Category Archives: military

Canadian military & a 2nd military futures book from Karl Schroeder (2 of 2)

Part 1 of this two-part series featured some information about Schroeder’s first book, featuring nanotechnology written for the Canadian military, ‘Crisis in Zefra’ along with a lengthy excerpt from Schroeder’s second military scenario book, ‘Crisis in Urlia’. In searching for information about this second book, I found a guest editorial for THE CANADIAN ARMY JOURNAL 14.3 2012 by then Colonel R.N.H. Dickson, CD,

Beyond those activities, the CALWC [Canadian Army Land Warfare Centre] continues its foundational research and publication activities, including the ongoing serial publication of The Canadian Army Journal, the JADEX Papers, as well as other special studies on subjects such as the comprehensive approach to operations, cyber warfare, the future network, S&T trends, and Army operations in the Arctic. The upcoming publication of a novel entitled Crisis in Urlia, a design fiction tool examining alternate future operations, will assist the Army in probing new ideas creatively while highlighting the possible risks and opportunities in an ever-changing security environment. [emphasis mine]

Of course, the future of the Army does not exclusively belong to the capability development community, be that the CALWC, the extended virtual warfare centre, or our broader joint and allied partners. Rather, the future of the Army belongs to each of its members, and no one organization has a monopoly on innovative thought. I encourage you to learn more about the CALWC and the Army’s capability development initiatives, and then be prepared to contribute to the conversation. The Canadian Army Journal offers a great forum to do both.

You can download ‘Crisis in Urlia’ from this webpage for Government of Canada publications or you can try this PDF of the novel, which has a publication date of 2014. I gather the book took longer to write than was initially anticipated.

As for Karl Schroeder, his website homepage notes that he’s back from an Oct. 1, 2014 visit to the US White House,

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy invited some of the Hieroglyph authors to present on future possibilities on October 2, 2014.  There I am on the end of the line.  (More details soon.)

For anyone not familiar with the Hieroglyph project, here are a few details from my May 7, 2013 posting (scroll down about 75% of the way),

The item which moved me to publish today (May 7, 2013), Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?, by Ariel Schwartz concerns the Hieroglyph project at Arizona State University,

Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.

If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.

Here’s more about the Hieroglyph project from the About page,

Inspiration is a small but essential part of innovation, and science fiction stories have been a seminal source of inspiration for innovators over many decades. In his article entitled “Innovation Starvation,” Neal Stephenson calls for a return to inspiration in contemporary science fiction. That call resonated with so many and so deeply that Project Hieroglyph was born shortly thereafter.

The name of Project Hieroglyph comes from the notion that certain iconic inventions in science fiction stories serve as modern “hieroglyphs” – Arthur Clarke’s communications satellite, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ship that lands on its fins, Issac Asimov’s robot, and so on. Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research described hieroglyphs as simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

The Hieroglyph project was mentioned here most recently in a Sept. 1, 2014 posting (scroll down about 25% of the way) on the occasion of its book publication and where Schroeder’s ‘Degrees of Freedom’ is listed in the table of contents.

The book is one of a series of projects and events organized by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. You can find information about projects and videos of recent events on the homepage.

As for Karl Schroeder, there’s this from the About page on his kschroeder.com website,

I’m one of Canada’s most popular science fiction and fantasy authors. I divide my time between writing fiction and analyzing, conducting workshops and speaking on the future impact of science and technology on society.  As the author of nine novels I’ve been translated into French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese.  In addition to my more traditional fiction, I’ve pioneered a new mode of writing that blends fiction and rigorous futures research—my influential short novels Crisis in Zefra (2005) and Crisis in Urlia (2011) are innovative ‘scenario fictions’ commissioned by the Canadian army as study and research tools.  While doing all of this I’m also working to complete a Master’s degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design] University in Toronto.

I married Janice Beitel in April 2001–we tied the knot in a tropical bird sanctuary on the shore of the Indian Ocean, Kalbarri Western Australia.  Our daughter Paige was born in May 2003.  We live in East Toronto where I’m writing about the evolution of post-bureaucratic governance in the 2025-2035 period.

Happy Reading!

Canadian military & a 2nd military futures book from Karl Schroeder (1 of 2)

Karl Schroeder was last mentioned here regarding his first ’21st century military scenario’ book featuring nanotechnology and commissioned by the Canadian Army. The book was titled Crisis in Zefra. From the Feb. 16, 2009 posting,

It turns out that in 2005 the Canadian army commissioned a science fiction writer (Karl Schroeder) to write a book about a future military crisis. Schroeder has included some nanotechnology applications in his future war book, Crisis in Zefra, such as ‘smart dust’. I haven’t read the book yet. Apparently the army has run out of copies but you can get a PDF version from Schroeder’s website here. [ETA Nov. 4, 2014: Scroll down to the second link in the section on Zefra, as the first link no longer works.]   Do check out the website blog where he includes some science bits and pieces in his postings. According to the article here, Schroeder has been commissioned to write a sequel. I don’t usually think of the Canadian military as being particularly imaginative so I find this somewhat refreshing (although I may change my mind once I’ve read the book).

Here’s more about the latest scenario book, ‘Crisis in Urlia’, from Schroeder’s Scenario Writing for the Canadian Military webpage (Note: A link has been removed),

In 2010 I was hired to write a followup to Zefra entitled Crisis in Urlia, which was published in May, 2014. Urlia deals with a drought-and-famine situation in a coastal city in the ‘Pakistani-Indian plurinational zone.’ This city, Urlia, has a population of more than a million but is less than ten years old, having sprung up using new money and Chinese kit-city technologies. A new disease breaks out while a Canadian rapid-response team is on the ground in Urlia, and as the situation threatens to spiral out of control, an increasingly intricate web of alliances, relationships and protocols comes to bear on the problem.

Urlia explores the concept of ‘wicked problems’ as well as the future of command-and-control in a networked and multi-stakeholder world. One principle whose ramifications are explored is Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, which states that any control system must have at least as many internal degrees of freedom as the system it models; applied to a scenario where multiple problems intersect–(famine, drought, political instability, disease and corruption), where nobody can even agree on the definition of the problem, there are no single solutions or even any metric to decide when a solution has succeeded–in such chaos, can a traditional military/political machine cope without pursuing the ‘radical simplification’ of the situation implied by an imposition of martial law and military government? Urlia explores how JIMP policies (Joint, Interagency, Multinational and Public) coupled with new technologies of communication and coordination, might resolve such a difficult situation.

There was an excerpt, prior to publication, from the novel, Crisis in Urlia in a May 1, 2011 posting on Vanguardcanada.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Excerpt from a new book by the Directorate of Land Concepts and Design to be published in late summer/early fall 2011

“Where is that water? How can we be expected to be good hosts without fresh water?” Hazir Rumay stalked over to the door before remembering that he had his Augmented Reality glasses on. He tapped the arm of the glasses and looked through the floor to see where his eldest son was. The low-resolution image of the boy revealed that he was just coming up the stairs carrying something.

Hazir made a quick scan of the rest of the building. His employees were all at their stations, working dutifully despite the distant crackle of gunfire from what he hoped was only another riot. Uneasy, he moved to the window and adjusted the glasses’ display to show local traffic. The grey concrete towers, their windows shaded by dusty solar energy films, the streets crisscrossed with frayed cables, all faded slightly as cars, trucks, and jitneys leaped into stark relief. You could even see them through the buildings themselves,(1) an effect that had impressed him ten years ago but which he took for granted now. Several driverless taxis were nosing their way through the traffic and the few darting, white-masked people who’d dared the streets today, but otherwise the streets seemed empty. Suddenly, two military vehicles rounded a nearby corner. They’d been invisible in his Augmented Reality view of the street, which now that he thought about it made sense from a security perspective, but was still a bit disconcerting. These Canadians had some sort of power over the AR system. Something to ponder later.

“Ah!” He headed for the stairs as the vehicles pulled up in front of his building, his limp returning as it always did when he hurried. The exoskeleton he wore to ease the strain on his right leg gave an extra thump to his footsteps on the stairs; everybody in the factory knew when he was coming because of that thump. He reached the ground floor just as five foreigners were buzzed through the front door.

“Welcome, welcome!” He extended both arms to encompass them all while the facial recognition software in his glasses overlaid glowing names over their heads. “Lieutenant Colonel Desai, I’m so glad you came in person, it’s an honour to host the CHERT.”(2) He shook the colonel’s hand vigorously.

“You’re a very important man in Urlia, Dr. Rumay” said Vandna Desai with a warm smile, “and Canadian military doctrine is to coordinate our forces with other agencies and institutions, including businesses. We call it the Comprehensive Approach. I’m here to see how we can work together to help resolve your city’s crisis.”

Rumay returned her smile while trying to assess her. She had Hindustani features, but her accent was pure Canadian. He guessed she was in her mid-forties, but then, it was hard to judge anybody’s age these days, especially if they were from the Americas. “Well, to a tiger, a sheep is very important; but I’d prefer not to be important in quite that way.”

“That’s why we’re here, to take some of the pressure off people like yourself. Ah, let me introduce Carter Arkin, he’s a tropical disease specialist from Health Canada. We have him because his lab is affiliated with ours at DRDC.” Hazir had already read this from Arkin’s AR tag, but smiled politely as he shook the scientist’s hand. His software couldn’t identify the other three men, but from their size and the unobtrusive exoskeleton cuffs poking from under their collars and sleeves, he guessed they were soldiers. One of them was herding two cargo bots loaded with olive-green bags and boxes from the back of the second transport.

As they entered the warehouse behind the front foyer, Desai switched from English to Pashtun. “This is all your stock?”

“We don’t need much space for what we do.” The switch to one of the local languages made it possible for his employees to listen in on the conversation, which he supposed was why Desai had done it. Still, it was a bit annoying; he had few opportunities to converse in English these days, especially since every device he used automatically translated between the major languages.(3)

“Carter, I’ll be upstairs if you need anything,” said Desai to the scientist, and then she accompanied Hazir to the stairs. “I really do appreciate your accommodating us,” she said as they walked up to his office. “Your cooperation is going to open other doors for us.”

“Oh, I know that very well,” he said with a smile. “Your people are all over Urlianet talking about this ‘comprehensive approach’ to military operations. I have to admit I’m not sure what a ‘combination military and civilian agency’ looks like, much less what it is exactly that you do.”

“It looks like this,” said Desai, spreading her hands. “You and us working together.” She could obviously see from his expression that this wasn’t enough of an explanation, so she added, “It’s something called the ‘whole of government’ approach. CHERT wasn’t sent here by just one arm of the Canadian government, but Canada as a whole. From your perspective, what that means is that we have to pay attention to more than just primary effects — you know, drop off the water and leave. We have to plan for the secondary and tertiary effects of what we do here — like, for instance, the effect on local businesses of us setting up a new desalination plant. And we can bring in other departments, or our own business advisors, to help sort those things out. We’d like you to be one of them.”

Rumay nodded. “In that case, you won’t mind if we pose for a few photos before you go. I’d like to tag(4) our building — oh, why not the whole block? — with images and interviews from your visit, so everyone can see how we’ve been fully exonerated. Maybe the attacks will stop once people know we weren’t responsible for the outbreak.”

He didn’t have to tell the colonel that the building had become a fortress of sorts. He’d originally chosen it because the ground floor was windowless, thinking to avoid theft. In hindsight that had been a good decision. What Desai hopefully didn’t know was that he’d supplemented the usual building security software with nanowire(5) bomb-sniffers and cutting-edge commercial pattern matching software. If anybody so much as looked at the place the wrong way, his sensors would tell him.

The liaison was an interface to Pantheon, the commercial stakeholder management service(6) that Hazir used. Pantheon was as big as Google had once been, and hugely influential, supplying the liaison software and a back-end that provided virtual liaison services for nearly every company and organization in the world. When Rumay had heard that the CHERT team was coming to Urlia he’d downloaded the CHERT liaison. He hadn’t expected anything to come from it, but had given it some information about his own interests and concerns. To his surprise, it had contacted him this morning and asked whether he would like to meet with Desai.

“I’m glad you’re using Pantheon,” said the colonel. “Now that I’m here I can give you a secure liaison to replace this one. I’ve also got secure liaisons for our partners in this operation, if you’d like them.”

“Yes, please!”

Hazir noticed that Desai didn’t even move her hands to upload the new liaisons to his office. The Colonel wasn’t wearing augmented reality glasses like he was, but clearly she had some interface to the net — probably video contact lenses. No doubt she was also festooned with sensors; wasn’t everybody these days?

Partly to test this suspicion, Hazir said, “You can see our situation,” and gestured to the windows behind the liaison. To the naked eye the view showed only the facades and windows of the other buildings on the street, but even Hazir’s low-level data subscriptions fed him a wealth of information about what was going on locally: weather, pollution levels, the number of people in the street and how many were loitering. That number — the loitering index — had been going up for days. It was a bad sign; the index had shot up just before the recent attack.

Desai nodded gravely, then said, “You understand that I can ask certain questions off the record, but there are things we need to know. People are saying the sweating sickness was genetically engineered, and you’re one of the only local gene splicers.”

“You want to know whether I have customers besides the U.N. and the regional agricultural council,” he said. “I do — but not who you might think.”

Desai paused a moment, then said, “I understand what you have to do sometimes to get things done. There’s a fine line between the legal and the illegal, and” —

Hazir retrieved the container he’d earlier placed on the desk. He’d been right to bring this prop up from the warehouse; now he opened the case and displayed the little green eggs in it. “They’re called tick-stalkers. A kind of bird, I don’t know if they’re natural or were genetically engineered. Anyway, they’re a special order from the mud flats.”

Desai frowned minutely. “West of town, right? We’re aware that somebody’s doing biodiversity work there, but not who it is. Do you have a client?”

“Yes, but not a human one. That’s the point. The order for these came from the flats themselves.”

The colonel sat motionless for a moment. Hazir guessed she was interfacing with whatever resources she had at her disposal — online encyclopedias, people, even AIs that might be listening in and triangulating on everything they said — in short, the normal, expected systems any business person might carry around these days.

“So it’s true,” she said finally. “The flats are an autonomous legal entity.”(7) The flats were an engineered ecosystem, designed to function on their own after being initially seeded with new and traditionally local species. The whole idea was to create an area of biodiversity that could flourish without human intervention; Desai should not be surprised if part of that autonomy included legal and economic independence of a sort.

Hazir nodded. “The entire Urlia watershed is saturated with smart dust sensors. They’re the eyes and noses and ears of a botnet (8) AI that represents its environmental interests. These were seeded there by a radical ecological group — with the city’s blessing, of course. They then registered the watershed as an autonomous legal entity so that it could be self-sustaining. Effectively, it owns itself. And, since the watershed provides an ecosystem service — water purification — the city pays it. This is cheaper than building more water filtration plants. And the watershed — well, in this case, the mud flats — can use that money to buy things. For instance, tick-stalkers to fill an empty ecological niche.”

“So there’s an AI that thinks it is the mudflats.”(9)

He shrugged. “That’s putting it crudely, but yes. The City is trying to get the flats to process more of our grey water, but it refuses. Says it has to look out for its own health first. But it’s still interested in the business, so it’s paying me to upgrade the” –

But Desai wasn’t listening; she suddenly stood up, frowning.

PATTERN MATCH: POSSIBLE RPG.

The letters appeared suddenly in the top-left of Hazir’s field of vision – projected there by his glasses. He’d been half-turned toward one of the windows when it happened. “Excuse me,” he said and held up a hand while he focused on the letters with both eyes. “I need to check something.”

Across the street was a band of open windows. These were apartments that he’d long ago stopped noticing; but somewhere a camera, either the ones in his glasses or one of the ones mounted on the outside of the building, had spotted something.
There was an open window over there, and movement in it –

RPG CONFIRMED.

– And suddenly he felt Desai’s hand on his back and the colonel was shouting, “Down!” as she shoved Hazir towards the teak desk. He stumbled forward and Desai hauled him down just as glass shattered and then the room was tumbling around him. He’d heard nothing, just felt a shock over his entire body and then he was face down in broken plaster and spears of teak.

Miraculously, his glasses had stayed on. There was nothing to see but swirling dust an inch from his face, but their display was still working; so he was able to watch the local loitering index suddenly plummet from about two dozen, to zero. He could picture the scene: everybody on the street running pell-mell as the echoes of the rocket attack faded.

These modern conveniences, he thought in wonder. And then he passed out.

ENDNOTES
1. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18036-augmented-reality-system-lets-you-see-through-walls.html

2. In this scenario, the Comprehensive Humanitarian/Environmental Response Team (CHERT) is Canada’s successor to DART.

3. This technology is very old by 2040. Much of world commerce relies on it.

4. Location-dependent tags are a major component of augmented-reality systems. For an example current in 2010, see http://www.psfk.com/2009/08/mobile-augmented-reality-tagging.html.

5. http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/26327/page1/

6. Stakeholder management systems allow an organization to track the needs and act on the concerns of customers, business partners, etc. Stakeholder management is an important tool in this implementation of the Comprehensive Approach.

7. The 1992 Paraguayan constitution recognizes the rights of nature. This concept derives from Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca’s notion of buen vivir or “living well.” Buen vivir includes the notion that Nature should have rights. In Urlia the legal framework for natural rights is adapted from the American precedent of granting corporations rights as legal persons.

8. Botnets are a form of distributed computer system that are non-localized and hence do not have to be “hosted” by a human or organizational patron. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botnet. The mudflat AI is simply a resource-allocation botnet whose “herder” is an algorithm dedicated to maximizing the biodiversity within the mudflats.

9. Natural intelligences evolved to identify themselves as their physical bodies. There is, however, no reason why an artificial intelligence would have to identify itself with its actual systems. It could experience its “body” as anything its designer chose it to be, including distinct physical objects such as the mud flats.

Part 2 of this 2-part series includes a link where you can download Crisis in Urlia and a brief description of another project involving Karl Schroeder.

Bomb-sniffing and other sniffing possibilities from Utah (US state)

A Nov. 4, 2014 news item on Phys.org features some research in Utah on the use of carbon nanotubes for sensing devices,

University of Utah engineers have developed a new type of carbon nanotube material for handheld sensors that will be quicker and better at sniffing out explosives, deadly gases and illegal drugs.

A carbon nanotube is a cylindrical material that is a hexagonal or six-sided array of carbon atoms rolled up into a tube. Carbon nanotubes are known for their strength and high electrical conductivity and are used in products from baseball bats and other sports equipment to lithium-ion batteries and touchscreen computer displays.

Vaporsens, a university spin-off company, plans to build a prototype handheld sensor by year’s end and produce the first commercial scanners early next year, says co-founder Ling Zang, a professor of materials science and engineering and senior author of a study of the technology published online Nov. 4 [2014] in the journal Advanced Materials.

The new kind of nanotubes also could lead to flexible solar panels that can be rolled up and stored or even “painted” on clothing such as a jacket, he adds.

Here’s Ling Zang holding a prototype of the device,

Ling Zang, a University of Utah professor of materials science and engineering, holds a prototype detector that uses a new type of carbon nanotube material for use in handheld scanners to detect explosives, toxic chemicals and illegal drugs. Zang and colleagues developed the new material, which will make such scanners quicker and more sensitive than today’s standard detection devices. Ling’s spinoff company, Vaporsens, plans to produce commercial versions of the new kind of scanner early next year. Courtesy: University of Utah

Ling Zang, a University of Utah professor of materials science and engineering, holds a prototype detector that uses a new type of carbon nanotube material for use in handheld scanners to detect explosives, toxic chemicals and illegal drugs. Zang and colleagues developed the new material, which will make such scanners quicker and more sensitive than today’s standard detection devices. Ling’s spinoff company, Vaporsens, plans to produce commercial versions of the new kind of scanner early next year. Courtesy: University of Utah

A Nov. 4, 2014 University of Utah news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

Zang and his team found a way to break up bundles of the carbon nanotubes with a polymer and then deposit a microscopic amount on electrodes in a prototype handheld scanner that can detect toxic gases such as sarin or chlorine, or explosives such as TNT.

When the sensor detects molecules from an explosive, deadly gas or drugs such as methamphetamine, they alter the electrical current through the nanotube materials, signaling the presence of any of those substances, Zang says.

“You can apply voltage between the electrodes and monitor the current through the nanotube,” says Zang, a professor with USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research economic development initiative. “If you have explosives or toxic chemicals caught by the nanotube, you will see an increase or decrease in the current.”

By modifying the surface of the nanotubes with a polymer, the material can be tuned to detect any of more than a dozen explosives, including homemade bombs, and about two-dozen different toxic gases, says Zang. The technology also can be applied to existing detectors or airport scanners used to sense explosives or chemical threats.

Zang says scanners with the new technology “could be used by the military, police, first responders and private industry focused on public safety.”

Unlike the today’s detectors, which analyze the spectra of ionized molecules of explosives and chemicals, the Utah carbon-nanotube technology has four advantages:

• It is more sensitive because all the carbon atoms in the nanotube are exposed to air, “so every part is susceptible to whatever it is detecting,” says study co-author Ben Bunes, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering.

• It is more accurate and generates fewer false positives, according to lab tests.

• It has a faster response time. While current detectors might find an explosive or gas in minutes, this type of device could do it in seconds, the tests showed.

• It is cost-effective because the total amount of the material used is microscopic.

This study was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and NASA. …

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

Photodoping and Enhanced Visible Light Absorption in Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes Functionalized with a Wide Band Gap Oligomer by Benjamin R. Bunes, Miao Xu, Yaqiong Zhang, Dustin E. Gross, Avishek Saha, Daniel L. Jacobs, Xiaomei Yang, Jeffrey S. Moore, and Ling Zang. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201404112 Article first published online: 4 NOV 2014

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone curious about Vaporsens, you can find more here.

Toughening up your electronics: kevlar with a tungsten fibre coating

An upcoming presentation at the 61st annual AVS Conference (Nov. 9 – 14, 2014) features a fibre made of tungsten that when added to kevlar offers the possibility of ‘tough’ electronics. From an Oct. 31, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

A group of North Carolina State University researchers is exploring novel ways to apply semiconductor industry processes to unique substrates, such as textiles and fabrics, to “weave together” multifunctional materials with distinct capabilities.

During the AVS 61st International Symposium & Exhibition, being held November 9-14, 2014, in Baltimore, Maryland, the researchers will describe how they were able to “weave” high-strength, highly conductive yarns made of tungsten metal on Kevlar — aka body armor material — by using atomic layer deposition (ALD), a process commonly used for producing memory and logic devices.

An Oct. 28, 2014 AVS: Science & Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing news release on Newswire, which originated the news item provides more details about this multifunctional material and a good description of atomic layer deposition (ALD),

“As a substrate, Kevlar was intriguing to us because it’s capable of withstanding the relatively high temperature (220°C) required by the ALD deposition process,” explains Sarah Atanasov, a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomolecular Engineering Department at North Carolina State University. “Kevlar doesn’t begin to degrade until it reaches nearly 400°C.”

The group selected ALD as a process because it allows them to deposit highly conformal films on nonplanar surfaces with nanometer-thickness precision. “This ensures that the entire surface of the yarn — made of nearly 600 fibers, each 12 microns in diameter — is evenly coated,” said Atanasov.

How does the ALD process work? It’s actually a cyclical process, which begins by exposing the substrate’s surface to one gas-phase chemical, in this case tungsten hexafluoride (WF6), followed by removal of any unreacted material. This is chased with surface exposure to a second gas-phase chemical, silane (SiH4), after which any unreacted material is once again removed.

By the end of the ALD cycle, the two chemicals have reacted to produce tungsten. “This is a self-limited process, meaning that a single atomic layer is deposited during each cycle — in this case ~5.5 Angstroms per cycle,” Atanasov said. “The process can be cycled through a number of times to achieve any specifically desired thickness. As a bonus, ALD occurs in the gas phase, so it doesn’t require any solution processing and is considered to be a more sustainable deposition technique.”

While weaving together multiple fabrics to combine multiple capabilities certainly isn’t new, characteristics such as high strength, high conductivity, and flexibility are frequently regarded as being mutually exclusive — so concessions are often made to get the most important one.

The work by Atanasov and colleagues shows, however, that ALD of tungsten on Kevlar yields yarns that are highly flexible and highly conductive, around 2,000 S/cm (“Siemens per centimeter,” a common unit used for conductivity). The yards are also within 90 percent of their original prior-to-coating tensile strength.

“Introducing well-established processes from one area into a completely new field can lead to some very interesting and useful results,” Atanasov noted.

The group’s tungsten-on-Kevlar yarns are expected to find applications in multifunctional protective electronics materials for electromagnetic shielding and communications, as well as erosion-resistant antistatic fabrics for space and automated technologies.

Presentation #MS+PS+TF-ThA4, “Multifunctional Fabrics via Tungsten ALD on Kevlar,” authored by Sarah Atanasov, B. Kalanyan and G.N. Parsons, will be at 3:20 p.m. ET on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014.

Atanasov recently published a paper about another kevlar project where she worked to enhance its ‘stab resistance’ with a titanium dioxide/aluminum mixture as Anisha Ratan notes in her Sept. 12, 2014 article (Oxide armour offers Kevlar better stab resistance)  (excerpt from Ratan’s article for the Royal Society; Note: Links have been removed),

Scientists in the US have synthesised an ultrathin inorganic bilayer coating for Kevlar that could improve its stab resistance by 30% and prove invaluable for military and first-responders requiring multi-threat protection clothes.

Developed in 1965 by Stephanie Kwolek at DuPont, poly(p-phenylene terephthalamide) (PPTA), or Kevlar, is a para-aramid synthetic fiber deriving its strength from interchain hydrogen bonding. It finds use in flexible energy and electronic systems, but is most commonly associated with bullet-proof body armour.

However, despite its anti-ballistic properties, it offers limited cut and stab protection. In a bid to overcome this drawback, Sarah Atanasov, from Gregory Parsons’ group at North Carolina State University, and colleagues, have developed a TiO2/Al2O3 bilayer that significantly enhances the cut resistance of Kevlar fibers. The coating is added to Kevlar by atomic layer deposition, a low temperature technique with nanoscale precision.

Unfortunately the team’s research paper is no longer open access but you can find a link to it from Ratan’s article.

Nanotechnology in the Security Systems; NATO Science for Peace and Security workshops

An Aug. 19, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features a new publication from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which seems to be the outcome of a 2013 workshop, Note: A link has been removed,

The topics discussed at the NATO Advanced Research Workshop “Nanotechnology in the Security Systems” included nanophysics, nanotechnology, nanomaterials, sensors, biosensors security systems, explosive detection.

A new book in the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security covers the findings from this workshop: Nanotechnology in the Security Systems.

The 2013 workshop (information about the upcoming 2014 workshop after this) took place in the Ukraine, which seems strangely ironic given the current situation where Russia has ‘intervened’ in the Crimea and where one group or another shot down an Air Malaysia flight over Ukraine airspace,

NATO ADVANCED RESEARCH WORKSHOP
29 September – 3 October 2013 ,
YALTA , UKRAINE

NANOTECHNOLOGY IN THE SECURITY SYSTEMS (NSS-2013)

(http://www.natonano.com)

CO-DIRECTORS:
Bonca Janez (J.Stefan Institute, Ljublyana, Slovenia)
Kruchinin Sergei (Bogolyubov Institute for Theoretical Physics, Ukraine)

INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE :
Balatsky Alexandr (Los Alamos National laboratory,USA )
Logan David (Oxford University,UK)

ARW is supported by NATO.

Co-sponsor is Ministry of Ukraine for Education and Science.

The main objective of this Advanced Research Workshop is to bring together leading experts on key current topics in nanotechnology ,security systems and sensor and biosensor in order to review recent developments and to outline new directions for nanotechnology research. Topids will include physics of graphene, nanomaterials, CRBN agents.

Time and Location

The ARW will be held from 29 September – 3 October 2013 at the “Yalta” Hotel (three star) in Yalta (Crimea, Ukraine). Yalta is a world-famous health resort and the centre of a large resort area stretchening for more than 70 km along the southern coast of the Crimea. [emphasis mine]

All partipants of the ARW will be accommodated in the hotel. There is auditorium seating 100, which is fitted with modern acoustic equipment. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served for all participants. At the hotel there is an indoor swimming pool with heated sea water.

Participants may travel to the ARW from Kiev international airport. You can use the regular flight (Boeing) Kiev – Simferopol(Yalta) – Kiev, leaving Kiev on September 29 at 18:45 and leaving Simferopol on October 3 at 21:10. The price of tickets Kiev-Simferopol-Kiev is 160 EURO. There are direct flights from many Cities to Simferopol.

This year’s workshop will be held in Turkey, From the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (US) website’s NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Nanotechnology (2014) webpage,

NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Nanotechnology to Aid Chemical and Biological Defence

September 22-26, 2014

Rixos Downtown Hotel

Antalya, Turkey

The NATO Science for Peace and Security Program has identified Defense against CBRN Agents and Environmental Security as key priority areas.  Nanomaterials and nanotechnology can play a vital role in the detection and decontamination of chemical and biological threat agents. They also can be used in protective technologies. The ability to control matter on an atomic and/or molecular scale provides new opportunities to use materials. The area of sensing is a particularly relevant example in which nanotechnology can be useful, by exploiting the unique properties and phenomena exerted by matter at the nano-scale. Rather than just thinking in terms of miniaturization of sensors and devices, it is possible to imagine entirely new technologies that are developed to exploit novel nano-scale phenomena. Combining nanotechnology with biomolecular systems, we have the power of nanobiotechnology to achieve improved detection, decontamination and protection against chemical and bio-agents.

The purpose of this ARW will be to bring together a diverse group of international civilian researchers focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology problems that are relevant to chemical and biological defence needs, in order to share the state-of-the-art in the field, identify accomplishments, and to discuss the challenges and opportunities present in the field. The work discussed here will form a blueprint for researchers in the area of nanotechnology for chemical and biological defense, especially for future research in detection, decontamination and protection.

Confirmed Invited Speakers:
Professor Terri Camesano     Worcester Polytechnic Institute     USA
Dr. N. Chanisvili     IBMV Tbilisi     Georgia [Country]
Dr. Ario DeMarco     University of Nova Gorica     Slovenia
Dr. Mario Boehme     TU Darmstadt     Germany
Dr. Audrey Beaussart     Université Catholique de Louvain     Belgium
Dr. Jêrôme Duval     Ecole Nationales Supérieure de Géologie     France
Dr. Mladen Franko     University of Nova Gorica     Slovenia
Professor Perena Gouma     SUNY Stony Brook     USA
Dr. Roland Grunow     Robert Koch Institut     Germany
Professor Giorgi Kvesitadze   Tbilisi State University and Georgia Technical University    Georgia
Professor Raj Mutharasan     Drexel University     USA
Dr. Michele Penza     ENEA, Brindisi     Italy
Dr. Irena Ciglenecki-Jusic     Institut Ruđer Bošković     Croatia
Professor Sadunishvili Tinatin     Durmishidze Institute of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Agrarian University of Georgia     Georgia
Dr. Polonca Trebse     University of Nova Gorica     Slovenia
Professor Monique van Hoek     George Mason University     USA
Professor David Wright     Vanderbilt University     USA
Dr Ahmet Ozgur Yazaydin     University College London     UK

*******This workshop is supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme

*******Please note that all scholarships for financial support for the conference are full.

Contact Professor Terri A. Camesano, [email protected] for information* about the scholarships.

As for the book produced from the 2013 (?) workshop, here’s a link for purchasing,

Nanotechnology in the Security Systems (NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security) Paperback – September 14, 2014 by Janez Bonca (Editor), Sergei Kruchinin (Editor)

ISBN-13: 978-9401790529 ISBN-10: 9401790523 Edition: 2015th

If you are applying for a scholarship to the 2014 workshop, good luck!

* ‘informatio’ corrected to ‘information’ on Nov. 21,2014.

Hummingbirds and ‘nano’ spy cameras

Hummingbird-inspired spy cameras have come a long way since the research featured in this Aug. 12, 2011 posting which includes a video of a robot camera designed to look like a hummingbird and mimic some of its extraordinary flying abilities. These days (2014) the emphasis appears to be on mimicking the abilities to a finer degree if Margaret Munro’s July 29, 2014 article for Canada.com is to be believed,

Tiny, high-end military drones are catching up with one of nature’s great engineering masterpieces.

A side-by-side comparison has found a “remarkably similar” aerodynamic performance between hummingbirds and the Black Hornet, the most sophisticated nano spycam yet.

“(The) Average Joe hummingbird” is about on par with the tiny helicopter that is so small it can fit in a pocket, says engineering professor David Lentink, at Stanford University. He led a team from Canada [University of British Columbia], the U.S. and the Netherlands [Wageningen University and Eindhoven University of Technology] that compared the birds and the machine for a study released Tuesday [July 29, 2014].

For a visual comparison with the latest nano spycam (Black Hornet), here’s the ‘hummingbird’ featured in the 2011 posting,

The  Nano Hummingbird, a drone from AeroVironment designed for the US Pentagon, would fit into any or all of those categories.

And, here’s this 2013 image of a Black Hornet Nano Helicopter inspired by hummingbirds,

Black Hornet Nano Helicopter UAVView licenseview terms Richard Watt - Photo http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/fwbin/download.dll/45153802.jpgCourtesy: Wikipedia

Black Hornet Nano Helicopter UAVView licenseview terms
Richard Watt – Photo http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/fwbin/download.dll/45153802.jpg Courtesy: Wikipedia

A July 30, 2014 Stanford University news release by Bjorn Carey provides more details about this latest research into hummingbirds and their flying ways,

More than 42 million years of natural selection have turned hummingbirds into some of the world’s most energetically efficient flyers, particularly when it comes to hovering in place.

Humans, however, are gaining ground quickly. A new study led by David Lentink, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, reveals that the spinning blades of micro-helicopters are about as efficient at hovering as the average hummingbird.

The experiment involved spinning hummingbird wings – sourced from a pre-existing museum collection – of 12 different species on an apparatus designed to test the aerodynamics of helicopter blades. The researchers used cameras to visualize airflow around the wings, and sensitive load cells to measure the drag and the lift force they exerted, at different speeds and angles.

Lentink and his colleagues then replicated the experiment using the blades from a ProxDynamics Black Hornet autonomous microhelicopter. The Black Hornet is the most sophisticated microcopter available – the United Kingdom’s army uses it in Afghanistan – and is itself about the size of a hummingbird.

Even spinning like a helicopter, rather than flapping, the hummingbird wings excelled: If hummingbirds were able to spin their wings to hover, it would cost them roughly half as much energy as flapping. The microcopter’s wings kept pace with the middle-of-the-pack hummingbird wings, but the topflight wings – those of Anna’s hummingbird, a species common throughout the West Coast – were still about 27 percent more efficient than engineered blades.

Hummingbirds acing the test didn’t particularly surprise Lentink – previous studies had indicated hummingbirds were incredibly efficient – but he was impressed with the helicopter.

“The technology is at the level of an average Joe hummingbird,” Lentink said. “A helicopter is really the most efficient hovering device that we can build. The best hummingbirds are still better, but I think it’s amazing that we’re getting closer. It’s not easy to match their performance, but if we build better wings with better shapes, we might approximate hummingbirds.”

Based on the measurements of Anna’s hummingbirds, Lentink said there is potential to improve microcopter rotor power by up to 27 percent.

The high-fidelity experiment also provided an opportunity to refine previous rough estimates of muscle power. Lentink’s team learned that hummingbirds’ muscles produce a surprising 130 watts of energy per kilogram; the average for other birds, and across most vertebrates, is roughly 100 watts/kg.

Although the current study revealed several details of how a hummingbird hovers in one place, the birds still hold many secrets. For instance, Lentink said, we don’t know how hummingbirds maintain their flight in a strong gust, how they navigate through branches and other clutter, or how they change direction so quickly during aerial “dogfights.”

He also thinks great strides could be made by studying wing aspect ratios, the ratio of wing length to wing width. The aspect ratios of all the hummingbirds’ wings remarkably converged around 3.9. The aspect ratios of most wings used in aviation measure much higher; the Black Hornet’s aspect ratio was 4.7.

“I want to understand if aspect ratio is special, and whether the amount of variation has an effect on performance,” Lentink said. Understanding and replicating these abilities and characteristics could be a boon for robotics and will be the focus of future experiments.

“Those are the things we don’t know right now, and they could be incredibly useful. But I don’t mind it, actually,” Lentink said. “I think it’s nice that there are still a few things about hummingbirds that we don’t know.”

Agreed, it’s nice to know there are still a few mysteries left. You can watch the ‘mysterious’ hummingbird in this video courtesy of the Rivers Ingersoll Lentink Lab at Stanford University,

High speed video of Anna’s hummingbird at Stanford Arizona Cactus Garden.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper, H/T to Nancy Owano’s article on phys.org for alerting me to this story.

Hummingbird wing efficacy depends on aspect ratio and compares with helicopter rotors by Jan W. Kruyt, Elsa M. Quicazán-Rubio, GertJan F. van Heijst, Douglas L. Altshuler, and David Lentink.  J. R. Soc. Interface 6 October 2014 vol. 11 no. 99 20140585 doi: 10.1098/​rsif.2014.0585 Published [online] 30 July 2014

This is an open access paper.

Despite Munro’s reference to the Black Hornet as a ‘nano’ spycam, the ‘microhelicopter’ description in the news release places the device at the microscale (/1,000,000,000). Still, I don’t understand what makes it microscale since it’s visible to the naked eye. In any case, it is small.

Israeli scientists help us “sniff out” bombs

A July 23, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily describes the situation regarding bombs and other explosive devices and the Israelie research,

Security forces worldwide rely on sophisticated equipment, trained personnel, and detection dogs to safeguard airports and other public areas against terrorist attacks. A revolutionary new electronic chip with nano-sized chemical sensors is about to make their job much easier.

The groundbreaking nanotechnology-inspired sensor, devised by Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and developed by the Herzliya company Tracense, picks up the scent of explosives molecules better than a detection dog’s nose. Research on the sensor was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Existing explosives sensors are expensive, bulky and require expert interpretation of the findings. In contrast, the new sensor is mobile, inexpensive, and identifies in real time — and with great accuracy — explosives in the air at concentrations as low as a few molecules per 1,000 trillion.

A July 23, 2014 American Friends of Tel Aviv University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, gives more detail about the research and potential product,

“Using a single tiny chip that consists of hundreds of supersensitive sensors, we can detect ultra low traces of extremely volatile explosives in air samples, and clearly fingerprint and differentiate them from other non-hazardous materials,” said Prof. Patolsky, a top researcher in the field of nanotechnology. “In real time, it detects small molecular species in air down to concentrations of parts-per-quadrillion, which is four to five orders of magnitude more sensitive than any existing technological method, and two to three orders of magnitude more sensitive than a dog’s nose.

“This chip can also detect improvised explosives, such as TATP (triacetone triperoxide), used in suicide bombing attacks in Israel and abroad,” Prof. Patolsky added.

The clusters of nano-sized transistors used in the prototype are extremely sensitive to chemicals, which cause changes in the electrical conductance of the sensors upon surface contact. When just a single molecule of an explosive comes into contact with the sensors, it binds with them, triggering a rapid and accurate mathematical analysis of the material.

“Animals are influenced by mood, weather, state of health and working hours, the oversaturation of olfactory system, and much more,” said Prof. Patolsky. “They also cannot tell us what they smell. Automatic sensing systems are superior candidates to dogs, working at least as well or better than nature. This is not an easy task, but was achieved through the development of novel technologies such as our sensor.”

The trace detector, still in prototype, identifies several different types of explosives several meters from the source in real time. It has been tested on the explosives TNT, RDX, and HMX, used in commercial blasting and military applications, as well as peroxide-based explosives like TATP and HMTD. The latter are commonly used in homemade bombs and are very difficult to detect using existing technology.

“Our breakthrough has the potential to change the way hazardous materials are detected, and of course should provide populations with more security,” said Prof. Patolsky. “The faster, more sensitive detection of tiny amounts of explosives in the air will provide for a better and safer world.”

Tracense has invested over $10M in research and development of the device since 2007, and expects to go to market next year [2015]. Prof.Patolsky and his team of researchers are currently performing multiple and extensive field tests of prototype devices of the sensor.

Here’s a link to and a citation for a recent paper by Professor Patolsky and his team,

Supersensitive fingerprinting of explosives by chemically modified nanosensors arrays by Amir Lichtenstein, Ehud Havivi, Ronen Shacham, Ehud Hahamy, Ronit Leibovich, Alexander Pevzner, Vadim Krivitsky, Guy Davivi, Igor Presman, Roey Elnathan, Yoni Engel, Eli Flaxer, & Fernando Patolsky. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4195 doi:10.1038/ncomms5195 Published 24 June 2014 Updated online 09 July 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but a free preview is available via ReadCube Access.

A warning for when it’s “too hot to handle”

Who hasn’t picked up something that was hotter than you thought although you probably don’t have an example as extreme as this in a July 8, 2014 news item on Azonano,

… during the war in Iraq, for example, where soldiers reported temperatures near munitions that had sometimes exceeded 190 degrees F, far in excess of the shells’ design limits.

“It would have been helpful to have had some sort of a calibrated temperature-triggered signal warning, ‘Don’t go near or pick up this shell!’ “said Zafar Iqbal, a research professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, who led the joint NJIT/ARDEC [New Jersey Institute of Technology/U.S. Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center] research team. Referred to as a “thermal-indicating composition” and applied as a coating or a mark on packaging, the material turns different shades of color from blue to red in response to a range of temperatures, beginning at about 95 degrees F. It was awarded a U.S. patent in May of this year.

A July 3, 2014 NJIT news release, which originated the news item, describes the research and the researcher,

“We essentially modified commercial paints and introduced nanotechnology-based concepts to tailor the trigger temperatures,” Iqbal explained, adding that his laboratory is starting to develop inks related to the paints that can be applied by inkjet printers.

His current research came out of earlier work at Honeywell, then Allied Corp., leading to a “smart coating” embedded with color-sensitive materials that indicated how long a substance had been exposed to temperatures high enough to compromise its functionality. The time-temperature device has been widely used by the World Health Organization, for example, on vaccine packaging labels.

Time-temperature coding is also important for munitions, which can be stored for many years and transported long distances. Until now, there has been no cost-effective means for identifying when munitions have experienced critical exposures, including over a period of several days. Thermal stabilizers incorporated in weapon containers can be depleted by extended exposure to high temperatures. Iqbal said the coding will be included in the thermal-indicating paints as an element of the final product for the Army.

The technology has potentially wider applications as well, including as a temperature indicator for factory machines and household appliances and tools signaling they have become dangerously hot, or as a warning to firefighters of the intensity of a fire on the other side of a door coated with the thermal paint. Several large corporations expressed preliminary interest in it at a recent expo. The patent is jointly owned by NJIT and the U.S. Army; NJIT plans to commercialize the technology.

Iqbal, who is currently working on a book entitled “Nanomaterials Science and Technology” to be published by Cambridge University Press, has been awarded 22 U.S. patents on a wide range of technologies.

He has collaborated with the U.S. Army over the years since joining the Feltman Research Laboratory at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey in 1969, two years after earning his Ph.D. at Cambridge University, where he conducted research at the renowned Cavendish Lab, the site of such major scientific advances as the discovery of the electron and the double-helix structure of DNA. He was a research scientist for the Army until 1977, before he returned to teaching and research for several years and then served as a senior principal scientist and project manager for nearly 20 years at Honeywell and its predecessor companies, Allied and Allied Signal, before joining NJIT.

Iqbal is currently developing a related technology that would signal whether a product has been damaged by force, shock or exposure to dangerous chemicals, such as carcinogens, or to radiation.

“A smart coded coating is like a smart skin – it will provide a visual or sensing signal to tell you if there is a problem,” he says, noting that sports helmets used in American football would be one potential application, helping coaches to determine whether a player has received a damaging blow to the head.

There is at least one sensing project for helmets and the detection of serious injury as per my Nov. 7, 2013 posting: Nanotechnology-enabled football helmets could help to determine if players have a concussion as per Iqbal’s last suggestion for a potential application of his sensing technology.

Harvest water from desert air with carbon nanotube cups (competition for NBD Nano?)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Pulickel Ajayan’s name in a Rice University (Texas) news release and I wonder if this is the beginning of a series. I’ve noticed that researchers often publish a series of papers within a few months and then become quiet for two or more years as they work in their labs to gather more information.

This time the research from Pulickel’s lab has focused on the use of carbon nanotubes to harvest water from desert air. From a June 12, 2014 news item on Azonano,

If you don’t want to die of thirst in the desert, be like the beetle. Or have a nanotube cup handy.

New research by scientists at Rice University demonstrated that forests of carbon nanotubes can be made to harvest water molecules from arid desert air and store them for future use.

The invention they call a “hygroscopic scaffold” is detailed in a new paper in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Researchers in the lab of Rice materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan found a way to mimic the Stenocara beetle, which survives in the desert by stretching its wings to capture and drink water molecules from the early morning fog.

Here’s more about the research from a June 11, 2014 Rice University news release (by Mike Williams?), which originated the news item,

They modified carbon nanotube forests grown through a process created at Rice, giving the nanotubes a superhydrophobic (water-repelling) bottom and a hydrophilic (water loving) top. The forest attracts water molecules from the air and, because the sides are naturally hydrophobic, traps them inside.

“It doesn’t require any external energy, and it keeps water inside the forest,” said graduate student and first author Sehmus Ozden. “You can squeeze the forest to take the water out and use the material again.”

The forests grown via water-assisted chemical vapor deposition consist of nanotubes that measure only a few nanometers (billionths of a meter) across and about a centimeter long.

The Rice team led by Ozden deposited a superhydrophobic layer to the top of the forest and then removed the forest from its silicon base, flipped it and added a layer of hydrophilic polymer to the other side.

In tests, water molecules bonded to the hydrophilic top and penetrated the forest through capillary action and gravity. (Air inside the forest is compressed rather then expelled, the researchers assumed.) Once a little water bonds to the forest canopy, the effect multiplies as the molecules are drawn inside, spreading out over the nanotubes through van der Waals forces, hydrogen bonding and dipole interactions. The molecules then draw more water in.

The researchers tested several variants of their cup. With only the top hydrophilic layer, the forests fell apart when exposed to humid air because the untreated bottom lacked the polymer links that held the top together. With a hydrophilic top and bottom, the forest held together but water ran right through.

But with a hydrophobic bottom and hydrophilic top, the forest remained intact even after collecting 80 percent of its weight in water.

The amount of water vapor captured depends on the air’s humidity. An 8 milligram sample (with a 0.25-square-centimeter surface) pulled in 27.4 percent of its weight over 11 hours in dry air, and 80 percent over 13 hours in humid air. Further tests showed the forests significantly slowed evaporation of the trapped water.

If it becomes possible to grow nanotube forests on a large scale, the invention could become an efficient, effective water-collection device because it does not require an external energy source, the researchers said.

Ozden said the production of carbon nanotube arrays at a scale necessary to put the invention to practical use remains a bottleneck. “If it becomes possible to make large-scale nanotube forests, it will be a very easy material to make,” he said.

This is not the first time researchers have used the Stenocara beetle (also known as the Namib desert beetle) as inspiration for a water-harvesting material. In a Nov. 26, 2012 posting I traced the inspiration  back to 2001 while featuring the announcement of a new startup company,

… US startup company, NBD Nano, which aims to bring a self-filling water bottle based on Namib desert beetle to market,

NBD Nano, which consists of four recent university graduates and was formed in May [2012], looked at the Namib Desert beetle that lives in a region that gets about half an inch of rainfall per year.

Using a similar approach, the firm wants to cover the surface of a bottle with hydrophilic (water-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repellent) materials.

The work is still in its early stages, but it is the latest example of researchers looking at nature to find inspiration for sustainable technology.

“It was important to apply [biomimicry] to our design and we have developed a proof of concept and [are] currently creating our first fully-functional prototype,” Miguel Galvez, a co-founder, told the BBC.

“We think our initial prototype will collect anywhere from half a litre of water to three litres per hour, depending on local environments.”

You can find out more about NBD Nano here although they don’t give many details about the material they’ve developed. Given that MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) researchers published a  paper about a polymer-based material laced with silicon nanoparticles inspired by the Namib beetle in 2006 and that NBD Nano is based Massachusetts, I believe NBD Nano is attempting to commercialize the material or some variant developed at MIT.

Getting back to Rice University and carbon nanotubes, this is a different material attempting to achieve the same goal, harvesting water from desert air. Here’s a link to and a citation for the latest paper inspired by the Stenocara beetle (Namib beetle),

Anisotropically Functionalized Carbon Nanotube Array Based Hygroscopic Scaffolds by Sehmus Ozden, Liehui Ge , Tharangattu N. Narayanan , Amelia H. C. Hart , Hyunseung Yang , Srividya Sridhar , Robert Vajtai , and Pulickel M Ajayan. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, DOI: 10.1021/am5022717 Publication Date (Web): June 4, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final note, the research at MIT was funded by DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). According to the news release the Rice University research held interest for similar agencies,

The U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative supported the research.

Climb like a gecko (in DARPA’s [US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] Z-Man program)

I’m not entirely certain why DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has now issued a news release (h/t June 5, 2014 news item on Nanowerk) about this achievement (a human climbing like a Gecko) which seems to have first occurred in 2012 but perhaps they want to emphasize that this particular demonstration occurred on a glass wall. In any event, I’m happy to get more news about DARPA’s Z-Man program. From the June 5, 2014 DARPA news release,

DARPA’s Z-Man program has demonstrated the first known human climbing of a glass wall using climbing devices inspired by geckos. The historic ascent involved a 218-pound climber ascending and descending 25 feet of glass, while also carrying an additional 50-pound load in one trial, with no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles. [emphasis mine] The novel polymer microstructure technology used in those paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass. [Massachusetts]

Historically, gaining the high ground has always been an operational advantage for warfighters, but the climbing instruments on which they’re frequently forced to rely—tools such as ropes and ladders—have not advanced significantly for millennia. Not only can the use of such tools be overt and labor intensive, they also only allow for sequential climbing whereby the first climber often takes on the highest risk.

DARPA created the Z-Man program to overcome these limitations and deliver maximum safety and flexibility for maneuver and rapid response to warfighters operating in tight urban environments. The goal of the program is to develop biologically inspired climbing aids to enable warfighters carrying a full combat load to scale vertical walls constructed from typical building materials.

“The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the Animal Kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments,” said Dr. Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man. “Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defense pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it. The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans.”

Geckos can climb on a wide variety of surfaces, including smooth surfaces like glass, with adhesive pressures of 15-30 pounds per square inch for each limb, meaning that a gecko can hang its entire body by one toe. The anatomy of a gecko toe consists of a microscopic hierarchical structure composed of stalk-like setae (100 microns in length, 2 microns in radius). From individual setae, a bundle of hundreds of terminal tips called spatulae (approximately 200 nanometers in diameter at their widest) branch out and contact the climbing surface.

A gecko is able to climb on glass by using physical bond interactions—specifically van der Waals intermolecular forces—between the spatulae and a surface to adhere reversibly, resulting in easy attachment and removal of the gecko’s toes from the surface. The van der Waals mechanism implied that it is the size and shape of the spatulae tips that affect adhesive performance, not specific surface chemistry. This suggested that there were design principles and physical models derived from nature that might enable scientists to fabricate an adhesive inspired by gecko toes.

Humans, of course, have much more weight to carry than a gecko. One of the initial challenges in developing a device to support human climbing was the issue of scaling: a typical Tokay gecko weighs 200 grams, while an average human male weighs 75 kilograms. To enable dynamic climbing like a gecko at this larger scale required that the engineers create climbing paddles capable of balancing sufficient adhesive forces in both the shear (parallel to the vertical surface) and normal (perpendicular to the vertical surface) directions. That feature is necessary for a climber to remain adhered on a surface without falling off while in the act of attaching and detaching the paddles with each movement.

The Draper Laboratory team was also challenged to create novel micro- and nanofabrication technologies to produce the high-aspect-ratio microstructures found in the gecko toe. In the process of achieving that capability, the Z-Man performers transformed the fundamental design and development of reversible adhesives for potential biomedical, industrial, and consumer applications.

The first human climbing demonstration occurred in February 2012 and tests of the technology are ongoing. [emphasis mine]

I’m guessing that glass is difficult to photograph because the image which accompanies the DARPA news release doesn’t highlight the achievement in quite the way one would expect,

During testing, an operator climbed 25 feet vertically on a glass surface using no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles. The climber wore, but did not require, the use of a safety belay. Image: DARPA

During testing, an operator climbed 25 feet vertically on a glass surface using no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles. The climber wore, but did not require, the use of a safety belay. Image: DARPA

I last wrote about Z-man in an April 3, 2012 posting highlighting some DARPA-funded work being done at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst while also mentioning work being done in other labs not associated (to my knowledge) with DARPA.

I was not successful in my attempts to find a video highlighting this ‘glass wall’ achievement but I did find this episode of Science Friction, where the host, Rusty Ward, does a very nice job of describing the technology (van der Waals forces, the nanostructures allowing spiders and geckos to climb all sorts of surfaces, etc.) along with some pop culture references (Spider-Man),

This runs for approximately 5 mins. 30 secs., a bit longer than usual for a video embedded here.

One last note, for anyone curious the laboratory referenced in the news release, you can find more here at the (Charles Stark) Draper Laboratory Wikipedia entry.