Tag Archives: Canadian Light Source

Canadian science policy news and doings (also: some US science envoy news)

I have a couple of notices from the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), a twitter feed, and an article in online magazine to thank for this bumper crop of news.

 Canadian Science Policy Centre: the conference

The 2017 Canadian Science Policy Conference to be held Nov. 1 – 3, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario for the third year in a row has a super saver rate available until Sept. 3, 2017 according to an August 14, 2017 announcement (received via email).

Time is running out, you have until September 3rd until prices go up from the SuperSaver rate.

Savings off the regular price with the SuperSaver rate:
Up to 26% for General admission
Up to 29% for Academic/Non-Profit Organizations
Up to 40% for Students and Post-Docs

Before giving you the link to the registration page and assuming that you might want to check out what is on offer at the conference, here’s a link to the programme. They don’t seem to have any events celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary although they do have a session titled, ‘The Next 150 years of Science in Canada: Embedding Equity, Delivering Diversity/Les 150 prochaine années de sciences au Canada:  Intégrer l’équité, promouvoir la diversité‘,

Enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has been described as being a human rights issue and an economic development issue by various individuals and organizations (e.g. OECD). Recent federal policy initiatives in Canada have focused on increasing participation of women (a designated under-represented group) in science through increased reporting, program changes, and institutional accountability. However, the Employment Equity Act requires employers to act to ensure the full representation of the three other designated groups: Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities. Significant structural and systemic barriers to full participation and employment in STEM for members of these groups still exist in Canadian institutions. Since data support the positive role of diversity in promoting innovation and economic development, failure to capture the full intellectual capacity of a diverse population limits provincial and national potential and progress in many areas. A diverse international panel of experts from designated groups will speak to the issue of accessibility and inclusion in STEM. In addition, the discussion will focus on evidence-based recommendations for policy initiatives that will promote full EDI in science in Canada to ensure local and national prosperity and progress for Canada over the next 150 years.

There’s also this list of speakers . Curiously, I don’t see Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science on the list, nor do I see any other politicians in the banner for their conference website  This divergence from the CSPC’s usual approach to promoting the conference is interesting.

Moving onto the conference, the organizers have added two panels to the programme (from the announcement received via email),

Friday, November 3, 2017
Open Science and Innovation
Organizer: Tiberius Brastaviceanu
Organization: ACES-CAKE

10:30AM- 12:00PM
The Scientific and Economic Benefits of Open Science
Organizer: Arij Al Chawaf
Organization: Structural Genomics

I think this is the first time there’s been a ‘Tiberius’ on this blog and teamed with the organization’s name, well, I just had to include it.

Finally, here’s the link to the registration page and a page that details travel deals.

Canadian Science Policy Conference: a compendium of documents and articles on Canada’s Chief Science Advisor and Ontario’s Chief Scientist and the pre-2018 budget submissions

The deadline for applications for the Chief Science Advisor position was extended to Feb. 2017 and so far, there’s no word as to whom it might be. Perhaps Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan wants to make a splash with a surprise announcement at the CSPC’s 2017 conference? As for Ontario’s Chief Scientist, this move will make province the third (?) to have a chief scientist, after Québec and Alberta. There is apparently one in Alberta but there doesn’t seem to be a government webpage and his LinkedIn profile doesn’t include this title. In any event, Dr. Fred Wrona is mentioned as the Alberta’s Chief Scientist in a May 31, 2017 Alberta government announcement. *ETA Aug. 25, 2017: I missed the Yukon, which has a Senior Science Advisor. The position is currently held by Dr. Aynslie Ogden.*

Getting back to the compendium, here’s the CSPC’s A Comprehensive Collection of Publications Regarding Canada’s Federal Chief Science Advisor and Ontario’s Chief Scientist webpage. Here’s a little background provided on the page,

On June 2nd, 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance commenced the pre-budget consultation process for the 2018 Canadian Budget. These consultations provide Canadians the opportunity to communicate their priorities with a focus on Canadian productivity in the workplace and community in addition to entrepreneurial competitiveness. Organizations from across the country submitted their priorities on August 4th, 2017 to be selected as witness for the pre-budget hearings before the Committee in September 2017. The process will result in a report to be presented to the House of Commons in December 2017 and considered by the Minister of Finance in the 2018 Federal Budget.






The deadline for pre-2018 budget submissions was Aug. 4, 2017 and they haven’t yet scheduled any meetings although they are to be held in September. (People can meet with the Standing Committee on Finance in various locations across Canada to discuss their submissions.) I’m not sure where the CSPC got their list of ‘science’ submissions but it’s definitely worth checking as there are some odd omissions such as TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics)), Genome Canada, the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research), the Perimeter Institute, Canadian Light Source, etc.

Twitter and the Naylor Report under a microscope

This news came from University of British Columbia President Santa Ono’s twitter feed,

 I will join Jon [sic] Borrows and Janet Rossant on Sept 19 in Ottawa at a Mindshare event to discuss the importance of the Naylor Report

The Mindshare event Ono is referring to is being organized by Universities Canada (formerly the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) and the Institute for Research on Public Policy. It is titled, ‘The Naylor report under the microscope’. Here’s more from the event webpage,

Join Universities Canada and Policy Options for a lively discussion moderated by editor-in-chief Jennifer Ditchburn on the report from the Fundamental Science Review Panel and why research matters to Canadians.


Jennifer Ditchburn, editor, Policy Options.

Jennifer Ditchburn

Editor-in-chief, Policy Options

Jennifer Ditchburn is the editor-in-chief of Policy Options, the online policy forum of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.  An award-winning parliamentary correspondent, Jennifer began her journalism career at the Canadian Press in Montreal as a reporter-editor during the lead-up to the 1995 referendum.  From 2001 and 2006 she was a national reporter with CBC TV on Parliament Hill, and in 2006 she returned to the Canadian Press.  She is a three-time winner of a National Newspaper Award:  twice in the politics category, and once in the breaking news category. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious Charles Lynch Award for outstanding coverage of national issues. Jennifer has been a frequent contributor to television and radio public affairs programs, including CBC’s Power and Politics, the “At Issue” panel, and The Current. She holds a bachelor of arts from Concordia University, and a master of journalism from Carleton University.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

 12-2 pm

Fairmont Château Laurier,  Laurier  Room
 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa


I can’t tell if they’re offering lunch or if there is a cost associated with this event so you may want to contact the organizers.

As for the Naylor report, I posted a three-part series on June 8, 2017, which features my comments and the other comments I was able to find on the report:

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 1 of 3

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 2 of 3

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 3 of 3

One piece not mentioned in my three-part series is Paul Wells’ provocatively titled June 29, 2017 article for MacLean’s magazine, Why Canadian scientists aren’t happy (Note: Links have been removed),

Much hubbub this morning over two interviews Kirsty Duncan, the science minister, has given the papers. The subject is Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, commonly called the Naylor Report after David Naylor, the former University of Toronto president who was its main author.

Other authors include BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis, who has bankrolled much of the Waterloo renaissance, and Canadian Nobel physicist Arthur McDonald. It’s as blue-chip as a blue-chip panel could be.

Duncan appointed the panel a year ago. It’s her panel, delivered by her experts. Why does it not seem to be… getting anywhere? Why does it seem to have no champion in government? Therein lies a tale.

Note, first, that Duncan’s interviews—her first substantive comment on the report’s recommendations!—come nearly three months after its April release, which in turn came four months after Duncan asked Naylor to deliver his report, last December. (By March I had started to make fun of the Trudeau government in print for dragging its heels on the report’s release. That column was not widely appreciated in the government, I’m told.)

Anyway, the report was released, at an event attended by no representative of the Canadian government. Here’s the gist of what I wrote at the time:


Naylor’s “single most important recommendation” is a “rapid increase” in federal spending on “independent investigator-led research” instead of the “priority-driven targeted research” that two successive federal governments, Trudeau’s and Stephen Harper’s, have preferred in the last 8 or 10 federal budgets.

In English: Trudeau has imitated Harper in favouring high-profile, highly targeted research projects, on areas of study selected by political staffers in Ottawa, that are designed to attract star researchers from outside Canada so they can bolster the image of Canada as a research destination.

That’d be great if it wasn’t achieved by pruning budgets for the less spectacular research that most scientists do.

Naylor has numbers. “Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, the inflation-adjusted budgetary envelope for investigator-led research fell by 3 per cent while that for priority-driven research rose by 35 per cent,” he and his colleagues write. “As the number of researchers grew during this period, the real resources available per active researcher to do investigator-led research declined by about 35 per cent.”

And that’s not even taking into account the way two new programs—the $10-million-per-recipient Canada Excellence Research Chairs and the $1.5 billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund—are “further concentrating resources in the hands of smaller numbers of individuals and institutions.”

That’s the context for Duncan’s remarks. In the Globe, she says she agrees with Naylor on “the need for a research system that promotes equity and diversity, provides a better entry for early career researchers and is nimble in response to new scientific opportunities.” But she also “disagreed” with the call for a national advisory council that would give expert advice on the government’s entire science, research and innovation policy.

This is an asinine statement. When taking three months to read a report, it’s a good idea to read it. There is not a single line in Naylor’s overlong report that calls for the new body to make funding decisions. Its proposed name is NACRI, for National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation. A for Advisory. Its responsibilities, listed on Page 19 if you’re reading along at home, are restricted to “advice… evaluation… public reporting… advice… advice.”

Duncan also didn’t promise to meet Naylor’s requested funding levels: $386 million for research in the first year, growing to $1.3 billion in new money in the fourth year. That’s a big concern for researchers, who have been warning for a decade that two successive government’s—Harper’s and Trudeau’s—have been more interested in building new labs than in ensuring there’s money to do research in them.

The minister has talking points. She gave the same answer to both reporters about whether Naylor’s recommendations will be implemented in time for the next federal budget. “It takes time to turn the Queen Mary around,” she said. Twice. I’ll say it does: She’s reacting three days before Canada Day to a report that was written before Christmas. Which makes me worry when she says elected officials should be in charge of being nimble.

Here’s what’s going on.

The Naylor report represents Canadian research scientists’ side of a power struggle. The struggle has been continuing since Jean Chrétien left office. After early cuts, he presided for years over very large increases to the budgets of the main science granting councils. But since 2003, governments have preferred to put new funding dollars to targeted projects in applied sciences. …

Naylor wants that trend reversed, quickly. He is supported in that call by a frankly astonishingly broad coalition of university administrators and working researchers, who until his report were more often at odds. So you have the group representing Canada’s 15 largest research universities and the group representing all universities and a new group representing early-career researchers and, as far as I can tell, every Canadian scientist on Twitter. All backing Naylor. All fundamentally concerned that new money for research is of no particular interest if it does not back the best science as chosen by scientists, through peer review.

The competing model, the one preferred by governments of all stripes, might best be called superclusters. Very large investments into very large projects with loosely defined scientific objectives, whose real goal is to retain decorated veteran scientists and to improve the Canadian high-tech industry. Vast and sprawling labs and tech incubators, cabinet ministers nodding gravely as world leaders in sexy trendy fields sketch the golden path to Jobs of Tomorrow.

You see the imbalance. On one side, ribbons to cut. On the other, nerds experimenting on tapeworms. Kirsty Duncan, a shaky political performer, transparently a junior minister to the supercluster guy, with no deputy minister or department reporting to her, is in a structurally weak position: her title suggests she’s science’s emissary to the government, but she is not equipped to be anything more than government’s emissary to science.

A government that consistently buys into the market for intellectual capital at the very top of the price curve is a factory for producing white elephants. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Geoffrey Hinton [University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, a Canadian leader in machine learning].

“There is a lot of pressure to make things more applied; I think it’s a big mistake,” he said in 2015. “In the long run, curiosity-driven research just works better… Real breakthroughs come from people focusing on what they’re excited about.”

I keep saying this, like a broken record. If you want the science that changes the world, ask the scientists who’ve changed it how it gets made. This government claims to be interested in what scientists think. We’ll see.

Incisive and acerbic,  you may want to make time to read this article in its entirety.

Getting back to the ‘The Naylor report under the microscope’ event, I wonder if anyone will be as tough and direct as Wells. Going back even further, I wonder if this is why there’s no mention of Duncan as a speaker at the conference. It could go either way: surprise announcement of a Chief Science Advisor, as I first suggested, or avoidance of a potentially angry audience.

For anyone curious about Geoffrey Hinton, there’s more here in my March 31, 2017 post (scroll down about 20% of the way) and for more about the 2017 budget and allocations for targeted science projects there’s my March 24, 2017 post.

US science envoy quits

An Aug. 23, 2017article by Matthew Rosza for salon.com notes the resignation of one of the US science envoys,

President Donald Trump’s infamous response to the Charlottesville riots — namely, saying that both sides were to blame and that there were “very fine people” marching as white supremacists — has prompted yet another high profile resignation from his administration.

Daniel M. Kammen, who served as a science envoy for the State Department and focused on renewable energy development in the Middle East and Northern Africa, submitted a letter of resignation on Wednesday. Notably, he began the first letter of each paragraph with letters that spelled out I-M-P-E-A-C-H. That followed a letter earlier this month by writer Jhumpa Lahiri and actor Kal Penn to similarly spell R-E-S-I-S-T in their joint letter of resignation from the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Jeremy Berke’s Aug. 23, 2017 article for BusinessInsider.com provides a little more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

A State Department climate science envoy resigned Wednesday in a public letter posted on Twitter over what he says is President Donald Trump’s “attacks on the core values” of the United States with his response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“My decision to resign is in response to your attacks on the core values of the United States,” wrote Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, who was appointed as one five science envoys in 2016. “Your failure to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis has domestic and international ramifications.”

“Your actions to date have, sadly, harmed the quality of life in the United States, our standing abroad, and the sustainability of the planet,” Kammen writes.

Science envoys work with the State Department to establish and develop energy programs in countries around the world. Kammen specifically focused on renewable energy development in the Middle East and North Africa.

That’s it.

Split some water molecules and save solar and wind (energy) for a future day

Professor Ted Sargent’s research team at the University of Toronto has a developed a new technique for saving the energy harvested by sun and wind farms according to a March 28, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

We can’t control when the wind blows and when the sun shines, so finding efficient ways to store energy from alternative sources remains an urgent research problem. Now, a group of researchers led by Professor Ted Sargent at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering may have a solution inspired by nature.

The team has designed the most efficient catalyst for storing energy in chemical form, by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, just like plants do during photosynthesis. Oxygen is released harmlessly into the atmosphere, and hydrogen, as H2, can be converted back into energy using hydrogen fuel cells.

Discovering a better way of storing energy from solar and wind farms is “one of the grand challenges in this field,” Ted Sargent says (photo above by Megan Rosenbloom via flickr) Courtesy: University of Toronto

Discovering a better way of storing energy from solar and wind farms is “one of the grand challenges in this field,” Ted Sargent says (photo above by Megan Rosenbloom via flickr) Courtesy: University of Toronto

A March 24, 2016 University of Toronto news release by Marit Mitchell, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Today on a solar farm or a wind farm, storage is typically provided with batteries. But batteries are expensive, and can typically only store a fixed amount of energy,” says Sargent. “That’s why discovering a more efficient and highly scalable means of storing energy generated by renewables is one of the grand challenges in this field.”

You may have seen the popular high-school science demonstration where the teacher splits water into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen, by running electricity through it. Today this requires so much electrical input that it’s impractical to store energy this way — too great proportion of the energy generated is lost in the process of storing it.

This new catalyst facilitates the oxygen-evolution portion of the chemical reaction, making the conversion from H2O into O2 and H2 more energy-efficient than ever before. The intrinsic efficiency of the new catalyst material is over three times more efficient than the best state-of-the-art catalyst.

Details are offered in the news release,

The new catalyst is made of abundant and low-cost metals tungsten, iron and cobalt, which are much less expensive than state-of-the-art catalysts based on precious metals. It showed no signs of degradation over more than 500 hours of continuous activity, unlike other efficient but short-lived catalysts. …

“With the aid of theoretical predictions, we became convinced that including tungsten could lead to a better oxygen-evolving catalyst. Unfortunately, prior work did not show how to mix tungsten homogeneously with the active metals such as iron and cobalt,” says one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Bo Zhang … .

“We invented a new way to distribute the catalyst homogenously in a gel, and as a result built a device that works incredibly efficiently and robustly.”

This research united engineers, chemists, materials scientists, mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists across three countries. A chief partner in this joint theoretical-experimental studies was a leading team of theorists at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory under the leadership of Dr. Aleksandra Vojvodic. The international collaboration included researchers at East China University of Science & Technology, Tianjin University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Canadian Light Source and the Beijing Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

“The team developed a new materials synthesis strategy to mix multiple metals homogeneously — thereby overcoming the propensity of multi-metal mixtures to separate into distinct phases,” said Jeffrey C. Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “This work impressively highlights the power of tightly coupled computational materials science with advanced experimental techniques, and sets a high bar for such a combined approach. It opens new avenues to speed progress in efficient materials for energy conversion and storage.”

“This work demonstrates the utility of using theory to guide the development of improved water-oxidation catalysts for further advances in the field of solar fuels,” said Gary Brudvig, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University and director of the Yale Energy Sciences Institute.

“The intensive research by the Sargent group in the University of Toronto led to the discovery of oxy-hydroxide materials that exhibit electrochemically induced oxygen evolution at the lowest overpotential and show no degradation,” said University Professor Gabor A. Somorjai of the University of California, Berkeley, a leader in this field. “The authors should be complimented on the combined experimental and theoretical studies that led to this very important finding.”

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

Homogeneously dispersed, multimetal oxygen-evolving catalysts by Bo Zhang, Xueli Zheng, Oleksandr Voznyy, Riccardo Comin, Michal Bajdich, Max García-Melchor, Lili Han, Jixian Xu, Min Liu, Lirong Zheng, F. Pelayo García de Arquer, Cao Thang Dinh, Fengjia Fan, Mingjian Yuan, Emre Yassitepe, Ning Chen, Tom Regier, Pengfei Liu, Yuhang Li, Phil De Luna, Alyf Janmohamed, Huolin L. Xin, Huagui Yang, Aleksandra Vojvodic, Edward H. Sargent. Science  24 Mar 2016: DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1525

This paper is behind a paywall.

Research into nanosilver’s antibiotic properties and nanogold’s detection skills

There is a puzzling and exciting announcement from the Canadian Light Source in a May 27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Precious metals like silver and gold have biomedical properties that have been used for centuries, but how do these materials effectively combat the likes of cancer and bacteria without contaminating the patient and the environment?

These are the questions that researchers from Dalhousie University and the Canadian Light Source are trying to find out.

Perhaps I’m misreading the announcement but the statement that nanosilver and nanogold don’t contaminate the patient or the environment is a bit exuberant. There are published studies examining questions about whether or not nanosilver may affect the environment and health and the answer is that no one is certain yet. You can read more about two studies highlighted in my February 28, 2013 posting titled:  Silver nanoparticles, water, the environment, and toxicity. As for nanosilver and nanogold not contaminating patients, that too is a problematic statement. For example, I have this paper which cites several studies on nanogold and possible toxicity. The paper itself is a plea to standardize testing and protocols so researchers can do a better job of establishing toxicity issues with nanogold.


Reservations aside, it’s good to learn of some Canadian research in this area. From a May 26, 2015 Canadian Light Source news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the research and its current focus on nanosilver,

“Gold and silver are both exciting materials,” said Peng Zhang, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Dalhousie. “We can use gold to either detect or kill cancer cells. Silver is also excited and a very promising material as an antibacterial agents.”

Zhang said that if you compare silver to current antibiotics, silver does not show drug-resistant behaviour. “But with silver, so far, we are not finding that,” he added.

Finding out why silver is such a great antibacterial agent is the focus of Zhang’s research, recently published in the journal Langmuir.

“We want to understand the relationship between the atomic structure and bioactivity of nanosilver as to why it is so efficient at inhibiting bacterial activity. It’s a big puzzle.”

Zhang said it is very hard to understand what is happening at the atomic level. Using small nanosilver particles is the most effective way, because when you make silver small, you can expect higher activity because of the increased surface area.

This poses another problem however, as the nanosilver needs to be stabilized with a coating or the silver particles will bond together forming large pieces of silver that do not efficiently interact with the bacteria.

Zhang’s group used two different coatings to compare the effectiveness of the silver as an antibacterial agent. The first was a small amino acid coating and the other was a larger polymer coating. And after testing the interactions between the nanosilver and the bacteria, and looking at the atomic structure of nanosilver using the CLS and the Advanced Photon Source, the researchers were surprised to find that the thicker, larger polymer coating actually created a better delivery method for sliver to inhibit the bacteria.

“We proposed that the small amino acid coating would bind so tightly to the silver surface that it would be difficult for  the silver atoms to interact with the bacteria, whereas the polymers are actually very good at staying in place and still releasing sufficient amount of silver with the bacteria.”

Zhang said the next steps will be to find out if the nanosilver is actually attacking good cells in living systems before they can make any further progress on determining whether nanosilver is an effective and efficient antibactieral agent that could be used to cure human and animal diseases.

Here’s an illustration provided by the researchers,

The atomic structure of nanosilver, revealed by synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy, is proving to be a determinant of silver’s antibacterial activity. Padmos, J. Daniel, et al. "Impact of Protecting Ligands on Surface Structure and Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles." Langmuir 31.12 (2015): 3745-3752.

The atomic structure of nanosilver, revealed by synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy, is proving to be a determinant of silver’s antibacterial activity.
Padmos, J. Daniel, et al. “Impact of Protecting Ligands on Surface Structure and Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles.” Langmuir 31.12 (2015): 3745-3752.

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

Impact of Protecting Ligands on Surface Structure and Antibacterial Activity of Silver Nanoparticles by J. Daniel Padmos, Robert T. M. Boudreau, Donald F. Weaver, and Peng Zhang. Langmuir, 2015, 31 (12), pp 3745–3752
DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.5b00049 Publication Date (Web): March 15, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Silicene in Saskatchewan (Canada)

There’s some very exciting news coming out of the province of Saskatchewan (Canada) about silicene, a material some view as a possible rival to graphene (although that’s problematic according to my Jan. 12, 2014 posting) while others (US National Argonne Laboratory) challenge its existence (my Aug. 1,  2014 posting).

The researchers in Saskatchewan seem quite confident in silicene’s existence according to a Sept. 9, 2014 news item on phys.org,

“Once a device becomes too small it falls prey to the strange laws of the quantum world,” says University of Saskatchewan researcher Neil Johnson, who is using the Canadian Light Source synchrotron to help develop the next generation of computer materials. Johnson is a member of Canada Research Chair Alexander Moewes’ group of graduate students studying the nature of materials using synchrotron radiation.

His work focuses on silicene, a recent and exciting addition to the class of two-dimensional materials. Silicene is made up of an almost flat hexagonal pattern of silicon atoms. Every second atom in each hexagonal ring is slightly lifted, resulting in a buckled sheet that looks the same from the top or the bottom.

A Sept. 9, 2014 Canadian Light Source news release, which originated the news item, provides background as to how Johnson started studying silicene and some details about the work,

In 2012, mere months before Johnson began to study silicene, it was discovered and first created by the research group of Prof. Guy Le Lay of Aix-Marseille University, using silver as a base for the thin film. The Le Lay group is the world-leader in silicene growth, and taught Johnson and his colleagues how to make it at the CLS themselves.

“I read the paper when the Le Lay announced they had made silicene, and within three or four months, Alex had arranged for us to travel down to the Advanced Light Source with these people who had made it for the first time,” says Johnson. It was an exciting collaboration for the young physicist.

“This paper had already been cited over a hundred times in a matter of months. It was a major paper, and we were going to measure this new material that no one had really started doing experiments on yet.”

The most pressing question facing silicene research was its potential as a semiconductor. Today, most electronics use silicon as a switch, and researchers looking for new materials to manage quantum effects in computing could easily use the 2-D version if it was also semiconducting.

Calculations had shown that because of the special buckling of silicene, it would have what’s called a Dirac cone – a special electronic structure that could allow researchers to tune the band gap, or the energy space between electron levels. The band gap is what makes a semiconductor: if the space is too small, the material is simply a conductor. Too large, and there is no conduction at all.

Since silicene has only ever been made on a silver base, the materials community also wondered if silicene would maintain its semiconducting properties in this condition. Though its atomic structure is slightly different than freestanding silicene, it was still predicted to have a band gap. However, silver is a metal, which may make the silicene act as a metal as well.

No one really knew how silicene would behave on its silver base.

To adapt the Le Lay group’s silicene-growing process to the equipment at the CLS took several days of work. Though their team had succeeded in silicene synthesis at the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley lab, they had no way to keep those samples under vacuum to prevent them from oxygen damage. Thanks to the work of fellow beamteam members Drs. David Muir and Israel Perez, samples grown at the CLS could be produced, transported and measured in a matter of hours without ever leaving a vacuum chamber.

Johnson grew the silicene sheets at the Resonant Elastic and Inelastic X-ray Scattering (REIXS), beamline, then transferred them in a vacuum to the XAS/XES endstation for analysis. Finally, Johnson could find the answer to the silicene question.

“I didn’t really know what to expect until I saw the XAS and XES on the same energy scale, and I thought to myself, that looks like a metal,” says Johnson.

And while that result is unfortunate for those searching for a new computing wonder material, it does provide some vital information to that search.

“Our result does help to guide the hunt for 2-D silicon in the future, suggesting that metallic substrates should be avoided at all costs,” Johnson explains. “We’re hopeful that we can grow a similar structure on other substrates, ideally ones that leave the semiconducting nature of silicene intact.”

That work is already in process, with Johnson and his colleagues planning to explore three other growing bases this summer, along with multilayers and nanoribbons of silicene.

Like the Dutch researchers in the Jan. 12, 2014 posting, Johnson finds that silicene is not serious competition for graphene (as regards to its electrical properties), but he does not challenge its existence. He does note problems with the silver substrate although he comes to a different conclusion than did the Argonne National Laboratory researchers (Aug. 1,  2014 posting).

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

The Metallic Nature of Epitaxial Silicene Monolayers on Ag(111) by Neil W. Johnson, Patrick Vogt, Andrea Resta, Paola De Padova, Israel Perez, David Muir, Ernst Z. Kurmaev, Guy Le Lay, and Alexander Moewes. Advanced Functional Materials Volume 24, Issue 33, pages 5253–5259, September 3, 2014 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201400769 Article first published online: 10 JUN 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Shades of 1939! Advance in x-ray imaging of nanomaterials

The technique was first suggested in 1939 but wasn’t feasible until the advent of computers and their algorithms. Researchers at the University College of London have found a way to improve the quality of 3-D images of nanomaterials. From the Aug. 7, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

A new advance in X-ray imaging has revealed the dramatic three-dimensional shape of gold nanocrystals, and is likely to shine a light on the structure of other nano-scale materials.

Described today in Nature Communications, the new technique improves the quality of nanomaterial images, made using X-ray diffraction, by accurately correcting distortions in the X-ray light.

Dr Jesse Clark, lead author of the study from the London Centre for Nanotechnology [at the University College of London] said: “With nanomaterials playing an increasingly important role in many applications, there is a real need to be able to obtain very high quality three dimensional images of these samples.

“Up until now we have been limited by the quality of our X-rays. Here we have demonstrated that with imperfect X-ray sources we can still obtain very high quality images of nanomaterials.”

You can see the differences for yourself in this image provided by the researchers,

Figure: Shown on the left is the three dimensional image of a gold nanocrystal obtained previously while on the right is the image using the newly developed method. The features of the nanocrystal are vastly improved in the image on the left. The black scale bar is 100 nanometres (1 nanometre = 1 billionth of a meter). Downloaded from http://www.london-nano.com/research-and-facilities/highlight/advance-in-x-ray-imaging-shines-light-on-nanomaterials

The researchers have also provided two videos, the first features the current standard 3-D image of a gold nanocrystal and the second features the improved image,

Standard 3-D

Improved 3-D

The Aug. 7, 2012 news release originated from an article (Aug. 2012?) by Ian Robinson and Jesse Clark for the London Centre for Nanotechnology (part of the University College of London) giving context for the research and describing the technique (Note: I have removed a link),

Up until now, most nanomaterial imaging has been done using electron microscopy. X-ray imaging is an attractive alternative as X-rays penetrate further into the material than electrons and can be used in ambient or controlled environments.

However, making lenses that focus X-rays is very difficult. As an alternative, scientists use the indirect method of coherent diffraction imaging (CDI), where the diffraction pattern of the sample is measured (without lenses) and inverted to an image by computer.

Nobel Prize winner Lawrence Bragg suggested this method in 1939 but had no way to determine the missing phases of the diffraction, which are today provided by computer algorithms.

CDI can be performed very well at the latest synchrotron X-ray sources such as the UK’s Diamond Light Source which have much higher coherent flux than earlier machines.  CDI is gaining momentum in the study of nanomaterials, but, until now, has suffered from poor synchimage quality, with broken or non-uniform density.  This had been attributed to imperfect coherence of the X-ray light used.

The dramatic three-dimensional images of gold nanocrystals presented in this study demonstrate that this distortion can be corrected by appropriate modelling of the coherence function.

Professor Ian Robinson, London Centre for Nanotechnology and author of the paper said: “The corrected images are far more interpretable that ever obtained previously and will likely lead to new understanding of structure of nanoscale materials.”

The method should also work for free-electron-laser, electron- and atom-based diffractive imaging.

That mention of the UK’s Diamond Light Source reminded me of the Canadian Light Source located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I imagine this work will open up some possibilities for the researchers there.

For those who would like to read more about the work, here’s a citation for the article,

High resolution three dimensional partially coherent diffraction imaging, Nature Communications.  J.N. Clark, X. Huang, R. Harder, & I.K. Robinson Nature Communications 3, Article number: 993 doi:10.1038/ncomms1994

This article is behind a paywall.

Stanford team adds new energy (with graphene and carbon nanotubes) to 100 year old battery design

A nickel-iron battery designed to be recharged 100 years ago by Thomas Edison for use in electric vehicles has been revived with the addition of graphene. From the June 26, 2012 news item by Mark Schwartz on EurekAlert,

Designed in the early 1900s to power electric vehicles, the Edison battery largely went out of favor in the mid-1970s. Today only a handful of companies manufacture nickel-iron batteries, primarily to store surplus electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.

“The Edison battery is very durable, but it has a number of drawbacks,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford. “A typical battery can take hours to charge, and the rate of discharge is also very slow.”

Now, Dai and his Stanford colleagues have dramatically improved the performance of this century-old technology. The Stanford team has created an ultrafast nickel-iron battery that can be fully charged in about 2 minutes and discharged in less than 30 seconds. The results are published in the June 26 [2012] issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Here’s how the battery worked originally and what they’ve done to improve it,

Edison, an early advocate of all-electric vehicles, began marketing the nickel-iron battery around 1900. It was used in electric cars until about 1920. The battery’s long life and reliability made it a popular backup power source for railroads, mines and other industries until the mid-20th century.

Edison created the nickel-iron battery as an inexpensive alternative to corrosive lead-acid batteries. Its basic design consists of two electrodes – a cathode made of nickel and an anode made of iron – bathed in an alkaline solution. “Importantly, both nickel and iron are abundant elements on Earth and relatively nontoxic,” Dai noted.

Carbon has long been used to enhance electrical conductivity in electrodes. To improve the Edison battery’s performance, the Stanford team used graphene – nanosized sheets of carbon that are only one-atom thick – and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, each consisting of about 10 concentric graphene sheets rolled together.

“In conventional electrodes, people randomly mix iron and nickel materials with conductive carbon,” Wang explained. “Instead, we grew nanocrystals of iron oxide onto graphene, and nanocrystals of nickel hydroxide onto carbon nanotubes.”

This technique produced strong chemical bonding between the metal particles and the carbon nanomaterials, which had a dramatic effect on performance. “Coupling the nickel and iron particles to the carbon substrate allows electrical charges to move quickly between the electrodes and the outside circuit,” Dai said. “The result is an ultrafast version of the nickel-iron battery that’s capable of charging and discharging in seconds.”

The Stanford researchers created a 1-volt ‘graphene-enhanced’ nickel-iron prototype battery for experimentation in the lab. This battery can power a flashlight but the researchers are hoping to scale up so that the battery could be used for the electrical grid or transportation.

The lead author for the study is Hailiang Wang, a Stanford graduate student. Other co-authors of the study are postdoctoral scholars Yongye Liang and Yanguang Li, graduate student Ming Gong, and undergraduates Wesley Chang and Tyler Mefford also of Stanford; Jigang Zhou, Jian Wang and Tom Regier of Canadian Light Source, Inc.; and Fei Wei of Tsinghua University.

ETA: June 27, 2012: Here, by the way, is an electric vehicle powered by Edison’s battery circa 1910, downloaded from the Stanford University site (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/june/ultrafast-edison-battery-062612.html) and courtesy of the US National Park  Service.

To demonstrate the reliability of the Edison nickel-iron battery, drivers rode a battery-powered Bailey in a 1,000-mile endurance run in 1910. Courtesy: US National Park Service

Canadian scientists get more light in deal with the US Argonne National Laboratory

Canada’s synchrotron, Canadian Light Source (based in Saskatchewan), has signed a new three-year deal with the US Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source (APS)  that will give Canadian scientists more access to the APS facilities, according to the June 18, 2012 news item at the  Nanowerk website,

Seeking to solve some of today’s greatest global problems, scientists using x-ray light source facilities at national research laboratories in the United States and Canada are sharing more expertise.

The Canadian Light Source (CLS) and the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory agreed in January 2012 to a Partner User Proposal that cements a stronger working relationship between the two facilities for the next three years. These two premier light sources use different but complementary x-ray techniques to probe materials in order to understand chemical and structural behavior.

Tone Kunz’s June 18, 2012 news release for the APS provides details about the deal,

This new agreement will provide Canadian scientists with more research time to use the x-ray light source facilities and more time on a larger number of APS beamlines. Using varied x-ray and imaging capabilities will broaden the range of experiments Canadians may undertake at the APS to augment their research done at the Canadian Light Source. X-ray science offers potential solutions to a broad range of problems in surface, material, environmental and earth sciences, condensed matter physics, chemistry, and geosciences.

Since the Sector 20 beamlines became fully operational, scientists from Canada and other areas who have used these beamlines at the APS have produced an average of 51 scientific publications a year. This research includes the study of more effective mineral exploration strategies, ways to mitigate mine waste and mercury contamination, and novel ways to fabricate nanomaterials for use in fuel cells, batteries, and LEDs.

I had not realized how longstanding the  CLS/APS relationship has been,

Before the Canadian Light Source began operation in 2004, a Canadian group led by Daryl Crozier of Simon Fraser University, working in partnership with colleagues at the University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, helped found the Sector 20 beamlines at the APS as part of the Pacific Northwest Consortium Collaborative Access Team, or PNC-CAT. Parts of this team were included in the X-ray Science Division of the APS when it was formed.

This long-standing partnership has led to scientifically significant upgrades to the beamline. The new agreement will provide the valuable manpower and expertise to allow the APS to continue to push the innovation envelope. [emphasis mine]

As I was reading Kunz’s news release I kept asking, what’s in it for the APS? Apparently they need more “manpower and expertise.” Unfortunately, their future plans are a little shy of detail,

Scientists from the APS and the Canadian Light Source will work together on R&D projects to improve light-source technology. In particular, scientists will upgrade even further the two beamlines at Sector 20 in four key areas. This will provide a unique capability to prepare and measure in situ films and interfaces, a new technique to create quantitative three-dimensional chemical maps of samples, and improved forms of spectroscopy to expand the range of elements and types of environments that can be examined.

What are the four key areas? For that matter, what is Sector 20? I suspect some of my readers have similar questions about my postings. It’s easy (especially if you write frequently) to forget that your readers may not be as familiar as you are with the subject matter.

(I wrote about the CLS and another deal with a synchrotron in the UK in my May 31, 2011 posting.)

Canadian Light Source and Diamond Light (UK) Synchrotrons

Two synchrotrons, Canadian Light Source (CLS [Saskatoon, Saskatchewan]) and Diamond Light Source (near Oxford, England) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU). From the May 31, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

Making the power of synchrotron light available to more businesses, building new experimental equipment and developing new capabilities are three of the areas of collaboration in a trans-Atlantic memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Diamond Light Source Ltd. near Oxford and Canadian Light Source Inc. (CLS) in Saskatoon.

The agreement paves the way for the two synchrotron light sources to work together on joint projects related to their industrial science programmes, such as exchanges of staff, marketing materials, and coordinating access for clients to capabilities that are available at one synchrotron but not the other.

“Diamond and the CLS have been working closely together for some time,” said Josef Hormes, Executive Director of the CLS. “Now that we have this formal agreement, I am looking forward to a very bright future where the expertise of both our facilities can be combined to accomplish momentous things for fundamental and industrial science.

They don’t mention nanotechnology but synchrotrons can be used for subnanometre measurement and nanofabrication (National Light Source Synchrotron 2009 seminar with Dr. Lin Wang).  You can find out more about synchrotrons at the CLS Education webpage,

A synchrotron is a source of brilliant light that scientists can use to gather information about the structural and chemical properties of materials at the molecular level.

A synchrotron produces the light by using powerful electro-magnets and radio frequency waves to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light. Energy is added to the electrons as they accelerate so that, when the magnets alter their course, they naturally emit a very brilliant, highly focused light. Different spectra of light, such as Infrared, Ultraviolet, and X-rays, are directed down beamlines where researchers choose the desired wavelength to study their samples. The researchers observe the interaction between the light and the matter in their sample at the endstations (small laboratories).

This tool can be used to probe the matter and analyze a host of physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes. Information obtained by scientists can be used to help design new drugs, examine the structure of surfaces to develop more effective motor oils, build smaller, more powerful computer chips, develop new materials for safer medical implants, and help with clean-up of mining wastes, to name just a few applications.

Quick Facts:

  • More than 40 synchrotron light sources have been built around the world. The Canadian synchrotron is competitive with the brightest facilities in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.
  • As of 2009, more than 2000 scientists have used the CLS.
  • More than 3,000 academic, industrial, and government researchers a year from across Canada and from other countries are expected to use the facility once the full complement of beamlines is developed. Beamlines carry the synchrotron light to scientific work stations capable of operating 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, approximately 42 weeks of the year.
  • Initially, the CLS will focus on research in three key areas:
    • mining, natural resources and the environment
    • advanced materials, information technologies and micro systems
    • biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medicine
  • The first synchrotrons were additions to facilities built to study subatomic physics. Synchrotron light was an annoyance to the researchers because it meant their electron beams lost energy every time they went through a bending magnet. However, the remarkable qualities of this light were soon recognized, and researchers began to come up with ways to use it.

Currently, CLSI has more than 130 employees. The work force of scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrators is growing to match additional CLSI users. Located in the midst of a research cluster on the north end of the University of Saskatchewan, next to Innovation Place, one of Canada’s leading high-tech industrial parks, CLSI strengthens Saskatoon’s reputation as “Science City” as a much-needed national R&D facility.

Intriguingly, they don’t mention the word radiation until the 2nd to last section, Salute to safety. In fact, it wasn’t easy finding the Education webpage; it’s not accessible from the Home page as it’s rendered on my computer screen. (I found it by using a search engine.)