5 Exceptional Irish Scientists You Need To Know

Stephen O'Brien 02.11.2018

It’s Science Week, and so we’re paying tribute to five Irish scientists who helped shape the way we see science today in Ireland.

There are numerous Irish scientists who we could mention here, but there are a few who stand out for their contribution to the scientific discoveries and inventions we still fall back on and which are important to us today. 

1. Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dame Susan is an astrophysicist who hails from Northern Ireland. In 1967, then a postgraduate student, Bell made waves in the science industry for discovering the first radio pulsars. This has since been credited as  "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century". The discovery was deemed so significant that it received The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974, however Bell was excluded from this accolade. This is because at the time she was just a research student. There was a backlash among the science community following Bell’s omission from the awards, however Bell herself dignifiedly played down the controversy.  Bell went on to have a successful career in science - she was President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2002 and 2004 and President of the Institute of Physics from 2008 to 2010. In 2018, Dame Susan was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Generous as ever, Bell donated all her prize money (£2.3m) to help females, ethnic minorities and refugees become physics researchers.

2.  Kathleen Lonsdale

Kildare born Kathleen was fundamental in the science of crystallography here in Ireland. Though Irish born, Lonsdale did move to England as a child. It is there she made some major discoveries, such as the fact the benzene ring was flat, which she proved via X-ray diffraction methods in 1929, alongside solving the structure of hexachlorobenzene in 1931. In 1945, Lonsdale was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in London, making her one of the first two women ever elected to the fellowship and rare hexagonal diamond lonsdaleite was actually named after her in 1966. Lonsdale passed away in 1971, with buildings in the University of Limerick and University College Dublin being named after her in her honour. 

3.  Robert Boyle

Isaac Newton once listed Boyle as one of his major career influences, and it is well deserved. Boyle was born in Waterford in the 17th century, and he is best known for establishing Boyle’s Law in the 17th century, which went on to become a pivotal turning point for modern scientific calculations. The law essentially describes how gas pressure tends to decrease as volume increases, and is something which is still learned off by heart in science classrooms across the country today. Boyle also had made a list of 24 inventions which he wished to see created, such as human flight, navigation technology, and eventually electricity. He would no doubt impressed that many of those on the list have been created today. 

4. Frank Pantridge

Someone who was heavily involved with the evolution of modern medicine was Frank Pantridge, a physician and cardiologist who was born in Co.Down in 1916. Pantridge had an interesting career path, having served in the British Army in World War 2, he later returned to his career focusing on electrocardiography. While working at Queen’s University, he headed up a specialist cardiology unit with his then colleague Dr John Geddes. It was there that the modern system of CPR for cardiac arrest was introduced. This was further improved as mobile coronary care was introduced in ambulances, and even further via the invention of the portable defibrillator. 

5. John Tyndall

Born in Leighlinbridge, Co.Carlow, Tyndall is notorious for being one of Ireland’s leading physicists - he is credited with discovering infrared radiation as well as the physical properties of air. He also accurately represented why the sky is blue (as there is a scattering of light by small particles suspended in the atmosphere). This discovery is now known as the Tyndall effect. Tyndall embarked upon numerous other discoveries, but ones which particularly stand out include the invention of the first double-beam spectrophotometer following his study of London pollution, and the establishment that bacteria do actually exist. The Tyndall National Institute in Cork is named after him, and is the largest R&D facility of its kind in Ireland. 

The above are just some of the many Irish scientists who have contributed greatly to the society we live in today. Celebrate science the Science Week, to find out more click here.
If you are looking for the next step in your science career, then take a look at our latest opportunities here. 


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