Giant grant for tiny project at CRANN

By Conor Dempsey

Excitement abounds in the Trinity nanoscience world. At the end of last month Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator at the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN), received a prestigious €1.5 million European Research Council starter grant. These grants are awarded to 300 top scientists across Europe: 10 percent of those who apply.

In addition, Trinity will launch a new undergraduate degree program in nanoscience entitled “Nanoscience – Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials”. The course will be run jointly by the Schools of Physics and Chemistry. It is similar to the old Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials course but with a more specific nanoscience focus in the Sophister years. Dr. Dónal A. Mac Dónaill, the course leader, told Trinity News that the course has been progressively evolving in this direction but that they are now “accelerating” that change.

Last year, students of the old Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials course received specialist tutorials from staff at CRANN. At first the biggest change will occur in the Sophister years, especially in the laboratory. The grant received by Professor Coleman is a continuation of the success enjoyed by CRANN over the past academic year, during which researchers at the institute drew more than €8 million in non-exchequer funding.

CRANN is ranked sixth globally in terms of both the quality of its research as well as output volume per capita. The Forfás report on Ireland’s Nanotechnology Commercialisation Framework 2010-2014, which recognised nanotechnology as an important area of growth in the Irish economy, was launched by Minister for Science, Conor Lenihan, last week. The report studies Ireland in comparison to other countries including industry leaders Germany and the US. It highlights Ireland’s investment in nanotechnology and the resulting good infrastructure. However, it emphasises that the industry here needs to focus in order to achieve the profile it is capable of.

“Ireland should take a very close critical look at applications in markets traditionally considered strength areas, where quality was found to be lagging,” says the report. Furthermore, Ireland “needs to accelerate its efforts to focus resources in order to keep up with the progress of other nations in the coming years.”

Nanotechnology is a very broad term for a science with applications everywhere from electronics to medicine to tackling climate change. Professor Coleman’s research currently focuses on two materials: bismuth telluride and molybdenum disulfide. Bismuth telluride is used to generate energy from waste heat, for example from car engines. Professor Coleman’s method of separating graphene using a liquid process could be applied to bismuth telluride, which could then be coated onto thin film substrates and attached to the side of a moving car or a nuclear plant to capture the lost heat energy and convert it into usable electrical energy.

Nanotechnology is forecasted to be incorporated into products worth $2.5 trillion globally by 2015, up from $254 billion in 2009.