Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have used the wonder material graphene to make the novelty children’s material silly putty® (polysilicone) conduct electricity, creating extremely sensitive sensors. This world first research, led by Professor Jonathan Coleman from TCD and in collaboration with Prof Robert Young of the University of Manchester, potentially offers exciting possibilities for applications in new, inexpensive devices and diagnostics in medicine and other sectors. The AMBER team’s findings have been published this week in the leading journal Science*.

Prof Coleman, Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics along with postdoctoral researcher Conor Boland, discovered that the electrical resistance of putty infused with graphene (“G-putty”) was extremely sensitive to the slightest deformation or impact. They mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of human subjects and used it to measure breathing, pulse and even blood pressure. It showed unprecedented sensitivity as a sensor for strain and pressure, hundreds of times more sensitive than normal sensors. The G-putty also works as a very sensitive impact sensor, able to detect the footsteps of small spiders. It is believed that this material will find applications in a range of medical devices.

Prof Coleman said, “What we are excited about is the unexpected behaviour we found when we added graphene to the polymer, a cross-linked polysilicone. This material as well known as the children’s toy silly putty. It is different from familiar materials in that it flows like a viscous liquid when deformed slowly but bounces like an elastic solid when thrown against a surface. When we added the graphene to the silly putty, it caused it to conduct electricity, but in a very unusual way. The electrical resistance of the G-putty was very sensitive to deformation with the resistance increasing sharply on even the slightest strain or impact. Unusually, the resistance slowly returned close to its original value as the putty self-healed over time.”

He continued, “While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises. The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER, said: “This exciting discovery shows that Irish research is at the leading edge of materials science worldwide. Jonathan Coleman and his team in AMBER continue to carry out world class research and this scientific breakthrough could potentially revolutionise certain aspects of healthcare.”

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

A video about the new material G-putty is available here,

* Sensitive electromechanical sensors using viscoelastic graphene-polymer nanocomposites, Boland et al, Science 9 Dec 2016 (

About Graphene

Graphene consists of atomically thin layers of carbon atoms and has a range of superlative properties – the strongest and most conductive material among others.

Prof Coleman was announced as a recipient of a €2.2m European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant earlier this year. The prestigious ERC Advanced Grants are only made to Europe’s most distinguished researchers. Coleman’s work has been published in prestigious international journals such as Science, Nature, Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Materials and nature Communications, as well as featuring in New Scientist, the New York Times and on CNN. He was recently included by Thomas Reuters in their Highly Cited Researchers 2016 list.


AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) is a Science Foundation Ireland funded centre which provides a partnership between leading researchers in materials science and industry to develop new materials and devices for a range of sectors, particularly the ICT, medical devices and industrial technology sectors. The centre is hosted in Trinity College Dublin, working in collaboration with CRANN (Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices), the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering and with University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland.

About the Graphene Flagship

The Graphene Flagship is the EU’s biggest ever research initiative. With a budget of €1 billion, it represents a new form of joint, coordinated research initiative on an unprecedented scale. Through a combined academic-industrial consortium, the research effort covers the entire value chain, from materials production to components and system integration, and targets a number of specific goals
that exploit the unique properties of graphene.

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 Graphene Flagship hopes to facilitate economic growth, new jobs and new opportunities for Europeans as both investors and employees.

AMBER was announced as the recipient of a Centre-to-Centre Award under the US–Ireland Research and Development Partnership programme today at the Science Foundation Ireland Science Summit, Croke Park. The international partnership between Science Foundation Ireland, the National Science Foundation in the US and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland has recognised three new international collaborations between Research Centres in the Republic of Ireland, the United States and Northern Ireland.

AMBER will collaborate with the NSF Engineering Research Centre, Translational Applications of Nanoscale Multiferroic Systems (TANMS), and the Centre for Nanostructured Media (CNM) at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) on the project, Ultra-Low Energy Electric Field Control of Nonvolatile Magnetoelectric Memory Devices. This collaboration aims to develop materials which can be used to develop high performance magnetoelectric memory cells. Each research centre brings a unique set of skills to the collaboration. The AMBER team led by Profs Coey, Staminov and Sanvito has developed an entire new class of materials, namely fully compensated half-metals, which can be grown in thin films. The properties of these materials depend on the growth conditions, which in turn affect the microscopic structure. The materials grown at AMBER will be characterised by CNM, who are world leaders in magnetic characterisation, in particular that of complex hybrid structures involving magnets and materials with ferroic ground state. The materials will then be used by TANMS who have a long‐standing ability to make both magnetic heterostructures and, in particular, hybrid stack combining magnetic and ferroic materials (ferroelectrics and piezoelectrics).

A group of industry leaders drawn from the Research Centres’ own industry collaborations will form an advisory group for the project. Using their expertise in data storage and processing, the group will be involved in evaluating the technology readiness of the proposed research programme and in advising on how to proceed as the programme reaches an end.

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said: “I welcome the announcement of the three new Centre to Centre awards under the US-Ireland R&D Partnership. These three very important research collaborations will see ground breaking research carried out in the fields of renewable energy, nanotechnology and bioengineering, which will address key challenges and deliver important economic benefits for Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland welcomed the announcement saying; “The Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres combine world-class scientific research with deep and significant enterprise engagement, excellence and impact. The opportunity to combine the expertise within our Research Centres with those in the United States and Northern Ireland will greatly enhance the research performed. These new collaborations will result in innovative discoveries and advances relating to renewable energy, new memory cells for electronic devices and biodegradable orthopaedic devices.”

“These three new collaborations demonstrate the value of linking research clusters across the Atlantic, and of partnerships between the scientific and entrepreneurial communities,” said National Science Foundation Director France Córdova. “To augment Science Foundation Ireland’s financial commitments to the new centers, NSF will make new investments in the U.S.-based centers that collaborate with them. These partnerships provide us with the opportunity to address global research challenges.”

Science Foundation Ireland is investing €2.5 million into the three international collaborations over the course of 24-36 months. During the course of the collaborations, the three new awards will employ 8 postdoctoral researchers and 2 PhD students in Ireland, in addition to giving an opportunity to two summer students to work on cutting edge-research. The collaborations aim to foster entrepreneurship and economic development in the participating countries by directly engaging with at least 14 companies during the course of the three awards.

Two other SFI research centres were also announced as Centre-to-Centre Award recipients.

The Science Foundation Ireland funded Research Centre, CÚRAM is collaborating with the NSF Engineering Research Centre, Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials (RMB) and the Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre (NIBEC) at Ulster University. Their project aims to develop advanced metallic biomaterials that can be used to create biodegradable orthopaedic devices which are capable of supporting regenerative biological functions.

The Science Foundation Ireland funded Research Centre, MaREI, together with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), is collaborating with the NSF Engineering Research Centre, Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems (FREEDM) and the Energy Power & Intelligent Control Research Cluster (EPIC) at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). Their project aims to determine how to optimise the generation of intermittent renewable energy at the point of consumption, while maintaining safe, secure, reliable energy at affordable prices.

AMBER researchers and collaborators received two key awards at the annual Science Foundation Ireland Science Summit today. Prof Valeria Nicolosi won the SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year award and the SFI Industry Partnership Award was won by AMBER and Merck.

The SFI Early Career Researcher Award recognises outstanding early career research talent in Ireland. Prof Valeria Nicolosi is an Investigator with AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry. She is Europe’s only five-time European Research Council’s (ERC) awardee. In July 2016, she was announced as a recipient of the ERC Proof of Concept Grant. This was a top-up for her ERC Starting Grant of €1.5m awarded in 2011 and brings her total research funding awarded in the past 5 years, to over €12million. Her work focuses on advanced 2D nanomaterials, particularly in relation to energy storage and efficiency.

The SFI Industry Partnership Award recognises an outstanding collaboration between an SFI funded academic research group and industry. AMBER has been working with Merck for a number of years, and the partnership has increased from one small scale project to 8 joint research projects led by the AMBER director, Prof Michael Morris and Investigators Drs. Ramesh Babu and Aran Rafferty. Merck is a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials with an expanding facility in Cork with 700 employees and produces membranes, analytical devices and chromatography products. The AMBER/Merck engagement includes researchers at University of Limerick, DCU, UCG and UCC. The projects range from 6 month feasibility studies to 3 year collaborations that focus on material characterisation, quality product monitoring, new polymer membrane replacement and new processes for membrane production.

Congratulating the award winners, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Ireland, Professor Mark Ferguson said, “Science Foundation Ireland is delighted to recognise and honour the excellent work and achievements of Irish scientific researchers in a number of fields. 2016 marks the addition of five new awards recognising crucial areas of research and development including: industry collaborations, entrepreneurship, communication, public engagement and outstanding early career researchers. I want to congratulate the award winners on their hard work and accomplishments. I hope their success will be a source of inspiration to others.”

Prof. Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, commented on the award winners, saying, “I am delighted that the quality of work and commitment by AMBER researchers has been recognised today by Science Foundation Ireland. Valeria is an exceptional asset to the AMBER team and an inspiration to young researchers. We work with a range of industry partners and value all of their engagements. Our work with Merck is of particular personal interest to my own research area and I look forward to continuing our successful collaboration well into the future. ”

All awards announced today:
SFI Researcher of the Year
Recipient: Prof Barry O’ Sullivan, Director INSIGHT, SFI Research Centre, University College Cork

SFI Early Career Researcher of the year
- Prof Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER, SFI Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin
- Dr Martin O’Halloran, National University of Ireland Galway

SFI Industry Partnership Award
Recipients: AMBER, Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin & Merck

SFI Entrepreneurship Award
Recipient: APC Ltd - Prof Brian Glennon and Dr Mark Barrett, SFI SSPC Research Centre, University College Dublin

SFI Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication
Recipient: Dr Sabina Brennan, Trinity College Dublin.

SFI Best Reported Impact
The SFI Best Reported Impact Award recognises a researcher whose 2016 impact statement clearly demonstrates their commitment to maximising the impact of their research findings.
Recipient: Dr Emmeline Hill, University College Dublin

SFI Research Image of the Year
Organic “ChemisTree”, a Telescopic View
Recipient: Andrea Zanetti a Chemistry PhD student at University College Dublin

Professor Anne Marie Healy, Investigator with AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, has been awarded €600,000 (as part of NIH funded collaborations worth €8.8million overall) in research funding to develop a new inhaler for the treatment of lung disease. The funding was provided through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the world’s foremost medical research centres based in the United States.

The funding will be used to develop a new dry powder inhaler for the treatment of lung disease, and could help millions of patients with cystic fibrosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This innovative type of inhaler will be the first ever of its kind to treat lung disease.

Patients with cystic fibrosis produce thick sticky mucus instead of the thin, watery kind. This mucus can block the airways, causing difficulties with breathing and infections in the lungs. Mucolytic therapies (medications to break up the mucus) are limited in number, efficacy and tolerability. There have been no new mucolytic drugs introduced to treat lung disease in the past 20 years and only one in the past 50 years. The NIH funded research aims to design, develop and trial novel carbohydrate based compounds within a dry powder inhaler, an easily deliverable format, that could benefit millions of patients with mucus-associated lung disease.

Professor Anne Marie Healy, Head of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Trinity, Investigator in AMBER and SSPC (The Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, led by the University of Limerick) said, “I am delighted to be part of a translational NIH project, which aims to take the research from bench to bedside. Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world, with approximately 1 in 19 Irish people carrying one copy of the altered gene that causes the condition*. In addition, Ireland has the 4th highest prevalence of asthma in the world, with almost 5,000 asthma admissions to hospital on average each year**. Our proposed new treatment has the potential to greatly improve the respiratory function of these patients with lung disease, thus improving overall quality of life and reducing hospital admissions.”

The funding allocated to Professor Anne Marie Healy, is part of 2 large NIH projects, coordinated by Professor John Fahy, Professor of Medicine from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and valued at $9.9 million (€8.8 million). UCD’s Professor Stefan Oscarson (Professor of Chemical Biology, School of Chemistry and Chemical Biology) is also a partner. Clinical trials of the inhaler will start within the 5 year project framework.

Professor Fahy said, “This NIH funded collaboration between UCSF, TCD and UCD addresses an unmet need for a well-tolerated and easily delivered mucolytic drug, with application to multiple lung diseases, particularly cystic fibrosis, asthma and COPD. I am delighted to be working with Professor Anne Marie Healy who brings expertise in the optimisation of drug formulations for delivery as dry powders”.