Tag Archives: China

Science publishing, ‘high impact’, reliability, and the practice of science

Konstantin Kakaes has written a provocative and astute article (Feb. 27, 2014 on Slate) about science and publishing, in particular about ‘high impact’ journals.

In 2005, a group of MIT graduate students decided to goof off in a very MIT graduate student way: They created a program called SCIgen that randomly generated fake scientific papers. Thanks to SCIgen, for the last several years, computer-written gobbledygook has been routinely published in scientific journals and conference proceedings. [emphasis mine]

Apparently some well known science publishers have been caught (from the Kakaes article; Note: A link has been removed),

According to Nature News, Cyril Labbé, a French computer scientist, recently informed Springer and the IEEE, two major scientific publishers, that between them, they had published more than 120 algorithmically-generated articles. In 2012, Labbé had told the IEEE of another batch of 85 fake articles. He’s been playing with SCIgen for a few years—in 2010 a fake researcher he created, Ike Antkare, briefly became the 21st most highly cited scientist in Google Scholar’s database.

Kakaes goes on to explain at least in part why this problem has arisen,

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, two things took place. First, academic publishing became an enormously lucrative business. And second, because administrators erroneously believed it to be a means of objective measurement, the advancement of academic careers became conditional on contributions to the business of academic publishing.

As Peter Higgs said after he won last year’s Nobel Prize in physics, “Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.” Jens Skou, a 1997 Nobel Laureate, put it this way in his Nobel biographical statement: today’s system puts pressure on scientists for, “too fast publication, and to publish too short papers, and the evaluation process use[s] a lot of manpower. It does not give time to become absorbed in a problem as the previous system [did].”

Today, the most critical measure of an academic article’s importance is the “impact factor” of the journal it is published in. The impact factor, which was created by a librarian named Eugene Garfield in the early 1950s, measures how often articles published in a journal are cited. Creating the impact factor helped make Garfield a multimillionaire—not a normal occurrence for librarians.

The concern about ‘impact factors’ high or low with regard to science publishing is a discussion I first stumbled across and mentioned in an April 22, 2010 posting where I noted the concern with metrics extends beyond an individual career or university’s reputation but also affects national reputations. Kostas Kostarelos in a Jan. 24, 2014 posting on the Guardian science blogs notes this in his discussion of how China’s policies could affect the practice of science (Note: Links have been removed),

…  For example, if a Chinese colleague publishes an article in a highly regarded scientific journal they will be financially rewarded by the government – yes, a bonus! – on the basis of an official academic reward structure. Publication in one of the highest impact journals is currently rewarded with bonuses in excess of $30,000 – which is surely more than the annual salary of a starting staff member in any lab in China.

Such practices are disfiguring the fundamental principles of ethical integrity in scientific reporting and publishing, agreed and accepted by the scientific community worldwide. They introduce motives that have the potential to seriously corrupt the triangular relationship between scientist or clinician, publisher or editor and the public (taxpayer) funding agency. They exacerbate the damage caused by journal quality rankings based on “impact factor”, which is already recognised by the scientific community in the west as problematic.

Such measures also do nothing to help Chinese journals gain recognition by the rest of the world, as has been described by two colleagues from Zhejiang University in an article entitled “The outflow of academic articles from China: why is it happening and can it be stemmed?”.

At this point we have a system that rewards (with jobs, bonuses, etc.) prolific publication of one’s science achieved either by the sweat of one’s brow (and/or possibly beleaguered students’ brows) or from a clever algorithm. It’s a system that encourages cheating and distorts any picture we might have of scientific achievement on a planetary, national, regional, university, or individual basis.

Clearly we need to do something differently. Kakaes mentions an initiative designed for that purpose, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). Please do let me know in the Comments section if there are any other such efforts.

Prussian blue nanocubes and ultralightweight iron oxide materials

The research itself concerns the synthesis of ultralight iron oxide frameworks but really caught my attention was the image used to illustrate the work and the term ‘Prussian blue nanocubes’,

[downloaded from http://www.wiley-vch.de/util/hottopics/mesoporous/]

[downloaded from http://www.wiley-vch.de/util/hottopics/mesoporous/]

I believed the image is meant to indicate an ultralight iron anvil resting on the head of a rose-like blossom (I was mostly wrong) as you’ll see in this Feb. 25, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Adsorption, catalysis, or substrates for tissue growth: porous materials have many potential applications. In the journal Angewandte Chemie (“Ultralight Mesoporous Magnetic Frameworks by Interfacial Assembly of Prussian Blue Nanocubes”), a team of Chinese and Australian researchers has now introduced a method for the synthesis of ultralight three-dimensional (3D) iron oxide frameworks with two different types of nanoscopic pores and tunable surface properties. This superparamagnetic material can be cut into arbitrary shapes and is suitable for applications such as multiphase catalysis and the removal of heavy metal ions and oil from water.

Materials with hierarchically organized pore systems—meaning that the walls of macropores with diameters in the micrometer range contain mesopores of just a few nanometers—are high on the wish lists of materials researchers. The advantages of these materials include their high surface area and the easy accessibility of the small pores through the larger ones. The great desirability of these materials is matched by the degree of difficulty in producing them on an industrial scale.

Scientists at Fudan University (China) and Monash University (Australia) have now successfully produced an ultralight iron oxide framework with 250 µm and 18 nm pores in a process that can be used on an industrial scale. A team led by Gengfeng Zheng and Dongyuan Zhao used highly porous polyurethane sponges as a “matrix”, which were soaked with yellow potassium hexacyanoferrate (K4[Fe(CN)6]). Subsequent hydrolysis resulted in cubic nanocrystals of Prussian blue (iron hexacyanoferrate), a dark blue pigment, which were deposited all over the surfaces of the sponge. The polyurethane sponge was then fully burned away through pyroloysis and the Prussian blue was converted to iron oxide. The result is a 3D framework of iron oxide cubes that are in turn made of iron oxide nanoparticles and contain mesopores. The material is so light that the researchers were able to balance a 240 cm3 piece on an oleander blossom.

As for Prussian blue, it’s a term I associate with portraits and landscapes. Actually, Prussian blue is a little more than that (from the Prussian blue entry on wiktionary.org),

Prussian blue (plural Prussian blues)

(inorganic chemistry) An insoluble dark, bright blue pigment, ferric ferrocyanide (equivalent to ferrous ferricyanide), used in painting and dyeing, and as an antidote for certain kinds of heavy metal poisoning.
A moderate to rich blue colour, tinted with deep greenish blue.

Here’s a sample of the colour from the wiktionary entry,

[downloaded from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Prussian_blue]

[downloaded from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Prussian_blue]

Prussian Blue was also the name for a short-lived white nationalist band (from the Prussian Blue essay on Wikipedia; Note: Links have been removed),

Prussian Blue was an American white nationalist pop pre-teen duo formed in early 2003 by April Gaede, mother of Lynx Vaughan Gaede[1] and Lamb Lennon Gaede,[2] sororal twins born on June 30, 1992, in Bakersfield, California.[3] The twins referred to the Holocaust as a myth[4] and their group was described as racist and white supremacist in nature.[5][6]

Lynx and Lamb were about 14 when they decided that they wanted to cease touring. In 2011, in an interview with The Daily, the twins renounced their previous politics.[7] Lamb was quoted saying, “I’m not a white nationalist anymore. My sister and I are pretty liberal now.”

Getting back to the research at hand, here’s a link to and a citation for the research into ultralight iron oxide frameworks,

Ultralight Mesoporous Magnetic Frameworks by Interfacial Assembly of Prussian Blue Nanocubes by Biao Kong, Jing Tang, Zhangxiong Wu, Jing Wei, Hao Wu, Yongcheng Wang, Prof. Gengfeng Zheng, & Prof. Dongyuan Zhao. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Article first published online: 12 FEB 2014 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201308625

Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

I really wasn’t expecting to trip across information about a holocaust-denying pre-teen pop duo (who’ve since renounced those views) in a post regarding research on iron oxide and Prussian blue nanocubes that was published in a German chemistry journal. I’m not sure this can be called ironic but it certainly has that quality.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 2014 international nanotechnology conference in Toronto, Canada

August 18 – 21, 2014 are the dates for the IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 14th International Conference on Nanotechnology.  The deadline for submitting abstracts is March 15, 2014. Here’s a bit more about the conference, from the homepage,

IEEE Nano is one of the largest Nanotechnology conferences in the world, bringing together the brightest engineers and scientists through collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

IEEE Nano 2014 will provide researchers and others in the Nanotechnology field the ability to interact and advance their work through various speakers and workshop sessions.

Possible Topics for Papers

Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology
Micro-to-nano-scale bridging
Modeling and Simulation
Nanobiology:
•Nanobiomedicine
•Nanobiosystems
•Applications of Biopolymer Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery
Nanoelectronics:
•Non-Carbon Based
•Carbon Based
•Circuits and Architecture
Nanofabrication and Nanoassemblies
Nanofluidics:
•Modeling and Theory
•Applications
Nanomagnetics
Nanomanufacturing
Nanomaterials:
•2-D Materials beyond Graphene
•Synthesis and Characterization
•Applications and Enabled Systems
Nanometrology and Nanocharacterization
Nanopackaging
Nano-optics, Nano-optoelectronics and Nano-photonics:
•Novel fabrication and integration approaches
•Optical Nano-devices
Nanorobotics and Nanomanipulation
Nanoscale Communication and Networks
Nanosensors and Actuators
Nanotechnology Enabled Energy
NEMS
NEMS/Applications

There is a conference Call For Papers webpage where you can get more information.

Invited speakers include,

John Polanyi
Professor
University of Toronto, Canada

John Polanyi, educated at Manchester University, England, was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and at the National Research Council of Canada. He is a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada (P.C.), and a Companion of the Order of Canada (C.C.). His awards include the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He has written extensively on science policy, the control of armaments, peacekeeping and human rights.

Charles Lieber
Professor Charles M. Lieber
Mark Hyman Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Harvard University

Charles M. Lieber is regarded as a leading chemist worldwide and recognized as a pioneer in the nanoscience and nanotechnology fields. He completed his doctoral studies at Stanford University and currently holds a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, as the Mark Hyman Professor of Chemistry, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Lieber is widely known for his contributions to the synthesis, understanding and assembly of nanoscale materials, as well as the founding of two nanotechnology companies: Nanosys and Vista Therapeutics.

Lieber’s achievements have been recognized by a large number of awards, including the Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (2002), World Technology award in Materials (2003 and 2004) and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2012). He has published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals and is the primary inventor on over 35 patents.

Arthur Carty
Professor & Executive Director [Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology]
University of Waterloo, Canada

Arthur Carty has a PhD in inorganic chemistry from the University of Nottingham in the UK. He is currently the Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and research professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo.

Previously, Dr. Carty served in Canada as the National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and President of the National Research Council (Canada). He was awarded the Order of Canada and holds 14 honorary doctorates.

His research interests are focused on organometallic chemistry and new materials. [Dr. Carty is chair of The Expert Panel on the State of Canada’s Science Culture; an assessment being conducted by the Canadian Council of Academies as per my Feb. 22, 2013 posting and Dr. Carty is giving a Keynote lecture titled: 'Small World, Large Impact: Driving a Materials Revolution Through Nanotechnology' at the 2014 TAPPI (Technical Association for the Pulp, Paper, Packaging and Converting Industries) nanotechnology conference, June 23-26, 2014 in Vancouver, Canada as per my Nov. 14, 2013 posting.]

William Milne
Professor
University of Cambridge, UK

Bill Milne FREng,FIET,FIMMM has been Head of Electrical Engineering at Cambridge University since 1999 and Director of the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE) since 2005. In 1996 he was appointed to the ‘‘1944 Chair in Electrical Engineering’’. He obtained his BSc from St Andrews University in Scotland in 1970 and then went on to read for a PhD in Electronic Materials at Imperial College London. He was awarded his PhD and DIC in 1973 and, in 2003, a D.Eng (Honoris Causa) from University of Waterloo, Canada. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering in 2006. He was awarded the J.J. Thomson medal from the IET in 2008 and the NANOSMAT prize in 2010 for excellence in nanotechnology. His research interests include large area Si and carbon based electronics, graphene, carbon nanotubes and thin film materials. Most recently he has been investigating MEMS, SAW and FBAR devices and SOI based micro heaters for ( bio) sensing applications. He has published/presented ~ 800 papers in these areas, of which ~ 150 were invited. He co-founded Cambridge Nanoinstruments with 3 colleagues from the Department and this was bought out by Aixtron in 2008 and in 2009 co-founded Cambridge CMOS Sensors with Julian Gardner from Warwick Univ. and Florin Udrea from Cambridge Univ.

Shuit-Tong Lee
Institute of Functional Nano & Soft Materials (FUNSOM)
Collaboration Innovation Center of Suzhou Nano Science and Technology
College of Nano Science and Technology (CNST)
Soochow University, China
Email: [email protected]

Prof. Lee is the member (academician) of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the fellow of TWAS (the academy of sciences for the developing world). He is a distinguished scientist in material science and engineering. Prof. Lee is the Founding Director of Functional Nano & Soft Materials Laboratory (FUNSOM) and Director of the College of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Soochow University. He is also a Chair Professor of Materials Science and Founding Director of the Center of Super-Diamond and Advanced Films (COSDAF) at City University of Hong Kong and the Founding Director of Nano-Organic Photoelectronic Laboratory at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, CAS. He was the Senior Research Scientist and Project Manager at the Research Laboratories of Eastman Kodak Company in the US before he joined City University of Hong Kong in 1994. He won the Humboldt Senior Research Award (Germany) in 2001 and a Croucher Senior Research Fellowship from the Croucher Foundation (HK) in 2002 for the studies of “Nucleation and growth of diamond and new carbon based materials” and “Oxide assisted growth and applications of semiconducting nanowires”, respectively. He also won the National Natural Science Award of PRC (second class) in 2003 and 2005 for the above research achievements. Recently, he was awarded the 2008 Prize for Scientific and Technological Progress of Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation. Prof. Lee’s research work has resulted in more than 650 peer-reviewed publications in prestigious chemistry, physics and materials science journals, 6 book chapters and over 20 US patents, among them 5 papers were published in Science and Nature (London) and some others were selected as cover papers. His papers have more than 10,000 citations by others, which is ranked within world top 25 in the materials science field according to ESI and ISI citation database.

Sergej Fatikow
Full Professor, Dr.-Ing. habil.
Head, Division for Microrobotics & Control Engineering (AMiR)
University of Oldenburg, Germany

Professor Sergej Fatikow studied electrical engineering and computer science at the Ufa Aviation Technical University in Russia, where he received his doctoral degree in 1988 with work on fuzzy control of complex non-linear systems. After that he worked until 1990 as a lecturer at the same university. During his work in Russia he published over 30 papers and successfully applied for over 50 patents in intelligent control and mechatronics. In 1990 he moved to the Institute for Process Control and Robotics at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, where he worked as a postdoctoral scientific researcher and since 1994 as Head of the research group “Microrobotics and Micromechatronics”. He became an assistant professor in 1996 and qualified for a full faculty position by habilitation at the University of Karlsruhe in 1999. In 2000 he accepted a faculty position at the University of Kassel, Germany. A year later, he was invited to establish a new Division for Microrobotics and Control Engineering (AMiR) at the University of Oldenburg, Germany. Since 2001 he is a full professor in the Department of Computing Science and Head of AMiR. His research interests include micro- and nanorobotics, automated robot-based nanohandling in SEM, AFM-based nanohandling, sensor feedback at nanoscale, and neuro-fuzzy robot control. He is author of three books on microsystem technology, microrobotics and microassembly, robot-based nanohandling, and automation at nanoscale, published by Springer in 1997, Teubner in 2000, and Springer in 2008. Since 1990 he published over 100 book chapters and journal papers and over 200 conference papers. Prof. Fatikow is Founding Chair of the International Conference on Manipulation, Manufacturing and Measurement on the Nanoscale (3M-NANO) and Europe- Chair of IEEE-RAS Technical Committee on Micro/Nano Robotics and Automation.

Seiji Samukawa
Distinguished Professor
Innovative Energy Research Center, Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University
World Premier International Center Initiative, Advanced Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

Dr. Seiji Samukawa received a BSc in 1981 from the Faculty of Technology of Keio University and joined NEC Corporation the same year. At NEC Microelectronics Research Laboratories, he was the lead researcher of a group performing fundamental research on advanced plasma etching processes for technology under 0.1 μm. While there, he received the Ishiguro Award—given by NEC’s R&D Group and Semiconductor Business Group— for his work in applying a damage-free plasma etching process to a mass-production line. After spending several years in the business world, however, he returned to Keio University, obtaining a PhD in engineering in 1992. Since 2000, he has served as professor at the Institute of Fluid Science at Tohoku University and developed ultra-low-damage microfabrication techniques that tap into the essential nature of nanomaterials and developed innovative nanodevices. He is also carrying out pioneering, creative research on bio-template technologies, which are based on a completely new concept of treating the super-molecules of living organisms. His motto when conducting research is to “always aim toward eventual practical realization.”

In recognition of his excellent achievements outlined above, he has been elected as a Distinguished Professor of Tohoku University and has been a Fellow of the Japan Society of Applied Physics since 2008 and a Fellow of the American Vacuum Society since 2009. His significant scientific achievements earned him the Outstanding Paper Award at the International Conference on Micro and Nanotechnology (1997), Best Review Paper Award (2001), Japanese Journal of Applied Physics (JJAP) Editorial Contribution Award (2003), Plasma Electronics Award (2004), Fellow Award (2008), JJAP Paper Award (2008) from the Japan Society of Applied Physics, Distinguished Graduate Award (2005) from Keio University, Ichimura Award (2008) from the New Technology Development Foundation, Commendation for Science and Technology from the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (2009), Fellow Award of American Vacuum Society (2009), Plasma Electronics Award from the Japan Society of Applied Physics (2010), Best Paper Award from the Japan Society of Applied Physics (2010), and Plasma Prize from the Plasma Science and Technology Division of American Vacuum Society (2010).

Haixia (Alice) Zhang
Professor
Institute of Microelectronics
Peking University, China

Haixia(Alice) Zhang, Professor, Institute of Microelectronics, Peking Universituy. She was served on the general chair of IEEE NEMS 2013 Conference, the organizing chair of Transducers’11. As the founder of the International Contest of Applications in Network of things (iCAN), she organized this world-wide event since 2007. She was elected the director of Integrated Micro/Nano System Engineering Center in 2006, the deputy secretary-general of Chinese Society of Micro-Nano Technology in 2005, the Co-chair of Chinese International NEMS Network (CINN) and serves as the chair of IEEE NTC Beijing Chapter. At 2006, Dr. Zhang won National Invention Award of Science & Technology. Her research fields include MEMS Design and Fabrication Technology, SiC MEMS and Micro Energy Technology.

Alice’s Wonderlab: http://www.ime.pku.edu.cn/alice

I wonder if the organizers will be including an Open Forum as they did at the 13th IEEE nanotechnology conference in China. It sounds a little more dynamic and fun than any of the sessions currently listed for the Toronto conference but these things are sometimes best organized in a relatively spontaneous fashion rather than as one of the more formal conference events (from the 13th conference Open Forum),

This Open Forum will be run like a Rump Session to have a lively discussion of various topics of interest to the IEEE Nanotechnology Community. The key to the success of this Forum is participation from the audience with their own opinions and comments on any Nanotechnology subject or issue they can think of. We expect the session to be lively, interesting, controversial, opinionated and more. Here are some topics or issues to think about:

  1. When are we ever going to have a large scale impact of nanotechnology ? Shouldn’t we be afraid that the stakeholders (Tax payers, Politicians) are going to run out of patience ?
  2. Is there a killer app or apps on the horizon ?
  3. Is there a future for carbon nanotubes in electronics ? It has been 15 years + now….
  4. Is there a future for graphene in electronics ?
  5. Is there a future for graphene in anything ? Or will it just run its course on every application people did previously for carbon nanotubes ?
  6. As engineers, are we doing anything different from the physicists/chemists ? Looks like we are also chasing the same old : trying to publish in Nature, Science, and other similar journals with huge impact factor ? Are we prepared adequately to play in someone else’s game ? Should we even be doing it ?
  7. As engineers, aren’t we supposed to come up with working widgets closer to manufacturing ?
  8. As engineers, are we going to take responsibility for the commercial future of nanotechnology as has been done in all previous success stories ?

This list is by no means exhaustive. Please come up with your own questions/issues and speak up at the session.

Good luck with your abstract.

Nanopolis and China’s Showroon for Nanotechnology

Courtesy: HENN [Architects] [downloaded from http://www.henn.com/en/projects/culture/nanopolis-showroom]

Courtesy: Henn Architects [downloaded from http://www.henn.com/en/projects/culture/nanopolis-showroom]

Marija Bojovic’s Jan. 17, 2014 article for evolo.us offers the preceding image and more in an ar6ticle where she describes the building (Note: Links have been removed),

The layout of the curved building follows the classical inner courtyard typology and its form makes reference to the interplay of three ellipses. The largest ellipse defines the external size of the building, the smallest, the inner courtyard and the middle, the roof edge. At the lowest point, the pronounced slope of the annular allows a second access across the inner courtyard and opens the building to the forecourt opposite and the city. At the same time, the building rises from this point and terminates in the glass facade, which extends over the full height of the building and faces toward the water-scape.

The Showroom for Nanotechnology is part of a larger complex called Nanopollis, which in turn is part of an industrial park, in the city of Suzhou, China. The Nanopolis complex is expected to be opened in 2015. Here’s more about the project according to the agency which is responsible for it (from the Suzhou Nanotechnology webpage on the the Nanopolis website),

Founded in September 2010 as a state-owned company of Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou Nanotech focuses on nanotech industry promotion and service to establish an ecosystem for nanotech innovation and commercialization. The company actively works on recruitment and cooperation with industry and innovation resources, R&D facilities and platforms set-up and operation, investment and incubation, marketing and supporting services as well as the construction of “Nanopolis Suzhou”. Nowadays we have two wholly-owned subsidiaries named as Suzhou Nano Venture Capital Co.,Ltd. and SIP Nanotechnology Industry Institute Co., Ltd.

6 main Functions

• Nanopolis construction and operation
• Industry & innovation introduction and cooperation
• Nanotech industry cluster development
• Public platform construction and operation
• Investment and incubation
• Industry promotion & brand establishment

I did find two slides (PDF) describing the project in more detail on the Netherlands Enterprise Agency website,

The SIP [Singapore jointly developed Suzhou Industrial Park] has committed 10 billion RMB (about 1.5 BUSD) for the next five years to further develop Suzhou high-tech industries including nanotech enabled industries. Today the SIP is housed with 20000 national and multinational companies including 3M, Samsung, Siemens, Johnson & Johnson, Phillips, AMD, Bosch, Eli Lily and others within 288 square kilometers. Suzhou was ranked top 3 in “2010 China’s Most Innovative Cities” by Forbes.

… Suzhou intends to attract over 200 nanotech companies from all over the world and 10,000 nanotech experts within the next 5 years to make Suzhou the most global and innovative nanotech hub in China by 2015.

I look forward to hearing more about Nanopolis when it opens. In the meantime, here’s what the architects have to say about their approach to the project (from the HENN Nanopolis webpage),

Suzhou has set itself the target of closing the gap on the world’s leaders as a research and development location. Alongside the Biobay biotechnology park in the west of the city, Nanotech City marks another key element in that strategy. The program includes a total of 1.3 million square metres of floor area.

The creative leitmotif of the design is the relationship of scale between the molecular world, man and urban space. All elements of urban, architectural and landscape design range in density, size and height from the very large to the very small. The fractal logic of the division into units of diminishing size continues from the urban scale down to the facades, where elements of local architecture are reflected in aspects such as colour and structure.

As for HENN, here’s a little more about the company from the company’s About Us webpage,

HENN is an international architectural consultancy with 65 years of expertise in the design and realisation of buildings, masterplans and interior spaces in the fields of culture, administration, teaching and research, development and production as well as urban design.

The office is led by Gunter Henn and eleven partners with offices in Munich, Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai. 350 employees from 25 countries are able to draw upon a wealth of knowledge collected over three generations of building experience in addition to a worldwide network of partners and experts in a variety of disciplines.

 

Finding a successor to graphene

The folks at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have announced a ‘natural’ 3D counterpart of graphene in a Jan. 16, 2014 Berkeley Lab news release (also on EurekAlert and on Azonano dated Jan. 17, 2014),

The discovery of what is essentially a 3D version of graphene – the 2D sheets of carbon through which electrons race at many times the speed at which they move through silicon – promises exciting new things to come for the high-tech industry, including much faster transistors and far more compact hard drives. A collaboration of researchers at the U.S Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered that sodium bismuthate can exist as a form of quantum matter called a three-dimensional topological Dirac semi-metal (3DTDS). This is the first experimental confirmation of 3D Dirac fermions in the interior or bulk of a material, a novel state that was only recently proposed by theorists.

The news release provides a description of graphene and the search for alternatives (counterparts),

Two of the most exciting new materials in the world of high technology today are graphene and topological insulators, crystalline materials that are electrically insulating in the bulk but conducting on the surface. Both feature 2D Dirac fermions (fermions that aren’t their own antiparticle), which give rise to extraordinary and highly coveted physical properties. Topological insulators also possess a unique electronic structure, in which bulk electrons behave like those in an insulator while surface electrons behave like those in graphene.

“The swift development of graphene and topological insulators has raised questions as to whether there are 3D counterparts and other materials with unusual topology in their electronic structure,” says Chen [Yulin Chen, a physicist from the University of Oxford who led this study working with Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS)]. “Our discovery answers both questions. In the sodium bismuthate we studied, the bulk conduction and valence bands touch only at discrete points and disperse linearly along all three momentum directions to form bulk 3D Dirac fermions. Furthermore, the topology of a 3DTSD electronic structure is also as unique as those of topological insulators.”

I’m a bit puzzled as to how this new material can be described as “essentially a 3D version of graphene” as my understanding is that graphene must be composed of carbon and have a 2-dimensiional honeycomb structure to merit the name. In any event, this new material, sodium bismuthate, has some disadvantages but the discovery is an encouraging development (from the news release),

Sodium bismuthate is too unstable to be used in devices without proper packaging, but it triggers the exploration for the development of other 3DTDS materials more suitable for everyday devices, a search that is already underway. Sodium bismuthate can also be used to demonstrate potential applications of 3DTDS systems, which offer some distinct advantages over graphene.

“A 3DTDS system could provide a significant improvement in efficiency in many applications over graphene because of its 3D volume,” Chen says. “Also, preparing large-size atomically thin single domain graphene films is still a challenge. It could be easier to fabricate graphene-type devices for a wider range of applications from 3DTDS systems.”

In addition, Chen says, a 3DTDS system also opens the door to other novel physical properties, such as giant diamagnetism that diverges when energy approaches the 3D Dirac point, quantum magnetoresistance in the bulk, unique Landau level structures under strong magnetic fields, and oscillating quantum spin Hall effects. All of these novel properties can be a boon for future electronic technologies. Future 3DTDS systems can also serve as an ideal platform for applications in spintronics.

While I don’t understand (again) the image the researchers have included as an illustration of their work, I do find the ‘blue jewels in a pile of junk’ very appealing,

Beamline 10.0.1 at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source is optimized for the study of for electron structures and correlated electron systems. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt) Courtesy: Berkeley Lab

Beamline 10.0.1 at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source is optimized for the study of for electron structures and correlated electron systems. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt) Courtesy: Berkeley Lab

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

Discovery of a Three-dimensional Topological Dirac Semimetal, Na3Bi by Zhongkai Liu, Bo Zhou, Yi Zhang, Zhijun Wang, Hongming Weng, Dharmalingam Prabhakaran, Sung-Kwan Mo, Zhi-Xun Shen, Zhong Fang, Xi Dai, and Zahid Hussain. Published Online January 16 2014 Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1245085

This paper is behind a paywall.

Authenticating chocolate and a bit about coffee

Apparently, not all premium chocolate is actually premium, like wine, expensive, premium product can be mixed with a more common variety to be sold at the higher, premium price.  Now, scientists in a collaboration which spans the US, China, and Trinidad and Tobago have found a way to authenticate premium chocolate according to a Jan. 15, 2014 news release on EurekAlert,

For some people, nothing can top a morsel of luxuriously rich, premium chocolate. But until now, other than depending on their taste buds, chocolate connoisseurs had no way of knowing whether they were getting what they paid for. In ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists are reporting, for the first time, a method to authenticate the varietal purity and origin of cacao beans, the source of chocolate’s main ingredient, cocoa.

Dapeng Zhang and colleagues note that lower-quality cacao beans often get mixed in with premium varieties on their way to becoming chocolate bars, truffles, sauces and liqueurs. But the stakes for policing the chocolate industry are high. It’s a multi-billion dollar global enterprise, and in some places, it’s as much art as business. There’s also a conservation angle to knowing whether products are truly what confectioners claim them to be. The ability to authenticate premium and rare varieties would encourage growers to maintain cacao biodiversity rather than depend on the most abundant and easiest to grow trees. Researchers have found ways to verify through genetic testing the authenticity of many other crops, including cereals, fruits, olives, tea and coffee, but those methods aren’t suitable for cacao beans. Zhang’s team wanted to address this challenge.

Applying the most recent developments in cacao genomics, they were able to identify a small set of DNA markers called SNPs (pronounced “snips”) that make up unique fingerprints of different cacao species. The technique works on single cacao beans and can be scaled up to handle large samples quickly. “To our knowledge, this is the first authentication study in cacao using molecular markers,” the researchers state.

Here’s an image, provided by the researchers, illustrating their work,

Courtesy American Chemical Society [downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf404402v]

Courtesy American Chemical Society [downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf404402v]

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

Accurate Determination of Genetic Identity for a Single Cacao Bean, Using Molecular Markers with a Nanofluidic System, Ensures Cocoa Authentication by Wanping Fang, Lyndel W. Meinhardt, Sue Mischke, Cláudia M. Bellato, Lambert Motilal, and Dapeng Zhang. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2014, 62 (2), pp 481–487 DOI: 10.1021/jf404402v Publication Date (Web): December 19, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This story reminded me that coffee too is sold at premium prices. Billed as the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak, is harvested, so they say, from civet excrement and I have to wonder how anyone could authenticate that a bean had actually passed through a civet’s gastrointestinal tract and out the other end. I’ve also wondered how the practice of plucking coffee beans from civet excrement started (from the Kopi Luwak Wikipedia essay; Note: Links have been removed) here’s an answer to the second question,

The origin of kopi luwak is closely connected with the history of coffee production in Indonesia. In the early 18th century the Dutch established the cash-crop coffee plantations in their colony in the Dutch East Indies islands of Java and Sumatra, including Arabica coffee introduced from Yemen. During the era of Cultuurstelsel (1830—1870), the Dutch prohibited the native farmers and plantation workers from picking coffee fruits for their own use. Still, the native farmers wanted to have a taste of the famed coffee beverage. Soon, the natives learned that certain species of musang or luwak (Asian Palm Civet) consumed the coffee fruits, yet they left the coffee seeds undigested in their droppings. The natives collected these luwaks’ coffee seed droppings, then cleaned, roasted and ground them to make their own coffee beverage.[11] The fame of aromatic civet coffee spread from locals to Dutch plantation owners and soon became their favourite, yet because of its rarity and unusual process, the civet coffee was expensive even during the colonial era.[citation needed]

I guess that in the future when you eat premium chocolate you can be sure that you’ve gotten what you paid for. As for coffee, I’m sure that industry is working on its authentication processes too and in the meantime, you’ll have to rely on your palate.

A closer look at the interface between water and solid surfaces sparks memories of the water/air interface

Researchers at China’s Peking University have developed a technique for taking the closest look possible at the interface  between water and solid surfaces according to a Jan. 10, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The interaction of water with the surfaces of solid materials is ubiquitous. Many remarkable physical and chemical properties of water/solid interfaces are governed by H-bonding interaction between water molecules. As a result, the accurate description of H-bonding configuration and directionality is one of the most important fundamental issues in water science. Ideally, attacking this problem requires the access to the internal degrees of freedom of water molecules, i.e. the O-H directionality. However, resolving the internal structure of water has not been possible so far despite massive efforts in the last decades due to the light mass and small size of hydrogen.

Recently, the teams led by Professor Ying Jiang and Professor Enge Wang of International Center for Quantum Materials (ICQM) of Peking University succeeded to achieve submolecular-resolution imaging of individual water monomers and tetramers adsorbed on a Au [gold]-supported NaCl [sodium chloride](001) film at 5 K, using a cryogenic scanning tunneling microscope (STM).

The Jan. 9, 2014 University of Peking news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

… They first decoupled electronically the water molecule from the metal substrate by inserting an insulating NaCl layer and then employed the STM tip as a top gate to tune controllably the molecular density of states of water around the Fermi level. These key steps enabled them to image the frontier molecular orbitals which are spatially locked together with the geometric structures of water molecules. Notably, they were able to discriminate in real space the orientation of water monomers and the H-bonding directionality of water tetramers based on the submolecular-resolution orbital images.

This work opens up the possibility of determining the detailed topology of H-bonded networks at water/solid interfaces with atomic precision, which is only possible through theoretical simulations in the past. The ability to resolve the O-H directionality of water provides further opportunities for probing the dynamics of H-bonded networks at atomic scale such as H-atom transfer and bond rearrangement. In addition, the novel orbital-imaging technique developed in this work reveals new understanding of STM experiments and may be applicable to a broad range of molecular systems and materials.

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

Real-space imaging of interfacial water with submolecular resolution by Jing Guo, Xiangzhi Meng, Ji Chen, Jinbo Peng, Jiming Sheng, Xin-Zheng Li, Limei Xu, Jun-Ren Shi, Enge Wang, & Ying Jiang. Nature Materials (2014) doi:10.1038/nmat3848 Published online 05 January 2014

This paper is behind a paywall although you can get a preview via ReadCube Access.

As noted in the headline, this work sparked a memory of research conducted on the water/air interface and the discovery that the boundary between water and air is not as distinct as was believed. (I have a longstanding interest in boundaries, which often have an arbitrary nature.) From the 2011 (?) news item on Softpedia,

The question of where water stops and where air begins is a very old, and difficult-to-answer one. Experts have been trying to do so for years, and now it would appear that they finally have an answer. The layer separating the two is as thin as the distance between two atoms in a hydrogen molecules.

At the topmost layer of water, in an ocean for example, water (H2O) molecules are having a real problem – they cannot really decided whether to exist as gas or liquid. As such, one of the two hydrogen atoms remains in the water, while the second ones pokes out into the air.

Physicists now call this the layer of molecular ambiguity, and say that it has little to no effect on the way water below this level behaves. …

Interestingly, just one molecule beneath this first layer of H2O molecules, the rest of the water behaves as if nothing is going on in the layers above. This discovery is critically important for many fields of research, including for example atmospheric chemistry.

“In some ways this is a negative result. Sometimes a negative result can be very positive,” says Pavel Jungwirth, a scientist at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in Prague. …

With the new data, says University of Victoria [located in British Columbia, Canada] physical chemist Dennis Hore, scientists will be able to refine models seeking to explain how water interacts with other chemicals within living cells. …

There’s a link to and a citation for the 2011 paper,

Hydrogen bonding at the water surface revealed by isotopic dilution spectroscopy by Igor V. Stiopkin, Champika Weeraman, Piotr A. Pieniazek, Fadel Y. Shalhout, James L. Skinner, & Alexander V. Benderskii. Nature 474, 192–195 (09 June 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10173 Published online 08 June 2011

This paper is behind a paywall although you can get a preview via ReadCube Access.

News of nanotechnology-enabled recovery of rare earth elements from industrial wastewater and some rare earths context

An Oct. 31, 2013 news item on Azonano features information about rare earth elements and their use in technology along with a new technique for recycling them from wastewater,

Many of today’s technologies, from hybrid car batteries to flat-screen televisions, rely on materials known as rare earth elements (REEs) that are in short supply, but scientists are reporting development of a new method to recycle them from wastewater.

The process, which is described in a study in the journal ACS [American Chemical Society] Applied Materials & Interfaces, could help alleviate economic and environmental pressures facing the REE industry.

… Attempts so far to recycle them from industrial wastewater are expensive or otherwise impractical. A major challenge is that the elements are typically very diluted in these waters. The team knew that a nanomaterial known as nano-magnesium hydroxide, or nano-Mg(OH)2, was effective at removing some metals and dyes from wastewater. So they set out to understand how the compound worked and whether it would efficiently remove diluted REEs, as well.

The Oct. 30, 2013 ACS PressPac news release, which originated the news item, provides a few details about how the scientists tested their approach,

To test their idea, they produced inexpensive nano-Mg(OH)2 particles, whose shapes resemble flowers when viewed with a high-power microscope. They showed that the material captured more than 85 percent of the REEs that were diluted in wastewater in an initial experiment mimicking real-world conditions. “Recycling REEs from wastewater not only saves rare earth resources and protects the environment, but also brings considerable economic benefits,” the researchers state. “The pilot-scale experiment indicated that the self-supported flower-like nano-Mg(OH)2 had great potential to recycle REEs from industrial wastewater.”

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

Recycling Rare Earth Elements from Industrial Wastewater with Flowerlike Nano-Mg(OH)2 by Chaoran Li †‡, Zanyong Zhuang, Feng Huang, Zhicheng Wu, Yangping Hong, and Zhang Lin. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2013, 5 (19), pp 9719–9725 DOI: 10.1021/am4027967 Publication Date (Web): September 13, 2013

Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

As for the short supply mentioned in the first line of the news item, the world’s largest exporter of rare earth elements at 90% of the market, China, recently announced a cap according to a Sept. 6, 2013 article by David Stanway for Reuters. The Chinese government appears to be curtailing exports as part of an ongoing, multi-year strategy. Here’s how Cientifica‘s (an emerging technologies consultancy, etc.) white paper (Simply No Substitute?) about critical materials published in 2012 (?), described the situation,

Despite their name, REE are not that rare in the Earth’s crust. What has happened in the past decade is that REE exports from China undercut prices elsewhere, leading to the closure of mines such as the Mountain Pass REE mine in California. Once China had acquired a dominant market position, prices began to rise. But this situation will likely ease. The US will probably begin REE production from the Mountain Pass mine later in 2012, and mines in other countries are expected to start operation soon as well.

Nevertheless, owing to their broad range of uses REE will continue to exert pressures on their supply – especially for countries without notable REE deposits. This highlights two aspects of importance for strategic materials: actual rarity and strategic supply issues such as these seen for REE. Although strategic and diplomatic supply issues may have easier solutions, their consideration for manufacturing industries will almost be the same – a shortage of crucial supply lines.

Furthermore, as the example of REE shows, the identification of long-term supply problems can often be difficult, and not every government has the same strategic foresight that the Chinese demonstrated. And as new technologies emerge, new elements may see an unexpected, sudden demand in supply. (pp. 16-17)

Meanwhile, in response to China’s decision to cap its 2013 REE exports, the Russian government announced a $1B investment to 2018 in rare earth production,, according to a Sept. 10, 2013 article by Polina Devitt for Reuters.

For those who like to get their information in a more graphic form, here’s an infographic from Thomson Reuters from a May 13, 2012 posting on their eponymous blog,

Rare Earth Metals - Graphic of the Day Credit:  Thomson Reuters [downloaded from http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/rare-earth-metals-graphic-of-the-day/]

Rare Earth Metals – Graphic of the Day Credit: Thomson Reuters [downloaded from http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/rare-earth-metals-graphic-of-the-day/]

There is a larger version on  their blog.

All of this serves to explain the interest in recycling REE from industrial wastewater. Surprisingly,, the researchers who developed this new recycling technique are based in China which makes me wonder if the Chinese government sees a future where it too will need to import rare earths as its home sources diminish.

Nano-solutions for the 21st century, University of Oxford Martin School, and Eric Drexler

Eric Drexler (aka, K. Eric Drexler) is a big name in the world of nanotechnology as per my May 6, 2013 posting abut his talk in Seattle as part of a tour promoting his latest book,

Here’s more from the University Bookstore’s event page,

Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology, the science of engineering on a molecular level—and the science thats about to change the world. Already, says Drexler, author of Radical Abundance, scientists have constructed prototypes for circuit boards built of millions of precisely arranged atoms. This kind of atomic precision promises to change the way we make things (cleanly, inexpensively, and on a global scale), the way we buy things (solar arrays could cost no more than cardboard and aluminum foil, with laptops about the same)—and the very foundations of our economy and environment.

… Drexler’s latest effort, Radical Abundance, here’s what he had to say about the book in a July 21, 2011 posting on his Meta Modern blog,

Radical Abundance will integrate and extend several themes that I’ve touched on in Metamodern, but will go much further. The topics include:

  • The nature of science and engineering, and the prospects for a deep transformation in the material basis of civilization.
  • Why all of this is surprisingly understandable.
  • A personal narrative of the emergence of the molecular nanotechnology concept and the turbulent history of progress and politics that followed
  • The quiet rise of macromolecular nanotechnologies, their power, and the rapidly advancing state of the art
  • ….

About the same time he was promoting his book, Radical Abundance, the University of Oxford Martin School released a report written by Drexler and co-authored with Dennis Pamplin,, which is featured in an Oct. 28, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty. These problems are directly linked to the physical characteristics of our current technology base for producing energy and material products. Deep and pervasive changes in this technology base can address these global problems at their most fundamental, physical level, by changing both the products and the means of production used by 21st century civilization. The key development is advanced, atomically precise manufacturing (APM).

This report (“Nano-solutions for the 21st century”; pdf) examines the potential for nanotechnology to enable deeply transformative production technologies that can be developed through a series of advances that build on current nanotechnology research.

Coincidentally or not, Eric Drexler is writing a series of posts for the Guardian about nanotechnology and the future. Here’s a sampling from his Oct. 28, 2013 post on the Guardian’s Small World Nanotech blog sponsored by NanOpinion,

In my initial post in this series, I asked, “What if nanotechnology could deliver on its original promise, not only new, useful, nanoscale products, but a new, transformative production technology able to displace industrial production technologies and bring radical improvements in production cost, scope, and resource efficiency?”

The potential implications are immense, not just for computer chips and other nanotechnologies, but for issues on the scale of global development and climate change. My first post outlined the nature of this technology, atomically precise manufacturing (APM), comparing it with today’s 3D printing and digital nanoelectronics.

My second post placed APM-level technologies in the context of today’s million-atom atomically precise fabrication technologies and outlined the direction of research, an open path, but by no means short, that leads to larger atomically precise structures, a growing range of product materials and a wider range of functional devices, culminating in the factory-in-a-box technologies of APM.

Together, these provided an introduction to the modern view of APM-level technologies. Here, I’d like to say a few words about the implications of APM-level technologies for human life and global society.

At the bottom of the posting, this is noted,

Eric Drexler, often called “the father of nanotechnology”, is at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, University of Oxford. His most recent book is Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization

The Oxford Martin School of Oxford University and the Research Center for Sustainable Development of the China Academy of Social Sciences recently released a report on atomically precise manufacturing, Nano-solutions for the 21st century. The report discusses the status and prospects for atomically precise manufacturing (APM) together with some of its implications for economic and international affairs.

Publicity is a beautiful thing, especially when you can tie so many things together. Drexler, his book, the report, and the Guardian’s special section sponsored by NanOpinion.

Getting back to the report, Nano-solutions for the 21st century, I notice that there’s been a lot of collaboration with Chinese researchers and institutions if the acknowledgements are a way to judge these things,

This work results from an extensive process that has included interaction and contributions by scientists,
governments, philanthropists, and forward-thinkers around the world. Over the last three years workshops
have been conducted in China, India, US, Europe, Japan, and more to discuss these findings and their
global implications. Draft findings have also been presented at many meetings, from UNFCCC events to
specialist conferences. The wealth of feedback received from this project has been of utmost importance
and we see the resulting report as a collaboration project than as the work of two individuals.

The authors wish to thank all those who have participated in the process and extend particular thanks
to China and India, especially Institute for Urban & Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences (CASS) and the team from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST)
including Dr. ZHI Linjie, Dr. TANG Zhiyong, Dr. WEI Zhixiang and Dr. HAN Baohang. Professor Linjie Zhi
was also kind enough to translate the abstract. In India the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and CII – ITC Centre
of Excellence for Sustainable Development where among those providing valuable input.

This report is only a start of what we hope is a vital international discussion about one of the most
interesting fields of the 21st century. We would therefor like to extend special thanks to the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and The Oxford Martin School
that are examples of world leading institutions that support further discussions in this important area.

Dr. Eric Drexler and Dennis Pamlin worked together to make this report a reality. Drexler, currently at the
Oxford Martin School, provided technical leadership and served as primary author of the report. Pamlin
contributed through discussions, structure and input regarding overall trends in relation to the key aspects
of report. Both authors want to thank Dr. Stephanie Corchnoy who contributed to the research and final
editing. As always the sole responsibility for the content of report lies with the authors.

Eric Drexler
Dennis Pamlin (p. 1)

I find the specific call outs to China, India, and Japan quite interesting since any European partners are covered under the term for the entire continent, Europe. I haven’t read the report but for what it’s worth here’s the abstract,

The report has five sections:
1. Nanotechnology and global challenge
The first section discusses the basics of advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology and
explains how current and future solutions can help address global challenges. Key concepts
are presented and different kinds of nanotechnology are discussed and compared.
2. The birth of Nanotechnology
The second section discusses the development of nanotechnology, from the first vision
fifty years ago, expanding via a scientific approach to atomically precise manufacturing
thirty years ago, initial demonstrations of principle twenty years ago, to the last decade
of of accelerating success in developing key enabling technologies. The important role
of emerging countries is discussed, with China as a leading example, together with an
overview of the contrast between the promise and the results to date.
3. Delivery of transformative nanotechnologies
Here the different aspects of APM that are needed to enable breakthrough advances in
productive technologies are discussed. The necessary technology base can be developed
through a series of coordinated advances along strategically chosen lines of research.
4. Accelerating progress toward advanced nanotechnologies
This section discusses research initiatives that can enable and support advanced
nanotechnology, on paths leading to APM, including integrated cross-disciplinary research
and Identification of high-value applications and their requirements.
5. Possible next steps
The final section provides a short summary of the opportunities and the possibilities to
address institutional challenges of planning, resource allocation, evaluation, transparency,
and collaboration as nanotechnology moves into its next phase of development: nanosystems engineering.

The report in its entirety provides a comprehensive overview of the current global condition, as well as
notable opportunities and challenges. This content is divided into five independent sections that can
be read and understood individually, allowing those with specific interests to access desired information
more directly and easily. With all five sections taken together, the report as a whole describes low-
cost actions that can help solve critical problems, create opportunities, reduce security risks, and help
countries join and accelerate cooperative development of this global technological revolution. Of
particular importance, several considerations are highlighted that strongly favor a policy of transparent,
international, collaborative development.

One final comment, I’m not familiar with Drexler’s co-author, Dennis Pamlin so went searching for some details. Here’s a self-description from the About page on his eponymous website,

Dennis Pamlin is an entrepreneur and founder of 21st Century Frontiers. He works with companies, governments and NGOs as a strategic economic, technology and innovation advisor. His background is in engineering, industrial economy and marketing. Mr Pamlin worked as Global Policy Advisor for WWF from 1999 to 2009. During his tenure, Pamlin initiated WWFs Trade and Investment Programme work in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and led the work with companies (especially high-tech companies such as ICT) as solution providers.

Pamlin is currently an independent consultant as well as Director for the Low Carbon Leaders Project under the UN Global Compact and is a Senior Associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Current work includes work to establish a web platform to promote transformative mobile applications, creating the first Low Carbon City Development Index (LCCDI) make transformative low-carbon ICT part of the global climate discussions, leading the Global ICT companies work (through GeSI) to establish the ICT sector as a global solution provider when it comes to resource efficient solutions, advising the EU on how public procurement can increase innovation and the uptake of transformative solutions.

Pamlin is also exploring how new ideas can be financed through web-tools/apps and the cultural tensions between the “west” and the re-emerging economies (with focus on China and India).

He is also leading work to develop methodologies for companies and cities to measure and report their positive impacts, focus on climate, water and poverty, but other areas are also under development.

I also found this on Pamlin’s LinkedIn profile,

Entrepreneur, advisor and transformative explorer

Other
International Affairs

Current

21st century Frontiers,
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS),
Global Challenges Foundation

Previous

WWF,
Greenpeace

It seems to me there’s a ‘sustainability and nanotechnology theme being implied in the introduction to the report (“The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty.”)  and I’m certainly inferring it from my reading of Pamlin’s background and interests and this phrase in the acknowledgements: “… Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and CII – ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development where among those providing valuable input … .”

Oddly, I last mentioned nanotechnology and sustainability In an Oct. 28, 2013 posting about a nanotechnology-enabled consumer products database where I also made note of the Second Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference whose website can be found here.

China’s and NanoH2O’s desalination efforts

An Oct. 21, 2013 news item on Azonano describes a desalination business deal between China and NanoH2O, a company headquartered in California,

NanoH2O, Inc., manufacturer of the most efficient and cost-effective reverse osmosis (RO) membranes for seawater desalination, today announced plans to build a manufacturing facility in Liyang, China, a city in the Yangtze River Delta 250 kilometers west of Shanghai.

The 10,000 square meter facility will be the company’s second fully integrated manufacturing plant, following the first located in Los Angeles, California. The China facility comes at a total investment of $45 million and is expected to be operational by the end of 2014.

China, which represents one-fifth of the world’s population but just six percent of the global fresh water supply, plans to increase its seawater reverse osmosis desalination capacity three-fold by 2015. The overall membrane market in China is estimated to grow more than 20 percent per year over the next 10 years. The Chinese government’s current five-year plan also calls for 70 percent of equipment used in desalination plants to be produced domestically. Establishing a new NanoH2O facility in China will allow the company to take advantage of the growing domestic market for both desalination and wastewater treatment.

A few weeks ago in a Sept. 27, 2013 posting, I mentioned some negotiations and deal making between China and the Czech Republic, which concerned ‘green’ nanotechnology.

The signing of the Letter of Intent between NAFIGATE China (a subsidiary of the Czech company NAFIGATE Corporation JSC) and their Chinese partner Guodian Technology & Environment Group Corporation Limited (a subsidiary of one of the most prominent Chinese energy companies) is a significant milestone in Czech-Chinese cooperation in nanotechnology sector. Since January 2013 both companies have been preparing the foundation of the NANODEC (Nanofiber Development Center) project for the development of final applications for water and air cleaning.[emphasis added here]

The company does provide some details about its technology, reversoe osmosis membranes relying on thin-film nanocomposites (TFN) on the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) webpage on the NanoH2O website,

 About Thin-Film Nanocomposite (TFN) Technology

What does the term “thin-film nanocomposite” mean?

The term “thin-film nanocomposite” was first used by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who found that by encapsulating benign nanomaterial into the thin-film polyamide layer of a traditional thin-film composite membrane, they were able to increase membrane permeability compared to conventional RO membranes. NanoH2O leverages nanotechnology to further change the structure of the thin-film of a conventional RO membrane and enhance membrane performance. Benign nanoparticles are introduced during the synthesis of a traditional polymer film and are fully encapsulated when the nanocomposite RO membrane is formed.

How do nanoparticles increase membrane performance?

NanoH2O’s encapsulation of benign nanoparticles changes the structure of the thin-film surface of a conventional RO membrane, allowing more water to pass through while rejecting unwanted materials such as salt. QuantumFlux membranes are 50-100% more permeable than conventional membranes while still meeting best-in-class salt rejection.

Do nanoparticles pose any potential risks to water quality?

No. NanoH2O’s QuantumFlux membrane elements are completely safe for the treatment of potable water. The Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R are all NSF Standard 61 certified, which means that they have been independently evaluated by NSF International, the global organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and safety. NSF Standard 61 certification attests to the safety and viability of the Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R membrane elements when used in the production of drinking water.

Does NanoH2O use a nanoparticle coating applied to another manufacturer’s membrane?

No. NanoH2O introduces nanostructured materials into the monomers that form the polymer film manufactured solely at its El Segundo, California facility. The nanoparticles are encapsulated into NanoH2O’s patented and patent-pending thin-film polyamide formulation, which makes up the top layer of the thin-film nanocomposite membrane.

There’s no mention here of exactly what kind of nanoparticles are being used in the company’s Quantum Flux membranes (or as they’re known generically, reverse osmosis membranes) but the company does offer some technical papers here, where there is, hopefully, more detail.

About Thin-Film Nanocomposite (TFN) Technology

What does the term “thin-film nanocomposite” mean?

The term “thin-film nanocomposite” was first used by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who found that by encapsulating benign nanomaterial into the thin-film polyamide layer of a traditional thin-film composite membrane, they were able to increase membrane permeability compared to conventional RO membranes. NanoH2O leverages nanotechnology to further change the structure of the thin-film of a conventional RO membrane and enhance membrane performance. Benign nanoparticles are introduced during the synthesis of a traditional polymer film and are fully encapsulated when the nanocomposite RO membrane is formed.

How do nanoparticles increase membrane performance?

NanoH2O’s encapsulation of benign nanoparticles changes the structure of the thin-film surface of a conventional RO membrane, allowing more water to pass through while rejecting unwanted materials such as salt. QuantumFlux membranes are 50-100% more permeable than conventional membranes while still meeting best-in-class salt rejection.

Do nanoparticles pose any potential risks to water quality?

No. NanoH2O’s QuantumFlux membrane elements are completely safe for the treatment of potable water. The Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R are all NSF Standard 61 certified, which means that they have been independently evaluated by NSF International, the global organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education and risk management for public health and safety. NSF Standard 61 certification attests to the safety and viability of the Qfx SW 365 ES, Qfx SW 400 ES, Qfx SW 400 SR and Qfx SW 400 R membrane elements when used in the production of drinking water.

Does NanoH2O use a nanoparticle coating applied to another manufacturer’s membrane?

No. NanoH2O introduces nanostructured materials into the monomers that form the polymer film manufactured solely at its El Segundo, California facility. The nanoparticles are encapsulated into NanoH2O’s patented and patent-pending thin-film polyamide formulation, which makes up the top layer of the thin-film nanocomposite membrane.