Category Archives: nanotechnology

Clothing which turns you into a billboard

This work from a Belgian-Dutch initiative has the potential to turn us into billboards. From a Sept. 2, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers from Holst Centre (set up by TNO and imec), imec and CMST, imec’s associated lab at Ghent University [Belgium], have demonstrated the world’s first stretchable and conformable thin-film transistor (TFT) driven LED display laminated into textiles. This paves the way to wearable displays in clothing providing users with feedback.

Here’s what it looks like,

A Sept. 2, 2015 Holst Centre press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

“Wearable devices allow people to monitor their fitness and health so they can live full and active lives for longer. But to maximize the benefits wearables can offer, they need to be able to provide feedback on what users are doing as well as measuring it. By combining imec’s patented stretch technology with our expertise in active-matrix backplanes and integrating electronics into fabrics, we’ve taken a giant step towards that possibility,” says Edsger Smits, Senior research scientist at Holst Centre.

The conformable display is very thin and mechanically stretchable. A fine-grain version of the proven meander interconnect technology was developed by the CMST lab at Ghent University and Holst Centre to link standard (rigid) LEDs into a flexible and stretchable display. The LED displays are fabricated on a polyimide substrate and encapsulated in rubber, allowing the displays to be laminated in to textiles that can be washed. Importantly, the technology uses fabrication steps that are known to the manufacturing industry, enabling rapid industrialization.

Following an initial demonstration at the Society for Information Display’s Display Week in San Jose, USA earlier this year, Holst Centre has presented the next generation of the display at the International Meeting on Information Display (IMID) in Daegu, Korea, 18-21 August 2015. Smaller LEDs are now mounted on an amorphous indium-gallium-zinc oxide (a-IGZO) TFT backplane that employs a two-transistor and one capacitor (2T-1C) pixel engine to drive the LEDs. These second-generation displays offer higher pitch and increased, average brightness. The presentation will feature a 32×32 pixel demonstrator with a resolution of 13 pixels per inch (ppi) and average brightness above 200 candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Work is ongoing to further industrialize this technology.

There are some references for the work offered at the end of the press release but I believe they are citing their conference presentations,

9.4: Stretchable 45 × 80 RGB LED Display Using Meander Wiring Technology, Ohmae et al. SID 2015, June 2015

1.2: Rollable, Foldable and Stretchable Displays, Gelinck et al. IMID, Aug. 2015.

13.4 A conformable Active Matrix LED Display, Tripathi et al. IMID, Aug. 2015

For anyone interested in imec formerly the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre, there’s this Wikipedia entry, and in TNO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek in Dutch), there’s this Wikipedia entry.

Weirdly fascinating account of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and insecticide-treated bed nets

Researchers at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have tracked mosquitoes to observe how they interact with insecticide-laden nets. From a Sept. 1, 2015 LSTM press release (also on EurekAlert),

LSTM vector biologists Dr Philip McCall and Ms Josie Parker worked with optical engineers Prof David Towers, Dr Natalia Angarita and Dr Catherine Towers from the University of Warwick’s School of Engineering to develop infrared video tracking technology that follows individual mosquitoes in flight as they try to reach a human sleeper inside a bed net. This system allowed the scientists to measure, define and characterise in fine detail, the behavioural events and sequences of the main African malaria vector, Anopheles gambiae, as it interacts with the net. Funded as part of the €12M AvecNet research consortium, the team’s initial results are published today in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Dr Philip McCall, senior author on the paper, said: “Essentially, the results demonstrated that an LLIN [Long-lasting insecticidal bed net] functions as a highly efficient, fast-acting, human-baited insecticidal trap. LLINs do not repel mosquitoes – they deliver insecticide very rapidly after the briefest contact: LLIN contact of less than 1 minute per mosquito during the first ten minutes can reduce mosquito activity such that after thirty minutes, virtually no mosquitoes are still flying. Surprisingly, mosquitoes were able to detect nets of any kind while still in flight, allowing them to decelerate before they ‘collided’ with the net surface.”

The use of this innovative approach to mosquito behaviour has provided unprecedented insight into the mode of action of our most important tool for preventing malaria transmission, under conditions that are as close to natural as possible. The findings potentially could influence many aspects of mosquito control, ranging from how we test mosquito populations for insecticide resistance to the design of a next generation of LLINs. An MRC Confidence in Concept grant has funded the team to use the tracking system to explore a number of novel LLIN designs, already patented as an outcome from the current research.

The tracking system also has been deployed in a rural Tanzania, results of which will be reported shortly. The team recently was awarded £0.9M support from the Medical Research Council (MRC) for the next stage of this project, where they will use a larger three-dimensional system to track mosquitoes throughout the entire domestic environment, in experimental houses in Tanzania.

Dr McCall continued: “preliminary results in field tests indicate that these laboratory findings are consistent with behaviour of wild mosquito populations which is very encouraging. We are at the early stages of this research, but we hope that our findings, and the use of this cutting edge technology, can contribute to the development of new and advanced vector control tools that will continue to save lives in endemic countries throughout the world.”

The fascinating part follows the link to and citation for the paper,

Infrared video tracking of Anopheles gambiae at insecticide-treated bed nets reveals rapid decisive impact after brief localised net contact by Josephine E.A. Parker, Natalia Angarita-Jaimes, Mayumi Abe, Catherine E. Towers, David Towers, & Philip J. McCall. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 13392 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep13392 Published online: 01 September 2015

This open access paper provides an explanation for why this work was undertaken,

Delivering the ‘next generation’ of LLINs or similar tools will require a thorough understanding of how LLINs function, yet remarkably little is known of the mode of action or of precisely how mosquitoes behave at the LLIN interface. Recent studies using ‘sticky-nets’ reported that host-seeking female Anopheles spp. landed preferentially on the top surface of bed nets7,8 but that lethal capture method recorded only a single landing event and no other behaviours before or after. Although clustering at the net roof is likely to be a response to an attractant ‘plume’ rising from the human beneath [emphasis mine], this too remains speculative because knowledge of mosquito flight behaviour prior to blood-feeding and of the identity and location of the key attractants that mediate the host-seeking response is limited9,10,11,12. Importantly, how insecticide treatments influence that response is unclear. Some studies reported that insecticide residues repelled mosquitoes prior to contact13,14, which would reduce or eliminate the chance of mosquitoes receiving an effective dose and potentially divert them to unprotected hosts15. Others found no evidence for such repellency16,17,18,19 indicating that LLINs attract and impact on mosquitoes by direct contact.

A further complication is the existence of what is termed ‘contact-irritancy’ or ‘excito-repellency’ [emphasis miine], whereby brief exposure to an insecticide can result in mosquitoes exhibiting avoidance behaviour, potentially before a lethal dose has been delivered13,20. Remarkably, some basic details are missing: e.g. the minimum duration of LLIN contact necessary to deliver an effective dosage is not known. Despite these phenomena being recognised for decades20,21,22, when and how they occur and their relative importance in selecting for insecticide resistance have never been fully elucidated.

Consequently, behavioural resistance [emphasis mine] to insecticides remains poorly understood and rarely reported in mosquitoes, though the risk of vector populations switching blood-feeding times, locations or host preferences in order to avoid LLINs is recognized and closely monitored today23,24,25. However, additional but less apparent or detectable behavioural changes also might exist, potentially conferring partial or complete insecticide resistance (e.g. changes in sensitivity to repellents, attractants, or modified flight or resting behaviours). In the absence of definitions or quantifications of the basic behavioural events likely to be affected26,27, these changes cannot be investigated, let alone monitored.

I am fascinated by the ‘attractant plume’, ‘excito-repellency’, and the (new to me) notion that mosquitoes can exhibit behavioural resistance.

Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology or how not to poison and make the planet uninhabitable

I received notice of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology’s newest deal with the US National Science Foundation in an August 31, 2015 email University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) news release,

The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, a multi-institutional research center based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has inked a new contract with the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will provide nearly $20 million in support over the next five years.

Directed by UW-Madison chemistry Professor Robert Hamers, the center focuses on the molecular mechanisms by which nanoparticles interact with biological systems.

Nanotechnology involves the use of materials at the smallest scale, including the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules. Products that use nanoscale materials range from beer bottles and car wax to solar cells and electric and hybrid car batteries. If you read your books on a Kindle, a semiconducting material manufactured at the nanoscale underpins the high-resolution screen.

While there are already hundreds of products that use nanomaterials in various ways, much remains unknown about how these modern materials and the tiny particles they are composed of interact with the environment and living things.

“The purpose of the center is to explore how we can make sure these nanotechnologies come to fruition with little or no environmental impact,” explains Hamers. “We’re looking at nanoparticles in emerging technologies.”

In addition to UW-Madison, scientists from UW-Milwaukee, the University of Minnesota, the University of Illinois, Northwestern University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have been involved in the center’s first phase of research. Joining the center for the next five-year phase are Tuskegee University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Iowa, Augsburg College, Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

At UW-Madison, Hamers leads efforts in synthesis and molecular characterization of nanomaterials. soil science Professor Joel Pedersen and chemistry Professor Qiang Cui lead groups exploring the biological and computational aspects of how nanomaterials affect life.

Much remains to be learned about how nanoparticles affect the environment and the multitude of organisms – from bacteria to plants, animals and people – that may be exposed to them.

“Some of the big questions we’re asking are: How is this going to impact bacteria and other organisms in the environment? What do these particles do? How do they interact with organisms?” says Hamers.

For instance, bacteria, the vast majority of which are beneficial or benign organisms, tend to be “sticky” and nanoparticles might cling to the microorganisms and have unintended biological effects.

“There are many different mechanisms by which these particles can do things,” Hamers adds. “The challenge is we don’t know what these nanoparticles do if they’re released into the environment.”

To get at the challenge, Hamers and his UW-Madison colleagues are drilling down to investigate the molecular-level chemical and physical principles that dictate how nanoparticles interact with living things.
Pedersen’s group, for example, is studying the complexities of how nanoparticles interact with cells and, in particular, their surface membranes.

“To enter a cell, a nanoparticle has to interact with a membrane,” notes Pedersen. “The simplest thing that can happen is the particle sticks to the cell. But it might cause toxicity or make a hole in the membrane.”

Pedersen’s group can make model cell membranes in the lab using the same lipids and proteins that are the building blocks of nature’s cells. By exposing the lab-made membranes to nanomaterials now used commercially, Pedersen and his colleagues can see how the membrane-particle interaction unfolds at the molecular level – the scale necessary to begin to understand the biological effects of the particles.

Such studies, Hamers argues, promise a science-based understanding that can help ensure the technology leaves a minimal environmental footprint by identifying issues before they manifest themselves in the manufacturing, use or recycling of products that contain nanotechnology-inspired materials.

To help fulfill that part of the mission, the center has established working relationships with several companies to conduct research on materials in the very early stages of development.

“We’re taking a look-ahead view. We’re trying to get into the technological design cycle,” Hamers says. “The idea is to use scientific understanding to develop a predictive ability to guide technology and guide people who are designing and using these materials.”

What with this initiative and the LCnano Network at Arizona State University (my April 8, 2014 posting; scroll down about 50% of the way), it seems that environmental and health and safety studies of nanomaterials are kicking into a higher gear as commercialization efforts intensify.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and a grant for in vitro nanotoxicity testing

This grant seems to have gotten its start at a workshop held at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24-25, 2015 as per this webpage on the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) International Science Consortium Limited website,

The invitation-only workshop included experts from different sectors (government, industry, academia and NGO) and disciplines (in vitro and in vivo inhalation studies of NMs, fibrosis, dosimetry, fluidic models, aerosol engineering, and regulatory assessment). It focused on the technical details for the development and preliminary assessment of the relevance and reliability of an in vitro test to predict the development of pulmonary fibrosis in cells co-cultured at the air-liquid interface following exposure to aerosolized multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). During the workshop, experts made recommendations on cell types, exposure systems, endpoints and dosimetry considerations required to develop the in vitro model for hazard identification of MWCNTs.

The method is intended to be included in a non-animal test battery to reduce and eventually replace the use of animals in studies to assess the inhalation toxicity of engineered NMs. The long-term vision is to develop a battery of in silico and in vitro assays that can be used in an integrated testing strategy, providing comprehensive information on biological endpoints relevant to inhalation exposure to NMs which could be used in the hazard ranking of substances in the risk assessment process.

A September 1, 2015 news item on Azonano provides an update,

The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. announced today the winners of a $200,000 award for the design of an in vitro test to predict the development of lung fibrosis in humans following exposure to nanomaterials, such as multi-walled carbon nanotubes.

Professor Dr. Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser of the Adolphe Merkle Institute at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and Professor Dr. Vicki Stone of the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, U.K. will jointly develop the test method. Professor Rothen-Rutishauser co-chairs the BioNanomaterials research group at the Adolphe Merkle Institute, where her research is focused on the study of nanomaterial-cell interactions in the lung using three-dimensional cell models. Professor Vicki Stone is the Director of the Nano Safety Research Group at Heriot-Watt University and the Director of Toxicology for SAFENANO.

The Science Consortium is also funding MatTek Corporation for the development of a three-dimensional reconstructed primary human lung tissue model to be used in Professors Rothen-Rutishauser and Stone’s work. MatTek Corporation has extensive expertise in manufacturing human cell-based, organotypic in vitro models for use in regulatory and basic research applications. The work at MatTek will be led by Dr. Patrick Hayden, Vice President of Scientific Affairs, and Dr. Anna Maione, head of MatTek’s airway models research group.

I was curious about MatTek Corporation and found this on company’s About Us webpage,

MatTek Corporation was founded in 1985 by two chemical engineering professors from MIT. In 1991 the company leveraged its core polymer surface modification technology into the emerging tissue engineering market.

MatTek Corporation is at the forefront of tissue engineering and is a world leader in the production of innovative 3D reconstructed human tissue models. Our skin, ocular, and respiratory tissue models are used in regulatory toxicology (OECD, EU guidelines) and address toxicology and efficacy concerns throughout the cosmetics, chemical, pharmaceutical and household product industries.

EpiDerm™, MatTek’s first 3D human cell based in vitro model, was introduced in 1993 and became an immediate technical and commercial success.

I wish them good luck in their research on developing better ways to test toxicity.

Save those coffee grounds, they can be used for fuel storage

A September 1, 2015 news item on Nanowerk features research from Korea that could point the way to using coffee grounds for methane storage (Note: A link has been removed),

Scientists have developed a simple process to treat waste coffee grounds to allow them to store methane. The simple soak and heating process develops a carbon capture nanomaterial with the additional environmental benefits of recycling a waste product.

The results are published today, 03 September 2015, in the journal Nanotechnology (“Activated carbon derived from waste coffee grounds for stable methane storage”). [emphasis mine]

Methane capture and storage provides a double environmental return – it removes a harmful greenhouse gas from the atmosphere that can then be used as a fuel that is cleaner than other fossil fuels.

The process developed by the researchers, based at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), South Korea, involves soaking the waste coffee grounds in sodium hydroxide and heating to 700-900 °C in a furnace. This produced a stable carbon capture material in less than a day – a fraction of the time it takes to produce carbon capture materials.

I wonder if someone meant to embargo this news release as the paper isn’t due to be published until Thurs., Sept. 3, 2015.

In any event, the Institute of Physics (IOP) Sept. 1, 2015 news release on Alpha Galileo and elsewhere is making the rounds. Here’s more from the news release,

“The big thing is we are decreasing the fabrication time and we are using cheap materials,” explains Christian Kemp, an author of the paper now based at Pohang University of Science and Technology, Korea. “The waste material is free compared compared to all the metals and expensive organic chemicals needed in other processes – in my opinion this is a far easier way to go.”

Kemp found inspiration in his cup of coffee whilst discussing an entirely different project with colleagues at UNIST. “We were sitting around drinking coffee and looked at the coffee grounds and thought ‘I wonder if we can use this for methane storage?’” he continues.

The absorbency of coffee grounds may be the key to successful activation of the material for carbon capture. “It seems when we add the sodium hydroxide to form the activated carbon it absorbs everything,” says Kemp. “We were able to take away one step in the normal activation process – the filtering and washing – because the coffee is such a brilliant absorbant.”

The work also demonstrates hydrogen storage at cryogenic temperatures, and the researchers are now keen to develop hydrogen storage in the activated coffee grounds at less extreme temperatures.

Once the paper has been published I will return to add a link to and a citation for it.

ETA Sept. 3, 2015 (It seems I was wrong about the publication date):

Activated carbon derived from waste coffee grounds for stable methane storage by K Christian Kemp, Seung Bin Baek, Wang-Geun Lee, M Meyyappan, and Kwang S Kim. IOP Publishing Ltd • Nanotechnology, Volume 26, Number 38 doi:10.1088/0957-4484/26/38/385602) Published 2 September 2015 • © 2015

This is an open access paper.

Plus, there is a copy of the press release on EurekAlert.

Audience perceptions of emerging technologies and media stories that emphasize conflict over nuance

A few names popped into my head, as soon as I saw a news release focused on audience perceptions and emerging technologies. I was right about one of the authors (Dominique Brossard of the University of Wisconsin-Madison [UWM] often writes on the topic) however, the lead author is Andrew Binder of North Carolina State University (NCSU). An August 31, 2015 NCSU news release describes a joint NCSU-UWM research project  (Note: Links have been removed),

Researchers from NC State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found more evidence that how media report on emerging technologies – such as nanotechnology or genetically modified crops – influences public opinion on those subjects.

Specifically, when news stories highlight conflict in the scientific community on an emerging technology, people who accept the authority of scientists on scientific subjects are more likely to view the emerging technology as risky.

“Scientists – even scientists who disagree – often incorporate caveats and nuance into their comments on emerging technologies,” says Andrew R. Binder, lead author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of communication at NC State. “For example, a scientist may voice an opinion but note a lack of data on the subject. But that nuance is often lost in news stories.

“We wanted to know stories that present scientists as being in clear conflict, leaving out the nuance, affected the public’s perception of uncertainty on an issue – particularly compared to stories that incorporate the nuances of each scientist’s position,” Binder says.

For their experiment, the researchers had 250 college students answer a questionnaire on their deference to scientific authority and their perceptions of nanotechnology. Participants were split into four groups. Before asking about nanotechnology, one group was asked to read a news story about nanotech that quoted scientists and presented them as being in conflict; one group read a news story with quotes that showed disagreement between scientists but included nuance on each scientist’s position; one group read a story without quotes; and one group – the control group – was given no reading.

In most instances, the reading assignments did not have a significant impact on study participants’ perception of risks associated with nanotechnology. However, those participants who were both “highly deferent” to scientific authority and given the “conflict” news item perceived nanotechnology as being significantly more risky as compared to those highly deferent study participants who read the “nuance” article.

“One thing that’s interesting here is that participants who were highly deferential to scientific authority but were in the control group or read the news item without quotes – they landed about halfway between the ‘conflict’ group and the ‘nuance’ group,” Binder says. “So it would seem that the way reporters frame scientific opinion can sway an audience one way or the other.”

The researchers also found that, while an appearance of conflict can increase one’s perception of risk, it did not increase participants’ sense of certainty in their position.

As a practical matter, the findings raise questions for journalists – since scientists have limited control over how they’re portrayed in the news. Previous surveys have found that many people are deferent to scientific authority – they trust scientists – so a reporter’s decision to cut nuance or highlight conflict could make a very real impact on how the public perceives emerging technologies.

“Reporters can’t include every single detail, and scientists want to include everything,” Binder says. “So I don’t think there’s a definitive solution out there that will make everyone happy. But hopefully this will encourage both parties to meet in the middle.”

I have one comment, this research was conducted on college students whose age range is likely more restricted than what you’d find in the general populace. I don’t know if the research team has plans or more funding but it would seem the next step would be to tested a wider range to see if the results with the college students can be generalized.

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

Conflict or Caveats? Effects of Media Portrayals of Scientific Uncertainty on Audience Perceptions of New Technologies by Andrew R. Binder, Elliott D. Hillback, and Dominique Brossard. Risk Analysis DOI: 10.1111/risa.12462 Article first published online: 13 AUG 2015

© 2015 Society for Risk Analysis

This paper is behind a paywall.

Business in Vancouver discovers nanotechnology

There’ve been two articles in the Vancouver (Canada) newspaper, Business in Vancouver by Tyler Orton about a Simon Fraser University spin-off (start up) company, Nanotech Security. I first mentioned the not-yet-named company in a January 17, 2011 posting about proposed anti-counterfeiting measures based on the structures present on the Blue Morpho butterfly’s wings.

Orton’s Feb. 24, 2015 piece for Business in Vancouver provides an update on the company and on some of the business issues associated with a new technology and the strategy being used to introduce it,

Colour-shifting optical film has been the industry standard for banknote security since the 1990s. Depending on the angle of view, colours change on security features printed on bills in a way that the average person can recognize.

Because the nanotechnology has yet to be fully commercialized, the optical film side of the business is growing the most.

… increased demand for the optical film products prompted Nanotech to add a second shift at its Quebec cellulose facility, which was acquired – along with the legacy business – from North Vancouver’s Fortress Paper (TSX:FTP) in August.

Fortress Paper CEO Chad Wasilenkoff said when discussions began over the sale of Fortress Optical Features (FOF) he was immediately drawn to Nanotech’s butterfly technology.

“Getting a brand-new security feature that has not been used anywhere before … [banks] are just not willing to take a chance on new things in general when it comes to banknotes,” he told Business in Vancouver.

“It will take a little while to come to fruition, but we think putting these two entities [Nanotech and FOF] together will definitely fast-track that.”

Counterfeiting hit its most recent peak in 2004, when 470 fake notes per million were detected across the country, according to a 2011 Bank of Canada (BoC) study.

Wasilenkoff, whose company operates another banknote security firm in Switzerland, said he was happy with the return on investment after Fortress bought the BoC assets for  $750,000 and sold them to Nanotech three years later for $17.5 million.

“We were able to find a solution that was really synergistic for both companies,” he said, adding that Fortress will receive preferential treatment on new security features Nanotech develops.

LeRoux [Nanotech chief development officer Igi LeRoux] added that acquiring the legacy business was necessary if the nanotechnology was to be taken seriously in an industry that greets upstart companies with skepticism.

“[Now] We have an established network, we have an established market base, we have an existing product and – most importantly – we have an existing reputation in the industry.”

Orton’s Aug. 28, 2015 piece for Business in Vancouver builds on his Feb. work (Note: Links have been removed),

Banknotes implanted with nanotechnology, bills printed with pinhead-sized images at maximum resolution or even coins that can store of data.

… it’s not the kind of out-there concepts that only exists in the mind of the CEO of Nanotech Security [Doug Blakeway].

The Burnaby-based banknote security firm has been working non-stop to get these anti-counterfeiting measures onto the streets as quickly as possible and is preparing to ramp up production and sales of its technology after securing $2.6 million in its latest round of fundraising that closed Wednesday (August 26 [2015]).

Blakeway said the plan is to converge the nanotechnology and the optical film technology soon. It’s a measure he said is necessary to introduce the nanotechnology to issuing authorities that may be skeptical about the new product.

It probably won’t be until November before Nanotech discloses which countries are using its technology. Issuing authorities, Blakeway said, are reluctant to reveal exactly what measures they’re taking to fight counterfeiting.

“You can talk about the top 10 issuing authorities or the G8 issuing authorities,” he said.

But Nanotech isn’t stopping only at imprinting bills with the microscopic holes.

Mints began asking last year if it could transfer its technology onto coins in a stamping operation without any extra cost, save for the dye they use.

Moving forward, the coins will be able to store data through an image that’s carried through light waves.

I trust someone will notify the US government about this proposed nanotechnology-enabled coinage. There have been concerns about Canadian coinage in the past as noted in a May 7, 2007 article in thestar.com by Ted Bridis (Associated Press),

An odd-looking Canadian coin with a bright red flower was the culprit behind the U.S. Defence Department’s false espionage warning earlier this year, the Associated Press has learned.

The odd-looking – but harmless – “poppy coin” was so unfamiliar to suspicious U.S. Army contractors travelling in Canada that they filed confidential espionage accounts about them. The worried contractors described the coins as “anomalous” and “filled with something man-made that looked like nano-technology,” according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.

The silver-coloured 25-cent piece features the red image of a poppy – Canada’s flower of remembrance – inlaid over a maple leaf. The unorthodox quarter is identical to the coins pictured and described as suspicious in the contractors’ accounts.

The supposed nano-technology actually was a conventional protective coating the Royal Canadian Mint applied to prevent the poppy’s red color from rubbing off. The mint produced nearly 30 million such quarters in 2004 commemorating Canada’s 117,000 war dead.

“It did not appear to be electronic (analog) in nature or have a power source,” wrote one U.S. contractor, who discovered the coin in the cup holder of a rental car. “Under high power microscope, it appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire like mesh suspended on top.”

The confidential accounts led to a sensational warning from the Defence Security Service, an agency of the Defence Department, that mysterious coins with radio frequency transmitters were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors travelled through Canada.

It seems those army contractors were prescient about nanotechnology-enabled coins. As for the potential to use these coins for spying, I leave that speculation to those who know more about the technology.

Windows as solar panels

Thanks to Dexter Johnson’s Aug. 27, 2015 posting, I’ve found another type of ‘smart’ window (I have written many postings about nanotechnology-enabled windows, especially self-cleaning ones); this window is a solar panel (Note: Links have been removed),

In joint research between the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the University of Milan-Bicocca (UNIMIB) in Italy, researchers have spent the last 16 months perfecting a technique that makes it possible to embed quantum dots into windows so that the window itself becomes a solar panel.

Of course, this is not the first time someone thought that it would be a good idea to make windows into solar collectors. But this latest iteration marks a significant development in the evolution of the technology. Previous technologies used organic emitters that limited the size of the concentrators to just a few centimeters.

The energy conversion efficiency the researchers were able to acheive with the solar windows was around 3.2 percent, which stands up pretty well when compared with state-of-the-art quantum dot-based solar cells that have reached 9 percent conversion efficiency.

An August 24, 2015 US Los Alamos National Laboratory news release, which inspired Dexter’s posting, describes the research and the US-Italian collaboration in more detail,

A luminescent solar concentrator [LSC] is an emerging sunlight harvesting technology that has the potential to disrupt the way we think about energy; It could turn any window into a daytime power source.

“In these devices, a fraction of light transmitted through the window is absorbed by nanosized particles (semiconductor quantum dots) dispersed in a glass window, re-emitted at the infrared wavelength invisible to the human eye, and wave-guided to a solar cell at the edge of the window,” said Victor Klimov, lead researcher on the project at the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. “Using this design, a nearly transparent window becomes an electrical generator, one that can power your room’s air conditioner on a hot day or a heater on a cold one.”

… The work was performed by researchers at the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP) of Los Alamos, led by Klimov and the research team coordinated by Sergio Brovelli and Francesco Meinardi of the Department of Materials Science of the University of Milan-Bicocca (UNIMIB) in Italy.

The news release goes on to describe the precursor work which made this latest step forward possible,

In April 2014, using special composite quantum dots, the American-Italian collaboration demonstrated the first example of large-area luminescent solar concentrators free from reabsorption losses of the guided light by the nanoparticles. This represented a fundamental advancement with respect to the earlier technology, which was based on organic emitters that allowed for the realization of concentrators of only a few centimeters in size.

However, the quantum dots used in previous proof-of-principle devices were still unsuitable for real-world applications, as they were based on the toxic heavy metal cadmium and were capable of absorbing only a small portion of the solar light. This resulted in limited light-harvesting efficiency and strong yellow/red coloring of the concentrators, which complicated their application in residential environments.

Here’s how they solved the problem (from the news release),

Klimov, CASP’s director, explained how the updated approach solves the coloring problem: “Our new devices use quantum dots of a complex composition which includes copper (Cu), indium (In), selenium (Se) and sulfur (S). This composition is often abbreviated as CISeS. Importantly, these particles do not contain any toxic metals that are typically present in previously demonstrated LSCs.”

“Furthermore,” Klimov noted, “the CISeS quantum dots provide a uniform coverage of the solar spectrum, thus adding only a neutral tint to a window without introducing any distortion to perceived colors. In addition, their near-infrared emission is invisible to a human eye, but at the same time is ideally suited for most common solar cells based on silicon.”

Francesco Meinardi, professor of Physics at UNIMIB, described the emerging work, noting, “In order for this technology to leave the research laboratories and reach its full potential in sustainable architecture, it is necessary to realize non-toxic concentrators capable of harvesting the whole solar spectrum.”

“We must still preserve the key ability to transmit the guided luminescence without reabsorption losses, though, so as to complement high photovoltaic efficiency with dimensions compatible with real windows. The aesthetic factor is also of critical importance for the desirability of an emerging technology,” Meinardi said. [emphasis mine]

I couldn’t agree more with Professor Meinardi. You’re much more likely to adopt something that’s good for you and the planet if you like the look. Following on that thought, you’re much more likely to adopt solar panel windows if they’re aesthetically pleasing.

However, there is still a problem to be solved,

Hunter McDaniel, formerly a Los Alamos CASP postdoctoral fellow and presently a quantum dot entrepreneur (UbiQD founder and president), added, “with a new class of low-cost, low-hazard quantum dots composed of CISeS, we have overcome some of the biggest roadblocks to commercial deployment of this technology.”

“One of the remaining problems to tackle is reducing cost, but already this material is significantly less expensive to manufacture than alternative quantum dots used in previous LSC demonstrations,” McDaniel said.

Nonetheless, they have high hopes the technology can be commercialized (although as Dexter notes, it’s probably not going to be in the near future), from the news release,

A key element of this work is a procedure comparable to the cell casting industrial method used for fabricating high optical quality polymer windows. It involves a new UNIMIB protocol for encapsulating quantum dots into a high-optical quality transparent polymer matrix. The polymer used in this study is a cross-linked polylaurylmethacrylate, which belongs to the family of acrylate polymers. Its long side-chains prevent agglomeration of the quantum dots and provide them with the “friendly” local environment, which is similar to that of the original colloidal suspension. This allows one to preserve light emission properties of the quantum dots upon encapsulation into the polymer.

Sergio Brovelli, the lead researcher on the Italian team, concluded: “Quantum dot solar window technology, of which we had demonstrated the feasibility just one year ago, now becomes a reality that can be transferred to the industry in the short to medium term, allowing us to convert not only rooftops, as we do now, but the whole body of urban buildings, including windows, into solar energy generators.”

“This is especially important in densely populated urban area where the rooftop surfaces are too small for collecting all the energy required for the building operations,” he said. He proposes that the team’s estimations indicate that by replacing the passive glazing of a skyscraper such as the One World Trade Center in NYC (72,000 square meters divided into 12,000 windows) with our technology, it would be possible to generate the equivalent of the energy need of over 350 apartments.

“Add to these remarkable figures, the energy that would be saved by the reduced need for air conditioning thanks to the filtering effect by the LSC, which lowers the heating of indoor spaces by sunlight, and you have a potentially game-changing technology towards “net-zero” energy cities,” Brovelli said.

For anyone interested in this latest work on energy harvesting and windows, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Highly efficient large-area colourless luminescent solar concentrators using heavy-metal-free colloidal quantum dots by Francesco Meinardi, Hunter McDaniel, Francesco Carulli, Annalisa Colombo, Kirill A. Velizhanin, Nikolay S. Makarov, Roberto Simonutti, Victor I. Klimov, & Sergio Brovelli. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.178 Published online 24 August 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Hector Barron Escobar and his virtual nanomaterial atomic models for the oil, mining, and energy industries

I think there’s some machine translation at work in the Aug. 27, 2015 news item about Hector Barron Escobar on Azonano,

By using supercomputers the team creates virtual atomic models that interact under different conditions before being taken to the real world, allowing savings in time and money.

With the goal of potentiate the oil, mining and energy industries, as well as counteract the emission of greenhouse gases, the nanotechnologist Hector Barron Escobar, designs more efficient and profitable nanomaterials.

The Mexican who lives in Australia studies the physical and chemical properties of platinum and palladium, metal with excellent catalytic properties that improve processes in petrochemistry, solar cells and fuel cells, which because of their scarcity have a high and unprofitable price, hence the need to analyze their properties and make them long lasting.

Structured materials that the specialist in nanotechnology designs can be implemented in the petrochemical and automotive industries. In the first, they accelerate reactions in the production of hydrocarbons, and in the second, nanomaterials are placed in catalytic converters of vehicles to transform the pollutants emitted by combustion into less harmful waste.

An August 26, 2015 Investigación y Desarrollo press release on Alpha Galileo, which originated the news item, continues Barron Escobar’s profile,

PhD Barron Escobar, who majored in physics at the National University of Mexico (UNAM), says that this are created by using virtual supercomputers to interact with atomic models under different conditions before being taken to the real world.

Barron recounts how he came to Australia with an invitation of his doctoral advisor, Amanda Partner with whom he analyzed the electronic properties of gold in the United States.

He explains that using computer models in the Virtual Nanoscience Laboratory (VNLab) in Australia, he creates nanoparticles that interact in different environmental conditions such as temperature and pressure. He also analyzes their mechanical and electronic properties, which provide specific information about behavior and gives the best working conditions. Together, these data serve to establish appropriate patterns or trends in a particular application.

The work of the research team serves as a guide for experts from the University of New South Wales in Australia, with which they cooperate, to build nanoparticles with specific functions. “This way we perform virtual experiments, saving time, money and offer the type of material conditions and ideal size for a specific catalytic reaction, which by the traditional way would cost a lot of money trying to find what is the right substance” Barron Escobar comments.

Currently he designs nanomaterials for the mining company Orica, because in this industry explosives need to be controlled in order to avoid damaging the minerals or the environment.

Research is also immersed in the creation of fuel cells, with the use of the catalysts designed by Barron is possible to produce more electricity without polluting.

Additionally, they enhance the effectiveness of catalytic converters in petrochemistry, where these materials help accelerate oxidation processes of hydrogen and carbon, which are present in all chemical reactions when fuel and gasoline are created. “We can identify the ideal particles for improving this type of reactions.”

The nanotechnology specialist also seeks to analyze the catalytic properties of bimetallic materials like titanium, ruthenium and gold, as their reaction according to size, shape and its components.

Escobar Barron chose to study nanomaterials because it is interesting to see how matter at the nano level completely changes its properties: at large scale it has a definite color, but keep another at a nanoscale, besides many applications can be obtained with these metals.

For anyone interested in Orica, there’s more here on their website; as for Dr. Hector Barron Escobar, there’s this webpage on  Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) website.

A 2015 nanotechnology conference for the security and defense sectors

According to an August 25, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, a security and defence conference (NanoSD 2015) will be held in September 2015 in Spain,

Nano for Security & Defense International Conference (NanoSD2015) will be held in Madrid, Spain (September 22-25, 2015). The conference will provide an opportunity to discuss general issues and important impacts of nanotechnology in the development of security and defense. A broad range of defense and security technologies and applications, such as nanostructures, nanosensors, nano energy sources, and nanoelectronics which are influencing these days will be discussed.

The NanoSD 2015 website notes this on its homepage,

After a first edition organised in Avila [Spain], NanoSD 2015 will again provide an opportunity to discuss general issues and important impacts of nanotechnology in the development of security and defense. …

It is evident that nanotechnology can bring many innovations into the defense world such as new innovate products, materials and power sources. Therefore, NanoSD 2015 will present current developments, research findings and relevant information on nanotechnology that will impact the security and defense.

The Phantoms Foundation (event organizers) August 24, 2015 press release, which originated the news item, provides a few more details,

NanoSD2015 Topics
Sensors | Textiles | Nano-Optics | Nanophotonics | Nanoelectronics | Nanomaterials | Nanobio & Nanomedicine | Energy | Nanofood | Forensic Science

Do not miss presentations from well known institutions
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (USA) | Ministry of Economy, Industry and Digital (France) | European Defence Agency (Belgium) | Metamaterial Technologies Inc. (Canada) | Graphenea (Spain) | Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy) | Gemalto SA (France) | ICFO (Spain) | The University of Texas at Dallas (USA) | International Commercialisation Alliance of Israel | Grupo Antolin (Spain), among others

Do not miss the opportunity to meet the key players of the Security & Defense industry. Prices starting from 350€ and 495€ for students and seniors respectively.

The deadline for poster submission is September 04.

My most recent piece on nanotechnology and security is an Aug. 19, 2014 posting about a then upcoming NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) workshop on aiding chemical and biological defenses. It took place in Sept. 2014 in Turkey.