DIT lecturer awarded prestigious European research grant


23 July 2013:  DIT lecturer Aoife Gowen is one of three Irish academics to be awarded a highly prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for her project entitled 'Development of new chemical imaging techniques to understand the function of water in biocompatibility, biodegradation and biofouling' (BioWater).

David Hoey from University of Limerick and Niamh Nowlan, Imperial College London, were the other Irish recipients.  All three are in the field of physical sciences and engineering and their Starting Grants are worth up to €2m each.

The grants are awarded to individuals to enable them to pursue cutting-edge fundamental research.  Aoife Gowen, who lectures in the School of Food Science and Environmental Health at DIT, was awarded the funding for her research on novel chemical imaging techniques that will demonstrate how water interacts with surfaces at a very high resolution and will explore the properties of materials that drive that interaction. 

Her research is fundamental to a better understanding of processes such as biodegradation, the compatibility of materials for use in the human body, and finding ways to limit bio-fouling of marine equipment.

Explaining some of the possible outcomes of the research, Aoife said: “Water has a profound effect on materials, changing their properties and behaviour.  This is critical for biomaterials since water is usually the first molecule they see, whether it is the polymers used to filter water, the plastics used in sutures, the dressings that promote healing or the pacemakers put into the heart.  Understanding how water interacts with surfaces will help in the design of better materials and indeed will create more resilient and flexible structures across a range of applications.”

A native of Kilkenny, Aoife applied for the Starting Grant during her EU-funded Marie Curie Research Fellowship in UCD Biosystems Engineering where she developed a world-leading research programme in her subject area. On hearing the news that her research project had been chosen for funding in this very competitive ERC call, Aoife said, "I am thrilled to be given this wonderful opportunity to establish my own research group and forge an important new research area in the EU.”

Congratulating Aoife on the ERC award, Dr. James Curtin, Head of DIT’s School of Food Science and Environmental Health, said it was a wonderful achievement. “This is really exciting news for Aoife and for her colleagues in the School.  There is a strong research focus in our School on practical, technology-based Food, Pharmaceutical and Environmental Health research that is relevant to Society and Industry.

“The sole criterion for selection of ERC Starting Grants is Scientific Excellence, and it is exhilarating when a colleague makes such a significant breakthrough in their field as Aoife is doing.”

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