Science Foundation Ireland

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Science Foundation Ireland
Sfi logo.png
SFI overview
Formed July 2003
Jurisdiction Ireland
Headquarters Wilton Park House, Wilton Place, Dublin 2
SFI executives
  • Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General
  • Ann Riordan, Chairperson
Parent department Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Key document
  • Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act, 2003
Website SFI website

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is the statutory body in the Republic of Ireland with responsibility for funding oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with a strategic focus. The agency was established in 2003 under the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003 and is run by a board appointed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. SFI is one of three sister state agencies of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation along with Enterprise Ireland (EI) and the IDA.[1]



Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is the national foundation for investment in scientific and engineering research. SFI invests in academic researchers and research teams who are most likely to generate new knowledge, leading edge technologies and competitive enterprises in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The Foundation also promotes and supports the study of, education in, and engagement with STEM and promotes an awareness and understanding of the value of STEM to society and, in particular, to the growth of the economy. SFI makes grants based upon the merit review of distinguished scientists. SFI also advances co-operative efforts among education, government, and industry that support its fields of emphasis and promotes Ireland’s ensuing achievements around the world. When applying to SFI, applicants will be asked to justify the alignment of their research with Call- or Programme-specific themes and/or they will be required to describe the alignment of their research or activities with SFI’s legal remit,[2] as outlined below. Eligible research areas, or themes, may vary according to the scope and objectives of an individual programme and are described in the relevant call documentation. Details of individual programmes are included in the SFI Annual Plan.


Chairpersons of SFI[edit]

# Name Appointed Retired
1. Dr Pat Fottrell 2003 2011
2. Ann Riordan 2011 Incumbent

Directors General of SFI[edit]

# Name Appointed Retired
1. Dr William Harris 2001 2006
2. Prof Mark Keane 2006 2007
3. Prof Frank Gannon 2007 2011
4. Prof Mark Ferguson 2012 Incumbent

Agenda 2020[edit]

Agenda 2020[3] is a strategic plan to position Ireland as a global knowledge leader, a society with scientific and engineering research at its core, driving economic, social and cultural development. The plan is to build on the achievements in Ireland’s scientific and enterprise communities since Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was established, twelve years ago, and to realise the potential for further development and growth by 2020.

It has four primary objectives:

  1. To be the best science funding agency in the world at creating impact from excellent research and demonstrating clear value for money invested.
  2. To be the exemplar in building partnerships that fund excellent science and drive it out into the market and society.
  3. To have the most engaged and scientifically informed public
  4. To represent the ideal modern public service organisation, staffed in a lean and flexible manner, with efficient and effective management.


Following a Technology Foresight activity managed by Forfás the Irish Government allocated €1.3B under the 2000–2006 National Development Plan to spend on R&D.[4] SFI was responsible for disbursing €650M of these monies in the targeted strategic areas of ICT and Biotechnology during this period.

After an initial call for research proposals in 2000, the first Director General, Dr William Harris, joined SFI in 2001 leading the organization to the establishment of a range of research programmes from Principal Investigator Awards to large research centers, called Centers for Science & Engineering Technology.

In 2006, under the next National Development Plan, under the Strategy for Science, Technology & Innovation (SSTI), the Irish Government has allotted a further €3.7B to spend on R&D.[5] A more recent and significant amendment to the SFI Act in 2013 widened SFI’s remit further to include both oriented basic research and applied research. The extension of SFI’s remit to include applied research will enable the outcome of oriented basic research funded by SFI to be taken closer to market, which in turn increases the potential of research to yield commercial opportunities and jobs as well as other societal benefits.

A more recent and significant amendment to the SFI Act in 2013 widened SFI’s remit further to include both oriented basic research and applied research. The extension of SFI’s remit to include applied research will enable the outcome of oriented basic research funded by SFI to be taken closer to market, which in turn increases the potential of research to yield commercial opportunities and jobs as well as other societal benefits.[6]

Funding Programmes[edit]

SFI Researcher Career Development Slide.jpg

SFI provides grants for researchers from around the world who wish to relocate to Ireland and those already based in Ireland, for outstanding investigators, for conferences and symposia, and for collaboration with industry. Proposals are evaluated in open competitions via a combination of international peer review and strategic fit with SFI’s mission.

Science Foundation Ireland supports early- and mid-career researchers to become fully independent research leaders and has also built collaborations with a number of UK based funding agencies, such as the Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). These partnerships work, in some cases, by sharing the funding costs between the two agencies or in others, by facilitating Irish entry into the UK based fellowship.

Transitioning to Independence[edit]

SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Programme provides an opportunity for postdoctoral scientists from across the remits of the Trust's funding streams to become independent research scientists and undertake research in an eligible Republic of Ireland institution.[7]

SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Re-entry programme is for postdoctoral scientists who have recently decided to recommence a scientific research career after a continuous break of at least two years. It gives such scientists the opportunity to return to research, with the potential to undertake refresher or further training. The fellowship is particularly suitable for applicants wishing to return to research after a break for family commitments.[8]

Royal Society – Science Foundation Ireland University Research Fellowship is aimed at scientists in the Republic of Ireland who are in the early stages of their research career and have the potential to become leaders in their field. The scheme covers all areas of life and physical sciences, including engineering but excluding clinical medicine and direct biomedical research. Successful candidates will be awarded a fellowship by the Royal Society, the cost of which will be met by Science Foundation Ireland.[9]

SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) Programme supports postdoctoral researchers and others who are yet to hold an independent research post in taking the initial steps towards a fully independent research career. The SIRG award provides an opportunity for early-career-stage investigators to carry out their own research project in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).[10]

Transitioning to Leadership[edit]

SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship provides funding support for postdoctoral scientists based in academic institutions in the UK and Republic of Ireland (RoI). Candidates are expected to have an excellent track record in their scientific field and be able to demonstrate their ability to carry out independent research.[11]

SFI Career Development Award Programme aims to support early- and mid-career researchers who already hold a salaried, independent research post and who are looking to expand their research activities.

President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Programme supports engineers and scientists who, early in their careers, have already demonstrated or shown exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge. This new call was announced in late 2015 and will expand on the current SFI PIYRA programme.

BBSRC-Science Foundation Ireland joint funding of research supports applications from teams led by researchers from the UK and Ireland. The new partnership will support collaborative research and technology development in all areas of the BBSRC remit for example bioscience for health, agriculture, food security, industrial biotechnology and bioenergy.

Established Investigators and Leaders[edit]

SFI Investigators Programme supports the development of high caliber research capability and human capital in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) that demonstrably support and underpin enterprise competitiveness and societal development in Ireland. A major objective of the 2015 Investigators Programme call is to stimulate and catalyse strong participation by Ireland’s researchers in the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research framework programme (H2020). Whilst all proposals to the call were required to align with SFI’s legal remit, they were also required to demonstrate a clear relevance to, and alignment with, topics that are encompassed by the Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges pillars of H2020.[12]

SFI Research Professorship Programme is intended to support national strategic priorities by assisting research bodies in the recruitment of high caliber researchers for Professorial Chairs, or similar research leadership positions in targeted scientific areas in all areas covered by SFI’s legal remit. The programme may also act as a mechanism to support the recruitment of individuals who possess a strong industry background, as well as for directorship roles in established research centres within eligible research bodies in Ireland.[13]

European Research Council (ERC) Funding Support[edit]

The ERC is a principle funding body of European research; under the FP7 framework programme (2007–2013) a budget of €7.5 billion funded over 4500 grants.[14] It now continues to support individual researchers and their teams under Horizon 2020, the current integrated programme that covers research and innovation funding throughout Europe. The ERC is the main component of the ‘Excellent Science’ pillar of Horizon 2020, and its budget is expected to rise to a total of €13 billion, to be spent over 2014–2020.

ERC funding assistance consists of three core funding schemes which are:

  • Starting Grant, aimed at early-career investigators with 2–7 years of experience beyond their PhD with proven potential for research independence and evidence of scientific maturity
  • Consolidator Grant, aimed at investigators building an independent career with 7–12 years of experience beyond their PhD who can demonstrate a promising track-record of early career achievements
  • Advanced Grant, aimed primarily at well-established independent investigators and supports ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in the respective research field

SFI supports Irish-based researchers and their host institutions to aid the success of Irish applications to the ERC through the following programmes:[15]

SFI ERC Support Programme provides an additional overhead payment to the host institution of ERC award winners, which is designed to assist awardees, who may either have won their ERC award while working at an Irish Host Institution or who may have recently been recruited to an Irish Host Institution from overseas, to successfully carry out their ERC-funded research.

SFI ERC Development Programme supports researchers based in Ireland that have submitted a proposal to the ERC Starting Grant, Consolidator Grant and Advanced Grant programmes, have been deemed fundable, but were not eventually funded by the ERC due to a lack of available programme budget. The programme aims to support or improve a resubmission to an ERC funding scheme.

Industry Programmes[edit]

The Industry Fellowship programme facilitates the bi-directional movement of academic and industry researchers. Fellowships can be awarded to academic researchers wishing to spend time in industry worldwide and to individuals from industry anywhere in the world (including Ireland) wishing to spend time in an eligible Irish Research Body. The aim of the programme is to facilitate knowledge transfer and training, thereby building critical mass in areas of strategic importance for Ireland.[16]

SFI Research Centres are large scale Research Centres which have an economic impact for Ireland. SFI Research Centres may be funded at a level of between €1-5 million per year in direct costs. SFI funds up to 70% of the overall Research Centre budget. A minimum of 30% of the budget must be secured from industry partners, at least one-third of which must be in cash.[17]
See details on the 12 funded SFI Research Centres here:

Name Name Est. Website
ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Platform Research 2014
AMBER Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre 2013
APC Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre 2013
CONNECT Research Centre for Future Networks And Communications 2014
CÚRAM Centre for Research In Medical Devices 2014
iCRAG Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences 2014
Infant Institute of Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research 2013
Insight Centre for Data Analytics 2013
IPIC Irish Photonic Integration Research Centre 2013
Lero The Irish Software Research Centre 2014
MaRei Marine Renewable Energy Ireland 2013
SSPC Synthesis & Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre 2013

SFI Research Centre Spokes is a mechanism to allow new industry and academic partners to join the existing SFI Research Centres.[18]

SFI Partnership Programme is a flexible mechanism by which SFI can build collaborations with industry, funding agencies, charities, philanthropic organisations or higher education institutes (HEIs) in order to co-fund future opportunities.[19]


SFI Research Infrastructure Call is to support the research community in building and sustaining the required infrastructural capacity to accomplish research in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. SFI encourages the use, renewal and development of existing national research infrastructures and also investing in modern research equipment and infrastructure in areas of national priority.[20]

SFI Fellowship Programme allows candidates to develop their career through experiencing and participating in the diversity of activities carried out by a funding agency.[21] These activities include but are not limited to;

  • The processes involved in the initiation;
  • Development and implementation of internationally peer reviewed funding programmes
  • Post award management of SFI investments
  • Specification, design and implementation of the IT awards management system
  • Administration of grants
  • Liaising with Industry partners and others
  • General office experience
  • Evaluation of Research Programmes
  • Research Funding Policy
  • Reporting on and evaluating the outputs from SFI funded research
  • Data gathering, analysis and report preparation

SFI Conference and Workshop programme facilitates international and national conferences and workshops hosted in the Republic of Ireland. These events are for the dissemination of research, knowledge exchange, development and exposure of early career researchers and students and development and growth of new and existing collaborations both nationally and internationally. SFI will support conferences and workshops of timely importance in all areas covered by SFI’s legal remit. SFI Conference and Workshop Awards fall into four different categories: Conference, Exceptional Conference, Workshop and Conference Bid.[22]

Technology Innovation Development Award (TIDA) is a joint funded initiative by SFI and Enterprise Ireland (EI). The purpose of the award is to realise economic impact from state investments in research. The TIDA programme is designed to enable researchers to focus on the first steps of an applied research project which may have a commercial benefit if further developed.[23] SFI and EI are interested in attracting applications from researchers who have not had the opportunity to previously avail of EI funding.

Public Engagement, Education and Outreach[edit]

SFI Discover is the education and public engagement programme of Science Foundation Ireland and covers three main areas of activity:

  1. Directly managed programmes (listed below)
  2. Projects and activity completed through the SFI Research Centres and other researchers funded through SFI
  3. Projects funded through the SFI Discover annual funding call.

Science Week[edit]


Science Week is Ireland’s biggest annual promotion of science to the general public. The week-long programme of events across Ireland each November aims to make science more interesting and accessible to children and adults alike.[24]

The first national Science Week took place in 1996. Organised events take place in schools, colleges, universities, libraries, companies and other public places and are run mainly by volunteers. The national media and promotional campaign is coordinated by SFI’s Discover Programme with over 800 festivals taking place throughout the country.[25]

The Science Week website is the information platform for events. Organisers submit their event details online to a searchable events database and participants upload images and videos of events they have attended.

Smart Futures[edit]

Smart futures logo 2014.jpg

Smart Futures is coordinated and managed by Science Foundation Ireland in partnership with the Engineers Ireland's STEPS programme and is supported by organisations such as PharmaChem Ireland, the Royal Society of Chemistry, ICT Ireland, the Irish Medical Devices Association (IMDA), the Institute of Physics and others.[26]
The programme operates by providing information about careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to students, teachers, guidance counsellors and parents, and to stimulate an interest in STEM subjects in secondary school and at third level.[27] It encourages the consideration of the STEM areas, such as technology, engineering and energy, pharma and medical devices as potential career options. Smart Futures are training people with science and technology backgrounds to give career talks to students in secondary schools around Ireland. Volunteers come from STEM companies across the pharma chemical, medical devices, energy and technology sector, as well as from research centres and academia.[28]

Events and initiatives in the Smart Futures series are available to schools's who have registered their interest on the website and include:

  • Smart Futures Free school visits by science researchers and engineers
  • The Smart Futures Video Series
  • STEM Career Profiles

Discover Primary Science and Maths[edit]

DPSM logo.jpg

The Discover Primary Science and Maths supports schools in delivering the science and maths curriculum in schools and to make it more interesting, relevant and visual for their students. It facilitates teacher training in general primary science, and provides teachers with online resources – which can also be used by parents and students – and classroom activity packs.

Major elements for the programme include:

  • "Continued Professional Development" for all staff of paticipating schools
  • Awards for 'Science and Maths Excellence',[29] to reward primary schools for carrying out science, technology, engineering and maths activities both in the school and externally.
  • A network of over 50 Discover Centres with accredited workshops and outreach programmes for primary school students on a range of themes encompassing STEM[edit]

Science ie Logo.png is a resource for people of all ages who are interested in science. It brings together information on many areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Ireland for students, parents and teachers amongst others.[30]

Key areas of include:

  • Listings of science events
  • News of science, engineering and technology
  • Science links

Discover Funding Call[edit]

SFI-Discover logo.jpg

Science Foundation Ireland, through the SFI Discover Programme promotes awareness and engagement of the Irish public with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).[31] The SFI Discover Programme was set up to catalyse, inspire and guide STEM education and public engagement. To achieve this the programme Call funds the development of STEM education and public engagement sector in Ireland, investing in developing and extending activity and ability in this area, and exploring and encouraging novel means of engaging the public.

Science in Ireland Barometer[edit]

The study was commissioned by SFI and completed by Millward Brown to establish the Irish public’s attitudes and awareness of STEM in our society.[32] The study was involved face-to-face interviews, across a nationally representative sample of 1,008 adults aged 15+ in the republic of Ireland. The study found that awareness of science is quite general but positive. Science was deemed to be highly valued both for economic growth and personal prosperity but only half the population felt adequately informed.[33] The public seek clarity and consistency in what they hear about science, with positive engagement of science teachers and parents being key factors to children’s interest in STEM.

External links[edit]

SFI's Seven Research Funding centres:


  1. ^ "Innovation and Investment Division". Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. 
  2. ^ (particularly Section 7)
  3. ^
  4. ^ National Development Plan 2000-2006 (PDF). THE STATIONERY OFFICE. 
  5. ^ Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (PDF). Government of Ireland and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. June 1, 2006. 
  6. ^ Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Act 2013 (PDF). October 9, 2013. 
  7. ^ "SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership". SFI. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership". SFI. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  9. ^ University Research Fellowships (PDF). The Royal Society. 
  10. ^ Starting Investigator Research Grant Programme 2015 (PDF). SFI. June 12, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  11. ^ "SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership". SFI. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  12. ^ "SFI Investigators Programme 2015". SFI. 
  13. ^ Research Professorship Programme (PDF). SFI. June 2014. 
  14. ^ "How is FP 7 structured?". Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  15. ^ "SFI-ERC funding schemes". SFI. 
  16. ^ Science Foundation Ireland - Your Partner in Science (PDF). September 18, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  17. ^ Science Foundation Ireland - Your Partner in Science (PDF). September 18, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  18. ^ Science Foundation Ireland - Your Partner in Science (PDF). September 18, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  19. ^ Science Foundation Ireland - Your Partner in Science (PDF). September 18, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  20. ^ SFI Research Infrastructure Call 2015 (PDF). SFI. October 12, 2015. 
  21. ^ "SFI Fellowship Programme". SFI. 
  22. ^ Conference and Workshop Programme (PDF). SFI. September 2015. 
  23. ^ "UCC student’s ‘smart needle’ beats seaweed treatment to TIDA award". Silicon Republic. October 6, 2015. 
  24. ^ "Science Week shows reveal digestive system journey". The Irish Times. November 19, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  25. ^ "Science Week gets under way today". RTE. November 9, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  26. ^ "Smart Futures Website". SFI. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  27. ^ "Smart futures can roll out the science message". Sunday Indo Business. July 5, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  28. ^ "STEM role models can help students ‘fit’ with Smart Futures". Silicon Republic. June 24, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  29. ^ "Awards for teachers who go the extra mile". The Irish Times. June 5, 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  30. ^ "Site of the week:". The Irish Times. December 12, 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  31. ^ SFI Discover Programme Call 2015 (PDF). SFI. July 28, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  32. ^ "Scientists suspected of not listening to ordinary people - survey". The Irish Times. October 7, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  33. ^ "Majority believe science improves lives but feel they do not understand it". RTE. October 7, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 

SFI Website :

Mark Fergusons Profile :

SFI Updated Industrial development act: