Irish researchers to play major role in €1bn project

Irish researchers are to play a major role in a €1bn project, developing the world’s latest wonder material.

Graphene, which promises to be even more useful than plastic, is the strongest material known to man, harder than diamond, impermeable, bendable to any shape, the best conductor of electricity, as thin as an atom, and see-through.

It is the thinnest material, it conducts electricity much better than copper, it is 100-300 times stronger than steel, and has unique optical properties. It is set to become the wonder material of the 21st century, as plastics were to the 20th century, including by replacing silicon in information and communications technology products.

Scientists and industry worldwide are competing to develop it for use in planes, cars, computers, communications, energy storage, and sensors and, so far, Europe is ahead of the pack.

Jonathan Coleman and his team in Crann (the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Naodevices), the nanoscience institute in TCD, are part of the multi-national recipients of this, the largest ever research project funded by the EU.

Chosen as a flagship project designed to create growth and jobs for the future, it will receive €1bn in funding over the next 10 years. With UCD, Ireland’s share for the first year will be €800,000, according to the European Commission.

Prof Coleman is deputy leader of one of the 15 work packages and will co-ordinate and help manage those working on growing the material on a range of surfaces. “It is fantastic to be involved in such a big consortium with 74 groups who are the best working on something like this,” said Prof Coleman. “We will play an important role.”

Ranked as one of the top 100 materials scientists of the last decade, Prof Coleman described graphene, on which his team have been working for some time, as one of the most exciting materials of our lifetime, whose full potential has yet to be realised. “Our research will be an important element in helping to realise that potential,” he said.

With funding from Science Foundation Ireland and two grants from the prestigious EU’s European Research Council, the team have been working over the past five years on graphene and on manufacturing it in large quantities.

Crann works with industry to develop research products for commercial use. Prof Coleman said he believes this has the potential to benefit Irish industry and create many jobs in the future.

Research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn congratulating the team, saying: “It is fantastic that there will be Irish participation in what will be one of the biggest and most significant research collaborations of the coming decade. This shows that Irish researchers are active at the cutting edge of science and technology.”

Graphene is a carbon-based material. Two scientists in the University of Manchester in 2004 isolated it when cleaning a piece of graphite with scotch tape and discovered micro layers of the substance stuck to it. The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2010 was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”.

A second major research programme, The Human Brain Project, also received a €1bn award to help create the world’s largest experimental centre for developing the most detailed model of the brain, with a view to creating personalised neurological treatments to extend the lives of millions.

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