Professor Kevin O’Connor, BiOrbic Director, receives 2019 Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year Award

Kevin O’Connor, BiOrbic SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre Director and Professor at UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, has been announced as the winner of the prestigious 2019 Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year Award at the annual SFI Science Summit held in Athlone.

Professor O’Connor’s research is seminal in the area of circular economy, circular bioeconomy and biotechnology. He is also a member of the UCD Earth Institute and has published extensively and patented technologies on the conversion of waste plastics to biodegradable plastic and the biotechnological production of hydroxytyrosol, a health promoting molecule.

As Director of the BiOrbic SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre, he is leading blue skies and industry focused research to build and support the development of Ireland’s bioeconomy. He is also shaping the European Bioeconomy Strategy through his chairmanship of the Scientific Committee for the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBIJU), a €3.7 billion Public-Private Partnership.

Collaborating with industry, Professor O’Connor developed technology to convert a dairy by-product into an organic acid, which was patented and licensed to industry. It is now being scaled and implemented in a world first ‘second generation dairy biorefinery’, which has received over €30 million in EU and industry funding.

He is also the co-founder of two UCD spin-out companies, Bioplastech and Nova Mentis, both supported by NovaUCD.

Professor Kevin O’Connor said, “I am delighted and honoured to receive this prestigious SFI Award. It is a recognition of the dedication of the many researchers and industry partners with whom I work and collaborate with, across multiple scientific fields and sectors, at UCD, across Ireland and internationally. Through these collaborations we are creating knowledge and translating this knowledge into innovative technological solutions to address global and societal bioeconomy challenges.”

“I would especially like to acknowledge and thank SFI for their funding, and UCD, BiOrbic Centre members and my wife and family for all their support.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “I am delighted that a leading member of UCD’s research and innovation community, Professor Kevin O’Connor, has been recognised by SFI through the Researcher of the Year Award. The presentation of this prestigious Award reflects the strength and impact of research and commercialisation activities taking place across UCD.”

“Kevin’s research outputs in microbiology and biotechnology have resulted in major breakthroughs in the circular economy and the bioeconomy. Through his research and his leadership he is advancing sustainability and creating new opportunities in Ireland and internationally.”

Kevin was presented with the Award at the 2019 SFI Science Summit were 300 leading members of Ireland’s research community came together to celebrate the significant contributions made over the past year to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in Ireland.

This year there were a total of eight Award categories with ten Award winners.

Acknowledging all the Award winners, Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation and Research and Development, John Halligan TD, said, “The Science Foundation Ireland Awards recognise the breadth and depth that research encompasses from industry collaborations to public engagement and the innovative breakthroughs that are leading research globally in the areas of Immunology, Biomaterials, Cancer research and much more.”

“I would like to congratulate each awardee on their achievements, which illustrate the invaluable knowledge and resource that Ireland’s research community offers. I am also pleased to see mentorship amongst the awards this year, highlighting the importance of supporting the next generation of researchers and enriching our growing research community.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said, “On behalf of Science Foundation Ireland, I would like to congratulate the award winners on their success and recognise their dedication in realising their ambitions and in doing so, building Ireland’s reputation as a global research leader.”

“We are very proud of the excellent quality of research that our funding enables, and the SFI Awards are an important acknowledgement of the collective achievements of the Irish research community, which continue to be impactful, inspirational and world-leading.”

Professor O’Connor received the NovaUCD Innovation Award in 2016.

Image credit: Thursday 7th November 2019 – Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General SFI, congratulates Professor Kevin O’Connor, BiOrbic SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre, UCD, recipient of the SFI Researcher of the Year 2019. Picture Jason Clarke