Trinity student wins prize at Falling Walls Lab

Photo: Kay Herschelmann on the Falling Walls Blog

Yesterday, the Falling Walls Lab in Berlin was filled with excitement and adrenaline. With just 3 minutes to present their groundbreaking ideas and answer questions, it was intense for both the speakers and audience! Ireland was represented well by Trinity College Dublin researchers Eileen Diskin and Christine Power. While attending the Falling Walls Reception last night, I received the brilliant news that one of these, Eileen Diskin (above photo, far right), had received the third-place juror’s prize for her presentation on antibiotic resistance. The innovative Trinity researcher was rewarded with €500. There was stiff competition among the 98 other talks, so receiving this prize is a fantastic achievement. In a celebratory mood Eileen exclaimed that she was“totally taken aback” and“surprised as I was so impressed by everyone’s presentations”.

I chatted to Eileen and Christine at the Falling Walls Lab about their research:

Eileen Diskin talked about breaking the walls to antibiotic resistance during the morning session. Everyone’s attention was immediately grabbed with a catchy video of a plastic flamingo. With all eyes now on her, she explained that antibiotic resistance is traditionally thought of as a human problem. This is no longer the case as antibiotics are being used in agriculture and other contexts leading to bacteria in wildlife also becoming resistant. Her PhD research uses flamingos as an indicator to show the extent of this resistance in nature. Eileen’s research is focused on the link between wildlife and human health, as the built-up resistance in wildlife has the potential to transfer to humans.

Talking to Eileen, I was amazed to learn that there are tens of thousands of flamingos living in both national parks and urban environments across Europe. Taking advantage of researchers tagging juvenile birds, Eileen took samples to test antibiotic resistance of the flamingo’s bacteria. As well as being easy to catch as they are flightless, it is important to test juvenile birds before they move to different locations and are contaminated with new bacteria. In her 3rd year of her PhD, Eileen has studied five sites so far but hopes to expand this in the next steps of her research. For more information, see Eileen’s YouTube video (featuring plastic flamingo):

Christine Power talked at the evening session about breaking the walls to wastewater management. Christine is in the first year of her PhD but already has many proposals to improve wastewater processing by using hydropower. She explained to me that within the treatment plant, waste water already flows rapidly so she hopes to harness this available resource. This would be an additional cost saving measure as most plants already use anaerobic digestion as a fuel source. With waste water charges being reintroduced in Ireland in the coming months, she commented that “when water charges come in, they are meant to cover the costs of wastewater treatment. If you create your own energy, it should theoretically reduce the price to consumers”.

The solids in wastewater can hinder the turbine so Christine is also exploring the possibility of placing turbines downstream of water treatment. Once the practical elements of this research are finalized, the group in Trinity will team up with Bangor University who will conduct life-cycle analysis and environmental impact studies. For more information, see Christine’s YouTube video:

The Innovation Academy in Dublin encouraged both Eileen and Christine to submit their presentations to the Falling Walls Lab. Eileen who has been taking courses there since February, remarked that “with the Innovation Academy, it’s about the next step and what your research actually means”.

Irish contingent: Eileen Diskin (speaker), Dave Fahy (ESOF2012), Christine Power (speaker) & Ruth Kearney (Innovation Academy)