Monthly Archives: November 2014

Simon Fraser University – SCFC861Nanotechnology, The Next Big Idea: course Week 6

Week 6, (Nov. 27, 2014) of my course called, Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea and which is part of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Continuing Studies programme was also the last week. For a change of pace, we had Rob Shields as a guest ‘Skyping in’ from Edmonton, Alberta to talk about the University of Alberta’s Nanotechnology and the Community project. (Mentioned here previously in an Aug. 7, 2012 posting about a postdoctoral position on the research team and in a March 11, 2013 posting about one of the project’s public engagement exercises, the ‘citizen summit’.)

They haven’t quite finished with the analysis of their results from their public engagement modules but, at this point, it seems that the folks in Edmonton are future-oriented and positive about the impact that nanotechnology could have on the community. Concerns tend to be more oriented to standard ‘city’ issues such as accommodating changes rather than ‘nanotechnology will run amuck’ issues. The materials from the public engagement modules are not yet available online but should be soon (I haven’t been given a date).

Getting back to my usual programme, here’s a description of what we were covering this last week (from Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea on the SFU Continuing Studies website),

Week 6: Nanotechnology: Social and Scientific Implications

Quantum physics being brought into our daily lives via nanotechnology is already having an impact on the fields of education and scientific research. A textual reading of the research also suggests themes of control, power and creation similar to those associated with previous emerging technologies such as electricity.

My Week six PowerPoint slides,


Here are my ‘notes’ for yesterday’s class consisting largely of brief heads designed to remind me of the content to be found by clicking the link directly after the head.

Week6Nano & soc

Happy Reading!,

Canadian military & a 2nd military futures book from Karl Schroeder (2 of 2)

Part 1 of this two-part series featured some information about Schroeder’s first book, featuring nanotechnology written for the Canadian military, ‘Crisis in Zefra’ along with a lengthy excerpt from Schroeder’s second military scenario book, ‘Crisis in Urlia’. In searching for information about this second book, I found a guest editorial for THE CANADIAN ARMY JOURNAL 14.3 2012 by then Colonel R.N.H. Dickson, CD,

Beyond those activities, the CALWC [Canadian Army Land Warfare Centre] continues its foundational research and publication activities, including the ongoing serial publication of The Canadian Army Journal, the JADEX Papers, as well as other special studies on subjects such as the comprehensive approach to operations, cyber warfare, the future network, S&T trends, and Army operations in the Arctic. The upcoming publication of a novel entitled Crisis in Urlia, a design fiction tool examining alternate future operations, will assist the Army in probing new ideas creatively while highlighting the possible risks and opportunities in an ever-changing security environment. [emphasis mine]

Of course, the future of the Army does not exclusively belong to the capability development community, be that the CALWC, the extended virtual warfare centre, or our broader joint and allied partners. Rather, the future of the Army belongs to each of its members, and no one organization has a monopoly on innovative thought. I encourage you to learn more about the CALWC and the Army’s capability development initiatives, and then be prepared to contribute to the conversation. The Canadian Army Journal offers a great forum to do both.

You can download ‘Crisis in Urlia’ from this webpage for Government of Canada publications or you can try this PDF of the novel, which has a publication date of 2014. I gather the book took longer to write than was initially anticipated.

As for Karl Schroeder, his website homepage notes that he’s back from an Oct. 1, 2014 visit to the US White House,

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy invited some of the Hieroglyph authors to present on future possibilities on October 2, 2014.  There I am on the end of the line.  (More details soon.)

For anyone not familiar with the Hieroglyph project, here are a few details from my May 7, 2013 posting (scroll down about 75% of the way),

The item which moved me to publish today (May 7, 2013), Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?, by Ariel Schwartz concerns the Hieroglyph project at Arizona State University,

Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.

If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.

Here’s more about the Hieroglyph project from the About page,

Inspiration is a small but essential part of innovation, and science fiction stories have been a seminal source of inspiration for innovators over many decades. In his article entitled “Innovation Starvation,” Neal Stephenson calls for a return to inspiration in contemporary science fiction. That call resonated with so many and so deeply that Project Hieroglyph was born shortly thereafter.

The name of Project Hieroglyph comes from the notion that certain iconic inventions in science fiction stories serve as modern “hieroglyphs” – Arthur Clarke’s communications satellite, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ship that lands on its fins, Issac Asimov’s robot, and so on. Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research described hieroglyphs as simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.

The Hieroglyph project was mentioned here most recently in a Sept. 1, 2014 posting (scroll down about 25% of the way) on the occasion of its book publication and where Schroeder’s ‘Degrees of Freedom’ is listed in the table of contents.

The book is one of a series of projects and events organized by Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. You can find information about projects and videos of recent events on the homepage.

As for Karl Schroeder, there’s this from the About page on his website,

I’m one of Canada’s most popular science fiction and fantasy authors. I divide my time between writing fiction and analyzing, conducting workshops and speaking on the future impact of science and technology on society.  As the author of nine novels I’ve been translated into French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese.  In addition to my more traditional fiction, I’ve pioneered a new mode of writing that blends fiction and rigorous futures research—my influential short novels Crisis in Zefra (2005) and Crisis in Urlia (2011) are innovative ‘scenario fictions’ commissioned by the Canadian army as study and research tools.  While doing all of this I’m also working to complete a Master’s degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design] University in Toronto.

I married Janice Beitel in April 2001–we tied the knot in a tropical bird sanctuary on the shore of the Indian Ocean, Kalbarri Western Australia.  Our daughter Paige was born in May 2003.  We live in East Toronto where I’m writing about the evolution of post-bureaucratic governance in the 2025-2035 period.

Happy Reading!

Canadian military & a 2nd military futures book from Karl Schroeder (1 of 2)

Karl Schroeder was last mentioned here regarding his first ’21st century military scenario’ book featuring nanotechnology and commissioned by the Canadian Army. The book was titled Crisis in Zefra. From the Feb. 16, 2009 posting,

It turns out that in 2005 the Canadian army commissioned a science fiction writer (Karl Schroeder) to write a book about a future military crisis. Schroeder has included some nanotechnology applications in his future war book, Crisis in Zefra, such as ‘smart dust’. I haven’t read the book yet. Apparently the army has run out of copies but you can get a PDF version from Schroeder’s website here. [ETA Nov. 4, 2014: Scroll down to the second link in the section on Zefra, as the first link no longer works.]   Do check out the website blog where he includes some science bits and pieces in his postings. According to the article here, Schroeder has been commissioned to write a sequel. I don’t usually think of the Canadian military as being particularly imaginative so I find this somewhat refreshing (although I may change my mind once I’ve read the book).

Here’s more about the latest scenario book, ‘Crisis in Urlia’, from Schroeder’s Scenario Writing for the Canadian Military webpage (Note: A link has been removed),

In 2010 I was hired to write a followup to Zefra entitled Crisis in Urlia, which was published in May, 2014. Urlia deals with a drought-and-famine situation in a coastal city in the ‘Pakistani-Indian plurinational zone.’ This city, Urlia, has a population of more than a million but is less than ten years old, having sprung up using new money and Chinese kit-city technologies. A new disease breaks out while a Canadian rapid-response team is on the ground in Urlia, and as the situation threatens to spiral out of control, an increasingly intricate web of alliances, relationships and protocols comes to bear on the problem.

Urlia explores the concept of ‘wicked problems’ as well as the future of command-and-control in a networked and multi-stakeholder world. One principle whose ramifications are explored is Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, which states that any control system must have at least as many internal degrees of freedom as the system it models; applied to a scenario where multiple problems intersect–(famine, drought, political instability, disease and corruption), where nobody can even agree on the definition of the problem, there are no single solutions or even any metric to decide when a solution has succeeded–in such chaos, can a traditional military/political machine cope without pursuing the ‘radical simplification’ of the situation implied by an imposition of martial law and military government? Urlia explores how JIMP policies (Joint, Interagency, Multinational and Public) coupled with new technologies of communication and coordination, might resolve such a difficult situation.

There was an excerpt, prior to publication, from the novel, Crisis in Urlia in a May 1, 2011 posting on (Note: Links have been removed),

Excerpt from a new book by the Directorate of Land Concepts and Design to be published in late summer/early fall 2011

“Where is that water? How can we be expected to be good hosts without fresh water?” Hazir Rumay stalked over to the door before remembering that he had his Augmented Reality glasses on. He tapped the arm of the glasses and looked through the floor to see where his eldest son was. The low-resolution image of the boy revealed that he was just coming up the stairs carrying something.

Hazir made a quick scan of the rest of the building. His employees were all at their stations, working dutifully despite the distant crackle of gunfire from what he hoped was only another riot. Uneasy, he moved to the window and adjusted the glasses’ display to show local traffic. The grey concrete towers, their windows shaded by dusty solar energy films, the streets crisscrossed with frayed cables, all faded slightly as cars, trucks, and jitneys leaped into stark relief. You could even see them through the buildings themselves,(1) an effect that had impressed him ten years ago but which he took for granted now. Several driverless taxis were nosing their way through the traffic and the few darting, white-masked people who’d dared the streets today, but otherwise the streets seemed empty. Suddenly, two military vehicles rounded a nearby corner. They’d been invisible in his Augmented Reality view of the street, which now that he thought about it made sense from a security perspective, but was still a bit disconcerting. These Canadians had some sort of power over the AR system. Something to ponder later.

“Ah!” He headed for the stairs as the vehicles pulled up in front of his building, his limp returning as it always did when he hurried. The exoskeleton he wore to ease the strain on his right leg gave an extra thump to his footsteps on the stairs; everybody in the factory knew when he was coming because of that thump. He reached the ground floor just as five foreigners were buzzed through the front door.

“Welcome, welcome!” He extended both arms to encompass them all while the facial recognition software in his glasses overlaid glowing names over their heads. “Lieutenant Colonel Desai, I’m so glad you came in person, it’s an honour to host the CHERT.”(2) He shook the colonel’s hand vigorously.

“You’re a very important man in Urlia, Dr. Rumay” said Vandna Desai with a warm smile, “and Canadian military doctrine is to coordinate our forces with other agencies and institutions, including businesses. We call it the Comprehensive Approach. I’m here to see how we can work together to help resolve your city’s crisis.”

Rumay returned her smile while trying to assess her. She had Hindustani features, but her accent was pure Canadian. He guessed she was in her mid-forties, but then, it was hard to judge anybody’s age these days, especially if they were from the Americas. “Well, to a tiger, a sheep is very important; but I’d prefer not to be important in quite that way.”

“That’s why we’re here, to take some of the pressure off people like yourself. Ah, let me introduce Carter Arkin, he’s a tropical disease specialist from Health Canada. We have him because his lab is affiliated with ours at DRDC.” Hazir had already read this from Arkin’s AR tag, but smiled politely as he shook the scientist’s hand. His software couldn’t identify the other three men, but from their size and the unobtrusive exoskeleton cuffs poking from under their collars and sleeves, he guessed they were soldiers. One of them was herding two cargo bots loaded with olive-green bags and boxes from the back of the second transport.

As they entered the warehouse behind the front foyer, Desai switched from English to Pashtun. “This is all your stock?”

“We don’t need much space for what we do.” The switch to one of the local languages made it possible for his employees to listen in on the conversation, which he supposed was why Desai had done it. Still, it was a bit annoying; he had few opportunities to converse in English these days, especially since every device he used automatically translated between the major languages.(3)

“Carter, I’ll be upstairs if you need anything,” said Desai to the scientist, and then she accompanied Hazir to the stairs. “I really do appreciate your accommodating us,” she said as they walked up to his office. “Your cooperation is going to open other doors for us.”

“Oh, I know that very well,” he said with a smile. “Your people are all over Urlianet talking about this ‘comprehensive approach’ to military operations. I have to admit I’m not sure what a ‘combination military and civilian agency’ looks like, much less what it is exactly that you do.”

“It looks like this,” said Desai, spreading her hands. “You and us working together.” She could obviously see from his expression that this wasn’t enough of an explanation, so she added, “It’s something called the ‘whole of government’ approach. CHERT wasn’t sent here by just one arm of the Canadian government, but Canada as a whole. From your perspective, what that means is that we have to pay attention to more than just primary effects — you know, drop off the water and leave. We have to plan for the secondary and tertiary effects of what we do here — like, for instance, the effect on local businesses of us setting up a new desalination plant. And we can bring in other departments, or our own business advisors, to help sort those things out. We’d like you to be one of them.”

Rumay nodded. “In that case, you won’t mind if we pose for a few photos before you go. I’d like to tag(4) our building — oh, why not the whole block? — with images and interviews from your visit, so everyone can see how we’ve been fully exonerated. Maybe the attacks will stop once people know we weren’t responsible for the outbreak.”

He didn’t have to tell the colonel that the building had become a fortress of sorts. He’d originally chosen it because the ground floor was windowless, thinking to avoid theft. In hindsight that had been a good decision. What Desai hopefully didn’t know was that he’d supplemented the usual building security software with nanowire(5) bomb-sniffers and cutting-edge commercial pattern matching software. If anybody so much as looked at the place the wrong way, his sensors would tell him.

The liaison was an interface to Pantheon, the commercial stakeholder management service(6) that Hazir used. Pantheon was as big as Google had once been, and hugely influential, supplying the liaison software and a back-end that provided virtual liaison services for nearly every company and organization in the world. When Rumay had heard that the CHERT team was coming to Urlia he’d downloaded the CHERT liaison. He hadn’t expected anything to come from it, but had given it some information about his own interests and concerns. To his surprise, it had contacted him this morning and asked whether he would like to meet with Desai.

“I’m glad you’re using Pantheon,” said the colonel. “Now that I’m here I can give you a secure liaison to replace this one. I’ve also got secure liaisons for our partners in this operation, if you’d like them.”

“Yes, please!”

Hazir noticed that Desai didn’t even move her hands to upload the new liaisons to his office. The Colonel wasn’t wearing augmented reality glasses like he was, but clearly she had some interface to the net — probably video contact lenses. No doubt she was also festooned with sensors; wasn’t everybody these days?

Partly to test this suspicion, Hazir said, “You can see our situation,” and gestured to the windows behind the liaison. To the naked eye the view showed only the facades and windows of the other buildings on the street, but even Hazir’s low-level data subscriptions fed him a wealth of information about what was going on locally: weather, pollution levels, the number of people in the street and how many were loitering. That number — the loitering index — had been going up for days. It was a bad sign; the index had shot up just before the recent attack.

Desai nodded gravely, then said, “You understand that I can ask certain questions off the record, but there are things we need to know. People are saying the sweating sickness was genetically engineered, and you’re one of the only local gene splicers.”

“You want to know whether I have customers besides the U.N. and the regional agricultural council,” he said. “I do — but not who you might think.”

Desai paused a moment, then said, “I understand what you have to do sometimes to get things done. There’s a fine line between the legal and the illegal, and” —

Hazir retrieved the container he’d earlier placed on the desk. He’d been right to bring this prop up from the warehouse; now he opened the case and displayed the little green eggs in it. “They’re called tick-stalkers. A kind of bird, I don’t know if they’re natural or were genetically engineered. Anyway, they’re a special order from the mud flats.”

Desai frowned minutely. “West of town, right? We’re aware that somebody’s doing biodiversity work there, but not who it is. Do you have a client?”

“Yes, but not a human one. That’s the point. The order for these came from the flats themselves.”

The colonel sat motionless for a moment. Hazir guessed she was interfacing with whatever resources she had at her disposal — online encyclopedias, people, even AIs that might be listening in and triangulating on everything they said — in short, the normal, expected systems any business person might carry around these days.

“So it’s true,” she said finally. “The flats are an autonomous legal entity.”(7) The flats were an engineered ecosystem, designed to function on their own after being initially seeded with new and traditionally local species. The whole idea was to create an area of biodiversity that could flourish without human intervention; Desai should not be surprised if part of that autonomy included legal and economic independence of a sort.

Hazir nodded. “The entire Urlia watershed is saturated with smart dust sensors. They’re the eyes and noses and ears of a botnet (8) AI that represents its environmental interests. These were seeded there by a radical ecological group — with the city’s blessing, of course. They then registered the watershed as an autonomous legal entity so that it could be self-sustaining. Effectively, it owns itself. And, since the watershed provides an ecosystem service — water purification — the city pays it. This is cheaper than building more water filtration plants. And the watershed — well, in this case, the mud flats — can use that money to buy things. For instance, tick-stalkers to fill an empty ecological niche.”

“So there’s an AI that thinks it is the mudflats.”(9)

He shrugged. “That’s putting it crudely, but yes. The City is trying to get the flats to process more of our grey water, but it refuses. Says it has to look out for its own health first. But it’s still interested in the business, so it’s paying me to upgrade the” –

But Desai wasn’t listening; she suddenly stood up, frowning.


The letters appeared suddenly in the top-left of Hazir’s field of vision – projected there by his glasses. He’d been half-turned toward one of the windows when it happened. “Excuse me,” he said and held up a hand while he focused on the letters with both eyes. “I need to check something.”

Across the street was a band of open windows. These were apartments that he’d long ago stopped noticing; but somewhere a camera, either the ones in his glasses or one of the ones mounted on the outside of the building, had spotted something.
There was an open window over there, and movement in it –


– And suddenly he felt Desai’s hand on his back and the colonel was shouting, “Down!” as she shoved Hazir towards the teak desk. He stumbled forward and Desai hauled him down just as glass shattered and then the room was tumbling around him. He’d heard nothing, just felt a shock over his entire body and then he was face down in broken plaster and spears of teak.

Miraculously, his glasses had stayed on. There was nothing to see but swirling dust an inch from his face, but their display was still working; so he was able to watch the local loitering index suddenly plummet from about two dozen, to zero. He could picture the scene: everybody on the street running pell-mell as the echoes of the rocket attack faded.

These modern conveniences, he thought in wonder. And then he passed out.


2. In this scenario, the Comprehensive Humanitarian/Environmental Response Team (CHERT) is Canada’s successor to DART.

3. This technology is very old by 2040. Much of world commerce relies on it.

4. Location-dependent tags are a major component of augmented-reality systems. For an example current in 2010, see


6. Stakeholder management systems allow an organization to track the needs and act on the concerns of customers, business partners, etc. Stakeholder management is an important tool in this implementation of the Comprehensive Approach.

7. The 1992 Paraguayan constitution recognizes the rights of nature. This concept derives from Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca’s notion of buen vivir or “living well.” Buen vivir includes the notion that Nature should have rights. In Urlia the legal framework for natural rights is adapted from the American precedent of granting corporations rights as legal persons.

8. Botnets are a form of distributed computer system that are non-localized and hence do not have to be “hosted” by a human or organizational patron. See The mudflat AI is simply a resource-allocation botnet whose “herder” is an algorithm dedicated to maximizing the biodiversity within the mudflats.

9. Natural intelligences evolved to identify themselves as their physical bodies. There is, however, no reason why an artificial intelligence would have to identify itself with its actual systems. It could experience its “body” as anything its designer chose it to be, including distinct physical objects such as the mud flats.

Part 2 of this 2-part series includes a link where you can download Crisis in Urlia and a brief description of another project involving Karl Schroeder.

Legos, geckos (van der Waals force), and single-atom sheets at the University of Kansas (US)

A Nov. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk describes the achievement,

Physicists at the University of Kansas have fabricated an innovative substance from two different atomic sheets that interlock much like Lego toy bricks. The researchers said the new material — made of a layer of graphene and a layer of tungsten disulfide — could be used in solar cells and flexible electronics. …

Hsin-Ying Chiu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and graduate student Matt Bellus fabricated the new material using “layer-by-layer assembly” as a versatile bottom-up nanofabrication technique. Then, Jiaqi He, a visiting student from China, and Nardeep Kumar, a graduate student who now has moved to Intel Corp., investigated how electrons move between the two layers through ultrafast laser spectroscopy in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab, supervised by Hui Zhao, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

“To build artificial materials with synergistic functionality has been a long journey of discovery,” Chiu said. “A new class of materials, made of the layered materials, has attracted extensive attention ever since the rapid development of graphene technology. One of the most promising aspects of this research is the potential to devise next-generation materials via atomic layer-level control over its electronic structure.”

A Nov. 25, 2014 University of Kansas news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problems and the new technique in more detail,

According to the researchers, the approach is to design synergistic materials by combining two single-atom thick sheets, for example, acting as a photovoltaic cell as well as a light-emitting diode, converting energy between electricity and radiation. However, combining layers of atomically thin material is a thorny task that has flummoxed researchers for years.

“A big challenge of this approach is that, most materials don’t connect together because of their different atomic arrangements at the interface — the arrangement of the atoms cannot follow the two different sets of rules at the same time,” Chiu said. “This is like playing with Legos of different sizes made by different manufacturers. As a consequence, new materials can only be made from materials with very similar atomic arrangements, which often have similar properties, too. Even then, arrangement of atoms at the interface is irregular, which often results in poor qualities.”

Layered materials such as those developed by the KU researchers provide a solution for this problem. Unlike conventional materials formed by atoms that are strongly bound in all directions, the new material features two layers where each atomic sheet is composed of atoms bound strongly with their neighbors — but the two atomic sheets are themselves only weakly linked to each other by the so-called van der Waals force, the same attractive phenomenon between molecules that allows geckos to stick to walls and ceilings.

“There exist about 100 different types of layered crystals — graphite is a well-known example,” Bellus said. “Because of the weak interlayer connection, one can choose any two types of atomic sheets and put one on top of the other without any problem. It’s like playing Legos with a flat bottom. There is no restriction. This approach can potentially product a large number of new materials with combined novel properties and transform the material science.”

Chiu and Bellus created the new carbon and tungsten disulfide material with the aim of developing novel materials for efficient solar cells. The single sheet of carbon atoms, known as graphene, excels at moving electrons around, while a single-layer of tungsten disulfide atoms is good at absorbing sunlight and converting it to electricity. By combining the two, this innovative material can potentially perform both tasks well.

The team used scotch tape to lift a single layer of tungsten disulfide atoms from a crystal and apply it to a silicon substrate. Next, they used the same procedure to remove a single layer of carbon atoms from a graphite crystal. With a microscope, they precisely laid the graphene on top of the tungsten disulfide layer. To remove any glue between the two atomic layers that are unintentionally introduced during the process, the material was heated at about 500 degrees Fahrenheit for a half-hour. This allowed the force between the two layers to squeeze out the glue, resulting in a sample of two atomically thin layers with a clean interface.

Doctoral students He and Kumar tested the new material in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab. The researchers used a laser pulse to excite the tungsten disulfide layer.

“We found that nearly 100 percent of the electrons that absorbed the energy from the laser pulse move from tungsten disulfide to graphene within one picosecond, or one-millionth of one-millionth second,” Zhao said. “This proves that the new material indeed combines the good properties of each component layer.”

The research groups led by Chiu and Zhao are trying to apply this Lego approach to other materials. For example, by combining two materials that absorb light of different colors, they can make materials that react to diverse parts of the solar spectrum.

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

Electron transfer and coupling in graphene–​tungsten disulfide van der Waals heterostructures by Jiaqi He, Nardeep Kumar, Matthew Z. Bellus,     Hsin-Ying Chiu, Dawei He, Yongsheng Wang, & Hui Zhao. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5622 doi:10.1038/ncomms6622 Published 25 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a few preview available through ReadCube Access.

Flexible electronics and Inorganic-based Laser Lift-off (ILLO) in Korea

Korean scientists are trying to make the process of creating flexible electronics easier according to a Nov. 25, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Flexible electronics have been touted as the next generation in electronics in various areas, ranging from consumer electronics to bio-integrated medical devices. In spite of their merits, insufficient performance of organic materials arising from inherent material properties and processing limitations in scalability have posed big challenges to developing all-in-one flexible electronics systems in which display, processor, memory, and energy devices are integrated. The high temperature processes, essential for high performance electronic devices, have severely restricted the development of flexible electronics because of the fundamental thermal instabilities of polymer materials.

A research team headed by Professor Keon Jae Lee of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST provides an easier methodology to realize high performance flexible electronics by using the Inorganic-based Laser Lift-off (ILLO).

The process is described in a Nov. 26, 2014 KAIST news release on ResearchSEA, which originated the news item (despite the confusion of the date, probably due to timezone differentials), provides more detail about the technique for ILLO,

The ILLO process involves depositing a laser-reactive exfoliation layer on rigid substrates, and then fabricating ultrathin inorganic electronic devices, e.g., high density crossbar memristive memory on top of the exfoliation layer. By laser irradiation through the back of the substrate, only the ultrathin inorganic device layers are exfoliated from the substrate as a result of the reaction between laser and exfoliation layer, and then subsequently transferred onto any kind of receiver substrate such as plastic, paper, and even fabric.

This ILLO process can enable not only nanoscale processes for high density flexible devices but also the high temperature process that was previously difficult to achieve on plastic substrates. The transferred device successfully demonstrates fully-functional random access memory operation on flexible substrates even under severe bending.

Professor Lee said, “By selecting an optimized set of inorganic exfoliation layer and substrate, a nanoscale process at a high temperature of over 1000 °C can be utilized for high performance flexible electronics. The ILLO process can be applied to diverse flexible electronics, such as driving circuits for displays and inorganic-based energy devices such as battery, solar cell, and self-powered devices that require high temperature processes.”

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

Flexible Crossbar-Structured Resistive Memory Arrays on Plastic Substrates via Inorganic-Based Laser Lift-Off by Seungjun Kim, Jung Hwan Son, Seung Hyun Lee, Byoung Kuk You, Kwi-Il Park, Hwan Keon Lee, Myunghwan Byun and Keon Jae Lee. Advanced Materials Volume 26, Issue 44, pages 7480–7487, November 26, 2014 Article first published online: 8 SEP 2014 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201402472

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

Here’s an image the researchers have made available,

This photo shows the flexible RRAM device on a plastic substrate. Courtesy: KAIST

This photo shows the flexible RRAM device on a plastic substrate. Courtesy: KAIST

Finally, the research paper is behind a paywall.

US Food and Drug Administration approval for next generation spinal interbody fusion implant

For the first time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a nanotechnology-enabled interbody spinal fusion implant, according to a Nov. 12, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Titan Spine, a medical device surface technology company focused on developing innovative spinal interbody fusion implants, today announced that it has received 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market its Endoskeleton® line of interbody fusion implants featuring its next-generation nanoLOCKTM surface technology.

This clearance marks Titan’s line of Endoskeleton® spinal implants as the first FDA-approved interbody fusion devices to feature nanotechnology.

A Nov. 22, 2014 news item on Today’s Medical provides more detail about the implants,

Titan’s new nanoLOCK surface technology enhances the company’s line of Endoskeleton devices with an increased amount of nano-scaled textures to up-regulate a statistically significant greater amount of the osteogenic and angiogenic growth factors that are critical for bone growth and fusion when compared to PEEK and the company’s current surface.

Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, and an investigator in various Titan Spine studies, said, “This new surface technology further enhances Titan’s current surface and is the result of extensive research in how to create a significantly greater amount of nano-scaled textures that we have shown to be important for the osteogenic response necessary for fusion. The nanoLOCK surface topography is far different than what is found on titanium-coated PEEK implants. In addition, the nanoLOCK surface is not created by applying a coating, but rather is formed by a reductive process of the titanium itself. This eliminates the potential for delamination, which is a concern for products with a PEEK-titanium interface. My team is proud to collaborate with Titan Spine to help develop such a differentiated technology that is truly designed to benefit both patients and surgeons.”

Titan’s nanoLOCK surface is a significant advancement of the company’s first-generation surface. The patented nanoLOCK manufacturing process creates additional textures at the critical nano level. However, there are no changes to the device indications for use, design, dimensions, or materials. Additionally, mechanical testing demonstrated that the strength of the company’s line of Endoskeletonimplants are unaffected by the new surface treatment.

Earlier this year Titan Spine announced the first surgery using one of its Endoskeleton implants. From a July 14, 2014 Titan Spine press release,

Titan Spine, a medical device surface technology company focused on developing innovative spinal interbody fusion implants, today announced that it has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to commercially release its Endoskeleton® TL system, a spinal fusion system utilizing a lateral approach. The Endoskeleton® TL represents the first lateral fusion device to feature surface technology that is designed to participate in the fusion process by creating an osteogenic response to the implant’s topography.

The Endoskeleton® TL device utilizes Titan’s proprietary roughened titanium surface technology which has been shown to upregulate the production of osteogenic and angiogenic factors that are critical for bone growth and fusion. In addition, the design of the TL device incorporates large windows and large internal volumes to allow for significant bone graft packing, clear CT and MRI imaging, desired bone graft loading, and the ability to pack additional bone graft material within the device following implantation. Members of the TL design team include Kade Huntsman, M.D., Orthopedic Spine Surgeon with the Salt Lake Orthopaedic Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah; Andy Kranenburg, M.D., Co-Medical Director of the Providence Medford Medical Center Spine Institute in Medford, OR; Axel Reinhardt, M.D., Head of the Department of Spinal Surgery at the Specialized Orthopaedic Hospital in Potsdam, Germany; and Paul Slosar, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Titan Spine.

Dr. Huntsman performed the first surgeries utilizing the Endoskeleton® TL on July 9th, 2014 at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. …

“The Endoskeleton® TL device is the first application of surface technology to the lateral approach,” commented Dr. Slosar. “The ability to orchestrate cellular behavior and promote bone growth in response to an interbody device has not been in the lateral surgeon’s armamentarium until now. The TL is the byproduct of a unique collaboration between academic biomaterial scientists, spine surgeons, and industry experts to create a truly differentiated lateral interbody device that is designed to benefit both patients and surgeons. With the addition of the TL device, Titan Spine now offers its surface technology and complete line of titanium devices for virtually all interbody fusion spine surgery procedures in the cervical and lumbar spine.”

The full line of Endoskeleton® devices features Titan Spine’s proprietary implant surface technology, consisting of a unique combination of roughened topographies at the macro, micro, and cellular levels. [emphasis mine] This combination of surface topographies is designed to create an optimal host-bone response and actively participate in the fusion process by promoting new bone growth, encouraging natural production of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP’s) and creating the potential for a faster and more robust fusion.

It would seem the implant used in the July 2014 surgery is not nanotechnology-enabled, which suggests nanoLOCK is a next-generation implant being marketed only a few months after the first generation was made available. Unfortunately, the Titan Spine website is still partially (‘surface technology’ tab) under construction so I was not able to find more details about the technology. In any event, that’s quite a development pace.

Remotely controlling bone regeneration with metallic nanoparticles

A Nov. 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily heralds some bone regeneration research which was published back in Sept. 2014,

Researchers in bone tissue regeneration believe they have made a significant breakthrough for sufferers of bone trauma, disease or defects such as osteoporosis.

Medical researchers from Keele University and Nottingham University have found that magnetic nanoparticles coated with targeting proteins can stimulate stem cells to regenerate bone. Researchers were also able to deliver the cells directly to the injured area, remotely controlling the nanoparticles to generate mechanical forces and maintain the regeneration process through staged releases of a protein growth stimulant.

A Nov. 17, 2014 Keele University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the issues the researchers are addressing and their research approach,

The current method for repairing bone that can’t heal itself is through a graft taken from the patient. Unfortunately, this can be a painful, invasive procedure, and when the area that needs repair is too large or the patient has a skeletal disorder such as there can sometimes be a lack of healthy bone for grafting.

For this reason, spurring the growth of new bone through injected stem cells is an area of great interest to medical researchers. Much progress has been made, but a major hurdle remains – finding an appropriate means to stimulate the differentiation of the stem cells so they become the quality of bone tissue needed in a quantity large enough to treat patients effectively.

James Henstock, Ph.D. led the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded study, alongside Alicia El Haj, Ph.D., and colleagues at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, as well as Kevin Shakesheff, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy.

James Henstock said: “Injectable therapies for regenerative medicine show great potential as a minimally invasive route for introducing therapeutic stem cells, drug delivery vehicles and biomaterials efficiently to wound sites.”

“In our investigation we coated magnetic nanoparticles with specific targeting proteins then controlled them remotely with an external magnetic field to simulate exercise. We wanted to learn how this might affect the injected stem cells and their ability to restore functional bone.”

The team of researchers conducted their test using two models: chicken foetal femurs and tissue-engineered collagen hydrogels. In both instances the results showed an increase in bone formation and density without causing any mechanical stress to the construct or surrounding tissue.

“This work demonstrates that providing the appropriate mechanical cues in conjunction with controlled release of growth factors to these injectable cell therapies can have a significant impact on improving bone growth. It also could potentially improve tissue engineering approaches for translational medicine” Dr. Henstock said.

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

Remotely Activated Mechanotransduction via Magnetic Nanoparticles Promotes Mineralization Synergistically With Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2: Applications for Injectable Cell Therapy by James R. Henstock, Michael Rotherham, Hassan Rashidi, Kevin M. Shakesheff, and Alicia J. El Haja. Stem Cells Trans Med September 2014 sctm.2014-0017  (First Published Online September 22, 2014 doi: 10.5966/sctm.2014-0017)

This paper is open access but you do need to sign up for a free registration for access to the website.

European Union’s close-up on nanotechnology

A Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features a special issue of the research*eu magazine,

When it first earned public recognition in the early 2000s, nanotechnology was mostly a niche market. It started out with a few applications such as cosmetics, food products, textiles and automotive bumpers, but quickly expanded to other sectors. Recently, the growing market reached the frantic pace of 3 or 4 new products being released each week.

Decision-makers worldwide were quick to acknowledge this tremendous potential — although not without apprehension. In 2004, right after the US Congress came up with its ‘21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act’, the European Commission adopted its communication ‘Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology’ which aimed to institutionalise R&D efforts with a coherent strategy. The document notably underlined nanotechnology’s capacity to address the challenges faced by society through novel applications for the likes of health and biology, ICT [information and communications technology], energy production and storage, manufacturing and environment protection.

The news item is from the editorial for the ‘Close-up on Nanotechnology‘ special issue November 2014 (you can download the PDF), of research*eu,

This was 10 years ago. Since then, the EU has invested some EUR 3.5 billion in nanotechnology-related projects, both to develop new products in strategic fields and to ensure all potential uses are subjected to thorough safety controls and measures. As we are now at the dawn of Horizon 2020, we decided to focus this magazine on some of the latest EU research achievements under the FP7-NMP programme. This makes for a truly horizontal ‘special’ section, with themes including art conservation, electronics, water purification, clothing, building and construction and nanosafety.

These specials include two interviews. The first is with Sabine Paulussen, who presents the outcomes of NANOPUR and its new membrane technology to improve the efficiency of water purification. Then, Prof. Piero Baglioni introduces NANOFORART, a project with ambitions to help restorers in their difficult mission to preserve ancient works of art.

The special section is followed by the usual thematic sections on biology and medicine, social sciences and humanities, energy and transport, environment, IT and telecommunications, industrial technologies and space.

Other highlights in the November 2014 issue (from the download page; you may need to scroll down to find the free issue),

  • New hope for patients suffering from rare genetic disease
  • How research can help pluralism across Europe
  • Hi-tech cooperation: the answer to effective transport security
  • Using underwater robots for a better understanding of the underwater world
  • Flying robots will go where humans can’t
  • Mass producing super-thin films that can ‘squeeze’ electricity
  • Africa–Europe Earth Observation project

Happy Reading!

Commercializing cellulosic nanomaterials—a report from the US Dept. of Agriculture

Earlier this year in an April 10, 2014 post, I announced a then upcoming ‘nano commercialization’ workshop focused on cellulose nanomaterials in particular. While the report from the workshop, held in May, seems to have been published in August, news of its existence seems to have surfaced only now. From a Nov. 24, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The U.S. Forest Service has released a report that details the pathway to commercializing affordable, renewable, and biodegradable cellulose nanomaterials from trees. Cellulosic nanomaterials are tiny, naturally occurring structural building blocks and hold great promise for many new and improved commercial products. Commercializing these materials also has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of American jobs while helping to restore our nation’s forests.

“This report is yet another important step toward commercializing a material that can aid in restoring our nations’ forests, provide jobs, and improve products that make the lives of Americans better every day,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The Forest Service plans to generate greater public and market awareness of the benefits and uses for these naturally-occurring nanomaterials.”

The report, titled “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization” (pdf), is a result of a workshop held earlier this year that brought together a wide range of experts from industry, academia, and government to ensure that commercialization efforts are driven by market and user materials needs.

A Nov. 24, 2014 US Dept. of Agriculture news release (Note: The US Forest Service is a division of the US Dept. of Agriculture), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the reasons for holding the workshop (Note: A link has been removed),

Cellulose nanomaterials have the potential to add value to an array of new and improved products across a range of industries, including electronics, construction, food, energy, health care, automotive, aerospace, and defense, according to Ted Wegner, assistant director at the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

“These environmentally friendly materials are extremely attractive because they have a unique combination of high strength, high stiffness, and light weight at what looks to be affordable prices,” Wegner explained. “Creating market pull for cellulose nanomaterials is critical to its commercialization.

The success of this commercialization effort is important to the U.S. Forest Service for another key reason: creating forests that are more resilient to disturbances through restorative actions. Removing excess biomass from overgrown forests and making it into higher value products like nanocellulose, is a win for the environment and for the economy.

“Finding high-value, high-volume uses for low-value materials is the key to successful forest restoration,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and Forest Products Laboratory. “With about 400 million acres of America’s forests in need of some type of restorative action, finding markets for wood-based nanocellulose could have a huge impact on the economic viability of that work.”

The U.S. Forest Service, in collaboration with the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, organized the workshop. Participants included over 130 stakeholders from large volume industrial users, specialty users, Federal Government agencies, academia, non-government organizations, cellulose nanomaterials manufactures and industry consultants. The workshop generated market-driven input in three areas: Opportunities for Commercialization, Barriers to Commercialization, and Research and Development Roles and Priorities. Issues identified by participants included the need for more data on materials properties, performance, and environmental, health, and safety implications and the need for a more aggressive U.S. response to opportunities for advancing and developing cellulose nanomaterial.

“The workshop was a great opportunity to get research ideas directly from the people who want to use the material,” says World Nieh, the U.S. Forest Service’s national program lead for forest products. “Getting the market perspective and finding out what barriers they have encountered is invaluable guidance for moving research in a direction that will bring cellulose nanomaterials into the marketplace for commercial use.”

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, part U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

The report titled, “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization,” notes the situation from the US perspective (from p. 5 of the PDF report),

Despite great market potential, commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is moving slowly. In contrast, foreign research, development, and deployment (RD&D) of cellulose nanomaterials has received significant governmental support through investments and coordination. [emphasis mine] U.S. RD&D activities have received much less government support and instead have relied on public-private partnerships and private sector investment. Without additional action to increase government investments and coordination, the United States could miss the window of opportunity for global leadership and end up being an “also ran” that has to import cellulose nanomaterials and products made by incorporating cellulose nanomaterials. If this happens, significant economic and social benefits would be lost. Accelerated commercialization for both the production and application of cellulose nanomaterials in a wide array of products is a critical national challenge.

I know the Canadian government has invested heavily in cellulose nanomaterials particularly in Québec (CelluForce, a DomTar and FPInnovations production facility for CNC [cellulose nanocrystals] also known as NCC [nanocrystalline cellulose]). There’s also some investment in Alberta (an unnamed CNC production facility) and Saskatchewan (Blue Goose Biorefineries). As for other countries and constituencies which come to mind and have reported on cellulose nanomaterial research, there’s Brazil, the European Union, Sweden, Finland, and Israel. I do not have details about government investments in those constituencies. I believe the report’s source supporting this contention is in Appendix E,  (from p. 41 of the PDF report),

Moon, Robert, and Colleen Walker. 2012. “Research into Cellulose
Nanomaterials Spans the Globe.” Paper360 7(3): 32–34. EBSCOhost. Accessed June 17, 2014 [behind a paywall]

Here’s a description of the barriers to commercialization (from p. 6 of the PDF report),

Clarifying the problems to be solved is a precursor to identifying solutions. The workshop identified critical barriers that are slowing commercialization. These barriers included lack of collaboration among potential producers and users; coordination of efforts among government, industry, and academia; lack of characterization and standards for cellulose nanomaterials; the need for greater market pull; and the need to overcome processing technical challenges related to cellulose nanomaterials dewatering and dispersion. While significant, these barriers are not insurmountable as long as the underlying technical challenges are properly addressed. With the right focus and sufficient resources, R&D should be able to overcome these key identified barriers.

There’s a list of potential applications (p. 7 of the PDF report).

Cellulose nanomaterials have demonstrated potential applications in a wide array of industrial sectors, including electronics, construction, packaging, food, energy, health care, automotive, and defense. Cellulose nanomaterials are projected to be less expensive than many other nanomaterials and, among other characteristics, tout an impressive strength-to-weight ratio (Erickson 2012, 26). The theoretical strength-to-weight performance offered by cellulose nanomaterials are unmatched by current technology (NIST 2008,
17). Furthermore, cellulose nanomaterials have proven to have major environmental benefits because they are recyclable, biodegradable, and produced from renewable resources.

I wonder if that strength-to-weight ratio comment is an indirect reference to carbon nanotubes which are usually the ‘strength darlings’ of the nanotech community.

More detail about potential applications is given on p. 9 of the PDF report,

All forms of cellulose nanomaterials are lightweight, strong, and stiff. CNCs possess photonic and piezoelectric properties, while CNFs can provide very stable hydrogels and aerogels. In addition, cellulose nanomaterials have low materials cost potential compared to other competing materials and, in their unmodified state, have so far shown few environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns (Ireland, Jones, Moon, Wegner, and Nieh 2014, 6). Currently, cellulose nanomaterials have demonstrated great potential for use in many areas, including aerogels, oil drilling additives, paints, coatings, adhesives, cement, food additives, lightweight packaging materials, paper, health care products, tissue scaffolding, lightweight vehicle armor, space technology, and automotive parts. Hence, cellulose nanomaterials have the potential to positively impact numerous industries. An important attribute of cellulose nanomaterials is that they are derived from renewable and broadly available resources (i.e., plant, animal, bacterial, and algal biomass). They are biodegradable and bring recyclability to products that contain them.

This particular passage should sound a familiar note for Canadians, from p. 11 of the PDF report,

However, commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States has been moving slowly. Since 2009, the USDA Forest Service has invested around $20 million in cellulose nanomaterials R&D, a small fraction of the $680 million spent on cellulose nanomaterials R&D by governments worldwide (Erickson 2014, 26). In order to remain globally competitive, accelerated research, development, and commercialization
of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is imperative. Otherwise, the manufacturing of cellulose nanomaterials and cellulose nanomaterial-enabled products will be established by foreign producers, and the United States will be purchasing these materials from other countries. [emphasis mine] Establishing a large-scale production of cellulose nanomaterials in the United States is critical for creating new uses from wood—which is, in turn, vital to the future of forest management and the livelihood of landowners.

Here are some of the challenges and barriers identified in the workshop (pp. 19 – 21 of the PDF report),

Need for Characterization and Standards:
In order for a new material to be adopted for use, it must be well understood and end users must have confidence that the material is the same from one batch to the next. There is a need to better characterize cellulose nanomaterials with respect to their structure, surface properties, and performance. …

Production and Processing Methods:
Commercialization is inhibited by the lack of processing and production methods and know-how for ensuring uniform, reliable, and cost-effective production of cellulose nanomaterials, especially at large volumes. This is both a scale-up and a process control issue. …

Need for More Complete EHS Information:
Limited EHS information creates a significant barrier to commercialization because any uncertainty regarding material safety and the pending regulatory environment presents risk for early movers across all industries. …

Need for Market Pull and Cost/Benefit Performance:
As noted earlier, cellulose nanomaterials have potential applications in a wide range of areas, but there is no single need that is driving their commercial development. Stakeholders suggested several reasons, including lack of awareness of the material and its properties and a need for better market understanding. Commercialization will require market pull in order to incentivize manufacturers, yet there is no perceptible demand for cellulose nanomaterials at the moment. …

Challenge of Dewatering/Drying:
One of the most significant technical challenges identified is the dewatering of cellulose nanomaterials into a dry and usable form for incorporation into other materials. The lack of an energy-efficient, cost-effective drying process inhibits commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials, particularly for non-aqueous applications. Cellulose nanomaterials in low-concentration aqueous suspensions raise resource and transportation costs, which make them less viable commercially.

Technology Readiness:
Technology readiness is a major challenge in the adoption of cellulose nanomaterials. One obstacle in developing a market for cellulose nanomaterials is the lack of information on the basic properties of different types of cellulose nanomaterials, as noted in the characterization and standards discussion. …

The rest of the report concerns Research & Development (R&D) Roles and Priorities and the Path Forward. In total, this document is 44 pp. long and includes a number of appendices. Here’s where you can read “Cellulose Nanomaterials – A Path towards Commercialization.”

Chalmers University gears up to offer Graphene Science and Technology, an online, international course

They’ll be offering a MOOC, massive open online course, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, on the topic of graphene starting March 23, 2015 according a Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Starting in 2015, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden will be a global disseminator of knowledge. The beginning of the year will mark the start of ChalmersX – the venture of Chalmers moocs on the platform

Chalmers announces its membership in edx at the ongoing conference Edx Global Forum in Boston. Edx is the platform where Chalmers’ moocs will be accessible. Universities such as MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, the University of Tokyo and many more offer their moocs on the same platform.

“This is a new and different way for us to take on the role of knowledge disseminator in our society“, says Maria Knutson Wedel, vice president for undergraduate and master’s education at Chalmers.

With a computer and an Internet connection, course participants all over the world can watch video lectures, take part in discussions, do assignments and take exams.

“Previously, we have primarily shared knowledge on a local and national level. The technology today enables global knowledge sharing – we can reach people who need the knowledge in question no matter where they are located in the world,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

A Nov. 21, 2014 Chalmers University press release on, which seems to have originated the news item, notes that the university is the consortium lead on the European Union’s Graphene Flagship project,

The first ChalmersX mooc will be an introduction to the super-material graphene: Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology. The subject is at the forefront of research, and EU’s biggest research initiative ever – Graphene Flagship – is based at Chalmers.

The course is led by graphene researcher Jie Sun. He took the initiative to the mooc as he saw the need of large-scale education about graphene.

“I hope to give the participants of the course basic knowledge of graphene. At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company’s products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies”, says Jie Sun.

Moocs are a growing trend in higher education. There is a great deal of interest in the courses – each one typically attracts tens of thousands of participants.

Maria Knutson Wedel believes that moocs can be very useful as supplementary or continuing professional development for people who are already part of working life. She does not believe that the courses can completely replace a traditional campus education, however. Campus education are closely connected and designed to correspond to the expectations from industry, for example. This type of education also results in a degree and a title, something which companies consider when hiring.

“However, this probably depends in part on traditional thinking on the part of the people who do the hiring at companies. In the future, we may reach a point that knowledge, regardless of how it has been obtained, becomes more important than certificates and grades,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

The ChalmersX moocs will be specially adapted to their context – the recordings will not consist of traditional 45-minute lectures. The teachers who have developed the course have carefully analysed the concepts they want participants to come away with after the course. The content is then boiled down to short video clips of 5-7 minutes each.

The next mooc in line after the course on graphene will be on sustainability in everyday life, starting in May 2015.

More about: Moocs

Moocs, an abbreviation of massive open online courses, are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. The term mooc was coined in 2008. As opposed to traditional distance learning, moocs do not have any prerequisites for admission. Exams are conducted by machine and there are platforms on which participants can get in contact with each other and discuss. The courses do not generate higher education credits, but the participants do receive a certificate for completing the course.

They do have a course prerequisite, from the Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology course,

In order to benefit fully from this course you should have an adequate knowledge of general physics and university level mathematics.

Here’s a video of Jie Sun talking about graphene and his course,

Enjoy the course!