Sunday 18 February 2018

Bill Gates funds Irish dropout in battle with malaria

Louise Hogan

A FORMER school dropout is at the forefront of the global battle against malaria, with the financial backing of Bill Gates.

Eamonn Keogh, who is now a professor of computer science and engineering in the US, has been granted funds by Microsoft founder Mr Gates to help fight the disease.

Prof Keogh is at the cutting-edge of research into devices to help scientists combat malaria which causes more than one million deaths a year.

The Dublin-born professor who works at the University of California, Riverside caught the eye of the Gates Foundation with his work to count and track the movement of mosquitoes.

But Prof Keogh (42), a lecturer and researcher, revealed he dropped out of Colaiste Caoimhin CBS, on Parnell Road, Dublin, aged 15.

He started work as an apprentice car painter at Crofton Motors in Kimmage. "As a child I read voraciously but I was a poor student, I just had no interest in school," he said.

Now he has received a prestigious $100,000 (€72,000) grant from Bill and Melinda Gates' charitable research foundation. Prof Keogh was up against more than 2,400 applications from around the world.

The old way to count mosquitoes accurately with people checking 'sticky traps' is both expensive and time consuming, he explained

"I resolved to find a way to count the insects continuously, accurately and cheaply, a solution that is to be deployed all over Africa must be cheap," he said. "The idea I came up with was to measure the wingbeat frequency of the insects."

The funds will allow him to further his work into perfecting cheap accurate automatic sensors to count and decipher the different types of mosquitoes.

Malaria is a public health problem in more than 100 countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates there are between 300 and 500 million cases each year. Tracking the movement of the insects will help scientist predict major outbreaks.

Prof Keogh is youngest of nine children, and the family lived in the Guinness worker houses in Melvin Road in Terenure. He travelled to the US in 1987 after the first green card lottery. In California he worked in mechanical jobs, building and designing mountain bikes, restoring vintage cars and carousel horses, to put himself through community college and then university.

But he warned: "While I was able to become a professor even after dropping out of school, it was a great struggle."

Irish Independent

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