Tag Archives: 2020 Science

FrogHeart’s 2012, a selective roundup of my international online colleagues, and other bits

This blog will be five years old in April 2013 and, sometime in January or February, the 2000th post will be published.

Statisticswise it’s been a tumultuous year for FrogHeart with ups and downs,  thankfully ending on an up note. According to my AW stats, I started with 54,920 visits in January (which was a bit of an increase over December 2011. The numbers rose right through to March 2012 when the blog registered 68,360 visits and then the numbers fell and continued to fall. At the low point, this blog registered 45, 972 visits in June 2012 and managed to rise and fall through to Oct. 2012 when the visits rose to 54,520 visits. November 2012 was better with 66,854 visits and in December 2012 the blog will have received over 75,000 visits. (ETA Ja.2.13: This blog registered 81,0036 in December 2012 and an annual total of 681,055 visits.) Since I have no idea why the numbers fell or why they rose again, I have absolutely no idea what 2013 will bring in terms of statistics (the webalizer numbers reflect similar trends).

Interestingly and for the first time since I’ve activated the AW statistics package in Feb. 2009, the US ceased to be the primary source for visitors. As of April 2012, the British surged ahead for several months until November 2012 when the US regained the top spot only to lose it to China in December 2012.

Favourite topics according to the top 10 key terms included: nanocrystalline cellulose for Jan. – Oct. 2012 when for the first time in almost three years the topic fell out of the top 10; Jackson Pollock and physics also popped up in the top 10 in various months throughout the year; Clipperton Island (a sci/art project) has made intermittent appearances; SPAUN (Semantic Pointer Arichitecture Unified Network; a project at the University of Waterloo) has made the top 10 in the two months since it was announced); weirdly, frogheart.ca has appeared in the top 10 these last few months; the Lycurgus Cup, nanosilver, and literary tattoos also made appearances in the top 10 in various months throughout the year, while the memristor and Québec nanotechnology made appearances in the fall.

Webalizer tells a similar but not identical story. The numbers started with 83, 133 visits in January 2012 rising to a dizzying height of 119, 217 in March.  These statistics fell too but July 2012 was another six figure month with 101,087 visits and then down again to five figures until Oct. 2012 with 108, 266 and 136,161 visits in November 2012. The December 2012 visits number appear to be dipping down slightly with 130,198 visits counted to 5:10 am PST, Dec. 31, 2012. (ETA Ja.2.13: In December 2012, 133,351 were tallied with an annual total of 1,660,771 visits.)

Thanks to my international colleagues who inspire and keep me apprised of the latest information on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies:

  • Pasco Phronesis, owned by David Bruggeman, focuses more on science policy and science communicati0n (via popular media) than on emerging technology per se but David provides excellent analysis and a keen eye for the international scene. He kindly dropped by frogheart.ca  some months ago to challenge my take on science and censorship in Canada and I have not finished my response. I’ve posted part 1 in the comments but have yet to get to part 2. His latest posting on Dec. 30, 2012 features this title, For Better Science And Technology Policing, Don’t Forget The Archiving.
  • Nanoclast is on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website and features Dexter Johnson’s writing on nanotechnology government initiatives, technical breakthroughs, and, occasionally, important personalities within the field. I notice Dexter, who’s always thoughtful and thought-provoking, has cut back to a weekly posting. I encourage you to read his work as he fills in an important gap in a lot of nanotechnology reporting with his intimate understanding of the technology itself.  Dexter’s Dec. 20, 2012 posting (the latest) is titled, Nanoparticle Coated Lens Converts Light into Sound for Precise Non-invasive Surgery.
  • Insight (formerly TNTlog) is Tim Harper’s (CEO of Cientifica) blog features an international perspective (with a strong focus on the UK scene) on emerging technologies and the business of science. His writing style is quite lively (at times, trenchant) and it reflects his long experience with nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. I don’t know how he finds the time and here’s his latest, a Dec. 4, 2012 posting titled, Is Printable Graphene The Key To Widespread Applications?
  • 2020 Science is Dr. Andrew Maynard’s (director of University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) more or less personal blog. An expert on nanotechnology (he was the Chief Science Adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, located in Washington, DC), Andrew writes extensively about risk, uncertainty, nanotechnology, and the joys of science. Over time his blog has evolved to include the occasional homemade but science-oriented video, courtesy of one of his children. I usually check Andrew’s blog when there’s a online nanotechnology kerfuffle as he usually has the inside scoop. His latest posting on Dec. 23, 2012 features this title, On the benefits of wearing a hat while dancing naked, and other insights into the science of risk.
  • Andrew also produces and manages the Mind the Science Gap blog, which is a project encouraging MA students in the University of Michigan’s Public Health Program to write. Andrew has posted a summary of the last semester’s triumphs titled, Looking back at another semester of Mind The Science Gap.
  • NanoWiki is, strictly speaking, not a blog but the authors provide the best compilation of stories on nanotechnology issues and controversies that I have found yet. Here’s how they describe their work, “NanoWiki tracks the evolution of paradigms and discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology field, annotates and disseminates them, giving an overall view and feeds the essential public debate on nanotechnology and its practical applications.” There are also Spanish, Catalan, and mobile versions of NanoWiki. Their latest posting, dated  Dec. 29, 2012, Nanotechnology shows we can innovate without economic growth, features some nanotechnology books.
  • In April 2012, I was contacted by Dorothée Browaeys about a French blog, Le Meilleur Des Nanomondes. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been much action there since Feb. 2010 but I’m delighted to hear from my European colleagues and hope to hear more from them.

Sadly, there was only one interview here this year but I think they call these things ‘a big get’ as the interview was with Vanessa Clive who manages the nanotechnology portfolio at Industry Canada. I did try to get an interview with Dr. Marie D’Iorio, the new Executive Director of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT; BTW, the National Research Council has a brand new site consequently [since the NINT is a National Research Council agency, so does the NINT]), and experienced the same success I had with her predecessor, Dr. Nils Petersen.

I attended two conferences this year, S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) 2012 meeting in Enschede, Holland where I presented on my work on memristors, artificial brains, and pop culture. The second conference I attended was in Calgary where I  moderated a panel I’d organized on the topic of Canada’s science culture and policy for the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference.

There are a few items of note which appeared on the Canadian science scene. ScienceOnlineVancouver emerged in April 2012. From the About page,

ScienceOnlineVancouver is a monthly discussion series exploring how online communication and social media impact current scientific research and how the general public learns about it. ScienceOnlineVancouver is an ongoing discussion about online science, including science communication and available research tools, not a lecture series where scientists talk about their work. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @ScioVan, hashtag is #SoVan.

The concept of these monthly meetings originated in New York with SoNYC @S_O_NYC, brought to life by Lou Woodley (@LouWoodley, Communities Specialist at Nature.com) and John Timmer (@j_timmer, Science Editor at Ars Technica). With the success of that discussion series, participation in Scio2012, and the 2012 annual meeting of the AAAS in Vancouver, Catherine Anderson, Sarah Chow, and Peter Newbury were inspired to bring it closer to home, leading to the beginning of ScienceOnlineVancouver.

ScienceOnlineVancouver is part of the ScienceOnlineNOW community that includes ScienceOnlineBayArea, @sciobayarea and ScienceOnlineSeattle, @scioSEA. Thanks to Brian Glanz of the Open Science Federation and SciFund Challenge and thanks to Science World for a great venue.

I have mentioned the arts/engineering festival coming up in Calgary, Beakerhead, a few times but haven’t had occasion to mention Science Rendezvous before. This festival started in Toronto in 2008 and became a national festival in 2012 (?). Their About page doesn’t describe the genesis of the ‘national’ aspect to this festival as clearly as I would like. They seem to be behind with their planning as there’s no mention of the 2013 festival,which should be coming up in May.

The twitter (@frogheart) feed continues to grow in both (followed and following) albeit slowly. I have to give special props to @carlacap, @cientifica, & @timharper for their mentions, retweets, and more.

As for 2013, there are likely to be some changes here; I haven’t yet decided what changes but I will keep you posted. Have a lovely new year and I wish you all the best in 2013.

July 2011 update on nanotechnology regulatory framework discussion

It’s getting hard to keep up with the material on nanotechnology regulatory frameworks these days but here’s my latest effort (in no particular order).

Nanowiki published a July 7, 2011 roundup of the discussion about the recent FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) initiatives along with a list of selected articles and blog postings to supply context (yes, my blog posting Nano regulatory frameworks are everywhere! of June 22, 2011 was included!). Please do check out their roundup as they mention articles and commentaries that I haven’t.

Also included in the Nanowiki roundup was Andrew Maynard’s (Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center) draft of an article for Nature magazine  on the topic of nanomaterial definition and nanotechnology regulatory frameworks. The final version of the article is behind a paywall but a draft version can be viewed on Andrew’s 2020 Science blog. From his July 6, 2011 posting,

Five years ago, I was a strong proponent of developing a regulatory definition of engineered nanomaterials.  Today I am not.  Even as policy makers are looking for clear definitions on which to build and implement nano-regulations, the science is showing there is no bright line separating the risks presented by nanometer and non-nanometer scale materials.  As a result, there is a growing danger of science being pushed to one side as government agencies strive to regulate nanomaterials and the products they are used in.

I have mentioned Andrew’s perspective vis à vis bypassing a definition of nanomaterials and getting on with the task of setting a regulatory framework in my June 9, 2011 and my April 15, 2011 postings. I expressed some generalized doubts about this approach in the earlier posting while noting that both Andrew and Dexter Johnson (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]  Spectrumwebsite) have a point when they express concern that the definition may be based on public relations concerns rather than science.

Also chiming into the debate is Scott Rickert (president and chief executive officer of Nanofilm) in his July 8, 2011 article, Six Ways I Know Nanotechnology Is Here To Stay, for Industry Week,

Have you been keeping up on recent government developments that have the nanotechnology industry in an uproar? First there was a dust-up when Clayton Teague stepped down as Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. There were rumors that the anti-nano forces had run him out. (Not true, by the way.) Then an announcement that the Food and Drug Administration would be looking at nanotechnology safety guidelines got some folks twitching. The same day, the White House released principles to guide the regulation and oversight of nanotechnology applications. That had people running for the exits.

Colleagues who’ve been in nanotechnology for a decade without incident were considering shutting down businesses, afraid a nano-boogieman was going to target them for billion-dollar lawsuits. Start-ups were in fear that the trickle of investment money would completely dry up. Any day I expect to see black armbands popping up in university labs in mourning over lost research grants.

Rickert goes on to suggest that all this recent regulatory activity can be attributed to ‘growing pains’ which he supports with various facts and figures. He has commented on this topic before as I note in my June 17, 2010 posting.

Happy Weekend!

University of Michigan offers a nanotechnology webcast on Feb. 8, 2011

Unsurprisingly, I came across information about a nano webcast on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science blog. Unsurprising since Andrew is the director of the institution, which is hosting this event, the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center (UMRSC). From Andrew’s Feb. 1, 2011 posting,

Under the tagline “No PowerPoint, no script; just stimulating conversation”, the Unplugged series will be engaging experts in lively conversation on a range of topics. Each event will be webcast (and archived), and will allow on-line discussion around the topic of focus.

Nanotechnology is the topic of the first event, being held on February 8. Under my “strict and provocative” moderation, three leading experts will engage in conversation about what nanotechnology is, what it’s significance to public health is, and how we as a society might exploit it safely and responsibly.

Nanotechnology Unplugged is being held tomorrow from 11 am to 12 pm PST (2-3 pm EST). You can go here to view the live webcast (scroll to the bottom of the page).

I have found some more information about the three nanotechnology experts (their names, titles, and provocative opening statements), from the UMRSC Nanotechnology Unplugged web page,

Martin Philbert
Dean, School of Public Health

“Nanotechnology is a myth – something that was invented to stimulate funding and encourage scientists to work together in new ways. But engineering matter at the nanoscale is real – and is leading to new risks as well as new opportunities. Realizing these opportunities will require new approaches to understanding and addressing the potential risks”

Mark Banaszak-Holl
Professor of Chemistry, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

“We have an opportunity to revolutionize biology and medicine in a manner analogous to the great strides previously achieved at the molecular and micron scales and to achieve a much greater understanding of complex, hierarchical biological materials. This new knowledge will engender more effective therapeutics, prosthetics, artificial tissues, and tissue regeneration; however, new risks and ethical problems will arise alongside these new capabilities.”

Shobita Parthasarathy
Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

“The new opportunities and challenges presented by nanoscale science and engineering raise critical new policy issues. How can we ensure these new technologies are developed and used most effectively, without harming people?”

Making Stuff (nanotechnology) on PBS’s Nova tonight

Tonight, PBS’s Nova tv series will broadcast part one of its four-part series on nanotechnology. I first mentioned the programme in my Jan. 7, 2011 posting where I noted that Andrew Maynard (2020 Science blog) had seen a preview and had some reservations about one item in the four-part series. (The host, David Pogue, in a bit intended to be amusing, drinks some milk from a goat that has been injected with spider genes.) I will be watching eagerly tonight (and subsequent nights) to see if the producers have made any changes after receiving some feedback about the ‘humourous’ bit. You can read more about the PBS nanotechnology series here on their Making Stuff page.

Since this seem to be my week for television, I did watch Chuck on Monday night (as per my Jan. 17, 2011 posting) and the nanotechnology part of the story was unexceptional largely because it had very little to do with the story. The nanochip everyone was chasing was a ‘McGuffin’ (from the Wikipedia essay),

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is “a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction”. The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot.

Bumper crop of nano news from NISE Net

The January issue of the NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) newsletter features information about a new resource for scientists who need to talk or communicate about their work, Mastering Science and Public Presentations is a video. This talk was given by Tim Masters of Spoken Science at Duke University in the summer of 2010.

Larry Bell on his NISE Net blog discusses some of the meetings (National Science Foundation and National Nanotechnology Initiative) he attended in Washington, DC. I found the one about a Periodic Table of Nanoparticles particularly interesting as it includes an image which features the particles in 3 dimensions representing shape, size, and composition.

There’s a very good nanotechnology article by Corinna Wu in the American Association for Engineering Education (ASEE) magazine, PRISM, Peril in Small Places; What dangers lurk in our expanding use of nanotechnology? It does have an ominous title but the writer does a good job of covering the positive and exciting aspects as well as the risks. From the article,

The wonder of nanotechnology is the abundance of materials, devices, and systems made possible by controlling and manipulating matter at the atomic and molecular levels. But with that wonder comes concern that these now ubiquitous nanoparticles could spread new hazardous pollutants that threaten health and the environment. “We’re trying to say, ‘These are new materials. We don’t know if there’s a problem, so let’s ask now,’” says Sally Tinkle, senior science adviser at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. With prodding from the National Research Council and other institutions, inquiry into the health and environmental effects of nanotechnology has gone hand in hand with research on potential applications. The work is interdisciplinary, and engineers play a critical role. By helping to figure out what makes a nanoparticle toxic, they can, for instance, design nanoparticles that kill cancer cells yet don’t harm healthy tissues, or that remove pollutants from soil without poisoning wildlife.

It’s focused on the US scene and, one quibble, I’m not sure about some of the numbers. (For example, Wu gives a value for the number of nanotechnology products on the market but offers no details as to how this number was derived or where it came from.)

There’s a four-part series, Making Stuff, that’s going to be broadcast as part of the NOVA program on PBS. It starts Jan. 19, 2010. From the website,

Invisibility cloaks. Spider silk that is stronger than steel. Plastics made of sugar that dissolve in landfills. Self-healing military vehicles. Smart pills and micro-robots that zap diseases. Clothes that monitor your mood. What will the future bring, and what will it be made of? In NOVA’s four-hour series, “Making Stuff,” popular New York Times technology reporter David Pogue takes viewers on a fun-filled tour of the material world we live in, and the one that may lie ahead. Get a behind-the-scenes look at scientific innovations ushering in a new generation of materials that are stronger, smaller, cleaner, and smarter than anything we’ve ever seen.

Beginning January 19, 2011, NOVA will premiere the new four-hour series on consecutive Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings): “Making Stuff: Stronger, Smaller, Cleaner, Smarter.”

I wonder if they’ve made any changes to the series. After previewing it a few months ago, Andrew Maynard at 2020 Science featured the program in his Nov. 2, 2010 posting and it provoked a bit of a discussion about how to present science. From the posting,

Last week while at the NISE Net network-wide meeting, I was fortunate enough to see a preview of part of NOVA’s forthcoming series Making Stuff. The series focuses on the wonders of modern materials science. But rather than coming away enthralled by the ingenuity of scientists, I found myself breaking out in a cold sweat as I watched something that set my science-engagement alarm-bells ringing: New York Times tech reporter and host David Pogue enthusing about splicing spider genes into a goat so it produces silk protein-containing milk, then glibly drinking the milk while joking about transforming into Spider Man.

I was sitting there thinking, “You start with a spider – not everyone’s favorite creature. And you genetically cross it with a goat – dangerous territory at the best of times. Then you show a middle aged dude drinking the modified milk from a transgenic animal and having a laugh about it. And all this without any hint of a question over the wisdom or ramifications of what’s going on? Man, this is going to go down well!”

Andrew goes on to ask if his reaction was justified. Comments ensued including one from the producer of the series, Chris Schmidt.

Now, the nano haiku. Again this month there are two:

Asian hornets are
powered by nano solar
at the sun’s zenith.

by Frank Kusiak of the Lawrence Hall of Science. This Haiku relates to the BBC article Oriental hornets powered by ‘solar energy’.

After reading about the use of cinnamon in the production of gold nanoparticles, Vrylena Olney got hungry – and creative:

Cinnamon: good for
pumpkin pie, Moroccan stew,

Co-writing a symposium blurb about Risk, uncertainty and sustainable innovation

Co-writing may be a little bit of an exaggeration but Andrew Maynard over at his 2020 Science blog has asked for comments about a blurb he’s writing for a 2011 a symposium on Risk, Uncertainty and Sustainable Innovation being organized by the Risk Science center [at the University of Michigan] next September [2011]. Here’s an excerpt,

As technologies become more sophisticated, pressures on global resources grow and society becomes ever-more interconnected, governments, businesses and citizens are facing increasingly complex challenges as they strive to build an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future. Over the past century, technology innovation has accelerated to the point where scientists and engineers have greater control over materials, organisms and systems – from the atomic scale to the planetary scale – that ever before. This has facilitated a radical shift in global communication, leading to an interconnected society where the flow of information, ideas and influence transcends geographical, economic and social boundaries. At the same time, a growing and increasingly plugged-in world population is placing unprecedented demands on ever-scarcer global resources.

The result is a world where innovation is both a driver of and a potential source of solutions to an increasing number of emerging global challenges.

You can go here to read all of it and comment.

Geoengineering and nanotechnology at the University of Calgary

University of Calgary climate scientist David Keith suggests two ways to engineer the climate to avoid dangerous warming. According to the news item on Nanowerk,

“Releasing engineered nano-sized disks, or sulphuric acid in a condensable vapour above the Earth, are two novel approaches. These approaches offer advantages over simply putting sulphur dioxide gas into the atmosphere,” says David Keith, a director in the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy and a Schulich School of Engineering professor.

Keith, a global leader in investigating this topic, says that geoengineering, or engineering the climate on a global scale, is an imperfect science.

“It cannot offset the risks that come from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If we don’t halt man-made CO2 emissions, no amount of climate engineering can eliminate the problems – massive emissions reductions are still necessary.”

Nevertheless, Keith believes that research on geoengineering technologies,their effectiveness and environmental impacts needs to be expanded.

“I think the stakes are simply too high at this point to think that ignorance is a good policy.”

… One study was authored by Keith alone, and the other with scientists in Canada, the U.S. and Switzerland.

Keith is talking about engineering the nanoparticles as thin disks whose electric or magnet materials would allow them to be levitated into the atmosphere and oriented to reflect the most solar radiation away from us. For example, if the particles could be engineered to drift towards the Poles (North and South), solar radiation could be reduced.  There’s more detail about this and his other suggestion in the news item.

Keith does note that these suggestions do not mean we should stop our efforts at curtailing greenhouse gas emissions,

Keith stresses that whether geoengineering technology is ever used, it shouldn’t be seen as a reason not to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions now accumulating in the atmosphere.

“Seat belts reduce the risk of being injured in accidents. But having a seat belt doesn’t mean you should drive drunk at 100 miles an hour,” he says.

ETA Sept. 13, 2010: Andrew Maynard at 2020 Science has posted about one of David Keith’s geoengineering ideas:

The first [aspect of the paper to catch Andrew's eye] was that he [Keith] proposes engineering particles as disks a few micrometers wide and around 50 nanometers thick, that are designed to automatically congregate where they are most useful in the atmosphere – in other words, this is a beautiful case of nanotechnology meets geoengineering.

The second aspect of the paper that caught my attention was that I was working with precisely engineered particles not too dissimilar from those that David described back in the 1990′s, which got me wondering whether techniques being used then for fabrication of silicon particles could be used for the more complex particles being proposed here.

If you’re interested in how science develops and the history of ideas (special emphasis on nanotechnology and geoengineering) then, Andrew offers a very engaging view.