Monthly Archives: February 2009

Took a look at nano vitamin webcast

There was an event called Nanotech and Your Daily Vitamins based on a newly released report called A Hard Pill to Swallow January 14, 2009, at the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN). The event has been posted as a webcast. I watched it a few weeks ago and finally got a chance to review the report today. The most disconcerting thing about the affair is how little information anyone has about nanoscale ingredients in dietary supplements and the speed at which these products are proliferating. From the report’s introduction,

[When we started] there were 11 dietary supplements on the market that claimed to use nanoscale ingredients, such as calcium, magnesium and silver. Now less than two years later, our research has found indications that the number of manufacturer-identified dietary supplementary products claiming to use nanoscale ingredients has more than tripled to over 40 products.

I imagine that not every manufacturer wants to admit that they’re using nanoscale ingredients (so it makes me wonder how many more of these products there are) or even agrees that the ingredients should be considered as something unique. As a matter of fact, in a report of this kind I’d expect to see a definition for what constitutes a nanoscale ingredient. Overall, the report and the webcast where the authors discussed their findings were a disappointment to me. My impression is that the authors did not have a good grasp of the topic. If you’re curious about their findings and their recommendations, you can find the report and the webcast here, just click in the sidebar on the right.

Canadian breakthrough with hybrid solar panels

A team of scientists from the University of Alberta and the National Institute of Nanotechnology (located in Edmonton, Alberta) announced they’ve improved the performance of plastic solar cells (hybrid organic solar cells) by 30%.  The team worked together for two years on the project and they expect that mass production of improved plastic solar cells is five to seven years away. Earlier this week the principal investigator, Jillian Buriak was named Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials (my Feb. 23, 2009 posting) so this must be quite a week for her. From the press release, here’s her description of a solar cell structure and the project’s improvement,

“Consider a clubhouse sandwich, with many different layers. One layer absorbs the light, another helps to generate the electricity, and others help to draw the electricity out of the device. Normally, the layers don’t stick well, and so the electricity ends up stuck and never gets out, leading to inefficient devices. We are working on the mayonnaise, the mustard, the butter and other ‘special sauces’ that bring the sandwich together, and make each of the layers work together. That makes a better sandwich, and makes a better solar cell, in our case.”

The news release is here on Eureka Alert (I’m not sure how long this remains available) and there’s a bit more information on NanoWerk, Nanotechnology researchers improve performance of plastic solar cells. I don’t understand the ‘hybrid organic solar cell’ decription and I haven’t found an explanation in materials I’ve seen. If you’re interested in the research paper (Thienylsilane-Modified Indium Tin Oxide as an Anodic Interface in Polymer/Fullerene Solar Cells), it’s here at the American Chemical Society (ACS) but it is behind a paywall.

On a completely other note, there was an article on the BBC News site about researchers who report ‘Oldest English words’ identified.

Biomimicry offers artificial trees? Yikes!

There’s an article about a company (SolarBotanic) which is modeling fake trees that will harvest energy from the sun and wind via nano leaves. I’m not sure what they mean by modeling but it sounds like something which is more concept than anything else.  The article that appears to be the original source for the information is here.

The artificial tree story in conjunction with this item, Teaching Ethics to Robo Warriors, in Fast Company has got me wondering how we’re going to deal with quasi-life. For example, we may have ‘trees’ that function a bit like real trees and we may be teaching ethics to robots. So then, what is nature? What is it to be human? I’ve been thinking about those things a lot lately as I keep gathering information about the technological changes that are coming our way.

As for yesterday’s sniffing phone article, I think the application might be more useful for sniffing out toxic gases or detecting bombs if you have security concerns.

A phone that sniffs and molecules on a really big screen

A prototype phone that can ‘sniff disease’ was introduced at nanotech 2009 by Nokia and Applied Nanodetectors (AND) Limited. They claim that the cell phone can detect various diseases by sniffing the user’s breath. There are sensors and a chip that somehow work together to detect gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ammonia. Somehow the gases are analyzed and compared to the composition you’d expect in someone who has a particular disease. I am intrigued by this but I don’t think there are enough details to determine just how this technology works. Plus I’m not sure how useful this would be. One of the claims is that asthma can be detected. Well, I’ve had that since I was a kid; I can tell you when I have a problem breathing. In fact, you can tell when I’m having trouble breathing; it’s very obvious. If you’re interested in more details, there’s [nano tech] Nokia Handset Checks Breath for Diseases or Phone Tech Detects Diseases by Analyzing Breath on Gearlog.

There’s  a ‘nano type’ movie opening at IMAX theatres in early 2009, according to Shekhar Garde at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Hidden Before Our Eyes: Tiny World Makes Giant Leap to Silver Screen on Pnysorg.com. It’s a simulation called Molecules to the Max which is being projected on the very large screens found in IMAX theatres. It’s a collaboration between artists and scientists. I hope it makes its way to Canada.

Nano song, swimwear, and the Canadian government announces some funding for research chairs

There’s a nano song making the rounds. The video concept sounds delightful but I’m having problems with videos lately. It’s something do with Adobe Flash Player 10. It gave me a horrible time (my system almost goes to sleep) last week and the week before and I’m at the point where I’m afraid to look at videos. So if you want to take a look at the nano song video, it’s here or here.

There was an announcement about a new type of swimsuit, Nanotechnology Swimsuits Gear Up to Become the Biggest Revolution in Swimwear since the Bikini. It turns that the fabric dries instantly. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be on par with the ‘bikini’ revolution. Interestingly, there is no detail about the process or how it works. From the article,

“Sun Dry Swim fabrics are treated using our proprietary methods with a nanotechnology process that is inert, UV stable, and completely harmless to skin. Our non-toxic nanotechnology treatment is water based and environmentally friendly,” according to Amy Hardin of Sun Dry Technologies.

I wonder how they determined it was non-toxic, environmentally friendly, etc. There’s no mention of testing.

The Canadian government today (Feb. 23, 2009) announced the investment of money ($120.4 M) to fund 134 new or renewed Canada Research Chairs. (Government of Canada provides support to Canada Research Chairs at 37 universities) Jillian Buriak at the University of Alberta holds a new Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials. I read recently that this programme has attracted a lot of research talent to Canada and is being looked at by other countries as a model. After the cuts in research funding in the latest federal budget, it’s nice to be able to mention something a little more positive.

Stone of Destiny and blogging for Darwin

The Stone of Destiny is a movie being released today. I saw it last week at an early screening event (a local moviehouse has a breakfast/preview movie event at 10 am on some Sundays). I’ve been reading the reviews in the local papers with some surprise; they seem mildly cranky. Personally, I enjoyed the movie. I learned a little bit about Scotland and its history through a well told story about idealists who bumble their way through an extraordinary caper. They ‘retrieve’ the Stone of Destiny (also known as the Stone of Scone [scone, in this case, is rhymed with stone]) from Westminster Abbey. The stone had significance to the Scots as it was used as part of their coronation ceremonies when they had their own kings and queens. The English took the stone when they gained dominance over Scotland. They took it home to London and Westminster Abbey where It actually sat on a ledge beneath the chairseat of the chair used in English coronation ceremonies. The symbolism is hard to miss. The stone, by the way, weighs between 300 and 400 pounds.

The movie is pretty much true to the events as they transpired, according to the director. (People stayed to talk to the director, Charles Martin Smith, after the screening.) I liked it for more than just the history. The idealism and the exuberance portrayed on screen was refreshing when we are so often surrounded (drowning) in cynicism and bitterness.

As for the three professional reviewers, it’s interesting to note that two (Greg Ursic in the WestEnder and Jay Stone in the Vancouver Sun) of them tell us that the Stone of Destiny is no Braveheart. I would pretty much concur although I’m not sure why they’ve mentioned it. The movie is not Gone with the Wind nor  The Lord of the Rings nor Mary, Queen of Scots, for that matter. As for Ken Eisner in The Georgia Straight, he was the most dismissive of all. I gather that he would have given the movie more political edge and tragedy if he’d made it.

One thing I should note before finishing ths, cranking out reviews is tough work. You can get very jaded and you don’t have the luxury of writing only about the shows/movies/exhibitions that move you strongly. I know because I used to review dance and I couldn’t hack it for much more than two years (roughly). That said, I stand by comments about the ‘cranky’ reviews.

Unfortunately, I missed the Blogging for Darwin event which was held (Feb. 12 – 15, 2009) to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. It was an international event which attracted poets, artists, and scientists. You can read a bit more about it here or you can go directly to Blog for Darwin.

Nanotech BC is at nano tech 2009 in Japan

Despite ‘pausing’ for a while, Nanotech BC (presumably executive director, Darren Frew) is at the big (they’re billed as the biggest) nanotechnology exhibition in the world) nano tech 2009 in Tokyo. As part of the Canadian delegation they will be presenting first hand information about the Good Nano Guide to an international audience. The guide (on a protected internet site) is an ICON (International Council on Nanotechnology) occupational health and safety project. It’s being beta-tested.  Read more about the guide and about nano tech 2009.

The poetry of Canadian Copyright Law

Techdirt had an item, Intellectual Property Laws Rewrittten as Poetry. The poet, Yehuda Berlinger, has included Canada’s copyright law in the oeuvre. You can read the verse here. It’s surprisingly informative given how amusing and concise the verses are.

On a completely other note, there’s an article in Fast Company about a haptic exhibition in Japan that’s quite intriguing in light of the Nokia Morph. Part of an exhibit last year, the Morph concept is a flexible, foldable, bendable (you get the idea) phone. As far as I know, they (University of Cambridge and Nokia) have yet to produce a prototype (last year they had an animation which demonstrated the concept). Getting back to Japan, one of the exhibits was a design for speakers where you control the volume by changing their shapes. Haptic Speakers: Reach Out and Touch Some Sound is the article. Do go and read it. I found it very helpful to see the pictures (which seems ironic given that the article is about the sense of touch).

I’ve been curious about research concerning disabled folks and using their ‘thought waves’ to control equipment or machinery. I’ve found a description of some of the research in Richard Jones’s blog but it’s in the context of a discussion of Ray Kurzweil and some of Kurzweil’s ideas regarding the ‘singularity’. Anyway, Jones offers a good description of some of the ‘thought wave’ research. As for Kurzweil, one of these days I will try and read some of the material he’s written. The little I have seen suggests that he has absolutely no concept of human nature, in much the same way that economists don’t.

Nano and the Canadian army and AAAS annual meeting

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.  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).

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting (in Chicago this year) has started. There aren’t a huge number of nanotechnology presentations but one which has attracted a great deal of attention is one that focuses on nanotechnology and food. The subject for the panel pretty much guarantees attention will be paid and when you add this title (From Donuts to Drugs: Nano-Biotechnology Evolution or Revolution) you’ve given the media a ready-made title for their pieces. it’s good to see the topic being discussed. If you’re generally interested in this stuff, you can check out a report about it from the Friends of the Earth. The summary (news release) is here and the report is here at the bottom of the page. They are a little bit strident but the material itself is interesting and seems to be well researched. One final comment, the report was released in November 2008 so it’s a little dated.

Single source info and corporate concentration of ownership

A few posts back (Feb.6, 2009) I talked about corporate concentration of ownership of media and the impact that has on information-gathering. My example was the Environment Canada nanotechnology information-gathering exercise that was announced, oddly, by the US-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and written about in an article by John Cotter for Canadian Press. It’s a little more complicated than just ‘corporate concentration’ but I’ll start there.

Media conglomerates own newspapers, radio and tv stations, and various internet properties and it’s usually understood that the corporate owners are going to represent their interests in the stories that are published and broadcast. Not all corporate owners have the same perspective, however with fewer owners there are fewer perspectives. When you add the cost incentive to centralize research and news gathering so that one article can be the source for newspapers and radio and tv and the internet (as per John Cotter’s article), it’s obvious that there’s another shrinkage of perspective and source for factual information.

Interestingly, Wikipedia (it’s not a corporate media conglomerate!) provides an object lesson on what happens when everyone is relying on a single source.  An article on Techdirt casts a light on a situation involving Germany’s new minister of economic affairs. He has an extraordinarily long name which was written up in an article on Wikipedia that reporters used as their source. when writing up his name. Unfortunately, someone played a trick and introduced an error into the name and the incorrect version got published in newspapers. It gets funny when Wikipedia corrects the error but someone changes the name back to the wrong version because they saw an article in the paper, which they took to be the authoritative and correct version of the name. Do read the article.

It’s tough to get the facts right but it sure helps if you understand some of the problems you can right into despite your best efforts and these things serve as good reminder to myself because it’s so easy to forget.

Meanwhile for something completely different, there’s a call for papers from Nanoethics Asia 2009 (to be held Aug. 26-28,2009 at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand)

The purpose of the Workshop is to stimulate and gather ground breaking research in all areas related to the ethical, social, cultural, and legal implications of what is broadly construed as “nanotechnology, ” especially as these implications arise from within the contexts of Asia and other non- Western regions.

You can go here for more information.

At some point in the next few weeks I will be updating things on the website. Hopefully, this will be a relatively painless process.