Science Foundation Ireland

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 Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. SFI is an agency of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

Science Foundation Ireland
Sfi logo.png
SFI overview
FormedJuly 2003
HeadquartersThree Park Place, Hatch Street Upper, Dublin 2, Ireland D02 FX65
SFI executives
  • Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General
  • Peter Clinch, Chairperson
Parent departmentDepartment of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
Key document
  • Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003
WebsiteSFI website



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 facilitates 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,[1] 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 SFIEdit

# Name Appointed Retired
1. Dr Pat Fottrell 2003 2011
2. Ann Riordan 2011 2018
3. Peter Clinch 2019 Incumbent

Directors General of SFIEdit

# 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

Graham Love acted as interim Director General of SFI from the departure of Frank Gannon until the appointment of Mark Ferguson.[2]

Agenda 2020Edit

Agenda 2020 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.[3] The plan was devised to build on the early investment in Ireland’s scientific and enterprise communities since Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was established and to set out goals for further development and growth by 2020.

It has four primary objectives:[4]

  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.[5] 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 allotted a further €3.7B to spend on R&D.[6] 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 enables the outcome of oriented basic research funded by SFI to be taken closer to market.[7]

The foundation signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in February 2009.[8]

In January 2021, SFI was transferred from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.[9]

Funding ProgrammesEdit

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 funds early- and mid-career researchers to become fully independent research leaders and collaborates 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 IndependenceEdit

Applies to early career researchers ready to embark on a career independent of their current supervisor; they will have a track record of research activity including senior author publications and will demonstrate an upward trajectory; they should be capable of describing research plans that fit into a national and international context and be starting to show evidence of independence and international recognition. Applicants to the SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG), Royal Society-SFI University Research Fellowship and Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowships are considered to be at the transition-to-independence stage.[10]

Transitioning to LeadershipEdit

Applies to early and mid career researchers who have already demonstrated research independence. The SFI Career Development Award (CDA), Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Science and Future Research Leader applicants are considered at the transition-to-leadership stage of their career.[11]

Established Investigators and LeadersEdit

SFI Investigators Programme funds 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.[12]

SFI Research Professorship Programme supports national research bodies in the recruitment of researchers for Professorial Chairs, or similar research leadership positions in targeted scientific areas in all areas covered by SFI’s legal remit. The programme can 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]

Industry ProgrammesEdit

The Industry Fellowship programme funds 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 programme facilitates knowledge transfer and training, building critical mass in areas of strategic importance for Ireland.[14]

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.[15]
See details on the 16 funded SFI Research Centres here:

Name Research Est. Website
ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology 2014
AMBER Advanced Materials and Bio-engineering Research 2013
APC Microbiome Institute 2013
BEACON Bioeconomy 2017
CONFIRM Smart Manufacturing 2017
CONNECT Centre for Future Networks and Communications 2014
CÚRAM Centre for Research in Medical Devices 2014
FutureNeuro Neurological Diseases 2017
iCRAG Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences 2014
I-Form Advanced Manufacturing 2017
INFANT Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research 2013
Insight Data Analytics 2013
IPIC Irish Photonic Integration Centre 2013
Lero The Irish Software Research Centre 2014
MaREI Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland 2013
SSPC Pharmaceuticals 2013
Vistamilk Dairy Production Chain 2017

SFI Research Centre Spokes is a mechanism to allow new industry and academic partners to join the existing SFI Research Centres.[16]

SFI Partnership Programme is a mechanism by which SFI builds collaborations with industry, funding agencies, charities, philanthropic organisations or higher education institutes (HEIs) in order to co-fund future opportunities.[17]

SFI Centre for Research Training is a mechanism to fund cohorts of research students.[18]

Name Research Training in Est. Website
ML-Labs Machine Learning 2019
FUSE Foundations of Data Science 2019
CRT-AI Artificial Intelligence 2019
DREAL Digitally Enhanced Reality 2019
Genomics Genomics Data Science 2019
ADVANCE Advanced Networks for Sustainable Societies 2019


SFI Research Infrastructure Call funds the research community in building and sustaining the required infrastructural capacity to accomplish research in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. SFI supports the use, renewal and development of existing national research infrastructures and invests in modern research equipment and infrastructure in areas of national priority.[19]

SFI Fellowship Programme is a career development programme that allows candidates to participate in the activities carried out by a funding agency in order to gain new experience.[20]

SFI Conference and Workshop programme funds 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.[21]

Technology Innovation Development Award (TIDA) is a joint funded initiative by SFI and Enterprise Ireland (EI). The TIDA programme enables researchers to focus on the first steps of an applied research project that has a commercial benefit if further developed.[22]

SFI St. Patrick's Day MedalEdit

Every year Science Foundation Ireland celebrates the achievements of Irish Scientists, engineers and business leaders living and working in the USA. The agency awards two Medals - one for industry and one for academia. Both Medals recognise individuals who are not only outstanding in their fields of expertise but who also have demonstrably assisted researchers in Ireland in either academia or industry - via mentorship, supervision, collaboration, industrial development, entrepreneurship or who have made significant contributions to developing the research ecosystem in Ireland.[23]

Past medal recipients are:

Year Academic Medal Industry Medal
2019 Prof Eamon Quigley, Houston Methodist Hospital Mr Mike Mahoney, CEO Boston Scientific
2018 Prof Margaret Murnane, University of Colorado at Boulder Mr David McCourt, Founder and CEO, Granahan McCourt Capital
2017 Prof Adrian Raftery, University of Washington Dr T. Pearse Lyons, Founder and President of Alltech
2016 Prof Séamus Davis, Cornell University Dr Craig Barrett, ex Intel
2015 Prof Katherine Fitzgerald, University of Massachusetts
2014 Prof Garret A. FitzGerald, University of Pennsylvania[24]

Public Engagement, Education and OutreachEdit

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 WeekEdit

Science Week is an annual nationwide promotion of science to the general public, first starting in 1996. It consists of a week-long programme of events across Ireland each November to make science more interesting and accessible to children and adults alike.[25]

Organised events take place in schools, colleges, universities, libraries, companies and other public places and are run by volunteers. The national media and promotional campaign is coordinated by SFI’s Discover Programme with over 800 events taking place throughout the country.[26]

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 FuturesEdit

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.[27]
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.[28] 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.[29]

Events and initiatives in the Smart Futures series are available to schools that 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

Maths Week IrelandEdit

Maths Week Ireland is a partnership of over 50 organisations dedicated to promoting and celebrating mathematics across the island of Ireland. It is the world's largest math festival. It is Co-ordinated by Calmast, Waterford Institute of Technology’s STEM Outreach Centre and funded through the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme, the Department of Education and Skills, Matrix - the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, the ESB Group, and Xilinx.

Discover Primary Science and MathsEdit

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 participating schools
  • Awards for 'Science and Maths Excellence',[30] 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

Discover Funding CallEdit

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 BarometerEdit

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.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003". Irish Statute Book. 14 July 2003. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ National Development Plan 2000-2006 (PDF). THE STATIONERY OFFICE.
  6. ^ Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (PDF). Government of Ireland and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. June 1, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 27, 2012.
  7. ^ Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Act 2013 (PDF). October 9, 2013.
  8. ^ "Berlin Declaration: Signatories",, Munich: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, retrieved 17 July 2018 CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "Research Policy and Programmes (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2020". Irish Statute Book. 1 December 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  10. ^ "Programmes for Early and Mid Career Researchers". SFI. Retrieved 18 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ "Programmes for Early and Mid Career Researchers". SFI. Retrieved 18 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "SFI Investigators Programme". SFI.
  13. ^ "SFI Research Professorship Programme". SFI.
  14. ^ Industry Fellowship Programme. December 19, 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ SFI Research Centres. December 19, 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ SFI Research Centre Spokes. September 18, 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ SFI Partnerships. September 18, 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  18. ^ SFI Centres for Research Training. 2019. Retrieved 9 February 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ SFI Research Infrastructure. SFI. October 12, 2017.
  20. ^ "SFI Fellowship Programme". SFI.
  21. ^ SFI Conferences and Workshops. SFI. September 2017.
  22. ^ "UCC student's 'smart needle' beats seaweed treatment to TIDA award". Silicon Republic. October 6, 2015.
  23. ^ SFI St Patricks Day Science Medal Award. SFI. December 12, 2017.
  24. ^ SFI St Patricks Day Science Medal Award. SFI. December 12, 2017.
  25. ^ "Science Week shows reveal digestive system journey". The Irish Times. November 19, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  26. ^ "Science Week gets under way today". RTÉ. November 9, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  27. ^ "Smart Futures Website". SFI. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  28. ^ "Smart futures can roll out the science message". Sunday Indo Business. July 5, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  29. ^ "STEM role models can help students 'fit' with Smart Futures". Silicon Republic. June 24, 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  30. ^ "Awards for teachers who go the extra mile". The Irish Times. June 5, 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  31. ^ SFI Discover Programme. SFI. July 28, 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  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.

External linksEdit

SFI's Seven Research Funding centres: