Category Archives: water

Reliable findings on the presence of synthetic (engineered) nanoparticles in bodies of water

An Aug. 29, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces research into determining the presence of engineered (synthetic) nanoparticles in bodies of water,

For a number of years now, an increasing number of synthetic nanoparticles have been manufactured and incorporated into various products, such as cosmetics. For the first time, a research project at the Technical University of Munich and the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment provides reliable findings on their presence in water bodies.

An Aug. 29, 2016 Technical University of Munich (TUM) press release, which originated the news item, provides more information,

Nanoparticles can improve the properties of materials and products. That is the reason why an increasing number of nanoparticles have been manufactured over the past several years. The worldwide consumption of silver nanoparticles is currently estimated at over 300 metric tons. These nanoparticles have the positive effect of killing bacteria and viruses. Products that are coated with these particles include refrigerators and surgical instruments. Silver nanoparticles can even be found in sportswear. This is because the silver particles can prevent the smell of sweat by killing the bacteria that cause it.

Previously, it was unknown whether and in what concentration these nanoparticles enter the environment and e.g. enter bodies of water. If they do, this poses a problem. That is because the silver nanoparticles are toxic to numerous aquatic organisms, and can upset sensitive ecological balances.

Analytical challenge

In the past, however, nanoparticles have not been easy to detect. That is because they measure only 1 to 100 nanometers across [nanoparticles may be larger than 100nm or smaller than 1nm but the official definitions usually specify up to 100nm although some definitions go up to 1000nm] – a nanometer is a millionth of a millimeter. “In order to know if a toxicological hazard exists, we need to know how many of these particles enter the environment, and in particular bodies of water”, explains Michael Schuster, Professor for Analytical Chemistry at the TU Munich.

This was an analytical challenge for the researchers charged with solving the problem on behalf of the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment. In order to overcome this issue, they used a well-known principle that utilizes the effect of surfactants to separate and concentrate the particles. “Surfactants are also found in washing and cleaning detergents”, explains Schuster. “Basically, what they do is envelop grease and dirt particles in what are called micelles, making it possible for them to float in water.” One side of the surfactant is water-soluble, the other fat-soluble. The fat-soluble ends collect around non-polar, non-water soluble compounds such as grease or around particles, and “trap” them in a micelle. The water-soluble, polar ends of the surfactants, on the other hand, point towards the water molecules, allowing the microscopically small micelle to float in water.

A box of sugar cubes in the Walchensee lake

The researchers applied this principle to the nanoparticles. “When the micelles surrounding the particles are warmed slightly, they start to clump”, explains Schuster. This turns the water cloudy. Using a centrifuge, the surfactants and the nanoparticles trapped in them can then be separated from the water. This procedure is called cloud point extraction. The researchers then use the surfactants that have been separated out in this manner – which contain the particles in an unmodified, but highly concentrated form – to measure how many silver nanoparticles are present. To do this, they use a highly sensitive atomic spectrometer configured to only detect silver. In this manner, concentrations in a range of less than one nanogram per liter can be detected. To put this in perspective, this would be like detecting a box of sugar cubes that had dissolved in the Walchensee lake.

With the help of this analysis procedure, it is possible to gain new insight into the concentration of nanoparticles in drinking and waste water, sewage sludge, rivers, and lakes. In Bavaria, the measurements yielded good news: The concentrations measured in the water bodies were extremely low. In was only in four of the 13 Upper Bavarian lakes examined that the concentration even exceeded the minimum detection limit of 0.2 nanograms per liter. No measured value exceeded 1.3 nanograms per liter. So far, no permissible values have been established for silver nanoparticles.

Representative for watercourses, the Isar river was examined from its source to its mouth at around 30 locations. The concentration of silver nanoparticles was also measured in the inflow and outflow of sewage treatment plants. The findings showed that at least 94 percent of silver nanoparticles are filtered out by the sewage treatment plants.

Unfortunately, the researchers have not published their results.

Removing viruses from water with a ‘mille-feuille’ filter

Mille-feuille is a pastry and it’s name translates to ‘a thousand leaves’, which hints at how a ‘mille-feuille’ nanofilter is constructed. From a May 18, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

A simple paper sheet made by scientists at Uppsala University can improve the quality of life for millions of people by removing resistant viruses from water. The sheet, made of cellulose nanofibers, is called the mille-feuille filter as it has a unique layered internal architecture resembling that of the French puff pastry mille-feuille (Eng. thousand leaves).

Caption: The sheet made of cellulose nanofibers in the mille-feuille filter which can remove resistant viruses from water. Research led by Albert Mihranyan, Professor of Nanotechnology at Uppsala University, Image by Simon Gustafsson. Credit: Simon Gustafsson

Caption: The sheet made of cellulose nanofibers in the mille-feuille filter which can remove resistant viruses from water. Research led by Albert Mihranyan, Professor of Nanotechnology at Uppsala University, Image by Simon Gustafsson. Credit: Simon Gustafsson

A May 18, 2016 Uppsala University (Sweden) press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

With a filter material directly from nature, and by using simple production methods, we believe that our filter paper can become the affordable global water filtration solution and help save lives. Our goal is to develop a filter paper that can remove even the toughest viruses from water as easily as brewing coffee’, says Albert Mihranyan, Professor of Nanotechnology at Uppsala University, who heads the study.

Access to safe drinking water is among the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. More than 748 million people lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Water-borne infections are among the global causes for mortality, especially in children under age of five, and viruses are among the most notorious water-borne infectious microorganisms. They can be both extremely resistant to disinfection and difficult to remove by filtration due to their small size.

Today we heavily rely on chemical disinfectants, such as chlorine, which may produce toxic by-products depending on water quality. Filtration is a very effective, robust, energy-efficient, and inert method of producing drinking water as it physically removes the microorganisms from water rather than inactivates them. But the high price of efficient filters is limiting their use today.

‘Safe drinking water is a problem not only in the low-income countries. Massive viral outbreaks have also occurred in Europe in the past, including Sweden, continues Mihranyan referring to the massive viral outbreak in Lilla Edet municipality in Sweden in 2008, when more than 2400 people or almost 20% of the local population got infected with Norovirus due to poor water. ‘ Cellulose is one of the most common filtering media used in daily life from tea-bags to vacuum cleaners. However, the general-purpose filter paper has too large pores to remove viruses. In 2014, the group has described for the first time a paper filter that can remove large size viruses, such as influenza virus.

Small size viruses have been much harder to get rid of, as they are extremely resistant to physical and chemical inactivation. A successful filter should not only remove viruses but also feature high flow, low fouling, and long life-time, which makes advanced filters very expensive to develop. Now, with the breakthrough achieved using the mille-feuille filter the long awaited shift to affordable advanced filtration solutions may at last become a reality. Another application of the filter includes production of therapeutic proteins and vaccines.

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

Mille-feuille paper: a novel type of filter architecture for advanced virus separation applications by Simon Gustafsson, Pascal Lordat, Tobias Hanrieder, Marcel Asper,  Oliver Schaeferb, and Albert Mihranyan, Mater. Horiz., 2016, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C6MH00090H First published online 18 May 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nature-inspired nanotubes from the Lawrence Berkeley National* Laboratory

A March 29, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now  announces a new technique for nature-inspired self-assembling polymer nanotubes,

When it comes to the various nanowidgets scientists are developing, nanotubes are especially intriguing. That’s because hollow tubes that have diameters of only a few billionths of a meter have the potential to be incredibly useful, from delivering cancer-fighting drugs inside cells to desalinating seawater.

But building nanostructures is difficult. And creating a large quantity of nanostructures with the same trait, such as millions of nanotubes with identical diameters, is even more difficult. This kind of precision manufacturing is needed to create the nanotechnologies of tomorrow.

Help could be on the way. As reported online the week of March 28 [2016] in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered a family of nature-inspired polymers that, when placed in water, spontaneously assemble into hollow crystalline nanotubes. What’s more, the nanotubes can be tuned to all have the same diameter of between five and ten nanometers, depending on the length of the polymer chain.

A March 28, 2016 Berkeley Lab news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The polymers have two chemically distinct blocks that are the same size and shape. The scientists learned these blocks act like molecular tiles that form rings, which stack together to form nanotubes up to 100 nanometers long, all with the same diameter.

“This points to a new way we can use synthetic polymers to create complex nanostructures in a very precise way,” says Ron Zuckermann, who directs the Biological Nanostructures Facility in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, where much of this research was conducted.

Several other Berkeley Lab scientists contributed to this research, including Nitash Balsara of the Materials Sciences Division and Ken Downing of the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division.

“Creating uniform structures in high yield is a goal in nanotechnology,” adds Zuckermann. “For example, if you can control the diameter of nanotubes, and the chemical groups exposed in their interior, then you can control what goes through—which could lead to new filtration and desalination technologies, to name a few examples.”

The research is the latest in the effort to build nanostructures that approach the complexity and function of nature’s proteins, but are made of durable materials. In this work, the Berkeley Lab scientists studied a polymer that is a member of the peptoid family. Peptoids are rugged synthetic polymers that mimic peptides, which nature uses to form proteins. They can be tuned at the atomic scale to carry out specific functions.

For the past several years, the scientists have studied a particular type of peptoid, called a diblock copolypeptoid, because it binds with lithium ions and could be used as a battery electrolyte. Along the way, they serendipitously found the compounds form nanotubes in water. How exactly these nanotubes form has yet to be determined, but this latest research sheds light on their structure, and hints at a new design principle that could be used to build nanotubes and other complex nanostructures.

Diblock copolypeptoids are composed of two peptoid blocks, one that’s hydrophobic one that’s hydrophilic. The scientists discovered both blocks crystallize when they meet in water, and form rings consisting of two to three individual peptoids. The rings then form hollow nanotubes.

Cryo-electron microscopy imaging of 50 of the nanotubes showed the diameter of each tube is highly uniform along its length, as well as from tube to tube. This analysis also revealed a striped pattern across the width of the nanotubes, which indicates the rings stack together to form tubes, and rules out other packing arrangements. In addition, the peptoids are thought to arrange themselves in a brick-like pattern, with hydrophobic blocks lining up with other hydrophobic blocks, and the same for hydrophilic blocks.

“Images of the tubes captured by electron microscopy were essential for establishing the presence of this unusual structure,” says Balsara. “The formation of tubular structures with a hydrophobic core is common for synthetic polymers dispersed in water, so we were quite surprised to see the formation of hollow tubes without a hydrophobic core.”

X-ray scattering analyses conducted at beamline 7.3.3 of the Advanced Light Source revealed even more about the nanotubes’ structure. For example, it showed that one of the peptoid blocks, which is usually amorphous, is actually crystalline.

Remarkably, the nanotubes assemble themselves without the usual nano-construction aids, such as electrostatic interactions or hydrogen bond networks.

“You wouldn’t expect something as intricate as this could be created without these crutches,” says Zuckermann. “But it turns out the chemical interactions that hold the nanotubes together are very simple. What’s special here is that the two peptoid blocks are chemically distinct, yet almost exactly the same size, which allows the chains to pack together in a very regular way. These insights could help us design useful nanotubes and other structures that are rugged and tunable—and which have uniform structures.”

This cryo-electron microscopy image shows the self-assembling nanotubes have the same diameter. The circles are head-on views of nanotubes. The dark-striped features likely result from crystallized peptoid blocks. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

This cryo-electron microscopy image shows the self-assembling nanotubes have the same diameter. The circles are head-on views of nanotubes. The dark-striped features likely result from crystallized peptoid blocks. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

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

Self-assembly of crystalline nanotubes from monodisperse amphiphilic diblock copolypeptoid tiles by Jing Sun, Xi Jiang, Reidar Lund, Kenneth H. Downing, Nitash P. Balsara, and Ronald N. Zuckermann. PNAS 2016 ; published ahead of print March 28, 2016, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517169113

This paper is behind a paywall.

*’Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’ changed to ‘Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’ on April 3, 2016.

US Nanotechnology Initiative for water sustainability

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 was World Water Day and to coincide with that event the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in collaboration with several other agencies announced a new ‘signature initiative’. From a March 24, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

As a part of the White House Water Summit held yesterday on World Water Day, the Federal agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) announced the launch of a Nanotechnology Signature Initiative (NSI), Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge.

A March 23, 2016 NNI news release provides more information about why this initiative is important,

Access to clean water remains one of the world’s most pressing needs. As today’s White House Office of Science and Technology blog post explains, “the small size and exceptional properties of engineered nanomaterials are particularly promising for addressing the key technical challenges related to water quality and quantity.”

“One cannot find an issue more critical to human life and global security than clean, plentiful, and reliable water sources,” said Dr. Michael Meador, Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO). “Through the NSI mechanism, NNI member agencies will have an even greater ability to make meaningful strides toward this initiative’s thrust areas: increasing water availability, improving the efficiency of water delivery and use, and enabling next-generation water monitoring systems.”

A March 23, 2016 US White House blog posting by Lloyd Whitman and Lisa Friedersdorf describes the efforts in more detail (Note: A link has been removed),

The small size and exceptional properties of engineered nanomaterials are particularly promising for addressing the pressing technical challenges related to water quality and quantity. For example, the increased surface area—a cubic centimeter of nanoparticles has a surface area larger than a football field—and reactivity of nanometer-scale particles can be exploited to create catalysts for water purification that do not require rare or precious metals. And composites incorporating nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes might one day enable stronger, lighter, and more durable piping systems and components. Under this NSI, Federal agencies will coordinate and collaborate to more rapidly develop nanotechnology-enabled solutions in three main thrusts: [thrust 1] increasing water availability; [thrust 2] improving the efficiency of water delivery and use; and [thrust 3] enabling next-generation water monitoring systems.

A technical “white paper” released by the agencies this week highlights key technical challenges for each thrust, identifies key objectives to overcome those challenges, and notes areas of research and development where nanotechnology promises to provide the needed solutions. By shining a spotlight on these areas, the new NSI will increase Federal coordination and collaboration, including with public and private stakeholders, which is vital to making progress in these areas. The additional focus and associated collective efforts will advance stewardship of water resources to support the essential food, energy, security, and environment needs of all stakeholders.

We applaud the commitment of the Federal agencies who will participate in this effort—the Department of Commerce/National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture. As made clear at this week’s White House Water Summit, the world’s water systems are under tremendous stress, and new and emerging technologies will play a critical role in ensuring a sustainable water future.

The white paper (12 pp.) is titled: Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale Solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge and describes the thrusts in more detail.

A March 22, 2016 US White House fact sheet lays out more details including funding,

Click here to learn more about all of the commitments and announcements being made today. They include:

  • Nearly $4 billion in private capital committed to investment in a broad range of water-infrastructure projects nationwide. This includes $1.5 billion from Ultra Capital to finance decentralized and scalable water-management solutions, and $500 million from Sustainable Water to develop water reclamation and reuse systems.
  • More than $1 billion from the private sector over the next decade to conduct research and development into new technologies. This includes $500 million from GE to fuel innovation, expertise, and global capabilities in advanced water, wastewater, and reuse technologies.
  • A Presidential Memorandum and supporting Action Plan on building national capabilities for long-term drought resilience in the United States, including by setting drought resilience policy goals, directing specific drought resilience activities to be completed by the end of the year, and permanently establishing the National Drought Resilience Partnership as an interagency task force responsible for coordinating drought-resilience, response, and recovery efforts.
  • Nearly $35 million this year in Federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support cutting-edge water science;
  • The release of a new National Water Model that will dramatically enhance the Nation’s river-forecasting capabilities by delivering forecasts for approximately 2.7 million locations, up from 4,000 locations today (a 700-fold increase in forecast density).

This seems promising and hopefully other countries will follow suit.

Namib beetles, cacti, and pitcher plants teach scientists at Harvard University (US)

In this latest work from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, scientists have looked at three desert dwellers for survival strategies in water-poor areas. From a Feb. 25, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Organisms such as cacti and desert beetles can survive in arid environments because they’ve evolved mechanisms to collect water from thin air. The Namib desert beetle, for example, collects water droplets on the bumps of its shell while V-shaped cactus spines guide droplets to the plant’s body.

As the planet grows drier, researchers are looking to nature for more effective ways to pull water from air. Now, a team of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have drawn inspiration from these organisms to develop a better way to promote and transport condensed water droplets.

A Feb. 24, 2016 Harvard University press release by Leah Burrows (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Everybody is excited about bioinspired materials research,” said Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at SEAS and core faculty member of the Wyss Institute. “However, so far, we tend to mimic one inspirational natural system at a time. Our research shows that a complex bio-inspired approach, in which we marry multiple biological species to come up with non-trivial designs for highly efficient materials with unprecedented properties, is a new, promising direction in biomimetics.”

The new system, described in Nature, is inspired by the bumpy shell of desert beetles, the asymmetric structure of cactus spines and slippery surfaces of pitcher plants. The material harnesses the power of these natural systems, plus Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces technology (SLIPS) developed in Aizenberg’s lab, to collect and direct the flow of condensed water droplets.

This approach is promising not only for harvesting water but also for industrial heat exchangers.

“Thermal power plants, for example, rely on condensers to quickly convert steam to liquid water,” said Philseok Kim, co-author of the paper and co-founder and vice president of technology at SEAS spin-off SLIPS Technologies, Inc. “This design could help speed up that process and even allow for operation at a higher temperature, significantly improving the overall energy efficiency.”

The major challenges in harvesting atmospheric water are controlling the size of the droplets, speed in which they form and the direction in which they flow.

For years, researchers focused on the hybrid chemistry of the beetle’s bumps — a hydrophilic top with hydrophobic surroundings — to explain how the beetle attracted water. However, Aizenberg and her team took inspiration from a different possibility – that convex bumps themselves also might be able to harvest water.

“We experimentally found that the geometry of bumps alone could facilitate condensation,” said Kyoo-Chul Park, a postdoctoral researcher and the first author of the paper. “By optimizing that bump shape through detailed theoretical modeling and combining it with the asymmetry of cactus spines and the nearly friction-free coatings of pitcher plants, we were able to design a material that can collect and transport a greater volume of water in a short time compared to other surfaces.”

“Without one of those parameters, the whole system would not work synergistically to promote both the growth and accelerated directional transport of even small, fast condensing droplets,” said Park.

“This research is an exciting first step towards developing a passive system that can efficiently collect water and guide it to a reservoir,” said Kim.

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

Condensation on slippery asymmetric bumps by Kyoo-Chul Park, Philseok Kim, Alison Grinthal, Neil He, David Fox, James C. Weaver, & Joanna Aizenberg. Nature (2016) doi:10.1038/nature16956 Published online 24 February 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have featured the Namib beetle and its water harvesting capabilities most recently in a July 29, 2014 posting and the most recent story I have about SLIPS is in an Oct. 14, 2014 posting.

Harvard University’s Engineered Water Nanostructures (EWNS)

I last wrote about this research in a March 19, 2015 posting, which focused on work proving that a water-engineered nanostructure platform had microbial properties useful for decontaminating food and allowing manufacturers to avoid using chemicals for the task. This latest research focuses on finetuning the platform’s ability. Here’s more from the latest research paper’s abstract,

A chemical free, nanotechnology-based, antimicrobial platform using Engineered Water Nanostructures (EWNS) was recently developed. EWNS have high surface charge, are loaded with reactive oxygen species (ROS), and can interact-with, and inactivate an array of microorganisms, including foodborne pathogens. Here, it was demonstrated that their properties during synthesis can be fine tuned and optimized to further enhance their antimicrobial potential. A lab based EWNS platform was developed to enable fine-tuning of EWNS properties by modifying synthesis parameters. Characterization of EWNS properties (charge, size and ROS content) was performed using state-of-the art analytical methods. Further their microbial inactivation potential was evaluated with food related microorganisms such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, Listeria innocua, Mycobacterium parafortuitum, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae inoculated onto the surface of organic grape tomatoes. The results presented here indicate that EWNS properties can be fine-tuned during synthesis resulting in a multifold increase of the inactivation efficacy. More specifically, the surface charge quadrupled and the ROS content increased. Microbial removal rates were microorganism dependent and ranged between 1.0 to 3.8 logs after 45 mins of exposure to an EWNS aerosol dose of 40,000 #/cm3.

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

Optimization of a nanotechnology based antimicrobial platform for food safety applications using Engineered Water Nanostructures (EWNS) by Georgios Pyrgiotakis, Pallavi Vedantam, Caroline Cirenza, James McDevitt, Mary Eleftheriadou, Stephen S. Leonard, & Philip Demokritou. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 21073 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep21073 Published online: 15 February 2016

This is an open access paper.

#BCTECH: preview of Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016

It is the first and it is sold out. Fear Not! I have gotten a press pass so I can investigate a bit further. In the meantime, #BCTECH Summit 2016 is a joint venture between the province of British Columbia (BC, Canada) and the BC Innovation Council (BCIC), a crown corporation formerly known as the Science Council of British Columbia.  A Jan 6, 2016 BCIC news release tells the story,

With less than two weeks to go and tickets 95% sold out, world-renowned keynote speakers will reinforce technology’s increasing economic and social impact to more than 2,000 people during B.C.’s first #BCTECH Summit on Jan. 18 & 19, 2016.

With Microsoft confirmed as the title sponsor, the summit will feature numerous dynamic keynote speakers:

  •  Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist—described as “the restless genius”, with predictions that will change how people think about the future.
  •  Andrew Wilson, CEO, Electronic Arts—named one of the top people in business by Fortune magazine.
  •  T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, corporate vice-president, Microsoft—will explore how technology and the cloud is empowering Canadians and changing how we do business and interact in the digital world.
  •  Elyse Allan, president and CEO, GE Canada—named one of the 25 most powerful people in Canada.
  •  Eric Ries, pioneer of the Lean Startup movement—a new approach to business that’s being adopted around the world; changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.

In addition, panel discussions featuring B.C. business leaders and global thought leaders will explore the latest trends, including fintech, cleantech, big data and cyber security.

A technology showcase will feature B.C.’s most innovative technology at work, including robots, 3D printing and electric cars. A new exhibit, the 4D Portal, will take delegates on a journey of B.C. tech, from deep below the earth’s surface into outer space.

More than 500 high school and post-secondary students will also take part in the summit’s career showcase featuring speakers and exhibitors sharing the latest information about technology as a career choice that pays, on average, 60% more than the B.C. average.

As part of the career showcase, nearly 200 high school students will participate in a coding camp and learn basic coding skills. The coding camp will also be offered via live webcast so schools throughout the province can participate.

A key component of the summit will profile venture capital presentations made by 40 promising small- to medium-sized B.C. companies aiming to attract investors and proceed to the next stage of development.

B.C.’s technology sector, a key pillar of the BC Jobs Plan, is consistently growing faster than the economy overall. Its continued growth is integral to diversifying the Province’s economy, strengthening B.C.’s business landscape and creating jobs in B.C. communities.

The new $100 million venture capital BC Tech Fund, announced Dec. 8, 2015, is the first pillar of the comprehensive #BCTECH Strategy to be released in full at B.C.’s first #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016. The conference is presented by the B.C. government in partnership with the BC Innovation Council (BCIC). To register or learn more, go to: http://bctechsummit.ca

Quotes:

Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, Amrik Virk –

“Strengthening our technology sector is part of our commitment to support our diverse economy. The summit provides an unprecedented opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together and discuss ways of growing this sector and capitalizing from that growth.”

President and CEO, BCIC, Greg Caws –

“We are pleased to provide British Columbians from across the province with the opportunity to explore how technology impacts our lives and our businesses. Above all, the #BCTECH Summit will be a catalyst for all of us to embrace technology and an innovation mindset.”

President, Microsoft Canada, Janet Kennedy –

“Microsoft is proud to be the title sponsor of the #BCTECH Summit—an event that showcases B.C.’s vibrant technology industry. We are excited about the growth of B.C.’s tech sector and are pleased that we’re expanding our developer presence in Vancouver and supporting Canadian private and public sector organizations through our investments in Canadian data centres.”

Quick Facts:

  •  The technology sector directly employs more than 86,000 people, and wages for those jobs are 60% higher than B.C.’s industrial average.
  •  B.C.’s technology sector is growing faster than the overall economy. In 2013, it grew at a rate of 4.7%, higher than the 3.2% growth observed in the provincial economy.
  •  In 2013, the technology sector added $13.9 billion to B.C.’s GDP.
  •  B.C.’s 9,000 technology companies combined generated $23.3 billion in revenue in 2013.
  •  New technology companies are emerging at increasing rates throughout the province. In 2013, there was an addition of more than 700 new technology companies in B.C., an increase of 8% over the prior year.

I’m not a big fan of Kurzweil’s but the man can sell tickets and, in days past, he did develop some important software. You can find out more about him on his website and critiques can be found here on Quora, as well as, a thoughtful Nov. 5, 2012 piece by Gary Marcus for the New Yorker about Kurzweil’s latest book (“How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed”).

As for me, I’m most interested in the trade show/research row/technology showcase. Simon Fraser University sent out a Jan. 14, 2016 news release highlighting its participation in the trade show and summit (weirdly there was nothing from the other major local research institution, the University of British Columbia),

Simon Fraser University is a gold sponsor of the #BCTECH Summit a new two-day event presented by the B.C. government and the BC Innovation Council to showcase the province’s vibrant technology sector

 

Simon Fraser University will be highly visible at the inaugural #BCTECH Summit taking place on January 18-19 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

 

In addition to technology displays from student entrepreneurs at the SFU Innovates booth, SFU research will be featured at both the Technology Showcase and Research Row. [emphasis mine] SFU representatives will be on hand at the Career Showcase to speak to secondary and post-secondary students who are interested in the industry. And several investment-ready companies affiliated with SFU will be pitching to elite investors.

 

During the summit, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, students and government will explore new ideas on how to gain a competitive advantage for B.C. The event will spark discussion on directions for the province’s rapidly developing high tech sector, while several streams will illustrate and share new innovations.

 

“This event provides us with an opportunity to showcase how SFU students, faculty, alumni and client companies are stimulating innovation and creating jobs and opportunities for British Columbia,“ says SFU Vice-President Research Joy Johnson. “And it highlights the work we’ve been doing to inspire, develop and support impact-driven innovation and entrepreneurship through SFU Innovates.”

 

SFU Innovates was launched in October to synergize and strengthen the university’s activities and resources related to community and industry engagement, incubation and acceleration, entrepreneurship and social innovation.

 

Johnson will introduce the summit’s keynote address by Eric Ries, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, on How today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, on Jan. 18 [2016] at 10:45 a.m.

 

SFU Faculty of Applied Sciences professor Ryan D’Arcy will be a panelist at a session titled Industry Deep Dive – Healthcare, moderated by Paul Drohan, CEO, Life Sciences BC, on Jan. 19 [2016] at 11 a.m. He will share how Surrey’s thriving Innovation Boulevard (IB) is progressing. SFU is a founding partner of IB and contributes via the university’s research strengths in health and technology and its focus on health tech innovation.

 

Steven Jones, an SFU professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and associate director and head of bioinformatics at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, BCCA [BC Cancer Agency], will participate on a panel titled Shaping the Future of Health, on Jan. 19 [2016] at 2:15 p.m., to be moderated by the Honourable Terry Lake, Minister of Health.

 

And Igor Faletski, CEO of Mobify (and an SFU alumnus) will participate in the “Why BC?” session to be moderated by Bill Tam, CEO of BCTIA [BC Technology Industry Association], on Jan. 18 [2016] at 11:30 a.m.

 

Students and delegates will also have the opportunity to explore the various research and technology showcases.

 

Backgrounder: SFU Innovations at #BCTECH Summit

 

Research Row

 

4D LABS will showcase how it has helped B.C.’s academic and industry tech clients turn their ideas into innovations. The facility has been instrumental in bringing numerous ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace, advancing a diverse range of technologies, including fuel cells, batteries, biosensors, security devices, pharmaceutical delivery, MEMS, and many more. As B.C.’s premier materials research institute, the open-access, $65 million state-of-the-art facility has helped to advance nearly 50 companies in the local tech sector.

 

• SFU researchers led by JC Liu of the Faculty of Applied Sciences will display their cloud gaming platform, Rhizome, utilizing the latest hardware support for both remote servers and local clients. The platform takes the first step towards bridging online gaming systems and the public cloud, accomplishing ultra-low latency and resulting in a low power consumption gaming experience. Their demo shows that gaming over virtualized cloud can be made possible with careful optimization and integration of different modules. They will also introduce CrowdNavigation, a complementary service to existing navigation systems that combats the “last mile puzzle” and helps drivers to determine the end of routes.

 

Molescope is a hand held tool that uses a smartphone to monitor skin for signs of cancer. The device is based on research that Maryam Sadeghi conducted during her doctoral studies at SFU and commercialized through her company, MetaOptima Inc., a former SFU Venture Connection client. The product was unveiled at the World Congress of Dermatology in 2015 and is also now available at the consumer level. Molescope enables people to monitor their moles and manage skin health.

 

Technology Showcase

 

• Engineering science professors Siamak Arzanpour and Edward Park will showcase their Wearable Lower Limb Anthropomorphic Exoskeleton (WLLAE) – a lightweight, battery-operated and ergonomic robotic system to help those with mobility issues improve their lives. The exoskeleton features joints and links that correspond to those of a human body and sync with motion. SFU has designed, manufactured and tested a proof-of-concept prototype and the current version can mimic all the motions of hip joints. Researchers anticipate the next generation of this system early this year. The prototype will be live-demoed as an example of a breakthrough innovation.

 

Venture Capital Presentations

 

Several SFU-affiliated companies were selected to present investment pitches to local and international venture capitalists at the summit, including:

 

H+ Technology, creator of Holus, an interactive, tabletop holographic platform that converts any digital content from your tablet, smartphone, PC or Mac into a 360-degree holographic experience. H+ was co-founded by three SFU alumni and was a former client company of the SFU incubator at the Harbour Centre campus.

 

Optigo Networks, a VentureLabs® client company that delivers next-generation security for the commercial Internet of Things.

 

Saltworks Technologies Inc., provider of advanced water treatment solutions and a company founded by two graduates of SFU’s Management of Technology MBA program.

 

Semios, a VentureLabs® client company and emerging leader in agricultural technology innovation.

 

VeloMetro Mobility Inc., a former SFU Venture Connection and current VentureLabs® client company with the mission to provide people with human-powered vehicles that parallel automobile functionality for urban use.

 

SFU Innovates Trade Show will include:

 

• H+ Technology (see above)

 

Shield X Technology, creators of Brainshield™, an impact-diverting decal for sports helmets that is the result of six years of R&D at SFU’s School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering at the Surrey campus. An SFU spinout, it is a current VentureLabs® client company.

 

• Acceleration Innovations, creator of Birth Alert, the first ever app-enabled, automatic and wireless contraction-monitoring device. Acceleration Innovations was founded by a team of students from the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU program.

 

ORA Scents, a mobile device company created by an SFU Beedie School of Business undergrad student, that is introducing the world’s first app-enabled scent diffuser that enables users to create, control and share personalized scents in real-time. [Sounds like oPhone mentioned in my June 18, 2014 posting.)

 

Also presenting at the VentureLabs area within the BC Accelerator Network Pavilion will be: PHEMI Health Systems, Semios, XCo, U R In Control, TeamFit, Instant, Wearable Therapeutics, V7 Entertainment, ThinkValue, and Aspect Biosystems. Lungpacer Medical and Metacreative, both companies formed around SFU faculty research, will also have exhibits.

 

Prize draws will be held for projects from RADIUS Slingshot ventures The Capilano Tea House & Botanical Soda Co. and Naked Snacks.

I’m particularly interested in what 4D Labs is doing these days. (They used to brand themselves as a nanotechnology laboratory but they’ve moved on to what they see as more sophisticated branding. I’m just curious. Have they changed focus or is it nanotechnology under a new name?)

What is the effect of nanoscale plastic on marine life?

A Nov.27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces a new UK (United Kingdom) research project designed to answer the question: what impact could nanoscale plastic particles  have on the marine environment?,

As England brings in pricing on plastic carrier bags, and Scotland reveals that similar changes a little over a year ago have reduced the use of such bags by 80%, new research led by Heriot-Watt University in conjunction with Plymouth University will look at the effect which even the most microscopic plastic particles can have on the marine environment.

While images of large ‘islands’ of plastic rubbish or of large marine animals killed or injured by the effects of such discards have brought home some of the obvious negative effects of plastics in the marine environment, it is known that there is more discarded plastic out there than we can account for, and much of it will have degraded into small or even microscopic particles.

It is the effect of these latter, known as nano-plastics, which will be studied under a £1.1m research project, largely funded by NERC [UK Natural Environment Research Council] and run by Heriot-Watt and Plymouth Universities.

A Nov. 25, 2015 Herriot-Watt University press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The project, RealRiskNano, will look at the risks these tiny plastic particles pose to the food web including filter-feeding organisms like mussels, clams and sediment dwelling organisms. It will focus on providing information to improve environmental risk assessment for nanoplastics, based on real-world exposure scenarios replicated in the laboratory.

Team leader Dr Theodore Henry, Associate Professor of Toxicology at Heriot-Watt’s School of Life Sciences, said that the study will build on previous research on nano-material toxicology, but will provide information which the earlier studies did not include.

“Pieces of plastic of all sizes have been found in even the most remote marine environments. It’s relatively easy to see some of the results: turtles killed by easting plastic bags which they take for jelly fish, or large marine mammals drowned when caught in discarded ropes and netting.

“But when plastics fragment into microscopic particles, what then? It’s easy to imagine that they simply disappear, but we know that nano-particles pose their own distinct threats purely because of their size. They’re small enough to be transported throughout the environment with unknown effects on organisms including toxicity and interference with processes of the digestive system.

An important component of the project, to be investigated by Dr Tony Gutierrez at Heriot-Watt, will be the study of interactions between microorganisms and the nanoplastics to reveal how these interactions affect their fate and toxicology.

The aim, said Dr Henry, is to provide the information which is needed to effect real change.“We simply don’t know what effects these nano-plastic particles may pose to the marine environment, to filter-feeders and on to fish, and through the RealRiskNano project we aim to provide this urgently needed information to the people whose job it is to assess risk to the marine ecosystem and decide what steps need to be taken to mitigate it.”

You can find the RealRiskNano website here.

STEM for refugees and disaster relief

Just hours prior to the terrorist bombings in Paris (Friday, Nov. 13, 2015), Tash Reith-Banks published a Nov. 13, 2015 essay (one of a series) in the Guardian about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as those specialties apply to humanitarian aid with a special emphasis on Syrian refugee crisis.

This first essay focuses on how engineering and mathematics are essential when dealing with crises (from Reith-Banks’s Nov. 13, 2015 essay), Note: Links have been removed,

Engineering is a clear starting point: sanitation, shelter and supply lines are all essential in any crisis. As Martin McCann, CEO at RedR, which trains humanitarian NGO workers says: “There is the obvious work in providing water and sanitation and shelter. By shelter, we mean not only shelter or housing for disaster-affected people or refugees, but also structures to store both food and non-food items. Access is always critical, so once again engineers are needed to build roads or in some cases temporary landing strips.”

Emergency structures need to be light and fast to transport and erect, but tend not to be durable. One recent development comes from engineers Peter Brewin and Will Crawford of Concrete Canvas., The pair have developed a rapid-setting concrete-impregnated fabric that requires only air and water to harden into a water-proof, fire-resistant construction. This has been used to create rapidly deployable concrete shelters that can be carried in a bag and set up in an hour.

Here’s what one of the concrete shelters looks like,

A Concrete Canvas shelter. Once erected the structure takes 24 hours to harden, and then can be further insulated with earth or snow if necessary. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

A Concrete Canvas shelter. Once erected the structure takes 24 hours to harden, and then can be further insulated with earth or snow if necessary. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/Gareth Phillips for the Guardian

There are many kinds of crises which can lead to a loss of shelter, access to water and food, and diminished safety and health as Reith-Banks also notes in a passage featuring mathematics (Note: A link has been removed),

Maths might seem a far cry from the sort of practical innovation described above, but of course it’s the root of great logistics. Alistair Clark from the University of the West of England is using advanced mathematical modelling to improve humanitarian supply chains to ensure aid is sent exactly where it is needed. Part of the Newton Mobility scheme, Clark’s project will partner with Brazilian disaster relief agencies and develop ways of modelling everything from landslides to torrential downpours in order to create sophisticated humanitarian supply chains that can rapidly adapt to a range of possible disaster scenarios and changing circumstances.

In a similar vein, Professor Amr Elnashai, founder and co-editor of the Journal of Earthquake Engineering, works in earthquake-hit areas to plan humanitarian relief for future earthquakes. He recently headed a large research and development effort funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the USA (FEMA), to develop a computer model of the impact of earthquakes on the central eight states in the USA. This included social impact, temporary housing allocation, disaster relief, medical and educational care, as well as engineering damage and its economic impact.

Reith-Banks also references nanotechnology (Note: A link has been removed),

… Up to 115 people die every hour in Africa from diseases linked to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation, particularly in the wake of conflicts and environmental disasters. Dr Askwar Hilonga recently won the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize, which is dedicated to African inventions with the potential to bring major social and economic benefits to the continent. Hilonga has invented a low cost, sand-based water filter. The filter combines nanotechnology with traditional sand-filtering methods to provide safe drinking water without expensive treatment facilities.  …

Dr. Hilonga who is based in Tanzania was featured here in a June 16, 2015 posting about the Royal Academy of Engineering Prize, his research, and his entrepreneurial efforts.

Reith-Banks’s* essay provides a valuable and unexpected perspective on the humanitarian crises which afflict this planet *and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series*.

*’Reith-Banks’s’ replaced ‘This’ and ‘and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series’ was added Nov. 17, 2015 at 1620 hours PST.

Brushing your way to nanofibres

The scientists are using what looks like a hairbrush to create nanofibres ,

Figure 2: Brush-spinning of nanofibers. (Reprinted with permission by Wiley-VCH Verlag)) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=41398.php]

Figure 2: Brush-spinning of nanofibers. (Reprinted with permission by Wiley-VCH Verlag)) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=41398.php]

A Sept. 23, 2015 Nanowerk Spotlight article by Michael Berger provides an in depth look at this technique (developed by a joint research team of scientists from the University of Georgia, Princeton University, and Oxford University) which could make producing nanofibers for use in scaffolds (tissue engineering and other applications) more easily and cheaply,

Polymer nanofibers are used in a wide range of applications such as the design of new composite materials, the fabrication of nanostructured biomimetic scaffolds for artificial bones and organs, biosensors, fuel cells or water purification systems.

“The simplest method of nanofiber fabrication is direct drawing from a polymer solution using a glass micropipette,” Alexander Tokarev, Ph.D., a Research Associate in the Nanostructured Materials Laboratory at the University of Georgia, tells Nanowerk. “This method however does not scale up and thus did not find practical applications. In our new work, we introduce a scalable method of nanofiber spinning named touch-spinning.”

James Cook in a Sept. 23, 2015 article for Materials Views provides a description of the technology,

A glass rod is glued to a rotating stage, whose diameter can be chosen over a wide range of a few centimeters to more than 1 m. A polymer solution is supplied, for example, from a needle of a syringe pump that faces the glass rod. The distance between the droplet of polymer solution and the tip of the glass rod is adjusted so that the glass rod contacts the polymer droplet as it rotates.

Following the initial “touch”, the polymer droplet forms a liquid bridge. As the stage rotates the bridge stretches and fiber length increases, with the diameter decreasing due to mass conservation. It was shown that the diameter of the fiber can be precisely controlled down to 40 nm by the speed of the stage rotation.

The method can be easily scaled-up by using a round hairbrush composed of 600 filaments.

When the rotating brush touches the surface of a polymer solution, the brush filaments draw many fibers simultaneously producing hundred kilometers of fibers in minutes.

The drawn fibers are uniform since the fiber diameter depends on only two parameters: polymer concentration and speed of drawing.

Returning to Berger’s Spotlight article, there is an important benefit with this technique,

As the team points out, one important aspect of the method is the drawing of single filament fibers.

These single filament fibers can be easily wound onto spools of different shapes and dimensions so that well aligned one-directional, orthogonal or randomly oriented fiber meshes with a well-controlled average mesh size can be fabricated using this very simple method.

“Owing to simplicity of the method, our set-up could be used in any biomedical lab and facility,” notes Tokarev. “For example, a customized scaffold by size, dimensions and othermorphologic characteristics can be fabricated using donor biomaterials.”

Berger’s and Cook’s articles offer more illustrations and details.

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

Touch- and Brush-Spinning of Nanofibers by Alexander Tokarev, Darya Asheghal, Ian M. Griffiths, Oleksandr Trotsenko, Alexey Gruzd, Xin Lin, Howard A. Stone, and Sergiy Minko. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201502768ViewFirst published: 23 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.