Monthly Archives: June 2012

P.o.E.M.M. from Concordia University (Canada)

Since it’s Friday before a long weekend (Canada Day on July 1, 2012 this  coming Sunday), I want to end the week on a poetic note. Concordia University’s  P.o.E.M.M. (Poems for Excitable [Mobile] Media)  project recently won an award from the Electronic Literature Organization at its annual exhibition held June 22 – 23, 2012 in West Virginia. From the June 28, 2012 news item on physorg.com,

Poetry has been following the rules for centuries. From the strict structure of the haiku to the rhythmic rhyme of the ballad, verse can be daunting to both professional poets and amateur auteurs. But poems are also media for the masses and one Concordia researcher is using mass media to put them back in the hands of the people.

Jason Lewis’s work is an integral part of Concordia’s Department of Design and Computation Arts, with projects ranging from computer game development to typographic design. A poet as well as a techie, the associate professor is combining his computing skills with the act of literary creation to develop new methods of poetic expression through a suite of ten brand new digital poetry apps.

Known as P.o.E.M.M., short for Poems for Excitable [Mobile] Media, the project is a series of poems written and designed to be read on touch devices, from large-scale exhibition surfaces to mobile screens.

For Lewis, the fact that the iPhone and iPad are personal devices was key in P.o.E.M.M.’s development. “Poetry is an intimate medium but when it comes to digital poetry, the computer screen creates distance between writer and reader. Touch screens allow the audience to be drawn into a closer proximity to the computer screen than ever before,” says Lewis, whose first digital poetry project for a touch-screen interface was created back in 2007, when the iPhone was in its infancy.

Here’s a video of the Smooth Second Bastard piece,

From the June 27, 2012 news item by Cléa Desjardins for Concordia University,

Smooth Second Bastard features three texts that are related meditations on the difference between being asked “where ya from” and being asked “are you from around here?” [which was released on June 26, 2012]

The first version of each app is built around Lewis’s poetry, but then each is extended to include texts by other poets, who write on themes ranging from miscommunication across language and cultural identity to the excitement of heading out into a great unknown.

Released as separate applications available for download through iTunes, and developed in collaboration with former computation arts student Bruno Nadeau, the P.o.E.M.M. apps allow readers to interact with the poem’s text. New iterations of the apps will give users the chance to add their own words, use Twitter feeds to generate new strands of poetry, and to play with words, design and structure to generate original poems that can be rewritten at the tap of a screen.

If you go to the P.o.E.M.M. website, you’ll find more pieces, their apps, and descriptions such as this,

Smooth Second Bastard is a meditation on the difference between being asked “where ya from” and being asked “are you from around here?” Growing up where and how I did, [emphasis mine] I tend to see insider-outsider dynamics before I see prejudice. Such a viewpoint can be gracious or naïve, and I sometimes find it difficult to tell which.

Smooth Second Bastard was commissioned by the imagineNATIVE Festival for the Vital to the General Public Welfare exhibition. The exhibition version consists of a triptych with 42″ two-point touch surface + a 122″ x 13″ digital print + a 40″ x 24″ digital print.

As for Lewis’ comment  ” Growing up where and how I did”, I excerpted this description from Lewis in his ‘No Choice About the Terminology’ piece,

… often struggling with what terminology to use to describe my ethnicity (Cherokee, Hawaiian, Samoan, raised in northern California rural mountain redneck culture), and my profession (artist? poet? software developer? educator? designer?), and recognizing both the danger and seduction of neat categorizations …

Interesting to contemplate “where ya from/are you from around here” and how we classify ourselves as we celebrate Canada’s 145th anniversary.

Bake and shake your t-shirt to make a flexible electronic device

I don’t think you actually need to shake but you do need to bake your cotton t-shirt, albeit in a special way, to create a wearable battery  or so the University of South Carolina’s Xiaodong Li says. Excerpted from the June 29, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Over the years, the telephone has gone mobile, from the house to the car to the pocket. The University of South Carolina’s Xiaodong Li envisions even further integration of the cell phone – and just about every electronic gadget, for that matter – into our lives.

“We wear fabric every day,” said Li, a professor of mechanical engineering at USC. “One day our cotton T-shirts could have more functions; for example, a flexible energy storage device that could charge your cell phone or your iPad.”

Li is helping make the vision a reality. He and post-doctoral associate Lihong Bao have just reported in the journal Advanced Materials (“Towards Textile Storage from Cotton T-Shirts”) how to turn the material in a cotton T-shirt into a source of electrical power.

I’ve been following the ‘wearable battery’ story for a while (the May 9, 2012 posting is the most recent) but Li’s approach is a little different.  Excerpted from the June 29, 2012 University of South Caroline news release by Steven Powell,

Starting with a T-shirt from a local discount store, Li’s team soaked it in a solution of fluoride, dried it and baked it at high temperature. They excluded oxygen in the oven to prevent the material from charring or simply combusting.

The surfaces of the resulting fibers in the fabric were shown by infrared spectroscopy to have been converted from cellulose to activated carbon. Yet the material retained flexibility; it could be folded without breaking.

“We will soon see roll-up cell phones and laptop computers on the market,” Li said. “But a flexible energy storage device is needed to make this possible.”

The once-cotton T-shirt proved to be a repository for electricity. By using small swatches of the fabric as an electrode, the researchers showed that the flexible material, which Li’s team terms activated carbon textile, acts as a capacitor. Capacitors are components of nearly every electronic device on the market, and they have the ability to store electrical charge.

Here’s what makes the approach different; it’s ‘green’ according to Powell’s news release,

Li is particularly pleased to have improved on the means by which activated carbon fibers are usually obtained. “Previous methods used oil or environmentally unfriendly chemicals as starting materials,” he said. “Those processes are complicated and produce harmful side products. Our method is a very inexpensive, green process.”

Somehow I’ve always seen ‘wearable batteries and/or electronics’ as opportunities for electrocution but I seem to be alone with this fear as there’s never any discussion about the safety issues might arise.

ETA July 3, 2012: Dexter Johnson in his June 29, 2012 posting on Nanoclast (a blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) notes that the simplicity of Li’s process may be specially exciting,

While Li makes mention of the environmentally friendly chemicals used to impart this capability to a t-shirt, it is perhaps the simplicity of the process that will likely be the most intriguing aspect to manufacturers.

Paint your own battery

Reserchers at Pulickel Ajayan’s laboratory at Rice University have developed a paintable battery (here’s the video),

The June 28, 2012 Rice University news release offers more details about how the paintable battery was achieved,

Lead author [research paper appeared in Nature’s online, open-access journal Scientific Reports] Neelam Singh, a Rice graduate student, and her team spent painstaking hours formulating, mixing and testing paints for each of the five layered components – two current collectors, a cathode, an anode and a polymer separator in the middle.

The materials were airbrushed onto ceramic bathroom tiles, flexible polymers, glass, stainless steel and even a beer stein to see how well they would bond with each substrate.

In the first experiment, nine bathroom tile-based batteries were connected in parallel. One was topped with a solar cell that converted power from a white laboratory light. When fully charged by both the solar panel and house current, the batteries alone powered a set of light-emitting diodes that spelled out “RICE” for six hours; the batteries provided a steady 2.4 volts.

The researchers reported that the hand-painted batteries were remarkably consistent in their capacities, within plus or minus 10 percent of the target. They were also put through 60 charge-discharge cycles with only a very small drop in capacity, Singh said.

You can also find the details and more images at the June 28, 2012 news item on physorg.com,

Each layer is an optimized stew. The first, the positive current collector, is a mixture of purified single-wall carbon nanotubes with carbon black particles dispersed in N-methylpyrrolidone. The second is the cathode, which contains lithium cobalt oxide, carbon and ultrafine graphite (UFG) powder in a binder solution. The third is the polymer separator paint of Kynar Flex resin, PMMA and silicon dioxide dispersed in a solvent mixture. The fourth, the anode, is a mixture of lithium titanium oxide and UFG in a binder, and the final layer is the negative current collector, a commercially available conductive copper paint, diluted with ethanol.

“The hardest part was achieving mechanical stability, and the separator played a critical role,” Singh said. “We found that the nanotube and the cathode layers were sticking very well, but if the separator was not mechanically stable, they would peel off the substrate. Adding PMMA gave the right adhesion to the separator.” Once painted, the tiles and other items were infused with the electrolyte and then heat-sealed and charged.

Singh said the batteries were easily charged with a small solar cell. She foresees the possibility of integrating paintable batteries with recently reported paintable solar cells to create an energy-harvesting combination that would be hard to beat. As good as the hand-painted batteries are, she said, scaling up with modern methods will improve them by leaps and bounds. “Spray painting is already an industrial process, so it would be very easy to incorporate this into industry,” Singh said.

Ajayan’s lab must be a very exciting place to work given the research that has been published in 2012 so far (my Serendipity and coaxial cables post; my Nanosponges clean up spilled oil and release the oil for future use post; my Good heat, bad heat, and cooling oils post).

And to give credit to everyone: co-authors of the paper are graduate students Charudatta Galande and Akshay Mathkar, alumna Wei Gao, now a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and research scientist Arava Leela Mohana Reddy, all of Rice; Rice Quantum Institute intern Andrea Miranda; and Alexandru Vlad, a former research associate at Rice, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Cold Water Washing Initiative

Are diamonds going to be everywhere including our clothes detergents? From the June 26, 2012 news item on physorg.com,

Nanodiamonds, pieces of carbon less than ten-thousandths the diameter of a human hair, have been found to help loosen crystallized fat from surfaces in a project led by research chemists at the University of Warwick that transforms the ability of washing powders to shift dirt in eco friendly low temperature laundry cycles.

The June 26, 2012 news release on EurekAlert provides some information about current issues with detergents and coldwater washing,

These new findings tackle a problem that forces consumers to wash some of their laundry at between 60 and 90 degrees centigrade more than 80 times a year. Even with modern biological washing powders, some fats and dirt cannot be removed at the lower temperatures many prefer to use for their weekly wash.

A desire to reduce the significant energy burden of regular high temperature washes, and understand the behaviour of these new materials, brought University of Warwick scientists and colleagues at Aston University together in a project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and P&G plc.

This “Cold Water Cleaning Initiative” funded a group of chemists, physicists and engineers led by Dr Andrew Marsh in the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry to explore how new forms of carbon might work together with detergents in everyday household products.

Here according to researcher Andrew Marsh is what happens when you add nanodiamonds to your detergent/washing powder (from the June 26, 2012 news release),

“We found that the 5 nanometre diamonds changed the way detergents behaved at 25 degrees centigrade, doubling the amount of fat removed when using one particular commercial detergent molecule. Even at temperatures as low as 15 degrees centigrade, otherwise hard-to-remove fat could be solubilised from a test surface. The physical and chemical insight already gained paves the way for future research to explore how this unique behaviour might be exploited in other ways.”

There is no mention of what happens to the clothing when exposed to nanodiamonds in the wash water.

Science communication/media officer job in the Galapagos

The organization looking for a science communication/media officer is the Charles Darwin Foundation (from the Who we are page),

The Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands (CDF) is an international not-for-profit organization that provides scientific research and technical information and assistance to ensure the proper preservation of the Galapagos Islands.

CDF carries out its activities in Galapagos under a conservation research and guidance agreement with the Ecuadorian government. The Foundation is part of a network of local and national organizations supporting Galapagos Island protection. For fifty years, CDF has worked closely with the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), the main government authority overseeing the safeguarding of the islands’ natural resources, providing the results of scientific research to conserve this living laboratory.

Over one hundred scientists, educators, research assistants, support staff, and volunteers from all over the world take part in this effort. The organizational staff is 90% Ecuadorian and CDF is committed to the training of Galapagos residents as future scientists and conservationists for the good of the islands and the country at large.

The Charles Darwin Foundation is registered in Belgium as an International Non-Profit Association (AISBL, abbreviated in French) under the number 371359 and is subject to Belgian law.

Oddly the job is not listed on the Charles Darwin Foundation website but you can find it on the European Union of Science Journalists’ Association (EUSJA) website. From the job posting on the EUSJA website, submitted by Fabio Turone on June 25, 2012,

Potentially a wonderful opportunity, for someone who has some Spanish. The Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos Islands is looking to hire a Science Communicator. Fulltime position, based in Santa Cruz/Galapagos Islands Start date 1st of August 2012. Fluency in Spanish and English required. Existing experience in Galapagos highly advantageous. Salary and other benefits will be negotiated individually.

We are also open to hear from applicants who are seeking a part-time position in the area of communication. The position is aimed at communicating the successful science and conservation work that is being carried out in the archipelago, and where the Foundation is one of the organisations that is contributing to these efforts. It is also aimed at ensuring that the Foundation adheres to the various communication protocols that it has with its partners and stakeholders. Following a restructuring that was begun in July 2011 and that will be finished during the coming months, our communication department had temporarily gone to having zero staff members. Rebuilding the team from scratch represents an opportunity to take the communication abilities of the Foundation to a new level in a range of media. We recently already kickstarted our work with the local and national press in Ecuador.

The rest of the posting is on the EUSJA website or you can get the terms of reference from [email protected] or you can send your application (CV and covering letter) to [email protected] and [email protected]

H/T to Alaina G. Levine on LinkedIn for news about the job.

Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP

It becomes clear after a time that science, intellectual property (patents, copyright, and trademarks), and business interests are intimately linked which is why I include items on the topic of intellectual property (where I am developing some strong opinions). As for business topics, I am more neutral as my understanding of business is quite limited.

All of this is to explain why I’m taking ‘another kick at the IP (intellectual property) can’. I’m going to start with patents and move on to copyright.

A June 26, 2012 news item from BBC News online highlights the costs associated with patent trolls,

The direct cost of actions taken by so-called “patent trolls” totalled $29bn (£18.5bn) in the US in 2011, according to a study by Boston University.

It analysed the effect of intellectual rights claims made by organisations that own and license patents without producing related goods of their own.

Such bodies say they help spur on innovation by ensuring inventors are compensated for their creations.

But the study’s authors said society lost more than it gained.

A June 27, 2012 commentary by Mike Masnick for Techdirt provides more detail,

The report then goes further to try to figure out whether the trolls are actually benefiting innovation and getting more money to inventors, as the trolls and their supporters like to claim. Unfortunately, the research shows quite a different story — with very little of the money actually flowing back to either inventors or actual innovation. In other words, we’re talking about a pretty massive economic dead-weight loss here. Money flowing from actual innovators and creators… to lawyers, basically. Innovators grow the economy. Lawyers do not.

Masnick’s commentary includes a table from the report showing how the costs have increased since 2005 (approximately $6B) to 2011 (approximately $29B).

The researchers are James E. Besson and Michael J. Meurer at Boston University and the open access report, The Direct Costs from NPE [non-practicing entities] Disputes, is available from the Social Science Research Network.

Interestingly the same day the study from Boston University was released was the same day that the US White House’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel, announced she wanted comments about US IP enforcement efforts (from Espinel’s June 25, 2012 blog posting),

Today my office is starting the process of gathering input for the Administration’s new strategy for intellectual property enforcement. The overarching objective of the Strategy is to improve the effectiveness of the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect our intellectual property here and overseas. I want to make sure as many people as possible are aware that we are working on this so we can get the very best thoughts and recommendations possible. Part of the process of gathering public input is to publish a “Federal Register Notice” where we formally ask the public to give us their ideas. We will read all of your submissions – and we will make them publicly available so everyone can see them.

You can do so by following this link to Regulations.gov where you will find more details for submitting your strategy recommendations beginning today.

I believe that essential to the development of an effective enforcement strategy, is ensuring that any approaches that are considered to be particularly effective as well as any concerns with the present approach to intellectual property enforcement are understood by policymakers. [emphasis Mike Masnick of Techdirt] Recommendations may include, but need not be limited to: legislation, regulation, guidance, executive order, Presidential memoranda, or other executive action, including, but not limited to, changes to agency policies, practices or methods.

Beyond recommendations for government action as part of the next Strategy, we are looking for information on and recommendations for combating emerging or future threats to American innovation and economic competitiveness posed by violations of intellectual property rights. Additionally, it would be useful to the development of the Strategy to receive submissions from the public identifying threats to public health and safety posed by intellectual property infringement, [emphasis mine] in the U.S. and internationally as well as information relating to the costs to the U.S. economy resulting from infringement of intellectual property rights.

Aside: That bit about public health and safety being endangered by infringement is going to have to be explained to me. Moving along, Mike Masnick’s June 26, 2012 commentary about this matter on Techdirt includes an exhortation to participate,

I will be submitting my own thoughts, which I will also publish here, but for those thinking about what to say, I would focus on this sentence above [emphasized in the previous excerpt from the Espinel posting "I believe that essential ..."]. Historically, many of the government’s approaches have not been at all effective, and have created a number of significant problems — most of which have been ignored by the government (either willfully or through ignorance). This really is a chance to provide examples of why the current policy is not effective (and will never be effective if it keeps on the current path) as well as the “concerns” with the current approach, such as the criminalization of expressive behavior and the outright censorship of media publications.

Meanwhile, we here in Canada are focused on copyright.

Michael Geist (the Canadian copyright guru) notes in his June 26, 2012 posting (Note: I have removed some links.),

Brian Brett, the former Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada and an award winning author, has issued an explosive public letter that “breaks the ‘cone of silence’ that has obscured for too long some of the ugly practices of Access Copyright.”

You can get an idea why Geist described the letter as “explosive” from this excerpt (from the June 26, 2012 commentary in the Georgia Straight),

As a former Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada (I’ve been a member more than thirty years), I have been asked to sign a letter to educational institutions supporting Access Copyright’s efforts to obtain collective licensing agreements with those institutions. I will not sign. I believe the time has come for action, not words. …

For the first time in history it has become too complex and expensive to quote the music of our era for many young writers. Writers are being charged exorbitantly for quoting other writers in their poems, fictions, and essays; yet are losing their own rights and income. Meanwhile, the Canadian Government has made legislation favouring educational institutions and media empires (at the expense of creators) in the name of supporting our nation’s culture.

As we earnestly discuss these issues, but do nothing to protect ourselves, we are seeing the rights of creators to fair compensation eroded to the point of where many are at risk of receiving nothing for their work.

Access Copyright, created specifically to collect fair compensation for creators, is central to this discussion. While I believe that educational institutions must pay writers, and will eventually pay them, it’s also necessary to call out the ugly regime of Access Copyright, which is collecting our copyright income. …

6. Access Copyright rewards textbook companies who demand that authors relinquish their copyright to their work by paying them both the publisher and creator copyright payment. Academic authors often consider textbook authorship crucial to tenure. Thus academic authors are open to being pressured by publishers out of their copyright. In effect Access Copyright is encouraging textbook publishers to undermine copyright by demanding a creators’ total copyright, and doubling the publisher’s payment for this ugly practice.

So, the academics who write those science and math (and other subject) texts are being pressured by financially motivated publishers to give up copyright while they are also being being pressured to publish for the well-being of their careers. Nicely done Access Copyright! (sarcasm)

While I suspect that I don’t agree with Betts on some issues, I do believe that content creators should receive some financial benefit from their work.

On a more hopeful note, the recent passage of Bill C-11 (Copyright) has some very good things indeed (from the June 21, 2012 commentary by Leigh Beadon on Techdirt [Note: I have removed a link.]),

Michael Geist has an excellent summary of C-11 with a comparison to previous phases of copyright law in Canada. The victories for smarter copyright law in C-11 sound almost like fantasy when compared to the American copyright debate. They include:

  • New fair dealing provisions (our version of fair use) to cover educational uses, plus parody and satire
  • New backup, format-shifting and time-shifting allowances that remove previous restrictions on networked DVRs and internet TV services (similar to those that have suffered in American courts)
  • Explicit copyright exceptions for “user-generated content”, aimed at protecting non-commercial fan-art and remixes
  • A bunch of explicit exceptions for schools, such as the right to stage public performances
  • A notice-and-notice system, not a notice-and-takedown system
  • A $5,000 cap on statutory damages for all non-commercial infringement

Sadly, there is the issue of the ‘digital lock’ provision which was rammed through Parliament despite almost universal condemnation from Canadians of all walks of life. Geist provides much more detail about this issue than I can. In fact, he offers two postings outlining both Canada’s Justice Dept. discussion about the digital lock provisions (June 25, 2012 posting) and the Competition Bureau’s (June 26, 2012 posting) and possible issues with constitutional rights.

On a much happier note for me personally is a recent Federal Court of Canada ruling about linking and posting, from the June 25, 2012 posting on the Michael Geist blog (Note: I have removed links.),

The Federal Court of Canada has issued an important decision involving copyright and posting content online. The case involves a lawsuit launched by Richard Warman and the National Post against Mark and Constance Fournier, who run the FreeDominion website. Warman and the National Post sued the site over the appearance of two articles and an inline link to photograph that appeared on the forum. The court dismissed all three claims.

While the first claim (Warman’s article) was dismissed on the basis that it took too long to file the lawsuit, the legal analysis on the National Post claim involving an article by Jonathan Kay assesses the copyright implications of posting several paragraphs from an article online. In this case, the article was 11 paragraphs long.  The reproduction on the Free Dominion site included the headline, three complete paragraphs and part of a fourth. The court ruled that this amount of copying did not constitute a “substantial part” of the work and therefore there was no infringement. The court added that in the alternative, the reproduction of the work was covered by fair dealing, concluding that a large and liberal interpretation of news reporting would include posts to the discussion forum.  The decision then includes an analysis of the six factor test and concludes that the use was fair.

So I can link to and quote from Canadian publications in peace, for now. (Great news!)

There is some additional analysis of the ruling in a (h/t) June 26, 2012 posting by Leigh Beadon on the Techdirt website.

No grand thoughts here. I just find this very fluid situation with regard to intellectual property important as I believe the outcomes will affect us all in many ways, including how we practice science.

Why does hot water sometimes freeze faster than cold—a 2300 year old question

The Mpemba effect is when hot water freezes more quickly than cold water and the question as to why was first posed, as far as we know, by Aristotle. 2300 years later we’re still looking for the answer and the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has decided to pose the question to two different audiences in the hope of finally getting a solution. Brian Emsley in his June 26, 2012 posting on the Guardian Science Blogs describes the RSC’s open contest for £1000,

The Royal Society of Chemistry has decided enough is enough. In an attempt to nail the matter once and for all, we’re asking the public to come up with a convincing explanation of a phenomenon that defeated Aristotle, Francis Bacon and René Descartes. To win the £1,000 prize, you will need to make a convincing case and employ some creative thinking.

The deadline for public entries is 30 July [2012] …

You can go here to the Hermes organization website to submit your solution.

For those with any lingering questions about the competition for the general public, the June 26, 2012 RSC news release provides more information including a list of prominent theorists who have also puzzled over the question,

  • Aristotle agonized over it fruitlessly in the fourth century BC
  • Roger Bacon in the 13th century used it to advocate the scientific method in his book Opus Majus
  • Another Bacon, Francis, wrote in his 1620 Novum Organum, that “slightly tepid water freezes more easily than that which is utterly cold” but could not explain why
  • Descartes was defeated by it in the 17th century AD
  • Even perplexed 20th and 21st century scientists and intellectuals have swarmed over it without result

Now the Royal Society of Chemistry is offering £1000 to the person or team producing the best and most creative explanation of the phenomenon, known today as The Mpemba Effect.

Competition judges will be looking for an outside-the-box, inventive submission. In addition, the format of the submission should be creative and eye-catching.

Any medium or technology can be employed to make the case, including articles, illustrations or even film.

Submissions can be based on, and reference, existing research. The winning submission will be scientifically sound, and arresting in presentation and delivery.

The public has four weeks to crack the case …

Then, according to the RSC news release,

… a group of the world’s brightest young science brains take on the challenge in London as one aspect of a special science communications meeting entitled Hermes 2012.

The sharpest international postgraduate science students will travel to England from around the globe to participate in the Hermes 2012 event.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is sponsoring this visit to the UK of the hand-picked young scientists, who will gather at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.

The organisers of Hermes 2012, based at Imperial College, chose the opening weekend of the Olympic Games for the academic event to underline the global nature of the meeting, with its temporary, multi-national community of high-achievers.

A highlight of the Windsor event will be a team attempt to produce videos to explain various scientific phenomena, which will include The Mpemba Effect.

Good luck!

Hermes, by the way, was the Greek god associated with messages and communication, as well as, sports, literature, and athletics, (from the Wikipedia essay) [Note: I have removed footnotes and links],

Hermes was the herald, or messenger, of the gods to humans, sharing this role with Iris. A patron of boundaries and the travelers who cross them, he was the protector of shepherds and cowherds, thieves, orators and wit, literature and poets, athletics and sports, weights and measures, invention, and of commerce in general.

While the effect had been observed a number of times, it wasn’t considered a serious scientific question (from the RSC news release),

The problem has been around for millennia, with philosophers such as Aristotle and Descartes pondering over it.

“But this effect was reintroduced into the scientific world in 1968 by Erasto Mpemba, a young inquisitive student in Tanzania during a lab session.

“Erasto questioned a teacher on why ice cream froze more quickly when it was boiled, and was quickly told that he was wrong and had probably imagined it. It was only when the teacher performed the experiment himself that he noticed this unusual phenomenon.

“Since the discovery of the effect, scientists have been trying to find out why the phenomenon occurs but remain divided as to what the answer is. It seems that there are lots of possible answers but a conclusive explanation hasn’t been produced yet.

Stanford team adds new energy (with graphene and carbon nanotubes) to 100 year old battery design

A nickel-iron battery designed to be recharged 100 years ago by Thomas Edison for use in electric vehicles has been revived with the addition of graphene. From the June 26, 2012 news item by Mark Schwartz on EurekAlert,

Designed in the early 1900s to power electric vehicles, the Edison battery largely went out of favor in the mid-1970s. Today only a handful of companies manufacture nickel-iron batteries, primarily to store surplus electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.

“The Edison battery is very durable, but it has a number of drawbacks,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford. “A typical battery can take hours to charge, and the rate of discharge is also very slow.”

Now, Dai and his Stanford colleagues have dramatically improved the performance of this century-old technology. The Stanford team has created an ultrafast nickel-iron battery that can be fully charged in about 2 minutes and discharged in less than 30 seconds. The results are published in the June 26 [2012] issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Here’s how the battery worked originally and what they’ve done to improve it,

Edison, an early advocate of all-electric vehicles, began marketing the nickel-iron battery around 1900. It was used in electric cars until about 1920. The battery’s long life and reliability made it a popular backup power source for railroads, mines and other industries until the mid-20th century.

Edison created the nickel-iron battery as an inexpensive alternative to corrosive lead-acid batteries. Its basic design consists of two electrodes – a cathode made of nickel and an anode made of iron – bathed in an alkaline solution. “Importantly, both nickel and iron are abundant elements on Earth and relatively nontoxic,” Dai noted.

Carbon has long been used to enhance electrical conductivity in electrodes. To improve the Edison battery’s performance, the Stanford team used graphene – nanosized sheets of carbon that are only one-atom thick – and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, each consisting of about 10 concentric graphene sheets rolled together.

“In conventional electrodes, people randomly mix iron and nickel materials with conductive carbon,” Wang explained. “Instead, we grew nanocrystals of iron oxide onto graphene, and nanocrystals of nickel hydroxide onto carbon nanotubes.”

This technique produced strong chemical bonding between the metal particles and the carbon nanomaterials, which had a dramatic effect on performance. “Coupling the nickel and iron particles to the carbon substrate allows electrical charges to move quickly between the electrodes and the outside circuit,” Dai said. “The result is an ultrafast version of the nickel-iron battery that’s capable of charging and discharging in seconds.”

The Stanford researchers created a 1-volt ‘graphene-enhanced’ nickel-iron prototype battery for experimentation in the lab. This battery can power a flashlight but the researchers are hoping to scale up so that the battery could be used for the electrical grid or transportation.

The lead author for the study is Hailiang Wang, a Stanford graduate student. Other co-authors of the study are postdoctoral scholars Yongye Liang and Yanguang Li, graduate student Ming Gong, and undergraduates Wesley Chang and Tyler Mefford also of Stanford; Jigang Zhou, Jian Wang and Tom Regier of Canadian Light Source, Inc.; and Fei Wei of Tsinghua University.

ETA: June 27, 2012: Here, by the way, is an electric vehicle powered by Edison’s battery circa 1910, downloaded from the Stanford University site (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/june/ultrafast-edison-battery-062612.html) and courtesy of the US National Park  Service.

To demonstrate the reliability of the Edison nickel-iron battery, drivers rode a battery-powered Bailey in a 1,000-mile endurance run in 1910. Courtesy: US National Park Service

Nano-enhanced marine products make boats and ships lighter

A leader in marine closures? Apparently this is Pacific Coast Marine’s claim to fame and they are now announcing a new line of products with nano-enhanced (?) carbon fibers. (I’ve not come across the term ‘nano-enhanced’ before. Is this a new marketing term?) According to the June 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Zyvex Marine, a division of Zyvex Technologies, and Pacific Coast Marine announced a partnership to make the industry’s lightest and most durable doors, hatches, and other marine closures using nano-composites. …

Zyvex Marine, the pioneer of the 54′ boat Piranha that weighs 8,000 pounds yet would have weighed 40,000 pounds with traditional materials, is a leader in watercraft and component manufacturing using carbon nanotube-enhanced carbon fiber materials.

Pacific Coast Marine, a leader in marine closures for nearly 30 years, worked with Zyvex during the last year to develop doors, hatches and closures for current watercraft produced by Zyvex Marine. Now recognizing greater commercial opportunities for lightweight doors and hatches on its boats, Pacific Coast Marine and Zyvex are unveiling a door that weighs 66% less than a traditional door – from 150 pounds to just 50 pounds each – and is more durable.

Both Zyvex Marine and Pacific Coast Marine are nearby neighbours being just a few hours south of Vancouver (Canada) in Washington State.

Here’s a little more about Zyvex Marine from the company’s About page,

Zyvex is the premier provider of carbon fiber nano-composites vessels and specializes in manned and unmanned variants for an array of operating conditions using the most advanced materials science available.

Zyvex Marine formally became a division of Zyvex Technologies in November 2011 and has a storied history dating back to 2009. In early 2009, the world’s first commercialized carbon nanotube enhanced (CNTe) carbon fiber material, Arovex, enabled the design of a prototype vessel called the 540SE. Setting new standards for fuel efficiency and performance, the lightweight 540SE hull offered a 75% reduction in fuel consumption costs, translating to increased range and lower operating costs.

In 2010, Zyvex Marine manufactured its first prototype craft, the Piranha USV Concept, taking it from the drawing board and into the water in under one year. Setting new standards in range, speed, sea keeping and payload for unmanned vessels, the Piranha USV Concept is a generational leap beyond boats built out of traditional materials like fiberglass or aluminum.

In 2011 Zyvex Marine shipped the first production nano-composite vessel, a lightweight 54′ boat. It set new standards for an unmanned vessel in the areas of range, speed, sea keeping and payload, fulfilling the promises made by the original Piranha USV Concept.

As for Pacific Coast Marine, from the Home page,

Pacific Coast Marine began building its reputation for nearly 30 years by supplying rugged and very high quality marine closures for the North Pacific and worldwide work boat fleets. PCM now is the largest supplier of high quality marine doors, windows and hatches in the world. Applications include superyachts, cruise ships, ocean tugs, ocean crew boats, offshore oil platforms, military vessels, fast ferries and merchant ships. The marine environment demands the very best, and that is PCM.

Given how much traffic there is on the seas, more fuel efficiency seems like a good step forward to using fewer resources. I am assuming, of course, that it doesn’t encourage yet more traffic. I notice that these products can also be used for offshore oil platforms, a topic of some interest in the province of British Columbia where I live.

Graphene material that improves lithium-ion battery performance wins ‘Oscar’ of innovation

Who knew that an ‘Oscar of innovation’ existed? It does and Vorbeck Materials along with its partners,  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Princeton University have won it. From the June 22, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Vorbeck Materials, in partnership with Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL) and Princeton University, was recognized today by R&D Magazine for developing one of the 100 most significant scientific and technological products or advances of the year.

The R&D 100 Award honors Vorbeck’s breakthrough work with PNNL and Princeton to commercialize graphene technology, which will enable greater use of electric vehicles and faster charging consumer electronics.

In collaboration with Professor Ilhan Aksay at Princeton University, PNNL has demonstrated that small quantities of Vor-x™, Vorbeck’s unique graphene material, can dramatically improve the performance and power of lithium-ion batteries. The pioneering work will enable the development of batteries that last longer and recharge quickly, drastically reducing the time it takes to charge an electric vehicle to just a few hours and allowing smartphones to charge in as little as ten minutes. Lithium-ion batteries are also used to power laptops, power tools and other electronic devices.

Vorbeck is working to bring this new technology to market for use in consumer electronic devices, tools, and electric vehicles. Vorbeck is also partnering with Hardwire LLC of Maryland to integrate the new batteries into hybrid military vehicles.

You can find out more about the R&D 100 awards at the R&D (Research and Development) Magazine’s Award page,

The Awards, widely recognized as the “Oscars of Innovation”, identifies and celebrates the top high technology products of the year. Sophisticated testing equipment, innovative new materials, chemistry breakthroughs, biomedical products, consumer items, high-energy physics: the R&D 100 Awards spans industry, academia, and government-sponsored research. …

Since 1963, the R&D 100 Awards have identified revolutionary technologies newly introduced to the market. Many of these have become household names, helping shape everyday life for many Americans. These include the flashcube (1965), the automated teller machine (1973), the halogen lamp (1974), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm anti-smoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), lab on a chip (1996), and HDTV (1998).

That’s a very impressive list of innovations.