Crann professor awarded €2.5m for nanowire research by ERC

Research aims to create computer networks that mimic the functions of the human brain

Prof John Boland, director of Crann: awarded a €2.5 million research grant by the European Research Council.  Photograph: David Sleator

Prof John Boland, director of Crann: awarded a €2.5 million research grant by the European Research Council. Photograph: David Sleator

Thu, Apr 4, 2013, 06:00

Prof John Boland, director of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (Crann) at Trinity College Dublin has been awarded the second only advanced ERC grant ever awarded in physical sciences in Ireland.

It represents the maximum amount of funding available for an individual.

Prof Boland and his team are working to create computer networks that mimic the functions of the human brain and vastly improve on current computer capabilities such as facial recognition.

Nanowires, made of materials such as copper or silicon, are just a few atoms thick and can be readily engineered into tangled networks.

Researchers worldwide are investigating the possibility that nanowires hold the future of energy production and could deliver the next generation of computers.

Prof Boland has already found that exposing a random network of nanowires to stimuli like electricity, light and chemicals, generates chemical reaction at the junctions where the nanowires cross.

By controlling the stimuli, it is possible to harness these reactions to manipulate the connectivity within the network.

This could eventually allow computations that mimic the functions of the nerves in the human brain – particularly the development of associative memory functions which could lead to significant advances in areas such as facial recognition.

Prof Boland said in a statement yesterday: “This funding from the European Research Council allows me to continue my work to deliver the next generation of computing, which differs from the traditional digital approach.

“The human brain is neurologically advanced and exploits connectivity that is controlled by electrical and chemical signals. My research will create nanowire networks that have the potential to mimic aspects of the neurological functions of the human brain, which may revolutionise the performance of current day computers. It could be truly ground-breaking.”

The ERC was set up in 2007 by the European Union to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding.

Since its launch, the ERC has selected only 1,400 advanced grant projects for funding throughout Europe.