RCSI and the IRFU Charitable Trust have launched a research partnership, with the support of the AMBER SFI Research Centre for Materials Science, Leinster Schools Rugby and World Rugby.

The investment from the IRFU Charitable Trust will fund two pioneering research projects.

One project, with additional support from AMBER, SFI centre for materials science, will look to develop an advanced platform for spinal cord repair combining novel biomaterials, stem cells and gene therapy. Led by Professor Fergal O’Brien, Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine at RCSI and Deputy Director of the AMBER, this project proposes an advanced biomaterials approach to spinal cord repair, which may revolutionise the way spinal cord injury is treated worldwide.

The second research project will look at the training load and injury risk in schoolboys’ level rugby in Leinster. Researchers at the RCSI School of Physiotherapy will lead the study to increase understanding of the frequency, type and intensity of training load in Leinster Senior Cup Schoolboys rugby squads. The study is a crucial step in the future development of injury prevention strategies. The study will utilise an app developed by World Rugby to collect data and this is the first time the app has been used in the 15-a-side game. The lead researchers on the study from the RCSI School of Physiotherapy are Dr Helen French, Physiotherapist and Senior Lecturer and Louise Keating, Physiotherapist and Lecturer.

The partnership was announced at a special event in RCSI’s state-of-the-art facilities at 26 York Street. Hosted by Tommy Bowe, former Ulster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions International, with special guests for the evening including Luke Fitzgerald, former Leinster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions International and Leo Cullen, Head Coach and former Captain Leinster and former Irish International.

Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD, today announced a government investment of €10.8 million in research funding for 20 projects through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) over four years. This investment in the next generation of research talent will support 20 early-career researchers as Principal Investigators and a further 20 PhD students.

Speaking of the awards, Minister Breen said: “I am delighted to announce these SFI Starting Investigator Awards which allow researchers to advance their work and further develop their careers as the next research leaders in Ireland and internationally. These innovative projects demonstrate the impressive cutting-edge research taking place across Ireland, which has significant potential to positively advance Ireland’s economy and society, and further solidify its reputation as a world-leader in scientific advancements.”

Welcoming the announcement, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland supports researchers at every stage of their careers. The SIRG awards help early-career researchers develop the essential skills and experience necessary to lead Ireland’s future research in areas such as health, energy, materials and technology. Having passed through a rigorous competitive international merit review process, these projects continue to advance Ireland’s international research reputation and I wish each awardee every success.”

Dr. Amir Pakdel, a researcher at AMBER and former senior post-doctoral researcher with Prof. Valeria Nicolosi, was awarded a coveted SIRG of €548 thousand to develop novel thermoelectric nanomaterials for manufacturing small wearable energy scavengers that can convert body heat into electricity allowing for continuous portable charging. These materials have the potential to be used for manufacturing small thermoelectric generators that can be attached to clothes to harvest the heat from our body and transform it into electricity.

Trinity College Dublin is one of 10 research bodies to host the 20 research projects supported by the SFI SIRG programmes.

Today an international collaboration of researchers from China, US, Switzerland and Trinity College, Dublin, has published in Nature on the Quantum Hall effect based on Weyl orbits in cadmium arsenide (Cd3As2).

The quantum Hall effect, which can be observed as a change in the electrical characteristics of a 2D material at low temperature as an intense magnetic field is applied, is one the most studied phenomena in condensed matter physics. The effect manifests itself in two-dimensional materials, such as graphene, because of the electrons of the solid moving along circular orbits under the effect of a magnetic field. The team has now uncovered a new phenomenon, namely a form of the quantum Hall effect in the three-dimensional compound: cadmium arsenide. This is the first time that the quantum Hall effect has been observed in a three-dimensional material, a feature enabled by the peculiar structure of cadmium arsenide itself. Cadmium arsenide belongs to a class of compounds called “topological”. In these, electrons’ motion is dictated by the crystal structure and it is usually different from that in conventional metals or semiconductors.

Detecting such anomalies in the electrons’ motion is not an easy task. The Chinese team, headed by Prof. Faxian Xiu from Fudan University, has grown V-edge-shaped cadmium arsenide samples and measured their electrical properties at temperatures down to 0.3 degree from the absolute zero (0.3K). The measurements were performed in magnetic fields so high that they cannot be produced in a normal lab, but require dedicated large-scale facilities (in China and the US). Then, the interpretation of the results required accurate modeling, which was performed by the Trinity College, Dublin, team headed by Prof. Stefano Sanvito, of CRANN, AMBER and The School of Physics, in collaboration with Dr. Narayan, a former student of Prof. Sanvito’s now at ETH Zurich. Given the complexity of the phenomena investigated, it would have been extremely difficult to preform the study within a single research group.

This work paves the way for further investigation of topological effects in three-dimension materials with potential for novel applications, in particular in the emerging field of quantum technologies such as quantum computing, cryptography and quantum sensing.

Zhang, C., Zhang, Y., Yuan, X., Lu, S., Zhang, J., Narayan, A., Liu, Y., Zhang, H., Ni, Z., Liu, R., Sang Choi, E., Suslov, A., Sanvito, S., Pi, L., Lu, H.Z., Potter, A. C., Xiu. F. Quantum Hall effect based on Weyl orbits in Cd3As2. Nature. 1476-4687 (2018).

The abstract for the paper is available to view on the Nature Website.

Congratulations to all of our PhD and Post-docs who received awards this year. Highlighted for 2018 are: Dr Chris Hobbs from team Nicolosi and Drs Sahar Alialy and Hugh Manning from team Boland.

Chris received the MSA Student Scholar Award at the Microscopy & Microanalysis, Baltimore,Maryland, USA and The New Researcher Award at the 19th International Microscopy Congress, Sydney, Australia for his work on Layered double hydroxides (LDHs). LDHs are a member of the two-dimensional nanomaterial category, and are considered as versatile materials due to broad applications in medicine, catalysis and flame retardants. They have also been used as precursor materials for catalytic applications where the calcination of the precursor layered materials results in the generation of catalytically active materials, whereby they have applications in photocatalysis, hydrogen production and magnetic materials. Chris’s work involved conducting previously unobserved detailed descriptions and observation of the nanoscale thermal evolution mechanisms of these materials, using in-situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) characterization of Ni-Fe LDHs, revealing the nanoscale mechanisms involved with the thermal evolution of these versatile nanomaterials.Speaking about his New Researcher Award Chris notes: “It was a true pleasure to present my work at IMC19 in Sydney this year. This also gave me great exposure to some of the ground breaking research at the forefront of materials science on a world wide scale. As well as having made great connections with many international researchers, I also made great friends across the world from my experiences at IMC19. It was a great honour to receive the New Researcher Award, a fantastic recognition of my PhD Research over the last 4 years in the Nicolosi group.”

Dr. Sahar Alialy received the Outstanding Abstract Award at the Applied Nanotechnology and Nanoscience International Conference (ANNIC) 2018, Berlin, Germany for her invited talk “Resistive Switching and Charge Conduction Mechanisms in Single Nanowire Au-Ti/TiO2/Ti-Au RRAM Devices”. In her work on the nature and direction of hysteresis in Memristive devices, Sahar demonstrated that the conductance change and Memristive properties of these nanowire devices were dependent on atmospheric components such as Oxygen and moisture. By testing these devices under vacuum and air respectively Sahar observed that in the presence of air, conduction was augmented by the adsorption of oxygen molecules and moisture onto the surface of nanowires resulting in the transfer of charge in the conduction band and reduction of TiO2 to TiIII oxide. These results contribute to the growing body of knowledge around Memristor devices. Sahar notes that “It was a privilege to be an invited speaker for this conference alongside highly regarded scientists such as Prof. Yutaka Wakayama from National Institute for Materials Science and Kyushu University, Japan and Prof Andrej Singer from Cornell University, USA”.

In November Dr Hugh Manning, was a awarded ‘I’m a scientist get me out of here’ winner for the New Materials section. Commenting on the award, Hugh said “I don’t think I was quite prepared for the huge variety of questions, or the intense fast-paced nature of the online chats. Questions of all types came flooding in; from my favourite animal to my own hobbies to my interest in dinosaurs. This event is so important as it lets students experience first-hand that scientists are people too and a career in STEM is readily achievable if you have a love of science and a passion for knowledge”.

Well done to all!

Appearing in the photo clockwise direction: Dr Chris Hobbs, Dr. Sahar Alialy and Dr. Hugh Manning