Prof Noel O'Connor

Opinion: In our small world, cooperation is non-negotiable, says CEO Noel O’Connor

Submitted on Wednesday, 30/11/2022

The last few years have shown us how small and vulnerable the world actually is. The Covid 19 pandemic touched every nation and our best interventions were collective. The war against Ukraine has had a swift and devastating effect on the global economy and the food security of millions of people. The climate emergency makes a mockery of borders.

Ireland is small but we have always used international cooperation to great effect. In the research domain, reaching out across the globe has been the key to ensuring that our significant research output has impact. Ideas born in Ireland can only blossom if we can make them visible to the global research community and encourage cross pollination with other talented researchers beyond our borders.

North South partnership is a vital connection we must make and nurture. Insight has been working with researchers in the University of Ulster to break exciting new ground in brain-computer interface innovation. I wrote earlier this year about the powerful potential global impact of this research and how we should consolidate this partnership through the establishment of an All-Island Neurotechnology Project.

Ireland’s high standing in the European Union is not just a triumph of diplomacy. It is underpinned by many R&D relationships that bolster our reputation as a country that takes its global responsibility seriously and that respects standards of ethics and sustainability in the process.

Insight provides leadership in this regard. We participate in, or lead, dozens of European partnerships covering topics from future pandemic preparedness (Pandem2) to developing a European AI On Demand Platform and Ecosystem (AI4Europe).

Insight members such as Professor Barry O’Sullivan and Professor Edward Curry are leaders in the European mission to mobilise EU researchers to harness the AI revolution. The EU’s future response to pandemics will be significantly informed by the leadership work of Insight’s Professor Máire Connolly.

Insight’s global reach means that we have been instrumental in promoting Ireland as a venue of choice for multinational corporations such as XPeri. This international outlook is helping to drive the local innovation agenda making Ireland one of the top countries in EMEA for private businesses to thrive, according to a PwC ranking that has just placed Ireland in seventh position out of 33 countries in their EMEA Private Business Attractiveness Index.

This competitive position is, according to the report’s authors, due in part to Ireland’s start-up ecosystem; an area in which Insight has been particularly dynamic.

Beyond Europe, Insight is growing its footprint too. Our reach into the US has recently been extended with the news that Insight’s Dr Aoife Morrin has been awarded €220k as part of the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership.

Dr Morrin has spent years developing tools to capture and analyse skin chemicals – the skin is a valuable source of data regarding our physical health. Now she will work with researchers in Virginia Tech and Queen’s University Belfast to develop a skin sensor for diagnosis of a range of disorders. The research is funded by Science Foundation Ireland in collaboration with the National Science Foundation in the United States of America and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.

This new biomedical device, named SenSorp, will have the ability to give insight into the health of an individual and offer a non-invasive route to probe the body’s biochemistry.

Connections like these; where highly skilled and specialised researchers such as Dr Morrin team up with peers in the US and Northern Ireland with complementary expertise; set the stage for impactful discovery that has the potential to address a massive challenge in health diagnostics and improve worldwide health.

This most recent global connection is a timely example of why Insight continues to seek out global partnerships through which our research mission will thrive.