Monthly Archives: April 2009

Government funding for nanotechnology and some thoughts on Nanotech BC

Cientifica has a new white paper, Nanotechnology Funding in 2009, that provides an international overview of government funding for nanotechnology. There’s more information about the white paper here and Cientifica’s white paper is here. Briefly, government spending is slowing down in response to a growing maturity, i.e. nanotechnology innovations are moving out of the laboratories and into production. $40B has been invested over the last five years. From Nanowerk News,

Cientifica’s research has also reveals [sic] that the long-time leaders of nanotechnology funding, the United States and Japan, have now fallen to third and fourth behind the EU and Russia, with the US being tied with China for third.

It’s interesting that the current economic situation, according to Cientifica, is not having a major impact at this time.

I’m sure the folks at Nanotech BC (or what remains of it) would agree with Cientifica re: the slowdown in funding since they’ve had to effectively cease operation du to their failure to secure government funding. I don’t think they’d agree that it has nothing to do with the economic downturn.

And, it seems mildly ironic that Nanotech BC folks have produced a nanotechnology asset map for BC and were in the midst of developing one for Alberta when they had to yank the plug. The  irony lies in the fact that NanoKTN has just announced something similar to an asset map, a new online directory of nanotechnology enterprises for the UK. Clearly, they’re more willing to fund these types of organizations and projects in the UK.

More bureaucracy for nanotechnology oversight?

J. Clarence (Terry) Davies has authored a second report on nanotechnology oversight for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies calling for a new government department, an environmental and consumer protection agency. The report and a brief video interview with Davies are here.

I did watch the video and as I’ve noted elsewhere I don’t think that Davies understands nanotechnology very well. His responses were a little over-rehearsed as were the questions. The most interesting part of the video was when he said that the reason for suggesting a new government agency was to stimulate discussion and thought rather than an exhortation to create yet another government entity.

Meanwhile, I got a notice today that Nanotech BC has suspended operations until they secure funding. As of May 1, 2009 the mailing address and telephone number will be:

Nanotech BC
c/o Michael Alldritt
FP Innovations — Forintek Division
2665 East Mall Vancouver, BC V6T 1W5
tel (604) 222-5728
fax (604) 222-5690
[email protected]

The quantum made quotidian

It hit me one day; an idea that is. Nanotechnology is the application of quantum theory to our every day lives. That idea helped me to make sense of all the information I’ve been gathering for the last two and half years. (Aside: I’m still not sure why I decided to follow nanotechnology rather than some other emerging technology.) I mention this now because physicist Alexander Mayer is presenting a new theory of time at a talk for the American Physical Society, May 2, 2009. Richard Feynman, the physicist who proposed the nanotechnology concept, had tackled a phenomenon in relativity (Einstein’s theory) called ‘time dilation’. Mayer is proposing an amendment to the theory of relativity which explains time dilation and  will change modern physics. There’s a much better explanation for this at Nanowerk News. My point with all of this is that ideas tie together in unexpected ways and scientific theories proposed and understood by experts can eventually have an impact on our everyday lives. I don’t grasp Mayer’s ideas well but it’s intriguing to think that one day children may learn these ideas and consider them easy. After all, the concept of zero was initially considered complicated and yet most of us take it for granted.

President Obama has been making quite a splash with his promises of funding for the science community. He’s pledged 3% of the gross domestic product, which is more money than the US spent at the height of their last golden science funding period (the race for space in the 1960s). What a contrast with the current Canadian scene!

Einstein’s ghosts and a nano education programme in Europe

He named it ‘spooky action’ as the concept so unnerved him. Einstein used it to describe distant particles’ communication with each other. Today, scientists at Bristol University and the Imperial College London are using ‘spooky action’ to solve the problem of identifying quantum devices. As to why this might be useful, (from the article),

Anthony Laing, PhD student in the Department of Physics, who performed the study, said: “Apart from providing insight into the fundamentals of quantum physics, this work may be crucial for future quantum technologies.

“How else could a future quantum engineer build a quantum computer if they can’t tell which circuits they have?”

The European Commission has awarded a 1.5M Euros education contract to Israel’s Organization for Rehabilitation and Training. 30,000 European students (11 – 18 years [additional programmes for young adults 19 – 25] will be introduced to nanotechnology through the NANOYOU project. There’s more information here and here.

I’ve been wondering when they’d find a way to fuse nanotechnology with sex and they’ve done it. Apparently nanotechnology may be helpful for erectile dysfunction. There’s a project which focuses on drug delivery and has been tested on rats. So I don’t think there’s anything to get too excited about yet but if you are interested, there’s more here.

Excitement over the cow genome…why?

They’ve sequenced the genome for a female Hereford cow, according the BBC News here. In reading the article, you’ll find a fair chunk of equivocation.

The genome of a female Hereford cow has been sequenced, which could be a major starting point for improvements in the agricultural industry.

The information is likely to have a major impact on livestock breeding. [emphasis mine]

Other genomes have been mapped, notably the human genome, and as far as I’m aware, nothing much has come of it. Denise Caruso in her webcast discussion with Rick Weiss on synthetic biology (for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies) mentioned the Encode Project where they identified all the functional elements in the human genome sequence. There was an international consortium working on this multi-year project  and, according to Caruso, after it was completed the biologists found that they still don’t understand how the genes actually interact within the body. In other words, you may have markers for a disease that never manifests because of other factors which are part of your personal biology. Theories are all very well but they don’t necessarily function outside a laboratory.

Eta: I forgot to mention that a team of Simon Fraser University researchers worked with colleagues at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland on the cow genome.

Reading scientific symbols, making needles obsolete, and stem cell research at UBC

If you’ve ever struggled to read something that has scientific notations or realized that you don’t know what e=mc2 stands for, then, there’s a website that might be of interest to you.  It’s called Sixty Symbols and  it’s where scientists at the University of Nottingham (UK) are working with a filmmaker, Brady Haran to provide information. Together they are producing videos which explain the mysteries of formulas and symbols to lay people. Here’s an article about the site and here’s the site. At last, there’s something where I can check things out when I run across something unfamiliar or when I’ve started to question if I really do understand the symbol.

Scientists in Australia are developing a ‘nanopatch’ which would replace the use of needles for vaccinations. It sounds like they’re not exactly ‘ready for prime time’ but it does look promising according to this article in Nanowerk News. One of the great things about it besides being painfree is that the ‘nanopatch’ doesn’t require refrigeration or syringes so it’s much easier to get the vaccine to remote locations.

Now onto the University of British Columbia scientists who have discovered a molecule helpful with blood stem cell transplants. The molecule is part of a signaling system which can encourage the adoption of stem cells and, consequently, greater production of T-cells. For more details, go here.

Nano motors in your ears, artificial tendons and public consultation in Europe

Researchers in Utah and Texas have learned that tiny tubes located on the hair cells inside our ears flex and change size to amplify sound. The researchers have coined a phrase for this, ‘flexoelectric motor’. They also compare the process to dancing and using a steering wheel in a car. The metaphors are a little mixed but I think I get the general idea. (From a writing perspective, there’s a tendency to throw a bunch of metaphors together to describe something either because no single metaphor is adequate or the writer got carried away.) For more about the ear discovery, go here.

If your tendons have ever been injured, you know that recovery is difficult and not assured so this news will be welcome. A student at the University of Manchester (UK) has developed an artificial tendon made of nanofibres, which can be grafted into the injured area. As the tendons repair themselves the artificial tendon degrades. Apparently it degrades safely as it’s made of a bio-polymer. I gather this type of polymer is used for other medical devices inserted in the body.  There’s more information here.

The European Commission has scheduled a one-day public nanotechnology consultation for Sept. 10, 2009, focusing on risk issues. The last day to submit comments prior to the meeting is June 19, 2009. They have have gathered information about nanotechnology and its risks in the past and this meeting builds on previous work. For more information, go here.

Harry Potter educates about nanotechnology and Britain’s MI5 is looking for a technology futurist

A University of Houston team has received a $3M grant to create nanotechnology education programmes for local middle and high school students. They will be using Harry Potter and his magic as a metaphor for nanotechnology (from Nanowerk News),

“Despite being an adult, the story of Harry Potter and his magical world struck me both as an individual and a scientist. Clearly, most kids and many other adults also share this fascination,” Pradeep Sharma, the associate professor who is heading the program, said. “The tantalizing part is that several aspects of the ‘magic’ in Harry Potter can be explained by science or is certainly achievable in the future, given the way technology is leaping forward.” One example that would easily translate in the classroom, Sharma said, is Harry’s magical cloak, which makes him invisible.

Yes, every time some scientist does work on cloaking objects by bending light, Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility is mentioned (I have several references and it’s in my Nanotech Mysteries wiki here). Earlier this month, Australians decided to introduce nanotechnology education to teachers (more details here). As far as I know, there are no such programmes in Canada.

For anyone who has ever dreamed about being Q (the technology guru in James Bond movies) in real life, there’s an opportunity. Britain’s MI5 has advertised for this (from Physorg.com),

Applicants must have “world-class scientific expertise and credibility in relevant scientific and technology disciplines”, their advertisement read.

“I think it’s unlikely that the person will be required to develop a weapons system for the latest Aston Martin,” Professor John Beddington, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, told the BBC.

However, the successful candidate will help protect Britain against threats to national security by keeping on top of the latest moves in science and technology.

“It will involve a sort of future-gazing to see where technology will be taking us in a year or so,” Beddington said.

Good luck.

IBM challenges Intel with its 28 nm processor and Simon Fraser University ensures safety in nanotechnology labs

A while back (Feb.11.2009), I posted about Intel’s $7B investment in production facilities for 32 nm processors. Yesterday, IBM announced this (from Beta News),

“… IBM and its alliance partners are helping to accelerate development of next-generation technology to achieve high-performance, energy-efficient chips at the 28 nm process level, maintaining our focus on technology leadership for our clients and partners,” stated IBM R&D chief Gary Patton …

The Beta News article provides an informative perspective (for neophytes like me) on the competition between the two companies.

Back to Simon Fraser University and their 4D Labs. I just got an announcement that,

4D LABS will be an example of how university-based research labs in Canada can meet semiconductor industry standards for ensuring personal safety as well as environmental protection from combustible and toxic gases.

(As far as I’m aware there is no standard for gases or anything else that is specific for nanotechnology fabrication in Canada or anywhere else for that matter. That said, Nanotech BC and other Canadian organizations have been quite involved in the International Council on Nanotechnology’s (ICON) occupation health and safety initiatives.) Again from the announcement,

SFU’s 4D LABS, science faculty and environmental health and safety (EHS) department collaborated on building a system to contain and neutralize gases. Designers had to integrate an extensive gas-piping network with thermal processing and neutralization equipment. The system uses a special burner and water treatment to break down, scrub and transform the gases into safe air emissions.

… “The design of this system is intended not only to protect the researchers and our environment, but also to raise environmental awareness of students, faculty, and visitors,” says Tom Cherng, 4D LABS’ process engineer.

Have a nice weekend.

University of British Columbia scientists put a new spin on spintronics and Scientists protest the Canadian federal budget

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found a way to control an electron’s spin naturally, that is, without the use of external fields. They control the spin by bouncing the electron through a microscopic channel. Joshua Folk, Canada Research Chair in the Physics of Nanostructures and principal investigators, says (from the article at Physorg.com):

“We show that the spin of electrons can be controlled without external fields, simply by designing the right circuit geometry and letting electrons move freely through it.”

The new technique uses the natural interactions of the electrons within the semiconductor micro-channel to control their spin–a technique that is a major step, but not yet flexible enough for industrial applications, notes Folk, an Assistant Professor with Physics and Astronomy who came to UBC via the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It looks promising and, if successful, could lead to exponentially faster processing. Go here for more details.

I’ve been waiting for a protest and it’s finally here. Researchers have written a letter, Don’t Leave Canada Behind, protesting the 2009 federal budget cuts to science announced in January. More that 2000 signed the letter which was written on March 16, 2009. From the letter, which (as you might expect) makes reference to the stark contrast between the current Canadian and the US budgets,

“When U.S. researchers are being actively approached for ideas to use the stimulus money to think big and to hire and retain their researchers, their Canadian counterparts are now scrambling to identify budget cuts for their labs, while worrying about the future of their graduating students,”  …

There’s more here. The federal Minister for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, created a kerfuffle earlier this year after the budget was announced, when it seemed that he didn’t understand the concept of evolution all that well. I mention it because Goodyear is quoted, in response to this letter, as saying that the government is “… committed to innovation and discovery.” Two things, I’d like to know more about Goodyear’s understanding of science and how he expects to influence the kinds of discoveries and innovations that are made and I’m glad they are committed but I’m not sure how that will work if there aren’t enough funds to support innovation and discovery.