Tag Archives: China

Replacing metal with nanocellulose paper

The quest to find uses for nanocellulose materials has taken a step forward with some work coming from the University of Maryland (US). From a July 24, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at the University of Maryland recently discovered that paper made of cellulose fibers is tougher and stronger the smaller the fibers get … . For a long time, engineers have sought a material that is both strong (resistant to non-recoverable deformation) and tough (tolerant of damage).

“Strength and toughness are often exclusive to each other,” said Teng Li, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UMD. “For example, a stronger material tends to be brittle, like cast iron or diamond.”

A July 23, 2015 University of Maryland news release, which originated the news item, provides details about the thinking which buttresses this research along with some details about the research itself,

The UMD team pursued the development of a strong and tough material by exploring the mechanical properties of cellulose, the most abundant renewable bio-resource on Earth. Researchers made papers with several sizes of cellulose fibers – all too small for the eye to see – ranging in size from about 30 micrometers to 10 nanometers. The paper made of 10-nanometer-thick fibers was 40 times tougher and 130 times stronger than regular notebook paper, which is made of cellulose fibers a thousand times larger.

“These findings could lead to a new class of high performance engineering materials that are both strong and tough, a Holy Grail in materials design,” said Li.

High performance yet lightweight cellulose-based materials might one day replace conventional structural materials (i.e. metals) in applications where weight is important. This could lead, for example, to more energy efficient and “green” vehicles. In addition, team members say, transparent cellulose nanopaper may become feasible as a functional substrate in flexible electronics, resulting in paper electronics, printable solar cells and flexible displays that could radically change many aspects of daily life.

Cellulose fibers can easily form many hydrogen bonds. Once broken, the hydrogen bonds can reform on their own—giving the material a ‘self-healing’ quality. The UMD discovered that the smaller the cellulose fibers, the more hydrogen bonds per square area. This means paper made of very small fibers can both hold together better and re-form more quickly, which is the key for cellulose nanopaper to be both strong and tough.

“It is helpful to know why cellulose nanopaper is both strong and tough, especially when the underlying reason is also applicable to many other materials,” said Liangbing Hu, assistant professor of materials science at UMD.

To confirm, the researchers tried a similar experiment using carbon nanotubes that were similar in size to the cellulose fibers. The carbon nanotubes had much weaker bonds holding them together, so under tension they did not hold together as well. Paper made of carbon nanotubes is weak, though individually nanotubes are arguably the strongest material ever made.

One possible future direction for the research is the improvement of the mechanical performance of carbon nanotube paper.

“Paper made of a network of carbon nanotubes is much weaker than expected,” said Li. “Indeed, it has been a grand challenge to translate the superb properties of carbon nanotubes at nanoscale to macroscale. Our research findings shed light on a viable approach to addressing this challenge and achieving carbon nanotube paper that is both strong and tough.”

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

Anomalous scaling law of strength and toughness of cellulose nanopaper by Hongli Zhu, Shuze Zhu, Zheng Jia, Sepideh Parvinian, Yuanyuan Li, Oeyvind Vaaland, Liangbing Hu, and Teng Li. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) July 21, 2015 vol. 112 no. 29 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1502870112

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is a lot of research on applications for nanocellulose, everywhere it seems, except Canada, which at one time was a leader in the business of producing cellulose nanocrystals (CNC).

Here’s a sampling of some of my most recent posts on nanocellulose,

Nanocellulose as a biosensor (July 28, 2015)

Microscopy, Paper and Fibre Research Institute (Norway), and nanocellulose (July 8, 2015)

Nanocellulose markets report released (June 5, 2015; US market research)

New US platform for nanocellulose and occupational health and safety research (June 1, 2015; Note: As you find new applications, you need to concern yourself with occupational health and safety.)

‘Green’, flexible electronics with nanocellulose materials (May 26, 2015; research from China)

Treating municipal wastewater and dirty industry byproducts with nanocellulose-based filters (Dec. 23, 2014; research from Sweden)

Nanocellulose and an intensity of structural colour (June 16, 2014; research about replacing toxic pigments with structural colour from the UK)

I ask again, where are the Canadians? If anybody has an answer, please let me know.

There’s more than one black gold

‘Black gold’ is a phrase I associate with oil, signifying its importance and desirability. These days, this analogic phrase can describe a material according to a July 24, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

If colloidal gold [gold in solution] self-assembles into the form of larger vesicles, a three-dimensional state can be achieved that is called “black gold” because it absorbs almost the entire spectrum of visible light. How this novel intense plasmonic state can be established and what its characteristics and potential medical applications are is explored by Chinese scientists and reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie …

A July 24, 2015 Wiley (Angewandte Chemie) press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Metal nanostructures can self-assemble into superstructures that offer intriguing new spectroscopic and mechanical properties. Plasmonic coupling plays a particular role in this context. For example, it has been found that plasmonic metal nanoparticles help to scatter the incoming light across the surface of the Si substrate at resonance wavelengths, therefore enhancing the light absorbing potential and thus the effectivity of solar cells.

On the other hand, plasmonic vesicles are the promising theranostic platform for biomedical applications, a notion which inspired Yue Li and Cuncheng Li of the Chinese Academy of Science, Hefei, China, and the University of Jinan, China, as well as collaborators to prepare plasmonic colloidosomes composed of gold nanospheres.

As the method of choice, the scientists have designed an emulsion-templating approach based on monodispersed gold nanospheres as building blocks, which arranged themselves into large spherical vesicles in a reverse emulsion system.

The resulting plasmonic vesicles were of micrometer-size and had a shell composed of hexagonally close-packed colloidal nanosphere particles in bilayer or, for the very large superspheres, multilayer arrangement, which provided the enhanced stability.

“A key advantage of this system is that such self-assembly can avoid the introduction of complex stabilization processes to lock the nanoparticles together”, the authors explain.

The hollow spheres exhibited an intense plasmonic resonance in their three-dimensionally packed structure and had a dark black appearance compared to the brick red color of the original gold nanoparticles. The “black gold” was thus characterized by a strong broadband absorption in the visible light and a very regular vesicle superstructure. In medicine, gold vesicles are intensively discussed as vehicles for the drug delivery to tumor cells, and, therefore, it could be envisaged to exploit the specific light-matter interaction of such plasmonic vesicle structures for medical use, but many other applications are also feasible, as the authors propose: “The presented strategy will pave a way to achieve noble-metal superstructures for biosensors, drug delivery, photothermal therapy, optical microcavity, and microreaction platforms.” This will prove the flexibility and versatility of the noble-metal nanostructures.

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

Black Gold: Plasmonic Colloidosomes with Broadband Absorption Self-Assembled from Monodispersed Gold Nanospheres by Using a Reverse Emulsion System by Dilong Liu, Dr. Fei Zhou, Cuncheng Li, Tao Zhang, Honghua Zhang, Prof. Weiping Cai, and Prof. Yue Li. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Article first published online: 25 JUN 2015 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201503384

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

There is an image illustrating the work but, sadly, the gold doesn’t look black,

BlackGold

© Wiley-VCH

That’s it!

Nanoscale device emits light as powerfully as an object 10,000 times its size

The potential application in the field of solar power is what most interests me in this collaborative research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (US) and Fudan University in China. From a July 13, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers have created a nanoscale device that can emit light as powerfully as an object 10,000 times its size. It’s an advance that could have huge implications for everything from photography to solar power.

In a paper published July 10 [2015] in the journal Physical Review Letters, Zongfu Yu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his collaborators describe a nanoscale device that drastically surpasses previous technology in its ability to scatter light. They showed how a single nanoresonator can manipulate light to cast a very large “reflection.” The nanoresonator’s capacity to absorb and emit light energy is such that it can make itself — and, in applications, other very small things — appear 10,000 times as large as its physical size.

A July 13, 2015 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release (also on EurekAlert) by Scott Gordon, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Making an object look 10,000 times larger than its physical size has lots of implications in technologies related to light,” Yu says.

The researchers realized the advance through materials innovation and a keen understanding of the physics of light. Much like sound, light can resonate, amplifying itself as the surrounding environment manipulates the physical properties of its wave energy. The researchers took advantage of this by creating an artificial material in which the wavelength of light is much larger than in a vacuum, which allows light waves to resonate more powerfully.

The device condenses light to a size smaller than its wavelength, meaning it can gather a lot of light energy, and then scatters the light over a very large area, harnessing its output for imaging applications that make microscopic particles appear huge.

“The device makes an object super-visible by enlarging its optical appearance with this super-strong scattering effect,” says Ming Zhou, a Ph.D. student in Yu’s group and lead author of the paper.

Much as a very thin string on a guitar can absorb a large amount of acoustic energy from its surroundings and begin to vibrate in sympathy, this one very small optical device can receive light energy from all around and yield a surprisingly strong output. In imaging, this presents clear advantages over conventional lenses, whose light-gathering capacity is limited by direction and size.

“We are developing photodetectors based on this technology and, for example, it could be helpful for photographers wanting to shoot better quality pictures in weak light conditions,” Yu says.

Given the nanoresonator’s capacity to absorb large amounts of light energy, the technology also has potential in applications that harvest the sun’s energy with high efficiency. In addition, Yu envisions simply letting the resonator emit that energy in the form of infrared light toward the sky, which is very cold. Because the nanoresonator has a large optical cross-section — that is, an ability to emit light that dramatically exceeds its physical size — it can shed a lot of heat energy, making for a passive cooling system.

“This research opens up a new way to manipulate the flow of light, and could enable new technologies in light sensing and solar energy conversion,” Yu says.

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

Extraordinarily Large Optical Cross Section for Localized Single Nanoresonator by Ming Zhou, Lei Shi, Jian Zi, and Zongfu Yu. Phys. Rev. Lett. 115, 023903  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.115.023903 Published 10 July 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Your tires generate energy that can be harvested

One day, this new work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison could help cut gas expenditures for your car and other motorized vehicles dependent on fossil fuels. A June 29, 2015 news item on Nanowerk describes the research (Note: A link has been removed),

A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers and a collaborator from China have developed a nanogenerator that harvests energy from a car’s rolling tire friction.

An innovative method of reusing energy, the nanogenerator ultimately could provide automobile manufacturers a new way to squeeze greater efficiency out of their vehicles.

The researchers reported their development, which is the first of its kind, in a paper published May 6, 2015, in the journal Nano Energy (“Single-electrode triboelectric nanogenerator for scavenging friction energy from rolling tires”).

A June 29, 2015 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

Xudong Wang, the Harvey D. Spangler fellow and an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, and his PhD student Yanchao Mao have been working on this device for about a year.

The nanogenerator relies on the triboelectric effect to harness energy from the changing electric potential between the pavement and a vehicle’s wheels. The triboelectric effect is the electric charge that results from the contact or rubbing together of two dissimilar objects.

Wang says the nanogenerator provides an excellent way to take advantage of energy that is usually lost due to friction.

“The friction between the tire and the ground consumes about 10 percent of a vehicle’s fuel,” he says. “That energy is wasted. So if we can convert that energy, it could give us very good improvement in fuel efficiency.”

The nanogenerator relies on an electrode integrated into a segment of the tire. When this part of the tire surface comes into contact with the ground, the friction between those two surfaces ultimately produces an electrical charge-a type of contact electrification known as the triboelectric effect.

During initial trials, Wang and his colleagues used a toy car with LED lights to demonstrate the concept. They attached an electrode to the wheels of the car, and as it rolled across the ground, the LED lights flashed on and off. The movement of electrons caused by friction was able to generate enough energy to power the lights, supporting the idea that energy lost to friction can actually be collected and reused.

“Regardless of the energy being wasted, we can reclaim it, and this makes things more efficient,” Wang says. “I think that’s the most exciting part of this, and is something I’m always looking for: how to save the energy from consumption.”

The researchers also determined that the amount of energy harnessed is directly related to the weight of a car, as well as its speed. Therefore the amount of energy saved can vary depending on the vehicle-but Wang estimates about a 10-percent increase in the average vehicle’s gas mileage given 50-percent friction energy conversion efficiency.

“There’s big potential with this type of energy,” Wang says. “I think the impact could be huge.”

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

Single-electrode triboelectric nanogenerator for scavenging friction energy from rolling tires by Yanchao Mao, Dalong Geng, Erjun Liang, & Xudong Wang. Nano Energy Volume 15, July 2015, Pages 227–234 doi:10.1016/j.nanoen.2015.04.026

This paper is behind a paywall.

Convergence at Canada’s Perimeter Institute: art/science and physics

It’s a cornucopia of convergence at Canada’s Perimeter Institute (PI). First, there’s a June 16, 2015 posting by Colin Hunter about converging art and science in the person of Alioscia Hamma,

In his professional life, Hamma is a lecturer in the Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) program and an Associate Professor at China’s Tsinghua University. His research seeks new insights into quantum entanglement, quantum statistical mechanics, and other aspects of the fundamental nature of reality.

Though he dreamed during his boyhood in Naples of one day becoming a comic book artist, he pursued physics because he believed – still believes – it is our most reliable tool for decoding our universe.

“Mathematics is ideal, clean, pure, and meaningless. Natural sciences are living, concrete, dirty, and meaningful. Physics is right in the middle, like the human condition,” says Hamma.

Art too, he says, resides in the middle ground between the world of ideals and the world as it presents itself to our senses.

So he draws. …

Perimeter Institute has provided a video where Hamma shares his ideas,

This is very romantic as in literature-romantic. If I remember rightly, ‘truth is beauty and beauty is truth’ was the motto of the romantic poets, Byron, Keats, and Shelley. It’s intriguing to hear similar ideas being applied to physics, philosophy, and art.

H/t to Speaking Up For Canadian Science regarding this second ‘convergence at PI‘. From the Convergence conference page on the Perimeter Institute website,

Convergence is Perimeter’s first-ever alumni reunion and a new kind of physics conference providing a “big picture” overview of fundamental physics and its future.

Physics is at a turning point. The most sophisticated experiments ever devised are decoding our universe with unprecedented clarity — from the quantum to the cosmos — and revealing a stunning simplicity that theory has yet to explain.

Convergence will bring together many of the world’s best minds in physics to probe the field’s most exciting ideas and chart a course for 21st century physics. The event will also celebrate, through commemorative lectures, the centenaries of two defining discoveries of the 20th century: Noether’s theorem and Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Converge with us June 20-24. [Registration is now closed]

Despite registration being closed it is still possible to attend online,

CONVERGE ONLINE

Whether you’re at Convergence in person or joining us online, there are many ways to join the conversation:

You can find PI’s Convergence blog here.

A race to find substitutes for graphene?

I have two items concerning research which seeks to replace graphene in one application or other.

Black phosporus and the École Polytechniqe de Montréal

A June 2, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now features work on developing a two-dimensional black phosphorus material, 2D phosphane,

A team of researchers from Universite de Montreal, Polytechnique Montreal and the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in France is the first to succeed in preventing two-dimensional layers of black phosphorus from oxidating. In so doing, they have opened the doors to exploiting their striking properties in a number of electronic and optoelectronic devices. …

Black phosphorus, a stable allotrope of phosphorus that presents a lamellar structure similar to that of graphite, has recently begun to capture the attention of physicists and materials researchers. It is possible to obtain single atomic layers from it, which researchers call 2D phosphane. A cousin of the widely publicized graphene, 2D phosphane brings together two very sought-after properties for device design.

A June 2, 2015 École Polytechniqe de Montréal news release, which originated the news item, expands on why 2D phosphane is an appealing material,

First, 2D phosphane is a semiconductor material that provides the necessary characteristics for making transistors and processors. With its high-mobility, it is estimated that 2D phosphane could form the basis for electronics that is both high-performance and low-cost.

Furthermore, this new material features a second, even more distinctive, characteristic: its interaction with light depends on the number of atomic layers used. One monolayer will emit red light, whereas a thicker sample will emit into the infrared. This variation makes it possible to manufacture a wide range of optoelectronic devices, such as lasers or detectors, in a strategic fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The news release goes on to describe an important issue with phosphane and how the scientists addressed it,

Until now, the study of 2D phosphane’s properties was slowed by a major problem: in ambient  conditions, very thin layers of the material would degrade, to the point of compromising its future in the industry despite its promising potential.

As such, the research team has made a major step forward by succeeding in determining the physical mechanisms at play in this degradation, and in identifying the key elements that lead to the layers’ oxidation.

“We have demonstrated that 2D phosphane undergoes oxidation under ambient conditions, caused jointly by the presence of oxygen, water and light. We have also characterized the phenomenon’s evolution over time by using electron beam spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy,” reports Professor Richard Martel of Université de Montréal’s Department of Chemistry.

Next, the researchers developed an efficient procedure for producing these very fragile single-atom layers and keeping them intact.

“We were able to study the vibration modes of the atoms in this new material. Since earlier studies had been carried out on heavily degraded materials, we revealed the as-yet-unsuspected effects of quantum confinement on atoms’ vibration modes,” notes Professor Sébastien Francoeur of Polytechnique’s Department of Engineering Physics.

The study’s results will help the world scientific community develop 2D phosphane’s very special properties with the aim of developing new nanotechnologies that could give rise to high-performance microprocessors, lasers, solar cells and more.

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

Photooxidation and quantum confinement effects in exfoliated black phosphorus by Alexandre Favron, Etienne Gaufrès, Frédéric Fossard, Anne-Laurence Phaneuf-L’Heureux, Nathalie Y-W. Tang, Pierre L. Lévesque, Annick Loiseau, Richard Leonelli, Sébastien Francoeur, & Richard Martel. Nature Materials (2015)  doi:10.1038/nmat4299 Published online 25 May 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Now. for the second item about replacing graphene.

China’s new aerogel, a rival to graphene aerogels?

A June 2, 2015 American Institute of Physics news release (also on EurekAlert) describes research into an alternative to expensive graphene aerogels,

The electromagnetic radiation discharged by electronic equipment and devices is known to hinder their smooth operation. Conventional materials used today to shield from incoming electromagnetic waves tend to be sheets of metal or composites, which rely on reflection as a shielding mechanism.

But now, materials such as graphene aerogels are gaining traction as more desirable alternatives because they act as electromagnetic absorbers. They’re widely expected to improve energy storage, sensors, nanoelectronics, catalysis and separations, but graphene aerogels are prohibitively expensive and difficult to produce for large-scale applications because of the complicated purification and functionalization steps involved in their fabrication.

So a team of researchers in China set out to design a cheaper material with properties similar to a graphene aerogel–in terms of its conductivity, as well as a lightweight, anticorrosive, porous structure. In the journal Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, the researchers describe the new material they created and its performance.

Aming Xie, an expert in organic chemistry, and Fan Wu, both affiliated with PLA University of Science and Technology, worked with colleagues at Nanjing University of Science and Technology to tap into organic chemistry and conducting polymers to fabricate a three-dimensional (3-D) polypyrrole (PPy) aerogel-based electromagnetic absorber.

They chose to concentrate on this method because it enables them to “regulate the density and dielectric property of conducting polymers through the formation of pores during the oxidation polymerization of the pyrrole monomer,” explained Wu.

And the fabrication process is a simple one. “It requires only four common chemical reagents: pyrrole, ferric chloride (FeCl3), ethanol and water — which makes it cheap enough and enables large-scale fabrication,” Wu said. “We’re also able to pour the FeCl3 solution directly into the pyrrole solution — not drop by drop — to force the pyrrole to polymerize into a 3-D aerogel rather than PPy particles.”

In short, the team’s 3-D PPy aerogel is designed to exhibit “desirable properties such as a porous structure and low density,” Wu noted.

Beyond that, its electromagnetic absorption performance — with low loss — shows great promise. “We believe a ‘wide’ absorption range is more useful than high absorption within one frequency,” Wu said. Compared with previous works, the team’s new aerogel has the lowest adjunction and widest effective bandwidth — with a reflection loss below -10 decibels.

In terms of applications, based on the combination of low adjunction and a “wide” effective bandwidth, the researchers expect to see their 3-D PPy aerogel used in surface coatings for aircraft.

Another potential application is as coatings within the realm of corrosion prevention and control. “Common anticorrosion coatings contain a large amount of zinc (70 to 80 percent by weight), and these particles not only serve as a cathode by corroding to protect the iron structure but also to maintain a suitable conductivity for the electrochemistry process,” Wu pointed out. “If our 3-D PPy aerogel could build a conductivity network in this type of coating, the loss of zinc particles could be rapidly reduced.”

The team is now taking their work a step further by pursuing a 3-D PPy/PEDOT-based (poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) electromagnetic absorber. “Our goal is to grow solid-state polymerized PEDOT particles in the holes of the 3-D PPy aerogel formed by PPy chains,” Wu added.

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

Self-assembled ultralight three-dimensional polypyrrole aerogel for effective electromagnetic absorption by Aming Xie, Fan Wu, Mengxiao Sun, Xiaoqing Dai, Zhuanghu Xu, Yanyu Qiu, Yuan Wang, and Mingyang Wang. Appl. Phys. Lett. 106, 222902 (2015); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4921180

This paper is open access.

Alternative to rare earth magnets synthesized at Virginia Commonwealth University (US)

There’s a lot of interest in finding alternatives to rare earths given that China has been restricting exports (this Nov. 25, 2010 post describes the situation which hasn’t changed much, as far as I know). Should the research at the Virginia Commonwealth University highlighted in a June 1, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now present a viable alternative to rare earths the geopolitical situation should undergo some interesting changes,

A team of scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University has synthesized a powerful new magnetic material that could reduce the dependence of the United States and other nations on rare earth elements produced by China.

“The discovery opens the pathway to systematically improving the new material to outperform the current permanent magnets,” said Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., a commonwealth professor in the Department of Physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

A June 1, 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University news release by Brian McNeill (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the achievement in more detail,

The new material consists of nanoparticles containing iron, cobalt and carbon atoms with a magnetic domain size of roughly 5 nanometers. It can store information up to 790 kelvins with thermal and time-stable, long-range magnetic order, which could have a potential impact for data storage application.

When collected in powders, the material exhibits magnetic properties that rival those of permanent magnets that generally contain rare earth elements. The need to generate powerful magnets without rare earth elements is a strategic national problem as nearly 70 to 80 percent of the current rare earth materials are produced in China.

Permanent magnets, specifically those containing rare earth metals, are an important component used by the electronics, communications and automobile industries, as well as in radars and other applications.

Additionally, the emergence of green technology markets – such as hybrid and electric vehicles, direct drive wind turbine power systems and energy storage systems – have created an increased demand for permanent magnets.

However, China is the main supplier of world rare earth demands and has tried to impose restrictions on their export, creating an international problem.

The current paper is a joint experimental theoretical effort in which the new material was synthesized, characterized and showed improved characteristics following the theoretical prediction.

“This is good science along with addressing a problem with national importance,” said Ahmed El-Gendy, a former postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences and a co-author of the paper.

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

Experimental evidence for the formation of CoFe2C phase with colossal magnetocrystalline-anisotropy by Ahmed A. El-Gendy, Massimo Bertino, Dustin Clifford, Meichun Qian, Shiv N. Khanna, and Everett E. Carpenter. Appl. Phys. Lett. 106, 213109 (2015); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4921789

This is an open access paper.

‘Green’, flexible electronics with nanocellulose materials

Bendable or flexible electronics based on nanocellulose paper present a ‘green’ alternative to other solutions according to a May 20, 2015 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert),

Technology experts have long predicted the coming age of flexible electronics, and researchers have been working on multiple fronts to reach that goal. But many of the advances rely on petroleum-based plastics and toxic materials. Yu-Zhong Wang, Fei Song and colleagues wanted to seek a “greener” way forward.

The researchers developed a thin, clear nanocellulose paper made out of wood flour and infused it with biocompatible quantum dots — tiny, semiconducting crystals — made out of zinc and selenium. The paper glowed at room temperature and could be rolled and unrolled without cracking.

(h’t Nanotechnology Now, May 20, 2015)

There’s no mention in the news release or abstract as to what material (wood, carrot, banana, etc.) was used to derive the nanocellulose. Regardless, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Let It Shine: A Transparent and Photoluminescent Foldable Nanocellulose/Quantum Dot Paper by Juan Xue, Fei Song, Xue-wu Yin, Xiu-li Wang, and Yu-zhong Wang. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2015, 7 (19), pp 10076–10079 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b02011 Publication Date (Web): May 4, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

CRISPR genome editing tools and human genetic engineering issues

This post is going to feature a human genetic engineering roundup of sorts.

First, the field of human genetic engineering encompasses more than the human genome as this paper (open access until June 5, 2015) notes in the context of a discussion about a specific CRISPR gene editing tool,

CRISPR-Cas9 Based Genome Engineering: Opportunities in Agri-Food-Nutrition and Healthcare by Rajendran Subin Raj Cheri Kunnumal, Yau Yuan-Yeu, Pandey Dinesh, and Kumar Anil. OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology. May 2015, 19(5): 261-275. doi:10.1089/omi.2015.0023 Published Online Ahead of Print: April 14, 2015

Here’s more about the paper from a May 7, 2015 Mary Ann Liebert publisher news release on EurekAlert,

Researchers have customized and refined a technique derived from the immune system of bacteria to develop the CRISPR-Cas9 genome engineering system, which enables targeted modifications to the genes of virtually any organism. The discovery and development of CRISPR-Cas9 technology, its wide range of potential applications in the agriculture/food industry and in modern medicine, and emerging regulatory issues are explored in a Review article published in OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology, …

“CRISPR-Cas9 Based Genome Engineering: Opportunities in Agri-Food-Nutrition and Healthcare” provides a detailed description of the CRISPR system and its applications in post-genomics biology. Subin Raj, Cheri Kunnumal Rajendran, Dinish Pandey, and Anil Kumar, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (Uttarakhand, India) and Yuan-Yeu Yau, Northeastern State University (Broken Arrow, OK) describe the advantages of the RNA-guided Cas9 endonuclease-based technology, including the activity, specificity, and target range of the enzyme. The authors discuss the rapidly expanding uses of the CRISPR system in both basic biological research and product development, such as for crop improvement and the discovery of novel therapeutic agents. The regulatory implications of applying CRISPR-based genome editing to agricultural products is an evolving issue awaiting guidance by international regulatory agencies.

“CRISPR-Cas9 technology has triggered a revolution in genome engineering within living systems,” says OMICS Editor-in-Chief Vural Özdemir, MD, PhD, DABCP. “This article explains the varied applications and potentials of this technology from agriculture to nutrition to medicine.

Intellectual property (patents)

The CRISPR technology has spawned a number of intellectual property (patent) issues as a Dec. 21,2014 post by Glyn Moody on Techdirt stated,

Although not many outside the world of the biological sciences have heard of it yet, the CRISPR gene editing technique may turn out to be one of the most important discoveries of recent years — if patent battles don’t ruin it. Technology Review describes it as:

… an invention that may be the most important new genetic engineering technique since the beginning of the biotechnology age in the 1970s. The CRISPR system, dubbed a “search and replace function” for DNA, lets scientists easily disable genes or change their function by replacing DNA letters. During the last few months, scientists have shown that it’s possible to use CRISPR to rid mice of muscular dystrophy, cure them of a rare liver disease, make human cells immune to HIV, and genetically modify monkeys.

Unfortunately, rivalry between scientists claiming the credit for key parts of CRISPR threatens to spill over into patent litigation:

[A researcher at the MIT-Harvard Broad Institute, Feng] Zhang cofounded Editas Medicine, and this week the startup announced that it had licensed his patent from the Broad Institute. But Editas doesn’t have CRISPR sewn up. That’s because [Jennifer] Doudna, a structural biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, was a cofounder of Editas, too. And since Zhang’s patent came out, she’s broken off with the company, and her intellectual property — in the form of her own pending patent — has been licensed to Intellia, a competing startup unveiled only last month. Making matters still more complicated, [another CRISPR researcher, Emmanuelle] Charpentier sold her own rights in the same patent application to CRISPR Therapeutics.

Things are moving quickly on the patent front, not least because the Broad Institute paid extra to speed up its application, conscious of the high stakes at play here:

Along with the patent came more than 1,000 pages of documents. According to Zhang, Doudna’s predictions in her own earlier patent application that her discovery would work in humans was “mere conjecture” and that, instead, he was the first to show it, in a separate and “surprising” act of invention.

The patent documents have caused consternation. The scientific literature shows that several scientists managed to get CRISPR to work in human cells. In fact, its easy reproducibility in different organisms is the technology’s most exciting hallmark. That would suggest that, in patent terms, it was “obvious” that CRISPR would work in human cells, and that Zhang’s invention might not be worthy of its own patent.

….

Ethical and moral issues

The CRISPR technology has reignited a discussion about ethical and moral issues of human genetic engineering some of which is reviewed in an April 7, 2015 posting about a moratorium by Sheila Jasanoff, J. Benjamin Hurlbut and Krishanu Saha for the Guardian science blogs (Note: A link has been removed),

On April 3, 2015, a group of prominent biologists and ethicists writing in Science called for a moratorium on germline gene engineering; modifications to the human genome that will be passed on to future generations. The moratorium would apply to a technology called CRISPR/Cas9, which enables the removal of undesirable genes, insertion of desirable ones, and the broad recoding of nearly any DNA sequence.

Such modifications could affect every cell in an adult human being, including germ cells, and therefore be passed down through the generations. Many organisms across the range of biological complexity have already been edited in this way to generate designer bacteria, plants and primates. There is little reason to believe the same could not be done with human eggs, sperm and embryos. Now that the technology to engineer human germlines is here, the advocates for a moratorium declared, it is time to chart a prudent path forward. They recommend four actions: a hold on clinical applications; creation of expert forums; transparent research; and a globally representative group to recommend policy approaches.

The authors go on to review precedents and reasons for the moratorium while suggesting we need better ways for citizens to engage with and debate these issues,

An effective moratorium must be grounded in the principle that the power to modify the human genome demands serious engagement not only from scientists and ethicists but from all citizens. We need a more complex architecture for public deliberation, built on the recognition that we, as citizens, have a duty to participate in shaping our biotechnological futures, just as governments have a duty to empower us to participate in that process. Decisions such as whether or not to edit human genes should not be left to elite and invisible experts, whether in universities, ad hoc commissions, or parliamentary advisory committees. Nor should public deliberation be temporally limited by the span of a moratorium or narrowed to topics that experts deem reasonable to debate.

I recommend reading the post in its entirety as there are nuances that are best appreciated in the entirety of the piece.

Shortly after this essay was published, Chinese scientists announced they had genetically modified (nonviable) human embryos. From an April 22, 2015 article by David Cyranoski and Sara Reardon in Nature where the research and some of the ethical issues discussed,

In a world first, Chinese scientists have reported editing the genomes of human embryos. The results are published1 in the online journal Protein & Cell and confirm widespread rumours that such experiments had been conducted — rumours that sparked a high-profile debate last month2, 3 about the ethical implications of such work.

In the paper, researchers led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, tried to head off such concerns by using ‘non-viable’ embryos, which cannot result in a live birth, that were obtained from local fertility clinics. The team attempted to modify the gene responsible for β-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. The researchers say that their results reveal serious obstacles to using the method in medical applications.

“I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

….

Huang says that the paper was rejected by Nature and Science, in part because of ethical objections; both journals declined to comment on the claim. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its research editorial team.)

He adds that critics of the paper have noted that the low efficiencies and high number of off-target mutations could be specific to the abnormal embryos used in the study. Huang acknowledges the critique, but because there are no examples of gene editing in normal embryos he says that there is no way to know if the technique operates differently in them.

Still, he maintains that the embryos allow for a more meaningful model — and one closer to a normal human embryo — than an animal model or one using adult human cells. “We wanted to show our data to the world so people know what really happened with this model, rather than just talking about what would happen without data,” he says.

This, too, is a good and thoughtful read.

There was an official response in the US to the publication of this research, from an April 29, 2015 post by David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

In light of Chinese researchers reporting their efforts to edit the genes of ‘non-viable’ human embryos, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins issued a statement (H/T Carl Zimmer).

“NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed. Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain. These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in embryos.” …

More than CRISPR

As well, following on the April 22, 2015 Nature article about the controversial research, the Guardian published an April 26, 2015 post by Filippa Lentzos, Koos van der Bruggen and Kathryn Nixdorff which makes the case that CRISPR techniques do not comprise the only worrisome genetic engineering technology,

The genome-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9 is the latest in a series of technologies to hit the headlines. This week Chinese scientists used the technology to genetically modify human embryos – the news coming less than a month after a prominent group of scientists had called for a moratorium on the technology. The use of ‘gene drives’ to alter the genetic composition of whole populations of insects and other life forms has also raised significant concern.

But the technology posing the greatest, most immediate threat to humanity comes from ‘gain-of-function’ (GOF) experiments. This technology adds new properties to biological agents such as viruses, allowing them to jump to new species or making them more transmissible. While these are not new concepts, there is grave concern about a subset of experiments on influenza and SARS viruses which could metamorphose them into pandemic pathogens with catastrophic potential.

In October 2014 the US government stepped in, imposing a federal funding pause on the most dangerous GOF experiments and announcing a year-long deliberative process. Yet, this process has not been without its teething-problems. Foremost is the de facto lack of transparency and open discussion. Genuine engagement is essential in the GOF debate where the stakes for public health and safety are unusually high, and the benefits seem marginal at best, or non-existent at worst. …

Particularly worrisome about the GOF process is that it is exceedingly US-centric and lacks engagement with the international community. Microbes know no borders. The rest of the world has a huge stake in the regulation and oversight of GOF experiments.

Canadian perspective?

I became somewhat curious about the Canadian perspective on all this genome engineering discussion and found a focus on agricultural issues in the single Canadian blog piece I found. It’s an April 30, 2015 posting by Lisa Willemse on Genome Alberta’s Livestock blog has a twist in the final paragraph,

The spectre of undesirable inherited traits as a result of DNA disruption via genome editing in human germline has placed the technique – and the ethical debate – on the front page of newspapers around the globe. Calls for a moratorium on further research until both the ethical implications can be worked out and the procedure better refined and understood, will undoubtedly temper research activities in many labs for months and years to come.

On the surface, it’s hard to see how any of this will advance similar research in livestock or crops – at least initially.

Groups already wary of so-called “frankenfoods” may step up efforts to prevent genome-edited food products from hitting supermarket shelves. In the EU, where a stringent ban on genetically-modified (GM) foods is already in place, there are concerns that genome-edited foods will be captured under this rubric, holding back many perceived benefits. This includes pork and beef from animals with disease resistance, lower methane emissions and improved feed-to-food ratios, milk from higher-yield or hornless cattle, as well as food and feed crops with better, higher quality yields or weed resistance.

Still, at the heart of the human germline editing is the notion of a permanent genetic change that can be passed on to offspring, leading to concerns of designer babies and other advantages afforded only to those who can pay. This is far less of a concern in genome-editing involving crops and livestock, where the overriding aim is to increase food supply for the world’s population at lower cost. Given this, and that research for human medical benefits has always relied on safety testing and data accumulation through experimentation in non-human animals, it’s more likely that any moratorium in human studies will place increased pressure to demonstrate long-term safety of such techniques on those who are conducting the work in other species.

Willemse’s last paragraph offers a strong contrast to the Guardian and Nature pieces.

Finally, there’s a May 8, 2015 posting (which seems to be an automat4d summary of an article in the New Scientist) on a blog maintained by the Canadian Raelian Movement. These are people who believe that alien scientists landed on earth and created all the forms of life on this planet. You can find  more on their About page. In case it needs to be said, I do not subscribe to this belief system but I do find it interesting in and of itself and because one of the few Canadian sites that I could find offering an opinion on the matter even if it is in the form of a borrowed piece from the New Scientist.

Speeding up the process for converting carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel

This is a personal thrill; it’s the first time in seven years that I’ve received a press release directly from an institution in Asia.

A March 10, 2015 MANA, the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics at NIMS (National Institute for Materials Science) press release announces and describes hydrocarbon fuel research from Japan and China first published online in Nov. 2014 and later in print in January 2015,

A combination of semiconductor catalysts, optimum catalyst shape, gold-copper co-catalyst alloy nanoparticles and hydrous hydrazine reducing agent enables an increase of hydrocarbon generation from CO2 by a factor of ten.

“Solar-energy-driven conversion of CO2 into hydrocarbon fuels can simultaneously generate chemical fuels to meet energy demand and mitigate rising CO2 levels,” explain Jinhua Ye and her colleagues at the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics in their latest report. Now the research team have identified the conditions and catalysts that will maximise the yield of hydrocarbons from CO2, generating ten times previously reported production rates.

Carbon dioxide can be converted into a hydrocarbon by means of ‘reduction reactions’ -a type of reaction that involves reducing the oxygen content of a molecule, increasing the hydrogen content or increasing the electrons. In photocatalytic reduction of CO2 light activates the catalyst for the reaction.

Ye and his team introduced four approaches that each contributed to an increased reaction rate. First, they combined two known semiconductor photocatalysts strontium titanate (STO) and titania [titanium dioxide] (TiO2) – which led to the separation of the charges generated by light and hence a more effective photocatalyst. Second, the high surface area of the nanotubes was made greater by holes in the tube surfaces, which enhances catalysis by increasing the contact between the gases and catalysts. Third, the tubes were decorated with gold-copper (Au3Cu) nanoparticle co-catalysts to further enhance the catalysis, and fourth, they used hydrous hydrazine (N2H4•H2O) as the source of hydrogen.

Although the high hydrogen content of hydrous hydrazine is widely recognised in the context of hydrogen storage there are no previous reports of its use for reduction reactions. The researchers demonstrated that the reducing properties of hydrous hydrazine were so great that oxidation of the co-catalytic nanoparticles – a problem when water or hydrogen are used – was avoided.

The researchers conclude their report, “This opens a feasible route to enhance the photocatalytic efficiency, which also aids the development of photocatalysts and co-catalysts.”

Affiliations

The researchers on this project are associated with the following institutions:

International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics (MANA), and the Environmental Remediation Materials Unit,  National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) 1-1 Namiki, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0044, Japan

Graduate School of Chemical Science and Engineering, Hokkaido University, Sapporo 060-0814, Japan

TU-NIMS Joint Research Center, School of Material Science and Engineering, Tianjin University 92 Weijin Road, Tianjin,  P.R. China

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

Photocatalytic Reduction of Carbon Dioxide by Hydrous Hydrazine over Au–Cu Alloy Nanoparticles Supported on SrTiO3/TiO2 Coaxial Nanotube Arrays by Dr. Qing Kang, Dr. Tao Wang, Dr. Peng Li, Dr. Lequan Liu, Dr. Kun Chang, Mu Li, and Prof. Jinhua Ye. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 841–845, January 12, 2015 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201409183 Article first published online: 24 NOV 2014

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This research is behind a paywall.