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 eight researchers who are set to take to the stage at Researchfest 2019. The science communication 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 and Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea described Researchfest as a “core part” of the overall event. “It’s a privilege each year to get to 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 eight 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; and Prof Arlene Gallagher, director of the Trinity Walton Club, assistant professor of the School of Physics Trinity College Dublin (TCD), and coordinator of the annual event.

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 Siliconrepublic.com and the chance to present on the main stage at Inspirefest on 17 May 2019.
In no particular order, read on for information on the eight finalists and their research.

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

In her work at Tyndall National Institute in University College Cork, she is coupling new anode materials with ionic liquid electrolytes to develop small, powerful lithium-ion micro-batteries.
Paula Lehane
A doctoral student at DCU, the focus of Paula Lehane’s studies 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
Also from DCU, Fiona 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, 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, giving users the potential to develop skill and confidence before speaking in front of a live human audience.

James Blackwell
Readers of Science Uncovered will be familiar with James Blackwell’s work at NUI Galway 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, but stiffness maps could be used to end this age-old process.

Debbie O’Reilly
When prostate cancer patients are treated using androgen deprivation therapy, the increased expression of a calcium channel called Cav1.3 coincides with its progression. Using laboratory models to replicate disease progression, DCU’s Debbie 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
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. Yasantha Chamara’s research at Cork Institute of Technology is looking to utilise reliable broadcasting, flooding and retransmissions of data packets to achieve sub-millisecond latency.

This offers significant advantages of lower cost, speed, seamless deployment, higher flexibility and scalability to eliminate existing drawbacks of wired industrial communications.

Lisa Corrigan
Lisa 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.

The research undertaken by Corrigan at TCD 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
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 at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Vinh Ngo Quang proposes a hardware architecture for pedestrian detection on FPGA with real-time and energy efficient constraints.
Colm Gorey

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