Monday, 5 March 2012

Exciting New Future beckons for UCD Engineering Schools

I recently visited each of the 5 new Engineering Schools in UCD now reconstituted into a new College of Engineering and Architecture under Professor Gerry Byrne as College Principal and Dean of Engineering. UCD has always been Ireland’s largest engineering college in terms of student numbers and is likely to remain so.

The UCD College of Engineering did not realise its full potential in the reorganisation of UCD some years ago but now has the opportunity to really shine in terms of national development and recovery. I'm confident that the newly reorganised College will be a greater national and international force in Engineering than the sum of its parts. All 5 branches of Engineering have now been brought together as 5 new Schools. They have been appropriately renamed to reflect their skills and current market demands. Having visited each of them recently and having met the 5 distinguished and enthusiastic Heads of School and many of their staff I don't hesitate in saying that no Third Level Engineering School in Ireland has as much depth and diversity of expertise across all of the engineering disciplines as UCD. The 5 new Schools are School of Biosystems Engineering, School of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, School of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, School of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering and School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

UCD College of Engineering Belfield
(Image courtesy of www.ucd.ie)
The School of Biosystems Engineering is headed by Professor Francis Butler. This is a most diverse School covering Food, Agriculture, Environment and Sustainable Energy. It has three major research areas - Food & Process Engineering, Biomass to Energy and Bioenvironmental Engineering. Apart from the BE leading to ME, it has MSc degrees in Sustainable Energy and Green Technologies, Bioresource Technology, Public Health Engineering Technology and Food Safety and Risk Analysis. This School previously headed by Professor Shane Ward takes a very holistic approach to industrial needs and has a multidisciplinary approach feeding into the UCD Institute of Food Science which is a campus wide initiative. The School also hosts the Bioresources Research Centre (BRC) run by Dr Kevin O'Donnell at UCD which seeks to deliver innovative solutions in the 'biomass to energy' domain and is the recipient of the Charles Parsons Energy Research Award for biomass research. In the environmental area Professor Nick Holden is very active in Life Cycle Analysis as is Dr Enda Cummins in Food Safety and Risk Analysis.

The School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering is headed by Professor Don McElroy. Graduates of the School today are engaged in technologies such as synthetic pharmaceuticals, fuels (incl renewable energy resources), polymeric and inorganic materials, fine chemicals, processed foods and beverages. Currently the UCD chemical engineers go 25% to pharma, 15% to general process, 25% to chemical processing, 20% into consulting, 15% into business. Major areas of research currently in UCD are Solar Energy Nanotechnology and Biopharma Engineering. In 2011, a pharmaceutical research and technology company APC Ltd a spin off company owned by Professor Brian Glennon and Dr Mark Bennett of the UCD Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering School won the Nova UCD Start Up Award. This company already has many of the top 10 of the world's Pharma companies on its client list. They plan to create 20 new jobs by 2013. Another lecturer in the School Dr Eoin Casey has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) grant to undertake ground breaking research in emerging technologies for nano filtration of drinking water.

The School of Civil Structural and Environmental Engineering is headed by Dr Mark Richardson. This School has an interesting organisational structure with a Head of School, Head of Discipline (Professor Eugene O'Brien), Head of Teaching and Learning (Dr Bill Magette) and Head of Research (Dr Yaqian Zhao). It also has a number of Programme Heads and Year Heads. While this School on the Richview Campus is physically separated from the other UCD Schools of Engineering it has always struck me that there is a very close rapport and social relationship between the students and staff - much to the student benefit! In addition the School has a close affinity as it should with the School of Architecture. Professor Michael Bruen heads the Centre for Water Resources Research which has an international reputation. Michael is also Assistant Dean of the Engineering College and is heading up the Technical Committee on the International Water Association World Congress on Water, Climate and Energy in Dublin in May. In the School also is an interesting new 5 year Masters in Structural Engineering with Architecture. There has always been a heritage of innovation in the school led in recent years by Professor Eugene O'Brien and Dr Amanda Gibney who is now overall College Vice Principal Teaching and Learning supported by Teaching Fellows Dr Patricia Kieran from Chemical and Bioprocess together with Dr Aoife Ahern and Dr P J Purcell from Civil Engineering. I was also given a tour of the extensive Structures Laboratory by Dr Debra Laefer.

The School of Electrical Electronic and Communications Engineering is headed by Professor Tom Brazil. The School has two components Electronics/Communications under Prof Orla Feely and Electrical Power Systems under Prof Mark O'Malley. Prof Tony Fegan is Vice Principal Research and Innovation. There is a strong upward trend in graduate numbers in recent years with some 62 in Second Year in 2011/2012. There is an outstanding record of international research in electrical and electronic engineering. The UCD Electricity Research Centre (ERC) run by Prof Mark O'Malley is an SFI approved Research Cluster. There is a shortage of power systems engineers currently in the Western World even in Ireland to meet the challenges of the EirGrid 'Grid 25' project to upgrade the national network. Therefore the ERC is a critical national resource currently. There are a range of spin out companies set up in the last 10 years by this School - Massana, Cylon Controls, InTune Networks to name a few. A new ME in Biomedical Engineering is being run by Professor David Fitzpatrick of Mechanical Engineering and Dr Madelaine Lowery of Electronic Engineering connecting the disciplines of medical device design, physiology, fluids, electromagnetic and wireless systems. Many of these subjects together with biomechanics form the basis for Rehabilitation Engineering. There is an emphasis on independent learning and research with the opportunity to participate in a work placement with the medical technologies industry.

The School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering is headed by Professor Michael Gilchrist. This is another diverse School with many research specialisations. The principal four research areas are Energy, Bioengineering, Materials and Design/Manufacturing. The ME in Energy Engineering run by Dr David Timoney is truly multidisciplinary with inputs from electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, geology (oil/gas), business and economics. There's a separate ME in Materials run by Dr Ken Stanton and uniquely an ME in Engineering with Business run by Dr. Eamonn Ambrose. Many of Eamonn’s students are BE (Civil) in fact. With all of this emphasis on business it is no surprise that this is the School who leads the traditional MIE Degree course now renamed Master of Engineering Management (MEM). This is now run by Dr Vincent Hargaden who has taken over from Dr Donal Hughes. This course has always been a national enabler to bridge engineering and business and thus to fastrack career development in industry. In addition the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering deals with research in Building Energy and Transport Energy including refrigeration, emissions and fuel efficiency. In the design and manufacturing area there was a recent spin out industry BiancaMed led by Dr Conor Hanley and Dr. Conor Heneghan. BiancaMed is a world leader in devices for contact free sleep and breathing monitoring. Uniquely the School of Mechanical & Materials Engineering has employed 2 business development managers to seek out and create greater partnership with business leading to job creation.

'The Building of the State' model in UCD
UCD Dean of Engineering and College Principal Professor Gerry Byrne with PJ Rudden President of Engineers Ireland with replica model of Old UCD School of Engineering Merrion Street now Department of the Taoiseach.
In my view with all the foregoing expertises and marketing strengths the stage is now set for UCD Engineering to become a leading European Centre of Engineering Research and Learning. If this is achieved the College will continue to contribute significantly to 'Building the State' as it always has done in a unique way. I recall being invited by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and UCD President Hugh Brady to celebrate 100 years of the Old UCD Engineering Building which is now the Taoiseach's Office in Government Buildings. That night last July there was a lot to celebrate not least 'The Building of the State' a parallel process in terms of the new emerging state in the 1920s and 1930s building it's strength economically from the Shannon hydroelectric scheme, rural electrification and the setting up of Aer Lingus, the Irish Sugar Company and Bord na Mona together with the Irish engineering graduates who populated these new state companies (from all colleges in Ireland and some from abroad.)

We are now in a new era and new challenges face us as a nation to rebuild our economy and our place in the world. The Engineering profession in Ireland is already leading that recovery in commercialisation of Mathematics and Science into products for export in terms of computing, pharma, biomedical and manufacturing products and services.

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