‘Biomimicry’ patents

The US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) has issued a new guidance document concerning ‘biomimicry’ patents according to David Bruggeman’s Dec. 20, 2014 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has released another guidance memo for patents derived ‘from nature’ (H/T ScienceInsider).  The USPTO released its first memo in March [2014], and between negative public comments and additional court action, releasing new guidance makes sense to me.

The USPTO is requesting comments on the guidance by March 16, 2014 and will be holding a holding a public forum for comments on Jan. 21, 2015. Here’s more detail about the comments from the USPTO 2014 Interim Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility webpage,

The USPTO has prepared 2014 Interim Guidance on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility (Interim Eligibility Guidance) for USPTO personnel to use when determining subject matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101 in view of recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, including Alice Corp., Myriad, and Mayo.  The Interim Eligibility Guidance supplements the June 25, 2014 Preliminary Examination Instructions issued in view of Alice Corp. and supersedes the March 4, 2014 Procedure for Subject Matter Eligibility Analysis of Claims Reciting or Involving Laws of Nature/Natural Principles, Natural Phenomena, and/or Natural Products issued in view of Mayo and Myriad.  It is expected that the guidance will be updated in view of developments in the case law and in response to public feedback.

Any member of the public may submit written comments on the Interim Eligibility Guidance and claim example sets by electronic mail message over the Internet addressed to [email protected]  Electronic comments submitted in plain text are preferred, but also may be submitted in ADOBE® portable document format or MICROSOFT WORD® format.  The comments will be available for public inspection here at this Web page.  Because comments will be available for public inspection, information that is not desired to be made public, such as an address or a phone number, should not be included in the comments.  Comments will be accepted until March 16, 2015.

And there is also this about the public forum (from the Interim Guidance page),

A public forum will be hosted at the Alexandria campus of the USPTO on Jan. 21, 2015, to receive public feedback from any interested member of the public.  The Eligibility Forum will be an opportunity for the Office to provide an overview of the Interim Eligibility Guidance and for participants to present their interpretation of the impact of Supreme Court precedent on the complex legal and technical issues involved in subject matter eligibility analysis during examination by providing oral feedback on the Interim Eligibility Guidance and claim example sets.  Individuals will be provided an opportunity to make a presentation, to the extent that time permits.

Date and Location:  The Eligibility Forum will be held on Jan. 21, 2015, from 1pm – 5pm EST, in the Madison Auditorium North (Concourse Level), Madison Building, 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. The meeting will also be accessible via WebEx.

Requests for Attendance at the Eligibility Forum:  Requests for attendance to the Eligibility Forum should be submitted by electronic mail through the Internet to [email protected] by JAN. 9, 2015.  Requests for attendance must include the attendee’s name, affiliation, title, mailing address, and telephone number.  An Internet e-mail address, if available, should also be provided.

If I understand David’s description of this guidance rightly, the use of something like curcumin (a constituent of turmeric) to heal wounds cannot be patented unless substantive changes have been made to the curcumin. In short, Laws Of Nature/Natural Principles, Natural Phenomena, And/Or Natural Products And/Or Abstract Ideas cannot be patented through the USPTO.

The science behind a firefly’s glow

A Dec. 17, 2014 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes research into the phenomenon of bioluminescence and fireflies,

 Fireflies used rapid light flashes to communicate. This “bioluminescence” is an intriguing phenomenon that has many potential applications, from drug testing and monitoring water contamination, and even lighting up streets using glow-in-dark trees and plants. Fireflies emit light when a compound called luciferin breaks down. We know that this reaction needs oxygen, but what we don’t know is how fireflies actually supply oxygen to their light-emitting cells. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, scientists from Switzerland and Taiwan have determined how fireflies control oxygen distribution to light up their cells. The work is published in Physical Review Letters.

A Dec. 17, 2014 EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) news release on EurekAlert provides more description of the work,

The firefly’s light-producing organ is called the “lantern”, and it is located in the insect’s abdomen. It looks like a series of tubes progressing into smaller ones and so one, like a tree’s branches growing into twigs. The function of these tubes, called, is to supply oxygen to the cells of the lantern, which contain luciferase and can produce light. However, the complexity of the firefly’s lantern has made it difficult to study this mechanism in depth, and reproduce it for technological applications.

Giorgio Margaritondo at EPFL, Yeukuang Hwu at the Academia Sinica and their colleagues at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan have successfully used two sophisticated imaging techniques to overcome the complexity of the firefly lantern and map out how oxygen is supplied to light-emitting cells. The techniques are called synchrotron phase contrast microtomography and transmission x-ray microscopy. They can scan down to the level of a single cell, even allowing researchers to look inside it.

By applying these techniques on live fireflies, the scientists were able to see the entire structure of the lantern for the first time, and to also make quantitative evaluations of oxygen distribution.

The imaging showed that the firefly diverts oxygen from other cellular functions and puts it into the reaction that breaks up luciferin. Specifically, the researchers found that oxygen consumption in the cell decreased, slowing down energy production. At the same time, oxygen supply switched to light-emission.

The study is the first to ever show the firefly’s lantern in such detail, while also providing clear evidence that it is optimized for light emission thanks to the state-of-the-art techniques used by the scientists. But Margaritondo points out another innovation: “The techniques we used have an advantage over, say, conventional x-ray techniques, which cannot easily distinguish between soft tissues. By using an approach based on changes in light intensity (phase-contrast) as opposed to light absorption (x-rays), we were able to achieve high-resolution imaging of the delicate firefly lantern.”

Here’s an image illustrating the work,

Tomographic Reconstruction of Part of the Firefly Lantern;  This detailed microimage shows larger channels branching into smaller ones, supplying oxygen for the firefly's light emission. The smallest channels are ten thousand times smaller than a millimeter and therefore invisible to other experimental probes: this has prevented scientists so far to unlock the mystery of firefly light flashes. Credit: Giorgio Margaritondo/EPFL

Tomographic Reconstruction of Part of the Firefly Lantern; This detailed microimage shows larger channels branching into smaller ones, supplying oxygen for the firefly’s light emission. The smallest channels are ten thousand times smaller than a millimeter and therefore invisible to other experimental probes: this has prevented scientists so far to unlock the mystery of firefly light flashes. Credit: Giorgio Margaritondo/EPFL

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Firefly Light Flashing: Oxygen Supply Mechanism by Yueh-Lin Tsai, Chia-Wei Li, Tzay-Ming Hong, Jen-Zon Ho, En-Cheng Yang, Wen-Yen Wu, G. Margaritondo, Su-Ting Hsu, Edwin B. L. Ong, and Y. Hwu. Phys. Rev. Lett. 113, 258103 – Published 17 December 2014 DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.258103

This paper is behind a paywall.

Disrupting the arts scene around the world and in Vancouver (Canada)

I have two news bits of news for this post. First, the theme for the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) to be held in Vancouver, Canada from Aug. 14 – 18, 2015 is Disruption and the deadline for submitting proposals for research papers and art installations is Dec. 20, 2014 (ETA Dec. 22, 2014: The deadline for long art or research papers, short art or research papers, art or research extended abstracts with demonstration or poster presentation, panels, workshops, tutorials and institutional presentations has been extended to Jan. 12, 2014; the deadline for artwork submissions remains Dec. 20, 2014). Here’s more about the symposium from the About page,

ISEA is one of the world’s most prominent international arts and technology events, bringing  together scholarly, artistic, and scientific domains in an interdisciplinary discussion and showcase of creative productions applying new technologies in art, interactivity, and electronic and digital media. The event annually brings together artists, designers, academics, technologists, scientists, and general audience in the thousands. The symposium consists of a peer reviewed conference, a series of exhibitions, and various partner events—from large scale interactive artwork in public space to cutting edge electronic music performance.

In the last four years ISEA has been hosted in Istanbul (2011), Albuquerque, New Mexico (2012), and Sydney, Australia (2013), and Dubai (2014). ISEA2015 in Vancouver marks its return to Canada, 20 years since the groundbreaking first Canadian ISEA1995 in Montréal. The Symposium will be held at the Woodward’s campus of Simon Fraser University in downtown Vancouver with exhibitions and events taking place at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and many other sites and venues throughout the city.

The series of ISEA symposia is coordinated by ISEA International. Founded in the Netherlands in 1990, ISEA International (formerly Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts) is an international non-profit organization fostering interdisciplinary academic discourse and exchange among culturally diverse organizations and individuals working with art, science and technology. ISEA International Headquarters is supported by the University of Brighton (UK).

Here’s more from the Theme page,

ISEA2015’s theme of DISRUPTION invites a conversation about the aesthetics of change, renewal, and game-changing paradigms. We look to raw bursts of energy, reconciliation, error, and the destructive and creative forces of the new. Disruption contains both blue sky and black smoke. When we speak of radical emergence we must also address things left behind. Disruption is both incremental and monumental.

In practices ranging from hacking and detournement to inversions of place, time, and intention, creative work across disciplines constantly finds ways to rethink or reconsider form, function, context, body, network, and culture. Artists push, shape, break; designers reinvent and overturn; scientists challenge, disprove and re-state; technologists hack and subvert to rebuild.

Disruption and rupture are fundamental to digital aesthetics. Instantiations of the digital realm continue to proliferate in contemporary culture, allowing us to observe ever-broader consequences of these effects and the aesthetic, functional, social and political possibilities that arise from them.

Within this theme, we want to investigate trends in digital and internet aesthetics and revive exchange across disciplines. We hope to broaden the spheres in which disruptive aesthetics can be explored, crossing into the worlds of science, technology, design, visual art, contemporary and media art, innovation, performance, and sound.

I encourage you to read the whole Theme page if you’re interested in making a proposal as the organizers have outlined many approaches to the main theme. Good luck to everyone making a submission (and that includes me). I will be submitting a proposal  with my co-author, Raewyn Turner, an artist from New Zealand, for Steep (I): a digital poetry of gold nanoparticles. (I’ll be writing more about our Steep project soon (hopefully next week Dec. 22 – 25, 2014.)

For the second bit of news, Emily Carr University of Art + Design received grants for two Canada Research Chairs in Oct. 2014. Here’s more from the Recipients List (Note: I have made some changes to the formatting),

Frid-Jimenez, Amber     Emily Carr University of Art + Design     Canada Research Chair in Art and Design Technology     SSHRC [funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council]     [Tier] 2     New [position]
Hertz, Garnet     Emily Carr University of Art + Design     Canada Research Chair in Design and Media Arts     SSHRC     2     New

A Nov. 22, 2014 blog post on Emily Carr University’s The Big Idea blog provides more detail about the appointments,

Emily Carr University of Art + Design is honoured to announce the appointment of Associate Professors Amber Frid-Jimenez and Dr. Garnet Hertz to Canada Research Chairs recently published by the Government of Canada. This historic milestone marks the first Canada Research Chair appointments for Emily Carr University of Art + Design recognizing the institution’s capacity, faculty and contributions-to-date in the fields of art, media and design research. …

… “We are honoured that our University and the work of Dr. Garnet Hertz and Amber Frid-Jimenez are being recognized by the Government of Canada,” said David Bogen, Vice President Academic + Provost, Emily Carr University of Art + Design. “The appointment of our first Canada Research Chairs is significant at every level – for our institution’s culture of research, for our academic programs, and for our students who will work directly with some of today’s greatest artists, designers, and scholars in their prospective fields.” … Associate Professor Amber Frid-Jimenez is an awarding-winning interaction and print designer who has taught design studios and seminars at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Visual Arts Program, the National Arts Academy (KHiB) in Bergen, Norway, and most recently at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She holds a Masters in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab where she studied with John Maeda. Associate Professor Dr. Garnet Hertz’s work explores themes of DIY culture and interdisciplinary art/design practices. His work has been shown at several notable international venues including SIGGRAPH, Arts Electronica, and DEAF, and he was awarded the 2008 Oscar Signorini Award in robotic art. He is the founder and director of Dorkbot SoCal, a monthly Los Angeles-based lecture series, has taught at the Art Center College of Design, the University of California, Irvine, and is now Associate Professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

You can find out more about Amber Frid-Jiminez here and about Garnet Hertz here .

Acoustics and carbon nanotubes

Mikhail Koslov from the University of Texas at Dallas has written a Dec. 18, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article about his research into carbon nanotubes and their acoustic properties,

Carbon nanotube assemblies enabled design of a hybrid thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer with unique sound generation features that are not available from conventional diaphragm and thermo-acoustic speakers.

EM image of multi-walled carbon nanotube sheet used for thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer. (Image: Mikhail Kozlov, University of Texas at Dallas)

EM image of multi-walled carbon nanotube sheet used for thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer. (Image: Mikhail Kozlov, University of Texas at Dallas)

Kozlov goes on to explain his work in more detail,

… a hybrid thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer (TEMST) [was] fabricated using highly porous multi-walled carbon nanotube sheet that was placed in the proximity of a permanent magnet. Upon electrical AC excitation, thermal response of the material is combined with diaphragm-like sheet oscillations induced by the electromagnetic action of the Lorentz force.

Unlike conventional diaphragm loudspeaker, acoustic spectrum of the TEMST device consists of a superposition of TA and EM responses that can be altered by applied bias voltage. Variation of bias voltage changes spectral intensity and spatial distribution of generated sound.

In particular, propagation direction of the sound can be reversed by switching bias polarity that somewhat resembles voltage-controlled acoustic reflection. Such uncommon behavior was explained by interference of the two contributions being beneficial for diverse sound management applications.

It was found also that amplitude of first TEMST harmonic changes a lot with applied magnetic field, while the second one remains almost field independent. This unusual feature is convenient for magnetic sensing similar to that enabled by Lorentz force magnetometers. The magnetic field detection in the TEMST device is facilitated by the audio sensing system.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Thermo-electromagnetic sound transducer based on carbon nanotube sheet by Mikhail Kozlov and Jiyoung Oh. J. Appl. Phys. 116, 094301 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4894143 Published online Sept. 2, 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s Legacy Project (crowdfunding)

Dec. 19, 2014 is the last day for contributing to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s crowdfunding campaign for their Legacy Project. Here’s more from the Canada Aviation and Space Museum Foundation’s Legacy Project webpage,

What happens when people divided by generations unite to share our country’s history? The Legacy Project is a documentary being created by Canadian film students and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Through first person accounts from Canadian Veterans — airmen and women who served in the RCAF, RAF, WAAF, and the Polish Air Force — as well as from former European civilians, the documentary will showcase the people and stories of the Second World War through the lens of aviation. What began as an oral history project has transformed into a documentary that also includes the personal impact these stories have had on the students who have been involved in the production of the film. Formatted in five separate segments, the documentary can be viewed as a whole or in parts. These segments, along with classroom resources, will be available for download by schools across Canada.

The Museum believes there is a need to better connect today’s youth, who are poised to build the future, with their history and heritage. It is important to capture and understand the legacy that the last living members of the generation that experienced, served in, and lived though the Second World War forged and are leaving behind. The Museum takes the responsibility “to never forget” seriously, and this project endeavours to capture and share this legacy with Canadian students from coast to coast to coast.

The Legacy Project has become a labour of love for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the film students who have so far recorded over 35 interviews with Veterans and civilians since filming began two years ago. Funding is required to complete editing, transcription, translation, and dubbing, and to secure the necessary copyright for music and images.

As a Crown corporation, the Museum’s operational costs are covered by taxpayer dollars, but the funding for special projects such as this documentary comes from donors like you. The Museum is passionate about this project and would be grateful for any community support to finalize and distribute the documentary for 2016.

A campaign video has been produced,

You can find the Legacy Project on indiegogo here.

The notice I received form the museum states this about the funds raised so far,

The Museum’s crowdfunding campaign for The Legacy Project, a documentary being created by students, for students, ends tomorrow. So far, over $18,000 has been gratefully received from across Canada, but your help is still needed to reach the fundraising goal of $35,000.

I notice the inidiegogo campaign has a different total and one reason I can think for the disparity is the museum is receiving some of the donations directly. In any event, I wish them good luck and hope they reach their total.

Quantum dots cycling through the food chain

Rice University (Texas, US) researchers have published a study which follows quantum dot nanoparticles as they enter the water supply and are taken up by plant roots and leaves and eaten by caterpillars. From a Dec. 16, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

In one of the most comprehensive laboratory studies of its kind, Rice University scientists traced the uptake and accumulation of quantum dot nanoparticles from water to plant roots, plant leaves and leaf-eating caterpillars.

The study, one of the first to examine how nanoparticles move through human-relevant food chains, found that nanoparticle accumulation in both plants and animals varied significantly depending upon the type of surface coating applied to the particles. The research is available online in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology.

A Dec. 16, 2014 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides insight into some of the issues being addressed with this research (Note: Links have been removed),

“With industrial use of nanoparticles on the rise, there are increasing questions about how they move through the environment and whether they may accumulate in high levels in plants and animals that people eat,” said study co-author Janet Braam, professor and chair of the Department of BioSciences at Rice.

Braam and colleagues studied the uptake of fluorescent quantum dots by Arabidopsis thaliana, an oft-studied plant species that is a relative of mustard, broccoli and kale. In particular, the team looked at how various surface coatings affected how quantum dots moved from roots to leaves as well as how the particles accumulated in leaves. The team also studied how quantum dots behaved when caterpillars called cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) fed upon plant leaves containing quantum dots.

“The impact of nanoparticle uptake on plants themselves and on the herbivores that feed upon them is an open question,” said study first author Yeonjong Koo, a postdoctoral research associate in Braam’s lab. “Very little work has been done in this area, especially in terrestrial plants, which are the cornerstone of human food webs.”

Some toxins, like mercury and DDT, tend to accumulate in higher concentrations as they move up the food chain from plants to animals. It is unknown whether nanoparticles may also be subject to this process, known as biomagnification.

While there are hundreds of types of nanoparticles in use, Koo chose to study quantum dots, submicroscopic bits of semiconductors that glow brightly under ultraviolet light. The fluorescent particles — which contained cadmium, selenium, zinc and sulfur — could easily be measured and imaged in the tests. In addition, the team treated the surface of the quantum dots with three different polymer coatings — one positively charged, one negatively charged and one neutral.

“In industrial applications, nanoparticles are often coated with a polymer to increase solubility, improve stability, enhance properties and for other reasons,” said study co-author Pedro Alvarez, professor and chair of Rice’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We expect surface coatings to play a significant role in whether and how nanomaterials may accumulate in food webs.”

Previous lab studies had suggested that the neutral coatings might cause the nanoparticles to aggregate and form clumps that were so large that they would not readily move from a plant’s roots to its leaves. The experiments bore this out. Of the three particle types, only those with charged coatings moved readily through the plants, and only the negatively charged particles avoided clumping altogether. The study also found that the type of coating impacted the plants’ ability to biodegrade, or break down, the quantum dots.

Koo and colleagues found caterpillars that fed on plants containing quantum dots gained less weight and grew more slowly than caterpillars that fed on untainted leaves. By examining the caterpillar’s excrement, the scientists were also able to estimate whether cadmium, selenium and intact quantum dots might be accumulating in the animals. Again, the coating played an important role.

“Our tests were not specifically designed to measure bioaccumulation in caterpillars, but the data we collected suggest that particles with positively charged coatings may accumulate in cells and pose a risk of bioaccumulation,” Koo said. “Based on our findings, more tests should be conducted to determine the extent of this risk under a broader set of ecological conditions.”

The researchers have a couple of images illustrating their work,

The buildup of fluorescent quantum dots in the leaves of Arabidopsis plants is apparent in this photograph of the plants under ultraviolet light. Credit: Y. Koo/Rice University

The buildup of fluorescent quantum dots in the leaves of Arabidopsis plants is apparent in this photograph of the plants under ultraviolet light. Credit: Y. Koo/Rice University

And, there’s a caterpillar,

Cabbage looper

Cabbage looper

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Fluorescence Reports Intact Quantum Dot Uptake into Roots and Translocation to Leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana and Subsequent Ingestion by Insect Herbivores by Yeonjong Koo, Jing Wang, Qingbo Zhang, Huiguang Zhu, E. Wassim Chehab, Vicki L. Colvin, Pedro J. J. Alvarez, and Janet Braam. Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/es5050562 Publication Date (Web): December 1, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access but you must be registered on the website.

One final thought about the research, it did take place in a laboratory environment and there doesn’t seem to have been any soil involved so the uptake can not be directly compared (as I understand matters) to the uptake characteristics where plant cultivation requires soil. This seems to have been a study involving hydroponic framing practices.

Gold nanoparticles as catalysts for clear water and hydrogen production

The research was published online May 2014 and in a July 2014 print version,  which seems a long time ago now but there’s a renewed interest in attracting attention for this work. A Dec. 17, 2014 news item on phys.org describes this proposed water purification technology from Singapore’s A*STAR (Agency for Science Technology and Research), Note: Links have been removed,

A new catalyst could have dramatic environmental benefits if it can live up to its potential, suggests research from Singapore. A*STAR researchers have produced a catalyst with gold-nanoparticle antennas that can improve water quality in daylight and also generate hydrogen as a green energy source.

This water purification technology was developed by He-Kuan Luo, Andy Hor and colleagues from the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). “Any innovative and benign technology that can remove or destroy organic pollutants from water under ambient conditions is highly welcome,” explains Hor, who is executive director of the IMRE and also affiliated with the National University of Singapore.

A Dec. 17, 2014 A*STAR research highlight, which originated the news item, describes the photocatalytic process the research team developed and tested,

Photocatalytic materials harness sunlight to create electrical charges, which provide the energy needed to drive chemical reactions in molecules attached to the catalyst’s surface. In addition to decomposing harmful molecules in water, photocatalysts are used to split water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen; hydrogen can then be employed as a green energy source.

Hor and his team set out to improve an existing catalyst. Oxygen-based compounds such as strontium titanate (SrTiO3) look promising, as they are robust and stable materials and are suitable for use in water. One of the team’s innovations was to enhance its catalytic activity by adding small quantities of the metal lanthanum, which provides additional usable electrical charges.

Catalysts also need to capture a sufficient amount of sunlight to catalyze chemical reactions. So to enable the photocatalyst to harvest more light, the scientists attached gold nanoparticles to the lanthanum-doped SrTiO3 microspheres (see image). These gold nanoparticles are enriched with electrons and hence act as antennas, concentrating light to accelerate the catalytic reaction.

The porous structure of the microspheres results in a large surface area, as it provides more binding space for organic molecules to dock to. A single gram of the material has a surface area of about 100 square meters. “The large surface area plays a critical role in achieving a good photocatalytic activity,” comments Luo.

To demonstrate the efficiency of these catalysts, the researchers studied how they decomposed the dye rhodamine B in water. Within four hours of exposure to visible light 92 per cent of the dye was gone, which is much faster than conventional catalysts that lack gold nanoparticles.

These microparticles can also be used for water splitting, says Luo. The team showed that the microparticles with gold nanoparticles performed better in water-splitting experiments than those without, further highlighting the versatility and effectiveness of these microspheres.

The researchers have provided an illustration of the process,

Improved photocatalyst microparticles containing gold nanoparticles can be used to purify water. © 2014 A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering

Improved photocatalyst microparticles containing gold nanoparticles can be used to purify water.
© 2014 A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Novel Au/La-SrTiO3 microspheres: Superimposed Effect of Gold Nanoparticles and Lanthanum Doping in Photocatalysis by Guannan Wang, Pei Wang, Dr. He-Kuan Luo, and Prof. T. S. Andy Hor. Chemistry – An Asian Journal Volume 9, Issue 7, pages 1854–1859, July 2014. Article first published online: 9 MAY 2014 DOI: 10.1002/asia.201402007

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

Self-healing (high voltage installations) in the subsea and a search for funding

More concept than reality, nonetheless, the possibilities offered by this Scandinavian research are appealing. From a Dec. 16, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Embryonic faults in subsea high voltage installations are difficult to detect and very expensive to repair. Researchers believe that self-repairing materials could be the answer.

The vital insulating material which encloses sensitive high voltage equipment may now be getting some ‘first aid’.

“We have preliminary results indicating that this is a promising concept, but we need to do more research to check out other solutions and try the technique out under different conditions.” So says SINTEF [largest independent research organisation in Scandinavial researcher Cédric Lesaint, who is hoping that the industry will soon wake up to the idea.

A Nov. 26, 2014 SINTEF press release, which originated the news item, describes the concept in more detail,

The technology used involves so-called ‘microcapsules’, which are added to traditional insulation materials and have the ability to ‘sniff out’ material fatigue and then release repairing molecules. The team working on this project is made up of chemists, physicists and electrical engineers. If they succeed, they may have discovered the next generation of insulating materials which can be applied in costly electrical installations.

The press release then describes a phenomenon named ‘electrical trees’,

So-called electrical trees develop in electrical insulation materials that are approaching the end of their useful lives. Electrical stress fields exploit small weaknesses in the insulation material and generate hair-thin channels that spread through the material like the branches of a tree. When the channels finally reach the surface of the insulation material, the damage is done and short-circuiting will occur.

“Short-circuiting is almost always linked to an electrical tree”, explains Lesaint’s colleague, Øystein Hestad.

Faults of this kind are extremely expensive to repair, especially if they occur in a device installed on an offshore wind farm or a subsea oil production installation – perhaps even under inhospitable Arctic conditions.

Under such conditions, say researchers, self-repairing insulation materials represent a cost-effective alternative to traditional repair methods.

The specific solution the researchers propose (from the press release),

SINTEF researchers have based their work on an established idea developed to repair mechanical damage and cracks in composite materials. The composites are mixed with microcapsules filled with a liquid monomer – single molecules which have the property to join with each other (polymerise) to form long-chain molecules. If cracks or other forms of damage encroach on the capsules, the monomer is released and fills the cracks.

“As far as we know, we’re the first to have tested this technique on damage resulting from electrical stress fields”, says Lesaint.

The microcapsules they incorporated into the insulation materials burst when they encounter one of the branches of an electrical tree. The liquid monomer then invades the thin channels forming the ‘tree’ and polymerises. The channels are filled in and the electrical degradation of the insulation material is halted.

In this way the ‘immune defences’ of the insulation material are strengthened, and the lifetime of the installation extended.

As promising as the research is, the scientists are looking for funds (from the press release),

This summer [2014], the SINTEF research team presented the concept at a conference in Philadelphia, USA.

“Many people were surprised, especially when they realised that we had chosen to share the concept with others”, says Lesaint. “Taking the chance that other researchers might steal such a good idea is a risk we have to take”, he says.

The industry has also expressed some interest, but so far not enough to consider funding further research.

“We’re being met with curious interest, but have been told to come back when we have more test results”, says Lesaint. “The problem is that at present we have insufficient funds to conduct the research needed to carry the project forward”, he says.

Next year [2015?] will thus decide as to whether this self-repairing project will take the step from being a promising concept to becoming the next generation of insulation materials.

You can also find the press release/article by Lars Martin Hjortho here in  a Gemini.no newsletter.

Here’s an illustration the researchers have made available,

Subsea installations can get longer life-time with self-repairing materials. Illustration: SINTEF Energy  [downloaded from http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/self-repairing-subsea-material/]

Subsea installations can get longer life-time with self-repairing materials. Illustration: SINTEF Energy [downloaded from http://gemini.no/en/2014/11/self-repairing-subsea-material/]

Insurance companies, the future, and perceptions about nanotechnology risks

Michael Berger has written a Dec. 15, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight about a study examining perceptions of nanotechnology risks amongst members of the insurance industry,

Insurance companies are major stakeholders capable of contributing to the safer and more sustainable development of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials. This is owed to the fact that the insurance industry is one of the bearers of potential losses that can arise from the production and use of nanomaterials and nanotechnology applications.

Researchers at the University of Limerick in Ireland have examined how the insurance market perception of nanotechnology can influence the sustainability of technological advances and insurers’ concern for nanotechnology risks. They claim that, despite its role in sustaining technology development in modern society, insurers’ perception on nanomaterials has been largely overlooked by researchers and regulators alike.

I encourage you to read Berger’s piece in its entirety as it includes nuggets such as this,

… Over 64 per cent of surveyed insurers said they were vaguely familiar with nanotechnology and nanomaterial terms, and over 25 per cent said they had a moderate working knowledge and were able to define the terms. The interview data, however, suggests that this knowledge is at a basic level and there is a need for more information in order to allow this group to differentiate between distinct nanomaterial risks.

For those of you who would like to read the researchers’ paper in its entirety, you can find it in the Geneva Association Newsletter: Risk Management, No. 54, June 2014 where you will find a very interesting set of prognostications in Walter R. Stahel’s editorial,

In the editorial of the Risk Management newsletter of May 2013, I was looking back at 25 years of Risk Management Research of The Geneva Association. Today, this editorial and newsletter will look at some specific risks of the next 25 years.

If we first look back 25 years, to 1988, the PC had just been invented, Internet was still an internal network at the site of its invention the CERN [European Particle Physics Laboratory] in Geneva, cars were driven by people and mobile phones weighed five kilos and cost $5000, to give but a few technical examples. Dying forests, air pollution and retreating glaciers were the main environmental topics in the news, unemployment and sovereign debt were high on the agenda of politicians—some topics change, others remain.

Looking forward to 2039, the impacts of climate change will have amplified: invasive species—both plants such as ambrosia and animals such as the tiger mosquito—will have advanced further northward in Europe, while intensive agriculture in Scotland and Scandinavia will have become the norm—the European Union (EU) expects a 75 per cent increase in agricultural yields in these regions.

Other topics, such as bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics, represent a formidable challenge both as an opportunity for science and a risk to society. The European Commission estimates that today, 25,000 people die annually as a result of an infection with multi-drug-resistant bacteria.

The ageing population is another major opportunity and risk in the hands of policymakers, a topic which The Geneva Association started analysing more than 25 years ago. Yet the multiple benefits of continued activity by the elderly—such as lower health costs—are only starting to be recognised by politicians. And most companies, organisations and administrations are still extremely hesitant to keep able employees beyond the legal age of retirement.

No easy predictions can be made on the outcome of societal changes. Trends such as a shift from science-based policymaking to policy-based science, from evidence-based advocacy to advocacy-based evidence and from fault-based liability to need-based compensation could lead society onto down the wrong path, which may be irreversible.

The last paragraph from the excerpt is the most interesting to me as its puts some of the current machinations within Canadian public life into context within the European (and I suspect the international) political scene.

I do have a comment or two about the research but first here’s a citation for it,

Insurance Market Perception of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials Risks By Lijana Baublyte, Martin Mullins, Finbarr Murphy and Syed A.M. Tofai. Geneva Association Newsletter: Risk Management, No. 54, June 2014.

No date is offered for when the research was conducted and there is no indication in the newsletter that it was published prior to its June 2014 publication.

As for the research itself, first, the respondents are self-assessing their knowledge about nanotechnology. That presents an interesting problem for researchers since self-assessment in any area is highly dependent on various attributes such as confidence, perceived intelligence, etc. For example, someone who’s more knowledgeable might self-assess as being less so than someone who has more confidence in themselves. As for this statistic from the report,

… Over 40 per cent of surveyed laypeople heard nothing at all about nanotechnologies and nanomaterials, 47.5 per cent said they were vaguely familiar with the technology and the remaining 11.7 per cent of respondents reported having moderate working knowledge.

Generally, people won’t tell you that they know about nanotechnologies and nanomaterials from a video game (Deux Ex) or a comic book (Iron Man’s Extremis story line) as they may not consider that to be knowledge or are embarrassed. In the case of the video game, the information about nanotechnology is based on reputable scientific research although it is somewhat massaged to fit into the game ethos. Nonetheless, information about emerging technologies is often conveyed through pop culture properties and/or advertising and most researchers don’t take that into account.

One more thing about layperson awareness, the researchers cite a meta-analysis conducted by Terre Satterfield, et. al. (full citation: Satterfield, T., Kandlikar, M., Beaudrie, C.E.H., Conti,J., and Herr Harthorn, B. [2009]. Anticipating the perceived risk of nanotechnologies. Nature Nanotechnology, 4[11]: 752–758),  which was published in 2009 (mentioned in my Sept. 22, 2009 post; scroll down about 35% of the way). As I recall, the meta-analysis fell a bit short as the researchers didn’t provide in-depth analysis of the research instruments (questionnaires) instead analysing only the results. That said, one can’t ‘reinvent the wheel’ every time one writes a paper or analyses data although I do wish just once I’d stumble across a study where researchers analysed the assumptions posed by the wording of the questions.

India and a National Seminar on Literature in the Emerging Contexts of Technology and Culture

I recently got a notice about an intriguing national seminar being held at Punjabi University (India). From a Dec. 12, 2014 notice,

The Department of English is pleased to invite you to the National Seminar on Literature in the Emerging Contexts of Technology and Culture being held on February 25 and 26, 2015.

There is an old, almost primal, bond between writing and technology. From the earliest tools of writing—probably a sharp-edged stone—to the stylus pen, from the clay tablet to the capacitive touch screen, this bond has proclaimed itself with all the force of technology’s materiality. However, the relatively rapid emergence and acceptance of the digital writing environment has foregrounded with unprecedented clarity how command and control are always already embedded in communication. Moreover, in the specific sphere of literary production, the opaqueness of creativity stands further complicated with the entry of the programmer, often in the very person of the writer. At the other end, reading struggles to break free from the constraints of both the verbal and the linear as it goes multimedia and hypertextual, making fresh demands upon the human sensorium. The result is that the received narratives of literary history face radical interruptions.

While cultures enfold and shape literatures and technologies, it must be admitted that they are also articulated and shaped by the latter. Technology in particular has advanced and proliferated so much in the last three decades that it has come to be regarded as a culture in its own right. It has come to acquire, particularly since the early decades of the twentieth century, a presence and authority it never really possessed before. With prosthetics, simulation and remote-sensing, for instance, it has brought within the horizon of realization the human aspiration for self-overcoming. Yet in spite of its numerous enabling, even liberating, tools, technology has also often tended to close off several modes of cognition and perception. While most of us would like to believe that we use technology, it is no less true that technology also uses us. Heidegger correctly warned of the potential, inherent in modern technology, to reduce the human beings to its resources and reserves. He also alerted us to its elusive ways, particularly the way it resists being thought and pre-empts any attempts to think beyond itself, thereby instituting itself as the exclusive horizon of thinking. Paradoxically, like a literary text or like thought itself, technology may have some chinks, certain gaps or spaces, through which it may be glimpsed against its larger, imposing tendencies.

The ostensible self-sufficiency and plenitude of the technological, as of the cultural, can be questioned and their nature examined probably most productively from a space which is structured self-reflexively, that is from the space of the literary. At the same time, the implications of the technological turn, especially in its digital avatar, for literature, as also for culture, demand thinking.

The proposed seminar will be an opportunity to reflect on these and related issues, with which a whole galaxy of thinkers have engaged — from Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Raymond Williams and Jean Baudrillard to Donna Haraway, George Landow, Lev Manovich, Bernard Steigler, Katherine Hayles, Henry Jenkins, Hubert Dreyfus, Mari-Laure Ryan, the Krokers, Manuel Castells, Fredrich Kittler, David J Bolter, Manuel De Landa, Nick Montfort, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and others. Among the areas on which papers/presentations for the seminar are expected are:

  • The Work of Literature/Art in the Digital Age
  • Cultures of Technology and Technologies of Culture
  • Resistance and Appropriation Online: Strategies and Subterfuges
  • Global Capitalism and Cyberspace
  • Posthumanist Culture and Its Literatures
  • Digital Humanities and the Literary Text
  • Reconsidering Literature: Between Technology and Theory
  • Virtuality and/as Fiction
  • Plotting the Mutating Networks: The Logics of Contingency
  • Writing Technologies and Literature
  • Reading Literature in the Digital Age
  • Literature and Gaming
  • After the Death of the Author: The Posthuman Authority
  • Cyberpunk Writing
  • Teaching Literature in the Post-Gutenberg Classroom

Submission of abstracts: By 20 January 2015
Submission of papers: By 10 February 2015
Registration Fee: Rs. 1000/- (Rs. 500 for Research Scholars/Students)

All submissions must be made through email to [email protected] and/or [email protected].

Lodging and hospitality shall be provided by the University to all outstation resource persons and, subject to availability, to paper presenters. In view of financial constraints, it may not be possible to reimburse travel expenses to all paper presenters.

Rajesh Sharma
Seminar Director
Professor and Head
Department of English
783 796 0942
0175-304 6246

Jaspreet Mander
Associate Professor of English
Seminar Coordinator
941 792 3373

I couldn’t agree with the sentiments more, applaud the organizers’ ambitious scope, and wish them the best!

PS: There is a Canada/India/Southeast Asia project, Cosmopolitanism and the Local in Science and Nature: Creating an East/West Partnership, that’s starting up soon as per my Dec. 12, 2014 post and this seminar would seem like an opportunity for those academics to reach out. Finally, you can get more information about Punjabi University here.