The recipient of this year’s Parsons Medal is Professor Sir John McCanny CBE FRS FREng FIAE FIAE of Queen’s University Belfast. A highly regarded engineer and academic, Sir John was responsible, within QUB, for developing the vision that led to the creation of the non-profit Catalyst Inc Science Park in Belfast and its research flagship the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT). 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 create a new business cluster in Belfast that today comprises more than 40 companies and employs in excess of 1,400 people.


Sir John is internationally recognised for his contributions to innovation, research translation and entrepreneurship. In particular, he is known for his research on advanced silicon processor architectures for digital signal and video processing and cryptography. Sir John has published five books, 360 peer-reviewed research papers and holds 20 patents. He has also been the recipient of numerous international awards, including the Royal Irish Academy’s Cunningham Medal in 2011, and the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Faraday Medal in 2006. Furthermore, in 2017, he received a Knighthood for Contributions to Higher Education and Economic Development. Sir John joined the Department of Electronics and Computer Engineering at QUB as a Lecturer in 1984, rising to Regius Professor in 2016 before his retirement into Emeritus status at the end of last year.


The IAE is an all-island body promoting excellence in engineering and technology for the betterment of the island of Ireland, and although the award ceremony is usually held in Dublin, this year it will be held at the Belfast Catlayst Inc Science Park, where Prof Sir John McCanny has been based for the past 14 years. The ceremony will take place on board HMS Caroline, a C-class light cruiser that saw action at the Battle of Jutland, the only major naval action of WW1, and protected trade during WW1 by patrolling the North Sea. She also played a key role in the Battle of the Atlantic in WW2. HMS Caroline is the only remaining WW1 light cruiser still afloat, is the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland, and has been fully restored to her former glory for public viewing. HMS Caroline is the ideal venue for this ceremony, as she is powered by four Parsons steam turbines – invented by Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, eminent Irish engineer, and namesake of this medal. The medal will be presented by his descendant, the Earl of Rosse, Sir Brendan Parsons.


Speaking about why Prof Sir John McCanny was chosen to be the recipient of the Parsons Medal,  Tony Smyth, president of the IAE said: “The Parsons Medal recognises engineers based on the island of Ireland who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of the application of engineering, science and technology that result in significant social and/or economic impact. Prof Sir McCanny is this year’s recipient – his contributions to both academia and entrepreneurship are remarkable.”


On the subject of being the recipient of the Parsons Medal, Sir John said: “I am very pleased and honoured to receive the IAE’s Parsons Medal for outstanding achievement in the field of Engineering Sciences. It is very fitting to be presented with it on HMS Caroline, based at the Catalyst Inc Science Park, something I have been very heavily involved with for more than 20 years. In receiving this medal, I would like to pay tribute to my many friends and colleagues at Catalyst Inc and QUB’s ECIT Global Research Institute, based in the Science Park where, until recently, I was Director. Their achievements in research, innovation and economic impact have been outstanding. I also would like to pay tribute to my family and friends who have supported me over many years.”