Tag Archives: FET

Developing cortical implants for future speech neural prostheses

I’m guessing that graphene will feature in these proposed cortical implants since the project leader is a member of the Graphene Flagship’s Biomedical Technologies Work Package. (For those who don’t know, the Graphene Flagship is one of two major funding initiatives each receiving funding of 1B Euros over 10 years from the European Commission as part of their FET [Future and Emerging Technologies)] Initiative.)  A Jan. 12, 2017 news item on Nanowerk announces the new project (Note: A link has been removed),

BrainCom is a FET Proactive project, funded by the European Commission with 8.35M€ [8.3 million Euros] for the next 5 years, holding its Kick-off meeting on January 12-13 at ICN2 (Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology) and the UAB [ Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona]. This project, coordinated by ICREA [Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies] Research Prof. Jose A. Garrido from ICN2, will permit significant advances in understanding of cortical speech networks and the development of speech rehabilitation solutions using innovative brain-computer interfaces.

A Jan. 12, 2017 ICN2 press release, which originated the news item expands on the theme (it is a bit repetitive),

More than 5 million people worldwide suffer annually from aphasia, an extremely invalidating condition in which patients lose the ability to comprehend and formulate language after brain damage or in the course of neurodegenerative disorders. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), enabled by forefront technologies and materials, are a promising approach to treat patients with aphasia. The principle of BCIs is to collect neural activity at its source and decode it by means of electrodes implanted directly in the brain. However, neurorehabilitation of higher cognitive functions such as language raises serious issues. The current challenge is to design neural implants that cover sufficiently large areas of the brain to allow for reliable decoding of detailed neuronal activity distributed in various brain regions that are key for language processing.

BrainCom is a FET Proactive project funded by the European Commission with 8.35M€ for the next 5 years. This interdisciplinary initiative involves 10 partners including technologists, engineers, biologists, clinicians, and ethics experts. They aim to develop a new generation of neuroprosthetic cortical devices enabling large-scale recordings and stimulation of cortical activity to study high level cognitive functions. Ultimately, the BraimCom project will seed a novel line of knowledge and technologies aimed at developing the future generation of speech neural prostheses. It will cover different levels of the value chain: from technology and engineering to basic and language neuroscience, and from preclinical research in animals to clinical studies in humans.

This recently funded project is coordinated by ICREA Prof. Jose A. Garrido, Group Leader of the Advanced Electronic Materials and Devices Group at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology – ICN2) and deputy leader of the Biomedical Technologies Work Package presented last year in Barcelona by the Graphene Flagship. The BrainCom Kick-Off meeting is held on January 12-13 at ICN2 and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

Recent developments show that it is possible to record cortical signals from a small region of the motor cortex and decode them to allow tetraplegic [also known as, quadriplegic] people to activate a robotic arm to perform everyday life actions. Brain-computer interfaces have also been successfully used to help tetraplegic patients unable to speak to communicate their thoughts by selecting letters on a computer screen using non-invasive electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings. The performance of such technologies can be dramatically increased using more detailed cortical neural information.

BrainCom project proposes a radically new electrocorticography technology taking advantage of unique mechanical and electrical properties of novel nanomaterials such as graphene, 2D materials and organic semiconductors.  The consortium members will fabricate ultra-flexible cortical and intracortical implants, which will be placed right on the surface of the brain, enabling high density recording and stimulation sites over a large area. This approach will allow the parallel stimulation and decoding of cortical activity with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.

These technologies will help to advance the basic understanding of cortical speech networks and to develop rehabilitation solutions to restore speech using innovative brain-computer paradigms. The technology innovations developed in the project will also find applications in the study of other high cognitive functions of the brain such as learning and memory, as well as other clinical applications such as epilepsy monitoring.

The BrainCom project Consortium members are:

  • Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) – Spain (Coordinator)
  • Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (CNM-IMB-CSIC) – Spain
  • University Grenoble Alpes – France
  • ARMINES/ Ecole des Mines de St. Etienne – France
  • Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Grenoble – France
  • Multichannel Systems – Germany
  • University of Geneva – Switzerland
  • University of Oxford – United Kingdom
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – Germany
  • Wavestone – Luxembourg

There doesn’t seem to be a website for the project but there is a BrainCom webpage on the European Commission’s CORDIS (Community Research and Development Information Service) website.

SEMANTICS, a major graphene project based in Ireland

A Jan. 28, 2015 news item on Nanowerk profiles SEMANTICS, a major graphene project based in Ireland (Note: A link has been removed),

Graphene is the strongest, most impermeable and conductive material known to man. Graphene sheets are just one atom thick, but 200 times stronger than steel. The European Union is investing heavily in the exploitation of graphene’s unique properties through a number of research initiatives such as the SEMANTICS project running at Trinity College Dublin.

A Dec. 16, 2014 European Commission press release, which originated the news item, provides an overview of the graphene enterprise in Europe,

It is no surprise that graphene, a substance with better electrical and thermal conductivity, mechanical strength and optical purity than any other, is being heralded as the ‘wonder material’ of the 21stcentury, as plastics were in the 20thcentury.

Graphene could be used to create ultra-fast electronic transistors, foldable computer displays and light-emitting diodes. It could increase and improve the efficiency of batteries and solar cells, help strengthen aircraft wings and even revolutionise tissue engineering and drug delivery in the health sector.

It is this huge potential which has convinced the European Commission to commit €1 billion to the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Graphene Flagship project, the largest-ever research initiative funded in the history of the EU. It has a guaranteed €54 million in funding for the first two years with much more expected over the next decade.

Sustained funding for the full duration of the Graphene Flagship project comes from the EU’s Research Framework Programmes, principally from Horizon 2020 (2014-2020).

The aim of the Graphene Flagship project, likened in scale to NASA’s mission to put a man on the moon in the 1960s, or the Human Genome project in the 1990s, is to take graphene and related two-dimensional materials such as silicene (a single layer of silicon atoms) from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionise multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe.

The research effort will cover the entire value chain, from materials production to components and system integration. It will help to develop the strong position Europe already has in the field and provide an opportunity for European initiatives to lead in global efforts to fully exploit graphene’s miraculous properties.

Under the EU plan, 126 academics and industry groups from 17 countries will work on 15 individual but connected projects.

The press release then goes on to describe a new project, SEMANTICS,

… this is not the only support being provided by the EU for research into the phenomenal potential of graphene. The SEMANTICS research project, led by Professor Jonathan Coleman at Trinity College Dublin, is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and has already achieved some promising results.

The ERC does not assign funding to particular challenges or objectives, but selects the best scientists with the best ideas on the sole criterion of excellence. By providing complementary types of funding, both to individual scientists to work on their own ideas, and to large-scale consortia to coordinate top-down programmes, the EU is helping to progress towards a better knowledge and exploitation of graphene.

“It is no overestimation to state that graphene is one of the most exciting materials of our lifetime,” Prof. Coleman says. “It has the potential to provide answers to the questions that have so far eluded us. Technology, energy and aviation companies worldwide are racing to discover the full potential of graphene. Our research will be an important element in helping to realise that potential.”

With the help of European Research Council (ERC) Starting and Proof of Concept Grants, Prof. Coleman and his team are researching methods for obtaining single-atom layers of graphene and other layered compounds through exfoliation (peeling off) from the multilayers, followed by deposition on a range of surfaces to prepare films displaying specific behaviour.

“We’re working towards making graphene and other single-atom layers available on an economically viable industrial scale, and making it cheaply,” Prof. Coleman continues.

“At CRANN [Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at Trinity College Dublin], we are developing nanosheets of graphene and other single-atom materials which can be made in very large quantities,” he adds. “When you put these sheets in plastic, for example, you make the plastic stronger. Not only that – you can massively increase its electrical properties, you can improve its thermal properties and you can make it less permeable to gases. The applications for industry could be endless.”

Prof. Coleman admits that scientists are regularly taken aback by the potential of graphene. “We are continually amazed at what graphene and other single-atom layers can do,” he reveals. “Recently it has been discovered that, when added to glue, graphene can make it more adhesive. Who would have thought that? It’s becoming clear that graphene just makes things a whole lot better,” he concludes.

So far, the project has developed a practical method for producing two-dimensional nanosheets in large quantities. Crucially, these nanosheets are already being used for a range of applications, including the production of reinforced plastics and metals, building super-capacitors and batteries which store energy, making cheap light detectors, and enabling ultra-sensitive position and motion sensors. As the number of application grows, increased demand for these materials is anticipated. In response, the SEMANTICS team has scaled up the production process and is now producing 2D nanosheets at a rate more than 1000 times faster than was possible just a year ago.

I believe that new graphene production process is the ‘blender’ technique featured here in an April 23, 2014 post. There’s also a profile of the ‘blender’ project  in a Dec. 10, 2014 article by Ben Deighton for the European Commission’s Horizon magazine (Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s framework science funding programme). Deighton’s article hosts a video of Jonathan Coleman speaking about nanotechnology, blenders, and more on Dec. 1, 2014 at TEDxBrussels.

Graphene and an artificial retina

A graphene-based artificial retina project has managed to intermingle the European Union’s two major FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) funding projects, 1B Euros each to be disbursed over 10 years, the Graphene Flagship and the Human Brain Project. From an Aug. 7, 2014 Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) news release (also on EurekAlert),

Because of its unusual properties, graphene holds great potential for applications, especially in the field of medical technology. A team of researchers led by Dr. Jose A. Garrido at the Walter Schottky Institut of the TUM is taking advantage of these properties. In collaboration with partners from the Institut de la Vision of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris and the French company Pixium Vision, the physicists are developing key components of an artificial retina made of graphene.

Retina implants can serve as optical prostheses for blind people whose optical nerves are still intact. The implants convert incident light into electrical impulses that are transmitted to the brain via the optical nerve. There, the information is transformed into images. Although various approaches for implants exist today, the devices are often rejected by the body and the signals transmitted to the brain are generally not optimal.

Already funded by the Human Brain Project as part of the Neurobotics effort, Garrido and his colleagues will now also receive funding from the Graphene Flagship. As of July 2014, the Graphene Flagship has added 86 new partners including TUM according to the news release.

Here’s an image of an ‘invisible’ graphene sensor (a precursor to developing an artificial retina),

Graphene electronics can be prepared on flexible substrates. Only the gold metal leads are visible in the transparent graphene sensor. (Photo: Natalia Hutanu / TUM)

Graphene electronics can be prepared on flexible substrates. Only the gold metal leads are visible in the transparent graphene sensor. (Photo: Natalia Hutanu / TUM)

Artificial retinas were first featured on this blog in an Aug. 18, 2011 posting about video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution which features a human character with artificial sight. The post includes links to a video of a scientist describing an artificial retina trial with 30 people and an Israeli start-up company, ‘Nano Retina’, along with information about ‘Eyeborg’, a Canadian filmmaker who on losing an eye in an accident had a camera implanted in the previously occupied eye socket.

More recently, a Feb. 15, 2013 posting featured news about the US Food and Drug Administration’s decision to allow sale of the first commercial artificial retinas in the US in the context of news about a neuroprosthetic implant in a rat which allowed it to see in the infrared range, normally an impossible feat.

INFERNOS: realizing Maxwell’s Demon

Before getting to the INFERNOS project and its relationship to Maxwell’s demon, I want to share a pretty good example of this ‘demon’ thought experiment which, as recently as Feb. 4, 2013, I featured in a piece about quantum dots,

James Clerk Maxwell, physicist,  has entered the history books for any number reasons but my personal favourite is Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment he proposed in the 1800s to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Lisa Zyga in her Feb. 1, 2013 article for phys.org provides an explanation,

When you open your door on a cold winter day, the warm air from your home and the cold air from outside begin to mix and evolve toward thermal equilibrium, a state of complete entropy where the temperatures outside and inside are the same. This situation is a rough example of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy in a closed system never decreases. If you could control the air flow in a way that uses a sufficiently small amount of energy, so that the entropy of the system actually decreases overall, you would have a hypothetical mechanism called Maxwell’s demon.

An Oct. 9, 2013 news item on Nanowerk ties together INFERNOS and the ‘demon’,

Maxwell’s Demon is an imaginary creature that the mathematician James Clerk Maxwell created in 1897. The creature could turn heat into work without causing any other change, which violates the second law of thermodynamics. The primary goal of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems) is to realize experimentally Maxwell’s Demon; in other words, to develop the electronic and biomolecular nanodevices that support this principle.

The Universitat de Barcelona (University of Barcelona) Oct. 7, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the project,

Although Maxwell’s Demon is one of the cornerstones of theoretical statistical mechanisms, little has been done about its definite experimental realization. Marco Ribezzi, researcher from the Department of Fundamental Physics, explains that “the principal novelty of INFERNOS is to bring a robust and rigorous experimental base for this field of knowledge. We aim at creating a device that can use information to supply/extract energy to/from a system”. In this sense, the UB group, in which researcher Fèlix Ritort from the former department also participates, focuses their activity on understanding how information and temperature changes are used in individual molecules manipulation.

From the theory side, researchers will work in order to develop a theory of the fluctuation processes in small systems, which would then facilitate efficient algorithms for the Maxwell’s Demon operation.

INFERNOS is a three-year European project of the programme Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). Besides the University of Barcelona, INFERNOS partners are: Aalto University (Finland), project coordinator, Lund University (Sweden), the University of Oslo (Norway), Delf University of Technology (Netherlands), the National Center for Scientific Research (France) and the Research Foundation of State University of New York.

I like the INFERNOS logo, demon and all,

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

The INFERNOS project website can be found here.

And for anyone who finds that music is the best way to learn, here are Flanders & Swann* performing ‘First and Second Law’ from a 1964 show,


* ‘Swan’ corrected to ‘Swann’ on April 1, 2014.

Latest on UK and graphene

The Brits are at it again with another graphene funding announcement, from the Dec. 28, 2012 news item on Azonano,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, today announced £21.5 million of capital investment to commercialise graphene, one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials to have been discovered, marked by the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics as one of the world’s most ground breaking scientific achievements.

Three research projects at Imperial will share the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding as part of a new programme with a number of industrial partners, including aeroplane manufacturer Airbus. The scientists receiving the grant hope to develop graphene technologies that will contribute to the UK economy and can be applied by industries around the world.

The Imperial College of London Dec. 27, 2012 news release, which originated the item, describes how the college’s £4.5M award will be used for three of its graphene projects,

In one project worth £1.35 million, led by Professor Tony Kinloch from the Department of Mechanical Engineering with colleagues from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, researchers will explore how combining graphene with current materials can improve the properties of aeroplane parts, such as making them resistant to lightning-strikes. They hope the same technology can also be used to develop coatings for wind-turbine blades, to make them scratch resistant and physically tougher in extreme weather conditions.

Professor Eduardo Saiz, from the Department of Materials, will develop new manufacturing processes using liquids that contain tiny suspended particles of graphene, in order to reduce the cost of currently expensive industrial techniques. This project will receive £1.91 million funding and involves scientists from Imperial’s Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and Queen Mary, University of London.

£1.37 million of funding received by Professor Norbert Klein, also from the Department of Materials and shared with Imperial’s Department of Physics, will pay for new equipment to deposit extremely thin sheets of graphene, so scientists can explore its electrical properties. They hope that new medical scanning technology may be developed as a result of how graphene responds to high frequency electromagnetic waves, from microwave to terahertz frequencies and all the way to the wavelengths of visible light.

As noted on numerous occasions here  (most recently in an Oct. 11, 2012 posting), there is a competition for two prizes of 1 billion Euros each to be awarded to two European research projects in the European Union’s Future and Emerging Technologies Initiatives (FET). There are six flagship projects (whittled down from a larger number a few years ago) competing to be one of the two winners. There’s more about the FET Graphene Flagship project here. As you might expect, the Brits are heavily involved in the graphene flagship project.

European consultation on Future and Emerging Technologies

I’ve checked this out and it seems to be open to people from all countries even though it’s a consultation about European research according to the Oct. 30, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The European Commission is launching a public consultation to identify promising and potentially game-changing directions for future technological research.

The research directions for future and emerging technologies will shape our economy for decades to come. The right strategic choices will mean a better future for all, from protecting our environments to providing better healthcare to Europeans. Therefore the Commission is inviting scientists, researchers, engineers, innovators, artists, entrepreneurs and individuals to submit their ideas before November 30th 2012. Do you have a big idea for the future? Then let us know!

The consultation is structured under two themes: research direction in FET and arguments for the importance of this research. All interested parties can submit their ideas on what this research should be and its expected impact. The contributors to the public consultation are invited to answer a series of concrete questions on FET research and its contribution to some of the great societal challenges of our age, like global warming, energy supply, pollution, ageing of society, global crises, peace or democratic deficit.

I have mentioned the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) funding initiatives previously in my Feb. 13, 2012 posting. This news item mentions a few FET projects I haven’t encountered before,

Examples of how FET is changing the face of European research include:

In 2000, FET launched a major initiative on NEURO-ICT, bringing together for the first time scientists from life sciences and neurophysiology, and computer scientists and engineers to co-develop understanding about the human brain. This work has resulted in a number of new research directions and industrial spin-off companies, for example, in the areas of “machines that think”, or the development of novel clinical tools that can help in the diagnosis and treatment of brain disease.

FET launched ‘Proactive Initiatives’ on Nano technology and Quantum ICT, involving researchers who went on to win two Nobel Prizes for Physics. The initiatives bring together physicists and software and hardware engineers to develop new forms of computer technology.

FET launched a Proactive Initiative on Bio-chemistry-based information technology which has created since 2009 the first research union at the intersection of biology, chemistry and information technologies.

A related FET program, “FET Flagships” is offering €1billion in funding to two projects looking to solve “grand challenges” faced by Europe, with winners to be decided in 2013.

Follow the ‘graphene brick’ road

Today (Oct. 11, 2012), I’m highlighting a second article in Nature. This time it’s a “A roadmap for graphene ” (behind a paywall) in the Oct. 11, 2012 online issue of Nature written by Nobel Prize-winner Professor Kostya Novoselov of the University of Manchester; V. I. Fal′ko Department of Physics, Lancaster University;  L. Colombo, Texas Instruments Incorporated; P. R. Gellert, AstraZeneca; M. G. Schwab, BASF SE; and K. Kim, Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.

If you can get behind the paywall, the article offers excellent insight into the state of graphene research and the state of graphene applications.  The authors cover:

Challenges in Production

Chemical vapour deposition

Synthesis on SiC

Other growth methods

Graphene electronics

Flexible electronics

High-frequency transistors

Logic transistor



Optical modulator

Mode-locked laser/THz generator

Optical polarization controller

Composite materials, paints, and coating

Energy generation and storage

Graphene for sensors and metrology


You can get more details about the article from the Oct. 11, 2012 news release from the University of Manchester,

The authors estimate that the first graphene touchscreen devices could be on the market within three to five years, but will only realise its full potential in flexible electronics applications.

Rollable e-paper is another application which should be available as a prototype by 2015 – graphene’s flexibility proving ideal for fold-up electronic sheets which could revolutionise electronics.

Timescales for applications vary greatly upon the quality of graphene required, the report claims. For example, the researchers estimate devices including photo-detectors, high-speed wireless communications and THz generators (for use in medical imaging and security devices) would not be available until at least 2020, while anticancer drugs and graphene as a replacement for silicon is unlikely to become a reality until around 2030.

I notice the lead authors are from the University of Manchester and Lancaster University. These UK educational institutions are part of the FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) GRAPHENE-CA flagship project, which is in competition for one of two prizes of 1B Euros for research. As I’ve noted previously in my Feb. 21, 2012 posting and many others, the UK is leading a tremendous public relations/marketing campaign on behalf of this project and the UK’s own interests. Good luck to them as I believe the announcement of which are the two winning projects from a field of six should be made in the next few months.

The current international infatuation with roadmaps sometimes reminds me of The Wizard of Oz and the Yellow Brick Road,

I always appreciate the optimism shown by the lead character, Dorothy, as she takes off for parts unknown.

Pourable electronics?

A group of scientists at Ruhr Universtät Bochum (RUB) have won a European Union Competition Call for proposals in Unconventional Computing.

A new concept to me, I looked for a description of ‘unconventional computing’ and found this by Susan Stepney in an April 2011 issue of ERCIM [European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics] News,

Despite being formulated post-relativity and post-quantum mechanics, classical Turing computation is essentially based in classical physics. This is understandable given the source of its abstraction, but today’s nano-scale computer components are embodied in the quantum world. …

The Turing model was inspired by a single paradigm: the actions of human clerks. Unconventional computation can be inspired by the whole of wider nature. We can look to physics (from general relativity and quantum mechanics, to annealing processes, analogue computing, and on to fully embodied computation), to chemistry (reaction-diffusion systems, complex chemical reactions, DNA binding), and to biology (bacteria, flocks, social insects, evolution, growth and self-assembly, immune systems, neural systems), to mention just a few.

Here’s a description of the competition that these scientists entered, from the Unconventional Computation (UCOMP) page on the Future and Emerging Technology (FET) website,

Nature (e.g. living cells), and our physical environment in general, show many unconventional ways of information processing, such as those based on (bio-)chemical, natural, wetware, DNA, molecular, amorphous, reversible, analogue computing, etc. These are generally very sophisticated, ingenious and highly effective for specific purposes, but sufficient knowledge (either from a theoretical or an engineering perspective) to properly exploit, mimic, or adapt these systems, is lacking.

Proposals should develop alternative approaches for situations or problems that are challenging or impossible to solve with conventional methods and models of computation (i.e. von Neumann [John von Neumann], Turing [Alan Turing]). Typical examples include computing in vivo, and performing massively parallel computation.

Here’s how the winning project is described in the Aug. 29, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

First place in an EU competitive call on “Unconventional Computing” was awarded to a collaborative proposal coordinated by Prof. John McCaskill from the RUB Faculty of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The project MICREAgents plans to build autonomous self-assembling electronic microreagents that are almost as small as cells. They will exchange chemical and electronic information to jointly direct complex chemical reactions and analyses in the solutions they are poured into. This is a form of embedded computation – “to compute is to construct” – in which for example the output is a particular catalyst or coating needed in the (input) local chemical environment. The EU supports the project within the FP7 programme with 3.4 million Euros for three years. Four research groups at RUB will join forces with top teams across Europe, from Israel and New Zealand.

Bit of a challenge understanding it, eh? The RUB Aug. 29, 2012 press release (it originated the news item on Nanowerk), offers some background information about some of the ideas and work leading to the winning collaboration,

John von Neumann envisioned information devices that can construct more complex machines than themselves, in his theory of self-reproducing automata2, but he did not arrive at a robust architecture for this. Modern initiatives towards Living Technology, exploiting the core properties of living systems to push back this frontier, have been spearheaded by RUB in the past decade. McCaskill cofounded (2004-5) the European Centre for Living Technology in Venice (ECLT), an ongoing multi-university institution of which RUB is a member. He has also helped to link up a world-wide community on Sustainable Personal Living Technology (2010). This initiative requires a fundamental integration of molecular construction and information processing and thereby of chemistry and ICT (information and communication technology). Currently, RUB is assembling a roadmap in an EU coordination action (COBRA) for the area of chem-bio ICT, and indeed this integration is most developed in biological organisms. The MICREAgents project represents the next major research program towards these overarching initiatives, one that could change the level of fine-grained algorithmic control in chemical construction, bringing the important social goal of sustainable personal fabrication one step closer.

Here’s a description of what the scientists are planning to do (from the RUB press release),

In order to create this programmable microscale electronic chemistry, MICRE-Agents (Microscopic Chemically Reactive Electronic Agents) will contain electronic circuits on 3D microchips (called lablets, diameter ≤ 100 μm) that self-assemble in pairs or like dominos to enclose transient reaction compartments, using the electronics to control chemical access, surface coatings and reactions via physical and chemical processes such as electroosmosis, electrowetting and electrochemistry. Chemicals can be selectively concentrated, processed and released into the surrounding solution, under local electronic control, in a similar way to which the genetic information in cells controls local chemical processes. The reversible pairwise association in solution of electronic surfaces in the nanometer range will also be used to avoid the prohibitive energetic costs of broadcast communication, allowing lablets to transfer information (including heritable information) from one to another. The lablet devices will integrate transistors, supercapacitors, energy transducers, sensors and actuators, involving electronically constructed nanofilms, and will be essentially genetically encoded, translating electronic signals into constructive chemical processing and recording the results of this processing. [emphais mine] Instead of making chemical reactors to contain chemicals, the smart MICREAgents will be poured into chemical mixtures, to organize the chemistry from within. Ultimately, such microreactors, like cells in the bloodstream, will open up the possibility of controlling complex chemistry from the inside out.

I’m far out of my comfort zone with this material so these questions may not be relevant but I wonder how the lablets, which will self-assemble and integrate supercapacitors, transistors, transducers, etc., will be constituted and how they will be produced. No details are offered in the RUB press release but there is this paragraph, which seems to be discussing future applications,

MICREAgents will provide an unconventional form of computation that microscopically links reaction processing with computation in autonomous mobile smart reactors. This corresponds to a radical integration of autonomous chemical experimentation, a very recent research area, and represents a novel form of computation intertwined with construction. The self-assembling smart micro reactors can be programmed for molecular amplification and other chemical processing pathways, that start from complex mixtures, concentrate and purify chemicals, perform reactions in programmed cascades, sense completion, and transport and release products to defined locations. The project defines a continuous achievable path towards this ambitious goal, making use of a novel pairwise local communication strategy to overcome the limitations of current smart dust and autonomous sensor network communication. It will provide a technical platform spawning research in new computing paradigms that integrate multilevel construction with electronic ICT.

Based on the description of the competition, they seem to be working towards integration of electronics with materials in a way that mimics nature/the human body. It almost seems that this work could lead to buildings and other constructions that are sentient in some fashion or other.

Graphene 2012 and the Graphene flagship project

The Graphene Flagship project strikes again, this time at Graphene 2012, the second international conference on graphene. Here’s more about the conference, from the March 20, 2012 news item on Azonano,

Internationally renowned speakers will present the latest trends in the field and the global Graphene technology revolution. The Graphene 2012 program includes more than 100 speakers from all over the World, presentations from both research and industry.

Graphene 2012 [April 10 – 13, 2012 in Brussels, Belgium] is now an established European event, attracting global participants intent on sharing, exchanging and exploring new avenues of graphene-related scientific and commercial developments. Until now, the best, among many others, represented countries are United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Belgium, France and United States.

I checked out the programme and found this front and centre,

Graphene Flagship Session

The consortium of the Graphene Flagship Pilot Action is working to establish the “Graphene Science and Technology Roadmap” which will be presented to the European Commission and Member States to demonstrate the need for securing long term funding, coordinated through a new Graphene Alliance. The Graphene Flagship Pilot Action will take advantage of the International conference Graphene 2012 in Brussels to co-organize a specific session in order to timely deliver to the European community the results of this Roadmap.

Tentative program

a. “Graphene Flagship: working together to combine scientific excellence and technological impacts”: Jari Kinaret
b. “The Graphene Science and Technology Roadmap”: Vladimir Falko and Andrea Ferrari
c. “Korean Graphene Research and Roadmap”: Byung Hee Hong
d . “Japanese Graphene Research and Roadmap”: Masataka Hasegawa
e. Round Table (tentative): Luigi Colombo, Gabriel Crean, Andrea Ferrari, Albert Fert, David Guedj, Francisco Guinea, Byung Hee Hong, Jari Kinaret, Klaus von Klitzing, and Ken Teo

I have commented previously on GRAPHENE-CA or the Graphene Flagship project, most recently in my Feb. 13, 2012 posting where I discuss the European Union’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) funding initiatives. The GRAPHENE-CA consortium is in competition for a 1B Euro research funding prize and they (particularly the UK) have been heroic in their promotional efforts, this new Graphene Alliance being yet another example.

Registration for the conference is here.

Less confused about Europe’s FET (Future and Emerging Technologies programme)

I’ve had problems trying figure out the European Union’s Future and Emerging Technologies programme and so I’m glad to say that the Feb. 10, 2012 news item on Nanowerk offers to clear up a few matters for me (and presumably a few other people too).

From the news item,

Go forth and explore the frontiers of science and technology! This is the unspoken motto of the Future and Emerging Technologies programme (FET), which has for more than 20 years been funding and inspiring researchers across Europe to lay new foundations for information and communication technology (ICT). [emphasis mine]

The vanguard researchers of frontier ICT research don’t always come from IT backgrounds or follow the traditional academic career path. The European Commission’s FET programme encourages unconventional match-ups like chemistry and IT, physics and optics, biology and data engineering. Researchers funded by FET are driven by ideas and a sense of purpose which push the boundaries of science and technology.

They have three funding programmes (from the news item),

To address these challenges, the FET scheme supports long-term ICT programmes under three banners:

  • FET-Open, which has simple and fast mechanisms in place to receive new ideas for projects without pre-conceived boundaries or deadlines;
  • FET-Proactive, which spearheads ‘transformative’ research and supports community-building around a number of fundamental long-term ICT challenges; and
  • FET Flagships, which cut across national and European programmes to unite top research teams pursuing ambitious, large-scale, science-driven research with a visionary goal.

The news item goes on to describe a number of projects including the GRAPHENE-CA flagship pilot currently under consideration, along with five other flagship projects, for one of two 1 Billion Euro prizes. I have commented before (my Feb. 6, 2012 posting) on the communication strategies being employed by at least some of the members of this particular flagship project. Amazingly, they’ve done it again; theirs is the only flagship pilot project mentioned.

You can see the original article on the European Union website here where they have described other projects including this one, PRESENCCIA,

‘Light switches, TV remote controls and even house keys could become a thing of the past thanks to brain-computer interface (BCI) technology being developed in Europe that lets users perform everyday tasks with thoughts alone.’ So begins a story on ICT Results about a pioneering EU-funded FET project called Presenccia*.

Primary applications of BCI are in gaming/virtual reality (VR), home entertainment and domestic care, but the project partners also see their work helping the medical profession. ‘A virtual environment could be used to train a disabled person to control an electric wheelchair through a BCI,’ explained Mel Slater, the project coordinator. ‘It is much safer for them to learn in VR than in the real world, where mistakes could have physical consequences.’

So, PRESENCCIA is a project whereby people will be trained to use a BCI in virtual reality before attempting it in real life. I wish there was a bit more information about this BCI technology that is being developed in Europe as I am deeply fascinated and horrified by this notion of thought waves that ‘turn light switches on and off’ or possibly allow you to make a phone call as Professor Mark Welland at Cambridge University was speculating in 2010 (mentioned in my April 30, 2010 posting [scroll 1/2 way down]). Welland did mention that you would need some sort of brain implant to achieve a phone call with your thought waves, which is the aspect that makes me most uncomfortable.