Researchers from AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, the School of Physics and the CRANN Institute, at Trinity College Dublin, have helped to discover a relationship between the size and thickness of flakes of two-dimensional, “2D”, materials. This may have significant consequences for the viability and roll-out of mass-produced nanotechnology based on these extremely thin, exotic particles. The findings of the research provides new opportunities for rapidly identifying industrially mass-producible 2D materials, which are promising candidates for a range of applications such as solar cell and laser technology, high-power capacitors, medical bio-sensing, and chemical catalysis, and even next-generation computing and data storage.

The research published in the prestigious American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano involved the creation and detailed analysis of graphene, the famously strong and thin 2D material, in addition to ten more recently discovered 2D materials. The team, including Profs. Coleman and O’Regan at Trinity College Dublin, combined experimental and theoretical techniques to identify a common trend among the 2D flakes that relates their face area to their thickness. The team were able to determine that, on average, whenever the thickness doubles, the face area also quadruples. This newly-found characteristic trend was observed across very different 2D materials made from a wide range of chemical elements.

The team discovered this remarkably simple rule in the context of 2D flakes made by immersing ordinary 3D materials into a mechanically vibrated liquid. This process, known as liquid-phase exfoliation, has been pioneered by Prof. Jonathan Coleman, School of Physics and AMBER principal investigator at Trinity College Dublin. As it is relatively simple, inexpensive, and widely-applicable, this technique is a leading contender for the large-scale industrial roll-out of 2D material fabrication. Finding out which 3D parent materials will produce many large-but-thin 2D flakes when processed in this way, the study shows, can be predicted by comparing how tough the 3D parent is when you try to stretch it in two different directions. This provides a very useful, easy-to-use indicator to help in the selection of 2D materials applicable to consumer devices and nanotechnology.

The theory that Prof. O’Regan and Coleman have developed fully explains the new rule that has emerged from the comprehensive, eleven-material data set generated and analysed in a novel approach developed by their collaborator and paper lead-author Dr Claudia Backes and her team at the Chair of Applied Physical Chemistry at the University of Heidelberg. It is further bolstered by state-of-the-art quantum-mechanical supercomputer simulations performed on the materials by the group of Prof. Nicola Marzari at EPFL, in Switzerland. The data from these simulations enabled the two researchers at Trinity College Dublin to theoretically connect a 2D flake’s shape and its toughness, for the first time. Essentially, their new theory proposes that energy must be equally shared out when the faces and edges of new 2D flakes are made, due to a principle called equipartition.

“This work was extremely exciting to carry out,” says theoretician Prof. David O’Regan, “because we were seeing the trends emerge from the experimental data in real time, at the same time that we were developing the model. It’s ideal when theory and experiment can work in tandem like that.” Looking forward to the next steps, O’Regan remarked “Now that we can explain the data accurately, we will start to make predictions. Based on a quick desktop simulation of a solid, we can suggest whether or not its 2D analogue will form nice thin flakes. This could speed up the discovery of viable 2D materials, and lower its cost.”

Link to the ACS Nano paper:

Figure reprinted with permission from ACS Nano 2019 13, 6, 7050-7061. Copyright 2019 American Chemical Society.

Government investment of €40 million for phase two of the Science Foundation Ireland funded research centre will contribute vastly to the Government’s Future Jobs Strategy to prepare now for tomorrow’s world

AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research headquartered at Trinity College Dublin, has today launched its second phase of the centre which will see 350 new research positions created directly between 2019 and 2025, while also supporting the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland initiative. This second phase is being delivered via €40 million in funding over the next six years through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Research Centres Programme, coupled with €77 million in cash and in-kind contributions which AMBER will raise in investment from industry and non-exchequer sources through their collaborative and international research activities.

With a total employment of 1116 staff, during the first phase of the centre (2013-2019), AMBER generated 14,279 jobs nationwide in sectors such as biomedicine, pharmaceutical, energy and ICT. During this time, for every €1 invested, AMBER has helped the Irish economy to grow by €5. The AMBER centre has made valuable contributions to the economic and societal wellbeing of Ireland by partnering with over 40 companies from SME’s to Multinational Companies and attracting over €40 million in international research funding.

New investment from government, industry and international research funding during phase two (2019-2025) will grow the Centre’s world leading academic and industry orientated materials science research in critical and emerging sectors of the economy, such as ICT, MedTech, manufacturing technologies and energy. Between 2019 and 2025 AMBER will bring together research clusters to address current gaps in knowledge, drive advances in materials science and engineering, and translate research excellence into new sustainable products and technologies for society and solutions for industry. AMBER’s work will create new materials and technologies that minimise environmental impact and build a sustainable future. The creation of 350 new research positions will also strongly contribute to the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland initiative by promoting interest in ICT, manufacturing technologies and energy, thereby ensuring that our economy is well positioned into the future.

The funding will expand AMBER’s remit into the realm of materials for sustainability, developing Irish science to support a green revolution aligning with the All Government Climate Action Plan. It will play a significant part in tackling climate change and supporting the circular economy, through, for example, research into sustainable biopolymers as alternatives to synthetic polymers, and working with industry to reduce waste and increase resource efficiency.

Other significant environmental impacts will be achieved through the development of novel energy technologies and innovative materials for energy harvesting, delivery, and storage. The development of new technologies to convert light into chemical energy, cost-effective thermo-electric generators and high-performing magnets for energy applications will all contribute to reduce environmentally damaging emissions and increase energy efficiency.
AMBER scientists are pioneering new technologies that reduce power consumption in electronic devices and data centres, enable better batteries for energy storage, promote the capture and conversion of carbon dioxide and develop alternatives to petroleum-based polymers for consumer products. With a track record in materials science research rivalling other world-leading scientific institutions, AMBER research is creating new sustainable materials that will provide solutions for current problems and address future needs.

AMBER currently partners with 40 companies across the fields of ICT, medical technologies and devices, as well as those in the sustainability and manufacturing. AMBER will continue to significantly scale its industry investment during the centre’s second phase, aligning its vision with Enterprise 2025, Ireland’s national policy document by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. AMBER will play a crucial role for both multi nationals and SMEs in driving innovation and will demonstrate economic impacts through retaining Irish-based multinationals, driving their research and development agendas. It will also attract new foreign direct investment to Ireland and investment from foreign-owned businesses within Ireland, strengthen SME investment in research and development and create new spin out businesses.

AMBER researchers are world leaders in the area of biomaterials for tissue regeneration, additive manufacturing, bioprinting and scaffold mediated drug delivery, and will facilitate the development of new engineered implants, between 2019 and 2025, alongside researchers with expertise in immunology and 2D materials. Expected impacts in the area of health includes the development of new therapies for the treatment of bone defects and heart attacks, peripheral nerve repair, joint repair and wound healing, as well as developing new methods for monitoring health.

Minster for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD said: “The second phase of AMBER will contribute hugely to the Government’s strategy to prepare now for tomorrow’s world, through plans like Future Jobs Ireland and Project Ireland 2040. The work done by AMBER previously has helped position Ireland as a world leader in research, further strengthening our global credibility across a number of different sectors.

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, said: “I congratulate AMBER on all of its success as it move to the next phase. SFI Research Centres such as AMBER provide the basis for Ireland to move towards becoming an innovation leader, by providing new thinking and new solutions. We have many opportunities, including those I set out in the recently published National Space Strategy for Enterprise, it is important that we invest in excellent research to allow us to take full competitive advantage and deliver this potential.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “The SFI Research Centre AMBER has contributed hugely to fundamental and applied materials science research. In only a short period AMBER has made incredible progress, in terms of increased academic and industrial collaboration, training PhD students for industry, winning competitive funding from the EU, producing excellent scientific results and public engagement. Science Foundation Ireland looks forward to continuing to support this world class centre, increasing our ability to positively impact both society and the economy through excellent scientific research.”

Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity, said: “AMBER has played a leading role in consolidating Ireland’s reputation for materials and bioengineering science research and this announcement highlights the ongoing ambition of the centre to create high-quality, high-tech employment opportunities for the future. AMBER has been a successful model for linking industry and academia, underpinned with fundamental research, and will continue to positively contribute to economy and society. Trinity is committed to fundamental research and generating close links between industry and academia which AMBER will continue to forge and that will create new business opportunities for the future.”

Ruairí Quinn, Chair of AMBER, said: “The second stage of AMBER will ensure that our researchers can carry out breakthroughs in some of society’s greatest challenges through collaboration and engagement with national and international academics, businesses and communities. With an expanded remit in training and researcher development, we can contribute significantly in preparing highly skilled individuals for the Irish workforce. The centre will continue to be a recognised model in Ireland for driving our international reputation in science and become one of the world’s leading materials science centres.”

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER, said: “As part of AMBER’s second phase, the centre will demonstrate significant impacts which will benefit individuals, communities, organisations and society both in Ireland and around the world. We will do this by delivering world-class materials science research and forming strategic alliances with industry, as well as significant collaborations with leading academics and clinicians. The quality of our scientific research is critical for AMBER in attracting and sustaining long term engagements with industry, providing a skilled workforce competing for non-exchequer funding and tackling global challenges.”

Researchers from AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, the School of Physics and the CRANN Institute, at Trinity College Dublin, have developed a new method to model the atomic world. The research will enable fast and efficient ways for scientists to find out what happens within chemical and biochemical reactions.

This new method could prove very useful to model experiments for the aerospace industry where it is difficult and costly to identify and test prototype materials that maintain their properties under very high pressure and temperature. Using an accurate and efficient model could act as a precursor to identify better, more robust, materials before physical construction and testing.

All materials, including living beings, are made of atoms - the smallest building blocks of the material world. Many models currently exist that can predict what will happen when molecules form covalent bonds – which is a bond that forms when different atoms share electrons. In order to model what will happen when covalent bonds are formed, scientists use the fundamental equations of quantum mechanics, the Schrodinger’s equation. However this generally requires significant computing power and can take a considerable amount of time to complete.

AMBER researchers have made a significant contribution to the field bypassing this traditional way of modelling the atomic world. Researchers have taught a computer the underlying physics and chemistry associated with a covalent bond. Using machine-learning methodologies this has enabled the research team to make a breakthrough in modelling – meaning that, through artificial intelligence, computers used to model materials can learn by themselves by reviewing the available data. As Dr. Alessandro Lunghi, post doctorate researcher of the School of Physics and CRANN, explains: “in a sense, our models learnt the chemistry of the chemical bond just by looking at the reference molecular configurations we provided”.

Using machine learning will make a significant advance in materials science according to Lead Investigator on the study, Prof. Stefano Sanvito, Professor in the School of Physics and Director of the CRANN Institute, Trinity College Dublin: “There are a range of numerical techniques, called first principles methods that scientists traditionally use to simulate how materials behave at the atomic level. These require us to solve the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics (the Schrodinger equation). While these simulations are usually highly accurate, they need lot of computational resources to complete. In our work we have constructed a range of models that
avoid the need for solving the Schrodinger equation, but achieve an identical level of accuracy.

Using machine learning, which is a branch of artificial intelligence research, it allows us to simulate any material at the atomic level in a shorter amount of time than traditional methods. We have invented a novel way to systematically construct atomistic models for materials, which are as accurate as the computationally expensive first principles approach”. The new study is published in Science Advances* a leading international science journal. The study was led by AMBER researchers at the School of Physics and CRANN Institute, Trinity.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “This is another example of the fundamental research which underpins AMBER’s work and uncovers new ways to understand the world around us, in this case at the smallest of scales. This research will enable materials scientists to see into the atomic world and further push the boundaries of science to discover real solutions that can improve people’s lives. I wish to congratulate Stefano and his team on this exciting development and its publication in Science Advances”


AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, at Trinity College Dublin, has today announced the appointment of Ruairí Quinn as the new Chair of its board. Ruairí is succeeding Mary Harney in the role who served as Chair for six years.

Ruairí Quinn is one of Ireland’s most experienced politicians, having served in the Oireachtas for 40 years. Throughout his career he has held numerous senior ministerial positions, including: Minister for Education and Skills; Minister for Finance; Minister for Enterprise and Employment; Minister for the Public Service; and Minister for Labour. He was previously Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, from 1989 to 1997, then taking over as Leader from 1997 to 2002. He also served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-East constituency from 1977 to 1981 and again from 1982 to 2016. Additionally, he was a Senator from 1976 to 1977, upon being nominated by the Taoiseach and again from 1981 to 1982 for the Industrial and Commercial Panel.

Commenting on the announcement of his appointment, Ruairí Quinn, Chair of AMBER, said “I am delighted to be appointed to the position of Chair of the Board of the world-class SFI Research Centre AMBER. AMBER is home to some of the world’s leading scientists, engineers and investigators – leaders in their fields – and I am very much looking forward to working with the AMBER leadership team across Trinity College, RCSI and UCC as the centre continues to drive and produce excellent research with impact. AMBER is an incredibly valuable resource to Ireland, it has contributed considerably to the Irish economy through fundamental science and innovation led research programmes. This has resulted in the creation of spin-out companies, enabling SME growth, and carrying out highly successful medium and long-term collaborative research programmes with multinationals based here and abroad. I anticipate that this this impact will grow during my time as Chair.”

Prof. Linda Doyle, Dean of Research at Trinity College, commented: “I would like to thank Mary Harney for her time and commitment during her tenure as Chair of the Board of AMBER. Since her appointment in 2013, AMBER has successfully secured a second phase of funding from Science Foundation Ireland and has been improving the scientific and technical skills of the current and future workforce. AMBER has produced a highly educated and relevant workforce that are in demand by industry and academia. AMBER’s PhD and postdoctoral researchers have been successful in attaining fulfilling and challenging positions across a range of employment sectors, from academia to industry to public service. I have no doubt that under Ruairí Quinn’s guidance the centre will continue to benefit the academic, economic, and social fabric of modern Ireland.”

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Ruairí to the Board of AMBER in his new role as Chair. Looking forward to the next decade, we at AMBER remain committed to making a difference to the social and economic well-being of Ireland through the quality of our research, training for graduates, as well as our engagements with industry both nationally and internationally. We will also continue our work with policy makers highlighting the value and return that investing in materials science has and will continue to deliver for Ireland. With Ruairí’s vast experience and knowledge of the policy landscape, he will play an integral role in helping AMBER achieve its plans for the coming years.”