Tag Archives: FET Flagship Initiatives

Brain-to-brain communication, organic computers, and BAM (brain activity map), the connectome

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University, has been making international headlines lately with two brain projects. The first one about implanting a brain chip that allows rats to perceive infrared light was mentioned in my Feb. 15, 2013 posting. The latest project is a brain-to-brain (rats) communication project as per a Feb. 28, 2013 news release on *EurekAlert,

Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart—one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil.

The results of these projects suggest the future potential for linking multiple brains to form what the research team is calling an “organic computer,” which could allow sharing of motor and sensory information among groups of animals. The study was published Feb. 28, 2013, in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces had convinced us that the rat brain was much more plastic than we had previously thought,” said Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., PhD, lead author of the publication and professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “In those experiments, the rat brain was able to adapt easily to accept input from devices outside the body and even learn how to process invisible infrared light generated by an artificial sensor. So, the question we asked was, ‘if the brain could assimilate signals from artificial sensors, could it also assimilate information input from sensors from a different body?’”

Ben Schiller in a Mar. 1, 2013 article for Fast Company describes both the latest experiment and the work leading up to it,

First, two rats were trained to press a lever when a light went on in their cage. Press the right lever, and they would get a reward–a sip of water. The animals were then split in two: one cage had a lever with a light, while another had a lever without a light. When the first rat pressed the lever, the researchers sent electrical activity from its brain to the second rat. It pressed the right lever 70% of the time (more than half).

In another experiment, the rats seemed to collaborate. When the second rat didn’t push the right lever, the first rat was denied a drink. That seemed to encourage the first to improve its signals, raising the second rat’s lever-pushing success rate.

Finally, to show that brain-communication would work at a distance, the researchers put one rat in an cage in North Carolina, and another in Natal, Brazil. Despite noise on the Internet connection, the brain-link worked just as well–the rate at which the second rat pushed the lever was similar to the experiment conducted solely in the U.S.

The Duke University Feb. 28, 2013 news release, the origin for the news release on EurekAlert, provides more specific details about the experiments and the rats’ training,

To test this hypothesis, the researchers first trained pairs of rats to solve a simple problem: to press the correct lever when an indicator light above the lever switched on, which rewarded the rats with a sip of water. They next connected the two animals’ brains via arrays of microelectrodes inserted into the area of the cortex that processes motor information.

One of the two rodents was designated as the “encoder” animal. This animal received a visual cue that showed it which lever to press in exchange for a water reward. Once this “encoder” rat pressed the right lever, a sample of its brain activity that coded its behavioral decision was translated into a pattern of electrical stimulation that was delivered directly into the brain of the second rat, known as the “decoder” animal.

The decoder rat had the same types of levers in its chamber, but it did not receive any visual cue indicating which lever it should press to obtain a reward. Therefore, to press the correct lever and receive the reward it craved, the decoder rat would have to rely on the cue transmitted from the encoder via the brain-to-brain interface.

The researchers then conducted trials to determine how well the decoder animal could decipher the brain input from the encoder rat to choose the correct lever. The decoder rat ultimately achieved a maximum success rate of about 70 percent, only slightly below the possible maximum success rate of 78 percent that the researchers had theorized was achievable based on success rates of sending signals directly to the decoder rat’s brain.

Importantly, the communication provided by this brain-to-brain interface was two-way. For instance, the encoder rat did not receive a full reward if the decoder rat made a wrong choice. The result of this peculiar contingency, said Nicolelis, led to the establishment of a “behavioral collaboration” between the pair of rats.

“We saw that when the decoder rat committed an error, the encoder basically changed both its brain function and behavior to make it easier for its partner to get it right,” Nicolelis said. “The encoder improved the signal-to-noise ratio of its brain activity that represented the decision, so the signal became cleaner and easier to detect. And it made a quicker, cleaner decision to choose the correct lever to press. Invariably, when the encoder made those adaptations, the decoder got the right decision more often, so they both got a better reward.”

In a second set of experiments, the researchers trained pairs of rats to distinguish between a narrow or wide opening using their whiskers. If the opening was narrow, they were taught to nose-poke a water port on the left side of the chamber to receive a reward; for a wide opening, they had to poke a port on the right side.

The researchers then divided the rats into encoders and decoders. The decoders were trained to associate stimulation pulses with the left reward poke as the correct choice, and an absence of pulses with the right reward poke as correct. During trials in which the encoder detected the opening width and transmitted the choice to the decoder, the decoder had a success rate of about 65 percent, significantly above chance.

To test the transmission limits of the brain-to-brain communication, the researchers placed an encoder rat in Brazil, at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal (ELS-IINN), and transmitted its brain signals over the Internet to a decoder rat in Durham, N.C. They found that the two rats could still work together on the tactile discrimination task.

“So, even though the animals were on different continents, with the resulting noisy transmission and signal delays, they could still communicate,” said Miguel Pais-Vieira, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study. “This tells us that it could be possible to create a workable, network of animal brains distributed in many different locations.”

Will Oremus in his Feb. 28, 2013 article for Slate seems a little less buoyant about the implications of this work,

Nicolelis believes this opens the possibility of building an “organic computer” that links the brains of multiple animals into a single central nervous system, which he calls a “brain-net.” Are you a little creeped out yet? In a statement, Nicolelis adds:

We cannot even predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a brain-net. In theory, you could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves.

That sounds far-fetched. But Nicolelis’ lab is developing quite the track record of “taking science fiction and turning it into science,” says Ron Frostig, a neurobiologist at UC-Irvine who was not involved in the rat study. “He’s the most imaginative neuroscientist right now.” (Frostig made it clear he meant this as a complement, though skeptics might interpret the word less charitably.)

The most extensive coverage I’ve given Nicolelis and his work (including the Walk Again project) was in a March 16, 2012 post titled, Monkeys, mind control, robots, prosthetics, and the 2014 World Cup (soccer/football), although there are other mentions including in this Oct. 6, 2011 posting titled, Advertising for the 21st Century: B-Reel, ‘storytelling’, and mind control.  By the way, Nicolelis hopes to have a paraplegic individual (using technology Nicolelis is developing for the Walk Again project) kick the opening soccer/football to the 2014 World Cup games in Brazil.

While there’s much excitement about Nicolelis and his work, there are other ‘brain’ projects being developed in the US including the Brain Activity Map (BAM), which James Lewis notes in his Mar. 1, 2013 posting on the Foresight Institute blog,

A proposal alluded to by President Obama in his State of the Union address [Feb. 2013] to construct a dynamic “functional connectome” Brain Activity Map (BAM) would leverage current progress in neuroscience, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology to develop a map of each firing of every neuron in the human brain—a hundred billion neurons sampled on millisecond time scales. Although not the intended goal of this effort, a project on this scale, if it is funded, should also indirectly advance efforts to develop artificial intelligence and atomically precise manufacturing.

As Lewis notes in his posting, there’s an excellent description of BAM and other brain projects, as well as a discussion about how these ideas are linked (not necessarily by individuals but by the overall direction of work being done in many labs and in many countries across the globe) in Robert Blum’s Feb. (??), 2013 posting titled, BAM: Brain Activity Map Every Spike from Every Neuron, on his eponymous blog. Blum also offers an extensive set of links to the reports and stories about BAM. From Blum’s posting,

The essence of the BAM proposal is to create the technology over the coming decade
to be able to record every spike from every neuron in the brain of a behaving organism.
While this notion seems insanely ambitious, coming from a group of top investigators,
the paper deserves scrutiny. At minimum it shows what might be achieved in the future
by the combination of nanotechnology and neuroscience.

In 2013, as I write this, two European Flagship projects have just received funding for
one billion euro each (1.3 billion dollars each). The Human Brain Project is
an outgrowth of the Blue Brain Project, directed by Prof. Henry Markram
in Lausanne, which seeks to create a detailed simulation of the human brain.
The Graphene Flagship, based in Sweden, will explore uses of graphene for,
among others, creation of nanotech-based supercomputers. The potential synergy
between these projects is a source of great optimism.

The goal of the BAM Project is to elaborate the functional connectome
of a live organism: that is, not only the static (axo-dendritic) connections
but how they function in real-time as thinking and action unfold.

The European Flagship Human Brain Project will create the computational
capability to simulate large, realistic neural networks. But to compare the model
with reality, a real-time, functional, brain-wide connectome must also be created.
Nanotech and neuroscience are mature enough to justify funding this proposal.

I highly recommend reading Blum’s technical description of neural spikes as understanding that concept or any other in his post doesn’t require an advanced degree. Note: Blum holds a number of degrees and diplomas including an MD (neuroscience) from the University of California at San Francisco and a PhD in computer science and biostatistics from California’s Stanford University.

The Human Brain Project has been mentioned here previously. The  most recent mention is in a Jan. 28, 2013 posting about its newly gained status as one of two European Flagship initiatives (the other is the Graphene initiative) each meriting one billion euros of research funding over 10 years. Today, however, is the first time I’ve encountered the BAM project and I’m fascinated. Luckily, John Markoff’s Feb. 17, 2013 article for The New York Times provides some insight into this US initiative (Note: I have removed some links),

The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.

The project, which the administration has been looking to unveil as early as March, will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain’s billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.

Moreover, the project holds the potential of paving the way for advances in artificial intelligence.

What I find particularly interesting is the reference back to the human genome project, which may explain why BAM is also referred to as a ‘connectome’.

ETA Mar.6.13: I have found a Human Connectome Project Mar. 6, 2013 news release on EurekAlert, which leaves me confused. This does not seem to be related to BAM, although the articles about BAM did reference a ‘connectome’. At this point, I’m guessing that BAM and the ‘Human Connectome Project’ are two related but different projects and the reference to a ‘connectome’ in the BAM material is meant generically.  I previously mentioned the Human Connectome Project panel discussion held at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 2013 meeting in my Feb. 7, 2013 posting.

* Corrected EurkAlert to EurekAlert on June 14, 2013.

Graphene and Human Brain Project win biggest research award in history (& this is the 2000th post)

The European Commission has announced the two winners of its FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) Flagships Initiative in a Jan. 28, 2013 news release,

The winning Graphene and Human Brain initiatives are set to receive one billion euros each, to deliver 10 years of world-beating science at the crossroads of science and technology. Each initiative involves researchers from at least 15 EU Member States and nearly 200 research institutes.

“Graphene” will investigate and exploit the unique properties of a revolutionary carbon-based material. Graphene is an extraordinary combination of physical and chemical properties: it is the thinnest material, it conducts electricity much better than copper, it is 100-300 times stronger than steel and it has unique optical properties. The use of graphene was made possible by European scientists in 2004, and the substance is set to become the wonder material of the 21st century, as plastics were to the 20th century, including by replacing silicon in ICT products.

The “Human Brain Project” will create the world’s largest experimental facility for developing the most detailed model of the brain, for studying how the human brain works and ultimately to develop personalised treatment of neurological and related diseases. This research lays the scientific and technical foundations for medical progress that has the potential to will dramatically improve the quality of life for millions of Europeans.

The European Commission will support “Graphene” and the “Human Brain Project” as FET “flagships” over 10 years through its research and innovation funding programmes. Sustained funding for the full duration of the project will come from the EU’s research framework programmes, principally from the Horizon 2020 programme (2014-2020) which is currently negotiated in the European Parliament and Council.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: “Europe’s position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas. This multi-billion competition rewards home-grown scientific breakthroughs and shows that when we are ambitious we can develop the best research in Europe. To keep Europe competitive, to keep Europe as the home of scientific excellence, EU governments must agree an ambitious budget for the Horizon 2020 programme in the coming weeks.”

“Graphene” is led by Prof. Jari Kinaret, from Sweden’s Chalmers University. The Flagship involves over 100 research groups, with 136 principal investigators, including four Nobel laureates. “The Human Brain Project” involves scientists from 87 institutions and is led by Prof. Henry Markram of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

As noted in my Jan. 24, 2013 posting about the new Cambridge Graphene Centre in the UK, while the Graphene flagship lead is from Sweden, the UK  has more educational institutions than any other country party to the flagship consortium.

Here are some funding details from the Jan. 28, 2013 news release,

Horizon 2020 is the new EU programme for research and innovation, presented by the Commission as part of its EU budget proposal for 2014 to 2020. In order to give a boost to research and innovation as a driver of growth and jobs, the Commission has proposed an ambitious budget of €80 billion over seven years, including the FET flagship programme itself.

The winners will receive up to €54 million from the European Commission’s ICT 2013 Work Programme. Further funding will come from subsequent EU research framework programmes, private partners including universities, Member States and industry.

1 billion Euros sounds like a lot of money but it’s being paid out over 10 years (100 million per year) and through many institutional layers at the European Commission and at the educational institutions themselves. One wonders how much of the money will go to research rather than administration.

2000th posting: My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog and and to those who’ve taken the time to comment on the blog, on Twitter, or directly to me. Your interest has kept this blog going far longer than I believed it would.

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.

Brits go for the graphene gusto in Warsaw but where are the Swedes?

The Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, and Lancaster (all in the UK) have launched an exhibition extolling graphene in Warsaw (Poland). From the Nov. 25, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

The European programme for research into graphene, for which the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Lancaster are leading the technology roadmap, today unveiled an exhibition and new videos communicating the potential for the material that could revolutionise the electronics industries. [emphasis mine]

I’m a little confused as I thought the Swedish partner was either the leader or one of the lead partners.

I found this Nov. 24, 2011 news release from the University of Cambridge where the announcement was made,

An exhibition has been launched in Warsaw today highlighting the development and future of graphene, the ‘wonder substance’ set to change the face of electronics manufacturing, as part of the Graphene Flagship Pilot (GFP), aimed at developing the proposal for a 1 billion European programme conducting research and development on graphene, for which the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Lancaster are leading the technology roadmap.

The exhibition covers the development of the material, the present research and the vast potential for future applications. The GFP also released two videos aimed at introducing this extraordinary material to a wider audience, ranging from stakeholders and politicians to the general public. The videos also convey the mission and vision of the graphene initiative.

“Our mission is to take graphene and related layered materials from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionise multiple industries – from flexible, wearable and transparent electronics to high performance computing and spintronics” says Professor Andrea Ferrari, Head of the Nanomaterials and Spectroscopy Group.

“This material will bring a new dimension to future technology – a faster, thinner, stronger, flexible, and broadband revolution. Our program will put Europe firmly at the heart of the process, with a manifold return on the investment of 1 billion Euros, both in terms of technological innovation and economic exploitation.”

Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, could prove to be the most versatile substance available to mankind. Stronger than diamond, yet lightweight and flexible, graphene enables electrons to flow much faster than silicon. It is also a transparent conductor, combining electrical and optical functionalities in an exceptional way.

This is connected to the European Union’s FET11 flagship projects initiative (described at more length in my June 13, 2011 graphene roundup posting) where six different research areas have been funded in preparation for a major funding round in late 2012 when two research projects will  be selected for a prize of 1B Euros each.

I find the communications strategy mildly confusing since the original project team listed Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden (as highlighted in my Nov. 9, 2011 posting about funding for the Swedish effort with no mention of the other partners). The flagship group appears to be working both cooperatively and separately on the same project.

I did get a little curious as to the membership for this graphene research group (consortium) and found this,

1  CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, Sweden

2  THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER,  United Kingdom

3  LANCASTER UNIVERSITY, United Kingdom

4  THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom

5  AMO GMBH, Germany

6  CATALAN INSTITUTE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY, Spain

7  NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF ITALY, Italy

8  NOKIA OYJ, Finland

9  EUROPEAN SCIENCE FOUNDATION, France

You can find more information about the Graphene Flagship Project here although they don’t appear to update the information very frequently.

Graphene, IBM’s first graphene-based integrated circuit, and the European Union’s pathfinder programme in information technologies

A flat layer of carbon atoms packed into a two-dimensional honeycomb arrangement, graphene is being touted as a miracle (it seems)  material which will enable new kinds of electronic products. Recently, there have been a number of news items and articles featuring graphene research.

Here’s my roundup of the latest and greatest graphene news. I’m starting with an application that is the closest to commercialization: IBM recently announced the creation of the first graphene-based integrated circuit. From the Bob Yirka article dated June 10, 2011 on physorg.com,

Taking a giant step forward in the creation and production of graphene based integrated circuits, IBM has announced in Science, the fabrication of a graphene based integrated circuit [IC] on a single chip. The demonstration chip, known as a radio frequency “mixer” is capable of producing frequencies up to 10 GHz, and demonstrates that it is possible to overcome the adhesion problems that have stymied researchers efforts in creating graphene based IC’s that can be used in analog applications such as cell phones or more likely military communications.

The graphene circuits were started by growing a two or three layer graphene film on a silicon surface which was then heated to 1400°C. The graphene IC was then fabricated by employing top gated, dual fingered graphene FET’s (field-effect transistors) which were then integrated with inductors. The active channels were made by spin-coating the wafer with a thin polymer and then applying a layer of hydrogen silsequioxane. The channels were then carved by e-beam lithography. Next, the excess graphene was removed with an oxygen plasma laser, and then the whole works was cleaned with acetone. The result is an integrated circuit that is less than 1mm2 in total size.

Meanwhile, there’s a graphene research project in contention for a major research prize in Europe. Worth 1B Euros, the European Union’s 2011 pathfinder programme (Future and Emerging Technologies [Fet11]) in information technology) will select two from six pilot actions currently under way to be awarded a Flagship Initiative prize.  From the Fet11 flagships project page,

FET Flagships are large-scale, science-driven and mission oriented initiatives that aim to achieve a visionary technological goal. The scale of ambition is over 10 years of coordinated effort, and a budget of up to one billion Euro for each Flagship. They initiatives are coordinated between national and EU programmes and present global dimensions to foster European leadership and excellence in frontier research.

To prepare the launch of the FET Flagships, 6 Pilot Actions are funded for a 12-month period starting in May 2011. In the second half of 2012 two of the Pilots will be selected and launched as full FET Flagship Initiatives in 2013.

Here’s the description of the Graphene Science and technology for ICT and beyond pilot action,

Graphene, a new substance from the world of atomic and molecular scale manipulation of matter, could be the wonder material of the 21st century. Discovering just how important this material will be for Information and Communication Technologies is the long term focus of the Flagship Initiative, simply called, GRAPHENE. This aims to explore revolutionary potentials, in terms of both conventional as well as radically new fields of Information and Communication Technologies applications.

Bringing together multiple disciplines and addressing research across a whole range of issues, from fundamental understandings of material properties to Graphene production, the Flagship will provide the platform for establishing European scientific and technological leadership in the application of Graphene to Information and Communication Technologies. The proposed research includes coverage of electronics, spintronics, photonics, plasmonics and mechanics, all based on Graphene.

[Project Team:]

Andrea Ferrari, Cambridge University, UK
Jari Kinaret, Chalmers University, Sweden
Vladimir Falko, Lancaster University, UK
Jani Kivioja, NOKIA, Finland [emphases mine]

Not so coincidentally (given one member of the team is associated with Nokia and another is associated with Cambridge University), the Nokia Research Centre jointly with Cambridge University issued a May 4, 2011 news release (I highlighted it in my May 6, 2011 posting [scroll down past the theatre project information]) about the Morph concept (a rigid, flexible, and stretchable phone/blood pressure cuff/calculator/and  other electronic devices in one product) which they have been publicizing for years now. The news release concerned itself with how graphene would enable the researchers to take the Morph from idea to actuality. The webpage for the Graphene Pilot Action is here.

There’s something breathtaking when there is no guarantee of success about the willingness to invest up to 1B Euros in a project that spans 10 years. We’ll have to wait until 2013 before learning whether the graphene project will be one of the two selected as Flagship Initiatives.

I must say the timing for the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics which went to two scientists (Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov) for their groundbreaking work with graphene sems interesting (featured in my Oct. 7, 2010 posting) in light of this graphene activity.

The rest of these graphene items are about research that could lay the groundwork for future commercialization.

Friday, June 13, 2011 there was a news item about foaming graphene on Nanowerk (from the news item),

Hui-Ming Cheng and co-workers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Metal Research at Shenyang have now devised a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method for turning graphene sheets into porous three-dimensional ‘foams’ with extremely high conductivity (“Three-dimensional flexible and conductive interconnected graphene networks grown by chemical vapour deposition” [published in Nature Materials 10, 424–428 (2011) doi:10.1038/nmat3001 Published online 10 April 2011]). By permeating this foam with a siloxane-based polymer, the researchers have produced a composite that can be twisted, stretched and bent without harming its electrical or mechanical properties.

Here’s an image from the Nature Publishing Group (NPG) of both the vapour and the bendable, twistable, stretchable composite (downloaded from the news item on Nanowerk where you can find a larger version of the image),

A scanning electron microscopy image of the net-like structure of graphene foam (left), and a photograph of a highly conductive elastic conductor produced from the foam. (© 2011 NPG)

The ‘elastic’ conductor (image to the right) reminds me of the ‘paper’ phone which I wrote about May 8, 2011 and May 12, 2011. (It’s a project where teams from Queen’s University [in Ontario] and Arizona State University are working to create flexible screens that give you telephony, music playing and other capabilities  much like the Morph concept.)

Researchers in Singapore have developed a graphene quantum dot using a C60 (a buckminster fullerene). From the June 13, 2011 news item (Graphene: from spheres to perfect dots) on Nanowerk,

An electron trapped in a space of just a few nanometers across behaves very differently to one that is free. Structures that confine electrons in all three dimensions can produce some useful optical and electronic effects. Known as quantum dots, such structures are being widely investigated for use in new types of optical and electronics technologies, but because they are so small it is difficult to fabricate quantum dots reproducibly in terms of shape and size. Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and A*STAR have now developed a technique that enables graphene quantum dots of a known size to be created repeatedly and quickly (“Transforming C60 molecules into graphene quantum dots” [published in Nature Nanotechnology 6, 247–252 (2011) doi:10.1038/nnano.2011.30 Published online 20 March 2011]).

This final bit is about a nano PacMan that allows for more precise patterning from a June 13, 2011 article written by Michael Berger,

A widely discussed method for the patterning of graphene is the channelling of graphite by metal nanoparticles in oxidizing or reducing environments (see for instance: “Nanotechnology PacMan cuts straight graphene edges”).

“All previous studies of channelling behavior have been limited by the need to perform the experiment ex situ, i.e. comparing single ‘before’ and ‘after’ images,” Peter Bøggild, an associate professor at DTU [Danish Technical University] Nanotech, explains to Nanowerk. “In these and other ex situ experiments the dynamic behavior must be inferred from the length of channels and heating time after completion of the experiment, with the rate of formation of the channel assumed to be consistent over the course of the experiment.”

In new work, reported in the June 9, 2011 advance online edition of Nano Letters (“Discrete dynamics of nanoparticle channelling in suspended graphene” [published in Nano Letters, Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/nl200928k, Publication Date (Web): June 9, 2011]), Bøggild and his team report the nanoscale observation of this channelling process by silver nanoparticles in an oxygen atmosphere in-situ on suspended mono- and bilayer graphene in an environmental transmission electron microscope, enabling direct concurrent observation of the process, impossible in ex-situ experiments.

Personally, I love the youtube video I’ve included here largely because it features blobs (as many of these videos do) where they’ve added music and titles (many of these videos do not) so you can better appreciate the excitement,

From the article by Michael Berger,

As a result of watching this process occur live in a transmission electron microscope, the researchers say they have seen many details that were hidden before, and video really brings the “nano pacman” behavior to life …

There’s a reason why they’re so interested in cutting graphene,

“With a deeper understanding of the fine details we hope to one day use this nanoscale channelling behavior to directly cut desired patterns out of suspended graphene sheets, with a resolution and accuracy that isn’t achievable with any other technique,” says Bøggild. “A critical advantage here is that the graphene crystal structure guides the patterning, and in our case all of the cut edges of the graphene are ‘zigzag’ edges.”

So there you have it. IBM creates the first integrated graphene-based circuit, there’s the prospect of a huge cash prize for a 10-year project on graphene so they could produce the long awaited Morph concept and other graphene-based electronics products while a number of research teams around the world continue teasing out its secrets with graphene ‘foam’ projects, graphene quantum dots, and nano PacMen who cut graphene’s zigzag edges with precision.

ETA June 16, 2011: For those interested in the business end of things, i.e. market value of graphene-based products, Cameron Chai features a report, Graphene: Technologies, Applications, and Markets, in his June 16, 2011 news item on Azonano.