Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monitoring your saliva via mouth guard and smart phone

I first came across the notion that saliva instead of blood and urine could be used to assess and monitor health in a presentation abstract for the 2004 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting held in Seattle, Washington (as per my Feb. 15, 2011 posting). There have been a few ‘saliva’ health monitoring projects mentioned here over the years but this proof-of-concept version seems like it has the potential to get to the marketplace. An August 31, 2015 news item on Nanowerk features a ‘saliva’ health monitoring project from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD),

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a mouth guard that can monitor health markers, such as lactate, cortisol and uric acid, in saliva and transmit the information wirelessly to a smart phone, laptop or tablet.
The technology, which is at a proof-of-concept stage, could be used to monitor patients continuously without invasive procedures, as well as to monitor athletes’ performance or stress levels in soldiers and pilots. In this study, engineers focused on uric acid, which is a marker related to diabetes and to gout. Currently, the only way to monitor the levels of uric acid in a patient is to draw blood.

An August 31, 2015 UCSD news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the research and the mouth guard in more detail,

In this study, researchers showed that the mouth guard sensor could offer an easy and reliable way to monitor uric acid levels. The mouth guard has been tested with human saliva but hasn’t been tested in a person’s mouth.

Researchers collected saliva samples from healthy volunteers and spread them on the sensor, which produced readings in a normal range. Next, they collected saliva from a patient who suffers from hyperuricemia, a condition characterized by an excess of uric acid in the blood. The sensor detected more than four times as much uric acid in the patient’s saliva than in the healthy volunteers.

The patient also took Allopurinol, which had been prescribed by a physician to treat their condition. Researchers were able to document a drop in the levels of uric acid over four or five days as the medication took effect. In the past, the patient would have needed blood draws to monitor levels and relied instead on symptoms to start and stop his medication.

Fabrication and design

Wang’s team created a screen-printed sensor using silver, Prussian blue ink and uricase, an enzyme that reacts with uric acid. Because saliva is extremely complex and contains many different biomarkers, researchers needed to make sure that the sensors only reacted with the uric acid. Nanoengineers set up the chemical equivalent of a two-step authentication system. The first step is a series of chemical keyholes, which ensures that only the smallest biochemicals get inside the sensor. The second step is a layer of uricase trapped in polymers, which reacts selectively with uric acid. The reaction between acid and enzyme generates hydrogen peroxide, which is detected by the Prussian blue ink.  That information is then transmitted to an electronic board as electrical signals via metallic strips that are part of the sensor.

The electronic board, developed by Mercier’s team, uses small chips that sense the output of the sensors, digitizes this output and then wirelessly transmits data to a smart phone, tablet or laptop. The entire electronic board occupies an area slightly larger than a U.S. penny.

Next steps

The next step is to embed all the electronics inside the mouth guard so that it can actually be worn. Researchers also will have to test the materials used for the sensors and electronics to make sure that they are indeed completely biocompatible. The next iteration of the mouth guard is about a year out, Mercier estimates.

“All the components are there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of refining the device and working on its stability.”

Wang and Mercier lead the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego, which has made a series of breakthroughs in the field, including temporary tattoos that monitor glucose, ultra-miniaturized energy-processing chips and pens filled with high-tech inks for Do It Yourself chemical sensors.

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

Wearable salivary uric acid mouthguard biosensor with integrated wireless electronics by Jayoung Kim, Somayeh Imani, William R. de Araujo, Julian Warchall, Gabriela Valdés-Ramírez, Thiago R.L.C. Paixão, Patrick P. Mercier, & Joseph Wang. Biosensors and Bioelectronics Volume 74, 15 December 2015, Pages 1061–1068 doi:10.1016/j.bios.2015.07.039

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here’s an image of UCSD’s proposed mouth guard,

The mouth guard sensor offers an easy and reliable way to monitor uric acid levels in human saliva. Credit: Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

The mouth guard sensor offers an easy and reliable way to monitor uric acid levels in human saliva. Credit: Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

Eco conscious gin distillery

EnduroShield, an ultrathin film for making glass easier to clean, has helped to make a thing of beauty that is designed with eco consciousness in mind.

From the EnduroShield Sapphire Bombay Gin Project page,

Courtesy: EnduroShield

Courtesy: EnduroShield

Courtesy: EnduroShield

Courtesy: EnduroShield

Here’s the description of the project (from the EnduroShield website),

Prominent gin-makers Bombay Sapphire commissioned the creation of the company’s first in-house production facility at an old Victorian paper mill in Laverstoke, Hampshire, on a 20,000sqm rural property along the southern coast of England. The abandoned 18th century paper mill’s original brick buildings were converted into the distillery, while a pair of phenomenal curved glass greenhouses were added to house the 10 tropical and Mediterranean botanicals used to create the world famous gin.

Throughout the renovation process, Bombay Sapphire and architects Heatherwick Studio were dedicated to creating a sustainable and efficient distillery which upheld the heritage of the site. In recognition of this, the gin distillery was awarded the highly prestigious BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method) Award for Industrial Design.

The state-of-the-art facility has been recognised as the first distillery and first refurbishment to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ design-stage BREEAM accreditation.  The centrepiece of the award winning distillery is the amazing greenhouse designed by Thomas Hetherwick. It is made up of two glasshouses which extend from the distillery, using recycled air from the distillation process to maintain a warm climate within. The glasshouses also take full advantage of advances in glass technology, one of which is EnduroShield’s easy clean nanotechnology.  The EnduroShield coated glass utilised in this remarkable structure is synonymous with the development’s eco strategy; not only does EnduroShield protect the glass form staining and etching but also helps to reduce environmental and monetary costs from ongoing maintenance.

Here’s more about the glass (from the EnduroShield website),

EnduroShield easy clean surface treatment for glass was applied onto the swooping glasshouse structures so that water and contaminants bead right off, reducing cleaning time and frequency. EnduroShield chemically bonds to the glass substrate, transforming it into a high performance hydrophobic surface which will protect against staining, and reduce the effort and regularity of maintenance.

The spectacular Bombay Sapphire Distillery project, with its strong environmental focus, is at the forefront of eco-conscious architecture. Bombay Sapphire have also commented that the sustainability measures taken during the design and construction process have fundamental financial sense,  increasing efficiency with ongoing savings in operational energy and water costs well into the future.

Nanotechnology is mentioned, although not in any detail,

EnduroShield is the smart choice for exterior glass surfaces, providing a permanent*, ultra-thin, transparent coating that completely adheres to the glass surface. The coating provides a reduction of both the frequency and the time spent cleaning.

Developed with cutting edge nanotechnology, the coating is applied by many of the world’s leading glass companies and is an official partner to Lisec Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of high-tech production lines for the glass industry. [emphasis mine]

*Independently tested and certified by TÜV Rheinland, Germany for durability to simulate a lifetime of 10 years on interior and exterior use.

H/t architectureanddesign.com.au Aug. 13, 2015 news item.

You can find out more about LiSEC here.

Finally, a gin and tonic is sounding pretty good to me right now. Have a nice weekend!

Lightning strikes to create glass (reshaping rock at the atomic level)

This features glass (more specifically glass tubes), one of my interests, and it’s a fascinating story. From an Aug. 6, 2015 news item on Azonano,

At a rock outcropping in southern France, a jagged fracture runs along the granite. The surface in and around the crevice is discolored black, as if wet or covered in algae.

But, according to a new paper coauthored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Reto Gieré, the real explanation for the rock’s unusual features is more dramatic: a powerful bolt of lightning.

Here’s what the rock looks like afterwards,

A rock fulgurite revealed that lightning strikes alter quartz's crystal structure on the atomic level. Courtesy: Penn State

A rock fulgurite revealed that lightning strikes alter quartz’s crystal structure on the atomic level. Courtesy: University of Pennsylvania

The researchers have also provided an image taken under an transmission electron microscope,

Gieré and colleagues observed the parallel lines of shock lamellae under a transmission electron microscope Courtesy: Penn State

Gieré and colleagues observed the parallel lines of shock lamellae under a transmission electron microscope Courtesy: University of Pennsylvania

An Aug. 5, 2015 University of Pennsylvania news release, which originated the news item, provides more technical details about the research,

Using extremely high-resolution microscopy, Gieré, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, and his coauthors found that not only had the lightning melted the rock’s surface, resulting in a distinctive black “glaze,” but had transferred enough pressure to deform a thin layer of quartz crystals beneath the surface, resulting in distinct atomic-level structures called shock lamellae.

Prior to this study, the only natural events known to create this type of lamellae were meteorite impacts.

“I think the most exciting thing about this study is just to see what lightning can do,” Gieré said. “To see that lightning literally melts the surface of a rock and changes crystal structures, to me, is fascinating.”

Gieré said the finding serves as a reminder to geologists not to rush to interpret shock lamellae as indicators of a meteorite strike.

“Most geologists are careful; they don’t just use one observation,” he said, “But this is a good reminder to always use multiple observations to draw big conclusions, that there are multiple mechanisms that can result in a similar effect.”

Gieré collaborated on the study with Wolfhard Wimmenauer and Hiltrud Müller-Sigmund of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Richard Wirth of GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam and Gregory R. Lumpkin and Katherine L. Smith of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization.

The paper was published in the journal American Mineralogist.

Geologists have long known that lightning, through rapid increases in temperature as well as physical and chemical effects, can alter sediments. When it strikes sand, for example, lightning melts the grains, which fuse and form glass tubes known as fulgurites.

Fulgurites can also form when lightning strikes other materials, including rock and soil. The current study examined a rock fulgurite found near Les Pradals, France. Gieré and colleagues took samples from the rock, then cut thin sections and polished them.

Under an optical microscope, they found that the outer black layer — the fulgurite itself — appeared shiny, “almost like a ceramic glaze,” Gieré said.

The layer was also porous, almost like a foam, due to the lightning’s heat vaporizing the rock’s surface. A chemical analysis of the fulgurite layer turned up elevated levels of sulfur dioxide and phosphorous pentoxide, which the researchers believe may have derived from lichen living on the rock’s surface at the time of the lightning strike.

The team further studied the samples using a transmission electron microscope, which allows users to examine specimens at the atomic level. This revealed that the fulgurite lacked any crystalline structure, consistent with it representing a melt formed through the high heat from the lightning strike.

But, in a layer of the sample immediately adjacent to the fulgurite, slightly deeper in the rock, the researchers spotted an unusual feature: a set of straight, parallel lines known as shock lamellae. This feature occurs when the crystal structure of quartz or other minerals deform in response to a vast wave of pressure.

“It’s like if someone pushes you, you rearrange your body to be comfortable,” Gieré said. “The mineral does the same thing.”

The lamellae were present in a layer of the rock only about three micrometers wide, indicating that the energy of the lightning bolt’s impact dissipated over that distance.

This characteristic deformation of crystals had previously only been seen in minerals from sites where meteorites struck. Shock lamellae are believed to form at pressures up to more than 10 gigapascals, or with 20 million times greater force than a boxer’s punch.

Gieré and colleagues hope to study rock fulgurites from other sites to understand the physical and chemical effects of lightning bolts on rocks in greater detail.

Another takeaway for geologists, rock climbers and hikers who spend time on rocks in high, exposed places is to beware when they see the tell-tale shiny black glaze of a rock fulgurite, as it might indicate a site prone to lightning strikes.

“Once it was pointed out to me, I started seeing it again and again,” he said. “I’ve had some close calls with thunderstorms in the field, where I’ve had to throw down my metal instruments and run.”

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

Lightning-induced shock lamellae in quartz by Reto Gieré, Wolfhard Wimmenauer, Hiltrud Müller-Sigmund, Richard Wirth, Gregory R. Lumpkin, and Katherine L. Smith. American Mineralogist, July 2015 v. 100 no. 7 p. 1645-1648 doi: 10.2138/am-2015-5218

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanoscale imaging of a mouse brain

Researchers have developed a new brain imaging tool they would like to use as a founding element for a national brain observatory. From a July 30, 2015 news item on Azonano,

A new imaging tool developed by Boston scientists could do for the brain what the telescope did for space exploration.

In the first demonstration of how the technology works, published July 30 in the journal Cell, the researchers look inside the brain of an adult mouse at a scale previously unachievable, generating images at a nanoscale resolution. The inventors’ long-term goal is to make the resource available to the scientific community in the form of a national brain observatory.

A July 30, 2015 Cell Press news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“I’m a strong believer in bottom up-science, which is a way of saying that I would prefer to generate a hypothesis from the data and test it,” says senior study author Jeff Lichtman, of Harvard University. “For people who are imagers, being able to see all of these details is wonderful and we’re getting an opportunity to peer into something that has remained somewhat intractable for so long. It’s about time we did this, and it is what people should be doing about things we don’t understand.”

The researchers have begun the process of mining their imaging data by looking first at an area of the brain that receives sensory information from mouse whiskers, which help the animals orient themselves and are even more sensitive than human fingertips. The scientists used a program called VAST, developed by co-author Daniel Berger of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to assign different colors and piece apart each individual “object” (e.g., neuron, glial cell, blood vessel cell, etc.).

“The complexity of the brain is much more than what we had ever imagined,” says study first author Narayanan “Bobby” Kasthuri, of the Boston University School of Medicine. “We had this clean idea of how there’s a really nice order to how neurons connect with each other, but if you actually look at the material it’s not like that. The connections are so messy that it’s hard to imagine a plan to it, but we checked and there’s clearly a pattern that cannot be explained by randomness.”

The researchers see great potential in the tool’s ability to answer questions about what a neurological disorder actually looks like in the brain, as well as what makes the human brain different from other animals and different between individuals. Who we become is very much a product of the connections our neurons make in response to various life experiences. To be able to compare the physical neuron-to-neuron connections in an infant, a mathematical genius, and someone with schizophrenia would be a leap in our understanding of how our brains shape who we are (or vice versa).

The cost and data storage demands for this type of research are still high, but the researchers expect expenses to drop over time (as has been the case with genome sequencing). To facilitate data sharing, the scientists are now partnering with Argonne National Laboratory with the hopes of creating a national brain laboratory that neuroscientists around the world can access within the next few years.

“It’s bittersweet that there are many scientists who think this is a total waste of time as well as a big investment in money and effort that could be better spent answering questions that are more proximal,” Lichtman says. “As long as data is showing you things that are unexpected, then you’re definitely doing the right thing. And we are certainly far from being out of the surprise element. There’s never a time when we look at this data that we don’t see something that we’ve never seen before.”

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

Saturated Reconstruction of a Volume of Neocortex by Narayanan Kasthuri, Kenneth Jeffrey Hayworth, Daniel Raimund Berger, Richard Lee Schalek, José Angel Conchello, Seymour Knowles-Barley, Dongil Lee, Amelio Vázquez-Reina, Verena Kaynig, Thouis Raymond Jones, Mike Roberts, Josh Lyskowski Morgan, Juan Carlos Tapia, H. Sebastian Seung, William Gray Roncal, Joshua Tzvi Vogelstein, Randal Burns, Daniel Lewis Sussman, Carey Eldin Priebe, Hanspeter Pfister, Jeff William Lichtman. Cell Volume 162, Issue 3, p648–661, 30 July 2015 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.06.054

This appears to be an open access paper.

Canada and a mandatory survey on nanomaterials due February 2016

If memory serves, this is the second nanomaterials reporting survey that the Canadian federal government has requested in the seven years that I’ve blogging on the topic Canadian nanotechnology. (As usual, I’ve gotten my information from a source outside the country.) Thanks to Lynn Bergeson (US lawyer) and her July 27, 2015 posting on Nanotechnology Now where she covers nanotechnology’s regulatory developments (Note: A link has been removed),

The July 25, 2015, Canada Gazette includes a notice announcing that the Minister of the Environment requires, for the purpose of assessing whether the substances described in the notice are toxic or are capable of becoming toxic, or for the purpose of assessing whether to control, or the manner in which to control the listed substances, any person described in the notice who possesses or who may reasonably be expected to have access to the information required to provide that information. See http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2015/2015-07-25/html/notice-avis-eng.php The notice applies to a substance that has a size of between 1 and 100 nanometers in at least one external dimension, or internal or surface structure; and is provided in the list in Schedule 1 of the notice. The list includes over 200 substances. The notice applies to any person who, during the 2014 calendar year, manufactured a total quantity greater than 100 kilograms (kg) of a substance set out in Schedule 1. …

You can find the Canada Gazette notice (Notice with respect to certain nanomaterials in Canadian commerce) here: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2015/2015-07-25/html/notice-avis-eng.php but you may find the Guidance for responding to the Notice: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=AACFB2C0-1 more helpful (Note: Links have been removed),

1.1- Purpose of the Notice

In 2011, the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology InitiativeFootnote[1] was launched to increase alignment in regulatory approaches for nanomaterials between Canada and the US to reduce risk to human health and the environment; to promote sharing of scientific and regulatory expertise; and to foster innovation. Completed in February 2014, the RCC Nanotechnology Initiative included a work element on Commercial Information.Footnote[2] This work element was aimed at increasing knowledge of commercial uses of nanomaterials in Canada and the US. The primary output from this work element was a Nanomaterials Use Matrix which identified nanomaterials by type and use category based on the most up-to-date information, at the time, on commercially available nanomaterials. The nanomaterial types were cross-referenced with the DSL to identify nanomaterials which could be considered existing in Canada. The result is a preliminary reference list and may not be comprehensive of all nanomaterials. Ongoing engagement with stakeholders through voluntary initiatives and other fora will inform further development of the list of existing nanomaterials in Canada.

The purpose of the Notice is to gather information on 206 nanomaterials identified as potentially in commerce in Canada from the primary reference list. [emphasis mine] The information collected from the Notice will support the development of a list of nanomaterials in commerce in Canada by confirming their commercial status, and subsequent prioritization activities for these substances, which may include risk assessment and risk management activities, if required. This will ensure that future decision making is based on the best available information.

The list of reportable substances is long and not alphabetized but before you check you may want to review this,

2.1- Reporting criteria

To determine whether a company is required to respond, the following factors must be considered:

Type of substance (i.e., nanoscale form)
Type of activity
Calendar year
Quantity
The quantity should be determined based on the quantity of the substance itself at the nanoscale, and not on the quantity of the product or mixture containing the substance.

The purpose of the Notice is to gather information on nanomaterials in commerce in Canada. A response is only required if the conditions set out in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 of the notice are met.

The Notice applies to any person who, during the 2014 calendar year [emphasis mine], satisfied any of the following criteria:

Manufactured a total quantity greater than 100 kg of a substance listed in Schedule 1 that is at the nanoscale.
Imported a total quantity greater than 100 kg of a substance listed in Schedule 1 that is at the nanoscale, at any concentration, whether alone, in a mixture or in a product.

The reporting threshold of 100 kg is based on activity with the substance in the nanoscale (i.e. you manufacture, or imported a total quantity greater than 100 kg of a substance with a size between 1 and 100 nanometres, inclusive, in at least one external dimension, or internal or surface structure).

Your response to the information requested should also be based on activities with the substance in the nanoscale.

If you are engaged with a substance that is not in the nanoscale (i.e. same CAS RN, but not nanoscale) and would like to identify yourself as a stakeholder for that substance, you may submit a Declaration of Stakeholder Interest (see section 7 of this document).

You may find this flowchart (from the guidance webpage), useful,

Figure 1:  Reporting Diagram for Nanomaterials [downloaded from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=AACFB2C0-1]

Figure 1: Reporting Diagram for Nanomaterials [downloaded from: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/default.asp?lang=En&n=AACFB2C0-1]

The information you provide needs to cover the 2014 calendar year and is due,

10. Responding to the Notice

Responses to the Notice must be provided no later than February 23, 2016, 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time using the online reporting system available through Environment Canada’s Single Window available from the Chemical Substances Web site.

Good luck to all those who must report.

Call for AAAS Kavli science journalism award submission goes international, for the first time

From a June 22, 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) news release in my mailbox,

The contest year for the 2015 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards will close on 15 July. Be sure to enter your best work that appeared in print, online or on air between 1 July 2014 and 15 July 2015. The entry deadline is August 1, 2015. [emphasis mine]

Thanks to an expanded endowment from The Kavli Foundation, the competition is open for the first time to professional journalists from around the world in each of the eight reporting categories. There is no entry fee. Please read the Contest Rules and Frequently Asked Questions before submitting.

Note: If the submitted work was published or broadcast in a language other than English, you must provide an English translation.

The awards recognize outstanding reporting for a general audience and honor individuals for coverage of the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Stories on the environment, energy, science policy, and health qualify if they deal in a substantive way with underlying science. Independent committees of journalists select the winning entries.

The categories:
·  Large Newspaper (circulation of 150,000 or more, daily or weekly)
·  Small Newspaper (circulation of less than 150,000, daily or weekly)
·  Magazine
·  TV – Spot News/Feature Reporting (20 minutes or less)
·  TV – In-Depth Reporting (more than 20 minutes)
·  Radio
·  Online
·  Children’s Science News (reporting on science for children, including young teens up to age 14)

You can find Contest Rules here and you can find Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here,

Q: I work for a state-funded news organization. Am I eligible?

A. The news outlet must be editorially independent. Questions about eligibility are decided by the awards administrator in consultation with the Managing Committee (an advisory panel of science journalists.)

Q. Are commentaries or articles in advocacy publications eligible for the award?

A. No.

Q. Are books eligible?

No, books, book chapters and e-books are not eligible.

Q. Are stories written by public information officers or freelancers for university-funded research magazines or Web sites eligible for the awards?

A. No. The Managing Committee has determined that such publications are not eligible for the awards.

Q. Are podcasts eligible for the award?

A. Some podcasts are eligible for consideration within the Online category. They must be science-news-only podcasts aimed at a general audience and prepared by reporters. Institutional podcasts from university news or research offices, or podcasts featuring news as well as other types of segments are not eligible.

Q. Are blogs eligible?

A. Yes, in the “Online” category. The judges will determine whether a blog entry meets the standards of professional journalism and is accessible to a general audience.

Finally, you can make your submission by clicking the link on this page which includes a summary of the rules and FAQs.

Good luck!

ATTACH for smart clothes and personalized heating and cooling

If this research into clothing that can heat or warm you as needed sounds familiar, it is. A team out of Stanford University (US) reported on research they conducted (pun noted) using special cloth coated with metallic nanowires to achieve personalized heating and cooling (my Jan. 9, 2015 post).

Now there is a second US team, also based in southern California, working on personalized heating and cooling. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have received a $2.6M grant to pursue this goal, from a June 1, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Imagine a fabric that will keep your body at a comfortable temperature—regardless of how hot or cold it actually is. That’s the goal of an engineering project at the University of California, San Diego, funded with a $2.6M grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). Wearing this smart fabric could potentially reduce heating and air conditioning bills for buildings and homes.

The project, named ATTACH (Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating), is led by Joseph Wang, distinguished professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego.

By regulating the temperature around an individual person, rather than a large room, the smart fabric could potentially cut the energy use of buildings and homes by at least 15 percent, Wang noted.

“In cases where there are only one or two people in a large room, it’s not cost-effective to heat or cool the entire room,” said Wang. “If you can do it locally, like you can in a car by heating just the car seat instead of the entire car, then you can save a lot of energy.”

A June 1, 2015 UCSD news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the team’s hopes and dreams for the technology and provides some biographical information (Note: Some links have been removed),

The smart fabric will be designed to regulate the temperature of the wearer’s skin–keeping it at 93° F–by adapting to temperature changes in the room. When the room gets cooler, the fabric will become thicker. When the room gets hotter, the fabric will become thinner. To accomplish this feat, the researchers will insert polymers that expand in the cold and shrink in the heat inside the smart fabric.

“Regardless if the surrounding temperature increases or decreases, the user will still feel the same without having to adjust the thermostat,” said Wang.

“93° F is the average comfortable skin temperature for most people,” added Renkun Chen, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego, and one of the collaborators on this project.

Chen’s contribution to ATTACH is to develop supplemental heating and cooling devices, called thermoelectrics, that are printable and will be incorporated into specific spots of the smart fabric. The thermoelectrics will regulate the temperature on “hot spots”–such as areas on the back and underneath the feet–that tend to get hotter than other parts of the body when a person is active.

“This is like a personalized air-conditioner and heater,” said Chen.

Saving energy

“With the smart fabric, you won’t need to heat the room as much in the winter, and you won’t need to cool the room down as much in the summer. That means less energy is consumed. Plus, you will still feel comfortable within a wider temperature range,” said Chen.

The researchers are also designing the smart fabric to power itself. The fabric will include rechargeable batteries, which will power the thermoelectrics, as well as biofuel cells that can harvest electrical power from human sweat. Plus, all of these parts–batteries, thermoelectrics and biofuel cells–will be printed using the technology developed in Wang’s lab to make printable wearable devices. These parts will also be thin, stretchable and flexible to ensure that the smart fabric is not bulky or heavy.

“We are aiming to make the smart clothing look and feel as much like the clothes that people regularly wear. It will be washable, stretchable, bendable and lightweight. We also hope to make it look attractive and fashionable to wear,” said Wang.

In terms of price, the team has not yet concluded how much the smart clothing will cost. This will depend on the scale of production, but the printing technology in Wang’s lab will offer a low-cost method to produce the parts. Keeping the costs down is a major goal, the researchers said.

The research team

Professor Joseph Wang, Department of NanoEngineering

Wang, the lead principal investigator of ATTACH, has pioneered the development of wearable printable devices, such as electrochemical sensors and temporary tattoo-based biofuel cells. He is the chair of the nanoengineering department and the director for the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego. His extensive expertise in printable, stretchable and wearable devices will be used here to make the proposed flexible biofuel cells, batteries and thermoelectrics.

Assistant Professor Renkun Chen, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Chen specializes in heat transfer and thermoelectrics. His research group works on physics, materials and devices related to thermal energy transport, conversion and management. His specialty in these areas will be used to develop the thermal models and the thermoelectric devices.

Associate Professor Shirley Meng, Department of NanoEngineering

Meng’s research focuses on energy storage and conversion, particularly on battery cell design and testing. At UC San Diego, she established the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion and is the inaugural director for the Sustainable Power and Energy Center. Meng will develop the rechargeable batteries and will work on power integration throughout the smart fabric system.

Professor Sungho Jin, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Jin specializes in functional materials for applications in nanotechnology, magnetism, energy and biomedicine. He will design the self-responsive polymers that change in thickness based on changes in the surrounding temperature.

Dr. Joshua Windmiller, CEO of Electrozyme LLC

Windmiller, former Ph.D. student and postdoc in Wang’s nanoengineering lab, is an expert in printed biosensors, bioelectronics and biofuel cells. He co-founded Electrozyme LLC, a startup devoted to the development of novel biosensors for application in the personal wellness and healthcare domains. Electrozyme will serve as the industrial partner for ATTACH and will lead the efforts to test the smart fabric prototype and bring the technology into the market.

You can find out more about Electrozyme here.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) scaffolding for nonbiological construction

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is being exploited in ways that would have seemed unimaginable to me when I was in high school. Earlier today (June 3, 2015), I ran a piece about DNA and data storage as imagined in an art/science project (DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), music, and data storage) and now I have this work from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, from a June 1, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

You’re probably familiar with the role of DNA as the blueprint for making every protein on the planet and passing genetic information from one generation to the next. But researchers at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials have shown that the twisted ladder molecule made of complementary matching strands can also perform a number of decidedly non-biological construction jobs: serving as a scaffold and programmable “glue” for linking up nanoparticles. This work has resulted in a variety of nanoparticle assemblies, including composite structures with switchable phases whose optical, magnetic, or other properties might be put to use in dynamic energy-harvesting or responsive optical materials. Three recent studies showcase different strategies for using synthetic strands of this versatile building material to link and arrange different types of nanoparticles in predictable ways.

The researchers have provided an image of the DNA building blocks,

Controlling the self-assembly of nanoparticles into superlattices is an important approach to build functional materials. The Brookhaven team used nanosized building blocks—cubes or octahedrons—decorated with DNA tethers to coordinate the assembly of spherical nanoparticles coated with complementary DNA strands.

Controlling the self-assembly of nanoparticles into superlattices is an important approach to build functional materials. The Brookhaven team used nanosized building blocks—cubes or octahedrons—decorated with DNA tethers to coordinate the assembly of spherical nanoparticles coated with complementary DNA strands.

A June 1, 2015 article (which originated the news item) in DOE Pulse Number 440 goes on to highlight three recent DNA papers published by researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory,

The first [leads to a news release], published in Nature Communications, describes how scientists used the shape of nanoscale building blocks decorated with single strands of DNA to orchestrate the arrangement of spheres decorated with complementary strands (where bases on the two strands pair up according to the rules of DNA binding, A to T, G to C). For example, nano-cubes coated with DNA tethers on all six sides formed regular arrays of cubes surrounded by six nano-spheres. The attractive force of the DNA “glue” keeps these two dissimilar objects from self-separating to give scientists a reliable way to assemble composite materials in which the synergistic properties of different types of nanoparticles might be put to use.

In another study [leads to a news release], published in Nature Nanotechnology, the team used ropelike configurations of the DNA double helix to form a rigid geometrical framework, and added dangling pieces of single-stranded DNA to glue nanoparticles in place on the vertices of the scaffold. Controlling the code of the dangling strands and adding complementary strands to the nanoparticles gives scientists precision control over particle placement. These arrays of nanoparticles with predictable geometric configurations are somewhat analogous to molecules made of atoms, and can even be linked end-to-end to form polymer-like chains, or arrayed as flat sheets. Using this approach, the scientists can potentially orchestrate the arrangements of different types of nanoparticles to design materials that regulate energy flow, rotate light, or deliver biomolecules.

“We may be able to design materials that mimic nature’s machinery to harvest solar energy, or manipulate light for telecommunications applications, or design novel catalysts for speeding up a variety of chemical reactions,” said Oleg Gang, the Brookhaven physicist who leads this work on DNA-mediated nano-assembly.

Perhaps most exciting is a study [leads to a news release] published in Nature Materials in which the scientists added “reprogramming” strands of DNA after assembly to rearrange and change the phase of nanoparticle arrays. This is a change at the nanoscale that in some ways resembles an atomic phase change—like the shift in the atomic crystal lattice of carbon that transforms graphite into diamond—potentially producing a material with completely new properties from the same already assembled nanoparticle array. Inputting different types of attractive and repulsive reprogramming DNA strands, scientists could selectively trigger the transformation to the different resulting structures.

“The ability to dynamically switch the phase of an entire superlattice array will allow the creation of reprogrammable and switchable materials wherein multiple, different functions can be activated on demand,” Gang said.

Here are links to and citation for all three papers,

Superlattices assembled through shape-induced directional binding by Fang Lu, Kevin G. Yager, Yugang Zhang, Huolin Xin, & Oleg Gang. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6912 doi:10.1038/ncomms7912 Published 23 April 2015

Prescribed nanoparticle cluster architectures and low-dimensional arrays built using octahedral DNA origami frames by Ye Tian, Tong Wang, Wenyan Liu, Huolin L. Xin, Huilin Li, Yonggang Ke, William M. Shih, & Oleg Gang. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.105 Published online 25 May 2015

Selective transformations between nanoparticle superlattices via the reprogramming of DNA-mediated interactions by Yugang Zhang, Suchetan Pal, Babji Srinivasan, Thi Vo, Sanat Kumar & Oleg Gang. Nature Materials (2015) doi:10.1038/nmat4296 Published online 25 May 2015

The first study is open access, the second is behind a paywall but there is a free preview via ReadCube Acces, and the third is behind a paywall.

South Korea announces plans to commercialize nanotechnology

A May 4, 2015 article by Jung Suk-yee for Business Korea describes the South Korean government’s nanotechnology investment plans for 2015,

The Korean government will invest 177.2 billion won (US$164.2 million) in the industrialization of nanotechnology this year. The budget goes to seven techniques for industrial applications, including of that for manufacturing 3D nano-electronic devices used in intelligent robots and wearable smart devices, and industry infrastructure for production performance evaluation and the like. Strategic items are also selected so that small firms, which account for 90 percent of the industry, can better compete in the global market.

The Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning and the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy unveiled the plan on April 30 [2015] at the main office of CrucialTec located in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province. “The global nanotech product market is estimated to reach US$3 trillion in size in 2020,” they explained, adding, “We will take up 20 percent of the market by means of large-scale investments.”

An April 30, 2015 news item on the Youhap News Agency website also makes the announcement while providing some context for and new details about the nanotechnology effort in South Korea,

South Korea is already one of the leading countries to have developed the advanced technology. The combined output of the country’s nano-convergence sector came to over 92 trillion won ($86 billion) in 2011, accounting for 6.1 percent of its total production.

The government will spend an additional [to the 177.2 billion won  announced earlier] 55 billion won this year to help develop nano-convergence companies and infrastructure that will include a new evaluation system to check the performance of any nanotechnology product, according to the ministry.

This announcement provides an interesting contrast to relatively recent Canadian announcements. As far as I’m aware the only Canadian research area as opposed to an individual institution such as the TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for  which benefits from serious infusions of cash is the ‘digital highway’ which merits being mentioned in the 2015 federal budget. The other science initiative specifically mentioned in the budget is TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics). For all the talk about commercializing science and technology there doesn’t seem to have been any specific mention in the budget although I have no doubt that various agencies received their allocations and are fully aware that they are expected to deliver on the government’s hopes in those respects. (My April 28, 2015 post offers more details about the science funding in the Canadian government’s 2015 federal budget.)

What colour is your diagnosis?

Mark Lorch has written an April 16, 2015 piece for The Conversation (h/t the Guardian’s April 17, 2015 posting) about a very appealing approach to diagnostics (Note: A link has been removed),

If you’ve ever sat opposite a doctor and wondered what she was scribbling on her notepad, the answer may soon not only be medical notes on your condition, but real-time chemical preparations for an instant diagnostic test.

Thanks to the work of a team of researchers from California Polytechnic State University, recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip, chemicals formed into pencils can be made to react with one another by simply drawing with them on paper. The team may have taken inspiration from colouring books for their take on a chemical toolkit, but their approach could make carrying out simple but common diagnostic tests based on chemical reactions – for example diabetes, HIV, or tests for environmental pollutants – much easier.

Here’s a picture of the pens,

ReagentPencilsDiagnostics

Courtesy: Lab on a Chip

Lorch provides a good description of the technology giving descriptions of reagents and paper-based microfluidics, as well as, describing how the researchers turned the concept of colouring pencils into a diagnostic tool.

Lorch also provides a description of a specific test (Note: Links have been removed),

The team demonstrated a potential use of the reagent pencil technique by using it in place of a common test used by diabetics to check their blood glucose levels, which involves reacting a pinprick blood sample with a chemical solution and examining the result.

One pencil was constructed with a mixture of enzymes, one called horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and the other glucose oxidase (GOx). A second pencil contained a reagent called ABTS. When combined in the presence of glucose these react together to give a blue-coloured product. Comparing the results from their pencils on the pad with the more traditional dropper method used by diabetics the team found the results were identical.

This new ‘pencil kit’ diagnostic technology is easy to use and features a big improvement over the current diagnostic tests,

This is of course extremely easy to set up. Traditional diagnostic tests require training, while this pad and pencil system requires no more than skill than required to colour within the lines. The reagents are extremely stable once made into pencils – usually they would degrade in a matter of days as liquids, limiting how and where the tests can be made. However the reagent pencils showed no sign of degrading after two months.

Being able to use the pencils for two months as opposed to liquids that remain viable for a few days? That’s a huge jump and it makes me wonder about using these kits in harsh conditions such as desert climates and/or emergency situations. Materials that don’t need to be refrigerated and could be used for up to two months and don’t require intensive training could be very helpful. Lorch suggests some other possibilities as well,

… There’s scope to monitor environmental pollutants, carry out diagnostic tests in remote locations – not to mention teach chemistry in primary schools.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the study on the ‘colouring pencil kit’,

Reagent pencils: a new technique for solvent-free deposition of reagents onto paper-based microfluidic devices by Haydn T. Mitchell, Isabelle C. Noxon, Cory A. Chaplan, Samantha J. Carlton, Cheyenne H. Liu, Kirsten A. Ganaja, Nathaniel W. Martinez, Chad E. Immoos, Philip J. Costanzo, and Andres W. Martinez. Lab Chip, 2015, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C5LC00297D First published online 08 Apr 2015

This paper is open access but you do have to register on the site unless you have another means of access.