TCD, UCD receive funding to study graphene


Artificial retinas, lightweight aircraft and “roll-up” computer screens are technologies that could arise from a €1 billion EU-funded research effort to study a unique form of carbon called graphene.

Two Irish universities are involved in this major initiative, and together will receive funding worth more than €1 billion over two to three years.

Graphene is one of the strangest forms of pure carbon yet discovered. It forms in layers just one atom thick and has unusual properties including being the strongest material known, 200 times stronger than steel, despite being so thin. It also has many possible applications in electronics, aviation and medical products.

Trinity College Dublin’s Jonathan Coleman will be deputy leader of one of 15 work packages set up by the Commission under the “Future and Emerging Technologies Graphene Flagship Project”. The project will involve the work of 126 academic and industry groups from 17 countries.

Prof Coleman is the professor of chemical physics in Trinity’s school of physics and is based in Crann, the university’s centre for research in nanostrauctures and nanodevices that designs, builds and studies tiny objects measured at just atoms across. The funding will support a post doctoral and two post graduate researchers at Crann.

University College Dublin’s Prof Kenneth Dawson is chair of physical chemistry in the school of chemistry and chemical biology and director of the Centre for BioNano Interactions. His group looks at any biological effects caused by exposure to nanoparticles in terms of their physical and chemical properties.

He will also bring in three new researchers and Prof Dawson will be looking at the health and safety aspects of graphene and related nano substances.

The fact that Irish universities were at the centre of the largest research project yet launched by the EU was evidence of the “tremendous esteem” in which our researchers were held internationally, said Minister of State for Research Sean Sherlock. It also demonstrated the relevance of Crann’s work “to Europe’s enterprise and societal development”.

Graphene was emerging as “one of the most exciting materials of our lifetime”, Prof Coleman said yesterday. Technology, energy and aviation companies were “racing” to discover graphene’s potential.

The EU had likened the scale of its flagship project to the moon landing programme in the 1960s or the human genome project from the 1990s, said Science Foundation Ireland director general, Prof Mark Ferguson. The foundation is a key funder of Crann.

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