Tag Archives: Canada

Faster, cheaper, and just as good—nanoscale device for measuring cancer drug methotrexate

Lots of cancer drugs can be toxic if the dosage is too high for individual metabolisms, which can vary greatly in their ability to break drugs down. The University of Montréal (Université de Montréal) has announced a device that could help greatly in making the technology to determine toxicity in the bloodstream faster and cheaper according to an Oct. 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

In less than a minute, a miniature device developed at the University of Montreal can measure a patient’s blood for methotrexate, a commonly used but potentially toxic cancer drug. Just as accurate and ten times less expensive than equipment currently used in hospitals, this nanoscale device has an optical system that can rapidly gauge the optimal dose of methotrexate a patient needs, while minimizing the drug’s adverse effects. The research was led by Jean-François Masson and Joelle Pelletier of the university’s Department of Chemistry.

An Oct. 27, 2014 University of Montréal news release, which originated the news item, provides more specifics about the cancer drug being monitored and the research that led to the new device,

Methotrexate has been used for many years to treat certain cancers, among other diseases, because of its ability to block the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). This enzyme is active in the synthesis of DNA precursors and thus promotes the proliferation of cancer cells. “While effective, methotrexate is also highly toxic and can damage the healthy cells of patients, hence the importance of closely monitoring the drug’s concentration in the serum of treated individuals to adjust the dosage,” Masson explained.

Until now, monitoring has been done in hospitals with a device using fluorescent bioassays to measure light polarization produced by a drug sample. “The operation of the current device is based on a cumbersome, expensive platform that requires experienced personnel because of the many samples that need to be manipulated,” Masson said.

Six years ago, Joelle Pelletier, a specialist of the DHFR enzyme, and Jean-François Masson, an expert in biomedical instrument design, investigated how to simplify the measurement of methotrexate concentration in patients.

Gold nanoparticles on the surface of the receptacle change the colour of the light detected by the instrument. The detected colour reflects the exact concentration of the drug in the blood sample. In the course of their research, they developed and manufactured a miniaturized device that works by surface plasmon resonance. Roughly, it measures the concentration of serum (or blood) methotrexate through gold nanoparticles on the surface of a receptacle. In “competing” with methotrexate to block the enzyme, the gold nanoparticles change the colour of the light detected by the instrument. And the colour of the light detected reflects the exact concentration of the drug in the blood sample.

The accuracy of the measurements taken by the new device were compared with those produced by equipment used at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal. “Testing was conclusive: not only were the measurements as accurate, but our device took less than 60 seconds to produce results, compared to 30 minutes for current devices,” Masson said. Moreover, the comparative tests were performed by laboratory technicians who were not experienced with surface plasmon resonance and did not encounter major difficulties in operating the new equipment or obtaining the same conclusive results as Masson and his research team.

In addition to producing results in real time, the device designed by Masson is small and portable and requires little manipulation of samples. “In the near future, we can foresee the device in doctors’ offices or even at the bedside, where patients would receive individualized and optimal doses while minimizing the risk of complications,” Masson said. Another benefit, and a considerable one: “While traditional equipment requires an investment of around $100,000, the new mobile device would likely cost ten times less, around $10,000.”

For those who prefer to read the material in French here’s a link to ‘le 27 Octobre 2014 communiqué de nouvelles‘.

Here’s a prototype of the device,

Les nanoparticules d’or situées à la surface de la languette réceptrice modifient la couleur de la lumière détectée par l’instrument. La couleur captée reflète la concentration exacte du médicament contenu dans l’échantillon sanguin. Courtesy  Université de Montréal

Les nanoparticules d’or situées à la surface de la languette réceptrice modifient la couleur de la lumière détectée par l’instrument. La couleur captée reflète la concentration exacte du médicament contenu dans l’échantillon sanguin. Courtesy Université de Montréal

There is no indication as to when this might come to market, in English  or in French.

University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada) welcomes ‘oil sands’ researcher with two news releases

I gather the boffins at the University of Calgary are beside themselves with joy as they welcome Steven Bryant from Texas, a nanoscience researcher with long ties to oil industry research. From an Oct. 17, 2014 University of Calgary news release by Stéphane Massinon,

The greatest energy challenge of the 21st century is to meet energy demand from available fuels while drastically reducing society’s environmental footprint.

The challenge is massive. The solution, according to Steven Bryant, may be miniscule.

Bryant will lead and co-ordinate nanotechnology and materials science research at the University of Calgary, and the integrated team of researchers from across campus who will aim to drastically change how the oilsands are developed.

Bryant says Alberta’s oilsands are a key resource for meeting the world’s energy demands and the status quo is not acceptable.

“There is a huge desire to extract this energy resource with less environmental impact and, we think, conceivably even zero-impact, because of some of the cool things that are becoming possible with nanotechnology,” says Bryant.

“That’s kind of blue-sky but that’s one of the things we will be trying to sow the seeds for — alternative ways to get the energy out of this resource altogether. It’s a chance to do things better than we are currently doing them because of rapid advances in mesoscience.”

The mention of mesoscience called to mind the mesocosm project featured in an Aug. 15, 2011 posting (Mesocosms and nanoparticles at Duke University) although it seems that mesoscience is a somewhat different beast according to Massinon’s news release,

Mesoscience — technology developed at smaller than 100 nanometres — offers many tantalizing options to increase the efficiency of in-situ oilsands development, or Steam-Assisted Gravity drainage (SAGD). SAGD is the extraction process in which producers drill horizontal wells beneath the surface to pump steam into the underground oilsands reservoirs to loosen the oil and pump it to the surface.

SAGD is the method currently used to pump nearly one million barrels per day in Alberta and the output is forecast to double by 2022. SAGD uses considerable volumes of water and requires energy to heat the water to produce the steam that softens the underground oil that is caked in sand.

By using nanotechnology, Bryant and his team are working on reducing the amount of energy needed to heat water to create steam while also making the underground heat source more efficient at gathering more oil.

“The holy grail for the last 30 years has been trying to get CO2 to be less viscous. If you can do that, then you can get it to contact a lot more of the oil and for the same amount of CO2, you get a lot more oil produced. That turned out to be hard to do because there aren’t many chemical ways to make CO2 more viscous,” says Bryant.

By employing innovative approaches now, industry, environment and consumers can benefit greatly in the not-too-distant future.

“These alternative ways to get the energy out are at least 10 years away. So it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but it’s worth thinking about now to try to see what might be possible,” says Bryant.

Apparently, Bryant (no mention of family members) is terribly excited about moving to Calgary, from the news release,

Bryant is looking forward to working in Canada’s energy hub and says he will also work with industry to tackle oil production issues.

Industry wants to be more efficient at extracting oil because it saves them money. Efficiency also means reducing the environmental footprint. He believes oil companies will welcome the research produced from the university and said Calgary is the ideal place to be world leaders in energy production and energy research.

“The university is close to where the action is. All the major operators are in town and there’s a chance to take things from the lab to the field. The University of Calgary is very well situated in that regard.”

Bryant is joining the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering. Before accepting this position, he was at the University of Texas at Austin, as Bank of America Centennial Professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, and directed the Geological CO2 Storage Joint Industry Project and the Nanoparticles for Subsurface Engineering Industrial Affiliates Program.

Bryant pioneered the fields of digital petrophysics and nanoparticles for engineering applications, and has made some of the most significant advances in the past 20 years in porous media modeling, reactive transport theory and CO2 sequestration. Bryant has been published more than 280 times in books, book chapters, peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings on applications in production engineering, reservoir engineering and formation evaluation. Over his career, Bryant has led major research initiatives involving industry partnerships and trained over 90 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who found positions in several of the largest energy companies and national laboratories.

He looks forward to what happens next.

“There’s still a lot of cool, basic science to be done, but we’ll be doing it with an eye to making a difference in terms of how you get energy out of the oilsands. This won’t be business as usual.”

Meanwhile, there’s an Oct. 17, 2014 news item on Azonano that focuses on the University of Calgary’s response to receiving its first Canada Excellence Research Chair (a programme where the federal Canadian government throws a lot of money for salaries and research at universities which then try to recruit ‘world class’ researchers),

A world-leading nanotechnology researcher has come to Canada’s energy capital to become the first Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) at the University of Calgary.

Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification) Michelle Rempel announced today $10 million in federal funding to the university over seven years to create the CERC for Materials Engineering for Unconventional Oil Reservoirs. These funds will be matched by the University of Calgary.

The CERC has been awarded to renowned researcher Steven Bryant, who has joined the Schulich School of Engineering and will integrate a team of researchers from several departments of the Schulich School of Engineering and Faculty of Science.

An Oct. 17, 2014 University of Calgary news release (no byline is given but this is presumably from the university’s ‘corporate’ communications team), which originated the news item on Azonano,

Rempel said the federal government is focused on developing, attracting, and retaining world-leading researchers through record investment in science, technology and innovation. She added that Bryant’s application of new nanomaterials and technology will seek to develop new efficiencies within the oilsands industry while training the next generation of highly talented Canadian researchers.

“Our government is committed to ensuring advancement in sustainable energy resource technology. Dr. Bryant’s arrival at the University of Calgary will help consolidate Canada’s position as a global leader in this area. The research being conducted at the university is good for Calgary, good for the economy and good for Canada,” said Rempel.

President Elizabeth Cannon thanked the federal government for its financial support and said Bryant’s arrival vaults the university’s existing energy research to the next level.

“The University of Calgary is thrilled to have Dr. Steven Bryant join our energy research team, where he will play a key role exploring new and sustainable ways of developing unconventional resources,” said Cannon.

“We are confident that Dr. Bryant and his colleagues, working here at Canada’s energy university, will offer innovative solutions to the pressing challenges faced by our society: meeting ever-growing energy demands and drastically reducing our environmental footprint.”

In addition to the matching funds, the University of Calgary is planning additional support for major infrastructure and equipment for the CERC.

In 2008, the federal government launched the CERC program to encourage some of the most accomplished researchers around the world to work at Canadian universities.

The Canada Excellence Research Chair plays a significant role in the university’s energy strategy, which aims to make the University of Calgary a global leader in energy research. It is also critical to our Eyes High goal to becoming a top five Canadian research university.

Attracting world-class researchers to campus helps attract more students and post-docs to the university and exposes students and faculty to some of the world’s cutting-edge research.

Oddly, there’s no message of congratulations or recognition of this addition to Alberta’s nanotechnology community from Canada’s National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) located at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (Oct. 17 – 26, 2014) followed by Transatlantic Science Week (Oct. 27 – 29, 2014)

Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (it’s actually 10 days) starts on today, Oct. 17, 2014 this year. You can find a listing of events across the country on the National Science and Technology Week Events List webpage (Note: I have reformatted the information I’ve excerpted from the page but all the details remain the same and links have been removed),

Alberta

Medicine Hat     Praxis Annual Family Science Olympics     Medicine Hat High School Taylor Science Centre (enter on 5th street)     Saturday, October 18, 2014, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.     Praxis will be hosting their annual Family Science Olympics. The day will consist of ten hands on science challenges that each family can participate in. If you complete eight of the ten, you will be entered into the draw for the grand prize of a remote control helicopter with a camera. Each “family” must have at least one person over the age of 18. The event is free and will have something for all ages.

British Columbia

Vancouver     First Responder’s weekend     Science World at TELUS World of Science     Saturday October 18 & Sunday October 19, 10am – 6pm both days     First responders are an important and integral part of every community. Join Vancouver firefighters, BC paramedics, Vancouver police, Ecomm 911 and the Canadian Border Services Agency as they showcase who our first responders are, what they do, the technology they use and the role that science plays in their work. Explore emergency technology inside and emergency response vehicles outside the building.

Manitoba

Dugald     Bees, Please     Springfield Public Library, Dugald, Manitoba     October 17, 22, and 24th for programs. We will have the display set up for the duration, from Oct 17-26th. 10 a.m to 8 p.m.     Preschool programs all week will feature stories and crafts on bees and their importance in the world. Kids in the Kitchen, menu selections will feature the use of honey all week. We will have displays of honey, bees and farming with local Ag. Society assistance.

New Brunswick

Dieppe     Tech Trek 2014     Dieppe Arts and Culture Centre     Saturday, October 25, 2014, 9 AM – 12 PM     Come join us for a morning filled with science and tech activities for children of all ages! Admission to this event is free!

Ontario

Ottawa     Funfest     Booth Street Complex(Corner of Booth and Carling)     Sunday, October 19, 2014 – 11:00 am to 4:00 pm     Science Funfest is an open house event that takes place at Natural Resources Canada’s Booth Street Complex, at the corner of Carling Avenue and Booth Street in Ottawa. It’s a wonderful opportunity for children and anyone interested in science to engage in presentations and gain hands on science experience by participating in activities that will showcase the importance of science in a fun and interactive way. Last year’s event featured approximately 70 interactive exhibits on subjects ranging from ‘Slime’ to ‘Canada’s Forest Insects’.

Toronto     Science Literacy Week     Gerstein Science Information Centre, University of Toronto     September 22-28, 2014   [emphasis mine]  Science literacy week is a city wide effort to provide access to some of the best science communicators of all time.  Through book displays, links to online content, documentary screenings and lecture series, the aim is to showcase how captivating science really is.    The science literacy week’s goal is to give people the opportunity to marvel at the discoveries and developments of the last few centuries of scientific thought.

Québec

Sherbrooke     Conférence “La crystallographie : art, science et chocolat!” Par Alexis Reymbault     Musée de la nature et des sciences de Sherbrooke     October 22, 2014     French only.

Saskatchewan

Saskatoon     See the Light: Open House at the Canadian Light Source     Canadian Light Source, 44 Innovation Blvd.     Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9-11:30 am and 1-4 pm     Tour the synchrotron and talk with young researchers and see where and how they use the synchrotron to study disease. Advance registration required: http://fluidsurveys.usask.ca/s/CLS/

At this point, there seem to be fewer events than usual but that may be due to a problem the organizer (Canada’s Science and Technology Museums Corporation) has been dealing with since Sept. 11, 2014. That day, they had to close the country’s national Science and Technology Museum due to issues with airbourne mould (Sept. 11, 2014 news item on the Globe and Mail website). As for what Toronto’s Science Literacy Week 2014, which took place during September, is doing on a listing of October events is a mystery to me unless this is an attempt to raise awareness for the 2015 event mentioned on the Science Literacy Week 2014  webpage.

Transatlantic Science Week (Oct. 26 – 29, 2014), which is three days not a week, is being held in Toronto, Ontario and it extends (coincidentally or purposefully) Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (Oct. 17 – 26, 2014). Here’s more about Transatlantic Science Week from a UArctic (University of the Arctic) Sept. 12, 2014 blog posting (Note 1: UArctic announced the dates as Oct. 27 – 29, 2014 as opposed to the dates from the online registration website for the event; Note 2: Despite the error with the dates the information about the week is substantively the same as the info. on the registration webpage)

The Transatlantic Science Week is an annual trilateral science and innovation conference that promotes the collaboration between research, innovation, government, and business in Canada, the United States and Norway.  Held in Toronto, Canada, this year’s theme focuses on “The Arctic: Societies, Sustainability, and Safety”.

The Transatlantic Science Week 2014 will examine challenges and opportunities in the Arctic through three specialized tracks: (1) Arctic climate science, (2) Arctic safety and cross border knowledge, and (3) Arctic research-based industrial development and resource management. Business opportunities in the Arctic is an essential part of the program.

The evernt [sic] provides a unique arena to facilitate critical dialogue and initiate new collaboration between key players with specific Arctic knowledge.

You can find more information about the programme and other meeting details here but you can no longer register online, all new registrations will be done onsite during the meeting.

Nanotechnology for better treatment of eye conditions and a perspective on superhuman sight

There are three ‘eye’-related items in this piece, two of them concerning animal eyes and one concerning a camera-eye or the possibility of superhuman sight.

Earlier this week researchers at the University of Reading (UK) announced they have achieved a better understanding of how nanoparticles might be able to bypass some of the eye’s natural barriers in the hopes of making eye drops more effective in an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Sufferers of eye disorders have new hope after researchers at the University of Reading discovered a potential way of making eye drops more effective.

Typically less than 5% of the medicine dose applied as drops actually penetrates the eye – the majority of the dose will be washed off the cornea by tear fluid and lost.

The team, led by Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, has developed novel nanoparticles that could attach to the cornea and resist the wash out effect for an extended period of time. If these nanoparticles are loaded with a drug, their longer attachment to the cornea will ensure more medicine penetrates the eye and improves drop treatment.

An Oct. 6, 2014 University of Reading press release, which originated the news item, provides more information about the hoped for impact of this work while providing few details about the research (Note: A link has been removed),

The research could also pave the way for new treatments of currently incurable eye-disorders such as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of visual impairment with around 500,000 sufferers in the UK.

There is currently no cure for this condition but experts believe the progression of AMD could be slowed considerably using injections of medicines into the eye. However, eye-drops with drug-loaded nanoparticles could be a potentially more effective and desirable course of treatment.

Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, from the University of Reading’s School of Pharmacy, said: “Treating eye disorders is a challenging task. Our corneas allow us to see and serve as a barrier that protects our eyes from microbial and chemical intervention. Unfortunately this barrier hinders the effectiveness of eye drops. Many medicines administered to the eye are inefficient as they often cannot penetrate the cornea barrier. Only the very small molecules in eye drops can penetrate healthy cornea.

“Many recent breakthroughs to treat eye conditions involve the use of drugs incorporated into nano-containers; their role being to promote drug penetration into the eye.  However the factors affecting this penetration remain poorly understood. Our research also showed that penetration of small drug molecules could be improved by adding enhancers such as cyclodextrins. This means eye drops have the potential to be a more effective, and a more comfortable, future treatment for disorders such as AMD.”

The finding is one of a number of important discoveries highlighted in a paper published today in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics. The researchers revealed fascinating insights into how the structure of the cornea prevents various small and large molecules, as well as nanoparticles, from entering into the eye. They also examined the effects any damage to the eye would have in allowing these materials to enter the body.

Professor Khutoryanskiy continued: “There is increasing concern about the safety of environmental contaminants, pollutants and nanoparticles and their potential impacts on human health. We tested nanoparticles whose sizes ranged between 21 – 69 nm, similar to the size of viruses such as polio, or similar to airborn particles originating from building industry and found that they could not penetrate healthy and intact cornea irrespective of their chemical nature.

“However if the top layer of the cornea is damaged, either after surgical operation or accidentally, then the eye’s natural defence may be compromised and it becomes susceptible to viral attack which could result in eye infections.

“The results show that our eyes are well-equipped to defend us against potential airborne threats that exist in a fast-developing industrialised world. However we need to be aware of the potential complications that may arise if the cornea is damaged, and not treated quickly and effectively.”

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

On the Barrier Properties of the Cornea: A Microscopy Study of the Penetration of Fluorescently Labeled Nanoparticles, Polymers, and Sodium Fluorescein by Ellina A. Mun, Peter W. J. Morrison, Adrian C. Williams, and Vitaliy V. Khutoryanskiy. Mol. Pharmaceutics, 2014, 11 (10), pp 3556–3564 DOI: 10.1021/mp500332m Publication Date (Web): August 28, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

There’s a little more information to be had in the paper’s abstract, which is, as these things go, is relatively accessible,

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/mp500332m]

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/mp500332m]

Overcoming the natural defensive barrier functions of the eye remains one of the greatest challenges of ocular drug delivery. Cornea is a chemical and mechanical barrier preventing the passage of any foreign bodies including drugs into the eye, but the factors limiting penetration of permeants and nanoparticulate drug delivery systems through the cornea are still not fully understood. In this study, we investigate these barrier properties of the cornea using thiolated and PEGylated (750 and 5000 Da) nanoparticles, sodium fluorescein, and two linear polymers (dextran and polyethylene glycol). Experiments used intact bovine cornea in addition to bovine cornea de-epithelialized or tissues pretreated with cyclodextrin. It was shown that corneal epithelium is the major barrier for permeation; pretreatment of the cornea with β-cyclodextrin provides higher permeation of low molecular weight compounds, such as sodium fluorescein, but does not enhance penetration of nanoparticles and larger molecules. Studying penetration of thiolated and PEGylated (750 and 5000 Da) nanoparticles into the de-epithelialized ocular tissue revealed that interactions between corneal surface and thiol groups of nanoparticles were more significant determinants of penetration than particle size (for the sizes used here). PEGylation with polyethylene glycol of a higher molecular weight (5000 Da) allows penetration of nanoparticles into the stroma, which proceeds gradually, after an initial 1 h lag phase.

The paper is behind a paywall. No mention is made in the abstract or in the press release as to how the bovine (ox, cow, or buffalo) eyes were obtained but I gather these body parts are often harvested from animals that have been previously slaughtered for food.

This next item also concerns research about eye drops but this time the work comes from the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada). From an Oct. 8, 2014 news item on Azonano,

For the millions of sufferers of dry eye syndrome, their only recourse to easing the painful condition is to use drug-laced eye drops three times a day. Now, researchers from the University of Waterloo have developed a topical solution containing nanoparticles that will combat dry eye syndrome with only one application a week.

An Oct. 8, 2014 University of Waterloo news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the results of the work without providing much detail about the nanoparticles used to deliver the treatment via eye drops,

The eye drops progressively deliver the right amount of drug-infused nanoparticles to the surface of the eyeball over a period of five days before the body absorbs them.  One weekly dose replaces 15 or more to treat the pain and irritation of dry eyes.

The nanoparticles, about 1/1000th the width of a human hair, stick harmlessly to the eye’s surface and use only five per cent of the drug normally required.

“You can’t tell the difference between these nanoparticle eye drops and water,” said Shengyan (Sandy) Liu, a PhD candidate at Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering, who led the team of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Centre for Contact Lens Research. “There’s no irritation to the eye.”

Dry eye syndrome is a more common ailment for people over the age of 50 and may eventually lead to eye damage. More than six per cent of people in the U.S. have it. Currently, patients must frequently apply the medicine three times a day because of the eye’s ability to self-cleanse—a process that washes away 95 per cent of the drug.

“I knew that if we focused on infusing biocompatible nanoparticles with Cyclosporine A, the drug in the eye drops, and make them stick to the eyeball without irritation for longer periods of time, it would also save patients time and reduce the possibility of toxic exposure due to excessive use of eye drops,” said Liu.

The research team is now focusing on preparing the nanoparticle eye drops for clinical trials with the hope that this nanoparticle therapy could reach the shelves of drugstores within five years.

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

Phenylboronic acid modified mucoadhesive nanoparticle drug carriers facilitate weekly treatment of experimentallyinduced dry eye syndrome by Shengyan Liu, Chu Ning Chang, Mohit S. Verma, Denise Hileeto, Alex Muntz, Ulrike Stahl, Jill Woods, Lyndon W. Jones, and Frank X. Gu. Nano Research (October 2014) DOI: 10.1007/s12274-014-0547-3

This paper is behind a paywall. There is a partial preview available for free. As per the paper’s abstract, research was performed on healthy rabbit eyes.

The last ‘sight’ item I’m featuring here comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and does not appear to have been occasioned by the publication of a research paper or some other event. From an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Azonano,

All through his childhood, Ramesh Raskar wished fervently for eyes in the back of his head. “I had the notion that the world did not exist if I wasn’t looking at it, so I would constantly turn around to see if it was there behind me.” Although this head-spinning habit faded during his teen years, Raskar never lost the desire to possess the widest possible field of vision.

Today, as director of the Camera Culture research group and associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Raskar is realizing his childhood fantasy, and then some. His inventions include a nanocamera that operates at the speed of light and do-it-yourself tools for medical imaging. His scientific mission? “I want to create not just a new kind of vision, but superhuman vision,” Raskar says.

An Oct. 6, 2014 MIT news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about Raskar and his research,

He avoids research projects launched with a goal in mind, “because then you only come up with the same solutions as everyone else.” Discoveries tend to cascade from one area into another. For instance, Raskar’s novel computational methods for reducing motion blur in photography suggested new techniques for analyzing how light propagates. “We do matchmaking; what we do here can be used over there,” says Raskar.

Inspired by the famous microflash photograph of a bullet piercing an apple, created in 1964 by MIT professor and inventor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Raskar realized, “I can do Edgerton millions of times faster.” This led to one of the Camera Culture group’s breakthrough inventions, femtophotography, a process for recording light in flight.

Manipulating photons into a packet resembling Edgerton’s bullet, Raskar and his team were able to “shoot” ultrashort laser pulses through a Coke bottle. Using a special camera to capture the action of these pulses at half a trillion frames per second with two-trillionths of a second exposure times, they captured moving images of light, complete with wave-like shadows lapping at the exterior of the bottle.

Femtophotography opened up additional avenues of inquiry, as Raskar pondered what other features of the world superfast imaging processes might reveal. He was particularly intrigued by scattered light, the kind in evidence when fog creates the visual equivalent of “noise.”

In one experiment, Raskar’s team concealed an object behind a wall, out of camera view. By firing super-short laser bursts onto a surface nearby, and taking millions of exposures of light bouncing like a pinball around the scene, the group rendered a picture of the hidden object. They had effectively created a camera that peers around corners, an invention that might someday help emergency responders safely investigate a dangerous environment.

Raskar’s objective of “making the invisible visible” extends as well to the human body. The Camera Culture group has developed a technique for taking pictures of the eye using cellphone attachments, spawning inexpensive, patient-managed vision and disease diagnostics. Conventional photography has evolved from time-consuming film development to instantaneous digital snaps, and Raskar believes “the same thing will happen to medical imaging.” His research group intends “to break all the rules and be at the forefront. I think we’ll get there in the next few years,” he says.

Ultimately, Raskar predicts, imaging will serve as a catalyst of transformation in all dimensions of human life — change that can’t come soon enough for him. “I hate ordinary cameras,” he says. “They record only what I see. I want a camera that gives me a superhuman perspective.”

Following the link to the MIT news release will lead you to more information about Raskar and his work. You can also see and hear Raskar talk about his femtophotography in a 2012 TEDGlobal talk here.

2014 Canadian Science Policy Conference extends early bird registration until Sept. 30, 2014

If you register before Oct. 1, 2014 (tomorrow), you will be eligible to receive an ‘early bird’ discount for the 6th annual (2014) Canadian Science Policy Conference being held in Halifax, Nova Scotia from Oct. 15 – 17, 2014.

The revolving/looping banner on the conference website, on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014 featured an all male, all white set of speakers intended to lure participants. An unusual choice in this day and age. In any event, the revolving banner seems to have disappeared.

The agenda for the 2014 conference was previously included in a Sept. 3, 2014 posting about it and a super-saver registrationdiscount available to Sept. 9. As I noted at the time, the organizers needed at least one or two names that would attract registrants and I imagine that having the federal Canadian government Minister of State responsible for Science and Technology, Ed Holder, and, the province of Nova Scotia’s Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, Minister of Acadian Affairs and the Minister responsible for Nova Scotia Business Inc., and the Innovation Corporation Act – Cape Breton-Richmond, Michael P. Samson, have helped to fill that bill.

The two co-chairs for the 2014 version of this Canadian Science Policy Conference reflect the increasing concern about science, economics, and monetary advancement. Frank McKenna, a former premier of the province of New Brunswick, and a former Canadian ambassador to Washington, DC, is currently, according to his Wikipedia entry,

… Deputy Chair, TD Bank Financial Group effective May 1, 2006.[8] McKenna is responsible for helping to build long-term business relationships that support TD’s growth strategy in Canada and the United States.

McKenna is responsible for supporting the company in its customer acquisition strategy, particularly in the areas of wholesale and commercial banking. In addition, he is responsible for representing TD as it works to expand its North American presence as one of the continent’s ten largest banks, as measured by market capitalization.

As for John Risley, there’s this from a Dec. 19, 2013 article by Stephen Kimber for Canadian publication, Atlantic Business,

Billionaire seafood baron insists that business, not government, must lead Atlantic Canada out of its economic malaise

“The problem with doing profiles…” John Risley begins, and I realize I’ve already lost control of this particular interview before I even ask my first question. “I mean, look,” he continues, kindly enough, “this is your editorial licence, not mine.”

It had all seemed simple enough back in July 2013 during an editorial meeting in St. John’s [Newfoundland and Labrador]. In 2014, Atlantic Business Magazine would celebrate its 25th anniversary – no mean feat in the publishing business anywhere these days – and editor Dawn Chafe and I were trying to figure out an appropriate editorial way to mark that milestone. I’m not sure which of us came up with the idea to profile a series of key Atlantic Canadian business makers and economy shakers, but we quickly agreed John Risley had to be one of them.

Risley, after all, is a member in good standing in Canadian Business magazine’s Top 100 Wealthiest Canadians, the billionaire co-founder of Clearwater Seafoods Inc., “one of North America’s largest vertically integrated seafood companies and the largest holder of shellfish licences and quotas in Canada;” the driving force behind the evolution of Ocean Nutrition, the 16-year-old Nova Scotiabased company that had become the world’s largest producer of Omega-3 fatty acids by the time Risley sold it last year to Dutch-based Royal DSM for $540 million; and a major investor in Columbus Communications, a 10-year-old Barbados-based company providing cable TV‚ digital video, high speed internet access‚ digital telephones and corporate data services in 42 countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

These days, Risley lives with his wife Judy in a 32,000-square-foot Georgian-style mansion on a 300-acre sweet spot of ocean-fronted land near idyllic Chester, N.S., that once belonged to the founder of Sunoco, the American petrochemical giant. When he needs to go somewhere, or just get away from it all, he can hop aboard one of his small fleet of corporate aircraft or sail away in a luxurious 240-foot super-yacht “equipped with a helipad and a grand ‘country-house’- style interior.”

It’s not immediately apparent what these two individuals bring to a meeting on Canadian science policy but given the increasing insistence on the commercialization of science, perhaps they don’t really need to know anything about science but can simply share their business insights.

The first plenary session as you might expect from co-chairs whose interests seem to be primarily financial is titled: Procurement and Industrial Technological Benefits (ITB) and Value Propositions on the conference agenda webpage,

The Inside Story: Procurement, Value Propositions, and Industrial and Technological Benefits

Canada’s procurement policy and its associated value proposition and Industrial and Technological Benefit (ITB) policies have the potential to create powerful strategic opportunities for Canadian industry and R&D. These opportunities include increasing demand-side pull instead of the more common supply-side push. In addition, ITBs and value propositions can provide new opportunities for Canadian companies to enter and move up sophisticated global supply chains.

On the other hand, these policies might potentially further complicate an already complicated procurement process and mitigate the primary objective of equipping the Canadian Forces in a timely way. To achieve the significant potential economic development benefits, ITBs and value propositions must be designed and negotiated strategically. This will therefore require priority attention from the responsible departments of government.

An authoritative panel will bring a variety of perspectives to the policy issues. The panel will include members from: a Canadian company with a contract for naval vessel construction; a federal regional development program; a federal ministry responsible for the operation of the policies; a provincial government; and a retired military officer. The panel is chaired by Peter Nicholson who has had extensive experience in science and innovation policy, including its relationship with defense procurement.

An interesting way to kick off the conference: business and military procurement. Happily, there are some more ‘sciencish’ panels but the business theme threatens to dominate the 2014 conference in such a way as to preclude other sorts of conversations and to turn even the more classically ‘science’ panels to business discussions.

While my perspective may seem a little dour, David Bruggeman in his Sept. 26, 2014 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog offers a more upbeat perspective.

Fishnet of gold atoms improves solar cell performance

Apparently they’re calling the University of Western Ontario by a new name, Western University. Given the university’s location in what is generally acknowledged as central Canada or, sometimes, as eastern Canada, this seems like a geographically confusing approach not only in Canada but elsewhere too. After all, more than one country boasts a ‘west’.

A Sept. 26, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights new work on improving solar cell performance (Note: A link has been removed),

Scientists at Western University [Ontario, Canada] have discovered that a small molecule created with just 144 atoms of gold can increase solar cell performance by more than 10 per cent. These findings, published recently by the high-impact journal Nanoscale (“Tessellated gold nanostructures from Au144(SCH2CH2Ph)60 molecular precursors and their use in organic solar cell enhancement”), represent a game-changing innovation that holds the potential to take solar power mainstream and dramatically decrease the world’s dependence on traditional, resource-based sources of energy, says Giovanni Fanchini from Western’s Faculty of Science.

For those of us who remember ‘times tables’, the number 144 can have a special meaning as it is the last number (’12’ times ’12’ equals ‘144’) one was obliged to memorize. At least, that was true at my school in Vancouver, Canada but perhaps not elsewhere, eh?

Getting back to the ‘fishnet’, a Sept. 25, 2014 Western University news release, which originated the news item, expands the business possibilities for this work,

Fanchini, the Canada Research Chair in Carbon-based Nanomaterials and Nano-optoelectronics, says the new technology could easily be fast-tracked and integrated into prototypes of solar panels in one to two years and solar-powered phones in as little as five years.

“Every time you recharge your cell phone, you have to plug it in,” says Fanchini, an assistant professor in Western’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “What if you could charge mobile devices like phones, tablets or laptops on the go? Not only would it be convenient, but the potential energy savings would be significant.”

The Western researchers have already started working with manufacturers of solar components to integrate their findings into existing solar cell technology and are excited about the potential.

“The Canadian business industry already has tremendous know-how in solar manufacturing,” says Fanchini. “Our invention is modular, an add-on to the existing production process, so we anticipate a working prototype very quickly.”

The news release then gives a few technical details,

Making nanoplasmonic enhancements, Fanchini and his team use “gold nanoclusters” as building blocks to create a flexible network of antennae on more traditional solar panels to attract an increase of light. While nanotechnology is the science of creating functional systems at the molecular level, nanoplasmonics investigates the interaction of light with and within these systems.

“Picture an extremely delicate fishnet of gold,” explains Fanchini explains, noting that the antennae are so miniscule they are unseen even with a conventional optical microscope. “The fishnet catches the light emitted by the sun and draws it into the active region of the solar cell.”

According to Fanchini, the spectrum of light reflected by gold is centered on the yellow colour and matches the light spectrum of the sun making it superior for such antennae as it greatly amplifies the amount of sunlight going directly into the device.

“Gold is very robust, resilient to oxidization and not easily damaged, making it the perfect material for long-term use,” says Fanchini. “And gold can also be recycled.”

It has been known for some time that larger gold nanoparticles enhance solar cell performance, but the Western team is getting results with “a ridiculously small amount” – approximately 10,000 times less than previous studies, which is 10,000 times less expensive too.

I hope to hear about a working prototype soon. Meanwhile, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Tessellated gold nanostructures from Au144(SCH2CH2Ph)60 molecular precursors and their use in organic solar cell enhancement by Reg Bauld, Mahdi Hesari, Mark S. Workentin, and Giovanni Fanchini. Nanoscale, 2014,6, 7570-7575 DOI: 10.1039/C4NR01821D
First published online 06 May 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final comment, it seems like a long lead time between publication of the paper and publicity. I wonder if the paper failed to get notice in May 2014, assuming there was a campaign at the time, or if this is considered a more optimal time period for getting noticed.

Nanex Canada (?) opens office in United States

Earlier this month in a Sept. 5, 2014 posting I noted that a Belgian company was opening a Canadian subsidiary in Montréal, Québec, called Nanex Canada. Not unexpectedly, the company has now announced a new office in the US. From a Sept. 23, 2014 Nanex Canada news release on Digital Journal,

Nanex Canada appoints Patrick Tuttle, of Havre de Grace, Maryland as the new USA National Sales Director. Tuttle will be in charge of all operations for the USA marketing and distribution for the Nanex Super hydrophobic Water Repellent Nanotechnology products.

… Nanex Canada is proud to announce a new partnership with Patrick Tuttle to develop the market within the Unites States for Its new line of super hydrophobic products. “We feel this is a very strategic alliance with Mr. Tuttle and his international marketing staff,” said Boyd Soussana, National Marketing Director for the parent company, Nanex Canada.

The products Mr. Tuttle will be responsible for in developing a market for include:

1) Aqua Shield Marine

2) Aqua Shield Leather and Textile

3) Aqua Shield Exterior: Wood, Masonry, Concrete

4) Aqua Shield Sport: Skiing, Snowboarding, Clothing

5) Aqua Shield Clear: Home Glass and Windshield Coating

6) Dryve Shield: For all Auto Cleaning and Shine

Soussana went on to say “the tests we have done in Canada on high dollar vehicles and the feedback from the Marine industry have been excellent. We are hearing from boat owners that they are seeing instant results in cleaning and protection from the Aqua Shield Marine products from the teak, to the rails and the fiberglass as well”

Boyd Soussana told me they did a private test on some very high end vehicles and the owners were very impressed, according to him.

So what is a Super hydrophobic Water Repellent Nanotechnology Product and how does it work?

A superhydrophobic coating is a nanoscopic surface layer that repels water and also can reduce dirt and friction against the surface to achieve better fuel economies for the auto and maritime industries according to Wikipedia.

About Nanex Company

Nanex is a developer of commercialized nanotechnology solutions headquartered in Belgium operating in North America through its Canadian subsidiary Nanex Canada Incorporated. At the start of 2012 it launched its first product, an advanced super hydrophobic formula called Always Dry. By 2014 Nanex had distributors around the world from Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore, to England and Eastern Europe, and had expanded its products into three lines and several formulas.

Given the remarkably short time span between opening a Canadian subsidiary and opening an office in the US, it’s safe to assume that obtaining a toehold in the US market was Nanex’s true objective.

Canadian researchers harvest energy from chewing

Who knew that jaw movements have proved to be amongst the most promising activities for energy-harvesting? Apparently, scientists know and are coming up with ways to enjoy the harvest. From a Sept. 16, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

A chin strap that can harvest energy from jaw movements has been created by a group of researchers in Canada.

It is hoped that the device can generate electricity from eating, chewing and talking, and power a number of small-scale implantable or wearable electronic devices, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, electronic hearing protectors and communication devices.

An Institute of Physics (IOP) Sept. 16, 2014 news release (also on EurekAlert), which  generated the news item, explains just why jaw movements are so exciting and how the researchers went about ‘harvesting’,

Jaw movements have proved to be one of the most promising candidates for generating electricity from human body movements, with researchers estimating that an average of around 7 mW of power could be generated from chewing during meals alone.

To harvest this energy, the study’s researchers, from Sonomax-ÉTS Industrial Research Chair in In-ear Technologies (CRITIAS) at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) in Montreal, Canada, created a chinstrap made from piezoelectric fibre composites (PFC).

PFC is a type of piezoelectric smart material that consists of integrated electrodes and an adhesive polymer matrix. The material is able to produce an electric charge when it stretches and is subjected to mechanical stress.

In their study, the researchers created an energy-harvesting chinstrap made from a single layer of PFC and attached it to a pair of earmuffs using a pair of elastic side straps. To ensure maximum performance, the chinstrap was fitted snugly to the user, so when the user’s jaw moved it caused the strap to stretch.

To test the performance of the device, the subject was asked to chew gum for 60 seconds while wearing the device; at the same time the researchers recorded a number of different parameters.

The maximum amount of power that could be harvested from the jaw movements was around 18 µW, but taking into account the optimum set-up for the head-mounted device, the power output was around 10 µW.

Co-author of the study Aidin Delnavaz said: “Given that the average power available from chewing is around 7 mW, we still have a long way to go before we perfect the performance of the device.

“The power level we achieved is hardly sufficient for powering electrical devices at the moment; however, we can multiply the power output by adding more PFC layers to the chinstrap. For example, 20 PFC layers, with a total thickness of 6 mm, would be able to power a 200 µW intelligent hearing protector.”

One additional motivation for pursuing this area of research is the desire to curb the current dependency on batteries, which are not only expensive to replace but also extremely damaging to the environment if they are not disposed of properly.

“The only expensive part of the energy-harvesting device is the single PFC layer, which costs around $20. Considering the price and short lifetime of batteries, we estimate that a self-powered hearing protector based on the proposed chinstrap energy-harvesting device will start to pay back the investment after three years of use,” continued Delnavaz.

“Additionally, the device could substantially decrease the environmental impact of batteries and bring more comfort to users.

“We will now look at ways to increase the number of piezoelectric elements in the chinstrap to supply the power that small electronic devices demand, and also develop an appropriate power management circuit so that a tiny, rechargeable battery can be integrated into the device.”

Here’s a look at the ‘smart chinstrap’,

Caption: This is the experimental set up of an energy harvesting chin strap. Credit: Smart Materials and Structures/IOP Publishing

Caption: This is the experimental set up of an energy harvesting chin strap.
Credit: Smart Materials and Structures/IOP Publishing

I don’t see anyone rushing to get a chinstrap soon. Hopefully they’ll find a way to address some of the design issues. In the meantime, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Flexible piezoelectric energy harvesting from jaw movements by Aidin Delnavaz and Jérémie Voix. 2014 Smart Mater. Struct. 23 105020 doi:10.1088/0964-1726/23/10/105020

This is an open access paper.

An alliance of nano researchers: Ingenuity Lab and University of Alberta (Canada) professors

This news release from Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab came in this morning (Sept. 16, 2014),

Researchers Form Nano Bond

Ingenuity Sparks Strategic Partnership with UAlberta Professors

September 16, 2014 Edmonton, Alberta – If two heads are better than one, three heads will no doubt be revolutionary. That is what University of Alberta professors Carlo Montemagno,Thomas Thundat and Gane Wong are aiming for.

“The path to discovery lies beyond conventional thinking and the siloed approaches that have hampered our progress thus far,” says Ingenuity Lab Director, Carlo Montemagno, PhD. “By acknowledging the interconnectedness of our systems and facilitating better research integration and the cross pollination of ideas, we give ourselves, and society as a whole, a much better chance of success.”

Whether it is in the oil patch or in the operating room, these heavy hitters will be merging their expertise and research together in the areas of single cell genomics research in breast and prostate cancer and novel physical, chemical and biological detection using micro- and nano- mechanical sensors.

“The purpose of an accelerator is to bring the right people together at the right time,” explains Thundat. “In doing so, we leverage unique knowledge and expertise and significantly boost our ability to develop tangible solutions to the world’s most complex challenges.”

The 10-year provincially funded initiative was launched in November 2013 and is attracting the best and brightest minds from around the world. With a research agenda focused on the province’s most pressing environmental, industrial and health challenges, Ingenuity Lab is a partnership with the University of Alberta and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures and is expected to reach over $100M in funds leveraged from industry partners over the next decade.

“Our hope is that this partnership will help reduce the existing gap between research and development, and end user application,” says Wong. “For example, we have a unique opportunity to engineer and equip industries with next generation tools and resources that will far surpass those currently available.”

The dynamic partnership promises to facilitate deeper learning, critical thinking and enhance networking opportunities. It will also contribute to our province’s competitive advantage by maximising the utility of local resources and channelling existing expertise towards shared goals.

“We are fortunate to have such a dynamic team of influential leaders in our midst,” says Dr. Lorne Babiuk, Vice President of Research at the University of Alberta. “These outstanding individuals have made remarkable progress in their fields and continue to champion leading-edge research, teaching, and learning across our campus and beyond.”

At the risk of adding a slightly sour note, it seems they have high hopes but there’s no detail about what makes this collaboration more newsworthy than any other. That said, I wish them a very fruitful collaboration.