Dr Parvaneh Mokarian, Senior Research Fellow at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, will coordinate a major European project valued at €8.2m to pioneer the mass production of anti-reflective, scratch and abrasion resistant surfaces. The team’s new generation surfaces will offer enhanced functionalities to a range of products including anti-reflective surfaces for eyewear, video glasses, image sensors, electronics displays such as mobile phones and tablets and anti-fingerprint and soft-touch plastic parts for the automotive industry. Industry partners that are involved have committed to piloting the technology upon completion of the research project.

The 4-year SUN-PILOT (Piloting of Innovative Subwavelength Nanostructure Technology for Optical and Injection Moulding Applications) collaborative project has been awarded €7.1 million through Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme, with the remainder of the €1.1 million coming from industry. The technologies developed by SUN-PILOT will focus on solutions for the Optics and Automotive industries, where these nano-patterned surfaces will have a significant impact. SUN-PILOT involves 13 partners from 6 European countries – 5 multinationals, including Coherent (Scotland - the world’s leading suppliers of laser solutions) and Grupo Antolin (Spain - one of the largest players in the car interiors market); 4 SMEs including Irish Precision Optics; 2 universities; and 2 research institutes. AMBER will receive €2.1m of the total research funding sum, which is the largest amount Trinity has ever been awarded for a collaborative Horizon 2020 project. The composition of this consortium will allow a full research-development-innovation cycle with the scale-up of part production on active pilot lines, including injection moulding for production of car parts and the scale-up of nanomaterials.

Dr Mike Mason, Director of Engineering, Coherent Scotland (the world’s leading supplier of laser solutions) said, “As a leading supplier of lasers and photonics-based solutions for industry and science, Coherent is always keenly interested in exploring ways to extend both the reliability and performance of our products. We’re no strangers to cutting-edge coating technology, as it is certainly one of the aspects of laser engineering that helps deliver those highly-desired characteristics. SUN-PILOT has some very intriguing aspects that we’re enthusiastic about testing in several particularly demanding applications. We are pleased to be able to participate in endeavours such as this that seek to advance the state-of-the-art.”

Mr Pablo Soto, Head of the Materials Research Department from Grupo Antolin (one of the largest players in the car interiors market internationally) said, “This project will deliver significant value for us as a business, allowing us to strengthen our position as market leaders in the car interiors and manufacturers industry. Through the implementation of these innovative surfaces in our products, we will be able to provide solutions to the issues associated with the current mobility trends, such as autonomous and electric vehicles.”

Dr Parvaneh Mokarian, Senior Research Fellow at AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry said, “For many devices, unwanted reflections of light can seriously compromise system performance and effectiveness, particularly with lasers and other optical systems. Current anti-reflection solutions typically rely on thin-film coatings comprising multiple layers of materials deposited onto each and every reflecting surface along the optical path. These coatings require careful design and engineering of the thicknesses and refractive index of the thin-films, and batch processes that involve relatively high temperatures. This is not commercially viable with plastic screens used, for example, in tablet and mobile phone screens. SUN-PILOT will look to reduce the cost of anti-reflective precision optics manufacture by at least 75% by replacing complex and demanding anti-reflective multilayer coatings with a single nano-patterned surface. We are confident that our research will have a major impact for both the optics industry and in the automotive industry.

We are delighted to have been chosen to lead on this major multi-million-euro European project and look forward to working with all of the relevant partners over the following 4 years. The preparation of this consortium was lengthy, and the team is incredibly grateful to Enterprise Ireland for their support, particularly through the Coordinator Support grant and their National Contact Points.”

SUN-PILOT will develop the new anti-reflection and scratch resistant technologies using the “Zeroptica” surface nano-patterning process developed and patented by Dr Mokarian in AMBER and which can be applied across a range of materials. The surfaces will also provide superior wear resistant properties compared to current coated solutions and will offer new self-cleaning and anti-microbial properties. Dr Mokarian developed the technology with support from Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation funding.

Dr Parvaneh Mokarian continued, “AMBER’s Zeroptica technology is based on block copolymers (structured molecular units) that deliver self-assembled nano-patterned masks onto any substrate. The advantage of this technique compared to other existing patterning methods is that it is solution based which means it can be applied on curved surfaces (camera lenses) and large areas such as solar cells. It is also cheap and doesn’t require any expensive equipment. Other available techniques used today either use harsh chemicals for patterning which are not environmentally friendly or require expensive equipment or can only be applied on flat surfaces (lithography).”

The global market for antireflection coatings is projected to be worth more than US$6.1 billion per annum by 2021 . Antireflection coatings are used in multiple markets including technical optics, eyewear, electronics, architectural, solar, automobile, video glasses, image sensors. Despite the demand and the large market opportunity, these coatings are not common on electronic displays due to the high cost of the current technology and the lack of durability of the coatings in challenging environments.

SUN-PILOT will also benefit the automotive industry, which is a huge user of injected plastic parts e.g. for instrument panels, door panels, lighting consoles. The global injection moulded plastic market is expected to reach US$296 billion by 2022. SUN-PILOT will develop nano-patterning moulds for injection moulding of plastic parts for the automotive industry to achieve functionality such as soft touch or enhanced colour. The most demanded finishing in interior parts are either highly bright (like Piano-Black) or soft-touch surfaces. SUN-PILOT will provide anti-fingerprint bright parts and soft-touch parts in the injection moulding process in one step, compared to the multi-step process currently required.

At the recent Trinity Innovation Awards 2017 (27th November), Dr Parvaneh Mokarian was awarded a prize by Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast in the “One-2-watch”category for her innovation research and entrepreneurship.

AMBER (Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research Centre), the Science Foundation Ireland-funded National Materials Science Research Centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, has today published its impact assessment report which details the last 10 years of nanoscience and materials science in Ireland.

This impact assessment report rigorously assesses the impact that AMBER, and its predecessor CRANN, have made to the Irish economy and wider society in the last 10 years. Working with the impact framework as defined by Science Foundation Ireland, AMBER has thoroughly interrogated research impacts across 7 key pillars – Economic and Commercial, Societal, International Engagement, Policy & Public Services, Health and Wellbeing, Environmental and Human Capacity. The report demonstrates that continued funding (under review by SFI) will allow AMBER to become one of the international centres of choice for collaborative industry research and help Ireland further its research profile in materials science and so promote Ireland as a destination for attracting hi-tec companies and inward investment. The centre has and will continue to attract leading industry and academic researchers into Ireland. AMBER’s vision is to grow and become a critical hub in the country’s innovation strategy - creating more opportunities for company spin-outs and growth.

Key Highlights of the Report include
• Ireland ranked 1st in the world for nanoscience research and 3rd for materials science research in 2016
• For every €1 invested, AMBER and CRANN have helped the Irish economy to grow by €5
• AMBER and its predecessor CRANN generated over 14,000 jobs in Ireland over 10 years and during this time had a total income of €108 million generating a gross output nationwide of over €505 million
• The institute has worked with more than 200 companies in Ireland and internationally and has received €4.4 M of industry cash in the last four years with a further €1.7M contracted
• Over €45 million European funding has been awarded to CRANN and AMBER academics
• Over 2,400 research papers, generating over 76,000 citations have been published by AMBER researchers– 45% of AMBER academics have taken out a patent compared to 8% of Irish academics and 6% of UK academics
• AMBER researchers have been awarded more ERC funding than any other research centre in Ireland and Prof Valeria Nicolosi is Europe’s only 5 time ERC awardee
• AMBER and CRANN academics are far more engaged across a broad range of knowledge exchange activities than either Irish or UK academics, including giving invited lectures, working with research consortia and engaging with industry – 79% of CRANN/AMBER academics gave invited lectures compared to 50% of Irish academics and 55% of UK academics.

Announcing the publication of the report, An Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Frances Fitzgerald T.D. said: “A key part of Government’s Action Plan for Jobs is prioritising research and innovation, and ensuring that spend in this area is focused on turning good research into tangible applications, investment and jobs. The results contained in today’s report are testimony to the impressive research discoveries, significant industry collaborations, new patents and new technologies delivered by AMBER, all of which delivers real societal and economic impact, positioning Ireland as first and third internationally for nanoscience research and materials science research respectively last year. Government remains firmly committed to supporting high quality, internationally competitive research with the potential to generate jobs and support economic growth. I commend Professor Morris and all of his team on these impressive results.”

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan T.D.said, “It is no exaggeration to say that a key part of Ireland’s economic recovery can be attributed to the quality of our research centres and their output. AMBER’s world-leading research has attracted and continues to attract FDI into Ireland, creating thousands of jobs and spurring growth amongst innovative domestic companies too. Leading multinationals have stated in this Impact Assessment Report that a key reason for their selecting Ireland as a base, is their work with AMBER, the quality of which is unrivalled in many areas. AMBER’s researchers are making world-first discoveries that are leading to new Irish start-ups, and helping global corporations deliver new applications in the areas of ICT, energy and medicine, among others. Government is committed to supporting centres like AMBER, through Science Foundation Ireland, and as part of our national Innovation Strategy.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Darrin Morrissey, Director of Programmes at Science Foundation Ireland said: “The report demonstrates the significant positive impact that has been made by the AMBER SFI Research Centre in Ireland over the past 10 years. AMBER, through world-leading researchers, is creating new knowledge and intellectual property. It is transferring that knowledge to industry through licensing agreements, industrial staff exchanges and spin-outs. The report highlights the impressive outputs from AMBER and demonstrates how Ireland’s research community are world-leading and making tangible impacts on our economy.”

Speaking at the launch, Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER, said: “We are delighted that the hard work of our researchers and staff over the last 10+ years is effectively demonstrated in this report through the significant contribution that CRANN and AMBER have made to the economic and societal wellbeing of our local, regional and national communities and through our international research. In the next decade nanoscience and materials science in Ireland will lead on the international stage and we remain committed to making a difference to the social and economic well-being of Ireland through the quality of our research and training for graduates and our engagements with businesses and communities both nationally and internationally. This report showcases the critical importance for AMBER to continue to be funded for world class research so that we can deliver, scientific, economic and societal impacts into Ireland for the benefit of the entire population.”

Domhnaill Hernon, Head of Innovation Incubation and Experiments in Arts and Technology, Nokia Bell Labs, said: “AMBER is considered as an exemplar academic collaborator across Bells Labs globally and for good reason. They stand out for their ability to engage with industry while delivering world leading scientific research. In my opinion they are a dream partner and acting as the executive sponsor I plan on growing this collaboration substantially.”

Gerardo Bertero, Senior Director at Western Digital, said: “We partner with the best expertise we can find around the globe. As such, we are proud of our association with AMBER. We have found the exchanges to be open, highly intellectual, mutually respectful and of excellent technical and scientific content.”

Dr Cathal Kearney from RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Department of Anatomy and the Science Foundation Ireland funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre has been awarded a €1.375 million European Research Council’s (ERC) Starter Grant for ground-breaking research to combat diabetic foot ulcers. The highly prestigious grant supports researchers across Europe to set-up their own research teams and pursue potentially life-changing innovations. In total, 406 grants were awarded this year to projects across Europe with Dr Kearney receiving one of just two given to Irish institutions.

People with diabetes across the world are at risk of diabetic foot ulcers with up to a quarter of the 422 million diabetic population expected to suffer from the ailment in their lifetime. These wounds are very difficult to heal and are often prone to infection which can lead to amputation. It is estimated that every 30 seconds a limb is amputated as a result of a diabetic foot ulcer. In Ireland alone, 2,400 people were hospitalised in 2015 with the condition and 451 of these cases resulted in amputations.

Dr Cathal Kearney, Principal Investigator in the Tissue Engineering Research Group, RCSI received the funding for his research titled ‘BONDS: Bilayered ON-Demand Scaffolds for diabetic foot ulcers’. The goal of this research programme is to develop a new technology-driven device that will support the body’s own cells to grow new tissues to repair skin damage on the foot caused by ulcers. The device will be made of a sponge-like material and DNA will be delivered inside the device using a novel technology. The delivered DNA will then direct cells that enter the device to heal the wound.

Speaking about the funding, Dr Kearney said: “I am honoured to have been awarded this prestigious research grant from the ERC. In Ireland, it is estimated that €70 million/year is spent on the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers, with almost one in five cases resulting in amputation. This research has the potential to change that for the better for people with diabetes not only in Ireland but across the world.”

Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI, Professor Ray Stallings, welcomed the announcement saying: “This award to Dr Kearney is a testament to his stellar research in the area of biomaterials, and the expertise of RCSI’s Tissue Engineering Research Group that is addressing health issues arising from a range of chronic conditions such as diabetes. This innovation could transform the lives of diabetes patients across the world, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of Dr Kearney’s work as his research expands as a result of this important grant.”

Dr Kearney has previously secured the prestigious Fullbright scholarship to attend MIT and Harvard University and the Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Fellowship at RCSI. His innovative work on drug delivery has been published in a number of high impact journals. Dr Kearney combines his research interests with a passion for teaching, having won the RCSI President’s Teaching Award 2017.

These coveted ERC Starter Grants support research in the life sciences, physical sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities and form part of the “Excellent Science” pillar of the European Union research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “Top talent needs good conditions at the right time to thrive. The EU provides the best possible conditions at the early stages of a researcher’s career through the ERC Starting Grants. That’s why this funding is so crucial for the future of Europe as a science hub: it keeps and attracts young talent. This time the ERC attracted researchers of 48 different nationalities based in 23 European countries. It’s an investment that will pay off, boosting the EU’s growth and innovation.”

Craniosynostosis is a developmental condition where children present premature fusion of the skull sutures. This condition affects one out of 2500 live births and can cause damage by limiting brain growth. Scientists based in Ireland are investigating the mechanisms that speed up bone formation in children diagnosed with craniosynostosis. This follows the identification of local microenvironmental changes as a key player in the abnormal activation of a series of genes involved in the accelerated bone formation in the prematurely fused sutures.

Clinicians at the National Paediatric Craniofacial Centre at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, together with scientists at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and the Science Foundation Ireland funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre, compared the behaviour of cells from prematurely fused sutures and cells from unfused sutures in order to understand how changes in the local physical environment of the skull directs the premature suture fusion.

Their study, published in Scientific Reports –a leading open access journal from the publishers of Nature - identified that cells from fused sutures have a greater sensitivity to changes in their local environment while also discerned the genetic mechanisms that control that behaviour. In particular, cells from fused sutures prematurely commit towards a bone forming cell type. These insights in the mechanisms by which changes in the physical environment promote the premature fusion of the skull sutures may provide the opportunity to develop new therapeutic strategies for bone repair.

Mr. Dylan Murray, Lead clinician at the National Paediatric Craniofacial Centre at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital commented, ‘This study was possible with the consent of the parents of the children we operate on in Temple Street who have the condition craniosynostosis. Whilst it will never be the case that a fused suture can be treated with medications to reopen them, there are many applications of this scientific breakthrough. An example of this is the possibility of impregnating bone scaffolds with these genes. This will help to stimulate new bone formation. This can be used instead of bone grafts.

Professor Fergal O’Brien, Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group in RCSI, Deputy Director of AMBER and lead PI on the project noted ‘This is a great example of interdisciplinary research between clinicians and scientists. We are particularly grateful to the patients in Temple St and their families who supported this project’

Commenting on the significance of the research, Dr. Arlyng Gonzalez Vazquez, whom together with Dr. Sara Barreto are the joint-first authors on the study, said: ‘Our findings not only shed new light to understand the mechanisms that control the premature fusion of the skull suture in children with craniosynostosis but also provide new targets that can be incorporated into novel therapeutic target-specific biomaterials to enhance bone formation in patients suffering from severe fractures and bone degeneration’.

This work was supported by the Temple Street, Children’s Fund for Health, the Health Research Board, and the Irish Research Council.

RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2017-2018). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.