Researchers from AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering, the School of Physics and the CRANN Institute, at Trinity College Dublin, have today announced the development of a new method to majorly improve conductance in materials (otherwise known as two-dimensional 2D systems). This discovery could have significant impacts in the fields of ultra-fast electronics and, possibly, energy.

Conductance is the degree to which an object conducts electricity. It is a property that some materials such as metals have naturally making them highly valued in modern electronics. To make a material more conductive two strategies can be taken: the material can either have a lot of charge carriers, increasing charge-carrier density; or the material can have a high charge-carrier mobility, meaning the charge carriers move more efficiently. By increasing the carrier density of a two dimensional material, the charged impurity increases largely. This often results in electron-electron scattering, meaning a decrease in efficiency and mobility of the charge. In this latest breakthrough, Professor Stefano Sanvito and his team at AMBER have discovered that the surface state of Weyl semimetal NbAs can overcome such a limit and maintain a high mobility even in the presence of a high carrier density.

Combined with the high mobility value, a record-high surface sheet conductance was achieved up to 5~100 S/□. This far exceeds that of conventional 2D electron gas, quasi-2D metal films, and topological insulator surface states.

The new study is published in Nature Materials* a leading international science journal. The study was led by AMBER researchers at the School of Physics and CRANN Institute, Trinity College and scientists at Fudan University, China.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “Fundamental research is the cornerstone of AMBER’s work and today’s announcement further enhances our proven track record of pushing the boundaries of science to discover real solutions that can improve people’s lives. AMBER is home to some of the world’s leading scientists, engineers and investigators - leaders in their fields - who use their vast knowledge and expertise to discover, improve and exploit materials science. I wish to congratulate Stefano and his team on this exciting development and its publication in Nature Materials, the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal.”

Professor Stefano Sanvito lead AMBER Investigator on the project, Professor in Trinity’s School of Physics and Director of the CRANN Institute, commented: “This discovery builds on our previous work on the Quantum Hall effect based on Weyl orbits in cadmium arsenide. We attribute the origin of the ultra-high surface conductance to the disorder-tolerant nature of the Fermi arcs. Our results present the first transport evidence for the low-dissipation property of Fermi arcs in Weyl semimetal NbAs surface states and establish it as an excellent 2D metal with supreme conductivity for both fundamental studies and potential electronic applications. I would like to thank my colleagues at Fudan University in China for their collaboration on this project and of my former student, Dr. Narayan, with whom I have developed the theory. Given the complexity of the phenomena investigated, it would have been extremely difficult to perform the study within a single research group.”

In order to study its surface transport properties, the scientists in Fudan first developed a new approach to synthesise the high-quality nanostructures of Weyl semimetal NbAs with tunable Fermi levels. Because of their large surface-to-bulk ratio, the 2D surface state exhibits dominant quantum oscillations with multiple large Fermi surfaces that give rise to a high sheet carrier density, even though the bulk Fermi level locates near the Weyl nodes. The Irish team in AMBER provided the theoretical support to explain the results and interpret the data.

New partnership between AMBER and Northeastern University Boston to develop joint research, education and strategic opportunities in sectors including climate change.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton T.D., has announced the signing of a new agreement between Northeastern University, Boston and AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering, at Trinity College Dublin.

This initial five-year research and education collaboration agreement aims to foster partnership between the two institutions through the development of research and education programmes promoting academic exchange between Northeastern and AMBER. It marks a significant partnership which will see the development of research and innovation in the field of materials science to address scientific, societal and clinical challenges in the context of the UN Sustainable Development goals and to advance resilience in the face of 21st century risks.

Speaking at a Science Foundation Ireland event in Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, Minister Bruton said: “In the face of growing global challenges, there are huge opportunities for international research collaboration to bring diverse talents together to forge economic and social progress which is compatible with the sustainability of our planet.”

“Breakthroughs in materials technologies underlie many of the advances of modern society,” said David Luzzi, Senior Vice Provost for research at Northeastern University. “Through this cross-Atlantic partnership, AMBER and Northeastern will cooperate to advance materials-science-based technologies and train the next generation of materials innovators. We are delighted to enter into this partnership with AMBER and look forward to a bright future.”

Prof Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry said “Today represents an important step in building AMBER’s international profile and developing a robust relationship with another world-renowned institution. At AMBER we drive research to impact society and the economy. This partnership will not only foster a research and education collaboration, but will strengthen our impact and amplify academic excellence in important areas of research. By working together across topics such as medical diagnostics, sustainable resource use, as well as more efficient manufacturing and industrial processes, we will be enabling each other to develop and produce cutting edge research in those fields. I look forward to further planning with Northeastern; identifying more of these collaborative research areas and the exciting work our joint teams will produce.”

Commenting on the announcement, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Science Foundation Ireland supports world class researchers that are seeking to fully realise their potential without borders. International collaborations are a key mechanism for Institutes to gain access to broad insights and collectively further knowledge for addressing global challenges and I congratulate AMBER and Northeastern on this partnership, which I am sure will produce research opportunities through joint vision, ambition, excellence and impact.”

The Vice President of Global Relations at Trinity College Dublin, Prof Juliette Hussey, welcomed the possibilities for student exchanges that this partnership will bring, saying: “Increasing mobility opportunities for students is a main theme of our recently launched Global Relations Strategy at Trinity College.”

Today, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, announced the twelve teams in the running for the SFI Future Innovator Prize, a new challenge-based prize programme calling on researchers to develop innovative approaches to societal challenges facing Ireland. With five teams to be shortlisted in April of this year, an overall winning team will be announced in December and receive a prize award of €1 million, providing the opportunity to implement an innovative solution with potential to deliver significant impact to Irish society.

Congratulating the competing teams, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, said: “The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation launched the SFI Future Innovator Prize with Science Foundation Ireland to encourage bright minds across the country to work together to identify major challenges facing Ireland’s society, and to propose creative and impactful solutions to them. It is very exciting to enter into the next phase of the competition with twelve teams of diverse and interdisciplinary individuals. Their innovative ideas are of a superb standard and I am confident that ultimately, the prize award of €1 million will support research that will provide Ireland with positive, tangible impact.”

The SFI Future Innovator Prize, funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland, is part of an overall government plan to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland. Challenge-based funding is a solution focused approach to funding research that uses prizes and other incentives to direct innovation activities at specific problems. The SFI Future Innovator Prize challenges the country’s best and brightest unconventional thinkers and innovators to create novel, potentially disruptive technologies in collaboration with societal stakeholders and end-users.

The 12 proposed projects aim to address problems across a number of strategic challenge areas such as sustainable manufacturing, reducing the impact of packaging, novel technologies for life sciences and medicine, improved outcome for patients of such illnesses as cataracts, osteoarthritis, cancer, Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and sepsis, minimisation of mining emissions and the cost of electric vehicles, pain management, and improved healthcare delivery.

Two challenge areas involving AMBER are:

• Challenge area: Reducing the Environmental Impact of High-Tech Surfaces Manufacturing

Team: Dr Eoin Flynn (Materials Chemistry, UCC); Dr Paul Young (Biochemistry and Cell Biology, UCC); Dr Keith Alden (AMBER SFI Research Centre, TCD)

Project – Designed Environmentally Sustainable Thin-Films Utilising Renewable Biopolymers (DESTURB)

• Challenge area: Creating Next Generation Personalised Orthopaedic Implants

Team: Prof Rocco Lupoi (Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, TCD); Prof David Hoey (Biomedical Engineering, TCD); Patrick Byrnes, (Research and Development Manager, Croom Precision Medical)

Project - Genetic algorithm aided optimisation of the mechanical structure of orthopaedic implants for revision‐free life cycles

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, said: “The excellent standard of the projects demonstrates the importance of continuing to implement competitive and challenge-based funding in the Irish ecosystem, which will ensure that obstacles which impact the everyday lives and the future of our citizens are addressed in novel ways. I want to congratulate each of the teams for succeeding to this phase of the competition, and to wish them all the very best of luck with the next stage.”

The 12 competing teams are led by academic researchers and “Societal Impact Champions” drawn from a range of disciplines and stakeholder groups such as industry and civil society in an effort to support convergent and collaborative problem-solving. Competing teams come from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University (DCU), NUI Galway (NUIG), University College Cork (UCC), Institute of Technology Carlow (IT Carlow), and Tyndall National Institute (TNI), as well as a number of world-leading SFI Research Centres.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “I am pleased to congratulate the twelve teams who have made it to this stage of the SFI Future Innovator Prize competition. Challenge-based funding is of strategic importance to Ireland, ensuring that publicly-funded research can address significant national and global issues including environmental protection, disease diagnosis and treatment, optimal healthcare, and developing methods of sustainable manufacturing. Competitive funding strategies empower innovators to collaborate in unconventional ways on creative ideas that can ultimately be put into practice, and the proposed projects which we are announcing today are an excellent reflection of that. I would like to commend each team on their hard work and dedication, and to wish them every success in the rest of the competition.”

Researchers from AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering, at Trinity College Dublin, have today announced the development of a new material which has the potential to improve the lifetime of the battery in every day electronics, such as smartphones. The new material also has the potential to significantly improve issues of battery lifetime while also ensuring that batteries can continue to become smaller without loss of performance.

This ink-based nanomaterial, called MXenes, will potentially enhance both the lifetime and energy storage capabilities in rechargeable batteries which users of electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops and electric cars encounter every day. The new discovery could mean that the average phone battery life, roughly 10 hours of talk time, could increase to 30-40 hours. It could also have significant environmental impact, as the real time range of electric cars could increase to upwards of 500km (from an average range of 180-190km) meaning a car could drive from Cork to Letterkenny on a single charge.

Existing rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries (commonly found in portable electronics like our laptops, tablets or smartphones) rely on internal chemical reactions to store and emit energy. Making batteries smaller, so that they can fit into our phones or devices, means less space for these chemical reactions to take place. Similarly, making an electric vehicle drive further while keeping cars a reasonable size has led to the search for new technology to improve the amount of energy that can be stored, the rate at which the battery takes to emit energy, and ways of managing the physical deterioration inside the battery. One solution has been to increase the surface area inside the battery where the chemical reactions can take place.

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, AMBER lead Investigator on the project, and Professor of Nanomaterials & Advanced Microscopy at Trinity College Dublin, said: “Despite progress in batteries development there has been limited success in extending lifetime and improving their energy storage capabilities. A lot of it has to do with the need to look outside of box for solutions – specifically at new materials capable of surpassing the conventional technologies. A battery is made by two electrodes (anode and cathode) and a liquid electrolyte – this new research looks at improving the anode electrode and we are extremely excited by the potential of this new class of 2D nanomaterials”.

The new study is published in Nature Communications a leading international science journal. The new study is published in Nature

Communications* a leading international science journal. The work was conducted by School of Chemistry post-doctoral researchers, Dr Chuanfang (John) Zhang and Dr Sang-hoon Park, first authors on the paper, alongside researchers at the School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin and in partnership with A. J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Drexel University Philadelphia.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said: “Today’s announcement by our researchers in AMBER further enhances our already proven track record of pushing the boundaries of science to discover real solutions that can improve people’s lives. I wish to congratulate Valeria and her team on this exciting development. As a world class research centre, our AMBER researchers discover new materials, control their properties and help deliver products that transform society. This is an excellent example of research with real social impact, with this technology potentially improving the lives of billions of people.”

This new research uses a family of nanomaterials called MXenes. These 2D nanosheets are suspended in a thick liquid for easy processing and can be printed to form a continuous nanoscale metallic network. Battery performance and durability greatly depend on electrodes being electrically conductive and robust, able to withstand hundreds of charging cycles. Traditionally, the addition of conductive agents has ensured the charge transport throughout the electrode, while polymeric binders hold the electrode materials and the conductive agents together during charging cycles. Although these traditional electrode additives have been widely applied in Lithium-ion battery technologies, they fail to perform well in high-capacity electrodes (high-capacity Li-ion batteries). This is because the polymeric binders are not mechanically robust enough to withstand the stress induced during usage (lithiation/delithiation cycling), leading to cracking and severely disrupting the conductivity within the electrode.

AMBER’s approach allows the battery to be both conductive and able to withstand hundreds of charging cycles, using these new class of 2D nanosheets. These novel materials not only are extremely good electrical conductors but are also remarkable in their mechanical properties, achieving unprecedented performance, surpassing anything reported so far.

Funding for the research was through SFI-AMBER research Centre, the European Research Council (StG 2DNanocaps and 3D2Dprint) and Science Foundation Ireland (PIYRA and US-Ireland) grants.