March 16, 2021

Berkeley Lab prides itself on its warm, welcoming, multinational environment. That includes our Irish community. As well as their renown for literature and music, Ireland has a long history of scientific advances. The Lab is home to several Irish scientists, including David Prendergast and Sinead Griffin of the Molecular Foundry and Oisin Creaner of NERSC. They have started a new group, Berkeley Lab Irish Community. Membership is open to all who have Irish roots, those interested in Ireland and its scientific research opportunities, or those who enjoy Ireland's literature and music.

One member of the new group is Eoin Brodie, a Senior Scientist in the Ecology Department of Berkeley Lab's Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA), where he serves as the Deputy Director of the Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division. He is also an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. He obtained his Ph.D. from University College Dublin in Ireland.

What is the scientific and research connection between California and Ireland?

Ireland has a long history of scientific innovation, just like California. In the 1600s, Robert Boyle discovered the fundamental relationship between the pressure and volume of gases. John Tyndall discovered the greenhouse effect in the 1800s, Kathleen Lonsdale pioneered X-Ray crystallography, and Ernest Walton shared the 1951 Nobel Prize for splitting the atom. These Irish scientists paved the way for much of the research we do at the Lab. Ireland is the European HQ for companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, which means there are strong ties (and direct flights!) between California and Ireland.

What are the issues you and your team want to solve in your research areas in climate and biological systems?

We know that microbes are key to how the Earth functions and our ability to thrive here. They regulate how much carbon is stored in soils, how plants respond to drought or pests, and how much fertilizer stays on the land or leaches into waterways. We try to understand how they function across many compartments of the Earth system and develop computational models to predict how they might respond to global change pressures. Because their diversity and range of metabolism swamps everything else on Earth, that's a massive challenge. Luckily we have world experts in many fields and incredible user facilities here at the Lab to tackle that challenge.

Growing up in Ireland is St. Patrick's Day the same type of celebration that we know it in the states. For example, is the emphasis on green beer, shamrocks, and leprechauns?

Oh, St. Patrick's Day is huge in Ireland; it's our national holiday. Everyone has the day off, and you have parades and parties from big cities to small rural towns across the whole country. It's a community day where everyone celebrates being Irish, our history, culture and arts, and maybe a little bit of our beer! We're pretty laid back, but I wouldn't try dyeing someone's beer green or pinching them. Those are particularly American St. Patrick's Day traditions.