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News - 2017

School of Physics Celebrates New 2017 Graduates

29 November 2017

The School of Physics was delighted to celebrate our new Physics, Physics and Astrophysics and Theoretical Physics graduates on November 3rd 2017 in the Fitzgerald library. We thoroughly enjoyed catching up with them and wish them the best in their future careers.


Prof Jonathan Coleman ranked in the top one per cent of most-cited researchers in his field

28 November 2017

Prof Jonathan Coleman, has been ranked in the top one per cent of most-cited researchers in his field by Clarivate Analytics, a global leader in insights and analytics. According to Clarivate Analytics the Web of Science stands as the most authoritative compilation of influence and visibility in worldwide research. Clarivate Analytics has assembled an updated roster of more than 3,300 Highly Cited Researchers. These researchers have distinguished themselves by publishing a high number of papers that rank in the top 1% most cited in their respective fields over a recent 11-year period. Of the 3,300 only 9 Irish researchers made the list.

Trinity-NASA research shows how solar variability affects Earth’s atmosphere

22 November 2017

The Earth's atmosphere is closely coupled with the Sun. The Sun provides the heat and energy that drives our climate and weather patterns and ultimately provides the conditions for life here on Earth. The Sun is also an active star and is continuously erupting with giant explosions — such as bursts of radiation called solar flares. These flares can have significant effects on the Earth’s atmosphere, so understanding this coupling between the Sun's activity and the Earth’s ionized environment is important.

Led by PhD researcher in the School of Physics Astrophysics Group, Laura Hayes, and her thesis advisor, Professor Peter Gallagher, a team of scientists from Trinity and NASA investigated a connection between solar flares and activity in Earth’s atmosphere. The team discovered that pulses in the electrified layer of the atmosphere — called the ionosphere — mirrored X-ray oscillations during a C-class flare that occurred in July last year.

C-class flares are of mid-to-low intensity, and about 100 times weaker than X-flares, while the ionosphere is an ever-changing region of the atmosphere that reacts to changes from both Earth below and space above. This region stretches from roughly 60 – 1,000 km above Earth’s surface, and swells in response to incoming solar radiation, which ionizes atmospheric gases, and relaxes at night as the charged particles gradually recombine.

Specifically, the team looked at how the lowest layer of the ionosphere, called the D-region, responded to pulsations in a solar flare. Laura Hayes said: “This is the region of the ionosphere that affects high-frequency communications and navigation signals. Signals travel through the D-region, and changes in the electron density affect whether the signal is absorbed, or degraded.”

The scientists used data from very low frequency (VLF) radio signals to probe the flare’s effects on the D-region. These were standard communication signals transmitted from Maine in the US and received at Trinity’s observatory at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, in Ireland.

The denser the ionosphere, the more likely these signals are to run into electrons along their way from a signal transmitter to its receiver. By monitoring how the VLF signals propagate from one end to the other, scientists can map out changes in electron density. Pooling together the VLF data and X-ray and extreme ultraviolet observations from NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite and NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, the team found the D-region’s electron density was pulsing in concert with X-ray pulses on the Sun.

They published their results last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Jack Ireland, a co-author and NASA Goddard solar physicist, said: “X-rays impinge on the ionosphere and because the amount of X-ray radiation coming in is changing, the amount of ionization in the ionosphere changes too. We’ve seen X-ray oscillations before, but the oscillating ionosphere response hasn’t been detected in the past.”

Hayes and her colleagues used a model to determine just how much the electron density changed during the flare. In response to incoming radiation, they found the density increased as much as 100 times in just 20 minutes during the pulses — an exciting observation for the scientists who didn’t expect oscillating signals in a flare would have such a noticeable effect in the ionosphere.

With further study, the team hopes to understand how the ionosphere responds to X-ray oscillations at different timescales, and whether other solar flares induce this response.

Laura Hayes added: “This is an exciting result, showing Earth’s atmosphere is more closely linked to solar X-ray variability than previously thought. Now we plan to further explore this dynamic relationship between the Sun and Earth’s atmosphere.”

The research was generously supported by an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership studentship between Trinity and Adnet Systems at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Director of the Irish Research Council, Dr Peter Brown, said: “On behalf of the Irish Research Council, I would like to congratulate Laura and Professor Gallagher on their work, which shows how closely linked the Earth’s ionosphere is to activity on the Sun.”

“We are delighted to have provided funding for Laura under the Enterprise Partnership Scheme. Postgraduate research programmes such as the Enterprise Partnership Scheme are vital to ensure that Ireland’s brightest talent is supported to develop research careers in exciting areas of scientific discovery.”

“The Irish Research Council is committed to providing opportunities for early-career researchers to collaborate with research projects across Europe and the US. It is through collaborations like these that we can further develop our understanding of the world in which we live and answer key questions about the Universe.”

The collaboration between Trinity and NASA is also supported by the US Trinity Alumni Fund.

I-LOFAR wins SFI Best International Engagement Award

15 November 2017

Prof Peter Gallagher and his School of Physics based research group were recipients of the Best International Engagement Award at the 2017 Science Summit Awards.

The I-LOFAR (International Low Frequency Array) telescope is a network of radio telescopes that stretches across nearly 2,000 km across Europe, making it the largest low frequency radio telescope in the world. Opening new frontiers in astrophysics, I-LOFAR also acts as an “ICT telescope”, producing vast quantities of data.

SFI Best International Engagement Award

This award recognises the accomplishments of a Science Foundation Ireland-funded researcher/group specifically in the context of their international activities.

Prof Peter Gallagher (Credit: @yvonnehalpin)

Electrical Analytics announced as finalist in the ESB Spark of Genius competition

18 October 2017

From a fierce competition of 85 start-ups, our own School of Physics spin-out Electrical Analytics has gotten through to the final 3 in the ESB Spark of Genius competition. Dr. Barry Murphy, CTO of Electrical Analytics and TCD postdoctoral research fellow, will be travelling to the Web Summit next month in Lisbon to pitch their idea for the chance to win a cash injection of €25,000.

Check out his interview with 2fm’s Eoghan McDermott below:

School of Physics researchers involved in the first European presentation of the European solar telescope

06 October 2017

On October 5th 2017, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome hosted the first European presentation of the European Solar Telescope (EST;; @estsolarnet) in the frame of the preparatory phase for its construction. This infrastructure, which will be installed in the Canary Islands, Spain, will be the largest European telescope to observe the Sun. The construction is expected to start in 2021, and first light is planned for 2027. The project involves 21 scientific and industrial institutions from 15 different European countries. Researchers at TCD are involved with EST via the EU Horizon 2020 PRE-EST project, which is preparing a comprehensive plan regarding the implementation of EST.

European astronomers have studied the Sun for centuries. Starting with Galileo Galilei, many solar physicists have helped unravel its secrets with the most advanced instrumentation at their disposal. Thanks to those efforts we now know the structure and composition of our star. However, some important questions remain unanswered. Among them is the role played by solar magnetic fields, which are thought to be responsible for the most energetic processes happening in the solar atmosphere. To address these important questions, a next-generation telescope is needed.

Artist impression of the future European Solar Telescope in the Canary Islands

EST will have a 4-meter primary mirror and an advanced adaptive optics system - a technology designed to reduce the image distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. EST will be able to distinguish structures on the solar surface as small as 30 kilometres across, an unprecedented high resolution for solar research. Thanks to its large mirror, EST will excel in delivering accurate measurements of solar magnetic fields, surpassing by far the capabilities of any existing solar telescope. The main goal of EST is to investigate the structure, dynamics, and energetics of the lower solar atmosphere, where magnetic fields continually interact with the plasma and magnetic energy is sometimes released in powerful explosions which can impact the Earth in the form of severe space weather events. Dr. Sophie Murray, Research Fellow at TCD School of Physics, said "the event at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei highlights the important first steps of a project set to be the cornerstone of European solar physics in the coming decades."

Space Week at Trinity

Entry to all talks and events during spaceweek are FREE!

Humanity’s Exploration: From Outer to Inner Space

Dr. Dava Newman, Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics, MIT

Date: October 11th
Time: 11:00 - 12:00
Location: Schrodinger Lecture Theatre


In this talk, recent space science missions to Pluto and Jupiter as well as Earth observation missions of Spaceship Earth will be highlighted. For the future, humanity will become interplanetary, and is already aiming for Mars. We are closer to reaching the Red Planet with human explorers than we have ever been and space agencies, academia and industry are working right now on the technologies and missions that will enable human “boots on Mars” in the 2030s. We are currently testing advanced technologies for the next giant leaps of exploration with everything from advanced space suits and life support systems, to the first crops grown in space: the journey to Mars is already unfolding in tangible ways today for tomorrow.

A three-stage plan for space exploration will be highlighted – from missions close to Earth involving commercial partners and the International Space Station, advancing to missions in Earth–Moon orbit, or deep space, and finally moving on to Mars, where explorers will be practically independent from Spaceship Earth. The innovation required to achieve a human mission to Mars cuts across science, human exploration and technology. It builds on what has gone before, while driving the next advances.

The presentation concludes with an inclusive message on STEAMD (science-technology-engineering-arts-math-design) and the urgency to recruit the Mars Generation, including the artists, designers, poets and makers. About the speaker: Dava J. Newman is a former Deputy Administrator of NASA and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Dava Newman, Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics, MIT

Live Fast and Die Hard: Studies of Monster Stars at the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Date: October 4th

Time: 19:30 - 21:00

Location: Schrodinger Lecture Theatre


Stars eight times more massive than our Sun end their lives in dramatic supernova explosions but before dying, monster stars have tumultuous lives when they blow winds, suffer giant eruptions, and interact with companion stars. In his talk, Prof. Jose Groh will give an overview on the fast lives and evolution of the most massive stars in the Universe. He will also discuss the dramatic deaths of these monster stars and how they act as cosmic engines of the Universe.

Trinity Space Society, Rocket Launch in Birr, Co.Offaly

28 September 2017

The Trinity Space Society (TSS) would like to invite you to watch the maiden flight of the Trinity Spacecraft Danu, Spáslong Tríonóide (ST) Danu. The ST Danu, constructed by the TSS Rocketry Team, pictured below, in February and named after the Irish goddess of knowledge and wisdom will be launched in Birr, Co.Offaly on the Saturday 7th October at 12pm . The ST Danu will be launched against a rocket built by University College Cork (UCC) who will also be in attendance. The launch will be done in association with and under the guidance of Colin Fitzsimons from the Irish Rocketry Society.

Following the launch there will be a tour of the brand new Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) Radio Telescope, , constructed over the summer in Birr Castle. LOFAR is one of the most advanced astrophysics telescopes in the world, observing the universe at radio frequencies in unprecedented detail. As well as a visit to the Leviathan Telescope, which was the largest telescope in the world from 1845 till 1917 and discovered the spiral nature of the M51 nebula, now known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. Along with the Leviathan tour there will also be access to the Birr Castle gardens and science gallery. The combined tours will cost an additional €7.

From Left to Right Alex Kloeden, Conor Hughes, Reuben Cruise, Maggie Goulden, Ian Finnegan, Abhinav O'Shivkumar , Stephen Ennis. Picture taken by Colin Fitzsimons.

This event is open to anyone who wishes to attend, just click the attending button on the Facebook event page so we can be sure of exact numbers. Continuing updates may be found on our social media accounts; Facebook: Trinity Space Society and Twitter: TrinitySpace.

Facebook Link Here

New radio telescope in Birr detects huge solar storms

13 September 2017

The past two weeks have been nothing but stormy for the Sun, and the recently installed LOFAR radio telescope in Birr has been key to helping scientists keep an eye on weather conditions on our stormy stellar neighbour and to forecasting its effects here on Earth. On September 3, 2017 a huge group of sunspots, many times the size of the Earth, appeared on the surface of the Sun, and have been producing solar storms and spectacular displays of northern lights ever since.

“This sunspot group has unleashed one of the the largest flares in over a decade and one of the biggest in the last 40 years”, according to Professor Peter Gallagher, a solar physicist in the School of Physics at Trinity, “And we detected another whopping solar storm last Sunday, which was moving at about 3,000 km/s and arrived at Earth last night [September 12].” Solar flares are huge bursts of radiation that can release energies equivalent to billions of hydrogen bombs in several minutes and can be associated with ejections of hot clouds of gas into space at millions of kilometres per hour. While solar storms can produce beautiful displays of the northern lights, they can also cause problems in the communication and navigation systems that we use as part of our every-day lives.

“The recent solar storms have reportedly caused problems with radio communications systems used by first responders dealing with the fall-out of Hurricane Irma in the US.” says Prof. Gallagher. “We have been using our instruments at Birr Castle to monitor this activity and its effects on the Earth’s upper atmosphere and magnetic field.” Key to monitoring this increased solar activity has been the recently installed Irish Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR) radio telescope at Birr, Co. Offaly.

Research Fellow at Trinity, Dr Diana Morosan, said: “I-LOFAR uses hundreds of sensitive antennae to detect bursts of radio waves from solar flares and solar storms. I-LOFAR is enabling us to observe the Sun with greater accuracy than ever before and therefore to better understand its effects on our planet and on the technologies we depend on every day.” The top image shows a NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) image of the September 10, 2017 X8.3 flare. A burst of radio waves associated with the flare was observed by I-LOFAR at Birr Castle, while NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope detected a bright flash of high energy X-rays. Credit: Laura Hayes & Peter Gallagher (TCD).

Large Image Here

But these are early days for I-LOFAR operations, and as the team learns how to operate the array on its own and as part of the International LOFAR Telescope, we are expecting many new astronomical discoveries from Birr, Co. Offaly.

See LOFAR for more information

Trinity Walton Club team takes top prize at Ultimate Pitch Event

05 September 2017

Tortue, a backpack designed to minimise back pain, designed and pitched by a team comprised of Trinity Walton Club students took home the top prize at the Ultimate Pitch Event, held at the Science Gallery Dublin.

The Ultimate Pitch Event is organised by Trinity Walton Club (TWC), Trinity's STEM enrichment programme designed for second-level students. Known as ‘Alphas’, the students are all members of TWC, which promotes self-directed learning.

The winning team, along with the five other finalists, developed their innovation, pitch and presentation over the summer by using the lean canvas business development model through a series of summer workshops in partnership with Bank of Ireland’s innovation team.

The five other finalists competing at the Ultimate Pitch Event today were:

  • Happy Head: a wearable that monitors brain activity for stress levels
  • Mental Health Now: an app to track and improve your mental health
  • Double Treble: a page-turning music stand
  • Vegnet: a social platform for recipe sharing
  • Visiglove: a wearable glove that turns sign language to text and speech

The winning team behind Tortue were awarded a 3-D printed, revolving trophy that was specially designed for the Ultimate Pitch Event by TWC educator, Patrick Lynch, a PhD student in the Trinity School of Engineering. The trophy consists of an outer cog with two inner rings which rotate. These rings represent the complementary and interdisciplinary aspects of STEM and entrepreneurship.

Conall O Móráin, Shraya Sharma and Katarzyna Basinska with Dr. Arlene Gallagher on the Sunday Business show on Today FM

Commenting on the winning team, Director of Trinity Walton Club and Assistant Professor in Physics at Trinity, Arlene Gallagher said: “I’m delighted for the Tortue team and for all the other teams whose entrepreneurial spirits have been awoken as a result of this experience. It’s just the beginning for these highly creative Alphas, and they are all truly winners! “We’ve had over 1,000 young people attend Trinity Walton Club since we first started three years ago. It has been a privilege to work alongside such creative and inspirational young minds. We are currently recruiting for our club programme and we would encourage second-level students with a curiosity in STEM to get in touch.”

The judging panel for the Ultimate Pitch Event comprised Head of Innovation, Bank of Ireland, David Tighe, Head of Skills, Engagement and Statistics, HEA, Dr Vivienne Patterson, and Managing Editor, Silicon Republic, Elaine Burke. Commenting on the Ultimate Pitch Event, David Tighe, Head of Innovation, Bank of Ireland said: “Bank of Ireland and Trinity College have a long legacy of working together and we are delighted to support Trinity Walton Club, an initiative which succeeds through the talent and enthusiasm of students and staff. We saw some brilliant concepts today and for many it was their first time bringing an idea to life which in itself is an achievement. I would like to commend everybody involved for their commitment and effort.”

The Ultimate Pitch Event and summer workshops were organised by Trinity Walton Club and facilitated by Director of Trinity Walton Club, Dr Arlene Gallagher; Project Architect, Sarah Tully; and Entrepreneur in Residence in Bank of Ireland, Gene Murphy.

Dublin secondary school students Shraya Sharma and Katarzyna Basinska pose with their Trinity Walton Club Ultimate Pitch Event trophy, which was specially designed by Patrick Lynch, a PhD student in the Trinity School of Engineering.

Minister Halligan Switches on World Leading Radio Telescope: I-LOFAR

27 July 2017

Today, 27th July 2017, the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan T.D. was at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly to switch on I-LOFAR telescope, the largest radio telescope in the world. The International LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) Telescope is a €150 million network of radio telescopes distributed across Europe. Irish Government and agency investment in research has propelled Ireland to the forefront of radio astronomy.

The Irish telescope, I-LOFAR, is located at Birr, Co Offaly adjacent to the historic Leviathan telescope, which was built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845 and was the largest optical telescope in the world until 1917. The telescope in Birr has been supported with an award of €1.4 million from Science Foundation Ireland and the annual membership fee for LOFAR will be funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Speaking at the event the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan T.D. said, “I am delighted to turn the switch on I-LOFAR and link Ireland with our European partners in this pioneering research collaboration in astronomy. Membership of LOFAR affords a unique opportunity for research and engagement to young people across the country with astronomy and science in general. As Minister it is my distinct pleasure to be here to celebrate the achievement of such a wide section of the Irish scientific community.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said “We are delighted to see the progress that has been made in constructing I-LOFAR at Birr Castle. Science Foundation Ireland has supported this through an investment of €1.4m, to ensure that we have world-class research facilities in Ireland that enable researchers to explore new ideas in the areas of radio astronomy, big data, data analytics and supercomputing. I am confident that this cutting-edge infrastructure will create exciting opportunities for new and innovative collaborations between researchers, and enable them to secure future funding from industry and from EU programmes.”

Richard Moat, CEO of Eir, who are providing high speed fibre connection for the telescope said, “open eir has provided the high speed fibre connection required to power the telescope.” Commenting on the company’s involvement the CEO of eir, said “’This is an amazing initiative, which represents a significant step forward in astronomical research, and we at eir are very proud to be able to play a part. We have deployed cutting edge fibre wavelength technology, providing 10GB uncontended symmetrical access to I-LOFAR at Birr Castle. These speeds are game changing for I-LOFAR and enable the team to transmit and exchange vast amounts of data to the I-LOFAR network in Europe. Working in collaboration with HEAnet we have connected the circuit to Groningen in the Netherlands, which is currently transmitting 3.2 gigabits per second”

Profesor Gallagher, Head of the I-LOFAR Collaboration and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity, said “The Irish LOFAR radio telescope opens up a new era of astronomical research in Ireland and connects us to the leading network of radio telescopes in Europe. It will be used to study the early Universe, detect exploding stars, search for new planets and understand the effects of the Sun on the Earth.The huge volumes of data that the radio telescope will produce will requires us to develop new software and data analytics techniques to process and understand the data. I-LOFAR really is a test-bed for big data in Ireland.

Joining LOFAR marks another important milestone in the implementation of Innovation 2020, the national strategy for research and innovation. It will support exciting, world-class scientific research and in addition the data intensive nature of radio astronomy will enhance Ireland’s world-leading capability in big data and data analytics. The skills in software and big data that young researchers will acquire from participation in LOFAR are in high demand in business and will open diverse and high quality career opportunities for them.

I-LOFAR with the Milky Way over head (Credit: I-LOFAR Intern Luis Alberto Canizares)

New monitoring system helps power grid operators meet the challenges they face from electric vehicles and growth in renewable energy.

23 July 2017

The only time most people give electricity a second thought is when we experience what those living Stateside call an “outage”. But whirring away in the background is a huge power grid that makes everything work seamlessly. This, too, we take for granted and few electricity consumers would lose sleep wondering if the grid is operating optimally. However, this is exactly what keeps those behind energy prestart, Electrical Analytics, up at night.

Dr. Barry Murphy Electrical Analytics

“We have developed a low-cost solution to address a current operational shortcoming within the power industry: the lack of an easy to install and cost-effective way of monitoring transformers on the distribution grid,” says company co-founder, Barry Murphy.

Electrical Analytics’ solution is quick to install and can be tailored to suit customers’ specific needs. The device, which can be retrofitted, gets attached to the transformer and performs real-time analysis on the health of the transformer and quality of its power. Operators can use the data to prioritise maintenance and upgrades, model their networks better and improve efficiency.

“On average, there is one transformer for every 100 people in the world. In Ireland alone we have about 20,000 ground-mounted transformers. They’re the kind of thing you only notice when you’re looking for them, but they’re everywhere,” says Murphy.

“The majority of transformers are over 20 years old, so utilities want to maximise their useful lifetime before they need to be replaced. We came up with our idea after speaking to utilities and seeing a need for a solution that could be easily rolled out. Currently, only the large substations on the grid have any kind of monitoring. However, much of the challenges that lie ahead come from the smaller transformers we are targeting.”

Work on the product began in late 2013 with funding from Enterprise Ireland (EI) under its commercialisation programme. Just recently, Electrical Analytics has benefited from EI’s Business Partner programme with the appointment of an experienced commercial director. Investment to date has been in the order of €500,000 and Electrical Analytics will be spun out from Trinity later this year.

There are currently six people on the team from areas such as computer and electrical engineering while the principal investigator is Prof Igor Shvets who has been involved in three previous successful spinouts from Trinity’s School of Physics. The project has had a number of units on test with ESB Networks since December 2016 and its primary potential customers are distribution network operators, but any large company with a micro-grid could benefit from the technology. Electrical Analytics will make its money by selling hardware and data and from a recurring service fee.

“We’re not the only company looking at this problem, but our strengths lie in our in-depth knowledge of the physics involved coupled with a multi-disciplinary team with a wide skill base to deliver,” Murphy says. “We are also using the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to analyse the data which identifies useful business metrics that would remain hidden using more traditional analysis.”

Article by Olive Keogh Irish Times

Irish Times Article Link

Trinity Walton Club's summer camp explores innovation and entrepreneurship

5 July 2017

Last weekend, students involved with the Trinity Walton Club took part in two Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship (ICE) summer camps, organised in partnership with Bank of Ireland.

The three-day event provided second level students with an opportunity to explore their STEM ideas and projects, as well as to allow them to develop as entrepreneurs.

Director of Trinity Walton Club and Assistant Professor in Physics Dr Arlene O’Neill said: "For most, if not all of our Alphas, this was the first time they experienced what it would take to bring their STEM ideas to the marketplace. It was wonderful to see them fully embrace this opportunity, and advance their problem-solving, communication and teamwork skills."

The camps were broken into two parts, which involved unravelling the processes behind science and creativity, and exploring the idea of ideas, followed-up with start-up mentorship and pitch training.

Throughout the camps, each team applied the Lean Canvas Model to their ideas, conducted their own market research, developed market value propositions, and finally delivered a series of pitches. The summer camp was organised by Trinity Walton Club and facilitated by project Architect, Sarah Tully, and Entrepreneur in Residence in Bank of Ireland, Gene Murphy.

Murphy, who has previously delivered the GEARS48 entrepreneurship programme to various groups, said: "This is one of the youngest age profiles we’ve delivered this programme to, and they had no problem diving straight in. Throughout the camps, they pitched some really good start-up ideas and I’m already looking forward to the final pitch event."

Students from both camps will come back in September to compete in the Ultimate Pitch Event, where one team will win the inaugural STEM+ICE trophy.

Quotes from students involved in the Trinity Walton Club on their ICE experience;

Eoin “I’ve learnt a lot more about presentation and what goes into making a start-up.”

Emily “It’s great to be able to work together and bounce ideas off each other, and it brings our friendship closer together as well”

Jan “I feel like I have the skills necessary to start up a business from an idea”

Yasmin “I really think that it’s such an enriching and amazing programme”

Ireland joins leading international astronomy collaboration

30 June 2017

Ireland is to join the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration after Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD and Trinity Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast signed a funding agreement between the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Trinity.

The International LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) Telescope is a €150 million network of radio telescopes distributed across Europe. The huge volume of data from all the telescopes is combined using advanced data analytics on a supercomputer in the Netherlands. The network therefore performs like a single, super-telescope of size equivalent to the geographical separation of the constituent telescopes.

The Irish telescope will be located at Birr, Co Offaly, adjacent to the historic Leviathan telescope, which was built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845 and was the largest optical telescope in the world until 1917. The telescope in Birr has been supported with an award of €1.4 million from Science Foundation Ireland and the annual membership fee for LOFAR will be funded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Joining LOFAR marks another important milestone in the implementation of Innovation 2020, the national strategy for research and innovation. It will support exciting, world-class scientific research and in addition the data intensive nature of radio astronomy will enhance Ireland’s world-leading capability in big data and data analytics. The skills in software and big data that young researchers will acquire from participation in LOFAR are in high demand in business and will open diverse and high quality career opportunities for them.

Minister John Halligan said: “I am delighted that Ireland is joining this pioneering research collaboration in radio astronomy. It is very exciting that researchers across Ireland, both North and South, will now be able to participate in international research on fundamental questions about the origin and structure of the universe. Membership of LOFAR will also increase the engagement of young people with science and inspire our future researcher leaders.”

Dr Prendergast said: “Joining the International LOFAR Telescope collaboration will open many new research and funding opportunities for Irish researchers and students in Europe and further afield. Indeed, one of the I-LOFAR team, Tom Ray, a Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Trinity, has recently won a prestigious €2 million Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.”

Head of the I-LOFAR Collaboration and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity, Professor Peter Gallagher said: “This is the first time that a research-grade radio telescope has been built in Ireland. I-LOFAR will enable Irish researchers to study solar activity and exploding stars, search for new planets, and explore the distant universe in a completely new way. And this will be achieved by developing cutting-edge data analytics techniques on supercomputers here in Ireland and the Netherlands. I-LOFAR really will be a test-bed for big data and data analytics.”

School of Physics researcher unlocks vital information about triggers for neurodegenerative diseases

15 May 2017

A team of international researchers led by Prof Martin Hegner, Investigator in the School of Physics have for the first time observed how proteins fold while being produced in real time. This has significant implications for understanding protein synthesis generally and particularly in neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Their findings have been published today in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (

Prof Hegner’s work focuses on individual ribosomes, complex molecules which use genetic information to assemble proteins. There can be several million ribosomes in a typical human cell and they are about 20 nanometres in diameter. The assembly of proteins is crucial for a healthy functioning body and all the proteins in our bodies must fold into complex shapes to do their job. While protein synthesis is of fundamental importance in cellular processes, how they are created is not fully understood. One of the events that occurs during protein synthesis is “folding”, where the chains of amino acids (polypeptides) fold into their final 3-dimensional structures.

Several neurodegenerative diseases, e.g. Alzheimer’s and many allergies are believed to be as a result of misfolded proteins. This research is thus important in developing further understanding of such conditions and in developing drugs that can target and prevent certain foldings. There has been interest expressed in Prof Hegner’s work by pharmaceutical companies.

Prof Hegner commented, “The ribosome translation machinery is a highly complex system, involving many different factors such as energy input, mRNA decoding, amino acids, as well as their relative movements and interactions. Investigating this system at the single-molecule level required a highly ambitious and multi-faceted approach that pushes the boundaries of what is technically possible.

“We have identified key mechanisms within individual ribosomes using our unique optical tweezer instrumentation, of which there are only approximately 5 world-wide. Our expertise in the design of the device and the biological experiment, along with colleagues in Germany enabled us to “grab” the ribosome and the nascent protein chain and provided sufficient stability and sensitivity to observe the synthesis and folding of single polypeptides in real time at the nanometer scale. This was the first time this was observed world-wide and it is very significant to the research community and in developing more in-depth understandings of protein synthesis, – folding and certain diseases.”

Prof Hegner was awarded a Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator award in 2016, valued at €1.3m, which will enable him to continue his work in this field.

Single-ribosome real-time protein synthesis assay. Individual translating ribosomes (green and blue) are tethered by the large ribosomal subunit (green) and the nascent polypeptide chain (red) via DNA handles (grey) to optically trapped beads (transparent pink). tRNAs (purple) bound to elongation factor Tu (teal) decode the mRNA sequence (orange) into a protein. Artistic rendering by Mario Avellaneda. Single-ribosome real-time protein synthesis assay

The structure of the ribosome at atomic resolution was only determined in 2000, for which the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 2009.

PNAS Early Edition

For further information please contact:

  • Martin Hegner
  • CRANN, School pf Physics
  • +353 (0)1 8962285
  • email:
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • Dublin 2, Ireland

Professor Peter Gallagher made Chevalier by the French Government

At a presentation at the French Ambassador’s Residence in Dublin, Professor Peter Gallagher from the School of Physics was invested as a Chevalier des Palmes Académiques/Knight of the Order of Academic Palms.

16 May 2017

Originally a decoration founded by Emperor Napoléon in 1808 to honour eminent members of the University of Paris, the Chevalier des Palmes Académiques is a national order of merit of France for distinguished academics and figures in the world of culture and education. The Chevalier award recognizes Professor Teeling’s and Professor Gallagher’s contributions to scientific research here and around the world.

Minister Marcela Corcoran-Kennedy and Lady Rosse from Birr Castle at the French Ambassador’s residence. Professor Peter Gallagher

Peter is a Professor in Physics and Associate Dean of Research at Trinity College Dublin, where he runs a large research group focusing on understanding solar activity and its effects on the Earth. He was recently appointed as an advisor to the Director of Science at the European Space Agency’s Headquarters in Paris, and is currently building Ireland’s first research-grade radio telescope at Birr Castle Demesne in Co. Offaly, supported by Science Foundation Ireland.

Peter shared the honour with his wife, Professor Emma Teeling who was also invested as a Chevalier des Palmes Académiques/Knight of the Order of Academic Palms at the same event. Emma is a Professor in Zoology and a member of the Governing Authority at University College Dublin. Emma holds a prestigious European Research Council grant for her research using bats as a model to uncover the biological basis of healthy ageing. Much of her team’s field-work is based in Brittany, France in collaboration with the conservation organisation Bretagne Vivante. Professor Teeling is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and on the board of the Irish Research Council.

School of Physics researchers Identify 22 New Magnets and New Discovery Procedure

14 April 2017

An international collaboration led by Prof Stefano Sanvito Investigator in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, has identified 22 new magnets in the last year. This rate of discovery is 20 times faster than that achieved in the last 2,000 years, in which time we have discovered about 2,000 magnetic materials, or one per year. Their method of using advanced computer simulations enabled them to predict the chemical composition of new magnets and their findings have been published today in the prestigious journal, Science Advances.*

Since the invention of the compass, magnetic materials have been key for the development of every-day technologies: the hard disks of our computers are composed of billions of tiny magnets; wind turbines are made from strong permanent magnets; as are the electrical motor in our cars, kitchen blenders and lawn mowers. Current high-performing magnets are made of expensive elements (e.g. rare earths) and their price is very volatile. This is a central reason for the need to continue to identify new magnetic materials - avoiding the risk of supply collapse. In addition to this, the process of discovering new magnets can be lengthy. The first report of a magnetic material dates back to 79AD. In all this time, we have discovered about 2,000 materials, which behave as magnets, or one magnet per year.

This research provides a path for the fast discovery of new advanced materials. Rather than have experimentalists working in the lab trying to make approximately 300,000 new hypothetical materials, Prof Sanvito’s team can use computer simulations combined with powerful databases to predict the properties of these 300,000 materials and then advise which ones are likely to work best for particular applications. They can recommend materials that might be best suited to solar applications, or for thermo-electrics, anti-corrosive or aerospace materials design.

This research provides a path for the fast discovery of new advanced materials designed for applications ranging from electronics to the aerospace industry Professor Stefano Sanvito

School of Physics researchers make major breakthrough in smart printed electronics Leading innovation could transform everyday products (like your milk carton) into intelligent smart devices

07 April 2017

Researchers from the School of Physics working in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of 2-dimensional nanomaterials for the first time. These 2D materials combine exciting electronic properties with the potential for low-cost production. This breakthrough could unlock the potential for applications such as food packaging that displays a digital countdown to warn you of spoiling, wine labels that alert you when your white wine is at its optimum temperature, or even a window pane that shows the day’s forecast. The AMBER team’s findings have been published today in the leading journal Science*.

This discovery opens the path for industry, such as ICT and pharmaceutical, to cheaply print a host of electronic devices from solar cells to LEDs with applications from interactive smart food and drug labels to next-generation banknote security and e-passports.

Prof Jonathan Coleman, who is an investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said, “In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging. Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information: for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out-of-date.

We believe that 2D nanomaterials can compete with the materials currently used for printed electronics. Compared to other materials employed in this field, our 2D nanomaterials have the capability to yield more cost effective and higher performance printed devices. However, while the last decade has underlined the potential of 2D materials for a range of electronic applications, only the first steps have been taken to demonstrate their worth in printed electronics. This publication is important because it shows that conducting, semiconducting and insulating 2D nanomaterials can be combined together in complex devices. We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing. We believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from 2D nanosheets.”

Led by Prof Coleman, in collaboration with the groups of Prof Georg Duesberg (AMBER) and Prof. Laurens Siebbeles (TU Delft, Netherlands), the team used standard printing techniques to combine graphene nanosheets as the electrodes with two other nanomaterials, tungsten diselenide and boron nitride as the channel and separator (two important parts of a transistor) to form an all-printed, all-nanosheet, working transistor.

Printable electronics have developed over the last thirty years based mainly on printable carbon-based molecules. While these molecules can easily be turned into printable inks, such materials are somewhat unstable and have well-known performance limitations. There have been many attempts to surpass these obstacles using alternative materials, such as carbon nanotubes or inorganic nanoparticles, but these materials have also shown limitations in either performance or in manufacturability. While the performance of printed 2D devices cannot yet compare with advanced transistors, the team believe there is a wide scope to improve performance beyond the current state-of-the-art for printed transistors.

The ability to print 2D nanomaterials is based on Prof. Coleman’s scalable method of producing 2D nanomaterials, including graphene, boron nitride, and tungsten diselenide nanosheets, in liquids, a method he has licensed to Samsung and Thomas Swan. These nanosheets are flat nanoparticles that are a few nanometres thick but hundreds of nanometres wide. Critically, nanosheets made from different materials have electronic properties that can be conducting, insulating or semiconducting and so include all the building blocks of electronics. Liquid processing is especially advantageous in that it yields large quantities of high quality 2D materials in a form that is easy to process into inks. Prof. Coleman’s publication provides the potential to print circuitry at extremely low cost which will facilitate a range of applications from animated posters to smart labels.

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

* All-printed thin-film transistors from networks of liquid-exfoliated nanosheets, Science, 7th April 2017 (

See Science Article Here

Trinity Walton Club goes global

30 March 2017

Trinity College Dublin is excited to announce the expansion of its existing STEM education enrichment programme, Trinity Walton Club. This summer, Trinity Walton Club is expanding its reach with the inclusion of a residential and cultural component for international students from the United States and beyond.

Founded in 2014 with the goal of creating STEM innovators, problem solvers and critical thinkers in order to cultivate a STEM-literate society, Trinity Walton Club operates in partnership with the Schools of Physics, Mathematics and Education at Trinity College Dublin.

Post-primary students aged between 13 and 17 from around Ireland convene in the School of Physics each Saturday to explore STEM topics ranging from computer programming in Python to Taylor expansions in mathematics and much more. In addition to these Saturday clubs, Trinity Walton Club reaches students all over Ireland through the addition of an Easter Camp programme as well as a variety of summer camp offerings.

Working closely with Global Relations at Trinity College Dublin, Trinity Walton Club is this year opening its upcoming summer programmes to international students for the first time. By partnering with Aspire by API, Trinity Walton Club will continue to focus on delivering an exceptional STEM educational experience. This unique international STEM programme will immerse incoming international students in Trinity College as they experience Trinity Walton Club alongside their Irish peers and take up residence in Trinity Hall. Outside of the five-day STEM camp, international students will also get the opportunity to explore and experience Dublin and its surroundings over the 11-day programme.

Founding Director of the Trinity Walton Club and Assistant Professor in Physics at Trinity College Dublin, Arlene O’Neill, said: “We are immensely excited to welcome a group of enthusiastic STEM pioneers from the US to Trinity College Dublin this summer." "These students will be immersed in what we hope will be a transformative and diverse educational experience, developed by university academics, and facilitated by Trinity researchers.”

As the programme expands to cohorts of American and international students, newly hired American high school teacher-turned Programme Coordinator, Kat Weiser, shares this excitement. She said: “I think it’s a neat opportunity for US students to explore their academic interests while broadening their cultural and social horizons.” Trinity Walton Club students take part in STEM activities and work on personal projects as part of the club. Walton Club

Visit Walton Club

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.

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 (

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