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Ireland-funded researchers demonstrate world-class excellence despite pandemic
November 15, 2021

Dublin, Ireland – 15th November 2021: Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, today launched the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) 2020 annual report.

SFI-supported researchers made significant contributions to the global response to COVID-19, and across other areas of strategic importance to society and the economy. In 2020, €22.8 million was invested in 84 COVID-19 research and innovation projects delivered under SFI’s Five-Point Plan which supported the Irish Government’s National Action Plan.

The SFI report highlights that, despite the extraordinary challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the dedication and commitment of SFI-funded researchers is evidenced by 5,888 scientific publications reported in 2020.

Minister Harris welcomed the report saying, “I would like to congratulate SFI and its Higher Education and industry collaborators for their hard work, determination and dedication in delivering an important and impressive programme of work over a challenging period.

In 2020, SFI supported 1,966 postgraduate students, and its researchers delivered over 2,000 virtual education and public engagement activities, ensuring that access to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) remained equitable and inclusive. I was also delighted to announce an investment of €52 million to support excellent independent researchers as part of the new SFI Frontiers for the Future programme, encouraging more successful applications from women researchers and emerging investigators applying to SFI for the first time, as well as from established investigators.

In 2021, SFI has made significant progress in delivering on key strategic objectives as outlined in the agencies new strategy – Shaping Our Future. These include furthering challenge-based funding opportunities for researchers and enhancing collaboration across our research ecosystem with the SFI-IRC Pathways Programme, which supports emerging research talent. The recently launched Creating Our Future campaign, coordinated by SFI, has kick-started an important national conversation on research that aims to shape a better future for all.”

SFI approved 343 new awards across 20 programmes with a value of €312 million to support a diverse and balanced portfolio of early to mid-career researchers through to world-leading research professors. This investment generated a further €255 million from the EU, charities and other sources.

Chairman of the Board of SFI, Prof Peter Clinch, said: “The deeply collaborative partnerships developed by SFI with researchers, Higher-Education Institutions, industry and government have underpinned our collective success in 2020. SFI’s funding supported almost 3,000 industry collaborations, helping to realise Ireland’s ambition to be a global innovation leader and a location for research investment. SFI’s ambitious new Strategy, Shaping Our Future 2020-2025, launched earlier this year, shows how SFI will deliver impact from research today while preparing to address the challenges of tomorrow. Strong and continued investment in research will play a key role in determining the future success and prosperity of Ireland and its people.”  

Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Despite the many challenges we faced throughout 2020, SFI’s funded research community came together to deliver outstanding, cutting-edge science with real-world impact, often within rapid timeframes. We competed successfully at the highest level in Europe, with €106 million won from the EU and 10 prestigious European Research Council awards won by SFI researchers, with Ireland for the first time winning more competitive funding than its contribution to the Horizon 2020 budget. SFI continued to lead in the area of Grand Challenges, with the SFI Future Innovator Prize challenge funding programme awarding its first €1 million prize in 2020, and the launch of two new challenges in areas of national strategic importance – Zero Emissions and AI for Societal Good.

Looking forward, SFI’s new five-year strategy ‘Shaping Our Future’ is mapping a route towards Ireland becoming a green, sustainable, deep tech, innovation leader, ensuring that we have the skills and talent to deliver the solutions to meet tomorrow’s needs.” 



Additional highlights from the 2020 SFI Annual Report include:

  • €52 million was invested in 72 Frontier awards, supporting research in areas such as spinal cord injury, novel materials, species biodiversity in food production, computer graphics and information security. 45% of the research grants supported are to be led by women researchers.
  • Five SFI Research Centres progressed to a second six-year research programme, with an investment of €193 million, supporting over 1,000 research positions in 17 Higher Education Institutions. This commitment is backed by 200 Industry partners who will contribute an additional €91 million.
  • €8.5 million was invested in three awards under the SFI Strategic Partnership Programme, supporting academic researchers in building strategic collaborations where significant co-funding is matched by a company, funding agency, charity, philanthropic organization or Higher Education Institute, or a combination of these.
  • Over 5,000 international collaborations took place across 86 countries, highlighting Ireland’s role in helping to address some of the most pressing global challenges.
  • 12 awards were made under the SFI Public Service Fellowship Programme, representing an investment of €699,000, to contribute to the Government’s objective of promoting a culture of innovation through collaboration, knowledge exchange and the development of data-driven and evidence-based solutions.
  • 33 scientists working in Ireland were named among the top 1% in the world when it comes to highly cited papers in 2020. Of these, 28 researchers have been funded by SFI. The prestigious list published by Clarivate Analytics recognises world-class researchers for their exceptional research performance and their production of multiple highly cited papers.
  • €5.4 million was invested in 50 STEM projects through the SFI Discover Programme Call.
  • 179 students began their PhDs under the SFI Centres for Research Training Programme in the areas of ‘Data and ICT Skills for the Future’ – 41% of these students were women.
  • Four awards were made through the prestigious Royal Society-SFI University Research Fellowship Programme, with €1.8 million invested.
  • Six awards were made under the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – SFI Joint Funding Research Programme with an investment of €2.1 million to support research in the areas of environmental sensors, quantum technologies, augmented and virtual reality, energy system and cryptocurrencies, chemical engineering working towards energy system decarbonisation and materials science and electronics developing new energy sources for wearable devices.

Find SFI report here: http://www.sfi.ie/annual-report-2020/

Caption: Image by Dr Niall Smith, Head of Research at MTU and Head of MTU Blackrock Castle Observatory, taken from an SFI-funded, multidisciplinary research project at CIT (now MTU), under the COVID-19 Rapid Response Call Programme. The project applies direct imaging techniques originally developed within astrophysics research at the MTU Blackrock Castle Observatory to see how effective various commonly available textiles used for masks are at stopping the flow of exhaled droplets.

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