Tag Archives: China

‘Beleafing’ in magic; a new type of battery

A Jan. 28, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily announces the ‘beleaf’,

Scientists have a new recipe for batteries: Bake a leaf, and add sodium. They used a carbonized oak leaf, pumped full of sodium, as a demonstration battery’s negative terminal, or anode, according to a paper published yesterday in the journal ACS Applied Materials Interfaces.

Scientists baked a leaf to demonstrate a battery. Credit: Image courtesy of Maryland NanoCenter

Scientists baked a leaf to demonstrate a battery.
Credit: Image courtesy of Maryland NanoCenter

A Jan. ??, 2016 Maryland NanoCenter (University of Maryland) news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about the nature (pun intended) of the research,

“Leaves are so abundant. All we had to do was pick one up off the ground here on campus,” said Hongbian Li, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland’s department of materials science and engineering and one of the main authors of the paper. Li is a member of the faculty at the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing, China.

Other studies have shown that melon skin, banana peels and peat moss can be used in this way, but a leaf needs less preparation.

The scientists are trying to make a battery using sodium where most rechargeable batteries sold today use lithium. Sodium would hold more charge, but can’t handle as many charge-and-discharge cycles as lithium can.

One of the roadblocks has been finding an anode material that is compatible with sodium, which is slightly larger than lithium. Some scientists have explored graphene, dotted with various materials to attract and retain the sodium, but these are time consuming and expensive to produce.  In this case, they simply heated the leaf for an hour at 1,000 degrees C (don’t try this at home) to burn off all but the underlying carbon structure.

The lower side of the maple [?] leaf is studded with pores for the leaf to absorb water. In this new design, the pores absorb the sodium electrolyte. At the top, the layers of carbon that made the leaf tough become sheets of nanostructured carbon to absorb the sodium that carries the charge.

“The natural shape of a leaf already matches a battery’s needs: a low surface area, which decreases defects; a lot of small structures packed closely together, which maximizes space; and internal structures of the right size and shape to be used with sodium electrolyte,” said Fei Shen, a visiting student in the department of materials science and engineering and the other main author of the paper.

“We have tried other natural materials, such as wood fiber, to make a battery,” said Liangbing Hu, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “A leaf is designed by nature to store energy for later use, and using leaves in this way could make large-scale storage environmentally friendly.”

The next step, Hu said, is “to investigate different types of leaves to find the best thickness, structure and flexibility” for electrical energy storage.  The researchers have no plans to commercialize at this time.

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

Carbonized-leaf Membrane with Anisotropic Surfaces for Sodium-ion Battery by Hongbian Li, Fei Shen, Wei Luo, Jiaqi Dai, Xiaogang Han, Yanan Chen, Yonggang Yao, Hongli Zhu, Kun Fu, Emily Hitz, and Liangbing Hu. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2016, 8 (3), pp 2204–2210 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b10875 Publication Date (Web): January 4, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Weaving at the nanoscale

A Jan. 21, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily announces a brand new technique,

For the first time, scientists have been able to weave a material at molecular level. The research is led by University of California Berkeley, in cooperation with Stockholm University. …

A Jan. 21, 2016 Stockholm University press release, which originated the news item, provides more information,

Weaving is a well-known way of making fabric, but has until now never been used at the molecular level. Scientists have now been able to weave organic threads into a three-dimensional material, using copper as a template. The new material is a COF, covalent organic framework, and is named COF-505. The copper ions can be removed and added without changing the underlying structure, and at the same time the elasticity can be reversibly changed.

– It almost looks like a molecular version of the Vikings chain-armour. The material is very flexible, says Peter Oleynikov, researcher at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry at Stockholm University.

COF’s are like MOF’s porous three-dimensional crystals with a very large internal surface that can adsorb and store enormous quantities of molecules. A potential application is capture and storage of carbon dioxide, or using COF’s as a catalyst to make useful molecules from carbon dioxide.

Complex structure determined in Stockholm

The research is led by Professor Omar Yaghi at University of California Berkeley. At Stockholm University Professor Osamu Terasaki, PhD Student Yanhang Ma and Researcher Peter Oleynikov have contributed to determine the structure of COF-505 at atomic level from a nano-crystal, using electron crystallography methods.

– It is a difficult, complicated structure and it was very demanding to resolve. We’ve spent lot of time and efforts on the structure solution. Now we know exactly where the copper is and we can also replace the metal. This opens up many possibilities to make other materials, says Yanhang Ma, PhD Student at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry at Stockholm University.

Another of the collaborating institutions, US Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory issued a Jan. 21, 2016 news release on EurekAlert, providing a different perspective and some additional details,

There are many different ways to make nanomaterials but weaving, the oldest and most enduring method of making fabrics, has not been one of them – until now. An international collaboration led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, has woven the first three-dimensional covalent organic frameworks (COFs) from helical organic threads. The woven COFs display significant advantages in structural flexibility, resiliency and reversibility over previous COFs – materials that are highly prized for their potential to capture and store carbon dioxide then convert it into valuable chemical products.

“Weaving in chemistry has been long sought after and is unknown in biology,” Yaghi says [Omar Yaghi, chemist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Chemistry Department and is the co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoScience Institute {Kavli-ENSI}]. “However, we have found a way of weaving organic threads that enables us to design and make complex two- and three-dimensional organic extended structures.”

COFs and their cousin materials, metal organic frameworks (MOFs), are porous three-dimensional crystals with extraordinarily large internal surface areas that can absorb and store enormous quantities of targeted molecules. Invented by Yaghi, COFs and MOFs consist of molecules (organics for COFs and metal-organics for MOFs) that are stitched into large and extended netlike frameworks whose structures are held together by strong chemical bonds. Such frameworks show great promise for, among other applications, carbon sequestration.

Through another technique developed by Yaghi, called “reticular chemistry,” these frameworks can also be embedded with catalysts to carry out desired functions: for example, reducing carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which serves as a primary building block for a wide range of chemical products including fuels, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

In this latest study, Yaghi and his collaborators used a copper(I) complex as a template for bringing threads of the organic compound “phenanthroline” into a woven pattern to produce an immine-based framework they dubbed COF-505. Through X-ray and electron diffraction characterizations, the researchers discovered that the copper(I) ions can be reversibly removed or restored to COF-505 without changing its woven structure. Demetalation of the COF resulted in a tenfold increase in its elasticity and remetalation restored the COF to its original stiffness.

“That our system can switch between two states of elasticity reversibly by a simple operation, the first such demonstration in an extended chemical structure, means that cycling between these states can be done repeatedly without degrading or altering the structure,” Yaghi says. “Based on these results, it is easy to imagine the creation of molecular cloths that combine unusual resiliency, strength, flexibility and chemical variability in one material.”

Yaghi says that MOFs can also be woven as can all structures based on netlike frameworks. In addition, these woven structures can also be made as nanoparticles or polymers, which means they can be fabricated into thin films and electronic devices.

“Our weaving technique allows long threads of covalently linked molecules to cross at regular intervals,” Yaghi says. “These crossings serve as points of registry, so that the threads have many degrees of freedom to move away from and back to such points without collapsing the overall structure, a boon to making materials with exceptional mechanical properties and dynamics.”

###

This research was primarily supported by BASF (Germany) and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

It’s unusual that neither Stockholm University not the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory list all of the institutions involved. To get a sense of this international collaboration’s size, I’m going to list them,

  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, Materials Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
  • 2Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden.
  • 3Department of New Architectures in Materials Chemistry, Materials Science Institute of Madrid, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid 28049, Spain.
  • 4Nanomaterials Research Institute, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Tsukuba 305-8565, Japan.
  • 5NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC), University of California at Berkeley, 3112 Etcheverry Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
  • 6Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
  • 7King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology, Post Office Box 6086, Riyadh 11442, Saudi Arabia.
  • 8Material Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
  • 9School of Physical Science and Technology, ShanghaiTech University, Shanghai 201210, China.

Given that some of the money came from a German company, I’m surprised not one German institution was involved.

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

Weaving of organic threads into a crystalline covalent organic framework by Yuzhong Liu, Yanhang Ma, Yingbo Zhao, Xixi Sun, Felipe Gándara, Hiroyasu Furukawa, Zheng Liu, Hanyu Zhu, Chenhui Zhu, Kazutomo Suenaga, Peter Oleynikov, Ahmad S. Alshammari, Xiang Zhang, Osamu Terasaki, Omar M. Yaghi. Science  22 Jan 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6271, pp. 365-369 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad4011

This paper is behind a paywall.

A Russia-China high technology investment fund announced

My Sept. 12, 2014 posting mentioned a proposed joint China-Russia nanotechnology investment fund which has now been realized (and changed somewhat). From a Jan. 19, 2016 news item on sputniknews.com,

Russia’s Rusnano nanotechnology company has established a $500-million joint investment fund with the Chinese Zhongrong International Trust, Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais said Tuesday.

The agreement between the companies was signed by Chubais and Zhongrong International Trust Chairman Fang Tao, the statement by Rusnano confirmed.

“Zhongrong is one of the largest financial institutes in the Asia-Pacific region that specializes in private equity and financing of large-scale innovative projects… Our partnership is aimed at the creation of new competitive products with the prospect of their launch both in Russia and China, as well as worldwide,” Chubais said, as quoted by Rusnano’s press center.

A Jan. 19, 2016 RUSNANO press release, which originated the news item, provides more details abut the deal and about RUSNANO (Note: A link has been removed),

At the first stage, the RUSNANO Zhongrong United Investment Fund will have $500 mln of capital under management. The Partners of the Fund, RUSNANO Group and Zhongrong Trust International Co., LTD. (Zhongrong), will provide their equity investments in equal portions and establish a joint management company.

The Fund’s investment focus will be concentrated on projects in the growth stage aimed at application, development, and transfer of high technologies (related to electric power industry (including RES), oil and gas industry, as well as microelectronics and biotechnologies) to Russia. It is envisaged that investments into the projects and project companies will be effected on the territory of Russia (not less than 70 %), China, and other countries.

RUSNANO was founded as an open joint stock company in March 2011, through reorganization of state corporation Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies. RUSNANO is instrumental in realizing government policies for nanoindustry growth, investing in financially effective high-technology projects that guarantee the development of new manufacturing within the Russian Federation. The company invests in nanotechnology companies directly and through investment funds. Its primary investment focus is in electronics, optoelectronics and telecommunications, healthcare and biotechnology, metallurgy and metalwork, energy, mechanical engineering and instrument making, construction and industrial materials, and chemicals and petrochemicals. The Government of the Russian Federation owns 100 percent of the shares in RUSNANO.

Work to establish nanotechnology infrastructure and carry out educational programs is fulfilled by RUSNANO’s Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, which was also established during the reorganization of the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies.

Management of the investment assets of RUSNANO are carried out by a limited liability company established in December 2013, RUSNANO Asset Management. Anatoly Chubais is chairman of its Executive Board.

Presumably, the amount is in US dollars (USD). In 2014 when I first stumbled across an English language media announcement about this fund, China was considering ways to make its own currency (Renmibis) an international standard (mentioned in the Sept. 12, 2014 posting). Of course, China’s recent stock market collapse (a Jan. 18, 2016 CNN news article by Andrew Stevens with
Jessie Jiang and Shen Lu provides more details and insight into the collapse) must have been a setback for those currency plans but it’s interesting to see China has pushed ahead with this investment fund.

Not the same old gold: there’s a brand new phase

A Dec. 7, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily announces a new phase for gold has been identified,

A new and stable phase of gold with different physical and optical properties from those of conventional gold has been synthesized by Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) researchers [1], Singapore, and promises to be useful for a wide range of applications, including plasmonics and catalysis.

Many materials exist in a variety of crystal structures, known as phases or polymorphs. These different phases have the same chemical composition but different physical structures, which give rise to different properties. For example, two well-known polymorphs of carbon, graphite and diamond, arranged differently, have radically different physical properties, despite being the same element.

Gold has been used for many purposes throughout history, including jewelry, electronics and catalysis. Until now it has always been produced in one phase ― a face-centered cubic structure in which atoms are located at the corners and the center of each face of the constituent cubes.

Now, Lin Wu and colleagues at the Institute of the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing have modeled the optical and plasmonic properties of nanoscale ribbons of a new phase of gold — the 4H hexagonal phase (…) — produced and characterized by collaborators at other institutes in Singapore, China and the USA. The team synthesized nanoribbons of the new phase by simply heating the gold (III) chloride hydrate (HAuCl4) with a mixture of three organic solvents and then centrifuging and washing the product. This gave a high yield of about 60 per cent.

Here’s an image supplied by the researchers,

The atomic structure of the new phase of gold synthesized by A*STAR researchers. Reproduced from Ref. 1 and licensed under CC BY 4.0 © 2015 Z. Fan et al.

The atomic structure of the new phase of gold synthesized by A*STAR researchers. Reproduced from Ref. 1 and licensed under CC BY 4.0 © 2015 Z. Fan et al.

A Dec. 2, 2015 A*STAR news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The researchers also produced 4H hexagonal phases of the precious metals silver, platinum and palladium by growing them on top of the gold 4H hexagonal phase.

The cubic phase looks identical when viewed front on, from one side or from above. In contrast, the new 4H hexagonal phase lacks this cubic symmetry and hence varies more with direction — a property known as anisotropy. This lower symmetry gives it more directionally varying optical properties, which may make it useful for plasmonic applications. “Our finding is not only is of fundamental interest, but it also provides a new avenue for unconventional applications of plasmonic devices,” says Wu.

The team is keen to explore the potential of their new phase. “In the future, we hope to leverage the unconventional anisotropic properties of the new gold phase and design new devices with excellent performances not achievable with conventional face-centered-cubic gold,” says Wu. The synthesis method also gives rise to the potential for new strategies for controlling the crystalline phase of nanomaterials made from the noble metals.

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

Stabilization of 4H hexagonal phase in gold nanoribbons by Zhanxi Fan, Michel Bosman, Xiao Huang, Ding Huang, Yi Yu, Khuong P. Ong, Yuriy A. Akimov, Lin Wu, Bing Li, Jumiati Wu, Ying Huang, Qing Liu, Ching Eng Png, Chee Lip Gan, Peidong Yang & Hua Zhang. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7684 doi:10.1038/ncomms8684 Published 28 July 2015

This is an open access paper.

Chinese science at a transition point: a Nature Publishing Group white paper

China and its pursuit of scientific prowess is a matter of some interest around the world and Nature Publishing Group (owned by Springer) has produced a white paper on the topic.  From a Nov. 26, 2015 Springer press release (also on EurekAlert),

Nature Publishing Group (NPG), part of Springer Nature, today releases Turning Point: Chinese Science in Transition, a White Paper which takes the pulse of China’s scientific research at a critical time in its development. It is the first report of its kind to be undertaken in China by a global publisher, drawing on quantitative and qualitative data NPG has recently gathered through interviewing and surveying more than 1,700 leading Chinese researchers.

As its pace of economic growth slows, China’s stated aim is to move towards a more sustainable knowledge-based economy which will be driven by scientific and technological innovation. But the White Paper notes that average academic impact of Chinese research is not yet matching its growth in output, and lags behind the world average in a number of subject areas in normalized citation impact, one of the indicators of impact from research. The Chinese research environment therefore, like its economy, is at a turning point, and faces some unique challenges that need to be overcome in order to improve the quality and impact of the scientific output that will support sustainable growth.

The press release expands on the theme,

The White Paper starts by focusing on a positive trend in Chinese science. It shows that China’s long-lamented ‘brain drain’ has become a ‘brain boomerang’, with the vast majority of young Chinese scientists planning to return quickly to China after a period overseas: 85% plan to return within 5 years. This trend of faster-returning ‘haigui’ (homing turtles, as they are colloquially referred to in China), reflects the country’s increased standing in global research, and a greater confidence Chinese scientists have in the country’s future. China’s increased efforts to attract, develop and retain talented researchers are also securing greater numbers from abroad.

In order to develop and retain these scientists, the White Paper argues that it is vital to implement policies and funding schemes that better address their needs and concerns. In a bid to better understand these, the White Paper looks into three key stages of research process: funding, conducting and sharing research. It concludes that the picture of the fundamental components of the research ecosystem in China is overwhelmingly positive, but there are still anomalies and barriers that frustrate researchers and thwart progress towards a culture that recognizes and rewards excellence and innovation. …

Commenting on the White Paper, Charlotte Liu, President of Springer Nature in Greater China, said: “Just like China’s economy, Chinese science is at a turning point. The range of proposed suggestions and solutions found in this White Paper are based on our first-hand, wide-ranging study and explicitly address some of the issues our research identifies. They are intended to help China become more successful in this transition period. We believe that if they are refined, detailed and implemented by the key stakeholders associated with the research process, they provide the opportunity for China not just to be seen as a research giant but to establish an entrenched culture of innovation that can establish it as a global science and technology leader.”

The press release also provides a full summary of the report’s findings and recommendations,

1. Funding research

China’s funding system has already made some significant progress towards more rigorously meritocratic assessment, but the surveyed scientists still identified several key areas for improvement. More than 80% of those surveyed said China should devote more funding to basic research. Three quarters believe that funders do not take enough risks in funding research whose potential impact or practical value is unclear. “Take Nash’s game theory as an example … no one saw any commercial value of this purely theoretical study back then … but it has made very significant impacts later on …” said one researcher. Many respondents also want funding bodies to invest more in young scientists, offering them larger and more stable programmes. In terms of funding application processes, two thirds of those surveyed said that fairness and efficiency have improved, largely due to procedures implemented by the NSFC, the leading funding source for Chinese scientists. However there is still room for improvement, particularly with respect to megaproject grants. Moreover, many respondents see excessively rigid regulation of grant spending as a major impediment to scientists’ efficiency and productivity. Around two fifths reported spending more than 20% of their time on funding-related activities.

Key recommendations:

  • Funding bodies can drive profound innovation by funding more basic research.
  • Continued investment in “blue sky” ideas will generate long-term rewards.
  • Funding bodies can improve productivity and derive longer term benefits by investing more in young scientists.
  • Research efficiency can be transformed through increasing funding allowances for human resources.
  • Funding bodies can further strengthen funding efficiency and transparency with more merit-based peer review.
  • Engagement of the broader research community when conceptualizing and awarding megaproject grants can promote fairness in funding allocation and improve return on investment of these projects.
  • Funders can help scientists to be more productive and efficient by minimising administrative hurdles and optimising flexibility in grant spending.
  • Streamlining fund reporting, evaluation and financial audit processes will allow more time for scientists to focus on research itself.

2. Conducting research

In recent decades, more and more young Chinese scientists have started to run their own laboratories and research projects. However, more than three quarters of those surveyed felt they did not receive enough mentoring at an early stage, and young scientists were more likely to feel the mentoring they received was insufficient. This problem is more prevalent for researchers that have not been overseas with a large majority of home grown PhDs (66%), post-docs (72%) and PIs (77%) in China saying they have not received sufficient mentoring. Beyond funding and mentoring, other forms of support are needed, including training for writing papers and grant applications, data management and research project management. NPG’s survey also revealed that the lack of postdoctoral fellows and lab technicians represents a challenge. Experienced postdocs can make a principal investigator’s (PI) time more scalable and can also play a key role in mentoring junior students and staff. In terms of collaboration, almost all of those surveyed agreed that opportunities for collaboration are improving in China, but they still identified several barriers that should be addressed, such as competition for first authorship and tedious administrative procedures. “We over-emphasize the institution of the first author or even the first corresponding author … This is ridiculous and obviously shows the sign of administrative intrusion. This is a barrier rooted in our system,” was one telling comment. In addition, the survey explored the global problem of scientific misconduct. While two fifths of the researchers surveyed thought that the level of misconduct in China is about the same as that abroad, a similar proportion felt that misconduct is a more serious problem in China and the lack of sophistication of ethics training was highlighted by some: “For instance, I had … a student in my lab… [who]used the same graphs and text from a submitted article in another article. He didn’t know that this is not allowed,” said one PI.

Key recommendations:

  • Research institutions could free up senior scientists’ time for hands-on mentoring of young scientists by reducing their administrative workloads.
  • Improved training in writing papers and grant applications is needed to help Chinese scientists compete on the global stage.
  • Expanded training in data management and research project management will increase productivity, efficiency and reproducibility.
  • A promotion of the value institutes place on the positions of lab technicians and post-doctoral fellow, greater compensation for contract based researchers and less emphasis on hiring rules such as quotas for full-time positions would help address shortfalls identified in terms of China’s scientific workforce.
  • By reorienting hiring decisions to focus on research output rather than overseas training experience, institutes can keep more talented scientists in China.
  • Funders and institutes can promote domestic collaboration by considering more nuanced ways of assessing research to ease the competition for first authorship.
  • Chinese authorities can also facilitate international collaboration by removing administrative barriers to healthy academic exchange.
  • Measures to reduce such misconduct in China include systematic training and, when necessary, the setting up of independent investigations that penalize those found violating codes of ethics.

3. Sharing research

Sharing science encompasses disseminating research outcomes with other scientists, together with engaging the wider community, policy makers and business leaders through science communication. But NPG’s survey suggests that Chinese researchers have little enthusiasm for, or even awareness of, the global trend towards openly sharing data. Paper writing is usually the last step in research. The majority of those surveyed reported spending more than one working day per week on paper writing, and some reported spending more than half of their time writing. Language barriers are not the only issue: “In Western countries, they start writing essays early. It’s integrated in their undergraduate education. Or … even since primary school … But this is lacking from our education system.” As the number of papers coming out of China increases, Chinese scientists are aiming higher, with 87% of the surveyed scientists indicating that they are likely to publish relatively fewer papers each year in future, but with the aim of targeting higher profile journals. Making sure there is a level playing field is a major concern: “I feel there is a bias against Chinese authors in publishing. [emphasis mine] Most editors and reviewers are from western countries. It’s not surprising that they will give more time and trust to an article from a famous (western) institute or lab, and they tend to be harsher to an article from a Chinese lab that they never heard of,” one group leader commented. Although Chinese scientists recognize the importance of communicating their research to the wider public, only around half of those surveyed had experience of some type of science communication in the past three years.

Key recommendations:

  • Implementing measures that better encourage researchers to share their data and research would benefit their participation in the global movement towards openly sharing data.
  • Better training in scientific writing for researchers would address the problems they report experiencing when writing papers and communicating research.
  • To address issues with commercial editing services, a global industry-wide accreditation system would help to maintain quality standards.
  • Chinese institutes and funding bodies should encourage researchers to play an active role in improving public understanding of science, by providing support and incentives for excellent science communication.
  • More professional and effective science communication outlets are needed.

While the bias issue is not addressed in the summary, a response can be found in the report,

Invisible barriers?

Chinese scientists share the same anxieties with their counterparts around the world in waiting for responses from journals after submitting their papers. Long response times, especially for high-impact journals,and ambiguous responses from editors and reviewers are common sources of frustration. But some surveyed Chinese PIs also believe that they are treated unfairly by the peer review system of international journals, especially high-impact journals. Editors and reviewers from these journals are perceived as being harsher on papers from Chinese authors based in Chinese institutes. Several journal-specific studies showed a higher rejection rate for papers from China, including many Nature branded journals21.

A study on peer review in the journal Biological Conservation suggests Chinese scientists do face greater difficulties in getting published: papers from China are more likely to get rejected before being sent for review, and are more likely to receive negative reviewer recommendations22. This issue could be due to a relatively lower quality of research submitted to the journal, or less clarity in communication. But some suspect that a bias against Chinese authors is at play. So what can be done to reduce bias and/ or the perception of bias?

Measures to increase the number of Chinese reviewers could be part of the solution. The attitudes of the surveyed PIs towards Chinese reviewers varied. Some preferred Chinese reviewers but others expressed concerns that they might be even harsher on domestic peers due to direct competition. [emphasis mine] Nevertheless, the number of reviewers from China remains small relative to the growing number of high-profile papers published by Chinese scientists. A key problem is that it is often difficult for foreign journals to enlist Chinese scientists as reviewers because they are not familiar with the areas of expertise of potential candidates. A couple of initiatives could help.

First, Chinese institutes can enhance the visibility of their researchers by, for example, creating more accessible English pages on their institutional websites. In this way, other researchers around the
world would be better able to select appropriate Chinese researchers as referees. This would also improve global collaboration opportunities for Chinese researchers.

Second, because non-Chinese typically find Chinese names difficult to pronounce and remember, promotion of  the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) in China will be essential. ORCID is unique to each researcher and allows unambiguous identification of researcher records and contributions for the purposes of peer review selection, as well as ultimately individual-focused assessment exercises.

Beyond measures that increase the proportion of Chinese reviewers, bias and/or perception of bias against Chinese researchers must be dealt with by the key implementers of the editorial and peer review process: journals and publishers.  In particular,  these stakeholders must continue to innovate and experiment with the peer review process in consultation with the broader research community to reduce the potential for bias in the process.Peer review models that are double- (authors and peer reviewers) and triple- (+editors) blinded or that are much more open should  be experimented with. [pp. 16-7 print version; pp. 20-21 PDF]

The comment that Chinese reviewers might be “… even harsher on domestic peers due to direct competition” could be made about any peer review process. One of problems inherent in peer review is that your peers are likely to be competitors. Interestingly, the recommendations do not suggest an further examination of publishers and journals investigating bias not only towards Chinese researchers but researchers from other countries where English is not the primary or dominant language. They might then be able to refine their understanding of how bias affects their peer review process.

I am glad to see the recommendation for greater innovation in peer review including blinding and more openness although the onus does seem to be on the Chinese to make changes. You can find the full report here.

I was unaware of Nature’s change of status until reading this May 6, 2015 press release. For anyone else who finds themselves a bit surprised, here’s more about Springer Nature from their LinkedIn page,

Springer Nature is a leading global research, educational and professional publisher, home to an array of respected and trusted brands providing quality content through a range of innovative products and services.

Springer Nature is the world’s largest academic book publisher, publisher of the world’s highest impact journals and a pioneer in the field of open research. The company numbers almost 13,000 staff in over 50 countries and has a turnover of approximately EUR 1.5 billion. Springer Nature was formed in 2015 through the merger of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media.

There you have it.

International centre for testing graphene opens in China

An international graphene measurement centre opened in Oct. 2015 but the official launch seems to have just started. A Nov. 23, 2015 news item on Nanowerk makes the announcement,

The China-UK collaborative effort to support the development an international graphene standards and testing centre was officially launched at Zhongguancun Fengtai Science Park, Beijing, China, in October 2015. As the demand for international standards for testing graphene increases, the Centre in Beijing will lay the foundation for the development of graphene industry and high-end applications in China.

A Nov. 23, 2015 UK National Physical Laboratory (NPL) press release, which originated the news item, describes the October 2015 launch in more detail,

A China-UK graphene conference was held as part of the launch activities on the 24 October 2015 and graphene experts from China and the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) discussed graphene R&D progress and the development of graphene international standards; the discussions included NPL’s work in this area and the related testing methods.

The graphene conference was part of a programme of activities between NPL, Beijing Zhongguancun Fengtai Science Park and the associated Beijing Fengtai New Materials Inspection Institute (BFM) agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in Spring 2015, to support the development of standards and testing in China. Efforts are being made to promote the implementation of standards in China and to introduce new methods of measurement by establishing non-contact and contact-type testing facilities for electrical and structural properties of graphene and other 2D materials at the centre. During the conference, the Chinese Association for Promoting Cooperation between Universities and Industries agreed a strategic cooperation for the centre, which will enable the integration and utilisation of the resources of universities and research institutes. This will lead to knowledge transfer and dissemination of testing standards for the establishment of China’s graphene characterisation platform and applications platform.

The Vice Mayor of Fengtai District, and Fengtai Park director, Jie Zhang (张婕), said that the Zhongguancun Fengtai Park is now actively building an international graphene centre, and that the cooperation of NPL and other international research teams will be instrumental to the success of the centre. NPL’s Principal Research Scientist, Ling Hao (郝玲), added that the partnership with Fengtai Science Park, BFM and other Chinese organisations will be “a win-win collaboration” for graphene research, development and application for both the UK and China.

Executive Chairman of the China Industry-University-Research Institute Collaboration Association (CIUR) Prof Wang Jianhua (王建华) said that graphene international standards and testing is key to national development of a graphene industry. He continued that the China-UK conference will further promote cooperation in graphene research, strengthening resource integration in graphene certification through testing and standards, all will contribute to these exciting R&D developments.

Stephanie Kitchen, Andrew Pollard, Tim Prior and Ling Hao of NPL also made presentations at the China-UK conference and delegates from China National Institute of Standardization, Beijing Institute of Metrology, Beijing Institute of Technology gave presentations and many other research and development institutions attended this conference.

The Brits have been amazing where graphene is concerned. They have been tireless about promoting it and themselves as leaders in the field and this is one more notch on their belt. Just prior to the Graphene Flagship winning one of two places (in 2013) for 1B Euros in research funding over 10 years, I wrote a series of posts (Feb. 2, 2012 starts the series, followed by Feb. 6, 2012, and then there was Feb. 21, 2012) where I expressed my admiration for the Brits’ stellar efforts.

Shape memory in a supercapacitor fibre for ‘smart’ textiles (wearable tech: 1 of 3)

Wearable technology seems to be quite trendy for a grouping not usually seen: consumers, fashion designers, medical personnel, manufacturers, and scientists.

The first in this informal series concerns a fibre with memory shape. From a Nov. 19, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Wearing your mobile phone display on your jacket sleeve or an EKG probe in your sports kit are not off in some distant imagined future. Wearable “electronic textiles” are on the way. In the journal Angewandte Chemie (“A Shape-Memory Supercapacitor Fiber”), Chinese researchers have now introduced a new type of fiber-shaped supercapacitor for energy-storage textiles. Thanks to their shape memory, these textiles could potentially adapt to different body types: shapes formed by stretching and bending remain “frozen”, but can be returned to their original form or reshaped as desired.

A Nov. 19, 2015 Wiley Publishers press release, which originated the news item, provides context and detail about the work,

Any electronic components designed to be integrated into textiles must be stretchable and bendable. This is also true of the supercapacitors that are frequently used for data preservation in static storage systems (SRAM). SRAM is a type of storage that holds a small amount of data that is rapidly retrievable. It is often used for caches in processors or local storage on chips in devices whose data must be stored for long periods without a constant power supply. Some time ago, a team headed by Huisheng Peng at Fudan University developed stretchable, pliable fiber-shaped supercapacitors for integration into electronic textiles. Peng and his co-workers have now made further progress: supercapacitor fibers with shape memory.

Any electronic components designed to be integrated into textiles must be stretchable and bendable. This is also true of the supercapacitors that are frequently used for data preservation in static storage systems (SRAM). SRAM is a type of storage that holds a small amount of data that is rapidly retrievable. It is often used for caches in processors or local storage on chips in devices whose data must be stored for long periods without a constant power supply.
Some time ago, a team headed by Huisheng Peng at Fudan University developed stretchable, pliable fiber-shaped supercapacitors for integration into electronic textiles. Peng and his co-workers have now made further progress: supercapacitor fibers with shape memory.

The fibers are made using a core of polyurethane fiber with shape memory. This fiber is wrapped with a thin layer of parallel carbon nanotubes like a sheet of paper. This is followed by a coating of electrolyte gel, a second sheet of carbon nanotubes, and a final layer of electrolyte gel. The two layers of carbon nanotubes act as electrodes for the supercapacitor. Above a certain temperature, the fibers produced in this process can be bent as desired and stretched to twice their original length. The new shape can be “frozen” by cooling. Reheating allows the fibers to return to their original shape and size, after which they can be reshaped again. The electrochemical performance is fully maintained through all shape changes.

Weaving the fibers into tissues results in “smart” textiles that could be tailored to fit the bodies of different people. This could be used to make precisely fitted but reusable electronic monitoring systems for patients in hospitals, for example. The perfect fit should render them both more comfortable and more reliable.

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

A Shape-Memory Supercapacitor Fiber by Jue Deng, Ye Zhang, Yang Zhao, Peining Chen, Dr. Xunliang Cheng, & Prof. Dr. Huisheng Peng. Angewandte Chemie International Edition  DOI: 10.1002/anie.201508293  First published: 3 November 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Tomatoes and some nano-sized nutrients

While zinc is a metal, it’s also a nutrient vital to plants as a Nov. 5, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily notes,

With the world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, engineers and scientists are looking for ways to meet the increasing demand for food without also increasing the strain on natural resources, such as water and energy — an initiative known as the food-water-energy nexus.

Ramesh Raliya, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher, and Pratim Biswas, PhD, the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, both at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, are addressing this issue by using nanoparticles to boost the nutrient content and growth of tomato plants. Taking a clue from their work with solar cells, the team found that by using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, the tomato plants better absorbed light and minerals, and the fruit had higher antioxidant content.

A Nov. 5, 2015 Washington University in St. Louis news release by Beth Miller (also on EurekAlert but dated Nov. 6, 2015), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

“When a plant grows, it signals the soil that it needs nutrients,” Biswas says. “The nutrient it needs is not in a form that the plant can take right away, so it secretes enzymes, which react with the soil and trigger bacterial microbes to turn the nutrients into a form that the plant can use. We’re trying to aid this pathway by adding nanoparticles.”

Zinc is an essential nutrient for plants, helps other enzymes function properly and is an ingredient in conventional fertilizer. Titanium is not an essential nutrient for plants, Raliya says, but boosts light absorption by increasing chlorophyll content in the leaves and promotes photosynthesis, properties Biswas’ lab discovered while creating solar cells.

The team used a very fine spray using novel aerosolization techniques to directly deposit the nanoparticles on the leaves of the plants for maximum uptake.

“We found that our aerosol technique resulted in much greater uptake of nutrients by the plant in comparison to application of the nanoparticles to soil,” Raliya says. “A plant can only uptake about 20 percent of the nutrients applied through soil, with the remainder either forming stable complexes with soil constituents or being washed away with water, causing runoff. In both of the latter cases, the nutrients are unavailable to plants.”

Overall, plants treated with the nanoparticles via aerosol routes produced nearly 82 percent (by weight) more fruit than untreated plants. In addition, the tomatoes from treated plant showed an increase in lycopene, an antioxidant linked to reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and age-related eye disorders, of between 80 percent and 113 percent.

Previous studies by other researchers have shown that increasing the use of nanotechnology in agriculture in densely populated countries such as India and China has made an impact on reducing malnutrition and child mortality. These tomatoes will help address malnutrition, Raliya says, because they allow people to get more nutrients from tomatoes than those conventionally grown.

In the study, published online last month in the journal Metallomics, the team found that the nanoparticles in the plants and the tomatoes were well below the USDA limit and considerably lower than what is used in conventional fertilizer. However, they still have to be cautious and select the best concentration of nanoparticles to use for maximum benefit, Biswas says.

Raliya and the rest of the team are now working to develop a new formulation of nanonutrients that includes all 17 elements required by plants.

“In 100 years, there will be more cities and less farmland, but we will need more food,” Raliya says. “At the same time, water will be limited because of climate change. We need an efficient methodology and a controlled environment in which plants can grow.”

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

Mechanistic evaluation of translocation and physiological impact of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles on the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) plant by Ramesh Raliya, Remya Nair, Sanmathi Chavalmane, Wei-Ning Wang and Pratim Biswas. Metallomics, 2015, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C5MT00168D First published online 08 Oct 2015

I believe this article is behind a paywall.

A new nanoparticle—layered* like an onion

The new nanoparticle comes courtesy of an international collaboration (US, China, Sweden, and Russia. A Nov. 10, 2015 University of Buffalo news release (also on EurekAlert) by Charlotte Hu describes the particle and its properties,

A new, onion-like nanoparticle could open new frontiers in biomaging, solar energy harvesting and light-based security techniques.

The particle’s innovation lies in its layers: a coating of organic dye, a neodymium-containing shell, and a core that incorporates ytterbium and thulium. Together, these strata convert invisible near-infrared light to higher energy blue and UV light with record-high efficiency, a trick that could improve the performance of technologies ranging from deep-tissue imaging and light-induced therapy to security inks used for printing money.

Here’s an artist’s representation of the new nanoparticle,

An artist’s rendering shows the layers of a new, onion-like nanoparticle whose specially crafted layers enable it to efficiently convert invisible near-infrared light to higher energy blue and UV light. Credit: Kaiheng Wei Courtesy: University of Buffalo

An artist’s rendering shows the layers of a new, onion-like nanoparticle whose specially crafted layers enable it to efficiently convert invisible near-infrared light to higher energy blue and UV light. Credit: Kaiheng Wei Courtesy: University of Buffalo

The news release goes on to describe technology in more detail,

When it comes to bioimaging, near-infrared light could be used to activate the light-emitting nanoparticles deep inside the body, providing high-contrast images of areas of interest. In the realm of security, nanoparticle-infused inks could be incorporated into currency designs; such ink would be invisible to the naked eye, but glow blue when hit by a low-energy laser pulse — a trait very difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce.

“It opens up multiple possibilities for the future,” says Tymish Ohulchanskyy, deputy director of photomedicine and research associate professor at the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics (ILPB) at the University at Buffalo.

“By creating special layers that help transfer energy efficiently from the surface of the particle to the core, which emits blue and UV light, our design helps overcome some of the long-standing obstacles that previous technologies faced,” says Guanying Chen, professor of chemistry at Harbin Institute of Technology [China] and ILPB research associate professor.

“Our particle is about 100 times more efficient at ‘upconverting’ light than similar nanoparticles created in the past, making it much more practical,” says Jossana Damasco, a UB chemistry PhD student who played a key role in the project.

The research was published online in Nano Letters on Oct. 21 and led by the Institute for Lasers, Photonics, and Biophotonics at UB, and the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, with contributions from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden; Tomsk State University in Russia; and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The study’s senior author was Paras Prasad, ILPB executive director and SUNY [State University of New York] Distinguished Professor in chemistry, physics, medicine and electrical engineering at UB.

Peeling back the layers

Converting low-energy light to light of higher energies isn’t easy to do. The process involves capturing two or more tiny packets of light called “photons” from a low-energy light source, and combining their energy to form a single, higher-energy photon.

The onionesque nanoparticle performs this task beautifully. Each of its three layers fulfills a unique function:

  • The outermost layer is a coating of organic dye. This dye is adept at absorbing photons from low-energy near-infrared light sources. It acts as an “antenna” for the nanoparticle, harvesting light and transferring energy inside, Ohulchanskyy says.
  • The next layer is a neodymium-containing shell. This layer acts as a bridge, transferring energy from the dye to the particle’s light-emitting core.
  • Inside the light-emitting core, ytterbium and thulium ions work in concert. The ytterbium ions draw energy into the core and pass the energy on to the thulium ions, which have special properties that enable them to absorb the energy of three, four or five photons at once, and then emit a single higher-energy photon of blue and UV light.

So why not just use the core? Why add the dye and neodymium layer at all?

As Ohulchanskyy and Chen explain, the core itself is inefficient in absorbing photons from the outside world. That’s where the dye comes in.

Once you add the dye, the neodymium-containing layer is necessary for transferring energy efficiently from dye to core. Ohulchanskyy uses the analogy of a staircase to explain why this is: When molecules or ions in a material absorb a photon, they enter an “excited” state from which they can transfer energy to other molecules or ions. The most efficient transfer occurs between molecules or ions whose excited states require a similar amount of energy to obtain, but the dye and ytterbium ions have excited states with very different energies. So the team added neodymium — whose excited state is in between that of the dye and thulium’s — to act as a bridge between the two, creating a “staircase” for the energy to travel down to reach emitting thulium ions.

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

Energy-Cascaded Upconversion in an Organic Dye-Sensitized Core/Shell Fluoride Nanocrystal by Guanying Chen, Jossana Damasco, Hailong Qiu, Wei Shao, Tymish Y. Ohulchanskyy, Rashid R. Valiev, Xiang Wu, Gang Han, Yan Wang, Chunhui Yang, Hans Ågren, and Paras N. Prasad. Nano Lett., 2015, 15 (11), pp 7400–7407 DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b02830 Publication Date (Web): October 21, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Finally, there is a Nov. 11, 2015 article about the research by Jake Wilkinson for Azonano. He provides additional details such as this measurement,

Measuring approximately 50nm in diameter, the new nanoparticle features three differently designed layers. …

*’ayered’ changed to ‘layered’ on Nov. 11, 2015.

Nano and Japan and South Korea

It’s not always easy to get perspective about nanotechnology research and commercialization efforts in Japan and South Korea. So, it was good to see Marjo Johne’s Nov. 9, 2015 article for the Globe and Mail,

Nanotechnology, a subfield in advanced manufacturing [?] that produces technologies less than 100 nanometres in size (a human hair is about 800 times wider), is a burgeoning industry that’s projected to grow to about $135-billion in Japan by 2020. South Korea’s government said it is aiming to boost its share of the sector to 20 per cent of the global market in 2020.

“Japan and Korea are active markets for nanotechnology,” says Mark Foley, a consultant with NanoGlobe Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based firm that helps nanotech companies bring their products to market. “Japan is especially strong on the research side and [South] Korea is very fast in plugging nanotechnology into applications.”

Andrej Zagar, author of a research paper on nanotechnology in Japan, points to maturing areas in Japan’s nanotechnology sector: applications such as nano electronics, coatings, power electronic, and nano-micro electromechanical systems for sensors. “Japan’s IT sector is making the most progress as the implementations here are made most quickly,” says Mr. Zagar, who works as business development manager at LECIP Holdings Corp., a Tokyo-based company that manufactures intelligent transport systems for global markets. “As Japan is very environmentally focused, the environment sector in nanotech – fuel-cell materials, lithium-ion nanomaterials – is worth focusing on.”

A very interesting article, although don’t take everything as gospel. The definition of nanotechnology as a subfield in advanced manufacturing is problematic to me since nanotechnology has medical and agricultural applications, which wouldn’t typically be described as part of an advanced manufacturing subfield. As well, I’m not sure where biomimicry would fit into this advanced manufacturing scheme. In any event, the applications mentioned in the article do fit that definition; its just not a comprehensive one.

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows I’m not a big fan of patents or the practice of using filed patents as a measure of scientific progress but in the absence of of a viable alternative, there’s this from Johne’s article,

Patent statistics suggest accelerated rates of nanotech-related innovations in these countries. According to StatNano, a website that monitors nanotechnology developments in the world, Japan and South Korea have the second and third highest number of nanotechnology patents filed this year with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

As of September, Japan had filed close to 3,283 patents while South Korea’s total was 1,845. While these numbers are but a fraction of the United States’ 13,759 nanotech patents filed so far this year, they top Germany, which has only 1,100 USPTO nanotech patent filings this year, and Canada, which ranks 10th worldwide with 375 filings.

In South Korea, the rise of nanotechnology can be traced back to 2001, when the South Korean government launched its nanotechnology development plan, along with $94-million in funding. Since then, South Korea has poured more money into nanotechnology. As of 2012, it had invested close to $2-billion in nanotech research and development.

The applications mentioned in the article are the focus of competition not only in Japan and South Korea but internationally,

Mr. Foley says nanofibres and smart clothing are particularly hot areas in Japan these days. Nanofibers have broad applications and can be used in water and air filtration systems. He points to Toray Industries Inc. and Teijin Ltd. as leaders in advanced fibre technology.

“We’ve also seen advances in smart clothing in the last year or two, with clothing that can conduct electricity and measure things like heart rate, body temperature and sweat,” he says. “Last year, a sporting company in Japan released smart clothing based on Toray technology.”

How did Foley determine that ‘smart clothing’ is a particularly hot area in Japan? Is it the number of patents filed? Is it the amount of product in the marketplace? Is it consumer demand? And, how do those numbers compare with other countries? Also, I would have liked a little more detail as to what Foley meant by ‘nanofibres’.

This is a very Asia-centric story, which is a welcome change from US-centric and European-centric stories on this topic, and inevitably, China is mentioned,

As the nanotechnology industry continues to gain traction on a global scale, Mr. Foley says Japan and South Korea may have a hard time holding on to their top spots in the international market; China is moving up fast from behind.

“Top Chinese researchers from Harvard and Cambridge are returning to China, where in Suzhou City they’ve built a nanocity with over 200 nanotechnology-related companies,” he says …

The ‘nano city’ Foley mentions is called Nanopolis or Nanopolis Suzhou. It’s been mentioned here twice, first in a Jan. 20, 2014 posting and again in a Sept. 26, 2014 posting. It’s a massive project and I gather that while some buildings are occupied there are still a significant percentage under construction.