Monthly Archives: January 2013

Google Science Fair (encouraging the new generation of scientists) opened Jan. 30, 2013

Here’s a little information about the recently opened 2013 Google Science Fair for students around the world, aged 13 – 18, from the Jan. 30, 2013 posting on the official Google blog,

At age 16, Louis Braille invented an alphabet for the blind. When she was 13, Ada Lovelace became fascinated with math and went on to write the first computer program. And at 18, Alexander Graham Bell started experimenting with sound and went on to invent the telephone. Throughout history many great scientists developed their curiosity for science at an early age and went on to make groundbreaking discoveries that changed the way we live.

Today, we’re launching the third annual Google Science Fair in partnership with CERN, the LEGO Group, National Geographic and Scientific American to find the next generation of scientists and engineers. We’re inviting students ages 13-18 to participate in the largest online science competition and submit their ideas to change the world.

For the past two years, thousands of students from more than 90 countries have submitted research projects that address some of the most challenging problems we face today. Previous winners tackled issues such as the early diagnosis of breast cancer, improving the experience of listening to music for people with hearing loss and cataloguing the ecosystem found in water. This year we hope to once again inspire scientific exploration among young people and receive even more entries for our third competition.

Here’s some key information for this year’s Science Fair:

  • Students can enter the Science Fair in 13 languages.
  • The deadline for submissions is April 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm PDT.
  • In June, we’ll recognize 90 regional finalists (30 from the Americas, 30 from Asia Pacific and 30 from Europe/Middle East/Africa).
  • Judges will then select the top 15 finalists, who will be flown to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. for our live, final event on September 23, 2013.
  • At the finals, a panel of distinguished international judges consisting of renowned scientists and tech innovators will select top winners in each age category (13-14, 15-16, 17-18). One will be selected as the Grand Prize winner.

Nick Summers in a Jan. 30, 2013 posting for TheNextWeb describes the prizes,

The grand prize also includes a Google scholarship worth $50,000, which can be used to further the students’ education in any way they like, digital access to Scientific American and a grant worth $10,000 for the students’ school, a hands-on experience at either CERN, LEGO or Google, as well as a Mindstorms LEGO set signed by CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp himself.

It’s an incredible prize, although there will also be a handful of age category winners, who will receive a slightly smaller, but no less impressive reward that includes a $25,000 Google scholarship, as well as the aforementioned custom LEGO set, hands-on experience and digital access to Scientific American for their school.

There is also a second prize from the journal, Scientific American, from the Jan. 30, 2013 press release on Nature,

Today marks the launch of the second annual $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action award, powered by the Google Science Fair. The Scientific American Science in Action award honors a project that can make a practical difference by addressing an environmental, health or resources challenge. …

“Kids are born scientists and have wonderful ideas about how to make the world a better place,” said Scientific American editor in chief Mariette DiChristina. “We are thrilled to once again sponsor the Scientific American Science in Action award as part of the Google Science Fair to recognize their great projects.”

The finalists and winner of the Scientific American Science in Action award will be drawn from the entry pool of the Google Science Fair by a committee of esteemed judges. In addition to the $50,000 cash prize, the winner will receive one year of mentoring to help realize the goal of her or his project and will be recognized at the 2013 Google Science Fair finalist event in September. More information is available at www.ScientificAmerican.com/science-in-action and www.google.com/sciencefair.

The winning project in 2012 was a Unique Simplified Hydroponic Method, developed by two 14-year-old boys, Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela, both from Swaziland. Shongwe and Mahlalela were also finalists in the 13-to-14-year-old age category at the overall Google Science Fair.

The deadline for entries is April 30, 2012 at 11:59 pm PDT. Good luck!

3D microchip: “… we can actually see the data climbing this nano-staircase step by step”

A Jan. 30, 2013 news release about a 3D microchip developed from a spintronic chip is available on EurekAlert here or at the University of Cambridge here and provides background about why a 3D microchip would be developed,

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have created, for the first time, a new type of microchip which allows information to travel in three dimensions. Currently, microchips can only pass digital information in a very limited way – from either left to right or front to back. …

Dr Reinoud Lavrijsen, an author on the paper from the University of Cambridge, said: “Today’s chips are like bungalows – everything happens on the same floor. We’ve created the stairways allowing information to pass between floors.”

Here are some of the technical details,

For the research, the Cambridge scientists used a special type of microchip called a spintronic chip which exploits the electron’s tiny magnetic moment or ‘spin’ (unlike the majority of today’s chips which use charge-based electronic technology). Spintronic chips are increasingly being used in computers, and it is widely believed that within the next few years they will become the standard memory chip.

To create the microchip, the researchers used an experimental technique called ‘sputtering’. They effectively made a club-sandwich on a silicon chip of cobalt, platinum and ruthenium atoms. The cobalt and platinum atoms store the digital information in a similar way to how a hard disk drive stores data. The ruthenium atoms act as messengers, communicating that information between neighbouring layers of cobalt and platinum. Each of the layers is only a few atoms thick.

They then used a laser technique called MOKE to probe the data content of the different layers. As they switched a magnetic field on and off they saw in the MOKE signal the data climbing layer by layer from the bottom of the chip to the top. They then confirmed the results using a different measurement method.

Here’s the source for the quote used in the headline,

Professor Russell Cowburn, lead researcher of the study from the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics, said: “Each step on our spintronic staircase is only a few atoms high. I find it amazing that by using nanotechnology not only can we build structures with such precision in the lab but also using advanced laser instruments we can actually see the data climbing this nano-staircase step by step.

An artistic representation of the microchip and the data,

3D microchip, courtesy of the University of Cambridge. Credit LindenArtWork www.lindenartwork.com.

3D microchip, courtesy of the University of Cambridge. Credit LindenArtWork www.lindenartwork.com

Here’s a citation and a link to the paper,

Magnetic ratchet for three-dimensional spintronic memory and logic by Reinoud Lavrijsen, Ji-Hyun Lee, Amalio Fernández-Pacheco,Dorothée C. M. C. Petit, Rhodri Mansell, & Russell P. Cowburn.  Nature, 493, 647–650 (31 January 2013) doi:10.1038/nature11733 (Published online 30 January 2013)

The paper is behind a paywall.

No more boat scraping with new coating from Duke University

There’s a lot of interest in finding ways to discourage bacteria from growing on various surfaces, for example, Sharklet, which is based on nanostructures on sharkskin, is a product being developed for hospitals (my Feb. 10, 2011 posting) and there are polymers that ‘uninvite’ bacteria at the University of Nottingham (my Aug. 13, 2012 posting).

A Jan. 31, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights the latest work being done at Duke University,

Duke University engineers have developed a material that can be applied like paint to the hull of a ship and will literally be able to dislodge bacteria, keeping it from accumulating on the ship’s surface. This buildup on ships increases drag and reduces the energy efficiency of the vessel, as well as blocking or clogging undersea sensors.

The team’s research was published online,

Bioinspired Surfaces with Dynamic Topography for Active Control of Biofouling by Phanindhar Shivapooja, Qiming Wang, Beatriz Orihuela, Daniel Rittschof, Gabriel P. López1, Xuanhe Zhao. Advanced Materials, Article first published online: 6 JAN 2013, DOI: 10.1002/adma.201203374

Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

The article is behind a paywall but the abstract is freely available,

Dynamic change of surface area and topology of elastomers is used as a general, environmentally friendly approach for effectively detaching micro- and macro-fouling organisms adhered on the elastomer surfaces. Deformation of elastomer surfaces under electrical or pneumatic actuation can debond various biofilms and barnacles. The bio-inspired dynamic surfaces can be fabricated over large areas through simple and practical processes. This new mechanism is complementary with existing materials and methods for biofouling control.

Duke University’s Jan. 31, 2013 news release by Richard Merritt, which originated the news item, provides more detail from the researchers,

“We have developed a material that ‘wrinkles,’ or changes it surface in response to a stimulus, such as stretching or pressure or electricity,” said Duke engineer Xuanhe Zhao, assistant professor in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. “This deformation can effectively detach biofilms and other organisms that have accumulated on the surface.”

Zhao has already demonstrated the ability of electric current to deform, or change, the surface of polymers.

The researchers tested their approach in the laboratory with simulated seawater, as well as on barnacles. These experiments were conducted in collaboration with Daniel Rittsch of the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C.

Keeping bacteria from attaching to ship hulls or other submerged objects can prevent a larger cascade of events that can reduce performance or efficiency. Once they have taken up residence on a surface, bacteria often attract larger organisms, such as seaweed and larva of other marine organisms, such as worms, bivalves, barnacles or mussels.

There are other ways to introduce efficiencies in marine transp0rtation as per my June 27, 2012 posting about Zyvex Marine and its new composites which will make for lighter vessels.

Pretty decent directory of Cdn. nanotech companies, organizations, and education programmes

The folks at the Nanowerk website have dug into their database of nanotechnology companies, education programmes, and more to create an overview of the Canadian nanotechnology scene, from the Jan. 29, 2013 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

Canada offers world-class R&D infrastructure, a highly skilled and educated workforce, a wide array of government funding programs in support of nanotechnologies, a growing number of companies involved in nanotechnologies, and government commitment to the responsible development and application of nanotechnologies.

In 2001, the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) was established as Canada’s flagship nanotechnology institute; it is operated as a partnership between the National Research Council and the University of Alberta.

Currently, there are 90 companies in Canada involved in nanotechnology-related business activities.

In addition, there are 64 nanotechnology and nanoscience-related research and community organizations in Canada.

There are 15 academic nanotechnology degree programs in Canada.

The item proceeds to list a number of companies according to these classifications,

Nanomaterial Suppliers
Nanobiotechnology and Nanomedicine Companies
Nanotechnology Products, Applications & Instruments Companies
Nanotechnology Services & Intermediaries

Based on my information (and memory), this listing is in pretty good shape given that it’ s not managed, i.e., people submit information voluntarily and may or may not remember to update it. For example, the company now known as Vive Crop is listed as Vive Nano.  In the listing for ‘initiatives and networks in Canada with a nanotechnology focus’, the defunct NanoTech BC is listed but the currently active Nano Ontario is not.  Also, anyone who wants to locate a business or service in their province will have difficulty as the listings are alphabetical and the short description of the organization does not include location information.

All things considered, they’ve done a remarkably good job of gathering and presenting this information. Thank you to the folks at Nanowerk for this resource.

Speaking of resources, the item does mention Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) which has undergone some big changes in the last few months. Their previous website  as part of the larger National Research Council (NRC) website has been archived and the new NINT website suggests a serious downsizing effort of some sort has occurred.  The ‘lean and mean’ NRC NINT website contrasts strongly with the more informative and alternative NINT website located on the larger University of Alberta website. As both NINTs boast the same executive director, Dr. Marie D’Iorio, it would seem to be the same organization albeit with two different sites that are not linked to each other. Perhaps this is a new version of Canada’s two solitudes, this time starring the University of Alberta and the National Research Council of Canada. On second thought, the situation may more closely echo that old song title, Torn between two lovers.

ÉquiNanos, Québec’s innovative nanoparticle risk management team

ÉquiNanos as described in the January 2013 issue of Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, Medicine is both the name for an interdisciplinary nanoparticle risk management team and a model for managing that risk.

Before going further, here’s a citation and a link (if you want to see the article for yourself it is behind a paywall but everyone can get access to the abstract),

EquiNanos: innovative team for nanoparticle risk management by Sylvie Nadeau, Michèle Bouchard, Maximilien Debia, MSc, Nathalie DeMarcellis-Warin, Stéphane Hallé, Victor Songmene, Eng, Marie-Christine Therrien, Kevin Wilkinson, Barthélémy Ateme-Nguema, Geneviève Dufour, André Dufresne, Julien Fatisson, Sami Haddad, Madjid Hadioui, Jules Kouam, François Morency, Robert Tardif, Martin Viens, Scott Weichenthal, Claude Viau, Michel Camus. Nanomedicine. 2013 Jan;9(1):22-4. doi: 10.1016/j.nano.2012.08.003. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Here’s how the Québec-based and funded authors define the issues, excerpted  from the ÉquiNanos article (Note: Footnotes have been removed),

… Lack of proper evaluation of real risks might threaten to undermine the competitiveness of nanotechnologies. In spite of multiple efforts for more general regulations, and there is currently no specific regulation governing particle size-distribution, and no consensus on the benefits of protection or on the level of safety afforded by proposed protective measures. The different perspectives of the various actors (scientists, industrials, workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Commission (CSST-Quebec), legislators, independent technologies promoters, media, public) regarding risk management reveal the need for an inter-sector approach that allows all groups to achieve their goals. …

Business organizations must manage risks associated with NP in a climate of scientific uncertainty, in the absence of a regulatory framework specifically adapted to NP and without a proven effective and efficient approach to risk management.

This is their proposed model,

ÉquiNanos consists of eight platforms (…): Adaptive decision-aid tool, public and legal governance, communication of risks, monitoring nano-aerosols at the source, evaluation and control of exposure, biological and kinetic monitoring, manufacturing,and preventative actions. Their coordination is based on a functionalistic research-action model allowing the ÉquiNanos team to get involved directly in order to transform business reality and to produce knowledge related to these transformations through communication with all stakeholders and agents of governance. The melting of disciplines and knowledge is the foundation of our inter-sector model.

The authors have provided a diagram of their proposed model,

Figure 1. Functionalistic research-action model – ÉquiNanos (OHS: Occupational Health and Safety). [downloaded from http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/science/article/pii/S1549963412005175]

Figure 1. Functionalistic research-action model – ÉquiNanos (OHS: Occupational Health and Safety). [downloaded from http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/science/article/pii/S1549963412005175]

Not surprisingly Dr. Claude Ostiguy and Dr. Andrew Maynard are both cited in the reference. Both are well known for their work in the field of risk management of nanoparticles and nanomaterials and were mentioned in my July 26, 2011 posting about a, then recent, sensationalist and somewhat inaccurate  nano risk article published in the Georgia Straight.

Équinanos looks like a reasonable model although implementation issues abound. Are businesses going to voluntarily participate? What percentage of businesses will volunteer? What about nanotechnology-enabled products that are manufactured elsewhere? What mechanism is there for transmitting and sharing information? No doubt these questions and more are being considered. It will be interesting to see if or how they manage to address these issues.

The ultimate DIY: ‘How to build a robotic man’ on BBC 4

British Broadcasting Corporation’s Channel 4 (BBC 4) will be telecasting the ultimate do-it-yourself (DIY) project, How to build a bionic man on Feb. 7, 2013, 9 pm GMT. Corinne Burns in a Jan. 30, 2013 posting for the Guardian science blogs describes the documentary (Note: Links have been removed),

Created by Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP, the TV company behind Touching The Void and Richard Hammond’s Engineering Connections), with the help of robotics experts Shadow Robot Company, the bionic man was conceived as a literal response to the question: how close is bionic technology is to catching up with – and even exceeding – the capabilities of the human body?

DSP got in touch with Dr Bertolt Meyer, a charismatic young researcher from Zurich University and himself a lifelong user of prosthetic technology, and invited him to, essentially, rebuild himself in bionic form. The result can be seen in How to Build a Bionic Man, to be broadcast on Channel 4 on 7 February. The Bionic Man himself will then reside in the Science Museum’s Who Am I? gallery from 7 February until 11 March.

Richard Walker (left), chief roboticist, and Dr Bertolt Meyer (right) at the Body Lab. On the table is an iWalk BiOM ankle. Photograph: Channel 4  [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

Richard Walker (left), chief roboticist, and Dr Bertolt Meyer (right) at the Body Lab. On the table is an iWalk BiOM ankle. Photograph: Channel 4 [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

Burns goes on to discuss some of the issues raised by the increasing sophistication of prosthetics (Note: Links have been removed),

The engineering behind modern prosthetics is certainly awe-inspiring. The iLimb Ultra, of which Bertolt is a user, is part of the new class of myoelectric prosthetics. These custom-made devices function by placing electrical sensors directly in contact with the skin. These sensors pick up the signals generated by muscular movements in the residual limb – signals that are then translated by software into natural, intuitive movement in the prosthetic limb.

We all know about prosthetic limbs, even if many of us are not aware of just how sophisticated they now are. Less familiar, though, is the idea of bionic organs. Far removed from the iron lung of yore, these new fully integrated artificial body parts are designed to plug directly into our own metabolism – in effect, they are not within us, they become us. They’re the ultimate in biomimicry.

It’s one thing to use a bionic organ to replace lost function. But in a future world where we could, feasibly, replace virtually all of our body, will we blur the boundaries of artificial and natural to an extent that we have to recalibrate our definition of self and non-self? That’s especially pertinent when we consider the reality of neural prosthetics, like the “memory chips” developed by Dr Theodore Berger. Instinctively, many of us are uncomfortable with brain implants – but should we be? And will this discomfort be reduced if we broaden our definition of self?

Bertolt himself is pleased with the increasing normalisation, and even “coolness”, of prosthetics. But he expresses caution about the potential for elective use of such technology – would we ever choose to remove a healthy body part, in order to replace it with a stronger, better prosthetic?

Burns’ posting isn’t the only place where these discussion points and others related to human enhancement and robotic technologies are being raised, in a Jan. 18, 2013 posting I mentioned *a television advertisement for a new smartphone that ‘upgrades your brain’ that ‘normalises’ the idea of brain implants and other enhancements for everybody. As well, The Economist recently featured an article, You, robot? in its September 1st – 7th, 2012 issue about the European Union’s RoboLaw Project,

SPEAKING at a conference organised by The Economist earlier this year [2012], Hugh Herr, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described disabilities as conditions that persist “because of poor technology” and made the bold claim that during the 21st century disability would be largely eliminated. What gave his words added force was that half way through his speech, after ten minutes of strolling around the stage, he unexpectedly pulled up his trouser legs to reveal his bionic legs, and then danced a little jig. In future, he suggested, people might choose to replace an arthritic, painful limb with a fully functional robotic one. “Why wouldn’t you replace it?” he asked. “We’re going to see a lot of unusual situations like that.”

It is precisely to consider these sorts of situations, and the legal and ethical conundrums they will pose, that a new research project was launched in March. Is a prosthetic legally part of your body? When is it appropriate to amputate a limb and replace it with a robotic one? What are the legal rights of a person with “locked in” syndrome who communicates via a brain-computer interface? Do brain implants and body-enhancement devices require changes to the definition of disability? The RoboLaw project is an effort to anticipate such quandaries and work out where and how legal frameworks might need to be changed as the technology of bionics and neural interfaces improves. Funded to the tune of €1.9m ($2.3m), of which €1.4m comes from the European Commission, it brings together experts from engineering, law, regulation, philosophy and human enhancement.

There have been some recent legal challenges as to what constitutes one’s body (from The Economist article, You, robot?),

If you are dependent on a robotic wheelchair for mobility, for example, does the wheelchair count as part of your body? Linda MacDonald Glenn, an American lawyer and bioethicist, thinks it does. Ms Glenn (who is not involved in the RoboLaw project) persuaded an initially sceptical insurance firm that a “mobility assistance device” damaged by airline staff was more than her client’s personal property, it was an extension of his physical body. The airline settled out of court.

RoboLaw is a European Union Framework Programme 7-funded two year project, which started in 2012. There is a conference to be held in the Netherlands, April 23 – 24, 2013, from the RoboLaw home page,

RoboLaw Authors Workshop and Volume on ‘Opportunities and risks of robotics in relation to human values’

23-24 April 2013, Tilburg University, Tilburg (The Netherlands)

Call for paper and participation. Robotic technologies, taken to encompass anything from ‘traditional’ robots to emerging technologies in the field of biomedical research, such as nanotechnologies, bionics, and neural interfaces, as well as innovative biomedical applications, such as biomechatronic prostheses, hybrid bionic systems and bio- mechatronic components for sensory and motor augmentation, will have a profound impact on our lives. They may also affect human values, such as privacy, autonomy, bodily integrity, health, etc. In this workshop, we will focus on the impact of new technologies, and particularly robotics, on fundamental rights and human values. …

Important dates
Before 1 January 2013: Send an email to Ronald Leenes confirming your attendance, expressing your intention to either submit a paper or act as a commentator/reviewer.
Before 1 February: Send a 300 word abstract of the intended paper to Ronald Leenes
Before 8 February: Notification of acceptance.
Before 1 March: If your abstract has been accepted, send a draft of your full paper in PDF format to Ronald Leenes
Before 5 March: Circulation of papers
23-24 April 2013: Workshop
10 May: Selected final papers to be handed in.

According to the schedule, it’s a bit late to start the process for submitting an abstract but it never hurts to try.

Canadian academic, Gregor Wolbring, assistant professor, Dept of Community Health Sciences, Program in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at the University of Calgary and past president of the Canadian Disability Studies Association, offers a nuanced perspective on human enhancement issues and the term, ableism. From my Aug. 30, 2011 posting on cyborgs, eyeborgs and others,

… Gregor’s June 17, 2011 posting on the FedCan blog,

The term ableism evolved from the disabled people rights movements in the United States and Britain during the 1960s and 1970s.  It questions and highlights the prejudice and discrimination experienced by persons whose body structure and ability functioning were labelled as ‘impaired’ as sub species-typical. Ableism of this flavor is a set of beliefs, processes and practices, which favors species-typical normative body structure based abilities. It labels ‘sub-normative’ species-typical biological structures as ‘deficient’, as not able to perform as expected.

The disabled people rights discourse and disability studies scholars question the assumption of deficiency intrinsic to ‘below the norm’ labeled body abilities and the favoritism for normative species-typical body abilities. The discourse around deafness and Deaf Culture would be one example where many hearing people expect the ability to hear. This expectation leads them to see deafness as a deficiency to be treated through medical means. In contrast, many Deaf people see hearing as an irrelevant ability and do not perceive themselves as ill and in need of gaining the ability to hear. Within the disabled people rights framework ableism was set up as a term to be used like sexism and racism to highlight unjust and inequitable treatment.

Ableism is, however, much more pervasive.

Ableism based on biological structure is not limited to the species-typical/ sub species-typical dichotomy. With recent science and technology advances, and envisioned advances to come, we will see the dichotomy of people exhibiting species-typical and the so-called sub species-typical abilities labeled as impaired, and in ill health. On the other side we will see people exhibiting beyond species-typical abilities as the new expectation norm. An ableism that favours beyond species-typical abilities over species-typical and sub species-typical abilities will enable a change in meaning and scope of concepts such as health, illness, rehabilitation, disability adjusted life years, medicine, health care, and health insurance. For example, one will only be labeled as healthy if one has received the newest upgrade to one’s body – meaning one would by default be ill until one receives the upgrade.

You can find more about Gregor’s work on his University of Calgary webpage or his blog.

Finally, for anyone who wants a look at BBC 4′s ‘biionic man’,

A television company asked Dr Bertolt Meyer – who has a prosthetic arm – to rebuild himself in bionic form. Photograph: Channel 4 [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

A television company asked Dr Bertolt Meyer – who has a prosthetic arm – to rebuild himself in bionic form. Photograph: Channel 4 [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

* The articles ‘an’ was corrected to ‘a’ on July 16, 2013.

Industrial Biotechnology highlights nanotechnology applied to food and agriculture in the US

The Dec. 2012 issue of Industrial Biotechnology featured a special research section highlighting innovative uses of nanotechnology in agriculture and food in the US. The Jan. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert provides more detail,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) invests nearly $10 million a year to support about 250 nanoscale science and engineering projects that could lead to revolutionary advances in agriculture and food systems. …

In their introductory article, “Overview: Nanoscale Science and Engineering for Agriculture and Food Systems,” Co-Guest Editors Norman Scott, PhD, Professor, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) and Hongda Chen, PhD, National Program Leader, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA (Washington, DC), describe the promising early advances nanotechnology is enabling all along the food supply chain, from production through consumption, and especially in the area of food safety.

This special issue of IB [Industrial Biotechnology] includes the review article “Bioactivity and Biomodification of Ag, ZnO, and CuO Nanoparticles with Relevance to Plant Performance in Agriculture” by Anne Anderson and coauthors, Utah State University, Logan, in which they discuss the environmental factors that affect the biological activity and potential agricultural utility of nanoparticle. In the original research article “Effect of Silver Nanoparticles on Soil Denitrification Kinetics” Allison Rick VandeVoort and Yuji Arai, Clemson University (South Carolina), describe the effects of three different silver nanoparticles on native bacteria-mediated soil denitrification.

The short communication “Soft Lithography-Based Fabrication of Biopolymer Microparticles for Nutrient Microencapsulation” by Natalia Higuita-Castro, et al., The Ohio State University and Abbott Nutrition Products Division, Columbus, OH, describes a high-throughput microfabrication method to encapsulate nutrients that can enhance food nutritional value and appearance. Dan Luo and colleagues, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, present a promising microfluidic-based scale-up method for cell-free protein production in the methods article “Cell-Free Protein Expression from DNA-Based Hydrogel (P-Gel) Droplets for Scale-Up Production.”

“The rapid expansion in nanoscale science and technology in our community with new insights and methods in biomolecular and cellular processing will spur industrial biotechnology innovation in a number of important sectors,” says Larry Walker, PhD, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Professor, Biological & Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

These articles are open access although I don’t believe that the journal is necessarily open access. Before I explain that further, here’s a bit more about the editors and the publisher,

About the Journal

Industrial Biotechnology, led by Co-Editors-in-Chief Larry Walker, PhD, and Glenn Nedwin, PhD, MBA, is an authoritative journal focused on biobased industrial and environmental products and processes, published bimonthly in print and online. The Journal reports on the science, business, and policy developments of the emerging global bioeconomy, including biobased production of energy and fuels, chemicals, materials, and consumer goods. The articles published include critically reviewed original research in all related sciences (biology, biochemistry, chemical and process engineering, agriculture), in addition to expert commentary on current policy, funding, markets, business, legal issues, and science trends. Industrial Biotechnology offers the premier forum bridging basic research and R&D with later-stage commercialization for sustainable biobased industrial and environmental applications.

About the Publisher

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative medical and biomedical peer-reviewed journals, including Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, Population Health Management, Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics, and Journal of Women’s Health. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry’s most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm’s 70 journals, newsmagazines, and books is available on the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers website at http://www.liebertpub.com.

The publisher, Mary Ann Liebert, offers an open access option to authors and research funders, which means that for a fee, an article will be freely available online but (I strongly suspect) not all the articles in a journal issue are necessarily published under an open access agreement. In contrast, if it’s an article in a Wiley or Elsevier journal, you can be pretty much guaranteed that the online article is behind a paywall.

Montréal Neuro and one of Europe’s biggest research enterprises, the Human Brain Project

Its official title is the Montréal Neurological Institute and Hospital (Montréal Neuro) which is and has been, for several decades, an international centre for cutting edge neurological research. From the Jan. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

The Neuro

The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital — The Neuro, is a unique academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro is recognized internationally for integrating research, compassionate patient care and advanced training, all key to advances in science and medicine. The Neuro is a research and teaching institute of McGill University and forms the basis for the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre.

Neuro researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. For more information, visit theneuro.com.

Nonetheless, it was a little surprising to see that ‘The Neuro’ is part one of the biggest research projects in history since it’s the European Union, which is bankrolling the project (see my posting about the Jan. 28, 2013 announcement of the winning FET Flagship Initatives). Here’s more information about the project, its lead researchers, and Canada’s role, from the news release,

The goal of the Human Brain Project is to pull together all our existing knowledge about the human brain and to reconstruct the brain, piece by piece, in supercomputer-based models and simulations. The models offer the prospect of a new understanding of the human brain and its diseases and of completely new computing and robotic technologies. On January 28 [2013], the European Commission supported this vision, announcing that it has selected the HBP as one of two projects to be funded through the new FET [Future and Emerging Technologies] Flagship Program.

Federating more than 80 European and international research institutions, the Human Brain Project is planned to last ten years (2013-2023). The cost is estimated at 1.19 billion euros. The project will also associate some important North American and Japanese partners. It will be coordinated at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, by neuroscientist Henry Markram with co-directors Karlheinz Meier of Heidelberg University, Germany, and Richard Frackowiak of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) and the University of Lausanne (UNIL).

Canada’s role in this international project is through Dr. Alan Evans of the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University. His group has developed a high-performance computational platform for neuroscience (CBRAIN) and multi-site databasing technologies that will be used to assemble brain imaging data across the HBP. He is also collaborating with European scientists on the creation of ultra high-resolution 3D brain maps. «This ambitious project will integrate data across all scales, from molecules to whole-brain organization. It will have profound implications for our understanding of brain development in children and normal brain function, as well as for combatting brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease,» said Dr. Evans. “The MNI’s pioneering work on brain imaging technology has led to significant advances in our understanding of the brain and neurological disorders,” says Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of the MNI. “I am proud that our expertise is a key contributor to this international program focused on improving quality of life worldwide.”

“The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is delighted to acknowledge the outstanding contributions of Dr. Evans and his team. Their work on the CBRAIN infrastructure and this leading-edge HBP will allow the integration of Canadian neuroscientists into an eventual global brain project,” said Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director for the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction. “Congratulations to the Canadian and European researchers who will be working collaboratively towards the same goal which is to provide insights into neuroscience that will ultimately improve people’s health.”

“From mapping the sensory and motor cortices of the brain to pioneering work on the mechanisms of memory, McGill University has long been synonymous with world-class neuroscience research,” says Dr. Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations). “The research of Dr. Evans and his team marks an exciting new chapter in our collective pursuit to unlock the potential of the human brain and the entire nervous system – a critical step that would not be possible without the generous support of the European Commission and the FET Flagship Program.”

Canada is not the only non-European Union country making an announcement about its role in this extraordinary project. There’s a Jan. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert touting Israel’s role,

The European Commission has chosen the Human Brain Project, in which the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is participating, as one of two Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship topics. The enterprise will receive funding of 1.19 billion euros over the next decade.

The project will bring together top scientists from around the world who will work on one of the great challenges of modern science: understanding the human brain. Participating from Israel will a team of eight scientists, led by Prof. Idan Segev of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC) at the Hebrew University, Prof. Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Dr. Mira Marcus-Kalish of Tel Aviv University.

More than 80 universities and research institutions in Europe and the world will be involved in the ten-year Human Brain Project, which will commence later this year and operate until the year 2023. The project will be centered at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, headed by Prof. Henry Markram, a former Israeli who was recruited ten years ago to the EPFL.

The participation of the Israeli scientists testifies to the leading role that Israeli brain research occupies in the world, said Israeli President Shimon Peres. “Israel has put brain research at the heart of its efforts for the coming decade, and our country is already spearheading the global effort towards the betterment of our understanding of mankind. I am confident that the forthcoming discoveries will benefit a wide range of domains, from health to industry, as well as our society as a whole,” Peres said.

“The human brain is the most complex and amazing structure in the universe, yet we are very far from understanding it. In a way, we are strangers to ourselves. Unraveling the mysteries of the brain will help us understand our functioning, our choices, and ultimately ourselves. I congratulate the European Commission for its vision in selecting the Human Brain Project as a Flagship Mission for the forthcoming decade,” said Peres.

What’s amusing is that as various officials and interested parties (such as myself) wax lyrical about these projects, most of the rest of the world is serenely oblivious to it all.

US Federal Bureau of Investigation talked nano at the University of Notre Dame

A Sept. 2012 US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) workshop held at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) has spawned an article about ‘dual-use’ nanotechnology by Professor Kathleen Eggleson of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Nano Science and Technology, from the Jan. 25, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

Every day scientists learn more about how the world works at the smallest scales. While this knowledge has the potential to help others, it’s possible that the same discoveries can also be used in ways that cause widespread harm.

A new article in the journal Nanomedicine, born out of a Federal Bureau of Investigation workshop held at the University of Notre Dame in September 2012, tackles this complex “dual-use” aspect of nanotechnology research.

Here are the specifics,

The report examines the potential for nano-sized particles (which are measured in billionths of a meter) to breach the blood-brain barrier, the tightly knit layers of cells that afford the brain the highest level of protection—from microorganisms, harmful molecules, etc.—in the human body. Some neuroscientists are purposefully engineering nanoparticles that can cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) so as to deliver medicines in a targeted and controlled way directly to diseased parts of the brain.

At the same time, the report notes, “nanoparticles designed to cross the BBB constitute a serious threat…in the context of combat.” For example, it is theorized that “aerosol delivery” of some nano-engineered agent in “a crowded indoor space” could cause serious harm to many people at once.

The problem of dual-use research was highlighted last year when controversy erupted over the publication of findings that indicate how, with a handful modifications, the H5N1 influenza virus (“bird flu”) can be altered in a way that would enable it to be transmitted between mammalian populations.

After a self-imposed one-year moratorium on this research, several laboratories around the world announced that they will restart the work in early 2013.

The FBI is actively responding to these developments in the scientific community.

This is what the FBI and Eggleson have to say about the relation between science and law enforcement,

“The law enforcement-security community seeks to strengthen the existing dialogue with researchers,” William So of the FBI’s Biological Countermeasures Unit says in the study.

“Science flourishes because of the open and collaborative atmosphere for sharing and discussing ideas. The FBI believes this model can do the same for our two communities…[and] create effective safeguards for science and national interests.”

The scientists and engineers who conduct nanoscale research have the ability and responsibility to consider the public safety aspects of their research and to act to protect society when necessary, argues Eggleson.

“The relationship between science and society is an uneasy one, but it is undeniable on the whole and not something any individual can opt out of in the name of progress for humanity’s benefit,” she says.

“Thought about dual-use, and action when appropriate, is inherent to socially responsible practice of nanobiomedical science.”

Here’s a citation and link to Eggleson’s article,

Dual-use nanoresearch of concern: Recognizing threat and safeguarding the power of nanobiomedical research advances in the wake of the H5N1 controversy by Kathleen Eggleson. In Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine (article in press) advance article published online 17 January 2013.

This article is behind a paywall. There are two abstracts, one is a standard text-based abstract and the other is a graphical abstract,

Graphical Abstract 

From deliberate translocation of nanoparticles across the blood-brain barrier to virulence factors in the genomic era, this article argues that issues of dual-use or DURC are pertinent to the broader scientific community. Awareness of potential misuse, and communicative action when warranted, is of particular importance for nanobiomedical researchers.

GraphicalAbstractjpg