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News - 2016

Prof Plamen Stamenov led Transpire project Awarded €4.4 Million Funding Supporting the Development of Magnetic Materials

03 November 2016

Trinity researchers at the AMBER centre, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, will lead an international project worth over €4.4 million under the European-funded “Future and Emerging Technologies - Open” (FET Open) programme. They are the first group in Ireland ever to coordinate such a project, from the most competitive science funding programme in the EU. FET Open funds visionary research and innovation for radically new future technologies, at an early stage, when there are few researchers working in a field. The success rate for this call was 4%.* Trinity’s share of the €4.4m budget is €1.7m.

The funding has been awarded to the TRANSPIRE project, which is led by Professor Plamen Stamenov, an Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, working with Drs Karsten Rode, Thomas Archer and Professors Michael Coey and Stefano Sanvito (all from the School of Physics), and collaborators in Germany, Norway and Switzerland. TRANSPIRE (Terahertz RAdio communication using high aNistropy SPIn torque REsonators), which came about from an initial collaboration between Trinity and the Materials Research Institute at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in Germany, will develop a new class of magnetic materials that could enable new, on-chip and chip-to-chip data links at least 100 times, possibly 1000 times faster than current technology. Personal and substance security screening, medical spectrometry and imaging, geophysical and atmospheric research and the Internet of Things will all benefit from ultra-fast data transfer.

Professor Plamen Stamenov, Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said, “We are, of course, delighted to win this award. It is a recognition of the work we have done on the fundamental physics of highly spin-polarised materials over the last 5-10 years, but also of the quality and expertise of our collaborators in Germany, Norway and Switzerland. I trust that this project will be valued by the scientific community and hope that we will be laying the foundations for high-speed data networks of the future. TRANSPIRE aims to develop a new class of magnetic materials which should enable new and exciting terahertz, that is 1000 gigahertz, technologies. As the different forms of radio communication and navigation e.g. AM and FM radio, digital TV, microwave devices, mobile phones, GPS and wireless networks, all fight for space in the heavily-regulated frequency bands, the changes in their capacity is relatively slow and incremental. With the huge increase in the demand for high-speed data transmission, these radio bands are experiencing intense pressure. The terahertz bands offer new opportunities and some unchartered ‘territory’, but are rather difficult to work at. In this range, to date, no magnetic materials and correspondingly devices have been developed. Our ambition within TRANSPIRE is to start the development of a low-cost, compact and reliable, room-temperature terahertz technology which could underpin the next wave of the Big Data revolution.”

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER, said, “I congratulate Prof Stamenov and his team. This places AMBER researchers amongst the best in Europe. FET Open will only fund scientists that have the capability of conducting research that goes beyond what is currently known or even imagined and we look forward to the developments with this project”.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said, “This is a recognition of truly excellent science by Professor Stamenov and the team at AMBER. The Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres have ambitious targets of securing non-exchequer funding and AMBER has been very successful in reaching its targets to date.”

* 22 proposals were funded out of a total of 544 submissions, Since FET-Open is totally non-prescriptive, it attracts many more applicants than other programmes and the AMBER team were competing with internationally-leading scientists at the highest level across a broad range of disciplines, not just in their own area of interest. Proposals must pass a rigorous evaluation process which assesses the long-term vision of the project and, whether it identifies a clear scientific breakthrough, explores unknown territory with potential high risk but also high gain, and is novel and interdisciplinary. The other partners in the consortium are Drs Alina Deac, Michael Gensch, Ciarán Fowley and Sergey Kovalev from the Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research Institute at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in Germany, Prof Arne Brataas from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim (NTNU) and Dr Emile de Rijk from SWISSto12, a spinoff from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Trinity’s share of the €4.4 million budget is €1.7M. TRANSPIRE aims to empower innovative small enterprises and major companies to assess the viability of spintronic terahertz technology to shape future devices and processes that will sustain the big data revolution for another generation. The project relies on coordinated interdisciplinary research in physics, chemistry, materials science, terahertz design and device engineering to ensure the success of a high-risk endeavour, which can change the nature of everyday electronic technology.

Living with a Star: Understanding Solar Activity and its Terrestrial Effects Research Case Study from the Provost' Annual Review by Peter Gallagher

03 November 2016

The Sun, the source of light and heat for Earth, is a far from quiet star. From time to time it launches ejections of hot gas called solar storms, which can produce beautiful auroral displays on Earth and have more sinister effects on navigation and communications systems, satellite electronics, and power grids.

Due to an intense solar storm in November 2015, aircraft were not allowed to take off from airports in Sweden for over an hour, while in March 1989, a solar storm triggered a sequence of events that caused a nine-hour outage of the Hydro-Quebec power grid in Canada. A solar storm later that year caused a halt in all trading on Toronto’s stock market.

This is nothing new. In 1859, the largest solar storm on record occurred. The aurora that it produced was visible as far south as Italy in Europe and Jamaica in the Caribbean. Here in Ireland, the Irish Times of the day reported “the whole sky from the horizon to the zenith being irradiated with a rich purple tint [and] telegraph communications with all quarters were disturbed owing to some mysterious atmospheric influence”.

Trinity’s tradition in solar-terrestrial research
In Trinity, there is a long tradition of research in geomagnetism. Humphrey Lloyd, Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, and Provost 1867–1881, built a magnetic observatory in the Provost’s Garden in the 1830s, and together with fellow Dubliner, Sir Edward Sabine, developed a global network of magnetic observatories. They became the first to confirm the link between solar activity and magnetic disturbances here on Earth. Later, the great Trinity physicist George Francis Fitzgerald (1851–1901) used a magnetometer located near the transatlantic telegraph cable in Valentia, Co. Kerry to show that variations in the Earth’s magnetic field could cause current surges in the telegraph cable – early proof of the damaging effects of solar storms on communications links.

The Rosse Solar-Terrestrial Observatory
To investigate these enigmatic Sun- Terrestrial connections, I have established a large and active research group in the School of Physics to understand the causes and consequences of solar storms, using data from European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA satellites. In addition, I have developed Trinity’s Rosse Observatory at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly to continuously monitor bursts of radiation from the Sun and their effects on Earth’s ionosphere and magnetic field. The data processing techniques my team is developing are used to characterize the ever-changing magnetic field of sunspots and track the dynamics of solar storms as they are launched, while their forecasting techniques are used to predict when solar storms will occur and when they might impact the Earth. 2016 is a particularly exciting year for the group as we begin building a large radio telescope called the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) at Birr. This project, supported by Dermot Desmond, Denis O’Brien, Joe Hogan and Science Foundation Ireland, will connect Ireland to the largest network of radio telescope in the world and enable my team to study solar activity with better detail than ever before.

Space exploration
The Solar Physics Group also works closely with ESA and NASA teams exploring solar activity using their fleets of spacecraft. I am a Co-Investigator for the Solar Telescope Imaging X-rays (STIX) instrument which will be launched on ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft in 2018. This ambitious mission will fly inside the orbit of Mercury giving solar physicists a closer view of the enigmatic Sun than ever before, keeping Trinity scientists at the frontiers of space exploration and solar-terrestrial physics.

Violent winds collide in one of the heaviest stars in our galaxy

19 October 2016

A revolutionary study involving researchers from Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with an international team including the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (MPIfR) in Germany and NASA in the USA, has obtained the sharpest ever images of one of the heaviest stars in our galaxy. The images show Eta Carinae and its violent collision of winds in stunning detail, providing new information on how stars evolve and die.

Eta Carinae is the heavyweight champion in our galaxy, shining with a power equivalent to 5,000,000 Suns. It is surrounded by the beautiful Homunculus nebula, which contains the remains of material ejected in 1843 when Eta Carinae was one of the brightest stars in the sky.

At the heart of the nebula, another monster companion star is evaporating while it orbits Eta Carinae. They are blowing powerful outflows that are colliding between the two at a speed of 10,000,000 km/h. The violent outflowing winds as seen in Eta Carinae herald the end of a star’s life as a supernova, and their study provides scientists with clues about how such stars evolve and die.

The team used a new imaging technique, called interferometry, which combines the light from three large telescopes to obtain extremely sharp images. The new Eta Carinae observations could only have been made with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes.

The team, led by Professor Gerd Weigelt (MPIfR), combined the infrared light of Eta Carinae employing three movable 1.8-metre telescopes of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer. Very sharp and detailed images can be obtained when the movable telescopes are located very far apart. Because of that, the final images are as sharp as if they had been observed from a giant 130-metre telescope.

Professor of Astrophysics at Trinity College Dublin, Jose Groh, said: “These are unprecedented images obtained with the ESO telescopes. We were able to zoom in and see the heavyweight champion in our Galaxy like never before. The images provide us with a front-row view of how monster stars interact with each other. The heavier star is winning for now, but the faster companion star may change the fate of the system in the future.”

Extreme physical processes occur when the powerful winds collide in Eta Carinae. In the collision region, the hot gas emits strong amounts of light. The astronomers used this light to produce the new images of Eta Carinae. By dispersing and analyzing the light from Eta Carinae, the team could determine how the gas moves in the zone where the winds collide.

In the past, it was not possible to resolve this violent collision zone, because its extension is too small even for the largest telescopes. 

Three  of  the  1.8-metre  telescopes  of  the  Very  Large  Telescope Interferometer of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. © Gerd Weigelt

Professor Gerd Weigelt added: “Our dreams came true, because we can now get extremely sharp images in the infrared regime. The ESO interferometer provides us with a unique opportunity to improve our physical understanding of Eta Carinae and many other monster objects.”

These findings are published today in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

A video of a supercomputer simulation of Eta Carinae’s wind collision can be viewed here.

Student entrepreneurs develop Matchday to ‘gamify’ live sports Matchday’s development was nurtured through Trinity’s LaunchBox student entrepreneur accelerator programme

17 October 2016

Students from Trinity College Dublin are looking to partner with sports bodies, clubs and major media outlets to ‘gamify’ live sports for fans watching alone, with their friends in a group, or even a whisker away from the action in a stadium.

Business and economics student, Jonathan Deane, and physics students, Dylan Scully and Ian O’Reilly, created the company Matchday to tap into the way modern-day technology is having an increasingly significant impact on how fans engage with their favourite sports. Matchday works by sending out propositions during live sports and allowing users to make predictions as to what will happen next. For example, viewers might be asked ‘Will Cristiano Ronaldo score in the next 15 minutes?’, and points are then provided for correct predictions. Matchday partners with brands to provide prizes to users who earn sufficient points over the course of a game.

Matchday partners with sports bodies, clubs, media and sponsors and connects them directly with their viewers; its gaming technology opens up a new channel by which these partners can engage directly and personally with their target audiences. Matchday’s development was nurtured through Trinity’s LaunchBox student entrepreneur accelerator programme this summer.

The venture has recently been accepted onto the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme, which provides a source of funding and mentorship to further develop the business model. Co-founder of Matchday, Jonathan Deane, said: “We had always played fantasy football together and loved the competitive element but were often frustrated by the experience. We realised that our generation desired a more on-demand experience from fantasy sports. We still desire the same social and competitive elements but wondered if we could create real-time games that could be played and that would be more fun and immersive to play than traditional fantasy sports.”

“We got to tweak our business model and product over the summer with the help of the mentors in LaunchBox, which was incredibly helpful. At the end of the programme we were awarded the Blackstone highest potential start-up award and are now delighted to see how far the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme can help us fly.”

Matchday App

20 September 2016

TCD Physics tar drop takes centre stage

Stefan Hutzler and Shane Bergin together with Ria and stage designer Aoife at the preview of the performance

One of the longest running experiments inspired artist Ria Murphy to create the aerial theatre performance "Black Pitch - Pitch Black". The photo shows Stefan Hutzler and Shane Bergin together with Ria and stage designer Aoife at the preview of the performance. The show is part of the Dublin Tiger Fringe Festival and takes place at 9.30pm from September 19 - 24 at 10 Exchequer Street. For details see (The original TCD pitch drop is on display in the Berkely library.)

30 August 2016

Irish Researchers have joined international team to make a breakthrough in fundamental physics

An international team of researchers have for the first time, discovered that in a very high magnetic field an electron with no mass can acquire a mass. Understanding why elementary particles e.g. electrons, photons, neutrinos have a mass is a fundamental question in Physics and an area of intense debate. This discovery by Prof Stefano Sanvito, Trinity College Dublin and collaborators in Shanghai was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications this month.

While the applications of this discovery remain to be seen, this represents a significant breakthrough in fundamental physics. It could inspire work in high-energy physics, such as the collision experiments carried out in particle accelerators like CERN. This is the third joint publication between the group in Trinity and Prof. Faxian Xiu at Fudan University in Shanghai, who approached Prof Sanvito to provide theory support for their experimental activity based on his previous publications and international reputation in the field of theoretical physics.

Prof Stefano Sanvito, Principal Investigator at the Science Foundation Ireland funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre based at Trinity and the CRANN Institute and Professor in Trinity’s School of Physics said, “This is a very exciting breakthrough because until now, nobody has ever discovered an object whose mass can be switched on or off by applying an external stimulus. Every physical object has a mass, which is a measure of the object’s resistance to a change in its direction or speed, once a force is applied. While we can easily push a light-mass shopping trolley, we cannot move a heavy-mass 6-wheel lorry by simply pushing. However, there are some examples in Nature of objects not having a mass. These include photons, the elementary particles discovered by Einstein responsible for carrying light, and neutrinos, produced in the sun as a result of thermonuclear reactions. We have demonstrated for the first time one way in which mass can be generated in a material. In principle the external stimulus that enabled this, the magnetic field, could be replaced with some other stimulus and perhaps applied long-term in the development of more sophisticated sensors or actuators. It is impossible to say what this could mean, but like any fundamental discovery in physics, the importance is in its discovery.”

He continued, “It has been very satisfying to continue to work with Prof Xiu in Shanghai. While his group are experts in growing and characterizing materials such as ZrTe5 which are very difficult to make, my group has the expertise in the theoretical interpretation. The measurements were carried out in Fudan and at the Wuhan National High Magnetic Field Center in China, while the Dublin team provided the theoretical explanation for the finding. This has been a very fruitful collaboration and we have a number of other publications in progress”.

The team studied what happened to the current passing through the exotic material zirconium pentatelluride (ZrTe5) when exposed to a very high magnetic field. Measuring a current in a high magnetic field is a standard way of characterising the material’s electronic structure. In the absence of a magnetic field the current flows easily through ZrTe5. This is because in ZrTe5 the electrons responsible for the current have no mass. However, when a magnetic field of 60 Tesla is applied (a million times more intense than the earth’s magnetic field) the current is drastically reduced and the electrons acquire a mass. An intense magnetic field in ZrTe5 transforms slim and fast electrons into fat and slow ones.

Link to article

16 August 2016

Trinity Science Enters London Art World A video showing the colourful evolution of a cylindrical foam structure will be on display at the Magic Gallery in London this summer.

The video is the result of a collaboration of Stefan Hutzler, Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Physics, with British photographer and visiting research assistant Kym Cox. It shows the types of ordered foams for which Professor Hutzler's research group “Foams and Complex Systems” is known for in the foams research community.

The London exhibition is organised by the Royal Photographic Society, featuring the work “Himmelstrasse” by one of the Society's Honorary Fellows, Brian Griffin. The show will run from the 20th of July 2016, and five photographers will each have a two-week slot alongside Griffin’s work. Kym Cox is among the selected five and she will present her photographic series “Grace”, the time evolution of a single soap film, together with the video of a cylindrical foam and its rich display of interference patterns, as it drains under gravity.

To be able to exhibit alongside Griffin is a fantastic opportunity to show-case recent developments in the field of SciArt, which is based on an informed interaction of scientists and artists, in line with Trinity's commitment to the Science Gallery, of which Professor Hutzler is a Leonardo adviser.

21 photographs showcasing the collaborative work by Kym Cox and Professor Hutzler have also been exhibited at the recent Eufoam2016 conference in Dublin (July 3-6, 2016). Eufoam is a biennial conference series, dedicated to the physics and chemistry of foams and their applications in industry. Its first meeting took place in Renvyle, Ireland, in 1994, organized by Trinity’s Professor Denis Weaire. The 2016 Dublin meeting, organised by Professor Hutzler in collaboration with the Institute of Physics, was attended by over 100 international researchers.

21 July 2016

Irish Scientists Announce Breakthrough That Could Transform Mass Storage of Digital Data Magnetic switching without a magnetic field

A team the School of Physics and SFI funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) Centre have made a new device which could lead to a breakthrough in mass storage of digital data. Two PhD students, Yong Chang Lau from Malaysia and Davide Betto from Italy, working with senior researcher Dr Karsten Rode and Professors Michael Coey and Plamen Stamenov published their results in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology earlier this Summer.

Professor Michael Coey, a Principal Investigator in the School said: The flood of digital data is growing every year and new storage concepts are urgently needed to sustain the information revolution. Forecasts envisage 20.8 billion wirelessly-connected “things” throughout the world by 2020. At present, it is estimated that 5.5 million new ones are connected every day [2]. This is a huge challenge for mass data storage, which currently relies on hard discs. Everything we download daily onto our computers or mobile phones is stored magnetically on millions of these spinning discs located in data centres scattered across the planet.

One main contender for the future of mass storage is MRAM (Magnetoresistive random-access memory), under development since the 1990s. MRAM is faster and offers higher density compared to other non-volatile RAMs. A large amount of research has been carried out in developing it, but MRAM has not been widely adopted in the market yet, largely due to the costs and complexity of large scale fab manufacturing. Our team in AMBER, at Trinity College Dublin, may now have solved the problem, offering a simpler solution for manufacturing a type of MRAM.”

The team, who are made up of experts in magnetism and magnetic switching, which is at the heart of data storage, have managed to circumvent the need to use a magnetic field. Their elegant new device consists of a stack of five metal layers, each of them a few nanometers thick. At the bottom is a layer of platinum, and just above it is the iron-based magnetic storage layer just six atoms thick. Platinum is a favourite of researchers in spin electronics, the technology that makes use of the fact that each electron is a tiny magnet. Passing a current through the platinum separates the electrons into two groups with their magnetism pointing in opposite directions at the top and bottom surfaces thanks to an effect known as ‘spin-orbit torque’ that follows from Einstein’s theory of relativity. Electrons at the top are pumped into the storage layer and try to switch its magnetic direction, but like a pencil balanced on its point, the magnetism of the storage layer can't decide which way to fall. The team designed the rest of the stack to solve that dilemma by acting like a nanoscale permanent magnet that creates the small field necessary to make the switching determinate, at zero cost in energy.

The Group now plans to demonstrate a full memory cell, and an ultra-fast oscillator based on spin-orbit torque using layers of a novel magnetic alloy they discovered recently. The device stacks will be grown in a sophisticated new SFI-funded thin film facility in the AMBER Centre at Trinity’s CRANN Institute for nanoscience. These new spintronic devices have potential to deliver the breakthrough needed to sustain the information revolution for another 25 years.

The full paper is published online here.

13 July 2016

School of Physics researchers have discovered a new behaviour of the material graphene Self-assembly of graphene ribbons to herald new technology developments

Researchers in the School of Physics and AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, have discovered a new behaviour of the wonder material graphene. Efficient ways to pattern and assemble graphene, especially in parallel, have remained a significant challenge for researchers worldwide. The research breakthrough published in the prestigious journal Nature this week introduces a significant new fabrication method for graphene, as well as creating new technologies that harness the properties of these molecular sheets in ways not previously envisaged.

The team – consisting of Professor Graham Cross and postdoctoral fellow Dr. James Annett found that they can induce graphene, a sheet of the element carbon only one atom thick, to spontaneously assemble into ribbons and other shapes while lying on a surface. The effect is potent enough to make large graphene structures almost visible to the naked eye, and it operates in air at room temperature.

In the short term, the researchers expect their findings will be useful to pattern graphene sheets to simplify the production of electronic and other devices in larger volumes. However, they also think the self-assembly effect itself may be important as an active component of future sensors, actuators and machines. James Annett who was a graduate student in Cross’ lab at the time of the discovery, said: “I was investigating the properties of graphene as a kind of dry super-lubricant. One day I noticed that cut-out shapes that had been formed during my experiments were changing over time. When I looked more closely, I found that beautiful, well-defined structures had formed in the graphene sheets all by themselves. I realised then that the methods we were using to investigate friction were actually configuring the graphene to spontaneously rearrange itself.”

Fundamentally, the observations reported by the authors in the journal Nature reveal how heat energy causes a flat graphene sheet to try to form its more familiar three dimensional state known as graphite. A mathematical model to explain why the effect works is included as part of their publication. Cross believes this is a new class of solid matter behaviour specific to molecularly thin sheets.

Comments Professor Graham Cross, “Over twenty years ago, it was suggested that graphene could be deliberately folded and cut into useful shapes as a kind of molecular origami. Our discovery shows there exists a much richer potential for these kinds of two dimensional materials. We can make them behave like a self-animated sheet that folds, tears and slides while peeling itself away from a surface. Even better, we have figured out how to control the effect and make to it happen in different places in the sheet at the same time.”

Graphene is part of a family of recently discovered two dimensional materials that may revolutionise the electronics used in smart phones and computers, as wells as produce light, high strength composite materials. Now, with the phenomena of self-assembly added to their list of abilities, these materials might enable new devices known as nanoelectromechanical systems which are connecting up the virtual world to the real world through the Internet of Things.

The paper can be found here:

Front cover of Nature 535, 271–275 (14 July 2016)

24 June 2016

Professor Dan Bradley Prize for the Best PhD Thesis in Physics

Congratulations to Dr. Eoin Carley, Dr. Awadhesh Narayan and Dr. Kyle Ballantine who have been awarded the Dan Bradley Prize for the Best PhD Thesis in Physics. Eoin Carley is the awardee for 2013. After completing his undergraduate studies in NUI Maynooth he secured an Irish Research Council scholarship to join the group of Prof. Peter Gallagher where he studied for a PhD in Solar Physics. After his PhD, Eoin won a Marie Curie fellowship and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Observatoire de Paris.

Awadhesh Narayan is the awardee for 2014. Having finished his undergraduate studies in the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Awadhesh won an Irish Research Council scholarship to move to Trinity. He joined the group of Prof. Stefano Sanvito, where he completed a PhD in the area of Spintonics. He is currently a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois. Kyle Ballantine is the awardee for 2015. Kyle is a Trinity graduate in Theoretical Physics. For his PhD studies he joined Prof. Paul Eastham’s Quantum Light and Matter group. His work, demonstrating half-quantization of a total optical angular momentum, used an effect that was discovered in Trinity by William Rowan Hamilton and Humphrey Lloyd almost 200 years earlier. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of St. Andrews.

21 June 2016

ESA DG with members of the TCD Astro Group

The Director-General of the European Space Agency, Johann-Dietrich Werner paid a visit to the School of Physics on 21st June and gave a packed talk in the Schroedinger Lecture Theatre on the topic of "Driving Space 4.0. The Commercialisation of the Space Sector". While describing the commercial possibilities of space, he also mentioned the the importance of pure research, as well as the excitement of discovery and exploration. In the group photo with Prof. Werner are members of the School of Physics Astro Group (from left to right- Prof. Aline Vidotto, Dr. Shaun Bloomfield, Prof. Brian Espey, Prof. Werner, Prof. Jose Groh, and Prof. Peter Gallagher).

31 May 2016

Prof Stefano Sanvito Honoured with Royal Irish Academy Membership

New Royal Irish Academy (RIA) members Professor Michael Marsh and Professor Stefano Sanvito with RIA President, Professor Mary E Daly

On Friday May 27th, Professor Stefano Sanvito was one of two Trinity academics newly elected members to the Royal Irish Academy in honour of his world-class contribution to science. Prof Sanvito is Professor of Condensed Matter Theory in the School of Physics. His work has contributed significantly to opening up the promising field of molecular spintronics. He is the author of over hundred and fifty publications including pioneering works on molecular spin-valves and on the ferromagnetism of diluted magnetic semiconductors. Prof Sanvito is a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin and Deputy Director of CRANN.

Professor Michael Marsh (Professor and Fellow Emeritus at Trinity’s Department of Political Science) was also honoured for his work on first ever Irish election study and lead author of the book based on the project.

Also among the newly elected members of the Royal Irish Academy is Professor Timothy Williamson, currently Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford, he lectured in Philosophy at Trinity from 1980 to 1988.

Election to membership of the Royal Irish Academy which has occurred annually since 1785 is the highest academic honour in Ireland. Those elected are entitled to use the designation ‘MRIA’ after their name. There are now 497 member of the academy, in disciplines from the Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Speaking at the annual admittance day ceremony for new members, President of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Mary E. Day, called on the new Minister for Education and Skills to introduce an Action Plan for Higher Education. Professor Daly said, “The steady erosion of funding per student and the failure to invest in infrastructure has brought higher education to a crisis point requiring such an emergency action plan. No system can sustain a 38% decline in state grants and at the same time absorb a 25% increase in student numbers. Ireland and Iceland are the only two countries in the OECD where real expenditure on higher education per student dropped since the 2008 crash. Ireland cannot afford to be such an outlier in higher education. The sector needs a cross-government initiative, setting out clear actions and targets, which mobilises all the relevant government departments.”

26 May 2016

Provost's Teaching Awards 2016 win for Dr Shane Bergin, School of Physics

Dr Shane Bergin, School of Physics, Early Career Award

Provost's Teaching Awards 2016 win for Dr Shane Bergin

Provost Patrick Prendergast has awarded Dr Shane Bergin the Trinity Early Career Award for 2016. The Provost recognises Dr Bergin’s “particular skill and interest in communicating the wonder of science” and noted that “Dr Bergin is adept at bringing science outside the classroom and is strongly interdisciplinary. Believing that story-telling is essential to the scientific process, he has set his students to work with students from Film Studies to produce YouTube 'Undergraduate Science Clips', based on scientific challenges.” In collaboration with the Schools of Education and Engineering, he has developed a research-led, problem-based cooperative learning teaching innovation which sets students the challenge to design, execute and evaluate their own experimental approach.

Dr Bergin is a winner of both the European Commission Science Communication Award (2014), and the American Association for Advancement of Science award (2016). He has also designed and executed two internationally-recognised campaigns to bring physics to public spaces: 'DART of Physics' in 2013 and 'City of Physics' in 2015. Posters, art installations, and murals were designed to spark a city-wide conversation on physics and its place in our culture.

10 May 2016

Trinity Physicists Discover a New Form of Light

Beams of light wound into Mobius strips have half-integer angular momentum.

10th May 2016, Dublin: Physicists from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics and the CRANN Institute, Trinity College, have today announced the discovery of a new form of light. The discovery will impact our understanding of the fundamental nature of light.

One of the measurable characteristics of a beam of light is known as angular momentum. Until now, it was thought that in all forms of light the angular momentum would be a multiple of Planck’s constant (the physical constant that sets the scale of quantum effects). Now, recent PhD graduate Kyle Ballantine and Professor Paul Eastham, both from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics, along with Professor John Donegan from CRANN, have demonstrated a new form of light where the angular momentum of each photon (a particle of visible light) takes only half of this value. This difference, though small, is profound. These results were recently published in the online journal Science Advances.

Commenting on their work, Assistant Professor Paul Eastham said "We’re interested in finding out how we can change the way light behaves, and how that could be useful. What I think is so exciting about this result is that even this fundamental property of light, that physicists have always thought was fixed, can be changed."

Professor John Donegan said "My research focuses on nanophotonics, which is the study of the behaviour of light on the nanometer scale. A beam of light is characterised by its colour or wavelength and a less familiar quantity known as angular momentum. Angular momentum measures how much something is rotating. For a beam of light, although travelling in a straight line it can also be rotating around its own axis. So when light from the mirror hits your eye in the morning, every photon twists your eye a little, one way or another. Our discovery will have real impacts for the study of light waves in areas such as secure optical communications."

Professor Stefano Sanvito, Director of CRANN, said "The topic of light has always been one of interest to physicists, while also being documented as one of the areas of physics that is best understood. This discovery is a breakthrough for the world of physics and science alike. I am delighted to once again see CRANN and Physics in TCD producing fundamental scientific research that challenges our understanding of light."

In order to make this discovery, the team involved used an effect discovered in the same institution almost two hundred years before. In the 1830s, mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and physicist Humphrey Lloyd found that, upon passing through certain crystals, a ray of light became a hollow cylinder. The team used this phenomenon to generate beams of light with a screw-like structure. Analysing these beams within the theory of quantum mechanics they predicted that the angular momentum of the photon would be half-integer, and devised an experiment to test their prediction. Using a specially constructed device they were able to measure the flow of angular momentum in a beam of light. They were also able, for the first time, to measure the variations in this flow caused by quantum effects. The experiments revealed a tiny shift, one-half of Planck’s constant, in the angular momentum of each photon.

Theoretical physicists since the 1980s have speculated how quantum mechanics works for particles which are free to move in only two of the three dimensions of space. They discovered that this would enable strange new possibilities, including particles whose quantum numbers were fractions of those expected. This work shows, for the first time, that these speculations can be realised with light.

The full paper is published online and can be viewed here.

10 May 2016

TCD Astrophysicists welcomed the public to view the Mercury transit

Public viewing of the 2016 Mercury transit in Front Square, Trinity College Dublin

The School’s astrophysicists offered the public a unique opportunity to observe and learn about the 2016 Mercury transit, when our solar system’s smallest planet became visible as it moved across the Sun on Monday, May 9.

The hundreds of people who attended the event in Front Square saw Mercury against the backdrop of the Sun through the School's telescopes, and witnessed footage of the rare event streamed to a plasma TV from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Visitors also chatted to our researchers about the physics of our Sun, the science of planetary transits, and about new and exciting ESA and NASA missions that we are involved in.

The event received a huge amount of publicity, being featured on the main evening news on TV3, UTV, and RTE, on many radio stations, and even made the front page of today's Irish Times.

Congratulations to all our staff and students who were involved in making this a highly successful event for the School, which highlights the huge interest that the public has in astrophysics.

The excitement of the event, including pictures and links to media pieces, can be viewed at and

The event received a huge amount of publicity including the front page of the Irish Times.

19 April 2016

Professor Jonathan Coleman has been awarded €2.2 million in funding through the ERC’s Advanced Grants

Prof. Jonathan Coleman

Jonathan Coleman, AMBER’s Principal Investigator and Professor in the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin has been announced as a recipient of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Advanced Grants. The prestigious ERC Advanced Grants are only made to Europe’s most distinguished researchers. The awards recognise scientists who are working on cutting-edge research and who truly push the frontiers of knowledge. Prof. Coleman’s grant of 2.2 million euro will support and grow his research group for the next five years.

Professor Michael Morris, Director of AMBER said, “This award is great recognition of the work being done by Professor Coleman and his team to develop next generation materials. Ireland has built up its expertise in the area of nano and materials science which is globally recognised, as evidenced by the increasing number of international research grants we are attracting. Ireland is beginning to take a globally recognised leadership position in this field of research and scientists of the calibre of Professor Coleman are critical to building our reputation in this area.”

The research grant is based on Professor Coleman’s work on novel methods to use liquid exfoliation to develop printed electronics using 2D materials. In the future, even the most mundane objects will contain electronic circuitry allowing them to gather, process, display and transmit information. The resulting vast network, often called the Internet of Things, will revolutionise society. To realise this will require the ability to produce electronic circuitry extremely cheaply, often on unconventional substrate. This will be achieved through printed electronics, by the assembly of devices from solution (i.e. ink) using methods adapted from printing technology. The aim of Coleman’s research is to take liquid dispersions of nanosheets and by carefully tuning the liquid properties optimise them for use as inks. These nano-structured inks can be printed onto surfaces using standard printers to form patterned networks of nanosheets. By combining networks of different types of nanosheets, it will be possible to print fully functional electronic devices where every component including electrodes, active material, dielectrics and electrolytes has been printed from a specific type of nanosheets. In this way photodetectors, transistors, solar cells and supercapacitors can be printed allowing the development of cheap yet high performance electronic circuitry which will allow everything from packaging to clothing to gather, process, display and exchange information. Many believe that by 2020, such chips could be in >20 billion objects making the vast majority of internet connections.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, said “We’re delighted with the award. We believe recent developments in liquid exfoliation of 2D nanosheets have given us the ideal family of materials to revolutionise electronic ink production. This funding will help enable us to develop methods to transform large volume suspensions of exfoliated nanosheets into bespoke 2D inks with properties engineered for a range of specific printed device applications such as transistors and solar cells. This means that the consumer/industry will have access to a much broader range of information than before. Information will be personalised. Not only will your smartphone be able to check the news, it will be able to check if the milk in your fridge is fresh.

This ERC grant follows Coleman’s previous ERC grant which studied the production of inorganic 2D nanosheets by liquid exfoliation and will allow him to employ four post-doctoral researchers and two PhD students.

Coleman’s work has been published in prestigious international journals such as Science, Nature, Nature Nanotechnology, and Advanced Materials, as well as featuring in New Scientist, the New York Times and on CNN. In 2011 Jonathan was recognised as one of the top 100 material scientists of the last decade – the only Irish representative and one of the youngest on the list.

01 April 2016

There's Life On Earth But Not On Mars - Here’s One Reason Why

In March, a joint Euro-Russian mission to Mars was launched in a bid to investigate whether there is any sign of life on the red planet. The inhospitably cold, desert landscapes of Mars are a result of the atmosphere having been eroded over time, which was caused by the lack of a protective magnetic field.

Now a new study involving researchers from Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), shows how such a protective magnetic field was critical for life on early earth.

Astrophysicists are all the time looking to understand how life could develop on other planets and, in particular, on our own Earth. This research initially focused on finding a star that was similar to the sun – a younger, solar twin.

Kappa Ceti is such a ‘twin’, and by studying it the teams involved gleaned insights into the early history of our solar system. In particular, that this ‘twin’ of our own sun emitted violent winds.

An artist’s illustration of the young sun-like star Kappa Ceti, blotched with large starspots, a sign of its high level of magnetic activity. Credit: M Weiss (CfA)

To be habitable, a planet needs warmth, water and it needs to be sheltered from a young, violent sun. A fierce stellar wind emitted by such a young sun would erode the atmosphere of any planet if there was no magnetic field in place.

What this study proves is that earth, unlike Mars for example, had a strong magnetic field, which provided sufficient protection for life to be sustained on this planet in the early years.

Speaking on the research, Aline Vidotto from Trinity’s School of Physics, commented: “We found that Kappa Ceti, a proxy of the young sun, should host a wind that is about 50 times stronger than the present day solar wind. This would have led to a larger interaction via space weather disturbances between the wind of the young sun and the young Earth."

These findings are published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Link to journal:

24 March 2016

Trinity Student Scientific Review (TSSR) Journal – Volume 2 – launched March 22nd

Volume II of the Trinity Student Scientific Review (TSSR) was launched on Tuesday March 22nd 2016. The TSSR aims to encourage students to get involved with the world of scientific publication, and showcase undergraduate talent in Trinity College Dublin. 20 undergraduate authors, from a variety of scientific disciplines, were published in the review with topics ranging from Climate Change, to Gene Editing, to Quantum Encryption to name but a few.

The TSSR is run by a committee of undergraduate students.

TSSR Committee and speakers at the TSSR launch. L-R Blaise Delaney (JS Theoretical Physics), James Orr (JS Zoology), Amy Worrall (Year 2 Medicine), Sarah Deegan,(SS Functional Biology) Alison Hennessy, Kate Reidy (both JS Nanoscience, Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials), Dr. Shane Bergin (School of Physics), Dr. Olive Heffernan (Science Writer in Residence), Dr. Patrick Pendergast (Provost)

You can read more about the TSSR here.

Congratulations to the students from the School of Physics whose work was published in volume 2 of the TSSR.

Congratulations to the students from the School of Physics whose work was published in volume 2 of the TSSR

Best Physics Essay:
  • “The Nuclear Option: Advanced Radiotherapy Techniques for Cancer Treatment”
    Oskar Ronan (SS Physics)
  • “Hybrid Photovoltaic Thermal Cells: A Viable Solution to the Problem of Renewable Energy”
    Kyle Frohna (JS N-PCAM, Physics)
  • “Quantum Mechanical Navigation: The Avian Compass”
    Holly Herbert (JS Physics)
  • “Quantum Encryption: Unconditional Security for the Information Age”
    Jeffrey Lyons (JS Physics)

14 March 2016

Trinity Physicists Capture Magnetism from Empty Space

Theoretical physicists have long believed that empty space is not a formless void. The vacuum is thought to be seething with zero-point energy, the inevitable quantum residue of every sort of electromagnetic radiation. Nobody has ever managed to find a way to tap this limitless store of energy, and the signs that it even exists are slender. Direct evidence is mainly based on a tiny shift of a few parts per billion in an energy level of hydrogen, discovered 70 years ago by Willis Lamb in the USA, and a minute force between metal plates when they are only a few nanometers apart in vacuum predicted around the same time by Dutchman Hendrik Casimir.

Now, a team of scientists from the School of Physics working in Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Research on Advanced Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) have discovered a new and unexpected manifestation of this elusive energy. In a study of cerium dioxide nanoparticles – mainly used in catalytic converters that control toxic exhaust emissions from automobiles – Professor Michael Coey, his former PhD student Dr. Karl Ackland and Dr Munuswamy Venkatesan came across a strange magnetic effect. Quite unlike the behavior of normal magnets like iron, the effect did not vary at all with temperature. Stranger still, the magnetism only appeared when the particles were clumped together. Separating them into smaller clumps by diluting with nonmagnetic nanoparticles destroyed the magnetism.

In a paper published on-line today in Nature Physics, the team that was completed by Professor Siddhartha Sen, a quantum field theorist renowned for his brilliant lectures in Trinity’s Mathematics Department, reported their findings, and came up with an astonishing explanation. Electrons in the clumps of tiny particles were responding to the vacuum electromagnetic field. Sen and Coey had recently predicted that such behavior might be possible in systems with an enormous surface area – a milligram speck of the cerium dioxide nanoparticles has as much surface area as an entire sheet of newspaper. Furthermore they predicted that when the particles were separated out into regions smaller that the wavelength of the light associated with them, the effect would disappear. This is exactly what was observed.

As with any fundamental discovery in science, it is difficult to predict where this could lead. Others will want to test the results. The theory shows that effects can only be expected when there is a huge surface to volume ratio, as in the thin layers of interfacial water attached to biomolecules. Sen is already beginning to apply the ideas to protein folding. The zero point energy may never power our cars, but it might be shaping our lives.

  • Collective magnetic response of CeO2 nanoparticles, M. Coey, K. Ackland, M. Venkatesan and S. Sen, Nature Physics (2016) doi.10.1038/nphys3676
  • Mesoscopic structure formation in condensed matter due to vacuum fluctuations, S. Sen, K. S. Gupta and J. M. D. Coey, Phys. Rev B 92 155115 (2015)
Blue Skies Research: Dr. Munuswami Venkatesan, Prof. Michael Coey, Prof. Siddhartha Sen, Dr. Karl Ackland

14 March 2016

Singapore/Trinity Physics Team Discover a New Magnetic Interaction

The big data revolution relies on vast stores of digital information that are growing at an explosive pace. Most of us never spare a thought about where all the data we download from the Cloud onto our hand-held devices really comes from. In fact, it is all stored in minute magnetic dots written in ultra-thin layers only a few nanometers thick that cover the surface of millions of saucer-sized spinning discs. These hard discs are stacked by the thousand in racks in ’server farms’ distributed across the planet. Goggle and Facebook each have one in Ireland, Amazon and Microsoft each have one in Singapore.

In recent years, technology has been perfected for growing uniform magnetic layers only 10 – 100 atoms thick and combining then into complex stacks; these nanostructures are the foundation of ‘spin electronics’; the ‘spin’ here refers to the resemblance between the electron and a spinning ball of electric charge. It is the spin that makes the electron a tiny magnet. By analogy with the solar system, where spinning planets orbit the Sun, the atom is composed spinning electrons that orbit the nucleus. Spin and orbital motion each generates its own type of magnetism.

Server Farm

Two adjacent magnetic layers in a thin film stack couple together when they close enough to exchange electrons with each other. The electrons carry across their spin, and the directions of magnetization of the two layers are aligned. This coupling is broken if the two magnetic layers are separated by an insulating spacer that is more than a few atoms thick. The insulator is almost impenetrable for the free electrons.

Now a team led by Professors Venky Venkatesan and Ariando at the National University of Singapore have made a startling discovery, which they report this week in Nature Communications in their paper entitled ‘Long-range magnetic coupling across a polar insulating layer‘. By choosing a special type of insulator that has its opposite surfaces covered with positive or negative electric charge, Weiming Lv (now a Professor at Harbin Institute of Technology) found that the range of the magnetic coupling jumps from about one nanometer to more than ten, and its strength oscillates with spacer thickness. No electrons could ever make their way across such an impenetrable layer, so how can the two magnetic layers be coupled? Here Visiting Professor Michael Coey, from the School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin came up with a suggestion. Instead of spin magnetism being carried across directly by messenger electrons, it is the orbital magnetism that is passed along from atom to the next across the insulator. The atomic electrons are engaged in a dance, each twirling their partners on the neighbouring atoms until the orbital motion reaches the other side.

Discoveries in magnetism have a habit of turning out to be useful, though it may take years for the right application to become apparent. The French physicist Louis Néel, discovered antiferromagnetism in the course of his thesis work in the 1930s, but he could think of no practical use for antiferromagnets in his 1970 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Yet by 1990, antiferromagnetic layers had become indispensable components of the thin film stacks used in spin electronics. The NUS team point out that the frequency of the orbital excitations lies in the terahertz frequency range, currently a bottleneck for progress in the big data revolution, which is demanding ever-faster data transmission rates. Nowadays it should not take 60 years to find an application for new discoveries in magnetism.

11 February 2016

Gravitational waves have been detected, verifying Einstein's GR prediction!

The image shows the data overplotted with predictions of 2 merging black holes of 29 and 36 solar masses merging 1.3 billion light-years away. The signals were detected on 15th September 2015. A mass equivalent to 3 solar masses was converted to gravitational waves in a fraction of a second, producing a power that outshone the entire Universe by a factor of 50! A new era of astronomy opens!

For further information see:

In Ireland, a consortium of universities are now building a radio telescope called LOFAR at Birr Castle which will play a vital role in testing Einstein’s theories of gravity using observations of black holes and the large-scale structure of the Universe.

Credit: LIGO

05 February 2016

Professor and CRANN PI Werner Blau received a Conference Ambassador Award

Fáilte Ireland has honoured 79 ‘Conference Ambassadors’ at the inaugural Fáilte Ireland Conference Ambassador Recognition Awards ceremony in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham on 21st January 2016. Hosted by comedian Dara Ó Briain, the event acknowledged that the Ambassadors, nominated by the Irish conference and meetings industry, had delivered a collective total of almost 73,000 international delegates to Dublin between 2011 and 2014, injecting over €101m into the economy. The economic benefit of the NANOSMAT conference to Ireland was estimated at over 600,000€.

NANOSMAT is a premier conference in the field of materials related Nanoscience, Engineering and Nanotechnology. Since 2005, it has been very successfully organised in several European countries, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Czech Republic and Ireland. The conference fosters the gathering of talented and truly international people to exchange novel ideas, share new knowledge and technical know-how in the broad fields of nanoscience and technology.

TCD Physics Professor and CRANN PI Werner Blau received a Conference Ambassador Award from Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn for his work in organising the 2014 NANOSMAT Conference on Science and Technology of Surfaces,Coatings and Nanostructured Materials at TCD.

18 January 2016

Award for pioneering in the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility Programme

Damien English TD, Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation presenting the School of Physics (Bridget Gavin) the award for pioneering in the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility Programme together with Tom Boland, HEA Chief Executive.