Centuries-old silver tarnish mystery solved at TCD

Scientists at TCD have discovered what happens, at the level of atoms, when silver tarnishes (Source: http://blog.goldeneaglecoin.com)

The centuries-old mystery of why silver tarnishes has been solved by a team of scientists at TCD.

It has been known since ancient times that if a piece of silver is left outside it will turn black and tarnish. And, since the beginning of the 20th century, it has been known that sulphur is the chemical in air that causes the tarnishing.

However, until this new research it was a mystery exactly how – at the level of atoms – sulphur interacted with silver to create a black layer of tarnish.

This was a question first posed in 1930, but nobody answered until now,” said Stefano Sanvito, Professor of Condensed Matter Theory at TCD who conducted with research with Dr Gabriele Salah in collaboration with Nokia Bell Labs.

It’s cool to answer a question that was posed 100 years before,” added Prof Sanvito.

The mystery was solved during a TCD and Nokia Bell Labs research project aimed at finding out how silver corrodes as part of a wider research effort to figure out how metals commonly used in electronic equipment corrode.

The corrosion of metals in electronic equipment has become a big issue, said Prof Sanvito because people are increasingly using their equipment outdoors, and it’s even more of a problem near coastlines with corrosive salt air.

The researchers decided to investigate how silver corrodes, as a example of how metals in general undergo corrosion.


The researchers knew that sulphur was the chemical that corroded silver, but they needed a way to examine precisely how sulphur and silver atoms behaved when they collided to create a tarnish layer in real-time.

They did this by building atom-simulation software that had all the information required to display, in video format, how sulphur and silver atoms interact.

Prof Sanvito described what the simulation software revealed.

When a sulphur molecule arrives on a silver surface the molecule breaks right away and the individual sulphur atoms attach to the surface.”

The other thing is that when sulphur atoms arrive on a silver surface, silver-sulphur compounds are formed.”

The simulation also showed that as sulphur collides with surface of silver, silver atoms begin to move the inside of the silver surface up to the surface.

As sulphur atoms are hitting the silver surface, said Prof Sanvito, free silver atoms are available there to bind with sulphur and build a layer of tarnish.

The research also revealed that higher quality silver is less prone to corrosion.

This chemical penetration of silver by sulphur, which causes tarnishing, happens at a faster rate when silver is defective, explained Prof Sanvito.

High quality silver tends to corrode less than silver which might have small cracks or things like that.”

It would be interesting to take the findings and develop an anti-silver corrosion material, said Prof Sanvito, but there are no current plans to do so.

Technology making older people sharper; texting IS romantic; lack of sleep linked to illness; BMI predicts onset of Alzheimer’s

Click above to hear discussion on these subjects on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan.

This item was first broadcast first on East Coast FM on 3 September 2015

People 50 and over, are sharper today than they were before, research shows, and scientists believe that this is due to the mental demands required of them by technology and social media (Source: www.tech2date.com)

People 50 and over, are sharper today than they were before, research shows, and scientists believe that this is due to the mental demands required of them by technology and social media (Source: http://www.tech2date.com)

Today’s 50-year-olds are as sharp as 42-year-olds were in previous generations, scientists have found.

The theory being put forward to explain the finding, is that technology, apps, and social media keep older people mentally sharper.

Text messaging and email has a bad reputation when it comes to romance, with many believing it is better to communicate with a partner by phone.

Yet, scientists believe that people engage more emotionally when they are writing messages, than they often do when talking on the phone, and they take more care to edit, and get the right message across.

Lack of sleep has been linked to long-term illness and shorter lives. This has been confirmed with a new study that found that people getting six hours sleep or less, were four times more likely to catch a cold.

A person’s Body Mass Index –  calculated by reference to height and weight – can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Very obese people could develop it, scientists have found, a decade earlier than if they were normal weight.

Science Spinnning short-listed for Blog Awards Ireland 2015

Shortlisted-Buttons-300x250Delighted to hear that Science Spinning has been short-listed for for Blog Awards Ireland 2015 under the Education and Science category.

The competition was stiff to get onto the long list, so I’m very happy to reach the short list.

The winner will be selected by public votes, so, if you like Science Spinning, you could say so, by voting for it when the voting opens.

The shortlist is opened to a public vote on 7th September.

I’ll be looking for your number one!



Irish science seeing light at the end of the tunnel

PV 240114 IPIC 5

Minister Sean Sherlock (left), Professor Paul Townsend, Tyndall National Institute (Centre) and Professor Mark Ferguson, SFI, pictured at the launch of a new Irish photonics research centre (Credit: Darragh McSweeney, Provision )


It’s been a tough few years, but Irish science is seeing some signs of light – literally – with the opening of a new €30 million government and industry backed photonics research centre.

The Irish Photonic Integration Centre (IPIC) has been set up with an eye on growing Ireland’s share of the huge €58 billion European photonics market.

Photonics – the science of light – underpins many high-technology sectors, including medical devices, and IT, in which Ireland is strong.

The IPIC, which comes under the remit of Science Foundation Ireland, will bring together four research institutes, over 100 researchers and 18 industry partners.

The goal of the IPIC is to create 200 new jobs over the next six years. Funding of €20 million is provided by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and with an additional €10 million coming from industry.

Commenting at the launch of the IPIC, Sean Sherlock, the Minister with responsibility for research and innovation said:

“The Centre is in prime position to achieve further funding from the Horizon 2020 funding round and to attract new companies and talent to Ireland”.

New UCD app ‘personalises’ the night sky

Night Sky

A new app developed at UCD can personalise the night sky by showing it as it was on the day each of us was born, or married (Credit: Wikimedia)

Ever feel like you need your own space? In the night sky that is!

If so, you might be the type that is interested in what the night sky looked like overhead on the day you were born, got married in Australia, or when the Easter Rising broke out in Dublin?

If that’s your cup of tea, then you will be interested in a new ‘app’ called Personal Space developed by UCD astronomer Professor Lorraine Hanlon and artist Emer O’Boyle.

It has been possible for some time now for anyone with a laptop to tap into the robotic global network of telescopes through the EU-funded GLORIA project.

Personal Space takes things a stage further by personalizing the sky for users.

According to its developers, the app is “an online invitation to connect with and explore the universe in an intuitive way by presenting beautiful astronomical images of the sky overhead at key moments and places of personal significance”.

By inputting an event date, time and location (e.g. wedding date and place) through a web interface, the user is supplied with an image of the part of the universe that was directly above them at that significant moment in their life.

GLORIA scientists are building an archive of stories by geo-mapping political and historical events to the sky above.

The archival sky images are provided by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

For more information contact:

Prof. Lorraine Hanlon (Astronomer), UCD School of Physics, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. Email: Lorraine.hanlon@ucd.ie. Mobile: 085-7262888. Landline: +353-1-7162214.


Emer O Boyle (Artist), UCD School of Physics, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. Email: emer.oboyle@ucd.ie. Mobile: 087-2832483.

Lucan make it two-in-a-row as ‘rap’ wins health video award

PUMPED Schools¹ Video Awards 9 (1)

A catchy rap produced by three girls at St Joseph’s College Lucan – Gabrielle Fullam, Tina Ehiguese and Lisa Browne – has won a national health video award (Credit here)

A catchy, creative ‘rap’ produced by three girls from St Joseph’s College, Lucan, has won the annual Pumped Schools Video Awards, aimed at promoting healthy hearts in teenagers.

The win made it an impressive two-in-a-row of national victories for the Lucan school, who also won the competition last year in its the inaugural year.

Gabrielle Fullam, Tina Ehiguese and Lisa Browne came up with a video that was the stand-out winner of a national competition with many high quality entrants.

The winning rap, grabs the attention, and encourages teenagers to take up a sport. It highlights how exercise can help relaxation, better sleep and academic performance.

The winning video is called ‘Active Teens, Healthy Hearts’. The awards are organized by Bayer, working in partnership with the Irish Heart Foundation and the Federation of Irish Sport.

The winning video:

The winning students each received a tablet computer and the St Joseph’s College science budget got a significant boost from the win of 5,000 euro.

The Lucan winners last year, for a project called ‘Tobacco Kill’s were Kifah Nur and Claire Williams.

The second place in the competition this year went to Coláiste Éinde in Galway with each team member being awarded an iPod Nano.

St Gerard’s school in Bray came third with each student receiving an iPod Nano.

The Awards come in the light of research last August that found that 31 per cent of teens say that they eat a lot of junk food, and 34 per cent that they have soft drinks at least daily.

The 2nd and 3rd placed videos can be seen at http://www.pumped.ie.

TCD study aims to maintain the health of the ageing brain

RelAte at TCD

TCD researchers are investigating whether a good diet and active social life can help keep the brain’s of older people healthy for longer (Credit: Photocase)

TCD researchers are set to explore whether older people can be kept mentally and physically healthy for longer by simply eating nutritious meals in the company of others.

This is the core question that will be investigated by scientists at the Neuro-Enhancement for Independent Lives (NEIL) programme based at the Institute of Neuroscience.

The RelAte project will tackle the  issues of malnutrition and social isolation by tapping into the 1 in 5 older adults in Ireland (over 55) who are already active volunteers in their communities to delivering a mealtime intervention to socially isolated older adults.

The project emphasizes the social aspects of mealtimes and the volunteers will not only give the individuals taking part in the study nutritional advice, but will also spend time with them, planning and preparing the meals which they will eat together.

The TCD researchers are looking to recruit 50 volunteers aged over 55 that will engage with older people at risk of social isolation, as well as 100 socially isolated individuals over 60.

The most recently published report by the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing shows that 6% of adults aged over 60 are at risk of social isolation, affecting men and women in equal parts.

For information about the study, or if you are interested in participating, please contact project coordinator Dr Joanna McHugh atmchughje@tcd.ie or call 01 896 8414.

Cloud computing costs to fall thanks to TCD and IBM Dublin

CloudComputing (1)

Researchers in Dublin at Trinity College and IBM have developed mathematical algorithms that can reduce the cost of cloud computing (credit:  thinkstockphotos.com)

The cost of ‘cloud computing’ data storage services on the Internet can be cut by more than half thanks to new research by Dublin-based researchers at TCD and IBM.

Mathematical algorithms were used to develop a system called Stratus which allows companies to select the cheapest and ‘greenest’ cloud computing services on the planet.

All of the services on the Internet today are based in the ‘Cloud’, so Twitter, Facebook or Google mail requests are dealt with by one of thousands of PC servers located at a small number of warehouse-sized cloud-computing facilities around the world.

“The overall goal of the Stratus system is to allow companies to procure their cloud computing service in a way that best serves their priorities,” said Professor Donal O’Mahony, computer scientist at TCD.

“If they (companies) want to be super-green, it will shift the load one way,” said Professor Donal O’Mahony, Computer Science at TCD. “If they want to cut costs to the bone, it will shift it another way, or they can choose anything in between.

In their simulations, the scientists found that by tailoring the algorithms to reduce carbon output, they could achieve a 21% reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions.

Likewise, by targeting electricity cost reductions, they could achieve a 61% saving over simply splitting the load evenly.

The research has been published in the augural issue of IEEE: Transactions on Cloud Computing. A copy of the full journal article is available here.

Protein injections reduce hereditary lung disease

Copy of AAT in health and disease

Hereditary emphysema affects thousands of Irish people (Image provided courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) 

The lives of 12,000 Irish people affected by a hereditary lung condition can be improved by injecting a protein into the blood, according to new research by scientists at RCSI and Beaumont Hospital.

The hereditary form of emphysema, also called Alpha 1, is the most severe form of the lung disease, and it arises when someone is lacking the protecting protein called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin, or AAT.

Alpha-1 is much more common in Ireland than in most other countries. After cystic fibrosis, it is the most common fatal inherited lung condition in Ireland.

Up to 1 in 25 Irish people carry the gene for the disease, which 12,000 people here affected by the most severe form of Alpha 1 and up to 200,000 affected by the less severe form.

A lack of AAT causes an increase in white blood cell proteins in the blood, explained Professor Gerry McElvaney of RCSI, joint lead researcher on the project.

These proteins are recognized as ‘foreign’ by the body leading the immune system to respond to the ‘invasion’ by producing harmful oxidants.

The researchers found that purifying Alpha 1 protein from the blood – a process known as ‘augmentation therapy’ – and giving it intravenously can alleviate the disease.

“This research gives new hope for a better quality of life for sufferers of this chronic condition and may also be applied to other autoimmune associated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis” Prof McElvaney added.

In 2004, the Alpha One Foundation initiated the first national screening programme for Alpha-1. To date, more than 11,000 individuals have been tested and 28% were found to be at risk from the disease.

The World Health Organisation recommends that everyone with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema should be tested for Alpha-1.

For more information on how to get tested for Alpha-1, see www.alpha1.ie or contact the National Centre for Alpha-1 at Beaumont Hospital (alpha1@rcsi.ie).

Their research findings were published in this month’s edition of Science Translational Medicine. The other joint lead reserachers on the project were Dr David Bergin and Dr Emer Reeves.