Tag Archives: Brazil

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites) goes to JEC Composites Show and Conference in Paris (France)

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites), a European Commission-funded project under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme, which is entering its final stage (2011 – 2014) will make an appearance (Exhibition Stand D83) at the JEC 2014 Composites Show and Conferences in Paris (France), 11-13th March, 2014.

I  profileded NanoCelluComp in a March 7, 2013 posting where I included excerpts from the project’s 4th newsletter. The 5th (August 2013) newsletter is available here. There is also a project flyer (PDF), which provides some additional insight into why the project was developed and what NanoCellulComp was attempting to accomplish,

Food processing of vegetables produces billions of tonnes of fibrous waste. The cellulose fibres contained within this waste have superior structural properties that with ‘green’ chemistry can be put to much better use. Composites containing cellulose extracted from carrot waste have already been incorporated in lightweight products such as fishing rods and steering wheels.

This material – Curran – while exhibiting good structural properties, does not have the strength of glass or carbon fibre reinforced plastics (GFRP and CFRP) and is further disadvantaged due to limited processability.

The NanoCelluComp Process Improving on Curran through:

Liberating microfibrillated cellulose (nanocellulose) from vegetable waste streams utilising an aqueous based process (thus decreasing energy consumption, and avoiding volatile chemicals).
 Improving mechanical properties by the controlled alignment and cross linking of nanocellulose fibrils.
 Combining the resultant fibres with bio-based resins to produce a 100% bio-composite (thus decreasing use of petroleum-based products).
 Ensuring compatibility of the bio-composite with current manufacturing processes (e.g. injection moulding, hand lay-up).
 Investigating the sustainability of the above processes and materials, compared to existing materials, through a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) and identifying promising application fields.

Most of the ‘nanocellulose’ material that I’ve covered has been focused on derivations from forest products however there is one other team (that I know of) led by researcher Alcides Leão of Brazil examining the possible uses of nanocellulose derived from pineapples and bananas. On that note, my June 13, 2011 posting titled: Transcript of nanocellulose fibre podcast interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University and/or my March 28, 2011 posting titled: Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars may be of interest.

Responsible innovation at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society’s (Arizona State University) Virtual Institute

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has a funding program called Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) which facilitates global communication for scientists, engineers, and educators. From the SAVI home page,

Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) is a mechanism to foster and strengthen interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe. It is based on the knowledge that excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research and education exists in many parts of the world, and that scientific advances can be accelerated by scientists and engineers working together across international borders.

According to a Sept. 24, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, the NSF’s SAVI program has funded a new virtual institute at Arizona State University’s (ASU)  Center for Nanotechnology in Societ6y (CNS), Note: Links have been removed,

The National Science Foundation recently announced a grant of nearly $500,000 to establish a new Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (CNS-ASU). In a global marketplace that thrives on technological innovation, incorporating ethics, responsibility and sustainability into research and development is a critical priority.

VIRI’s goal is to enable an international community of students and scholars who can help establish a common understanding of responsible innovation in research, training and outreach. By doing so, VIRI aims to contribute to the governance of emerging technologies that are dominated by market uncertainty and difficult questions of how well they reflect societal values.

VIRI founding institutional partners are University of Exeter (UK), Durham University (UK), University of Sussex (UK), Maastricht University (Netherlands), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), University of Waterloo (Canada), Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (Norway), and State University of Campinas (Brazil).

VIRI founding institutional affiliates are the US National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Engineering, Ethics and Society, IEEE Spectrum Online and Fondazione Giannino Bassetti.

Interesting cast of characters.

The Sept. 23, 2013 ASU news release, which originated the news item, offers some insight into the time required to create this new virtual institute,

Led by ASU faculty members David Guston and Erik Fisher, VIRI will bring a social and ethical lens to research and development practices that do not always focus on the broader implications of their research and products. Guston, director of CNS-ASU, co-director of the Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes, and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, has been pushing for the establishment of academic units that focus on responsible innovation for years.

“We are thrilled that NSF has chosen to advance responsible innovation through this unique, international collaboration,” Guston said. “It will give ASU the opportunity to help focus the field and ensure that people start thinking about the broader implications of knowledge-based innovation.”

Fisher, assistant professor in the School for Politics and Global Studies, has long been involved in integrating social considerations into science research laboratories through his NSF-funded Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project, an affiliated project of CNS-ASU.

“Using the insights we’ve gained in the labs that have participated in the STIR project, we expect to be able to get VIRI off the ground and make progress very quickly,” Fisher said.

The VIRI appears to be an invite-only affair and it’s early days yet so there’s not much information on the website but the VIRI home page looks promising,

“Responsible innovation” (RI) is an emerging term in science and innovation policy fields across the globe. Its precise definition has been at the center of numerous meetings, research council decisions, and other activities in recent years. But today there is neither a clear, unified vision of what responsible innovation is, what it requires in order to be effective, nor what it can accomplish.
The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI)

The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) was created to accelerate the formation of a community of scholars and practitioners who, despite divides in geography and political culture, will create a common concept of responsible innovation for research, training and outreach – and in doing so contribute to the governance of emerging technologies under conditions dominated by high uncertainty, high stakes, and challenging questions of novelty.
Mission

VIRI’s mission in pursuit of this vision is to develop and disseminate a sophisticated conceptual and operational understanding of RI by facilitating collaborative research, training and outreach activities among a broad partnership of academic and non-academic institutions.
Activities

VIRI will:

  • perform interlinked empirical, reflexive and normative research in a collaborative and comparative mode to explore and develop key concepts in RI;
  • develop curricular material and support educational exchanges of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty;
  •  create a dynamic online community to represent the breadth of the institute and its multi-lateral activities;
  •  disseminate outputs from across the institute through its own and partner channels and will encourage broad sharing of its research and educational findings.

VIRI will pursue these activities with founding academic partners in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Brazil and Canada.

The site does offer links to  relevant blogs here.

I was a bit surprised to see Canada’s University of Waterloo rather than the University of Alberta (home of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology)  as one of the partners.

Physicists go beyond semantics by taking tourist walks in complex networks to discover word meanings in context

It was a bit shocking to find out that physicists have made a breakthrough in semantics, a field of interest I associate with writers and linguistics experts, but there it was in a July 3, 2013 news item on the Springer (publisher) Select website,

Two Brazilian physicists have now devised a method to automatically elucidate the meaning of words with several senses, based solely on their patterns of connectivity with nearby words in a given sentence – and not on semantics. Thiago Silva and Diego Amancio from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, reveal, in a paper about to be published in EPJ B [European Physical Journal B]. how they modelled classics texts as complex networks in order to derive their meaning. This type of model plays a key role in several natural processing language tasks such as machine translation, information retrieval, content analysis and text processing.

Here more about the words the physicists used in their ‘tourist walk’ and the text they tested (from the news item),

In this study, the authors chose a set of ten so-called polysemous words—words with multiple meanings—such as bear, jam, just, rock or present. They then verified their patterns of connectivity with nearby words in the text of literary classics such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Specifically, they established a model that consisted of a set of nodes representing words connected by their “edges,” if they are adjacent in a text.The authors then compared the results of their disambiguation exercise with the traditional semantic-based approach. They observed significant accuracy rates in identifying the suitable meanings when using both techniques. The approach described in this study, based on a so-called deterministic tourist walk characterisation, can therefore be considered a complementary methodology for distinguishing between word senses.

Not have coming across the ‘tourist walk’ before, I went looking for a definition, which I found in a 2002 paper (Deterministic walks in random networks: an application to thesaurus graphs by O. Kinouchi, A. S. Martinez, G. F. Lima,  G. M. Lourenço, and S. Risau-Gusman),

In a landscape composed of N randomly distributed sites in Euclidean space, a walker (“tourist”) goes to the nearest one that has not been visited in the last τ steps. This procedure leads to trajectories composed of a transient part and a final cyclic attractor of period p. The tourist walk presents a simple scaling with respect to τ and can be performed in a wide range of networks that can be viewed as ordinal neighborhood graphs. As an example, we show that graphs defined by thesaurus dictionaries share some of the statistical properties of low dimensional (d= 2) Euclidean graphs and are easily distinguished from random link networks which correspond to the d→ ∞ limit. This approach furnishes complementary information to the usual clustering coefficient and mean minimum separation length.

This gives me only the vaguest sense of what they mean by tourist walk but it does give some idea of how these physicists approached a problem that is linguistic and semantic in nature.

Silva’s and Amancio’s paper in the European Physical Journal B is behind a paywall but there’s an earlier version of it freely available on arXiv.org,

Discriminating word senses with tourist walks in complex networks by Thiago C. Silva, Diego R. Amancio. (Submitted on 17 Jun 2013)  DOI:  10.1140/epjb/e2013-40025-4 Cite as:  arXiv:1306.3920 [cs.CL] or (or arXiv:1306.3920v1 [cs.CL] for this version)

I gather this work was done in English. I wonder why there’s no mention of the research being performed on texts in other languages either for this study or future studies. As you can see, the researchers concentrated on 19th century and early 20th century writers in the UK, from page 2 of the PDF available from arXiv.org,

Table 2.
List of books (and their respective authors) employed in the experiments aiming at discriminating the meaning of ambiguous words. The year of publication is speci ed after the title of the book.

Title Author
Pride and Prejudice (1813) J. Austen
American Notes (1842) C. Dickens
Coral Reefs (1842) C. Darwin
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) C. Dickens
The Moonstone (1868) W. Collins
Expression of Emotions (1872) C. Darwin
A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) T. Hardy
Jude the Obscure (1895) T. Hardy
Dracula’s Guest (1897) B. Stoker
Uncle Bernac (1897) A. C. Doyle
The Tragedy of the Korosko (1898) A. C. Doyle
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903) A. C. Doyle
Tales of St. Austin’s (1903) P. G. Wodehouse
The Chronicles of Clovis (1911) H. H. Munro
A Changed Man (1913) T. Hardy
Beasts and Super Beasts (1914) H. H. Munro
The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914) G. K. Chesterton
My Man Jeeves (1919) P. G. Wodehouse

Brazil, Canada, and an innovation, science, and technology forum in Vancouver (Canada)

The Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) is presenting, in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Beedie School of Business, an all-morning forum on June 17, 2013. From the SFU Vancouver Events: June 14 – 21, 2013 announcement (Note: Links have been removed),

Monday, June 17 [2013]

Brazil-Canada Business, Innovation, Science, and Technology Forum

Time: 8-11:30am

Place: Segal Graduate Business School, 500 Granville St.

Cost: $35-70, register online

Join us for a morning focused on Business Innovation and Science & Tecnology opportunities in the Brazilian economy. The opening speakers, Ambassador Sergio Florencio, Consul General and Dr. Jeremy Hall will provide an overview of the landscape in Brazil. The panel discussion includes industry leaders who have piloted extensive business in Brazil specifically in the agriculture, mining and infrastructure fields: Marcelo Sarkis, Heenan Blaikie; Ray Castelli, Weatherhaven and Rogerio Tippe, Javelin Partners. If you are interested in conducting business in Brazil and would like to understand more about the dynamics of the Brazilian economy and how businesses operate, please register now.

If the event is about business, innovation, science, and technology, it seems curious the only mentions of science and/or technology in the event description are confined to a few of the panelists’ interests in agriculture, mining, and whatever they mean by infrastructure.

Brazil is one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia,India, China, and South Africa) countries and, from what I understand, this very loose coalition is eager to take a leadership position vis à vis science, technology, and innovation supplanting the dominance of the US, Japan, and the European Union.

In the early 1990s, I wrote a paper about science and technology transfer and noted that Brazil was entering a new period of development after years of the country’s science and technology efforts (scientists) being isolated from the rest of the world in a failed  attempt to create a powerhouse international enterprise.

Some 20 years later, the decision to join the rest of the science and technology world seems to have been successful. Brazil is set to host the 2014 World Cup for soccer (or, as most of the world calls it, football) and the summer Olympics in 2016. (Sports are often correlated with science and technology advances.) I don’t believe any other country has ever attempted to host two such large international sports events within two years of each other. That’s a pretty confident attitude.

There are two areas of science and technology research in Brazil that are of particular interest to me, brain research and the work on cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as, nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).

While the focus was on Miguel Nicolelis and Duke University (US), the recent announcement of brain-to-brain communication via the Internet featured a research facility in Brazil (from my Mar. 4, 2013 posting),

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University, has been making international headlines lately with two brain projects. The first one about implanting a brain chip that allows rats to perceive infrared light was mentioned in my Feb. 15, 2013 posting. The latest project is a brain-to-brain (rats) communication project as per a Feb. 28, 2013 news release on *EurekAlert,

Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart—one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil.

The results of these projects suggest the future potential for linking multiple brains to form what the research team is calling an “organic computer,” which could allow sharing of motor and sensory information among groups of animals. The study was published Feb. 28, 2013, in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces had convinced us that the rat brain was much more plastic than we had previously thought,” said Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., PhD, lead author of the publication and professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “In those experiments, the rat brain was able to adapt easily to accept input from devices outside the body and even learn how to process invisible infrared light generated by an artificial sensor. So, the question we asked was, ‘if the brain could assimilate signals from artificial sensors, could it also assimilate information input from sensors from a different body?’”

One of Nicolelis’s other goals is to have someone with quadriplegia kick the opening ball for the Brazil-hosted 2014 World Cup (Walk Again Project). From my Mar. 16, 2012 posting,

It is the exoskeleton described on the Walk Again Project home page that Nicolelis is hoping will enable a young Brazilian quadriplegic to deliver the opening kick for the 2014 World Cup (soccer/football) in Brazil.

Moving on to the other area of interest, CNC research , which in Canada is discussed in terms of the forestry industry (I’ve blogged about this extensively, the search term NCC should fetch most if not all of my postings on the topic), is taking a different tack in Brazil where the focus is on pineapple and banana fibres. My Mar. 28, 20111 posting (Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars) focuses on cellulose and plastic,

Brazilian researchers are working on ways to use nanocellulose fibres from various plants to reinforce plastics in the automotive industry. From the March 28, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Study leader Alcides Leão, Ph.D., said the fibers used to reinforce the new plastics may come from delicate fruits like bananas and pineapples, but they are super strong. Some of these so-called nano-cellulose fibers are almost as stiff as Kevlar, the renowned super-strong material used in armor and bulletproof vests. Unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, which are made from petroleum or natural gas, nano-cellulose fibers are completely renewable.

My second and, to date, only other posting (June 16, 2011) about the work in Brazil features a transcript of an interview with CNC researcher, Alcides Leão.

Finally, I have a few factoids which I will tie together, loosely, and try to show how they relate to this forum. First, São Paulo, Brazil hosts the world’s second oldest and one of its most important biennial visual arts events. (BTW, the next one, Bienal de São Paulo,  is in 2014.) Second, the recent Council of Canadian Academies assessment, State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, stated that Canada rates very highly in six areas, one of those areas being the Visual and Performing Arts. Admittedly Canada’s prominence in the visual and performing is fueled largely by efforts in Québec (as per the assessment), still, one would think there might be some value in trying to include that sector in this  forum and encourage the local visual and performing arts technology industry to make connections with the Brazilian industry.

Finally for those of you who have persisted, here’s the link to buy tickets for the June 17, 2012 forum.

ETA June 21, 2013: The protests in Brazil have attracted worldwide attention and according to a June 21,2013 posting by Dillon Rand on Salon.com there are: 5 signs Brazil’s’ not ready to host the World Cup.

Brain-to-brain communication, organic computers, and BAM (brain activity map), the connectome

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University, has been making international headlines lately with two brain projects. The first one about implanting a brain chip that allows rats to perceive infrared light was mentioned in my Feb. 15, 2013 posting. The latest project is a brain-to-brain (rats) communication project as per a Feb. 28, 2013 news release on *EurekAlert,

Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart—one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil.

The results of these projects suggest the future potential for linking multiple brains to form what the research team is calling an “organic computer,” which could allow sharing of motor and sensory information among groups of animals. The study was published Feb. 28, 2013, in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces had convinced us that the rat brain was much more plastic than we had previously thought,” said Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., PhD, lead author of the publication and professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “In those experiments, the rat brain was able to adapt easily to accept input from devices outside the body and even learn how to process invisible infrared light generated by an artificial sensor. So, the question we asked was, ‘if the brain could assimilate signals from artificial sensors, could it also assimilate information input from sensors from a different body?’”

Ben Schiller in a Mar. 1, 2013 article for Fast Company describes both the latest experiment and the work leading up to it,

First, two rats were trained to press a lever when a light went on in their cage. Press the right lever, and they would get a reward–a sip of water. The animals were then split in two: one cage had a lever with a light, while another had a lever without a light. When the first rat pressed the lever, the researchers sent electrical activity from its brain to the second rat. It pressed the right lever 70% of the time (more than half).

In another experiment, the rats seemed to collaborate. When the second rat didn’t push the right lever, the first rat was denied a drink. That seemed to encourage the first to improve its signals, raising the second rat’s lever-pushing success rate.

Finally, to show that brain-communication would work at a distance, the researchers put one rat in an cage in North Carolina, and another in Natal, Brazil. Despite noise on the Internet connection, the brain-link worked just as well–the rate at which the second rat pushed the lever was similar to the experiment conducted solely in the U.S.

The Duke University Feb. 28, 2013 news release, the origin for the news release on EurekAlert, provides more specific details about the experiments and the rats’ training,

To test this hypothesis, the researchers first trained pairs of rats to solve a simple problem: to press the correct lever when an indicator light above the lever switched on, which rewarded the rats with a sip of water. They next connected the two animals’ brains via arrays of microelectrodes inserted into the area of the cortex that processes motor information.

One of the two rodents was designated as the “encoder” animal. This animal received a visual cue that showed it which lever to press in exchange for a water reward. Once this “encoder” rat pressed the right lever, a sample of its brain activity that coded its behavioral decision was translated into a pattern of electrical stimulation that was delivered directly into the brain of the second rat, known as the “decoder” animal.

The decoder rat had the same types of levers in its chamber, but it did not receive any visual cue indicating which lever it should press to obtain a reward. Therefore, to press the correct lever and receive the reward it craved, the decoder rat would have to rely on the cue transmitted from the encoder via the brain-to-brain interface.

The researchers then conducted trials to determine how well the decoder animal could decipher the brain input from the encoder rat to choose the correct lever. The decoder rat ultimately achieved a maximum success rate of about 70 percent, only slightly below the possible maximum success rate of 78 percent that the researchers had theorized was achievable based on success rates of sending signals directly to the decoder rat’s brain.

Importantly, the communication provided by this brain-to-brain interface was two-way. For instance, the encoder rat did not receive a full reward if the decoder rat made a wrong choice. The result of this peculiar contingency, said Nicolelis, led to the establishment of a “behavioral collaboration” between the pair of rats.

“We saw that when the decoder rat committed an error, the encoder basically changed both its brain function and behavior to make it easier for its partner to get it right,” Nicolelis said. “The encoder improved the signal-to-noise ratio of its brain activity that represented the decision, so the signal became cleaner and easier to detect. And it made a quicker, cleaner decision to choose the correct lever to press. Invariably, when the encoder made those adaptations, the decoder got the right decision more often, so they both got a better reward.”

In a second set of experiments, the researchers trained pairs of rats to distinguish between a narrow or wide opening using their whiskers. If the opening was narrow, they were taught to nose-poke a water port on the left side of the chamber to receive a reward; for a wide opening, they had to poke a port on the right side.

The researchers then divided the rats into encoders and decoders. The decoders were trained to associate stimulation pulses with the left reward poke as the correct choice, and an absence of pulses with the right reward poke as correct. During trials in which the encoder detected the opening width and transmitted the choice to the decoder, the decoder had a success rate of about 65 percent, significantly above chance.

To test the transmission limits of the brain-to-brain communication, the researchers placed an encoder rat in Brazil, at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal (ELS-IINN), and transmitted its brain signals over the Internet to a decoder rat in Durham, N.C. They found that the two rats could still work together on the tactile discrimination task.

“So, even though the animals were on different continents, with the resulting noisy transmission and signal delays, they could still communicate,” said Miguel Pais-Vieira, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study. “This tells us that it could be possible to create a workable, network of animal brains distributed in many different locations.”

Will Oremus in his Feb. 28, 2013 article for Slate seems a little less buoyant about the implications of this work,

Nicolelis believes this opens the possibility of building an “organic computer” that links the brains of multiple animals into a single central nervous system, which he calls a “brain-net.” Are you a little creeped out yet? In a statement, Nicolelis adds:

We cannot even predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a brain-net. In theory, you could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves.

That sounds far-fetched. But Nicolelis’ lab is developing quite the track record of “taking science fiction and turning it into science,” says Ron Frostig, a neurobiologist at UC-Irvine who was not involved in the rat study. “He’s the most imaginative neuroscientist right now.” (Frostig made it clear he meant this as a complement, though skeptics might interpret the word less charitably.)

The most extensive coverage I’ve given Nicolelis and his work (including the Walk Again project) was in a March 16, 2012 post titled, Monkeys, mind control, robots, prosthetics, and the 2014 World Cup (soccer/football), although there are other mentions including in this Oct. 6, 2011 posting titled, Advertising for the 21st Century: B-Reel, ‘storytelling’, and mind control.  By the way, Nicolelis hopes to have a paraplegic individual (using technology Nicolelis is developing for the Walk Again project) kick the opening soccer/football to the 2014 World Cup games in Brazil.

While there’s much excitement about Nicolelis and his work, there are other ‘brain’ projects being developed in the US including the Brain Activity Map (BAM), which James Lewis notes in his Mar. 1, 2013 posting on the Foresight Institute blog,

A proposal alluded to by President Obama in his State of the Union address [Feb. 2013] to construct a dynamic “functional connectome” Brain Activity Map (BAM) would leverage current progress in neuroscience, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology to develop a map of each firing of every neuron in the human brain—a hundred billion neurons sampled on millisecond time scales. Although not the intended goal of this effort, a project on this scale, if it is funded, should also indirectly advance efforts to develop artificial intelligence and atomically precise manufacturing.

As Lewis notes in his posting, there’s an excellent description of BAM and other brain projects, as well as a discussion about how these ideas are linked (not necessarily by individuals but by the overall direction of work being done in many labs and in many countries across the globe) in Robert Blum’s Feb. (??), 2013 posting titled, BAM: Brain Activity Map Every Spike from Every Neuron, on his eponymous blog. Blum also offers an extensive set of links to the reports and stories about BAM. From Blum’s posting,

The essence of the BAM proposal is to create the technology over the coming decade
to be able to record every spike from every neuron in the brain of a behaving organism.
While this notion seems insanely ambitious, coming from a group of top investigators,
the paper deserves scrutiny. At minimum it shows what might be achieved in the future
by the combination of nanotechnology and neuroscience.

In 2013, as I write this, two European Flagship projects have just received funding for
one billion euro each (1.3 billion dollars each). The Human Brain Project is
an outgrowth of the Blue Brain Project, directed by Prof. Henry Markram
in Lausanne, which seeks to create a detailed simulation of the human brain.
The Graphene Flagship, based in Sweden, will explore uses of graphene for,
among others, creation of nanotech-based supercomputers. The potential synergy
between these projects is a source of great optimism.

The goal of the BAM Project is to elaborate the functional connectome
of a live organism: that is, not only the static (axo-dendritic) connections
but how they function in real-time as thinking and action unfold.

The European Flagship Human Brain Project will create the computational
capability to simulate large, realistic neural networks. But to compare the model
with reality, a real-time, functional, brain-wide connectome must also be created.
Nanotech and neuroscience are mature enough to justify funding this proposal.

I highly recommend reading Blum’s technical description of neural spikes as understanding that concept or any other in his post doesn’t require an advanced degree. Note: Blum holds a number of degrees and diplomas including an MD (neuroscience) from the University of California at San Francisco and a PhD in computer science and biostatistics from California’s Stanford University.

The Human Brain Project has been mentioned here previously. The  most recent mention is in a Jan. 28, 2013 posting about its newly gained status as one of two European Flagship initiatives (the other is the Graphene initiative) each meriting one billion euros of research funding over 10 years. Today, however, is the first time I’ve encountered the BAM project and I’m fascinated. Luckily, John Markoff’s Feb. 17, 2013 article for The New York Times provides some insight into this US initiative (Note: I have removed some links),

The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.

The project, which the administration has been looking to unveil as early as March, will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.

Moreover, the project holds the potential of paving the way for advances in artificial intelligence.

What I find particularly interesting is the reference back to the human genome project, which may explain why BAM is also referred to as a ‘connectome’.

ETA Mar.6.13: I have found a Human Connectome Project Mar. 6, 2013 news release on EurekAlert, which leaves me confused. This does not seem to be related to BAM, although the articles about BAM did reference a ‘connectome’. At this point, I’m guessing that BAM and the ‘Human Connectome Project’ are two related but different projects and the reference to a ‘connectome’ in the BAM material is meant generically.  I previously mentioned the Human Connectome Project panel discussion held at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 2013 meeting in my Feb. 7, 2013 posting.

* Corrected EurkAlert to EurekAlert on June 14, 2013.

CelluForce in Brazil at workshop on nanotechnology

The first Brazil-Canada Workshop on Nanotechnology will be taking place in São Paulo, Brasil, Dec. 6-7, 2012 and Dr. Richard Berry of Canada’s CelluForce (developer of nanocrystalline cellulose or cellulose nanocrystals as the product is also known) will be presenting.

Here’s a bit more about the Brazil-Canada meeting from its home page,

The 1st Brazil-Canada Workshop on Nanotechnology Gathers scientists, researchers, government and industry to discuss the possibilities of Brazil-Canada cooperation on Nanotechnology. The main institutions participating on the event are the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) , the National Center for Energy and Materials Research (CNPEM), the Institute for Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). The special guest institution is the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), from U. S.

The Dec. 3, 2012 CelluForce news release provides details about Dr. Berry’s presentation, which is titled Nanomaterials From Trees – Harnessing The Power of Nature’s Basic Elements,

CelluForce, the world leader in the commercial development of NanoCrystalline Cellulose (NCC), also referred to as Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC), is participating in the first Brazil-Canada workshop on nanotechnology  in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Thursday, December 6, 2012.  Richard Berry, Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer of CelluForce, will provide an overview of the current knowledge of NCC including the state of development, potential applications as well as health and safety practices.

This workshop, organized by Nanotechnology Coordination at the Brazilian Ministry for Science Technology and Innovation and the Energy and Nuclear Research National Institute (IPEN), aims to identify prospective nanotechnology projects where Brazil and Canada can cooperate. Distinguished members from industry and academia will share their knowledge and expectations on the subject.

You can find abstracts for some of the other presenters (Fernando Galembeck, Director of LNNano, Brazil; Michael K.C. Tam, Department of Chemical Engineering and Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, University of Waterloo, Canada; and Dr. Jennifer Flexman, advancing research and development, industrial collaboration and commercialization, University of Toronto, Canada) here.

ETA Dec.5.12 1325 hours PST: I think someone tried to send me some additional information about this meeting. Unfortunately, I deleted the message as spam before I realized what I was reading. The spam filter is usually pretty good but this happens every once in a while. If you’re inclined please do e-mail ([email protected]) with the info. & I will add it.

Reading your way out of aMAZEme; a labyrinth of books

Can it get better than a maze made out of books?Yes, it can. The maze is patterned after Jorge Luis Borges’ fingerprints.

250,000 books were assembled by Brazilian artists,  Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo, who collaborated with production company Hungry Man to create this installation, aMAZEme, being shown and experienced in London, UK.  From the Aug. 12, 2012 posting by GrrlScientist for the Guardian science blogs,

Do you think is it possible to bring together such disparate topics as literature, performance art, installation, architecture and cinema? … we see how one man’s love of books and labyrinths (and fingerprints) came together to create an interesting audience-participation installation designed to raise funds to reduce poverty.

… this is [an homage to] Argentinean writer and educator Jorge Luis Borges, celebrating his love of books and labyrinths (and fingerprints?). A smaller version of this piece was previously created in Rio de Janeiro, but the London installation is much more ambitious.

If you happen to be in London, UK between now (Aug. 13, 2012) and Aug. 26, 2012, you can purchase tickets. From a description on the event page,

By participating in the installation, the audience discovers new textures, images and emotions. They become surrounded- hypnotized – by words and thoughts, designs and patterns. There appear to be secrets hidden in the installation’s walls; walls of up to 2.5 metres high, built from thousands of books, forming a large Maze of more than 500 square metres. The construction of the labyrinth and the public’s participation will be filmed by video cameras and sent to the “aMAZEme” website as well as to social media sites. Touch screens will be installed to look up information and to screen content, which will also be shown in monitors throughout the installation.

The public will be able to navigate through this hypnotic and surprising “book labyrinth” or attend daily performances from literary figures.

The artists have provided  a time-lapsed video showing the maze as it’s being constructed,

The Aug. 4, 2012 posting on the ART IS ALIVE blog provides this detail,

Projections of literary quotes directly onto the labyrinth walls and the accompanying audio will immerse the audience in a world of literature. Presented for the first time outside of Brazil, aMAZEme has been built in situ from 26 July and visitors can watch it grow over the course of the week. When the maze is deconstructed at the end of the exhibition, all of the books will be donated to Oxfam.

You might also want to check out the aMAZEme labyrinth images in Alice’s July 31, 2012 posting on the My Modern Met blog.  For anyone unfamiliar with Jorge Luis Borges, here’s excerpt  from a Wikipedia essay (Note: I have removed some links and footnotes),

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (24 August 1899 – 14 June 1986), known as Jorge Luis Borges (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈxorxe ˈlwis ˈβorxes]), was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. His work embraces the “character of unreality in all literature”. His most famous books, Ficciones (1944) and The Aleph (1949), are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, animals, fictional writers, philosophy, religion and God.

I wonder if anyone is tempted to pull a book from the maze for closer examination and what would happen. That’s always my impulse when I see a mass of books. There’s usually something I’d like to examine more closely.

Dental fillings that improve your teeth

If you have lousy teeth, this is exciting news. From the May 2, 2012 news item on Nanowerk (I have removed a link),

Scientists using nanotechology at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry have created the first cavity-filling composite that kills harmful bacteria and regenerates tooth structure lost to bacterial decay. [emphasis mine]

Rather than just limiting decay with conventional fillings, the new composite is a revolutionary dental weapon to control harmful bacteria, which co-exist in the natural colony of microorganisms in the mouth, says professor Huakun (Hockin) Xu, PhD, MS. [emphasis mine]

While the possibilities are promising, I find the idea of a weapon in my mouth disconcerting. (They might want to check out their metaphors a little more closely.) Moving on, there’s a little more detail about this new composite  (from the news item),

Fillings made from the School of Dentistry’s new nanocomposite, with antibacterial primer and antibacterial adhesive, should last longer than the typical five to 10 years, though the scientists have not thoroughly tested longevity. Xu says a key component of the new nanocomposite and nano-structured adhesive is calcium phosphate nanoparticles that regenerate tooth minerals. The antibacterial component has a base of quaternary ammonium and silver nanoparticles along with a high pH. The alkaline pH limits acid production by tooth bacteria.

“The bottom line is we are continuing to improve these materials and making them stronger in their antibacterial and remineralizing capacities as well as increasing their longevity,” Xu says.

The new products have been laboratory tested using biofilms from saliva of volunteers. The Xu team is planning to next test its products in animal teeth and in human volunteers in collaboration with the Federal University of Ceara in Brazil.

The folks at the enewsparkforest blog are not quite so sanguine about this dental development as per their May 3, 2012 posting on the topic (I have removed llinks),

A study conducted in 2008 and confirmed by another study in 2009 shows that washing nano-silver textiles releases substantial amounts of the nanosilver into the laundry discharge water, which will ultimately reach natural waterways and potentially poison fish and other aquatic organisms. A study found nanosilver to cause malformations and to be lethal to small fish at various stages of development since they are able to cross the egg membranes and move into the fish embryos. A 2010 study by scientists at Oregon State University and in the European Union highlights the major regulatory and educational issues that they believe should be considered before nanoparticles are used in pesticides.

As Dexter Johnson in his May 3, 2012 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers website) notes,

The researchers are continuing with their animal and human testing with the nanocomposite. Given that some sectors of the public are concerned about the potential risks of silver nanoparticles, they should probably take a look at the issue as part of their research.

This is not unreasonable especially in light of the concern some folks have had over mercury in dental fillings. Sufficient concern by the way to occasion this cautionary note from Health Canada (from the Mercury and Human Health webpage on their website),

Minimizing Your Risk

Elemental mercury from dental fillings does not generally pose a health risk. There is, however, a fairly small number of people who are hypersensitive to mercury. While Health Canada does not recommend that you replace existing mercury dental fillings, it does suggest that when the fillings need to be repaired, you may want to consider using a product that does not contain mercury.

Pregnant women, people allergic to mercury and those with impaired kidney function should avoid mercury fillings. Whenever possible, amalgam fillings should not be removed when you are pregnant because the removal may expose you to mercury vapour. When appropriate, the primary teeth of children should be filled with non-mercury materials.

Side note: I find it interesting that while Health Canada has not banned the use of mercury in fillings, it does advise against adding more mercury-laced fillings to your mouth and/or using them in your children’s primary teeth, if possible.

Getting back to silver nanoparticles in our mouths, I reiterate Dexter’s suggestion.

Nanotechnology in the developing world/global south

Sometimes it’s called the ‘developing world’, sometimes it’s called the ‘global south’ and there have been other names before these. In any event, the organization, Nanotechnology for Development (Nano-dev) has released a policy brief about nanotechnology and emerging economies (?). Before discussing the brief, I have found a little information on the organization. From the Nano-dev home page,

Nanotechnology for development is a research project that aims at understanding how nanotechnology can contribute to development. By investigating way people deal with nanotechnology in Kenya, India and the Netherlands, the project will flesh out appropriate ways for governing nanotechnology for development.

Nanotechnology is a label for technologies at the nano-scale, roughly between 1 and 100 nanometers. This is extremely small. By comparison, the diameter of one human hair is about 60,000 nanometers. At this scale materials acquire all sorts of new characteristics that can be used in a wide range of novel applications. This potentially includes cheaper and more efficient technologies that can benefit the world’s poor, such as cheap water filters, efficient solar powered electricity, and portable diagnostic tests.

The four team members on the Nano-dev project are (from the Project Team page):

Pankaj Sekhsaria’s project seeks to understand the cultures of innovation in nanotechnology research in India, particularly in laboratories. He has a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University in India and a MA in Mass Communication from the Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi, India.

Trust Saidi’s research is on travelling nanotechnologies. He studied BSc in Geography and Environmental Studies at Zimbabwe Open University, BSc Honours in Geography at University of Zimbabwe, MSc in Public Policy and Human Development at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University.

Charity Urama’s project investigates the role of knowledge brokerage in nanotechnology for development. She obtained her BSc Botany from the faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and MSc from the school of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Life sciences, University of Aberdeen (UK).

Koen Beumer focuses on the democratic risk governance of nanotechnologies for development. Koen Beumer studied Arts and Culture (BA) and Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (MPhil, cum laude) at Maastricht University.

According to the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about the brief,

The key message of the policy brief is that nanotechnology can have both positive and negative consequences for countries in the global South. These should be pro-actively dealt with.

The positive consequences of nanotechnology include direct benefits in the form of solutions to the problems of the poor and indirect benefits in the form of economic growth. The negative consequences of nanotechnology include direct risks to human health and the environment and indirect risks such as a deepening of the global divide. Core challenges to harnessing nanotechnology for development include risk governance, cultures of innovation, knowledge brokerage and travelling technology.

What I found particularly interesting in the policy brief is the analysis of nanotechnology efforts in countries that are not usually mentioned  (from the policy brief),

There are large differences amongst countries in the global South. Some countries, like India, Egypt, Brazil and South Africa, have invested substantial sums of money through dedicated programs. Often these are large countries with emerging economies. Dedicated programs and strategies have been generated with strong political support.

In other countries in the global South things look different. Several African countries, like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe have expressed their interest in nanotechnologies and some activities can indeed be observed. But generally this activity does not exceed the level of individual researchers and incidental funding. [p. 3]

In addition to the usual concerns expressed over human health, they mention this risk,

Furthermore, properties at the nano-scale may be used to imitate the properties of rare minerals, thus affecting the export rates of their main producers, usually countries in the global South. Nanotechnologies may thus have reverse effects on material demands and consequently on the export of raw materials by countries in the global South (Schummer 2007). [p. 3]

Interesting thought that nanotechnology research could pose a risk to the economic welfare of countries that rely on the export of raw materials. Canada, anyone? If you think about it, all the excitement over nanocellulose doesn’t have to be an economic boon for ‘forestry-based’ countries. If cellulose is the most abundant polymer on earth what’s stop other countries from using their own nanocellulose. After all, Brazilian researchers are working on nanocellulose fibres derived from pineapples and bananas (my Mar. 28, 2011 and June 16, 2011 postings).

One final thing from the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The NANO-DEV project is partnership of three research institutes led by Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Besides Maastricht University, it includes the University of Hyderabad (India) and the African Technology Policy Studies Network (Kenya).