Tag Archives: Canada National Research Council

Ora Sound, a Montréal-based startup, and its ‘graphene’ headphones

For all the excitement about graphene there aren’t that many products as Glenn Zorpette notes in a June 20, 2017 posting about Ora Sound and its headphones on the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website; Note: Links have been removed),

Graphene has long been touted as a miracle material that would deliver everything from tiny, ultralow-power transistors to the vastly long and ultrastrong cable [PDF] needed for a space elevator. And yet, 13 years of graphene development, and R&D expenditures well in the tens of billions of dollars have so far yielded just a handful of niche products. The most notable by far is a line of tennis racquets in which relatively small amounts of graphene are used to stiffen parts of the frame.

Ora Sound, a Montreal-based [Québec, Canada] startup, hopes to change all that. On 20 June [2017], it unveiled a Kickstarter campaign for a new audiophile-grade headphone that uses cones, also known as membranes, made of a form of graphene. “To the best of our knowledge, we are the first company to find a significant, commercially viable application for graphene,” says Ora cofounder Ari Pinkas, noting that the cones in the headphones are 95 percent graphene.

Kickstarter

It should be noted that participating in a Kickstarter campaign is an investment/gamble. I am not endorsing Ora Sound or its products. That said, this does look interesting (from the ORA: The World’s First Graphene Headphones Kickstarter campaign webpage),

ORA GQ Headphones uses nanotechnology to deliver the most groundbreaking audio listening experience. Scientists have long promised that one day Graphene will find its way into many facets of our lives including displays, electronic circuits and sensors. ORA’s Graphene technology makes it one of the first companies to have created a commercially viable application for this Nobel-prize winning material, a major scientific achievement.

The GQ Headphones come equipped with ORA’s patented GrapheneQ™ membranes, providing unparalleled fidelity. The headphones also offer all the features you would expect from a high-end audio product: wired/wireless operation, a gesture control track-pad, a digital MEMS microphone, breathable lambskin leather and an ear-shaped design optimized for sound quality and isolated comfort.

They have produced a slick video to promote their campaign,

At the time of publishing this post, the campaign will run for another eight days and has raised $650,949 CAD. This is more than $500,000 dollars over the company’s original goal of $135,000. I’m sure they’re ecstatic but this success can be a mixed blessing. They have many more people expecting a set of headphones than they anticipated and that can mean production issues.

Further, there appears to be only one member of the team with business experience and his (Ari Pinkas) experience includes marketing strategy for a few years and then founding an online marketplace for teachers. I would imagine Pinkas will be experiencing a very steep learning curve. Hopefully, Helge Seetzen, a member of the company’s advisory board will be able to offer assistance. According to Seetzen’s Wikipedia entry, he is a “… German technologist and businessman known for imaging & multimedia research and commercialization,” as well as, having a Canadian educational background and business experience. The rest of the team and advisory board appear to be academics.

The technology

A March 14, 2017 article by Andy Riga for the Montréal Gazette gives a general description of the technology,

A Montreal startup is counting on technology sparked by a casual conversation between two brothers pursuing PhDs at McGill University.

They were chatting about their disparate research areas — one, in engineering, was working on using graphene, a form of carbon, in batteries; the other, in music, was looking at the impact of electronics on the perception of audio quality.

At first glance, the invention that ensued sounds humdrum.

It’s a replacement for an item you use every day. It’s paper thin, you probably don’t realize it’s there and its design has not changed much in more than a century. Called a membrane or diaphragm, it’s the part of a loudspeaker that vibrates to create the sound from the headphones over your ears, the wireless speaker on your desk, the cellphone in your hand.

Membranes are normally made of paper, Mylar or aluminum.

Ora’s innovation uses graphene, a remarkable material whose discovery garnered two scientists the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics but which has yet to fulfill its promise.

“Because it’s so stiff, our membrane gets better sound quality,” said Robert-Eric Gaskell, who obtained his PhD in sound recording in 2015. “It can produce more sound with less distortion, and the sound that you hear is more true to the original sound intended by the artist.

“And because it’s so light, we get better efficiency — the lighter it is, the less energy it takes.”

In January, the company demonstrated its membrane in headphones at the Consumer Electronics Show, a big trade convention in Las Vegas.

Six cellphone manufacturers expressed interest in Ora’s technology, some of which are now trying prototypes, said Ari Pinkas, in charge of product marketing at Ora. “We’re talking about big cellphone manufacturers — big, recognizable names,” he said.

Technology companies are intrigued by the idea of using Ora’s technology to make smaller speakers so they can squeeze other things, such as bigger batteries, into the limited space in electronic devices, Pinkas said. Others might want to use Ora’s membrane to allow their devices to play music louder, he added.

Makers of regular speakers, hearing aids and virtual-reality headsets have also expressed interest, Pinkas said.

Ora is still working on headphones.

Riga’s article offers a good overview for people who are not familiar with graphene.

Zorpette’s June 20, 2017 posting (on Nanoclast) offers a few more technical details (Note: Links have been removed),

During an interview and demonstration in the IEEE Spectrum offices, Pinkas and Robert-Eric Gaskell, another of the company’s cofounders, explained graphene’s allure to audiophiles. “Graphene has the ideal properties for a membrane,” Gaskell says. “It’s incredibly stiff, very lightweight—a rare combination—and it’s well damped,” which means it tends to quell spurious vibrations. By those metrics, graphene soundly beats all the usual choices: mylar, paper, aluminum, or even beryllium, Gaskell adds.

The problem is making it in sheets large enough to fashion into cones. So-called “pristine” graphene exists as flakes, [emphasis mine] perhaps 10 micrometers across, and a single atom thick. To make larger, strong sheets of graphene, researchers attach oxygen atoms to the flakes, and then other elements to the oxygen atoms to cross-link the flakes and hold them together strongly in what materials scientists call a laminate structure. The intellectual property behind Ora’s advance came from figuring out how to make these structures suitably thick and in the proper shape to function as speaker cones, Gaskell says. In short, he explains, the breakthrough was, “being able to manufacture” in large numbers, “and in any geometery we want.”

Much of the R&D work that led to Ora’s process was done at nearby McGill University, by professor Thomas Szkopek of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. Szkopek worked with Peter Gaskell, Robert-Eric’s younger brother. Ora is also making use of patents that arose from work done on graphene by the Nguyen Group at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill.

Robert-Eric Gaskell and Pinkas arrived at Spectrum with a preproduction model of their headphones, as well as some other headphones for the sake of comparison. The Ora prototype is clearly superior to the comparison models, but that’s not much of a surprise. …

… In the 20 minutes or so I had to audition Ora’s preproduction model, I listened to an assortment of classical and jazz standards and I came away impressed. The sound is precise, with fine details sharply rendered. To my surprise, I was reminded of planar-magnetic type headphones that are now surging in popularity in the upper reaches of the audiophile headphone market. Bass is smooth and tight. Overall, the unit holds up quite well against closed-back models in the $400 to $500 range I’ve listened to from Grado, Bowers & Wilkins, and Audeze.

Ora’s Kickstarter campaign page (Graphene vs GrapheneQ subsection) offers some information about their unique graphene composite,

A TECHNICAL INTRODUCTION TO GRAPHENE

Graphene is a new material, first isolated only 13 years ago. Formed from a single layer of carbon atoms, Graphene is a hexagonal crystal lattice in a perfect honeycomb structure. This fundamental geometry makes Graphene ridiculously strong and lightweight. In its pure form, Graphene is a single atomic layer of carbon. It can be very expensive and difficult to produce in sizes any bigger than small flakes. These challenges have prevented pristine Graphene from being integrated into consumer technologies.

THE GRAPHENEQ™ SOLUTION

At ORA, we’ve spent the last few years creating GrapheneQ, our own, proprietary Graphene-based nanocomposite formulation. We’ve specifically designed and optimized it for use in acoustic transducers. GrapheneQ is a composite material which is over 95% Graphene by weight. It is formed by depositing flakes of Graphene into thousands of layers that are bonded together with proprietary cross-linking agents. Rather than trying to form one, continuous layer of Graphene, GrapheneQ stacks flakes of Graphene together into a laminate material that preserves the benefits of Graphene while allowing the material to be formed into loudspeaker cones.

Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Comparison
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Comparison

If you’re interested in more technical information on sound, acoustics, soundspeakers, and Ora’s graphene-based headphones, it’s all there on Ora’s Kickstarter campaign page.

The Québec nanotechnology scene in context and graphite flakes for graphene

There are two Canadian provinces that are heavily invested in nanotechnology research and commercialization efforts. The province of Québec has poured money into their nanotechnology efforts, while the province of Alberta has also invested heavily in nanotechnology, it has also managed to snare additional federal funds to host Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT). (This appears to be a current NINT website or you can try this one on the National Research Council website). I’d rank Ontario as being a third centre with the other provinces being considerably less invested. As for the North, I’ve not come across any nanotechnology research from that region. Finally, as I stumble more material about nanotechnology in Québec than I do for any other province, that’s the reason I rate Québec as the most successful in its efforts.

Regarding graphene, Canada seems to have an advantage. We have great graphite flakes for making graphene. With mines in at least two provinces, Ontario and Québec, we have a ready source of supply. In my first posting (July 25, 2011) about graphite mines here, I had this,

Who knew large flakes could be this exciting? From the July 25, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Northern Graphite Corporation has announced that graphene has been successfully made on a test basis using large flake graphite from the Company’s Bissett Creek project in Northern Ontario. Northern’s standard 95%C, large flake graphite was evaluated as a source material for making graphene by an eminent professor in the field at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is doing research making graphene sheets larger than 30cm2 in size using the graphene oxide methodology. The tests indicated that graphene made from Northern’s jumbo flake is superior to Chinese powder and large flake graphite in terms of size, higher electrical conductivity, lower resistance and greater transparency.

Approximately 70% of production from the Bissett Creek property will be large flake (+80 mesh) and almost all of this will in fact be +48 mesh jumbo flake which is expected to attract premium pricing and be a better source material for the potential manufacture of graphene. The very high percentage of large flakes makes Bissett Creek unique compared to most graphite deposits worldwide which produce a blend of large, medium and small flakes, as well as a large percentage of low value -150 mesh flake and amorphous powder which are not suitable for graphene, Li ion batteries or other high end, high growth applications.

Since then I’ve stumbled across more information about Québec’s mines than Ontario’s  as can be seen:

There are some other mentions of graphite mines in other postings but they are tangential to what’s being featured:

  • (my Oct. 26, 2015 posting about St. Jean Carbon and its superconducting graphene and
  • my Feb. 20, 2015 posting about Nanoxplore and graphene production in Québec; and
  • this Feb. 23, 2015 posting about Grafoid and its sister company, Focus Graphite which gets its graphite flakes from a deposit in the northeastern part of Québec).

 

After reviewing these posts, I’ve begun to wonder where Ora’s graphite flakes come from? In any event, I wish the folks at Ora and their Kickstarter funders the best of luck.

Cities, technology, and some Vancouver (Canada) conversations

National Research Council of Canada

The National Research Council of Canada (NRC or sometimes NRCC) has started a new series of public engagement exercises based on the results from their last such project (Game changing technologies initiative) mentioned in my Jan. 30, 2015 posting. The report from that project ‘Summary of On-Line Dialogue with Stakeholders, February 9 – 27, 2015‘ has been released (from the summary’s overview),

Approximately 3000 invitations were sent out by NRC and collaborating organizations, including industry associations and other governmental organizations, to participate in a web-based, interactive dialogue. Participants were also welcomed to forward the invitation to members of their organization and their networks. In this early stage of NRC’s Game-Changing Technologies Initiative, emphasis was placed on selecting a diverse range of participants to ensure a wide breath of ideas and exchange. Once a few technology opportunities have been narrowed down by NRC, targeted consultation will take place for in-depth exploration.

Overall, 705 people registered on the web-based platform, with 261 active respondents (23% from industry; 22% from academia; 35% from government that included 26% from the Government of Canada; and 20% from the other category that included non-governmental organizations, interest groups, etc.). Sectors represented by the active participants included education, agriculture, management consulting, healthcare, research technology organizations, information and communications technologies, manufacturing, biotechnology, computer and electronics, aerospace, construction, finance, pharma and medicine, and public administration. Figure 1 outlines the distribution of active participants across Canada.

Once registered, participants were invited to review and provide input on up to seven opportunity areas:
• The cities of the future
• Prosperous and sustainable rural and remote communities
• Maintaining quality of life for an aging population
• Protecting Canadian security and  privacy
• Transforming the classroom for continuous and adaptive learning
• Next generation health care systems
• A safe, sustainable and profitable food industry (p. 4 of the PDF summary)

Here’s the invitation to participate in the ‘cities’ discussion (from a Jan. 22, 2016 email invite),

I would like to invite you to participate in the next phase of NRC’s Game-Changing Technologies Initiative, focused on the Cities of the Future. Participation will take place via an interactive on-line tool allowing participants to provide insights and to engage in exchanges with each other. The on-line tool is available at https://facpro.intersol.ca (User ID: Cities, Password: NRC) starting today and continuing until February 8, 2016. Input from stakeholders like you is critical to helping NRC identify game-changing technologies with the potential to improve Canada’s future competitiveness, productivity and quality of life.

In 2014, NRC began working with stakeholders to identify technology areas that have the potential for revolutionary impacts on Canadian prosperity and the lives of Canadians over the next 20 to 30 years. Through this process, we identified seven opportunities critical to Canada’s future, which were submitted for comments to a diverse range of thought-leaders from different backgrounds across Canada in February 2015. A summary of comments received is available at http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/obj/doc/game_changing-revolutionnaires/game_changing_technologies_initiative_summary_of_dialogue.pdf (PDF, 3.71 MB).

We then selected The Cities of the Future as the first area for in-depth exploration with stakeholders and potential partners. The online exercise will focus on the challenges that Canadian cities will face in the coming decades, with the goal of selecting specific problems that have the potential for national R&D partnerships and disruptive socio-economic impacts for Canada. The outcomes of this exercise will be discussed at a national event (by invitation only) to take place in early 2016.

Please feel free to forward this invitation to members of your organization or your expert network who may also want to contribute. Should you or a member of your team have any questions about this initiative, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Carl Caron at: Carl.Caron@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca … .

Before you rush off to participate, you might like to know how the participants’ dialogue was summarized (from the report),

The Opportunity: Urban areas are struggling to manage traffic congestion, provision of basic utilities, waste disposal, air quality and more. These issues will grow as more and more people migrate to large cities. Future technologies – such as connected vehicles, delivery drones, waste-to-energy systems, and self-repairing materials could enable sustainable, urban growth for Canada and the world.

Participant Response: Many participants pointed out that most of the technologies described in the opportunity area already exist/are under development. What is needed is pricing and performance improvements to increase scalability and market penetration. Participants that neither agreed nor disagreed stated that replacing aging infrastructure and high costs would be major stumbling blocks. It was suggestedthat the focus should be on a shift to smaller, interconnectedsatellite communities capable of scalable energy production and distribution,local food production, waste management, and recreational space. (p. 6)

Cities rising in important as political entities

There’s a notion that cities as they continue growing will become the most important governance structure in most people’s lives and judging from the NRC’s list, it would seem that organization recognizes the rising importance of cities, if not their future dominance.

Parag Khanna wrote a February 2011 essay (When cities rule the world) for McKinsey & Company making the argument for city dominance in the future. For anyone not familiar with Khanna (from his eponymous website),

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm, and Co-Founder & CEO of Factotum, a leading content branding agency.

Given that Singapore is a city and a state, Khanna would seem uniquely placed to comment on the possibilities. Here are a few comments from Khanna’s essay,

The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by The City. In a world that increasingly appears ungovernable, cities—not states—are the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. Cities are humanity’s real building blocks because of their economic size, population density, political dominance, and innovative edge. They are real “facts on the ground,” almost immeasurably more meaningful to most people in the world than often invisible national borders.

In this century, it will be the city—not the state—that becomes the nexus of economic and political power. Already, the world’s most important cities generate their own wealth and shape national politics as much as the reverse. The rise of global hubs in Asia is a much more important factor in the rebalancing of global power between West and East than the growth of Asian military power, which has been much slower. In terms of economic might, consider that just forty city-regions are responsible for over two-thirds of the total world economy and most of its innovation. To fuel further growth, an estimated $53 trillion will be invested in urban infrastructure in the coming two decades.

Vancouver conversations (cities and mass migrations)

On a somewhat related note (i.e., ‘global cities’ and the future), there’s going to be talk in Vancouver about ‘mass migrations’ and their impact on cities. From the Dante Society of British Columbia events page,

The Dante Alighieri Society of BC and ARPICO and are pleased to invite you to a public lecture “Global Nomads, Modern Caravanserais and Neighbourhood Commons” which will take place on January 27th at 7.00 pm at the Vancouver Public Library.
Please see details below.
———————————————————————-
Global Nomads, Modern Caravanserais and Neighbourhood Commons
Dr. Arianna Dagnino
Wednesday, January 27, 2016, 7.00 pm
Vancouver Public Library, Alma VanDusen Room, 350 W Georgia St., Vancouver BC V6B 6B1
—————————————————————————

Global cities such as Vancouver, London, Berlin or Sydney currently face two major challenges: housing affordability and the risk of highly fragmented societies along cultural lines.

In her talk “Global Nomads, Modern Caravanserais and Neighbourhood Commons” Dr. Dagnino argues that one of the possible solutions to address the negative aspects of economic globalization and the disruptive effects of mass-migrations is to envisage a new kind of housing complex, “the transcultural caravanserai.”

The caravanserai in itself is not a new concept: in late antiquity until the advent of the railway, this kind of structure functioned to lodge nomads along the caravan routes in the desert regions of Asia or North Africa and allowed people on the move to meet and interact with members of sedentary communities.

Dr. Dagnino re-visits the socio-cultural function of the caravanserai showing its potential as a polyfunctional hub of mutual hospitality and creative productivity. She also gives account of how contemporary architects and designers have already started to re-envisage the role of the caravanserai for the global city of the future not only as a transcultural “third space” that courageously cuts across ethnicities, cultures, and religions but also as a model for low-rise, high density urban complex. This model contemplates a mix of residential units, commercial and trades activities, craftsman workshops, arts studios, educational enterprises, and public spaces for active fruition, thus reinstating the productive use of property and the residents’ engagement with the Commons.
—————————————————————————
Dr. Arianna Dagnino is an Italian researcher, writer, and socio-cultural analyst. She holds an M.A. in Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures from l’Università  degli Studi di Genova and a Ph.D. in Sociology and Comparative Literature from the University of South Australia. She currently teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she is conducting research in the field of transcultural studies. She is a Board Member of the newly-established Dante Alighieri Society of British Columbia (www.dantesocietybc.ca).
Dr. Dagnino research interest focuses on how socio-economic factors and cultural changes linked to global mobility shape identities, interpersonal relations, cultural practices, and urban environments. As an international journalist and scholar, Dr. Dagnino has travelled across and lived in various parts of the globe. Her neonomadic routes have led her to study Russian in Gorbachev’s Moscow, investigate the researchers’ quest for ground-breaking technologies at MIT in Boston, witness the momentous change of regime in South Africa, analyze the effects of multiculturalism in Australia, and examine the progressive Asianization of Western Canada. In her twenty-year long activity Dr. Dagnino has published several books on the socio-cultural impact of globalization, transnational flows, and digital technologies. Among them, I Nuovi Nomadi (New Nomads; Castelvecchi, 1996), Uoma (Woman-Machine, Mursia, 2000), and Jesus Christ Cyberstar (IPOC, 2009 [2002]). Dr. Dagnino is also the author of a transcultural novel, Fossili (Fossils, Fazi Editore, 2010), inspired by her four years spent in sub-Saharan Africa, and of the recently published book Transcultural Authors and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility (Purdue University Press, 2015).
—————————————————————————

Please join us for a presentation & lively discussion.

Date & Time: [Wednesday] January 27, 2016, 7.00 pm. Doors open at 6.45 pm.

Location: Vancouver Public Library, Alma VanDusen Room, 350 W Georgia St., Vancouver BC V6B 6B1
Parking is available underground in the library building with entrance on Hamilton Street near Robson until midnight.

Refreshments: Complimentary following the event
Admission: Free
RSVP: Registration is highly recommended as seating is limited. Please register at info@arpico.ca by January 25, 2016, or at Event Brite: Link to the event: https://goo.gl/phAxTw

We look forward to seeing you at the event.
Best Regards,
ARPICO – Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada
and The Dante Society of BC

Tickets are still available as of Jan. 27, 2016 at 1015 hours PST but you might want to hurry if you’re planning to register. *ETA Jan. 27, 2016 1150 hours PST, they are now putting people on a wait list.*

Vancouver conversations (Creating the New Vancouver)

There has been a great deal of discussion and controversy as Vancouverites become concerned over affordability and livability issues. The current political party ruling the City Council almost lost its majority position in a November 2014 election due to the controversial nature of the changes encouraged by the ruling party. The City Manager, Penny Ballem, was effectively fired September 2015 in what many saw as a response to the ongoing criticism over development issues. A few months later (November 2015) , the City’s chief planner abruptly retired. And, there’s more. (For the curious, you can start with Daniel Wood and his story on development plans on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront (Nov. 25, 2015 article for the Georgia Straight. You can also check out various stories on Bob Mackin’s website. Mackin is a local Vancouver journalist who closely follows the local political scene. There’s also Jeff Lee who writes for the Vancouver Sun newspaper and its ‘Civic Lee Speaking‘ blog but he does have a number of local human interest stories mixed in with his political pieces.)

Getting to the point: in the midst of all this activity and controversy, the Museum of Vancouver has opened a new exhibit, Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver,

From the Vancouver Urbanarium Society and the Museum of Vancouver comes the immersive and timely new exhibition, Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver

As it explores the hottest topics in Vancouver today—housing affordability, urban density, mobility, and public space—Your Future Home invites people to discover surprising facts about the city and imagine what Vancouver might become. This major exhibition engages visitors with the bold visual language and lingo of real estate advertising as it presents the visions of talented Vancouver designers about how we might design the cityscapes of the future. Throughout the run of the exhibition, visitors can deepen their experience through a series of programs, including workshops, happy hours, and debates among architectural, real estate and urban planning experts.

Events & Programs

Vancouver Debates I – Wednesday, January 20 [2016]
How and where will Vancouver and its region accommodate increased population? In densifying neighborhoods, where do issues of fairness, democracy, ecology and community preservation come into play? Should any areas be off limits? Hosted by Urbanarium. Featuring Joyce Drohan (pro), Brent Toderian (pro), Sam Sullivan (con), Michael Goldberg (con).

Built City Speaker Series II – Thursday, February 11 [2016]

The world’s industrial design processes are becoming more precise, more computerized and more perfect.  In contrast, buildings are still hand-made, imperfect and almost crude.  D’Arcy Jones will present recent studio work, highlighting their successes and failures in the pursuit of craft within the limits of contemporary construction. Visual artist, Germaine Koh’s public interventions and urban situations cultivate an active citizenry through play and conceptual provocation. She will present Home Made Home, her project for building small dwellings, which promotes DIY community building and creative strategies for occupying urban space. More Info.

Talk & Tours
Intimate conversations with designers, architects and curators during tours of the exhibition.

Happy Hours
The most edutaining night of the week. Have a drink, watch a presentation. MOV combines learning with a fun, tsocial experience.

Out & About Walking Tours
Explorations of Vancouver architecture and infrastructure, led by urban experts.

Design Sundays Group Workshops
A series of workshops in April [2016] discussing the exhibition’s themes of housing affordability, urban density, mobility, and public space.

Interestingly and strangely, there’s no mention or discussion in the exhibit plans of the impact technology and science may have on Vancouver’s future even though the metropolitan area is abuzz with various science and technology startups and has two universities (University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University) with considerable investment in science and technology studies.

Finally, it seems no matter where you live, the topic of ‘cities’ and their roles in our collective futures is of urgent interest.

Carbohydrates could regulate the toxicity of silver nanoparticles

According to a Jan. 22, 2015 news item on Azonano, you can vary the toxic impact of silver nanoparticles on cells by coating them with carbohydrates,

The use of colloidal silver to treat illnesses has become more popular in recent years, but its ingestion, prohibited in countries like the US, can be harmful to health. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Germany have now confirmed that silver nanoparticles are significantly toxic when they penetrate cells, although the number of toxic radicals they generate can vary by coating them with carbohydrates.

A Jan. 21, 2015 Spanish Foundation for the Science and Technology (FECYT) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes colloidal silver and its controversies and the research on limiting silver nanoparticle toxicity to cells,

Silver salts have been used externally for centuries for their antiseptic properties in the treatment of pains and as a surface disinfectant for materials. There are currently people who use silver nanoparticles to make homemade potions to combat infections and illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, although in some cases the only thing they achieve is argyria or blue-tinged skin.

Health authorities warn that there is no scientific evidence that supports the therapeutic efficiency of colloidal silver and in fact, in some countries like the US, its ingestion is prohibited. On the contrary, there are numerous studies which demonstrate the toxicity of silver nanoparticles on cells.

One of these studies has just been published in the ‘Journal of Nanobiotechnology‘ by an international team of researchers coordinated from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (Germany). “We have observed that it is only when silver nanoparticles enter inside the cells that they produce serious harm, and that their toxicity is basically due to the oxidative stress they create,” explains the Spanish chemist Guillermo Orts-Gil, project co-ordinator, to SINC.

To carry out the study, the team has analysed how different carbohydrates act on the surface of silver nanoparticles (Ag-NP) of around 50 nanometres, which have been introduced into cultures of liver cells and tumour cells from the nervous system of mice. The results reveal that, for example, the toxic effects of the Ag-NP are much greater if they are covered with glucose instead of galactose or mannose.

‘Trojan horse’ mechanism

Although not all the details on the complex toxicological mechanisms are known, it is known that the nanoparticles use a ‘Trojan horse’ mechanism to trick the membrane’s defences and get inside the cell. “The new data shows how the different carbohydrate coatings regulate the way in which they do this, and this is hugely interesting for controlling their toxicity and designing future trials,” points out Orts-Gil.

The researcher highlights that there is a “clear correlation between the coating of the nanoparticles, the oxidative stress and toxicity, and thus, these results open up new perspectives on regulating the bioactivity of the Ag-NP through the use of carbohydrates”.

Silver nanoparticles are not only used to make homemade remedies; they are also increasingly used in drugs such as vaccines, as well as products such as clothes and cleaning cloths.

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

Carbohydrate functionalization of silver nanoparticles modulates cytotoxicity and cellular uptake by David C Kennedy, Guillermo Orts-Gil, Chian-Hui Lai, Larissa Müller, Andrea Haase, Andreas Luch, and Peter H Seeberger. Journal of Nanobiotechnology 2014, 12:59 doi:10.1186/s12951-014-0059-z published 19 December 2014

This is an open access paper. One final observation, David Kennedy, the lead author, is associated with both the Max Planck Institute and the Canada National Research Council and, depending on which news release (SINC news site Jan. 20, 2015) you read, Guillermo Orts-Gil is identified as a Spanish chemist and coordinator for SINC (Science News and Information Service).

Nanoscale light confinement without metal (photonic circuits) at the University of Alberta (Canada)

To be more accurate, this is a step forward towards photonic circuits according to an Aug. 20, 2014 news item on Azonano,

The invention of fibre optics revolutionized the way we share information, allowing us to transmit data at volumes and speeds we’d only previously dreamed of. Now, electrical engineering researchers at the University of Alberta are breaking another barrier, designing nano-optical cables small enough to replace the copper wiring on computer chips.

This could result in radical increases in computing speeds and reduced energy use by electronic devices.

“We’re already transmitting data from continent to continent using fibre optics, but the killer application is using this inside chips for interconnects—that is the Holy Grail,” says Zubin Jacob, an electrical engineering professor leading the research. “What we’ve done is come up with a fundamentally new way of confining light to the nano scale.”

At present, the diameter of fibre optic cables is limited to about one thousandth of a millimetre. Cables designed by graduate student Saman Jahani and Jacob are 10 times smaller—small enough to replace copper wiring still used on computer chips. (To put that into perspective, a dime is about one millimetre thick.)

An Aug. 19, 2014 University of Alberta news release by Richard Cairney (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more technical detail and information about funding,

 Jahani and Jacob have used metamaterials to redefine the textbook phenomenon of total internal reflection, discovered 400 years ago by German scientist Johannes Kepler while working on telescopes.

Researchers around the world have been stymied in their efforts to develop effective fibre optics at smaller sizes. One popular solution has been reflective metallic claddings that keep light waves inside the cables. But the biggest hurdle is increased temperatures: metal causes problems after a certain point.

“If you use metal, a lot of light gets converted to heat. That has been the major stumbling block. Light gets converted to heat and the information literally burns up—it’s lost.”

Jacob and Jahani have designed a new, non-metallic metamaterial that enables them to “compress” and contain light waves in the smaller cables without creating heat, slowing the signal or losing data. …

The team’s research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative.

Jacob and Jahani are now building the metamaterials on a silicon chip to outperform current light confining strategies used in industry.

Given that this work is being performed at the nanoscale and these scientists are located within the Canadian university which houses Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), the absence of any mention of the NINT comes as a surprise (more about this organization after the link to the researchers’ paper).

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

Transparent subdiffraction optics: nanoscale light confinement without metal by Saman Jahani and Zubin Jacob. Optica, Vol. 1, Issue 2, pp. 96-100 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OPTICA.1.000096

This paper is open access.

In a search for the NINT’s website I found this summary at the University of Alberta’s NINT webpage,

The National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) was established in 2001 and is operated as a partnership between the National Research Council and the University of Alberta. Many NINT researchers are affiliated with both the National Research Council and University of Alberta.

NINT is a unique, integrated, multidisciplinary institute involving researchers from fields such as physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, informatics, pharmacy, and medicine. The main focus of the research being done at NINT is the integration of nano-scale devices and materials into complex nanosystems that can be put to practical use. Nanotechnology is a relatively new field of research, so people at NINT are working to discover “design rules” for nanotechnology and to develop platforms for building nanosystems and materials that can be constructed and programmed for a particular application. NINT aims to increase knowledge and support innovation in the area of nanotechnology, as well as to create work that will have long-term relevance and value for Alberta and Canada.

The University of Alberta’s NINT webpage also offers a link to the NINT’s latest rebranded website, The failure to mention the NINT gets more curious when looking at a description of NINT’s programmes one of which is hybrid nanoelectronics (Note: A link has been removed),

Hybrid NanoElectronics provide revolutionary electronic functions that may be utilized by industry through creating circuits that operate using mechanisms unique to the nanoscale. This may include functions that are not possible with conventional circuitry to provide smaller, faster and more energy-efficient components, and extend the development of electronics beyond the end of the roadmap.

After looking at a list of the researchers affiliated with the NINT, it’s apparent that neither Jahani or Jacob are part of that team. Perhaps they have preferred to work independently of the NINT ,which is one of the Canada National Research Council’s institutes.

2014 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) national winners announced

Last week on May 23, 2014, the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) National winners were announced in Ottawa. (A Feb. 20, 2013 posting recounts the organization’s history and accomplishments on its 20th anniversary). Here’s more about the 2014 national winners from a May 23, 2014 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada news release,

A novel method of HIV detection for newborns under the age of 18 months and for adults before three months post-transmission earned a grade 10, British Columbia student top national honours today [May 23, 2014] in the 2014 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC).

Nicole Ticea, 15, from York House School in Burnaby, BC was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

Her impressive research project, mentored at Simon Fraser University by associate professor, Dr. Mark Brockman, is the first test capable of analyzing HIV viral nucleic acids in a point-of-care, low-resource setting.Nicole’s research, was deemed an incredibly innovative solution to a global challenge according to the judges led by Dr. Julie Ducharme, General Manager, Human Health Therapeutics, NRC.

See a full project description below and online here: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

Ten brilliant young scientists from nine Canadian regions, all just 15 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals. They had placed first at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 27 and May 22, 2014.

High school and CEGEP students from Victoria to Saskatoon to St. John’s, focused on biotechnology fields of discovery and study, submitted more than 200 proposals. Working closely with mentors, these students conducted research in diverse areas such as telomeres, diabetes, stress management, Alzheimer’s, autism and pulp production. Since its inauguration in 1994, more than 4,700 young Canadians have competed in SBCC, with the majority of competitors going on to pursue careers in science and biotechnology.

1st place winner, Nicole Ticea will compete for Canada on June 22-25 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference in San Diego, CA.

2nd place, $4,000 – Ontario: Varsha Jayasankar, 17, grade 12, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, St. Catherines won with research into how an extract created from mango ginger can be used to inhibit the growth of multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Project description: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

3rd place, $3,000 – Ontario: Anoop Manjunath, 17, grade 11, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto investigated image processing techniques for the analysis of ultrasound stimulated bubble interactions with fibrin clots.Project description: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

There were a couple of other projects (one for its ‘nano’ focus and the other for its ‘wheat’ focus), which caught my attention, from the SBCC 2014 National Competitor Project Descriptions page by Anne Ramsay,

Amit Scheer, Grade 10

Colonel By Secondary School, Ottawa, ON

“Development of a Novel Quantum Dot-Aptamer Bioconjugate Targeted Cancer Therapy for Precision Nanomedicine Applications”

A novel nanoparticle for targeted cancer therapeutics is described. This research was effectuated to create a theranostic bioconjugate with an optimal effective therapeutic index, achieved by biomarker-specific targeting. Estimates show that over 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed annually worldwide. Aptamer-quantum dot (APT-QD) bioconjugates were synthesized by conjugating cadmium-telluride quantum dots (QDs, semiconductor nanoparticles) to aptamers (nucleic-acid based ligands), by amide crosslinking. Aptamers targeted mucin-1 (MUC1), a glycosylated surface protein overexpressed on many cancers, including MCF7 breast cancer cells, and only minimally expressed in MCF-10A non-cancerous cells. The bioconjugate and unmodified QD treatments (the control) were tested for cellular uptake and cytotoxicity in MCF7 (cancerous) and MCF-10A (comparison) cell cultures. MTT assays, which quantify cellular viability by assessing mitochondrial activity, were used for dose-response analysis at several treatment concentrations. APT-QDs caused a statistically significant decrease in viability specifically in MUC1-overexpressing cultures, suggesting cell-specific internalization by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Apoptosis and necrosis were quantified using immunofluorescence assays; bioconjugate-treated cells were early apoptotic after 4 hours, proving effective initiation of programmed cell death. Finally, confocal microscopy was used for aptamer-dependent nanoparticle internalization analysis, demonstrating that APT-QDs accumulate outside of nuclei. A fluorochrome-modified DNA complement to the aptamer was synthesized for co-localization of aptamers and QDs, proving effective endosomal escape for both components. The bioconjugate has applications in combination and theranostic treatments for cancer, and in precision medicine to diversify targeting based on patient-specific panomics analyses. The researcher created a novel bioconjugate nanoparticle and has proven numerous viable applications in cancer therapeutics.

Wenyu Ruan, Grade 9, & Amy Yu Ruiyun Wang, Grade 10

Walter Murray Collegiate Institute, Saskatoon, SK

“Identification of Leaf Rust Resistance in Wheat”

Leaf rust is the most common disease in wheat, a crop which contributes $11B annually to Canada’s economy. The most effective strategy to control leaf rust has been to grow resistant varieties. There are two general types of resistance genes found in wheat: Race-specific genes confer a high-level of resistance to specific strains of leaf rust but can be easily overcome by genetic mutation in pathogen populations, while slow rusting (APR) resistance provides partial resistance to a broad spectrum of races, but is typically effective only at the adult stage of plant growth. A three-phase experiment was conducted on a doubled-haploid population derived from the cross RL4452/AC Domain to determine if the resistance of a recently discovered gene (Lr2BS) worked with other resistance genes to synergistically enhance resistance to leaf rust. Linkage and quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping were performed by combining our new genotypic data with a previously generated genetic map for this population, then adding rust disease data from our experiment to identify genomic regions associated with leaf rust resistance. In addition, a fluorescent microscope was used to examine host-pathogen interaction on a cellular level. These experiments showed that lines carrying Lr2BS alone, and in combination with other APR genes were susceptible at the seedling stage, which suggests that Lr2BS is an adult plant gene. It appears that the synergistic effect of some multiple gene combinations, including Lr2BS, enhances leaf rust resistance. Furthermore, QTL mapping identified an uncharacterized resistance gene (LrUsw4B) that conferred resistance at the seedling stage.

I am sorry to see they are not sending all three national finalists to the international competition as they did in 2012. As I noted in my July 16, 2012 posting the international standings did not reflect the national standings,

As the 2012 winner of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition, Tam was invited to compete in this year’s international Sanofi BioGENEisu Challenge held in Boston, Massachusetts on June 19, 2012. [Janelle] Tam received an honourable mention for her work while Rui Song of Saskatoon placed third internationally.

Presumably the costs are too high to continue the practice.

Getting back to 2014, congratulations to all the competitors and the winners! And, good luck to Nicole Ticea at the International BioGENEius Challenge which will be conducted at the annual BIO conference, June 22-25  2014, in San Diego, CA!

Ontario’s special science research, writing, and presentation programme (Online Research Co-op Pilot Program) for high schoolers

A group of teenagers in Thunder Bay , Ontario participating in a pilot programme where they were mentored online by Canadian government federal scientists were profiled in a May 9, 2104 news item published by The Chronicle Journal; the newspaper of the northwest (Ontario),

Three Churchill high school students have completed a bold journey in science.

The science co-op students were each teamed up with a federal scientist in a year-long pilot project that ended this week when the students presented their research paper to a panel of experts.

Shane Wong, 17, worked on nanotechnology, materials at the size of molecules and atoms. “I think I was watching an episode of Daily Planet actually, and they mentioned nanotechnology, and I thought that was really cool,’’ Wong recalled. “When they offered this program at the school, nanotechnology was one of them.”

Wesley Willick, 16, looked at a space-based automatic identification system. “It is basically a bunch of ships at sea . . . communicating with each other, (sharing) data such as speed and where they are heading and what they are carrying . . . relaying that information up to a satellite and back down to a mainland station which can organize the data and make sure none of the ships collide,” explained Willick.

“I originally signed up for military technology and I got paired with somebody who works at the Maritime Defence Institute in Halifax,’’ Willick said. “He gave me several different options . . . and thought this was the best to do because it had more papers written on it.”

Robin Little, 17, wrote on phage therapy, a bacteria used to attack specific bacteria and which can be genetically modified, he said. “This is going to be used as an alternative medication as opposed to antibiotics, as antibiotics are extremely dangerous and poisonous,” said Little. …

Simrun Chabal, an International Baccalaureate student, also participated in the science co-op, but was unavailable to do his presentation due to other commitments.

Churchill was one of six Ontario schools involved in the pilot project.

The full title for the project is this: Ontario On-Line Research Co-op for high school students. There’s this from the project homepage,

This course has been collaboratively developed by the Canadian Young Scientist Journal and the federal Science and Technology Cluster (Science.gc.ca).

The Online Research Co-op Pilot Program has been developed to help students transition from secondary school to postsecondary education. The program matches highly motivated high school students, in grades 11 and 12, with top researchers in the fields of science and technology. Students are offered opportunities to work on research projects, interact with like-minded peers, and gain early exposure to careers in science and technology. The online format of the course makes it accessible to students across Ontario.

The program has been piloted in four schools across the province:

Earl Haig Secondary School
École secondaire publique De la Salle
Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate & Vocational Institute
St. Martin Secondary School

Additional Ontario high schools can now apply to offer this opportunity for their students. Their letters of intent should be coordinated with the program liaison (liaison@cysjournal.ca) and submitted to the Canadian Young Scientist Journal.

The pilot program will be the topic of a workshop at the Ontario Cooperative Education Association Spring Conference (April 27 – 29, 2014) and at the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers Conference (May 24, 2014).The best On-Line Research Co-op projects will be:

profiled in the Canadian Young Scientist Journal and distributed to every high school in Ontario;
presented at the Ontario Annual Science and Innovation conference to the attention of the national academic community;
showcased on Science.gc.ca together with a Young Scientist Blog allowing students to share their experience and ideas with each other and with the general public.

Step-by-step pilot project description:

1. Choosing students

A selection process takes place at the participating high schools to choose the students who will take part in the online co-op. Students develop their cover letters and a description of science projects they would like to pursue. The co-op liaison passes the names of the successful students along with their cover letters, research requests and alternatives to the Science.gc.ca team to engage scientists interested in mentoring.

2. Finding the mentors

The Science.gc.ca team matches projects with scientists who expressed interest in mentoring and helping to develop the next generation of scientists. If no exact match is found for a particular project, the Science.gc.ca team will approach potential mentors in a similar field of study. After reviewing materials from students, the scientists agree to mentor a particular student.

3. The interview

The liaison arranges a Skype or telephone “interview” between the student, the mentor and the local co-op teacher. During the interview, the mentor and student will discuss the project and the expectations while making any mutually acceptable modifications.

4. Setting up collaboration

The Science.gc.ca team creates a separate online SharePoint site for each student and a mentoring scientist. The collaboration space allows for an easy exchange of ideas, information, assigning research topics, and reviewing work submitted over the period of one semester. The information on the roles and responsibilities of the student and the mentor are integrated into the site. As this is a pilot project, participants, teachers and mentors also have access to a forum for sharing successes, tips, and lessons learned with other teams.

5. Using collaboration spaces

Based on the interview, the mentor adapts the project expectations and deliverables and uploads them to the SharePoint site. The mentor also provides a list of resources that the student can use as well as tasks to be accomplished. The student and the mentor regularly communicate online and the student posts timely progress updates and uploads results of completed tasks. The mentor approves the student’s weekly timesheets and completes the mid-course and final evaluation forms online.

6. Measuring ongoing progress

Each collaboration site includes tools supporting ongoing interactions and measurement of student’s progress. The mentor and the co-op teacher have an opportunity to be involved as little or as much as necessary based on the course progress indicators; the mentor can decide when the student needs assistance or guidance. The student and the mentor meet half way through the course via Skype or telephone to discuss progress and if necessary modify the expectations for the deliverables and the final report. By the end of the course the student submits results in a form of project report, case study or research topic review.

7. Celebrating results

The Online Research Co-op Pilot Program supports students’ transition from high school into postsecondary institutes with a focus on 21st century career development. We will celebrate the best projects in the following ways:

Featuring them in the Canadian Young Scientist Journal distributed to every high school in Ontario;
Presenting the projects at the Ontario Annual Science and Innovation conference to the attention of the national academic community;
Creating a showcase on Science.gc.ca together with a Young Scientist Blog allowing students to share their experience and ideas.

All of the participating mentors will be recognised in a special section of Science.gc.ca for their contribution to the development of the next generation of Canadian scientists and researchers.

There’s also a plea for mentors on the project homepage,

This program allows participating scientists to mentor and shape the next generation of Canadian scientists through direct on-line contact. During a 4 month semester, students are expected to work for about 90 hours. Mentoring scientists are expected to contribute about 10 hours of their time over the same period. Early exposure to research can have a large impact on the career direction of these students. Recently, through the Canadian Young Scientist Journal, high school students demonstrated their ability to invent New Bio-science technologies, Non-voice over IP communication and more. However, these students require mentors to guide their intellectual curiosity.

Mentors have the opportunity to review the cover letter of students before accepting them as mentees. During an initial online meeting, the student and the mentor will discuss expectations and guidelines for the project. There will be generic assignments available for students (e.g., Writing a Scientific Paper, Critiquing a Scientific Paper, Report on Scientific Literature, Scientific Literature Review and Analysis), but the specifics of the project will be mutually agreed upon by both the student and mentor. An online SharePoint site will be a means for the students and mentors to share ideas, documents, and information. The mentor may be involved as little or as much as necessary in the student’s project, based on the course progress indicators. Mentorship duties may be partially designated to a graduate student in the mentor’s lab; however, all projects should provide students with the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in science and technology research.

I’m glad to see this project and hope it is quite successful and spreads across the country in all directions.

One final comment, I am not familiar with the Canadian Young Scientist Journal (CYSJ) and after a bit of online digging, I found this description in its Wikipedia entry (Note: links have been removed),

The Canadian Young Scientist Journal (fr. Revue Canadienne des Jeunes Scientifiques) is a non-profit peer-reviewed publication covering highlight student-driven research and innovative work. It was established in May 2008 by its current editor-in-chief, Alexandre Noukhovitch[1] and is published by NRC Research Press. [emphasis mine] It provides secondary school students with an opportunity to publish the results of their research.[2] The journal is based in Toronto and is published twice per year. It works in close association with Youth Science Canada.[3] The journal includes project reports, case studies, and science book reviews authored by high school students.[4] To benefit science education and to support classroom activities, the journal publishes expert reviews along with students’ papers.

The journal was published by the Canadian federal government’s National Research Press which exists now as a brand for Canadian Science Publishing (CSP), a not-for-profit publishing group formed after the government severed it from Canada’s National Research Council. Oddly, there’s no mention of any publisher, CSP or otherwise, in the About the Journal page or elsewhere on the journal’s website but the Ads and sponsorships page does mention CSP in the Motivator category.

It’s always interesting trying to trace the network of relationships between government and non-government agencies especially since the Canadian federal government has created a number of not-for-profit agencies.I’m not trying to suggest sinister but it does get confusing when the agencies don’t think to include histories and explanations.

In the interest of clarifying things, I was involved in a project (Science Borealis; a Canadian science blog aggregator/hub/community) which was, and I think continues to to be, supported by CSP.

Amid controversies, Australian government spends big bucks on Australian Institute for Nanoscience

Kim Carr, Australia’s Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, delivered  an extraordinary speech, by Canadian standard (ours tend to remarkable blandness), at the sod-turning event for the new Australian Institute for Nanoscience (AIN) due to open in May 2015. Before getting to the speech, here’s a bit more about the event from a July 24, 2013 news item on Global Times,

Australian government will deliver a fund for the new Australian Institute for Nanoscience ( AIN) which will open in May 2015 to boost its research of nanotechnology, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr confirmed in a statement after breaking the ground for the new facility at the University of Sydney on Wednesday.

The AIN project is a major new building combining research laboratories with teaching facilities to drive cross-disciplinary collaboration to develop nanomaterials and devices.

The July 24, 2013 Australian government media release about the AIN sod-turning provides more details about the government’s investment in the institute and its backing of nanoscience/nanotechnology research,

Senator Kim Carr said the Australian Government’s $40 million contribution, through the Education Investment Fund, to assist in the facility’s construction backs in Labor’s commitment to giving our researchers the tools they need to pursue world-leading work.

“Nanotechnology is a transformative force for manufacturing and is predicted to be worth $US3 trillion globally by 2020. Australia needs to stake a claim to our slice of that pie now, by building well-researched prototypes for the market. AIN will help make that happen and keep Australian research internationally competitive.”

Senator Carr said AIN will increase our national research capability by bringing together world-class nanoscience researchers across three main areas:

  • New medical diagnostics and therapies combining quantum technology with imaging and drug delivery and solutions such as a fully implantable bionic eye;
  • Faster, more secure and more efficient communications based on photonics and quantum science technologies; and
  • Revolutionary optical instrumentation to explore the frontiers of our universe, along with faster data processing technologies for the SKA.

I’m not sure where Carr got the “… worth $US3 trillion globally by 2020” number for nanotechnology’s impact on the global economy. More interesting to me, are these comments from Carr’s speech (you can find the entire speech here),

It is a great pleasure to share in the progress of the Australian Institute for Nanoscience here at Sydney University.

Three years have passed since I announced the funding for this facility:

$40 million from the Federal Government;

backed by $71 million from the university;

and a further $20 million from other sources, including the New South Wales government, the Australian National Fabrication Facility; the ARC’s CUDOS; the Australian Astronomical Observatory and Bandwidth Foundry International.

It was one of the many projects made possible by the Education Investment Fund – which, over three rounds, secured a total of $3.5 billion in new research infrastructure for a federal contribution of $1.5 billion.

This is an impressive return on investment.

At that time, this was the sort of research guaranteed to bring out the anti-science crowd.

There were beat-ups in the press, demonstrations in universities, and scare campaigns run on worksites. [emphasis mine]

It was as if the Enlightenment had never happened. It was as if nanoscience was some kind of global conspiracy to kill us all with sunscreen. [emphasis mine]

But I saw this project differently. And I put my views on the record at the time this investment was announced.

As I said back then:

“I don’t begin by saying “this is too strange” or “this is too hard”. I don’t begin by saying “no”.

I begin by asking, “what’s in it for Australia?” – “what’s in it for the people we serve?” – and “how can we make this work?”

The speech continues with a very optimistic view of all the economic benefits to be derived from an investment in nanoscience/nanotechnology.

Given the extreme lack of interest in Canada and its very odd (or perhaps it’s a harbinger of the future?) almost unknown National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), which exists on a NINT University of Alberta website and on a NINT National Research Council website, the “beat-ups in the press, etc.” provide a fascinating and contrasting socio-cultural perspective. The difference is perhaps due to a very active, both in Australia and internationally, Friends of the Earth group.

Friends of the Earth Australia campaigned long (years) and hard against nanosunscreens in a leadup to some rather disturbing survey findings in 2012 (my Feb. 9, 2012 posting) where some 13% of Australians, first reported as 17%,  didn’t use any sunscreens whatsoever, due to their fear of ‘nanosunscreens’.

Kim Carr has been mentioned here before in an Aug. 26, 2011 posting which highlighted a study showing  Australians held positive (?) attitudes towards nanotechnology and those attitudes had gotten more positive over time. My guess, not having looked at the study, is that the study focussed on areas where people usually express positive attitudes (e. g. better health care with less invasive medical procedures) and not on environmental issues (e.g. nanosilver in your clothing washing off and ending up in the water supply).

I do love how elected officials, the world over, pick and choose their ‘facts’.

Gary Goodyear rouses passions: more on Canada’s National Research Council and its new commitment to business

Gary Goodyear’s, Minister of State (Science and Technology), office in attempting to set the record straight has, inadvertently, roused even more passion in Phil Plait’s (Slate.com blogger) bosom and inspired me to examine more commentary about the situation regarding the NRC and its ‘new’ commitment to business.

Phil Plait in a May 22, 2013 followup to one 0f his recent postings (I have the details about Plait’s and other commentaries in my May 13, 2013 posting about the NRC’s recent declarations) responds to an email from Michele-Jamali Paquette, the director of communication for Goodyear (Note: A link has been removed),

I read the transcripts, and assuming they are accurate, let me be very clear: Yes, the literal word-for-word quotation I used was incorrect, and one point I made was technically and superficially in error. But the overall point—that this is a terrible move by the NRC and the conservative Canadian government, short-changing real science—still stands. And, in my opinion, Goodyear’s office is simply trying to spin what has become a PR problem.

I’ll note that in her email to me, Paquette quoted my own statement:

John MacDougal [sic], President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”

Paquette took exception to my use of the word “literally,” emphasizing it in her email. (The link, in both her email and my original post, goes to the Toronto Sun story with the garbled quotation.) Apparently MacDougal did not literally say that. But the objection strikes me as political spin since the meaning of what MacDougal said at the press conference is just as I said it was in my original post.

As I pointed out in my first post: Science can and should be done for its own sake. It pays off in the end, but that’s not why we do it. To wit …

Paquette’s choice of what issues (the 2nd issue was Plait’s original description of the NRC as a funding agency) to dispute seem odd and picayune as they don’t have an impact on Plait’s main argument,

Unfortunately, despite these errors, the overall meaning remains the same: The NRC is moving away from basic science to support business better, and the statements by both Goodyear and MacDougal [sic] are cause for concern.

Plait goes on to restate his argument and provide a roundup of commentaries. It’s well worth reading for the roundup alone.  (One picayune comment from me, I wish Plait would notice that the head of Canada’s National Research Council’s name is spelled this way, John McDougall.)

Happily, Nassif Ghoussoub has also chimed in with a May 22, 2013 posting (on his Piece of Mind blog) regarding the online discussion (Note: Links have been removed),

The Canadian twitter world has been split in the last couple of days. … But then, you have the story of the Tories’ problem with science, be it defunding, muzzling, disbelieving, doubting, preventing, delegitimizing etc. The latter must have restarted with the incredible announcement about the National Research Council (NRC), presented as “Canada sells out science” in Slate, and as “Failure doesn’t come cheap” in Maclean’s. What went unnoticed was the fact that the restructuring turned out to be totally orthogonal to the recommendations of the Jenkins report about the NRC. Then came the latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) report, which showed that Canada’s expenditure on research and development has fallen from 16th out of 41 comparable countries in the year Stephen Harper became prime minister, to 23rd in 2011. Paul Wells seems to be racking up hits on his Maclean’s article,  “Stephen Harper and the knowledge economy: perfect strangers.”  But the story of the last 48 hours has been John Dupuis’s chronology of what he calls, “The Canadian war on science” and much more.

Yes, it’s another roundup but it’s complementary (albeit with one or two repetitions) since Plait does not seem all that familiar with the Canadian scene (I find it’s always valuable to have an outside perspective) and Nassif is a longtime insider.

John Dupuis’ May 20, 2013 posting (on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog), mentioned by both Nassif and Plait, provides an extraordinary listing of stories ranging from 2006 through to 2013 whose headlines alone paint a very bleak picture of the practice of science in Canada,

As is occasionally my habit, I have pulled together a chronology of sorts. It is a chronology of all the various cuts, insults, muzzlings and cancellations that I’ve been able to dig up. Each of them represents a single shot in the Canadian Conservative war on science. It should be noted that not every item in this chronology, if taken in isolation, is necessarily the end of the world. It’s the accumulated evidence that is so damning.

As I’ve noted before, I am no friend of Stephen Harper and his Conservative government and many of their actions have been reprehensible and, at times, seem childishly spiteful but they do occasionally get something right. There was a serious infrastructure problem in Canada. Buildings dedicated to the pursuit of science were sadly aged and no longer appropriate for the use to which they were being put. Harper and his government have poured money into rebuilding infrastructure and for that they should be acknowledged.

As for what the Conservatives are attempting with this shift in direction for the National Research Council (NRC), which has been ongoing for at least two years as I noted in my May 13, 2013 posting, I believe they are attempting to rebalance the Canadian research enterprise.  It’s generally agreed that Canada historically has very poor levels of industrial research and development (R&D) and high levels of industrial R&D are considered, internationally, as key to a successful economy. (Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, UK, discusses how a falling percentage of industrial R&D, taking place over decades,  is affecting the UK economy in a May 10, 2013 commentary on the University of  Sheffield SPERI [Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute] website.)

This NRC redirection when taken in conjunction with the recent StartUp visa programme (my May 20, 2013 posting discusses Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney’s recent recruitment tour in San Francisco [Silicon Valley]),  is designed to take Canada and Canadians into uncharted territory—the much desired place where we develop a viable industrial R&D sector and an innovative economy in action.

In having reviewed at least some of the commentary, there are a couple of questions left unasked about this international obsession with industrial R&D,

  • is a country’s economic health truly tied to industrial R&D or is this ‘received’ wisdom?
  • if industrial R&D is the key to economic health, what would be the best balance between it and the practice of basic science?

As for the Canadian situation, what might be some of the unintended consequences? It occurs to me that if scientists are rewarded for turning their research into commercially viable products they might be inclined to constrain access to materials. Understandable if the enterprise is purely private but the NRC redirection is aimed at bringing together academics and private enterprise in a scheme that seems a weird amalgam of both.

For example, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are not easily accessed if you’re a run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. I’ve had more than one back-channel request about how to purchase the material and it would seem that access is tightly controlled by the academics and publicly funded enterprise, in this case, a private business, who produce the material. (I’m speaking of the FPInnovations and Domtar comingling in CelluForce, a CNC production facility and much more. It would make a fascinating case study on how public monies are used to help finance private enterprises and their R&D efforts; the relationship between nongovernmental agencies (FPInnovations, which I believe was an NRC spinoff), various federal public funding agencies, and Domtar, a private enterprise; and the power dynamics between all the players including the lowly entrepreneur.

Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada awards national prizes to winners

I last wrote about Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada and its awards in my Feb. 20, 2013 posting on the occasion of the organization’s 20th anniversary in Canada. Today, Apr. 9, 2013, there’s an annoucement that the 2013 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada prizes were awarded today in Ottawa,

Cutting edge research into an experimental therapy that deploys nano-particles of gold to kill cancer cells earned an Alberta high school student, 16, top national honours today in the 2013 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC).

India-born Arjun Nair, 16, a Grade 11 student at Webber Academy, Calgary, was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

His research project, mentored at the University of Calgary, advances an experimental cancer “photothermal therapy” which involves injecting a patient with gold nanoparticles.  The particles accumulate in tumours, forming so-called “nano-bullets” that can be heated to kill cancer cells.

Arjun showed how an antibiotic may overcome defences cancer deploys against the therapy and make the promising treatment more effective.  Arjun’s research, which a panel of expert judges led by Dr. Luis Barreto called “world class Masters or PhD-level quality,” also won a special $1,000 prize awarded to the project with the greatest commercial potential.

There were other winners too,

Eleven brilliant students from nine Canadian regions, all just 16 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals.  They had placed 1st at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 21 and April 4.

Celebrating 20 years of inspiring young scientists in Canada, this year’s SBCC involved a total of 208 high school and CEGEP students collaborating on 123 projects, all mentored in professional labs over several months and submitted via the regional competitions.  Since its beginning in Toronto in 1994, some 4,500 young Canadians have competed in the SBCC, an event that has inspired sister BioGENEius competitions in the USA and Australia.

2nd place, $4,000 — British Columbia: Selin Jessa, 17, Grade 12, Dr. Charles Best Secondary School, Coquitlam, won the $4,000 2nd place prize with research into how genetic mutations naturally help some HIV patients escape symptoms.

Arjun and Selin will compete for Canada April 22-23 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference, this year in Chicago.

3rd place, $3,000 — Quebec: Eunice Linh You, 17, Grade 11, Laval Liberty High School, Laval, who investigated how to tailor stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease

4th place, $2,000 — Greater Toronto: Lauren Chan, 17, Grade 12, University of Toronto Schools, who described a potential new therapy to reduce the severity of diabetes

5th place, $1,000 — Manitoba: Daniel Huang, 16, Grade 11, St. John’s Ravenscourt School, Winnipeg, who discovered a potential new tactic to fight the world’s deadliest brain cancer

Honorable mention, $500:

Newfoundland, Jared Trask, 18, Kaitlyn Stockley, 17, Grade 12, Holy Spirit High School, Conception Bay West, who, for the second consecutive year, won the Atlantic region competition by proving novel ideas for creating biofuels;

Eastern Ontario, Adamo Young, 16, Grade 11, Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Ottawa, who found that altering its nitrogen supply appears to tame a toxic fungus that ruins billions worth of grain worldwide;

Southwestern Ontario, Melanie Grondin, 17, Shawn Liu, 18, Vincent Massey Secondary School, Windsor, who found a marker in medicine’s quest for the holy grail of leukaemia treatments: limitless supplies of healthy stem cells.

Saskatchewan, Saruul Uuganbayar, 17, Grade 12, Centennial Collegiate, Saskatoon, who invented a molecular therapy for mutated cells with the dream of curing cancer.

Given my interest in nanotechnology, Nair’s project is particularly intriguing,

Aiming to create an effective cancer-killing nano-bullet made of gold

Helping science develop a nano-bullet to defeat cancer is the futuristic vision of Arjun Nair, a 16-year-old Calgary high school student.

These “bullets” are formed by gold nanoparticles that, when injected into a patient, accumulate in cancerous tumours. Using light, the gold nanoparticles rapidly heat up in the tumours, killing only the cancer cells. Known as photothermal therapy (PTT), the idea has shown promise but isn’t that effective because cancer cells fight back, producing heat-shock proteins to protect themselves.

Arjun looked into the use of an antibiotic (17-AAG) to defeat cancer’s defence.

Nanoparticles are less than millionth of the size of grain of sand, making them pretty difficult to make and work with, says Arjun. He spent the last two years working on his idea, including the past year between Simon Trudel’s and David Cramb’s Nanoscience Labs at the University of Calgary [see my interview with Dr. Cramb in my Mar. 8, 2010 posting and he is mentioned here in other postings should you care to search his name].

It’s rare for a high-tech lab to allow a high school student to work with its expensive equipment but Dr. Cramb, Dr. Simon Trudel and Lab Manager, Amy Tekrony provided access and all important mentorship, he says.

“Proof-of-concepts were developed and tested in order to demonstrate the viability of PTT,” says Arjun.  “Moreover, after analyzing the literature a mathematical model was developed to evaluate a theoretical synergetic treatment.”

“I’ve entered science competitions since Grade 5. I really enjoy taking my ideas and making them happen in real life,” says Arjun, who also enjoys debating, sports and volunteer work.

He dreams of doing science in university, perhaps pursuing a career in medical research. One of the best parts of the competition was the great friendships Arjun has made. “I’m part of community of students who love sharing ideas and talking science.”

They make quite a big deal of these awards,

Following the presentation ceremony at the NRC, the students were received by Governor-General David Johnston at Rideau Hall, a distinguished educator prior to his vice-regal appointment.

Dr. Kellie Leitch, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Skills Development, keynote speaker at the awards ceremony, said: “It is so important that we have all of our skills and talent at work in Canada and the SBCC offers students a fantastic opportunity to experience science and technology in new ways, hopefully encouraging them toward exciting careers. I want to congratulate the winners, and all of the participants, of this year’s competition and I thank the organizers for all of the work that they have done in supporting young people in science.”

Sanofi Canada President and CEO Jon Fairest, who presented the top national prize, said: “The Sanofi Group is very proud to be founding sponsors of the Sanofi BioGENEIus Challenge Canada (SBCC) and participate in this milestone competition. With its 20-year heritage, the SBCC shows how critical partnerships are to advance science and talent in Canada. From the mentoring provided by dedicated academics, to the support of government and the private sector, the SBCC truly stands out as a model for collaboration. The SBCC and the incredible students who participate inspire us to all think differently about our future and ensure we have a strong foundation in place to create a sustainable healthcare system in Canada.”

The SBCC gives young scientists access to professional labs and academic mentors, encouraging the pursuit of future studies and careers in the country’s fast-growing biotechnology sector.

Each of the students worked for months conducting research and collaborating with university mentors.

It’s not just public officials and Sanofi officials who are paying attention,

The nine final national projects were presented at NRC headquarters Monday April 8 to a panel of eminent Canadian scientists:

  • Dr. Luis Barreto, MD, Chief Judge, Bioscience Education Canada
  • Dr. Roman Szumski, Vice President Research, National Research Council Canada
  • Dr. Paul Lasko, Scientific Director, Institute of Genetics, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Dr. Robert Tsushima, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Science, York University
  • Dr. Pierre Meulien, President, Genome Canada
  • Dr. Ron Pearlman, Associate Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation
  • Dr. Jerome Konecsni, President, Innovation Saskatchewan

On the panel as well: Ms. Janelle Tam, 18, of Waterloo, Ontario, SBCC’s national first-place winner in 2012.

National Awards Presenters, National Research Council Canada, April 9, 2013:

Commercialization Award – Dr. Ron Pearlman, Associate Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation

5th Place – Dr. Alison Symington, VP, Corporate Development, Ontario Genomics Institute / Genome Canada

4th Place — Dr. Spriros Pagiatakis, Associate Dean, Research & Partnerships, York University

3rd Place – Dr. Alain Beaudet, President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

2nd Place – John McDougall, President, National Research Council of Canada

1st Place – Jon Fairest, President and CEO, Sanofi Canada

The Canadian competition does not stand alone,

The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) is a national, biotechnology research competition that encourages high school and CEGEP students to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology. The initiative is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur Limited, Sanofi Canada, the National Research Council Canada/ Conseil national de recherches Canada (NRC-CNRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada (CIHR-IRSC), York University, Genome Canada and the Government of Canada’s Youth Awareness Program. Canada’s respected Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada has inspired counterpart competitions in the USA and Australia.

For more information, please see Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/11MtXX9), visit sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter @BioscienceEdCan

About Sanofi

Sanofi, a global and diversified healthcare leader, discovers, develops and distributes therapeutic solutions focused on patients’ needs. Sanofi has core strengths in the field of healthcare with seven growth platforms: diabetes solutions, human vaccines, innovative drugs, rare diseases, consumer healthcare, emerging markets and animal health. Sanofi is listed in Paris (EURONEXT: SAN) and in New York (NYSE: SNY).

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, provides more than 1 billion doses of vaccine each year, making it possible to immunize more than 500 million people across the globe. A world leader in the vaccine industry, Sanofi Pasteur offers the broadest range of vaccines protecting against 20 infectious diseases. The company’s heritage, to create vaccines that protect life, dates back more than a century. Sanofi Pasteur is the largest company entirely dedicated to vaccines. Every day, the company invests more than EUR 1 million in research and development. For more information, please visit: www.sanofipasteur.com  or www.sanofipasteur.us

Good luck to Arjun Nair and Selin Jessa when they compete for Canada April 22-23, 2013 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference, in Chicago, Illinois.