Prof. Georg Duesberg, Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, and his team in collaboration with Universite Grenoble Alpes and McGill University, Montreal have fabricated a new graphene biosensor, which has demonstrated very high sensitivity in detecting cholera toxins. The work was recently published in the prestigious, Journal of the American Chemical Society.*

The sensor, known as a Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) sensor is an established optical technique for the study of biomolecular interactions and can potentially be used for lab-on-a-chip sensors. The researchers discovered that the addition of graphene leads to a two-fold increase in the sensor signal. Graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon with extraordinary properties; it is ultra-light, flexible, and transparent. It amplifies the signal of the SPR sensor and the ultrathin layer can also anchor individual molecules for a specific disease. This sensor was used for the detection of cholera toxins but it could be expanded to other conditions, such as a range of infectious diseases and also cancer. The cholera toxin was detected within minutes, in contrast to current detection techniques which may take hours or even days.

The graphene grown in Duesberg’s lab has been shown in this recent publication to be more suited to the sensor development than other forms of graphene used previously. The graphene growth technique is known as chemical vapour deposition (CVD) and it creates large areas of single layer graphene with few defects. The lack of defects and homogeneity of the graphene surface is what aids the amplification of the sensor signal.

Prof Duesberg is a member of Europe’s Graphene Flagship, which lays out a science and technology road map, targeting research areas designed to take graphene and related 2D materials from academic laboratories into society. With 142 partners in 23 countries, the Graphene Flagship was established following a call from the European Commission to address big science and technology challenges of the day through long-term, multidisciplinary R&D efforts.

*The full paper can be viewed at

AMBER, the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre in Trinity College Dublin, have announced the winners of their national Design your Nano Gear competition.

The aim of the competition was to offer students the opportunity to learn more about nanoscience, and to use that knowledge in a creative way – by designing their own nano gear. Nanoscience is the study of materials on the nanoscale or 1000 times smaller than a single human hair. The competition challenged primary and secondary school students to imagine how they thought nanoscience will impact our sports and clothing in the future, by designing their own nano gear.

The top two winning entries in each category (primary and secondary) have been brought to life by a professional illustrator and were displayed at the Irish Science Teachers’ Association Annual Conference, which took place on the 27th and 28th March 2015.

Top prize in the secondary school category went to Jack Thurk (2nd year, St. Columba’s College, Dublin) for his design of a scrum cap that can alert players and staff to potential head injuries in real time, as a rugby match is being played. Pressure sensitive nanowires, incorporated into the scrum cap design, will light up a series of LEDs in the cap if the impact of a collision is above a certain level. Second prize in the secondary school category went to the Swim Safe, Swim Nano wet suit by Aimee Cope and Claudia Lonergan (2nd year, Loreto St Michael’s, Navan, Co. Meath). The wet suit contains sensor technology that monitors a diver’s life signs and has quantum dots to illuminate the suit for greater visibility in the water.

Top prize in the primary school category went to Ross Quinn Lyons (6th class, Glasnevin Educate Together NS) for his idea to create a bracelet that can charge your phone as you walk. Using the super material graphene, the WatchAMaCallIt bracelet will eliminate the need for charging your phone at a socket. In the primary school category second prize went to Lauren Middleton (5th class, Belgrove Senior Girls’ School, Dublin) for her design of graphene kneepads for skate boarding. These knee pads are strong, flexible and light. They also have the ability to grow with their owner, meaning you would never need to buy new kneepads!

Mary Colclough, Education & Public Engagement Manager at AMBER, said “We were really impressed by the standard of entry to this year’s competition, and how students and teachers are really engaging with nanoscience now from as early as 4th class. Ireland is ranked 3rd and 6th globally for nano and materials sciences respectively, and there are real opportunities for students both academically and in industry within these fields.”

Nanoscience is leading to the revolution of materials and manufacturing, with applications across a range of industries including energy; medical devices; pharmaceuticals; technology and bioengineering. ‘Nano in my Life’ and ‘NanoWOW’ resource packs, aimed at TY and senior primary pupils, are available for teachers and students who wish to learn more about nanoscience.

Click here to view the designs and find out more about them.

To get a free copy of “Nano in My Life” or “NanoWOW” for your class, email

In having been given the opportunity to work in the AMBER exploring materials course for a week, I was given the opportunity to gain a valuable insight into the world of researchers and was able to work with some of the leading scientific researchers in the world. It is such a rarity for students as young as ourselves to be immersed into a world such as that of the phd researchers.

For example, upon our arrival in St. James’s hospital on Tuesday afternoon we met Laura Kickham. Laura is currently researching, and is extremely close to, finding a cure for leukaemia alternate to chemotherapy. This works on the basis that cells have adhesive properties that allow them stick to surfaces, in this instance, veins. However Laura’s research has found away to lessen the cell’s adhesive properties unsticking them from the vein wall. This allows the cells to be then targeted in the blood stream. Hopefully when the research is completed it will be able to be applied to all types of cancer.

Another aspect of the course I enjoyed greatly was the focus and emphasis on careers and third level courses in science. On Wednesday morning we had a talk called Smart Futures in which we were told all about the career and third level prospects in science. The talk on Wednesday afternoon about how to start up a business was also a very good indication of how to find a career in science.

Overall the week was a great experience. Obviously for the incredible scientific work that we were involved in, but as well because it let us see what college life is like. To be able to soak in the wonderful atmosphere of Trinity college and it’s surroundings. That in itself is a week well spent. Then to add in all the things we did makes for quite an amazing week. As I said before, it is not often that a TY student will be given an opportunity such as this and I would urge anyone with the slightest interest in science to apply.

Two AMBER researchers have been announced as recipients of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Consolidator Grants. This funding will provide Prof. Daniel Kelly and Prof. Wolfgang Schmitt with €2 Million in funding each over 5 years to enable them to consolidate their own research teams and to develop their innovative ideas across the European Research Area.

In all, seven researchers at Trinity College Dublin were awarded ERC grants worth more than €12 million, the highest number of ERC grants awarded to any higher education institution in Ireland. With 2,528 applications submitted from across Europe, the success rate was just under 15%.

Prof. Daniel Kelly, Investigator at AMBER and Director of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering has won €2 million funding for his project entitled ‘3D Printing of Cell Laden Biomimetic Materials and Biomolecules for Joint Regeneration’. Prof. Kelly’s work focuses on Osteoarthritis (OA) which is a serious disease of the joints affecting nearly 10% of the population worldwide and OA remains one of the greatest challenges in the field of orthopaedic medicine. His proposal envisions a future where 3D bioprinting systems located in hospitals will provide ‘off-the-shelf’, patient-specific biological implants to treat diseases such as OA. The ultimate aim of the project is to print biological implants mimicking the shape of a patient’s hip or knee to enable whole joint regeneration. If successful, such an implant would form the basis of a truly transformative therapy for treating degenerative joint diseases like arthritis. The funding will allow Prof. Kelly to employ two post-doctoral researchers and three PhD students.

Prof. Wolfgang Schmitt, Investigator at AMBER and Director of Research in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, has won €2 million funding for his project entitled: “Towards Artificial Enzymes: Bio-inspired Oxidations in Photoactive Metal-Organic Frameworks”. The project aims to tackle global energy needs by developing new sustainable fuel-producing systems using light and highly porous materials known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). Prof. Schmitt will attempt to mimic photosynthesis, the naturally occurring process in which plants harvest light and convert it into chemical energy producing valuable compounds. Prof. Schmitt believes that MOFs are key materials for energy storage and conversion because of their unique internal surface areas and structures that can be exploited for sustainable, green energy applications. One of the aims of this project, the efficient conversion of light into chemical energy would be one of the greatest scientific achievements with unprecedented impact for future generations. The funding will allow Prof. Schmitt to employ three post-doctoral researchers, three PhD students and a part-time lecturer.

Prof. Daniel Kelly, Principal Investigator at AMBER, said “Osteoarthritis (OA) represents a significant economic burden to patients and society in Europe, with the cost of OA per patient calculated to exceed €10,000 per annum. At present the treatment options for OA are limited to surgical replacement of the diseased joint with a prosthesis. Joint replacement prosthesis also have a finite lifespan, making them unsuitable for the growing population of younger and more active patients requiring treatment for OA. This funding will help us realise our vision, of using 3D bioprinting to produce biomaterials containing adult stem cells that can be used to regenerate both the articular cartilage and bone in a diseased joint.’

Prof. Wolfgang Schmitt, Principal Investigator at AMBER and in the School of Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin, said, “I am delighted to be awarded the ERC Consolidator grant. This project is focused on the synthesis and characterisation of new, highly porous, light-harvesting materials that replicate key-features of natural enzymes and convert light into chemical energy. The funding provides a real opportunity to develop fascinating, new materials that can have a unique impact on new, clean and sustainable energy concepts for future generations. Chemical systems that efficiently split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas are arguably the most attractive approaches to artificial photosynthesis as conceptionally the splitting of less than 8 litres of water could provide the daily energy demands of a whole family”.

Prof. Stefano Sanvito, Acting Director of AMBER, commented on the announcement, saying “I’d like to congratulate Professor Kelly and Professor Schmitt on successfully securing ERC awards. These researchers are doing ground-breaking work that will really make a difference to society. The awards demonstrate both the excellence and also the quality of the research team that has been built in AMBER.”

Congratulating the Trinity researchers, Trinity Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast said: “The improvement of patient healthcare, the development of new technologies and sustainability are just some of the outcomes that will emanate from this leading research and innovation. As a world leading research university, Trinity’s research continues to address issues of global societal and economic importance. We aim to stimulate a wave of innovation that will stimulate jobs creation and generate longterm economic impact for the country.” Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “With every project of this calibre, we’re making Europe the laboratory of the world. Our most extraordinary and creative researchers benefit from EU funding and, in turn, Europe benefits every day from its investment in knowledge and people”. In total 372 excellent mid-career scientists are awarded a total of €713 million, as part of the European Union Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020. Grants are worth up to €2.75 million each, with an average of €1.91 million per grant. The funding will enable them to consolidate their research teams and to develop their most innovative ideas.