Innovation @ DIT – Where Science Meets Industry

Dublin Institute of Technology: ON Tuesday next week, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) is throwing open its doors to show off its outstanding industry-focused research in areas such as environment and health, information and media technologies, novel materials, and culture and enterprise. Innovation@DIT – Where science meets industry takes place in DIT Aungier Street and is aimed at highlighting the commercial opportunities offered by the intellectual property created by DIT researchers.

The institute has a strong track record in research, according to DIT director of research and enterprise Prof Ellen Hazelkorn. “We are regularly cited among the top 3 per cent of higher education institutions internationally for research and innovation,” she points out. “Also, one in every five commercial licences generated by Ireland’s higher education sector in 2011 was secured by DIT through commercialising our research.”

She believes this high standing is not all that surprising. “The focus of our research is very user inspired,” she explains. “It is goal-oriented research with strong scientific underpinnings. We are interested in research which will have a real impact on people’s lives whether that is in the nanotechnology, IT, health, environment, social or cultural space. We are solving real life problems, but this doesn’t mean that our research is very narrowly defined. It is just that we are operating more in the near rather than in the long term.”

And the institute’s reputation has been built over a long period with some major successes being recorded over the past decade, including a significant rise in the number and level of competitive awards nationally and internationally.

DIT researchers have already invented a range of new products including diagnostic tests for cancer; anti-bacterial surface materials; mobile phone applications; and novel financial risk management tools. They have also conducted empirical research to support new policy interventions in areas such as early childcare education, health policy and entrepreneurship.

The DIT technology transfer centre Hothouse has sold almost 50 licences to companies such as Sony, Bausch and Lomb, Monaghan Mushrooms, Airvod, Bord Gais and General Paints and has helped more than 250 knowledge intensive start-up companies through its business start-up programme. Many of these companies leverage DIT research, consultancy and training, employ DIT graduates and students and have contributed more than 1,000 new high-paying jobs to the Dublin region.

These companies have also been very successful at raising finance and have won prestigious awards such as IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2011 (Profitero) and the ICT Excellence Award 2012 for Best Start-up Company of the Year (TCAS).

“The work has been going on for years,” says Hazelkorn. “And our international reputation has helped us greatly in terms of funding. Despite the downturn and the consequent drop in funding available in Ireland we have been able to replace it from EU sources. Today, we have 13 EU Seventh Framework research projects ongoing and about 30 per cent of our research funding comes from the EU.”

Research at DIT is organised through four multi-disciplinary themes or research pillars, each of which addresses issues of national and global strategic importance. These are: environment and health; new information and media technologies; energy and new materials; and society, culture and enterprise.

The environment and health research theme consolidates DIT’s research across the institute from bio to social sciences and has a particular focus on developing interventions and policy solutions. The Environmental Health Science Institute (EHSI) is a dedicated research institute within this theme and was established by DIT in partnership with the HSE and Dublin City Council.

Other collaborators include the Institute of Public Health in Ireland and the University of Ulster and specific areas of research focus are lifestyle and health policy; water quality; air quality; radiation and noise; bio-monitoring; energy; and food quality and safety.

In the information and media technologies pillar, the institute has combined its research strengths in ICT across computing, digital media, electrical engineering, electronic engineering and telecommunications to create an environment that has led to the development of new technologies, software, and entertainment applications. Among the discoveries made in this area has been an audio technology which has been licensed to Sony and is now offered worldwide in the hugely popular PlayStation SingStar karaoke game.

The new materials and technologies theme brings together interdisciplinary teams within the fields of new materials – including surface materials, pharmaceuticals and nanomaterials, and energy – including production, transmission, storage and consumption. DIT has a stream of licensed technologies in these fields and has spun out a number of companies based on its research including Radical which is manufacturing smart coatings for industry.

The domain of Society, culture and enterprise brings together researchers across business and economy, social and public policy, and the creative arts and media. Collaborating across the boundaries of these disciplines they are developing new research outcomes relevant to the daily lives of people in Ireland.

“Our PhD and research programmes are organised around these themes,” Hazelkorn notes. But she is keen to highlight the social and cultural dimension. “We now run the only funded PhD programme for the creative arts and media in the country. DIT is part of the social and cultural fabric of Dublin. People may not be able to see it that clearly because DIT is not all in one place. We currently have six campus sites around the city centre but we will be moving to the new campus at Grangegorman within the next five years, with EHSI being the first to move thanks to funding from the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI).”

It is this role in the life of the city which has in part inspired the Innovation@DIT research showcase. “We are part of the city’s innovation ecosystem. The Innovation Showcase is aimed at getting companies to come in and talk to our researchers and look at the kind of work that’s going on here. We have a lot of technologies to licence which could be very valuable to Irish companies and we want to let them know about them. We want to let industry see behind the walls here and better understand what we are doing.”

She believes that this is also part of the institute’s responsibility to society. “There is a need for the Irish higher education sector to better demonstrate what it is doing with public funding. It is not just a case of showing that we are delivering value for money but part of our responsibility to the public to show that what we are doing is relevant to society and how we are aligned with the national research priorities as recently defined by Forfás. We also need to make scientific discovery interesting and exciting and to get people to see its importance.”

At the showcase, DIT staff will be on hand to meet companies to chat about their research and to show what they have achieved to date. The institute’s technology transfer centre Hothouse will highlight the intellectual property available to licence and funding organisations will also be available to provide information on their funding programmes.

To register for Innovation@DIT – Where Science meets Industry, go to iti.ms/M3BBj9

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