Dr Lynette Keeney, researcher at Tyndall who hails from Cairns Hill in Sligo, was recently awarded a prestigious Royal Society-SFI University Research Fellowship for the second time for her outstanding early career success in the area of deep-tech data storage.
In an interview with TechCentral.ie, Dr Keeney shares some insight into her academic career and the importance of STEM advocacy.
I am a science graduate from NUI, Galway (2001), having specialised with a PhD in inorganic chemistry under the supervision of Prof. Michael J. Hynes (2005). From 2005 to 2008, I worked as a Principle Investigator / Chemist assessing new pharmaceuticals in Charles River Laboratories, Pre-clinical Services, Montreal, Inc., Canada. I returned to Ireland in 2008, starting my materials science career at Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork (UCC), initially as a post-doctoral researcher working with Prof. Roger Whatmore and Prof. Martyn Pemble. I then began developing my own independent research programme in the field of materials science, with my first fully funded project (Science Foundation Ireland Technology (SFI) and Innovation Award) in 2014. I was awarded a Royal Society/SFI University Research Fellowship in 2015 and a renewal of this award will begin in 2021. While my main focus is materials science research and discovery, I also enjoy teaching materials chemistry to first year engineering students of UCC.
Using my chemistry background, I design, develop and optimise the physical properties of new materials with the target of implementing these new materials in future data/memory storage devices. Whereas current computer memories use either electric or magnetic polarisation to store information separately in single bit devices, I develop new multiferroic materials which can simultaneously combine ferroelectric and ferromagnetic storage for multi bit devices. Technologies based on multiferroic materials are expected to permit four-times (or more!) increase in the amount of information that can be stored. In 2013 I made a research breakthrough in this area, by developing a rare multiferroic material which operates at room temperature.
I’m an advocate for a career in STEM in general, and like most industries, it’s important to have gender diversity. Grants like the Royal Society Fellowship not only promote intellectual freedom and independence in early career researchers but they facilitate the work-science-life balance that women often have to juggle. It’s important to increase awareness that a career in the sciences can offer that flexibility.
While specific jobs and scientific disciplines are constantly evolving, the world will always need talented scientists, technologists mathematicians and engineers in roles where they can make a difference. Whether this is a career in education, research or industry, etc. with a career in STEM, not only do you have the opportunity to make new learnings and be at the forefront of discovery, your work contributes to society and you can make real and positive social impacts.
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