Everything old is new again: Canadian Parliament holds first reading of another bill to regulate nanotechnlogy

Back in March 2010, Canadian New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Julian introduced a bill to regulate nanotechnology (Bill C-494) in Canada. The Conservative government was in power at the time. I can’t remember how many readings it received but it never did get passed into legislation. Now, Mr. Julian is trying again and, coincidentally or not, the Liberals are in power this time. A July 26, 2016 post by Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton for the National Law Review (Note: Links have been removed),

On June 8, 2016, the Canadian House of Commons held its first reading of an Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) (nanotechnology) (C-287).  The bill would add Part 6.1 to CEPA primarily to implement procedures for the investigation and assessment of nanomaterials. …

The bill would define nanomaterial as any manufactured substance or product or any component material, ingredient, device or structure that:  (a) is within the nanoscale (one nanometer (nm) up to and including 100 nm), in at least one external dimension; or (b) if it is not within the nanoscale, exhibits one or more properties that are attributable to the size of a substance and size effects.  The bill mandates a risk assessment process to identify the potential benefits and possible risks of nanotechnologies before nanoproducts enter the market.  It would also create a national inventory regarding nanotechnology, including nanomaterials and nanoparticles, using information collected under CEPA Sections 46 and 71 and “any other information to which the Ministers have access.” On July 25, 2015, Canada published a notice announcing a mandatory survey under CEPA Section 71(1)(b) with respect to certain nanomaterials in Canadian commerce.  …

I do have a few observations about the proposed bill. First, it’s more specific than what we have in place now. As I understand current CEPA regulations, they do not cover materials at the nanoscale which are already imported and/or produced at the macroscale and are considered safe, e.g. titanium dioxide. It is assumed that if they’re safe at the macroscale, they will be safe at the nanoscale. I gather this bill is designed to change that status.

Second, there is no mention in Julian’s press release (text to follow) of the joint Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative which was designed to harmonize US and Canadian regulatory approaches to nanotechnology. Would bill C-287 introduce less harmony or was it designed to harmonize our approaches?

Third, I don’t see a big problem with the idea of an inventory, the issue is always implementation.

Finally, it appears that this bill means more bureaucrats or computerized systems and I’m not sure it addresses the problem that I believe it is trying to address: how to deal with uncertainty about the risks and hazards of an emerging technology while meeting demands for economic progress.

Very finally, here’s Peter Julian’s June 8, 2016 press release,

Julian’s bill to include Nanotechnology under Environmental Protection Act

You can watch the video here: https://peterjulian.ca/Introduction_of_Private_Member_Bill_C287_An_Act_t…

OTTAWA – Today [June 8, 2016], Peter Julian, MP (New Westminster-Burnaby) re-introduced Bill C-287 in the House of Commons, which aims to include a framework that would regulate nanotechnology in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

“I first introduced this Bill in 2010. I am pleased to see that some of the aspects of this Bill are being considered by Health Canada and Environment Canada, such as the development of a registry for nanomaterials in commerce and use in Canada. However, there is much more that needs to be done to ensure the responsible use of nanotechnologies in Canada”, said Julian.

Nanotechnology is the application of science and technology to manipulate matter at the atomic or molecular level. Nanomaterials are any ingredient, device, or structure that is between 1 and 100 nm. These materials are present in more than 1000 consumer products, including food and cosmetics. The increasing proliferation of nanoproducts has not been met with an adequate regulatory framework.

Julian’s Bill C-287 would establish a balanced approach ensuring the responsible development of nanotechnology and the safe use off nanomaterials in Canada. The Bill mandates a risk assessment process to identify the potential benefits and possible risks of nanotechnologies before nanoproducts enter the market. It would also require a comprehensive, publicly accessible database that lists existing nanomaterials identified by the Government of Canada.

“While nanotechnology can be very beneficial to people, there are certain risks to it as well. We must identify and mitigate possible risks to better protect the environment and human health before they become an issue. Canada must ensure our regulatory processes ensure nanomaterial safety before the introduction of these substances in Canada”, said Julian.

I’m including links to my 2010 email interview with Peter Julian (published in three parts),

March 24, 2010 (Part one)

March 25, 2010 (Part two)

March 26, 2010 (Part three)

I also covered a hearing on nanomaterials and safety held by the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on June 10, 2010 in a June 23, 2010 posting.

2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference: supersaver registration ends Sept. 6, 2016

It’s a little early to be talking about a conference being held in November but if you want to save money, this would be the time to register for the 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held in Ottawa (the nation’s capital) from Nov. 8 -10, 2016. Here’s more about the conference and preconference programmes from an Aug. 25, 2016 notice (received by email),

Pre-conference Events

CSPC 2016 C features several pre-conference opportunities for you to choose from.

A total six of events will take place on Tuesday November 8 [2016], before the CSPC conference. Four symposia and a workshop 8:00 am to 3:00 pm and one roundtable runs from 1 – 3 pm. You can register for these events separately or combine them with your conference registration.

1st Canadian symposium on“Achieving Diversity in STEM, Advancing Innovation,” – organized by Faculty of Science, Ryerson University

2nd National Symposium on “Science Diplomacy” – organized by CSPC

2nd National Symposium on “Evidence-Based Decision Making” – organized by Council of Canadian Academies

1st Canadian Symposium on “Space Policy” – organized by Canadian Space Commerce Association
Workshop: “Science Policy 101” – organized by CSPC“

The Role of Early Career Scientists in Research Policy Development”, as part of 2016 Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research Program, organized by Friends of CIHR (FCIHR)

More information on program page

They are still adding to the programme but here are a few session titles that are available (from the CSPC 2016 program page),

Fertile Ground: How Incubators and Accelerators Drive Innovation / Un terrain fertile : comment les incubateurs et les accélérateurs stimulent l’innovation

Science for diplomacy, have we got what it takes? / La science au service de la diplomatie ; avons-nous ce qu’il faut ?

A Systems-based Approach to Evidence-Based Policy Decision-Making: Skills, Tools & Mindset for Effective Decision Making / Une approche systémique pour la prise de décisions éclairées par des données probantes en matière de politiques : compétences, outil

Driving Innovation through Health Research – the role stemcell & regenerative medicine sector / Impulser l’innovation au moyen de la recherche en santé : le rôle des secteurs des cellules souches et de la médecine régénératrice

Linking Science Producers to Users, A Case Study: Designing a proposed pan-Canadian oil spill research Network of Expertise / L’établissement de liens entre les producteurs et les utilisateurs de la science, une étude de cas : la conception d’un projet pa [sic]

TED Talk Innovation 2: a) Entrepreneurial Skills Training for the New Economy: Case Studies; b) Partnered Innovation: The Role of Colleges in Canada’s Innovation Ecosystem; c) Alberta – The Illusion and Impact of Sustained Prosperity

It’s exciting to see the CSPC grow with a number of new preconference programs and some new directions for the conference program but there are a couple of areas for which there aren’t any sessions (yet?): (a) science communication, (b) risk, and (c) public engagement with emerging technology. I’m particularly concerned with the emerging technology topic,. For example, with the emergence of robots and increasingly sophisticated AI (artificial intelligence) systems, it would be nice to see a session or two devoted to future public policy issues.

I have previously featured the 2016 CSPC in a May 19, 2016 posting about their call for proposals and the conference themes,

From a May 4, 2016 call for proposals (received via email), here are the conference themes and information about submitting ideas,

Here are CSPC 2016 Themes:

A New Culture of Policy Making and Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Horizons and Challenges

A New Innovation Agenda or Canada: What are we building?

Science Funding Review: New Visions and New Directions

Clean Energy and Climate Change as Global Priorities: Implications for Canada?

Canada’s Return to the International Stage: How Can Science Help Foreign Policy?

Super saver registration ends on Sept. 6, 2016 at 11:59 pm EST, presumably.

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) August 30, 2016 talk: Titans of the Ice Age—Rise of the Megafauna

For the second time in a row, Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique is at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W. Pender), which is hosting the upcoming August 2016 Café Scientifique talk. From the August 24, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday August 30th, 7:30pm in the back room at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender). Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Greg Bole, from the Department of Zoology at UBC. The title of his talk is:

Titans of the Ice Age—Rise of the Megafauna

The talk will introduce people to some of the biggest members of the Pleistocene megafauna and discuss their evolutionary radiation, including why they were so big, as well as their extinction and possible de-extinction!

This holds the distinction of being the most succinct description of a Café Scientifique talk that I’ve seen.

You can find out a tiny bit more about Greg Bole here and more about Yagger’s Downtown here.

Sonifying a swimmer’s performance to improve technique by listening)

I imagine since the 2016 Olympic Games are over that athletes and their coaches will soon start training for the 2020 Games. Researchers at Bielefeld University (Germany) have developed a new technique for helping swimmers improve their technique (Note: The following video is German language with English language subtitles),

An Aug. 4, 2016 Bielefeld University press release (also on EurekAlert), tells more,

Since 1896, swimming has been an event in the Olympic games. Back then it was the swimmer’s physical condition that was decisive in securing a win, but today it is mostly technique that determines who takes home the title of world champion. Researchers at Bielefeld University have developed a system that professional swimmers can use to optimize their swimming technique. The system expands the athlete’s perception and feel for the water by enabling them to hear, in real time, how the pressure of the water flows created by the swimmer changes with their movements. This gives the swimmer an advantage over his competitors because he can refine the execution of his technique. This “Swimming Sonification” system was developed at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) of Bielefeld University. In a video, Bielefeld University’s own “research_tv” reports on the new system.

“Swimmers see the movements of their hands. They also feel how the water glides over their hands, and they sense how quickly they are moving forwards. However, the majority of swimmers are not very aware of one significant factor: how the pressure exerted by the flow of the water on their bodies changes,” says Dr. Thomas Hermann of the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The sound researcher is working on converting data into sounds that can be used to benefit the listener. This is called sonification, a process in which measured data values are systematically turned into audible sounds and noises. “In this project, we are using the pressure from water flows as the data source,” says Hermann, who heads CITEC research group Ambient Intelligence. “We convert into sound how the pressure of water flows changes while swimming – in real time. We play the sounds to the swimmer over headphones so that they can then adjust their movements based on what they hear,” explains Hermann.

For this research project on swimming sonification, Dr. Hermann is working together with Dr. Bodo Ungerechts of the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science. As a biomechanist, Dr. Ungerechts deals with how human beings control their movements, particularly with swimming. “If a swimmer registers how the flow pressure changes by hearing, he can better judge, for instance, how he can produce more thrust at similar energy costs. This give the swimmer a more encompassing perception for his movements in the water,” says Dr. Ungerechts. The researcher even tested the system out for himself. “I was surprised at just how well the sonification and the effects of the water flow, which I felt myself, corresponded with one another,” he says. The system is intuitive and easy to use. “You immediately starts playing with the sounds to hear, for example, what tonal effect spreading your fingers apart or changing the position of your hand has,” says Ungerechts. The new system should open up new training possibilities for athletes. “By using this system, swimmers develop a harmony – a kind of melody. If a swimmer very quickly masters a lap, they can use the recording of the melody to mentally re-imagine and retrace the successful execution of this lap. This mental training can also help athletes perform successfully in competitions.” To this, Thomas Hermann adds “the ear is great at perceiving rhythm and changes in rhythm. In this way, swimmers can find their own rhythm and use this to orient themselves in the water.”

This system includes two gloves with thin tube ends that serve as pressure sensors and are fixed between the fingers. The swimmer wears these gloves during practice. The tubes are linked to a measuring instrument, which is currently connected to the swimmer via a line while he or she is swimming. The measuring device transmits data about water flow pressure to a laptop. A custom-made software then sonifies the data, meaning that it turns the information into sound. “During repeated hand actions, for instance, the system can make rising and sinking flow pressure audible as increasing or decreasing tonal pitches,” says Thomas Hermann. Other settings that sonify features such as symmetry or steadiness can also be activated as needed.

The sounds are transmitted to the swimmer in real time over headphones. When the swimmer modifies a movement, he hears live how this also changes the sound. With the sonification of aquatic flow pressure, the swimmer can now practice the front crawl in way that, for instance, both hands displace the water masses with the same water flow form – to do this, the swimmer just has make sure that he generates the same sound pattern with each hand. Because the coach also hears the sounds over speakers, he can base the instructions he gives to the swimmer not only on the movements he observes, but also on the sounds generated by the swimmer and their rhythm (e.g. “Move your hands so that the tonal pitch increases faster”).

For this sonification project, Thomas Hermann and Bodo Ungerechts are working with Daniel Cesarini, Ph.D., a researcher from the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa in Italy. Dr. Cesarini developed the measuring device that analyzes the aquatic flow pressure data.

In a practical workshop held in September 2015, professional swimmers tested the system out and confirmed that it indeed helped them to optimize their swimming technique. Of the 10 swimmers who participated, three of them qualify for international competitions, and one of the female swimmers is competing this year at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The workshop was funded by the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). In addition to this, swim teams at the PSV Eindhoven (Philips Sports Union Eindhoven) in the Netherlands tested the new system out for two months, using it as part of their technique training sessions. The PSV swim club competes in the top swimming league in the Netherlands.

“It is advantageous for swimmers to receive immediate feedback on their swimming form,” says Thomas Hermann. “People learn more quickly when they get direct feedback because they can immediately test how the feedback – in this case, the sound – changes when they try out something new.”

The researchers want to continue developing their current prototype. “We are planning to develop a wearable system that can be used independently by the user, without the help of others,” says Thomas Hermann. In addition to this, the new sonification method is planned to be incorporated into long-term training programs in cooperation with swim clubs.

My first post about sonification was this February 7, 2014 post titled, Data sonification: listening to your data instead of visualizing it.

As for this swimmer’s version of data sonification, you can find out more about the project here and/or here.

Canada’s Nanorobotics Laboratory unveils its ‘medical interventional infrastructure’

Located at the Polytechnique Montréal (Canada), the Nanorobotics Laboratory has built a one-of-a-kind ‘medical interventional infrastructure’, the result of a $4.6M investment from various levels of government and from private enterprise.

Before getting to the news release, here’s a video featuring Prof. Sylvain Martel who discusses his work by referencing the movie, Fantastic Voyage. There are subtitles for those whose French fails them,

From an Aug. 24, 2016 Polytechnique Montréal news release (also on EurekAlert),

Fifty years to the day after the film Fantastic Voyage was first shown in theatres, the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory is unveiling a unique medical interventional infrastructure devoted to the fight against cancer. The outcome of 15 years of research conducted by Professor Sylvain Martel and his team, it enables microscopic nanorobotic agents to be guided through the vascular systems of living bodies, delivering drugs to targeted areas.

An action-packed 100,000-kilometre journey in the human body

Fantastic Voyage recounted the adventure of a team of researchers shrunk to microscopic size who, aboard a miniature submarine, travelled into a patient’s body to conduct a medical operation in a surgically inoperable area. This science fiction classic has now been eclipsed by procedures and protocols developed by Professor Martel’s multidisciplinary team comprising engineers, scientists and experts from several medical specialties working together on these projects that herald the future of medicine.

“Our work represents a new vision of cancer treatments, with our goal being to develop the most effective transportation systems for the delivery of therapeutic agents right to tumour cells, to areas unreachable by conventional treatments,” says Professor Martel, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Medical Nanorobotics and Director of the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory.

Conveying nanorobotic agents into the bloodstream to reach the targeted area right up to the tiniest capillaries without getting lost in this network stretching about 100,000 kilometres—two-and-a-half times the Earth’s circumference—is a scenario that has been turned into reality. This is an adventure-filled journey for these microscopic vehicles that must confront the powerful onslaught of arterial blood flow, the mazes of the vascular network and the narrowness of the capillaries—just like the film’s heroes!

“Doctors” invisible to the naked eye

To conduct this fantastic voyage, Professor Martel’s team is developing various procedures, often playing a pioneering role. These include navigating carriers just a fraction of the thickness of a hair through the arteries using a clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) platform, the first in the world to achieve this in a living organism, in 2006. This exploit was followed in 2011 by the guidance of drug-loaded micro-transporters into the liver of a rabbit.

Limits to the miniaturization of artificial nanorobots prevent them from penetrating the smallest blood vessels, however. For this, Professor Martel plans to have them play the role of Trojan horses, enclosing an “army” of special bacteria loaded with drugs that they will release at the edges of these small vessels.

Able to follow paths smaller than a red blood cell, these self-propelled bacteria move at high speed (200 microns per second, or 200 times their size per second). Once they are inside a tumour, they are able to naturally detect hypoxic (oxygen-starved) zones, which are the most active zones and the hardest to treat by conventional means, including radiotherapy, and then deliver the drug.

Professor Martel’s team has succeeded in using this procedure to administer therapeutic agents in colorectal tumours in mice, guiding them through a magnetic field. This has just been the subject of an article in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology, titled Magneto-gerotactic Bacteria Deliver Drug-containing Nanoliposomes to Tumour Hypoxic Regions. “This advanced procedure, which provides optimal targeting of a tumour while preserving surrounding healthy organs and tissue, unlike current chemotherapy or radiotherapy, heralds a new era in cancer treatment,” says Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the McGill Centre for Translational Research in Cancer, based at the Jewish General Hospital, which is collaborating on the project.

Professor Martel’s projects also focus on the inaccessibility of certain parts of the body, such as the brain, to transporting agents. In 2015, his team also stood out by successfully opening a rat’s blood-brain barrier, temporarily and without damage, providing access to targeted areas of the brain. This feat was achieved through a slight rise in temperature caused by exposing nanoparticles to a radiofrequency field.

“At present, 98% of drug molecules cross the blood-brain barrier only with great difficulty,” notes Dr. Anne-Sophie Carret, a specialist in hematology-oncology at Montréal’s Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine and one of the doctors collaborating on the project. “This means surgery is often the only way to treat some patients who have serious brain diseases. But certain tumours are inoperable because of their location. Radiation therapy, for its part, is not without medium- and long-term risk for the brain. This work therefore offers real hope to patients suffering from a brain tumour.”

Here’s who invested, how much they invested, and what the Nanorobotics Laboratory got for its money,

This new investment in the Nanorobotics Laboratory represents $4.6 million in infrastructure, with contributions of $1.85 million each from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Government of Québec. Companies including Siemens Canada and Mécanik have also made strategic contributions to the project. This laboratory now combines platforms to help develop medical protocols for transferring the procedures developed by Professor Martel to a
clinical setting.

The laboratory contains the following equipment:

  • a clinical MRI platform to navigate microscopic carriers directly into specific areas in the vascular system and for 3D visualization of these carriers in the body;
  • a specially-developed platform that generates the required magnetic field sequences to guide special bacteria loaded with therapeutic agents into tumours;
  • a robotic station (consisting of a robotized bed) for moving a patient from one platform to another;
  • a hyperthermia platform for temporary opening of the blood-brain barrier;
  • a mobile X-ray system;
  • a facility to increase the production of these cancer-fighting bacteria.

Sylvain Martel’s most recent work with nanorobotic agents (as cited in the news release) was featured here in an Aug. 16, 2016 post.

The science behind a hidden portrait by Edgar Degas

Rebecca Morelle’s Aug. 4, 2016 article for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) News online describes an intriguing piece of research into artists and how they work,

A hidden portrait by the French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas has been revealed by scientists.

Researchers in Australia used powerful X-rays to bring to light the painting of a young woman concealed beneath a work called Portrait of a Woman.

The researchers believe the subject is Emma Dobigny, who appeared in other Degas paintings.

Dr Daryl Howard, a co-author of the study, told BBC News: “I think what is really exciting is that we have now been able to add one more Degas artwork for the world to see.”

Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917, Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de Femme), c. 1876–80, oil on canvas, 46.3 × 38.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1937. (a) Visible light image. The boxed region highlights the XRF scan area. (b) X-radiograph. The obscured portrait is rotated 180 degrees relative to the upper portrait. The face and ear of the obscured sitter are the primary source of contrast. (c) Reflected infrared image (detail). A partial outline of the obscured sitter’s face is indicated with a dotted line. The extensive use of highly infrared-absorbing black paint in the final composition provides a limited view of the underlying figure. Courtesy: National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917, Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de Femme), c. 1876–80, oil on canvas, 46.3 × 38.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1937. (a) Visible light image. The boxed region highlights the XRF scan area. (b) X-radiograph. The obscured portrait is rotated 180 degrees relative to the upper portrait. The face and ear of the obscured sitter are the primary source of contrast. (c) Reflected infrared image (detail). A partial outline of the obscured sitter’s face is indicated with a dotted line. The extensive use of highly infrared-absorbing black paint in the final composition provides a limited view of the underlying figure. Courtesy: National Gallery of Victoria, Australia

Morelle describes how the second portrait deteriorated such that a previous painting on the canvas was becoming perceptible and how scientists were able to ‘peel’ back the original to see what lay beneath,

It had long been known that Degas’ portrait of a woman wearing a black bonnet and dress, which he painted in the late 1870s, covered an earlier painting.

A ghostly impression of the composition appears as a dark stain on the sitter’s face, and over the years has become more prominent as the oil paint thinned.

Conventional X-rays revealed the outline of another image was lurking beneath, but without scraping away the outer painting, the researchers required a much more powerful technique to show any detail.

For that, they used the Australian Synchrotron, a huge accelerator that generates more powerful X-rays, to peer beneath the top layers of paint.

They were able to detect the metallic elements in the pigments that Degas had used in his underlying artwork.

Dr Howard, from the Australian Synchrotron, said: “Each element has its own unique signature, and so that gets collected.

“And what we do is analyse that data and build up these ‘elemental maps’. And that allows us to image all the different pigments used in the painting.”

Through this they were able to see in colour and in remarkable detail Degas’ hidden work: a portrait of a woman with auburn hair.

False colour reconstruction of Degas’ hidden portrait (detail). The image was created from the X-ray fluorescence microscopy elemental maps. (Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917, Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de femme) c. 1876–80, oil on canvas, 46.3 × 38.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1937).

False colour reconstruction of Degas’ hidden portrait (detail). The image was created from the X-ray fluorescence microscopy elemental maps. (Edgar Degas, French, 1834–1917, Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de femme) c. 1876–80, oil on canvas, 46.3 × 38.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1937).

Apparently, Degas had a tendency, in his early paintings, to give his models pixie-like (longish and pointed) ears. Unusually, he has incorporated some of the features of the first painting into the second painting.

Getting back to the science, the technique used to ‘uncover’ the first painting is nondestructive (many techniques used in conservation are destructive as scrapings are required) and more powerful than previous x-ray techniques used to uncover artists’ secrets.

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

A Hidden Portrait by Edgar Degas by David Thurrowgood, David Paterson, Martin D. de Jonge, Robin Kirkham, Saul Thurrowgood, & Daryl L. Howard. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 29594 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep29594 Published online: 04 August 2016

This paper is open access but for anyone who doesn’t have the time to read it, here’s a bit from the paper’s Discussion section (Note: Links have been removed),

We are not aware of any other current analytical technique that could have achieved such an imaging outcome for this painting. The data generated by this study has provided a better understanding of the artist’s technique. The 60 μm [micrometre] spatial resolution allows us to observe with confidence that a majority of the hidden sitter’s face has been achieved as one action. However the disproportionate and blurred form of the ears is indicative of several attempts to achieve the final proportions and features. Degas is reported as having painted “pixie” like ears at about this period46. By examining single elemental maps of the painting it is possible to observe such a “pixie” like ear shape (e.g., Mn and Fe, Fig. 3) which appears to have been reworked to a more conventional form (e.g., Co and Hg, Fig. 3). Careful study of the data reveals numerous intricacies of painting technique and brush stroke direction of the underpainting. It reveals stylistic information and elemental composition information that is unlikely to be reproducible by persons attempting to copy a work, and the technique has strong potential for application in authentication studies4,5.

Consideration has been given to the properties of synchrotron radiation, and the research group used visible and chemical observation to look for radiation-induced change in preliminary experiments. Pigment binder matrices were studied by Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy before and after extended X-ray exposure at the XFM beamline, and spectroscopic changes were not detected. No evidence for any chemical or physical change was observed for radiation doses 10,000 times that reported for this study, which is in accord with recent findings by other research groups using intense radiation sources47,48.

This study has successfully demonstrated a virtual reconstruction of a hidden portrait by Edgar Degas and has delivered a better understanding of his work and artistic practices. The authors propose that the unfolding technological developments for examining artwork using synchrotron radiation-based techniques will significantly impact the ways cultural heritage is studied for authentication, preservation and scholarly purposes. We anticipate that the high quality outcome presented here and the propagation of the rapid-scanning XRF detector technology used will further stimulate growing interest in the better understanding of our cultural assets. Parallel work using portable XRF systems7 is demonstrating that a version of the technique is becoming viable (at substantially reduced spatial resolution and increased data collection time) outside of a synchrotron facility, raising a strong likelihood that precedents being set at synchrotron facilities will directly influence emerging field-based technologies. Until recently XRF large area scanning facilities were built in-house, and this had limited the technique’s availability. With the introduction of commercial large scanning area instruments on the market49, the technique has the potential to expand rapidly.

And here’s just a bit from the paper’s Methods section (Note: Links have been removed),

The scanning XRF mapping of the painting Portrait of a Woman was performed at the X-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM) beamline of the Australian Synchrotron31. The X-ray fluorescence was acquired with the Maia 384A detector array, which integrates the sample stage motion with continuous fly scanning, leading to zero data readout overhead50,51. An incident excitation beam energy of 12.6 keV was used to circumvent intense fluorescence from the Pb L absorption edges, which would originate primarily from the painting’s Pb-based ground layer and thereby limit detection sensitivity to other elements in the pictorial paint layers. The low-energy sensitivity of the detector is limited to approximately 4 keV, thus Pb-M fluorescence (~2.3 keV) was not detectable for example. The energy resolution of the detector is 375 eV at Mn Kα.

The artwork was fitted to a custom manufactured cradle for scanning. The painting was placed approximately 13 mm from Maia detector rather than the optimal distance of 10 mm, since the painting was not perfectly flat. The painting is shown mounted at the XFM beamline in Supplementary Material Fig. S1. A 426 × 267 mm2 area was raster-scanned at 16.4 mm s−1, providing a dwell time of approximately 3.7 ms per 60 × 60 μm2 pixel and yielded a 31.6 megapixel data set in 33 h. Given the 10 × 10 μm2 incident beam size used, the average time an area of the painting was in the beam was 0.6 ms. The average incident flux on the painting was 1.5 × 109 photons s−1.

For art historians, conservationists, scientists, and people like me (the curious), this is pretty exciting stuff.

I recommend reading Morelle’s piece for anyone who finds the science a little hard going as she does an excellent job of describing the science and the art.

New form of light could lead to circuits that run on photons instead of electrons

If circuits are running on photons instead of electrons, does that mean there will be no more electricity and electronics?  Apparently, the answer is not exactly. First, an Aug. 5, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily makes the announcement about photons and circuits,

New research suggests that it is possible to create a new form of light by binding light to a single electron, combining the properties of both.

According to the scientists behind the study, from Imperial College London, the coupled light and electron would have properties that could lead to circuits that work with packages of light — photons — instead of electrons.

It would also allow researchers to study quantum physical phenomena, which govern particles smaller than atoms, on a visible scale.

An Aug. 5, 2016 Imperial College of London (ICL) press release, which originated the news item, describes the research further (Note: A link has been removed),

In normal materials, light interacts with a whole host of electrons present on the surface and within the material. But by using theoretical physics to model the behaviour of light and a recently-discovered class of materials known as topological insulators, Imperial researchers have found that it could interact with just one electron on the surface.

This would create a coupling that merges some of the properties of the light and the electron. Normally, light travels in a straight line, but when bound to the electron it would instead follow its path, tracing the surface of the material.

Improved electronics

In the study, published today in Nature Communications, Dr Vincenzo Giannini and colleagues modelled this interaction around a nanoparticle – a small sphere below 0.00000001 metres in diameter – made of a topological insulator.

Their models showed that as well as the light taking the property of the electron and circulating the particle, the electron would also take on some of the properties of the light. [emphasis mine]

Normally, as electrons are travelling along materials, such as electrical circuits, they will stop when faced with a defect. However, Dr Giannini’s team discovered that even if there were imperfections in the surface of the nanoparticle, the electron would still be able to travel onwards with the aid of the light.

If this could be adapted into photonic circuits, they would be more robust and less vulnerable to disruption and physical imperfections.

Quantum experiments

Dr Giannini said: “The results of this research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light. Topological insulators were only discovered in the last decade, but are already providing us with new phenomena to study and new ways to explore important concepts in physics.”

Dr Giannini added that it should be possible to observe the phenomena he has modelled in experiments using current technology, and the team is working with experimental physicists to make this a reality.

He believes that the process that leads to the creation of this new form of light could be scaled up so that the phenomena could observed much more easily.

Currently, quantum phenomena can only be seen when looking at very small objects or objects that have been super-cooled, but this could allow scientists to study these kinds of behaviour at room temperature.

An electron that takes on the properties of light? I find that fascinating.

Artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. Credit: Vincenzo Giannini

Artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. Credit: Vincenzo Giannini

For those who’d like more information, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Single-electron induced surface plasmons on a topological nanoparticle by G. Siroki, D.K.K. Lee, P. D. Haynes,V. Giannini. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 12375  doi:10.1038/ncomms12375 Published 05 August 2016

This paper is open access.

‘Neural dust’ could lead to introduction of electroceuticals

In case anyone is wondering, the woman who’s manipulating a prosthetic arm so she can eat or a drink of coffee probably has a bulky implant/docking station in her head. Right now that bulky implant is the latest and greatest innovation for tetraplegics (aka, quadriplegics) as it frees, to some extent, people who’ve had no independent movement of any kind. By virtue of the juxtaposition of the footage of the woman with the ‘neural dust’ footage, they seem to be suggesting that neural dust might some day accomplish the same type of connection. At this point, hopes for the ‘neural dust’ are more modest.

An Aug. 3, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily announces the ‘neural dust’,

University of California, Berkeley engineers have built the first dust-sized, wireless sensors that can be implanted in the body, bringing closer the day when a Fitbit-like device could monitor internal nerves, muscles or organs in real time.

Because these batteryless sensors could also be used to stimulate nerves and muscles, the technology also opens the door to “electroceuticals” to treat disorders such as epilepsy or to stimulate the immune system or tamp down inflammation.

An Aug. 3, 2016 University of California at Berkeley news release (also on EurekAlert) by Robert Sanders, which originated the news item, explains further and describes the researchers’ hope that one day the neural dust could be used to control implants and prosthetics,

The so-called neural dust, which the team implanted in the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats, is unique in that ultrasound is used both to power and read out the measurements. Ultrasound technology is already well-developed for hospital use, and ultrasound vibrations can penetrate nearly anywhere in the body, unlike radio waves, the researchers say.

“I think the long-term prospects for neural dust are not only within nerves and the brain, but much broader,“ said Michel Maharbiz, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and one of the study’s two main authors. “Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something supertiny superdeep. But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data.“

Maharbiz, neuroscientist Jose Carmena, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and a member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, and their colleagues will report their findings in the August 3 [2016] issue of the journal Neuron.

The sensors, which the researchers have already shrunk to a 1 millimeter cube – about the size of a large grain of sand – contain a piezoelectric crystal that converts ultrasound vibrations from outside the body into electricity to power a tiny, on-board transistor that is in contact with a nerve or muscle fiber. A voltage spike in the fiber alters the circuit and the vibration of the crystal, which changes the echo detected by the ultrasound receiver, typically the same device that generates the vibrations. The slight change, called backscatter, allows them to determine the voltage.

Motes sprinkled thoughout the body

In their experiment, the UC Berkeley team powered up the passive sensors every 100 microseconds with six 540-nanosecond ultrasound pulses, which gave them a continual, real-time readout. They coated the first-generation motes – 3 millimeters long, 1 millimeter high and 4/5 millimeter thick – with surgical-grade epoxy, but they are currently building motes from biocompatible thin films which would potentially last in the body without degradation for a decade or more.

While the experiments so far have involved the peripheral nervous system and muscles, the neural dust motes could work equally well in the central nervous system and brain to control prosthetics, the researchers say. Today’s implantable electrodes degrade within 1 to 2 years, and all connect to wires that pass through holes in the skull. Wireless sensors – dozens to a hundred – could be sealed in, avoiding infection and unwanted movement of the electrodes.

“The original goal of the neural dust project was to imagine the next generation of brain-machine interfaces, and to make it a viable clinical technology,” said neuroscience graduate student Ryan Neely. “If a paraplegic wants to control a computer or a robotic arm, you would just implant this electrode in the brain and it would last essentially a lifetime.”

In a paper published online in 2013, the researchers estimated that they could shrink the sensors down to a cube 50 microns on a side – about 2 thousandths of an inch, or half the width of a human hair. At that size, the motes could nestle up to just a few nerve axons and continually record their electrical activity.

“The beauty is that now, the sensors are small enough to have a good application in the peripheral nervous system, for bladder control or appetite suppression, for example,“ Carmena said. “The technology is not really there yet to get to the 50-micron target size, which we would need for the brain and central nervous system. Once it’s clinically proven, however, neural dust will just replace wire electrodes. This time, once you close up the brain, you’re done.“

The team is working now to miniaturize the device further, find more biocompatible materials and improve the surface transceiver that sends and receives the ultrasounds, ideally using beam-steering technology to focus the sounds waves on individual motes. They are now building little backpacks for rats to hold the ultrasound transceiver that will record data from implanted motes.

They’re also working to expand the motes’ ability to detect non-electrical signals, such as oxygen or hormone levels.

“The vision is to implant these neural dust motes anywhere in the body, and have a patch over the implanted site send ultrasonic waves to wake up and receive necessary information from the motes for the desired therapy you want,” said Dongjin Seo, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer sciences. “Eventually you would use multiple implants and one patch that would ping each implant individually, or all simultaneously.”

Ultrasound vs radio

Maharbiz and Carmena conceived of the idea of neural dust about five years ago, but attempts to power an implantable device and read out the data using radio waves were disappointing. Radio attenuates very quickly with distance in tissue, so communicating with devices deep in the body would be difficult without using potentially damaging high-intensity radiation.

Marharbiz hit on the idea of ultrasound, and in 2013 published a paper with Carmena, Seo and their colleagues describing how such a system might work. “Our first study demonstrated that the fundamental physics of ultrasound allowed for very, very small implants that could record and communicate neural data,” said Maharbiz. He and his students have now created that system.

“Ultrasound is much more efficient when you are targeting devices that are on the millimeter scale or smaller and that are embedded deep in the body,” Seo said. “You can get a lot of power into it and a lot more efficient transfer of energy and communication when using ultrasound as opposed to electromagnetic waves, which has been the go-to method for wirelessly transmitting power to miniature implants”

“Now that you have a reliable, minimally invasive neural pickup in your body, the technology could become the driver for a whole gamut of applications, things that today don’t even exist,“ Carmena said.

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

Wireless Recording in the Peripheral Nervous System with Ultrasonic Neural Dust by Dongjin Seo, Ryan M. Neely, Konlin Shen, Utkarsh Singhal, Elad Alon, Jan M. Rabaey, Jose M. Carmena. and Michel M. Maharbiz. Neuron Volume 91, Issue 3, p529–539, 3 August 2016 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2016.06.034

This paper appears to be open access.

Being solid and liquid over a range of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit means it’s perpetual ice

Duke University researchers along with their international collaborators have made an extraordinary observation. From an Aug. 3, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Imagine pouring a glass of ice water and having the ice cubes remain unchanged hours later, even under a broiler’s heat or in the very back corner of the freezer.

That’s fundamentally the surprising discovery recently made by an international group of researchers led by an electrical engineering professor at Duke University in a paper published online in Nature Matter on July 25, 2016. But instead of a refreshing mixture of H2O in a pint glass, the researchers were working with the chemical element gallium on a nanoscopic scale.

This image shows a single gallium nanoparticle sitting on top of a sapphire base. The black sphere in the center reveals the presence of solid gallium within the liquid drop exterior. The sapphire base is important, as it is rigid with a relatively high surface energy. As the nanoparticle and sapphire try to minimize their total energy, this combination of properties drives the formation and coexistence of the two phases. Courtesy: Duke University

This image shows a single gallium nanoparticle sitting on top of a sapphire base. The black sphere in the center reveals the presence of solid gallium within the liquid drop exterior. The sapphire base is important, as it is rigid with a relatively high surface energy. As the nanoparticle and sapphire try to minimize their total energy, this combination of properties drives the formation and coexistence of the two phases. Courtesy: Duke University

An Aug. 3, 2016 Duke University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains more about gallium and about this new state,

Gallium is a soft, silvery bluish metal at room temperature. Raise the heat to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, however, and it melts. Drop the temperature to subzero levels, and it becomes hard and brittle. But when gallium nanoparticles sit on top of a sapphire surface, they form a solid core surrounded by a liquid outer layer. The discovery marks the first time that this stable phase coexistence phenomenon at the nanoscale has ever been directly observed.

“This odd combination of a liquid and solid state existing together has been predicted theoretically and observed indirectly in other materials in narrow bands of specific temperatures,” said April Brown, the John Cocke Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke. “But this finding was very unexpected, especially because of its stability over such a large temperature range.”

The temperature range Brown is referring to covers more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, all the way from -135 to 980 degrees.

“At a fundamental level, this finding reveals the need to reconsider all our presumptions about solid–liquid equilibrium,” wrote Andrés Aguado, professor of theoretical, atomic and optical physics at the University of Valladolid in Spain, in a News and Views piece appearing in the same edition of Nature Matter. “At a more applied level, the results hold much promise for future nanotechnology applications.”

Gallium is an important element in electronics and is used in microwave circuits, high-speed switching circuits and infrared circuits. The discovery of this novel part-solid, part-liquid nanoparticle phase could be useful in ultraviolet sensors, molecular sensing devices and enhanced photodetectors.

Brown hopes this work is just the tip of the iceberg, as she is planning on creating a facility at Duke to investigate what other nanoparticles might have similar unexpected phase qualities.

The research was conducted in conjunction with researchers at the Institute of Nanotechnology-CNR-Italy, the University of Western Australia, the University of Melbourne and Johannes Kepler University Linz.

This is an atomic view of liquid and solid gallium coexisting in a single nanoparticle taken by a transmission electron microscope. The circular shape on the left-hand side shows gallium atoms in an organized, crystalline, solid structure, while the atoms on the right are in liquid form, showing no organized structure at all. Courtesy: Duke University

This is an atomic view of liquid and solid gallium coexisting in a single nanoparticle taken by a transmission electron microscope. The circular shape on the left-hand side shows gallium atoms in an organized, crystalline, solid structure, while the atoms on the right are in liquid form, showing no organized structure at all. Courtesy: Duke University

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

Thermally stable coexistence of liquid and solid phases in gallium nanoparticles by Maria Losurdo, Alexandra Suvorova, Sergey Rubanov, Kurt Hingerl, & April S. Brown.  Nature Materials (2016) doi:10.1038/nmat4705 Published online 25 July 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Vitamin-driven lithium-ion battery from the University of Toronto

It seems vitamins aren’t just good for health, they’re also good for batteries. My Aug. 2, 2016 post on vitamins and batteries focused on work from Harvard, this time the work is from the University of Toronto (Canada). From an Aug. 3, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

A team of University of Toronto chemists has created a battery that stores energy in a biologically derived unit, paving the way for cheaper consumer electronics that are easier on the environment.

The battery is similar to many commercially-available high-energy lithium-ion batteries with one important difference. It uses flavin from vitamin B2 as the cathode: the part that stores the electricity that is released when connected to a device.

“We’ve been looking to nature for a while to find complex molecules for use in a number of consumer electronics applications,” says Dwight Seferos, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Polymer Nanotechnology.

“When you take something made by nature that is already complex, you end up spending less time making new material,” says Seferos.

An Aug. 2, 2016 University of Toronto news release (also on EurekAlert) by Peter McMahon, which originated the news item, explains further,

To understand the discovery, it’s important to know that modern batteries contain three basic parts:

  • a positive terminal – the metal part that touches devices to power them – connected to a cathode inside the battery casing
  • a negative terminal connected to an anode inside the battery casing
  • an electrolyte solution, in which ions can travel between the cathode and anode electrodes

When a battery is connected to a phone, iPod, camera or other device that requires power, electrons flow from the anode – the negatively charged electrode of the device supplying current – out to the device, then into the cathode and ions migrate through the electrolyte solution to balance the charge. When connected to a charger, this process happens in reverse.

The reaction in the anode creates electrons and the reaction in the cathode absorbs them when discharging. The net product is electricity. The battery will continue to produce electricity until one or both of the electrodes run out of the substance necessary for the reactions to occur.

Organic chemistry is kind of like Lego

While bio-derived battery parts have been created previously, this is the first one that uses bio-derived polymers – long-chain molecules – for one of the electrodes, essentially allowing battery energy to be stored in a vitamin-created plastic, instead of costlier, harder to process, and more environmentally-harmful metals such as cobalt.

“Getting the right material evolved over time and definitely took some test reactions,” says paper co-author and doctoral student Tyler Schon. “In a lot of ways, it looked like this could have failed. It definitely took a lot of perseverance.”

Schon, Seferos and colleagues happened upon the material while testing a variety of long-chain polymers – specifically pendant group polymers: the molecules attached to a ‘backbone’ chain of a long molecule.

“Organic chemistry is kind of like Lego,” he says. “You put things together in a certain order, but some things that look like they’ll fit together on paper don’t in reality. We tried a few approaches and the fifth one worked,” says Seferos.

Building a better power pack

The team created the material from vitamin B2 that originates in genetically-modified fungi using a semi-synthetic process to prepare the polymer by linking two flavin units to a long-chain molecule backbone.

This allows for a green battery with high capacity and high voltage – something increasingly important as the ‘Internet of Things’ continues to link us together more and more through our battery-powered portable devices.

“It’s a pretty safe, natural compound,” Seferos adds. “If you wanted to, you could actually eat the source material it comes from.”

B2’s ability to be reduced and oxidized makes its well-suited for a lithium ion battery.

“B2 can accept up to two electrons at a time,” says Seferos. “This makes it easy to take multiple charges and have a high capacity compared to a lot of other available molecules.”

A step to greener electronics

“It’s been a lot of trial-and-error,” says Schon. “Now we’re looking to design new variants that can be recharged again and again.”

While the current prototype is on the scale of a hearing aid battery, the team hopes their breakthrough could lay the groundwork for powerful, thin, flexible, and even transparent metal-free batteries that could support the next wave of consumer electronics.

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

Bio-Derived Polymers for Sustainable Lithium-Ion Batteries by Tyler B. Schon, Andrew J. Tilley, Colin R. Bridges, Mark B. Miltenburg, and Dwight S. Seferos. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201602114 Version of Record online: 14 JUL 2016

© 2016 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.