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Prof Aline Vidotto awarded prestigious Irish Research Council Laureate. Prof Vidotto will lead ASTROFLOW, a 0.6 million euro project that will investigate how the atmospheres of exoplanets are affected by their host stars.

29 March 2018

One of the biggest surprises in the discovery of nearly 4,000 exoplanets is that the majority of known exoplanetary systems have a very different architecture than that of the solar system. Many exoplanets orbit very close to their host stars, with distances that can be more than 10 times smaller the Sun-Mercury distance. This extreme proximity causes exoplanets to receive a larger dosage of high-energy radiation from their host stars. Ultimately, this radiation heats exoplanetary atmospheres, which expand and “leak”.

The ASTROFLOW project will investigate how the leaking atmospheres of exoplanets are affected by material that is ejected from the host star. The project will use a suite of 3D magnetohydrodynamic models to study the interactions between stellar and exoplanetary outflows. The computer simulations will use Irish supercomputing facilities, such as ICHEC.

Exoplanetary atmospheres are believed to be an important ingredient in the potential for an exoplanet to develop life. When planets lose significant amounts of material, their evolution changes. Atmospheric loss sculpts planet and changes how big and how massive they become.

The ASTROFLOW simulations will provide theoretical interpretation for observations of atmospheric escape. Prof Vidotto’s group in Trinity College is involved in the CUTE mission, a NASA-funded cubesat, expected to launch in early 2020. CUTE will survey evaporating atmospheres of gigantic gaseous planets orbiting scorchingly close to their parent stars.

“Light at Night” Citizen Science Project

13 March 2018

Prof. Brian Espey of the School of Physics is leading a Citizen Science project to assess night-time light changes, our attitudes to them, and the potential implications for health and the environment as part of the Irish Times Science Citizen programme sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency. There was an article about this work in the Irish Times:

Researchers Develop A New Material Capable Of Regenerating Diseased Heart Tissue And Limiting Infection

13 March 2018

Researchers from AMBER and the School of Physics, have developed a new biomaterial which is capable of both regenerating tissues which respond to electrical stimuli (such as the nerves, spinal cord, heart, brain and muscles) as well as eliminating infection – an ever-growing problem in hospitals. This could enable enhanced recovery for heart attack and burn patients. The new study is published in Advanced Materials*, a leading international materials science journal. The study was led by AMBER researchers at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) in partnership with Trinity College Dublin and Eberhard Karls University in Germany.

This new material could help to improve quality of life for heart attack survivors, as scar tissue build-up can decrease heart function. An electroconductive biomaterial could bypass damaged regions of the heart and restore functional activity.

For people with extensive nerve damage, there are currently very limited options in terms of repairing nerve injuries extending beyond two centimetres. However, by combining a biomaterial with proven regenerative capacity, like collagen, with a material that can carry an electrical stimulus, it may be possible to transmit electrical signals across damaged tissue, resulting in functional restoration of the affected area. This concept may also have potential in regenerative capabilities of the spinal cord and other areas including the brain.

The new material developed by the multidisciplinary research team is composed of collagen (the most abundant protein of the human body which has known regenerative potential and can support the body’s cells) and graphene (the world's thinnest material which is known to have unique mechanical and electrical properties) resulting in an electroconductive ‘biohybrid’ combining the beneficial properties of both materials –resulting in a material which is mechanically stronger, with increased electrical conductivity.

This ‘biohybrid’ material has been shown to enhance cell growth and, when electrical stimulation is applied, directs cardiac cells to respond and align in the direction of the electrical impulse. Furthermore, the material prevents bacterial attachment, a hugely favourable characteristic which can be applied in the development of next generation antimicrobial medical devices. The surface roughness of the material, induced by the introduction of graphene, causes bacterial walls to be burst while simultaneously allowing the heart cells to multiply and grow.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics said, “It is remarkable to work with my AMBER colleagues in RCSI, combining bioengineering and physics to find a new application for the graphene being produced in our labs. Recently our team have pioneered the development of a technique to produce large quantities of pristine graphene at low cost and so it is significant that we are in a position to now create this new biomaterial using this wonder material.”

Professor Fergal O’Brien, Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) in the Department of Anatomy in RCSI, Deputy Director of AMBER and lead Investigator on the project said, “Many cells and tissues in the body are responsive to electrical stimulation but electroconductive materials are limited because they may kill cells or cause infection. Despite progress in biomaterials science for some applications, there has been limited success in treating tissues of the heart and nervous system. There are currently no solutions for very large nerve defects and large areas of heart wall damage.

We are very excited by the potential of this material for cardiac applications but the capacity of the material to deliver physiological electrical stimuli while limiting infection suggests it might have potential in a number of other indications such as repairing damaged peripheral nerves or perhaps even spinal cord. The technology also has potential applications where external devices such as biosensors and devices might interface with the body.

This type of collaborative research is only possible in a centre like AMBER where leading researchers from different disciplines get to share ideas and work in partnership together.”

The work was conducted by AMBER and RCSI TERG post-doctoral researcher, Dr Alan Ryan, first author on the paper with Dr Cathal Kearney, an AMBER senior research fellow and lecturer in RCSI in partnership with multi-disciplinary team of researchers based in RCSI, Trinity and Professor Katja Schenke-Layland’s laboratory in Eberhard Karls University Tübingen in Germany, where the electrical stimulation research was carried out.

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, said, “Today’s announcement about this new biomaterial demonstrates our track record of pushing the boundaries of science to discover real solutions for people. We will continue to carry out excellent research that has real societal impact, with this technology potentially improving the lives of thousands of people.”

Link to Advanced Materials Article


‘Powering STEM’ celebrates graduating Trinity Walton Club students

12 March 2018

‘Powering STEM’ marked the completion of four years’ hard work and commitment from the inaugural secondary school club members of the Trinity Walton Club.

The Trinity Walton Club is a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education enrichment programme at Trinity College Dublin. Walton Club students embark on a 100-week educational experience, developing skills across problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and communications.

‘Powering STEM’ is a celebration of the first young people to sign up to the club and the commitment they have shown. At this event each team of students will present their detailed research projects around the theme ‘Sustainable World’. The students projects include:

  • The Power of Sound: an experimental investigation into the use of waste sound energy as a potential form of electrical energy
  • An investigation into how we can minimise human error in recycling
  • D.O.O.M (Destruction Of Our Masses): this research is a study into natural disasters and the destruction they cause, which may ultimately leading to humanity’s decline
  • Project Lír: research into developing a universal, financially viable solution for the filtration and desalination of contaminated water for application in the Third World
  • SERVA (soil: electronically and remotely viewing attributes): a project studying sensors and their application in the future of farming
  • The Energy Revolution: an investigation into generating useful electrical energy from revolving doors

Trinity Walton Club Director, Professor Arlene Gallagher, said: “Trinity Walton Club provides an opportunity for our university to play an active role in nurturing tomorrow's trailblazers. We are empowering an ecosystem of critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who can confidently and competently affect positive change in the world.” Aligned with Trinity’s values, the Trinity Walton Club is a catalyst for strengthening community relations and building valuable partnerships. To date, Trinity Walton Club has worked with over 1,000 second-level students from 247 different schools across 19 counties in Ireland. The club also recruits internationally. Students have travelled from 15 different countries to attend camps with a further 200 international students joining the programme throughout 2018.

Head of Innovation at Bank of Ireland, David Tighe, said: “Bank of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin have a long legacy of working together and we are delighted to support the Trinity Walton Club, an initiative which succeeds through the talent and enthusiasm of students and staff. Ireland’s continued achievement across science and technology can only be assured through support for programmes like this. The Trinity Walton Club’s focus on inclusion and promoting STEM for all is hugely important for our communities and through our community programmes, Bank of Ireland continues to support this mission.”

Mr Woods and Mrs Marian Woods, daughter of ETS Walton with Prof Arlene Gallagher and Prof Igor Shvets

PhD graduate of School of Physics appointed new CEO of American Institute of Physics

8 March 2018

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) recently announced the appointment of a new CEO, experimental physicist Michael H. Moloney who completed a PhD in the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin in 1993. The topic of his then research was in nonlinear optical properties of strained semiconductor materials and devices and was carried out under the supervision of Prof. John Hegarty who later became Provost (2001-2011). The American Institute of Physics is a federation of ten US physical science societies and was established in 1931 to advance and promote the physical sciences. Through its member societies it covers a broad range of fields in the physical sciences and collectively represent more than 120,000 scientists, engineers, educators and students in the global physical sciences community.

Having completed his education (primary degree at UCD and PhD at Trinity), Dr Moloney served for seven years in the Irish embassy in Washington, DC and in the Irish delegation at the UN in New York. Prior to appointment at the AIP, Dr Moloney filled various important roles at the US National Academies of Sciences where he was study director or senior staff on about 100 reports on subjects as varied as quantum physics, nanotechnology, cosmology, the nation’s helium reserves, counterfeit currency, corrosion science and nuclear fusion. In 2011 the American Astronomical Society awarded Dr. Moloney a special citation for his leadership on the decadal survey “New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics.”

More Information Here

Astrophysics postgraduate student wins Outstanding Student Award at American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans.

25 January 2018

Laura Hayes, won the Outstanding Student Award at American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans (https://fallmeeting.agu.org/2017/). The annual AGU Fall meeting is the largest Earth and Space Science meeting in the world with more than 20,000 oral and poster presentations from ~20,000 attendees. The Outstanding Student Paper Award is only awarded to 5% of student participants, so this is a great achievement for Laura.

Link to Lauras Poster