Winners of our Research Image Competition were announced at our internal Quarterly event in June. Congratulations to Dr Niall McEvoy who won first place for his “Space Invaders” entry. The scanning electron microscopy image shows molybdenum disulphide crystals grown by chemical vapour deposition on a silicon substrate. This material, a semiconducting analogue of graphene, shows great promise for future applications in electronics and optolectronics.

2nd place was awarded to Damien Hanlon for his image composed of SDS (sodium dodecyl sulfate) surfactant. Common soap is composed of a mixture of surfactants which in principle work similarly to the soap we use in the lab. In your kitchen soap sticks to stains and makes them water soluble, while in the lab they stick to materials also to make them stable in water!

Bird’s nest stadium in Beijing was the inspiration for Xiaoyun (Lily) He. Her scanning electron microscope image shows a layered structure of bulk nickel hydroxides. 2D sheets of these nickel hydroxides are of interest because of their electrochemical properties and potential applications in commercial alkaline rechargeable batteries.

A selection of images can be viewed on our Pinterest Board.

AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre), the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, announced today that it has entered into a licence agreement with Thomas Swan Ltd for the production of atomically thin 2D layered materials. The licences signed by Trinity College are for technologies developed by Professor Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator in AMBER, which builds on his 2014 global research breakthrough into the large-scale production of graphene.

Capitalising on its experience in the manufacture of graphene, Thomas Swan Ltd can now quickly scale the manufacture of 2D materials, such as boron nitride and molybdenum disulphide, which will be available from this summer.

These materials have unique properties including strength, flexibility and electrical conductivity. Their production and incorporation into a range of products will change the way many consumer and industrial products are manufactured. Potential applications include high strength plastics; extremely sensitive sensors for medical or chemical applications; foldable touch screens for mobile phones and laptops; super-protective coatings for wind turbines and ships; faster batteries with dramatically higher capacity than anything available today and advanced food packaging.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator at AMBER and Professor of Chemical Physics in Trinity College Dublin, said: “Last year we signed a licence agreement with Thomas Swan Ltd. to scale up production and make high quality graphene available to industry globally. While graphene consists of a layer of carbon atoms, other 2D materials comprised of different combinations of atoms also have unique properties with potential widespread applications from mechanics, to printed electronics, energy generation and storage. Our collaborative research programme with Thomas Swan underlines the strength of our industry engagement programme and we are delighted that our partnership has led to the commercialisation of my research.”

“We are excited about this new phase in our 2D materials business which builds upon our graphene knowledge base,” said Harry Swan, Managing Director of Thomas Swan, “and we are delighted to be continuing our relationship with AMBER at Trinity College Dublin.”

Thomas Swan Ltd, who has partnered with the AMBER research team for two years have to date invested €750,000 in the research programme and began a further €250,000 collaboration in 2015, co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland, to explore and develop future applications of 2D materials.

About Thomas Swan
Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd. is an independent chemical manufacturing company. With offices and warehousing in the UK, USA and China and a global network of distributors, we service the domestic and international markets and export to over 80 countries worldwide.
Founded in 1926 in Consett, in the North East of England – still home to our manufacturing facilities – Thomas Swan today produces over 100 products, in kilogramme to multi-tonne quantities, and offers an experienced and flexible manufacturing service.
+44 (0)1207 505 131

Team of Researchers Produce Powerful New Biosensor for Medical Diagnostic Applications

Professor Georg Duesberg, Investigator in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, and Trinity’s School of Chemistry and his team, in collaboration with the group of Dr. Andreas Holzinger at Université Grenoble Alpes and Professor Maryam Tabrizian from Montreal McGill University, Montreal, have produced a new graphene biosensor. This new biosensor has demonstrated very high sensitivity in detecting cholera toxins and can provide earlier diagnosis of conditions such as cancer and other infectious diseases. 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 medical diagnosis with high sensitivity and specificity 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 diseases, such as cancer. The cholera toxin was detected within minutes, in contrast to current detection techniques which may take hours or even days.

Professor Georg Duesberg said, “We showed experimentally that simply the addition of graphene led to a clear increase in the sensor signal. This type of sensing platform offers a large variety for medical diagnostics since it can be adapted to almost any type of disease markers.”

Dr. Holzinger, UJF Grenoble, said, “In addition, because of the sensitivity, apart from faster results, it could more easily detect smaller amounts of biomarkers, thus providing earlier diagnosis and prognosis of conditions such as cancer. This also means that a smaller sample is required from the patient for detection e.g. a pin-prick drop of blood, compared to a vial or injection. Our discovery is also applicable for other types of infectious diseases such as malaria and TB.”

This original setup of SPR biosensors reaches clearly higher sensitivities than the standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and has the potential for being a real alternative. The need for label free-bio-sensors is enormous.
The graphene grown in Professor Duesberg’s lab has been shown 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.

Professor 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

The European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, began his two-day visit in Dublin meeting with researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin. Since the research centre’s launch 18 months ago, AMBER researchers have been awarded over €12 million in funding from the European Commission, across 18 research projects.

A selection of AMBER Principal Investigators, whose research is funded by the EC, were given the opportunity to present their progress to date across their research projects to Vice-President Katainen. Two of the researchers presenting, Professor Daniel Kelly and Professor Wolfgang Schmitt, were both awarded ERC Consolidator Grants this year. The ERC Consolidator Grant is awarded to those with over 7 and up to 12 years of experience since completion of PhD, and is to encourage highly talented researchers at an early stage of their career.

Professor Daniel Kelly’s research, which was awarded €2 million in funding by the EC, focuses on producing biomaterials which can be used to regenerate both cartilage and bone in a diseased joint. His research uses biomaterials containing adult stem cells, and could potentially be used to print hip or knee implants for osteoarthritis sufferers. This is the next generation of implants and are intended to be used to target specific clinical problems in orthopaedic and cardiovascular medicine. Professor Wolfgang Schmitt’s research, which was awarded €2 million in funding by the EC, looks at metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for energy storage and conversion. The ultimate aim of his research is to harvest light and convert it into chemical energy – which is the ultimate, sustainable, green energy solution.

Following his visit to AMBER, Vice-President Katainen said: “Investing in research is a priority for the EU so I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet several EU-funded researchers at AMBER today. I am confident that the Investment Plan for Europe will be instrumental in supporting research-related projects across Europe. Today I have seen first-hand how AMBER is conducting world-class material science research which will not only help to solve societal challenges but also help to boost our competitiveness and create the jobs and growth needed in Europe.”

Professor Stefano Sanvito, Acting Director at AMBER, said, “We are privileged to have had European Commission Vice-President responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, visit us here at AMBER. At AMBER we are working to educate the next generation of researchers and create breakthroughs that influence everyone’s quality of life; such as the development of next generation computer chips; new medical devices, implants and pharmaceuticals which will improve patient care. The European Commission’s funding is imperative to AMBER continuing to establish a leading international position for Ireland in materials science and continue to provide world leading research that includes productive engagement with industry and the creation of new jobs.”

Vice-President Katainen’s visit concluded with a demonstration in AMBER’s lab, where Dr Keith Paton, working with Professor Jonathan Coleman conducted his ‘Graphene Kitchen Blender’ experiment. Prof. Coleman pours graphite powder (the “lead” in our pencils) into a blender, adds dishwashing liquid, mixing at high speed, and creates graphene. This method has been refined to produce industrial quantities of high quality graphene. Described as a wonder material, graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon. It is extremely light and stronger than steel, yet incredibly flexible and extremely electrically conductive. Richard Coull, Lead Engineer working with Prof Valeria Nicolosi demonstrated how graphene and other 2-dimensional materials could be printed to make devices such as flexible batteries.