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Trinity astrophysicist to help direct missions with European Space Agency

10 March 2017

Professor in Astrophysics at Trinity, Peter Gallagher, will play a key role in landmark space missions that will take place over the next decade after being appointed as an adviser to the Director of Science at the European Space Agency (ESA).

In his role with the Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC), Professor Gallagher will be charged with interpreting the views and needs of the European science community’s access to space experimentation and data exploitation in the mandatory science programmes. ESA will invest over €5 billion in space exploration in the coming decade.

The SSAC’s tasks include advising and making recommendations on the needs of the scientific community for access to space for their research; formulating and updating medium and long-term space science policy in Europe; prioritising the needs of the scientific community in selecting future space science missions, and laying the foundations for future missions based on recommendations and new discoveries.

Along with the 11 other members of the SSAC, Professor Gallagher will also implement a number of space missions under the ESA Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 strategy. Cosmic Vision will address four main questions that are high on the agenda of researchers across the world, namely:

  1. What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life? 
  2. How does the Solar System work? 
  3. What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe? 
  4. How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?

Among ESA’s flagship missions is ‘Solar Orbiter’, which Professor Gallagher is directly involved in. This spacecraft will be launched in 2019 and then take approximately three years to make its way inside the orbit of Mercury to study the Sun and the inner Solar System. For more information on this mission, see here and here.

Professor Gallagher said: “Solar Orbiter will enable us to study the Sun in greater detail than ever before and to better understand solar activity and its effects on Earth. Due to the huge temperatures close to the Sun, the spacecraft is protected by a heatshield, which has been coated by an innovative Irish company called EnBio.”

“ESA offers unique opportunities for Irish scientists and companies to push the limits of Irish research and innovation, and I’m delighted to now play a role in shaping the future of ESA’s space exploration programme.”

Engineering The Properties Of Molecular Magnets – Trinity Physicists In Major Breakthrough

28 February 2017

Ground-breaking research led by Prof Stefano Sanvito, Professor of Condensed Matter Physics, Director of the CRANN Institute at Trinity College Dublin and Investigator in the Science Foundation Ireland funded centre AMBER, has demonstrated how molecular magnets could be used successfully in applications such as hard-disk drives and quantum computers. The breakthrough could increase a computer hard-disk’s capacity by 1000 using tiny molecules. How this might work has stymied international researchers for over thirty years, due to the challenge of molecular magnets operating at room temperature. This discovery could one day revolutionise computation as we know it, enabling lengthy and complex calculations, such as database searches, to be performed at incredibly high speeds.

In a paper published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, the AMBER team comprising Prof Sanvito and Dr Alessandro Lunghi working with Prof Roberta Sessoli and her team at the University of Firenze, Italy, have discovered that by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible, they can operate at room temperature, thus opening up new ways for designing high-performance molecular magnets.

Molecular magnets are tiny molecules, often comprising only a handful of atoms, which display the same properties of conventional magnets, such as iron. If molecular magnets were to be used as bits in hard-disk drives, there is the potential to increase the disk’s capacity up to a thousand times, so that standard 3.5’ hard-disk would store more than 1,000,000 gigabytes of data. This is because molecular magnets can be packed together at ultra-high density. Furthermore, other possible applications for magnetic magnets operating at high temperature are in quantum technologies such as quantum computation.

At present a hypothetical hard-disk made of magnetic molecules will lose all data unless cooled down to about -200 C. Over the years researchers have been working very hard to design these molecules to operate at room temperature, mostly focussing their attention on magnetic properties.

Prof Stefano Sanvito said, “This is a very exciting breakthrough and something that is of huge interest to the scientific community, who have demonstrated very slow progress to date with the development of molecular magnets that can operate at room temperature. When a magnet is small its magnetic properties degrade rapidly with temperature. In this paper, we have shown that a drastic improvement in the high-temperature properties of magnetic magnets can be achieved by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible.”

This discovery will allow progress in the design of high-performance molecular magnets, a task already on-going in Prof Sessoli’s lab, and offers real potential for a quantum technologies, such as quantum computers. These may one day revolutionise computation as we know it, enabling lengthy and complex calculations, such as database searches, to be performed at incredibly high speeds.

€1.46 Million awarded to trinity researcher to investigate the power of lasers for energy efficient internet

20 February 2017

Professor John Donegan from the School of Physics in Trinity College Dublin has been awarded €1.46m through Science Foundation Ireland’s Principal Investigator scheme. The funding will be used to investigate how laser technology could deliver more energy efficient devices for future optical networks. This will potentially lead to broadband speeds exceeding 100 Mb per second. This research is of particular interest to the ICT sector. Nokia Bell Labs have a keen interest in the project as the energy efficient devices being examined will likely complement the collaborative research activities they are currently undertaking with Prof Donegan’s team.

Optical networks use light to transmit information and are a critical part of the world’s Internet infrastructure. These optical networks currently use about 1% of the world’s total electricity supply, but the growth rate is immense and projections suggest it could reach 5% by 2022. For this reason, there is an urgent need to tackle the energy requirements of communications networks. Professor Donegan’s research will examine the individual semiconductor lasers that currently light up global optical networks and will attempt to develop lasers that can operate at a range of temperatures without changing wavelength –one of the main contributing factors to energy usage in optical networks. Professor Donegan’s approach is unique in this research field.

Professor Donegan, commenting on the award, said: “The world as we know it depends critically on the wired internet for communications. Each day, billions of e-mail and webpages traverse the net and there is a substantial cost in operating this network. A major impediment to growth in the future is the electrical power required to operate the net. Our research will investigate a range of new laser structures that operate with much improved efficiency and I look forward to further testing our devices with industry.

“These lasers are quite efficient, but still require an in-built cooling system to keep the laser at a precise wavelength. Since hundreds of lasers operate on the network, they cannot be allowed to shift wavelength when they operate. The challenge therefore is to develop lasers that are "athermal", i.e. operate at a range of temperatures but do not change wavelength. This is the research challenge that we will address with this funding. The research team will also look at a range of different semiconductor laser structures and work on the integration of new materials sets, coupling semiconductors, oxides and polymers, into the standard materials for optical communications lasers.”

Professor Donegan is an Investigator in two Science Foundation Ireland research centres in Trinity: AMBER, the materials science research centre, and CONNECT, the centre for future networks and communications. This award, which will benefit both centres, will run until 2022 and will support a team of five researchers, two post-doctoral researchers and three graduate students.

Prof John Donegan

Professor Stefano Sanvito receives Knighthood from Italian president An order of knighthood has been bestowed on Professor Stefano Sanvito, Director of the CRANN Institute at Trinity College Dublin and Professor of Condensed Matter Theory in Trinity’s School of Physics and Principal Investigator in the Science Foundation Ireland funded centre, AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research).

08 February 2017

The order that Professor Sanvito received, the Order of the Star of Italy, is bestowed by decree of the President of Italy, head of the order, on the recommendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Previous recipients have included Charlene, Princess of Monaco, Carlo Ancelotti (football manager for Bayern Munich), former Italian Presidents Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Francesco Cossiga, Fabio Luisi (Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera) and Frank Sinatra.

This title is given annually by the Italian President to outstanding figures from Italy and the world. The knighthood was given to Professor Sanvito for his contribution in undertaking a primary role in the promotion of relations of friendship and collaboration between Italy and other Countries. The order was awarded in the Provost’s House, Trinity by Giovanni Adorni Braccesi Chiassi, Ambassador of Italy to Ireland, on behalf of the President of Italy.

Professor Sanvito (a native of Milan in Italy) joined the School of Physics in Trinity in 2002 and has been the CRANN Director since 2013. During that time, the Institute was successful in securing €57m in funding from Science Foundation Ireland and industry to establish the AMBER centre. Professor Sanvito is internationally renowned as a theoretical and computational physicist and has published over 250 scientific papers including those in prestigious journals such as Nature. Among the various research achievements of Professor Sanvito’s career there is the discovery of new magnetic materials and the creation of a computational tool, Smeagol, to simulate nano-devices.

Ambassador Adorni Braccesi, Ambassador of Italy to Ireland said, “I learned with great pleasure that the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, has bestowed upon Professor Stefano Sanvito, at my suggestion, the decoration of “Cavaliere” in the order “Stella d’Italia”. The order is conferred on Italian citizens abroad and on foreign citizens who have contributed significantly to the prestige of Italy, undertaking a primary role in the promotion of relations of friendship and collaboration between Italy and other Countries and in intensifying the relations with the Italian communities in the world. I am honoured today to confer this Decoration on Professor Sanvito in the hallowed halls of Trinity College Dublin where he is a leading authority in the fields of theoretical and computational Physics and I thank the Provost, Dr. Prendergast for welcoming us to celebrate Professor Sanvito's achievements.”

Provost of Trinity College, Dr Patrick Prendergast said, "I would like to congratulate Professor Sanvito on receiving this award. Trinity College Dublin is internationally recognised for its leading nanoscience research. It is through research at our flagship nanoscience institute CRANN, where Professor Sanvito is its Director, that we are now in this position. Ireland is taking a globally recognised leadership position in nanoscience and scientists of the calibre of Professor Sanvito are critical in building our reputation in this area."

Professor Stefano Sanvito said, “I feel honoured and privileged to receive this award, and to receive it here among the Trinity walls. This is one of the highest honours that a Country can award to an individual and I am happy that this time goes to a scientist. I am extremely thankful to all the students and researchers, who have worked with me over the years in Ireland, to my colleagues at Trinity, who have supported my research, and to my family, who has been so close to me all the time.”

There are 5 classes within the Order - Knight Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer and Knight – Professor Sanvito receives the title of Knight, or Cavaliere.

Prof Jonathan Coleman uses graphene to make state of the art sensors from children’s toy silly putty® World-first graphene innovation could be used for applications in medical devices and diagnostics

08 December 2016

School of Physics 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 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.”

* Sensitive electromechanical sensors using viscoelastic graphene-polymer nanocomposites, Boland et al, Science 9 Dec 2016 (http://www.sciencemag.org/)

Three Centuries of Physics in Trinity College Dublin Hugely successful book launch in the School of Physics

07 December 2016

A large gathering attended the Three Centuries of Physics in Trinity College Dublin book launch in the Fitzgerald Library where Professor Eric Finch greeted guests and signed many copies of the book. Guests included the Provost Patrick Prendergast,and previous Provost Professor John Hegarty.

This book, the sixth volume in the Fitzgerald series, is a historical guide to the development of physics in Trinity College Dublin. It focuses primarily on the three centuries from 1683 to 1984. The study of physics was formalised when in 1724 Richard Helsham became the first Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, as the position is still called. Some of the other distinguished physicists appearing in the book are Molyneux, Bartholomew and Humphrey Lloyd, Hamilton, MacCullagh, Stoney, Fitzgerald, Joly, Trouton, Townsend, Lyle, Preston, Ditchburn, the Nobel Laureate E.T.S. Walton, Delaney, Henderson and Bradley. A detailed analysis is included of the difficult times for physics in Trinity after 1900 and the remarkable revival that began in the 1960s.

Provost at Eric finch book launch