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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 23 March, 2018

Varadkar presents Irish physicist and technology innovator with St Patrick's Day science medals

The medal is awarded annually to a distinguished Irish scientist, engineer or technology leader living and working in the US.

Professor Margaret Murnane and technology innovator David McCourt
Professor Margaret Murnane and technology innovator David McCourt
Image: John Harrington

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has today presented Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) St Patrick’s Day science medal to Professor of physics Margaret Murnane and technology innovator David McCourt.

Now in its fifth year, the medal recognises the contributions of Murnane and McCourt in their respective areas, as well as their role in supporting and engaging with the research ecosystem in Ireland.

The medal is awarded annually to a distinguished Irish scientist, engineer or technology leader living and working in the US.

Limerick native Professor Margaret Murnane is one of just two female physicists in history to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.

Her achievements include designing some of the fastest lasers in the world, with the ability to pulse in the range of the low trillionths of a second. Today, she continues to develop faster and more powerful laser systems.

She has also created a table-top x-ray laser, allowing the wider research community to make use of x-rays in their work.

Murnane first studied physics in University College Cork before completing her PhD at the University of California at Berkeley.

Awarding Murnane with her medal at the event in Washington DC, Varadkar said: “[Murnane's] work has enabled major advances in physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and technology. She has made an enduring impact at home, as a contributing academic at the Tyndall Institute in Cork.

Margaret, your lasers may burst for fractions of milliseconds, but your contribution to both your countries will be seen for all time.

Alongside Murnane, David McCourt was also honoured with a medal.

A holder of Irish citizenship and with a home in Clare, McCourt has been active in Ireland’s academic ecosystem in terms of funding, employment and innovation.

Early on in his career, McCourt developed a new technology that lowered the cost of building cable systems by 80%, which had gone on to become the industry standard.

“Raised in Massachusetts, David’s connections to our island, birthplace of both his parents, were always strong,” Varadkar said.

Like Margaret, David has remained deeply engaged with Ireland through his many ventures.

McCourt had provided support of one of SFI’s research centres, Connect, through substantial partnerships with his companies.

“I know Margaret’s partner, Henry, and mother, Eileen, are here with us today, as are David’s wife, Deborah, and children, David and Alexandra. They know close-up how special Margaret and David are. And I want them to know that we in Ireland know it too.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have no doubt that you will agree, Margaret and David are worthy recipients of this year’s St Patrick’s Day medals.

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