Chemistry student represents Ireland at Nobel laureate meeting

Posted on: 11 July 2017

PhD candidate in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, Eoin McCarney, has just returned from Germany after representing Ireland at the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. At the event, Eoin connected with aspiring young scientists from all over the world and discussed the next-gen science that will lead us into the future with a number of Nobel Prize winners. Eoin was chosen as one of two Irish representatives after a rigorous selection process, having initially been nominated by the Irish Research Council.

Working with Professor of Chemistry in Trinity, Thorri Gunnlaugsson, he uses X-ray crystallography among other techniques to provide blueprints of how new soft materials form on the molecular scale, of which little is currently known. This new class of dynamic materials has shown the ability to self-heal upon damage — making them candidates for applications in wound-healing and also material surface repair (e.g. in display screens and car body panels).

This Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image shows a gel-like material (xerogel) after it has been dried out, which resembles a dried-out river. Credit: Eoin McCarney.

Eoin McCarney said: “I was very grateful for this opportunity. During the meeting I was witness to the expertise displayed by 30 invited Nobel Prize-winning scientists, whose common goal was the same as the slogan of the meeting — Educate. Inspire. Connect.”

Eoin McCarney (right), was one of only two Irish students invited to contribute at the Nobel Laureate meeting.

The week included talks from the Nobel Laureates themselves — many of whom had interesting advice for young scientists. For example, Professor John Walker, known for the explanation of the enzymatic process that creates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), underlined the importance of finding a good mentor with resources who will strike a balance between giving space and direction.

Eoin also engaged with Professor Ben Feringa and Professor Jean- Pierre Sauvage, two of the three 2016 Nobel Prize Winners for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. Professor Feringa emphasised the importance molecular machines will have in the near future and the possibility of mimicking the 50 or so rotary systems in the body is achievable. He said he was a big fan of Mother Nature, but that it’s not necessarily as good as it gets – suggesting that science should continue to push boundaries in trying to understand more and solve some of the biggest societal problems.

Eoin added: “I also asked Professor Sauvage about how things have changed since he won the prize. He said he is massively involved in bringing science to young people, and he regularly organises for schools to come to his institution so as to inspire and engage them in science.”

“As a young scientist who loves what I do, this was most encouraging. There are many problems yet to be solved and it’s the young scientists of the future who will tackle them.”

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