Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD, today announced a government investment of €10.8 million in research funding for 20 projects through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG). With awards ranging from €376,000 to €425,000 over four years, the projects funded will support 20 researchers and a further 20 PhD students.

Speaking of the awards, Minister Breen said: “I am delighted to announce these SFI Starting Investigator Awards which allow researchers to advance their work and further develop their careers as the next research leaders in Ireland and internationally. These innovative projects demonstrate the impressive cutting-edge research taking place across Ireland, which has significant potential to positively advance Ireland’s economy and society, and further solidify its reputation as a world-leader in scientific advancements.”

Welcoming the announcement, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland supports researchers at every stage of their careers. The SIRG awards help early-career researchers develop the essential skills and experience necessary to lead Ireland’s future research in areas such as health, energy, materials and technology. Having passed through a rigorous competitive international merit review process, these projects continue to advance Ireland’s international research reputation and I wish each awardee every success.”

Dr. Amir Pakdel, a researcher at AMBER and former post-doctoral researcher with Prof. Valeria Nicolosi, was awarded a coveted SIRG to develop novel thermoelectric nanomaterials for manufacturing small wearable energy scavengers that can convert body heat into electricity allowing for continuous portable charging. These materials have the potential to be used for manufacturing small thermoelectric generators that can be attached to clothes to harvest the heat from our body and transform it into electricity.

Trinity College Dublin is one of 10 research bodies to host the 20 research projects supported by the SFI SIRG programmes.

Today an international collaboration of researchers from China, US, Switzerland and Trinity College, Dublin, has published in Nature on the Quantum Hall effect based on Weyl orbits in cadmium arsenide (Cd3As2).

The quantum Hall effect, which can be observed as a change in the electrical characteristics of a 2D material at low temperature as an intense magnetic field is applied, is one the most studied phenomena in condensed matter physics. The effect manifests itself in two-dimensional materials, such as graphene, because of the electrons of the solid moving along circular orbits under the effect of a magnetic field. The team has now uncovered a new phenomenon, namely a form of the quantum Hall effect in the three-dimensional compound: cadmium arsenide. This is the first time that the quantum Hall effect has been observed in a three-dimensional material, a feature enabled by the peculiar structure of cadmium arsenide itself. Cadmium arsenide belongs to a class of compounds called “topological”. In these, electrons’ motion is dictated by the crystal structure and it is usually different from that in conventional metals or semiconductors.

Detecting such anomalies in the electrons’ motion is not an easy task. The Chinese team, headed by Prof. Faxian Xiu from Fudan University, has grown V-edge-shaped cadmium arsenide samples and measured their electrical properties at temperatures down to 0.3 degree from the absolute zero (0.3K). The measurements were performed in magnetic fields so high that they cannot be produced in a normal lab, but require dedicated large-scale facilities (in China and the US). Then, the interpretation of the results required accurate modeling, which was performed by the Trinity College, Dublin, team headed by Prof. Stefano Sanvito, of CRANN, AMBER and The School of Physics, in collaboration with Dr. Narayan, a former student of Prof. Sanvito’s now at ETH Zurich. Given the complexity of the phenomena investigated, it would have been extremely difficult to preform the study within a single research group.

This work paves the way for further investigation of topological effects in three-dimension materials with potential for novel applications, in particular in the emerging field of quantum technologies such as quantum computing, cryptography and quantum sensing.

Zhang, C., Zhang, Y., Yuan, X., Lu, S., Zhang, J., Narayan, A., Liu, Y., Zhang, H., Ni, Z., Liu, R., Sang Choi, E., Suslov, A., Sanvito, S., Pi, L., Lu, H.Z., Potter, A. C., Xiu. F. Quantum Hall effect based on Weyl orbits in Cd3As2. Nature. 1476-4687 (2018).

The abstract for the paper is available to view on the Nature Website.

Congratulations to all of our PhD and Post-docs who received awards this year. Highlighted for 2018 are: Dr Chris Hobbs from team Nicolosi and Drs Sahar Alialy and Hugh Manning from team Boland.

Chris received the MSA Student Scholar Award at the Microscopy & Microanalysis, Baltimore,Maryland, USA and The New Researcher Award at the 19th International Microscopy Congress, Sydney, Australia for his work on Layered double hydroxides (LDHs). LDHs are a member of the two-dimensional nanomaterial category, and are considered as versatile materials due to broad applications in medicine, catalysis and flame retardants. They have also been used as precursor materials for catalytic applications where the calcination of the precursor layered materials results in the generation of catalytically active materials, whereby they have applications in photocatalysis, hydrogen production and magnetic materials. Chris’s work involved conducting previously unobserved detailed descriptions and observation of the nanoscale thermal evolution mechanisms of these materials, using in-situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) characterization of Ni-Fe LDHs, revealing the nanoscale mechanisms involved with the thermal evolution of these versatile nanomaterials.Speaking about his New Researcher Award Chris notes: “It was a true pleasure to present my work at IMC19 in Sydney this year. This also gave me great exposure to some of the ground breaking research at the forefront of materials science on a world wide scale. As well as having made great connections with many international researchers, I also made great friends across the world from my experiences at IMC19. It was a great honour to receive the New Researcher Award, a fantastic recognition of my PhD Research over the last 4 years in the Nicolosi group.”

Dr. Sahar Alialy received the Outstanding Abstract Award at the Applied Nanotechnology and Nanoscience International Conference (ANNIC) 2018, Berlin, Germany for her invited talk “Resistive Switching and Charge Conduction Mechanisms in Single Nanowire Au-Ti/TiO2/Ti-Au RRAM Devices”. In her work on the nature and direction of hysteresis in Memristive devices, Sahar demonstrated that the conductance change and Memristive properties of these nanowire devices were dependent on atmospheric components such as Oxygen and moisture. By testing these devices under vacuum and air respectively Sahar observed that in the presence of air, conduction was augmented by the adsorption of oxygen molecules and moisture onto the surface of nanowires resulting in the transfer of charge in the conduction band and reduction of TiO2 to TiIII oxide. These results contribute to the growing body of knowledge around Memristor devices. Sahar notes that “It was a privilege to be an invited speaker for this conference alongside highly regarded scientists such as Prof. Yutaka Wakayama from National Institute for Materials Science and Kyushu University, Japan and Prof Andrej Singer from Cornell University, USA”.

In November Dr Hugh Manning, was a awarded ‘I’m a scientist get me out of here’ winner for the New Materials section. Commenting on the award, Hugh said “I don’t think I was quite prepared for the huge variety of questions, or the intense fast-paced nature of the online chats. Questions of all types came flooding in; from my favourite animal to my own hobbies to my interest in dinosaurs. This event is so important as it lets students experience first-hand that scientists are people too and a career in STEM is readily achievable if you have a love of science and a passion for knowledge”.

Well done to all!

Appearing in the photo clockwise direction: Dr Chris Hobbs, Dr. Sahar Alialy and Dr. Hugh Manning

Materials science research is not a term you hear too often in general conversation, but it’s an important area for the Irish economy and society.

The technologies that it supports impact some of the fastest-growing sectors globally, such as electronics, medical technologies, and pharmaceuticals. These are also some of the biggest areas of employment in Ireland and there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

Leading academics have been working in partnership with energy, healthcare and pharmaceuticals industries to find solutions to some of the most pressing problems of our time.

Research with AMBER, the materials science centre at Trinity College Dublin, has transformed companies based in Ireland, enabling them to increase their product portfolio and drive their research and development. KASTUS® has been fortunate to benefit from the support of AMBER.

Prof. Michael Morris, AMBER Director, says: “Our collaboration with KASTUS® has the potential to significantly impact how MRSA and other superbugs are controlled and prevented in hospital and community settings. Our researchers in AMBER are globally renowned for the quality of our materials science and we have a unique set of state-of-the-art infrastructures which will benefit this engagement.”

This leading research is one of the key factors that has encouraged nine of the ten top medical and pharma multinationals and nine of the world’s top ten leading ICT companies to set up in Ireland.

As a result of its direct and indirect activities, AMBER has generated over 14,000 jobs nationwide and, since its launch in 2013, has brought in over €40m in competitive European research funding.

As part of the research collaboration between AMBER and KASTUS®, two academic experts in science and engineering have joined Kastus in its fight against superbugs.

The two researchers, Aran Rafferty an expert in materials R&D and problem-solving, with specialist knowledge of technical glass and ceramic development and Dr Ehsan Rezvani, a post-doctoral researcher working in Trinity’s School of Physics are involved in a variety of research work with KASTUS®.

Dr James Kennedy, KASTUS® Director of Innovation and Operations says: “Utilising Kastus’ award-winning patented advanced photochemistry as both a chemical and commercial building block, collaboration between academic research and industry is key to major breakthroughs in technology and leads to further innovation. Through this collaboration, we can now access new markets for our smart antimicrobial technology, such as the roof tile, architectural, glass and water conservation markets. This has been a key part of our research strategy and we are very grateful for the support. Overall, it has been a successful project for us as an SME.”

The SFI Industry Fellowship Programme, which funded the collaboration between KASTUS® and AMBER which was valued at €280,000, aims to enhance industry-academia collaborations, and to stimulate excellence in knowledge exchange and training of engineers and scientists. The programme funds the temporary placement of academic researchers in industry, and of industry researchers in academia.

Appearing in the photo are:Dr James Kennedy-CTO ( Kastus), William Denning-Technical Specialist( Kastus), Dr Nigel Leyland-Senior Materials Scientist (Kastus), Dr Ehsan Rezvani-SFI Industry Fellow with Kastus (Amber-TCD), Dr Aran Rafferty-SFI Industry Fellow with Kastus (Amber-TCD)