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August Ezine

DCU launches DCU Press, Ireland’s first open access university press

We were delighted to register another significant ‘First’ for DCU in July with the announcement of DCU Press, Ireland’s first open access university press.

Open Access is an international movement that allows free public access to university research and other outputs that would traditionally have been behind paywalls and subscriptions.

Particular credit to Chris Pressler Greg Hughes, John Doyle, and their respective teams in bringing this initiative to fruition. 

DCU Press, a joint initiative between the Office of the Vice President of Research & Innovation and DCU Libraries, is dedicated to publishing books on research in all fields where the print version is available for purchase and the high-quality digital eBook is freely available to anyone in the world at no cost.

In addition to publishing standard monographs in all disciplines and modeling a journals platform, DCU Press is a leading innovation in line with the ambitions of Horizon Europe, the new research and innovation programme recently adopted by the European Commission that emphasises open access to publications and data. DCU has a strong legacy in research communication and, as Ireland’s first open access university publisher, DCU Press builds on the University’s notable international reputation in this field.

Chris Pressler, our University Librarian, stated: “DCU Press is a unique partnership in Irish universities between libraries, research offices and faculties. It is a carefully considered response to change and a progression of the University’s heritage of innovation in open scholarship.” He added that, “DCU has its own tradition of openness, being a designated University of Sanctuary, an Age-Friendly University and having the largest access scholarship programme in the country. DCU Press builds on our reputation for transformation and enterprise and puts the University at the forefront of new ways for universities to engage with the public.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor opens new wing of Stokes Building

On July 9th, we were pleased to welcome Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, to officially open the new wing of the Stokes Engineering and Research Building on our Glasnevin campus.

Costing over €11 million, the expansion provides lecturing facilities for up to 1,400 students. The new unit spans four storeys and includes two large lecture theatres, six lecture rooms, 22 office space units and 8 open plan research and office units. 

Speaking at the opening, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said “The opening of the new wing of the Stokes Engineering and Research Building ... is a demonstration of the university’s strong commitment to creating a vibrant and dynamic environment for research and innovation to thrive and flourish.”

We are delighted to have completed this considerable expansion, which is one of many important elements in our Campus Development Plan. This new facility will not only provide increased capacity for our ever-increasing student population but, by virtue of the design of the learning spaces, will also enhance the DCU student experience

You can read more about the Stokes Building and its expansion here.

DCU-led team awarded Hyperloop innovation prize at SpaceX competition 

Great credit is due to a number of DCU students for their achievements in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition on July 22nd. In a global competition for university students, Team Éirloop finished 5th overall and was awarded a prize for innovation for the team’s resourceful efforts. They also managed to meet the originator and sponsor of the competition, Elon Musk, and presented with him with an Irish rugby jersey! 

The final competition consisted of twenty student-led teams shortlisted from top institutions across the world. The focus was on designing and building hyperloop prototypes to travel at the highest possible speed down a one-mile vacuum tube at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The 20 teams were selected from over 700, with Ireland as one of only six European countries represented at the event.

Sixteen DCU students, including Bartlomiej Bara (captain Team Éirloop), Akhil Voorakkara (Head of Electronics for Team Éirloop) and Nina Kanti (Lead Software Architect for Team Éirloop), joined with team members from UCD, TCD, DIT, ITT, and MU, to participate in the Hyperloop competition.

Special thanks are due to staff in the Faculty of Engineering and Computing and the Insight Research Centre who provided significant support to the Team Eirloop Initiative. The Eirloop Pod was completed and launched in the laboratories of our School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

DCU study highlights impact of homelessness on education

An important study, carried out by Dr Geraldine Scanlon and Grainne McKenna from our Institute of Education, was published in July and revealed that thousands of children have had their education interrupted and negatively impacted by homelessness.

The report, commissioned by the Children’s Rights Alliance and entitled ‘Home Works: A Study on the Educational Needs of Children Experiencing Homelessness and Living in Emergency Accommodation’, showed that social isolation, reduced participation in school life, irritability, exhaustion, and low self-esteem were common amongst children experiencing homelessness. These effects, alongside frequent school absences, were attributed to poor diet, inadequate rest and poor living conditions.

The reported highlighted, however, that the majority of parents surveyed (17 out of 20) spoke positively about their children’s relationship with teachers and school staff. They described how praise, authentic encouragement and access to in-school supports had assisted children during periods of transition. The report itself made recommendations as to how to the government can support schools in helping children experiencing homelessness, as well as how temporary and emergency accommodation can be improved for families.

This work, and the associated report, is another very good example of the impact that DCU Research can have on society, echoing our Mission Statement: Transforming Lives and Societies through Education, Research, Innovation and Engagement.

You can find out more about the report here.

DCU physicist honoured for her contributions to STEM outreach & engagement

Major Congrats to Dr Eilish McLoughlin, who received a prestigious award this month for her “leadership of large-scale national initiatives that widen participation in physics in Ireland.”

Dr McLoughlin, Associate Professor in the School of Physical Sciences and head of the Centre for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning (CASTel), was honoured by the Institute of Physics (IOP) with the 2018 Lise Meitner Medal and Prize for distinguished contributions to public engagement in physics.

Dr McLoughlin was one of a small group of academics across the UK and Ireland celebrated for their outstanding contributions to research, teaching and public engagement in the field of physics by the IOP, the professional society for physics in the UK and Ireland.

Among a number of key initiatives pioneered by Eilish is the STEM Teacher Internship programme, which, in partnership with Accenture and the 30% Club, provides pre-service STEM teachers with internship opportunities in STEM-oriented companies, organising and co-hosting the prestigious European Science Education Research Association (ESERA) conference at DCU, and directing the ‘Improving Gender Balance Ireland’ project, a partnership between CASTeL, Institute of Physics and Science Foundation Ireland, designed to address issues around gender and physics in schools.

Commenting on the achievement, Professor Enda McGlynn, Head of the School of Physical Sciences, said, “Dr McLoughlin is among a very distinguished and small group of Irish recipients and the award is extremely well deserved. There is such a variety to the numerous initiatives that Dr McLoughlin leads, each of them bringing together many groups in society with a view to widening participation in physics.”

You can read more about Dr McLoughlin’s achievement here.

Professor Diamond awarded honorary doctorate for contributions to music and science

I wish to offer my sincere congratulations to Professor Dermot Diamond, who was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (DLitt) from the University of Ulster for his services to science and influential role in traditional Irish music.

Dermot was previously Director of the National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR) at DCU and is a Principal Investigator with the INSIGHT Centre for Data Analytics, the largest research centre supported by SFI. His extensive scientific work has been internationally recognised. He has published over 300 peer-reviewed papers, is a named inventor in 19 patents, and has co-authored/edited five books.

Growing up in Belfast, Dermot developed a passion for traditional music, specialising in Irish and American fiddle music. His diverse repertoire and style continue to influence and inspire within the traditional music community. He is a regular contributor to radio and TV programmes and he has toured with well-known artists, including Dolores Keane, John Faulkner and Paddy Keenan.

In terms of collecting, preserving and making traditional music accessible, Dermot is a board member of the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA); the world’s largest repository of Irish music, where he is responsible for advising on the digitisation of materials held.

On receiving this honour, Dermot said: “I would like to thank Ulster University for bestowing an honorary degree on me in recognition of my career in science and music. I am very grateful to my colleagues at DCU, and particularly the INSIGHT Centre, and the National Centre for Sensor Research, who have shown me continual support for many years.

I am very fortunate to be part of a remarkable family, Tara, Helen, Danny and Anna, all of whom share my love of music.”

DCU contribution shapes key EU educational framework on Lifelong Learning

One of the most influential EU documents in education, Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, has been significantly revised to include ‘Personal, Social and Learning to Learn Competence’. Congratulations to Dr Paul Downes, Associate Professor in the DCU Institute of Education, who co-authored two reports published by the European Commission which made specific recommendations on which the revisions were based.

Previously termed the ‘Learning to Learn’ Competence, the ‘Personal, Social and Learning to Learn’ Competence has incorporated the importance of social and emotional education. The new competence has recently been adopted by the EU Council of Ministers.

In their cited reports, Paul and his co-authors had highlighted the key role of social and emotional education in developing higher academic achievement, positive academic attitudes, increased prosocial behaviour, and in leading to a decrease in antisocial behaviour, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

Regarding the educational key competencies framework and its relevance for Ireland, Dr. Downes said: “This increased European Union emphasis on personal and social education invites the placing of further emphasis and time allocation to such issues on the primary school curriculum. It also implies a stronger emphasis on teachers’ own personal and social education competences in their communication and relational styles in the classroom – for example, at post-primary level.”

You can read more about the EU document and Dr Downes’ work here.

DCU study reveals link between healthy ageing and combination exercise

In a further example of our commitment to issues associated with the ageing demographic, a new study, led by Dr Brendan Egan, Associate Professor in the School of Health and Human Performance,  published in July, has reported that, for people over the age of 65, a combination of aerobic and strength work, known as ‘concurrent’ training, is more effective than either one done separately.

Concurrent training improves a number of health markers, increases muscle strength and results in a “marked effect” on reducing trunk or ‘belly’ fat, the Report concluded.

More than 80 participants over 65 years of age and medically stable took part in the 12-week exercise programme undertaken at Medfit Proactive Healthcare, Blackrock, and funded by the Irish Research Council. In one of three groups, they were observed doing ‘aerobic’ training, such as walking or running, ‘resistance’ training in the gym with weights, and a combination of the two - ‘concurrent’ exercise.

The key findings of the study, ‘Concurrent exercise training in older adults’, were published in July and reveal that, when it comes to the over 65s age group, concurrent exercise training is the most effective and likely to increase walking speed, leg strength and reduce belly fat in a time-efficient manner. Researchers regard reducing belly fat as a “key factor” in combating lifestyle diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Time constraints are often cited as an obstacle to exercise training and this research shows that results can be achieved with exercise sessions lasting less than 25 minutes but performed at least three times per week.

You can find out more about the research results here. 

DCU PhD student hits global heights with AI drone innovation

We were delighted to learn of the success of David Azcona, a PhD candidate from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in DCU and a Fulbright research scholar at ASU (funded by the Irish Research Council in collaboration with the National Forum for Teaching and Learning), who was a member of Team Prometheus from ASU (Arizona State University) that recently competed in the Microsoft Imagine Cup against 48 other teams from around the world. The Prometheus team was placed within the top six teams in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) category. 

The Microsoft Imagine Cup is a competition that aims to empower student developers to create technological innovations that address real-world problems. Each year, the event produces groundbreaking advances for the future of technology, with this year’s event introducing three new categories - Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Mixed Reality. 

Azcona, alongside two students from ASU, developed the Prometheus project by combining surveillance drones and the concept of ‘machine learning’ to create an early-stage fire detection artificial intelligence technology. The concept of the project was to leverage the vast amount of wildfire images and videos available online to train a computer programme to detect the early presence of a fire. A drone then flies over parks and forests collecting the images, and an algorithm determines if a region is on the verge of developing a fire.

When describing the project, Team Prometheus explained that it was, “named Prometheus, after the Greek Titan who defied the gods by stealing fire from the Olympus and gave it to humanity, an act that enabled progress and civilization. In the same way Project Prometheus tries to steal fire from the wild to give it back to humanity, an act that should foster progress and civilization too.”

Professor Alan Smeaton, the founding director of DCU’s Insight Centre, said: “Working with David is a real pleasure because he has such a range of interests, from learning analytics (his PhD topic), to drones for forest fire detection, to analysis of political voting patterns, but all the time he’s drawn back to the data analysis within whatever problem he’s looking at. That means that he could apply his talents to almost any problem so long as its got data associated with it.”

Dublin Innovation District plans unveiled

 An exciting new city-centre development, the Grand Canal Innovation District, was announced in July. Led by TCD, the plan is to develop an urban zone focussed on innovation in a manner similar to Boston and other cities renowned globally for innovation. Along with the Provost of TCD, and the President of UCD, I was pleased to sign a three-way MOU confirming the intention of the three Dublin universities to collaborate in making the Grand Canal Innovation District (GCID) a success. DCU achievements to date with our own Innovation Campus, DCU Alpha, are an indication of what is possible and it is proposed to link such hubs coherently into GCID.

The proposed Innovation District will be a high-tech quarter where multinationals, start-ups and university expertise all come together and actively collaborate. The 5.5 acre plot of land by Grand Canal Quay will include TCD’s proposed new €1 billion technology and innovation campus.

Speaking at the launch of the GCID project, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD said that the development “spoke eloquently of the vision to make Ireland the tech capital of Europe and plans to ensure that the jobs of the future were created first in Ireland”. . A high-level GCID Advisory Group, announced by the Taoiseach at the launch, will be chaired by Martin Fraser, Secretary General at the Dept of An Taoiseach, and will include the presidents of the three Dublin universities.

Consultations are now underway, with the aim of having a completed plan drawn up by the end of the year.