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IBM, the Cognitive Era, and carbon nanotube electronics

IBM has a storied position in the field of nanotechnology due to the scanning tunneling microscope developed in the company’s laboratories. It was a Nobel Prize-winning breakthough which provided the impetus for nanotechnology applied research. Now, an Oct. 1, 2015 news item on Nanowerk trumpets another IBM breakthrough,

IBM Research today [Oct. 1, 2015] announced a major engineering breakthrough that could accelerate carbon nanotubes replacing silicon transistors to power future computing technologies.

IBM scientists demonstrated a new way to shrink transistor contacts without reducing performance of carbon nanotube devices, opening a pathway to dramatically faster, smaller and more powerful computer chips beyond the capabilities of traditional semiconductors.

While the Oct. 1, 2015 IBM news release, which originated the news item, does go on at length there’s not much technical detail (see the second to last paragraph in the excerpt for the little they do include) about the research breakthrough (Note: Links have been removed),

IBM’s breakthrough overcomes a major hurdle that silicon and any semiconductor transistor technologies face when scaling down. In any transistor, two things scale: the channel and its two contacts. As devices become smaller, increased contact resistance for carbon nanotubes has hindered performance gains until now. These results could overcome contact resistance challenges all the way to the 1.8 nanometer node – four technology generations away. [emphasis mine]

Carbon nanotube chips could greatly improve the capabilities of high performance computers, enabling Big Data to be analyzed faster, increasing the power and battery life of mobile devices and the Internet of Things, and allowing cloud data centers to deliver services more efficiently and economically.

Silicon transistors, tiny switches that carry information on a chip, have been made smaller year after year, but they are approaching a point of physical limitation. With Moore’s Law running out of steam, shrinking the size of the transistor – including the channels and contacts – without compromising performance has been a vexing challenge troubling researchers for decades.

IBM has previously shown that carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at channel dimensions of less than ten nanometers – the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and less than half the size of today’s leading silicon technology. IBM’s new contact approach overcomes the other major hurdle in incorporating carbon nanotubes into semiconductor devices, which could result in smaller chips with greater performance and lower power consumption.

Earlier this summer, IBM unveiled the first 7 nanometer node silicon test chip [emphasis mine], pushing the limits of silicon technologies and ensuring further innovations for IBM Systems and the IT industry. By advancing research of carbon nanotubes to replace traditional silicon devices, IBM is paving the way for a post-silicon future and delivering on its $3 billion chip R&D investment announced in July 2014.

“These chip innovations are necessary to meet the emerging demands of cloud computing, Internet of Things and Big Data systems,” said Dario Gil, vice president of Science & Technology at IBM Research. “As silicon technology nears its physical limits, new materials, devices and circuit architectures must be ready to deliver the advanced technologies that will be required by the Cognitive Computing era. This breakthrough shows that computer chips made of carbon nanotubes will be able to power systems of the future sooner than the industry expected.”

A New Contact for Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes represent a new class of semiconductor materials that consist of single atomic sheets of carbon rolled up into a tube. The carbon nanotubes form the core of a transistor device whose superior electrical properties promise several generations of technology scaling beyond the physical limits of silicon.

Electrons in carbon transistors can move more easily than in silicon-based devices, and the ultra-thin body of carbon nanotubes provide additional advantages at the atomic scale. Inside a chip, contacts are the valves that control the flow of electrons from metal into the channels of a semiconductor. As transistors shrink in size, electrical resistance increases within the contacts, which impedes performance. Until now, decreasing the size of the contacts on a device caused a commensurate drop in performance – a challenge facing both silicon and carbon nanotube transistor technologies.

IBM researchers had to forego traditional contact schemes and invented a metallurgical process akin to microscopic welding that chemically binds the metal atoms to the carbon atoms at the ends of nanotubes. This ‘end-bonded contact scheme’ allows the contacts to be shrunken down to below 10 nanometers without deteriorating performance of the carbon nanotube devices.

“For any advanced transistor technology, the increase in contact resistance due to the decrease in the size of transistors becomes a major performance bottleneck,” Gil added. “Our novel approach is to make the contact from the end of the carbon nanotube, which we show does not degrade device performance. This brings us a step closer to the goal of a carbon nanotube technology within the decade.”

Every once in a while, the size gets to me and a 1.8nm node is amazing. As for IBM’s 7nm chip, which was previewed this summer, there’s more about that in my July 15, 2015 posting.

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

End-bonded contacts for carbon nanotube transistors with low, size-independent resistance by Qing Cao, Shu-Jen Han, Jerry Tersoff, Aaron D. Franklin†, Yu Zhu, Zhen Zhang‡, George S. Tulevski, Jianshi Tang, and Wilfried Haensch. Science 2 October 2015: Vol. 350 no. 6256 pp. 68-72 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac8006

This paper is behind a paywall.

PrepareAthon and ShakeOut! Get ready for disaster


A Sept. 28, 2015 “prepareathon” notice came courtesy of the US Geological Survey (USGS). While this particular programme is US-centric (their ShakeOut mentioned later in this post is international in scope), sign-up or registration is not required and there is good general information about how to prepare and what to do in a variety of disaster-scenarios on the Hazards page of their website.  For those who can participate, here’s more,

Science Feature: Join America’s PrepareAthon!
Practice what to do in the event of a disaster or emergency.

Join millions of people participating in America’s PrepareAthon! on Sept. 30. This campaign encourages the nation to conduct drills, discussions and exercises to practice what to do before, during and after a disaster or emergency strikes.

The campaign will focus on preparing for floods, wildfires, hurricanes and power outages. Each year, the campaign holds two national days of action, with each day highlighting different hazards. This is the second national day of action this year.

Start with Science

USGS science is essential to understanding a wide range of hazards—including volcanoes, landslides, wildlife health and many others beyond this specific campaign—and provides a basis on which preparedness actions are developed.

USGS real-time monitoring of the nation’s rivers and streams provides officials with critical information for flood warnings, forecasts and evacuation warnings.

Before, during and after wildfire disasters, the USGS provides tools to identify wildfire risks and reduce subsequent hazards, such as landslides. USGS scientists also provide real-time maps and satellite imagery to firefighters.

For major storms or hurricanes, USGS science helps forecast the likelihood of coastal impacts. The USGS also measures storm surge and monitors water levels of inland rivers and streams.

Power outages can have many causes, including geomagnetic storms that result from the dynamic interaction of solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. The USGS operates a unique network of observatories that provide real-time data on magnetic storm conditions.

Coordination and Community

America’s PrepareAthon! is part of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 8: National Preparedness and led by The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The USGS is one of many supporting and contributing agencies. This campaign is coordinated with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.


The same Sept. 28, 2015 USGS notice includes some information about a “ShakeOut” (of particular interest to someone who lives in what’s known as the Ring of Fire or less colourfully as the circum-Pacific Belt earthquake/volcanic zone [Wikipedia entry]). This is an international (Japan, Italy, Canada, and others in addition to the US) event,

Get Ready to ShakeOut on October 15

Sign up for the next Great ShakeOut earthquake drill on October 15, 2015, and practice “drop, cover, and hold on,” the recommended safety action to take during an earthquake.

You can check out your state, province, or country, as I did for British Columbia (Canada). Here’s what I found,

On October 15* [2015], officially “ShakeOut BC Day,” millions of people worldwide will practice how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10:15 a.m. during Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills!

British Columbians can join by registering for the 2015 Great British Columbia ShakeOut.

The page hosts an embedded video and it’s available en français. It also offers these statistics: 610,000 have already signed up the 2015 event; last year (2014), there were over 740,000 participants.

Characterizing anatase titanium dixoide at the nanoscale

An international collaboration of researchers combined atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to characterize anatase titanium dixoxide. From a Sept. 14, 2015 news item on Azonano,

A [Japan National Institute for Materials Science] NIMS research team successfully identified the atoms and common defects existing at the most stable surface of the anatase form of titanium dioxide by characterizing this material at the atomic scale with scanning probe microscopy. This work was published under open access policy in the online version of Nature Communications on June 29, 2015.

A June 29, 2015 NIMS press release, which originated the news item, includes the paper’s abstract in numbered point form,

  1. The research team consisting of Oscar Custance and Tomoko Shimizu, group leader and senior scientist, respectively, at the Atomic Force Probe Group, NIMS, Daisuke Fujita and Keisuke Sagisaka, group leader and senior researcher, respectively, at the Surface Characterization Group, NIMS, and scientists at Charles University in the Czech Republic, Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain, and other organizations combined simultaneous atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) measurements with first-principles calculations for the unambiguous identification of the atomic species at the most stable surface of the anatase form of titanium dioxide (hereinafter referred to as anatase) and its most common defects.
  2. In recent years, anatase has attracted considerable attention, because it has become a pivotal material in devices for photo-catalysis and for the conversion of solar energy to electricity. It is extremely challenging to grow large single crystals of anatase, and most of the applications of this material are in the form of nano crystals. To enhance the catalytic reactivity of anatase and the efficiency of devices for solar energy conversion based on anatase, it is critical to gain in-depth understanding and control of the reactions taking place at the surface of this material down to the atomic level. Only a few research groups worldwide possess the technology to create proper test samples and to make in-situ atomic-level observations of anatase surfaces.
  3. In this study, the research team used samples obtained from anatase natural single crystals extracted from naturally occurring anatase rocks. The team characterized the (101) surface of anatase at atomic level by means of simultaneous AFM and STM. Using single water molecules as atomic markers, the team successfully identified the atomic species of this surface; result that was additionally confirmed by the comparison of simultaneous AFM and STM measurements with the outcomes of first-principles calculations.
  4. In regular STM, in which an atomically sharp probe is scanned over the surface by keeping constant an electrical current flowing between them, it is difficult to stably image anatase surfaces as this material presents poor electrical conductivity over some of the atomic positions of the surface. However, simultaneous operation of AFM and STM allowed imaging the surface with atomic resolution even within the materials band gap (a region where the flow of current between the probe and the surface is, in principle, prohibited). Here, the detection of inter-atomic forces between the last atom of the atomically sharp probe and the atoms of the surface by AFM was of crucial importance. By regulating the probe-surface distance using AFM, it was possible to image the surface at atomic-scale while collecting STM data over both conductive and not conductive areas of the surface. By comparing simultaneous AFM and STM measurements with theoretical simulations, the team was not only able to discern which atomic species were contributing to the AFM and the STM images but also to identify the most common defects found at the surface.
  5. In the future, based on the information gained from this study, the NIMS research team will conduct research on molecules of technologically relevance that adsorb on anatase and characterize these hybrid systems by using simultaneous AFM and STM. Their ultimate goal is to formulate novel approaches for the development of photo-catalysts and solar cell materials and devices.

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

Atomic species identification at the (101) anatase surface by simultaneous scanning tunnelling and atomic force microscopy by Oleksandr Stetsovych, Milica Todorović, Tomoko K. Shimizu, César Moreno, James William Ryan, Carmen Pérez León, Keisuke Sagisaka, Emilio Palomares, Vladimír Matolín, Daisuke Fujita, Ruben Perez, & Oscar Custance. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7265 doi:10.1038/ncomms8265 Published 29 June 2015

This is an open access paper.

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 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:

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 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: but you may find the Guidance for responding to the Notice: 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
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:]

Figure 1: Reporting Diagram for Nanomaterials [downloaded from:]

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.