Bendable, stretchable, light-weight, and transparent: a new competitor in the competition for ‘thinnest electric generator’

An Oct. 15, 2014 Columbia University (New York, US) press release (also on EurekAlert), describes another contender for the title of the world’s thinnest electric generator,

Researchers from Columbia Engineering and the Georgia Institute of Technology [US] report today [Oct. 15, 2014] that they have made the first experimental observation of piezoelectricity and the piezotronic effect in an atomically thin material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), resulting in a unique electric generator and mechanosensation devices that are optically transparent, extremely light, and very bendable and stretchable.

In a paper published online October 15, 2014, in Nature, research groups from the two institutions demonstrate the mechanical generation of electricity from the two-dimensional (2D) MoS2 material. The piezoelectric effect in this material had previously been predicted theoretically.

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

Piezoelectricity of single-atomic-layer MoS2 for energy conversion and piezotronics by Wenzhuo Wu, Lei Wang, Yilei Li, Fan Zhang, Long Lin, Simiao Niu, Daniel Chenet, Xian Zhang, Yufeng Hao, Tony F. Heinz, James Hone, & Zhong Lin Wang. Nature (2014) doi:10.1038/nature13792 Published online 15 October 2014

This paper is behind a paywall. There is a free preview available with ReadCube Access.

Getting back to the Columbia University press release, it offers a general description of piezoelectricity and some insight into this new research on molybdenum disulfide,

Piezoelectricity is a well-known effect in which stretching or compressing a material causes it to generate an electrical voltage (or the reverse, in which an applied voltage causes it to expand or contract). But for materials of only a few atomic thicknesses, no experimental observation of piezoelectricity has been made, until now. The observation reported today provides a new property for two-dimensional materials such as molybdenum disulfide, opening the potential for new types of mechanically controlled electronic devices.

“This material—just a single layer of atoms—could be made as a wearable device, perhaps integrated into clothing, to convert energy from your body movement to electricity and power wearable sensors or medical devices, or perhaps supply enough energy to charge your cell phone in your pocket,” says James Hone, professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia and co-leader of the research.

“Proof of the piezoelectric effect and piezotronic effect adds new functionalities to these two-dimensional materials,” says Zhong Lin Wang, Regents’ Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering and a co-leader of the research. “The materials community is excited about molybdenum disulfide, and demonstrating the piezoelectric effect in it adds a new facet to the material.”

Hone and his research group demonstrated in 2008 that graphene, a 2D form of carbon, is the strongest material. He and Lei Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in Hone’s group, have been actively exploring the novel properties of 2D materials like graphene and MoS2 as they are stretched and compressed.

Zhong Lin Wang and his research group pioneered the field of piezoelectric nanogenerators for converting mechanical energy into electricity. He and postdoctoral fellow Wenzhuo Wu are also developing piezotronic devices, which use piezoelectric charges to control the flow of current through the material just as gate voltages do in conventional three-terminal transistors.

There are two keys to using molybdenum disulfide for generating current: using an odd number of layers and flexing it in the proper direction. The material is highly polar, but, Zhong Lin Wang notes, so an even number of layers cancels out the piezoelectric effect. The material’s crystalline structure also is piezoelectric in only certain crystalline orientations.

For the Nature study, Hone’s team placed thin flakes of MoS2 on flexible plastic substrates and determined how their crystal lattices were oriented using optical techniques. They then patterned metal electrodes onto the flakes. In research done at Georgia Tech, Wang’s group installed measurement electrodes on samples provided by Hone’s group, then measured current flows as the samples were mechanically deformed. They monitored the conversion of mechanical to electrical energy, and observed voltage and current outputs.

The researchers also noted that the output voltage reversed sign when they changed the direction of applied strain, and that it disappeared in samples with an even number of atomic layers, confirming theoretical predictions published last year. The presence of piezotronic effect in odd layer MoS2 was also observed for the first time.

“What’s really interesting is we’ve now found that a material like MoS2, which is not piezoelectric in bulk form, can become piezoelectric when it is thinned down to a single atomic layer,” says Lei Wang.

To be piezoelectric, a material must break central symmetry. A single atomic layer of MoS2 has such a structure, and should be piezoelectric. However, in bulk MoS2, successive layers are oriented in opposite directions, and generate positive and negative voltages that cancel each other out and give zero net piezoelectric effect.

“This adds another member to the family of piezoelectric materials for functional devices,” says Wenzhuo Wu.

In fact, MoS2 is just one of a group of 2D semiconducting materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, all of which are predicted to have similar piezoelectric properties. These are part of an even larger family of 2D materials whose piezoelectric materials remain unexplored. Importantly, as has been shown by Hone and his colleagues, 2D materials can be stretched much farther than conventional materials, particularly traditional ceramic piezoelectrics, which are quite brittle.

The research could open the door to development of new applications for the material and its unique properties.

“This is the first experimental work in this area and is an elegant example of how the world becomes different when the size of material shrinks to the scale of a single atom,” Hone adds. “With what we’re learning, we’re eager to build useful devices for all kinds of applications.”

Ultimately, Zhong Lin Wang notes, the research could lead to complete atomic-thick nanosystems that are self-powered by harvesting mechanical energy from the environment. This study also reveals the piezotronic effect in two-dimensional materials for the first time, which greatly expands the application of layered materials for human-machine interfacing, robotics, MEMS, and active flexible electronics.

I see there’s a reference in that last paragraph to “harvesting mechanical energy from  the environment.” I’m not sure what they mean by that but I have written a few times about harvesting biomechanical energy. One of my earliest pieces is a July 12, 2010 post which features work by Zhong Lin Wang on harvesting energy from heart beats, blood flow, muscle stretching, or even irregular vibrations. One of my latest pieces is a Sept. 17, 2014 post about some work in Canada on harvesting energy from the jaw as you chew.

A final note, Dexter Johnson discusses this work in an Oct. 16, 2014 post on the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website).

Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (Oct. 17 – 26, 2014) followed by Transatlantic Science Week (Oct. 27 – 29, 2014)

Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (it’s actually 10 days) starts on today, Oct. 17, 2014 this year. You can find a listing of events across the country on the National Science and Technology Week Events List webpage (Note: I have reformatted the information I’ve excerpted from the page but all the details remain the same and links have been removed),


Medicine Hat     Praxis Annual Family Science Olympics     Medicine Hat High School Taylor Science Centre (enter on 5th street)     Saturday, October 18, 2014, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.     Praxis will be hosting their annual Family Science Olympics. The day will consist of ten hands on science challenges that each family can participate in. If you complete eight of the ten, you will be entered into the draw for the grand prize of a remote control helicopter with a camera. Each “family” must have at least one person over the age of 18. The event is free and will have something for all ages.

British Columbia

Vancouver     First Responder’s weekend     Science World at TELUS World of Science     Saturday October 18 & Sunday October 19, 10am – 6pm both days     First responders are an important and integral part of every community. Join Vancouver firefighters, BC paramedics, Vancouver police, Ecomm 911 and the Canadian Border Services Agency as they showcase who our first responders are, what they do, the technology they use and the role that science plays in their work. Explore emergency technology inside and emergency response vehicles outside the building.


Dugald     Bees, Please     Springfield Public Library, Dugald, Manitoba     October 17, 22, and 24th for programs. We will have the display set up for the duration, from Oct 17-26th. 10 a.m to 8 p.m.     Preschool programs all week will feature stories and crafts on bees and their importance in the world. Kids in the Kitchen, menu selections will feature the use of honey all week. We will have displays of honey, bees and farming with local Ag. Society assistance.

New Brunswick

Dieppe     Tech Trek 2014     Dieppe Arts and Culture Centre     Saturday, October 25, 2014, 9 AM – 12 PM     Come join us for a morning filled with science and tech activities for children of all ages! Admission to this event is free!


Ottawa     Funfest     Booth Street Complex(Corner of Booth and Carling)     Sunday, October 19, 2014 – 11:00 am to 4:00 pm     Science Funfest is an open house event that takes place at Natural Resources Canada’s Booth Street Complex, at the corner of Carling Avenue and Booth Street in Ottawa. It’s a wonderful opportunity for children and anyone interested in science to engage in presentations and gain hands on science experience by participating in activities that will showcase the importance of science in a fun and interactive way. Last year’s event featured approximately 70 interactive exhibits on subjects ranging from ‘Slime’ to ‘Canada’s Forest Insects’.

Toronto     Science Literacy Week     Gerstein Science Information Centre, University of Toronto     September 22-28, 2014   [emphasis mine]  Science literacy week is a city wide effort to provide access to some of the best science communicators of all time.  Through book displays, links to online content, documentary screenings and lecture series, the aim is to showcase how captivating science really is.    The science literacy week’s goal is to give people the opportunity to marvel at the discoveries and developments of the last few centuries of scientific thought.


Sherbrooke     Conférence “La crystallographie : art, science et chocolat!” Par Alexis Reymbault     Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke     October 22, 2014     French only.


Saskatoon     See the Light: Open House at the Canadian Light Source     Canadian Light Source, 44 Innovation Blvd.     Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9-11:30 am and 1-4 pm     Tour the synchrotron and talk with young researchers and see where and how they use the synchrotron to study disease. Advance registration required:

At this point, there seem to be fewer events than usual but that may be due to a problem the organizer (Canada’s Science and Technology Museums Corporation) has been dealing with since Sept. 11, 2014. That day, they had to close the country’s national Science and Technology Museum due to issues with airbourne mould (Sept. 11, 2014 news item on the Globe and Mail website). As for what Toronto’s Science Literacy Week 2014, which took place during September, is doing on a listing of October events is a mystery to me unless this is an attempt to raise awareness for the 2015 event mentioned on the Science Literacy Week 2014  webpage.

Transatlantic Science Week (Oct. 26 – 29, 2014), which is three days not a week, is being held in Toronto, Ontario and it extends (coincidentally or purposefully) Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (Oct. 17 – 26, 2014). Here’s more about Transatlantic Science Week from a UArctic (University of the Arctic) Sept. 12, 2014 blog posting (Note 1: UArctic announced the dates as Oct. 27 – 29, 2014 as opposed to the dates from the online registration website for the event; Note 2: Despite the error with the dates the information about the week is substantively the same as the info. on the registration webpage)

The Transatlantic Science Week is an annual trilateral science and innovation conference that promotes the collaboration between research, innovation, government, and business in Canada, the United States and Norway.  Held in Toronto, Canada, this year’s theme focuses on “The Arctic: Societies, Sustainability, and Safety”.

The Transatlantic Science Week 2014 will examine challenges and opportunities in the Arctic through three specialized tracks: (1) Arctic climate science, (2) Arctic safety and cross border knowledge, and (3) Arctic research-based industrial development and resource management. Business opportunities in the Arctic is an essential part of the program.

The evernt [sic] provides a unique arena to facilitate critical dialogue and initiate new collaboration between key players with specific Arctic knowledge.

You can find more information about the programme and other meeting details here but you can no longer register online, all new registrations will be done onsite during the meeting.

Replacing copper wire in motors?

Finnish researchers at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) believe it may be possible to replace copper wire used in motors with spun carbon nanotubes. From an Oct. 15, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) introduces the first electrical motor applying carbon nanotube yarn. The material replaces copper wires in windings. The motor is a step towards lightweight, efficient electric drives. Its output power is 40 W and rotation speed 15000 rpm.

Aiming at upgrading the performance and energy efficiency of electrical machines, higher-conductivity wires are searched for windings. Here, the new technology may revolutionize the industry. The best carbon nanotubes (CNTs) demonstrate conductivities far beyond the best metals; CNT windings may have double the conductivity of copper windings.

”If we keep the design parameters unchanged only replacing copper with carbon nanotube yarns, the Joule losses in windings can be reduced to half of present machine losses. By lighter and more ecological CNT yarn, we can reduce machine dimensions and CO2 emissions in manufacturing and operation. Machines could also be run in higher temperatures,” says Professor Pyrhönen [Juha Pyrhönen], leading the prototype design at LUT.

An Oct. ??, 2014 (?) LUT press release, which originated the news item, further describes the work,

Traditionally, the windings in electrical machines are made of copper, which has the second best conductivity of metals at room temperature. Despite the high conductivity of copper, a large proportion of the electrical machine losses occur in the copper windings. For this reason, the Joule losses are often referred to as copper losses. The carbon nanotube yarn does not have a definite upper limit for conductivity (e.g. values of 100 MS/m have already been measured).

According to Pyrhönen, the electrical machines are so ubiquitous in everyday life that we often forget about their presence. In a single-family house alone there can be tens of electrical machines in various household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, hair dryers, and ventilators.

“In the industry, the number of electrical motors is enormous: there can be up to tens of thousands of motors in a single process industry unit. All these use copper in the windings. Consequently, finding a more efficient material to replace the copper conductors would lead to major changes in the industry,” tells Professor Pyrhönen.

There are big plans for this work according to the press release,

The prototype motor uses carbon nanotube yarns spun and converted into an isolated tape by a Japanese-Dutch company Teijin Aramid, which has developed the spinning technology in collaboration with Rice University, the USA. The industrial applications of the new material are still in their infancy; scaling up the production capacity together with improving the yarn performance will facilitate major steps in the future, believes Business Development Manager Dr. Marcin Otto from Teijin Aramid, agreeing with Professor Pyrhönen.

“There is a significant improvement potential in the electrical machines, but we are now facing the limits of material physics set by traditional winding materials. Superconductivity appears not to develop to such a level that it could, in general, be applied to electrical machines. Carbonic materials, however, seem to have a pole position: We expect that in the future, the conductivity of carbon nanotube yarns could be even three times the practical conductivity of copper in electrical machines. In addition, carbon is abundant while copper needs to be mined or recycled by heavy industrial processes.”

The researchers have produced this video about their research,

There’s a reference to some work done at Rice University (Texas, US) with Teijin Armid (Japanese-Dutch company) and Technion Institute (Israel) with spinning carbon nanotubes into threads that look like black cotton (you’ll see the threads in the video). It’s this work that has made the latest research in Finland possible. I have more about the the Rice/Teijin Armid/Technion CNT project in my Jan. 11, 2013 posting, Prima donna of nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes) tamed by scientists at Rice University (Texas, US), Teijin Armid (Dutch/Japanese company), and Technion Institute (based in Israel).

Quantum; the dance performance about physics in Vancouver, Canada (2 of 2)

Gilles Jobin kindly made time to talk about his arts residency at CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) prior to the performances of Quantum (a dance piece resulting from the residency) from Oct. 16 -18, 2014 at Vancouver’s Dance Centre.

Jobin was the first individual to be selected as an artist-in-residence for three months in the CERN/Geneva programme (there is another artist-in-residence programme at the laboratory which is the CERN/Ars Electronica programme). Both these artist-in-residence programmes were announced in the same year, 2011. (You can find out more about the CERN artist-in-residence programmes on the Collide@CERN webpage,

As a main strategy of CERN’s Cultural Policy for Engaging with the Arts, Collide@CERN is a 3-year artist’s residency programme initiated by Arts@CERN in 2011.

By bringing world-class artists and scientists together in a free exchange of ideas, the Collide@CERN residency programme explores elements even more elusive than the Higgs boson: human ingenuity, creativity and imagination.

See below for more information about the Collide@CERN artist residency programmes:

Collide@CERN Geneva Residency

Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN Residency

The Collide@CERN prize – an open call to artists working in different art forms to win a fully funded residency – will be awarded annually in two strands (Collide@CERN Geneva and Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN) until 2013. It comprises prize money and a residency grant for up to 3 months at CERN.

The winning artists will interact and engage with CERN scientists in order to take their artistic work to new creative dimensions.

The awards are made following two annual international open calls and the jury comprises the cultural partners as well as representatives from Arts@CERN, including scientists.

Planned engagement with artists at CERN is a relatively new concept according to an August 4, 2011 CERN press release,

Today CERN1 launches its cultural policy for engaging with the arts. Called ‘Great Arts for Great Science’, this new cultural policy has a central strategy – a selection process for arts engagement at the level of one of the world’s leading research organizations.

“This puts CERN’s engagement with the arts on a similar level as the excellence of its science,” said Ariane Koek, CERN’s cultural specialist.

CERN’s newly appointed Cultural Board for the Arts will be the advisers and guardians of quality. It is made up of renowned cultural leaders in the arts from CERN’s host-state countries: Beatrix Ruf, Director of the Kunsthalle Zurich; Serge Dorny, Director General of the Lyon Opera House; Franck Madlener, Director of the music institute IRCAM in Paris. Geneva and CERN are represented by Christoph Bollman of ArtbyGenève and Michael Doser, an antimatter scientist. Membership of the board is an honorary position that will change every three years.

The Cultural Board will select one or two art projects a year to receive a CERN letter of approval, enabling these projects to seek external funding for their particle-physics inspired work. This will also build up an international portfolio of CERN-inspired work over the years to come, in conjunction with the Collide@CERN (link sends e-mail) Artists Residency Programme, details of which will be announced in the coming month.

To date, Jobin is the only choreographer to become, so to speak, a member of the CERN community. It was a position that was treated like a job. Jobin went to his office at CERN every day for three months to research particle physics. He had two science advisors, Nicholas Chanon and Michael Doser to help him gain an understanding of the physics being studied in the facility. Here’s Jobin describing his first experiences at CERN (from Jobin’s Collide Nov. 13, 2012 posting),

When I first arrived at Cern, I was captivated by the place and overwhelmed by the hugeness of the subject: Partical [sic] physics… And I had some serious catch up to do… Impressed by the two introduction days in which I had the opportunity to meet many different scientists, Ariane Koeck told me “not to panic” and “to spend my first month following my instinct and not my head…”. …

I found out about the 4 fundamental forces and the fact that gravity was the weakest of all the forces. For a contemporary dancer formed basically around the question of gravity and “groundness” that came as a total shock! I was not a “pile of stuff”, but particles bound together by the strong force and “floating” on the surface of the earth… Me, the earth, you readers, the LHC flying at incredible speed through space, without any of us, (including the physicists!) noticing anything…  Stardust flying into space… I was baffled…

Jobin was required deliver two public lectures, one at the beginning of his residency and the other at the end, as well as, a series of ‘interventions’. He instituted four ‘interventions’, one each in CERN’s library, data centre, anti-matter hall, and cafeteria. Here’s an image and a description of what Jobin was attempting with his library intervention (from his Nov. 13, 2012 posting),

CERN library dance intervention Credit: Gilles Jobin

CERN library dance intervention Credit: Gilles Jobin

 My idea was to “melt” our bodies into the timeline of the library. Like time chameleons, we were to adapt our movements and presence to the quiet and studious atmosphere of the library and be practically unnoticed. My postulate was to imagine that the perception of time is relative; there was a special texture to “time” inside the library. How long is an afternoon in a library? Never ending or passing by too quickly? It is a shared space, with the unique density you can feel in studious atmosphere and its user’s different virtual timelines. We melted into the element of the library and as we guessed, our “unusual” presence and actions did not create conflicts with our surroundings and the students at work. It was a bit like entering slowly into water and becoming part of the element without disturbing its balance. The time hypothesis worked… I wanted to do more site specific interventions in Cern because I was learning things differently. Some understanding was going through my body. Being in action into the labs…

It was only after the residency was completed that he started work on Quantum (producing a dance piece was not a requirement of the residency). After the residency, he did bring his science advisors, Chanon and Doser to his studio and brought his studio to CERN. Jobin managed to get rehearsal time in one of the halls that is 100 metres directly above the large hadron collider (LHC) during the time period when scientists were working to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson). There were a number of announcements ‘confirming’ the Higgs. They started in July 2012 and continued, as scientists refined their tests, to March 2013 (Wikipedia entry)  when a definitive statement was issued. The definitive statement was recently followed with more confirmation as a June, 25, 2014 article by Amir Aczel for Discover declares Confirmed: That Was Definitely the Higgs Boson Found at LHC [large hadron collider].

As scientists continue to check and doublecheck, Jobin presented Quantum in October 2013 for the first time in public, fittingly, at CERN (from Jobin’s Oct. 3, 2013 blog posting),



Jobin was greatly influenced by encounters at CERN with Julius von Bismarck who won the 2012 Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN Residency and with his science advisors, Dosen and Chanon. Surprisingly, Jobin was also deeply influenced by Richard Feynman (American physicist; 1918 – 1988). “I loved his approach and his humour,” says Jobin while referring to a book Feynman wrote, then adding,  “I used Feynman diagrams, learning to draw them for my research and for my choreographic work on Quantum.”

For those unfamiliar with Feynman diagrams, from the Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

In theoretical physics, Feynman diagrams are pictorial representations of the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles. The scheme is named for its inventor, American physicist Richard Feynman, and was first introduced in 1948. The interaction of sub-atomic particles can be complex and difficult to understand intuitively, and the Feynman diagrams allow for a simple visualization of what would otherwise be a rather arcane and abstract formula.

There’s also an engaging Feb. 14, 2010 post by Flip Tanedo on Quantum Diaries with this title, Let’s draw Feynman diagrams! and there’s this paper, by David Kaiser on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website, Physics and Feynman’s Diagrams; In the hands of a postwar generation, a tool intended to lead quantum electrodynamics out of a decades-long morass helped transform physics. In the spirit of Richard Feynman, both the Tanedo post and Kaiser paper are quite readable. Also, here’s an example (simplified) of what a diagram (from the Quantum Diaries website) can look like,

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Getting back to Quantum (dance), Jobin describes this choreography as a type of collaboration where the dancers have responsibility for the overall look and feel of the piece. (For more details, Jobin describes his ‘momement generators’ in the radio interview embedded in part 1 of this piece on Quantum.)

In common with most contemporary dance pieces, there is no narrative structure or narrative element to the piece although Jobin does note that there is one bit that could be described as a ‘Higgs moment’ where a dancer is held still by his or her feet, signifying the Higgs boson giving mass to the universe.

As to why Vancouver, Canada is being treated to a performance of Quantum, Jobin has this to say, “When I knew the company was traveling to New York City and then San Francisco, I contacted my friend and colleague, Mirna Zagar, who I met at a Croatian Dance Week Festival that she founded and produces every year.”  She’s also the executive director for Vancouver’s Dance Centre. “After that it was easy.”

Performances are Oct. 16 – 18, 2014 at 8 pm with a Post-show artist talkback on October 17, 2014.

Compagnie Gilles Jobin

$30/$22 students, seniors, CADA members/$20 Dance Centre members
Buy tickets online or call Tickets Tonight: 604.684.2787 (service charges apply to telephone bookings)

You can find part 1 of this piece about Quantum in my Oct. 15, 2014 posting. which includes a video, a listing of the rest of the 2014 tour stops, a link to an interview featuring Jobin and his science advisor, Michael Doser, on a US radio show, and more.

Finally, company dancers are posting video interviews (the What’s Up project mentioned in part 1) with dancers they meet in the cities where the tour is stopping will be looking for someone or multiple someones in Vancouver. These are random acts of interviewing within the context of the city’s dance community.

Vancouver’s Georgia Straight has featured an Oct. 15, 2014 article by Janet Smith about Jobin and his particle physics inspiration for Quantum.

The Higgs boson on its own has inspired other creativity as noted in my Aug. 1, 2012 posting (Playing and singing the Higgs Boson).

As noted in my Oct. 8, 2013 post, Peter Higgs (UK) after whom the particle was named  and François Englert (Belgium) were both awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the theory of the Higgs boson and its role in the universe.

Quantum; an upcoming dance performance in Vancouver, Canada (1 of 2)

Oct. 16 – 18, 2014 are the Vancouver (Canada) dates when you can catch Compagnie Gilles Jobin performing its piece, Quantum, based on choreographer Gilles Jobin’s residency CERN (Europe’s particle physics laboratory). The Vancouver stop is part of a world tour which seems to have started in New York City (US) and San Francisco (US).

News flash: There is a special lecture by Gilles Jobin at TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics at 11 am on Oct. 15, 2014 in the auditorium. Instructions for getting to TRIUMF can be found here.

Back to the tour, here’s what the dance company has planned for the rest of October and November (Chile is Chili, Brazil is Brésil, Switzerland is Suisse and Peru is Pérou in French), from the Tour webpage,

- 21 octobre
Festival Danzalborde – Centro Cultural Matucana 100 – Santiago de Chile – Chili

– 23 octobre
Festival Danzalborde – Parque Cultural de Valparaiso, Valparaiso – Chili

– 26 octobre
Bienal Internacional de dança do Ceará – Fortaleza – Brésil

– 29 et 30 octobre
En collaboration avec swissnex Brésil au Forum Internacional de dança FID, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil – Belo Horizonte – Brésil

– 2 novembre
En collaboration avec swissnex Brésil au Festival Panorama, Teatro Carlos Gomes – Rio de Janeiro – Brésil

– Du 6 au 9 novembre
Arsenic – Lausanne – Suisse

– Du 13 au 15 novembre
Arsenic – Lausanne – Suisse

– 21 et 22 novembre
Festival de Artes Escenicas de Lima FAEL – Teatro Municipal, Lima – Pérou

As ambitious as this touring programme seems, it can’t be any more ambitious than trying to represent modern physics in dance. Here’s more about Quantum from the (Vancouver) Dance Centre’s events page,

Art and science collide in QUANTUM, the result of Gilles Jobin’s artistic residency at the largest particle physics laboratory in the world – CERN in Geneva, where he worked with scientists to investigate principles of matter, gravity, time and space in relation to the body. Six dancers power through densely textured, sculptural choreography, to evoke the subtle balance of forces that shape our world. Illuminated by Julius von Bismarck’s light-activated kinetic installation built from industrial lamps, and accompanied by an electronic score by Carla Scaletti which incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, QUANTUM epitomizes the adventurous, searching spirit of artistic and scientific inquiry.

Response to the performances in New York City were interesting, that is to say, not rapturous but intriguing nonetheless. From an Oct. 3, 2014 review by Gia Kourlas for the New York Times,

Performed Thursday night [Oct. 2, 2014] at the Fishman Space at BAM Fisher — and included in the French Institute Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line festival — this spare 45-minute work is a duet of movement and light. Instead of dramaturges, there are scientific advisers. Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s jumpsuits reimagine particles as a densely patterned uniform of green, purple and white. (They’re cute in a space-camp kind of way.) Carla Scaletti’s crackling, shimmering score incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s powerful particle accelerator.

But in “Quantum,” translating scientific ideas, however loosely, into dance vocabulary is where the trouble starts. A lunge is still a lunge.

Robert P Crease in an Oct. 7, 2014 posting (for Physics World on the Institute of Physics website) about one of the performances in New York City revealed something about his relationship to art/science and about Gilles Jobin’s work,

I’m fascinated by the interactions between science and culture, which is what led me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which was hosting the US première of a dance piece called Quantum that had previously debuted where it had been created, at CERN. …

I ran into Gilles Jobin, who had choreographed Quantum during an artist’s residency at CERN. I asked him the following question: “If a fellow choreographer who knew nothing about the piece were to watch it, is there anything in the movement or structure of the work that might cause that person to say ‘That choreographer must have spent several months at a physics lab!’?” Gilles paused, then said “No.” The influence of the laboratory environment, he said, was in inspiring him to come up with certain kinds of what he called “movement generators”, or inspirations for the dancers to create their own movements. “For instance, all those symmetries – like ghost symmetries – that I didn’t even know existed!” he said. I asked him why he had chosen the work’s title. “I considered other names,” he said. “Basically, Quantum was just a convenient tag that referred to the context – the CERN laboratory environment – in which I had created the work.”

Jobin and Michael Doser (Senior research physicist at CERN) talked to Ira Flatow host of US National Public Radio’s (NPR) Science Friday programme in an Oct. 3, 2014 broadcast which is available as a podcast on the Dance and Physics Collide in ‘Quantum’ webpage. It’s fascinating to hear both the choreographer and one of the CERN scientists discussing Jobin’s arts residency and how they had to learn to talk to each other.

NPR also produced a short video highlighting moments from one of the performances and showcasing Jobin’s commentary,

Produced by Alexa Lim, Associate Producer (NPR, Science Friday)

The Dance Centre (Vancouver) has an Oct. 7, 2014 post featuring Jobin on its blog,

How did you get involved with dance?

I wanted to be an actor and thought it was a good idea to take dance classes. Later, back at acting classes I realized how comfortable I was with movement and uncomfortable with words. I must admit that I was a teenager at the time and the large majority of girls in the dance classes was also a great motivation…

Have you always been interested in science?

I was an arty kid that did not have any interest in science. I was raised in an artistic family – my father was a geometrical painter – I thought science was not for me. Art, literature, “soft” science, theatre, that was my thing. It was only at the age of 48, in one of the greatest laboratories there is, that I started to see that I could become “science able”. I realized that particle physics was not only about math, but also had great philosophical questions: that I could get the general sense of what was going down there and follow with passion the discovery. Science is like contemporary art, you need to find the door, but when you get in you can take everything on and make up your own mind about it without being a specialist or a geek.

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?

Ski instructor!

Adding their own measure of excitement to this world tour of Quantum, the company’s dancers are producing videos of interviews with choreographers and dancers local to the city the company is visiting (from the What’s Up project page or the website),

WHAT’S UP est un projet des danseurs de la Cie Gilles Jobin : Catarina Barbosa, Ruth Childs, Susana Panadés Díaz, Bruno Cezario, Stanislas Charré et Denis Terrasse .

Dans chaque ville visitée pendant la tournée mondiale de QUANTUM, ils partent à la rencontre des danseurs/chorégraphes pour connaître le contexte de la danse contemporaine locale et partager leurs différentes réalités.

Retrouvez ici toutes les interviews

The latest interview is an Oct. 10, 2014 video (approximate 2 mins.) focusing on Katherine Hawthorne who in addition to being a dancer trained as a physicist.

Part 2 is based on an interview I had with Gilles Jobin on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 an hour or so after his and his company’s flight landed in Vancouver.

Single layer graphene as a solid lubricant

Graphite (from which graphene springs) has been used as a solid lubricant for many years but it has limitations which researchers at the US Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are attempting to overcome by possibly replacing it with graphene. An Oct. 14, 2014 news item on describes the research (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanoscientist Anirudha Sumant and his colleagues at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and Argonne’s Energy Systems division applied a one-atom-thick layer of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, in between a steel ball and a steel disk. They found that just the single layer of graphene lasted for more than 6,500 “wear cycles,” a dramatic improvement over conventional lubricants like graphite or molybdenum disulfide.

An Oct. 13, 2014 Argonne National Laboratory news release by Jared Sagoff, which originated the news item, provides more information about this research (Note: A link has been removed),

“For comparison,” Sumant said, “conventional lubricants would need about 1,000 layers to last for 1,000 wear cycles. That’s a huge advantage in terms of cost savings with much better performance.”

Graphite has been used as an industrial lubricant for more than 40 years, but not without certain drawbacks, Sumant explained.  “Graphite is limited by the fact that it really works only in humid environments. If you have a dry setting, it’s not going to be nearly as effective,” he said.

This limitation arises from the fact that graphite – unlike graphene – has a three-dimensional structure.  The water molecules in the moist air create slipperiness by weaving themselves in between graphite’s carbon sheets. When there are not enough water molecules in the air, the material loses its slickness.

Molybdenum disulfide, another common lubricant, has the reverse problem, Sumant said. It works in dry environments but not well in wet ones. “Essentially the challenge is to find a single all-purpose lubricant that works well for mechanical systems, no matter where they are,” he said.

Graphene’s two-dimensional structure gives it a significant advantage. “The material is able to bond directly to the surface of the stainless steel ball, making it so perfectly even that even hydrogen atoms are not able to penetrate it,” said Argonne materials scientist Ali Erdemir, a collaborator on the study who tested graphene-coated steel surfaces in his lab.

In a previous study in Materials Today, Sumant and his colleagues showed that a few layers of graphene works equally well in humid and dry environments as a solid lubricant, solving the 40-year-old puzzle of finding a flawless solid lubricant. However, the team wanted to go further and test just a single graphene layer.

While doing so in an environment containing molecules of pure hydrogen, they observed a dramatic improvement in graphene’s operational lifetime. When the graphene monolayer eventually starts to wear away, hydrogen atoms leap in to repair the lattice, like stitching a quilt back together. “Hydrogen can only get into the fabric where there is already an opening,” said Subramanian Sankaranarayanan, an Argonne computational scientist and co-author in this study. This means the graphene layer stays intact longer.

Researchers had previously done experiments to understand the mechanical strength of a single sheet of graphene, but the Argonne study is the first to explain the extraordinary wear resistance of one-atom-thick graphene.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the August 2014 study,

Extraordinary Macroscale Wear Resistance of One Atom Thick Graphene Layer by Diana Berman, Sanket A. Deshmukh, Subramanian K. R. S. Sankaranarayanan, Ali Erdemir, and Anirudha V. Sumant. Advanced Funtional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201401755 Article first published online: 26 AUG 2014

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

This article is behind a paywall.

Silver nanoparticles: liquid on the outside, crystal on the inside

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has revealed a new property of metal nanoparticles, in this case, silver. From an Oct. 12, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

A surprising phenomenon has been found in metal nanoparticles: They appear, from the outside, to be liquid droplets, wobbling and readily changing shape, while their interiors retain a perfectly stable crystal configuration.

The research team behind the finding, led by MIT professor Ju Li, says the work could have important implications for the design of components in nanotechnology, such as metal contacts for molecular electronic circuits.

The results, published in the journal Nature Materials, come from a combination of laboratory analysis and computer modeling, by an international team that included researchers in China, Japan, and Pittsburgh, as well as at MIT.

An Oct. 12, 2014 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, offers both more information about the research and a surprising comparison of nanometers to the width of a human hair,

The experiments were conducted at room temperature, with particles of pure silver less than 10 nanometers across — less than one-thousandth of the width of a human hair. [emphasis mine] But the results should apply to many different metals, says Li, senior author of the paper and the BEA Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

Silver has a relatively high melting point — 962 degrees Celsius, or 1763 degrees Fahrenheit — so observation of any liquidlike behavior in its nanoparticles was “quite unexpected,” Li says. Hints of the new phenomenon had been seen in earlier work with tin, which has a much lower melting point, he says.

The use of nanoparticles in applications ranging from electronics to pharmaceuticals is a lively area of research; generally, Li says, these researchers “want to form shapes, and they want these shapes to be stable, in many cases over a period of years.” So the discovery of these deformations reveals a potentially serious barrier to many such applications: For example, if gold or silver nanoligaments are used in electronic circuits, these deformations could quickly cause electrical connections to fail.

It was a bit surprising to see the reference to 10 nanometers as being less than 1/1,000th (one/one thousandth) of the width of a human hair in a news release from MIT. Generally, a nanometer has been described as being anywhere from less than 1/50,000th to 1/120,000th of the width of a human hair with less than 1/100,000th being one of the most common descriptions. While it’s true that 10 nanometers is less than 1/1,000th of the width of a human hair, it seems a bit misleading when it could be described, in keeping with the more common description, as less than 1/10,000th.

Getting back to the research, the news release offers more details as to how it was conducted,

The researchers’ detailed imaging with a transmission electron microscope and atomistic modeling revealed that while the exterior of the metal nanoparticles appears to move like a liquid, only the outermost layers — one or two atoms thick — actually move at any given time. As these outer layers of atoms move across the surface and redeposit elsewhere, they give the impression of much greater movement — but inside each particle, the atoms stay perfectly lined up, like bricks in a wall.

“The interior is crystalline, so the only mobile atoms are the first one or two monolayers,” Li says. “Everywhere except the first two layers is crystalline.”

By contrast, if the droplets were to melt to a liquid state, the orderliness of the crystal structure would be eliminated entirely — like a wall tumbling into a heap of bricks.

Technically, the particles’ deformation is pseudoelastic, meaning that the material returns to its original shape after the stresses are removed — like a squeezed rubber ball — as opposed to plasticity, as in a deformable lump of clay that retains a new shape.

The phenomenon of plasticity by interfacial diffusion was first proposed by Robert L. Coble, a professor of ceramic engineering at MIT, and is known as “Coble creep.” “What we saw is aptly called Coble pseudoelasticity,” Li says.

Now that the phenomenon has been understood, researchers working on nanocircuits or other nanodevices can quite easily compensate for it, Li says. If the nanoparticles are protected by even a vanishingly thin layer of oxide, the liquidlike behavior is almost completely eliminated, making stable circuits possible.

There are some benefits to this insight (from the news release),

On the other hand, for some applications this phenomenon might be useful: For example, in circuits where electrical contacts need to withstand rotational reconfiguration, particles designed to maximize this effect might prove useful, using noble metals or a reducing atmosphere, where the formation of an oxide layer is destabilized, Li says.

The new finding flies in the face of expectations — in part, because of a well-understood relationship, in most materials, in which mechanical strength increases as size is reduced.

“In general, the smaller the size, the higher the strength,” Li says, but “at very small sizes, a material component can get very much weaker. The transition from ‘smaller is stronger’ to ‘smaller is much weaker’ can be very sharp.”

That crossover, he says, takes place at about 10 nanometers at room temperature — a size that microchip manufacturers are approaching as circuits shrink. When this threshold is reached, Li says, it causes “a very precipitous drop” in a nanocomponent’s strength.

The findings could also help explain a number of anomalous results seen in other research on small particles, Li says.

For more details about the various attempts to create smaller computer chips, you can read my July 11, 2014 posting about IBM and its proposed 7 nanometer chip where you will also find links to announcements and posts about Intel’s smaller chips and HP Labs’ attempt to recreate computers.

As for the research into liquid-like metallic (silver) nanoparticles, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Liquid-like pseudoelasticity of sub-10-nm crystalline ​silver particle by Jun Sun, Longbing He, Yu-Chieh Lo, Tao Xu, Hengchang Bi, Litao Sun, Ze Zhang, Scott X. Mao, & Ju Li. Nature Materials (2014) doi:10.1038/nmat4105 Published online 12 October 2014

This paper is behind a paywall. There is a free preview via ReadCube Access.

SLIPS (Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces) technology repels blood and bacteria from medical devices

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a coating for medical devices that helps to address some of these devices’ most  troublesome aspects. From an Oct. 12, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

From joint replacements to cardiac implants and dialysis machines, medical devices enhance or save lives on a daily basis. However, any device implanted in the body or in contact with flowing blood faces two critical challenges that can threaten the life of the patient the device is meant to help: blood clotting and bacterial infection.

A team of Harvard scientists and engineers may have a solution. They developed a new surface coating for medical devices using materials already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The coating repelled blood from more than 20 medically relevant substrates the team tested — made of plastic to glass and metal — and also suppressed biofilm formation in a study reported in Nature Biotechnology. But that’s not all.

The team implanted medical-grade tubing and catheters coated with the material in large blood vessels in pigs, and it prevented blood from clotting for at least eight hours without the use of blood thinners such as heparin. Heparin is notorious for causing potentially lethal side-effects like excessive bleeding but is often a necessary evil in medical treatments where clotting is a risk.

“Devising a way to prevent blood clotting without using anticoagulants is one of the holy grails in medicine,” said Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Founding Director of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and senior author of the study. Ingber is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as professor of bioengineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

An Oct. 12, 2014 Wyss Institute news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the inspiration for this work,

The idea for the coating evolved from SLIPS, a pioneering surface technology developed by coauthor Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., who is a Wyss Institute Core Faculty member and the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at Harvard SEAS. SLIPS stands for Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces. Inspired by the slippery surface of the carnivorous pitcher plant, which enables the plant to capture insects, SLIPS repels nearly any material it contacts. The liquid layer on the surface provides a barrier to everything from ice to crude oil and blood.

“Traditional SLIPS uses porous, textured surface substrates to immobilize the liquid layer whereas medical surfaces are mostly flat and smooth – so we further adapted our approach by capitalizing on the natural roughness of chemically modified surfaces of medical devices,” said Aizenberg, who leads the Wyss Institute’s Adaptive Materials platform. “This is yet another incarnation of the highly customizable SLIPS platform that can be designed to create slippery, non-adhesive surfaces on any material.”

The Wyss team developed a super-repellent coating that can be adhered to existing, approved medical devices. In a two-step surface-coating process, they chemically attached a monolayer of perfluorocarbon, which is similar to Teflon. Then they added a layer of liquid perfluorocarbon, which is widely used in medicine for applications such as liquid ventilation for infants with breathing challenges, blood substitution, eye surgery, and more. The team calls the tethered perfluorocarbon plus the liquid layer a Tethered-Liquid Perfluorocarbon surface, or TLP for short.

In addition to working seamlessly when coated on more than 20 different medical surfaces and lasting for more than eight hours to prevent clots in a pig under relatively high blood flow rates without the use of heparin, the TLP coating achieved the following results:

  • TLP-treated medical tubing was stored for more than a year under normal temperature and humidity conditions and still prevented clot formation
  • The TLP surface remained stable under the full range of clinically relevant physiological shear stresses, or rates of blood flow seen in catheters and central lines, all the way up to dialysis machines
  • It repelled the components of blood that cause clotting (fibrin and platelets)
  • When bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa were grown in TLP-coated medical tubing for more than six weeks, less than one in a billion bacteria were able to adhere. Central lines coated with TLP significantly reduce sepsis from Central-Line Mediated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI). (Sepsis is a life-threatening blood infection caused by bacteria, and a significant risk for patients with implanted medical devices.)

Out of sheer curiosity, the researchers even tested a TLP-coated surface with a gecko – the superstar of sticking whose footpads contain many thousands of hairlike structures with tremendous adhesive strength. The gecko was unable to hold on.

“We were wonderfully surprised by how well the TLP coating worked, particularly in vivo without heparin,” said one of the co-lead authors, Anna Waterhouse, Ph.D., a Wyss Institute Postdoctoral Fellow. “Usually the blood will start to clot within an hour in the extracorporeal circuit, so our experiments really demonstrate the clinical relevance of this new coating.”

While most of the team’s demonstrations were performed on medical devices such as catheters and perfusion tubing using relatively simple setups, they say there is a lot more on the horizon.

“We feel this is just the beginning of how we might test this for use in the clinic,” said co-lead author Daniel Leslie, Ph.D., a Wyss Institute Staff Scientist, who aims to test it on more complex systems such as dialysis machines and ECMO, a machine used in the intensive care unit to help critically ill patients breathe.

I first featured SLIPS technology in a Jan. 15, 2014 post about its possible use for stain-free, self-cleaning clothing. This Wyss Institute video about the latest work featuring the use of  SLIPS technology in medical devices also describes its possible use in pipelines and airplanes,

You can find research paper with this link,

A bioinspired omniphobic surface coating on medical devices prevents thrombosis and biofouling by Daniel C Leslie, Anna Waterhouse, Julia B Berthet, Thomas M Valentin, Alexander L Watters, Abhishek Jain, Philseok Kim, Benjamin D Hatton, Arthur Nedder, Kathryn Donovan, Elana H Super, Caitlin Howell, Christopher P Johnson, Thy L Vu, Dana E Bolgen, Sami Rifai, Anne R Hansen, Michael Aizenberg, Michael Super, Joanna Aizenberg, & Donald E Ingber. Nature Biotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nbt.3020 Published online 12 October 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available via ReadCube Access.

Ada Lovelace Day tomorrow: Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014

Tomorrow you can celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2014. A remarkable thinker, Lovelace (1815 – 1852) suggested computers could be used to create music and art, as well as, other practical activities. By the way, Her father was the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ poet, Lord Byron who called her mother, Anna Isabelle Millbank (she had a complex set of names and titles), the ‘princess of parallelograms’ due to her (Millbank’s) interest in mathematics.

Thanks to David Bruggeman and an Oct. 8, 2014 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog, I’ve found out about some events planned for this year’s Ada Lovelace Day before the fact rather than the ‘day of’ as I did last year (Oct. 15, 2013 post).

Here’s more from David’s Oct. 8, 2014 post (Note: Links have been removed),

In New York City, one of the commemorations of Ada Lovelace Day involves an opera on her life.  Called Ada, selections will be performed on October 14 [2014].

You can find out more about the opera and the performance on David’s blog post, which also includes video clips from a rehearsal for the opera and comments from the librettist and the composer.

Ada Lovelace Day was founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson and it’s been gaining momentum ever since. While Charman-Anderson’s Ada Lovelace website doesn’t offer an up-to-date history of the event, there is this about the 2012 celebration (from the History of Ada Lovelace Day page),

… In all, there were 25 independently-organised grassroots events in the UK, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden and the USA, as well as online.

This year’s event includes:

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Write about an inspiring woman in STEM

Every year we encourage you to take part, no matter where you are, by writing something about a woman, or women, in STEM whose achievements you admire. When your blog post is ready, you can add it to our list, and once we’re properly underway, you’ll be able to browse our list to see who inspires other people!

Ada Lovelace Day Live!

Tickets are now on sale for our amazing evening event [in London, England], featuring mathematician Dr Hannah Fry, musician Caro C, structural engineer Roma Agrawal, geneticist Dr Turi King, TV presenter Konnie Huq, artist Naomi Kashiwagi, technologists Steph Troeth, physicist Dr Helen Czerski and hosted by our inimitable ALD [Ada Lovelace Day] Live producer, Helen Arney!

This event is free for Ri  [Royal Institution] Members and Fellows, £6 for Ri Associates, £8 for Concessions and £12 for everyone else. Buy your tickets nowfind out more about the event or see accessibility information for the venue.

Ada Lovelace Day for Schools

The support of the Ri has this year allowed us to put together an afternoon event for 11 – 16 year olds, exploring the role and work of women in STEM. Speakers include sustainability innovator Rachel Armstrong, neuroscientist Sophie Scott, mathematician Hannah Fry, roboticist and theremin player Sarah Angliss, engineer Roma Agrawal, and dwarf mammoth expert Victoria Herridge, and is hosted by our very own Helen Arney! Tickets cost £3 per person, and are on sale now! [London, England] Find out more about the event or see accessibility information for the venue.

The organizers are currently running an indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (Ada Lovelace Day Live! 2014) to raise £2,000 to cover costs for videography and photography of the events in London, England. They have progressed to a little over 1/2 way towards their goal. The last day to contribute is Oct. 27, 2014.

One last tidbit, James Essinger’s book, Ada’s Algorithm, is being released on Oct. 14, 2014 in the US. The book was published last year in the UK. Sophia Stuart, in an Oct. 10, 2014 article for PC Magazine about the upcoming US release of Essinger’s book, wrote this,

A natural affinity for computer programming requires an unusual blend of arts and sciences; from appreciating the beauty of mathematics and the architectural composition of language via a vision for engineering, coupled with a meticulous attention to detail (and an ability to subsist on little sleep).

Ada Lovelace, considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, fits the profile perfectly, and is the subject of James Essinger’s book Ada’s Algorithm. Ada’s mother was a gifted mathematician and her father was the poet Lord Byron. In 1828, at the age of 12, Ada was multi-lingual while also teaching herself geometry, sketching plans for self-powered flight by studying birds and their wingspan, and imagining the future of aviation 75 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

“In the form of a horse with a steamengine in the inside so contrived as to move an immense pair of wings,” she wrote in an April 7, 1828 letter to her mother.

Don’t forget, Ada Lovelace Day is tomorrow and perhaps in honour of her you can give your imagination permission to fly free for at least a moment or two.

Happy Thanksgiving today, Oct. 13, 2014 for Canadians of all stripes, those who were born here, those who are citizens (past and present), and those who choose to be Canadian in spirit for a day.

Gold nanorods and mucus

Mucus can kill. Most of us are lucky enough to produce mucus appropriate for our bodies’ needs but people who have cystic fibrosis and other kinds of lung disease suffer greatly from mucus that is too thick to pass easily through the body. An Oct. 9, 2014 Optical Society of America (OSA) news release (also on EurekAlert) ‘shines’ a light on the topic of mucus and viscosity,

Some people might consider mucus an icky bodily secretion best left wrapped in a tissue, but to a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, snot is an endlessly fascinating subject. The team has developed a way to use gold nanoparticles and light to measure the stickiness of the slimy substance that lines our airways.  The new method could help doctors better monitor and treat lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“People who are suffering from certain lung diseases have thickened mucus,” explained Amy Oldenburg, a physicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill whose research focuses on biomedical imaging systems. “In healthy adults, hair-like cell appendages called cilia line the airways and pull mucus out of the lungs and into the throat. But if the mucus is too viscous it can become trapped in the lungs, making breathing more difficult and also failing to remove pathogens that can cause chronic infections.”

Doctors can prescribe mucus-thinning drugs, but have no good way to monitor how the drugs affect the viscosity of mucus at various spots inside the body. This is where Oldenburg and her colleagues’ work may help.

The researchers placed coated gold nanorods on the surface of mucus samples and then tracked the rods’ diffusion into the mucus by illuminating the samples with laser light and analyzing the way the light bounced off the nanoparticles. The slower the nanorods diffused, the thicker the mucus. The team found this imaging method worked even when the mucus was sliding over a layer of cells—an important finding since mucus inside the human body is usually in motion.

“The ability to monitor how well mucus-thinning treatments are working in real-time may allow us to determine better treatments and tailor them for the individual,” said Oldenburg.

It will likely take five to 10 more years before the team’s mucus measuring method is tested on human patients, Oldenburg said. Gold is non-toxic, but for safety reasons the researchers would want to ensure that the gold nanorods would eventually be cleared from a patient’s system.

“This is a great example of interdisciplinary work in which optical scientists can meet a specific need in the clinic,” said Nozomi Nishimura, of Cornell University … . “As these types of optical technologies continue to make their way into medical practice, it will both expand the market for the technology as well as improve patient care.”

The team is also working on several lines of ongoing study that will some day help bring their monitoring device to the clinic. They are developing delivery methods for the gold nanorods, studying how their imaging system might be adapted to enter a patient’s airways, and further investigating how mucus flow properties differ throughout the body.

This work is being presented at:

The research team will present their work at The Optical Society’s (OSA) 98th Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics, being held Oct. 19-23 [2014] in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Presentation FTu5F.2, “Imaging Gold Nanorod Diffusion in Mucus Using Polarization Sensitive OCT,” takes place Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 4:15 p.m. MST [Mountain Standard Time] in the Tucson Ballroom, Salon A at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort.

People with cystic fibrosis tend to have short lives (from the US National Library of Medicine MedLine Plus webpage on cystic fibrosis),

Most children with cystic fibrosis stay in good health until they reach adulthood. They are able to take part in most activities and attend school. Many young adults with cystic fibrosis finish college or find jobs.

Lung disease eventually worsens to the point where the person is disabled. Today, the average life span for people with CF who live to adulthood is about 37 years.

Death is most often caused by lung complications.

I hope this work proves helpful.