Monthly Archives: May 2012

DARPA’s Living Foundries and advanced nanotechnology via synthetic biology

This is not a comfortable topic for a lot of people, but James Lewis in a May 26, 2012 posting on the Foresight Institute blog, comments on some developments in the DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projeect Agency) Living Foundries program (Note: I have removed a link),

Synthetic biology promises near-term breakthroughs in medicine, materials, and energy, and is also one promising development pathway leading to advanced nanotechnology and a general capability for programmable, atomically-precise manufacturing. Darpa (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has launched a new program [Living Foundries] that could greatly accelerate progress in synthetic biology by creating a library of standardized, modular biological units that could be used to build new devices and circuits.

If Darpa’s Living Foundries program achieves its ambitious goals, it should create a methodology, toolbox, and a large group of practitioners ready to pursue a synthetic biology pathway to building complex molecular machine systems, and eventually, atomically precise manufacturing systems.

DARPA opened solicitations for this program Sept. 2, 2011 and made a series of award notices starting May 17, 2012 stretching to May 31,2012. Here’s a description of the program from the DARPA Living Foundries project webpage,

The Living Foundries Program seeks to create the engineering framework for biology, speeding the biological design-build-test cycle and expanding the complexity of systems that can be engineered. The Program aims to develop new tools, technologies and methodologies to decouple biological design from fabrication, yield design rules and tools, and manage biological complexity through abstraction and standardization.  These foundational tools would enable the rapid development of previously unattainable technologies and products, leveraging biology to solve challenges associated with production of new materials, novel capabilities, fuel and medicines. For example, one motivating, widespread and currently intractable problem is that of corrosion/materials degradation. The DoD must operate in all environments, including some of the most corrosively aggressive on Earth, and do so with increasingly complex heterogeneous materials systems. This multifaceted and ubiquitous problem costs the DoD approximately $23 Billion per year. The ability to truly program and engineer biology, would enable the capability to design and engineer systems to rapidly and dynamically prevent, seek out, identify and repair corrosion/materials degradation.

Accomplishing this vision requires an approach that is more than multidisciplinary – it requires a new engineering discipline built upon the integration of new ideas, approaches and tools from fields spanning computer science and electrical engineering to chemistry and the biological sciences.  The best innovations will introduce new architectures and tools into an open technology platform to rapidly move new designs from conception to execution.

Performers must ensure and demonstrate throughout the program that all methods and demonstrations of capability comply with national guidance for manipulation of genes and organisms and follow all guidance for biological safety and Biosecurity.

Katie Drummond in her May 22, 2012 posting on the Wired website’s Danger Room blog makes note of the awarded contracts (Note: I have removed the links),

Now, Darpa’s handed out seven research awards worth $15.5 million to six different companies and institutions. Among them are several Darpa favorites, including the University of Texas at Austin and the California Institute of Technology. Two contracts were also issued to the J. Craig Venter Institute. Dr. Venter is something of a biology superstar: He was among the first scientists to sequence a human genome, and his institute was, in 2010, the first to create a cell with entirely synthetic genome.

In total, nine contracts were awarded as of May 31, 2012. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) was awarded two, while  Stanford University, Harvard University, and the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution were each awarded one.

The J. Craig Venter Institute received a total of almost $4M for two separate contracts ($964,572 and $3,007, 321). Interestingly, Venter has just been profiled in the New York Times magazine in a May 30, 2012 article by Wil S. Hylton with nary a mention of this new project (I realize the print version couldn’t be revised but surely they could have managed a note online).  The opening paragraphs sound like a description of the Living Foundries project for people who don’t specialize in reading government documents,

In the menagerie of Craig Venter’s imagination, tiny bugs will save the world. They will be custom bugs, designer bugs — bugs that only Venter can create. He will mix them up in his private laboratory from bits and pieces of DNA, and then he will release them into the air and the water, into smokestacks and oil spills, hospitals and factories and your house.

Each of the bugs will have a mission. Some will be designed to devour things, like pollution. Others will generate food and fuel. There will be bugs to fight global warming, bugs to clean up toxic waste, bugs to manufacture medicine and diagnose disease, and they will all be driven to complete these tasks by the very fibers of their synthetic DNA.

This is is not a critical or academic  analysis of Venter’s approach to biology, synthetic or otherwise, but it does offer an in-depth profile and, given Venter’s prominence in the field of synthetic biology, it’s a worthwhile read.

Congratulations to Mildred Dresselhaus, winner of the 2012 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience

A pioneer in the field, Mildred Dresselhaus has been recognized for her work in nanoscience by the Kavli Foundation. From the May 31, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Mildred S. Dresselhaus is recognized with the Kavli Prize for Nanoscience for her seminal contributions to the science of carbon-based nanostructures and for her elucidation of the electron-phonon interaction on the nanoscale.

Dresselhaus has laid the foundation for our understanding of the influence of reduced dimensionality on the fundamental thermal and electrical properties of materials. Her early work on graphite intercalation compounds and carbon fibers presaged the discoveries of C60, the fullerenes, nanotubes, and graphene. She investigated the effects of phonon confinement and electron-phonon interactions in nanostructures, and provided the key insights that underlie today’s research into nanostructured thermoelectrics. She showed that in nanostructures it is possible to decouple thermal and electrical transport, with significant implications for energy use. Thanks to Dresselhaus’s work, we have an improved understanding of how energy flows and dissipates on the nanoscale.

The 2012 Kavli Nanoscience Citation webpage contextualizes her achievements,

The story of carbon is interwoven with the story of nanoscience. The 1996 Chemistry Nobel Prize for the discovery of fullerenes, the 2008 Kavli Nanoscience Prize for the discovery of nanotubes, and the 2010 Physics Nobel Prize for graphene all recognize the remarkable phenomena that occur in highly controlled carbon-based nanostructures. As early as the 1960’s, Dresselhaus led one of the very first groups that explored the carbon materials that form the basis for 2D graphene and 1D carbon nanotubes. These early experiments helped to map out the electronic band structure of these materials, critical to further understanding the unique properties they might possess. Dresselhaus studied intercalated two-dimensional graphene sheets and provided important insights into the properties of not only 2D graphene, but also of the rich interactions between graphene and the surrounding materials. Her early work on carbon fibers, beginning in the 1980’s, provided Dresselhaus with the understanding and perspective to postulate the existence and unusual attributes of one-dimensional ‘single wall carbon nanotubes (SWNTs)’, years in advance of their actual discovery. A key prediction included the possibility that SWNTs could behave like either metals or semiconductors, depending on their chirality. Dresselhaus and coworkers pointed out that nanotubes can be viewed as arising from the folding of a single sheet of carbon, like a piece of paper that is wrapped at different spiral angles. They showed that this very simple rearrangement of their structure completely controlled their properties. This prediction was subsequently shown to be true. Through her studies of the fundamental physics of carbon-based solids, Dresselhaus laid the foundation for knowledge that has been integral to today’s nanoscience of carbon.

Dresselhaus studied the transport and optical properties of nanostructured matter with an exquisite selection of experimental techniques providing unprecedented microscopic understanding. Regarding carbon nanostructures, she pioneered Raman spectroscopy as a sensitive tool for the characterization of materials one atomic layer in wall thickness, namely carbon nanotubes and graphene. Diameter selective resonance enhancement led to the observation of Raman spectra from one single nanotube. The high sensitivity of Raman spectroscopy to diameter and chirality made the technique the prime method for the characterization of carbon nanotubes. The success story has been seamlessly adapted to the characterization of graphene and is in use in hundreds of laboratories worldwide as a fundamental diagnostic tool for carbon-based nanostructures.

Materials are held together by electrons shared between atoms. When the energy of an electron in a solid is altered, the local bonding of the solid is perturbed, resulting in a change in the position of the atoms that make up the solid. In nanoscale materials, the spatial extent of electrons and phonons can be modulated, leading to dramatically different behaviors compared with extended solids. Dresselhaus has investigated this very fundamental electron–phonon interaction in nanostructures using the powerful techniques of Raman and Resonance Raman spectroscopy.

This science also laid a foundation for practical work today aimed at controlling how energy flows. Thermoelectric materials have the ability to convert heat energy to an electrical signal or, alternatively, to utilize electrical energy to actively cool a material. Nature provides materials in which the electrical and thermal conductivity are strongly linked, resulting in a seeming limit to the achievable efficiency of a thermoelectric. Dresselhaus demonstrated that in a one-dimensional structure, it is possible to separately adjust electrical and thermal conductivity, and that this should allow the creation of new generations of thermoelectric refrigerators and new ways of scavenging waste heat for useful purposes.

Dresselhaus recently co-published a paper about developing a new material, a bismuth-antimony film (mentioned in my April 27, 2012 posting). The Wikipedia essay on Mildred Dresselhaus notes that she was born November 11, 1930 and is currently a professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Note the absence of the word, emeritus.

May 2012 has been an interesting month, I’ve had the opportunity to feature both a nonogenerian and a teenager (Janelle Tam [mentioned in my May 11, 2012 posting]) who prove you can contribute to your chosen field at almost any age.

Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) toots its nanotechnology horn

I’m not sure what, if anything, occasioned the proclamation (from the May 31, 2012 news item on Nanowerk),

On the western edge of the University of Alberta’s main campus lies the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT), one of the world’s most advanced research facilities and Canada’s quietest laboratory space.

“NINT is helping us all to better understand the emerging science of nanotechnology. As the only centre of its kind in Canada, it puts us in a leadership position. Being located at the University of Alberta creates great synergies,” says Mike Wo, EEDC [Edmonton Economic Development Corporation] executive director of economic growth and development.

I wish there was a little more information about why Canada’s NINT is considered one of the world’s most advanced research facilities. The NINT website’s most recent news release (as of this morning, May 31, 2012)  is datedJuly 17, 2009.

I don’t receive or come across much information about NINT’s research efforts or facilities. The little information I have found (and it does not fully support the contention) comes from the University of Alberta or the University of Calgary. Is there more and where is it? If anyone knows, please do contact me either via the commenting facility for this blog or at [email protected]

With a song in your heart and multiplexed images in an atomic vapor

A specific piece of research has inspired a song with lyrics based on the text of a research paper and, weirdly, it works. You will have a song in your heart and on your lips and it’s all to do with storing images in an atomic vapor,

Hot, hot, hot, eh?

As for the research paper itself (Temporally multiplexed storage of images in a Gradient Echo Memory), it’s currently availab.e at arXiv.org or in Optics Express, Vol. 20, Issue 11, pp. 12350-12358 (2012) DOI: 10.1364/OE.20.012350(authors: Quentin Glorieux, Jeremy B. Clark, Alberto M. Marino, Zhifan Zhou, Paul D. Lett). The May 29, 2012 news item on Nanowerk offers some tantalizing tidbits about the work,

The storage of light-encoded messages on film and compact disks and as holograms is ubiquitous—grocery scanners, Netflix disks, credit-card images are just a few examples. And now light signals can be stored as patterns in a room-temperature vapor of atoms. Scientists at the Joint Quantum Institute [JQI] have stored not one but two letters of the alphabet in a tiny cell filled with rubidium (Rb) atoms which are tailored to absorb and later re-emit messages on demand. This is the first time two images have simultaneously been reliably stored in a non-solid medium and then played back.

In effect, this is the first stored and replayed atomic movie. Because the JQI researchers are able to store and replay two separate images, or “frames,” a few micro-seconds apart, the whole sequence can qualify as a feat of cinematography.

Here’s a little more detail about how this was done and some information about the implications,

Having stored one image (the letter N), the JQI physicists then stored a second image, the letter T, before reading both letters back in quick succession. The two “frames” of this movie, about a microsecond apart, were played back successfully every time, although typically only about 8 percent of the original light was redeemed, a percentage that will improve with practice. According to Paul Lett, one of the great challenges in storing images this way is to keep the atoms embodying the image from diffusing away. The longer the storage time (measured so far to be about 20 microseconds) the more diffusion occurs. The result is a fuzzy image.

Paul Lett plans to link up these new developments in storing images with his previous work on squeezed light. “Squeezing” light is one way to partially circumvent the Heisenberg uncertainty principle governing the ultimate measurement limitations. By allowing a poorer knowledge of a stream of light—say the timing of the light, its phase—one gain a sharper knowledge of a separate variable—in this case the light’s amplitude. This increased capability, at le ast for the one variable, allows higher precision in certain quantum measurements.

“The big thing here,” said Lett, “is that this allows us to do images and do pulses (instead of individual photons) and it can be matched (hopefully) to our squeezed light source, so that we can soon try to store “quantum images” and make essentially a random access memory for continuous variable quantum information. The thing that really attracted us to this method—aside from its being pretty well-matched to our source of squeezed light—is that the ANU [Australian National University] group was able to get 87% recovery efficiency from it – which is, I think, the best anyone has seen in any optical system, so it holds great promise for a quantum memory.”

I may never totally understand this work but at least I now have a song to sing and for anyone who wants more details, the May 27, 2012 news item on Nanowerk provides details and images, as well as, another opportunity to watch the song.  I did check out the video on YouTube and found that it’s by therockcookiebottom and is part of a project, Song A Day: 1000 Days and Counting that singer-songwriter, Jonathan Mann started in Jan. 2009. I imagine that means he  must be nearing the end. Thank you Jonathan for a very entertaining and educational song. He does offer memberships to support him and his song-a-day project and opportunities to hire him for any songwriting projects you may have.

Get the platinum out

They’ve been using platinum catalysts, in fuel cells and metal-air batteries, which over the last five years has ranged in cost from just under $800/oz to over $2200/oz. My March 13, 2012 posting about fuel cells noted that the use of expensive metals that are not very efficient catalysts was holding back their development and entry into the marketplace,

Advances in fuel-cell technology have been stymied by the inadequacy of metals studied as catalysts. The drawback to platinum, other than cost, is that it absorbs carbon monoxide in reactions involving fuel cells powered by organic materials like formic acid. A more recently tested metal, palladium, breaks down over time.

Now chemists at Brown University have created a triple-headed metallic nanoparticle that they say outperforms and outlasts all others at the anode end in formic-acid fuel-cell reactions.

Another group of researchers at Stanford University and other institutions is suggesting an alternative to a platinum catalyst, a multi-walled carbon nanotube. From the May 27, 2012 news release written by Mark Shwartz on EurekAlert,

Multi-walled carbon nanotubes riddled with defects and impurities on the outside could replace some of the expensive platinum catalysts used in fuel cells and metal-air batteries, according to scientists at Stanford University. Their findings are published in the May 27 online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“Platinum is very expensive and thus impractical for large-scale commercialization,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford and co-author of the study. “Developing a low-cost alternative has been a major research goal for several decades.”

For the study, the Stanford team used multi-walled carbon nanotubes consisting of two or three concentric tubes nested together. The scientists showed that shredding the outer wall, while leaving the inner walls intact, enhances catalytic activity in nanotubes, yet does not interfere with their ability to conduct electricity.

“A typical carbon nanotube has few defects,” said Yanguang Li, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and lead author of the study. “But defects are actually important to promote the formation of catalytic sites and to render the nanotube very active for catalytic reactions.”

Here’s how it works, from the May 27, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

For the study, Li and his co-workers treated multi-walled nanotubes in a chemical solution. Microscopic analysis revealed that the treatment caused the outer nanotube to partially unzip and form nanosized graphene pieces that clung to the inner nanotube, which remained mostly intact.

“We found that adding a few iron and nitrogen impurities made the outer wall very active for catalytic reactions,” Dai said. “But the inside maintained its integrity, providing a path for electrons to move around. You want the outside to be very active, but you still want to have good electrical conductivity. If you used a single-wall carbon nanotube you wouldn’t have this advantage, because the damage on the wall would degrade the electrical property.”

These are two different perspectives on the reason for why fuel cells and other batteries have not had the expected impact on the marketplace. The team at Brown University states the problem as an issue with the effectiveness of the metal catalysts where the Stanford-led team states the problem as being the cost of the metal used. Dexter Johnson in a March 9, 2012 posting on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website suggested a third issue,

One of the fundamental problems with fuel cells has been the cost of producing hydrogen. While hydrogen is, of course, the most abundant element, it attaches itself to other elements like nitrogen or fluorine, and perhaps most ubiquitously to oxygen to create the water molecule. The process used to separate hydrogen out into hydrogen gas for powering fuel cells now relies on electricity produced from fossil fuels, negating some of the potential environmental benefits.

In his May 30, 2012 posting about this new work from Stanford, Dexter notes yet another issue impeding widespread commercialization,

… but the two main issues that have prevented fuel cells from gaining wider adoption—at least in the area of powering automobiles—are the costs of isolating hydrogen and building an infrastructure that would deliver that hydrogen to the automobiles.

Dexter mentions another application (metal-air batteries) that may benefit more from this latest work (from Dexter’s May 30, 2012 posting),

I think it’s all together possible that researchers at IBM and the US national labs who have been working on metal-air batteries for years now might be somewhat more interested in this line of research than fuel-cell manufacturers.

As one of the researchers notes (from the May 27, 2012 news release on EurekAlert),

“Lithium-air batteries are exciting because of their ultra-high theoretical energy density, which is more than 10 times higher than today’s best lithium ion technology,” Dai said. “But one of the stumbling blocks to development has been the lack of a high-performance, low-cost catalyst. Carbon nanotubes could be an excellent alternative to the platinum, palladium and other precious-metal catalysts now in use.”

The Stanford team made one other discovery as they were testing the carbon nanotubes,

The Stanford study might also have resolved a long-standing scientific controversy about the chemical structure of catalytic active sites where oxygen reactions occur. “One group of scientists believes that iron impurities are bonded to nitrogen at the active site,” Li said. “Another group believes that iron contributes virtually nothing, except to promote active sites made entirely of nitrogen.”

To address the controversy, the Stanford team enlisted scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to conduct atomic-scale imaging and spectroscopy analysis of the nanotubes. The results showed clear, visual evidence of iron and nitrogen atoms in close proximity.

“For the first time, we were able to image individual atoms on this kind of catalyst,” Dai said. “All of the images showed iron and nitrogen close together, suggesting that the two elements are bonded. This kind of imaging is possible, because the graphene pieces are just one-atom thick.”

Dai noted that the iron impurities, which enhanced catalytic activity, actually came from metal seeds that were used to make the nanotubes and were not intentionally added by the scientists. The discovery of these accidental yet invaluable bits of iron offered the researchers an important lesson. “We learned that metal impurities in nanotubes must not be ignored,” Dai said.

TAPPI 2012 nanotechnology conference in Canada

This coming Monday, June 4 to Thursday, June 7, 2012, the Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials conference (2012 TAPPI [Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry] International Conference) will be taking place in Montréal, Québec.

As one might expect, there’s going to be a major emphasis on nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) and Celluforce’s new NCC production plant in Windsor, Québec. Keynote speakers for the conference include (from the Keynote Speakers webpage),

Dr. Dylan J. Boday
Advisory Engineer Team Lead
IBM’s Materials Engineering Laboratory

Dr. Dylan J. Boday is the Advisory Engineer Team Lead for IBM’s Materials Engineering Laboratory. In this role, he leads efforts across multiple divisions to advance technological capabilities and enhance product performance.

Dylan’s research at IBM focuses on creating inventive pathways toward the development of polymers, composites, surface science, nanoparticles and hybrid materials. He has organized several strategic partnerships to leverage new materials development that align with specific business needs for IBM. He also established and now leads a global team focused on the sustainability of IBM’s products and is the co-lead of an upcoming international conference that will focus on the advances and challenges of sustainable materials.

As a member of the American Chemical Society Polymer Board, he provides leadership to the broader polymer science field. His technical contributions have led to more than 30 patent filings in the areas of electrostatic discharge and thermally conductive composites, functional nanomaterials and printed circuit board materials. He also has numerous published articles on composites, self healing materials and anti-corrosion coatings, in addition to serving as a reviewer for several scientific journals. In 2011, he was named an IBM Master Inventor and is a member of the IBM Smarter Planet invention review board.

Dylan holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and a doctorate degree in Materials Engineering from the University of Arizona.

Jean Moreau
President and Chief Executive Officer
CelluForce

As President and CEO of CelluForce since February 2011, Jean Moreau brings a wealth of experience in finance, operations and business development which he acquired in both private and public corporations, in various fields including manufacturing, entertainment, distribution and consumer goods.

A chartered accountant for over 10 years at Arthur Andersen and Co., Mr. Moreau was responsible for the acquisition of numerous large companies and plants.

Among others, he headed financial and production planning teams as Vice President of Finance, Paper Production sector and Vice President of Supply for Domtar. As Chief Financial Officer, he was also involved in the introduction of the Supremex Income Fund on the Toronto Stock Exchange, raising $300M in capital funding and, in addition was responsible for the implementation of a strategic business plan at Guess Canada, which was subsequently named one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies.

As head of the CelluForce team, Jean wished to promote, within several sectors of activity, the development of commercial applications related to NCC around the world, thus ensuring the company’s manufacturing and commercial growth.

Jean Hamel, Eng.
Vice President
FPInnovations

Jean Hamel, Eng., Vice President, FPInnovations, received his B.Sc. (1983), and M. Eng. (1985), in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sherbrooke. He joined Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada (Paprican) as a Research Engineer to work on the technical development, optimization and troubleshooting of paper finishing equipment.

In 1995 he joined St-Laurent Paperboard as a Senior Process Engineer to work on product development, paper machine optimization and start-up of new finishing equipment. In 1996, he returned to Paprican where he led the construction of the pilot paper machine and developed the new Roll Testing Facility, the first business unit concept of the organization. In 2004 he became Manager of the Product Performance Program. Soon after merging of three research institutes (Paprican, Forintek, FERIC) to form FPInnovations in 2007, he was named the Director of Research for the Pulp & Paper Division of FPInnovations where he focused on accelerating the technology transfer and developing new innovation processes.

Since 2009 he has been the Vice President of FPInnovations, leading the innovation program on pulp and paper and shifting the R&D effort to develop new chemicals, biomaterials and composites from wood fibers. He currently sits on the boards of CelluForce, a Domtar-FPInnovations joint venture on nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) production, Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (SCA), ICGQ, ADRIQ and NSERC Green Fiber Network.

Andy Atkinson
Manager, Emerging Sciences Policy
Policy, Planning and Coordination Division
Strategic Policy Branch
Health Canada

Andrew Atkinson is currently Manager of the Emerging Science Policy group under the Strategic Policy Branch of Health Canada.

Andrew is currently overseeing coordination of science policy issues across the various regulatory and research programs under the mandate of Health Canada. Prior to Health Canada, he was a manager under Environment Canada’s CEPA new chemicals program, where he oversaw chemical and nanomaterial risk assessments, as well as the development of risk assessment methodologies.

In parallel to domestic work, he has been actively engaged in ISO and OECD nanotechnology efforts, including co-chairing groups on nomenclature of nano-objects under ISO TC229.

It seems more heavily weighted towards Canadian keynote speakers with, as I hinted earlier,  a special nod to CelluForce. I did glance through the full conference programme and see that there is  healthy representation internationally (Hungary, China, Finland, US, Sweden, Japan, Alberta [sometimes that province does seem like a separate country],  etc.).

After hearing a murmur about developing standards for nanocellulose at the Feb. 2012 annual meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), I was excited to find this on on p. 8 of the conference programme,

The success of the 2011 Workshop on International Standards for Nancellulose has resulted in writing of the Roadmap for the Development of International Standards for Nanocellulose (Draft 4). Since then TAPPI has formed the International Nanocellulose Standards Coordination Committee (INSCC) in its Nanotechnology Division to house and coordinate the execution of the Roadmap. The 2012 Workshop on International Standards for Nancellulose will bring workshop participants up-to-date on nanocellulose standards activities since the completion of the Roadmap (Draft 4), initiate coordination activities in several areas of nanocellulose standards development, and if necessary, discuss revisions to the Roadmap.

Perhaps one of these days they’ll have a final version of their Roadmap.

I last mentioned this annual conference in my Sept. 24, 2009 posting when it was held in Alberta and made passing references to the 2010 edition in Finland during an interview (my Aug. 27, 2010 posting) with Dr. Richard Berry of FPInnovations and to the 2011 edition in Washington, DC in my June 6, 2011 posting about the formation, by Domtar and FPInnovations, of CelluForce.

As for the 2012 edition, I wonder if they considered inviting Janelle Tam, the 16 year old student who won a national award for her work on a new application for NCC (my Disease-fighting and anti-aging with nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) and Janelle Tam posting on May 11, 2012) to this conference. In any event, her national win entitled her to compete for an international award in Boston, Massachusetts June 18, 2012.

Threats to increase anti-science violence

Andy Coghlan has a May 29, 2012 article on the New Scientist’s website outlining the recent history of violence and renewed threats against scientists,

It’s like something out of Kafka. Anti-science anarchists in Italy appear to be ramping up their violent and frankly surreal campaign. Having claimed responsibility for shooting the boss of a nuclear engineering company in Genoa, the group has vowed to target Finmeccanica, the Italian aerospace and defence giant.

In  a diatribe sent on 11 May to Corriere della Sera newspaper on 11 May, the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front said it shot Roberto Adinolfi, head of Ansaldo Nucleare, in the leg four days earlier. “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world,” the statement said. It also pledged a “campaign of struggle against Finmeccanica, the murderous octopus”.

This group has also claimed responsiblity for the 2010 attempted attack on a nanotechnology centre in Switzerland (mentioned most recently in my July 25, 2011 posting) and, according to Coghlan’s article, the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front is associated with the, in English,  Individuals Tending to Savagery (ITS) group who claimed responsibility for the August 2011  attacks on ‘nanotechnology researchers’ in Mexico (mentioned in my August 11, 2011 posting).

The anarchists seem to be turning their attention away from nanotechnology to focus on the nuclear industry.  This quote from Coghlan’s article stimulated a new line of thinking on the topic of violence and science  for me (I’ve been horrified by it all),

“At least with animal rights activists, you know what they want, but with these anarchists, I’m not sure,” he says. “Do they want us to stop all scientific experiments, stop driving cars or go back to living in caves? I don’t know.” [Michael Hagman, head of communications at the Empa institute in Duebendorf, Switzerland]

The cynic in me finally awoke when I put that quote together with the group’s shift to a new target. After last year’s Fukushima incident and the huge amount of interest and concern, I imagine the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front has concluded they will get far more attention and notoriety, their primary and only goal,  by focusing on the nuclear industry.

If you’re interested, the details about the most recent attack, the group’s international links,  and some good writing are featured in Coghlan’s article.

ETA Aug. 30, 2012: I corrected the author’s name from Coughlan to Coghlan.

ETA Feb. 21, 2013: Leigh Phillips contacted me to mention that there was a May 28, 2012 article for Nature, Anarchists attack science, which preceded Coghlan’s article for New Scientist and to which Coghlan provides a link. Phillips’ preceding article was subtitled, Armed extremists are targeting nuclear and nanotechnology workers. Phillips opens with the then recent attack on a nuclear engineering executive and subsequently focuses on attacks in the nanotechnology sector.

RUSNANO sells an investment based on IRR (internal rate of return)

This is a turnaround. The news items usually state that RUSNANO (Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies) is about to invest money but this time they’re selling their investment. From the May 28, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

RUSNANO’s Board of Directors has approved the company’s first exit from a previously-invested company. RUSNANO sells its 27.6 percent equity stake in Advanced Technologies Center, a leading producer of scanning probe microscopes and atomic scales. The sale to the project applicant, NPP CPT will generate IRR of 29.5 percent on RUSNANO’s investment.

RUSNANO’s co-financing enabled the high-tech company founded by Moscow State University professor Igor Yaminsky to reach next level of business and to expand its line of scanning probe microscopes [SPM] and SPM software. RUSNANO has invested 50 million rubles in the project, out of the 140 million rubles originally planned. In December 2011 the portfolio company opened a production site which will double its production capacity up to the revenue levels of 70 million rubles by the end of 2012.

The deal meets two essential RUSNANO’s criteria for successful exit: IRR is no lower than was planned, and the project is able to develop independently.

I had to look up ‘internal rate of investment’ (IRR) and found this essay on Wikipedia (Note: I have removed links and footnotes from the excerpt),

The internal rate of return (IRR) is a rate of return used in capital budgeting to measure and compare the profitability of investments. It is also called the discounted cash flow rate of return (DCFROR) or the rate of return (ROR). In the context of savings and loans the IRR is also called the effective interest rate. The term internal refers to the fact that its calculation does not incorporate environmental factors (e.g., the interest rate or inflation).

The news item goes on to describe the Russian company,  Advanced Technologies Center’s (not to be confused with New Zealand’s government agency, Advanced Technology Institute) product line (from the May 28, 2012 news item),

The main product of the Advanced Technologies Center is the FemtoScan series of scanning probe microscopes, high-precision instruments that use the mechanical motion of a probe (cantilever) to study the surface of a sample at the nanoscale. SPMs are used for research in chemistry, physics, biology and medicine, as well as for industrial applications such as surface quality control. The company also produces SPM control and image processing software, as well as precision scales capable to detect substances at atomic level.

There seems to be a lot of action in the world of microscopy these days. This is the second item I’ve written on the topic in the last 10 days (and it’s not my main area of interest).

Prediction about New Zealand’s $166M R&D gamble from Izon’s van der Voorn

It’s an interesting problem and one that governments worldwide are attempting to solve in any number of ways. Funding research and development with one eye to stimulating ‘innovation’, i.e. commercialization and economic prosperity in the near future, while keeping  one eye to supporting the grand scientific  discoveries and thinking that will influence future generations but  have no immediate prospects for development is a tricky balancing act.

Having gone through a recent review of Canadian federal government funding in research and development (R&D) where there was an attempt to redress that balance here, I found  the May 28, 2012 article by Hamish Fletcher for the New Zealand Herald provided some insight into how at least one other jurisdiction is responding,

The Government said last week it would dedicate $90 million of operating funding and $76.1 million of capital funding over the next four years to create the Advanced Technology Institute (ATI).

A number of scientists welcomed news of the funding and New Zealand Association of Scientists’ president Shaun Hendy said it would build stronger links between science and industry.

But the chairman of Izon Science, Hans van der Voorn, said the ATI was a bad idea and would not be successful in driving innovation.

Van der Voorn said although Crown research institutes “do good science”, they had no track record when it came to commercialisation. Instead of putting money into the ATI, van der Voorn said the Government should look at giving more funding to research centres at universities.

New Zealand’s Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, noted van der Voorn’s criticism was justified and replied the government was carefully designing the new centre so it was being driven by industry rather than science.

I look forward to seeing how this experiment in New Zealand works as Joyce’s and van der Voorn’s comments remind me of one of the recommendations from Canada’s recent R&D review,

Recommendation 4: Transform the institutes of the National Research Council (NRC) into a constellation of large-scale, sectoral collaboration R&D centres involving business, the university sector and the provinces while transferring public policy-related research activity to the appropriate federal agencies. (p. E12 print version, p. 26 PDF, Innovation Canada: A Call to Action)

I’ve not gotten word yet as to whether this recommendation has been adopted or whether it’s being implemented. Some days I think it’s more likely I’ll hear about what’s going on with New Zealand’s initiative before I find out about the Canadian one.

One final note, I have written about Izon Science before notably in my Sept. 26, 2011 posting regarding a race they sponsored to make measurements at the nanoscale. I believe they will be holding the race again in  Sept. 2012 and this time there may be some Canadian participation. For anyone who’s interested in Izon, from their home page,

Izon provides the world’s most comprehensive nanoparticle analysis system in a single instrument.

Virtually all particles including nanoparticles, viruses, bacteria and bioparticles (such as exosomes and liposomes) can be measured and characterised. Particle size, concentration, electrophoretic mobilty and aggregation may all be analysed. Monitoring subtle changes in the characteristics of particle sets allows interactions between particles and particles and biomolecules to be monitored in real time. Explore our technology, learn about our applications and ask how we can take your research to the next level.