Dr Tiernan McCaughery becomes first to graduate industry-based Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme

  • Photo: Tiernan McCaughery is pictured with his family and dog, Geoff

    In 2014, the Maths and Physics department at Queen’s introduced its first industry-based Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme, in partnership with the University of Glasgow, Seagate Technologies and the Irish Photonic Integration Centre.

    This year, Dr Tiernan McCaughery became the first to graduate from this programme with his thesis: “Fabrication, Characterisation, and Integration of Plasmonic Materials towards Next Generation Data Storage Technology at the Industrial Scale”, which is a comprehensive research piece in growing the modern data storage capabilities which underpin the internet.

    Tiernan has a lifelong passion in exploring the possibilities offered by science. From early childhood, he recalls building with Lego, experimenting with electrical circuits, and constructing go-karts with his Dad.

    While these formative years lit the initial spark of scientific intrigue, it was Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe that fanned the flames of his passion for physics.

    After seeing this BBC documentary, Physics with Astrophysics at Queen’s soon became Tiernan’s top UCAS choice.

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    This path exposed Tiernan to many avenues of physics, but he had a particular interest in researching how materials responded to testing, and applying this to how different materials could be used for information storage.

    After graduating with a Master’s of Science in Physics, Tiernan started working as a process engineer with Seagate Technology in Derry.

    It was here that he learned of the partnership collaboration between Queen’s, the University of Glasgow, and industry partners, which offered funded doctoral programmes aiming to tackle some of the greatest challenges faced by modern society with the increasing quantities of data we generate.

    Throughout his life, Tiernan describes the great support he’s had from those around him in pursuit of his passion and eventual career path: “I want to thank Mrs Anna Devlin, my former teacher at St. Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, my classmate and friend, (the now Dr) Lorcan Conlon. And throughout my PhD, the academic and professional support staff at Queen’s, including Professor Robert Bowman, Dr Kirsty Annand and Lynda Mahon, and to Vicky Weir who sadly passed away earlier this year.”

    Reflecting on his years at Queen’s specifically, Tiernan said: “As I was the first student from the School of Mathematics and Physics to undertake EngD research, it felt daunting but exciting.

    “The continued evolution of images, video and AI-generated content means our need to store and interact with vast amounts of data has grown exponentially, making innovative data storage technologies essential to facilitate our ever-growing reliance on the internet and digital technology.

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    “Similar to a conventional PhD, I was able to attend many conferences, and travel to various universities to collaborate. However, the added value of this industry-orientated project allowed me to collaborate with both engineering professionals and academic researchers.

    “The gap between industry and academia is getting smaller year on year. A prime example of this is with Queen’s being a major stakeholder in a number of partnerships such as SmartNanoNI and the Advanced Material Innovation Centre (AMIC) which began construction this year.”

    Following graduation, Tiernan will continue his work with Seagate Technology where he will build on his thesis research, discovering new ways to improve the data storage capabilities within hard-drive technology.

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