Apply for Scientist-in-Residence program with Adventure Canada

This opportunity looks exciting and I’m happy to see the broad range of sciences included (social sciences!) in this call for proposals. Adventure Canada, a company that specializes in outdoor adventure, wildlife viewing, eco-photography and native culture trips across Canada, sent me an August 27, 2015 announcement about their new Scientist-in-Residence program,

Adventure Canada’s new Scientist-in-Residence program marks the expedition company’s venture into the exciting scientourism trend. For their 2016 season, Adventure Canada is inviting scientists across the spectrum—from social science experiments, to ethnobiology, climatology, geology, oceanography, and beyond—to travel aboard the Ocean Endeavour, the company’s expedition vessel, for the sole purpose of scientific study.

The expedition company is welcoming scientists aboard each of their nine expeditions in 2016, which encompass Sable Island, the St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, Labrador, the Canadian Arctic, and Greenland. Historically, members of the science community have joined Adventure Canada expeditions, but in a hospitality capacity and as members of the expedition team. Through the Scientist-in-Residence program, Adventure Canada will be helping leading researchers conduct their own research in parallel with the company’s operation. Passengers themselves will also have opportunities to participate in the Scientist-in-Residence research during their trip. Hands-on research activities may include things like helping conduct Arctic sea bird counts, documenting ancient Inuit artifacts, and harvesting lichen samples. Specific research will depend on successful Scientist-in-Residence applicants, who must go through an rfp [request for proposal] process before being invited aboard.

This announcement seems to be a soft launch prior to the big announcement in September 2015,

Adventure Canada will kick off the program through their key partnership with Beakerhead, Canada’s premier science festival, from September 16–20, 2016. Co-founded by Adventure Canada friend Jay Ingram, Calgary-based Beakerhead is a hands-on, citywide celebration of science. As in-kind sponsors Adventure Canada will announce the Scientist-in-Residence program to a captive audience of Canada’a top scientists across all fields, encouraging those interested to apply to be a part.

Now on to application details, from an August 27, 2015 posting by Mike Strizic on the Adventure Canada blog,

Adventure Canada is keenly interested in expanding world knowledge of the areas to which we travel. We believe that only though better knowledge and understanding, will we be able to protect these areas and inspire the general public to take an actionable interest.

To that end, starting with our 2016 expeditions, Adventure Canada will be providing one cabin—two berths—aboard each of our voyages, for the purpose of scientific study. The cruise itself, as well as any charter flights will be provided. Transport to and from the point of embarkation will be the responsibility of the applicants. We would like to offer the scientist-in-residence an opportunity to observe the environments and communities visited by the cruise and interact with individuals on the ship with and interest in the research area.

Please note that Adventure Canada is interested in all types of science—from social science experiments, to ethnobiology, climatology, geological, oceanography, and beyond.

Here’s how to apply (from Strizic’s posting),

Proposals must take into account our proposed itineraries and the constraints that come along with the need to move along a predetermined—but sometime changing —sailing schedule.

Proposals will be judged on the basis of:

Passenger Participation — does the proposal involve our passengers?
Community participation — does the proposal involve the stakeholders in the regions we visit?
Perceived interest to the public at large.

Adventure Canada would also like to be able to promote the type of science and the specific projects that are taking place onboard the vessel though its website, social media, and any other outlets it deems appropriate.

We would also like to be notified on studies or reports published so that we can share the results with our passengers and constituents, to help promote the knowledge base we are helping to build.

Should there be insufficient interest, or should the applications not be deemed to have enough merit, the spaces will not be allocated, but Adventure Canada will endeavour to source as many proposals as possible.

A board comprised of Adventure Canada’s executives and the scientists they currently employ on board will judge proposals. They will meet twice yearly to evaluate proposals.

Guidelines for Applications

Proposals should be short and succinct: less than 1000 words, yet including enough information for Adventure Canada to make a decision with the information below. An existing research program or funding proposal with a cover letter briefly outlining the below is also acceptable.

Problem Statement — How their research would be supported by participation on an Adventure Canada trip.

Research Project Participants

Anticipated Results and Benefits

Proposed Activities during trip

Equipment Needed

Timetable of Activities

Proposed Passenger Participation (if relevant)

Proposed Community Consultation or Participation (if relevant)

You can send your queries and proposals to:

science@adventurecanada.com, Attention: Clayton Anderson

They don’t specify so I’m assuming this is an open, international competition but I did try to find out about deadlines. It turns out the Scientist-in-Residence program manager is currently on an expedition!

For anyone interested in Beakerhead, you can find out more here.

Bravo Adventure Canada and good luck to all the applicants.

Nanotechnology takes the big data dive

Duke University’s (North Carolina, US) Center for Environmental Implications of Nano Technology (CEINT) is back in the news. An August 18, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now  highlights two new projects intended to launch the field of nanoinformatics,

In two new studies, researchers from across the country spearheaded by Duke University faculty have begun to design the framework on which to build the emerging field of nanoinformatics.

An August 18, 2015 Duke University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the notion of nanoinformatics and how Duke is playing a key role in establishing this field,

Nanoinformatics is, as the name implies, the combination of nanoscale research and informatics. It attempts to determine which information is relevant to the field and then develop effective ways to collect, validate, store, share, analyze, model and apply that information — with the ultimate goal of helping scientists gain new insights into human health, the environment and more.

In the first paper, published on August 10, 2015, in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology, researchers begin the conversation of how to standardize the way nanotechnology data are curated.

Because the field is young and yet extremely diverse, data are collected and reported in different ways in different studies, making it difficult to compare apples to apples. Silver nanoparticles in a Florida swamp could behave entirely differently if studied in the Amazon River. And even if two studies are both looking at their effects in humans, slight variations like body temperature, blood pH levels or nanoparticles only a few nanometers larger can give different results. For future studies to combine multiple datasets to explore more complex questions, researchers must agree on what they need to know when curating nanomaterial data.

“We chose curation as the focus of this first paper because there are so many disparate efforts that are all over the road in terms of their missions, and the only thing they all have in common is that somehow they have to enter data into their resources,” said Christine Hendren, a research scientist at Duke and executive director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). “So we chose that as the kernel of this effort to be as broad as possible in defining a baseline for the nanoinformatics community.”

The paper is the first in a series of six that will explore what people mean — their vocabulary, definitions, assumptions, research environments, etc. — when they talk about gathering data on nanomaterials in digital form. And to get everyone on the same page, the researchers are seeking input from all stakeholders, including those conducting basic research, studying environmental implications, harnessing nanomaterial properties for applications, developing products and writing government regulations.

The daunting task is being undertaken by the Nanomaterial Data Curation Initiative (NDCI), a project of the National Cancer Informatics Nanotechnology Working Group (NCIP NanoWG) lead by a diverse team of nanomaterial data stakeholders. If successful, not only will these disparate interests be able to combine their data, the project will highlight what data are missing and help drive the research priorities of the field.

In the second paper, published on July 16, 2015, in Science of The Total Environment, Hendren and her colleagues at CEINT propose a new, standardized way of studying the properties of nanomaterials.

“If we’re going to move the field forward, we have to be able to agree on what measurements are going to be useful, which systems they should be measured in and what data gets reported, so that we can make comparisons,” said Hendren.

The proposed strategy uses functional assays — relatively simple tests carried out in standardized, well-described environments — to measure nanomaterial behavior in actual systems.

For some time, the nanomaterial research community has been trying to use measured nanomaterial properties to predict outcomes. For example, what size and composition of a nanoparticle is most likely to cause cancer? The problem, argues Mark Wiesner, director of CEINT, is that this question is far too complex to answer.

“Environmental researchers use a parameter called biological oxygen demand to predict how much oxygen a body of water needs to support its ecosystem,” explains Wiesner. “What we’re basically trying to do with nanomaterials is the equivalent of trying to predict the oxygen level in a lake by taking an inventory of every living organism, mathematically map all of their living mechanisms and interactions, add up all of the oxygen each would take, and use that number as an estimate. But that’s obviously ridiculous and impossible. So instead, you take a jar of water, shake it up, see how much oxygen is taken and extrapolate that. Our functional assay paper is saying do that for nanomaterials.”

The paper makes suggestions as to what nanomaterials’ “jar of water” should be. It identifies what parameters should be noted when studying a specific environmental system, like digestive fluids or wastewater, so that they can be compared down the road.

It also suggests two meaningful processes for nanoparticles that should be measured by functional assays: attachment efficiency (does it stick to surfaces or not) and dissolution rate (does it release ions).

In describing how a nanoinformatics approach informs the implementation of a functional assay testing strategy, Hendren said “We’re trying to anticipate what we want to ask the data down the road. If we’re banking all of this comparable data while doing our near-term research projects, we should eventually be able to support more mechanistic investigations to make predictions about how untested nanomaterials will behave in a given scenario.”

Here are links to and citations for the papers,

The Nanomaterial Data Curation Initiative: A collaborative approach to assessing, evaluating, and advancing the state of the field by Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Christina M. Powers, Mark D. Hoover, and Stacey L. Harper.  Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2015, 6, 1752–1762. doi:10.3762/bjnano.6.179 Published 18 Aug 2015

A functional assay-based strategy for nanomaterial risk forecasting by Christine Ogilvie Hendren, Gregory V. Lowry, Jason M. Unrine, and Mark R. Wiesner. Science of The Total Environment Available online 16 July 2015 In Press, Corrected Proof  DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.100.

The first paper listed in open access while the second paper is behind a paywall.

I’m (mostly) giving the final comments to Dexter Johnson who in an August 20, 2015 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) had this to say (Note: Links have been removed),

It can take days for a supercomputer to unravel all the data contained in a single human genome. So it wasn’t long after mapping the first human genome that researchers coined the umbrella term “bioinformatics” in which a variety of methods and computer technologies are used for organizing and analyzing all that data.

Now teams of researchers led by scientists at Duke University believe that the field of nanotechnology has reached a critical mass of data and that a new field needs to be established, dubbed “nanoinformatics.

While being able to better organize and analyze data to study the impact of nanomaterials on the environment should benefit the field, what seems to remain a more pressing concern is having the tools for measuring nanomaterials outside of a vacuum and in water and air environments.”

I gather Christine Hendren has succeeded Mark Weisner as CEINT’s executive director.

Did the Fantastic Four (comic book heroes) get their powers from radiation?

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has gone old school regarding how the Fantastic Four comic book characters got their powers, radiation. (The latest movie version offers an alternate explanation.)

Here’s more about radiation and the possibility of developing super powers as a consequence of exposure from the ACS video podcast series, Reactions,

From the Aug. 4, 2015 ACS news release on EurekAlert,

The Thing, Human Torch, Invisible Woman and Mister Fantastic are back this summer! In the new movie reboot, the team gets its powers while in an alternate dimension. Here at Reactions, though, we stick to comic-book canon. In this week’s video, we explain the original way the Fantastic Four got their power – radiation – with help from SciPop Talks. Check it out here: https://youtu.be/GbmSmgTIQ8s.

That’s all, folks!

‘Hotel for cells’ or minuscule artificial scaffolding units for plant tissue engineering

This is the first time I’ve seen an item about tissue engineering which concerns plant life.  An August 27, 2015 news item on Azonano describes the latest development with plant cells,

Miniscule artificial scaffolding units made from nano-fibre polymers and built to house plant cells have enabled scientists to see for the first time how individual plant cells behave and interact with each other in a three-dimensional environment.

These “hotels for cells” mimic the ‘extracellular matrix’ which cells secrete before they grow and divide to create plant tissue. [Note: Human and other cells also have extracellular matrices] This environment allows scientists to observe and image individual plant cells developing in a more natural, multi-dimensional environment than previous ‘flat’ cell cultures.

An August 26, 2015 University of Cambridge press release, which originated the news item, describes the research and mentions the pioneering technologies which made it possible,

The research team were surprised to see individual plant cells clinging to and winding around their fibrous supports; reaching past neighbouring cells to wrap themselves to the artificial scaffolding in a manner reminiscent of vines growing.

Pioneering new in vitro techniques combining recent developments in 3-D scaffold development and imaging, scientists say they observed plants cells taking on growth and structure of far greater complexity than has ever been seen of plant cells before, either in living tissue or cell culture.

“Previously, plant cells in culture had only been seen in round or oblong forms. Now, we have seen 3D cultured cells twisting and weaving around their new supports in truly remarkable ways, creating shapes we never thought possible and never seen before in any plant,” said plant scientist and co-author Raymond Wightman.

“We can use this tool to explore how a whole plant is formed and at the same time to create new materials.”

This ability for single plant cells to attach themselves by growing and spiralling around the scaffolding suggests that cells of land plants have retained the ability of their evolutionary ancestors – aquatic single-celled organisms, such as Charophyta algae – to stick themselves to inert structures.

While similar ‘nano-scaffold’ technology has long been used for mammalian cells, resulting in the advancement of tissue engineering research, this is the first time such technology has been used for plant cells – allowing scientists to glimpse in 3-D the individual cell interactions that lead to the forming of plant tissue.

The scientists say the research “defines a new suite of techniques” for exploring cell-environment interactions, allowing greater understating of fundamental plant biology that could lead to new types of biomaterials and help provide solutions to sustainable biomass growth.

“While we can peer deep inside single cells and understand their functions, when researchers study a ‘whole’ plant, as in fully formed tissue, it is too difficult to disentangle the many complex interactions between the cells, their neighbours, and their behaviour,” said Wightman.

“Until now, nobody had tried to put plant cells in an artificial fibre scaffold that replicates their natural environment and tried to observe their interactions with one or two other cells, or fibre itself,” he said.

Co-author and material scientist Dr Stoyan Smoukov suggests that a possible reason why artificial scaffolding on plant cells had never been done before was the expense of 3D nano-fibre matrices (the high costs have previously been justified in mammalian cell research due to its human medical potential).

However, Smoukov has co-discovered and recently helped commercialise a new method for producing polymer fibres for 3-D scaffolds inexpensively and in bulk. ‘Shear-spinning’ produces masses of fibre, in a technique similar to creating candy-floss in nano-scale. The researchers were able to adapt such scaffolds for use with plant cells.

This approach was combined with electron microscopy imaging technology. In fact, using time-lapse photography, the researchers have even managed to capture 4-D footage of these previously unseen cellular structures. “Such high-resolution moving images allowed us to follow internal processes in the cells as they develop into tissues,” said Smoukov, who is already working on using the methods in this plant study to research mammalian cancer cells.

Here’s an image illustrating the research,

Plant cells twisting and weaving in 3-D cultures Credit: Smoukov/Wightman

Plant cells twisting and weaving in 3-D cultures
Credit: Smoukov/Wightman

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

A 3-dimensional fibre scaffold as an investigative tool for studying the morphogenesis of isolated plant pells [cells?] by CJ Luo, Raymond Wightman, Elliot Meyerowitz, and Stoyan K. Smoukov. BMC Plant Biology 2015, 15:211 doi:10.1186/s12870-015-0581-7

This paper is open access.

Synthetic microfish (nanoengineered and 3D printed) to inspire ‘smart’ microbots

An August 26, 2015 news item on Nanowerk features some microfish (they look like sharks to me) fabricated in University of California at San Diego (UCSD) laboratories,

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego used an innovative 3D printing technology they developed to manufacture multipurpose fish-shaped microrobots — called microfish — that swim around efficiently in liquids, are chemically powered by hydrogen peroxide and magnetically controlled. These proof-of-concept synthetic microfish will inspire a new generation of “smart” microrobots that have diverse capabilities such as detoxification, sensing and directed drug delivery, researchers said.

3D-printed microfish contain functional nanoparticles that enable them to be self-propelled, chemically powered and magnetically steered. The microfish are also capable of removing and sensing toxins. Image credit: J. Warner, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

3D-printed microfish contain functional nanoparticles that enable them to be self-propelled, chemically powered and magnetically steered. The microfish are also capable of removing and sensing toxins. Image credit: J. Warner, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

An August 25, 2015 UCSD news release (also on EurekAlert) by Liezel Labios, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The technique used to fabricate the microfish provides numerous improvements over other methods traditionally employed to create microrobots with various locomotion mechanisms, such as microjet engines, microdrillers and microrockets. Most of these microrobots are incapable of performing more sophisticated tasks because they feature simple designs — such as spherical or cylindrical structures — and are made of homogeneous inorganic materials. In this new study, researchers demonstrated a simple way to create more complex microrobots.

By combining Chen’s 3D printing technology with Wang’s expertise in microrobots, the team was able to custom-build microfish that can do more than simply swim around when placed in a solution containing hydrogen peroxide. Nanoengineers were able to easily add functional nanoparticles into certain parts of the microfish bodies. They installed platinum nanoparticles in the tails, which react with hydrogen peroxide to propel the microfish forward, and magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles in the heads, which allowed them to be steered with magnets.

Here’s an illustration of the platinum and iron oxide microfish,

Schematic illustration of the process of functionalizing the microfish. Platinum nanoparticles are first loaded into the tail of the fish for propulsion via reaction with hydrogen peroxide. Next, iron oxide nanoparticles are loaded into the head of the fish for magnetic control. Image credit: W. Zhu and J. Li, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Schematic illustration of the process of functionalizing the microfish. Platinum nanoparticles are first loaded into the tail of the fish for propulsion via reaction with hydrogen peroxide. Next, iron oxide nanoparticles are loaded into the head of the fish for magnetic control. Image credit: W. Zhu and J. Li, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Back to the news release,

“We have developed an entirely new method to engineer nature-inspired microscopic swimmers that have complex geometric structures and are smaller than the width of a human hair. With this method, we can easily integrate different functions inside these tiny robotic swimmers for a broad spectrum of applications,” said the co-first author Wei Zhu, a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in Chen’s research group at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

As a proof-of-concept demonstration, the researchers incorporated toxin-neutralizing nanoparticles throughout the bodies of the microfish. Specifically, the researchers mixed in polydiacetylene (PDA) nanoparticles, which capture harmful pore-forming toxins such as the ones found in bee venom. The researchers noted that the powerful swimming of the microfish in solution greatly enhanced their ability to clean up toxins. When the PDA nanoparticles bind with toxin molecules, they become fluorescent and emit red-colored light. The team was able to monitor the detoxification ability of the microfish by the intensity of their red glow.

“The neat thing about this experiment is that it shows how the microfish can doubly serve as detoxification systems and as toxin sensors,” said Zhu.

“Another exciting possibility we could explore is to encapsulate medicines inside the microfish and use them for directed drug delivery,” said Jinxing Li, the other co-first author of the study and a nanoengineering Ph.D. student in Wang’s research group.

For anyone curious about the new 3D printing technique, the news release provides more information about that too,

The new microfish fabrication method is based on a rapid, high-resolution 3D printing technology called microscale continuous optical printing (μCOP), which was developed in Chen’s lab. Some of the benefits of the μCOP technology are speed, scalability, precision and flexibility. Within seconds, the researchers can print an array containing hundreds of microfish, each measuring 120 microns long and 30 microns thick. This process also does not require the use of harsh chemicals. Because the μCOP technology is digitized, the researchers could easily experiment with different designs for their microfish, including shark and manta ray shapes. [emphasis mine] “With our 3D printing technology, we are not limited to just fish shapes. We can rapidly build microrobots inspired by other biological organisms such as birds,” said Zhu.

The key component of the μCOP technology is a digital micromirror array device (DMD) chip, which contains approximately two million micromirrors. Each micromirror is individually controlled to project UV light in the desired pattern (in this case, a fish shape) onto a photosensitive material, which solidifies upon exposure to UV light. The microfish are built using a photosensitive material and are constructed one layer at a time, allowing each set of functional nanoparticles to be “printed” into specific parts of the fish bodies.

“This method has made it easier for us to test different designs for these microrobots and to test different nanoparticles to insert new functional elements into these tiny structures. It’s my personal hope to further this research to eventually develop surgical microrobots that operate safer and with more precision,” said Li.

Nice to see I can recognize a shark shape when I see one. Getting back to the research, yet again, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper.

3D-Printed Artificial Microfish by Wei Zhu, Jinxing Li, Yew J. Leong, Isaac Rozen, Xin Qu, Renfeng Dong, Zhiguang Wu, Wei Gao, Peter H. Chung, Joseph Wang, and Shaochen Chen. Advanced Materials Volume 27, Issue 30, pages 4411–4417, August 12, 2015 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201501372 Article first published online: 29 JUN 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Does the universe have a heartbeat?

It may be a bit fanciful to suggest the universe has a heartbeat but if University of Warwick (UK) researchers can state that dying stars have ‘irregular heartbeats’ then why can’t the universe have a heartbeat of sorts? Getting back to the University of Warwick, their August 26, 2015 press release (also on EurekAlert) has this to say,

Some dying stars suffer from ‘irregular heartbeats’, research led by astronomers at the University of Warwick has discovered.

The research confirms rapid brightening events in otherwise normal pulsating white dwarfs, which are stars in the final stage of their life cycles.

In addition to the regular rhythm from pulsations they expected on the white dwarf PG1149+057, which cause the star to get a few percent brighter and fainter every few minutes, the researchers also observed something completely unexpected every few days: arrhythmic, massive outbursts, which broke the star’s regular pulse and significantly heated up its surface for many hours.

The discovery was made possible by using the planet-hunting spacecraft Kepler, which stares unblinkingly at a small patch of sky, uninterrupted by clouds or sunrises.

Led by Dr JJ Hermes of the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics Group, the astronomers targeted the Kepler spacecraft on a specific star in the constellation Virgo, PG1149+057, which is roughly 120 light years from Earth.

Dr Hermes explains:

“We have essentially found rogue waves in a pulsating star, akin to ‘irregular heartbeats’. These were truly a surprise to see: we have been watching pulsating white dwarfs for more than 50 years now from the ground, and only by being able to stare uninterrupted for months from space have we been able to catch these events.”

The star with the irregular beat, PG1149+057, is a pulsating white dwarf, which is the burnt-out core of an evolved star, an extremely dense star which is almost entirely made up of carbon and oxygen. Our Sun will eventually become a white dwarf in more than six billion years, after it runs out of its nuclear fuel.

White dwarfs have been known to pulsate for decades, and some are exceptional clocks, with pulsations that have kept nearly perfect time for more than 40 years. Pulsations are believed to be a naturally occurring stage when a white dwarf reaches the right temperature to generate a mix of partially ionized hydrogen atoms at its surface.

That mix of excited atoms can store up and then release energy, causing the star to resonate with pulsations characteristically every few minutes. Astronomers can use the regular periods of these pulsations just like seismologists use earthquakes on Earth, to see below the surface of the star into its exotic interior. This was why astronomers targeted PG1149+057 with Kepler, hoping to learn more about its dense core. In the process, they caught a new glimpse at these unexpected outbursts.

“These are highly energetic events, which can raise the star’s overall brightness by more than 15% and its overall temperature by more than 750 degrees in a matter of an hour,” said Dr Hermes. “For context, the Sun will only increase in overall brightness by about 1% over the next 100 million years.”

Interestingly, this is not the only white dwarf to show an irregular pulse. Recently, the Kepler spacecraft witnessed the first example of these strange outbursts while studying another white dwarf, KIC 4552982, which was observed from space for more than 2.5 years.

There is a narrow range of surface temperatures where pulsations can be excited in white dwarfs, and so far irregularities have only been seen in the coolest of those that pulsate. Thus, these irregular outbursts may not be just an oddity; they have the potential to change the way astronomers understand how pulsations, the regular heartbeats, ultimately cease in white dwarfs.

“The theory of stellar pulsations has long failed to explain why pulsations in white dwarfs stop at the temperature we observe them to,” argues Keaton Bell of the University of Texas at Austin, who analysed the first pulsating white dwarf to show an irregular heartbeat, KIC 4552982. “That both stars exhibiting this new outburst phenomenon are right at the temperature where pulsations shut down suggests that the outbursts could be the key to revealing the missing physics in our pulsation theory.”

Astronomers are still trying to settle on an explanation for these never-before-seen outbursts. Given the similarity between the first two stars to show this behaviour, they suspect it might have to do with how the pulsation waves interact with themselves, perhaps via a resonance.

“Ultimately, this may be a new type of nonlinear behaviour that is triggered when the amplitude of a pulsation passes a certain threshold, perhaps similar to rogue waves on the open seas here on Earth, which are massive, spontaneous waves that can be many times larger than average surface waves,” said Dr Hermes. “Still, this is a fresh discovery from observations, and there may be more to these irregular stellar heartbeats than we can imagine yet.”

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

A Second Case of Outbursts in a Pulsating White Dwarf Observed by Kepler by J. J. Hermes, M. H. Montgomery, Keaton J. Bell, P. Chote, B. T. Gänsicke, Steven D. Kawaler, J. C. Clemens, Bart H. Dunlap, D. E. Winget, and D. J. Armstrong.
2015 ApJ 810 L5 (The Astrophysical Journal Letters Volume 810 Number 1). doi:10.1088/2041-8205/810/1/L5
Published 24 August 2015.

© 2015. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

This paper is behind a paywall but there is an earlier open access version available at arXiv.org,

A second case of outbursts in a pulsating white dwarf observed by Kepler by J. J. Hermes, M. H. Montgomery, Keaton J. Bell, P. Chote, B. T. Gaensicke, Steven D. Kawaler, J. C. Clemens, B. H. Dunlap, D. E. Winget, D. J. Armstrong.  arXiv.org > astro-ph > arXiv:1507.06319

In an attempt to find some live heart beats to illustrate this piece, I found this video from Wake Forest University’s body-on-a-chip program,

The video was released in an April 14, 2015 article by Joe Bargmann for Popular Mechanics,

A groundbreaking program has converted human skin cells into a network of functioning heart cells, and also fused them with lab-grown liver cells using a specialized 3D printer. Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine provided Popular Mechanics with both still and moving images of the cells for a fascinating first look.

“The heart organoid beats because it contains specialized cardiac cells and because those cells are receiving the correct environmental cues,” says Ivy Mead, a Wake Forest graduate student and member of the research team. “We give them a special medium and keep them at the same temperature as the human body, and that makes them beat. We can also stimulate the miniature organ with electrical or chemical cues to alter the beating patterns. Also, when we grow them in three-dimensions it allows for them to interact with each other more easily, as they would in the human body.”

If you’re interested in body-on-a-chip projects, I have several stories here (suggestion: use body-on-a-chip as your search term in the blog search engine) and I encourage you to read Bargmann’s story in its entirety (the video no longer seems to be embedded there).

One final comment, there seems to be some interest in relating large systems to smaller ones. For example, humans and other animals along with white dwarf stars have heartbeats (as in this story) and patterns in a gold nanoparticle of 133 atoms resemble the Milky Way (my April 14, 2015 posting titled: Nature’s patterns reflected in gold nanoparticles).

Interacting photons and quantum logic gates

University of Toronto physicists have taken the first step toward ‘working with pure light’ according to an August 25, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

A team of physicists at the University of Toronto (U of T) have taken a step toward making the essential building block of quantum computers out of pure light. Their advance, described in a paper published this week in Nature Physics, has to do with a specific part of computer circuitry known as a “logic gate.”

An August 25, 2015 University of Toronto news release by Patchen Barss, which originated the news item, provides an explanation of ‘logic gates’, photons, and the impact of this advance (Note: Links have been removed),

Logic gates perform operations on input data to create new outputs. In classical computers, logic gates take the form of diodes or transistors. But quantum computer components are made from individual atoms and subatomic particles. Information processing happens when the particles interact with one another according to the strange laws of quantum physics.

Light particles — known as “photons” — have many advantages in quantum computing, but it is notoriously difficult to get them to interact with one another in useful ways. This experiment demonstrates how to create such interactions.

“We’ve seen the effect of a single particle of light on another optical beam,” said Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Senior Fellow Aephraim Steinberg, one of the paper’s authors and a researcher at U of T’s Centre for Quantum Information & Quantum Computing. “Normally light beams pass through each other with no effect at all. To build technologies like optical quantum computers, you want your beams to talk to one another. That’s never been done before using a single photon.”

The interaction was a two-step process. The researchers shot a single photon at rubidium atoms that they had cooled to a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. The photons became “entangled” with the atoms, which affected the way the rubidium interacted with a separate optical beam. The photon changes the atoms’ refractive index, which caused a tiny but measurable “phase shift” in the beam.

This process could be used as an all-optical quantum logic gate, allowing for inputs, information-processing and outputs.

“Quantum logic gates are the most obvious application of this advance,” said Steinberg. “But being able to see these interactions is the starting page of an entirely new field of optics. Most of what light does is so well understood that you wouldn’t think of it as a field of modern research. But two big exceptions are, “What happens when you deal with light one particle at a time?’ and “What happens when there are media like our cold atoms that allow different light beams to interact with each other?’”

Both questions have been studied, he says, but never together until now.

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

Observation of the nonlinear phase shift due to single post-selected photons by Amir Feizpour, Matin Hallaji, Greg Dmochowski, & Aephraim M. Steinberg. Nature Physics (2015) doi:10.1038/nphys3433 Published online 24 August 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Getting a glimpse of the Alzheimer’s (amyloid beta) molecule

I’m not sure an amyloid beta molecule (or amyloid beta peptide) the ‘Alzheimer’s molecule’ as that has yet to be proved although I gather there are strong suspicions. That quibble aside, there’s some exciting news in an August 25, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists have caught a glimpse of the elusive toxic form of the Alzheimer’s molecule, during its attempt to bore into the outer covering of a cell decoy, using a new method involving laser light and fat-coated silver nano-particles.

While the origin of Alzheimer’s Disease, one that robs the old of their memory, is still hotly debated, it is likely that a specific form of the Amyloid beta molecule, which is able to attack cell membranes, is a major player. Defeating this molecule would be easier if its shape and form were known better, but that has proven to be a difficult task until now.

An August 25, 2015 Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“Everybody wants to make the key to solve Alzheimer’s Disease, but we don’t know what the lock looks like. We now have a glimpse of something which could be the lock. May be it’s still not the real thing, but as of now, this is our best bet”, says Sudipta Maiti, who co-directed the efforts with P. K. Madhu (both from TIFR). If they are right, then designing the key, i.e. making a drug molecule which can attack the lock, may be more achievable now.

The lock looks like a bunch of amyloid beta molecules in the shape of a hairpin, but with a twist. Debanjan Bhowmik, the lead contributor of the study says “This has been suspected earlier, but what we found was an unexpected twist in the structure, now becoming a beta-hairpin – very different from the typical hairpin structure people imagined. This may allow these bunch of amyloid beta molecules to form toxic pores in the cell membranes”.

The findings published in the journal ACS Nano this week by a joint team of researchers from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Indian Institute of Science and the University of Toronto, have cracked the problem that has eluded scientists for years, by using a modified version of Raman Spectroscopy.

They studied a tiny laser-induced signal from the amyloid beta which reported their shape. A critical modification in the original Raman Spectroscopy technique allowed the measurement of tiny signals that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. They encased silver nanoparticles in a fat layer (“membrane”) that mimicked the outer membranes of living cells. According to co-author Gilbert Walker, “While the amyloid beta got fooled by it and stuck to the membrane, the silver inside enhanced the signal to a measurable level and acted as a light beacon to reveal the peptide signature”. The technique offers promise for deciphering the shape of many such membrane molecules, some of which may be related to other types of diseases.

Each research team brought something different to the table. As Jaydeep Basu, who led the IISc team, says, “It’s a great example of how contemporary science breaks all barriers to bring people together for the pure love of science and the quest for the unknown!” One hopes that the search for the key to solve Alzheimer’s has taken a step forward with this finding.

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

Cell-Membrane-Mimicking Lipid-Coated Nanoparticles Confer Raman Enhancement to Membrane Proteins and Reveal Membrane-Attached Amyloid-β Conformation by
Debanjan Bhowmik, Kaustubh R. Mote, Christina M. MacLaughlin, Nupur Biswas, Bappaditya Chandra, Jaydeep K. Basu, Gilbert C. Walker, Perunthiruthy K. Madhu, and Sudipta Maiti. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b03175 Publication Date (Web): August 25, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Risk assessments not the only path to nanotechnology regulation

Nanowerk has republished an essay about nanotechnology regulation from Australia’s The Conversation in an Aug. 25, 2015 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

When it comes to nanotechnology, Australians have shown strong support for regulation and safety testing.

One common way of deciding whether and how nanomaterials should be regulated is to conduct a risk assessment. This involves calculating the risk a substance or activity poses based on the associated hazards or dangers and the level of exposure to people or the environment.

However, our recent review (“Risk Analysis of Nanomaterials: Exposing Nanotechnology’s Naked Emperor”) found some serious shortcomings of the risk assessment process for determining the safety of nanomaterials.

We have argued that these shortcomings are so significant that risk assessment is effectively a naked emperor [reference to a children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes“].

The original Aug. 24, 2015 article written by Fern Wickson (Scientist/Program Coordinator at GenØk – Centre for Biosafety in Norway) and Georgia Miller (PhD candidate at UNSW [University of New South Wales], Australia) points out an oft ignored issue with regard to nanotechnology regulation,

Risk assessment has been the dominant decision-aiding tool used by regulators of new technologies for decades, despite it excluding key questions that the community cares about. [emphasis mine] For example: do we need this technology; what are the alternatives; how will it affect social relations, and; who should be involved in decision making?

Wickson and Miller also note more frequently discussed issues,

A fundamental problem is a lack of nano-specific regulation. Most sector-based regulation does not include a “trigger” for nanomaterials to face specific risk assessment. Where a substance has been approved for use in its macro form, it requires no new assessment.

Even if such a trigger were present, there is also currently no cross-sectoral or international agreement on the definition of what constitutes a nanomaterial.

Another barrier is the lack of measurement capability and validated methods for safety testing. We still do not have the means to conduct routine identification of nanomaterials in the complex “matrix” of finished products or the environment.

This makes supply chain tracking and safety testing under real-world conditions very difficult. Despite ongoing investment in safety research, the lack of validated test methods and different methods yielding diverse results allows scientific uncertainty to persist.

With regard to the first problem, the assumption that if a material at the macroscale is safe, then the same is true at the nanoscale informs regulation in Canada and, as far as I’m aware, every other constituency that has any type of nanomaterial regulation. I’ve had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, we haven’t seen any serious problems associated with the use of nanomaterials but on the other hand, these problems can be slow to emerge.

The second issue mentioned, the lack of a consistent definition internationally, seems to be a relatively common problem in a lot of areas. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t that many international agreements for safety measures. Nuclear weapons and endangered animals and plants (CITES) being two of the few that come to mind.

The lack of protocols for safety testing of nanomaterials mentioned in the last paragraph of the excerpt is of rising concern. For example, there’s my July 7, 2015 posting featuring two efforts: Nanotechnology research protocols for Environment, Health and Safety Studies in US and a nanomedicine characterization laboratory in the European Union. Despite this and other efforts, I do think more can and should be done to standardize tests and protocols (without killing new types of research and results which don’t fit the models).

The authors do seem to be presenting a circular argument with this (from their Aug. 24, 2015 article; Note: A link has been removed),

Indeed, scientific uncertainty about nanomaterials’ risk profiles is a key barrier to their reliable assessment. A review funded by the European Commission concluded that:

[…] there is still insufficient data available to conduct the in depth risk assessments required to inform the regulatory decision making process on the safety of NMs [nanomaterials].

Reliable assessment of any chemical or drug is a major problem. We do have some good risk profiles but how many times have pharmaceutical companies developed a drug that passed successfully through human clinical trials only to present a serious risk when released to the general population? Assessing risk is a very complex problem. even with risk profiles and extensive testing.

Unmentioned throughout the article are naturally occurring nanoparticles (nanomaterials) and those created inadvertently through some manufacturing or other process. In fact, we have been ingesting nanomaterials throughout time. That said, I do agree we need to carefully consider the impact that engineered nanomaterials could have on us and the environment as ever more are being added.

To that end, the authors make some suggestions (Note: Links have been removed),

There are well-developed alternate decision-aiding tools available. One is multicriteria mapping, which seeks to evaluate various perspectives on an issue. Another is problem formulation and options assessment, which expands science-based risk assessment to engage a broader range of individuals and perspectives.

There is also pedigree assessment, which explores the framing and choices taking place at each step of an assessment process so as to better understand the ambiguity of scientific inputs into political processes.

Another, though less well developed, approach popular in Europe involves a shift from risk to innovation governance, with emphasis on developing “responsible research and innovation”.

I have some hesitation about recommending this read due to Georgia Miller’s involvement and the fact that I don’t have the time to check all the references. Miller was a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth (FoE) Australia, a group which led a substantive campaign against ‘nanosunscreens’. Here’s a July 20, 2010 posting where I featured some cherrypicking/misrepresentation of data by FoE in the persons of Georgia Miller and Ian Illuminato.

My Feb. 9, 2012 posting highlights the unintended consequences (avoidance of all sunscreens by some participants in a survey) of the FoE’s campaign in Australia (Note [1]: The percentage of people likely to avoid all sunscreens due to their concerns with nanoparticles in their sunscreens was originally reported to be 17%; Note [2]: Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world),

Feb.21.12 correction: According to the information in the Feb. 20, 2012 posting on 2020 Science, the percentage of Australians likely to avoid using sunscreens is 13%,

This has just landed in my email in box from Craig Cormick at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education in Australia, and I thought I would pass it on given the string of posts on nanoparticles in sunscreens on 2020 Science over the past few years:

“An online poll of 1,000 people, conducted in January this year, shows that one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them,” Dr Cormick said.

“Thirteen percent of this group were concerned or confused enough that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen, whether or not it contained nanoparticles, putting them selves at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancers.

“The study also found that while one in five respondents stated they would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, over three in five would need to know more information before deciding.”

This article with Fern Wickson (with whom I don’t always agree perfectly but hasn’t played any games with research that I’m know of) helps somewhat but it’s going to take more than this before I feel comfortable recommending Ms. Miller’s work for further reading.

LEGO2NANO, a UK-China initiative

LEGO2NANO is a ‘summer’ school being held in China sometime during September 2015 (I could not find the dates). The first summer school, held last year, featured a prototype functioning atomic force microscope made of Lego bricks according to an Aug. 25, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

University College London students from across a range of disciplines travel to China to team up with students from Beijing, Boston (USA) and Taipei (Taiwan) for an action-packed two-week hackathon summer school based at Tsinghua University’s Beijing and Shenzhen campuses.

LEGO2NANO aims to bring the world of nanotechnology to school classrooms by initiating projects to develop low-cost scientific instruments such as the Open AFM—an open-source atomic force microscope assembled from cheap, off-the-shelf electronic components, Arduino, Lego and 3D printable parts.

Here’s an image used to publicize the first summer school in 2014,

LEGO2NANO – a summer school about making nanotechnology, 6–14 September 2014, Beijing, China LEGO2NANO关于纳米技术暑期学校2014年9月6-14日

LEGO2NANO – a summer school about making nanotechnology, 6–14 September 2014, Beijing, China
LEGO2NANO关于纳米技术暑期学校2014年9月6-14日

An August 20, 2015 University College of London press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the upcoming two-week session,

The 2015 LEGO2NANO challenge is focused on developing a range of innovative imaging and motion-sensitive instruments based on optical pick-up units available in any DVD head.

Aside from the intense, daily making sessions, the programme is packed with trips and visits to local Chinese schools, university laboratories, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing’s electronics markets, Shenzhen’s Open Innovation Laboratory (SZOIL)  and SEEED Studio. The students will also have daily talks and presentations from international experts on a variety of subjects such as the international maker movement, the Chinese education system, augmented reality and DIY instrumentation.

You can find more information about LEGO2NANO here at openafm.com and here at http://lego2nano.openwisdomlab.net/.