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Two BEES academics elected to the Royal Irish Academy

27 May 2024
Photo (L-R): Professor John O'Halloran, President of UCC; Professor Caitriona O'Driscoll, School of Pharmacy; Professor John Cryan, Vice-President for Research & Innovation at UCC; Professor Maria McNamara, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Three senior academics from University College Cork (UCC), including two from the School of BEES were recently elected to the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), the highest academic honour in Ireland.

The RIA recently celebrated Admittance Day, when 28 newly elected members were officially admitted to the Academy for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, and social science, as well as to public service.

The UCC academics newly elected to ‘Science’ in the RIA are Professor John O’Halloran, Professor Maria McNamara, both from the School of BEES and Professor Caitriona O’Driscoll, School of Pharmacy.

Professor John O’Halloran is President of UCC where he also holds the Chair in Zoology. In 1989 he took up his first lecturing post in UCC, and in 2010 was the founding Head of School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences. He is also a former Vice-Head of the College of Science, Engineering & Food Science at UCC and has held academic posts in the University of Wales, Cardiff and Colby College, Maine, USA. Professor O’Halloran is one of Ireland’s leading ornithologists and is recognised internationally for his leadership in ecological research and education. The focus of his work is on natural resource management and the impacts of environmental change related to land-use, climate and environmental contaminants on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Professor O'Halloran has made substantial contributions to research on forest ecology, ornithology and ecotoxicology and their interaction with the forestry, agriculture, water, and wind industries. His research has led to the generation of significant new knowledge on the biology and ecology of range of species and habitats, including the seminal work on lead contamination in swans and on the effects of contaminants and land use change on dippers. His research and leadership have enhanced scientific knowledge, educated research scientists, and informed policy to improve the sustainable relationship between society, industry, and the environment.

Speaking about his election, Professor John O’Halloran said: "There is no greater accolade than peer recognition for your work, and I am very proud to be elected to join this esteemed community of scholars. I look forward to working with the RIA to advance the important role of research and education in safeguarding our people and our planet."

Professor Maria McNamara is a palaeobiologist in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UCC. Her research focusses on the preservation of fossil soft tissues, including biomolecules such as melanin and keratins, and on the evolution of melanin pigmentation in animals. She is the recipient of two European Research Council grants, including a current Consolidator Grant. Maria’s key research strengths lie in analytical chemistry and microbeam analysis of tissues in fossil and modern animals. She has published in prominent interdisciplinary journals including Nature, Science, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Nature Communications, and Nature Ecology & Evolution. Maria is passionate about public engagement of STEM and manages the national programme “Ireland’s Fossil Heritage”, which uses fossils as a vehicle to enhance public participation in, and positive attitudes towards, STEM.

Speaking about her admittance to the RIA, Professor McNamara said: "I am very much looking forward to using this opportunity to help support researchers in Ireland, especially those at early career stages, and to develop initiatives for engaging researchers with the public. I wish to express my thanks to all my colleagues, mentors, and collaborators over the years for support and inspiration. UCC has been a constant source of support on my research journey, and I am delighted to represent UCC in the Academy and internationally."

Professor Caitriona O’Driscoll is Professor and Chair of Pharmaceutics at UCC and Director of UCC Futures - Future Medicines. Caitriona was appointed in 2003 as the first Head of the School of Pharmacy. Caitriona’s research interests are translational in nature, focused on non-viral delivery of Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) therapeutics, and she has helped to build an internationally recognised team in the field of RNA medicines within Pharmacy at UCC. Her research has been funded and associated with four Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres: Curam (Medical Devices); SSPC (Pharmaceuticals), AMBER (Advanced Materials & Bioengineering) & APC (Pharmabiotics).

Nationally, Professor O'Driscoll has held several key appointments including being Council Member of Pharmaceutical Society of Irl (2011-15), and a member of the Royal College Physicians Irl Steering Committee for the National Specialty Quality Improvement Programmes (2020-24). Caitriona has also been appointed by the Minister of Health to Board of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), 2011-20, and served on the Audit and Risk Committee, January-December 2020, and the Expert Taskforce to Support Expansion of the Role of Pharmacy 2023 to present.

Speaking about her election, Professor Caitriona O’Driscoll said: "I am thrilled and delighted to be elected as a member of the RIA. As a pharmacist and drug delivery scientist I aim to work within the RIA to increase the visibility of Pharmaceutical Science as a recognised discipline. I thank all my colleagues, collaborators, and PhD students, many of whom are now leading academics, for helping me to achieve this goal."

Commenting Professor John Cryan, Vice-President for Research and Innovation at UCC said: "It is wonderful to see UCC scholarship recognised in what is the highest academic honour in Ireland. I would like to congratulate John, Maria, and Caitriona on their induction to the RIA, where their expert academic and research knowledge will play an important role within the Academy and provide expert scholarly advice to inform policy."

Professor Pat Guiry, President of the Royal Irish Academy, said: "Ireland should be immensely proud of these 28 women and men who have been elected by their peers and have brought international acclaim to our country through their distinct areas of research. As Members of the Royal Irish Academy, they will support and strengthen our capacity to achieve our strategic goals and objectives as we look to the launch of our Strategic Plan 2024-2028 in the coming weeks."

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

An Scoil Eolaíochtaí Bitheolaíocha, Domhaneolaíocha agus Comhshaoil

Distillery Fields, North Mall, University College Cork, Ireland , T23 N73K.