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Associate Professor in Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin, Aidan McDonald, has won the prestigious Royal Society of Chemistry Sir Edward Frankland Fellowship for 2017. The Fellowship is awarded for the encouragement of research in organometallic chemistry or the coordination chemistry of transition metals. This annual Fellowship is renowned in the area of chemistry, as many previous winners of the Fellowship have gone on to win Nobel prizes for their research.

Professor McDonald investigates the chemistry of transition metals (metals from the middle of the periodic table including iron, nickel, and copper). His group’s research focuses on how such metals can facilitate more environmentally friendly chemical manufacturing, and the development of facile methods for processing 2D nanomaterials. In 2015, Aidan was also awarded an ERC starting grant, and in late 2016 he was presented with a Royal Society/SFI University Research Fellowship. Both are awarded to outstanding early career scientists.

Professor McDonald said: “I am deeply honoured to receive this award, and am very grateful to my colleagues who supported my nomination. I am also extremely grateful to the School of Chemistry in Trinity and the Science Foundation Ireland funded AMBER research centre for supporting my group’s research efforts in this early phase of my career.”

Dr Robert Parker, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “It is an honour to celebrate the innovation and expertise of our community through our prizes and awards. We know that chemistry can be a powerful force for good, and quality research and communication of that research are more important than ever before.

“Our charitable mission is to advance excellence in the chemical sciences, and we are proud to celebrate our inspiring and influential winners, who share that mission.”

Award winners are evaluated for the originality and impact of their research, as well as the quality of the results, which can be shown in publications, patents, or even software. The awards also recognise the importance of teamwork across the chemical sciences, and the abilities of individuals to develop successful collaborations.

The annual awardee of the Royal Society of Chemistry Sir Edward Frankland Fellowship receives £2000, a medal and a certificate of commendation. An illustrious list of 50 previous winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s awards have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work, including all of the 2016 chemistry winners, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Fraser Stoddart and Ben Feringa.

An international collaboration led by Prof Stefano Sanvito Investigator in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, has identified 22 new magnets in the last year. This rate of discovery is 20 times faster than that achieved in the last 2,000 years, in which time we have discovered about 2,000 magnetic materials, or one per year. Their method of using advanced computer simulations enabled them to predict the chemical composition of new magnets and their findings have been published today in the prestigious journal, Science Advances.*

Since the invention of the compass, magnetic materials have been key for the development of every-day technologies: the hard disks of our computers are composed of billions of tiny magnets; wind turbines are made from strong permanent magnets; as are the electrical motor in our cars, kitchen blenders and lawn mowers. Current high-performing magnets are made of expensive elements (e.g. rare earths) and their price is very volatile. This is a central reason for the need to continue to identify new magnetic materials - avoiding the risk of supply collapse. In addition to this, the process of discovering new magnets can be lengthy. The first report of a magnetic material dates back to 79AD. In all this time, we have discovered about 2,000 materials, which behave as magnets, or one magnet per year.

This research provides a path for the fast discovery of new advanced materials. Rather than have experimentalists working in the lab trying to make approximately 300,000 new hypothetical materials, Prof Sanvito’s team can use computer simulations combined with powerful databases to predict the properties of these 300,000 materials and then advise which ones are likely to work best for particular applications. They can recommend materials that might be best suited to solar applications, or for thermo-electrics, anti-corrosive or aerospace materials design.

Prof Sanvito, Director of the CRANN Institute and Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics said, “The discovery of new magnets is important because they form part of everyday applications, from computers, to wind turbines, the electrical motors in our cars, kitchen blenders and lawn mowers. However, there are several technologies for which we still need to find the ideal magnet, which could provide for example more energy-efficient non-volatile magnetic storage, such as hard discs and more energy efficient motors in hybrid cars.”

In this publication, our team identified 22 new magnets, and one in particular, Co2MnTi, shows real potential for high-tech applications because it displays a very high ordering temperature of about 630 degrees Celsius (a magnet loses its magnetic properties above the ordering temperature). This is a remarkable discovery since no more than two dozen magnets remain magnetic at such a high temperature. The ordering temperature should be well more than the temperature at which you want to use the magnet, for example, if the magnet is to be used in an electrical motor in a hybrid car, it must be magnetic at the temperature of the engine about 200C.

The multi-disciplinary team included the groups of Prof. Michael Coey, also an AMBER Investigator who made two of the new magnets and Prof. Curtarolo at Duke University, who was involved in the theoretical work.

* Accelerated discovery of new magnets in the Heusler alloy family, Science Advances, 14th April 2017

Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of 2-dimensional nanomaterials for the first time. These 2D materials combine exciting electronic properties with the potential for low-cost production. This breakthrough could unlock the potential for applications such as food packaging that displays a digital countdown to warn you of spoiling, wine labels that alert you when your white wine is at its optimum temperature, or even a window pane that shows the day’s forecast. The AMBER team’s findings have been published today in the leading journal Science*.

This discovery opens the path for industry, such as ICT and pharmaceutical, to cheaply print a host of electronic devices from solar cells to LEDs with applications from interactive smart food and drug labels to next-generation banknote security and e-passports.

Prof Jonathan Coleman, who is an investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said, “In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging.
Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information: for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out-of-date.

We believe that 2D nanomaterials can compete with the materials currently used for printed electronics. Compared to other materials employed in this field, our 2D nanomaterials have the capability to yield more cost effective and higher performance printed devices. However, while the last decade has underlined the potential of 2D materials for a range of electronic applications, only the first steps have been taken to demonstrate their worth in printed electronics. This publication is important because it shows that conducting, semiconducting and insulating 2D nanomaterials can be combined together in complex devices. We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing. We believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from 2D nanosheets.”

Led by Prof Coleman, in collaboration with the groups of Prof Georg Duesberg (AMBER) and Prof. Laurens Siebbeles (TU Delft,Netherlands), the team used standard printing techniques to combine graphene nanosheets as the electrodes with two other nanomaterials, tungsten diselenide and boron nitride as the channel and separator (two important parts of a transistor) to form an all-printed, all-nanosheet, working transistor.

Printable electronics have developed over the last thirty years based mainly on printable carbon-based molecules. While these molecules can easily be turned into printable inks, such materials are somewhat unstable and have well-known performance limitations. There have been many attempts to surpass these obstacles using alternative materials, such as carbon nanotubes or inorganic nanoparticles, but these materials have also shown limitations in either performance or in manufacturability. While the performance of printed 2D devices cannot yet compare with advanced transistors, the team believe there is a wide scope to improve performance beyond the
current state-of-the-art for printed transistors.

The ability to print 2D nanomaterials is based on Prof. Coleman’s scalable method of producing 2D nanomaterials, including graphene, boron nitride, and tungsten diselenide nanosheets, in liquids, a method he has licensed to Samsung and Thomas Swan. These nanosheets are flat nanoparticles that are a few nanometres thick but hundreds of nanometres wide. Critically, nanosheets made from different materials have electronic properties that can be conducting, insulating or semiconducting and so include all the building blocks of electronics. Liquid processing is especially advantageous in that it yields large quantities of high quality 2D materials in a form that is easy to process into inks. Prof. Coleman’s publication provides the potential to print circuitry at extremely low cost which will facilitate a range of applications from animated posters to smart labels.

Prof Coleman is a partner in Graphene flagship, a €1 billion EU initiative to boost new technologies and innovation during the next 10 years.

* All-printed thin-film transistors from networks of liquid-exfoliated nanosheets, Science, 7th April 2017

Ground-breaking research led by Prof Stefano Sanvito, Director of the CRANN Institute at Trinity College Dublin and Investigator in the Science Foundation Ireland funded centre AMBER, has demonstrated how molecular magnets could be used successfully in applications such as hard-disk drives and quantum computers. The breakthrough could increase a computer hard-disk’s capacity by 1000 using tiny molecules. How this might work has stymied international researchers for over thirty years, due to the challenge of molecular magnets operating at room temperature. This discovery could one day revolutionise computation as we know it, enabling lengthy and complex calculations, such as database searches, to be performed at incredibly high speeds.

In a paper published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, the AMBER team comprising Prof Sanvito and Dr Alessandro Lunghi working with Prof Roberta Sessoli and her team at the University of Firenze, Italy, have discovered that by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible, they can operate at room temperature, thus opening up new ways for designing high-performance molecular magnets.

Molecular magnets are tiny molecules, often comprising only a handful of atoms, which display the same properties of conventional magnets, such as iron. If molecular magnets were to be used as bits in hard-disk drives, there is the potential to increase the disk’s capacity up to a thousand times, so that standard 3.5’ hard-disk would store more than 1,000,000 gigabytes of data. This is because molecular magnets can be packed together at ultra-high density. Furthermore, other possible applications for magnetic magnets operating at high temperature are in quantum technologies such as quantum computation.

At present a hypothetical hard-disk made of magnetic molecules will lose all data unless cooled down to about -200 C. Over the years researchers have been working very hard to design these molecules to operate at room temperature, mostly focussing their attention on magnetic properties.

Prof Stefano Sanvito, Director of CRANN and Investigator at AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics said, “This is a very exciting breakthrough and something that is of huge interest to the scientific community, who have demonstrated very slow progress to date with the development of molecular magnets that can operate at room temperature. When a magnet is small its magnetic properties degrade rapidly with temperature. In this paper, we have shown that a drastic improvement in the high-temperature properties of magnetic magnets can be achieved by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible.”

This discovery will allow progress in the design of high-performance molecular magnets, a task already on-going in Prof Sessoli’s lab, and offers real potential for a quantum technologies, such as quantum computers. These may one day revolutionise computation as we know it, enabling lengthy and complex calculations, such as database searches, to be performed at incredibly high speeds.