Background
MikeCoey

A team of researchers from the AMBER centre at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) are behind the discovery of a new magnetic material they claim will revolutionise the ICT sector.

The material is made from an alloy of three metals, manganese, ruthenium and gallium (MRG), and is reportedly as strong as the strongest magnets available in the world today. However, it has the characteristic of not appearing magnetic at all to the untrained eye.

Known technically as ‘zero-moment half metal’, the material could potentially spawn a completely new line of materials research and open up numerous possibilities for electronics and information technology.

Led by Prof Michael Coey, the AMBER team said MRG has incredible potential and could lead to the possibility of limitless data storage, resulting in huge, superfast memory in personal computer devices. It could also eliminate the potential of external magnetic forces to ‘wipe’ computer data.

For 25 years, researchers worldwide have grappled with how to create a magnet such as MRG by trying to arrange numerous combinations of atoms in a way which was difficult without flouting the basic principles of physics.

Potential ‘big data revolution’

The AMBER research team claims to have solved this problem by using established industry-standard processes for making the electronic circuits on silicon chips, making it relatively easy for MRG to be adopted by computer and electronics companies.

Commenting on the discovery and its potential to lead a ‘big data revolution’, Coey said, “Magnetic materials are what make reading and storing data – either on personal devices or on large-scale servers in data centres – possible. Magnets are at the heart of every electronic device we use, from computers and laptops to tablets, smartphones and digital cameras.

“Given its unique insensitivity to magnetic fields, and the tenacity of its internal magnetic properties, MRG could now revolutionise how data is stored, which could have major implications for the future development of electronics, information technology and a host of other applications.”

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.