Dr Neil Ireland

Science and engineering is very important to me as not only is it a challenging and fulfilling career choice, it also means that my work days are spent on interesting topics where I am constantly learning.

Dr Neil Ireland came second in the 1984 Awards, with a project designed to help his local community.  Growing up in a regional area, Neil was interested in exploring whether he could help farmers improve their product yield, via optimising their seed selection. He achieved this by investigating the effect of wheat seed size on various growth criteria. 

Motivated by his experiences as part of the Awards, Neil followed his passion for science into tertiary studies and a successful career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). His career reaches beyond the traditional walls of the research laboratory. Following a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and PhD in Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, Neil worked for the food industry in research and development for 3 years.

 In 1997 Neil felt his skills were not being fully utilised in the research environment and began investigating alternative career options. He was keen to find a career that kept him at the cutting edge of STEM, which utilised critical thinking and looked at the bigger picture. Neil left the lab and joined the patent attorney profession, and he continues to practise as a patent attorney today. Neil specialises in Chemistry and Life Sciences patents, with expertise in polymers, nanotechnology and pharmaceutical molecules. To become a patent attorney Neil undertook further studies whilst practising, including a Graduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Law, and a Bachelor of Law (Honours).

One of the attractions of the patent attorney profession is that rather than concentrating on one area of science, I am exposed to a broad range of innovative chemistry areas, which is both challenging and stimulating.

In 2018 Neil continued his involvement with the Awards, as a member of the student finalist judging panel; just one of the ways our Alumni members support and inspire future STEM innovators in Australia.

Recently we touched base with Neil, to hear more about his career, his reflections on attending ISEF and how COVID-19 is impacting what we think about science and engineering. Here is what he had to say: 

What have you been up to since we last spoke in 2018? 

Since we last spoke, I have continued my career as a patent attorney, which has exposed me to a wide range of STEM technology areas; I have been involved with clients on projects ranging from herbicides, functional foods and pharmaceuticals. One of the great things about my career is the wide variety of cutting-edge science I am tasked with assisting clients to protect and commercialise. In recent times I have even been involved in drafting patent specifications that are directed towards protecting novel compounds that show promise in the treatment of corona virus infections including COVID-19.  

You mentioned attending the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the US was the highlight of your Awards experience – would you mind sharing some stories or telling us more about this experience? 

Attending ISEF was a great experience, for a number of reasons. Firstly, in general at the time whilst Australia was very good at celebrating sporting success at all levels the celebration of academic success was not as widespread. Being able to attend an event where not only was such success celebrated but seen to be “cool” was highly motivational. In addition, being exposed to the breadth and depth of projects that had been carried out by people of my own age only served to motivate me to further my research interest. It was certainly an eye-opening experience as it demonstrated the endless possibilities in research. 

I think in general ISEF solidified my interest in a STEM related career and motivated me by demonstrating the wide variety of STEM related research areas that could be explored.

In light of COVID-19, what does Science and Engineering mean to you?

In my opinion the importance of science and engineering training has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is it of vital importance that we have a highly trained STEM workforce that we can mobilise to assist in the fight against the pandemic but also that the general population has a good general understanding of the topic. There is a lot of fear and misinformation in the public arena, which a good understanding of STEM can help the general population combat. In addition, a solid background in STEM can assist in better understanding the reasons for some of the protective measures put in place to combat the spread of the virus. 




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