Monthly Archives: June 2011

Jackson Pollock’s physics

Take a mathematician (L. Mahadevan), a physicist (Andrzej Herczynski), and an art historian (Claude Cernuschi) and you’re liable to get a different perspective on Jackson Pollock’s, a major figure in abstract expressionism, art. (I’m pretty sure there’s a joke in there of the: “There was mathematician and a physicist in a bar when an art historian came in …” ilk. I just can’t come up with it. If you can, please do leave it in the comments.)

Let’s start with a picture (image downloaded from the Wikipedia essay about Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948),

No. 5, 1948 (Jackson Pollock, downloaded from Wikipedia essay about No. 5, 1948)

In a recent paper published in Physics Today (Painting with drops, jets, and sheets, which is behind a paywall), Mahadevan, Herczynski, and Cernuschi speculate about Pollock’s intuitive understanding of physics, in this case, fluid dynamics. From the June 28, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

A quantitative analysis of Pollock’s streams, drips, and coils, by Harvard mathematician L. Mahadevan and collaborators at Boston College, reveals, however, that the artist had to be slow—he had to be deliberate—to exploit fluid dynamics in the way that he did.

The finding, published in Physics Today, represents a rare collision between mathematics, physics, and art history, providing new insight into the artist’s method and techniques—as well as his appreciation for the beauty of natural phenomena.

“My own interest,” says Mahadevan, “is in the tension between the medium—the dynamics of the fluid, and the way it is applied (written, brushed, poured…)—and the message. While the latter will eventually transcend the former, the medium can be sometimes limiting and sometimes liberating.”

Pollock’s signature style involved laying a canvas on the floor and pouring paint onto it in continuous, curving streams. Rather than pouring straight from the can, he applied paint from a stick or a trowel, waving his hand back and forth above the canvas and adjusting the height and angle of the trowel to make the stream of paint wider or thinner.

Simultaneously restricted and inspired by the laws of nature, Pollock took on the role of experimentalist, ceding a certain amount of control to physics in order to create new aesthetic effects.

The artist, of course, must have discovered the effects he could create through experimentation with various motions and types of paint, and perhaps some intuition and luck. But that, says Mahadevan, is the essence of science: “We are all students of nature, and so was Pollock. Often, artists and artisans are far ahead, as they push boundaries in ways that are quite similar to, and yet different from, how scientists and engineers do the same.”

There’s more about this study on the physorg.com site including a video illustrating fluid dynamics. You can also find a June 29, 2011 news item on Science Daily and a June 29, 2011 article in Harvard Magazine about the study. From the Harvard news article,

MODERN ART WAS NEVER more famously lampooned than when Tom Stoppard [playwright and screenwriter] said, “Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”

The article by expanding on Mahadevan’s research gives the lie to Stoppard’s quote. (I wonder if Stoppard will write a play about physics and art in the light of this new thinking about Pollock’s work?)

This all brought to mind, Richard Jackson’s work which was featured in 2010 at the Rennie Collection in Vancouver (my most substantive comments about Jackson’s work are in my May 11, 2010 posting). Trained as both an artist and an engineer, he too works with paint and its vicosity. I still remember the piece in the gallery basement that featured three (as I recall) cans of paint apparently caught in the act of being poured. In retrospect, one of the things I liked best about the show is that a lot of Jackson’s work is very much about the physical act of painting and the physicality of the materials.

One final note, the L. in Mahadevan’s name stands for Lakshinarayan.

Nano’s grey goo and the animation series Futurama

You never know where you’re going to find nanotechnology. Most recently I found it in a review of the first few episodes of the animated US tv series, Futurama. Alasdair Wilkins recently offered a few thoughts about a recent ‘nanotechnology-influenced’ episode Benderama. From Wilkins’s June 24, 2011 commentary,

“Benderama” is an example of an episode type that pretty much only Futurama is capable of doing: taking an outlandish but vaguely plausible scientific idea and letting that guide the story. Some all-time great episodes have come from this approach: “The Farnsworth Parabox” did this with alternate universes, Bender’s Big Score used time paradoxes (or the lack thereof), and “The Prisoner of Benda” focused on mind-switching. This time around, the topic is the grey goo scenario of nanotechnology, as Bender gains the ability to create two smaller duplicates of himself, who in turn can each create two smaller duplicates of themselves, who in turn…well, you get the idea. Also, the crew deals with Patton Oswalt’s hideous space giant, who can only take so much mockery of his appearance.

The business about smaller duplicates creating smaller duplicates is very reminiscent of Waldo, the story by Robert Heinlein which according to Colin Milburn influenced the part about creating smaller and smaller hands in Richard Feynman’s famous 1959 talk, There’s plenty of room at the bottom. From a transcript of Feynman’s talk (scroll down 3/4 of the way),

A hundred tiny hands

When I make my first set of slave “hands” at one-fourth scale, I am going to make ten sets. I make ten sets of “hands,” and I wire them to my original levers so they each do exactly the same thing at the same time in parallel. Now, when I am making my new devices one-quarter again as small, I let each one manufacture ten copies, so that I would have a hundred “hands” at the 1/16th size.

The ‘grey goo’ scenario was first proposed by K. Eric Drexler in his 1986 book, The Engines of Creation. He has distanced himself from some of his original assertions about ‘grey goo’ and there is still debate as to the plausibility of the  scenario.

From a more technical perspective, Feynman, Heinlein and Benderama present a top-down engineering scenario where one continually makes things smaller and smaller as opposed to the increasingly popular bottom-up engineering scenario where one mimics biological processes in an effort to promote self-assembly.

I’m not sure I’d call the science in the episode, ‘outlandish but plausible’ as it seems old-fashioned to me both with regard to the science and the humour. Still the episode seems to offer some  gentle fun on a topic that usually lends itself to ‘end of the earth’ scenarios so it’s nice to see the change in tone.

University of Toronto research team’s efficient tandem solar cell with colloidal quantum dots (CQD)

Professor Ted Sargent, electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Toronto, heads an engineering research team which recently published a paper about solar cells and colloidal quantum dots (CQD) in Nature Photonics. From Wayne MacPhail’s June 27, 2011 news release for the University of Toronto,

The researchers, led by Professor Ted Sargent of electrical and computer engineering, report the first efficient tandem solar cell based on colloidal quantum dots (CQD). “The U of T device is a stack of two light-absorbing layers – one tuned to capture the sun’s visible rays, the other engineered to harvest the half of the sun’s power that lies in the infrared,” said lead co-author Xihua Wang, a post-doctoral fellow.

“We needed a breakthrough in architecting the interface between the visible and infrared junction,” said Sargent, Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology. “The team engineered a cascade – really a waterfall – of nanometers-thick materials to shuttle electrons between the visible and infrared layers.”

According to doctoral student Ghada Koleilat, lead co-author of the paper, “We needed a new strategy – which we call the graded recombination layer – so that our visible and infrared light harvesters could be linked together efficiently, without any compromise to either layer.” [emphasis mine]

The team pioneered solar cells made using CQDs, nanoscale materials that can readily be tuned to respond to specific wavelengths of the visible and invisible spectrum. By capturing such a broad range of light waves – wider than normal solar cells – tandem CQD solar cells can in principle reach up to 42 per cent efficiencies. The best single-junction solar cells are constrained to a maximum of 31 per cent efficiency. In reality, solar cells that are on the roofs of houses and in consumer products have 14 to 18 per cent efficiency. The work expands the Toronto team’s world-leading 5.6 per cent efficient colloidal quantum dot solar cells.

According to the University of Toronto news item and the June 28, 2011 news item by Cameron Chai on Azonano, Sargent believes that this ‘graded recombination layer’ will be found in building materials and mobile devices in five years.

It’s always informative to look at the funding agencies for these projects. The CQD project received its funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) [mentioned in my Sept. 24, 2009 posting—scroll down 1/2 way), by the Ontario Research Fund Research Excellence Program and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada.

ETA July 4, 2011: You can get another take on this work from Dexter Johnson, Nanoclast blog on the IEEE website in his June 28, 2011 posting, Harvesting Visible and Invisible Light in PVs with Colloidal Quantum Dots.

Nano exhibit at Hong Kong Science Museum

I was glad to find information about an exhibition,  Nanotechnology, at the Hong Kong Science Museum’s Science News Corner from June 24, 2011 to August 31, 2011. My material is so often Canada- US- UK- Europe-centric (especially in the areas of  informal science education and science communication)  that it’s a relief to find something outside that circle. I believe my problem to be largely due to my language skills. I do most of my work in English, occasionally get hold of something in French, and very occasionally make reference to something in Spanish/Italian/German as I can pick out a few words in those languages.

So happily here’s something from Hong Kong, from the June 24, 2011 news item on the 7th Space Interactive website,

To enable the public to learn more about nanotechnology, a brand new exhibition entitled “Nanotechnology” will be held by the Hong Kong Science Museum at its Science News Corner from today (June 24) until August 31. The exhibition, with content provided by the research teams of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), introduces the insights gained from research on nanotechnology.

There are no descriptions of specific exhibits but there are these descriptions of nanotechnology possibilities and how HKUST is working towards them.

Smart windows can have many applications. They can be used to control indoor light and temperature in the next-generation residential and industrial buildings, for example.

HKUST has also developed new microneedle patches that have been proven safe in their use of high-strength nanoporous materials. Microneedle patches can maximise therapeutic effects and minimise skin trauma.

They can turn painful vaccinations into a thing of the past.

There are many teams working on smart windows these days as I noted in several postings including my March 12, 2010 posting (scroll down about 1/2 way for the story about a Dutch company working on smart windows), my May 14, 2010 posting where I discuss the Dutch company again and a Vancouver-based company,  and in my July 21, 2010 posting about a team working at the University of South Florida.

As for the microneedle patches, I wonder if HKUST is working with Mark Kendall’s team in Australia. I find the descriptions a bit puzzling as they are mixing together the micro and nano scales. Kendall’s team (mentioned in my Oct. 29, 2010 posting) is getting ready to commeicialize a nano vaccine patch.

Here are details about admission prices and times:

The Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It opens from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Wednesday and on Fridays, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $25 with half-price concessions for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

I’m not sure about the currency quoted and was not able to get more detail from the Hong Kong Science Museum website. Presumably these are Hong Kong dollars.

Foresight Institute’s 25th anniversary conference and celebration

The Foresight Institute’s 2011 annual conference (Foresight@Google: 25th Anniversary Conference and Celebration) this weekend (June 24-26, 2011) is their 25th anniversary. They are planning to webcast the Saturday (June 25, 2011) and Sunday (June 26, 2011) sessions. As the conference is  held in Silicon Valley, California the sessions are on the Pacific Timezone. Here’s a look at the Saturday sessions (from the event schedule page),

9:00-9:15am   “Nanotech: the Next 25 Years” Christine Peterson, President/CoFounder of Foresight

9:15-9:45am   “Commercializing Nanotechnology”
KEYNOTE: James R. Von Ehr, II, President/Founder of Zyvex Labs

9:45-10:15am   “New Synthetic Methods for Development of Nanoscale Materials”
Matthew Francis, PhD, Rising star of nanotech at UC-Berkeley

Happy 25th anniversary to the Foresight Insitute@ Google conference!

Informal science education, DARPA and NASA style

I like to mention imaginative science education projects from time to time and this one caught my attention. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are offering students the opportunity to have one of their experiments tested under live conditions in outer space. From the Kit Eaton June 20, 2011 article (How NASA, DARPA Are Keeping Kids Interested In Space),

To keep folks interested [now that the Space Shuttle era is over], NASA and DARPA are pushing (a little) money into a program that’s directly aimed at students themselves.

Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) are an existing experiment that uses tiny ball-shaped robots that fly inside the International Space Station. They test techniques for keeping real satellites maneuvering in sync so that they can rendezvous and work as part of a swarm–a task that’s useful for autonomous satellite servicing, and even the building of future spacecraft.

The offer that NASA’s making is that if you design an interesting experiment, and it wins their approval, it’ll be used to fly the SPHERES robots for real. In space.

There are more details about the 2011 SPHERES Challenge tournament at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Zero Robotics website. Here’s a little of the information available on that site,

“Zero Robotics” is a robotics programming competition that opens the world-class research facilities on the International Space Station (ISS) to high-school students. Students will actually write programs at their High School that may control a satellite in space! The goal is to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and team work. Ultimately we hope to inspire future scientists and engineers so that they will view working in space as “normal”, and will grow up pushing the limits of engineering and space exploration.

They’ve had annual challenges since 2009 and this year’s is the SPHERES challenge. There are six stages to this year’s competition,

The 2011 SPHERES Challenge tournament has 6 stages:

  1. Learn to program / tutorials / initial programming
  2. 2D Simulation: the game will be played in 2-dimensions. All teams will submit a player and will compete, in a full round robin simulation, against all other teams. Their score will count towards elimination later on, but no teams will be eliminated in this round.
  3. 2D Ground Competition: the top scorers from the 2D simulation will see their players compete against each other on the SPHERES ground satellites, learning directly some of the important differences between simulation and real hardware. Scores in this round will not count towards elimination, as not all teams will compete. All teams will be able  to watch the competition at MIT via webcast.
  4. 3D Simulation: all participating teams will extend their game to 3 dimensions and submit their final individual player. MIT will run a full round robin simulation. The score of this round will be combined with the score of the 2D simulation to seed all teams.
  5. 3D Semi-Finals: the top 48 teams will be required to form alliances of 3 teams per player, creating a total of 16 players. Preference will be given to the choices of higher seeds. These alliances will compete in a full round-robin simulation. The top scoring players/alliances will be invited to submit an entry for the ISS finals.
  6. ISS Finals: the top 9 players of the semi-finals will be invited to participate in the ISS finals (a total of 27 teams, as there will be 3 teams per player).  Teams may visit MIT to see the live feed, or watch via the webcast. Players will compete in a bracketed round-robin aboard the ISS and a champion will be declared.   (note: date depends on astronaut time availability)

This is a competition for US high school students from grades 9 – 12.  The application deadline is Sept. 5, 2011.

Technology news service: InnovaGeek

InnovaGeek seems to have taken some inspiration from EurekaAlert, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) online news service featuring health, science, and technology news and online dating services. From the June 22, 2011 news item on Nanowerk announcing the service,

InnovaGeek freely offers the opportunity to publish “teasers of technologies and innovations” available worldwide on its website and mobile application. The goal is to increase the technology visibility for free to help innovators to find partners, new customers or new markets or selling patents.

You’ll need to get all your details about InnovaGeek from the news item as I was unable to find anything on the website describing the management team, the history, the mission, or any additional detail.

University of Toronto and nanofabrication skills

30 graduate students from across Canada came to the University of Toronto (U of T) this month (June 2011) to spend nine days learning how to make nano-sized devices. From the June 22, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

The summer institute was conceived by Professor Stewart Aitchison of electrical and computer engineering, and was hosted by U of T’s ECTI (Emerging Communications Technology Institute), which provides open research facilities for micro- and nanofabrication. Funding was received from the University’s Connaught Fund to foster connections and collaborations among students, postdoctoral fellows and other scholars.

In six three-hour lab sessions, students learned how to operate equipment and perform the processes crucial to fabricating nano-scale devices. Aju Jugessur, a senior research associate with the ECTI, was part of the planning committee for the summer institute, and helped develop the training sessions.

The unique nature of the training is what attracted Rahul Lodha, a doctoral student in materials engineering from the University of British Columbia.

“I’m currently working with both micro- and nano-size particles, and what I’ve been doing is to add the nano-particles to micro-structures. What I’ve learned here is how to combine the two,” said Lodha. “What’s of great interest to me is how the properties of a material change when you get to the nano scale. Nano-titanium dioxide can be used for water purification, because when regular light hits it, ultra-violet rays are emitted in the range required to purify water. But regular sized titanium dioxide by itself doesn’t do this.”

 

Nano regulatory frameworks are everywhere!

The scene around nanotechnology regulatory frameworks has been frantic (by comparison with any other time period during the 3 years I’ve been blogging about nano) in the last month or so. This is my second attempt this month at pulling together information about nanotechnology regulatory frameworks (my June 9, 2011 posting).

I’ll start off slow and easy with this roundup of sorts with a brief look at the international scene, move on to US initiatives, offer a brief comment on the Canadian situation, and wrap up with Europe.

International

Dr. Andrew Maynard at the University of Michigan Risk Science Center (UMRSC) blog has written a commentary about the ISO’s (*International Organization for Standardization) latest set of nanotechnology guidelines in his May 27, 2011 posting.  From the posting,

ISO/TR 31321:2011: Nanotechnologies – Nanomaterial risk evaluation is unashamedly based on the Environmental Defense Fund/DuPont Nano Risk Framework. Much of the structure and content reflects that of the original – a testament to the thought and effort that went into the first document. …The ISO report is written in a much tighter style than that of the original document, and loses some of the occasionally long-winded expositions on what should be done and why. And the ISO document is more compact – 66 pages as opposed to 104. But from a comparative reading, surprisingly little has been changed from the 2007 document.

It’s build around a framework of six steps:

  1. describe materials and applications
  2. material profiles
  3. evaluate risks
  4. assess risk management options
  5. decide, document, and act
  6. review and adapt

From the posting,

Inherent to this framework is the need to make situation-specific decisions that are guided by the Technical Report but not necessarily prescribed by it, and the need to constantly review and revise procedures and decisions. This built-in flexibility and adaptability makes ISO/TR 31321 a powerful tool for developing tailored nanomaterial management strategies that are responsive to new information as it becomes available. It also presents an integrative approach to using materials safely, that deals with the need to make decisions under considerable uncertainty by blurring the line between risk assessment and risk management.

Andrew’s view of these guidelines is largely positive and you can get more details and history by viewing his original commentary. (I first mentioned these new ISO guidelines in my May 18, 2011 posting.)

Sticking with the international scene (in this case, ISO), there was a June 13, 2011 news item on Nanowerk about a new ISO general liability classification for nanotechnology and alternative energy (from the news item),

The new classifications to address the growing use of nanotechnology are Nanomaterial Distributors and Nanomaterial Manufacturing. The once-limited use of nanotechnology in electronics and information technology industries is now swiftly permeating the consumer marketplace, from cosmetics to clothing and more. The Nanomaterial Distributors classification applies to risks that sell nanomaterials to others, and the Nanomaterial Manufacturing classification applies to risks that manufacture or engineer nanomaterials for others.

“With heightened interest to reduce the carbon footprint, establish energy independence, and increase the use of renewable resources, alternative power is a priority for many,” said Beth Fitzgerald, vice president of commercial lines and modeling at ISO. “In response to the growing demand for alternative energy, ISO introduced classifications for risks in three main areas: biofuels, solar energy, and wind energy. The new classifications will allow for future evaluation of the loss experience of those emerging markets.”

The biofuels classifications consist of Biofuels Manufacturing and Biofuels Distributors. Since ethanol already has a widespread and accepted use, a further distinction is made between “ethanol” and “biofuels other than ethanol.”

The solar energy classifications include Solar Energy Farms, Solar Energy Equipment Dealers or Distributors, and Solar Energy Equipment Manufacturing. The wind energy classifications include Wind Turbine Contractors – Installation, Service, or Repair and onshore and offshore Wind Farms.

* I have for many years understood that ISO is the International Standards Organization and I see from a note on the UMRSC blog that these days it is the International Organization for Standardization.

US

On the US front, three different agencies have made announcements that in one way or another will have an impact on the nanotechnology regulatory frameworks in that country.

The White House Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) recently released a set of principles for the regulation and oversight of nanotechnology applications and guidance for the development and implementation of policies at the agency level. From the June 9, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

The realization of nanotechnology’s full potential will require continued research and flexible, science-based approaches to regulation that protect public health and the environment while promoting economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, exports, and job creation.

In furtherance of those goals, the White House Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) has developed a set of principles (pdf) specific to the regulation and oversight of applications of nanotechnology, to guide the development and implementation of policies at the agency level.

These principles reinforce a set of overarching principles (pdf) for the regulation and oversight of emerging technologies released on March 11, 2011. They also reflect recommendations from a report on nanotechnology (pdf) by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report encourages Federal support for the commercialization of nanotech products and calls for the development of rational, science- and risk-based regulatory approaches that would be based on the full array of a material’s properties and their plausible risks and not simply on the basis of size alone.

You can read more about the guidelines at Nanowerk or on the Environemental Expert website here.

Back over on the UMRSC blog, Dr. Andrew Maynard had these comments in his June 13, 2011 posting,

In a joint memorandum, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the United States Trade Representative laid out Policy Principles for the U.S. Decision Making Concerning Regulations and Oversight of Applications of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials.

Reading through it, a number of themes emerge, including:

  • Existing regulatory frameworks provide a firm foundation for the oversight of nanomaterials, but there is a need to respond to new scientific evidence on potential risks, and to consider administrative and legal modifications to the regulatory landscape should the need arise.
  • Regulatory action on nanomaterials should be based on scientific evidence of risk, and not on definitions of materials that do not necessarily reflect the evidence-based likelihood of a material causing harm.
  • There should be no prior judgement on whether nanomaterials are intrinsically benign or harmful, in the absence of supporting scientific evidence.
  • Transparency and communication are important to ensuring effective evidence-based regulation.

Overall, this is a strong set of policy principles that lays the groundwork for developing regulation that is grounded in science and not swayed by speculative whims, and yet is responsive and adaptive to emerging challenges. Gratifyingly, the memorandum begins to touch on some of the concerns I have expressed previously about approaches to nanomaterial regulation that seem not to be evidence-based. There is a reasonable chance that they will help move away from the dogma that engineered nanomaterials should be regulated separately because they are new, to a more nuanced and evidence-based approach to ensuring the safe use of increasingly sophisticated materials. Where it perhaps lacks is in recognizing the importance of other factors in addition to science in crafting effective regulation, and in handling uncertainty in decision making.

June 9, 2011 was quite the day as in addition to the White House documents, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both announced public consultations on nanotechnology regulation.

From the June 9, 2011 news item on Nanowerk about the US EPA public consultation,

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it plans to obtain information on nanoscale materials in pesticide products. Under the requirements of the law, EPA will gather information on what nanoscale materials are present in pesticide products to determine whether the registration of a pesticide may cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health. The proposed policy will be open for public comment.

“We want to obtain timely and accurate information on what nanoscale materials may be in pesticide products, “said Steve Owens assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “This information is needed for EPA to meet its requirement under the law to protect public health and the environment.”

Comments on the Federal Register notice will be accepted until 30 days after publication. The notice will be available at www.regulations.gov in docket number EPA–HQ–OPP–2010-0197. More information or to read the proposed notice: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/regulating/nanotechnology.html [Pesticides; Policies Concerning Products Containing Nanoscale Materials; Opportunity for Public Comment]

The US FDA has taken a more complicated approach to its public consultation with two notices being issued about the same consultation. The June 9, 2011 news item on Nanowerk had this to say,

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today released draft guidance to provide regulated industries with greater certainty about the use of nanotechnology, which generally involves materials made up of particles that are at least one billionth of a meter in size. The guidance outlines the agency’s view on whether regulated products contain nanomaterials or involve the application of nanotechnology.

The draft guidance, “Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology”, is available online and open for public comment. It represents the first step toward providing regulatory clarity on the FDA’s approach to nanotechnology.

Specifically, the agency named certain characteristics – such as the size of nanomaterials used and the exhibited properties of those materials – that may be considered when attempting to identify applications of nanotechnology in regulated products.

“With this guidance, we are not announcing a regulatory definition of nanotechnology,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “However, as a first step, we want to narrow the discussion to these points and work with industry to determine if this focus is an appropriate starting place.”

Then there was a June 15, 2011 news item on Nanowerk offering more details about the draft guidance announcement of June 9, 2011,

The guidelines list things that might be considered when deciding if nanotechnology was used on a product regulated by FDA—including the size of the nanomaterials that were used, and what their properties are.

And FDA wants industry leaders and the public to weigh-in.

Nanotechnology—the science of manipulating materials on a scale so small that it can’t be seen with a regular microscope—could have a broad range of applications, such as increasing the effectiveness of a particular drug or improving the packaging of food or cosmetics. “Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that has the potential to be used in a broad array of FDA-regulated medical products, foods, and cosmetics,” says Carlos Peña, director of FDA’s emerging technology programs. “But because materials in the nanoscale dimension may have different chemical, physical, or biological properties from their larger counterparts, FDA is monitoring the technology to assure such use is beneficial.”

In other words, using nanotechnology can change the way a product looks or operates, Peña says.

Although the technology is still evolving, it’s already in use as display technology for laptop computers, cell phones, and digital cameras. In the medical community, a number of manufacturers have used nanotechnology in:

  • Drugs
  • Medical imaging
  • Antimicrobial materials
  • Medical devices
  • Sunscreens

Andrew Maynard in his previously noted June 13, 2011 posting on on the UMRSC blog had this to say  about the EPA’s draft document,

This is a long and somewhat convoluted document, that spends some time outlining what the agency considers is an engineered nanomaterial, and reviewing nanomaterial hazard data.

Reading the document, EPA still seems somewhat tangled up with definitions of engineered nanomaterials. After outlining conventional attributes associated with engineered nanomaterials, including structures between ~1 – 100 nm and unique or novel properties, the document states,

“These elements do not readily work in a regulatory context because of the high degree of subjectivity involved with interpreting such phrases as “unique or novel properties” or “manufactured or engineered to take advantage of these properties” Moreover the contribution of these subjective elements to risk has not been established.”

This aligns with where my own thinking has been moving in recent years. Yet following this statement, the document reverts back to considering nanoparticles between 1 – 100 nm as the archetypal nanomaterial, and intimates “novel” properties such as “larger surface area per unit volume and/or quantum effects” as raising new risk concerns.

Canadian segue

I’ll point out here that Health Canada’s Interim Policy definition also adheres to the 1 to 100 nm definition for a nanomaterial, a concern I expressed in my submission to the public consultation held last year. Interestingly, since 29 submissions does seem particularly daunting to read there has yet to be any public response to these submissions. Not even a list of which agencies and individuals made submissions.

Back to US

Andrew also comments on the FDA document,

The FDA Guidance for Industry: Considering Whether an FDA-Regulated Product Involves the Application of Nanotechnology is a very different kettle of fish to the EPA document. It is overtly responsive to the White House memo; it demonstrates a deep understanding of the issues surrounding nanotechnology and regulation; and it is mercifully concise.

To be fair, the scope of the draft guidance is limited to helping manufacturers understand how the agency is approaching nanotechnology-enabled products under their purview. But this is something it does well.

One of the more significant aspects of the guidance is the discussion on regulatory definitions of nanomaterials. Following a line of reasoning established some years ago, the agency focuses on material properties rather than rigid definitions:

“FDA has not to date established regulatory definitions of “nanotechnology,” “nanoscale” or related terms… Based on FDA’s current scientific and technical understanding of nanomaterials and their characteristics, FDA believes that evaluations of safety, effectiveness or public health impact of such products should consider the unique properties and behaviors that nanomaterials may exhibit”

I recommend reading the full text of Andrew’s comments.

Europe

Meanwhile, there was a June 10, 2011 news item on Nanowerk about the availability of  28 presentations from a May 10-12, 2011 joint European workshop hosted by the Engineered NanoParticle Risk Assessment (ENPRA) FP (Framework Programme) 7 project and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. From the news item about the Challenges of Regulation and Risk Assessment of Nanomaterials workshop,

Twenty-eight presentations delivered at the Joint JRC Nano event and 2nd ENPRA Stakeholders Workshop are now available on-line: ENPRA Workshop 2011 – Programme with Presentations.

The workshop (by invitation only) involved about 90 participants, from industry, government, NGOs, and academia. …

During two days and a half, 34 experts from 26 different organisations informed the participants on the latest scientific progress in the field of nanoparticles risk assessment produced within national and European projects, and first results of ENPRA FP7 project were presented in detail. In addition, recent developments concerning legislation in the EU and beyond were discussed.

Amongst other participants, you can include representatives of EU Associate and Candidate Countries, environment and workers’ protection organisations, CAIQ (Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine), US-EPA, ECHA, and EFSA.

To close this piece (and I want to do that very badly), I’m going to give Tim Harper at his TNT blog (on the Cientifica website) the final word from his June 10, 2011 posting,

The White House Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee (ETIPC) has developed a set of principles (pdf) specific to the regulation and oversight of applications of nanotechnology, to guide the development and implementation of policies at the agency level.

I’m glad to see that it addresses those two old bugbears, the confusion between risk and hazard and the prejudging of issues without reference to scientific evidence …

It is an approach which appears to diverge slightly from the European adoption of the precautionary principle …

As with any regulation, the problems will arise not from the the original wording, but through its (mis)interpretation and inconsistent application.

Nanowires in Turkey

Turkish researchers at Bilkent University in Ankara have recently discovered a means of reliably producing nanowires through a thermal size-reduction process that will be featured on the cover of Nature Materials July 2011 issue. From a June 17, 2011 news item in the Hürriyet Daily News (Istanbul),

A group of Turkish researchers at an Ankara university have manufactured the longest and thinnest nanowires ever produced, by employing a novel method to shrink matter 10-million fold.

The invention, discovered at Bilkent University’s National Nanotechnology Research Center, or UNAM, is set to appear on the cover of Nature Material magazine’s July edition.

“At this moment, we may not even be able to predict what things will be produced [in the future] using this method,” said Associate Professor Mehmet Bayýndýr who led the research team.

The research team was trying to obtain a patent for their invention, as well as preparing to apply to the Guinness Book of Records for producing the world’s longest and thinnest semiconductor nanowire.

Here’s a little more information about nanowires and some detail about the thermal-size reduction process from the study in Nature Materials’ (full article is behind a paywall) online publication,

Nanowires are arguably the most studied nanomaterial model to make functional devices and arrays. … Here we report a new thermal size-reduction process to produce well-ordered, globally oriented, indefinitely long nanowire and nanotube arrays with different materials. The new technique involves iterative co-drawing of hermetically sealed multimaterials in compatible polymer matrices similar to fibre drawing. Globally oriented, endlessly parallel, axially and radially uniform semiconducting and piezoelectric nanowire and nanotube arrays hundreds of metres long, with nanowire diameters less than 15 nm, are obtained. The resulting nanostructures are sealed inside a flexible substrate, facilitating the handling of and electrical contacting to the nanowires. Inexpensive, high-throughput, multimaterial nanowire arrays pave the way for applications including nanowire-based large-area flexible sensor platforms, phase-changememory, nanostructure-enhanced photovoltaics, semiconductor nanophotonics, dielectric metamaterials,linear and nonlinear photonics and nanowire-enabled high-performance composites.

For interested parties, here’s the citation:

Arrays of indefinitely long uniform nanowires and nanotubes by Mecit Yaman, Tural Khudiyev, Erol Ozur, Mehmet Kanik, Ozan Aktas, Ekin O. Ozgur, Hakan Deniz, Enes Korkut, and Mehmet Bayindir. Nature Materials July 2011. Published online June 12, 2011. doi:10.1038/nmat3038