Tag Archives: Canada

Alberta’s summer of 2014 nano funding and the US nano community’s talks with the House of Representatives

I have two items concerning nanotechnology and funding. The first item features Michelle Rempel, Canada’s Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification (WD) who made two funding announcements this summer (2014) affecting the Canadian nanotechnology sector and, more specifically, the province of Alberta.

A June 20, 2014 WD Canada news release announced a $1.1M award to the University of Alberta,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced $1.1 million to help advance leading-edge atomic computing technologies.

Federal funds will support the University of Alberta with the purchase of an ultra-high resolution scanning tunneling microscope, which will enable researchers and scientists in western Canada and abroad to analyze electron dynamics and nanostructures at an atomic level. The first of its kind in North America, the microscope has the potential to significantly transform the semiconductor industry, as research findings aid in the prototype development and technology commercialization of new ultra low-power and low-temperature computing devices and industrial applications.

This initiative is expected to further strengthen Canada’s competitive position throughout the electronics value chain, such as microelectronics, information and communications technology, and the aerospace and defence sectors. The project will also equip graduate students with a solid foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience to become highly qualified, skilled individuals in today’s workforce.

One month later, a July 21, 2014 WD news release (hosted on the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro and Nano Products [ACAMP]) announces this award,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced an investment of $3.3 million toward the purchase and installation of specialized advanced manufacturing and product development equipment at the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro Nano Technology Products (ACAMP), as well as training on the use of this new equipment for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This support, combined with an investment of $800,000 from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, will enable ACAMP to expand their services and provide businesses with affordable access to prototype manufacturing that is currently unavailable in western Canada. By helping SMEs accelerate the development and commercialization of innovative products, this project will help strengthen the global competitiveness of western Canadian technology companies.

Approximately 80 Alberta SMEs will benefit from this initiative, which is expected to result in the development of new product prototypes, the creation of new jobs in the field, as well as connections between SMEs and multi-national companies. This equipment will also assist ACAMP’s outreach activities across the western Canadian provinces.

I’m not entirely clear as to whether or not the June 2014 $1.1M award is considered part of the $3.3M award or if these are two different announcements. I am still waiting for answers to a June 20, 2014 query sent to Emily Goucher, Director of Communications to the Hon. Michelle Rempel,

Hi Emily!

Thank you for both the news release and the information about the embargo … happily not an issue at this point …

I noticed Robert Wolkow’s name in the release (I last posted about his work in a March 3, 2011 piece about his and his team’s entry into the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s smallest electron microscope tip (http://www.frogheart.ca/?tag=robert-wolkow) [Note: Wolkow was included in a list of quotees not included here in this July 29, 2014 posting]

I am assuming that the new microscope at the University of Alberta is specific to a different type of work than the one at UVic, which has a subatomic microscope (http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=10426)

Do I understand correctly that an STM is being purchased or is this an announcement of the funds and their intended use with no details about the STM available yet? After reading the news release closely, it looks to me like they do have a specific STM in mind but perhaps they don’t feel ready to make a purchase announcement yet?

If there is information about the STM that will be purchased I would deeply appreciate receiving it.

Thank you for your time.

As I wait, there’s more news from  the US as members of that country’s nanotechnology community testify at a second hearing before the House of Representatives. The first (a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing held before the Science, Space, and Technology
Subcommittee on Research and Technology) was mentioned in an May 23, 2014 posting  where I speculated about the community’s response to a smaller budget allocation (down to $1.5B in 2015 from $1.7B in 2014).

This second hearing is being held before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and features an appearance by James Tour from Rice University according to a July 28, 2014 news item on Azonano,

At the hearing, titled “Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation,” Tour will discuss and provide written testimony on the future of nanotechnology and its impact on U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Tour is one of the most cited chemists in the country, and his Tour Group is a leader in patenting and bringing to market nanotechnology-based methods and materials.

Who: James Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry and professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science.

What: Exploring breakthrough nanotechnology opportunities.

When: 10:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 29.

Where: Room 2322, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The hearing will explore the current state of nanotechnology and the direction it is headed so that members can gain a better understanding of the policy changes that may be necessary to keep up with advancements. Ultimately, the subcommittee hopes to better understand what issues will confront regulators and how to assess the challenges and opportunities of nanotechnology.

You can find a notice for this July 2014 hearing and a list of witnesses along with their statements here. As for what a second hearing might mean within the context of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative, I cannot say with any certainty. But, this is the first time in six years of writing this blog where there have been two hearings post-budget but as a passive collector of this kind of information this may be a reflection of my information collection strategies rather than a response to a smaller budget allocation. Still, it’s interesting.

Tim Blais and A Capella Science

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for information about another Canadian ‘science musician’. Tim Blais has been producing science music videos for almost two years now. His first video, posted on YouTube, in August 2012 featured an Adele tune ‘Rolling in the deep’ sung to lyrics featuring the Higgs Boson (‘Rolling in the Higgs’),

He shares the text of the lyrics (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtItBX1l1VY&list=UUTev4RNBiu6lqtx8z1e87fQ),

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

Baby I have a theory to be told
The standard model used to discover our quantum world
SU(3), U(1), SU(2)’s our gauge
Make a transform and the equations shouldn’t change

The particles then must all be massless
Cause mass terms vary under gauge transformation
The one solution is spontaneous
Symmetry breaking

Roll your vacuum to minimum potential
Break your SU(2) down to massless modes
Into mass terms of gauge bosons they go
Fermions sink in like skiers into snow

Lyrics and arrangement by Tim Blais and A Capella Science
Original music by Adele

In a Sept. 17, 2012 article by Ethan Yang for The McGill Daily (University of McGill, Montréal, Québec) Blais describes his background and inspiration,

How does a master’s physics student create a Higgs boson-based parody of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” that goes viral and gets featured in popular science magazines and blogs? We sat down with Tim Blais to learn more about the personal experiences leading to his musical and scientific project, “A Capella Science”.

McGill Daily: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, your childhood, and other experiences that in hindsight you think might have led you to where you are now?
Tim Blais: I grew up in a family of five in the little town of Hudson, Quebec, twenty minutes west of the island of Montreal. My childhood was pretty full of music; I started experimenting with the piano, figuring out songs my older siblings were playing, when I was about four, and soon got actual piano lessons. My mom also ran, and continues to run, our local church choir, so from the time I was three I was singing in front of people as well. Also at about three or four a kid in my preschool introduced me to Bill Nye the Science Guy, which became the only TV I watched for about six years. After kindergarten I didn’t go to school until Grade 10, but was homeschooled by my parents. We had a very multifaceted way of learning [...] that I think allowed me to see the big picture of things without getting bogged down in the horrible little details that are often the stumbling block when you start learning something. That gave me a fascination with science that’s essentially carried me through a science DEC and one-and-a-half university degrees. But my parents have always been super cool about not pressuring us kids to be anything in particular, and now to show for it they’ve got an emerging rock star – my brother, Tom; a dedicated speech pathologist – my sister, Mary-Jane; and me, researcher in incomprehensible physics and recently popular internet fool. I think they did alright.

Since 2012, Blais has graduated with a masters in physics and is now devoted to a life as a musician (from a 2013 [?] posting on redefineschool.com),

Blais has just finished up his master’s degree program at McGill, and he says he’s putting academia aside for a while. “I’ve been in school all my life so I’m switching gears and being a musician this year!” he tweeted. And that career choice is just fine by McGill theoretical physicist Alex Maloney, Blais’ faculty adviser.

To bring us up-to-date with Blais, David has featured the latest A Capella Science music video titled: ‘Eminemium (Choose Yourself)’ in his July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog.

One last tidbit, Blais will be appearing at Calgary’s (Alberta) Beakerhead ‘festival’ (Sept. 10 – 14, 2014). Specifically, he will be at (from the TELUS Sept. 11, 2014 event page):

TELUS Spark Adults Only Night
September 11 [2014] @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
[TELUS Spark Adults Only Night]

Mark your calendar for this special Beakerhead-themed adult night at TELUS Spark Science Centre. Meet the Festo Automation folks from Germany and see their mind-boggling biomechanical creatures up close. Are you also a fan of the internet sensation A Capella Science Bohemian Gravity? Meet the maker, Tim Blais, here in Calgary for Beakerhead.

This event is included with Admission and Membership. TOP TIP: Skip the queue with advance tickets. [go to TELUS event page to buy tickets]

You can find out more about A Capella Science on its Facebook page or via its Twitter feed. For more about Beakerhead events, go here.

Deadline extension (travel grants and poster abstracts) for alternate testing strategies (ATS) of nanomaterials workshop

It seems there have been a couple of deadline extensions (to August 1, 2014) for the September 15-16, 2014 ‘Workshop to Explore How a Multiple Models Approach can Advance Risk Analysis of Nanoscale Materials’ in Washington, DC (first mentioned in my July 10, 2014 posting featuring a description of the workshop). You can go here to submit a poster abstract (from any country) and you can go here if you’re a student or young professional (from any country) in search of a $500 travel award.

I managed to speak to one of the organizers, Lorraine Sheremeta, (Assistant Director, Ingenuity Lab, University of Alberta and co-author a July 9, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article about the workshop). Lorraine (Lori) kindly spoke to me about the upcoming workshop, which she described as an academic conference,.

As I understand what she told me, the hosts for the September 15-16, 2014 Workshop to Explore How a Multiple Models Approach can Advance Risk Analysis of Nanoscale Materials in Washington, DC want to attract a multidisciplinary group of people to grapple with a few questions. First, they want to establish a framework for establishing which are the best test methods for nanomaterials. Second, they are trying to move away from animal testing and want to establish which methods are equal to or better than animal testing. Thirdly, they want to discuss what they are going to do with the toxicological data  that we have  been collecting on nanomaterials for years now.

Or, as she and her colleague from the Society of Risk Analysis (Jo Anne Shatkin) have put in it in their Nanowerk Spotlight article:

… develop a report on the State of the Science for ATS for nanomaterials, catalogue of existing and emerging ATS [alternate testing strategies] methods in a database; and develop a case study to inform workshop deliberations and expert recommendations

The collaborative team behind this event includes, the University of Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab, the Society for Risk Analysis, Environment Canada, Health Canada, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) .

The speaker lineup isn’t settled at this time although they have confirmed Vicki Stone of Heriot-Watt University in Scotland (from her university bio page),

Vicki Stone, Professor of Toxicology, studies the effects of nanomaterials on humans and environmentally relevant species.  Current research projects investigate the mechanism of toxicity of a range of nanomaterials in cells of the immune system (macrophages and neutrophils), liver (hepatocytes) , gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels (endothelium) and lung.  She is interested in interactions between nanomaterials, proteins and lipids, and how this influences subsequent toxicity.  Current projects also develop in vitro alternatives using microfluidics as well as high resolution imaging of individual nanomaterials in 3D and over time.  In addition Vicki collaborates with ecotoxicologists to investigate the impacts of nanomaterials on aquatic organisms. Vicki coordinated a European project to identify the research priorities to develop an intelligent testing strategy for nanomaterials (www.its-nano.eu).

Vicki is Director of the Nano Safety Research Group at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and Director of Toxicology for SAFENANO (www.safenano.org). She has acted as the Editor-in-chief of the journal Nanotoxicology (http://informahealthcare.com/nan) for 6 years (2006-2011). Vicki has also published over 130 publications pertaining to particle toxicology over the last 16 years and has provided evidence for the government commissioned reports published by the Royal Society (2003) and the on Environmental Pollution (2008).  Vicki was previously a member of the UK Government Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) and an advisory board member for the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT; funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency)).

A representative from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will also be speaking. I believe that will be Amy Clippinger (from the PETA website’s Regulatory Testing webpage; scroll down about 70% of the way),

Science adviser Amy Clippinger has a Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology and genetics and several years of research experience at the University of Pennsylvania.

PETA representatives have been to at least one other conference on the topic of nano, toxicology, and animal testing as per my April 24, 2014 posting about NANOTOX 2014 in Turkey,

Writing about nanotechnology can lead you in many different directions such as the news about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and its poster presentation at the NanoTox 2014 conference being held in Antalya, Turkey from April 23 – 26, 2014. From the April 22, 2014 PETA news release on EurekAlert,

PETA International Science Consortium Ltd.’s nanotechnology expert will present a poster titled “A tiered-testing strategy for nanomaterial hazard assessment” at the 7th International Nanotoxicology Congress [NanoTox 2014] to be held April 23-26, 2014, in Antalya, Turkey.

Dr. Monita Sharma will outline a strategy consistent with the 2007 report from the US National Academy of Sciences, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” which recommends use of non-animal methods involving human cells and cell lines for mechanistic pathway–based toxicity studies.

There is a lot of interest internationally in improving how we test for toxicity of nanomaterials. As well, the drive to eliminate or minimize as much as possible the use of animals in testing seems to be gaining momentum.

Good luck to everyone submitting a poster abstract and/or an application for a travel grant!

In case you don’t want to scroll up, the SRA nano workshop website is here.

First ever Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Symposium in English-speaking Caribbean

A July 12, 2014 news item on Nanowerk heralds this new International symposium on nanoscience and nanotechnology,

The ‘International Symposium on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology’ will be hosted at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine [in Trinidad and Tobago], from July 15-17, 2014. The symposium, focused on the frontier areas of science, medicine and technology, is the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean and is organised jointly by CARISCIENCE, The UWI and the University of Trinidad and Tobago. The symposium consists of a Public Lecture on Day 1 and Scientific Sessions over Days 2 and 3.

This international symposium is important and ground-breaking since these are widely viewed as revolutionary fields. Nanoscience and nanotechnology are considered to have huge potential to bring benefits to many areas of research and application and are attracting rapidly increasing investments from governments and businesses in many parts of the world.

Despite developments in nanoscience and nanotechnology, the Caribbean as a region has not been involved to the extent that more advanced countries have. As such, this symposium aims to provide a stronger focus on the impact and implications of developments in nanoscience/nanotechnology for stakeholders within the Caribbean region, including researchers, academics, university students, government and policy makers, industry partners and the wider public. The symposium will explore various topics under the following themes:

Nanotechnology for Sustainable Energy and Industrial Applications
Nanotechnology for Electronic Device and Sensor Applications
Nanotechnology in Biology, Medicine and Pharmaceuticals
Nanoscale Synthesis, Nanofabrication and Characterization

A July 11, 2014 UWI news release, which originated the news item, provides details about the speakers and more,

An impressive line-up of leading, globally recognised experts from world-class international and regional institutes awaits, including the Public Lecture titled “Science and the Elements of Daily Life,” to be delivered by world-renowned scientist, Professor Anthony K. Cheetham FRS, University of Cambridge, Vice President and Treasurer of The Royal Society. Additionally, the Keynote Address at the Opening Ceremony will be delivered by The Right Honourable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, with responsibility for Science and Technology in CARICOM.

Speakers at the scientific sessions include Professor Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart (Scientific Advisor to the President of the Republic of Cuba and Vice President of The Academy of Science, Cuba); Professor Frank Gu (University of Waterloo, Canada); Professor Christopher Backhouse (former Director of the Waterloo Institute of Nanotechnology, University of Waterloo, Canada); Professor G. U. Kulkarni (JNCASR, India) and Professor Masami Okamoto (Toyota Technology Institute, Japan).

Students, teachers, academics and the wider public, are all invited and encouraged to attend and use this unique opportunity to engage these leading scientists.

The free Public Lecture is scheduled for Tuesday July 15, 2014, from 5pm-7.30pm, at the Daaga Auditorium, The UWI, St. Augustine Campus. [emphasis mine] The Scientific Sessions take place on Wednesday and Thursday July 16 and 17, 2014, from 8.30am-5pm, at Lecture Theatre A1, UWI Teaching and Learning Complex, Circular Road, St. Augustine. There will also be a small Poster Session to highlight some research done in the areas of Nanoscience and nanotechnology in the Caribbean.

All attendees (to the scientific sessions) must complete and send registration forms to the email address [email protected] by Sunday, July 13, 2014. Registration forms may be downloaded at the Campus Events Calendar entry by visiting www.sta.uwi.edu/news/ecalendar.

A registration fee must be paid in cash at the registration desk on Wednesday July 16, 2014, Day 2, at the start of the scientific sessions.

  • Academic and non-academic:  TT$ 600
  • Graduate student: TT$ 150
  • Undergraduate student: no cost

For further information on the symposium, please visit the Campus Events Calendar at www.sta.uwi.edu/news/ecalendar

I wish them all the best. They seem (judging by the institutions represented) to have attracted a stellar roster of speakers.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)

I recently wrote an exhaustive four-part series (links at the end of this posting) featuring Raman spectroscopy testing of an authenticated (Hurdy Gurdy) and a purported (Autumn Harbour) Lawren Harris paintings. During the course of my research, I sent a query to the Canadian Conservation Institute to disprove or confirm my statements regarding Canada and its database of art pigments,

.. According to some informal sources, Canada has a very small (almost nonexistent) data bank of information about pigments used in its important paintings. For example, the federal government’s Canadian Conservation Institute has a very small database of pigments and nothing from Lawren Harris paintings [unconfirmed at time of publication; June 18, 2014 query outstanding] …

Marie-Claude Corbeil, Ph.D. Gestionnaire de la Division de la science de la conservation | Manager of Conservation Science Division, very kindly replied to my query with this on July 10, 2014 (I believe she was on holidays [en vacances] when my query was received in June),

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has been conducting research into the materials and techniques of Canadian artists (mainly 20th-century artists) since the early 1990s. Databases were created for each artists. At the moment CCI has no such database on Harris.

The CCI is the only institution in Canada carrying out this kind of research. I would add that European conservation institutes or laboratories have a long tradition of conducting this type of research focusing mainly on European art, basically because many were created long before North-American conservation institutes or laboratories were established.

… An important point to make is that scientific investigation is only one part of an authentication study. Authentication should start with stylistic study and research into the provenance of the artwork which are carried out by curators and art historians.

Regarding your question about Raman spectroscopy, I would say that Raman spectroscopy is only one of many techniques that can be used to analyse paint or any other material. At CCI we often use up to six techniques to analyse paint to obtain the full makeup of the sample including pigments, fillers and binding media. I should also add that analysis of material is carried out at CCI to answer questions related to a number of issues, including but not limited to authentication. Analysis is often carried out to understand the degradation of museum objects and works of art, or to provide information required during the course of a conservation treatment.

Thank you for this excellent explanation and for your time.

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1305 PDT: For those who want more information, Ms. Corbeil has provided some articles about the CCI and its Canadian Artists Painting Materials Research Project:

The Canadian Artists’ Painting Materials Project, 1992, J. M. Taylor. (PDF)

CCI 1992 Taylor

Detecting Art Fraud: Sometimes Scientific Examination Can Help, 1993. J. M. Taylor (PDF)

CCI 1993 Taylor
The Canadian Artists Painting Materials Research Project, 1995, Marie-Claude Corbeil (PDF)

CCI 1995 Corbeil

Nanojuice in your gut

A July 7, 2014 news item on Azonano features a new technique that could help doctors better diagnose problems in the intestines (guts),

Located deep in the human gut, the small intestine is not easy to examine. X-rays, MRIs and ultrasound images provide snapshots but each suffers limitations. Help is on the way.

University at Buffalo [State University of New York] researchers are developing a new imaging technique involving nanoparticles suspended in liquid to form “nanojuice” that patients would drink. Upon reaching the small intestine, doctors would strike the nanoparticles with a harmless laser light, providing an unparalleled, non-invasive, real-time view of the organ.

A July 5, 2014 University of Buffalo news release (also on EurekAlert) by Cory Nealon, which originated the news item, describes some of the challenges associated with medical imaging of small intestines,

“Conventional imaging methods show the organ and blockages, but this method allows you to see how the small intestine operates in real time,” said corresponding author Jonathan Lovell, PhD, UB assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “Better imaging will improve our understanding of these diseases and allow doctors to more effectively care for people suffering from them.”

The average human small intestine is roughly 23 feet long and 1 inch thick. Sandwiched between the stomach and large intestine, it is where much of the digestion and absorption of food takes place. It is also where symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal illnesses occur.

To assess the organ, doctors typically require patients to drink a thick, chalky liquid called barium. Doctors then use X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasounds to assess the organ, but these techniques are limited with respect to safety, accessibility and lack of adequate contrast, respectively.

Also, none are highly effective at providing real-time imaging of movement such as peristalsis, which is the contraction of muscles that propels food through the small intestine. Dysfunction of these movements may be linked to the previously mentioned illnesses, as well as side effects of thyroid disorders, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

The news release goes on to describe how the researchers manipulated dyes that are usually unsuitable for the purpose of imaging an organ in the body,

Lovell and a team of researchers worked with a family of dyes called naphthalcyanines. These small molecules absorb large portions of light in the near-infrared spectrum, which is the ideal range for biological contrast agents.

They are unsuitable for the human body, however, because they don’t disperse in liquid and they can be absorbed from the intestine into the blood stream.

To address these problems, the researchers formed nanoparticles called “nanonaps” that contain the colorful dye molecules and added the abilities to disperse in liquid and move safely through the intestine.

In laboratory experiments performed with mice, the researchers administered the nanojuice orally. They then used photoacoustic tomography (PAT), which is pulsed laser lights that generate pressure waves that, when measured, provide a real-time and more nuanced view of the small intestine.

The researchers plan to continue to refine the technique for human trials, and move into other areas of the gastrointestinal tract.

Here’s an image of the nanojuice in the guts of a mouse,

The combination of "nanojuice" and photoacoustic tomography illuminates the intestine of a mouse. (Credit: Jonathan Lovell)

The combination of “nanojuice” and photoacoustic tomography illuminates the intestine of a mouse. (Credit: Jonathan Lovell)

This is an international collaboration both from a research perspective and a funding perspective (from the news release),

Additional authors of the study come from UB’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and McMaster University in Canada.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

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

Non-invasive multimodal functional imaging of the intestine with frozen micellar naphthalocyanines by Yumiao Zhang, Mansik Jeon, Laurie J. Rich, Hao Hong, Jumin Geng, Yin Zhang, Sixiang Shi, Todd E. Barnhart, Paschalis Alexandridis, Jan D. Huizinga, Mukund Seshadri, Weibo Cai, Chulhong Kim, & Jonathan F. Lovell. Nature Nanotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.130 Published online 06 July 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Science, Scotland, and independence

A referendum on Scotland’s independence will take place later this year on Sept, 18, 2014 and. in the meantime, there’s a great deal of discussion about what a ‘yes’ vote might mean. Canadians will be somewhat familiar with this process having experienced two ‘sovereignty’ referendum votes (1980 and 1995, respectively) in the province of Québec and two 1948 referendums (the first result was inconclusive) in Newfoundland where they chose between dominion status and joining the Canadian confederation (Referendums in Canada Wikipedia entry).

One of the features of Québec’s sovereignty or independence proposals is a desire to retain the financial advantages of being party to a larger,established country while claiming new advantages available to an independent constituency or as they say ‘having one’s cake and eating it too’.

While there are many, many historical, cultural and other differences between the situations in Québec and Scotland, it is not entirely surprising to note that there is at least one area where the Scottish/UK debates seem to be emulating the Québec/Canada debates and that is the desire to retain the advantages of being part of the UK with regard to science research funding.

According to a Dec. 2013 (?) posting of the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) ‘Future of the UK and Scotland’ blog two reports discussing the subject of science research funding in the context of Scotland’s proposed independence were launched in November 2013,

In November [2013], two papers were published regarding the future of Scotland. The first, ‘Scotland analysis: Science and research’, written by the UK government, and unveiled by David Willetts, UK Science Minister earlier in November, focuses solely on the issues related to science and research in Scotland,  whereas the second one, a Scottish Government White Paper, addresses a whole range of issues associated with independence in Scotland with a brief discussion of the futures of science and higher education in Scotland (Chapter 5- Education, Skills and Employment).

Both papers testify to the strength of the Scottish science base and the contribution of Scottish universities to the UK research base as a whole. …

However, when it comes to the independence debate, the two papers present contrasting positions. The UK government paper highlights the disproportionate level of funding and research support that Scottish universities receive compared to the rest of the UK, warning that the funding will not continue at the same level in an independent Scotland. According to the paper, while Scotland only contributes 8% to the GDP, it receives 13% of the research funding from various funding bodies. Should Scotland go independent, the paper argues, the UK research funding flow will stop and it will be up to the Scottish Funding Council to decide whether to keep public research funding at present levels. [emphasis mine]…

Adopting a different perspective, the Scottish Government White Paper argues that it will be in the interest of both sides to remain in a ‘common research area’, which shares research councils, access to facilities, and peer reviewing. According to this paper, Scotland universities have made a huge input to UK research and the research councils have been partly funded by Scottish taxpayers. Therefore, Scotland will seek to remain in the ‘common research area‘ and will negotiate a formula to continue funding research councils based on population, but with Scottish research institutes receiving lower or higher funding support based on their research performance. [emphases mine]

… The Scottish Government White Paper presents an ideal research system which maintains the positive aspects of the current system but eliminates other features (for example, attracting international research talent through modifying immigration policy). [emphasis mine] …

At a workshop, organised by the ESRC Innogen Centre in November [2013] and attended by Scottish-based industrialists, academics, policy agencies and senior research managers, there was considerable debate about uncertainties such as these. There were real worries about how the current high levels of research funding could be continued and how Scotland would be able to compete on research

A July 5, 2014 news item on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) News online mentions the latest doings in this area of Scotland’s independence debate,

Medical and scientific research across the UK would suffer if Scotland votes for independence, according to the heads of three academic institutions.

The claim was made by the presidents of the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke said scientific collaboration would be damaged by a “Yes” vote.

In a joint letter to The Times newspaper, the three academics also claimed that maintaining existing levels of research in Scotland would cost Scottish taxpayers more should the country leave the UK.

They wrote: “Scotland has long done particularly well through its access to UK research funding.

“If it turns out that an independent Scotland has to form its own science and research budget, maintaining these levels of research spending would cost the Scottish taxpayer significantly more.”

They went on to state that the strong links and collaborations which exist across the UK “would be put at risk”, with any new system aiming to restore these links “likely to be expensive and bureaucratic”.

The presidents wrote: “We believe that if separation were to occur, research not only in Scotland but also the rest of the UK would suffer.

However Academics for Yes, a pro-independence group which comprises 60 academics from Scottish universities, said a “Yes” vote would protect the country’s universities and allow research priorities to be determined.

Its spokesman, Professor Bryan MacGregor from the University of Aberdeen, said: “On the one hand, we have the UK and England contexts of cuts in research and science funding, high student fees with unsustainable loan funding, an immigration policy that is preventing and deterring international student recruitment and the possibility of an exit from the EU and its research funding.

“And, on the other, we have a Scottish government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students.

Earlier this year a group of 14 clinical academics and scientists put their names to an open letter raising “grave concerns that the country does not sleepwalk into a situation that jeopardises its present success in the highly-competitive arena of biomedical research”.

But the Scottish government, which currently provides about a third of research funds, has argued there is no reason why the current UK-wide structure for funding could not continue post-independence.

Kieron Flanagan in a Feb. 12, 2013 posting on the Guardian political science blog explored the possibilities (Note: Links have been removed),

Let’s face it: few people on either side of the Scottish independence debate are likely to be swayed by arguments about the impacts independence might have on scientific research. Yet science is a policy area where major changes would follow from a “Yes” vote for an independent Scotland. Nonetheless, the commentator Colin Macilwain passionately argued that Scottish science is ready to go it alone in a recent Nature opinion column.

… an independent Scotland could choose to continue to subscribe to the UK research councils in the same way that associated non-EU countries pay to take part in the European research programmes. It would have a strong moral claim to continued access, and it would be difficult to see how a UK government could refuse such an arrangement. Continued access to the existing research councils would allow Scotland to ensure that a diverse range of funding sources remains available to its scientists, and might also help encourage UK research charities to continue to fund research in the country.

So, while Macilwain is certainly right that Scottish science can go it alone, those working in Scottish science may conclude that the additional costs of running a small country research system, the additional risks of maintaining autonomy for funding decisions in a much smaller political world, and the consequent reduction in diversity of funding streams together outweigh the attractions of building a whole new research system from scratch.

While I think Flanagan is quite right when he says the impact that a ‘Yes’ vote will have on science funding and research in Scotland is unlikely to sway anyone’s vote, it’s fascinating to observe the discussion. I don’t believe that any such specific concerns about science and research funding have ever arisen in the context of the Québec referendums. If someone knows otherwise, please drop a line in the comments.

In any event, I can’t help but wonder what impact a ‘Yes’ vote will have on other independence movements both in Canada (Québec certainly and Alberta possibly, where mumbles about independence are sometimes heard) and elsewhere.

Canada’s Ingenuity Lab looks for the causes of cataract formation and preventive treatment

The Ingenuity Lab (based in Alberta) is pursuing three queries in its Health portfolio,

WHAT IF we could develop a way to replace lost neurological functions?
WHAT IF we can improve the delivery of oral vaccinations to maximize the efficiency of absorption?
WHAT IF we can treat cataracts without surgery?

Here’s how they describe the situation regarding sight and cataracts, from the WHAT IF we can treat cataracts without surgery? webpage,

Cataracts is an aggregation of lens proteins that lead to a decrease in vision. [emphasis mine] It is one of the biggest challenges in ophthalmic research due to accessibility to the lens and highly structured proteins in the lens that make it difficult to treat.

It is estimated that 88 per cent of people older than 75 years will have some form of this condition which is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Currently, there are more than 2.5 million Canadians who are affected by cataracts and that number is expected to double by 2031.

While cataract surgery remains an effective option for many, Ingenuity researchers have their sights set on a new model of cataract treatment that does not rely on surgical intervention, by engineering molecules that would have capabilities to detect, inhibit and restore the affected proteins in the lens. The technology would also prevent further formation of the aggregate proteins that decrease vision.

This potential technology is particularly exciting for developing nations where surgical access is often limited and holds great promise for ageing populations around the world.

I’d never previously noticed ‘cataracts’ used with the singular version of a verb. It seems this is a matter for some debate as per this 2007 discussion Wordreference.com resulting in a ‘ymmv’ (your mileage may vary) situation with an edge given to the use of the plural version of the verb. Personally, I prefer the plural with ‘cataracts’.

Getting back to Ingenuity Lab and its ‘cataracts’ query, there’s a July 4, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article written by someone from Ingenuity Lab describing their latest developments,

At Ingenuity Lab in Edmonton, a multidisciplinary team of researchers with partners in Alberta, U.S.A. and Nepal, are busy trying to understand the fundamental mechanisms of how the aggregates that cause cataracts form, and how nanotechnology may be used to prevent or at least inhibit them.

Researchers are taking lessons learned from earlier discoveries and have honed in on target specific peptide screening techniques in the hopes that they will provide a much-needed solution for communities around the world. The work aims to harness the specific binding abilities of peptides for recognition of crystallin protein aggregates7, as well as the unique peptide characteristics that influence stabilization of protein/aggregate and activity depending on the binding region8.

This research is encouraging because it recognizes the potential of crystallin specific peptides not only as drug delivery mediators but also as aggregation inhibitory molecules. Using combinatorial biology approaches, the team has is working to select peptides in both recombinant and ex vivo systems. Once the specific peptides are chosen, their effect on the aggregation process is will be carefully followed by in-situ time sequenced atomic force microscopy visualizations. These peptides will then be screened for particular inhibitory properties, considered as a potential therapeutical agent and evaluated on lens tissue and animal models at the state-of-the art lab in Alberta.

An added benefit to identifying peptides that bind to crystallin aggregates, is that their application extends beyond the treatment of cataract. While the hope and goal is that the peptides themselves will serve as a biologically based, mild, non-invasive treatment, these molecules could also serve to selectively target affected areas of the lens for delivery of other therapies.

The Nanowerk Spotlight article includes more information about the condition. about eyes, references, and an image illustrating the effects of peptides.

Graphene, Perimeter Institute, and condensed matter physics

In short, researchers at Canada’s Perimeter Institute are working on theoretical models involving graphene. which could lead to quantum computing. A July 3, 2014 Perimeter Institute news release by Erin Bow (also on EurekAlert) provides some insight into the connections between graphene and condensed matter physics (Note: Bow has included some good basic explanations of graphene, quasiparticles, and more for beginners),

One of the hottest materials in condensed matter research today is graphene.

Graphene had an unlikely start: it began with researchers messing around with pencil marks on paper. Pencil “lead” is actually made of graphite, which is a soft crystal lattice made of nothing but carbon atoms. When pencils deposit that graphite on paper, the lattice is laid down in thin sheets. By pulling that lattice apart into thinner sheets – originally using Scotch tape – researchers discovered that they could make flakes of crystal just one atom thick.

The name for this atom-scale chicken wire is graphene. Those folks with the Scotch tape, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, won the 2010 Nobel Prize for discovering it. “As a material, it is completely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest,” wrote the Nobel committee. “As a conductor of electricity, it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat, it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it.”

Developing a theoretical model of graphene

Graphene is not just a practical wonder – it’s also a wonderland for theorists. Confined to the two-dimensional surface of the graphene, the electrons behave strangely. All kinds of new phenomena can be seen, and new ideas can be tested. Testing new ideas in graphene is exactly what Perimeter researchers Zlatko Papić and Dmitry (Dima) Abanin set out to do.

“Dima and I started working on graphene a very long time ago,” says Papić. “We first met in 2009 at a conference in Sweden. I was a grad student and Dima was in the first year of his postdoc, I think.”

The two young scientists got to talking about what new physics they might be able to observe in the strange new material when it is exposed to a strong magnetic field.

“We decided we wanted to model the material,” says Papić. They’ve been working on their theoretical model of graphene, on and off, ever since. The two are now both at Perimeter Institute, where Papić is a postdoctoral researcher and Abanin is a faculty member. They are both cross-appointed with the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo.

In January 2014, they published a paper in Physical Review Letters presenting new ideas about how to induce a strange but interesting state in graphene – one where it appears as if particles inside it have a fraction of an electron’s charge.

It’s called the fractional quantum Hall effect (FQHE), and it’s head turning. Like the speed of light or Planck’s constant, the charge of the electron is a fixed point in the disorienting quantum universe.

Every system in the universe carries whole multiples of a single electron’s charge. When the FQHE was first discovered in the 1980s, condensed matter physicists quickly worked out that the fractionally charged “particles” inside their semiconductors were actually quasiparticles – that is, emergent collective behaviours of the system that imitate particles.

Graphene is an ideal material in which to study the FQHE. “Because it’s just one atom thick, you have direct access to the surface,” says Papić. “In semiconductors, where FQHE was first observed, the gas of electrons that create this effect are buried deep inside the material. They’re hard to access and manipulate. But with graphene you can imagine manipulating these states much more easily.”

In the January paper, Abanin and Papić reported novel types of FQHE states that could arise in bilayer graphene – that is, in two sheets of graphene laid one on top of another – when it is placed in a strong perpendicular magnetic field. In an earlier work from 2012, they argued that applying an electric field across the surface of bilayer graphene could offer a unique experimental knob to induce transitions between FQHE states. Combining the two effects, they argued, would be an ideal way to look at special FQHE states and the transitions between them.

Once the scientists developed their theory they went to work on some experiments,

Two experimental groups – one in Geneva, involving Abanin, and one at Columbia, involving both Abanin and Papić – have since put the electric field + magnetic field method to good use. The paper by the Columbia group appears in the July 4 issue of Science. A third group, led by Amir Yacoby of Harvard, is doing closely related work.

“We often work hand-in-hand with experimentalists,” says Papić. “One of the reasons I like condensed matter is that often even the most sophisticated, cutting-edge theory stands a good chance of being quickly checked with experiment.”

Inside both the magnetic and electric field, the electrical resistance of the graphene demonstrates the strange behaviour characteristic of the FQHE. Instead of resistance that varies in a smooth curve with voltage, resistance jumps suddenly from one level to another, and then plateaus – a kind of staircase of resistance. Each stair step is a different state of matter, defined by the complex quantum tangle of charges, spins, and other properties inside the graphene.

“The number of states is quite rich,” says Papić. “We’re very interested in bilayer graphene because of the number of states we are detecting and because we have these mechanisms – like tuning the electric field – to study how these states are interrelated, and what happens when the material changes from one state to another.”

For the moment, researchers are particularly interested in the stair steps whose “height” is described by a fraction with an even denominator. That’s because the quasiparticles in that state are expected to have an unusual property.

There are two kinds of particles in our three-dimensional world: fermions (such as electrons), where two identical particles can’t occupy one state, and bosons (such as photons), where two identical particles actually want to occupy one state. In three dimensions, fermions are fermions and bosons are bosons, and never the twain shall meet.

But a sheet of graphene doesn’t have three dimensions – it has two. It’s effectively a tiny two-dimensional universe, and in that universe, new phenomena can occur. For one thing, fermions and bosons can meet halfway – becoming anyons, which can be anywhere in between fermions and bosons. The quasiparticles in these special stair-step states are expected to be anyons.

In particular, the researchers are hoping these quasiparticles will be non-Abelian anyons, as their theory indicates they should be. That would be exciting because non-Abelian anyons can be used in the making of qubits.

Graphene qubits?

Qubits are to quantum computers what bits are to ordinary computers: both a basic unit of information and the basic piece of equipment that stores that information. Because of their quantum complexity, qubits are more powerful than ordinary bits and their power grows exponentially as more of them are added. A quantum computer of only a hundred qubits can tackle certain problems beyond the reach of even the best non-quantum supercomputers. Or, it could, if someone could find a way to build stable qubits.

The drive to make qubits is part of the reason why graphene is a hot research area in general, and why even-denominator FQHE states – with their special anyons – are sought after in particular.

“A state with some number of these anyons can be used to represent a qubit,” says Papić. “Our theory says they should be there and the experiments seem to bear that out – certainly the even-denominator FQHE states seem to be there, at least according to the Geneva experiments.”

That’s still a step away from experimental proof that those even-denominator stair-step states actually contain non-Abelian anyons. More work remains, but Papić is optimistic: “It might be easier to prove in graphene than it would be in semiconductors. Everything is happening right at the surface.”

It’s still early, but it looks as if bilayer graphene may be the magic material that allows this kind of qubit to be built. That would be a major mark on the unlikely line between pencil lead and quantum computers.

Here are links for further research,

January PRL paper mentioned above: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.046602

Experimental paper from the Geneva graphene group, including Abanin: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl5003922

Experimental paper from the Columbia graphene group, including both Abanin and Papić: http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.2112. This paper is featured in the journal Science.

Related experiment on bilayer graphene by Amir Yacoby’s group at Harvard: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/05/28/science.1250270

The Nobel Prize press release on graphene, mentioned above: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2010/press.html

I recently posted a piece about some research into the ‘scotch-tape technique’ for isolating graphene (June 30, 2014 posting). Amusingly, Geim argued against coining the technique as the ‘scotch-tape’ technique, something I found out only recently.

The evolution of molecules as observed with femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy

A July 3, 2014 news item on Azonano features some recent research from the Université de Montréal (amongst other institutions),

Scientists don’t fully understand how ‘plastic’ solar panels work, which complicates the improvement of their cost efficiency, thereby blocking the wider use of the technology. However, researchers at the University of Montreal, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Imperial College London and the University of Cyprus have determined how light beams excite the chemicals in solar panels, enabling them to produce charge.

A July 2, 2014 University of Montreal news release, which originated the news item, provides a fascinating description of the ultrafast laser process used to make the observations,

 “We used femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy,” explained Tony Parker of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility. “Femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy is an advanced ultrafast laser technique that provides details on how chemical bonds change during extremely fast chemical reactions. The laser provides information on the vibration of the molecules as they interact with the pulses of laser light.” Extremely complicated calculations on these vibrations enabled the scientists to ascertain how the molecules were evolving. Firstly, they found that after the electron moves away from the positive centre, the rapid molecular rearrangement must be prompt and resemble the final products within around 300 femtoseconds (0.0000000000003 s). A femtosecond is a quadrillionth of a second – a femtosecond is to a second as a second is to 3.7 million years. This promptness and speed enhances and helps maintain charge separation.  Secondly, the researchers noted that any ongoing relaxation and molecular reorganisation processes following this initial charge separation, as visualised using the FSRS method, should be extremely small.

As for why the researchers’ curiosity was stimulated (from the news release),

The researchers have been investigating the fundamental beginnings of the reactions that take place that underpin solar energy conversion devices, studying the new brand of photovoltaic diodes that are based on blends of polymeric semiconductors and fullerene derivatives. Polymers are large molecules made up of many smaller molecules of the same kind – consisting of so-called ‘organic’ building blocks because they are composed of atoms that also compose molecules for life (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur). A fullerene is a molecule in the shape of a football, made of carbon. “In these and other devices, the absorption of light fuels the formation of an electron and a positive charged species. To ultimately provide electricity, these two attractive species must separate and the electron must move away. If the electron is not able to move away fast enough then the positive and negative charges simple recombine and effectively nothing changes. The overall efficiency of solar devices compares how much recombines and how much separates,” explained Sophia Hayes of the University of Cyprus, last author of the study.

… “Our findings open avenues for future research into understanding the differences between material systems that actually produce efficient solar cells and systems that should as efficient but in fact do not perform as well. A greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t will obviously enable better solar panels to be designed in the future,” said the University of Montreal’s Carlos Silva, who was senior author of the study.

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

Direct observation of ultrafast long-range charge separation at polymer–fullerene heterojunctions by Françoise Provencher, Nicolas Bérubé, Anthony W. Parker, Gregory M. Greetham, Michael Towrie, Christoph Hellmann, Michel Côté, Natalie Stingelin, Carlos Silva & Sophia C. Hayes. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4288 doi:10.1038/ncomms5288 Published 01 July 2014

This article is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available vie ReadCube Access.