The research centre wants Ireland to form a national strategy around advanced materials, arguing that they are vital for the economy and that Ireland could lose its edge if it doesn’t remain competitive.

Amber – the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre for advanced materials and bioengineering – is urging the country to provide more funding to materials science to support its green and digital transitions.

In a position paper published yesterday (23 April), Amber shared various recommendations it suggests Ireland should take to support materials science. These include more research funding for this sector and the formation of a “national stakeholder group” across academia, Government and industry.

Materials science involves the discovery and utilisation of materials, learning more about them and using them to solve real-world problems. The research centre argues that the discovery of advanced materials has driven technological and societal progress “since the stone age” and are vital for modern technologies such as semiconductors and renewable energy.

“As such they are a primary driver of economic growth and industrial competitiveness,” the position paper reads. “However, the materials market faces significant change in the next few decades resulting in an increased focus on innovation and accelerated technology translation at a global scale.”

Amber claims this sector will be necessary to deliver on the country’s Impact 2030 plans – Ireland’s strategy to boost its research and innovation. The report also claims materials science is “the single biggest contributor” to Ireland’s manufacturing sector.

Speaking at a panel at the launch event, Amber executive director Dr Lorraine Byrne – one of the key authors of the paper – said “70pc of all green and digital transitions are dependent upon materials science” and argued that there is a need for scientists to engage with politicians to grow this field.

The white paper claims the world is experiencing a “materials transition”, as population growth and the adoption of digital and green technologies are driving an “unprecedented demand” for materials.

More funding and more people

The paper claims Irish materials science researchers have earned an international reputation, thanks to long-term investment into the country’s research ecosystem. But it also warns that Ireland currently has a low level of research funding relative to its gross national income compared to other countries in the EU and OECD.

Amber attributes this lack of research funding to Ireland dropping in its position as a “strong innovator” within European and global innovation rankings. A 2023 EU report claimed Ireland’s performance is increasing at a rate “lower than that of the EU” average and that the country’s performance lead over this average “is becoming smaller.”

Speaking at the event, Amber chair Dr Mary Harney said materials science “underpins everything” and said it used to be a struggle to get Government funding into research that “wasn’t going to see results for quite some time”.

“Ireland needs to grow intellectual capital and the only way to do that is to invest in education and research, we haven’t yet caught up on what we were spending in 2009,” Harney said. “The important thing is to put the money into the best brains, that’s when you get the best research.”

Amber is calling for a focus on renewing the national infrastructure supporting materials science and claims “significant funding” is required to be consistent with “other world-class centres”.

The centre also called for a materials science training strategy developed that is funded from Ireland’s National Training fund.

“Without very considerable change in our approach to the extraction, modification and consumption of materials, 2050 climate targets will not be met,” the paper claims.

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