Monthly Archives: July 2011

Science research spending and innovation in Europe and reflections on the Canadian situation

I thought I’d pull together some information about science funding and innovation for closer examination. First, in early July 2011 the European Union announced plans for a huge spending increase, approximately 45%, for science. Their current programme, the Seventh Framework Programme (US$79B budget) is coming to an end in 2013 and the next iteration will be called, Horizon 2020 (proposed US$114B budget).  Here’s more from Kit Eaton’s July 6, 2011 article on Fast Company,

The proposal still awaits approval by the E.U.’s parliament and member states, but just getting this far is a milestone. The next phase is to forge spending into the next generation of the E.U.’s Framework Programme, which is its main research spending entity, to produce a plan called Horizon 2020. The spending shift has been championed by E.U. research commissioner Márie Geoghan-Quinn, and means that the share of the E.U. budget portioned out for scientific research will eventually double from its 4.5% figure in 2007 to 9% in 2020.

How will Europe pay for it? This is actually the biggest trick being pulled off: More than €4.5 billion would be transferred from the E.U.’s farm subsidies program, the Common Agricultural Policy. This is the enormous pile of cash paid by E.U. authorities to farmers each year to keep them in business, to keep food products rolling off the production line, and to keep fields fallow–as well as to diversify their businesses.

Nature journal also covered the news in a July 5, 2011 article by Colin Macilwane,

Other research advocates say that the proposal — although falling short of the major realignment of funding priorities they had been hoping for — was as good as could be expected in the circumstances. “Given the times we’re in, we couldn’t realistically have hoped for much more,” says Dieter Imboden, president of Eurohorcs, the body representing Europe’s national research agencies.

Geoghegan-Quinn told Nature that the proposal was “a big vote of confidence in science” but also called on researchers to push to get the proposal implemented — especially in their home countries. “The farmers will be out there lobbying, and scientists and researchers need to do the same,” she says.

While the European Union wrangles over a budget that could double their investment in science research, Canadians evince, at best, a mild interest in science research.

The latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council report, State of the Nation 2010: Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation System, was released in June 2011 and has, so far, occasioned little interest despite an article in the Globe & Mail and a Maclean’s blog posting by Paul Wells. Hopefully,  The Black Hole Blog, where Beth Swan and David Kent are writing a series about the report, will be able to stimulate some discussion.

From Beth’s July 12, 2011 posting,

The report – at least the section I’m talking about today – is based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment and Statistics Canada. Some of the interesting points include:

  • 15-year-old Canadians rank in the top 10 of OECD countries for math and science in 20091.
  • 80% of 15-19 year-old Canadians are pursuing a formal education, which is lower than the OECD average
  • But Canada ranks 1st in OECD countries for adults (ages 25–64 years) in terms of the percentage of the population with a post-secondary education (49%)
  • The numbers of Canadian students in science and engineering at the undergraduate level increased (18% increase in the number of science undergraduate degrees, 9% increase in the number of engineering undergraduate degrees) in 2008 compared to 2005

This all begs the question, though, of what those science-based graduates do once they graduate. It’s something that we’ve talked about a fair bit here on the Black Hole and the STIC report gives us some unhappy data on it. Canada had higher unemployment rates for science-based PhDs (~3-4%) compared to other OECD countries (e.g., in the US, it’s about ~1-1.5%).  Specifically, in 2006 Canada had the highest rate of unemployment for the medical sciences -3%- and engineering -4%- and the third highest rate of unemployment for the natural sciences -3%- among the OECD countries: the data are from 2006.

David, in his July 16, 2011 posting, focuses on direct and indirect Canadian federal government Research & Development (R&D) spending,

It appears from a whole host of statistics, reports, etc – that Canada lags in innovation, but what is the government’s role in helping to nurture its advancement.  Is it simply to create fertile ground for “the market” to do its work?  or is it a more interventionist style of determining what sorts of projects the country needs and investing as such?  Perhaps it involves altering the way we train and inspire our young people?

Beth then comments on Canadian business R&D investment, which has always been a low priority according to the material I’ve read, in her July 25, 2011 posting on ,

Taken together, this shows a rather unfavourable trend in Canadian businesses not investing in research & development – i.e, not contributing to innovation. We know from Dave’s last posting that Canada is not very good at contributing direct funds to research and my first posting in this series illustrated that while Canada is pretty good at getting PhDs trained, we are not so good at having jobs for those PhDs once they are done their schooling.

The latest July 27, 2011 posting from David asks the age old question, Why does Canada lag in R&D spending?

Many reports have been written over the past 30 years about Canada and its R&D spending, and they clamour one after the other about Canada’s relative lack of investment into R&D.  We’ve been through periods of deep cutbacks and periods of very strong growth, yet one thing remains remarkably consistent – Canada underspends on R&D relative to other countries.

The waters around such questions are extremely murky and tangible outcomes are tough to identify and quantify when so many factors are at play.  What does seem reasonable though is to ask where this investment gap is filled from in other countries that currently outstrip Canada’s spending – is it public money, private money, foreign money, or domestic money?  Hopefully these questions are being asked and answered before we set forth on another 30 year path of poor relative investment.

As I stated in my submission to the federal government’s R&D review panel and noted in my March 15, 2011 posting about the ‘Innovation’ consultation, I think we need to approach the issues in more imaginative ways.

Bio-inspired electronic tongue replaces sommelier?

Researchers in Spain have developed a bio-inspired electronic tongue that can distinguish between different wine cavas. From the July 28, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

In order to design the electronic tongue, researchers from the UAB [Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona] Group of Sensors and Biosensors, led by professor Manel del Valle, identified different cava samples using voltammetric measurements. Thanks to a combination of chemical measurement systems and advanced mathematical procedures – principal component analysis (PCA), discrete wavelet transform (DWT), and artificial neural network (ANN) – researchers achieved to copy the human taste system and distinguish between different types of cava, thus obtaining a classification similar to that of a sommelier. Through the use of the second order standard addition method (SOSAM) it was possible to quantify the amount of sugar added in the cava production process, demonstrating the efficiency of these processing tools.

The electronic tongue currently can identify three types of cava: Brut, Brut Nature and Medium-Dry. However, with proper training it will be able to identify all types available on the market.

The news item does not explain how the current system for wine production would be improved by introducing electronic tongues.

Praise the lord and pass the nano Viagra

I guess all the hype about Viagra (used for male erectile dysfunction) fooled me as until now, I believed it was a miracle drug that worked relatively well. Apparently, it has many side effects, takes too long to become active, and doesn’t last long enough. Consequently, researchers in Egypt are working on a solution, transdermal ‘nanocarriers’ on human skin as delivery agents for the drug. From the July 26, 2011 news item on Azonano,

Pharmaceutical scientist Yosra S.R. Elnaggar of Alexandria University and professors there and at Alexandria and Pharos University, explain how previous attempts to create a Viagra transdermal application have been hampered by the properties of the drug itself. The drug has low oil and water solubility and is loathe to cross membranes, such as human skin, because of this. However, it is possible to encapsulate the drug in nanoemulsion based systems that can cross membranes readily. As such, the team has investigated two types of nanocarriers made using fat-like lipid molecules – the first made by forming an emulsion with the drug using a surfactant compound to allow the lipid molecules and drug to mix, much as soap will emulsify oil and water. The second option is a self-emulsifying nanocarrier that has its own inbuilt surfactant.

This project reminds me a little of the nano patch vaccine that Mark Kendall and his team in Australia are working on. Success for that project means eliminating needles (and attendant injuries), refrigeration for vaccines, and the need for an expert to administer the vaccine. In the hotter regions of the planet, a nano patch vaccine would be a good solution for the refrigeration and drug administration issues. My most recent posting about Kendall’s work, which they are trying to commercialize, is from October 29, 2010.

Whose electric brain? Crowdfunder pitch

Last I wrote (July 5, 2011) about my proposed presentation at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts in Istanbul (Sept. 14-21, 2011), I was looking for ideas on how I might fund my way there. Since then, I’ve decided to try crowdfunding. It’s like crowdsourcing, i. e., posting a question and getting ideas from a host of people but posting a pitch for money to follow through on a project.

There are a number of sites where you can upload a pitch and solicit funds: IndieGoGo, which has been around since 2008, Kickstarter, Funding 4 Learning, and Crowdfunder (the one I picked), amongst others.

Here’s a little bit About Crowdfunder,

Whether your project is big or small, hare-brained or thoughtful, serious or just for fun – we want to hear from you. Crowdfunder aims to fund all sorts of crazy, arty, funny, ingenious and jaw-dropping projects. So if you’re an artist, explorer, musician, writer, entrepreneur or thrill seeker get in touch and kick start your project with Crowdfunder today.

I chose this site partly because it has a go/no go policy. In other words, I have to reach my target (4000 GBP) to get the money. IndieGoGo for example, will let you keep whatever percentage of the funds you raise, which is not helpful to me since I either have enough money to get to Istanbul or not.

Here’s an excerpt from the Whose electric brain? pitch I’ve submitted,

You’ve heard of the ‘uncanny valley’, the point at which human beings become uncomfortable with robots because they look too much like humans?  Well, I’m taking it a step further with cognitive entanglement, a new concept I’m proposing and developing for a presentation and paper at the 17th International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA). This conference presents cutting edge academic and artistic work internationally and in 2011, it is being held in Istanbul from Sept. 14 -21 concurrently with the 12th Istanbul Biennial, considered to be one of the world’s most prestigious art festivals.

Whose electric brain? my presentation about memristors (a nanoelectronics concept), cognitive entanglement, and artificial brains (accepted from a field of over 2000 submissions) is scheduled for Sept. 19, 2011 in a session titled, Biosynthetics and Body – Machine Presentation.My co-presenters include an engineering team from Brazil, the director of the SymbioticA Lab (University of Western Australia; they developed the Fish & Chips project), and an artist from Montréal, Québec. You can find the description here: http://isea2011.sabanciuniv.edu/content/biosynthetics-and-body-machine-relationships

My latest work on cognitive entanglement and memristors is the outcome of thousands of hours of research and thinking. The next logical step is to share it at a cutting edge conference where the ideas will be challenged and hopefully become part of the international discussion about what life biological and/or artificial in the 21st century. As a contributor you can be part of this journey with me to Istanbul.

Here’s an excerpt from how I describe my self in relation to this work,

As an independent  scholar, my current work centres on how nanotechnology is communicated and its social implications. Previous successes include, producing and writing a video on intercultural communication (Bridging the Cultural Gap) that was used as a teaching tool internationally. I also produced an event (WritingWise) which brought together songwriters, technical writers, comic book writers, games writers, new media writers, poets and others to discuss the impact that technology is having on the word in its various forms.

As for Whose electric brain?, I’ve gone just about as far as I can alone. Developing my current work further means that I need to present and discuss it with colleagues and there just aren’t that many people in the world who have the same interest. That’s why this conference is so important to me and, more importantly, the work, which pulls together concepts in electrical engineering, philosophy, physics, and literary theory, while introducing something new, cognitive entanglement.

Please pass the link on to anyone who might be interested in the topic and/or funding my presentation in Istanbul. (I hope to post a video about my paper and the symposium at the Crowdfunder website in the next few weeks and to update my pitch in other ways on a regular basis.)

Here’s the unadorned link, http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/whose-electric-brain-298#entrepreneur_details

One final note: Crowdfunder is based in the UK, so all funds are in GBP.

Misunderstanding the data or a failure to research? Georgia Straight article about nanoparticles

It’s good to see articles about nanotechnology. The recent, Tiny nanoparticles could be a big problem, article written by Alex Roslin for the Georgia Straight (July 21, 2011 online or July 21-28, 2011 paper edition) is the first I’ve seen on that topic in that particular newspaper. Unfortunately, there are  some curious bits of information included in the article, which render it, in my opinion, difficult to trust.

I do agree with Roslin that nanoparticles/nanomaterials could constitute a danger and there are a number of studies which indicate that, at the least, extreme caution in a number of cases should be taken if we choose to proceed with developing nanotechnology-enabled products.

One of my difficulties with the article is the information that has been left out. (Perhaps Roslin didn’t have time to properly research?) At the time (2009) I did read with much concern the reports Roslin mentions about the Chinese workers who were injured and/or died after working with nanomaterials. As Roslin points out,

Nanotech already appears to be affecting people’s health. In 2009, two Chinese factory workers died and another five were seriously injured in a plant that made paint containing nanoparticles.

The seven young female workers developed lung disease and rashes on their face and arms. Nanoparticles were found deep in the workers’ lungs.

“These cases arouse concern that long-term exposure to some nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs,” wrote Chinese medical researchers in a 2009 study on the incident in the European Respiratory Journal.

Left undescribed by Roslin are the working conditions; the affected people were working in an unventilated room. From the European Respiratory Journal article (ERJ September 1, 2009 vol. 34 no. 3 559-567, free access), Exposure to nanoparticles is related to pleural effusion, pulmonary fibrosis and granuloma,

A survey of the patients’ workplace was conducted. It measures ∼70 m2, has one door, no windows and one machine which is used to air spray materials, heat and dry boards. This machine has three atomising spray nozzles and one gas exhauster (a ventilation unit), which broke 5 months before the occurrence of the disease. The paste material used is an ivory white soft coating mixture of polyacrylic ester.

Eight workers (seven female and one male) were divided into two equal groups each working 8–12 h shifts. Using a spoon, the workers took the above coating material (room temperature) to the open-bottom pan of the machine, which automatically air-sprayed the coating material at the pressure of 100–120 Kpa onto polystyrene (PS) boards (organic glass), which can then be used in the printing and decorating industry. The PS board was heated and dried at 75–100°C, and the smoke produced in the process was cleared by the gas exhauster. In total, 6 kg of coating material was typically used each day. The PS board sizes varied from 0.5–1 m2 and ∼5,000 m2 were handled each workday. The workers had several tasks in the process including loading the soft coating material in the machine, as well as clipping, heating and handling the PS board. Each worker participated in all parts of this process.

Accumulated dust particles were found at the intake of the gas exhauster. During the 5 months preceding illness the door of the workspace was kept closed due to cold outdoor temperatures. The workers were all peasants near the factory, and had no knowledge of industrial hygiene and possible toxicity from the materials they worked with. The only personal protective equipment used on an occasional basis was cotton gauze masks. According to the patients, there were often some flocculi produced during air spraying, which caused itching on their faces and arms. It is estimated that the airflow or turnover rates of indoor air would be very slow, or quiescent due to the lack of windows and the closed door. [emphases mine]

Here’s the full text from the researchers’ conclusion,

In conclusion, these cases arouse concern that long-term exposure to some nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs. It is impossible to remove nanoparticles that have penetrated the cell and lodged in the cytoplasm and caryoplasm of pulmonary epithelial cells, or that have aggregated around the red blood cell membrane. Effective protective methods appear to be extremely important in terms of protecting exposed workers from illness caused by nanoparticles.

There is no question that serious issues about occupational health and safety with regards to nanomaterials were raised. But, we work with dangerous and hazardous materials all the time; precautions are necessary whether you’re working with hydrochloric acid or engineered nanoparticles. (There are naturally occurring nanoparticles too.)

Dr. Andrew Maynard (at the time he was the Chief Science Advisor for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, today he is the Director of the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) on his 2020 Science blog wrote a number of posts dated Aug. 18, 2009 about this tragic industrial incident, including this one where he culled comments from six other researchers noting some of the difficulties the Chinese researchers experienced running a clinical study after the fact.

The material on silver nanoparticles and concerns about their use in consumer products and possible toxic consequences with their eventual appearance in the water supply seem unexceptionable to me. (Note:  I haven’t drilled down into the material and the writer cites studies unknown to me but they parallel information I’ve seen elsewhere).

The material on titanium dioxide as being asbestos-like was new to me, the only nanomaterial I’d previously heard described as being similar to asbestos is the long carbon nanotube. I am surprised Roslin didn’t mention that occupational health and safety research which is also quite disturbing, it’s especially surprising since Roslin does mention carbon nanotubes later in the article.

There is a Canadian expert, Dr. Claude Ostiguy, who consults internationally on the topic of nanotechnology and occupational health and safety. I wonder why he wasn’t consulted. (Note: He testified before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health meeting in June 2010 on this topic. You can find more about this in my June 23, 2011 posting, Nanomaterials, toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health.)

Quoted quite liberally throughout the article is researcher, Dr.Robert Schiestl (professor of pathology and radiation oncology at the University of California at Los Angeles [UCLA]). This particular passage referencing Schiestl is a little disconcerting,

Schiestl said nanoparticles could also be helping to fuel a rise in the rates of some cancers. He wouldn’t make a link with any specific kind of cancer, but data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute show that kidney and renal-pelvis cancer rates rose 24 percent between 2000 and 2007 in the U.S., while the rates for melanoma of the skin went up 29 percent and thyroid cancer rose 54 percent.

Since Schiestl isn’t linking the nanoparticles to any specific cancers, why mention those statistics? Using that kind of logic I could theorize that the increase in the number and use of cell phones (mobiles) may have something to do with these cancers. Perhaps organic food has caused this increase? You see the problem?

As for the number of nanotechnology-enabled products in use, I’m not sure why Roslin chose to cite the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies’ inventory which is not scrutinized, i. e., anyone can register any product as nanotechnology-enabled. The writer also mentioned a Canadian inventory listing over 1600 products  cited in an ETC Group report, The Big Downturn? Nanogeopolitics,

Has anyone ever seen this inventory? I’ve been chasing it for years and the only time the Canadian government reports on this inventory is in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report (cited by the ETC Group [no. 79 in their list of references] and noted in both my Feb. 1, 2011 posting and my April 12, 2010 posting). Here’s the OECD report, if you’d like to see it for yourself. The top three questions I keep asking myself is where is the report/inventory, how did they determine their terms of reference, and why don’t Canadian taxpayers have easy access to it? I’d best return to my main topic.

As for the material Roslin offers about nanosunscreens I was surprised given the tenor of the article to see that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) was listed as an information source since they recommend mineral sunscreens containing nanoscale ingredients such as titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as preferable to sunscreens containing hormone disruptors.  From the EWG page on sunscreens and nanomaterials,

Sunscreen makers offer mineral and non-mineral formulations, as well as products that combine both mineral and non-mineral active ingredients. Mineral formulations incorporate zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in nano- and micro-sized particles that can be toxic if they penetrate the skin. Most studies show that these ingredients do not penetrate through skin to the bloodstream, but research continues. These constitute one in five sunscreens on the market in 2010 and offer strong UVA protection that is rare in non-mineral sunscreens.

The most common ingredients in non-mineral sunscreens are oxybenzone, octisalate, octinoxate, and avobenzone found in 65, 58, 57, and 56 percent of all non-mineral sunscreens on the market, respectively. The most common, oxybenzone, can trigger allergic reactions, is a potential hormone disruptor and penetrates the skin in relatively large amounts. Some experts caution that it should not be used on children. Three of every five sunscreens rated by EWG are non-mineral, and one in five sunscreens combines both mineral and non-mineral active ingredients.

EWG reviewed the scientific literature on hazards and efficacy (UVB and UVA protection) for all active ingredients approved in the U.S. Though no ingredient is without hazard or perfectly effective, on balance our ratings tend to favor mineral sunscreens because of their low capacity to penetrate the skin and the superior UVA protection they offer. [emphasis mine]

(I did find some information (very little) about Health Canada and sunscreens which I discuss in June 3, 2011 posting [if you're impatient, scroll down about 1/2 way].)

There was some mention of Health Canada in Roslin’s article but no mention of last year’s public consultation, although to be fair, it seemed a clandestine operation. (My latest update on the Health Canada public consultation about a definition for nanomaterials is May 27, 2011.)

I find some aspects of the article puzzling as Roslin is an award-winning investigative reporter. From the kitco bio page,

Alex Roslin is a leading Canadian investigative journalist and active trader based in Montreal. He has won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for investigative reporting and is a five-time nominee for investigative and writing prizes from the CAJ and the National Magazine Awards. He has worked on major investigations for Canada’s premier investigative television program, the fifth estate, and the CBC’s Disclosure program. His writing has appeared in Technical Analysis of Stocks & Commodities, The Financial Post, Toronto Star and Montreal Gazette. He regularly writes about investing for The Montreal Gazette.

I notice there’s no mention of writing in either science or health matters so I imagine this is an early stage piece in this aspect of Roslin’s career, which may explain some of the leaps in logic and misleading information. Happily, I did learn a few things from reading the article and while I don’t trust much of the information in it, I will investigate further as time permits.

In general, I found the tenor of the article more alarmist than informational and I’m sorry about that as I would like to see more information being shared and, ultimately, public discussion in Canada about nanotechnology and other emerging technologies.

Canadians as hewers of graphite?

Who knew large flakes could be this exciting? From the July 25, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Northern Graphite Corporation has announced that graphene has been successfully made on a test basis using large flake graphite from the Company’s Bissett Creek project in Northern Ontario. Northern’s standard 95%C, large flake graphite was evaluated as a source material for making graphene by an eminent professor in the field at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is doing research making graphene sheets larger than 30cm2 in size using the graphene oxide methodology. The tests indicated that graphene made from Northern’s jumbo flake is superior to Chinese powder and large flake graphite in terms of size, higher electrical conductivity, lower resistance and greater transparency.

Approximately 70% of production from the Bissett Creek property will be large flake (+80 mesh) and almost all of this will in fact be +48 mesh jumbo flake which is expected to attract premium pricing and be a better source material for the potential manufacture of graphene. The very high percentage of large flakes makes Bissett Creek unique compared to most graphite deposits worldwide which produce a blend of large, medium and small flakes, as well as a large percentage of low value -150 mesh flake and amorphous powder which are not suitable for graphene, Li ion batteries or other high end, high growth applications.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the excitement over graphene and its possibilities, here’s the latest from the two scientists who pioneered work in this area (from the July 24, 2011 news item on Nanowerk),

Now the research from the creators [Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov] of the material promises to accelerate that research, and potentially open up countless more electronic opportunities.

The researchers, from the universities of Manchester, Madrid and Moscow, have studied in detail the effect of interactions between electrons on the electronic properties of graphene.

They use extremely high-quality graphene devices which are prepared by suspending sheets of graphene in a vacuum.

This way most of the unwanted scattering mechanisms for electrons in graphene could be eliminated, thus enhancing the effect of electron-on-electron interaction.

This is the first effect of its kind where the interactions between electrons in graphene could be clearly seen.

The reason for such unique electronic properties is that electrons in this material are very different from those in any other metals. They mimic massless relativistic particles – such as photons.

Due to such properties graphene is sometimes called ‘CERN on a desk’ – referencing the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. This is just one of the reasons why the electronic properties are particularly exciting and often bring surprises.

Northern Graphite’s home page features a bullish few paragraphs about its prospects (excerpted from the home page),

Northern Graphite Corporation is an Ottawa-based Canadian company that recently closed a $4 million initial public offering and began trading on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol “NGC”.

Northern’s principal asset is the Bissett Creek graphite project located 100km east of North Bay, Ontario and close to major roads and rail and power lines. The Company has completed an NI 43-101 preliminary assessment report on the project and has subsequently initiated a bankable final feasibility study and commenced the environmental and mine permitting process.  Northern anticipates that it will be in a position to begin construction of the mine early in 2012, subject to positive results from the bankable final feasibility study and the availability of financing.

Graphite prices have almost tripled since 2005 due to the ongoing industrialization of China, India and other emerging economies and resultant strong demand from traditional steel and automotive markets. However, new applications such as lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells and nuclear power have the potential to create significant, incremental demand growth in the future. For example, there is 20 to 30 times more graphite than lithium in lithium-ion batteries. The use of li-ion batteries is growing rapidly in consumer electronics and this trend will continue with the increased use of hybrid and all electric vehicles.

On the plus side, this looks like there might be more jobs. As is often the case in Canada, these jobs are about extracting resources (the hewers of wood, drawers of water economy).

I did find a reference to the environment on pp. 101-2 of a technical report mainly focused on an economic assessment of the Bissett Creek property. The section on the environment concentrates on the location of a waste dump and railings. Hopefully, the geologists and engineers who run the company will have more information about environmental impacts in the not too distant future since they (from the July 25, 2011 news item on Nanowerk) are getting ready to construct facilities,

Northern Graphite Corporation holds a 100% interest in the Bissett Creek graphite project which is located 17kms from the Trans Canada highway between Ottawa and North Bay, Ontario. The Company is in the process of completing a bankable Final Feasibility Study and permitting with the objective of initiating construction, subject to the results of the study and the availability of financing, in the first part of 2012.

I gather they are looking for investors.

 

Jail sentences for attackers of IBM nanotechnology facility of Switzerland

I hoped to get this final update about the trio who tried to bomb an IBM nanotechnology facility in Switzerland posted sooner. The three individuals who were held and tried last week were sentenced to three years in jail. From the July 22, 2011 news article by Jessica Dacey on swissinfo.ch,

A 26-year-old Swiss-Italian from Ticino and an Italian couple aged 29 and 34 were found guilty by the Federal Criminal Court of conspiring to destroy the IBM centre in Rüschlikon, near Zurich, while it was under construction.

They were also found guilty of importing explosives into Switzerland, then illegally hiding and transporting them.

The three detainees were caught last year about 3km from the IBM facility in possession of 476 grams of explosives and other components needed to build an improvised explosive device.

Also found in their car were 31 letters claiming responsibility for the planned attack in the name of a group calling itself ELF Switzerland Earth Liberation Front. Known in the United States as eco-terrorists, the group carry out “economic sabotage” to stop the destruction of the environment.

The trial has shed light on a loose-knit network of European anarchists, with prosecutors linking the detainees to extremist movements that have claimed responsibility for several violent attacks in the United States and Europe since the 1990s.

In a July 21, 2011 news item published on The Local, prior to sentencing, the three are identified,

Local and international news reports say prosecutor Hans Joerg Stalder argued in court on Tuesday that the three — two Italians and a Swiss — are “criminal tourists” who tried to smuggle explosives into Switzerland to carry out their eco-terror attack. Experts testified at the hearing that the planned combination of fuels and explosive gel could have been deadly.

The three, identified as 35-year-old Costantino Alfonso Ragusa, his 29-year-old wife Silvia Ragusa Guerini and their 26-year-old Swiss friend Luca Cristos Bernasconi, were charged with “planning an incendiary attack on a nanotechnology centre under construction”, and are being tried by Switzerland’s top criminal court.

The three have already served 15 months of their three year jail sentences.

My most recent posting on this topic was July 19, 2011 and I also posted about this near the time of the attempted bombing, April 26, 2010.

Using copyright laws to censor a science blogger?

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick highlighted an incident where an astronomy blog was taken down with a DMCA (US Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notice earlier this week over an astronomy dispute. From Masnick’s July 22, 2011 article,

James Litwin points us to a report about how someone — and, tragically, the party is never actually named — filed a DMCA takedown notice to Blogger to try to take down Ian Musgrave’s Astroblogger site.

According to Nancy Atkinson on the Universe Today blog’s July 20, 2011 posting, the Astroblog site was unavailable for a few days,

Astronomer and blogger Ian Musgrave from South Australia has been active in debunking the misinformation and nonsense that is being disseminated about Comet Elenin. He has written several wonderful posts featuring the actual realities of this long-period lump of dirty ice that has, for some reason, attracted the attention of doomsdayers, 2012ers, and end-of-the-world scaremongers. Earlier this week, Ian’s Elenin posts on his Astroblog were taken down by the web host, as someone filed a claim for alleged violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). “Given that there is no copyrighted material on these pages, with either material generated entirely by me or links to and citation of publicly available material, I believe this was just a frivolous attack on people countering Elenin nonsense” Ian said.

Atkinson goes on to provide all of the information Musgrave generated over a number of days on Astroblog in a single posting. I think it’s a convenient to catch up with this issue for someone like me who until Masnick’s article had never heard about Elenin or the concerns it has generated.

Thankfully, Astroblog has been reinstated and Musgrave continues to post about Elenin and other matters. His July 22, 2011 post features a story about how an individual, citizen scientist (amateur astronomer) bought time on a remote telescope (in the Canary Islands) to test an hypothesis about Elenin,

There has been a lot of angst about the size of comet C/2010 X1 Elenin on the internet, with some people worried it is either a Brown Dwarf Star or the Satellite of a Brown Dwarf. Both Leonid Elenin and I have used maths and simulations to show that the comet must be small, but people continue to be anxious, and are discussing the matter endlessly on various discussion groups.

Except a commenter called Astronut, who did something unthinkable, rather than endlessly nattering he actually tested the hypothesis that Elenin was big.

He bought time on a remote telescope (one of the Slooh scopes) in the Canary Islands, and measured the position of asteroid (74732) 1999 RQ176 twenty -four hours after it’s close encounter with comet Elenein on May 20.

I won’t give any more details, please read the story to find out what happens next but, if you don’t have time to do that, you can rest easy.

I’m sorry to see a copyright law as a form of censorship.

Back to my roots, writing nanotechnology

This July 18, 2011 news item title, Writing Nanostructures: Heated AFM Tip Allows Direct Fabrication of Ferroelectric Nanostructures On Plastic, on the Science Daily website brought back memories. The first part of the title, Writing Nanostructures, that is. My first project about nanotechnology and the language used to describe it for my master’s degree was titled, Writing Nanotechnology.

This, of course, is something entirely different. From the news item on Science Daily,

Using a technique known as thermochemical nanolithography (TCNL), researchers have developed a new way to fabricate nanometer-scale ferroelectric structures directly on flexible plastic substrates that would be unable to withstand the processing temperatures normally required to create such nanostructures.

The technique, which uses a heated atomic force microscope (AFM) tip to produce patterns, could facilitate high-density, low-cost production of complex ferroelectric structures for energy harvesting arrays, sensors and actuators in nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS) and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS). The research was reported July 15 in the journal Advanced Materials.

“We can directly create piezoelectric materials of the shape we want, where we want them, on flexible substrates for use in energy harvesting and other applications,” said Nazanin Bassiri-Gharb, co-author of the paper and an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

I particularly like this picture where the professor is holding something that looks like a pencil as a pointer,

Georgia Tech postdoctoral fellow Suenne Kim holds a sample of flexible polyimide substrate used in research on a new technique for producing ferroelectric nanostructures. Assistant professor Nazanin Bassiri-Gharb points to a feature on the material, while graduate research assistant Yaser Bastani observes. (Credit: Gary Meek)

You can check out the rest  in the Science Daily news item or you can check out the original Georgia Institute of Technology news release (which has more images) written by John Toon.

 

Environmental decoherence tackled by University of British Columbia and California researchers

The research team at the University of British Columbia (UBC) proved a theory for the prediction and control of environmental decoherence in a complex system (an important step on the way to quantum computing) while researchers performed experiments at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) to prove the theory.  Here’s an explanation of decoherence and its impact on quantum computing from the July 20, 2011 UBC news release,

Quantum mechanics states that matter can be in more than one physical state at the same time – like a coin simultaneously showing heads and tails. In small objects like electrons, physicists have had success in observing and controlling these simultaneous states, called “state superpositions.”

Larger, more complex physical systems appear to be in one consistent physical state because they interact and “entangle” with other objects in their environment. This entanglement makes these complex objects “decay” into a single state – a process called decoherence.

Quantum computing’s potential to be exponentially faster and more powerful than any conventional computer technology depends on switches that are capable of state superposition – that is, being in the “on” and “off” positions at the same time. Until now, all efforts to achieve such superposition with many molecules at once were blocked by decoherence.

The UBC research team, headed by Phil Stamp, developed a theory for predicting and controlling environmental decoherence in the Iron-8 molecule, which is considered a large complex system.

Iron-8 molecule (image provided by UBC)

This next image represents one of two states of decoherence, i. e., the molecule ‘occupies’ only one of two superpositions, spin up or spin down,

 

Decoherence: occupying either the spin up or spin down position (image provided by UBC)

Here’s how the team at the UCSB proved the theory experimentally,

In their study, Takahashi [Professor Susumu Takahashi is now at the University of Southern California {USC}] and his colleagues investigated single crystals of molecular magnets. Because of their purity, molecular magnets eliminate the extrinsic decoherence, allowing researchers to calculate intrinsic decoherence precisely.

“For the first time, we’ve been able to predict and control all the environmental decoherence mechanisms in a very complex system – in this case a large magnetic molecule,” said Phil Stamp, University of British Columbia professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Pacific Institute of Theoretical Physics.

Using crystalline molecular magnets allowed researchers to build qubits out of an immense quantity of quantum particles rather than a single quantum object – the way most proto-quantum computers are built at the moment.

I did try to find definitions for extrinsic and intrinsic decoherence unfortunately the best I could find is the one provided by USC (from the news item on Nanowerk),

Decoherence in qubit systems falls into two general categories. One is an intrinsic decoherence caused by constituents in the qubit system, and the other is an extrinsic decoherence caused by imperfections of the system - impurities and defects, for example.

I have a conceptual framework of sorts for a ‘qubit system’, I just don’t understand what they mean by ‘system’. I performed an internet search and virtually all of the references I found to intrinsic and extrinsic decoherence cite this news release or, in a few cases, papers written by physicists for other physicists. If anyone could help clarify this question for me, I would much appreciate it.

Leaving extrinsic and intrinsic systems aside, the July 20, 2011 news item on Science Daily provides a little more detail about the experiment,

In the experiment, the California researchers prepared a crystalline array of Iron-8 molecules in a quantum superposition, where the net magnetization of each molecule was simultaneously oriented up and down. The decay of this superposition by decoherence was then observed in time — and the decay was spectacularly slow, behaving exactly as the UBC researchers predicted.

“Magnetic molecules now suddenly appear to have serious potential as candidates for quantum computing hardware,” said Susumu Takahashi, assistant professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Southern California.

Congratulations to all of the researchers involved.

ETA July 22, 2011: I changed the title to correct the grammar.