As the popularity of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) amongst young people has grown significantly over the last decade, the benefits for both the Irish economy, and in particular Irish companies, have been significant.
A recent survey of the top performing companies in Ireland was dominated by STEM focused companies such as Medtronic, Apple, Google, Allergan and CRH, with just one of the top 10 positions held by a non-STEM firm.
In addition to the multinational companies operating around Ireland, STEM graduates are also the life blood of thousands of SMEs across the island. New graduates are entering the work place via a huge variety of third level subjects including physics, chemistry, biology, genetics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and computer science, not to mention the range of engineering courses available.
3D Technology Ltd., a provider of 3D printing solutions based in Galway has been one of many beneficiaries of the STEM talent pool in Ireland. Having recently announced a unique Industrial Partnership with BioImplant ITN, a European Doctorate programme for 12 Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the area of bioabsorbable medical implant development.
As part of the partnership, 3D Technology Ltd. and its sister company MedScan3D have welcomed an Irish researcher, Cillian Thompson, on placement as he completes his research project titled “Development of a 3D Printed Bioabsorbable Composite Material for Orthopaedic Applications”. According to 23 year old Thompson, the journey towards a career in STEM developed early on due to a family illness.
“Growing up I remember clearly the difficulties my grandmother experienced with motor neurone disease, and my interest in helping people grew from there. I also volunteered with the Civil Defence and had considered becoming a paramedic. During school I was always pretty strong at maths, physics and biology and from there started a degree in engineering at NUI Galway.”
After settling into college life during his first year and performing strongly academically, Thompson then focused on biomedical engineering which ultimately led to a much sought after study abroad program in the United States along with three of his class mates.
“Having the opportunity to travel to Purdue University in Indiana was a big eye opener for me as I realised the opportunities to enhance and diversify my engineering skills in addition to travelling and seeing more of the world. After my studies in Purdue, I began a three-month internship with Fort Wayne Metals based in Indiana, who incidentally also have a plant in Castlebar.”
Following a 4th year thesis on the subject of Biodegradable Stents, Thompson pursued a 1 year Masters at NUIG, which looked like the conclusion of his education journey. It was at that point he was presented with a unique opportunity to apply for a European led PhD course called BioImplant ITN, which marries academic research with industrial placement opportunities.
“Initially I was reluctant to pursue a PhD due to its purely academic focus, however the attraction of pursuing a PhD while also getting invaluable industry experience was really appealing. The programme also provided the opportunity to travel so I realised it was a great fit for me.”
Having commenced the programme in September 2019 with 12 other Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the area of bioabsorbable medical implant development, Thompsons first stop was with IMDEA Materials in Madrid, Spain followed by a move to ITA in Aachen, Germany for a second secondment. More recently, the programme has brought him closer to home with a placement with 3D Technology Ltd. based in Galway Technology Centre.
Working in such a cutting edge area of biomedical engineering, the goal of his project is to have the capability of producing patient specific orthopaedic devices manufactured from a biodegradable composite 3D material. According to 3D Technology Ltd. founder James Wall, having the PhD student working with them is a great fit for the company.
“It’s fantastic having young graduates spending time with us, and we’re delighted to have partnered with BioImplant. We are helping him in any way we can, including the development of a custom 3D printer specifically for his research project.”
With the biomedical nature of Thompson’s subject, leveraging the expertise of MedScan3D has also been hugely beneficial, with MedScan3D Technical Director Jacqui O’Connor taking a keen interest in the progress of his ongoing research project. “Cillian is really pushing boundaries as he develops solutions for high strength biodegradable composite materials that can be used in surgical applications. The enthusiasm and initiative of these young people is invaluable and it’s great to have Cillian involved with us and help him on his journey.”
Despite Thompson’s career path in STEM continuing to unfold before him, he’s not looking too far ahead just yet. “Right now I feel I’m in a great place – I’m really enjoying the PhD and in particular my placement here with 3D Technology Ltd. and MedScan3D. As for the future, some travel is definitely on the cards after I complete the BioImplant PhD programme in the next couple of years.”