The Royal Irish Academy/Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann champions research. We identify and recognise Ireland’s world class researchers. We support scholarship and promote awareness of how science and the humanities enrich our lives and benefit society. We believe that good research needs to be promoted, sustained and communicated. The Academy is run by a Council of its members. Membership is by election and considered the highest academic honour in Ireland.

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Ground Breakers: Dervilla Donnelly MRIA

10 February 2023

A broadcast documentary giving insight into the life and work of Emeritus Professor of Organic Chemistry at University College Dublin, Dervilla Donnelly MRIA who was also the 2017 winner of the RIA's prestigious Cunningham Medal.

The documentary traces the role she played in Ireland’s’ scientific success, not just with her own scientific research, but with her influence on science policy and as a mentor for some of Ireland’s leading scientist.

Ground Breakers: Dervilla Donnelly is a part of a series of three documentaries, each one charting the life and work of one extraordinary woman who broke the ground for the next generation of women. These older women did not just witness a changing Ireland; they were the change makers. 

The documentary entitled Ground Breakers: Dervilla Donnelly was broadcast on Newstalk 106 - 108 FM, Sunday 19th February at 7am and repeats Saturday 25th at 9pm. Listen here

Dervilla Donnelly, driven by an insatiable curiosity and love of science, has mentored generations of academics and business leaders, creating international contacts and support structures for the future generations of Irish scientist; both men and women. In 2000 she received the Boyle-Higgins gold medal award from the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland awarded for her ‘outstanding and intentionally recognised research contribution to the advancement of chemistry’. In 2017 Dervilla was awarded the Cunningham medal the first woman to have received this award.

‘Ground breaking. As the leading Irish chemist of the past decades. In terms of her contribution to phytochemistry, to organic chemistry, to the isolation of natural products particularly in the area of flavonoid chemistry which was her particular expertise. She had her place on the world stage as a chemist.’ Professor Mary Jane Meegan, Fellow Emeritus, Pharmacy Trinity College Dublin

‘The role she played benefited Ireland and the researchers in Ireland significantly In many ways she was a visionary.’ Professor Pat Guiry, Director of the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology School of Chemistry

‘She was a head of her time, and a woman in science at a time when it was really tough. Long before inter-disciplinary or international became words in science, Dervilla was there, she was so far ahead of her time. We have two kinds of approaches to science one is reactive and the other is proactive , intuitive and far reaching. Dervilla was the latter. She had the solutions to the things that were not even problems. That is what we need. It is the out of box thinking that has changed the world. One of her greatest legacy to me is my engagement with society, citizens, students, because I think that the idea of inspiring curiosity, that triggers creativity, which in turn links to innovation and that is the circularity I would see she started in our minds way before anyone used that vocabulary.’ Professor of Pharmacy Helen Sheridan, Trinity College Dublin

‘If you talk to the women we have given life time achievement awards to, those women were breaking down barriers. It is hard enough to trail blaze for your own career, then to have your hand out behind you, to make the path easier for others. It is no good that you have blazed the path for yourself you need to make that path easier for the women who come behind you. When you think about what she has done, it is not just about trailblazing in that chemistry area I think it is about making that very relevant to the scientific community.’ Dr Andrea C Johnson, Chair of WITS - Women in Technology Science in Ireland

‘It has built up over the centuries, but it was exciting, what we were doing it was new. Looking back I had an interesting life. I was very lucky.’ Professor Dervilla Donnelly

Ground Breakers is a Curious Broadcast production funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence Fee. Produced and narrated by Patricia Baker.

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