The Department of Biochemistry at University College Galway was established in 1963. The first Chair was filled in 1963 by Prof. Colm Ó hEocha, who went on to become President of the University in 1975.
For the first ten years of its existence Biochemistry was located in temporary buildings on campus, and in 1973, the Department moved to the then newly-opened Arts Science Building.
Prof. Patrick F. Fottrell was appointed to the Chair of Biochemistry in December 1976, and also went on to become President of the University in 1996. University College Galway became autonomous in 1997 and was renamed National University of Ireland Galway.
Subsequently the Head of Department post was held by Prof. Jim Gosling as Acting Head of Biochemistry from 1996 to 1997, by Prof. Brian Walker from 1997 to 1998, and by Dr John Donlon as Acting Head of Biochemistry from 1998 to 2001.
Prof. Noel Lowndes, the current Established Professor of Biochemistry, was appointed in 2002 and acted as Head of Department until 2008. Prof. Afshin Samali took over as Head of the Discipline of Biochemistry from 2008-2011, and the current Head of the Discipline is Dr. Michael Carty.
Biochemistry became a Discipline within the School of Natural Sciences in the College of Science in 2007. This brought it more closely together with other former departments, including Microbiology, Zoology, Botany and Plant Sciences, and Earth and Ocean Sciences. The School of Natural Sciences was led by Prof. Heinz-Peter Nasheuer of Biochemistry from 2008-2012, and is currently led by Prof. Vincent O’Flaherty.
In 2014 a number of staff from the Discipline of Biochemistry moved to new research space in the recently-opened Biosciences Research Building on the north campus at NUI Galway. However, ongoing research activities, Biochemistry teaching functions, and its organisational heart still remain rooted in the traditional red-paneled home in the Arts Science Building.
1966 saw the first cohort of eight Biochemistry graduates, and this grew over many years as Biochemistry became an important degree within Science. In 1991 a new specialist degree in Biotechnology was introduced. In addition, Biochemistry subsequently became one of the specialisations in the newly-created Biomedical Science degree. This means that final year students can now follow three different pathways to complete full undergraduate training in biochemistry.
Currently, approximately 400 students follow undergraduate courses involving study of Biochemistry each year. In 2014, a total of 76 students majored in Biochemistry in their final year through the Science, Biotechnology and Biomedical Science programmes.
At the same time, Biochemistry hosts over 40 PhD students with 8-10 graduating each year. The Discipline also introduced a novel MSc in Cancer Research in 2012 that combines a semester of taught courses with an intensive two-semester research project.
From its beginnings Biochemistry has always been highly active in research and had an ability to move with the times. The current major research themes are in chromosome biology, apoptosis, enzymology and glycobiotechnology, and developmental biology.
Researchers have secured significant funding from national and international sources for this work, including for example from Science Foundation Ireland, Health Research Board, Wellcome Trust, Irish Cancer Society, DAFM, Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc, and EU programmes.
Today as ever, we continue to have a highly international research environment, with almost 100 staff members and research students coming from some 20 countries around the world. We also engage in numerous international collaborations and continue to fly the flag of NUI Galway Biochemistry at international conferences.
Biochemistry remains a strong and dynamic discipline within NUI Galway. It has had a history of colourful and energetic members, has provided many leaders of science locally, nationally and internationally, and has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself.
The many people who contributed to Biochemistry at NUI Galway during its first 50 years can take great pride in looking forward to the next 50.