Tag Archives: Australia

Cookies, ants, and a citizen science project plus a call for proposals for a 2015 Citizen Science Conference

My first citizen science item concerns summertime when the ants are out and about, oftentimes as uninvited participants to a picnic. Scientists at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of Florida (UF) have decided to take advantage of this summer phenomenon as per a July 7, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Florida have combined cookies, citizen science and robust research methods to track the diversity of ant species across the United States, and are now collaborating with international partners to get a global perspective on how ants are moving and surviving in the modern world.

“We think our School of Ants project serves as a good model for how citizen science can be used to collect more data, more quickly, from more places than a research team could do otherwise,” says Dr. Andrea Lucky, a researcher at the University of Florida who started work on the School of Ants while a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and now heads the project. Lucky is co-lead author of a paper describing the work and its early findings. “And our protocols help ensure that the data we are collecting are high quality.”

A July 7, 2014 NCSU news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the various objectives for the project,

The School of Ants project was developed at NC State to help researchers get a handle on the diversity of ant species across the United States, with a particular focus on Chicago, Raleigh and New York City. In short, to discover which ant species are living where.

“But we also wanted to launch a citizen science project that both increased the public’s ecological literacy and addressed criticisms that public involvement made citizen science data unreliable,” says Dr. Amy Savage , a postdoctoral biological sciences researcher at NC State and the other co-lead author of the paper.

The research protocol, process, and outcomes are then described (from the news release),

The researchers developed a simple protocol involving Pecan Sandies cookies and sealable plastic bags, detailing precisely how the public should collect and label ant samples before shipping them to NC State or UF. [emphasis mine] This process was designed to engage the public in the aspect of the research that was easiest for non-scientists to enjoy and participate in, while also limiting the chances that the public could make mistakes that would skew the findings.

Once the samples arrive at NC State or UF, they are sorted, identified by a team of national experts and entered into a database. That information is then made publicly available in a user-friendly format on the project’s schoolofants.org site, allowing study participants to track the survey.

“This information is helping us tackle a variety of ecological and evolutionary questions, such as how ants may be evolving in urban environments, and how invasive species are spreading in the U.S.,” Savage says.

More than 1,000 participants, with samples from all 50 states, have taken part in the project since its 2011 launch – and there have already been some surprising findings.

For example, the researchers learned that a venomous invasive species, the Asian needle ant (Pachycondyla chinensis), had spread thousands of miles farther than anyone expected. Researchers knew the species had established itself in the Southeast, but study participants sent in Asian needle ant samples from as far afield as Wisconsin and Washington state.

To build on the School of Ants model, the researchers have launched collaborations with counterparts in Italy and Australia.

“We’re optimistic that this project will give us a broader view of ant diversity and how these species intersect with us, where we live and work around the world,” Lucky says.

The researchers are also working with teachers to incorporate the project into K-12 instruction modules that incorporate key elements of common core education standards. One early teacher collaboration has led to a research paper co-written by 4th and 5th graders.

“We also collaborated with a science writer to produce a free series of iBooks featuring natural history stories about the most common ants that our citizen science partners are collecting in their backyards and sidewalks,” Savage says.

“One of our big goals now is to move from collecting data and finding patterns to identifying ways that we can work with the public to figure out what is driving those patterns,” says Dr. Rob Dunn, an associate professor of biological sciences at NC State and co-author of the paper.

Not being familiar with Pecan Sandies cookies I went searching on the internet and found many recipes including this one from Martha Stewart’s website,

 Pecan Sandies

prep: 15 mins
total time: 30 mins
yield: Makes 18

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Cook’s Note
For best results, line cookie sheets with parchment prior to baking.
Directions

Step 1

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer on low, gradually add flour, beating just until combined. Fold in pecans.

Step 2

Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, and place on two baking sheets, 2 inches apart. With the dampened bottom of a glass, lightly flatten each ball.

Step 3

Bake until cookies are golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to wire racks, and let cool.

This is what they look like (also from the Martha Stewart website),

[downloaded from http://www.marthastewart.com/342386/pecan-sandies]

[downloaded from http://www.marthastewart.com/342386/pecan-sandies]

I also checked out the School of Ants project website and found this,

The School of Ants project is a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Participation is open to anyone interested!
Learn More!

Anyone can participate! Learn how to create your own sampling kit, sample your backyard or schoolyard, and get our collection back to us so that we can ID the ants and add your species list to the big School of Ants map. Together we’ll map ant diversity and species ranges across North America! Click here to get started!

There is at least one question you might want to ask before running off to collect ants, the researchers specify Keebler Pecan Sandies cookies are to be used as bait. I’m not sure how available those specific cookies and brand are in Canada, Mexico, Italy, or Australia. You may want to check with the organizers as to what alternatives might be acceptable. From the Participate webpage on the School of Ants website,

SAMPLING ANTS for the School of Ants involves placing cookie baits outdoors in green spaces (lawns, gardens, woods) and paved places (asphalt, concrete, cobblestone) for one hour on a warm day. We want to know what ants discover the baits in your neighborhood!(ALLERGY WARNING!: this activity uses Keebler Pecan Sandies cookies, which contain pecans, wheat, egg and whey).

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

Ecologists, educators, and writers collaborate with the public to assess backyard diversity in The School of Ants Project [PDF] by Andrea Lucky, Amy M. Savage, Lauren M. Nichols, Leonora Shell, Robert R. Dunn, Cristina Castracani, Donato A. Grasso, and Alessandra Mori. Ecosphere 5(7):78. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES13-00364.1 Published: online July 7, 2014,

Ecosphere is an open access journal. The PDF is 23 pp.

For my second citizen science item, I have a call for proposals for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference (CS2015), February 11 & 12, 2015 in San Jose, California (prior to the 2015 AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] annual meeting February 12 -16, 2015 also in San Jose). Here’s more about the Citizen Science conference from the Overview page,

Anyone involved in citizen science is invited to attend this conference. Attendees will include citizen science participants, researchers, project leaders, educators, technology specialists, evaluators, and others – representing many disciplines including astronomy, molecular biology, human and environmental health, psychology, linguistics, environmental justice, biodiversity, conservation biology, public health, genetics, engineering, cyber technology, gaming, and more – at any level of expertise. There will be opportunities throughout the conference to make connections, share insights, and help move this field forward.

We have identified six main themes for this year’s conference:

  1. Tackling Grand Challenges and Everyday Problems with Citizen Science
  2. Broadening Engagement to Foster Diversity and Inclusion
  3. Making Education and Lifelong Learning Connections (K-12, university, informal)
  4. Digital Opportunities and Challenges in Citizen Science
  5. Research on and Evaluation of the Citizen Science Experience
  6. Best Practices for Designing, Implementing, and Managing Citizen Science Projects and Programs

Here are important dates for the conference (from a June 30, 2014 email announcement),

September 15, 2014          CS2015 Deadline to submit proposals* (talks, posters, etc)
October 6, 2014                 CS2015 Proposal selection notices sent out
November 10, 2014           CS2015 Early-bird registration discount ends
February 11 & 12, 2015     CS2015 Conference

Here’s more detail, from the Presentation Styles webpage,

… Several formats are available to choose from: three styles of oral presentations; symposia/panel discussions; and posters.

Audio-visual equipment will be provided as needed for all session types except posters.

Oral Presentations
Talks allow speakers to present their work in 12 minutes, with 3 additional minutes for audience questions. Talks with similar themes will be grouped together into sessions.

Speed Talks, as the name suggests, challenge each presenter to cover his or her topic in 5 minutes or less. Following a series of speed presentations, there will be time for audience members to gather with presenters for discussion.

Story Presentations (15 minutes) emphasize sharing valuable lessons through storytelling. We especially encourage telling stories of “what didn’t work and why” and strategies for addressing challenges and unintended consequences.

Symposium Sessions or Panel Discussions (1 to 2 hours)
Every symposium or panel has one convener (most likely the person submitting this proposal); that person is responsible for organizing the session and will act as the session’s contact person with conference organizers. Additionally, that person will moderate/guide the session. Symposia/Panels may be 1-to-2 hours in length, depending on the number of proposed talks, and must include at least 15 minutes for questions and discussion with the audience.

The proposal must (1) describe the symposium or panel’s objective, (2) how it will contribute to the overall theme of the conference, and (3) include a list of proposed speakers (and, in the case of a symposium, each speaker’s topic).

Posters
Posters are designed to visually display information and engage fellow attendees in an informal way. There will be two Poster Sessions—one each day—inviting attendees to discuss posters with authors. Posters will also be on display outside of formal poster-session times. All accepted posters will be given a display space measuring 4 x 4 feet (1.2 X 1.2 meters) in the Poster Hall (no additional audio-visual aids are permitted).

You can access a link to submit your proposal here.

CS2015 is being called a pre-conference to the AAAS meeting as per the Prepare for the Conference page,

Registration
Registration details, including the conference registration fee, are not yet finalized. We are seeking funding to help support the conference and keep it affordable to all. Check back for updates, or join the CSA to receive periodic updates.

Attend Two Great Conferences
CS2015 is a pre-conference of the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which immediately follows our meeting at the San Jose Convention Center. The AAAS theme for 2015 is “Innovations, Information, and Imaging.” Once you have completed your CS2015 registration, you will receive instructions on how to register for the AAAS Annual Meeting (February 12-16, 2015) at the discounted rate of $235. AAAS registration will open in August 2014.

Good luck with your proposal and with your ant-captures!

High frequency sound waves enable precision micro- and nanomanufacturing

I have finally moved this item to the top of my playlist: researchers from RMIT University (formerly the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) in Australia have developed a technique employing sound waves for greater precision in manufacturing chips at the micro- and nanoscales. From a June 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

In a breakthrough discovery, researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have harnessed the power of sound waves to enable precision micro- and nano-manufacturing.

The researchers have demonstrated how high-frequency sound waves can be used to precisely control the spread of thin film fluid along a specially-designed chip, in a paper published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

With thin film technology the bedrock of microchip and microstructure manufacturing, the pioneering research offers a significant advance — potential applications range from thin film coatings for paint and wound care to 3D printing, micro-casting and micro-fluidics.

A June 30, 2014 RMIT university news release, which originated the news item (despite the date discrepancy), offers more details (Note: Links have been removed),

Professor James Friend, Director of the MicroNano Research Facility at RMIT, said the researchers had developed a portable system for precise, fast and unconventional micro- and nano-fabrication.

“By tuning the sound waves, we can create any pattern we want on the surface of a microchip,” Professor Friend said.

“Manufacturing using thin film technology currently lacks precision – structures are physically spun around to disperse the liquid and coat components with thin film.

“We’ve found that thin film liquid either flows towards or away from high-frequency sound waves, depending on its thickness.

“We not only discovered this phenomenon but have also unravelled the complex physics behind the process, enabling us to precisely control and direct the application of thin film liquid at a micro and nano-scale.”

Professor Friend led the research team behind the breakthrough, which included Dr Amgad Rezk, from the School of Civil, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Professor Leslie Yeo, co-Director of the Micro Nanophysics Research Laboratory, and Ofer Manor, from the Israel Institute of Technology.

The research was part of Dr Rezk’s recently completed PhD, in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The new process, which the researchers have called “acoustowetting”, works on a chip made of lithium niobate – a piezoelectric material capable of converting electrical energy into mechanical pressure.

The surface of the chip is covered with microelectrodes and the chip is connected to a power source, with the power converted to high-frequency sound waves. Thin film liquid is added to the surface of the chip, and the sound waves are then used to control its flow.

The research shows that when the liquid is ultra-thin – at nano and sub-micro depths – it flows away from the high-frequency sound waves.

The flow reverses at slightly thicker dimensions, moving towards the sound waves. But at a millimetre or more in depth, the flow reverses again, moving away.

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

Double flow reversal in thin liquid films driven by megahertz-order surface vibration by Amgad R. Rezk, Ofer Manor, Leslie Y. Yeo, and James R. Friend. Proc. R. Soc. A 8 September 2014 vol. 470 no. 2169 20130765 Published 25 June 2014 doi: 10.1098/rspa.2013.0765

This paper is open access.

The researchers have produced this video illustrating the action of the sound waves,

Nanotechnology Policy and Regulation in Canada, Australia, the European Union, the UK, and the US: a timeline for us all

The Timeline: Nanotechnology Policy and Regulation in Canada, Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States (PDF; h/t July 10, 2014 news item on Nanowerk) issued by the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) takes as its starting point the invention of the field emission microscope in 1936 by Erwin Wilhelm Müller.

This fascinating 40 pp document seems comprehensive to me. While the title suggests otherwise, there are a few mentions of events involving Asian countries and they also include the Berkeley bylaw governing nanotechnology manufacture in the city. From the Timeline, p. 16 (Note: The formatting has been changed significantly),

The City of Berkeley (US)
December 2006

The Berkeley Municipal Code is amended to introduce new measures regarding manufactured nanomaterial health and safety

These amendments require facilities that manufacture or use nanomaterials to disclose in writing which nanomaterials are being used as well as the current toxicology of the materials reported (to the extent known) and to further describe how the facility will safely handle, monitor, contain, dispose, track inventory, prevent releases and mitigate such materials.

Berkeley is currently the only municipal government in the United States to regulate nanotechnology

While searching a month ago (June 2014), I was having difficulty finding information online about the Berkeley bylaw, so this was a delightful surprise.

There is (arguably) an omission and that is the Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project. The Yale researchers have done some influential work about emerging technologies, including a special nanotechnology project devised in the aftermath of the Berkeley bylaw. Their focus then and now has been on public perceptions and attitudes as they affect policy.

Given how many public perception projects there have been and the timeline’s specific focus on regulation and policy, it’s understandable that not many have been included in the timeline.

Still, I was curious to see if the 2012 nanosunscreen debacle in Australia would be included in the timeline. It was not and, given that this incident didn’t directly involve policy or regulation, it’s understandable. Still, I would like to suggest its inclusion in future iterations. (For the curious, my Feb. 9, 2012 posting titled: Unintended consequences: Australians not using sunscreens to avoid nanoparticles? offers a summary and links to this story about an Australian government survey and some unexpected and dismaying results.)

The timeline appears to have a publication date of April 2014 and was compiled by Alin Charrière and Beth Dunning. It is a ‘living’ document so it will be updated in the future. If you have any comments, [email protected] (I will be sending mine soon.)

It is one of a series which includes two other technologies, Synthetic biology and Bioenergy, at this point (July 10, 2014). You can go here for more about the ISSP.

Finally, bravo and bravo to Charrière and Dunning for a job well done.

Nickel-eating plant in the Philippines

For anyone interested in phytoremediation and/or phytomining, this news from the Philippines is quite exciting (from a May 9, 2014 news release on EurekAlert, Note: A link has been removed, (also on ScienceDaily),

Scientists from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños (UPLB) have discovered a new plant species with an unusual lifestyle — it eats nickel for a living — accumulating up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without itself being poisoned, says Professor Edwino Fernando, lead author of the report. Such an amount is a hundred to a thousand times higher than in most other plants. The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

The new species is called Rinorea niccolifera, reflecting its ability to absorb nickel in very high amounts. Nickel hyperaccumulation is such a rare phenomenon with only about 0.5–1% of plant species native to nickel-rich soils having been recorded to exhibit the ability. Throughout the world, only about 450 species are known with this unusual trait, which is still a small proportion of the estimated 300,000 species of vascular plants.

A May 9, 2014 Penfold Publishers news release, which originated the items elsewhere, provides more details and an image of the nickel-eating plant,

The new species, according to Dr Marilyn Quimado, one of the lead scientists of the research team, was discovered on the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, an area known for soils rich in heavy metals.

“Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, ‘phytoremediation’ and ‘phytomining’”, explains Dr Augustine Doronila of the School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, who is also co-author of the report.

Phytoremediation refers to the use of hyperacccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soils. Phytomining, on the other hand, is the use of hyperacccumulator plants to grow and harvest in order to recover commercially valuable metals in plant shoots from metal-rich sites. [emphasis mine]

In a previous piece about phytomining and in contrast to this news release, I suggested that phytoremediation could also function as phytomining (an idea I found elsewhere), my March 5, 2013 posting. There are also a November 22, 2012 posting and a Sept. 26, 2012 posting on the topic of phyto-mining (anyone keen to read everything here on this topic, may want to search the term both with and without hyphens).

Here is the nickel-eating plant,

Caption: This photo shows the newly described metal-eating plant, Rinorea niccolifera. Credit: Dr. Edwino S. Fernando Usage Restrictions: CC-BY 4.0

Caption: This photo shows the newly described metal-eating plant, Rinorea niccolifera.
Credit: Dr. Edwino S. Fernando
Usage Restrictions: CC-BY 4.0

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

Rinorea niccolifera (Violaceae), a new, nickel-hyperaccumulating species from Luzon Island, Philippines by Edwino Fernando, Marilyn Quimado, and Augustine Doronila. PhytoKeys 37: 1–13. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.37.7136

This paper is open access.

In a burst of curiosity I checked out the University of Philippines website and found some research bearing similarity to today’s (May 9, 2014) piece although in this case the metal being discussed is gold and the researchers are investigating the possibility of using bacteria to produce gold nanoparticles. From an April 16, 2014 article written by Miguel Victor T. Durian for the university’s Horizon magazine,

A pioneering nanotechnology study conducted by scientists at the UPLB National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) is exploring the potentials of plantgrowth- promoting bacteria (PGPB) in the biosynthesis of nanogold.

Dr. Lilia M. Fernando, Dr. Florinia E. Merca, and Dr. Erlinda S. Paterno are looking at how nanogold could be produced in large quantities using PGPB as this could bring down medical diagnostic and treatment costs especially against a dreaded disease – cancer.

“Our study primarily aimed to find a less expensive source of gold through the biosynthesis of the element by microorganisms.” Dr. Fernando explained. “Gold costs around 200 to 300 US dollars (or about Php9,000 to Php14,000), …,” Ms. Fernando added.

Furthermore, PGPB is abundantly available in the soils of the Philippines. In fact, the researchers carried out their collection of PGPB in Tarlac and Bohol. Moreover, cultivation of PGPB does not require any special incubation procedures in order to maintain its nano-size because it can survive at room temperature. This makes the cultivation of PGPB easier and less expensive compared to other microorganisms.

I look forward to hearing more about these projects as they develop.

Move over laser—the graphene/carbon nanotube spaser is here, on your t-shirt

This research graphene/carbon nanotube research comes from Australia according to an April 16, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

A team of researchers from Monash University’s [Australia] Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering (ECSE) has modelled the world’s first spaser …

An April 16, 2014 Monash University news release, which originated the new item, describes the spaser and its relationship to lasers,,

A new version of “spaser” technology being investigated could mean that mobile phones become so small, efficient, and flexible they could be printed on clothing.

A spaser is effectively a nanoscale laser or nanolaser. It emits a beam of light through the vibration of free electrons, rather than the space-consuming electromagnetic wave emission process of a traditional laser.

The news release also provides more details about the graphene/carbon nanotube spaser research and the possibility of turning t-shirts into telephones,

PhD student and lead researcher Chanaka Rupasinghe said the modelled spaser design using carbon would offer many advantages.

“Other spasers designed to date are made of gold or silver nanoparticles and semiconductor quantum dots while our device would be comprised of a graphene resonator and a carbon nanotube gain element,” Chanaka said.

“The use of carbon means our spaser would be more robust and flexible, would operate at high temperatures, and be eco-friendly.

“Because of these properties, there is the possibility that in the future an extremely thin mobile phone could be printed on clothing.”

Spaser-based devices can be used as an alternative to current transistor-based devices such as microprocessors, memory, and displays to overcome current miniaturising and bandwidth limitations.

The researchers chose to develop the spaser using graphene and carbon nanotubes. They are more than a hundred times stronger than steel and can conduct heat and electricity much better than copper. They can also withstand high temperatures.

Their research showed for the first time that graphene and carbon nanotubes can interact and transfer energy to each other through light. These optical interactions are very fast and energy-efficient, and so are suitable for applications such as computer chips.

“Graphene and carbon nanotubes can be used in applications where you need strong, lightweight, conducting, and thermally stable materials due to their outstanding mechanical, electrical and optical properties. They have been tested as nanoscale antennas, electric conductors and waveguides,” Chanaka said.

Chanaka said a spaser generated high-intensity electric fields concentrated into a nanoscale space. These are much stronger than those generated by illuminating metal nanoparticles by a laser in applications such as cancer therapy.

“Scientists have already found ways to guide nanoparticles close to cancer cells. We can move graphene and carbon nanotubes following those techniques and use the high concentrate fields generated through the spasing phenomena to destroy individual cancer cells without harming the healthy cells in the body,” Chanaka said

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

Spaser Made of Graphene and Carbon Nanotubes by Chanaka Rupasinghe, Ivan D. Rukhlenko, and Malin Premaratne. ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (3), pp 2431–2438. DOI: 10.1021/nn406015d Publication Date (Web): February 23, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Prussian blue nanocubes and ultralightweight iron oxide materials

The research itself concerns the synthesis of ultralight iron oxide frameworks but really caught my attention was the image used to illustrate the work and the term ‘Prussian blue nanocubes’,

[downloaded from http://www.wiley-vch.de/util/hottopics/mesoporous/]

[downloaded from http://www.wiley-vch.de/util/hottopics/mesoporous/]

I believed the image is meant to indicate an ultralight iron anvil resting on the head of a rose-like blossom (I was mostly wrong) as you’ll see in this Feb. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Adsorption, catalysis, or substrates for tissue growth: porous materials have many potential applications. In the journal Angewandte Chemie (“Ultralight Mesoporous Magnetic Frameworks by Interfacial Assembly of Prussian Blue Nanocubes”), a team of Chinese and Australian researchers has now introduced a method for the synthesis of ultralight three-dimensional (3D) iron oxide frameworks with two different types of nanoscopic pores and tunable surface properties. This superparamagnetic material can be cut into arbitrary shapes and is suitable for applications such as multiphase catalysis and the removal of heavy metal ions and oil from water.

Materials with hierarchically organized pore systems—meaning that the walls of macropores with diameters in the micrometer range contain mesopores of just a few nanometers—are high on the wish lists of materials researchers. The advantages of these materials include their high surface area and the easy accessibility of the small pores through the larger ones. The great desirability of these materials is matched by the degree of difficulty in producing them on an industrial scale.

Scientists at Fudan University (China) and Monash University (Australia) have now successfully produced an ultralight iron oxide framework with 250 µm and 18 nm pores in a process that can be used on an industrial scale. A team led by Gengfeng Zheng and Dongyuan Zhao used highly porous polyurethane sponges as a “matrix”, which were soaked with yellow potassium hexacyanoferrate (K4[Fe(CN)6]). Subsequent hydrolysis resulted in cubic nanocrystals of Prussian blue (iron hexacyanoferrate), a dark blue pigment, which were deposited all over the surfaces of the sponge. The polyurethane sponge was then fully burned away through pyroloysis and the Prussian blue was converted to iron oxide. The result is a 3D framework of iron oxide cubes that are in turn made of iron oxide nanoparticles and contain mesopores. The material is so light that the researchers were able to balance a 240 cm3 piece on an oleander blossom.

As for Prussian blue, it’s a term I associate with portraits and landscapes. Actually, Prussian blue is a little more than that (from the Prussian blue entry on wiktionary.org),

Prussian blue (plural Prussian blues)

(inorganic chemistry) An insoluble dark, bright blue pigment, ferric ferrocyanide (equivalent to ferrous ferricyanide), used in painting and dyeing, and as an antidote for certain kinds of heavy metal poisoning.
A moderate to rich blue colour, tinted with deep greenish blue.

Here’s a sample of the colour from the wiktionary entry,

[downloaded from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Prussian_blue]

[downloaded from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Prussian_blue]

Prussian Blue was also the name for a short-lived white nationalist band (from the Prussian Blue essay on Wikipedia; Note: Links have been removed),

Prussian Blue was an American white nationalist pop pre-teen duo formed in early 2003 by April Gaede, mother of Lynx Vaughan Gaede[1] and Lamb Lennon Gaede,[2] sororal twins born on June 30, 1992, in Bakersfield, California.[3] The twins referred to the Holocaust as a myth[4] and their group was described as racist and white supremacist in nature.[5][6]

Lynx and Lamb were about 14 when they decided that they wanted to cease touring. In 2011, in an interview with The Daily, the twins renounced their previous politics.[7] Lamb was quoted saying, “I’m not a white nationalist anymore. My sister and I are pretty liberal now.”

Getting back to the research at hand, here’s a link to and a citation for the research into ultralight iron oxide frameworks,

Ultralight Mesoporous Magnetic Frameworks by Interfacial Assembly of Prussian Blue Nanocubes by Biao Kong, Jing Tang, Zhangxiong Wu, Jing Wei, Hao Wu, Yongcheng Wang, Prof. Gengfeng Zheng, & Prof. Dongyuan Zhao. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Article first published online: 12 FEB 2014 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201308625

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

I really wasn’t expecting to trip across information about a holocaust-denying pre-teen pop duo (who’ve since renounced those views) in a post regarding research on iron oxide and Prussian blue nanocubes that was published in a German chemistry journal. I’m not sure this can be called ironic but it certainly has that quality.

Australians protect grain with diatoms (Nature’s nanofabrication factories)

A Feb. 5, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a presentation about protecting grain from insects given at the  ICONN2014-ACMM23 conference for nanoscience and microscopy held Feb. 3 -6, 2014 at the University of Adelaide (Australia). From the news item,

University of Adelaide researchers are using nanotechnology and the fossils of single-celled algae to develop a novel chemical-free and resistance-free way of protecting stored grain from insects.

The researchers are taking advantage of the unique properties of these single-celled algae, called diatoms. Diatoms have been called Nature’s nanofabrication factories because of their production of tiny (nanoscale) structures made from silica which have a range of properties of potential interest for nanotechnology.

“One area of our research is focussed on transforming this cheap diatom silica, readily available as a by-product of mining, into valuable nanomaterials for diverse applications – one of which is pest control,” says Professor Dusan Losic, ARC Future Fellow in the University’s School of Chemical Engineering.

The Feb. 5, 2014 University of Adelaide media release, which originated the news item, provides more insight into the research,

“There are two looming issues for the world-wide protection against insect pests of stored grain: firstly, the development of resistance by many species to conventional pest controls – insecticides and the fumigant phosphine – and, secondly, the increasing consumer demand for residue-free grain products and food,” Professor Losic says.

“In the case of Australia, we export grain worth about $8 billion each year – about 25 million tonnes – which could be under serious threat. We urgently need to find alternative methods for stored grain protection which are ecologically sound and resistance-free.”

The researchers are using a natural, non-toxic silica material based on the ‘diatomaceous earths’ formed by the fossilisation of diatoms. The material disrupts the insect’s protective cuticle, causing the insect to dehydrate.

“This is a natural and non-toxic material with a significant advantage being that, as only a physical mode of action is involved, the insects won’t develop resistance,” says Professor Losic. [emphasis mine]

“Equally important is that it is environmentally stable with high insecticidal activity for a long period of time. Therefore, stored products can be protected for longer periods of time without the need for frequent re-application.”

PhD student Sheena Chen is presenting her findings on the insecticidal activity of the material. PhD student John Hayles is also working on the project. The research is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The researchers are in the final stages of optimising the formula of the material.

This work be may of interest to Canadian farmers especially since 2013 featured the largest wheat and canola harvests in Canadian history according to a Dec. 4, 2013 article by Terryn Shiells for AgCanada.com,

“There’s just no getting around it, this is the biggest crop of Canadian history and it’s basically a shocker all around,” said Mike Jubinville of ProFarmer Canada in Winnipeg. “I really can’t think of a crop, other than peas and lentils, that didn’t provide an upside that betters what trade expectations were.”

Because all of the crops are so huge, it won’t be possible to move the entire crop this year, Jubinville said.

“We’re going to argue all we want about rail car allocations, about slow deliverable opportunities, but there’s just no way that the Canadian commercial handling system can move this crop,” he said.

Because there just isn’t enough capacity to get everything moved this year, there will also likely be larger than anticipated carryover stocks of all crops.

I imagine these bumper crops will mean there are storage issues which brings this piece back to the Australians and their work on preserving stored grain by using diatoms and silica material.  Perhaps Canadian farmers would like to test this “new natural and non-toxic material” once the formula has been optimized.

Australians inspired by Lycurgus Cup

The Lycurgus Cup is one of the great artistic achievements in history and there’s a nanotechnology twist to this art work created in the 4th century CE (or AD). From the Nov. 21, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

A 1700-year-old Roman glass cup is inspiring University of Adelaide [Australia] researchers in their search for new ways to exploit nanoparticles and their interactions with light.

Researchers in the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) are investigating how to best embed nanoparticles in glass – instilling the glass with the properties of the nanoparticles it contains.

Before going further with this latest work at the University of Adelaide, here’s an excerpt from my Sept. 21, 2010 posting where I burbled on about the best of piece of writing I’ve seen about the Lycurgus Cup (held in the British Museum),

The *History of the Ancient World website (as Nov. 21, 2013 the link has been changed to the Université de Strasbourg,, Matière Condensée et Nanophysique website) recently featured a 2007 article about the Lycurgus Cup by Ian Freestone, Nigel Meeks, Margaret Sax and Catherine Higgitt for the Gold Bulletin, Vol. 40:4 (2007),

The Lycurgus Cup represents one of the outstanding achievements of the ancient glass industry. This late Roman cut glass vessel is extraordinary in several respects, firstly in the method of fabrication and the exceptional workmanship involved and secondly in terms of the unusual optical effects displayed by the glass.

The Lycurgus Cup is one of a class of Roman vessels known as cage cups or diatreta, where the decoration is in openwork which stands proud from the body of the vessel, to which it is linked by shanks or bridges Typically these openwork “cages” comprise a lattice of linked circles, but a small number have figurative designs, although none of these is as elaborate or as well preserved as the Lycurgus Cup. Cage cups are generally dated to the fourth century A.D. and have been found across the Roman Empire, but the number recovered is small, and probably only in the region of 50-100 examples are known. They are among the most technically sophisticated glass objects produced before the modern era.

Here’s what it looks like,

The Lycurgus Cup 1958,1202.1 in reflected light. Scene showing Lycurgus being enmeshed by Ambrosia, now transformed into a vine-shoot. Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum. Height: 16.5 cm (with modern metal mounts), diameter: 13.2 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Lycurgus Cup 1958,1202.1 in reflected light. Scene showing Lycurgus being enmeshed by Ambrosia, now transformed into a vine-shoot. Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum. Height: 16.5 cm (with modern metal mounts), diameter: 13.2 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

And this, too, is the one and only Lycurgus Cup,

The Lycurgus Cup 1958,1202.1 in transmitted light. Scene showing Lycurgus being enmeshed by Ambrosia, now transformed into a vine-shoot. Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum. Height: 16.5 cm (with modern metal mounts), diameter: 13.2 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Lycurgus Cup 1958,1202.1 in transmitted light. Scene showing Lycurgus being enmeshed by Ambrosia, now transformed into a vine-shoot. Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum. Height: 16.5 cm (with modern metal mounts), diameter: 13.2 cm. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Nov. 21, 2013 University of Adelaide, news release, which originated the news item, explains why the Lycurgus Cup is of such interest, and why the same cup can be green or red

The Lycurgus Cup, a 4th century cup held by the British Museum in London, is made of glass which changes colour from red to green depending on whether light is shining through the Cup or reflected off it. It gets this property from gold and silver nanoparticles embedded in the glass.

“The Lycurgus Cup is a beautiful artefact which, by accident, makes use of the exciting properties of nanoparticles for decorative effect,” says Associate Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem. “We want to use the same principles to be able to use nanoparticles for all sorts of exciting advanced technologies.”

Nanoparticles need to be held in some kind of solution. “Glass is a frozen liquid,” says Associate Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem. “By embedding the nanoparticles in the glass, they are fixed in a matrix which we can exploit.”

Associate Professor Ebendorff-Heidepriem is leading a three-year Australian Research Council Discovery Project to investigate how best to embed nanoparticles; looking at the solubility of different types of nanoparticles in glass and how this changes with temperature and glass type, and how the nanoparticles are controlled and modified.

Practical applications, according to the news release, include,

“Nanoparticles and nanocrystals are the focus of research around the world because of their unique properties that have the potential to bring great advances in a wide range of medical, optical and electronic fields,” says Associate Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem, Senior Research Fellow in the University’s School of Chemistry and Physics. “A process for successfully incorporating nanoparticles into glass, will open the way for applications like ultra low-energy light sources, more efficient solar cells or advanced sensors that can see inside the living human brain.”

“We will be able to more readily harness these nanoscale properties in practical devices. This gives us a tangible material with nanoparticle properties that we can shape into useful forms for real-world applications. And the unique properties are actually enhanced by embedding in glass.”

Canuck amongst Google Science Fair 2013 winners (which include a Yank, an Aussie, and a Turk)

I imagine 15-year old, Ann Makosinski, of Victoria, BC (Canada) has been excited for the last few months as her science idea has progressed from a submission to a semi-finalist to a finalist and, now, winner in her age category in the 2013 Google Science Fair online. A Sept. 24, 2013 news item on the CBC News online website gives details,

Ann Makosinski, 15, a student at St. Michaels University School in Victoria, claimed a trophy made of Lego for the 15-16 age category, at an awards gala Monday night for the international science fair, Google announced. Her prizes are a $25,000 scholarship and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” from either CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), LEGO or Google.

The flashlight contains devices called Peltier tiles that produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other. Makosinski’s flashlight is hollow, allowing one side of the tiles to be cooled by the surrounding air. The tiles are heated on the other side by the heat from the hand of the person holding the flashlight. That generates enough power to maintain a steady beam of light for 20 minutes.

Here’s a picture of the winners with their ‘Lego’ trophies,

Australian Viney Kumar, Canadian Ann Makosinski of Victoria, B.C., Elif Bilgin of Turkey and American Eric Chen, left to right, took home trophies at the Google Science Fair's gala award ceremony Monday night in California.  Courtesy Google

Australian Viney Kumar, Canadian Ann Makosinski of Victoria, B.C., Elif Bilgin of Turkey and American Eric Chen, left to right, took home trophies at the Google Science Fair’s gala award ceremony Monday night in California. Courtesy Google

The Sept. 23, 2013 posting by Clare Conway on Google’s official blog provides more details about this year’s contest and the other winners,

The top 15 projects were selected from thousands of entries submitted by talented young scientists from more than 120 countries around the world. These projects were impressive and represented a vast range of scientific ingenuity—from a multi-step system created for early diagnosis of melanoma cancers to the invention of a metallic exoskeleton glove that assists, supports and enhances the movement of the human palm to help people who suffer from upper hand disabilities.

It was a tough decision, but we’re proud to name the three winners of this year’s Google Science Fair:

The fourth winner, Elif Bilgin of  Turkey, won the Scientific American (SA magazine) award, from the SA June 27, 2013 press release,

On Thursday, June 27, Elif Bilgin, 16, from Turkey, was declared the winner of the second annual Scientific American Science in Action Award, powered by the Google Science Fair. Bilgin won for her project, Going Bananas! Using Banana Peels in the Production of Bio-Plastic as a Replacement for Traditional Petroleum-Based Plastic. In addition to the $50,000 prize, Bilgin will have access to a year’s mentorship and is invited to Google’s California headquarters in September to compete in the 15-to-16-year-old age category in the overall Google Science Fair.

According to Conway’s posting on the official blog, Bilgin also won the Voter’s Choice award.

Congratulations to all of the entrants!

23 new molecules discovered in red wine by Canadian and Australian scientists

Downloaded from http://agorakitchenwpb.com/?page_id=5527 (Agora Restaurant, West Palm Beach, Florida)

Downloaded from http://agorakitchenwpb.com/?page_id=5527 (Agora Restaurant, West Palm Beach, Florida)

I would have thought that by this time scientists would have discovered all the types of molecules in red wine but it turns out that chemists at the University of British Columbia (UBC, Okanagan Campus) and at Australia’s University of Adelaide have recently discovered not one, not two, but 23 new molecules. From the Aug. 12, 2013 UBC news release,

Scientists have long espoused the health benefits of red wine. Now UBC chemists have discovered 23 new molecules that could mean there are even more vino virtues.

Assoc. Prof. Cédric Saucier, who runs the Enology laboratory at UBC’s Okanagan campus, has spent years trying to determine what is really going on in that glass of red wine. The latest discovery – in partnership with researchers from Australia’s University of Adelaide and UBC graduate student Ryan Moss – stems from a “fishing” expedition to provide a more complete profile of the molecules already known to be in red wine.

While the team of scientists knew they would find molecules called stilbenoids, the kind which are believed to have health benefits, what they found surprised them – 41 stilbenoid compounds, 23 of which have never before been detected in red wine.

I wish there was a little more detail about how these new molecules were found (did they use more powerful microscopy techniques? is there a new technique for separating the compounds) but this is all the information that”s offered (from the news release),

“The first thing we did was concentrate the wine extract,” says Moss, who is completing his master’s degree in chemistry. “We actually separated the compounds so we could examine each molecule individually and create a fingerprint of each molecule.”

Saucier says the discovery could lead to medical breakthroughs and perhaps more conclusive benefits of drinking wine in moderation. These 23 newly discovered molecules are related to resveratrol, a natural wine chemical found in the skin of red grapes known to have potential effects of preventing aging-related human diseases.

“These new molecules are likely to have very interesting biological properties and may contribute to the benefits from drinking red wine,” says Saucier. “Who knows where this could lead? Perhaps new drugs and medicine for the future?”

Saucier says each of the new stilbenoids must now be analyzed and assessed. This is only the beginning and the new molecules will lead to many more years of research, he adds.

Here’s a citation and a link to the researchers’ published study,

Investigation of monomeric and oligomeric wine stilbenoids in red wines by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry by Ryan Moss, Qinyong Mao, Dennis Taylor, and Cédric Saucier.  DOI: 10.1002/rcm.6636 Article first published online: 9 JUL 2013 Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry Volume 27, Issue 16, pages 1815–1827, 30 August 2013

This study is behind a paywall.

À votre santé!