The Irish Academy of Engineering (IAE) has named Professor Sir John V McCanny of Queens University Belfast (QUB) the recipient of the Parsons Medal at a ceremony on 25 October onboard the historic warship, HMS Caroline, in Belfast.


We presented the medal, our only such award, to Sir John at a ceremony on the ship in front of a crowd of academy fellows, esteemed engineers, academics, his family and friends. We give the Parsons medal annually to engineers who have made significant contributions to society through their work. Each year, we invite engineers to nominate their colleagues who meet the criteria. 


Speaking at the event, IAE President, Prof Tony Smyth said: “I think you will agree that Sir John is an inspiration for the wide range of work he has undertaken and his commitment to engineering and technology.” Honorary Secretary of the IAE, Bill Grimson was next to the podium, and said: “The IAE is pleased to award the Parsons Medal to Sir John in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the advancement of the application of engineering, science and technology that result in significant social and economic impact.”


Sir John recently retired into emeritus status, after a career as professor in electronics and computer engineering at QUB, and Director of the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT). He received a knighthood in the 2017 New Year’s Honours in recognition of his services to higher education and economic development, and has published five research books, 360 peer-reviewed research papers, and holds more than 20 patents. He received a record level of funding for his research between 1984 and 2017, which amounted to approximately £110m.

Sir John is particularly well-known for his work in developing data-storage technology. His focus, with his research teams, has been on the use of silicon to produce chips for digital and video-signal processing. Films including Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List have used technology developed by Sir John and his research students. 

As well as ECIT, Sir John was also responsible, within QUB, for developing the vision that led to the creation of the non-profit Catalyst Inc Science Park in Belfast. Developed from a brownfield site, there are now more than 200 companies employing 3,000 people, paying in excess of £115m per annum in salaries. Additionally, Sir John spearheaded the Centre for Secure Information, a world-leader in cyber security. Established in 2009 and part of QUB, this helped to create a new business cluster in Belfast that today comprises more than 40 companies and employs in excess of 1,400 people.


We chose World War one veteran vessel, HMS Caroline as our venue for the ceremony, as she was powered by four Parsons steam turbines – invented by Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, eminent Irish engineer, and namesake of the medal. Sir Charles Parsons’ descendant, the 7th Earl of Rosse, Sir Brendan Parsons presented the medal to Sir John, along with a commemorative €20 coin celebrating Sir Charles, which was minted in 2017 by the central bank.


Speaking at the event, Sir John said he was deeply honoured to be presented with the Parsons Medal, adding “this very much represents the pinnacle of achievement for an engineer in Ireland.” He paid tribute to the support and contributions of his colleagues at Catalyst Inc, Norman Apsley and newly appointed CEO, Steve Orr, the team at ECIT, and his family and friends.