revealed.

If you had just three minutes to sum up your research in plain English, how would you do it? That’s the challenge now facing nine researchers who are set to take to the stage at Researchfest 2019. The pitch competition has become one of the highlights of the annual sci-tech event Inspirefest, and now it returns with some fresh faces.

Speaking ahead of this year’s event, Inspirefest founder Ann O’Dea described Researchfest as a “core part” of the overall event. “It’s a privilege each year to get so see some of the brightest and best PhD researchers on one stage,” she added.

Last year’s winner, NUI Galway’s Eoin Murphy, stole the show with his fantastic presentation on his work to use the gene-editing tool CRISPR for the treatment of Huntington’s disease.

While a number of entries were received prior to the deadline, the judges had a difficult time choosing who would make the final cut, but eventually decided on nine outstanding finalists.

The judges included Prof Christine Loscher, associate dean for research at the School of Biotechnology in Dublin City University (DCU); Julie Byrne, head of external collaborations at Nokia Bell Labs; Ken Finnegan, CEO of Tangent at Trinity’s Ideas Workspace; and Prof Arlene Gallagher, director of the Trinity Walton Club and assistant professor of the School of Physics Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

Commenting on this year’s finalists, Gallagher said: “The submissions for Researchfest 2019 once again showcase the diversity and calibre of research happening across Ireland. And while the researchers are hugely passionate about their work, it takes a completely different skill set to communicate it and make it accessible for new audiences.”

This year’s winner will win one-to-one communication coaching, the starring role in a feature on and the chance to present on the main stage at Inspirefest on 17 May 2019.

In no particular order, the nine finalists are:

Cian Madigan – medicine – IT Carlow

Plasma has traditionally been used in the medical industry to kill bacteria and sterilise surfaces. Madigan, through working at Theradep, is using plasma to apply nanoscale coating of biomolecules for medical application.

This process allows antibiotics and proteins to be fused to the surface of implants ensuring the controlled delivery of drugs to the target area, in doing to greatly reducing infection rates and recovery times. His research involves creating a test bed which will allow parameters to be varied and the effects and both the plasma and coating to be recorded.

Louise McGrath – IoT – Tyndall National Institute/University College Cork

In a bid to create miniaturised, long-lasting internet of things (IoT) sensors, McGrath is looking to develop batteries with high power density over a small footprint.

In her work, she is coupling new anode materials with ionic liquid electrolytes to develop small, power lithium-ion microbatteries.

Paula Lehane – Multimedia education – DCU

The focus of Lehane’s studies as a doctoral student is on digital interventions and methods to assess children’s learning and understanding. She believes that little thought has been put into how moving from traditional paper and pen assessments can affect the measurement process.

Her current research aims to explore questions such as whether there’s a difference in what digital assessments can measure in our students and whether they need their own set of rules to ensure their effective design?

Fiona Dermody – human-computer interaction – DCU

Dermody has developed a system that enables users to practise their public speaking skills and get visual feedback in real time on their gestures, voice, body pose and facial expressions. It consists of a 3D camera connected to a laptop. The user stands and speaks in front of the system and they can see themselves represented on the screen as either an avatar or live video.

Real time feedback is superimposed on their chosen representation in proximity to the area it relates to, giving users the potential to develop skill and confidence before speaking in front of a live human audience.

James Blackwell – neuroscience – NUI Galway

Readers of Science Uncovered will be familiar with Blackwell’s work to create stiffness maps of the brain called elastograms using ultrasound shear waves. These are necessary because while MRI and CT scans can easily identify tumours before surgery, they can shift when a portion of the skull is removed.

This leaves neurosurgeons needing to poke and prod the patient’s brain to find the tumour, which is why stiffness maps could be used to end this age-old process.

Debbie O’Reilly – genetics and biology – DCU

When prostate cancer patients are treated using androgen deprivation therapy, the increased expression of a calcium channel called CaV 1.3 coincides with its progression. Using laboratory models to replicate disease progression, O’Reilly has demonstrated that increased CaV1.3 leads to increased calcium inside the cell.

Along with her fellow researchers, she has prevented this growth using medication currently prescribed to treat heart conditions called calcium channel blockers (CCB). These results highlight the potential benefit of repurposing CCB to prevent treatment resistance and potentially prolong patient survival.

Yasantha Chamara – wireless communications – Cork Institute of Technology

The new industrial revolution – referred to as industry 4.0 –has created a strong pull for wireless communication to replace cumbersome wired networks in industrial settings.

Chamara’s research is looking to utilise reliable broadcasting, flooding and retransmissions of data packets to achieve sub-millisecond latency. This offers significant advantages of low cost, speed, seamless deployment, higher flexibility and scalability to eliminate existing drawbacks of wired industrial communications.

Lisa Corrigan – nursing and midwifery – TCD

Corrigan is part of the first Irish study on the effectiveness of pregnancy yoga by evaluating the literature that shows its positive impact on mental health, birth experiences and quality of life.

This involves listening to mothers, pregnant women, maternity care providers and yoga teachers in the development of the safest pregnancy yoga intervention possible. So far, this has included a safety trial in a specialist pregnancy and postpartum lab in Canada.

This research includes the production of a pregnancy yoga manual and DVD series to encourage maternity care providers and policy makers to offer pregnancy yoga free of charge to expectant mothers.

Vinh Ngo Quang – autonomous cars – Autonomous University of Barcelona

Pedestrian detection has been one of the most safety-critical applications in autonomous cars, but the best algorithm available is hardly deployed in any prototype vehicles.

Among embedded hardware, field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) are a reconfigurable technology sufficient to obtain a real time and energy efficient system. In his research, Ngo Quang proposes a hardware architecture for pedestrian detection on FPGA with real time and energy efficient constraints.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

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