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Prof. Valeria Nicolosi from AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, has been announced as a recipient of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Proof of Concept Grants, worth €150,000. This is a top-up for her ERC Starting Grant of €1.5m awarded in 2011 and brings her total research funding awarded in the past 5 years, to over €12million. Prof. Valeria Nicolosi is Ireland’s only five-time ERC awardee.

The award will be used to explore the commercial use of advanced nanomaterials to act as solutions for heat dissipation for the high-end automotive industry.

Proof of Concept grants are awarded to ERC grant holders only as top-up funding to explore the commercial or innovation potential of the results of their ERC-funded research. Prof Nicolosi, Investigator with AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry was awarded an ERC Starting Grant of €1.5M in 2011 for her work in processing and characterising nanomaterials for the development of novel energy storage devices. As a result of this Starting Grant, she began collaborating with a company in the automotive industry to explore the use of novel 2-dimensional nanomaterials to solve heat dissipation issues. Her technology was successful and the aim of this proposal is to determine the economic and technical feasibility of using readily scalable technologies for the development of inexpensive and high performance solutions to solve heat dissipation for a wide range of technologies.

Prof. Valeria Nicolosi, Professor at the School of Chemistry, Trinity College Dublin and Principal Investigator at AMBER, said, “I am delighted to be awarded this 3rd ERC Proof of Concept Grant which will allow me to build on the success of my technology developed from my Starting Grant. What is exciting about this work is that in addition to the automotive industry, there are a huge range of industrial applications that can benefit from more efficient and lightweight thermal management systems such as advanced aircraft, injection moulding, pharmaceutical manufacturing and household appliances. This technology has the potential to become a feasible, easy and efficient solution for a range of manufacturing companies. This grant is allowing me to take the next step with the technology to really see it applied in industry”.

Considerable industrial effort is currently focussing on finding alternative materials to act as thermal conductive elements and heat spreaders in an efficient and cost effective way. Manufacturers need these technologies to regulate the large amounts of unwanted heat caused by the normal functioning of electronic systems. It is estimated that the global market for thermal management products will grow from about $10.7 billion in 2015 to $14.7 billion by 20211. Prof Nicolosi’s technology will offer a cheap, scalable solution of using advanced 2D nanomaterials for enhanced heat transport. 2D nanomaterials improve heat transport due to their thermal conductivity properties and at the same time provide a lightweight solution. Moreover, the technology offers the advantage of being extremely versatile; 2D nanomaterial dispersions can be sprayed on their own directly onto surfaces or they can be mixed with different materials to obtain additional enhanced resistance to wear, abrasion and oxidation. This will allow manufacturers to improve the performance of existing systems, as well as improve the performance of new designs.

Prof. Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, commented on the announcement, saying, “The awarding of this Proof of Concept Grant to Prof. Nicolosi is an excellent acknowledgement of the research work she and her team are currently undergoing. She is at the forefront in 2D nanomaterials research and her work will bring economic and societal benefits to Ireland in developing more efficient ways to deal with energy consumption. During her time at Trinity, Prof. Nicolosi has received over €12 million in funding, including €6.8 million to date from the ERC, and now an additional €150,000 to further her research. She is an exceptional asset to the AMBER team and this funding also reaffirms how competitive Ireland is as a place for research.”

The budget of the overall ERC 2016 Proof of Concept competition is €20 million. In the first round of the competition 141 ERC grant holders applied and 44 received funding.

1. http://www.bccresearch.com/market-research/semiconductor-manufacturing/the-market-for-thermal-management-technologies-report-smc024k.html

A team of physicists from the SFI funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) Centre at Trinity College, Dublin have made a new device which could lead to a breakthrough in mass storage of digital data. Two PhD students, Yong Chang Lau from Malaysia and Davide Betto from Italy, working with senior researcher Dr Karsten Rode and Professors Michael Coey and Plamen Stamenov published their results in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology earlier this Summer [1].

Professor Michael Coey, a Principal Investigator in AMBER and the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin, said, ‘The flood of digital data is growing every year and new storage concepts are urgently needed to sustain the information revolution. Forecasts envisage 20.8 billion wirelessly-connected “things” throughout the world by 2020. At present, it is estimated that 5.5 million new ones are connected every day [2]. This is a huge challenge for mass data storage, which currently relies on hard discs. Everything we download daily onto our computers or mobile phones is stored magnetically on millions of these spinning discs located in data centres scattered across the planet’.

‘One main contender for the future of mass storage is MRAM (Magnetoresistive random-access memory), under development since the 1990s. MRAM is faster and offers higher density compared to other non-volatile RAMs. A large amount of research has been carried out in developing it, but MRAM has not been widely adopted in the market yet, largely due to the costs and complexity of large scale fab manufacturing. Our team in AMBER, at Trinity College Dublin, may now have solved the problem, offering a simpler solution for manufacturing a type of MRAM.’

The team, who are made up of experts in magnetism and magnetic switching, which is at the heart of data storage, have managed to circumvent the need to use a magnetic field. Their elegant new device consists of a stack of five metal layers, each of them a few nanometers thick. At the bottom is a layer of platinum, and just above it is the iron-based magnetic storage layer just six atoms thick. Platinum is a favorite of researchers in spin electronics, the technology that makes use of the fact that each electron is a tiny magnet. Passing a current through the platinum separates the electrons into two groups with their magnetism pointing in opposite directions at the top and bottom surfaces thanks to an effect known as ‘spin-orbit torque’ that follows from Einstein’s theory of relativity. Electrons at the top are pumped into the storage layer and try to switch its magnetic direction, but like a pencil balanced on its point, the magnetism of the storage layer can’t decide which way to fall. The team designed the rest of the stack to solve that dilemma by acting like a nanoscale permanent magnet that creates the small field necessary to make the switching determinate, at zero cost in energy.

The Group now plans to demonstrate a full memory cell, and an ultra-fast oscillator based on spin-orbit torque using layers of a novel magnetic alloy they discovered recently. The device stacks will be grown in a sophisticated new SFI-funded thin film facility in the AMBER Centre at Trinity’s CRANN Institute for nanoscience. These new spintronic devices have potential to deliver the breakthrough needed to sustain the information revolution for another 25 years.

[1] The full paper is published online at the below link:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2016.84

[2] http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3165317

Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have discovered a new behaviour of the wonder material graphene. Efficient ways to pattern and assemble graphene, especially in parallel, have remained a significant challenge for researchers worldwide. The research breakthrough published in the prestigious journal Nature this week introduces a significant new fabrication method for graphene, as well as creating new technologies that harness the properties of these molecular sheets in ways not previously envisaged.

The team – consisting of Professor Graham Cross and postdoctoral fellow Dr. James Annett of AMBER and School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin – found that they can induce graphene, a sheet of the element carbon only one atom thick, to spontaneously assemble into ribbons and other shapes while lying on a surface. The effect is potent enough to make large graphene structures almost visible to the naked eye, and it operates in air at room temperature.

In the short term, the AMBER researchers expect their findings will be useful to pattern graphene sheets to simplify the production of electronic and other devices in larger volumes. However, they also think the self-assembly effect itself may be important as an active component of future sensors, actuators and machines.

James Annett who was a graduate student in Cross’ lab at the time of the discovery, said: “I was investigating the properties of graphene as a kind of dry super-lubricant. One day I noticed that cut-out shapes that had been formed during my experiments were changing over time. When I looked more closely, I found that beautiful, well-defined structures had formed in the graphene sheets all by themselves. I realised then that the methods we were using to investigate friction were actually configuring the graphene to spontaneously rearrange itself.”

Fundamentally, the observations reported by the authors in the journal Nature reveal how heat energy causes a flat graphene sheet to try to form its more familiar three dimensional state known as graphite. A mathematical model to explain why the effect works is included as part of their publication. Cross believes this is a new class of solid matter behaviour specific to molecularly thin sheets.

Comments Professor Graham Cross, “Over twenty years ago, it was suggested that graphene could be deliberately folded and cut into useful shapes as a kind of molecular origami. Our discovery shows there exists a much richer potential for these kinds of two dimensional materials. We can make them behave like a self-animated sheet that folds, tears and slides while peeling itself away from a surface. Even better, we have figured
out how to control the effect and make to it happen in different places in the sheet at the same time.”

Graphene is part of a family of recently discovered two dimensional materials that may revolutionise the electronics used in smart phones and computers, as wells as produce light, high strength composite materials. Now,
with the phenomena of self-assembly added to their list of abilities, these materials might enable new devices known as nanoelectromechanical systems which are connecting up the virtual world to the real world through the Internet of Things.

Professor Michael Morris, Director AMBER, said: “This exciting discovery shows that Irish research is at the leading edge of material science worldwide. Our researchers are working to address the big issues facing modern society – across healthcare, energy, transport and other areas. This self-assembly of graphene discovery which was previously thought impossible opens up new possibilities for the development of future technologies. Key applications are for instance fast electronic and optical devices, flexible electronics and functional lightweight components.”

The paper can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature18304

On June 28th 2016, AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, launched their EngAGE with Science Toolkit, an intergenerational programme which introduces the world of materials science to schoolchildren and senior citizens. During 2015, AMBER and its project partners, Trinity EngAGE, Trinity Access Programme, Age Action, St Andrew’s Resource Centre and Campus Engage, facilitated this project for twenty-two 6th Class students of St Brigid’s Primary School and seven adult participants of St Andrew’s Resource Centre.

Throughout this 8-week programme, participating children and adults were given insight into the kind of work which is done in a nanoscience research centre. They toured AMBER’s microscopy labs and viewed the powerful electron microscopes housed there. They also met many of AMBER’s researchers who gave a first-hand account of what it’s like to be at the cutting edge of Irish nanoscience research. The EngAGE with Science participants visited AMBER Centre, St Andrew’s Resource Centre and St Brigid’s Primary School as a way of sharing their new knowledge of materials science amongst every member of the programme. In the final week of EngAGE with Science, all involved were presented with certificates of participation and prizes were awarded to winning entries in a group poster project.

Miriam Harte, AMBER Education and Public Engagement Officer said, “EngAGE with Science offered a unique approach to intergenerational learning between primary students and senior citizens. The enthusiasm within the group was contagious and helped make the programme hugely enjoyable for all involved. Each week our community of participants looked forward to seeing one another and learning more about materials science research together at Trinity College Dublin. Here at AMBER, we were absolutely delighted to have been given this opportunity by Science Foundation Ireland throughout 2015.”

EngAGE with Science” was funded through the Science Foundation Ireland’s Discover programme in 2014. The project ran from May to December 2015. Any further queries about this programme should be directed to ambersfi13@gmail.com.