In a €31.6 million project funded by the Higher Education Authority, ten third level institutions have teamed up to further develop Ireland’s growing nanotechnology industry. The participating colleges are TCD, UCD, DCU, NUI Galway, UCC, UL, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Ulster, DIT and Cork IT. The project is led by the national nanoscience consortium INSPIRE (Integrated Nanoscience Platform for Ireland) and was launched last Thursday in Trinity by Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology Dr. Jimmy Devins.
Nanotechnology is the study of particles less than 100 nanometers in width. To give you an idea of how small that is, a single nanometer is one million times smaller than a millimetre. Considering the small size of its particles, nanotechnology is capable of achieving huge feats including the production of faster and lighter computers, increasingly effective chemotherapy treatments and furthering the future generation of microelectronics. In the upcoming years experts predict that new products based on nanoscience will be part of and shape our daily lives.
The project will grant the ten participating colleges and over 500 researchers access to state-of-the-art laboratories fitted with the most up to date equipment available. The consortium has spent the last year purchasing this equipment, which previously was confined to usage in world renowned computer chip manufacturing companies. Professor John Boland, Director of consortium partner CRANN (Center for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanotechnolgy) at TCD explained that the participating institutions and members will be able to come together in an “all-island integrated approach to research, teaching and learning”.
INSPIRE also aims to improve fourth-level education in science through their graduate programme NANOGRAD. The PhD course is expected to become internationally respected, attracting students from both home and abroad. Professor Roger Whatmore of UCC states the programme will provide “the very best teaching and learning in nanoscience and nanotechnology” in the hopes of advancing the Irish economy. Graduates of the course can expect to be in an excellent position to enter a wide range of industries including biotechnology, electronics, chemical technology, new and smart materials or further research and development. Experts believe knowledge of nanoscience and nanotechnology will become increasingly in demand in these industries in the next five to ten years. This will be encouraging news to budding science majors!
Ireland is currently ranked sixth in the world for its research of nanotechnology with the likes of Switzerland, the Netherlands, America, Canada and Belgium leading the way. However with the help of INSPIRE, Ireland is predicted to rise as a world leader in the science. Government funding in nanotechnology was prioritized during the Celtic Tiger, with funds reaching €25 million in 2004 and €28 million in 2005, the highest funding per capita in the world. At the launch of the project Dr. Devins was hopeful that developments in nanotechnology could increase the value of Irish exports to more than €13 billion by 2010.