Picture this: Irish research at its finest

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

From human campaigns for social change to nano-science that can revolutionise modern technology, a series of new images showcases the breadth of publicly funded Irish research.

Among 10 images selected to represent the Irish Research Council’s work is one that could pass for a modernist artwork in a contemporary gallery.

But the blue and yellow shapes on a black background are, in fact, a representation of the imagery used by Sajad Alimohammadi in his work at Trinity College Dublin and Dublin City University.

His two-year Government of Ireland post-doctoral fellowship has been focused on better design of servers used in data centres. Handling everything from sensitive government or bankinginformation, to the back-up of people’s email and social media accounts, data centres account for an estimated 1.5% of the world’s electricity use.

With the cooling of the equipment responsible for up to 40% of this energy, scientists like Sajad and his research partners at TCD and Dublin City University are working in the fast-growing field of electronics thermal management.

A key element is modelling how air, water and other fluids flow around various types of small bodies. Sajad’s project is developing new models and coming up with proposals for new layouts for future generation rack-mounted servers, to make data centres more energy-efficient.

The image he submitted to the IRC shows the patterns of water with added solutions flowing around an array of cylinders. It was generated using particle image velocimetry (PIV), which involves high-speed cameras and powerful lasers to visualise the invisible patterns in the liquid flow at various speeds.

The IRC invited researchers whose work it funds to submit an image captured during their projects to be featured on the homepage of the council’s new-design website. Those which can now be seen on the site were picked from over 120 submissions.

The council funded more than 1,400 researchers in 2015, with most of the €34m spent coming from the exchequer.

At the other end of the spectrum to Sajad’s work, David Cichon’s photograph shows a march in Cambodia by garment workers campaigning for a minimum wage. 

The PhD student at TCD has spent time in Cambodia speaking to local activists, international institutions and global union federations about the success of their minimum-wage campaign for workers in the clothing industry.

He is completing an in-depth study of the campaign, which is a rare success story for labour rights movements in the garment industry. The project aims to providecrucial insights into how rights of low-waged workers in global industries can be protected.

Also working in Ireland on issues in other parts of the world, Sven Batke’s post-doctoral work involves use of the chambers at University College Dublin’s programme for experimental atmospheres and climate. He is modelling how changes in light, temperature and carbon dioxide levels might influence life in tropical cloud forests.

He is specifically working on epiphytes, plants which grow at great heights on trees for support, such as bromeliad family of plants that include pineapples which grow on top of tall tropical trees. A photo of a bromeliad plant submitted by Sven was also selected by the Irish Research Council for publication on its site.

As well as giant trees, the IRC funds work at a nano-scale like that completed during a four-year PhD by Abulaiti Hairisha at Tyndall National Institute in Cork. His image shows a simulation of the controlled growth of molecular layer deposition, a technique used to achieve extremely thin films of organic materials.

These and the other selected images can be found on the homepage of the Irish Research Council website.