Category Archives: Uncategorized

New ‘Star of David’-shaped molecule from University of Manchester

It sounds like the scientists took their inspiration from Maurits Cornelius Escher (M. C. Escher) when they created their ‘Star of David’ molecule. From a Sept. 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists at The University of Manchester have generated a new star-shaped molecule made up of interlocking rings, which is the most complex of its kind ever created.

Here’s a representation of the molecule,

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Here’s a ‘star’ sculpture based on Escher’s work,

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher's Gravitation. It can be found in front of the "Mesa+" building on the Campus of the University of Twente.

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher’s Gravitation. It can be found in front of the “Mesa+” building on the Campus of the University of Twente (Netherlands)

If you get a chance to see the Escher ‘star’, you’ll be able to see more plainly how the planes of the ‘star’ interlock. (I had the opportunity when visiting the University of Twente in Oct. 2012.)

Getting back to Manchester, a Sept. 22, 2014 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Sept. 21, 2014), which originated the news item, describes the decades-long effort to create this molecule and provides a few technical details,

Known as a ‘Star of David’ molecule, scientists have been trying to create one for over a quarter of a century and the team’s findings are published at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern Time on 21 September 2014 in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Consisting of two molecular triangles, entwined about each other three times into a hexagram, the structure’s interlocked molecules are tiny – each triangle is 114 atoms in length around the perimeter. The molecular triangles are threaded around each other at the same time that the triangles are formed, by a process called ‘self-assembly’, similar to how the DNA double helix is formed in biology.

The molecule was created at The University of Manchester by PhD student Alex Stephens.

Professor David Leigh, in Manchester’s School of Chemistry, said: “It was a great day when Alex finally got it in the lab.  In nature, biology already uses molecular chainmail to make the tough, light shells of certain viruses and now we are on the path towards being able to reproduce its remarkable properties.

“It’s the next step on the road to man-made molecular chainmail, which could lead to the development of new materials which are light, flexible and very strong.  Just as chainmail was a breakthrough over heavy suits of armour in medieval times, this could be a big step towards materials created using nanotechnology. I hope this will lead to many exciting developments in the future.”

The team’s next step will be to make larger, more elaborate, interlocked structures.

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

A Star of David catenane by David A. Leigh, Robin G. Pritchard, & Alexander J. Stephens. Nature Chemistry (2014) doi:10.1038/nchem.2056
Published online 21 September 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Manufacturing innovation in the US and the Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI)

The announcement from US President Barack Obama about creating a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) resulting in 45 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) seems to have been made a while back as one of the technical focus areas mentioned in the current round of RFIs (request for information) has closed. Regardless, here’s more from a Sept. 18, 2014 news item on Azonano,

The President of the United States has launched a major, new initiative focused on strengthening the innovation, performance, competitiveness, and job-creating power of U.S. manufacturing called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

The NNMI is comprised of Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs) and the President has proposed establishing up to 45 IMIs around the country.

A Sept. ??, 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) news release, which originated the news item, describes the program and the RFIs in more detail,

The IMIs will be regionally centered public private partnerships enabling the scale-up of advanced manufacturing technologies and processes, with the goal of successful transition of existing science and technology into the marketplace for both defense and commercial applications. The purpose of the RFI is for DOD to consider input from industry and academia as part of an effort to select and scope the technology focus areas for future IMIs. The RFI originally sought information about the following technical focus areas:

  • Flexible Hybrid Electronics
  • Photonics (now closed)
  • Engineered Nanomaterials
  • Fiber and Textiles
  • Electronic Packaging and Reliability
  • Aerospace Composites

Submissions received to date relevant to the Photonics topic have been deemed sufficient and this topic area is now closed; all other areas remain open. The RFI contains detailed descriptions of the focus areas along with potential applications, market opportunities, and discussion of current and future Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs).

The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office encourages interested members of the nanotechnology community to view and respond to the RFI as appropriate. [emphasis mine] The IMI institutes have the potential to provide game-changing resources and foster exciting new partnerships for the nanotechnology community.

The current closing date is 10 October 2014. Additional details can be found in the RFI and its amendments.

(I’m highlighting the nanotechnology connection for discussion later in this posting.)

You can find the official RFI for the Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation here along with this information,

The Department of Defense (DoD) wishes to consider input from Industry and Academia as part of an effort to select and scope the technology focus areas for future Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs). These IMIs will be regionally centered Public Private Partnerships enabling the scale-up of advanced manufacturing technologies and processes with the goal of successful transition of existing science and technology into the marketplace for both Defense and commercial applications. Each Institute will be led by a not-for-profit organization and focus on one technology area. The Department is requesting responses which will assist in the selection of a technology focus area from those currently under consideration, based upon evidence of national security requirement, economic benefit, technical opportunity, relevance to industry, business case for sustainability, and workforce challenge.

There is also some information about this opportunity on the US government’s Advanced Manufacturing Portal here.

This National Network for Manufacturing Innovation is a particularly interesting development in light of my Feb. 10, 2014 posting about a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled: “Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health.”

Later in 2014, the NNI budget request was shrunk by $200M (mentioned in my March 31, 2014 posting) and shortly thereafter members of the nanotech community went to Washington as per my May 23, 2014 posting. Prior to hearing testimony, the representatives on the subcommittee hearing testimony were given a a 22 pp. précis (PDF; titled: NANOMANUFACTURING AND U.S. COMPETITIVENESS; Challenges and Opportunities) of the GAO report published in Feb. 2014.

I’ve already highlighted mention of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office in a news release generated by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) which features a plea to the nanotechnology community to respond to the RFIs.

Clearly, the US NNI is responding to the notion that research generated by the NNI needs to be commercialized.

Finally, the involvement of the US Department of Defense can’t be a huge surprise to anyone given that military research has contributed greatly to consumer technology. As well, it seems the Dept. of Defense might wish to further capitalize on its own research efforts.

Simon Fraser University – Bioelectronics course: Week 2

Last night (Sept.15, 2014), I taught the second week of the bioelectronics course at Simon Fraser University (SFU; Vancouver, Canada)  I mentioned last week and as promised I am making the slide decks available. Here’s a brief description of week 2, followed by a confession, and the slide deck, and notes. From the SFU course description,

Week 2: Who Owns Medical Implant Data and/or Wearable Technology Data?

Who has the right to own, control and use the information collected by sensors in our bodies? Issues and questions of data ownership and its uses have also arisen over the data generated by wearable technology such as fitness monitors and Google Glasses.

The confession is that I focused on medical implant data, tissues and blood, and genes. By the way, in the US you don’t own your tissues and blood after they’re cut from  or leave your body and Ontario, in June 2014, handed down a similar ruling although it’s not supposed to be considered precedent-setting and covers a narrowly defined procedural matter. In any event, you won’t be finding anything about wearable technology in this week’s slide deck.

Week 2_Data_ownership

You will find there’s some material about intellectual property, memory (will our data be there tomorrow?), as well as, information about who owns the data.

Finally, here are my ‘notes’ for week 2 which consist largely of brief heads designed to remind me of the content to be found by clicking the link directly after the head.

Week 2 Data

Happy reading and clicking!

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and nanotech biosensors

First mentioned here in an Aug. 19, 2014 posting in the context of a 2013 NATO workshop, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI; located in Massachusetts, US) is co-organizing a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) workshop to be held in 2014 in Turkey about nanoscale sensors for chemical and biological weapons. A Sept. 14, 2014 news item on Nanowerk provides a general description,

Advancing the front lines of research for the detection and decontamination of chemical and biological threats is the mission of an international scientific workshop organized by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and is sponsored by the Science for Peace and Security Programme of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A Sept. 11, 2014 WPI news release, which originated the news item gives details, not available for the Aug. 2014 posting, about specific biological/chemical weapons to be discussed ,

Part of NATO’s Advanced Research Workshop series, the event is titled “Nanotechnology to Aid Chemical and Biological Defense” and will take place September 22-26 in Antalya, Turkey.

The workshop will focus on nanoscale science and technology as applied to pathogens like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), and Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax. The goal is to eventually engineer new materials that can detect and defend against many biological and chemical agents at the atomic and molecular levels.

“Our hope is that by sharing the latest science and discussing the key challenges in the field we can accelerate technology development to help protect people around the world from these terrible threats,” said Terri Camesano, professor of chemical engineering and dean of graduate studies at WPI, who is the lead organizer and co-chair of the workshop.

More than 20 leading researchers from Europe and the United States, along with graduate students from their labs and collaborating institutions, will participate in four days of presentations and rigorous discussions on a wide range of aspects relevant to biological and chemical threats. In addition to co-chairing the event, Camesano will present a talk about the potential to use naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides to detect biological threats. The workshop is co-chaired by Giorgi Kvesitadze, president of the Georgian Academy of Sciences in Tiblisi, who will present current research on how certain microorganisms and plants metabolize toxins.

You can find the latest version of the NATO ARW (Advanced Research Workshop series) programme for the meeting in Turkey.

Images of Nanotechnology competition in New Zealand

The deadline is Oct. 31, 2014 (Hallowe’en), which is on Friday this year. The competition, the third annual,  is for researchers and students based in New Zealand. Here’s more from the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology’s Images of Nanotechnology competition webpage,

Entries are now open for the third Images of Nanotechnology Competition to find the best NZ images from nanotechnology research. An exhibition of selected images will be held in Nelson [New Zealand] in February, in conjunction with the AMN7 conference (http://www.amn-7.com/) and $2000 in prizes will be awarded, courtesy of the MacDiarmid Institute.

Up to three entries can be submitted through the entry form on the website:
http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/nanoevents/compform.shtml

The best images will be displayed in the Nelson Provincial Museum, for four weeks in February 2015. The deadline for entries is 31 October 2014, and any entry received before 10 October will be eligible to be chosen as the poster image for the exhibition.

Please think about how you would explain your images to a lay audience, and have a description prepared when you submit your image(s). These descriptions may be used on the labels next to images that are shown in the Gallery. You should explain the image as though you are explaining it to a non-scientist friend – in the past we have found that many descriptions are far too technical and in fact it would be very help to try your description out on a friend before submitting it. We encourage you to also submit a few supporting images that might help a viewer understand how your image(s) were created.

Entries are encouraged from any researcher or research student based in NZ. Please do let all your colleagues, students and friends know about the competition.

The competition entry form can be found on the University of Canterbury’s Images of Nanotechnology competition webpage,

A competition to find the best NZ images from nanotechnology research.

  • 1st prize – $1000
  • 2nd prize – $700
  • 3rd prize – $300

Deadline for receipt of images is 5pm on Friday 31 October 2014.

All entries and supporting images must be added sequentially (i.e. one at a time) by returning to this form. Please note that there is a 10Mb file limit. Larger images can be submitted on a CD to “Images of Nanotechnology”, Main Office, level 7, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8140. If you submit images on a CD you must print out one copy of this form for each image submitted and send the signed copy with your CD.

By submitting this entry I confirm that the entries are my own work. I understand and agree to abide by the rules of the competition. I agree to allow these works to be published online and to be displayed to the public.

Here’s some more information about the AMN7 (Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology) conference being held Feb. 8 – 12, 2015 in Nelson, New Zealand,

Earlybird registration closes on October 31.  Please click here to register for AMN-7.

On behalf of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology I would like to extend you a warm invitation to join us in Nelson for AMN-7 in February 2015.  AMN-7 is the seventh in our biennial series of meetings that focus on the latest research on advanced materials and nanotechnology.  This event will continue the best traditions of previous events, which include a range of high-impact plenary presentations, cutting-edge invited and contributed talks, interactive poster presentations and convivial social events.  The intimate scale of AMN conferences and the broad interests of fellow delegates offer many opportunities for networking and interdisciplinary discussions.

The venue of AMN-7 – the city of Nelson – has special significance for New Zealand science as it is the birthplace of Ernest Rutherford, the Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1908. The Rutherford Hotel will serve as the main conference venue.  Nelson’s excellent climate, beaches, mountains and lakes make it an attractive destination.  And it would be remiss of me not to mention the swag of local wineries and craft breweries.

I hope you’re able to join us in Nelson in 2015.

Shane Telfer
AMN-7 Conference Chair

For anyone curious about the organization which puts on this conference, from the MacDiarmid Institute’s About Us webpage (Note: Links have been removed),

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology is a national network of New Zealand’s leading scientists, leveraging strength across the country and internationally. We build materials and devices from atoms and molecules, developing and applying cutting edge techniques in physics, chemistry and engineering. We capture our diversity to create benefit and build strength.

We partner with New Zealand businesses to take our innovative new technologies to export markets in sectors as diverse as health, electronics, food and fashion. We train entrepreneurial and socially-aware young scientists, many of whom go on to work in industry or start their own companies, in a culture of excellence and collaboration.

Through sharing the results of our scientific research with the public and with Government, we are inspiring researchers and working to generate a nationwide culture change where science and innovation are celebrated as the keys to New Zealand’s future prosperity.

While the Institute is hosted by Victoria University of Wellington, our Investigators work throughout New Zealand. Named after Alan MacDiarmid, whose curiosity and determination saw him awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the MacDiarmid Institute was New Zealand’s first Centre of Research Excellence.

Good luck!

Simon Fraser University – Bioelectronics course: Week 1*

Last night (Sept. 8, 2014) I started teaching a course called, Bioelectronics, Medical Imaging and Our Bodies for Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Continuing Studies programme and found that students wanted a copy of the slides from the first night. Unfortunately, SFU does not have a system in place for continuing studies instructors to make their course materials available online to students, so, at the end of this post you will find a link to my Week One PowerPoint slides.

For those who may be mildly curious, here’s a description of the course and of what I was covering on the first night (from SFU’s course description webpage),

Advances in understanding cells, enzymes and proteins will soon allow remaking “life”—and spare body parts—on our terms. How do we extract the best of technology and human intelligence to make breakthroughs in understanding the human body? How will “next generation” medical technologies alter organizational and societal landscapes? Should we halt advances to digest the consequences of technological developments? Or, hoping everything will work out, pursue new frontiers?

We will attempt to answer such questions in discussing the biotechnology used today. And we will look into the future to see how our bodies will be imaged, diagnosed, and fixed. This course requires no technical or scientific background, but an open mind and curiosity will prove helpful.

Week 1: Can the Blind Really See? The Future of Prosthetics

More and more, bioelectronics and/or other emerging technologies are being integrated into materials meant to repair or replace body parts. One example of this is the artificial retina. Others include synthetic tracheas, prosthetic hands and prosthetic legs.

Week 1_Artificial eye

Assuming that students may want slides from subsequent classes, I will be posting more materials over the next five weeks (the length of the course).

ETA Sept. 16, 2014: My ‘notes’ for this week consisting largely of brief heads designed to remind me of the content to be found by clicking the link directly after the head:

Week 1

*’Week 1 added to head on Sept. 16, 2014.

Call for papers (IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] 10th annual NEMS conference in 2015

The deadline for submissions is Nov. 15, 2014 and here’s more from the notice on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website for the IEEE-NEMS [nano/micro engineered and moecular systems] 2015,

The 10th Annual IEEE International Conference on Nano/ Micro Engineered and Molecular Systems (IEEE-NEMS 2015)
Xi’an, China
April 7-11, 2015
http://www.ieee-nems.org/2015/

The IEEE International Conference on Nano/Micro Engineered and Molecular Systems (IEEE-NEMS) is a series of successful conferences that began in Zhuhai, China in 2006, and has been a premier IEEE annual conference series held mostly in Asia which focuses on MEMS, nanotechnology, and molecular technology. Prior conferences were held in Waikiki Beach (USA, 2014), Suzhou (China, 2013), Kyoto (Japan, 2012), Kaohsiung (Taiwan, 2011), Xiamen (China, 2010), Shenzhen (China, 2009), Hainan Island (China, 2008), Bangkok (Thailand, 2007), and Zhuhai (China, 2006). The conference typically has ~350 attendees with participants from more than 20 countries and regions world-wide.

In 2015, the conference will be held in Xi’an, one of the great ancient capitals of China. Xi’an has more than 3,100 years of history, and was known as Chang’an before the Ming dynasty. Xi’an is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

We now invite contributions describing the latest scientific and technological research results in subjects including, but are not limited to:

  • Nanophotonics
  • Nanomaterials
  • Nanobiology, Nanomedicine, Nano-bio-informatics
  • Micro/Nano Fluidics, BioMEMS, and Lab-on-Chips
  • Molecular Sensors, Actuators, and Systems
  • Micro/Nano Sensors, Actuators, and Systems
  • Carbon Nanotube/Graphene/Diamond based Devices
  • Micro/Nano/Molecular Heat Transfer & Energy Conversion
  • Micro/Nano/Molecular Fabrication
  • Nanoscale Metrology
  • Micro/Nano Robotics, Assembly & Automation
  • Integration & Application of MEMS/NEMS
  • Flexible MEMS, Sensors and Printed Electronics
  • Commercialization of MEMS/NEMS/Nanotechnology
  • Nanotechnology Safety and Education

Important Dates:

Nov. 15, 2014 – Abstract/Full Paper Submission
Dec. 31, 2014 – Notification of Acceptance
Jan. 31, 2015 – Final Full Paper Submission

We hope to see you at Xi’an, China, in April 2015!

General Chair: Ning Xi, Michigan State University, USA
Program Chair: Guangyong Li, University of Pittsburgh, USA
Organizing Chair: Wen J. Li, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Local Arrangement Chair: Xiaodong Zhang, Xi’an Jiaotong University, China

The 2015 IEEE-NEMS webpage offers more general information about the conference,

The IEEE-NEMS is a key conference series sponsored by the IEEE Nanotechnology Council focusing on advanced research areas related to MEMS, nanotechnology, and molecular technology. … The conference typically has ~350 attendees with participants from more than 20 countries and regions world-wide.

Good luck!

Astonishing observation about gold nanoparticles and self-assembly

An Aug. 4, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily features research on self-assembling gold nanoparticles from Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB) and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU, Berlin),

Researchers at HZB in co-operation with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU, Berlin) have made an astonishing observation: they were investigating the formation of gold nanoparticles in a solvent and observed that the nanoparticles had not distributed themselves uniformly, but instead were self-assembled into small clusters.

An Aug. 4, 2014 HZB press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides additional technical information about the equipment used to make the observations,

This was determined using Small-Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) at BESSY II. A thorough examination with an [a transmission] electron microscope (TEM) confirmed their result. “The research on this phenomenon is now proceeding because we are convinced that such nanoclusters lend themselves as catalysts, whether in fuel cells, in photocatalytic water splitting, or for other important reactions in chemical engineering”, explains Dr. Armin Hoell of HZB. The results have just appeared in two peer reviewed international academic journals.

“What is special about the new process is that it is extremely simple and works with an environmentally friendly and inexpensive solvent”, explains Professor Klaus Rademann from HU Berlin. The solvent actually consists of two powders that one would sooner expect to find in agriculture that in a research laboratory: a supplement in chicken feed (choline chloride, aka vitamin B), and urea. British colleagues discovered a few years ago that mixing the two powders forms a transparent liquid able to dissolve metal oxides and heavy metals, called deep eutectic solvent (DES). The researchers in Berlin then positioned above the solvent gold foil that they could bombard with ions of noble gas in order to detach individual atoms of gold. This is how nanoparticles initially formed that distributed themselves in the solvent.

The researchers did not expect what happened next (from the press release),

The longer the bombardment (sputtering) of the gold foil lasted, the larger the nanoparticles could become, the scientists reasoned. However, this was not the case: the particles ceased growing at five nanometres. Instead, an increasing number of nanoparticles formed over longer sputtering times. The second surprise: these nanoparticles did not distribute themselves uniformly in the liquid, but instead self-assembled into small groups or clusters that could consist of up to twelve nanoparticles.

These kinds of observations cannot be easily made under a microscope, of course, but require instead an indirect, statistical approach: “Using small-angle X-ray scattering at BESSY II, we were not only able to ascertain that the nanoparticles are all around five nanometres in diameter, but also measure what the separations between them are. From these measurements, we found the nanoparticles arrange themselves into clusters”, explains Hoell.

“We ran computer models in advance of how the nanoparticles could distribute themselves in the solution to better understand the measurement results, and then compared the results of the simulation with the results of the small-angle X-ray scattering”, explains Dr. Vikram Singh Raghuwanshi, who works as a postdoc at HU Berlin as well as HZB. An image from the cryogenic transmission electron microscope that colleagues at HU prepared confirmed their findings. “But we could not have achieved this result using only electron microscopy, since it can only display details and sections of the specimen”, Hoell emphasised. “Small-angle X-ray scattering is indispensable for measuring general trends and averages!”

The press release concludes thusly,

It is obvious to the researchers that the special DES-solvent plays an important role in this self-organising process: various interactions between the ions of the solvent and the particles of gold result firstly in the nanoparticles reaching only a few thousand atoms in size, and secondly that they mutually attract somewhat – but only weakly – so that the small clusters arise. “We know, however, that these kinds of small clusters of nanoparticles are especially effective as catalysts for chemical reactions we want: a many-fold increase in the reaction speed due only to particle arrangement has already been demonstrated”, says Rademann.

Here are links to and citations for the two papers the team has published on their latest work,

Deep Eutectic Solvents for the Self-Assembly of Gold Nanoparticles: A SAXS, UV–Vis, and TEM Investigation by Vikram Singh Raghuwanshi, Miguel Ochmann, Armin Hoell, Frank Polzer, and Klaus Rademann. Langmuir, 2014, 30 (21), pp 6038–6046 DOI: 10.1021/la500979p Publication Date (Web): May 11, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

Self-assembly of gold nanoparticles on deep eutectic solvent (DES) surfaces by V. S. Raghuwanshi, M. Ochmann, F. Polzer, A. Hoell and K. Rademann.  Chem. Commun., 2014,50, 8693-8696 DOI: 10.1039/C4CC02588A
First published online 10 Jun 2014

Both papers are behind a paywall.

This research is being presented at two conferences, one of which is taking place now (Aug.5, 2014; from the press release),

Dr. Raghuwanshi will give a talk on these results, as well as providing a preview of the catalysis research approaches now planned, at the International conference, IUCr2014, taking place from 5-12 August 2014 in Montreal, Canada.

In the coming year, HZB will incidentally be one of the hosts of the 16th International Small-Angle Scattering Conference, SAS2015.

There you have all the news.

The evolution of molecules as observed with femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy

A July 3, 2014 news item on Azonano features some recent research from the Université de Montréal (amongst other institutions),

Scientists don’t fully understand how ‘plastic’ solar panels work, which complicates the improvement of their cost efficiency, thereby blocking the wider use of the technology. However, researchers at the University of Montreal, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Imperial College London and the University of Cyprus have determined how light beams excite the chemicals in solar panels, enabling them to produce charge.

A July 2, 2014 University of Montreal news release, which originated the news item, provides a fascinating description of the ultrafast laser process used to make the observations,

 “We used femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy,” explained Tony Parker of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility. “Femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy is an advanced ultrafast laser technique that provides details on how chemical bonds change during extremely fast chemical reactions. The laser provides information on the vibration of the molecules as they interact with the pulses of laser light.” Extremely complicated calculations on these vibrations enabled the scientists to ascertain how the molecules were evolving. Firstly, they found that after the electron moves away from the positive centre, the rapid molecular rearrangement must be prompt and resemble the final products within around 300 femtoseconds (0.0000000000003 s). A femtosecond is a quadrillionth of a second – a femtosecond is to a second as a second is to 3.7 million years. This promptness and speed enhances and helps maintain charge separation.  Secondly, the researchers noted that any ongoing relaxation and molecular reorganisation processes following this initial charge separation, as visualised using the FSRS method, should be extremely small.

As for why the researchers’ curiosity was stimulated (from the news release),

The researchers have been investigating the fundamental beginnings of the reactions that take place that underpin solar energy conversion devices, studying the new brand of photovoltaic diodes that are based on blends of polymeric semiconductors and fullerene derivatives. Polymers are large molecules made up of many smaller molecules of the same kind – consisting of so-called ‘organic’ building blocks because they are composed of atoms that also compose molecules for life (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur). A fullerene is a molecule in the shape of a football, made of carbon. “In these and other devices, the absorption of light fuels the formation of an electron and a positive charged species. To ultimately provide electricity, these two attractive species must separate and the electron must move away. If the electron is not able to move away fast enough then the positive and negative charges simple recombine and effectively nothing changes. The overall efficiency of solar devices compares how much recombines and how much separates,” explained Sophia Hayes of the University of Cyprus, last author of the study.

… “Our findings open avenues for future research into understanding the differences between material systems that actually produce efficient solar cells and systems that should as efficient but in fact do not perform as well. A greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t will obviously enable better solar panels to be designed in the future,” said the University of Montreal’s Carlos Silva, who was senior author of the study.

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

Direct observation of ultrafast long-range charge separation at polymer–fullerene heterojunctions by Françoise Provencher, Nicolas Bérubé, Anthony W. Parker, Gregory M. Greetham, Michael Towrie, Christoph Hellmann, Michel Côté, Natalie Stingelin, Carlos Silva & Sophia C. Hayes. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4288 doi:10.1038/ncomms5288 Published 01 July 2014

This article is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available vie ReadCube Access.

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 4 of 4)

Cultural heritage and the importance of pigments and databases

Unlike Thom (Ian Thom, curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery), I believe that the testing was important. Knowing the spectra emitted by the pigments in Hurdy Gurdy and Autumn Harbour could help to set benchmarks for establishing the authenticity of the pigments used by artists (Harris and others) in the early part of Canada’s 20th century.

Europeans and Americans are more advanced in their use of technology as a tool in the process of authenticating, restoring, or conserving a piece of art. At the Chicago Institute of Art they identified the red pigment used in a Renoir painting as per my March 24, 2014 posting,

… The first item concerns research by Richard Van Duyne into the nature of the red paint used in one of Renoir’s paintings. A February 14, 2014 news item on Azonano describes some of the art conservation work that Van Duyne’s (nanoish) technology has made possible along with details about this most recent work,

Scientists are using powerful analytical and imaging tools to study artworks from all ages, delving deep below the surface to reveal the process and materials used by some of the world’s greatest artists.

Northwestern University chemist Richard P. Van Duyne, in collaboration with conservation scientists at the Art Institute of Chicago, has been using a scientific method he discovered nearly four decades ago to investigate masterpieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt.

Van Duyne recently identified the chemical components of paint, now partially faded, used by Renoir in his oil painting “Madame Léon Clapisson.” Van Duyne discovered the artist used carmine lake, a brilliant but light-sensitive red pigment, on this colorful canvas. The scientific investigation is the cornerstone of a new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.

There are some similarities between the worlds of science (in this case, chemistry) and art (collectors,  institutions, curators, etc.). They are worlds where one must be very careful.

The scientists/chemists choose their words with precision while offering no certainties. Even the announcement for the discovery (by physicists) of the Higgs Boson is not described in absolute terms as I noted in my July 4, 2012 posting titled: Tears of joy as physicists announce they’re pretty sure they found the Higgs Boson. As the folks from ProsPect Scientific noted,

This is why the science must be tightly coupled with art expertise for an effective analysis.  We cannot do all of that for David [Robertson]. [He] wished to show a match between several pigments to support an interpretation that the ‘same’ paints were used. The availability of Hurdy Gurdy made this plausible because it offered a known benchmark that lessened our dependency on the databases and art-expertise. This is why Raman spectroscopy more often disproves authenticity (through pigment anachronisms). Even if all of the pigments analysed showed the same spectra we don’t know that many different painters didn’t buy the same brand of paint or that some other person didn’t take those same paints and use them for a different painting. Even if all pigments were different, that doesn’t mean Lawren Harris didn’t paint it, it just means different paints were used.

In short they proved that one of the pigments used in Autumn Harbour was also used in the authenticated Harris, Hurdy Gurdy, and the other pigment was in use at that time (early 20th century) in Canada. It doesn’t prove it’s a Harris painting but, unlike the Pollock painting where they found an anachronistic pigment, it doesn’t disprove Robertson’s contention.

To contrast the two worlds, the art world seems to revel in secrecy for its own sake while the world of science (chemistry) will suggest, hint, or hedge but never state certainties. The ProSpect* Scientific representative commented on authentication, art institutions, and databases,

We know that some art institutions are extremely cautious about any claims towards authentication, and they decline to be cited in anything other than the work they directly undertake. (One director of a well known US art institution said to me that they pointedly do not authenticate works, she offered advice on how to conduct the analysis but declined any reference to her institution.) We cannot comment on any of the business plans of any of our customers but the customers we have that use Raman spectroscopy on paintings generally build databases from their collected studies as a vital tool to their own ongoing work collecting and preserving works of art.

We don’t know of anyone with a database particular to pigments used by Canadian artists and neither did David R. We don’t know that any organization is developing such a database.The database we used is a mineral database (as pigments in the early 20th century were pre-synthetic this database contains some of the things commonly used in pigments at that time) There are databases available for many things:  many are for sale, some are protected intellectual property. We don’t have immediate access to a pigments database. Some of our art institution/museum customers are developing their own but often these are not publicly available. Raman spectroscopy is new on the scene relative to other techniques like IR and X-Ray analysis and the databases of Raman spectra are less mature.

ProSpect Scientific provided two papers which illustrate either the chemists’ approach to testing and art (RAMAN VIBRATIONAL STUDY OF PIGMENTS WITH PATRIMONIAL INTEREST FOR THE CHILEAN CULTURAL HERITAGE) and/or the art world’s approach (GENUINE OR FAKE: A MICRO-RAMAN SPECTROSCOPY STUDY OF AN ABSTRACT PAINTING ATTRIBUTED TO VASILY KANDINSKY [PDF]).

Canadian cultural heritage

Whether or not Autumn Harbour is a Lawren Harris painting may turn out to be less important than establishing a means for better authenticating, restoring, and conserving Canadian cultural heritage. (In a June 13, 2014 telephone conversation, David Robertson claims he will forward the summary version of the data from the tests to the Canadian Conservation Institute once it is received.)

If you think about it, Canadians are defined by the arts and by research. While our neighbours to the south went through a revolutionary war to declare independence, Canadians have declared independence through the visual and literary arts and the scientific research and implementation of technology (transportation and communication in the 19th and 20th centuries).

Thank you to both Tony Ma and David Robertson.

Finally, Happy Canada Day on July 1, 2014!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

* ‘ProsPect’ changed to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)