Monthly Archives: September 2012

Nanomal project: rapid diagnosis for malaria

I’ve written a number of postings about handheld diagnostic devices as there is great international interest in developing these devices and I’ve also written about protection against malaria. A Sept. 24, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily combines these two topics,

Around 800,000 people die from malaria each year after being bitten by mosquitoes infected with malaria parasites. Signs that the parasite is developing resistance to the most powerful anti-malarial drugs in south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa mean scientists are working to prevent the drugs becoming ineffective.

The €5.2million (£4million) Nanomal project — launched September 26– is planning to provide an affordable hand-held diagnostic device to swiftly detect malaria infection and parasites’ drug resistance. It will allow healthcare workers in remote rural areas to deliver effective drug treatments to counter resistance more quickly, potentially saving lives.

You can find out more about the Nanomal project here. Their undated news release, which originated the news item, offers more information about how malaria is usually diagnosed,

Currently for malaria diagnosis, blood samples are sent to a central referral laboratory for drug resistance analysis, requiring time as well as specialised and expensive tests by skilled scientists. Additionally, confirmation of malaria is often not available where patients present with fever. Very often, drug treatments are prescribed before the diagnosis and drug resistance are confirmed, and may not be effective. Being able to treat effectively and immediately will prevent severe illness and save lives.

Contrast the standard process with the proposed diagnostic device (from the news release),

The device – the size and shape of a mobile phone – will use a range of latest proven nanotechnologies to rapidly analyse the parasite DNA from a blood sample. It will then provide a malaria diagnosis and comprehensive screening for drug susceptibility in less than 20 minutes, while the patient waits. With immediately available information about the species of parasite and its potential for drug resistance, a course of treatment personally tailored to counter resistance can be given.

Here’s how they expect it to work (from the news release),

The handheld device will take a finger prick of blood, extract the malarial DNA and then detect and sequence the specific mutations linked to drug resistance, using a nanowire biosensor. The chip electrically detects the DNA sequences and converts them directly into binary code, the universal language of computers. The binary code can then be readily analysed and even shared, via wireless or mobile networks, with scientists for real-time monitoring of disease patterns.

The device should provide the same quality of result as a referral laboratory, at a fraction of the time and cost. Each device could cost about the price of a smart phone initially, but may be issued for free in developing countries. A single-test cartridge will be around !13 (£10) initially, but the aim is to reduce this cost to ensure affordability in resource-limited settings.

In addition to improving immediate patient outcomes, the project will allow the researchers to build a better picture of levels of drug resistance in stricken areas. It will also give them information on population impacts of anti-malarial interventions.

There are more details about the device (and an image of it)  in the ScienceDaily news item. The Nanomal team is expecting to begin field trials in the next three years preparatory to bringing the device to market.

I found more information about Nanomal on the European Commission’s Cordis website,

Development of a handheld antimalarial drug resistance diagnostic device using nanowire technology

Start date:2012-07-01

End date:2015-06-30

Project Acronym:NANOMAL

Project status:Execution

Coordinator

Organization name:ST GEORGE”S HOSPITAL MEDICAL SCHOOL
Administrative contact Address
Name:Jane BOLAND (Ms.) Cranmer TerraceLONDON
UNITED KINGDOM

Region:SOUTH EAST (UK) GREATER LONDON

Tel:+44-2082666818
Fax:
E-mail:Contact
URL:http://www.sghms.ac.uk Organization Type:Education

Description

Objective: Malaria is a global health priority that has been targeted for elimination in recent years. Attaining the goals that define elimination of malaria in different countries depends critically on provision of effective antimalarials and further that these antimalarials are used appropriately in individual patients. Drug resistance is a major threat to malaria control and has important global public health implications. Over the past decades the genetic bases for resistance to most of the antimalarial classes currently in use has become defined. For some drugs and combinations, these mutations are the most important predictors of treatment failure. This proposal will innovate new technologies to confirm malaria diagnosis and detect drug resistance in malaria parasites by analysis of mutations in nucleic acids, using nanowire technology, and will result in the development of a simple, rapid and affordable point-of-care handheld diagnostic device. The device will be useful at many levels in malarial control by:

1. Optimising individual treatments for patients;
2. Assessing the epidemiology of drug resistance in malaria endemic areas;
3. Assessing population impacts of antimalarial interventions;

The development programme capitalises on highly original and proprietary advances made by QuantuMDx in the field of point-of-care diagnostics. This is complemented by academic expertise that has made major contributions to the understanding of antimalarial drug resistance mechanisms in laboratory models, as well as parasites obtained directly from patients. The impact of this proposal can be extended rapidly to other established and emerging infectious diseases.

I was particularly interested to note the UK is the lead on this project in light of an earlier handheld diagnostic device developed in the UK and tested on the country’s Olympic athletes prior to the 2012 Olympics (my Feb. 15, 2011 posting on Argento).

The Nanomal project is multinational as per the news item on ScienceDaily,

The Nanomal consortium is being led by St George’s, University of London, which is working with UK handheld diagnostics and DNA sequencing specialist QuantuMDx Group and teams at the University of Tuebingen in Germany and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It was set up in response to increasing signs that the malaria parasite is mutating to resist the most powerful class of anti-malaria drugs, artemisinins. The European Commission has awarded €4million (£3.1million) to the project.

Nanomal lead Professor Sanjeev Krishna, from St George’s, said: “Recent research suggests there’s a real danger that artemisinins could eventually become obsolete, in the same way as other anti-malarials. New drug treatments take many years to develop, so the quickest and cheapest alternative is to optimise the use of current drugs. The huge advances in technology are now giving us a tremendous opportunity to do that and to avoid people falling seriously ill or dying unnecessarily.”

QuantuMDx’s CEO Elaine Warburton said: “Placing a full malaria screen with drug resistance status in the palm of a health professional’s hand will allow instant prescribing of the most effective anti-malaria medication for that patient. Nanomal’s rapid, low-cost test will further support the global health challenge to eradicate malaria.”

My most recent piece on anti-malaria tactics was about a textile developed at Cornell University (mentioned in my May 15, 2012 posting). As for QuantuMDx, you can find out more here.

ISEA 2013 in Australia puts out the call for participation

The 19th International Symposium on Electronic Arts is being held in Sydney, Australia, June 7 – 16, 2013. Themed, ‘Resistance is Futile’, this latest call is not for artwork but for participation. Here’s what they’re looking for (from the Sept. 16, 2012 announcement in my email),

Conference Program – Call for Participation

IMPORTANT DATES

Proposals Due (300 word abstract) Friday, 14th November 2012
Acceptance Notification Friday, 21st December 2012

The 19th International Symposium on Electronic Art will comprise engaging presentations and thought-provoking speakers and discussions.  Join us for informed dialogues, dynamic debates, enlightening keynotes and experimental incursions into the extensive and diverse practice of electronic media arts.

We are keen to connect and intertwine the conference sessions with the wider artistic program, and we are looking for a variety of formats and engagement for presenters and participants to ensure a high quality of thought, deliberation and discussion.  Our vision for the conference is to provide sessions with genuine engagement. We ask that our delegates think differently about how they envisage the format of their presentation. To aid this, we have outlined a number of formats for you to choose from:

1.        Provocations

This format is ideal for presenting provocative ideas, projects, or works in progress that lend themselves to visual displays or presentations (5-10minutes). In these sessions, a number of presenters have the opportunity to present their work and to engage in informal discussion with other delegates throughout the session. Presentations will be grouped by the committee according to topic, and generous time will be provided after all of the presentations for group discussion.

2.        Creator Sessions

This format provides the opportunity to present in a unique location or environment.  These are more informal sessions that allow presenters to create their own format and to provide delegates the opportunity to be immersed in a presentation staged away from a typical conference setting. We are particularly looking for engagement with artworks and practices outside of the usual conference venues.  The committee will work with you to create an engaging session.

3.        Roundtables

These sessions are about the cross-pollination of ideas and philosophies.  They are designed to activate collaborations, offer opportunities to build networks and to open up new connections.  We will accept ideas for full sessions of 60-90 minutes, and the committee will conceive and design sessions according to topic or perspective. We will work closely with presenters to create original and engaging sessions.

4.        Workshops

These sessions are best suited for teaching or demonstrating particular procedures, skills, or techniques. Appropriate considerations for this session format may include: hands-on demonstrations, presentations of a technology or technique, or an extended dialogue with participants. These sessions can take place over an entire day, half day, or scheduled for 60-90 minutes. Workshops will be structured to provide ample time for interaction, participation, and involvement.  Workshop conveners should submit a formal description of the proposed workshop.

5.        Panels

We will accept proposals for full panels or the committee will group registered participants, whose presentations are based on a shared theme or topic (for example, a Chair and four or five presenters) for inclusion in these sessions. Panel sessions are scheduled for 60-90 minutes. Panels may present complementary aspects of a specific body of work, or contrasting perspectives on a specified topic. The audiences for these sessions will be encouraged to read the abstracts and any associated readings before attending in order to ensure optimal audience engagement and participation. The presenters (along with an ISEA2013 committee member if required) will conceive and design the session to allow time for short individual provocations (approximately 10 minutes each) and 40-60 minutes of audience discussion or Q&A.

6.        Papers

This type of session is best suited for scholarly work and reports on current or completed research. Authors present summaries or overviews of their work, describing the essential features (related to purpose, procedures, outcomes or product). This presentation should be engaging and dynamic and can take on any form. Presentations will be grouped according to topic or perspective into these themed sessions, with time provided after all of the presentations for Q&A and group discussion. Presenters are welcome to include any visual support to assist delivery of their oral presentation.

7.        Online Collaborations

We are looking to extend the reach of the Symposium by way of online collaborative environments, and are especially interested in proposals that connect distant artists, writers and collaborators to the physical venue of ISEA2013 Sydney. These collaborations may involve projects that lead-up to and lead-out of the event, and are aimed at establishing relationships and connections with other artists who are not able to physically attend the Symposium. The technical systems and platforms used to conduct these sessions need to be widely available and robust enough to be able to function within a university, gallery or museum-style venue and can be live (real-time) or asynchronous.

SUBMISSION INFORMATION

We are calling for an initial 300 word abstract.  On submission of your abstract, you will be asked which format(s) you would like to present in, the committee will take this into consideration when programming the sessions.  You will be notified which session format your proposal has been allocated into when notifications are sent.

The abstracts will be available to registered delegates online before the Symposium and an electronic copy will be presented to delegates at the Symposium.  Please note, only authors who have registered to attend the Symposium will be published.  On completion of the Symposium, those presenters who would like to be included in the full proceedings will be asked to submit a 3,000 word document which will be peer reviewed and published.

PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR PROPOSAL VIA OPENCONF: www.isea2013.org/submit

We ask that you consider the ISEA2013 theme and sub-themes outlined below. You will be required to allocate your proposal to one of these six sub-themes on submission:

Theme – ‘Resistance is Futile’

The cutting edge of digital art has moved from the margins to become part of the fabric of everyday life.  At once ubiquitous and unnoticed, resistance to electronic art has proven futile — it now lies embedded in the heart of our contemporary cultures.  The symposium events will infuse the city’s social, digital and physical infrastructure. ISEA2013 aims to create a fluid body of thought, culture, community, industry, science and technology.

Artists play an important role in this “cutting edge.” By creatively investigating the possibilities and pushing the limits of new technologies, artists help us imaginatively experience and critically reflect on their implications for life in the 21st century. Digital electronic art is our source of innovation, the new norm in everything from publishing to TV, to radio, games, film, fashion, music, architecture, design, applications and gadgets. Ubiquitous and pervasive, digital media permeates almost all creative endeavors in everyday life and the city. The urban spaces of Sydney will provide the scene for thinking through the consequences of digital life, creative industries, and contemporary electronic art practice.

Sub-themes/Threads

1. Resistance is Fertile
Resistance is Futile … Resistance is Fertile… Resistance is Necessary. ISEA2013 explores the ways art and new technologies are used in the service of power, politics, protest and resistance.

2. Converging and diverging realities
The virtual bleeds into the real and increasingly our environments are mediated, augmented and transformed through technology. Mixed and augmented realities, obligatory social media, and locative technologies increasingly insert different realities into the physical world while communication simultaneously seduces us away from our immediate surroundings. As the “internet of things” becomes a reality, do we need to resist the ubiquitous society of participation, search, and the culture of always-on surveillance/sousveillance?

3. Life …  but not as we know it
Technologies are being used to extend human capabilities and to create new life forms. ISEA2013 explores how life is increasingly becoming a technology that is created, extended, and curated by the influence of artists working with technology. A chance to explore and critique the world of cyborgs, robots, alien life forms and the emergence of unnatural biologies.

4. Histories and Futures of Electronic Art
Where once electronic media technologies were on the margins they now permeate almost all of art, commerce and creativity. Digital cultures, media art histories, and media archeologies permeate contemporary art and design, and inform ways of seeing and understanding the world. ISEA2013 offers a platform to explore where electronic art has come from, where it is going and what it might become.

5. Ecologies and Technologies
The interrelationship of nature, culture and technology lies at the centre-stage of contemporary life. ISEA2013 explores technology as both the problem and solution, celebrating the role of the artist as innovator and provocateur. ISEA2013 engages questions of urban ecologies, consumption, food, climate, and sustainability.

6. Creation, Collaboration and Consumption
Digital technologies and social media are transforming social and cultural interaction on both global and local scales. Everyone is connected, everyone is a creator. But not everybody likes what they see or wants to participate in the prescribed forms of contemporary social media. ISEA2013 encourages debate, provocations and engagement in the global nets of participation.

ENQUIRIES

If you have any questions for the Academic Committee, please send them through to [email protected] or visit our website (www.isea2013.org) for more information on the Symposium.

Good luck!

University of Twente (Holland) researchers love their metaphors: ‘bed of nails’ and ‘soccer balls’

In the last week there have been a couple of news releases from Dutch researchers at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology which feature some metaphors. The first was a Sept. 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk (Note: I have removed a link),

Nanotechnology researchers develop ‘bed of nails’ material for clean surfaces

Scientists at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology have developed a new material that is not only extremely water-repellent but also extremely oil-repellent. It contains minuscule pillars which retain droplets. What makes the material unique is that the droplets stay on top even when they evaporate (slowly getting smaller). This opens the way to such things as smartphone screens that really cannot get dirty. The study appears today in the scientific journal Soft Matter (“Absence of an evaporation-driven wetting transition on omniphobic surfaces”).

The University of Twente Sept. 12, 2012 news release, which originated the news item explores the metaphor and the technology,

Water-repellent surfaces can be used as a coating for windows, obviating the need to clean them ever again. These surfaces have an orderly arrangement of tiny pillars less than one-hundredth of a millimetre high (similar to a bed of nails but on an extremely small scale). Water droplets stay on the tips of the pillars, retaining the shape of perfectly round tiny pearls. As a result they can roll off the surface like marbles, taking all the dirt with them.

Nanotechnologists at the University of Twente have now managed to create a silicon surface that retains not only water droplets but also oil droplets like tiny pearls …. What makes the material unique is that the droplets remain in place even when they evaporate (get smaller).

With existing materials, evaporating droplets drop down between the pillars onto the surface after a while, changing in shape to hemispheres which can no longer simply roll off the surface. The surface can therefore still get dirty. By modifying the edges and the roughness of the minuscule pillars the UT scientists have managed to create a surface on which the droplets do not drop down even when they evaporate but stay neatly on top.

The Sept. 27, 2012 news item on Nanowerk features another metaphor, one which is well known amongst followers of the nanotechnology scene,

Nanotechnologists create miniscule soccer balls

Nanotechnologists at the University of Twente’s MESA+ research institute have developed a method whereby minuscule polystyrene spheres, automatically and under controlled conditions, form an almost perfect ball that looks suspiciously like a football, but about a thousand times smaller. The spheres organize themselves in such a way that they approach the densest arrangement possible, known as ‘closest packing of spheres’. The method provides nanotechnologists with a new way of creating minuscule 3D structures.

Soccer balls usually reference buckminster fullerenes (bucky balls). The news item explains this new use further,

The method developed by the University of Twente scientists involves placing a drop of water containing thousands of polystyrene spheres one micrometre in size (a thousand times smaller than a millimetre) on a superhydrophobic surface. As the drop is allowed to evaporate very slowly under controlled conditions the distances between the spheres become smaller and smaller and surprisingly they form a highly organized 3D structure. The spheres were found to organize themselves of their own accord in such a way that the ball they form approaches the most compact arrangement possible (‘closest packing of spheres’), with 74% of the space filled by the spheres. Like a football, the structures that form are almost perfectly spherical, consisting of a large number of planes. The researchers have therefore dubbed their material ‘microscopic soccer balls’. The minuscule footballs are a hundred to a thousand micrometres in size, containing from ten thousand to as much as a billion of the tiny polystyrene spheres.

There’s more on the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology website but you will need to have Dutch language skills.

It’s always good to see metaphors and I like when scientists (or whoever’s writing the news releases) get create that way.

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report celebrated

This morning, Sept. 27, 2012, the Council of Canadian Academies released its 2nd report on the state of science and technology in Canada. I haven’t had time to read the full report (officially titled:  The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012) but did attend (virtually) a webinar/press conference that was hosted by the Science Media Centre of Canada and found the mood amongst the presenters,

  • Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President of the Council of Canadian Academies and chair of the 1st (2006) report on science and technology in Canada;
  • Dr. Eliot A. Phillipson, chair of the expert panel, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Toronto and former President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation; and
  • Dr. Sara Diamond, President, Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U)

to be celebratory. The Council of Canadian Academies Sept. 27, 2012 news release on EurekAlert sums up much of what is said in the webinar,

“There is much for Canadians to be proud of as Canada’s international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs,” said Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson. “The Panel’s findings are comprehensive and represent one of the most in-depth examinations of Canadian science and technology ever undertaken.”

Here are some of the findings (from the news release),

  • The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.
  • Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.
  • In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.
  • Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.
  • Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.
  • Several fields of specialization were identified in other provinces, such as: agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba; historical studies in New Brunswick; biology in Saskatchewan; as well as earth and environmental sciences in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

The Council of Canadian Academies webpage which hosts the completed assessment, The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 provides links to the full report, an abridged version, an executive summary, a listing of the 18 member expert panel, and more.

Early media responses (as per my Google search of Sept. 27, 2012, 1338 hours (PDT) suggest one of two attitudes: “Canadian science and technology is healthy” or “Canadians are falling behind in the areas of environmental and resources sciences.”

For the moment, I’m going to celebrate and shelve my critique for a later date (probably early next week, Oct. 1-5, 2012) when I’ve had time to read the full report.

Science communications job with international scientific institute in Vienna, Austria

Thanks to Katherine Leitzell who works for and listed a job for a senior science communications specialist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Before describing the job, here’s a little more about the institute from the What is IIIASA? webpage,

Founded in 1972, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) conducts policy-oriented research into problems of a global nature that are too large or too complex to be solved by a single country or academic discipline.

IIASA is sponsored by its National Member Organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Its research is independent and completely unconstrained by political or national self-interest.

Here’s more about the job (deadline: Oct. 14, 2012) from the Senior Communications Specialist webpage in the IIASA Job Openings webspace,

The Senior Communications Specialist will professionally manage and build IIASA’s profile and reputation with target audiences around the world through the development and implementation of communication strategies and activities

Job Summary:

Reporting to IIASA’s Head of Communications, the Senior Communications Specialist will:

  • Support the formulation and development of IIASA’s communications strategy
  • Flawlessly implement and monitor a range of science communication activities that contribute to the strategy
  • Provide expert communication advice to IIASA’s senior managers and program leaders
  • Act as deputy to the Head of Communications and Officer in Charge during periods of absence (from 1 November 2012, IIASA’s Head of Communications will work one day a week at the Institute).

Specific responsibilities and job duties are then described followed by,

Qualifications and Experience:

  • Advanced university degree (master’s degree or equivalent) or bachelor’s degree plus professional qualification in communications, journalism, public relations or a related field, or demonstrable qualifying experience may be accepted in lieu of a university degree
  • At least ten years’ experience in successfully implementing communications activities across a wide range of channels (events, Web, media, broadcasting, publications, marketing)
  • Strong strategic communication skills and sound political judgment necessary for a large organization with numerous and diverse stakeholders around the world
  • Excellent science writing skills and proven ability to present complex science information to a non-specialist audience
  • Native-level English speaker and excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Experience with the interface between science and policy and getting research into policy desirable
  • Experience in managing high-level contacts with civil society organizations, government officials, business groups, international organizations and similar groups desirable
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as a member of a team and to maintain professional and productive relationships with scientists and staff from diverse nationalities
  • Proven ability to coordinate and oversee the work of others.

Appointment Terms:

The successful candidate should be willing and able to commit to a three year contractual affiliation with the Institute following an initial appointment term of one year.

IIASA offers a competitive compensation and benefits package including moving allowances and home leave. Salaries are exempt from taxation in Austria, but subject to the principle of income aggregation.

Preference will be given to applicants who are nationals of IIASA member countries. The Institute’s management and staff alike are committed to a working environment that promotes equality, diversity, and tolerance. The Institute encourages applications from all qualified candidates.

As Canada is not a member IIASA country, Canadian candidates won’t be be given preference but whether or not your country is a member, this looks like an exciting organization and opportunity. You can get all the details on the Senior Communications Specialist (job posting) webpage including information about the materials for your submission and contacts. Good luck!

Phyto-mining; using plants to extract minerals

Plants do it anyway, so, why not harness their ability to absorb nutrients and transform them into various materials for the mining industry? In the scientists at the University of York (UK) mentioned in a Sept. 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk are doing precisely that,

Scientists at the University of York are to lead an international team that will explore the use of plants to recover precious metals from mine tailings around the world.

Researchers in the University’s Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence and the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) aim to develop ways to extract platinum group metals (PGM) discarded during mine processing which might then be used in catalysis. The research will investigate “phyto-mining,” which involves growing plants on mine waste materials to sponge up PGM into their cellular structure.

Initial studies show that plant cells used to phyto-mine PGM can be turned into materials for a variety of industrial applications – the one in most demand being catalytic converters for vehicle emissions control.

The Sept. 20, 2012 University of York news release (which originated the news item) notes,

The $1.4 million PHYTOCAT project is supported by the G8 Research Councils Initiative on Multilateral Research Funding. The team is led by the University of York in the UK with support from Yale University, the University of British Columbia and Massey University in New Zealand. [emphasis mine]

Professor James Clark, the Director of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York, says: “We are looking at ways of turning these residual metals into their catalytically active form using the plants to extract them from the mine waste. The plant is heated in a controlled way with the result that the metal is embedded in a nano-form in the carbonised plant.

“The trick is to control the decomposition of the plant in a way which keeps the metal in its nano-particulate or catalytically active form. Catalysis is being used more and more in industrial processes and particularly for emission control because of the demand for cleaners cars, so ‘phyto-mining’ could provide a sustainable supply of catalytically active metals.”

For PGM phyto-mining, the researchers will investigate plants known as hyperaccumulators which include about 400 species from more than 40 plant families. Plants such as willow, corn and mustard have evolved a resistance to specific metals and can accumulate relatively large amounts of these metals, which once absorbed into the plants’ cellular structure form nano-scale clusters than can then be used directly as a catalyst.

Professor Neil Bruce, of CNAP, added: “The ability of plants to extract PGMs from soil and redeposit the metal as nanoparticles in cells is remarkable. This project will allow us to investigate the mechanisms behind this process and provide a green method for extracting metals from mine tailings that are currently uneconomical to recover.”

(It makes sense that the University of British Columbia from my home province is participating, given the province’s heavy involvement in the mining industry.)

This proposed phyto-mining process has much in common with phytoremediation where plants are grown in polluted areas so they can absorb the pollutants from the soil as per my March 30, 2012 posting, which featured a guest writer, Joe Martin on the topic of phytoremediation.

I wonder what they will be doing to the plants for make them more suitable for the phyto-mining process.

Paper and Fibre Research Institute holds nanocellulose party/seminar

My ears always prick up when I come across a nanocellulose story and this Sept. 26, 2012 news item on Nanowerk features a nanocellulose seminar hosted by the Paper and Fibre Institute (PFI) in Norway (Note: I have removed a link),

PFI has the pleasure to organize the 4th research seminar about cellulose and their nanomaterials. The seminar will take place at PFI in Norway, on November 14-15, 2012. This will be a follow-up of the successful seminars in Trondheim 2006, 2008, 2010. The seminar offers an excellent scientific program, including topics which reflect the most recent advances from basic research to practical applications.

During the last years it has been considerable interest in cellulose nanofibrils [emphasis mine] due to the wide range of potential areas of application. This includes replacement for plastics, reinforcement of composite materials, boosting paper properties, barrier material in packaging and bio-medical applications.

As per the term I highlighted, cellulose nanofibrils, KarenS very kindly dropped by my Aug. 2, 2012 posting on nanocellulose research to explain some of the terminology that gets tossed around,

From my understanding, nanocrystaline cellulose (NCC), cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), cellulose whiskers (CW) and cellulose nanowhiskers (CNW) are all the same stuff: cylindrical rods of crystalline cellulose (diameter: 5-10 nm; length: 20-1000 nm). Cellulose nanofibers or nanofibrils (CNF), on the contrary, are less crystalline and are in the form of long fibers (diameter: 20-50 nm; length: up to several micrometers).

There is still a lot of confusion on the nomenclature of cellulose nanoparticles, but nice explanations (and pictures!) are given here (and also in other papers from the same [TAPPI 2012 in Montréal] conference):

http://www.tappi.org/Downloads/Conference-Papers/2012/12NANO/12NANO49.aspx

Thank you KarenS, I really appreciate the clarification and the link to additional information.

Back to the main event, I went to the webpage for the 4th research seminar about cellulose and their nanomaterials and found a listing of the speakers,

Tsuguyuki Saito (University of Tokyo):  “Material Properties of TEMPO-Oxidized Cellulose Nanofibrils: In bulk and Individual Forms”
Lars Berglund (KTH): “Unexplored materials property space – does nanofibrillated cellulose provide new possibilities?”
Michel Schenker (Omya): “Toward Nano-fibrillated Pigmented Cellulose Composites”
Anette Hejnesson-Hulten (Eka):  “Chemically Pretreated  MFC – Process, Manufacturing and Application”
Kriistina Oksman (Luleå Univ.of Techn): “Nanocelluloses extracted from  bio residues and their use in composites”
J.M. Lagaron (CSIC): “Nanocellulose as a reinforcing material in packaging films”
Tomas Larsson (Innventia): “Determining the specific surface area of NFC by CP/MAS 13C-NMR”
Tekla Tammelin, (VTT): “Dense NFC films with several opportunities for additional functionalities”
Kristin Syverud (PFI): “A biocompatibility study of microfibrillated cellulose”
Øyvind Gregersen (NTNU): “The effect of microfibrillated cellulose on the pressability and paper properties of TMP and ground calcium carbonate (GCC) based sheets”
Gary Chinga Carrasco (PFI): “Characterization of the fibrillation degree of various MFC materials and its implication on critical properties”
Marianne Lenes (PFI): “MFC as barrier material – possibilities and challenges”
Laura Alexandrescu (NTNU): “MFC filters for environmental particle filtration”
Per Stenius (NTNU): “Nanofibrils – do they fulfill the promises?”

Dag Høvik (Research Council of Norway): “Strategic research programmes within Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials in Norway, 2002-2021″.

Interestingly given our work in this field, there don’t seem to be any Canadians on the speaker list.  I imagine that this is largely due to the fact that they have healthy and active research community in Norway and this is not really an international affair.

China’s plan to boost STE (science, technology, engineering) and philosophy, social sciences, and education

I did wonder where the mathematics might be when reading the Sept. 20, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about China’s plan to support new talent. Perhaps it’s assumed that the sciences include mathematics,

The Chinese government has launched a ten-year campaign to cultivate more than 10,000 talented individuals in scientific and technological fields in its latest effort to consolidate a foundation for the country’s development.

The project, titled “National Plan for the Special Support of High-level Talent,” aims to support 100 scientists who have made breakthroughs in leading fields and have the potential to become “world-class scientists,” according to a statement released Wednesday [Sept. 19, 2012] after a meeting of the Central Coordination Group for Talent Work.

Other talent to be aided in the program will include 8,000 people who have made innovative achievements in science and technology, as well as leading figures in the philosophical and social sciences, education and engineering. [emphases mine]

Another 2,000 people under the age of 35 who are deemed to have outstanding potential in research and technology innovation will also be covered by the program.

In addition to financial support for research projects and team construction efforts, the program will also require employers and related governmental departments to create more favorable policies regarding research, work evaluation and stimulus benefits.

I am impressed with the inclusion of philosophy and the social sciences.

Big bash in Waterloo for the new Quantum Nano Centre (QNC)

The Quantum Nano Centre (QNC), which was officially opened on Sept. 21, 2012 and mentioned in my Sept. 13, 2012 posting, is enjoying quite the publicity bonanza. Even the architects are getting in on the action as per the Sept. 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Opening ceremonies were held last week in Waterloo for Canada’s new ‘mind space’, the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre (QNC). The massive 26,010-square-metre Centre at the University of Waterloo, designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) is a showcase for Canadian innovation and industry in the fields of quantum computing and nanotechnology – the first of its kind in the world to bring together the two disciplines under one roof.

“Breakthrough science is advancing at dizzying speed today, with quantum physics at atomic and sub-atomic scale”, said Mike Lazaridis, founder of the Centre, “Simultaneously, rapid movement is happening in nanotechnology, where fabrication of materials, devices and systems 100 nanometres or smaller is being explored. This critical nexus of quantum computing and nanotechnology brings the world closer to the cusp of previously unimagined solutions and insights.”

The Quantum Nano Centre was conceptually inspired by the famed Newton Institute in Cambridge, U.K. IQC and Nanotechnology Engineering each occupy their own building and are joined by a six-storey central atrium which acts as an indoor pedestrian route and an informal gathering space. The design organizes ‘mind spaces’ – lounges, offices and meeting rooms – around the edge of the atrium where interdisciplinary interaction can flourish.

KPMB took an Integrated Design Team Approach to the project. As Mitchell Hall, KPMB Design Architect and Principal-in-Charge led the design team said. “We first engaged researchers, both theorists and experimentalists, in deep discussions to understand the ways and patterns of their work. This advance research later provided the groundwork for the development of the interior and exterior of the complex.”

Designed to meet stringent scientific standards – with controls for vibration, temperature fluctuation and electromagnetic radiation – the facility is of the highest international caliber. One of the signature features of the facility is a 929-square-metre cleanroom with fabrication facilities for quantum and nanodevices, as well as an advanced metrology suite, extensive teaching and research laboratories.

The exterior is distinguished by a hexagonal honeycomb lattice of structural steel, a pattern inspired by the stable hexagonal carbon structure of the nanotube. The podium of the building is clad with burnished concrete block to relate to the primarily masonry fabric of the University of Waterloo.

I found an image of the new centre on the Canada Foundation for Innovation website, where that federal government agency also gets in on the party,

Quantum Nano Centre (QNC) in Waterloo, Ontario

Stephen Strauss in his Sept. 20, 2012 article for the Canada Foundation for Innovation suggests,

Take one look at the honeycomb facade of the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo, and you get a sense that the place will be a hive of activity.

Indeed, the 285,000-square-foot facility, which opened September 21, will be buzzing with 50 researchers, more than 100 graduate students and some 500 undergraduates. Together, these bright minds will conduct the kind of research for which the university has already become world famous — such as research that aims to replace the traditional silicon-based computer with a cutting-edge quantum computer.

Although still on the drawing board, quantum computers hold promise as the new frontier of superfast computing power. Quantum computers rely on quantum physics and atomic and subatomic particles to create computing power that is much more advanced than the bits and bytes and semiconductors used in today’s computers. Many physicists and computer scientists believe that quantum computers capable of processing vast amounts of data at extremely high speeds could be developed within the next decade. However, working in the quantum and nano realm is tricky business, so structural stability and temperature control had to be carefully considered in the design of the new Centre.

“You have to design an entire building where one atom won’t accidentally bump into another,” [emphasis mine] says Raymond Laflamme, executive director of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) which, along with the Institute for Nanotechnology and the Nanotechnology Engineering program, is moving into the Centre. This is a mighty task when the distance between atoms is only about 1/50,000th the width of a human hair.

I don’t understand Laflamme’s comment about one atom accidentally bumping into another. Perhaps it will make more sense after reading Laflamme’s Sept. 20, 2012 article about a symphony, Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science, which was premiered in Kitchener (it’s near Waterloo), Ontario in February 2012 and is being remounted for a Sept. 30, 2012 performance in honour of the QNC opening. From Laflamme’s article,

For two evenings last February, the symphony played the concert to sold-out audiences at Kitchener’s Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts.  On September 30 — as part of the grand opening celebrations of the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo — we will host the concert again inside the remarkable new building.

With music, visuals and unique “sound experiments,” the concert gives audiences a guided tour along the parallel paths taken by music and quantum science over the past century. From Mozart to Xenakis — and from Newton to Hawking — the concert explores the many unexpected intersections between music and science.

More than a year of planning went into the concert. KW [Kitchener-Waterloo]  Symphony Music Director Edwin Outwater spent many hours with IQC [Institute for Quantum Computing] researchers and staff, wrapping his head around the concerts. He and IQC communications officer Colin Hunter collaboratively wrote a script for the concert, which is performed during the live concerts by a narrator. During the February performances, I joined Edwin onstage several times to talk about the scientific concepts being expressed through the music.

Creating the concert was a revelatory experience.  Too often, it is assumed that science and art are completely separate spheres of human endeavour, but this just isn’t so.

“There are two kinds of truth,” our narrator said during the concert, quoting novelist Raymond Chandler [known for his fictional detective, Philip Marlow, and for writing the novel, The Big Sleep, amongst many others]. “The truth that lights the way, and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art.”

Science and art share a common goal — to help us understand our universe and ourselves.  Research at IQC aims to provide important new understanding of nature’s building blocks, and devise methods to turn that understanding into technologies beneficial for society.Since founding IQC a decade ago, I have sought ways to bridge science and the arts, with the belief that scientific discovery itself is a source of beauty and inspiration.  Our collaboration with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony was an example — one of many yet to come — of how science and the arts provide different but complementary insights into our universe and ourselves.

I have included a ‘making of …’ video for this symphony, which is, unfortunately, approximately 18 mins. in length (I don’t usually embed anything much over five minutes),

Neither Laflamme’s article nor the ‘making of …’ video helped me to understand that business of constructing a building where atoms don’t accidentally bump into each other. Perhaps I’ll get lucky and somebody who knows will leave a comment.