News

Researchers at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded National Materials Science Research Centre, hosted at Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with Duke University have discovered the emergence of winner-take-all connectivity pathways in random networks, where memory is distributed across the network but encoded in specific connectivity pathways, similar to that found in biological systems. Their research was published today/this week in the prestigious journal, Nature Communications*.

Establishing the optimum pathway across complex networks is a ubiquitous problem: from information networks such as the internet to physical networks of roadways to highly interconnected biological networks within the brain. These findings may help in the development of hardware based neural network systems with brain-inspired architectures for cognitive signal-processing, decision-making systems and ultimately neuromorphic computing applications. Neuromorphic computers outperform conventional computers at tasks that are natural to our brain such as ultra-fast sensory processing, high-level pattern recognition, and motor control.

The research was a collaboration between Professors John Boland and Mauro Ferreira, AMBER researchers in Trinity’s Schools of Chemistry and Physics, Professor Justin Holmes, AMBER researcher at University College Cork as well as researchers from Duke University. Through experiment and simulation, the collaborative team elucidated the properties of nanowire networks that give rise to singular or multiple connectivity pathways.

Nanowires are similar to normal electrical wires but are extremely small, typically a few hundred atoms thick or thinner than one thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. Just like normal wires, nanowires can be made from a variety of different materials and typically have surface coatings either from their growth process or an engineered coating to stop them clumping together in solution. By changing the nanowire material, or the coating on the nanowire the team found that networks can develop different types of connectivity pathways, and importantly identified the conditions required for the emergence of a single lowest-energy most-efficient pathway.

To understand preferred pathways, think of walking through a University campus or business park with some grassy areas and paths connecting the different buildings. There will be foot-worn short cuts in the grass that people take to save time and energy. The combination of frequently used paved and unpaved pathways are the most practical or preferred pathways for moving efficiently. The human brain develops preferred communication pathways that link together different brain circuits or loops to quickly and efficiently complete specific tasks and this research shows evidence for the same behaviour in a nanowire network.

Prof John Boland, AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said, “Nanowire networks offer promising architectures for neuromorphic applications due to their connectivity. Where one nanowire is in contact with another nanowire a junction is formed that behaves like a memory switch, and the behaviour of the network is dominated by the response of these junctions. In this work, we discovered a special symmetry that allows a network of junctions to respond as if it is a single junction. A particular class of junctions then naturally leads to the emergence of a “winner-takes-all” electrically conducting path that spans the entire network, and which we show corresponds to the lowest-energy connectivity path.”

“Even more surprising was that for silver nanowires, which prefers to self-select a single lowest energy pathway across the random network, once the pathway is established it forms a series of discrete memory levels. These results point to the possibility of developing and independently addressing memory levels in complex systems and which we expect to have important implications for computers that operate in a more brain-like fashion.”

The next goal of the research is to understand how to engineer this single or multipath behaviour, and to develop logic systems based on these nanowire network materials for cognitive signal-processing, decision-making systems and ultimately neuromorphic computing applications.

This publication has emanated from research supported in part by Prof John Boland’s Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.

*“Emergence of Winner-takes-all Connectivity Paths in Random Nanowire Networks”, Nature Communications https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05517-6

Activation of silver nanowire network https://youtu.be/mh_MP4MeBjk

This week AMBER (Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research Centre), the Science Foundation Ireland-funded National Materials Science Research Centre, based in Trinity College Dublin, will host leading international scientists at a one day gathering focused on the wonder material graphene on Thursday 2nd August, in the Science Gallery. Graphene is both the thinnest and the strongest material known to science and its discovery has been crucial for our ability to (among other things) create extremely sensitive sensors for medical devices, build incredibly durable cycling helmets, make our touch phone screens more sensitive, and even grow healthy tissue for the heart.

The graphene workshop’s focus will mark the 10th anniversary of the Liquid Phase Exfoliation (LPE) technique pioneered by Professors Jonathan Coleman and Valeria Nicolosi from AMBER. This revolutionary LPE technique essentially unlocked the material graphene for use for industry - previously it was not cost efficient for industry to produce large amounts of the material. Graphene conducts electricity better than copper and so the mass production of this material has had massive implications for industry and further research of the material.

It is forecast that an approximately $300M market, at the graphene supply level, will be formed within the next ten years*. This means that we will find graphene, of different types, in numerous volume applications in the years to come. The LPE technique pioneered by AMBER researchers is now the biggest global graphene production method worldwide.

Professor Vincenzo Palermo, Vice director of Graphene Flagship, said: “The Graphene Flagship is tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from the realm of academic laboratories into European society in the space of 10 years. The LPE technique, as developed by Professor Jonathan Coleman and Professor Valeria Nicolosi, was an incredible breakthrough in the area of materials science, and particularly for the Flagship. This technique has opened many doors for cross collaboration with industry and academia.”

Professor Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics and recent 2018 ACS Nano Award Lecture Laureate awardee said: “Our anniversary event marks some of the wonderful research breakthroughs we in AMBER, and researchers worldwide, have achieved over the last 10 years. For scientists who are working in the area of graphene, their key focus is to take graphene research out of their labs and translate it into tangible applications for industry and society. We are honoured that internationally leading researchers in the field have accepted our invitation to share their insights at our event.”

Harry Swan, Managing Director Thomas Swan & Co Ltd, said: “We collaborated with AMBER and its researchers for a number of years and they were a major contributor to the successful development of our 20 tons per year graphene plant in the UK. I’m delighted to be part of this anniversary event, there is no doubt that graphene continues to be an exciting material with far reaching implications for a wide range of applications.”

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, Principal Investigator in AMBER, said: “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 and beyond through the quality of our research. Ten years ago, August 2008, we published a paper in Nature Nanotechnology describing a new method to produce defect-free graphene nanosheets in liquids. Dubbed liquid phase exfoliation (LPE), this method used ultrasonic energy to separate few-layer graphene nanosheets from their parent crystal in certain stabilising solvents. We showed that the resultant dispersions could be used for further study or processed into functional structures. Little did we know how far this curiosity-driven, side project would go over the subsequent decade. At this point, it is worthwhile pausing to take stock of what LPE has achieved, where it is today and how best it can be developed into the future. Over the course of the day speakers will show us a roadmap for possible applications of graphene, showing how it is a disruptive technology, and also we will get an exclusive glimpse into some new research developments.”

The one day anniversary event will cover leading international speakers including: Andrea Ferrari, University of Cambridge on ‘Graphene – the material for future technology’, Professor Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER, ’10 years down the road…what has LPE enabled us to do so far’, Jonathan Coleman, AMBER ‘Splitting layers – an overview of LPE’, and Thomas Heine, TU Dresden – ‘Two-dimensional materials in three dimensions’ and Vincenzo Palermo, Chalmers University – ‘Graphene exfoliation for large-scale applications: ideal nanosheets vs. real commercial products’.

*https://www.idtechex.com/research/reports/graphene-2d-materials-and-carbon-nanotubes-markets-technologies-and-opportunities-2018-2028-000603.asp

Over 4,000 delegates from nearly 70 countries from across the globe will congregate in Dublin this month for the 8th World Congress of Biomechanics (WCB2018). WCB2018 will be co-hosted by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Trinity College Dublin in partnership with AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science and bioengineering research centre. The Congress is held once every 4 years and will bring together engineers and scientists from various disciplines including biology, physics, mathematics, computer science, chemistry and various clinical specialties.

Prof. Fergal O’Brien, RCSI Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine, AMBER Deputy Director and Co-Chair of WCB2018 said “Winning the WCB 2018 bid means we are in effect bringing the World Cup of Biomechanics to Dublin. With an interdisciplinary focus spanning engineering, medicine, life sciences and industry, this event will be a significant boost for Ireland’s growing international reputation for bioengineering research as exemplified by the research at RCSI and AMBER which is partnering with industry to translate world class scientific research to the benefit of patients and society. We are honoured that over 400 of the world’s leading researchers in the field have accepted our invitation to speak here this week.”

Prof. Daniel Kelly Trinity Professor of Tissue Engineering, AMBER Investigator and Co-Chair of WCB2018 said “The field of biomechanics sits at the interface of engineering and medicine, and research in the field has revolutionised medicine, particularly in the area of medical devices. Ireland’s medical technology sector has evolved into one of the leading clusters globally. 18 of the world’s top 25 medical technology companies have a base in Ireland and 50% of the over 400 medtech companies based here are indigenous. Ireland is therefore the ideal location for a congress that aims to enhance links between the clinical and academic research community and industry in the medical technology sector.”

The five-day scientific programme at the WCB2018 will cover speakers from across a wide spectrum of the sector including: Imaging and Device Biomechanics; Biofluid and Biotransport; Multiscale Biomechanics; Organ Biomechanics; Tissue Biomechanics; Cellular Biomechanics; Molecular Biomechanics and Whole Body Biomechanics. Applications range from basic biology to medical devices and the latest technologies. Exhibitions will highlight the latest technologies, publications, and medical devices.

Highlights of the conference will include:

• Professor Julie Steele’s biomechanics research over the past 30+ years has enabled countless individuals to participate comfortably and safely in their daily activities. Professor Steele, from the School of Medicine at the University of Wollongong, is founder and director of the internationally renowned Biomechanics Research Laboratory and Breast Research Australia. She has been actively involved in researching the effects of obesity and ageing on lower limb structure and function with implications for footwear design to promote physical activity and reduce falls in the elderly. In addition, she is very involved in breast health biomechanics and the aim of her research in this space is to ensure that any female, irrespective of age, health status or breast size, can enjoy the health benefits associated with regular exercise without suffering breast discomfort.

• Elazer R. Edelman is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Senior Attending Physician in the coronary care unit at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He has translated basic findings in vascular biology to the development of next generation medical devices such as cardiovascular stents - which has revolutionised healthcare and saved countless lives. Dr Edelman directs the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center (BMEC).

• Dr Niamh Nowlan from Dublin and a graduate from Trinity College Dublin, but now based in the Department of Bioengineering of Imperial College London, UK, works in the area of developmental biomechanics, with particular focus on fetal movements. She will talk about two key research areas of interest; how mechanical forces induced by prenatal movements affect bone and joint formation before birth, and how fetal movements may be used as an indicator of fetal health and function.

Professor John Boland, Investigator in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, has been awarded an Outstanding Researcher Award from the Intel Corporate Research Council (CRC). It is the fourth time the award has been given to a researcher in Ireland.

The award will be presented today (29th June) in Trinity College by Dr. Michael Mayberry, the Chief Technology Officer for Intel Corporation, Managing Director of Intel Labs, and Head of the Intel CRC. These awards, which are considered annually by the 18 Strategic Research Segments (SRS) which make up the CRC, recognise only outstanding university research collaborations. The recipients must have demonstrated a high level of innovation at enabling the understanding, or solving of major technology roadblocks. In addition, the award is only given to researchers within an Institute that have exhibited a close relationship with Intel, leading to student hiring, which has been the case over many years with AMBER and the CRANN Institute.

Professor Boland was given the award for revealing to the world in a Science publication in July 2017, a new insight into the behaviour of the building blocks of copper. Professor Boland with AMBER researcher Dr. Xiaopu Zhang and an international team have shown that the granular building blocks in copper can never fit together perfectly, but are rotated causing an unexpected level of misalignment and surface roughness. This behaviour, which was previously undetected, applies to many materials beyond copper. Nanocrystalline metals such as copper are widely used as electrical contacts and interconnects within integrated circuits. This new understanding at the nanoscale will impact how these materials are designed, ultimately enabling more efficient devices, by reducing resistance to current flow and increasing battery life in hand-held devices.

“At Intel, we recognize the world-class work of Professor John Boland and his team, and also the many other activities that have been undertaken over the last fifteen years in collaboration with AMBER and CRANN. We have cultivated an excellent research relationship, learn from each other, and appreciate the many fundamental insights that the teams discovered that help us make informed decisions regarding the future of semiconductor technology,” said Dr. Mayberry, Intel Labs.

Professor John Boland, Principal Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said, “I am very honoured to have received this award from Intel. It has been rewarding to see the impact of our research over the last 14 years translated into new technologies. This would not have been possible without our model of collaborative research engagement with Intel, from researchers-in-residence working in our labs to joint research challenges. I look forward to continuing this engagement with Intel in years to come”.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said, “I’d like to congratulate Professor Boland on this award. He has driven AMBER’s collaboration with Intel for many years and it is his research excellence and expertise in scanning tunnelling microscopy that has ensured new developments in the fundamental understanding of materials, which will ultimately benefit people, through new electronic devices, but also other areas such as medical implants and diagnostics. This award demonstrates both the excellence and also the quality of the research team that has been built in AMBER.”

Professor Boland has served as Trinity’s Vice President and Dean of Research at Trinity. He is a fellow of Trinity College and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was the Laureate of the 11th ACSIN Nanoscience Prize (2011) and was awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced Grant in 2013.