University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin have been declared participants in the EU-funded Future and Emerging Technologies Graphene Project. This project involves the study of graphene, a form of carbon discovered by scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, and for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
Director of the UCD Centre for BioNano Interactions Professor Kenneth Dawson’s centre was chosen for this “huge project” as it is the European Centre for Nanosafety. Professor Dawson’s team will be investigating the “biological interactions” associated with this unique material.
He explained that these investigations will have two main applications: “Scientifically what we are dealing with is how cells and tissues and so forth interact with graphene, and those two broad application potentials. One is that graphene seems an incredibly interesting material from the point of view of electronics and information processing. It can be printed, for example, like in a laser printer, and stuff. So one very interesting question is whether we can learn how to talk to cells via graphene, or allow cells to talk to us via graphene.
Allowing cells to talk to us via graphene is a simple way of discussing diagnostics, for example. So if the cell is sick, then it could tell us by it growing on the graphene, and that’s a diagnostic device concept.” The other main application which Professor Dawson’s team will be looking at is making sure graphene is “safe for general use.”
Professor Dawson is keen to point out that, though are collaborating on this project, that the UCD and Trinity branches are working “in completely different domains”. Dawson explained: “Trinity is not involved in anything biological. They’re investigating more the preparation of the materials” through their Centre for Nanostructures and Nanodevices.
Dawson says “graphene seems an incredibly interesting material from the point of view of electronics and information processing”. Its particular properties mean that graphene is suitable for the production of transparent touch screens, light panels, satellites and even airplanes. Most importantly, graphene may be used as a “diagnostic device concept”. If this technology developed, blood cells could be analysed in a way that has the potential to change modern medicine.
The two universities will receive funding worth more than €1 billion over the next three years. Coleman describes graphene as “one of the most exciting materials of our lifetime”, while the EU has likened the scale of this project to the moon-landing programme in the 1960s.
The Minister of State for Research, Seán Sherlock TD, said that the involvement of Irish researchers in this flagship project is evidence of the “tremendous esteem” in which they are held internationally with Dawson remarking that it’s wonderful that two Irish universities constitute such a major element of Europe’s first project in this area.