7 research teams selected for the SFI challenge on the Sustainable Development Goals


Research teams from UCD, NUI Galway, Maynooth University and RCSI will compete to tackle challenges in the countries where Irish Aid works.

Seven teams have been shortlisted to participate in a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research challenge focused on developing technological innovations to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The announcement was made today (11 April) by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, and Minister for Aid to Abroad and the Diaspora, Colm Brophy, TD.

The seven teams will receive a total funding of 2.47 million euros for projects that could contribute to the UN’s SDG program, which aims to tackle problems related to poverty, hunger in the world, access to drinking water, climate action, sustainable land use, etc.

Teams from across Ireland will compete for a top prize of €1 million to help take their project through to deployment.

The specific aim of this SFI program – which was first announced last July – is to address challenges in the countries where Irish Aid works. The seven projects represent international collaborations between research institutes in Ireland and four Irish Aid countries, namely Malawi, Uganda, South Africa and Vietnam.

“SFI’s challenge funding programs aim to support Ireland’s best and brightest, to develop potentially disruptive new technologies to address important societal challenges,” said Harris. “Today is about tackling development challenges under the UN SDGs in Irish Aid partner countries.”

SFI seeks to tackle a range of societal issues through challenge-based financing. In February, it shortlisted 10 research teams to develop solutions to key challenges for use in the Irish Defense Force.

Shortlisted projects under the SDG Challenge focus on a variety of issues such as improving surgical training through data science, treatments for vision loss, care pathways for back pain, pneumonia diagnosis and water sanitation.

“Having this level of talent competing in the SDG Challenge bodes well for the future of scientific research and I look forward to seeing the different solutions that will develop throughout the program,” said the CEO of SFI, Professor Philip Nolan.

Dublin University College

Three teams from University College Dublin (UCD) have been shortlisted for the challenge.

The first project, called Backtrack, will seek to reduce the burden of low back pain using technology-enabled care pathways. It is led by Dr Cliona O’Sullivan, with support from Professor Brian Caulfield of UCD and Professor Jerome Kabakyenga of Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda.

The second team, Biotope, aims to reduce infant mortality through better diagnosis of pneumonia. It is led by Dr Joe Gallagher, with Dr Chris Watson from UCD and Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Balwani Mbakaya from Mzuzu University in Malawi.

UCD’s latest team, SolarClean, will seek to provide access to clean and safe water using sustainable solar technologies. It is led by Dr Demetra Achilleos, with Prof Séamus Fanning from UCD and Prof Pieter Gouws from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

NUI Galway

Two teams have been shortlisted from NUI Galway. Floating Treatment Wetland, led by Professor Piet Lens, will look at nature-based water treatment to reduce the health risks associated with diffuse pollution. The co-leader of the team is Dr. Bui Xuan Thanh from Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in Vietnam.

The second team is called SightSave, which will focus on preventing vision loss from retinal disease. It is led by Dr Cormac Flynn, co-directed by Dr Joanne O’Dwyer from Galway and Dr Daemon McClunan from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Maynooth University

Maynooth’s Neosepsis team aims to reduce neonatal and maternal mortality through the rapid detection of sepsis in resource-limited settings. The team is led by Professor Sean Doyle and co-led by Dr Nicola Mountford from Maynooth and Dr Peter Waiswa from Makerere University in Uganda.


A team from the University of Medicine and Health Sciences at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI) will study scaling up surgical training using data science. The team – called Surgical Data Science – is led by Dr Debbi Stanistreet and co-led by Dr Wakisa Mulwafu of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences in Malawi.

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