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Irish research at Trinity College supported through 2.3 million Euro investment by Nokia & SFI

trinity-collegeThe materials science institute AMBER, headquartered at Trinity College in Dublin, will continue its cooperation with Nokia Bell Labs and the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) for another 4 years. Both Institutions will invest a total of 2.3 million Euro to make future research projects possible. The sum will be divided, as Nokia plans to provide 1.1 million, in cash as well as in-kind, while the Science Foundation Ireland will found 1.2 million. A number of Nokia Bell Labs researchers are integrated in the work of research groups at AMBER.

AMBER, which is the abbreviation for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, has already been cooperating with Nokia Bell Labs for four years in research about novel energy storage technologies and advanced thermal management systems to allow extreme integration of optoelectronics devices. While Nokia provides the scientific and industrial Know-How, AMBER allocates fundamental materials science expertise and the facilities. The company was originally founded by one of the contributors of the investment, the Science Foundation Ireland.

Past projects between AMBER and Nokia Bell Labs already showed success and numerous possibilities for the growth of the research sector. For example, the number of common projects has increased from 2 to 4, allowing 7 full-time postdoctoral researchers to work on projects; 6 of them at Nokia Bell Labs Projects. The researchers were already able to introduce a new type of electrode for lithium ion batteries with high storage capacity as well as non-corrosive and magnetic shielding materials for Nokia’s technologies.

The joint research partnership was introduced during a visit of John Halligan, Minister of State with responsibility for Training and Skills, at Trinity’s Advanced Microscopy Laboratory on the 18th of October. The Minister was delighted about the news: “We have a wealth of high quality researchers in our academic institutes and my Department, through Science Foundation Ireland, will continue to support industrial partnerships that promote research commercialisation and job growth.”

Furthermore, he welcomed collaborations with big companies like Nokia as a “testament” as well as a “commitment” to the important role of Ireland’s scientific research.

The Director of AMBER, Prof. Michael Morris, declared that the institute would be continuously looking for further European funding for the research projects.

Julie Byrne, Executive Director Nokia Bell Labs in Ireland, added: “Our joint research projects in the area of energy storage, energy harvesting and energy efficiency will provide key technologies to enable Nokia’s Future X Network vision, which will transform human existence through the digitization and connection of everything.” She spoke about the cooperation bringing together “world class researchers” from both Nokia Bell Labs and AMBER.


Journalist Isabel Riedel

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AMBER reseachers discover ‘revolutionary’ material for ICT

A team of researchers from the AMBER centre at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) are behind the discovery of a new magnetic material they claim will revolutionise the ICT sector.

The material is made from an alloy of three metals, manganese, ruthenium and gallium (MRG), and is reportedly as strong as the strongest magnets available in the world today. However, it has the characteristic of not appearing magnetic at all to the untrained eye.

Known technically as ‘zero-moment half metal’, the material could potentially spawn a completely new line of materials research and open up numerous possibilities for electronics and information technology.

Led by Prof Michael Coey, the AMBERteam said MRG has incredible potential and could lead to the possibility of limitless data storage, resulting in huge, superfast memory in personal computer devices. It could also eliminate the potential of external magnetic forces to ‘wipe’ computer data.

For 25 years, researchers worldwide have grappled with how to create a magnet such as MRG by trying to arrange numerous combinations of atoms in a way which was difficult without flouting the basic principles of physics.

The AMBER research team claims to have solved this problem by using established industry-standard processes for making the electronic circuits on silicon chips, making it relatively easy for MRG to be adopted by computer and electronics companies.

Commenting on the discovery and its potential to lead a ‘big data revolution’, Coey said, “Magnetic materials are what make reading and storing data – either on personal devices or on large-scale servers in data centres – possible. Magnets are at the heart of every electronic device we use, from computers and laptops to tablets, smartphones and digital cameras.

“Given its unique insensitivity to magnetic fields, and the tenacity of its internal magnetic properties, MRG could now revolutionise how data is stored, which could have major implications for the future development of electronics, information technology and a host of other applications.”

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Irish researchers crack problem of producing ‘wonder material’ in large amounts using a domestic blender

Irish scientists have registered a world first in the production of a substance called graphene, an advanced material that looks set to revolutionise many products from electronics and plastics to touchscreens and batteries.

Graphene is widely described as a “wonder material” that has astounding properties, but it is notoriously difficult to produce in large amounts of the highest quality and of a consistent size.

Researchers at Amber, the materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, have become the first to crack these two problems, using nothing more complex than a domestic blender. The breakthrough is hailed in the journal Nature Materials , given its international importance.

Amber has partnered with a UK-based company Thomas Swan Ltd to scale up the process and begin selling graphene both as a product itself and also integrated into products developed within the company.

Graphene is extremely valuable and competing labs around the world are engaged in trying to deliver it on an industrial scale. The market for graphene is expected to be worth $100 million by 2018.

“It is this wonder material that has properties that surprise people,” said Prof Jonathan Coleman, a principal investigator at Amber.

Graphene is one of the strongest materials known, yet it forms perfectly flat sheets just one atom thick. It is completely flexible and can be used in countless ways to change the properties of products from beer bottles to computer transistors, he said.

“It is an amazing material that seems to have unheard of applications. If it is going to be used in these things, someone is going to have to make it in large quantities, and that is what we have done.”

Many labs have produced graphene using various methods but there has been only limited success, he said. “Producing graphene has been done by others too, but many sheets are defective, it is not perfect, and so its properties are not what they should be. What we have done is develop a method to make defect-free graphene in large quantities and in principle very large quantifies to tonnes,” Coleman said.

His group had been looking at the basic science behind graphene for several years. “Swan came in and said we see what you are doing, we will fund you to find a way to scale up this process. That happened two years ago and in two and a half years we have gone from first contact to the process, the patent and licence and a paper in Nature Materials ,” he said.

Amber is based in the Crann nanotechnology centre at Trinity and is partnered withUniversity College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. It receives major funding from Science Foundation Ireland.

A lot of scientific work went into achieving this, although the whole process seems disarmingly simple. It starts with nothing more complex than graphite, the soft carbon substance that people incorrectly describe as “lead” in a pencil. Graphite forms layers and layers of sheets that stick together. The challenge is managing to separate just one layer given it is no thicker than a single carbon atom.

Coleman and his group developed a water-based method to slide one sheet off the top at a time, like sliding one card after another off a deck of cards. The key to their method is floating graphite in water and spinning it up with a rotor which makes the graphene sheets separate from one another. They then add a “surfactant” that sticks to the sheets and keeps them apart.

“We just used a little bit of soap in the water,” Coleman said. “You could probably do it at home in a kitchen blender. We demoed the process in a Kenwood blender from Argosworth €39.95 and added a bit of Fairy Liquid. You can sell Lthis as a green process.”

This was an advance that “USA, China, Australia, UK, Germany and other leading nations had all been striving for and have not yet achieved”, said Minister of State for Research Sean Sherlock. The breakthrough showed that the Government’s strategy of backing science while encouraging industry links was working, he said.

The discovery will change the way many consumer and industrial products are manufactured. The materials will have a multitude of potential applications including advanced food packaging, high- strength plastics, foldable touchscreens for mobile phones and laptops, faster broadband and batteries with dramatically higher capacity.

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