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AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, at Trinity College Dublin, has today announced the appointment of Ruairí Quinn as the new Chair of its board. Ruairí is succeeding Mary Harney in the role who served as Chair for six years.

Ruairí Quinn is one of Ireland’s most experienced politicians, having served in the Oireachtas for 40 years. Throughout his career he has held numerous senior ministerial positions, including: Minister for Education and Skills; Minister for Finance; Minister for Enterprise and Employment; Minister for the Public Service; and Minister for Labour. He was previously Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, from 1989 to 1997, then taking over as Leader from 1997 to 2002. He also served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-East constituency from 1977 to 1981 and again from 1982 to 2016. Additionally, he was a Senator from 1976 to 1977, upon being nominated by the Taoiseach and again from 1981 to 1982 for the Industrial and Commercial Panel.

Commenting on the announcement of his appointment, Ruairí Quinn, Chair of AMBER, said “I am delighted to be appointed to the position of Chair of the Board of the world-class SFI Research Centre AMBER. AMBER is home to some of the world’s leading scientists, engineers and investigators – leaders in their fields – and I am very much looking forward to working with the AMBER leadership team across Trinity College, RCSI and UCC as the centre continues to drive and produce excellent research with impact. AMBER is an incredibly valuable resource to Ireland, it has contributed considerably to the Irish economy through fundamental science and innovation led research programmes. This has resulted in the creation of spin-out companies, enabling SME growth, and carrying out highly successful medium and long-term collaborative research programmes with multinationals based here and abroad. I anticipate that this this impact will grow during my time as Chair.”

Prof. Linda Doyle, Dean of Research at Trinity College, commented: “I would like to thank Mary Harney for her time and commitment during her tenure as Chair of the Board of AMBER. Since her appointment in 2013, AMBER has successfully secured a second phase of funding from Science Foundation Ireland and has been improving the scientific and technical skills of the current and future workforce. AMBER has produced a highly educated and relevant workforce that are in demand by industry and academia. AMBER’s PhD and postdoctoral researchers have been successful in attaining fulfilling and challenging positions across a range of employment sectors, from academia to industry to public service. I have no doubt that under Ruairí Quinn’s guidance the centre will continue to benefit the academic, economic, and social fabric of modern Ireland.”

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Ruairí to the Board of AMBER in his new role as Chair. Looking forward to the next decade, we at AMBER remain committed to making a difference to the social and economic well-being of Ireland through the quality of our research, training for graduates, as well as our engagements with industry both nationally and internationally. We will also continue our work with policy makers highlighting the value and return that investing in materials science has and will continue to deliver for Ireland. With Ruairí’s vast experience and knowledge of the policy landscape, he will play an integral role in helping AMBER achieve its plans for the coming years.”

Over the past 50 years scientists have come to understand the magnetism of transition-metal oxides, and how to make use of them in applications ranging from permanent magnets and data storage, to microwave components and ferrofluids for biomedical applications.

Today, our understanding of oxide magnetism takes a new turn. Prof. Michael Coey, AMBER and School of Physics, Trinity College, argues in a Commentary published in Nature Materials, that quantum fluctuations of the vacuum may be causing weak magnetism at the surface of oxides even in materials where magnetic transition-metal atoms are absent: magnetic oxides with no magnetic ions.

The problem of magnetism in metal oxides that contain only a few percent of magnetic metal atoms dates back to 2000, when surprising claims were made that thin films of these materials were ferromagnetic above room temperature. It was hoped then that the oxides were dilute magnetic semiconductors that would open a new era of ‘spin‘ electronics based of the magnetism of spinning electrons. But that was not to be! Numerous studies were published on oxide films apparently exhibiting ferromagnetism when doped with various magnetic or even non-magnetic metal atoms, but the data were difficult to reproduce, and they failed to pinpoint the source of the magnetism as coming from any of the atoms present in the films. Contamination in the experimental processing of the oxides came to light. Sources of contamination included ferromagnetic material external to the thin films such as iron from dyes, substrate heaters and tweezers or magnetite particles from ambient air. This caused materials scientists to dismiss the magnetism as some sort of dirt effect or measurement artefact.

But Prof. Coey suggests otherwise: “We find that these oxides really do become very weakly magnetic at room temperature: it is a surface effect that we are able to turn on and off by various simple physical or chemical treatments. One way to destroy the magnetism is simply to place the sample in a solution of asprin. The key question is this: how can we explain magnetism without any magnetic material? It is difficult puzzle”.

The hypothesis Prof. Coey considers in his commentary as the most likely to explain the new magnetic effect is also the most controversial; namely that quantum fluctuations of the vacuum may be responsible for the observation. This argument relies on a prediction from quantum physics that everything is bathed in a universal sea of zero-point energy that sets the lowest state of every point in empty space. The energy is not directly observable and cannot be harvested, but it is manifest in the weak van der Waals and Casimir forces.

As Prof. Coey outlines: “We think that we can explain the very weak magnetism in oxides in terms of these fluctuations, which cause the surface electrons to enter a collective orbiting state where they can respond together to a magnetic field. It is an idea that opens up fascinating new questions for the scientific community”.

As the paper concludes: “If the hypothesis could be definitively established, the prospect of an influence of zero-point fluctuations on the physical properties of condensed matter is intriguing. All life has evolved in this environment. Who knows what could have been the consequences?”

The full paper is available at the Nature Materials website: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-019-0365-9

Coey, J. M. D. 2019. Magnetism in d0 oxides. Nature Materials (1476-4660)

AMBER the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research, headquartered at Trinity College

Dublin, has today welcomed the Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, together with Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD’s announcement of €40 million funding for phase two of the centre. The funding of €40 million will be delivered through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Research Centres Programme, coupled with €77 million in cash and in-kind contributions which AMBER will raise in investment from industry and non-exchequer sources through their collaborative and international research activities. The funding will support world leading academic and industry orientated materials science research in critical and emerging sectors of the economy, particularly sustainability, ICT, MedTech, manufacturing technologies and energy. The funding will be provided over the next 6 years, from 2019 to 2025.

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, today announced a total investment of €230 million in six SFI Research Centres as part of Project Ireland 2040. Minster for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD today said: “This investment by my Department in the six SFI Research Centres is part of the Government’s strategy to prepare now for tomorrow’s world, through plans like Future Jobs Ireland and Project Ireland 2040. The work that has been done to date has positioned Ireland as a world leader in research, further strengthening our global credibility across a number of different sectors. The economic impact of this research is clear, not only through direct and in-direct employment levels, but also through increased foreign direct investment. Our Research Centres not only act as magnets to attract and retain investment; they also encourage companies, both Irish and foreign-owned, to develop their R&D activities here. This will continue to benefit Ireland and the world for years to come.”

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER, said: “We are delighted with today’s funding announcement and it underlines the very significant impact of the centre and all the hard work of our researchers and staff. The centre has made valuable contributions to the economic and societal wellbeing of Ireland through our world-class research. This funding will ensure that the centre and our researchers can carry out breakthroughs in some of society’s greatest challenges through collaboration and engagement with national and international academics, businesses and communities With the expanded remit in training and researcher development that this funding provides, we have the ability to contribute significantly in preparing highly skilled individuals for the Irish workforce. With this funding AMBER through excellent research will deliver, scientific, economic and societal impacts into Ireland for the benefit of the entire population and assist international and indigenous industry to grow and flourish.”

Professor Morris concluded: “AMBER’s researchers will continue to make world-first discoveries that lead to new Irish start-ups, and help global corporations deliver new applications in the areas of sustainable materials, ICT, energy and health, among others.”

Welcoming the announcement, Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity, said: “This announcement illustrates the leading role AMBER has played in consolidating Irelands reputation for materials science research and the ongoing ambition of the centre to create high-quality, high-tech employment opportunities for the future. AMBER has demonstrated that linking industry and academia, underpinned with fundamental research, is a successful model and can bring economic and social impacts. Trinity is committed to fundamental research and generating close links between industry and academia which AMBER will continue to forge and that will create new business opportunities for the future.”

The €230m investment made by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland, will directly benefit approximately 850 researchers employed by the centres, while also supporting the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland initiative. The investment is buoyed by industry support; there are 170 industry partners involved who are committed to investing over €200m in cash and in-kind contributions over the next six years. Under the new funding model, these six SFI Research Centres are successfully scaling up to secure 66% of the funding from other sources, so only 34% of their funding over the six years will now come from Science Foundation Ireland.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “SFI Research Centres support both basic and applied research, which I believe is one of the reasons they have been so successful to date. The research across the centres spans a wide range of sectors at varying levels and stages – the holistic approach we are taking to our research is fundamental to its success. In only a very short period the SFI Research Centres have made incredible progress, in terms of increased academic and industrial collaboration, training PhD students for industry, winning competitive funding from the EU, producing excellent scientific results and public engagement. We look forward to continued support from the Government and industry as we move forward, increasing our ability to positively impact both society and the economy through excellent scientific research.”

Today’s Award Brings Professor Valeria Nicolosi’s Total Research Funding To Over €20 Million

Professor Valeria Nicolosi from AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, at Trinity College Dublin, has been announced as a recipient of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Proof of Concept grant, worth €150,000. This is a top-up for her ERC Consolidator grant of €2.5 million awarded in 2016 and brings her total research funding awarded in the last 10 years to over €20 million. Professor Valeria Nicolosi is Ireland’s only six-time ERC awardee.

The award will be used to explore the commercial applications of Professor Nicolosi’s research into 3D printed, nanotechnology enabled, energy storage devices in the wearable technology sector.

Proof of Concept grants are awarded to ERC grant holders as top-up funding to explore the commercial or innovation potential of the results of their ERC-funded research. Professor Nicolosi, Professor of Nanomaterials & Advanced Microscopy at Trinity’s School of Chemistry, was awarded an ERC Starting grant of €1.5 million in 2011, a Consolidator grant of €2.5 million in 2016 and 4 additional Proof of Concept grants. Her work examines the processing and characterising of nanomaterials for the development of novel energy storage devices. This grant, her most recent Proof of Concept award, will examine the economic and technical feasibility of using nanotechnology enabled micro-supercapacitors in the wearable device market.

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, said, “I am delighted to be awarded my 4th ERC Proof of Concept grant which will allow me to take my technology from prototype into product. Through my ERC Consolidator grant we have demonstrated that we can manufacture inexpensive and high-performance energy storage devices (supercapacitors) using a nanomaterial based on MXenes inks. These energy storage devices can easily be 3D printed on virtually any substance and on any shape or pattern. With my Proof of Concept grant I want my research to power the next generation of smart wearables and textile-electronics.”

Smart wearable devices refer to items that can perform electronic functions and are perceived as a way to add features into common wearable devices. New smart wearable electronics come to the market with functionalities such as: heat regulation, luminescence, touch, and sensitivity. These functionalities are useful for several applications in different fields such as: healthcare, sports, space exploration, and gaming. The smart wearable market has seen significant growth of late and is due to grow to $51 Billion by 2022. However, the development of such e-wearables has so far been greatly overshadowed by the power supply issue, as a traditional battery is unsustainable and not convenient.

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, commented on the announcement, saying, “The awarding of this Proof of Concept grant to Professor Nicolosi is an excellent acknowledgement of the research work she and her team are currently undergoing. She is at the forefront of Irish science with 6 ERC awards, and her work will bring economic and societal benefits to Ireland in developing more efficient ways to deal with energy consumption. She is an exceptional asset to the AMBER team and this funding also reaffirms how competitive Ireland is as a place for research.”