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Sunday 26 March 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Health, history and harnessing nature: 4 big Irish ideas that are changing the future
Hear about some of the best research coming out of Ireland right now – and find out how you can share your ideas too.

EVEN THE SMALLEST of ideas can make a difference, with the right research, knowledge and determination.

From examining the makeup of the human body to diving into thousands of years’ worth of historical records, Ireland has already been home to some incredible ideas and research, spearheaded by teams of talented experts.

Right now, people around Ireland are being asked to submit their own ideas for what researchers should explore next. It’s all part of a brand new project called Creating Our Future.

To help get your curiosity flowing, we’ve gathered four ideas that research teams around Ireland have explored recently – all of which have the power to change our lives for the better.

Lost, then found: Our archivists are recovering centuries of public records destroyed by a fire in 1922

13-Irish-Architectural-Archive-010_035_X_005-Copy Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive The aftermath of the damage at the Four courts complex in June 1922. Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

In April 1922, republicans occupied the buildings around Dublin’s Four Courts, a complex which was also home to the Public Records Office. On 28 June 1922, just days into the Civil War, much of the complex was destroyed in a huge explosion. The blast took with it the contents of Ireland’s Record Treasury: seven centuries of documents, some dating back to the time of the Normans.

Now, as the centenary of the event approaches, researchers at Trinity College Dublin, in partnership with the National Archives and Irish Manuscripts Commission, are working with experts in the UK and US to help recover as much of the lost information and records as possible. Beyond 2022 is a government-funded project that will culminate in the launch of a virtual Record Treasury, a free-to-access library containing reconstructed census records, wills, court records and more.

Gut feeling: Our microbiologists are finding powerful links between our gut bacteria and our brain health

shutterstock_1921402550 Shutterstock / ART-ur A 3D rendering of microorganisms in the human intestine. Shutterstock / ART-ur / ART-ur

Our brain and our gut are in continual conversation – have you ever had “butterflies in your tummy” when you’re nervous? – and scientists are finding more and more ways to harness the power of this connection.

From how we fight disease to how we respond to stressful situations, countless processes in the human body have been found to be linked to our gut microbiome: the trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes living in our gastrointestinal tract. The profile of one person’s microbiome can be vastly different to another’s, and it’s impacted by our overall health and the food we eat, among other things.

Much of the world-class scientific research around the gut is conducted here in Ireland – specifically, at University College Cork’s APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre. Recent published discoveries from the APC include a potential use for gut microbes in reversing brain aging, and an examination of how the composition of our gut microbiome affects our response to stress.

Speak up: Our researchers are using interviews with 19,000 young people to help create better youth mental health services

shutterstock_527458141 Shutterstock / Over 19,000 young people participated in the second My World Survey. Shutterstock / /

From the pressures of social media to a dangerous rise in recreational drug use, today’s young people face challenges that are unique from previous generations. So how can we best safeguard the mental health of our young people, now and in the future?

Rather than make assumptions, researchers from UCD School of Psychology and the youth mental health organisation Jigsaw went direct to source, asking over 19,000 young people to share their experiences. The results of the My World Survey 2, published in 2019, offer a detailed outline of the obstacles to positive mental health in young people – everything from alcohol consumption to lack of sleep – along with the things that can aid mental health, like having a trusted adult to share problems with.

Not only have these results helped community-based services like Jigsaw to plan for the future, but the findings have also helped shape public policy and inform national debate on youth mental health.

Parks, swimming and more: Our urban experts are making cities greener, from Malaga to Sarajevo

shutterstock_697556914 Shutterstock / Songdech Kothmongkol Researchers are scoping nature-based solutions to city's problems. Shutterstock / Songdech Kothmongkol / Songdech Kothmongkol

How can cities around Europe support the environment, and benefit from it too? Could small changes like creating open green spaces or urban gardens have a long-term positive effect on the lives of city dwellers – and the world as a whole?

Those are the questions that researchers and business experts at Trinity College Dublin are asking, in partnership with organisations from 19 countries across Europe. So far, planned projects include turning a former military camp into a park in Pavlos Melas, creating green spaces from derelict yards in Malaga, and a ten year initiative to make Sarajevo’s Miljacka River clean enough to swim in. Under the remit of Connecting Nature, projects like these can be funded, and their impact measured over time.  

Do you have an idea that you think researchers should explore?  Creating Our Future is an opportunity for everyone in Ireland to submit their ideas – no matter how big or small.  From science, the environment, health and education to poverty, the arts, diversity and inclusion – all ideas are welcome that can inspire researchers to help make a better future for all.

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