Engineering Across the Globe The connection between notre dame and galway

For many students, Galway is the city of the Tribes; the city with a vibrant nightlife and appreciation for Irish culture, art, music, and theatre. However, alongside the evident hustle and bustle of student and local life, an important world has been growing for the past decade—a world that is contributing to the growth of Galway’s job industry and footprint in the world. Companies such as Boston Scientific and Medtronic have settled in Galway and employ “40% of Ireland's Medtech jobs” (Cois Coiribe) and “The medical device cluster in Galway occurs through university-industry linkages, a continuous development of a skilled labour pool, international reputation through the success of Boston Scientific and Medtronic, the growth of supplier firms and knowledge transfers establishing new startups” (Breslin, 2015).

The University-industry linkage and growing biomedical engineering in the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway has begun to draw the attention of not only Irish students, but also American ones. The impressive Engineering building at NUI Galway, completed in 2010, is the “largest engineering school in Ireland” and “was built using low embodied energy materials such as zinc and includes novel voided slab systems, grass roofs for water attenuation, natural ventilation, heat exchangers and many other cutting-edge technologies” (NUIG). In addition to the large space and classrooms, the Engineering building holds the key to the success of the programmes at NUIG: the professors.

"[...] the faculty [at NUI Galway] in biomedical engineering are really top-notch"

- Prof. Niebur

One of these professors is Dr. Eimear Dolan, who conducted her PhD research in bone mechanobiology at NUI Galway with Professor Laoise McNamara and is now a faculty member, having just been named on MIT Technology Review’s annual list of Innovators Under 35, as one of 10 global visionaries. During her PhD, Dr. Dolan received a travel fellowship from NUI Galway which allocated her a certain amount of money each year dedicated to travel for conferences and universities abroad. Prof. McNamara had been working with Professor Glen Niebur prior to Dr. Dolan receiving this fellowship, and Prof. Niebur had been in Galway as a Walton visiting scholar supported by Science Foundation Ireland.

Notre Dame Professor Glen Niebur works in the Center for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine as the Director of the Bioengineering Graduate Program and Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Prof. Niebur has worked at Notre Dame for 20 years following his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley and a biomedical research job at the Mayo Clinic. It was during the 2009/2010 academic year that Prof. Niebur was on sabbatical in Galway, Ireland where he and Prof. McNamara first connected. Prof. Niebur had received a Grant from the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) as a visiting professor and was working with the current NUI Galway Dean of Engineering, Prof. Peter McHugh because of their shared belief that NUI Galway would provide a good opportunity for Prof. Niebur to develop new research directions by working with people at the university. During a walk around the campus, they bumped into Prof. McNamara and it was then that it was suggested they collaborate with one another because of their shared interests. Prof. McNamara and Prof. Niebur later received a Naughton Fellowship from the University of Notre Dame which supported both the exchange of students and the exchange of the two of them travelling between Notre Dame and NUI Galway to work on projects together.

It was no surprise that Dr. Dolan found herself at Notre Dame for her first placement because of the connection between Prof. McNamara and Prof. Niebur. Dr. Dolan spent six months at Notre Dame, “[Prof. Niebur’s] lab was great - everyone was so welcoming… We called it the ‘Nieburhood’”. Prof. Niebur also commented on the ease with which Dr. Dolan fit into the areas of research at Notre Dame, “I have some expertise in some of the methods that [Dr. Dolan] was using and had some access to some facilities that were going to work well for her, and also because Prof. McNamara and I had collaborated a lot in the past it was a good fit”.

After finishing her PhD and spending fours years as a postdoctoral researcher at Trinity College Dublin, the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) and MIT, Dr. Dolan was named an NUI Galway faculty member beginning in 2018 where she now focuses her research and teaching on therapies for chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. She visited Notre Dame in September, 2019 as a part of the International Committee from NUI Galway which she had been asked to join because of her experiences abroad. It was during this trip that she and Prof. Niebur began to discuss possible modules for future students exchanges between Notre Dame and NUI Galway. “Having done my undergraduate degree in Galway and having an insight into what was going on over in Notre Dame is kind of what helped to figure out all those modules and if they would work,” says Dr. Dolan.

"[...] I think it’s great to go to another place to see how things are done. That’s what I really valued from spending time in the States—you learn new techniques, you learn new ways of doing things"

- Dr. Dolan

Back at the University of Notre Dame, Prof. Niebur has been helping to send exchange students over to Galway in the same way Dr. Dolan worked with him. At the time Dr. Dolan was at Notre Dame, a few of Prof. Niebur’s PhD students had gone over to work with Prof. McNamara at NUI Galway which has proven to be an invaluable outlet on both ends. “Different labs in different universities are set up differently and I think it’s great to go to another place to see how things are done. That’s what I really valued from spending time in the States—you learn new techniques, you learn new ways of doing things,” says Dr. Dolan.

Throughout the year Prof. Niebur spent at NUI Galway, he and Prof. McNamara worked on various projects together. For that year, Prof. Niebur found himself stationed in the Orbsen building on the NUI Galway campus. Prof. Niebur remarked that not only are the facilities great, but “the faculty [at NUI Galway] in biomedical engineering are really top-notch”. When asked about the study experience at NUI Galway both as a student and as a visiting professor, Prof. Niebur remarked that the Galway programme is different from a lot of other study abroad programmes that Notre Dame does—during your time there, you’re not just with Notre Dame students and faculty. While at NUI Galway, you get to meet, live with, and work with students and professors from all over the world, making it a fully international study experience. “To me, I think that’s a great experience,” says Prof. Niebur. “If you make the slightest effort, you will make friends immediately who will try to get you into their community. The best thing you can do is if somebody says ‘we are going for coffee,’ drop things and you go for coffee. You’re just going to spend 20 minutes, but you’ll have this great conversation [and will] get connected into more of the community of the university”.

"There are exciting things ahead"

- Dr. Dolan

Since Prof. Niebur and Prof. McNamara formed the bridge between Notre Dame and NUI Galway, people like Dr. Dolan and other professors and exchange students have continued to strengthen it. Notre Dame and NUI Galway provide the perfect partnership for students because of their unique offerings, opportunities, and professors. “I would love to get Notre Dame students over and support them here, either undergraduate or postgraduate/Master’s students. I think it’s a really great link that we have and I had a great experience over [at Notre Dame],” says Dr. Dolan. Once the biomedical engineering modules and research are open to visiting Notre Dame students, Dr. Dolan will act as the point of contact for science students studying abroad from Notre Dame.

“Educationally it’s a great experience, culturally it’s a great experience, and I’m entirely biased but I just love Galway as a city,” says Prof. Niebur. Notre Dame and NUI Galway are excited to work more closely together to promote intercultural exchange between their institutions, both with students and professors. “I love doing research, discovering new things, and collaborating with people who really challenge and push you,” says Dr. Dolan about her experience both in Galway and abroad at Notre Dame. “There are exciting things ahead”.

Undergraduate students can apply for 2022 summer research opportunities via kylemore@nd.edu

Picture credits:

Dr Chaosheng Zhang, NUI, Galway

GK Media

April 30, 2018; Scientists Laurie Littlepage and Glen Niebur stage bone growth experiments in Harper Cancer Research Institute lab. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame) - Copyright University of Notre Dame Original Image File

The University of Notre Dame


Dr Chaosheng Zhang, NUIG GK Media