Author Archives: Maryse de la Giroday

DISCmini: world’s smallest handheld nanoparticle counter

DISCmini: a handheld diffusion size classifier for nanoparticle measurement Courtesy: Testo

They’/re claiming this is the world’s smallest in a July 12, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

Testo, Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of test and measurement instruments, announces the DiSCmini, the smallest handheld instrument for the measurement of nanoparticle. DiSCmini measures: particle number, average particle diameter and lung-deposited surface area (LDSA) with time resolution and logging at 1 second (1 Hz).

Testo’s DISCmini product page offers a video and more details,

Negative health effects due to nanoparticles appear to correlate particularly well with number concentration or surface. Epidemiological and toxicological studies are still mainly based on total mass, or they use fuzzy proxies like “distance from a busy road” to describe personal exposure, although the health-related effects of particle number concentration are well known. We believe that this contradictory situation is due to the lack of adequate sensors on the market.

This gap is now closed with Testo Particle´s handheld version of the “Diffusion Size Classifier”, testo DiSCmini.  The testo DiSCmini is a portable sensor for the measurement of particle number and average diameter with a time resolution of up to 1 second (1 Hz). The simultaneous capture of number concentration and particle size allows the specification of other characteristic parameters, such as the particles surface (Lung Deposited Surface Area, LDSA). The instrument is battery powered with a lifetime of up to 8 hours; data can be recorded on a memory card, and transferred to a external computer via USB cable.

The testo DiSCmini is particularly efficient for personal exposure monitoring in particle-loaded work space with toxic air contaminants such as diesel soot, welding fumes, or industrial nanomaterials.

The testo DiSCmini is based on the electrical charging of the aerosols. Positive air ions generated in a corona discharge are mixed with the aerosol. The charged particles are then detected in two stages by electrometers. The first detector stage is a pile of steel grids; small particles will preferably deposit on it by diffusion. The second stage is a high-efficiency particle filter which captures all the other particles. The mean particle size can be obtained by analysis of the two currents measured on the stages. The particle count is determined with the total current. The testo DiSCmini detects particles ranging in size from 10 to about 700 nm, while the modal value should lie below 300 nm. The concentration range is from about 1’000 to over 1’000’000 particles per cubic centimetre. The accuracy of the measurement depends on the shape of the particle size distribution and number concentration, and is usually around 15-20% compared to a reference CPC. The unit should be serviced and calibrated once a year.

Unlike other instruments the testo DiSCmini needs neither working liquid of any kind nor radioactive sources. Therefore, it can be operated in any position and over extended periods without requiring a liquid refill. Typical applications include the determination of personal exposure in particle-loaded jobs (diesel soot, welding fumes, industrial nanomaterials) or in vulnerable groups (asthmatics, COPD patients). The development of large area survey grids of ambient air is becoming possible. The small size of  the testo DiSCmini makes the instrument particularly suitable for personal carry-on measurement campaigns. The high measurement frequency of 1 Hz allows the instrument to monitor rapid changes in the aerosol. This feature is particularly interesting to local or defined sources of particle generation. The equipment is designed for situations and applications where quick and easy access to particle number concentration and average diameter is desired.

For anyone interested in the technical specifications, there’s the DISCmini product brochure.

Materials that may protect astronauts from radiation in space

Sparing astronauts from harmful radiation  is one of the goals for this project according to a July 3, 2017 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have designed a new nano material that can reflect or transmit light on demand with temperature control, opening the door to technology that protects astronauts in space from harmful radiation (Advanced Functional Materials, “Reversible Thermal Tuning of All-Dielectric Metasurfaces”).

Lead researcher Dr Mohsen Rahmani from ANU said the material was so thin that hundreds of layers could fit on the tip of a needle and could be applied to any surface, including spacesuits.

The first speaker’s enthusiasm leaps off the screen,

For whose who prefer to read their news, a July 4, 2017 ANU press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“Our invention has a lot of potential applications, such as protecting astronauts or satellites with an ultra-thin film that can be adjusted to reflect various dangerous ultraviolet or infrared radiation in different environments,” said Dr Rahmani, an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Fellow at the Nonlinear Physics Centre within the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

“Our technology significantly increases the resistance threshold against harmful radiation compared to today’s technologies, which rely on absorbing radiation with thick filters.”

Co-researcher Associate Professor Andrey Miroshnichenko said the invention could be tailored for other light spectrums including visible light, which opened up a whole array of innovations, including architectural and energy saving applications.

“For instance, you could have a window that can turn into a mirror in a bathroom on demand, or control the amount of light passing through your house windows in different seasons,” said Dr Miroshnichenko from the Nonlinear Physics Centre within the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

“What I love about this invention is that the design involved different research disciplines including physics, materials science and engineering.”

Co-lead researcher Dr Lei Xu said achieving cost-efficient and confined temperature control such as local heating was feasible.

“Much like your car has a series of parallel resistive wires on the back windscreen to defog the rear view, a similar arrangement could be used with our invention to confine the temperature control to a precise location,” said Dr Xu from the Nonlinear Physics Centre within the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

The innovation builds on more than 15 years of research supported by the ARC through CUDOS, a Centre of Excellence, and the Australian National Fabrication Facility.

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

Reversible Thermal Tuning of All-Dielectric Metasurfaces by Mohsen Rahmani, Lei Xu, Andrey E. Miroshnichenko, Andrei Komar, Rocio Camacho-Morales, Haitao Chen, Yair Zárate, Sergey Kruk, Guoquan Zhang, Dragomir N. Neshev, and Yuri S. Kivshar. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201700580 Version of Record online: 3 JUL 2017

© 2017 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Building metal nanoparticles: one step closer

University of Pittsburgh scientists have researched why metal nanoparticles form, a necessary first step before developing techniques for synthesizing them commercially. From a July 10, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

Although scientists have for decades been able to synthesize nanoparticles in the lab, the process is mostly trial and error, and how the formation actually takes place is obscure. A new study explains how metal nanoparticles form.

Caption: This is a structure of a ligand-protected Au25 nanocluster. Credit: Computer-Aided Nano and Energy Lab (C.A.N.E.LA.)

A July 10, 2017 University of Pittsburgh news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme (Note: A link has been removed),

“Even though there is extensive research into metal nanoparticle synthesis, there really isn’t a rational explanation why a nanoparticle is formed,” Dr. Mpourmpakis [Giannis Mpourmpakis, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering] said. “We wanted to investigate not just the catalytic applications of nanoparticles, but to make a step further and understand nanoparticle stability and formation. This new thermodynamic stability theory explains why ligand-protected metal nanoclusters are stabilized at specific sizes.”

A ligand is a molecule that binds to metal atoms to form metal cores that are stabilized by a shell of ligands, and so understanding how they contribute to nanoparticle stabilization is essential to any process of nanoparticle application. Dr. Mpourmpakis explained that previous theories describing why nanoclusters stabilized at specific sizes were based on empirical electron counting rules – the number of electrons that form a closed shell electronic structure, but show limitations since there have been metal nanoclusters experimentally synthesized that do not necessarily follow these rules.

“The novelty of our contribution is that we revealed that for experimentally synthesizable nanoclusters there has to be a fine balance between the average bond strength of the nanocluster’s metal core, and the binding strength of the ligands to the metal core,” he said. “We could then relate this to the structural and compositional characteristic of the nanoclusters, like size, number of metal atoms, and number of ligands.

“Now that we have a more complete understanding of this stability, we can better tailor the nanoparticle morphologies and in turn properties, to applications from biolabeling of individual cells and targeted drug delivery to catalytic reactions, thereby creating more efficient and sustainable production processes.”

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

Thermodynamic stability of ligand-protected metal nanoclusters by Michael G. Taylor & Giannis Mpourmpakis. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 15988 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms15988 Published online: 07 July 2017

This paper is open access.

Are plants and brains alike?

The answer to the question about whether brains and plants are alike is the standard ‘yes and no’. That said, there are some startling similarities from a statistical perspective (from a July 6, 2017 Salk Institute news release (also received via email; Note: Links have been removed),

Plants and brains are more alike than you might think: Salk scientists discovered that the mathematical rules governing how plants grow are similar to how brain cells sprout connections. The new work, published in Current Biology on July 6, 2017, and based on data from 3D laser scanning of plants, suggests there may be universal rules of logic governing branching growth across many biological systems.

“Our project was motivated by the question of whether, despite all the diversity we see in plant forms, there is some form or structure they all share,” says Saket Navlakha, assistant professor in Salk’s Center for Integrative Biology and senior author of the paper. “We discovered that there is—and, surprisingly, the variation in how branches are distributed in space can be described mathematically by something called a Gaussian function, which is also known as a bell curve.”

Being immobile, plants have to find creative strategies for adjusting their architecture to address environmental challenges, like being shaded by a neighbor. The diversity in plant forms, from towering redwoods to creeping thyme, is a visible sign of these strategies, but Navlakha wondered if there was some unseen organizing principle at work. To find out, his team used high-precision 3D scanning technology to measure the architecture of young plants over time and quantify their growth in ways that could be analyzed mathematically.

“This collaboration arose from a conversation that Saket and I had shortly after his arrival at Salk,” says Professor and Director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory Joanne Chory, who, along with being the Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology, is also a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and one of the paper’s coauthors. “We were able to fund our studies thanks to Salk’s innovation grant program and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.”

The team began with three agriculturally valuable crops: sorghum, tomato and tobacco. The researchers grew the plants from seeds under conditions the plants might experience naturally (shade, ambient light, high light, high heat and drought). Every few days for a month, first author Adam Conn scanned each plant to digitally capture its growth. In all, Conn scanned almost 600 plants.

“We basically scanned the plants like you would scan a piece of paper,” says Conn, a Salk research assistant. “But in this case the technology is 3D and allows us to capture a complete form—the full architecture of how the plant grows and distributes branches in space.”

From left: Adam Conn and Saket Navlakha
From left: Adam Conn and Saket Navlakha Credit: Salk Institute

Each plant’s digital representation is called a point cloud, a set of 3D coordinates in space that can be analyzed computationally. With the new data, the team built a statistical description of theoretically possible plant shapes by studying the plant’s branch density function. The branch density function depicts the likelihood of finding a branch at any point in the space surrounding a plant.

This model revealed three properties of growth: separability, self-similarity and a Gaussian branch density function. Separability means that growth in one spatial direction is independent of growth in other directions. According to Navlakha, this property means that growth is very simple and modular, which may let plants be more resilient to changes in their environment. Self-similarity means that all the plants have the same underlying shape, even though some plants may be stretched a little more in one direction, or squeezed in another direction. In other words, plants don’t use different statistical rules to grow in shade than they do to grow in bright light. Lastly, the team found that, regardless of plant species or growth conditions, branch density data followed a Gaussian distribution that is truncated at the boundary of the plant. Basically, this says that branch growth is densest near the plant’s center and gets less dense farther out following a bell curve.

The high level of evolutionary efficiency suggested by these properties is surprising. Even though it would be inefficient for plants to evolve different growth rules for every type of environmental condition, the researchers did not expect to find that plants would be so efficient as to develop only a single functional form. The properties they identified in this work may help researchers evaluate new strategies for genetically engineering crops.

Previous work by one of the paper’s authors, Charles Stevens, a professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, found the same three mathematical properties at work in brain neurons. “The similarity between neuronal arbors and plant shoots is quite striking, and it seems like there must be an underlying reason,” says Stevens. “Probably, they both need to cover a territory as completely as possible but in a very sparse way so they don’t interfere with each other.”

The next challenge for the team is to identify what might be some of the mechanisms at the molecular level driving these changes. Navlakha adds, “We could see whether these principles deviate in other agricultural species and maybe use that knowledge in selecting plants to improve crop yields.”

Should you not be able to access the news release, you can find the information in a July 6, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily.

For the paper, here’s a link and a citation,

A Statistical Description of Plant Shoot Architecture by Adam Conn, Ullas V. Pedmale4, Joanne Chory, Charles F. Stevens, Saket Navlakha. Current Biology DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.06.009 Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof July 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here’s an image that illustrates the principles the researchers are attempting to establish,

This illustration represents how plants use the same rules to grow under widely different conditions (for example, cloudy versus sunny), and that the density of branches in space follows a Gaussian (“bell curve”) distribution, which is also true of neuronal branches in the brain. Credit: Salk Institute

Science for the global citizen course at McMaster University in Winter 2018

It’s never too early to start planning for your course load if a June 20, 2017 McMaster University (Ontario, Canada) news release is to be believed,

In the Winter 2018 term, the School of Interdisciplinary Science is offering Science 2M03: Science for the Global Citizen, a new course designed to explore those questions and more. In this blended-learning course, students from all Faculties will examine the links between science and the larger society through live guest lecturers and evidence-based online discussions.This course is open to students enrolled in Level II or above in any program. No scientific background is needed, only an interest in becoming a more engaged and informed citizen.

The new course will cover a broad range of contemporary scientific issues with significant political, economic, social, and health implications. Topics range from artificial intelligence (AI) to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to space exploration.

Course instructors, Dr. Kim Dej, Dr. Chad Harvey, Dr. Rosa da Silva, and Dr. Sarah Symons, all from the School of Interdisciplinary Science, will examine the basic scientific theories and concepts behind these topical issues, and highlight the application and interpretation of science in popular media and public policy.

After taking this course, students from all academic backgrounds will have a better understanding of how science is conducted, how knowledge changes, and how we can become better consumers of scientific information and more informed citizens.

3 
 63 
 1 
 68 How can science help address the key challenges in our society? How does society affect the way that science is conducted? Do citizens have a strong enough understanding of science and its methods to answer these and other similar questions? In the Winter 2018 term, the School of Interdisciplinary Science is offering Science 2M03: Science for the Global Citizen, a new course designed to explore those questions and more. In this blended-learning course, students from all Faculties will examine the links between science and the larger society through live guest lecturers and evidence-based online discussions. This course is open to students enrolled in Level II or above in any program. No scientific background is needed, only an interest in becoming a more engaged and informed citizen. The new course will cover a broad range of contemporary scientific issues with significant political, economic, social, and health implications. Topics range from artificial intelligence (AI) to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to space exploration. Course instructors, Dr. Kim Dej, Dr. Chad Harvey, Dr. Rosa da Silva, and Dr. Sarah Symons, all from the School of Interdisciplinary Science, will examine the basic scientific theories and concepts behind these topical issues, and highlight the application and interpretation of science in popular media and public policy. After taking this course, students from all academic backgrounds will have a better understanding of how science is conducted, how knowledge changes, and how we can become better consumers of scientific information and more informed citizens.

I’m glad to see this kind of course being offered. It does seem a bit odd that none of the instructors involved with this course appear to be from the social sciences or humanities. Drs. Dej, Harvey, and da Silva all have a background in biological sciences and Dr. Symons is a physicist. Taking another look at this line from the course description, “The new course will cover a broad range of contemporary scientific issues with significant political, economic, social, and health implications,” has me wondering how these scientists are going to cover the material, especially as I couldn’t find any papers on these topics written by any of these instructors. This section puzzles me even more, “… highlight the application and interpretation of science in popular media and public policy.” Again none of these instructors seem to have published on the topic of science in popular media or science public policy.

Guest speakers can help to fill in the blanks but with four instructors (and I would imagine a tight budget) it’s hard to believe there are going to be that many guests.

I appreciate that this is more of what they used to call a ‘survey course’ meant to introduce a number of ideas rather than conveying any in depth information but I do find the instructors’ apparent lack of theoretical knowledge about anything other than their respective fields of science somewhat disconcerting.

Regardless, I wish both the instructors and the students all the best.

Ingenium or (as we used to call it) the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC)

The Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) has always been an unwieldy name in light of the fact that one of the three museums in the cluster is called the Canada Science and Technology Museum. (The other two are the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.) So, the July 6, 2017 CSTMC announcement (received via email) is a relief from the unwieldy corporate name,

A new national brand launched on June 26, 2017, to celebrate ingenuity
in Canada. Known as INGENIUM – CANADA’S MUSEUMS OF SCIENCE AND
INNOVATION, this corporate brand encompasses three national
institutions—the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada
Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

From the Canadarm to canola and insulin, Canadians have made significant
contributions in the worlds of science and technology. INGENIUM –
CANADA’S MUSEUMS OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION will continue the important
mission of preserving Canada’s scientific and technological heritage
and sharing its stories with Canadians. Under the Ingenium brand, the
three museums will be places where the past meets the future, with
spaces where visitors can learn and explore, play and discover. Ingenium
will provide an immersive, sensory encounter with human ingenuity and
tell the stories of those who dared to think differently and test the
limits of what we know and what we can do.

Currently under construction, Ingenium’s Collections Conservation
Centre [4], including a Research Institute and Media Lab, will protect
priceless Canadian heritage artifacts for the benefit of Canadians for
generations to come. Ingenium’s unique collection, and digital and
social media platforms will connect Canadians to the world stage in
unexpected ways by sharing their passions, memories, and everyday
experience, no matter where they live

You can find the Ingenium website here. Oddly, the organization’s June 27, 2017 news release is found on the About page,

With Canada just days away [July 1, 2017] from celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation, a new national brand is launching to celebrate ingenuity in Canada. Known as Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation, this corporate brand, inspired from the Latin root for “ingenuity,” [this word will come up again in my commentary at the end of the post] encompasses three national institutions—the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

From the Canadarm to canola and insulin, Canadians have made significant contributions in the worlds of science and technology. Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation will continue the important mission of preserving Canada’s scientific and technological heritage and sharing its stories with Canadians.

Under the Ingenium brand, the three museums will be places where the past meets the future, with spaces where visitors can learn and explore, play and discover. Ingenium will provide an immersive, sensory encounter with human ingenuity and tell the stories of those who dared to think differently and test the limits of what we know and what we can do.

Currently under construction, Ingenium’s Collections Conservation Centre, including a Research Institute and Media Lab, will protect priceless Canadian heritage artifacts for the benefit of Canadians for generations to come‎. Ingenium’s unique collection, and digital and social media platforms will connect Canadians to the world stage in unexpected ways by sharing their passions, memories, and everyday experience, no matter where they live.

November 17, 2017, will mark the next milestone for Ingenium when the Canada Science and Technology Museum reopens its doors. This modern, world-class museum mixes the best of its previous incarnation with new technologies and exhibition techniques to tell Canada’s science and technology story in an immersive, educational, and fun way. It will feature more than 7,400 m2 (80,000 sq. ft.) of completely redesigned exhibition space (the equivalent of nearly five NHL rinks), including a specially designed hall to house international travelling exhibitions.

QUOTES

Ingenium will bring a consistent voice and identity to our corporation. It will allow us to reach beyond our four walls and engage with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and with international audiences. Ingenium is where the past meets the future and inspires the next generation of young innovators.”
– Fernand Proulx, Interim President and CEO of Ingenium

ABOUT INGENIUM – CANADA’S MUSEUMS OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION

DIGITAL AND TRAVELLING PRODUCTS

Ingenium offers unique digital and social media platforms that put ingenuity in the spotlight for unforgettable and immediate experiences to inspire children, families, and scientists alike.

Highlights

Mobile games: Ace AcademyAce Academy: Black FlightAce Academy: Skies of FuryBee OdysseySpace Frontiers: Dawn of Mars

Digital platforms: Open HeritageOpen DataOpen Archivesonline collectionReboot: A Future Museum documentaryIngenium Channel

Travelling exhibitions: International Bicycle travelling exhibition (set for July 2017 launch in Israel); Space to SpoonCanola: A Story of Canadian InnovationFood for HealthGame ChangersClimate Change is Here

CANADA AGRICULTURE AND FOOD MUSEUM 

About the Museum: The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm, which traces its roots to 1886 and is the world’s only working farm in the heart of a capital city. The Museum offers programs and exhibitions on Canada’s agricultural heritage, food literacy, and on the benefits and relationship of agricultural science and technology to Canadians’ everyday lives. It provides visitors with a unique opportunity to see diverse breeds of farm animals important to Canadian agriculture past and present, and to learn about the food they eat. In addition to breeds common to Canadian agriculture, such as Holstein dairy cows and Angus beef cows, the Museum also has Canadienne dairy cows, Tamworth pigs, and Clydesdale horses. Many other breeds of dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, poultry, goats, and rabbits round out the collection.

Public programming includes special weekend theme events, school programs, summer day camps, interpretive tours, demonstrations, and joint undertakings with community groups and associations.

Museum Highlights: Canola! Seeds of Innovation; 150 farm animals in a demonstration farm; historical tractor collection; special events such as BaconpaloozaGlobal Tastes and the Ice Cream Festival.

CANADA AVIATION AND SPACE MUSEUM

About the Museum: Located on a former military air base just 5 kilometres from the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, the Museum focuses on aviation in Canada within an international context, from its beginnings in 1909 to the present day. As Canada’s contribution to aviation expanded to include aerospace technology, the Museum’s collection and mandate grew to include space flight. The Collection itself consists of more than 130 aircraft and artifacts (propellers, engines) from both civil and military service. It gives particular, but not exclusive, reference to Canadian achievements. The most extensive aviation collection in Canada, it is also considered one of the finest aviation museums in the world.

Museum Highlights: Largest surviving piece of the famous Avro Arrow (its nose section); the original Canadarm used on the Endeavour space shuttle; Lancaster WWII bomberLife in Orbit: The International Space Station exhibition.

CANADA SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM 

Established and opened in 1967 as a Centennial project, the Canada Science and Technology Museum is responsible for preserving, promoting, and sharing knowledge about Canada’s scientific and technological heritage. The Museum is currently undergoing an $80.5-million renewal of its entire building. When it opens, it will feature over 7,400 m2 (80,000 sq. ft.) of redesigned exhibition space, including an 850 m2 (9,200 sq. ft.) temporary exhibition hall to accommodate travelling exhibitions from around the world. It is scheduled to open to the public on November 17, 2017, marking its 50th Anniversary during Canada 150 celebrations.

Museum Highlights: 11 new exhibitions with the capacity to showcase international travelling exhibitions from around the world. Long-time visitor favourites, the Crazy Kitchen and locomotives will also make a comeback in addition to the Game Changers travelling exhibition which is currently touring across Canada, Artifact Alley, a Children’s gallery, a demonstration stage, classrooms, the Exploratek maker studio, and three new apps.

THE NATIONAL COLLECTION

Ingenium is the steward of Canada’s largest and most comprehensive museum collection devoted to science and technology. It preserves and provides access to extensive holdings of artifacts and library and archival materials that document this priceless material heritage. Comprising over 100,000 objects and hundreds of thousands of books, historic photographs, and archival documents, the collection is particularly strong in the areas of transportation (air, space, land, marine), physical sciences, medicine, communications, agriculture, and natural resources.

Collection Highlights: The test model of Alouette 1, Canada’s first satellite; the world’s first IMAX projector and camera; the first successful electron microscope built in North America; the first automobile made in Canada; the oldest surviving aircraft to have flown in Canada; the “Sackbut,“ the world’s first electronic sound synthesizer

This rebranded name bears an uncanny resemblance to the title of new book about Canadian inventions,’ Ingenuity’ (see my May 30, 2017 posting for the Vancouver book launch; scroll down about 60% of the way) by Tom Jenkins and David C. Johnston (current Governor General).

As it turns out, Alex Benay, then president and Chief Executive Officer of the CSTMC (see my June 19, 2014 posting about Benay’s appt.) worked for Tom Jenkins at Open Text for several years.

(As of March 24, 2017 Benay was appointed to the position of Canada’s Chief Information Officer [see March 27, 2017 notice on Libararianship.ca]). Anyone who’s been involved with rebrands and renaming knows that the name is picked in months in advance so this rebrand has Benay’s (and, possibly, Jenkins’) pawprints all over it.

Ancient Roman teaching methods for maths education?

I find this delightful (from a July 7,2017 news item on phys.org),

Schoolchildren from across the region have been learning different ways to engage with maths, as part of a series of ancient Roman classroom days held at the University of Reading [UK].

Organised by the University’s Department of Classics, the Reading Ancient Schoolroom event saw pupils undertake a series of ancient-style school exercises, including doing multiplication, division, and calculating compound interest with Roman numerals. A key difference between how maths was taught then and now is that sums were not written down in ancient Roman times – instead an abacus or a counting board with dried beans was used.

In addition, school children in antiquity were taught individually by the teacher and worked on their own assignments, rather than being taught as a whole class. This meant pupils were able to work at their own rate of ability.

A July 6, 2017 University of Reading press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Professor Eleanor Dickey, who organised the series of events, said: ‘We’ve been running these ancient schoolroom days for a few years now and what we’ve learnt during that time is that the children really engage with the ancient teaching methods, especially when it comes to maths. We’ve found that children who aren’t naturally gifted at maths actually enjoy using the abacus and counting boards and this helps to stimulate their interest and learning of the subject.

“As follow up to the day we provide teachers with a pack of teaching materials they can take back to their own classroom and this includes instructions on how to make a counting board, as well as other maths-related and non-maths-related activities. It is my hope that some of these ancient methods can help to further modern teaching practice.”

Other activities on the day included reading poetry written without word division or punctuation, learning to write with a stylus on a wax tablet and reading from papyrus scrolls. Wearing Roman costumes, students also got to sample some authentic Roman food and handle objects from the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology.

Professor Dickey continued: “Ancient education methods, by being very different from our own, help us better appreciate both the advantages and the disadvantages of our own system, and show that doing things our way is neither natural nor inevitable.

“The ancient Roman school days are also a great way to get children interested in history more generally.”

The research which helped determine what a day in an ancient Roman classroom was like came from Professor Dickey’s discovery and translation of a set of ancient textbooks describing what children did in school. Parts of these historical records were published last year in a book by Professor Dickey: Learning Latin the Ancient Way: Latin Textbooks in the Ancient World, published by Cambridge University Press.

In hindsight it seems obvious. Of course an abacus helps with learning as it’s more engaging. You get to make a range of gestures and you make sounds (the clicking of the abacus beads) neither of which are  typically part of the maths experience. Then, there’s the individualized attention and your own special maths problems.

Ceria-zirconia nanoparticles for sepsis treatment

South Korean researchers are looking at a new way of dealing with infections (sepsis) according to a July 6, 2017 news item on phys.org,

During sepsis, cells are swamped with reactive oxygen species generated in an aberrant response of the immune system to a local infection. If this fatal inflammatory path could be interfered, new treatment schemes could be developed. Now, Korean scientists report in the journal Angewandte Chemie that zirconia-doped ceria nanoparticles act as effective scavengers of these oxygen radicals, promoting a greatly enhanced surviving rate in sepsis model organisms.

A July 6, 2017 Wiley (Publishers) press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Sepsis proceeds as a vicious cycle of inflammatory reactions of the immune system to a local infection. Fatal consequences can be falling blood pressure and the collapse of organ function. As resistance against antibiotics is growing, scientists turn to the inflammatory pathway as an alternative target for new treatment strategies. Taeghwan Heyon from Seoul National University, Seung-Hoon Lee at Seoul National University Hospital, South Korea, and collaborators explore ceria nanoparticles for their ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species, which play a key role in the inflammatory process. By quickly converting between two oxidation states, the cerium ion can quench typical oxygen radical species like the superoxide anion, the hydroxyl radical anion, or even hydrogen peroxide. But in the living cell, this can only happen if two conditions are met.

The first condition is the size and nature of the particles. Small, two-nanometer-sized particles were coated by a hydrophilic shell of poly(ethylene glycol)-connected phospholipids to make them soluble so that they can enter the cell and remain there. Second, the cerium ion responsible for the quenching (Ce3+) should be accessible on the surface of the nanoparticles, and it must be regenerated after the reactions. Here, the scientists found out that a certain amount of zirconium ions in the structure helped, because “the Zr4+ ions control the Ce3+-to-Ce4+ ratio as well as the rate of conversion between the two oxidation states,” they argued.

The prepared nanoparticles were then tested for their ability to detoxify reactive oxygen species, not only in the test tube, but also in live animal models. The results were clear, as the authors stated: “A single dose of ceria-zirconia nanoparticles successfully attenuated the vicious cycle of inflammatory responses in two sepsis models.” The nanoparticles accumulated in organs where severe immune responses occurred, and they were successful in the eradication of reactive oxygen species, as evidenced with fluorescence microscopy and several other techniques. And importantly, the treated mice and rats had a far higher survival rate.

This work demonstrates that other approaches in sepsis treatment than killing bacteria with antibiotics are possible. Targeting the inflammatory signal pathways in macrophages is a very promising option, and the authors have shown that effective scavenging of reactive oxygen species and stopping inflammation is possible with a suitably designed chemical system like this cerium ion redox system provided by nanoparticles.

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

Ceria–Zirconia Nanoparticles as an Enhanced Multi-Antioxidant for Sepsis Treatment by Min Soh, Dr. Dong-Wan Kang, Dr. Han-Gil Jeong, Dr. Dokyoon Kim, Dr. Do Yeon Kim, Dr. Wookjin Yang, Changyeong Song, Seungmin Baik, In-Young Choi, Seul-Ki Ki, Hyek Jin Kwon, Dr. Taeho Kim, Prof. Dr. Chi Kyung Kim, Prof. Dr. Seung-Hoon Lee, and Prof. Dr. Taeghwan Hyeon. Angewandte Chemie DOI: 10.1002/anie.201704904 Version of Record online: 5 JUL 2017

© 2017 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Training drugs

This summarizes some of what’s happening in nanomedicine and provides a plug (boost) for the  University of Cambridge’s nanotechnology programmes (from a June 26, 2017 news item on Nanowerk),

Nanotechnology is creating new opportunities for fighting disease – from delivering drugs in smart packaging to nanobots powered by the world’s tiniest engines.

Chemotherapy benefits a great many patients but the side effects can be brutal.
When a patient is injected with an anti-cancer drug, the idea is that the molecules will seek out and destroy rogue tumour cells. However, relatively large amounts need to be administered to reach the target in high enough concentrations to be effective. As a result of this high drug concentration, healthy cells may be killed as well as cancer cells, leaving many patients weak, nauseated and vulnerable to infection.

One way that researchers are attempting to improve the safety and efficacy of drugs is to use a relatively new area of research known as nanothrapeutics to target drug delivery just to the cells that need it.

Professor Sir Mark Welland is Head of the Electrical Engineering Division at Cambridge. In recent years, his research has focused on nanotherapeutics, working in collaboration with clinicians and industry to develop better, safer drugs. He and his colleagues don’t design new drugs; instead, they design and build smart packaging for existing drugs.

The University of Cambridge has produced a video interview (referencing a 1966 movie ‘Fantastic Voyage‘ in its title)  with Sir Mark Welland,

A June 23, 2017 University of Cambridge press release, which originated the news item, delves further into the topic of nanotherapeutics (nanomedicine) and nanomachines,

Nanotherapeutics come in many different configurations, but the easiest way to think about them is as small, benign particles filled with a drug. They can be injected in the same way as a normal drug, and are carried through the bloodstream to the target organ, tissue or cell. At this point, a change in the local environment, such as pH, or the use of light or ultrasound, causes the nanoparticles to release their cargo.

Nano-sized tools are increasingly being looked at for diagnosis, drug delivery and therapy. “There are a huge number of possibilities right now, and probably more to come, which is why there’s been so much interest,” says Welland. Using clever chemistry and engineering at the nanoscale, drugs can be ‘taught’ to behave like a Trojan horse, or to hold their fire until just the right moment, or to recognise the target they’re looking for.

“We always try to use techniques that can be scaled up – we avoid using expensive chemistries or expensive equipment, and we’ve been reasonably successful in that,” he adds. “By keeping costs down and using scalable techniques, we’ve got a far better chance of making a successful treatment for patients.”

In 2014, he and collaborators demonstrated that gold nanoparticles could be used to ‘smuggle’ chemotherapy drugs into cancer cells in glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer in adults, which is notoriously difficult to treat. The team engineered nanostructures containing gold and cisplatin, a conventional chemotherapy drug. A coating on the particles made them attracted to tumour cells from glioblastoma patients, so that the nanostructures bound and were absorbed into the cancer cells.

Once inside, these nanostructures were exposed to radiotherapy. This caused the gold to release electrons that damaged the cancer cell’s DNA and its overall structure, enhancing the impact of the chemotherapy drug. The process was so effective that 20 days later, the cell culture showed no evidence of any revival, suggesting that the tumour cells had been destroyed.

While the technique is still several years away from use in humans, tests have begun in mice. Welland’s group is working with MedImmune, the biologics R&D arm of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, to study the stability of drugs and to design ways to deliver them more effectively using nanotechnology.

“One of the great advantages of working with MedImmune is they understand precisely what the requirements are for a drug to be approved. We would shut down lines of research where we thought it was never going to get to the point of approval by the regulators,” says Welland. “It’s important to be pragmatic about it so that only the approaches with the best chance of working in patients are taken forward.”

The researchers are also targeting diseases like tuberculosis (TB). With funding from the Rosetrees Trust, Welland and postdoctoral researcher Dr Íris da luz Batalha are working with Professor Andres Floto in the Department of Medicine to improve the efficacy of TB drugs.

Their solution has been to design and develop nontoxic, biodegradable polymers that can be ‘fused’ with TB drug molecules. As polymer molecules have a long, chain-like shape, drugs can be attached along the length of the polymer backbone, meaning that very large amounts of the drug can be loaded onto each polymer molecule. The polymers are stable in the bloodstream and release the drugs they carry when they reach the target cell. Inside the cell, the pH drops, which causes the polymer to release the drug.

In fact, the polymers worked so well for TB drugs that another of Welland’s postdoctoral researchers, Dr Myriam Ouberaï, has formed a start-up company, Spirea, which is raising funding to develop the polymers for use with oncology drugs. Ouberaï is hoping to establish a collaboration with a pharma company in the next two years.

“Designing these particles, loading them with drugs and making them clever so that they release their cargo in a controlled and precise way: it’s quite a technical challenge,” adds Welland. “The main reason I’m interested in the challenge is I want to see something working in the clinic – I want to see something working in patients.”

Could nanotechnology move beyond therapeutics to a time when nanomachines keep us healthy by patrolling, monitoring and repairing the body?

Nanomachines have long been a dream of scientists and public alike. But working out how to make them move has meant they’ve remained in the realm of science fiction.

But last year, Professor Jeremy Baumberg and colleagues in Cambridge and the University of Bath developed the world’s tiniest engine – just a few billionths of a metre [nanometre] in size. It’s biocompatible, cost-effective to manufacture, fast to respond and energy efficient.

The forces exerted by these ‘ANTs’ (for ‘actuating nano-transducers’) are nearly a hundred times larger than those for any known device, motor or muscle. To make them, tiny charged particles of gold, bound together with a temperature-responsive polymer gel, are heated with a laser. As the polymer coatings expel water from the gel and collapse, a large amount of elastic energy is stored in a fraction of a second. On cooling, the particles spring apart and release energy.

The researchers hope to use this ability of ANTs to produce very large forces relative to their weight to develop three-dimensional machines that swim, have pumps that take on fluid to sense the environment and are small enough to move around our bloodstream.

Working with Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm, the team in Cambridge’s Nanophotonics Centre hopes to commercialise the technology for microfluidics bio-applications. The work is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council.

“There’s a revolution happening in personalised healthcare, and for that we need sensors not just on the outside but on the inside,” explains Baumberg, who leads an interdisciplinary Strategic Research Network and Doctoral Training Centre focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology.

“Nanoscience is driving this. We are now building technology that allows us to even imagine these futures.”

I have featured Welland and his work here before and noted his penchant for wanting to insert nanodevices into humans as per this excerpt from an April 30, 2010 posting,
Getting back to the Cambridge University video, do go and watch it on the Nanowerk site. It is fun and very informative and approximately 17 mins. I noticed that they reused part of their Nokia morph animation (last mentioned on this blog here) and offered some thoughts from Professor Mark Welland, the team leader on that project. Interestingly, Welland was talking about yet another possibility. (Sometimes I think nano goes too far!) He was suggesting that we could have chips/devices in our brains that would allow us to think about phoning someone and an immediate connection would be made to that person. Bluntly—no. Just think what would happen if the marketers got access and I don’t even want to think what a person who suffers psychotic breaks (i.e., hearing voices) would do with even more input. Welland starts to talk at the 11 minute mark (I think). For an alternative take on the video and more details, visit Dexter Johnson’s blog, Nanoclast, for this posting. Hint, he likes the idea of a phone in the brain much better than I do.

I’m not sure what could have occasioned this latest press release and related video featuring Welland and nanotherapeutics other than guessing that it was a slow news period.

A different type of ‘smart’ window with a new solar cell technology

I always like a ‘smart’ window story. Given my issues with summer (I don’t like the heat), anything which promises to help reduce the heat in my home at that time of year, has my vote. Unfortunately, solutions don’t seem to have made a serious impact on the marketplace. Nonetheless, there’s always hope and perhaps this development at Princeton University will be the one to break through the impasse. From a June 30, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

Smart windows equipped with controllable glazing can augment lighting, cooling and heating systems by varying their tint, saving up to 40 percent in an average building’s energy costs.

These smart windows require power for operation, so they are relatively complicated to install in existing buildings. But by applying a new solar cell technology, researchers at Princeton University have developed a different type of smart window: a self-powered version that promises to be inexpensive and easy to apply to existing windows. This system features solar cells that selectively absorb near-ultraviolet (near-UV) light, so the new windows are completely self-powered.

A June 30, 2017 Princeton University news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Sunlight is a mixture of electromagnetic radiation made up of near-UV rays, visible light, and infrared energy, or heat,” said Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering. “We wanted the smart window to dynamically control the amount of natural light and heat that can come inside, saving on energy cost and making the space more comfortable.”

The smart window controls the transmission of visible light and infrared heat into the building, while the new type of solar cell uses near-UV light to power the system.

“This new technology is actually smart management of the entire spectrum of sunlight,” said Loo, who is a professor of chemical and biological engineering. Loo is one of the authors of a paper, published June 30, that describes this technology, which was developed in her lab.

Because near-UV light is invisible to the human eye, the researchers set out to harness it for the electrical energy needed to activate the tinting technology.

“Using near-UV light to power these windows means that the solar cells can be transparent and occupy the same footprint of the window without competing for the same spectral range or imposing aesthetic and design constraints,” Loo added. “Typical solar cells made of silicon are black because they absorb all visible light and some infrared heat – so those would be unsuitable for this application.”

In the paper published in Nature Energy, the researchers described how they used organic semiconductors – contorted hexabenzocoronene (cHBC) derivatives – for constructing the solar cells. The researchers chose the material because its chemical structure could be modified to absorb a narrow range of wavelengths – in this case, near-UV light. To construct the solar cell, the semiconductor molecules are deposited as thin films on glass with the same production methods used by organic light-emitting diode manufacturers. When the solar cell is operational, sunlight excites the cHBC semiconductors to produce electricity.

At the same time, the researchers constructed a smart window consisting of electrochromic polymers, which control the tint, and can be operated solely using power produced by the solar cell. When near-UV light from the sun generates an electrical charge in the solar cell, the charge triggers a reaction in the electrochromic window, causing it to change from clear to dark blue. When darkened, the window can block more than 80 percent of light.

Nicholas Davy, a doctoral student in the chemical and biological engineering department and the paper’s lead author, said other researchers have already developed transparent solar cells, but those target infrared energy. However, infrared energy carries heat, so using it to generate electricity can conflict with a smart window’s function of controlling the flow of heat in or out of a building. Transparent near-UV solar cells, on the other hand, don’t generate as much power as the infrared version, but don’t impede the transmission of infrared radiation, so they complement the smart window’s task.

Davy said that the Princeton team’s aim is to create a flexible version of the solar-powered smart window system that can be applied to existing windows via lamination.

“Someone in their house or apartment could take these wireless smart window laminates – which could have a sticky backing that is peeled off – and install them on the interior of their windows,” said Davy. “Then you could control the sunlight passing into your home using an app on your phone, thereby instantly improving energy efficiency, comfort, and privacy.”

Joseph Berry, senior research scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who studies solar cells but was not involved in the research, said the research project is interesting because the device scales well and targets a specific part of the solar spectrum.

“Integrating the solar cells into the smart windows makes them more attractive for retrofits and you don’t have to deal with wiring power,” said Berry. “And the voltage performance is quite good. The voltage they have been able to produce can drive electronic devices directly, which is technologically quite interesting.”

Davy and Loo have started a new company, called Andluca Technologies, based on the technology described in the paper, and are already exploring other applications for the transparent solar cells. They explained that the near-UV solar cell technology can also power internet-of-things sensors and other low-power consumer products.

“It does not generate enough power for a car, but it can provide auxiliary power for smaller devices, for example, a fan to cool the car while it’s parked in the hot sun,” Loo said.

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

Pairing of near-ultraviolet solar cells with electrochromic windows for smart management of the solar spectrum by Nicholas C. Davy, Melda Sezen-Edmonds, Jia Gao, Xin Lin, Amy Liu, Nan Yao, Antoine Kahn, & Yueh-Lin Loo. Nature Energy 2, Article number: 17104 (2017 doi:10.1038/nenergy.2017.104 Published online: 30 June 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here’s what a sample of the special glass looks like,

Graduate student Nicholas Davy holds a sample of the special window glass. (Photos by David Kelly Crow)