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Royal Irish Academy awards 2024 Kathleen Lonsdale RIA Chemistry Prize to Dr Billy McCarthy

Recent graduate of TU Dublin recognised for his innovative work addressing the presence of chlorate in dairy products.

Dr Billy McCarthy was yesterday awarded the 2024 Kathleen Lonsdale RIA Chemistry Prize at a ceremony in the Royal Irish Academy. The prestigious prize, sponsored by Henkel, is awarded for outstanding doctoral research in the chemical sciences carried out on the island of Ireland. The award is named in honour of the famous Irish x-ray crystallographer, Kathleen Lonsdale, who was born on 28 January 1903.

This year’s winner completed his BSc in Chemistry of Pharmaceutical Compounds at University College Cork before pursuing further study with the School of Food Science and Environmental Health at Technological University Dublin. Dr McCarthy was awarded a Teagasc Walsh Scholarship to carry out his PhD on ‘Understanding the Entry, Partition, and Fate of Chlorates in Dairy Processes’.

His winning PhD thesis presents a detailed exploration of chlorate dynamics in dairy processing and proposes a novel solution for chlorate management. Chlorate is a contaminant that can find its way into dairy products through chlorinated water and products used during the cleaning of processing equipment. Due to its adverse health effects the presence of chlorate in dairy products is strictly regulated. Understanding chlorate’s entry, partition, and fate in dairy production is vital to ensuring the safety and quality of dairy products across a global industry.

A key aspect of Dr McCarthy’s study involved developing an industrially feasible approach to chlorate removal from milk using membrane filtration, which had not been performed before this research. At Teagasc Moorepark, using this filtration method, Dr McCarthy demonstrated a significant reduction in chlorate levels of ~60% per unit of dry matter at an industrial scale. The results of this study make a strong case for the potential of membrane filtration as a critical control step for chlorate management that will enhance the safety and quality of dairy products globally.

The Kathleen Lonsdale Chemistry Prize was presented to Dr Billy McCarthy by Dr Hugh Fay from Henkel Ireland and Dr Niamh O’Boyle, Associate Professor in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin and member of the judges’ panel. The ceremony
was officiated by Professor Pat Guiry, President of the Royal Irish Academy.

In her speech Dr O’Boyle highlighted the high standard and diversity of this year’s applications, and commended Dr McCarthy on his innovative research and the clarity with which he communicated his findings:

‘Dr McCarthy succeeded in developing an industrially feasible approach to chlorate removal from milk and in doing so he has tackled a significant food safety challenge faced by the dairy industry… He has published five peer-reviewed articles as lead- author, which, together with 11 conference presentations delivered as a result of his PhD thesis, clearly show that he has gone above and beyond in both his research and his desire to disseminate it.’

Attendees at the ceremony had the opportunity to hear from Dr Billy McCarthy about his prize-winning research and its application. Dr McCarthy is now pursuing a career in food science research.