Background
johnny_coleman

Irish scientists have outlined how they managed to make the “wonder material” graphene, incredibly using dishwashing liquid and a kitchen blender!! Graphene is thin, strong, flexible and electrically conductive, and has the potential to transform electronics as well as other technologies.

The Irish-UK team (led by Prof Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College Dublin whose research we profiled in Series One of The Science Squad) poured graphite powder into a blender, then added water and dishwashing liquid, mixing at high speed. The results are published in the journal Nature Materials and their work has been reported by BBC News.

Because of its potential uses in industry, a number of researchers have been searching for ways to make defect-free graphene in large amounts. The material comprises a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. Graphite – mixed with clay to produce the lead in pencils – is effectively made up of many layers of graphene stacked on top of one another.

Prof Coleman  and colleagues tested out a variety of laboratory mixers as well as kitchen blenders as potential tools for manufacturing the wonder material. They showed that the shearing force generated by a rapidly rotating tool in solution was sufficiently intense to separate the layers of graphene that make up graphite flakes without damaging their two-dimensional structure.

However, it’s not advisable to try this at home. The precise amount of dishwashing fluid that’s required is dependent on a number of different factors and the black solution containing graphene would need to be separated afterwards. But the researchers said their work “provides a significant step” towards deploying graphene in a variety of commercial applications.

The scientists have been working with UK-based firm Thomas Swan to scale up the process, with the aim of building a pilot plant that could produce a kilo of graphene per day by the end of the year. In addition to its potential uses in electronics, graphene might have applications in water treatment, oil spill clean-up and even in the production of thinner condoms.

mayo-clinic

“Our aim is to commercialise up to 20 U.S medical technologies and to create 10 spin-out companies in Ireland from collaboration with one of theworld’s leading medical institutions”  Enterprise Ireland

A collaboration between Enterprise Ireland and Mayo Clinic, USA will see the commercialisation of up to 20 novel medical technologies in Ireland over the next 5 years with the aim of creating several high value medical technology spin-out companies.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. witnessed the signing of the agreement by Jeff Bolton, Vice President Mayo Clinic and Dr. Keith O’Neill, Director Lifesciences Commercialisation, Enterprise Ireland in Dublin today (10th April 2014).

Welcoming the collaboration the Taoiseach said “this agreement between Mayo Clinic U.S and Enterprise Ireland is highly significant from an economic perspective and builds on an Irish connection with Mayo Clinic extending back to the 19th century when the founders of the Mayo Clinic, brothers Will and Charlie Mayo, attended the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland”.

“Ireland is delighted to support the work of Mayo Clinic to develop medical technologies that will benefit patients worldwide and this project fits well with the medical technology strategy supported by the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs. There is great potential for job creation in 10 ‘spin-out’ companies Enterprise Ireland aims to create from this collaboration”.

The Irish Government will provide up to US$16M (€11.7M) through Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund for the co-development and licensing of novel medical technologies developed at Mayo Clinic U.S. into Ireland where they will be commercialised. This will involve further development and validation of the technologies by research teams in Irish Higher Education Institutes, and introductions to investors to bring the technologies to market. Enterprise Ireland’s aim is to create 10 spin-out companies in addition to licensing/commercialisation relationships in Ireland for each medical technology.

The first project is under way in NUI Galway, internationally recognised for its expertise in Biomedical Science and Engineering. The device patented by the Mayo Clinic is for the treatment of acute pancreatitis. A team led by Dr Mark Bruzzi of NUI Galway aims to design and develop a prototype device for human clinical use, build on animal studies conducted thus far and advance the therapeutic technology towards a ‘first in man’ clinical investigation.
On the commercial side, NUI Galway will validate the market and reimbursement model for the device and support the exploitation of the commercial potential of the technology in Ireland.
Investors Aisling Capital, New York and ACT Venture Capital are currently advising the team at NUI, Galway on the establishment of a spin-out company around this technology.

Speaking at the announcement Jeff Bolton, VP Mayo Clinic said “Mayo is committed to improving medicine throughout the world for the benefit of patients everywhere. This collaboration with Enterprise Ireland provides a unique way of furthering the research and development of novel technologies that have high potential to make a difference in patient care, alleviating the burdens of human disease. We expect that this collaboration will pay dividends in the United States as the commercialized technologies will be sold in the US for the benefit of patients. We also expect that many of these companies will create a US presence in and around one or more of Mayo’s practice sites.

Welcoming today’s announcement, Richard Bruton T.D., Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said “One of the key aims of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs is to put in place measures aimed at making it easier to commercialise and ultimately create jobs from ideas developed through publicly-funded research. Today’s announcement was made possible through State-funded research. This welcome agreement between the Mayo Clinic and Enterprise Ireland will further enhance Ireland’s reputation as a venue for commercialising advanced medical technologies with the aim of encouraging more high-value companies to establish in Ireland and creating high value jobs for this economy”.

Signing the agreement between Enterprise Ireland and Mayo Clinic, Dr. Keith O’Neill, Enterprise Ireland said, “this deal is a win-win as it will seed as many as 10 spin-out companies in Ireland whilst bringing advanced medical technologies to patients and providing a revenue stream back to Mayo Clinic to enhance its mission. We look forward to working with Mayo Clinic to create new companies around these world-class technologies some of which may, in time, establish a presence in Minnesota U.S, close to Mayo Clinic, benefiting the local economy there as well as in Ireland.”

Martyn-Pemble

Researchers at Tyndall National Institute, Cork, are partnering with scientists from the United States and Northern Ireland to unlock the energy potential in water. The project aims to use semiconductor materials and sunlight to isolate energy-laden hydrogen in water by replicating processes found in nature.

The €1million initiative, entitled ‘Research into Emerging Nanostructured Electrodes for the Splitting of Water’ (RENEW), is led by Professor Martyn Pemble and Dr Paul Hurley at Tyndall, Professor Paul McIntyre at Stanford University and Professor Andrew Mills at Queen’s University Belfast.

Borrowing from electronics, the researchers will first seek to create the optimum ‘artificial leaf’ using layers of semiconducting materials such as silicon. These would be water-resistant and used to ultimately create clean fuel by splitting the molecules of water into hydrogen and oxygen under natural conditions without any additional energy.

Stokes Professor of Materials Chemistry at Tyndall, Prof Pemble – one of four principal investigators for the project – explained: “The main focus for the project is a tiny, stacked arrangement of materials that is used for some transistors in the electronic industry. Previous work has shown that these structures can act as basic ‘artificial leaves’ for splitting water and the aim now is to make them more efficient.”

Professor Pemble added: “Professor McIntyre has shown that if you put the right metal on the surface of a silicon stack and provide light, then you can get it to oxidise water to give oxygen. Then, on another electrode connected to it – perhaps a platinum wire – the electrons that we have gained can be used to reduce water, and this produces hydrogen. So it only requires the sunlight to fall on this attack of layers where the water oxidation takes place. Then, according to Prof Andrew Mills, who is an acknowledged expert on photocatalysis, ‘the rest of the process is driven by the electrochemistry’.”

While previous similar processes for harvesting hydrogen for fuel have required the use of additional energy, or have been heavily reliant on the presence of ultra-violet light, RENEW will focus on using natural light and will experiment with a range of semi-conducting materials. Key to the process will be creating an impenetrable top layer that can withstand water’s corrosive effects, by a process known as atomic layer deposition.

Reflecting on the RENEW partnership, Professor Pemble noted, “We have been thinking about doing this for a long time – it is quite obvious that these layered structures can have other applications outside of electronics – and now we have got the opportunity to bring it forward. The ultimate goal is to combine our expertise to get to a point where you just drop the electrodes into water and when the sun comes out they would start to bubble away generating an unlimited, free and completely clean source of hydrogen, as well as oxygen.”

The RENEW project is expected to run for the next three years and is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation in the US, Science Foundation Ireland and the Department for Employment and Learning for Northern Ireland under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Program.