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Minister Halligan visits the school of BEES as exciting new environmental sciences create jobs

The Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan, visited the School of Biological Earth & Environmental Sciences in University College Cork today to see exciting new research developments in the field of environmental sciences.

The School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) works in both marine, terrestrial and fresh water settings to advance and apply understanding of the natural world through excellence in research, teaching and innovation from the scale of genes to global climate change. The School holds three of four prestigious ERC grants hosted in UCC and involved in both iCRAG and MaREI, two multi-million Euro SFI-funded research centres.

Minister Halligan said: “I am very impressed by the fantastic research being undertaken in UCC, that has the potential to enormously enrich our society. It is crucially important that we understand how our natural environment functions and the resources it contains. Job creation and applied research in this area springs from a deeper research culture of engagement with fundamental science.”

Professor Andy Wheeler, Head of BEES said, “We are delighted that the Minister could learn about the great research that we’re doing to provide a better and more sustainable environment for Ireland, and to upskill and create work for our future graduates”.

A wide array of research is taking place in the School of BEES with projects funded by the Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI), industry and other EU and National programmes. During his visit, Minister Halligan was showcased several ongoing projects and was given a tour of the school.

Professor Andy Wheeler and Dr Aaron Lim lead the SFI Investigator Award research project ‘MMMonKey_Pro’. This research maps and monitors deep-water coral habitats living on the edge of a 3000m deep submarine canyon on Ireland’s continental shelf some 360 km off the coast of Dingle. To do this, the team have used Irish state-of-the art mapping techniques to show the size and extent of these habitats and will soon put down deep water monitoring stations to understand why these habitats are changing in the modern environment.

ApisProtect aims to create a science-driven solution to improve the yield of commercial beekeeping. ApisProtect uses IoT (Internet of Things) technology, including in-hive sensors and long-range wireless communication, to monitor the health of honey bees in beehives. Since the late 1990s, a variety of hive problems, honey bee diseases and pests have devastated beehives around the world. In some regions, up to 40% of hives are dying annually. ApisProtect was founded in Cork in 2017, it is employing six people in the Agritech space and has already secured €125,000 investment from The Yield Lab Europe and Enterprise Ireland. Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, alumna of UCC Schools of BEES and Engineering, ApisProtect's CEO and co-founder has developed a scientifically proven solution to help beekeepers reduce losses and increase productivity.

Dr. Jean O’Dwyer and Dr. John Weatherill showcased their project on “Drinking water quality during an extreme weather event”. This research assesses the quality of drinking water among groundwater utilisers during an extreme weather event and identifies risk factors for microbiological contamination. Combining traditional hydrogeological fieldwork, microbiological laboratory analysis, geo-referencing and stochastic modelling, this research seeks to elucidate the fate and transport of subsurface contamination in a changing climate.

The Aquatic animal health group led by Prof. Sarah Culloty is looking at how a changing climate may impact the health of shellfish in this area. The Bluefish project at UCC is an Ireland Wales INTERREG funded project focusing on ensuring that the fisheries and aquaculture sectors will be equipped to deal with the potential challenges of climate change in the Irish Sea in the coming decades. It is a collaborative project with three Welsh partners, the Irish partners are UCC, Marine Institute and BIM.

Professor Marcel Jansen showcased a demonstration of EPA and BIM funded research on the circular economy, showing how the aquatic plant Lemna minor (duckweed) can be used to turn waste streams into something useful. The research pioneers the growth of high protein-containing Lemna biomass on agricultural waste streams and aims to contribute to a more sustainable feed-industry in Ireland.

Dr Pat Meere and Dr Richard Unitt showcased a demonstration of digital microscope used to measure the 3D surface roughness of roadstone aggregates. This is part of a UCC/iCRAG/TII initiative to understand the microscopic controls for skid resistance on the Irish national road network. “We now actually know why our road chips stay rough and why cars don’t skid off the road at every corner. This iCRAG research saves lives but also make Irish quarries more profitable”, says Dr. Meere.

Professor Emer Rogan & Dr Mark Jessop lead the Government-funded ObSERVE Aerial programme, a 3-year study conducting extensive aerial surveys of offshore waters. The surveys recorded the distribution and abundance of protected marine species throughout Irelands EEZ, including whales, dolphins, sharks and seabirds, many of which are of conservation concern. The survey outputs will inform licensing of offshore activities including marine renewables and offshore oil & gas exploration to ensure sustainable development of Irelands marine resources.

“The wealth of research undertaken in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences provides a rich culture of research from which the fruits of applied research and graduate training creating wealth and employment for Ireland can grow” stated Professor Wheeler, Head of School.

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