Canadian children to learn computer coding from kindergarten through to high school

Government officials are calling the new $50M programme to teach computer coding skills to approximately 500,000 Canadian children from kindergarten to grade 12, CanCode (h/t June 14, 2017 news item on phys.org). Here’s more from the June 14, 2017 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release,,

Young Canadians will get the skills they need for the well-paying jobs of the future as a result of a $50-million program that gives them the opportunity to learn coding and other digital skills.

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, together with the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, today launched CanCode, a new program that, over the next two years, will give 500,000 students from kindergarten to grade 12 the opportunity to learn the in-demand skills that will prepare them for future jobs.

The program also aims to encourage more young women, Indigenous Canadians and other under-represented groups to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, it will equip 500 teachers across the country with the training and tools to teach digital skills and coding.

Many jobs today rely on the ability of Canadian workers to solve problems using digital skills. The demand for such skills will only intensify as the number of software and data companies increases—whether they sell music online or design self-driving cars, for example. That’s why the government is investing in the skills that prepare young Canadians for the jobs of tomorrow.

This program is part of the Innovation and Skills Plan, a multi-year strategy to create well-paying jobs for the middle class and those working hard to join it.

 

Quotes

“Our government is investing in a program that will equip young Canadians with the skills they need for a future in which every job will require some level of digital ability. Coding teaches our young people how to work as a team to solve difficult problems in creative ways. That’s how they will become the next great innovators and entrepreneurs that Canada needs to succeed.”

– The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

“Coding skills are highly relevant in today’s scientific and technological careers, and they will only become more important in the future. That’s why it is essential that we teach these skills to young Canadians today so they have an advantage when they choose to pursue a career as a scientist, researcher or engineer. Our government is proud to support their curiosity, their ambition and their desire to build a bolder, brighter future for all Canadians.”

– The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

Quick Facts

  • Funding applicants must be not-for-profit organizations incorporated in Canada. They must have a minimum of three years of experience delivering education-related programs to young Canadians.
  • The deadline for applications for project funding is July 26, 2017 [emphasis mine].

Associated Links

Exciting stuff, eh?

I was a bit curious about how the initiative will be executed since education is a provincial responsibility. The answers are on the ‘CanCode funding application‘ page,

The CanCode program aims to provide coding and digital skills learning opportunities to a diverse set of participants, principally students from kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) across Canada, including traditionally underrepresented groups, as well as their teachers. The program will consider proposals for initiatives that run until the program end date of March 31, 2019.

Funding

Maximum contribution funding to any one recipient cannot exceed $5 million per year, and the need for the contribution must be clearly demonstrated by the applicant. The level of funding provided by the program will be contingent upon the assessment of the proposal and the availability of program funds.

Proposals may include funding from other levels of government, private sector or non-profit partners, however, total funding from all federal, provincial/territorial and municipal sources cannot exceed 100%.

Eligible costs

Eligible costs are the costs directly related to the proposal that respect all conditions and limitations of the program and that will be eligible for claim as set out in the Contribution Agreement (CA) if the proposal is approved for funding.

Eligible costs include:

  • Administrative operating costs, including travel related to delivery of training (limited to no more than 10% of total eligible costs except for approved recipients delivering initiatives in Canada’s Far North due to high costs associated with travel, inclement weather, costs of accommodation and food)
  • Direct costs to deliver training (including for training delivery personnel, space rental, materials, etc.)
  • Costs for required equipment limited to no more than 20% of total eligible costs
  • Costs to develop and administer online training

Eligibility details

Essential criteria for assessment

To qualify for funding, your organization:

  • Must be a not-for-profit organization incorporated in Canada; and
  • Must have a minimum of three years’ experience in the delivery of coding and digital education programs to K-12 youth and/or their teachers.

Your funding proposal must also clearly demonstrate that:

  • Your proposed initiative meets the objectives of the program in terms of target participants and content (e.g. computational thinking, coding concepts, programming robotics, internet safety, teacher training);
  • Your initiative will be delivered at no cost to participants;
  • With program funding, your organization will have the resource capacity and expertise, either internally or through partnerships, to successfully deliver the proposed initiative; and
  • You can deliver the proposed initiative within the program timeframe.

Asset criteria for assessment

While not essential requirements, proposals will also be assessed on the degree to which they include one or more of the following elements:

  • Content that maps to provincial/territorial educational curricula (e.g. lessons for teachers on how to integrate coding/digital skills into the classroom; topics/content that support current curricula);
  • Development of tools and resources that will be made available to students and teachers following a learning opportunity, and which could reinforce or continue learning, and/or reach a broader audience;
  • Partnerships with other organizations, such as school boards, teacher associations, community organizations, and other organizations delivering coding/digital skills;
  • Private sector funding or partnerships that can leverage federal contributions to deliver programming to a wider audience or to enhance or expand initiatives and content;
  • A demonstrated ability to reach traditionally underrepresented groups such as girls, Indigenous youth, disabled, and at-risk youth;
  • A demonstrated ability to deliver services on First Nations Reserves; or
  • A demonstrated ability to reach underserved locations in Canada, such as rural, remote and northern communities.

Eligibility self-assessment

Before you get started, take the following self-assessment to ensure your proposed initiative/project is eligible for funding. If you answer yes to all of the questions below, you are eligible to apply:

  • Are you a not-for-profit organization incorporated in Canada? Are you able to provide articles of incorporation?
  • Has your organization been delivering coding/digital skills education to youth within the range of kindergarten to grade 12 and/or teachers for at least three years?
  • Can your proposed initiative/project be delivered by March 31, 2019?
  • Does your proposed initiative/project provide any of the following: development and delivery of training and educational initiatives for K-12 students to learn digital skills, coding and related concepts (e.g. in-class instruction, after-school programs, summer camps, etc.); development and delivery of training and professional development initiatives for teacher to develop the skills and confidence to introduce digital skills, coding and related concepts into the classroom (e.g. teacher training courses, workshops, etc.); development of online resources/tools to support and enhance coding and digital skills learning initiatives for youth and/or teachers.

How to apply

When you click “Apply now”, you will be prompted to submit a basic form to collect your contact information. We will then contact you to provide you with the application package.

[Go here to Apply now]

Contact information

For general questions and comments, please contact the CanCode program.

Telephone (toll-free in Canada): 1-800-328-6189
Telephone (Ottawa): 613-954-5031
Fax: 343-291-1913
TTY (for hearing-impaired): 1-866-694-8389
By email
Chat now
Business hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time)
By mail: CanCode
C.D. Howe Building
235 Queen Street, 1st floor, West Tower
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0H5
Canada

For anyone curious about just how much work is involved (from the Apply for CanCode funding page;Note: contact form not included),

Please complete and submit the form below and we will contact you within 2 business days to provide you with an application package.

Application package

A complete application package, consisting of a completed Application Form, a Project Work Plan, a Budget, and such additional supporting documentation as required by the program to fully assess the proposal’s merit to be funded, must be submitted on or before July 26, 2017 to be considered.

Supporting documentation includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Corporate documents, e.g. articles of corporation;
  • Financial statements from the last three years;
  • Information on any contributors/partners and their roles and resources in support of the project;
  • A detailed budget outlining forecasted total costs and per participant cost of delivering the proposed initiative;
  • A detailed work plan providing a description of all project activities and timelines, as well as overall expected results and benefits;
  • Information on experience/skills of key personnel;
  • Copies of any funding or partnership agreements relevant to the proposal;
  • Letters of support from partners, previous clientele, other relevant stakeholders;

Application intake

The program will accept proposals until July 26, 2017 [emphasis mine], whereupon the call for proposals will be closed. Should funding remain available following the assessment and funding decisions regarding proposals received during this intake period, further calls for proposals may be issued.

If you keep scrolling down you’ll find the contact form.

Applicants sure don’t much time to prepare their submissions from which I infer that interested parties have already been contacted or apprised that this programme was in the works.

Also, for those of us in British Columbia, this is not the first government initiative directed at children’s computer coding skills. In January 2016, Premier Christy Clark* announced a provincial programme  (my Jan. 19, 2016 posting; scroll down about 55% of the way for the discussion about ‘talent’ and several months later announced there would be funding for the programme (June 10, 2016 Office of the Premier news release about funding). i wonder if these federal and provincial efforts are going to be coordinated?

For more insight into the BC government’s funding, there’s Tracy Sherlock’s Sept. 3, 2016 article for the Vancouver Sun.

For anyone wanting to keep up with Canadian government science-related announcements, there are the two minister’s separate twitter feeds:

@ministerISED

@ScienceMin

*As of June 16, 2017, Premier Clark appears to be on her way out of government after her party failed by one seat to win a majority in the Legislative Assembly. However, there is a great deal of wrangling. Presumably the funding for computer coding programmes in the schools was locked in.

Controlling the nanostructure of inorganic materials with tumor suppressor proteins

A May 3, 2017 news item on Nanowerk announces research from Japan on using tumor suppressor proteins to control nanostructures,

A new method combining tumor suppressor protein p53 and biomineralization peptide BMPep successfully created hexagonal silver nanoplates, suggesting an efficient strategy for controlling the nanostructure of inorganic materials.

Precise control of nanostructures is a key factor to form functional nanomaterials. Biomimetic approaches are considered effective for fabricating nanomaterials because biomolecules are able to bind with specific targets, self-assemble, and build complex structures. Oligomerization, or the assembly of biomolecules, is a crucial aspect of natural materials that form higher-ordered structures.

A May 3,2017 Hokkaido University research press release, which originated the news item, delves into the details,

Some peptides are known to bind with a specific inorganic substance, such as silver, and enhance its crystal formation. This phenomenon, called peptide-mediated biomineralization, could be used as a biomimetic approach to create functional inorganic structures. Controlling the spatial orientation of the peptides could yield complex inorganic structures, but this has long been a great challenge.

A team of researchers led by Hokkaido University Professor Kazuyasu Sakaguchi has succeeded in controlling the oligomerization of the silver biomineralization peptide (BMPep) which led to the creation of hexagonal silver nanoplates.

The team utilized the well-known tumor suppressor protein p53 which has been known to form tetramers through its tetramerization domain (p53Tet). “The unique symmetry of the p53 tetramer is an attractive scaffold to be used in controlling the overall oligomerization state of the silver BMPep such as its spatial orientation, geometry, and valency,” says Sakaguchi.

In the experiments, the team successfully created silver BMPep fused with p53Tet. This resulted in the formation of BMPep tetramers which yielded hexagonal silver nanoplates. They also found that the BMPep tetramers have enhanced specificity to the structured silver surface, apparently regulating the direction of crystal growth to form hexagonal nanoplates. Furthermore, the tetrameric peptide acted as a catalyst, controlling the silver’s crystal growth without consuming the peptide.

“Our novel method can be applied to other biomineralization peptides and oligomerization proteins, thus providing an efficient and versatile strategy for controlling nanostructures of various inorganic materials. The production of tailor-made nanomaterials is now more feasible,” Sakaguchi commented.

monomeric and tetrameric biomineralization peptides

(Left panels) Schematic illustrations of monomeric and tetrameric biomineralization peptides fused with p53Tet and electron microscopy images of silver nanostructures formed by the biomineralization peptides. Scale bar = 100 nm. (Right) The proposed model in which tetrameric biomineralization peptides regulate the direction of crystal growth and therefore its nanostructure.

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

Oligomerization enhances the binding affinity of a silver biomineralization peptide and catalyzes nanostructure formation by Tatsuya Sakaguchi, Jose Isagani B. Janairo, Mathieu Lussier-Price, Junya Wada, James G. Omichinski, & Kazuyasu Sakaguchi. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 1400 (2017)  doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01442-8 Published online: 03 May 2017

This paper is open access.

Did artists lead the way in mathematics?

There is no way to definitively answer the question of whether artists have led the way in mathematics but the question does provide interesting fodder for an essay (h/t April 28, 2017 news item on phys.org) by Henry Adams, professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University , in his April 28, 2017 essay for TheConversation.com,

Mathematics and art are generally viewed as very different disciplines – one devoted to abstract thought, the other to feeling. But sometimes the parallels between the two are uncanny.

From Islamic tiling to the chaotic patterns of Jackson Pollock, we can see remarkable similarities between art and the mathematical research that follows it. The two modes of thinking are not exactly the same, but, in interesting ways, often one seems to foreshadow the other.

Does art sometimes spur mathematical discovery? There’s no simple answer to this question, but in some instances it seems very likely.

Patterns in the Alhambra

Consider Islamic ornament, such as that found in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Alhambra served as the palace and harem of the Berber monarchs. For many visitors, it’s a setting as close to paradise as anything on earth: a series of open courtyards with fountains, surrounded by arcades that provide shelter and shade. The ceilings are molded in elaborate geometric patterns that resemble stalactites. The crowning glory is the ornament in colorful tile on the surrounding walls, which dazzles the eye in a hypnotic way that’s strangely blissful. In a fashion akin to music, the patterns lift the onlooker into an almost out-of-body state, a sort of heavenly rapture.

It’s a triumph of art – and of mathematical reasoning. The ornament explores a branch of mathematics known as tiling, which seeks to fill a space completely with regular geometric patterns. Math shows that a flat surface can be regularly covered by symmetric shapes with three, four and six sides, but not with shapes of five sides.

It’s also possible to combine different shapes, using triangular, square and hexagonal tiles to fill a space completely. The Alhambra revels in elaborate combinations of this sort, which are hard to see as stable rather than in motion. They seem to spin before our eyes. They trigger our brain into action and, as we look, we arrange and rearrange their patterns in different configurations.

An emotional experience? Very much so. But what’s fascinating about such Islamic tilings is that the work of anonymous artists and craftsmen also displays a near-perfect mastery of mathematical logic. Mathematicians have identified 17 types of symmetry: bilateral symmetry, rotational symmetry and so forth. At least 16 appear in the tilework of the Alhambra, almost as if they were textbook diagrams.

The patterns are not merely beautiful, but mathematically rigorous as well. They explore the fundamental characteristics of symmetry in a surprisingly complete way. Mathematicians, however, did not come up with their analysis of the principles of symmetry until several centuries after the tiles of the Alhambra had been set in place.

Tiles at the Alhambra. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Quasicrystalline tiles

Stunning as they are, the decorations of the Alhambra may have been surpassed by a masterpiece in Persia. There, in 1453, anonymous craftsmen at the Darbi-I Imam shrine in Isfahan discovered quasicrystalline patterns. These patterns have complex and mysterious mathematical properties that were not analyzed by mathematicians until the discovery of Penrose tilings in the 1970s.

Such patterns fill a space completely with regular shapes, but in a configuration which never repeats itself – indeed, is infinitely nonrepeated – although the mathematical constant known as the Golden Section occurs over and over again.

Daniel Schectman won the 2001 Nobel Prize [Schechtman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2011 as per his Wikipedia entry] or the discovery of quasicrystals, which obey this law of organization. This breakthrough forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter.

In 2005, Harvard physicist Peter James Lu showed that it’s possible to generate such quasicrystalline patterns relatively easily using girih tiles. Girih tiles combine several pure geometric shapes into five patterns: a regular decagon, an irregular hexagon, a bow tie, a rhombus and a regular pentagon.

Whatever the method, it’s clear that the quasicrystalline patterns at Darbi-I Imam were created by craftsmen without advanced training in mathematics. It took several more centuries for mathematicians to analyze and articulate what they were doing. In other words, intuition preceded full understanding.

It’s a fascinating essay and, if you have the time and the interest, it’s definitely a worthwhile read (Henry’s April 28, 2017 essay ).

Using CRISPR to reverse retinosa pigmentosa (eye disease)

Years ago I worked as a publicist for the BC (British Columbia) Motorcycle Federation’s Ride for Sight; they were raising funds for research into retinitis pigmentosa (RP). I hadn’t thought about that in years but it all came back when I saw this April 21, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

Using the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9, researchers at University of California San Diego [UCSD] School of Medicine and Shiley Eye Institute at UC San Diego Health, with colleagues in China, have reprogrammed mutated rod photoreceptors to become functioning cone photoreceptors, reversing cellular degeneration and restoring visual function in two mouse models of retinitis pigmentosa.

Caption: This is a confocal micrograph of mouse retina depicting optic fiber layer. Credit: Image courtesy of National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, UC San Diego.

An April 21, 2017 UCSD news release by Scott LaFee (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into retinitis pigmentosa and this CRISPR research,

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of inherited vision disorders caused by numerous mutations in more than 60 genes. The mutations affect the eyes’ photoreceptors, specialized cells in the retina that sense and convert light images into electrical signals sent to the brain. There are two types: rod cells that function for night vision and peripheral vision, and cone cells that provide central vision (visual acuity) and discern color. The human retina typically contains 120 million rod cells and 6 million cone cells.

In RP, which affects approximately 100,000 Americans and 1 in 4,000 persons worldwide, rod-specific genetic mutations cause rod photoreceptor cells to dysfunction and degenerate over time. Initial symptoms are loss of peripheral and night vision, followed by diminished visual acuity and color perception as cone cells also begin to fail and die. There is no treatment for RP. The eventual result may be legal blindness.

In their published research, a team led by senior author Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, chief of ophthalmic genetics, founding director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine and co-director of biomaterials and tissue engineering at the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, both at UC San Diego School of Medicine, used CRISPR/Cas9 to deactivate a master switch gene called Nrl and a downstream transcription factor called Nr2e3.

CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, allows researchers to target specific stretches of genetic code and edit DNA at precise locations, modifying select gene functions. Deactivating either Nrl or Nr2e3 reprogrammed rod cells to become cone cells.

“Cone cells are less vulnerable to the genetic mutations that cause RP,” said Zhang. “Our strategy was to use gene therapy to make the underlying mutations irrelevant, resulting in the preservation of tissue and vision.”

The scientists tested their approach in two different mouse models of RP. In both cases, they found an abundance of reprogrammed cone cells and preserved cellular architecture in the retinas. Electroretinography testing of rod and cone receptors in live mice show improved function.

Zhang said a recent independent study led by Zhijian Wu, PhD, at National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, also reached similar conclusions.

The researchers used adeno-associated virus (AAV) to perform the gene therapy, which they said should help advance their work to human clinical trials quicker. “AAV is a common cold virus and has been used in many successful gene therapy treatments with a relatively good safely profile,” said Zhang. “Human clinical trials could be planned soon after completion of preclinical study. There is no treatment for RP so the need is great and pressing. In addition, our approach of reprogramming mutation-sensitive cells to mutation-resistant cells may have broader application to other human diseases, including cancer.”

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

Gene and mutation independent therapy via CRISPR-Cas9 mediated cellular reprogramming in rod photoreceptors by Jie Zhu, Chang Ming, Xin Fu, Yaou Duan, Duc Anh Hoang, Jeffrey Rutgard, Runze Zhang, Wenqiu Wang, Rui Hou, Daniel Zhang, Edward Zhang, Charlotte Zhang, Xiaoke Hao, Wenjun Xiong, and Kang Zhang. Cell Research advance online publication 21 April 2017; doi: 10.1038/cr.2017.57

This paper (it’s in the form of a letter to the editor) is open access.

Nanoparticle behaviour in the environment unpredictable

These Swiss researchers took on a fairly massive project according to an April 19, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

The nanotech industry is booming. Every year, several thousands of tonnes of man-made nanoparticles are produced worldwide; sooner or later, a certain part of them will end up in bodies of water or soil. But even experts find it difficult to say exactly what happens to them there. It is a complex question, not only because there are many different types of man-made (engineered) nanoparticles, but also because the particles behave differently in the environment depending on the prevailing conditions.

Researchers led by Martin Scheringer, Senior Scientist at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, wanted to bring some clarity to this issue. They reviewed 270 scientific studies, and the nearly 1,000 laboratory experiments described in them, looking for patterns in the behaviour of engineered nanoparticles. The goal was to make universal predictions about the behaviour of the particles.

An April 19, 2017ETH Zurich press release by Fabio Bergamin (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, elaborates,

Particles attach themselves to everything

However, the researchers found a very mixed picture when they looked at the data. “The situation is more complex than many scientists would previously have predicted,” says Scheringer. “We need to recognise that we can’t draw a uniform picture with the data available to us today.”

Nicole Sani-Kast, a doctoral student in Scheringer’s group and first author of the analysis published in the journal PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences], adds: “Engineered nanoparticles behave very dynamically and are highly reactive. They attach themselves to everything they find: to other nanoparticles in order to form agglomerates, or to other molecules present in the environment.”

Network analysis

To what exactly the particles react, and how quickly, depends on various factors such as the acidity of the water or soil, the concentration of the existing minerals and salts, and above all, the composition of the organic substances dissolved in the water or present in the soil. The fact that the engineered nanoparticles often have a surface coating makes things even more complicated. Depending on the environmental conditions, the particles retain or lose their coating, which in turn influences their reaction behaviour.

To evaluate the results available in the literature, Sani-Kast used a network analysis for the first time in this research field. It is a technique familiar in social research for measuring networks of social relations, and allowed her to show that the data available on engineered nanoparticles is inconsistent, insufficiently diverse and poorly structured.

More method for machine learning

“If more structured, consistent and sufficiently diverse data were available, it may be possible to discover universal patterns using machine learning methods,” says Scheringer, “but we’re not there yet.” Enough structured experimental data must first be available.

“In order for the scientific community to carry out such experiments in a systematic and standardised manner, some kind of coordination is necessary,” adds Sani-Kast, but she is aware that such work is difficult to coordinate. Scientists are generally well known for preferring to explore new methods and conditions rather than routinely performing standardized experiments.

[additional material]

Distinguishing man-made and natural nanoparticles

In addition to the lack of systematic research, there is also a second tangible problem in researching the behaviour of engineered nanoparticles: many engineered nanoparticles consist of chemical compounds that occur naturally in the soil. So far it has been difficult to measure the engineered particles in the environment since it is hard to distinguish them from naturally occurring particles with the same chemical composition.

However, researchers at ETH Zurich’s Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, under the direction of ETH Professor Detlef Günther, have recently established an effective method that makes such a distinction possible in routine investigations. They used a state-of-the-art and highly sensitive mass spectrometry technique (called spICP-TOF mass spectrometry) to determine which chemical elements make up individual nanoparticles in a sample.

In collaboration with scientists from the University of Vienna, the ETH researchers applied the method to soil samples with natural cerium-containing particles, into which they mixed engineered cerium dioxide nanoparticles. Using machine learning methods, which were ideally suited to this particular issue, the researchers were able to identify differences in the chemical fingerprints of the two particle classes. “While artificially produced nanoparticles often consist of a single compound, natural nanoparticles usually still contain a number of additional chemical elements,” explains Alexander Gundlach-Graham, a postdoc in Günther’s group.

The new measuring method is very sensitive: the scientists were able to measure engineered particles in samples with up to one hundred times more natural particles.

The researchers have produced a visualization of their network analysis,

The researchers evaluated the experimental data published in the scientific literature using a network analysis. This analysis reveals which types of nanoparticles (blue) have been studied under which environmental conditions (red). (Visualisations: Thomas Kast)

Here are links and citation for two papers associated with this research,

A network perspective reveals decreasing material diversity in studies on nanoparticle interactions with dissolved organic matter by Nicole Sani-Kast, Jérôme Labille, Patrick Ollivier, Danielle Slomberg, Konrad Hungerbühler, and Martin Scheringer. PNAS 2017, 114: E1756-E1765, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1608106114

Single-particle multi-element fingerprinting (spMEF) using inductively-coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry (ICP-TOFMS) to identify engineered nanoparticles against the elevated natural background in soils by Antonia Praetorius, Alexander Gundlach-Graham, Eli Goldberg, Willi Fabienke, Jana Navratilova, Andreas Gondikas, Ralf Kaegi, Detlef Günther, Thilo Hofmann, and Frank von der Kammer. Environonmental Science: Nano 2017, 4: 307-314, DOI: 10.1039/c6en00455e

Both papers are behind a paywall.

The security of the Internet of Nano-Things with NanoMalaysia’s CEO Dr Rezal Khairi Ahmad

I’ve not come across the Internet of Nano-Things before and I’m always glad to be introduced to something new. In this case, I’m doubly happy as I get to catch up (a little) with the Malaysian nano scene. From an April 19, 2017 article by Avanti Kumar for mis.asia.com (Note: Links have been removed),

After being certified in 2011 as a nanocentre, national applied research agency MIMOS continued to make regular moves to boost Malaysia’s nanotechnology ambitions. This included helping to develop the national graphene action plan (NGAP 2020).

Much of the task of driving and commercialising the NGAP ecosystem is in the hands of NanoMalaysia, which was incorporated in 2011 as a company limited by guarantee (CLG) under Malaysia’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to act as a business entity.

During another event in March 2016 where I saw that 360 new products were to be commercialised under NGAP, NanoMalaysia’s chief executive officer Dr. Rezal Khairi Ahmad said that benefits would include a US$5 billion impact on GNI (gross net income) and 9,000 related new jobs by the year 2020.

In his capacity as a keynote speaker at this year’s Computerworld Security Summit in Kuala Lumpur (20 April 2017), Dr Rezal agreed to a security-themed interview on this relatively new industry sector.  This is also part of a series of special security features.

To start, I asked Dr Rezal for a brief run-through of his role.

[RKA]  I’m the founding Chief Executive Officer and also Board Member of NanoMalaysia, Nano Commerce Sdn. Bhd, representing NanoMalaysia’s business interests, the Chairman of NanoVerify Sdn. Bhd, a nanotechnology certification entity and a Director of Nanovation Ventures Sdn. Bhd., an investment arm of NanoMalaysia.

Prior to this, I served as Acting Under-Secretary of National Nanotechnology Directorate, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation on the policy aspect of nanotechnology and vice president of [national investment body] Khazanah Nasional touching on human capital and investment research.

NanoMalaysia’s primary role in the development of Malaysia’s National Graphene Action Plan 2020 together with Agensi Inovasi Malaysia and PEMANDU [Performance Management & Delivery Unit attached to Prime Minister’s Office] is a major landmark in our journey to ensure Malaysia stays competitive in the global innovation landscape particularly in nanotechnology, which cuts across all industries including ICT [information and communications technologies].

Can you talk about graphene and its significance to local industry?

Graphene is touted as one of the game-changing advanced materials made of one atom-thick carbon and acknowledged by World Economic Forum [WEF] as no. 4 emerging technology in 2016.

Beyond being a fancy nano material, graphene plays a central role in the development of endogenous hardware aspects of Malaysia’s Internet of Things aspirations or the now evolved Internet of Nano-Things (IoNT). Some of these are:
-·Super small, lightweight and hyper-sensitive low-cost Graphene-based sensors and Radio Frequency ID (RFID)
– Higher speed, Low loss and power consumption graphene based optical transmitter and receiver for 5G systems
– Making IoNT a low-cost and practical industrial and domestic solutions in Malaysia.

Let’s move to the security aspects of nanotechnology: what’s your take on IoNT?

In the context of IoNT, which WEF acknowledged to be the top emerging technology in 2016, the current work-in-progress,  ‘ubiquitous’ deployment of sensors in Malaysia and worldwide, I certainly see increasing data security risks at the sensor, transmission, collection, processing and even analytics levels.

The initial industry approaches to IoNT data security will probably be polarised between cascaded and centralised system approaches.

I think some hacking attacks will obviously focus on data theft. I therefore foresee a trend favouring cascaded security – with both hardware, software and more advanced data encryption technologies in place.

What security steps do you currently advise?

The priority is to tackle potential data theft at every stage of IoNT systems.  The best-available preventive measures should include some versions of cascaded and embedded security in the form of hardware tags and advanced encryption.

To end, what’s your main message for business and IT leaders?

The digital era has removed the clear line that once separated State and Business as well as People. Everything and everyone is more interconnected. We are now an ecosystem both by chance and design. Cyber-attacks can be made to afflict either one and be used to hold any one at ransom thus creating a local or even global systemic chain reaction effect.

The connected world presents endless commercial, social and environmental development opportunities…and threats. The development and deployment of emerging cyber-related technologies, in particular IoNT – which promises a market size of US$9.69 billion by 2020 – should be done responsibly in the form of infused data security technologies to ensure prolific market acceptance and profitable returns.

For our part, NanoMalaysia is working with various parties locally and abroad push Malaysia’s strategic industry sectors to be relevant to the Fourth Industrial Revolution supported by cyber-physical systems manifesting into full automation, robots, artificial intelligence, de-centralised power generation, energy storage, water and food supplies, remote assets and logistics management and custom manufacturing requiring secured data sensing, traffic and analytics systems in place.

If you have the time, I advise reading the article in its entirety.

Gently measuring electrical signals in small animals with nano-SPEARs

This work comes from Rice University (Texas, US) according to an April 17, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

Microscopic probes developed at Rice University have simplified the process of measuring electrical activity in individual cells of small living animals. The technique allows a single animal like a worm to be tested again and again and could revolutionize data-gathering for disease characterization and drug interactions.

The Rice lab of electrical and computer engineer Jacob Robinson has invented “nanoscale suspended electrode arrays” — aka nano-SPEARs — to give researchers access to electrophysiological signals from the cells of small animals without injuring them. Nano-SPEARs replace glass pipette electrodes that must be aligned by hand each time they are used.”

An April 17, 2017 Rice University news release (also on EurekAltert), which originated the news item, details the work,

“One of the experimental bottlenecks in studying synaptic behavior and degenerative diseases that affect the synapse is performing electrical measurements at those synapses,” Robinson said. “We set out to study large groups of animals under lots of different conditions to screen drugs or test different genetic factors that relate to errors in signaling at those synapses.”

Robinson’s early work at Rice focused on high-quality, high-throughput electrical characterization of individual cells. The new platform adapts the concept to probe the surface cells of nematodes, worms that make up 80 percent of all animals on Earth.

Most of what is known about muscle activity and synaptic transmission in the worms comes from the few studies that successfully used manually aligned glass pipettes to measure electrical activity from individual cells, Robinson said. However, this patch clamp technique requires time-consuming and invasive surgery that could negatively affect the data that is gathered from small research animals.

The platform developed by Robinson’s team works something like a toll booth for traveling worms. As each animal passes through a narrow channel, it is temporarily immobilized and pressed against one or several nano-SPEARS that penetrate its body-wall muscle and record electrical activity from nearby cells. That animal is then released, the next is captured and measured, and so on. Robinson said the device proved much faster to use than traditional electrophysiological cell measurement techniques.

The nano-SPEARs are created using standard thin-film deposition procedures and electron-beam or photolithography and can be made from less than 200 nanometers to more than 5 microns thick, depending on the size of animal to be tested. Because the nano-SPEARs can be fabricated on either silicon or glass, the technique easily combines with fluorescence microscopy, Robinson said.

The animals suitable for probing with a nano-SPEAR can be as large as several millimeters, like hydra, cousins of the jellyfish and the subject of an upcoming study. But nematodes known as Caenorhabditis elegans were practical for several reasons: First, Robinson said, they’re small enough to be compatible with microfluidic devices and nanowire electrodes. Second, there were a lot of them down the hall at the lab of Rice colleague Weiwei Zhong, who studies nematodes as transparent, easily manipulated models for signaling pathways that are common to all animals.

“I used to shy away from measuring electrophysiology because the conventional method of patch clamping is so technically challenging,” said Zhong, an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology and co-author of the paper. “Only a few graduate students or postdocs can do it. With Jacob’s device, even an undergraduate student can measure electrophysiology.”

“This meshes nicely with the high-throughput phenotyping she does,” Robinson said. “She can now correlate locomotive phenotypes with activity at the muscle cells. We believe that will be useful to study degenerative diseases centered around neuromuscular junctions.”

In fact, the labs have begun doing so. “We are now using this setup to profile worms with neurodegenerative disease models such as Parkinson’s and screen for drugs that reduce the symptoms,” Zhong said. “This would not be possible using the conventional method.”

Initial tests on C. elegans models for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease revealed for the first time clear differences in electrophysiological responses between the two, the researchers reported.

Testing the efficacy of drugs will be helped by the new ability to study small animals for long periods. “What we can do, for the first time, is look at electrical activity over a long period of time and discover interesting patterns of behavior,” Robinson said.

Some worms were studied for up to an hour, and others were tested on multiple days, said lead author Daniel Gonzales, a Rice graduate student in Robinson’s lab who took charge of herding nematodes through the microfluidic devices.

“It was in some way easier than working with isolated cells because the worms are larger and fairly sturdy,” Gonzales said. “With cells, if there’s too much pressure, they die. If they hit a wall, they die. But worms are really sturdy, so it was just a matter of getting them up against the electrodes and keeping them there.”

The team constructed microfluidic arrays with multiple channels that allowed testing of many nematodes at once. In comparison with patch-clamping techniques that limit labs to studying about one animal per hour, Robinson said his team measured as many as 16 nematodes per hour.

“Because this is a silicon-based technology, making arrays and producing recording chambers in high numbers becomes a real possibility,” he said.

A scanning electron micrograph shows a nano-SPEAR suspended midway between layers of silicon (grey) and photoresist material (pink) that form a recording chamber for immobilized nematodes. The high-throughput technology developed at Rice University can be adapted for other small animals and could enhance data-gathering for disease characterization and drug interactions. Courtesy of the Robinson Lab

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

Scalable electrophysiology in intact small animals with nanoscale suspended electrode arrays by Daniel L. Gonzales, Krishna N. Badhiwala, Daniel G. Vercosa, Benjamin W. Avants, Zheng Liu, Weiwei Zhong, & Jacob T. Robinson. Nature Nanotechnology (2017) doi:10.1038/nnano.2017.55 Published online 17 April 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Patent Politics: a June 23, 2017 book launch at the Wilson Center (Washington, DC)

I received a June 12, 2017 notice (via email) from the Wilson Center (also know as the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars) about a book examining patents and policies in the United States and in Europe and its upcoming launch,

Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe

Over the past thirty years, the world’s patent systems have experienced pressure from civil society like never before. From farmers to patient advocates, new voices are arguing that patents impact public health, economic inequality, morality—and democracy. These challenges, to domains that we usually consider technical and legal, may seem surprising. But in Patent Politics, Shobita Parthasarathy argues that patent systems have always been deeply political and social.

To demonstrate this, Parthasarathy takes readers through a particularly fierce and prolonged set of controversies over patents on life forms linked to important advances in biology and agriculture and potentially life-saving medicines. Comparing battles over patents on animals, human embryonic stem cells, human genes, and plants in the United States and Europe, she shows how political culture, ideology, and history shape patent system politics. Clashes over whose voices and which values matter in the patent system, as well as what counts as knowledge and whose expertise is important, look quite different in these two places. And through these debates, the United States and Europe are developing very different approaches to patent and innovation governance. Not just the first comprehensive look at the controversies swirling around biotechnology patents, Patent Politics is also the first in-depth analysis of the political underpinnings and implications of modern patent systems, and provides a timely analysis of how we can reform these systems around the world to maximize the public interest.

Join us on June 23 [2017] from 4-6 pm [elsewhere the time is listed at 4-7 pm] for a discussion on the role of the patent system in governing emerging technologies, on the launch of Shobita Parthasarathy’s Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

You can find more information such as this on the Patent Politics event page,

Speakers

Keynote


  • Shobita Parthasarathy

    Fellow
    Associate Professor of Public Policy and Women’s Studies, and Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, at University of Michigan

Moderator


  • Eleonore Pauwels

    Senior Program Associate and Director of Biology Collectives, Science and Technology Innovation Program
    Formerly European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Technological Development, Directorate on Science, Economy and Society

Panelists


  • Daniel Sarewitz

    Co-Director, Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes Professor of Science and Society, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

  • Richard Harris

    Award-Winning Journalist National Public Radio Author of “Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions”

For those who cannot attend in person, there will be a live webcast. If you can be there in person, you can RSVP here (Note: The time frame for the event is listed in some places as 4-7 pm.) I cannot find any reason for the time frame disparity. My best guess is that the discussion is scheduled for two hours with a one hour reception afterwards for those who can attend in person.

Nontoxic, biodegradable orthopedic implant for damaged bones

Unlike most of the science items on phys.org this April 14, 2017 news item is not a publication announcement,

Purdue University researchers are developing a nontoxic, biodegradable orthopedic implant that could be safely absorbed by the body after providing adequate support to damaged bones.

The development of the technology originated in the lab of Lia Stanciu, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue in 2009. The technology could eliminate the need for a second surgery to remove conventional hardware.

“Currently, most implants use stainless steel and titanium alloys for strength. This can cause long-term change in the mechanics of the specific region and eventual long-term deterioration,” Stanciu said. “Additionally medical operations that require an orthopedic implant must be followed-up with a second surgery to remove the implant or the accompanying hardware of the implant resulting in higher medical costs and an increased risk of complications.”

An April 13, 2017 Purdue University news release, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail and a hint as to what may have occasioned the news release,

Co-inventors of the technology are Stanciu; Eric Nauman, a professor in Purdue’s College of Engineering and director of the College of Engineering Honors Programs; Michael J Heiden, a PhD candidate; and Mahdi Dehestani, a graduate research assistant, both in Purdue’s School of Materials Engineering.

Nauman said the resorbable metal technology provides superior properties compared to conventional metals.

“The implant has high porosity, which is empty space in the material, in which optimal vascular invasion can occur. This provides a way for cells to optimally absorb the material,” he said. “Our technology is able to provide short-term fixation but eliminate the need for long-term hardware such as titanium or stainless steel that may require second surgeries to be retrieved,”

The orthopedic implant also uses manganese, which provides a better degradation rate, Stanciu added.

“Current resorbable metals are made with magnesium; however, this provides many adverse side effects to the body and degrades very quickly,” she said. “We decided to use manganese instead of magnesium. Through studies we found that we can control the degradation rates from 22 millimeters per year to 1.2 millimeters per year pretty consistently. We also saw that manganese has a very good corrosion rate over time.”

Nauman said the technology still exhibits the usual benefits associated with using biomaterials.

“With this technology we are able to tailor the surfaces such as de-alloying the surface to provide a better material for cells to grab on to and grow,” he said. “We were also able to show that we could control cell attachment proliferation, an increase of the number of cells. Our technology still has all these usual benefits in addition to controlling the degradation rates of the metals.”

The Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization has patented the technology and it is available for license. For information call 765-588-3470 or email innovation@prf.org.

I believe they’re looking for a commercial partner of some kind.