Background
PROF LUKE O'NEILL

Eleven researchers based in Irish universities have been ranked among the world’s top 3,000 by the multinational media body Thompson Reuters. Inclusion means the person’s research is listed in the top 1 per cent for the number of times their work has been cited by other scientists.

The list includes scientists and engineers in NUI GalwayTrinity College Dublin,University College DublinUniversity of LimerickUniversity College CorkBeaumont Hospital, Dublin and the University of Ulster.

All were gauged to be “highly cited researchers” who had had an “exceptional impact”, Thompson Reuters said.

Their work “has consistently been judged by peers to be of particular significance and utility”, the company said when releasing the list on the website highlycited.com.

Those selected will also be published in book form, the Thompson Reuters 2014 World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

Cutting edge

Inclusion in this publication means the researcher is among those “who are on the cutting edge of their fields. They are performing and publishing work that their peers recognise as vital to the advancement of their science”.

NUI Galway had three academics on the list: Henry Curran (engineering), Colin O’Dowd (geosciences) and Donal O’Regan (mathematics).

TCD had two: Luke O’Neill (immunology and also pharmacology and toxicology) and Jonathan Coleman (materials science).

UCD also had two: Colm O’Donnell (agricultural sciences) and Desmond Higgins (computer science).

UL had Michael Zaworotko (chemistry), UCC had John Cryan (pharmacology and toxicology), Beaumont Hospital had Mary Cannon (psychiatry and psychology) and University of Ulster had Brendan McCormack (social sciences).

The use of citation listings as a measure of research quality has sometimes been drawn into question but it remains a widely used metric despite this. Its strength lies in the fact that it reflects later access of the research by scientists working in the same area. If your paper is truly cutting edge then others will want to cite the original work within their research papers.

‘Huge testament’

Prof O’Neill yesterday expressed his delight at having been named on the list. “Being included in the top 1 per cent of anything is great,” he said. He described it as a “huge testament” to the work of his research team over the past decade.

Prof Coleman also praised the students and post doctoral researchers who work with him in the lab, and thanked funding bodies including TCD and Science Foundation Ireland. “Without them this would have been impossible,” he said.

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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.

JohnnyColeman

The European Commission has announced that CRANN, the Science Foundation Ireland funded nanoscience institute based at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), has secured a primary role in the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Graphene Flagship project. The EU Commission has committed €1 billion to the Graphene Flagship, the largest ever research project funded in the history of the European Union.

CRANN and TCD’s School of Physics Principal Investigator Professor Jonathan Coleman has been selected as Deputy Leader of one of these work packages.

We featured Professor Coleman and his work on graphene in the second episode of The Science Squad – the segment can be viewed here

Graphene is the strongest, most impermeable and most conductive material known to man. It is just one atom thick, but is 200 times stronger than steel. Products enabled by graphene technologies could include fast, flexible and strong consumer electronics such as foldable laptops and paper-thin smartphones, and lighter and more energy efficient cars and aeroplanes. In the future, medical devices such as artificial retinas could also be made from graphene.

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