Monthly Archives: April 2013

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles

There’s more about the Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles (final report) in the Apr. 30, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: Links were removed),

The final report for the life-cycle assessment (LCA) of current and emerging energy systems used in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles conducted by the DfE [Design for the Environment]/ORD [Office of Research and Development] Li-ion Batteries and Nanotechnology Partnership is now available. The LCA results will help to promote the responsible development of these emerging energy systems, including nanotechnology innovations in advanced batteries, leading to reduced overall environmental impacts and the reduced use and release of more toxic materials.

This partnership was led by EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Program, in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, and the National Risk Management Research Laboratory, in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

US EPA’s Partnership for “Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles” webspace describes the project and the report,

The partnership conducted a screening-level life-cycle assessment (LCA) of currently manufactured lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technologies for electric vehicles, and a next generation battery component (anode) that uses single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) technology.

A quantitative environmental LCA of Li-ion batteries was conducted using primary data from both battery manufacturers and recyclers–and the nanotechnology anode currently being researched for next-generation batteries.

This type of study had not been previously conducted, and was needed to help grow the advanced-vehicle battery industry in a more environmentally responsible and efficient way. The LCA results are expected to mitigate current and future impacts and risks by helping battery manufacturers and suppliers identify which materials and processes are likely to pose the greatest impacts or potential risks to public health or the environment throughout the life cycle of their products. The study identifies opportunities for environmental improvement, and can inform design changes that will result in the use of less toxic materials and reduced overall environmental impacts, and increased energy efficiency.

The opportunities for improving the environmental profile of Li-ion batteries for plug-in and electric vehicles identified in the draft LCA study have the potential to drive a significant reduction of potential environmental impacts and risks, given that advanced batteries are an emerging and growing technology.

The study also demonstrates how the life-cycle impacts of an emerging technology and novel application of nanomaterials (i.e., the SWCNT anode) can be assessed before the technology is mature, and provides a benchmark for future life-cycle assessments of this technology.

For anyone who’s interested the final report (all 126 pp) of the LCA is available here.

“Control my chirality, please,” said the carbon nanotube to the researchers

A combined Finnish, Russian, and Danish team have found a way to control the chirality of single-walled carbon nanotubes according to an Apr. 30, 2013 news item on Azonano,

An ultimate goal in the field of carbon nanotube research is to synthesise single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) with controlled chiralities. Twenty years after the discovery of SWNTs, scientists from Aalto University in Finland, A.M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute RAS in Russia and the Center for Electron Nanoscopy of Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have managed to control chirality in carbon nanotubes during their chemical vapor deposition synthesis.

The Aalto University Apr. 29, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, goes on to explain,

 Over the years, substantial progress has been made to develop various structure-controlled synthesis methods. However, precise control over the chiral structure of SWNTs has been largely hindered by a lack of practical means to direct the formation of the metal nanoparticle catalysts and their catalytic dynamics during tube growth.

– We achieved an epitaxial formation of Co nanoparticles by reducing a well-developed solid solution in CO, reveals Maoshuai He, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University School of Chemical Technology.

– For the first time, the new catalyst was employed for selective growth of SWNTs, adds senior staff scientist Hua Jiang from Aalto University School of Science.

By introducing the new catalysts into a conventional CVD reactor, the research team demonstrated preferential growth of semiconducting SWNTs (~90%) with an exceptionally high population of (6,5) tubes (53%) at 500 °C. Furthermore, they also showed a shift of the chiral preference from (6,5) tubes at 500 °C  to (7, 6) and (9, 4) nanotubes at 400 °C.

– These findings open new perspectives both for structural control of SWNTs and for elucidating their growth mechanisms, thus are important for the fundamental understanding of science behind nanotube growth, comments Professor Juha Lehtonen from Aalto University.

For anyone like me who needs a description of chirality, there’s this from Wikipedia,

Chirality (pron.: /kaɪˈrælɪtiː/) is a property of asymmetry important in several branches of science. The word chirality is derived from the Greek, χειρ (kheir), “hand”, a familiar chiral object.

An object or a system is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, that is, it cannot be superposed onto it. A chiral object and its mirror image are called enantiomorphs (Greek opposite forms) or, when referring to molecules, enantiomers. A non-chiral object is called achiral (sometimes also amphichiral) and can be superposed on its mirror image.

Human hands are perhaps the most universally recognized example of chirality: The left hand is a non-superimposable mirror image of the right hand; no matter how the two hands are oriented, it is impossible for all the major features of both hands to coincide.[2] This difference in symmetry becomes obvious if someone attempts to shake the right hand of a person using his left hand, or if a left-handed glove is placed on a right hand. In mathematics chirality is the property of a figure that is not identical to its mirror image.

One of the researchers notes why they, or anyone else, would want to control the chirality of carbon nanotubes, from the news release,

– Chirality defines the optical and electronic properties of carbon nanotubes, so controlling it is a key to exploiting their practical applications, says Professor Esko I. Kauppinen, the leader of the Nanomaterials Group in Aalto University School of Science.

ETA Apr. 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm PDT: Here’s a link to and a citation for the team’s published paper,

Chiral-Selective Growth of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes on Lattice-Mismatched Epitaxial Cobalt Nanoparticles by Maoshuai He, Hua Jiang, Bilu Liu, Pavel V. Fedotov, Alexander I. Chernov, Elena D. Obraztsova, Filippo Cavalca, Jakob B. Wagner, Thomas W. Hansen, Ilya V. Anoshkin, Ekaterina A. Obraztsova, Alexey V. Belkin, Emma Sairanen, Albert G. Nasibulin,  Juha Lehtonen, & Esko I. Kauppinen. Scientific Reports 3, Article number 1460  doi:10.1038/srep01460 Published15 March 2013

This article is open access.

Extending memristive theory

This is kind of fascinating. A German research team based at JARA (Jülich Aachen Research Alliance) is suggesting that memristive theory be extended beyond passive components in their paper about Resistive Memory Cells (ReRAM) which was recently published in Nature Communications. From the Apr. 26, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Resistive memory cells (ReRAM) are regarded as a promising solution for future generations of computer memories. They will dramatically reduce the energy consumption of modern IT systems while significantly increasing their performance.

Unlike the building blocks of conventional hard disk drives and memories, these novel memory cells are not purely passive components but must be regarded as tiny batteries. This has been demonstrated by researchers of Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA), whose findings have now been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications. The new finding radically revises the current theory and opens up possibilities for further applications. The research group has already filed a patent application for their first idea on how to improve data readout with the aid of battery voltage.

The Apr. 23, 2013 JARA news release, which originated the news item, provides some background information about data memory before going on to discuss the ReRAMs,

Conventional data memory works on the basis of electrons that are moved around and stored. However, even by atomic standards, electrons are extremely small. It is very difficult to control them, for example by means of relatively thick insulator walls, so that information will not be lost over time. This does not only limit storage density, it also costs a great deal of energy. For this reason, researchers are working feverishly all over the world on nanoelectronic components that make use of ions, i.e. charged atoms, for storing data. Ions are some thousands of times heavier that electrons and are therefore much easier to ‘hold down’. In this way, the individual storage elements can almost be reduced to atomic dimensions, which enormously improves the storage density.

Here’s how the ions behave in ReRAMs (from the news release),

In resistive switching memory cells (ReRAMs), ions behave on the nanometre scale in a similar manner to a battery. The cells have two electrodes, for example made of silver and platinum, at which the ions dissolve and then precipitate again. This changes the electrical resistance, which can be exploited for data storage. Furthermore, the reduction and oxidation processes also have another effect. They generate electric voltage. ReRAM cells are therefore not purely passive systems – they are also active electrochemical components. Consequently, they can be regarded as tiny batteries whose properties provide the key to the correct modelling and development of future data storage.

In complex experiments, the scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University determined the battery voltage of typical representatives of ReRAM cells and compared them with theoretical values. This comparison revealed other properties (such as ionic resistance) that were previously neither known nor accessible. “Looking back, the presence of a battery voltage in ReRAMs is self-evident. But during the nine-month review process of the paper now published we had to do a lot of persuading, since the battery voltage in ReRAM cells can have three different basic causes, and the assignment of the correct cause is anything but trivial,” says Dr. Ilia Valov, the electrochemist in Prof. Rainer Waser’s research group.

This discovery could lead to optimizing ReRAMs and exploiting them in new applications (from the news release),

“The new findings will help to solve a central puzzle of international ReRAM research,” says Prof. Rainer Waser, deputy spokesman of the collaborative research centre SFB 917 ‘Nanoswitches’ established in 2011. In recent years, these puzzling aspects include unexplained long-term drift phenomena or systematic parameter deviations, which had been attributed to fabrication methods. “In the light of this new knowledge, it is possible to specifically optimize the design of the ReRAM cells, and it may be possible to discover new ways of exploiting the cells’ battery voltage for completely new applications, which were previously beyond the reach of technical possibilities,” adds Waser, whose group has been collaborating for years with companies such as Intel and Samsung Electronics in the field of ReRAM elements.

The part I found most interesting, given my interest in memristors, is this bit about extending the memristor theory, from the news release,

The new finding is of central significance, in particular, for the theoretical description of the memory components. To date, ReRAM cells have been described with the aid of the concept of memristors – a portmanteau word composed of “memory” and “resistor”. The theoretical concept of memristors can be traced back to Leon Chua in the 1970s. It was first applied to ReRAM cells by the IT company Hewlett-Packard in 2008. It aims at the permanent storage of information by changing the electrical resistance. The memristor theory leads to an important restriction. It is limited to passive components. “The demonstrated internal battery voltage of ReRAM elements clearly violates the mathematical construct of the memristor theory. This theory must be expanded to a whole new theory – to properly describe the ReRAM elements,” says Dr. Eike Linn, the specialist for circuit concepts in the group of authors. [emphases mine] This also places the development of all micro- and nanoelectronic chips on a completely new footing.

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

Nanobatteries in redox-based resistive switches require extension of memristor theory by I. Valov,  E. Linn, S. Tappertzhofen,  S. Schmelzer,  J. van den Hurk,  F. Lentz,  & R. Waser. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1771 doi:10.1038/ncomms2784 Published 23 April 2013

This paper is open access (as of this writing).

Here’s a list of my 2013 postings on memristors and memristive devices,

2.5M Euros for Ireland’s John Boland and his memristive nanowires (Apr. 4, 2013 posting)

How to use a memristor to create an artificial brain (Feb. 26, 2013 posting)

CeNSE (Central Nervous System of the Earth) and billions of tiny sensors from HP plus a memristor update (Feb. 7, 2013 posting)

For anyone who cares to search the blog, there are several more.

Shapeshifting on demand but no stretching yet: morphees

This research (Morphees) is from Bristol University where researchers have created prototypes for shapeshifting mobile devices,

A high-fidelity prototype using projection and tracking on wood tiles that are actuated with thin shape-memory alloy wires [downloaded from]

A high-fidelity prototype using projection and tracking on wood tiles that are actuated with thin shape-memory alloy wires [downloaded from]

The Apr. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert provides more detail,

The research, led by Dr Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, have used ‘shape resolution’ to compare the resolution of six prototypes the team have built using the latest technologies in shape changing material, such as shape memory alloy and electro active polymer.

One example of a device is the team’s concept of Morphees, self-actuated flexible mobile devices that can change shape on-demand to better fit the many services they are likely to support.

The team believe Morphees will be the next generation of mobile devices, where users can download applications that embed a dedicated form factor, for instance the “stress ball app” that collapses the device in on itself or the “game app” that makes it adopt a console-like shape.

Dr Anne Roudaut, Research Assistant in the Department of Computer Science’s Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, said: “The interesting thing about our work is that we are a step towards enabling our mobile devices to change shape on-demand. Imagine downloading a game application on the app-store and that the mobile phone would shape-shift into a console-like shape in order to help the device to be grasped properly. The device could also transform into a sphere to serve as a stress ball, or bend itself to hide the screen when a password is being typed so passers-by can’t see private information.”

By comparing the shape resolution of their prototypes, the researchers have created insights to help designers towards creating high shape resolution Morphees.

In the future the team hope to build higher shape resolution Morphees by investigating the flexibility of materials. They are also interested in exploring other kinds of deformations that the prototypes did not explore, such as porosity and stretchability.

Here’s the video where the researchers demonstrate their morphees,

The work will be presented at ACM CHI 2013, sometime between Saturday 27 April to Thursday 2 May 2013, in Paris, France. For those who’d like to see the paper which will be presented, here’s a link to it,

Morphees: Toward High “Shape Resolution” in Self-Actuated Flexible Mobile Devices by
Anne Roudaut, Abhijit Karnik, Markus Löchtefeld, and Sriram Subramanian

After reading the news release and watching the video, I am reminded of the ‘morph’ concept, a shapeshifting, wearable device proposed by Cambridge University and Nokia. Last I wrote about that project, they had announced a stretchable skin, as per my Nov. 7, 2011 posting.

For those who are interested in what ACM CHI 2013 is all about, from the home page,

The ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems is the premier international conference on human-computer interaction. CHI 2013 is about changing perspectives: we draw from the constantly changing perspectives of the diverse CHI community and beyond, but we also change perspectives, offering new visions of people interacting with technology. The conference is multidisciplinary, drawing from science, engineering and design, with contributions from research and industry in 15 different venues. CHI brings together students and experts from over 60 countries, representing different cultures and different application areas, whose diverse perspectives influence each other.

CHI 2013 is located in vibrant Paris, France, the most visited city in the world. The conference will be held at the Palais de Congrès de Paris. First in Europe in research and development, with the highest concentration of higher education students in Europe, Paris is a world-class center for business and culture, with over 3800 historical monuments.The Louvre’s pyramid captures the spirit of CHI’13, offering diverse perspectives on design and technology, contrasting the old and new. The simple glass sides reveal inner complexity, sometimes transparent, sometimes reflecting the people and buildings that surround it, in the constantly
changing Paris light.

CHI 2013 welcomes works addressing research on all aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI), as well as case studies of interactive system designs, innovative proof-of-concept, and presentations by experts on the latest challenges and innovations in the field. In addition to a long-standing focus on professionals in design, engineering, management, and user experience; this year’s conference has made special efforts to serve communities in the areas of: design, management, engineering, user experience, arts, sustainability, children, games and health. We look forward to seeing you at CHI 2013 in Paris!

As I recall, ACM stands for Association of Computing Machinery, CHI stands for computer-human interface, and SIG stands for Special Interest Group.

ETA May 13, 2013: I meant to do this two weeks ago (Apr. 30,2013), ah well. Roel Vertegaal and his team at Canada’s Queen’s University introduced something called a MorePhone, which can curl up and change shape, at the CHI 2013. From the Apr. 30, 2013 news release on EurekAlert*,

Researchers at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have developed a new smartphone – called MorePhone – which can morph its shape to give users a silent yet visual cue of an incoming phone call, text message or email.

“This is another step in the direction of radically new interaction techniques afforded by smartphones based on thin film, flexible display technologies” says Roel Vertegaal (School of Computing), director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University who developed the flexible PaperPhone and PaperTab.

“Users are familiar with hearing their phone ring or feeling it vibrates in silent mode. One of the problems with current silent forms of notification is that users often miss notifications when not holding their phone. With MorePhone, they can leave their smartphone on the table and observe visual shape changes when someone is trying to contact them.”

MorePhone is not a traditional smartphone. It is made of a thin, flexible electrophoretic display manufactured by Plastic Logic – a British company and a world leader in plastic electronics. Sandwiched beneath the display are a number of shape memory alloy wires that contract when the phone notifies the user. This allows the phone to either curl either its entire body, or up to three individual corners. Each corner can be tailored to convey a particular message. For example, users can set the top right corner of the MorePhone to bend when receiving a text message, and the bottom right corner when receiving an email. Corners can also repeatedly bend up and down to convey messages of greater urgency.

I have written about Vertegaal and his team’s ‘paper’ devices previously. The most recent piece is this Jan. 9, 2013 posting, Canada’s Queen’s University strikes again with its ‘paper’ devices. You can find out more about Plastic Logic here.

*’Eurkealert’ changed to ‘EurekAlert’ on Feb. 17, 2016.

Council of Europe makes some suggestions about regulating nanotechnology

There was a rather confusing Apr. 27, 2013 news item on Nanotechnology Now about nanotechnology regulation,

As an established vanguard for law governing the right to health, public health and consumer protection throughout Europe, the Council of Europe [CoE] and its human rights court has remained a leading model for jurisprudence throughout the world. Its 47 (forty seven) Member nations embrace 800 million people, including Switzerland. CoE efforts in consumer protection and environmental health exemplify the concept that protection and promotion of the health and welfare of its citizens is considered to be one of the most important functions of the modern state”. CoE legal instruments frequently are the basis of juridical determinations in the Court of Human rights and serve as influential models for the entire world.

The report outlines essential European legal concepts for public discourse concerning nanotechnology safety and the regulation of nanotechnology in commerce: First, the report offers an overview of the legal landscape in nanotechnology regulation confronting everyone: bioethics issues, impact on human and non-human health, environmental impact and the promise of nanomedicine for improving everyone’s quality of life. [emphasis mine] Second, the report helps to chart a path regarding possible treaties or international agreements governing the use and monitoring of nanotechnology.

What has me confused is that the Council of Europe has no real regulatory powers according to its Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

The Council of Europe is an international organization promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. It was founded in 1949, has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens, and is an entirely separate body[1] from the European Union (EU), which has only 27 member states. Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws. [emphasis mine] The two do however share certain symbols such as the flag and the anthem.

Additionally, since there have been a number of reports and dialogue/public engagement exercises produced by the European Union, the newest report and a debate which took place on Apr. 26, 2013 in Strasbourg, France at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly seem unnecessary.

Ilise L Feitshans who authored the 16 pp. report (Nanotechnology: balancing benefits and risks to public health and the environment) had this to say in her Apr. 24, 2013 posting on Yahoo about her report,

Contact:  forecastingnanolaw@…  …

In 2012, the Council of Europe  (CoE) Parliamentary Assembly began the first steps towards nanotechnology regulation with a view to respecting the scientific precautionary principles.  It commissioned an expert report, “Nanotechnology: balancing benefits and risks to public health and the environment”, enthusiastically accepted at the CoE meeting of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development in November 2012. That same report is slated for public debate before the entire Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg France, April 26, 2013.

This is a draft/provisional version of the recommendation accepted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (you can find a summary here),

Recommendation 2017 (2013)1

Provisional version

Nanotechnology: balancing benefits and risks to public health and the environment
Parliamentary Assembly

1. Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Nanomaterials involve structures having dimensions of nanometres (nm), th at is one billionth (or 10-9) of a metre, typically between 1 and 100 nanometres in size. At such dimensions, materials can show significantly different physical, biological and/or chemical properties from materials at bigger dimensions, which opens up a range of new possibilities for technology.
2. Nanotechnology and its myriad applications have the potential for enormous benefits (in particular in the field of “nanomedicine”), but also for serious harm. As with most emerging technologies, many risks, both to public health and to the environment, are as yet poorly understood. However, commercial applications of nanotechnology are already in widespread use. Regulations have struggled to keep up with the pace of
scientific innovation.
3. For years, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers of
the Council of Europe have been advocating the need for a culture of precaution inco rporating the precautionary principle into scientific and technological processes, with due regard for freedom of research and innovation. In 2005, the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe gave undertakings in the Final Declaration of the 3rd Summit of the Council of Europe “to ensure security for our citizens in the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and to meet, in this context, “the challenges attendant on scientific and technical progress”.
4. The Assembly believes that, in keeping with these undertakings, the Council of Europe, as the only pan-European body with a human rights protection mandate, should set legal
standards on nanotechnology based on scientific knowledge and the precautionary principle, which will protect 800 million Europeans from risk of serious harm, while encouraging nanotechnology’s potential beneficial use.
5. The Assembly thus recommends that the Committee of Ministers work out guidelines on balancing benefits and risks to public health and the environment in the field of nanotechnology which:

5.1. respect the precautionary principle while taking into account freedom of research and
encouraging innovation;
5.2. allow for consistent application across borders, across the origins of nanomaterials (synthetic, natural, accidental, manufactured, engineered) and across the functional uses and biological fate of the nanomaterials under regulation;
5.3. seek to harmonise regulatory frameworks, including of risk assessment and risk management methods, protection of researchers and workers in the nanotech industry, consumer and patient protection and education (including labelling requirements taking into account informed consent imperatives), as well as of reporting and registration requirements, in order to lay down a common standard;
5.4. are negotiated in an open and transparent process, involving multiple stakeholders (national governments, international organisations, the Parliamentary Assembly, civil society, experts and scientists) in the framework of a dialogue which transcends the Council of Europe area;
5.5. can be used as a model for regulatory standards worldwide;
5.6. could first take the form of a Committee of Ministers recommendation, but could also be transformed into a binding legal instrument if the majority of member States so wish, for example in the form of an additional protocol to the 1997 Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine: Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (ETS No. 164, “Oviedo Convention”); [emphasis mine]
5.7. aspire to create an international interdisciplinary centre to be the world’s knowledge base in the field of nanosafety in the near future, without prejudice to the continued support, even in financial terms, to ongoing research projects aimed at determining potential risks of nanomaterials;
5.8. will be able to promote the development of an assessment system
of ethical rules, advertising materials and consumer expectations, regarding research projects and consumer products in thenanotechnology field impacting on human beings and the environment.

6. The Assembly recommends that the Council of Europe’s Committee on Bioethics (DH-BIO) be entrusted with a feasibility study on the elaboration of possible standards in this area, based on paragraph 5 of the present recommendation, as a first step in the start of negotiations on the topic with a multiple stakeholder approach. This study should include, in any case, ongoing scientific research at international level to learn about the risks of nanotechnological material. Thus, the scientific community will be actively involved in the drafting of any proposal of standardisation and/or legislation.

1Assembly debate on 26 April 2013 (18th Sitting) (see Doc. 13117, report of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, rapporteur: Mr Sudarenkov). Text adopted by the Assembly on 26 April 2013 (18th Sitting). [emphasis mine]

The whole thing has me somewhat puzzled since the Council of  Europe cannot enact ‘binding laws’ and they are somewhat late to the ‘nanotechnology regulation’ party, which has been taking place for years by various constituencies such as the US, Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), ISO (International Standards Organization) and the European Union among others. (Please accept my apologies for not mentioning more regions and linguistic groups but my language skills don’t allow me to scan for as much information as I’d like.)

This particular move by the Council of Europe seems to be of a redundant redundancy (I have borrowed this term from one of my favourite science fiction authors, Lois McMaster Bujold). But perhaps there’s someone out there who can explain why more regulatory standards from the Council of Europe are needed.

Pousse-café nanowires

If you grow a nanowire made up of three elements on a graphene substrate, you get a surprise. At least, that’s what the research team at the University of Illinois received. From the Apr. 23, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

Nanowires, tiny strings of semiconductor material, have great potential for applications in transistors, solar cells, lasers, sensors and more.

“Nanowires are really the major building blocks of future nano-devices,” said postdoctoral researcher Parsian Mohseni, first author of the study. “Nanowires are components that can be used, based on what material you grow them out of, for any functional electronics application.”

Li’s group uses a method called van der Waals epitaxy to grow nanowires from the bottom up on a flat substrate of semiconductor materials, such as silicon. The nanowires are made of a class of materials called III-V (three-five), compound semiconductors that hold particular promise for applications involving light, such as solar cells or lasers.

The group previously reported growing III-V nanowires on silicon. While silicon is the most widely used material in devices, it has a number of shortcomings. Now, the group has grown nanowires of the material indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) on a sheet of graphene, a 1-atom-thick sheet of carbon with exceptional physical and conductive properties.

“One of the reasons we want to grow on graphene is to stay away from thick and expensive substrates,” Mohseni said. “About 80 percent of the manufacturing cost of a conventional solar cell comes from the substrate itself. We’ve done away with that by just using graphene. Not only are there inherent cost benefits, we’re also introducing functionality that a typical substrate doesn’t have.”

The researchers pump gases containing gallium, indium and arsenic into a chamber with a graphene sheet. The nanowires self-assemble, growing by themselves into a dense carpet of vertical wires across the surface of the graphene. Other groups have grown nanowires on graphene with compound semiconductors that only have two elements, but by using three elements, the Illinois group made a unique finding: The InGaAs wires grown on graphene spontaneously segregate into an indium arsenide (InAs) core with an InGaAs shell around the outside of the wire. [emphasis mine]

“This is unexpected,” Li [professor Xiuling Li] said. “A lot of devices require a core-shell architecture. Normally you grow the core in one growth condition and change conditions to grow the shell on the outside. This is spontaneous, done in one step. The other good thing is that since it’s a spontaneous segregation, it produces a perfect interface.”

The group plans to make solar cells amongst other items with this new type of nanowire. You can find the whole story (Apr. 23, 2013 news item) on ScienceDaily along with a link to and citation for the researchers’ paper.

This story reminded me of a cocktail that’s fascinated me for years, a pousse-café,

Downloaded from

Downloaded from

The layers are not self-assembling as are the nanowires. Making this drink requires knowledge of the various weights of the liqueurs you are using and some care. You can find some recipes for modern pousse-cafés at the Science of Drink here. I believe this site has been translated from another language so you may find some unusual grammatical structures.

Have a lovely weekend.

Nanotech Security Corp wins British Columbia Technology Industries Association award

I’ve written about Nanotech Security Corp and its anti-counterfeiting technology based on the nanostructures found on the Blue Morpho butterfly’s wings  before (notably in my Sept. 29, 2011 posting). While it’s a little early to declare the company a winner since it’s the only nominee in its category I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet to say that it has won the British Columbia Technology Industries Association (BC TIA) 2013 technology impact award for Most Promising Pre-Commercial Technology. From the Apr. 26, 2013 posting on the Techvibes blog,

Today the BC Technology Industry Association announced the finalists for the 2013 Technology Impact Awards.

BCTIA says the 2013 finalists “reaffirm British Columbia’s status as innovators” in a cross-section of technologies including enterprise software, telecommunications, hardware, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Most Promising Pre-Commercial Technology

Nanotech Security Corp

I gather the official announcement will be made at the June 6, 2013 (the 20th anniversary) Technology Impact Awards Gala.

US National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety sets recommendations for workplace exposure to carbon nanofibers/nanotubes

Earlier this week, the US National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) set recommendations for workplace exposure to carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers. According to the Apr. 24, 2013 media advisory from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NIOSH’s parent agency), the recommendations have been issued in the new Current Intelligence Bulletin (CIB) no. 65. From CIB No. 65,

NIOSH is the leading federal agency conducting research and providing guidance on the occupational safety and health implications and applications of nanotechnology. As nanotechnology continues to expand into every industrial sector, workers will be at an increased risk of exposure to new nanomaterials. Today, nanomaterials are found in hundreds of products, ranging from cosmetics, to clothing, to industrial and biomedical applications. These nanoscale-based products are typically called “first generation” products of nanotechnology. Many of these nanoscale-based products are composed of engineered nanoparticles, such as metal oxides, nanotubes, nanowires, quantum dots, and carbon fullerenes (buckyballs), among others. Early scientific studies have indicated that some of these nanoscale particles may pose a greater health risk than the larger bulk form of these materials.

Results from recent animal studies indicate that carbon nanotubes (CNT) and carbon nanofibers (CNF) may pose a respiratory hazard. CNTs and CNFs are tiny, cylindrical, large aspect ratio, manufactured forms of carbon. There is no single type of carbon nanotube or nanofiber; one type can differ from another in shape, size, chemical composition (from residual metal catalysts or functionalization of the CNT and CNF) and other physical and chemical characteristics. Such variations in composition and size have added to the complexity of understanding their hazard potential. Occupational exposure to CNTs and CNFs can occur not only in the process of manufacturing them, but also at the point of incorporating these materials into other products and applications. A number of research studies with rodents have shown adverse lung effects at relatively low-mass doses of CNT and CNF, including pulmonary inflammation and rapidly developing, persistent fibrosis. Although it is not known whether similar adverse health effects occur in humans after exposure to CNT and CNF, the results from animal research studies indicate the need to minimize worker exposure.

This NIOSH CIB, (1) reviews the animal and other toxicological data relevant to assessing the potential non-malignant adverse respiratory effects of CNT and CNF, (2) provides a quantitative risk assessment based on animal dose-response data, (3) proposes a recommended exposure limit (REL) of 1 μg/m3 elemental carbon as a respirable mass 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) concentration, [emphasis mine] and (4) describes strategies for controlling workplace exposures and implementing a medical surveillance program. The NIOSH REL is expected to reduce the risk for pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis. However, because of some residual risk at the REL and uncertainty concerning chronic health effects, including whether some types of CNTs may be carcinogenic, continued efforts should be made to reduce exposures as much as possible.

The recommended exposure, for those of us who can’t read the technical notation, translates to one microgram per cubic meter per eight-hour workday.  In other words, almost zero. Note that this is a recommendation and not a regulation. H/T Apr. 26, 2013 article by Elizabeth Wiese for USA Today

My Mar. 12, 2013 posting highlights some of the NIOSH research which preceded this recommendation.

Constructing and deconstructing identity: buck, beck, and more in Vancouver, Canada

I finally got back to the Rennie Collection located in Vancouver, Canada (it’s been a little over a year since my last visit [Mar. 22, 2012 posting about the Damian Moppett show]). The current show running from Mar. 2, 2013 – June 8, 2013 features Robert Beck/Buck. From the Rennie Collection’s (March 2013?) news release,

In 2008, Robert Beck changed his surname by a single vowel to Buck. [emphasis mine] This act of artistic self-nomination, a work of art itself, was precipitated by what he had achieved through his work as Beck, which was often autobiographical in content and persistently diverse in form. As an alias, Buck appealed to the artist for its precision and associations: stag, son, cash, to throw off. To substantiate this artistic transfiguration, Buck created the shrine (from e to u), 2012, a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers, and stuffed animals. [emphasis mine] The transitory work, susceptible to entropy and the elements, provocatively re-frames the now-common practice in which a community marks the site of a violent event, a fatality or loss, as a place of collective mourning.

Working in various mediums (drawing, sculpture, photography, and video) the artist utilizes many artistic procedures, including appropriation and installation. [emphasis mine] He has returned repeatedly to the universal themes of family, memory, identity, authorship, and loss. While his own singular experiences are central, Beck wittingly withholds information to solicit the viewer’s own unique associations. Beck has described his work as a way to “create an index by which I could make sense of earlier, often traumatic experiences […] so to transcend them. Evidence of this riddles my work: bodies, holes, camouflage, mimicry, memorials, erasure, guilt, corruption, sex, and death – even my own! And so much of it is haunted by the presence (or is it the absence) of the Father.” Beyond his own father, Beck is referring to the Name-of-the-Father, a psychoanalytic term, via the Church, that designates one’s given name, as well as the symbolic order of things.

Several works by Beck are again relevant in the wake of recent shootings in the United States, notably at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The thirteen images of teen shooters in Beck’s Thirteen Shooters, 2001 echo Andy Warhol’s 1964 mural Thirteen Most Wanted Men. In 2004, Beck fired a 12-gauge shotgun into three 25-lb buckets of mortician’s wax to create 01/25/04 ‐ Shots No. 12, 13, 14. Traces of a violent event, the resulting holes in the wax evoke an injured body, yet the “wound filler” substance also implies its repair. The work exemplifies Beck’s ability to exploit the meaning inherent in materials, and suggests why his work evolves from one medium to another.

Beck’s scrutiny of violence in American culture extends beyond its effects to its causes, and thus envelopes private realms like home and family. The title Screen Memory, 2004, a series of five silver-gelatin photographs refers to Sigmund Freud’s 1899 essay concerning the paradox of childhood memory, wherein consequential, often traumatic events are not usually retained, while trivial ones are.

Robert Buck, The Shrine (from e to u), 2000/2012 Flowers, candles, stuffed animals, balloons, thrift store artifacts, etc. [Downloaded from]

Robert Buck, The Shrine (from e to u), 2000/2012
Flowers, candles, stuffed animals, balloons, thrift store artifacts, etc. [Downloaded from]

First off: I had a professor of communication who cured me (and I imagine many others) of ever using mediums as the plural form of medium. This is paraphrasing what he said, “If you want to contact your dearly departed, you may want to speak to several mediums. Otherwise, the plural of medium is media.” Thank you to Paul Heyer who now teaches at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Buck’s show aroused in me (for the most part) the kind of response I have to reading a literary piece, which is a little disconcerting. The distinction for me and it is a rough distinction between writers and other artists is the way in which the minutiae of our lives is conveyed or reflected back to us. Reading a book or a story is a private and solitary experience whereas viewing a visual arts exhibition or attending a dance or theatre performance are intended to be public or group experiences.

As usual with the show at the Rennie Collection, I was part of a tour; it is possible to make other arrangements but it’s easiest to sign up for a tour. This particular tour (Buck/Beck) starts twice although none of us were aware of that. My first experience of the show along with everyone else’s was the encounter with the shrine that’s outside on the street in front of the building as per the photograph in the above. It’s a bit disconcerting to realize that you started the tour before you entered the building.

The tour guide, Cemre (pronounced gem reh, I think) started us with the bathroom wall. Buck (formerly Beck) removed part of a bathroom wall with graffiti which he has overpainted and is now mounted on a wall just like any other art work. The words aren’t visible but you know what is usually scrawled bathroom walls. It almost seems as if you’re being invited to scrawl something on that wall in your imagination if nowhere else.

The other piece that caught my attention was a set of images contained within a single picture frame. The images were cropped and laid out in the style that would remind someone of an old-fashioned photo album. All of the images were parts of scenes, mostly parts of bodies that have been clothed  in white dresses and formal wear. Cemre asked us if we knew what the photographs were about. Someone identified the images as being from one or more weddings. He saw parts of white dresses and veils and didn’t notice that the bodies were those of children. The photos depicted, as any Catholic will tell you, First Holy Communion. This wasn’t the only game Buck and Gemre played with us and, while that first one was obvious to me, I missed my fair share of cues later. Before going further, I have to extend my compliments to Cemre because she was careful not to embarrass or put someone on the spot. Her decision to engage us in an interactive storytelling session with us was very helpful in this regard.

The next piece that really caught my attention was the chalkboard (30 ft [or more] x 20 ft [or more[) covered in words that had been erased but were still visible beneath the chalk dust (it’s on the 2nd floor of the Rennie Collection). Then as we proceeded further, there was an installation composed of printing plates bookended by newspaper/media images of boys on both of the far walls of the room. Buck’s (or Beck’s) 13 shooters on one side and a lone boy on the other. Seeing those images is particularly poignant in the wake of the recent Boston Marathon bombing but they function primarily as an eerie reminder of evil and violence. The images are eerie because most of the boys look like ‘regular’ kids and if we hadn’t been informed they were all shooters, we would have never guessed. As for the boy on the other side, he and his brother claimed to have killed their father—but they did not. In fact, a friend of their father’s, with whom both boys having sexual relations, had committed the murder.

In the next room, we saw representations of pictures that were in Buck’s family home along with a sculptural installation. The most interesting, for me, was the picture of Jesus, all greyed and pixellated, which came from Buck’s mother’s room. It was very fuzzy but I’m pretty sure it was the Sacred Heart, which is a very specific Jesus image and one which is charged for me personally (I went to a school called the Convent of the Sacred Heart for a few years). The Sacred Heart image, I’m most familiar with has the heart, which is  external to the chest, with a crown of thorns signifying his crucifixion and his love for humanity. As a child I took that image for granted but wandered somewhat from my Catholic roots over the years and after a break of several years saw a Sacred Heart image and realized it’s a very peculiar image.

Nearby in yet another room of the Rennie Collection’s 2nd floor is a portion of a urinal wall. Like the portion of the bathroom wall downstairs, it too has words scrawled on it. Unlike the bathroom wall, these words are not covered up. Interesting juxtaposition and that’s all I’ve got for that one.

In retrospect, I don” know how we missed it for so long but there was a hidden image within Buck’s reproduction, from a hunting book his father had given him, of an image illustrating how to skin an animal . The ‘hidden’ picture within Buck’s reproduction was a Ku Klux Klan hood (and it’s obvious once it’s been pointed out) but it took minutes before anyone ‘saw’ it. Cemre commented that the only time it has been identified within seconds was when someone from the US saw it.

At the end of the tour, it turns out there are two endings. Cemre ended the show in the basement with a huge painting featuring a huge bee (and I think flowers too). She then directed us to look at a painting that she hadn’t discussed when she was started the tour.  She didn’t discuss it any further and we were left to seek it on our own. I won’t spoil the surprise other than to say, it references aspects of  the show’s Catholicism, death, and rebirth themes.

I think what Buck makes clear in his work  is that how one sees and what one sees is very much rooted in one’s identity/ies and culture(s), which we both construct and, sometimes when we change our names, deconstruct. I think one of the reason’s I found Buck’s approach curiously literary is that he uses words differently than most artists who tend to view words and typography as objets d’art rather than meaningful cultural and personal communication.

Overtly, Buck has worked with duality. Two beginning, two endings, two names, etc.  but it’s not quite that neat and tidy, not least because I suspect Buck/Beck is an unreliable narrator. I do encourage you to visit the show if you have the time.  No. I have no relationship to the people at the Rennie Collection.