A new programme aimed at providing funding to Irish researchers involved in exploratory blue skies research has been launched. The Laureate Awards programme will initially make €2.5 million available to those who are conducting research into areas where there is no immediate obvious economic impact.
The first call is open to researchers across all disciplines and from anywhere in the world who are at the early and mid-stages of their careers. Scientists in Ireland have for some time been calling for ring-fenced funding for those involved in such frontier research. The Government’s science funding policy is to prioritise research likely to translate into an economic dividend and researchers here argue this has led to a funding squeeze around basic research.
They also argue that it is having a detrimental impact on the development of the careers of scientists who wish to focus on exploratory research. “For too long, this type of research has been chronically underfunded,” said Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Chair of the Irish Research Council which is administering the Laureate Awards.
“Currently, our research ecosystem holds very few opportunities for exceptional researchers to engage in frontier research. With the new Laureate Awards, that’s all about to change.”
The establishment of such a programme is one of the action points contained in the Government’s science strategy, Innovation 2020. Initial funding of €1.5 million was announced to start the programme by the Government last October as part of Budget 2017. A further €1 million is coming from a fund earmarked for attracting researchers to Ireland as part of the government’s strategic response to Brexit. However, the research community is likely to seek significant increases in the funding levels in the coming years.
“History shows clearly why this type of research is worth funding,” said Prof Ohlmeyer. “In Ireland alone, you can look at examples like George Boole’s work in the 1850s: his system of Boolean algebra is now used in the design and operation of computers and switching circuits.”
“Or there’s Irish physicist Ernest Walton: he designed and built the first successful particle accelerator, which enabled him – along with John Cockcroft – to split the atom in the early 1930s.”