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Exchange sparks new ideas and opportunities

“Meeting other academics face-to-face brings the greatest benefit of the WTUN exchanges, by creating strong connections that are more likely to lead to research collaborations”

– Dr Gerard McGranaghan, Lecturer, IT Sligo

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Date of exchange: 21-23 May, 2018
Exchange partners:

  • Ireland: Connacht-Ulster Alliance
  • Finland: Tampere University of Technology (TUT)

Initiatives in progress:

  • Undergraduate and postgraduate exchanges
  • New final year undergraduate robotics project
  • Research collaboration with TUT spin-out company

The three-day visit to the Tampere University of Technology (TUT) wasn’t the first time Dr Gerard McGranaghan and his colleague Professor Suresh Pillai had had contact with researchers from that institution, but the WTUN exchange offered an ideal opportunity to rekindle and broaden those connections.

Dr Gerard McGranaghan is a lecturer at the Institute of Technology Sligo, one of the institutions that make up the Connacht-Ulster Alliance (CUA). He and Professor Pillai were joined on the exchange by Dr Perry Share, project manager at CUA. He was interested in learning how TUT was managing its merger (now complete) with University of Tampere and Tampere University of Applied Sciences to create Tampere University.

The visit was carefully planned beforehand – a key element of its success, according to Dr McGranaghan.

“To really take advantage of the opportunity offered by the exchanges, it’s important to know where the potential areas of collaboration might be,” he says. “We chose to focus on teaching, research and industry and our visit was well organised around these themes.”

The planning was handled by TUT International Relations Manager, Ilkka Virtanen, who arranged meetings with relevant academics, tours of teaching facilities and visits to TUT spin out companies.

Dr McGranaghan was so impressed with some of TUT’s teaching methods and resources, he’s already planning how to implement similar initiatives at IT Sligo.

“TUT use industrial partners to propose a problem they’d like solved and this forms the basis of a final year project in robotics,” says Dr McGranaghan. “It’s an open question, so there’s no ‘correct’ answer. But it’s also a real, not an abstract challenge and the students respond with amazing creativity and ingenuity. We’re looking to start to bring something similar in for our students in the next academic year.”

Dr McGranaghan was also impressed with TUT’s open access workshop, that includes high-tech equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters. “Students usually have to book time to access such facilities, so it’s much more restricted,” he says. “We’d love to have something like this at IT Sligo as it’s a fantastic resource for undergraduates.”

The exchange’s industrial visits also bore fruit with a collaboration on the cards with Millidyne, who specialise in anti-bacterial surface coatings. The company is interested in working with Dr McGranaghan, an expert in heat transfer, to see how their existing coatings could be adapted to enhance their heat transfer properties.

Overall the IT Sligo team met with over 20 TUT staff, including key researchers from the engineering, robotics and science areas, the TUT President, Deans of the Faculties of Natural Sciences and of Engineering Sciences and the Head of International Relations.

“Meeting people and spending time at Tampere was a tremendous help, as you also gain an understanding of the different culture in Finland,” says Dr McGranaghan. “Those meetings mean that we’re more likely to think about teaming up with partners in Tampere for funding calls – and I’m sure collaborations will result in the future.”

Ilkka Virtanen agrees: “The exchange program is one of the major benefits of the WTUN and was a pleasure to act as a host for Gerard, Suresh and Perry. Visits are always two-way streets; you give some and in return, you learn a lot more. It was certainly fascinating for us to learn more about CUA’s approach to their merger, which like our own, aimed to promote interaction between disciplines and increase research power.”

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