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Ground-breaking alliance provides solution to global concerns

22 Dec 2021

The US-Ireland Research and Development (R&D) Partnership is a ground-breaking alliance between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States.

On the surface, the premise is deceptively simple – bring research expertise together from the three jurisdictions – but these partnerships have profound benefits for innovation and economic progress. In fact, it’s a world-leading example of “science and diplomacy working together in a unique trilateral partnership”.

The partnership was established in 2006, enabled by the Belfast Agreement’s principles of “equality, partnership and mutual respect” to facilitate cross-border research and development.

Reece Smyth, director of the Office of Science and Technology Co-operation in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the US Department of State, and interim US co-chairman for the partnership

Reece Smyth, director of the Office of Science and Technology Co-operation in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the US Department of State, and interim US co-chairman for the partnership, explains:

“The idea for the partnership came after the Good Friday accords to build trust among the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland by increasing scientific co-operation. The partnership increased trade and economic links and international collaboration in health, agriculture, and transportation. Its numerous projects were impactful not only for researchers and industry that benefited from the innovation, but also at a societal level, as the partnership responded to pivotal challenges such as climate change. The partnership is now a model for international research and development co-operation used by the US National Science Foundation.”

The funding raised is valued at €117.65 million

To date, 73 projects have been successfully funded under the partnership across key sectors including agriculture, health, science and engineering, telecommunication, energy and sustainability.

As of November 2021 the funding raised is valued at $139.52 million, €117.65 million or £99.46 million.

The partnership is led by a steering group of senior representatives drawn from government and academia from each jurisdiction, with InterTradeIreland, the cross-Border trade and business development body, providing support and the secretariat function for the group on the island of Ireland.

Feargal O’Móráin, Irish co-chair for the partnership

Funding is always of concern to researchers, and Feargal Ó Móráin, Irish co-chairman for the partnership, explains how the funding is structured, with each of the research teams funded by its own jurisdiction: “The advantage of that funding model is that there is no issue over money from one jurisdiction funding researchers from another.”

Provision of funding

Funding is provided by a total of nine government departments in the three jurisdictions. In Ireland funding is provided by Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

In Northern Ireland the funding comes from the Department for the Economy, Health and social care R&D division of the Public Health Agency and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

And finally, funding in the United States is provided by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Collaboration with people with different areas of expertise will give researchers new opportunities

Dr Rosemary Hamilton, CBE, Northern Ireland co-chairwoman for the partnership, explains the benefit of having three jurisdictions working together. To qualify for funding, researchers from the three jurisdictions must team up, want to collaborate with each other and then apply.

“There’s a great advantage to partnering in this way because, through the partnership, a range of skills and facilities become available. Someone might have expertise from Queen’s University Belfast, or have access to equipment in University College Dublin. It’s something the researchers find very valuable.

Dr Rosemary Hamilton, CBE, Northern Ireland co-chair for the partnership

“Collaboration with people with different areas of expertise will give researchers new opportunities that they might not have had access to in their own places of work.”

Additionally, it gives opportunity for the exchange of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers across international boundaries, providing a rich training ground for researchers.

A recent successful project was a collaboration between Trinity College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Colorado, studying a biomaterial that can regenerate the interface between the bone and ligament in knee joints. Combining Trinity College’s knowledge in soft tissue, the University of Colorado’s expertise in developing ligaments and the research of Queen’s University Belfast, the partnership was able to address a scientific question “that would not have been possible” working alone, and resulted in ground breaking research.

Agriculture

In 2016 agriculture was added to the partnership as calls for innovation in this sector grew.

AgriSense II is a far-reaching project under this priority area. The project, which is a collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast, the Tyndall National Institute and the Georgia Institute of Technology, focuses on the development and validation of an on-farm, electronic disease diagnosis platform for cattle using sensor technology. Such rapid screening for a range of diseases will enable more informed and targeted treatment of infections, increasing herd health and performance.

The newest funding priority area to be added to the partnership is cybersecurity. It’s recognised as a challenge of huge global importance that has grown exponentially in the past decade given the move to a global digitalised society and is a key focus for the partnership.

Already on the island of Ireland, cybersecurity is a key strength and a driver of progress.

Adding to that expertise, different approaches from the US illustrate how these collaborative projects build in further innovation capacity across continents. Everyone benefits when these important scientific partnerships between the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland tackle global challenges that require cutting-edge thinking.

Find out more information on the US-Ireland R&D Partnership

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