Tag Archives: Finland

Inhibiting viruses with nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) in Finland

Research and interest in cellulose nanomaterials of one kind or another seems to be reaching new heights. That’s my experience since this is my third posting on the topic in one week.

The latest research features NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC] or, as it’s sometimes known, cellulose nanocrystals [CNC]) ,as a ‘viral inhibitor’ and is described in an April 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers from Aalto University [Finland] and and the University of Eastern Finland have succeeded in creating a surface on nano-sized cellulose crystals that imitates a biological structure. The surface adsorbs viruses and disables them. The results can prove useful in the development of antiviral ointments and surfaces, for instance.

There are many viral diseases in the world for which no pharmaceutical treatment exists. These include, among others, dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes in the tropics, as well as a type of diarrhea, which is more familiar in Finland and is easily spread by the hands and can be dangerous especially for small children and the elderly.

An April 15, 2014 Aalto University news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Researchers at Aalto University and the University of Eastern Finland have now succeeded in preliminary tests to prevent the spread of one type of virus into cells with the help of a new type of nanocrystalline cellulose. Nano-sized cellulose crystals were manufactured out of cotton fibre or filter paper with the help of sulphuric acid, causing sulphate ions with negative charges to attach to their surfaces. The ions then attached to alphaviruses used in the test and neutralised them. When the researchers replaced the sulphate ions with cellulose derivatives that imitate tyrosine sulphates, the activity of the viruses was further reduced. The experiments succeeded in preventing viral infection in 88-100 percent of the time with no noticeable effect on the viability of the cells by the nanoparticles. The research findings were published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

Here’s a diagram illustrating how the new type of NCC works,

Courtesy of Aalto University

Courtesy of Aalto University

The news release includes perspectives from the researchers,

’Certain cellulose derivatives had been seen to have an impact on viruses before. The nano scale increases the proportion of the surface area to that of the number of grams to a very high level, which is an advantage, because viruses specifically attach themselves to surfaces. Making the cellulose crystals biomimetic, which means that they mimic biological structures, was an important step, as we know that in nature viruses often interact specifically with tyrosine structures,’ he [Jukka Seppälä, Professor of Polymer Technology at Aalto University] says.

Both Jukka Seppälä and Ari Hinkkanen, Professor of Gene Transfer Technology at the University of Eastern Finland, emphasise that the research is still in the early stages.

‘Now we know that the attachment of a certain alphavirus can be effectively prevented when we use large amounts of nanocrystalline cellulose.  Next we need to experiment with other alpha viruses and learn to better understand the mechanisms that prevent viral infection. In addition, it is necessary to ascertain if cellulose can also block other viruses and in what conditions, and to investigate whether or not the sulphates have a deleterious effects on an organism,’ Ari Hinkkanen explains.

According to Kristiina Järvinen, Professor of Pharmaceutical Technology at the University of Eastern Finland, there are many routes that can be taken in the commercialisation of the results. The development of an antiviral medicine is the most distant of these; the idea could be sooner applied in disinfectant ointments and coatings, for instance.

‘It would be possible to provide protection against viruses, spread by mosquitoes, by applying ointment containing nanocrystalline cellulose onto the skin. Nanocrystalline cellulose applied on hospital door handles could kill viruses and prevent them from spreading.  However, we first need to ascertain if the compounds will remain effective in a non-liquid form and how they work in animal tests,’ she ponders.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Synthesis of Cellulose Nanocrystals Carrying Tyrosine Sulfate Mimetic Ligands and Inhibition of Alphavirus Infection by Justin O. Zoppe, Ville Ruottinen, Janne Ruotsalainen, Seppo Rönkkö, Leena-Sisko Johansson, Ari Hinkkanen, Kristiina Järvinen, and Jukka Seppälä. Biomacromolecules, 2014, 15 (4), pp 1534–1542 DOI: 10.1021/bm500229d Publication Date (Web): March 14, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

As for my other recent postings on cellulose nanomaterials, there’s this April 14, 2014 piece titled: Preparing nanocellulose for eventual use in dressings for wounds and this from April 10, 2014 titled: US Dept. of Agriculture wants to commercialize cellulose nanomaterials.

Cancer as a fashion statement at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and a Marimekko dress made of birch in Finland

The ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ at the University of British Columbia (UBC) bears some resemblance to the types of outreach projects supported by the UK’s Wellcome Trust (for an example see my June 21, 2011 posting) where fashion designers are inspired by some aspect of science. Here’s more about the ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ and its upcoming fashion show (on March 25, 2014). From the March 12, 2014 UBC news release (Note: Links have been removed),

A UBC costume design professor has created a collection of ball gowns inspired by microscopic photos of cancer cells and cellular systems to get people talking about the disease, beauty and body image.

The project aims to create alternative imagery for discussions of cancer, to complement existing examples such as the pink ribbon, which is an important symbol of cancer awareness, but may not accurately represent women’s experience with the disease.

“Many women who have battled cancer express a disconnect with the fashion imagery that commonly represents the disease,” says Jacqueline Firkins, an assistant professor in UBC’s Dept. of Theatre and Film, who designed the collection of 10 dresses and dubbed the work ‘Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty.’

Inspired by cellular images captured by researchers in the lab of UBC scientist Christian Naus, a Peter Wall Distinguished Scholar in Residence, the project seeks to create artistic imagery based on the disease itself.

“My hope is that somehow through fashion, I more closely tap into what a woman might be feeling about her body as she undergoes the disease, but simultaneously reflect a strength, beauty, and resilience,” says Firkins, who will use the collection to raise money for cancer research, patients and survivors.

“This will be an opportunity for people to share their thoughts about the gowns,” says Firkins. “Are they too pretty to reflect something as destructive as cancer? Do they encourage you to tell your own story? Do they evoke any emotions related to your own experience?”

Before giving you where and when, here are two images (a cell and a dress based on the cell),


Cell7_brain_cells_in_a_dish; Astrocytes from the brain growing in a culture dish. Green colour indicates the cytoskeleton of these cells, red colour shows specific membrance [sic] channels (gap junctions), blue colour indicates the cell nuclei (DNA). The ability to grow cells in a dish has contributed to our understand of the changes these cells undergo when they become channels. Photo credit: John Bechberger, MSc., Christian Naus, PhD.

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Details about the show (from the UBC event description webpage where you can also find a slide show more pictures),

  • Event: Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty
  • Date: Tue. March 25, 2014 | Time: 12-1pm
  • Location: UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre, 6354 Crescent Rd.
  • MAP: http://bit.ly/1fZ4bC8

On a more or less related note, Aalto University (Finland) has announced a dress made of birch cellulose fibre, from a March 13, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

The first garment made out of birch cellulose fibre using the Ioncell method is displayed at a fashion show in Finland on 13 March [2014]. The Ioncell method, which was developed by researchers at Aalto University, is an environmentally friendly alternative to cotton in textile production. The dress produced for Marimekko is a significant step forward in the development of fibre for industrial production.

Researchers were looking for new alternatives to cotton, because demand for textile fibres is expected to nearly double by 2030. The raw material for the Ioncell fibre is a birch-based pulp from Finnish pulp mills. Growing birch wood does not require artificial irrigation in its native habitat, for instance.

The Aalto University March 12, 2014 news release, which originated the news item, describes the new Ioncell fibre and its relationship with Finnish clothing company Marimekko,

The production method for Ioncell has been developed by Professor Herbert Sixta’s research group. The method is based on a liquid salt (ionic liquid) developed under the guidance of Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen which is a very efficient cellulose solvent. The fibres derived from it are carded and spun to yarns at the Textile University of Börås in Sweden.

‒ We made a breakthrough in the development of the method about a year ago. Progress has been rapid since then. [see my Oct. 3, 2013 posting for another Finnish team's work with wood cellulose to create fabric]  Production of the fibre and the thread is still a cumbersome process, but we have managed to triple the amount of fibre that is produced in six months. The quality has also improved: the fibers are stronger and of more even quality, Professor Sixta says with satisfaction.

The surface of the ready textile has a dim glow and it is pleasing to the touch. According to Sixta, because of its strength, the strength properties of the Ioncell fibre are equal or even better than other pulp-based fibres on the market. The fibres are even stronger than cotton and viscose.

The Finnish textile and clothing design company Marimekko became inspired by the new fibre at an event organised by the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC, which coordinates bioeconomy research, and immediately got in touch with Professor Herbert Sixta at Aalto University.

‒ We monitor product development for materials closely in order to be able to offer our customers new and more ecological alternatives. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to join this Aalto University development project at such an early stage. Fibre made from birch pulp seems to be a promising material by virtue of its durability and other characteristics, and we hope that we will soon be able to utilise this new material in our collections, says Noora Niinikoski, Head of Fashion at Marimekko.

Here’s the birch cellulose dress,

Marimekko Birch Dress Courtesy: Aalto University

Let’s all have a fashionable day!

Getting new information on trafficking viruses with gold nanoparticles

Finnish researchers have developed a new technique for studying viruses according to a Jan. 15, 2014 news release on EurekAlert,

Researchers at the Nanoscience Center (NSC) of University of Jyväskylä in Finland have developed a novel method to study enterovirus structures and their functions. The method will help to obtain new information on trafficking of viruses in cells and tissues as well as on the mechanisms of virus opening inside cells.

The news release explains enteroviruses and describes the technique in more detail,

Enteroviruses are pathogenic viruses infecting humans. This group consists of polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses and rhinoviruses. Enteroviruses are the most common causes of flu, but they also cause serious symptoms such as heart muscle infections and paralysis. Recently, enteroviruses have been linked with chronic diseases such as diabetes (2).

The infection mechanisms and infectious pathways of enteroviruses are still rather poorly known. Previous studies in the group of Dr. Varpu Marjomäki at the NSC have focused on the cellular factors that are important for the infection caused by selected enteroviruses (3). The mechanistic understanding of virus opening and the release of the viral genome in cellular structures for starting new virus production is still largely lacking. Furthermore, the knowledge of infectious processes in tissues is hampered by the lack of reliable tools for detecting virus infection.

The newly developed method involves a chemical modification of a known thiol-stabilized gold nanoparticle, the so-called Au102 cluster that was first synthesized and structurally solved by the group of Roger D Kornberg in 2007 (4) and later characterized at NSC by the groups of prof. Hannu Häkkinen and prof. Mika Pettersson in collaboration with Kornberg. (5) The organic thiol surface of the Au102 particles is modified by attaching linker molecules that make a chemical bond to sulfur-containing cysteine residues that are part of the surface structure of the virus. Several tens of gold particles can bind to a single virus, and the binding pattern shows up as dark tags reflecting the overall shape and structure of the virus (see the figure). The gold particles allow for studies on the structural changes of the viruses during their lifespan.

The study showed also that the infectivity of the viruses is not compromised by the attached gold particles which indicates that the labeling method does not interfere with the normal biological functions of viruses inside cells. This facilitates new investigations on the virus structures from samples taken from inside cells during the various phases of the virus infection, and gives possibilities to obtain new information on the mechanisms of virus uncoating (opening and release of the genome). The new method allows also for tracking studies of virus pathways in tissues. This is important for further understanding of acute and chronic symptoms caused by viruses. Finally, the method is expected to be useful for developing of new antiviral vaccines that are based on virus-like particles.

The method was developed at the NSC as a wide cross-disciplinary collaboration between chemists, physicists and biologists.

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

Left: transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image of a single CVB3 virus showing tens of gold nanoparticles attached to its surface. The particles form a distinct "tagging pattern" that reflects the shape and the structure of the virus. The TEM image can be correlated to the model of the virus (right), where the yellow spheres mark the possible binding sites of the gold particles. The diameter of the virus is about 35 nanometers (nanometer = one billionth of a millimeter). The figure is taken from the publication. Courtesy: University of Jyväskylä

Left: transmission electron microscopy (TEM) image of a single CVB3 virus showing tens of gold nanoparticles attached to its surface. The particles form a distinct “tagging pattern” that reflects the shape and the structure of the virus. The TEM image can be correlated to the model of the virus (right), where the yellow spheres mark the possible binding sites of the gold particles. The diameter of the virus is about 35 nanometers (nanometer = one billionth of a millimeter). The figure is taken from the publication. Courtesy: University of Jyväskylä

Unfortunately, the researchers have published in the Proceedings f the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). I noted in a previous posting that this publisher has developed a time-consuming process for getting access to a paper and payment options for reading it. I can provide a link to and a citation to the abstract for this paper but I’m not willing to spend several minutes trying to bypass the block they’ve placed on accessing papers and their payment options,

Site-specific targeting of enterovirus capsid by functionalized monodisperse gold nanoclusters by Varpu Marjomäki, Tanja Lahtinen, Mari Martikainen, Jaakko Koivisto, Sami Malola, Kirsi Salorinne, Mika Pettersson, and Hannu Häkkinenb. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (2014), www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1310973111.

The University of Jyväskylä Jan. ??, 2014 news release about this work provides references (scroll down) to previous papers published on this work.

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.

Designing nanocellulose (?) products in Finland; update on Canada’s CelluForce

A VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Oct. 2, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) has announced an initiative which combines design with technical expertise in the production of cellulose- (nanocellulose?) based textile and other products derived from wood waste,

The combination of strong design competence and cutting-edge cellulose-based technologies can result in new commercially successful brands. The aim is for fibre from wood-based biomass to replace both cotton production, which burdens the environment, and polyester production, which consumes oil. A research project launched by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology aims to create new business models and ecosystems in Finland through design-driven cellulose products.

The joint research project is called Design Driven Value Chains in the World of Cellulose (DWoC). The objective is to develop cellulose-based products suitable for technical textiles and consumer products. The technology could also find use in the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries. Another objective is to build a new business ecosystem and promote spin-offs.

Researchers seek to combine Finnish design competence with cutting-edge technological developments to utilise the special characteristics of cellulose to create products that feature the best qualities of materials such as cotton and polyester. Product characteristics achieved by using new manufacturing technologies and nanocellulose as a structural fibre element include recyclability and individual production.

The first tests performed by professor Olli Ilkkala’s team at the Aalto University showed that the self-assembly of cellulose fibrils in wood permits the fibrils to be spun into strong yarn. VTT has developed an industrial process that produces yarn from cellulose fibres without the spinning process. VTT has also developed efficient applications of the foam forming method for manufacturing materials that resemble fabric.

“In the future, combining different methods will enable production of individual fibre structures and textile products, even by using 3D printing technology,” says Professor Ali Harlin from VTT.

Usually the price of a textile product is the key criterion even though produced sustainably. New methods help significantly to shorten the manufacturing chain of existing textile products and bring it closer to consumers to respond to their rapidly changing needs. Projects are currently under way where the objective is to replace wet spinning with extrusion technology. The purpose is to develop fabric manufacturing methods where several stages of weaving and knitting are replaced without losing the key characteristics of the textile, such as the way it hangs.

The VTT news release also provides statistics supporting the notion that cellulose textile products derived from wood waste are more sustainable than those derived from cotton,

Finland’s logging residue to replace environmentally detrimental cotton Cotton textiles account for about 40% of the world’s textile markets, and oil-based polyester for practically the remainder. Cellulose-based fibres make up 6% of the market. Although cotton is durable and comfortable to wear, cotton production is highly water-intensive, and artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides are often needed to ensure a good crop. The surface area of cotton-growing regions globally equates to the size of Finland.

Approximately 5 million tons of fibre could be manufactured from Finland’s current logging residue (25 million cubic metres/year). This could replace more than 20% of globally produced cotton, at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 120 million tons, and releasing enough farming land to grow food for 18 million people. Desertification would also decrease by approximately 10 per cent.

I am guessing this initiative is focused on nanocellulose since the news release makes no mention of it but it is highly suggestive that one of the project leads, Olli Ilkkala mentions nanocellulose as part of the research for which he received a major funding award as recently as 2012,. From a Feb. 7, 2012 Aalto University news release announcing the grant for Ikkala’s research,

The European Research Council granted Aalto University’s Academy Professor Olli Ikkala funding in the amount of €2.3 million for research on biomimetic nanomaterials. Ikkala’s group specialises in the self-assembly of macromolecules and how to make use of this process when producing functional materials.

The interests of Ikkala’s group focus on the self-assembled strong and light nanocomposite structures found in nature, such as the nacreous matter underneath seashells and biological fibres resembling silk and nanocellulose. [emphasis mine] Several strong natural materials are built from both strong parallel elements and softening and viscosifying macromolecules. All sizes of structures form to combine opposite properties: strength and viscosity.

The research of the properties of biomimetic nanocomposites is based on finding out the initial materials of self-assembly. Initial material may include, for example, nano platelets, polymers, new forms of carbon, surfactants and nanocellulose.[emphasis mine]

– Cellulose is especially interesting, as it is the most common polymer in the world and it is produced in our renewable forests. In terms of strength, nano-sized cellulose fibres are comparable to metals, which was the very offset of interest in using nanocellulose in the design of strong self-assembled biomimetic materials, Ikkala says. [emphases mine]

Celluforce update

After reading about the Finnish initiative, I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

When the Celluforce Windsor, Québec plant was officially launched in January 2012 the production target was for 1,000 kg (1 metric ton) per day (there’s more in my Jan. 31 2012 posting about the plant’s launch). I’ve never seen anything which confirms they reached their production target, in any event, that seems irrelevant in light of the ‘stockpile’.

I am somewhat puzzled by the Celluforce ‘stockpile’ issue. On the one hand, it seems the planning process didn’t take into account demand for the material and, on the other hand, I’ve had a couple back channel requests from entrepreneurs about gaining access to the material after they were unsuccessful with Celluforce.  Is there not enough demand and/or is Celluforce choosing who or which agencies are going to have access to the material?

ETA Oct. 14, 2013: It took me a while to remember but there was a very interesting comment by Tim Harper (UK-based, emerging technologies consultant [Cientifica]) in Bertrand Marotte’s May 6, 2012 Globe & Mail article (about NCC (from my May 8, 2012 posting offering some commentary about Marotte’s article),

Tim Harper, the CEO of London-based Cientifica, a consultant on advanced technologies, describes the market for NCC as “very much a push, without signs of any pull.”

It would seem the current stockpile confirms Harper’s take on NCC’s market situation. For anyone not familiar with marketing terminology, ‘pull’ means market demand. No one is asking to buy NCC as there are no applications requiring the product, so there is ‘no pull/no market demand’.

Nanosafety in Europe: a proposed research strategy for 2015 – 2025

It looks like one of those ‘nanosafety’ days since earlier today I posted US NISOH (National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety) invites you to a meeting about nanomaterials and risk and now I have this June 25, 2013 news item on Nanowerk describing a European initiative,

The Finnish Insitute of Occupational Health, together with the members of the European Nanosafety Cluster, that is, over a hundred European nanosafety research experts, have produced a research strategy for the European Commission. [emphasis mine] The strategy outlines the focal points of nanomaterial safety research for the Commission’s 8th framework programme (Horizon 2020).

The document, Nanosafety in Europe 2015-2025: Towards Safe and Sustainable Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Innovations, available for free, is over 200 pp. and it was presented, according to the June 20, 2013 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health press release, at the EuroNanoForum being held in Dublin, Ireland from June 18 – 20, 2013.  (The forum was last mentioned in my June 12, 2013 post about Ireland’s Nanoweek which is taking place concurrently [more or less]). From the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (FIOH) June 20, 2013 press release,

The document outlines the requirements of strategic research. The focus should be on research that also aims to determine the characteristics of nanomaterials that may be biologically harmful to both people and the environment.

”The ultimate issue of the whole nano field is the safety of the materials and technologies used. One of the goals of the research is that in the future we will be able to group industrially produced nanomaterials easily and economically according to their characteristics, and that we will be able to anticipate the possible health risks of the materials to consumers and the workers who handle them,” stresses specialist research scientist Lea Pylkkänen from FIOH, who co-ordinated the work on the research strategy.

Nanotechnology is defined as a key enabling technology (KET) in the Horizon 2020 programme. It is also considered a significant field from the perspective of European competitiveness, for example.
Research strategy the product of over one hundred European researchers

FIOH produced the research strategy together with the members of the European Nanosafety Cluster, that is, over a hundred european nanosafety research experts. These represented, for example, exposure and risk assessment, molecular biology, toxicology, and material research. Finnish experts involved were from FIOH, the Universtiy of Eastern Finland, the Tampere University of Technology, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency, and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. If needed, the strategy can be later updated.

EU funding is crucial for Finnish nanotechnology and nanosafety research and for the existence of the Nanosafety Centre, for example.

”Domestic funding in this field is scarce: Finland does not have a single funding programme that focuses on nanoresearch. Only individual research projects occasionally receive funding from, for example, the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Work Environment Fund,” Savolainen says.

FIOH’s Nanosafety Research Centre is the leading European research centre for the safety of industrial nanoparticle safety, especially in the field of occupational safety.
Ceremonial presentation of the research programme

Research Professor Kai Savolainen will present the 220-page Nanosafety in Europe 2015-2025: Towards Safe and Sustainable Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Innovations research strategy to the European Commission and the representatives of the Irish government on Thursday 20 June in Dublin, Ireland at the NanoSafety Cluster meeting, during the EuroNanoForum 2013 congress. Representing the Commission will be Herbert von Bose, European Commission Research DG Director, Industrial Technologies and Christos Tokamanis, Head of Unit, New Generation Products,  Directorate G – Industrial Technologies. Sharon McGuinness, Assistant Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Authority will represent the Irish government.

I’m trying to imagine the logistics involved in having more than 100 researchers collaborate (as per the excerpt from the news item).

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to look at the report yet but if you manage to take a look at it, please do let me know what you think about it.

“Control my chirality, please,” said the carbon nanotube to the researchers

A combined Finnish, Russian, and Danish team have found a way to control the chirality of single-walled carbon nanotubes according to an Apr. 30, 2013 news item on Azonano,

An ultimate goal in the field of carbon nanotube research is to synthesise single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) with controlled chiralities. Twenty years after the discovery of SWNTs, scientists from Aalto University in Finland, A.M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute RAS in Russia and the Center for Electron Nanoscopy of Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have managed to control chirality in carbon nanotubes during their chemical vapor deposition synthesis.

The Aalto University Apr. 29, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, goes on to explain,

 Over the years, substantial progress has been made to develop various structure-controlled synthesis methods. However, precise control over the chiral structure of SWNTs has been largely hindered by a lack of practical means to direct the formation of the metal nanoparticle catalysts and their catalytic dynamics during tube growth.

– We achieved an epitaxial formation of Co nanoparticles by reducing a well-developed solid solution in CO, reveals Maoshuai He, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University School of Chemical Technology.

– For the first time, the new catalyst was employed for selective growth of SWNTs, adds senior staff scientist Hua Jiang from Aalto University School of Science.

By introducing the new catalysts into a conventional CVD reactor, the research team demonstrated preferential growth of semiconducting SWNTs (~90%) with an exceptionally high population of (6,5) tubes (53%) at 500 °C. Furthermore, they also showed a shift of the chiral preference from (6,5) tubes at 500 °C  to (7, 6) and (9, 4) nanotubes at 400 °C.

– These findings open new perspectives both for structural control of SWNTs and for elucidating their growth mechanisms, thus are important for the fundamental understanding of science behind nanotube growth, comments Professor Juha Lehtonen from Aalto University.

For anyone like me who needs a description of chirality, there’s this from Wikipedia,

Chirality (pron.: /kaɪˈrælɪtiː/) is a property of asymmetry important in several branches of science. The word chirality is derived from the Greek, χειρ (kheir), “hand”, a familiar chiral object.

An object or a system is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, that is, it cannot be superposed onto it. A chiral object and its mirror image are called enantiomorphs (Greek opposite forms) or, when referring to molecules, enantiomers. A non-chiral object is called achiral (sometimes also amphichiral) and can be superposed on its mirror image.

Human hands are perhaps the most universally recognized example of chirality: The left hand is a non-superimposable mirror image of the right hand; no matter how the two hands are oriented, it is impossible for all the major features of both hands to coincide.[2] This difference in symmetry becomes obvious if someone attempts to shake the right hand of a person using his left hand, or if a left-handed glove is placed on a right hand. In mathematics chirality is the property of a figure that is not identical to its mirror image.

One of the researchers notes why they, or anyone else, would want to control the chirality of carbon nanotubes, from the news release,

– Chirality defines the optical and electronic properties of carbon nanotubes, so controlling it is a key to exploiting their practical applications, says Professor Esko I. Kauppinen, the leader of the Nanomaterials Group in Aalto University School of Science.

ETA Apr. 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm PDT: Here’s a link to and a citation for the team’s published paper,

Chiral-Selective Growth of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes on Lattice-Mismatched Epitaxial Cobalt Nanoparticles by Maoshuai He, Hua Jiang, Bilu Liu, Pavel V. Fedotov, Alexander I. Chernov, Elena D. Obraztsova, Filippo Cavalca, Jakob B. Wagner, Thomas W. Hansen, Ilya V. Anoshkin, Ekaterina A. Obraztsova, Alexey V. Belkin, Emma Sairanen, Albert G. Nasibulin,  Juha Lehtonen, & Esko I. Kauppinen. Scientific Reports 3, Article number 1460  doi:10.1038/srep01460 Published15 March 2013

This article is open access.

Silver nanoparticles, water, the environment, and toxicity

I am contrasting two very different studies on silver nanoparticles in water and their effect on the environment to highlight the complex nature of determining the risks and environmental effects associated with nanoparticles in general. One piece of research suggests that silver nanoparticles are less dangerous than other commonly used forms of silver while the other piece raises some serious concerns.

A Feb. 28, 2013 news item on Nanowerk features research about the effects that silver nanoparticles have on aquatic ecosystems (Note: A link has been removed),

According to Finnish-Estonian joint research with data obtained on two crustacean species, there is apparently no reason to consider silver nanoparticles more dangerous for aquatic ecosystems than silver ions.

The results were reported in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research late last year (“Toxicity of two types of silver nanoparticles to aquatic crustaceans Daphnia magna and Thamnocephalus platyurus”). Jukka Niskanen has utilised the same polymerisation and coupling reactions in his doctoral dissertation studying several hybrid nanomaterials, i.e. combinations of synthetic polymers and inorganic (gold, silver and montmorillonite) nanoparticles. Niskanen will defend his doctoral thesis at the University of Helsinki in April.

The University of Helsikinki Feb. 28, 2013 press release written by Minna Merilainen and which originated the new item provides details about the research,

“Due to the fact that silver in nanoparticle form is bactericidal and also fungicidal and also prevents the reproduction of those organisms, it is now used in various consumer goods ranging from wound dressing products to sportswear,” says Jukka Niskanen from the Laboratory of Polymer Chemistry at the University of Helsinki, Finland.A joint study from the University of Helsinki and the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (Tallinn, Estonia), Toxicity of two types of silver nanoparticles to aquatic crustaceans Daphnia magna and Thamnocephalus platyurus, shows that silver nanoparticles are apparently no more hazardous to aquatic ecosystems than a water-soluble silver salt. The study compared the ecotoxicity of silver nanoparticles and a water-soluble silver salt.

“Our conclusion was that the environmental risks caused by silver nanoparticles are seemingly not higher than those caused by a silver salt. However, more research is required to reach a clear understanding of the safety of silver-containing particles,” Niskanen says.

Indeed, silver nanoparticles were found to be ten times less toxic than the soluble silver nitrate - a soluble silver salt used for the comparison.

The bioavailability of silver varies in different test media

To explain this phenomenon, the researchers refer to the variance in the bioavailability of silver to crustaceans in different tested media.

University lecturer Olli-Pekka Penttinen from the Department of Environmental Sciences of the University of Helsinki goes on to note that the inorganic and organic compounds dissolved in natural waters (such as humus), water hardness and sulfides have a definite impact on the bioavailability of silver. Due to this, the toxicity of both types of tested nanoparticles and the silver nitrate measured in the course of the study was lower in natural water than in artificial fresh water.

The toxicity of silver nanoparticles and silver ions was studied using two aquatic crustaceans, a water flea (Daphnia magna) and a fairy shrimp ( Thamnocephalus platyurus). Commercially available protein-stabilised particles and particles coated with a water-soluble, non-toxic polymer, specifically synthesised for the purpose, were used in the study. First, the polymers were produced utilising a controlled radical polymerization method. Synthetic polymer-grafted silver particles were then produced by attaching the water-soluble polymer to the surface of the silver with a sulfur bond.

Jukka Niskanen has utilised such polymerisation and coupling reactions in his doctoral dissertation. Polymeric and hybrid materials: polymers on particle surfaces and air-water interfaces, studying several hybrid nanomaterials , i.e., combinations of synthetic polymers and inorganic (gold, silver and montmorillonite) nanoparticles....

It was previously known from other studies and research results that silver changes the functioning of proteins and enzymes. It has also been shown that silver ions can prevent the replication of DNA. Concerning silver nanoparticles, tests conducted on various species of bacteria and fungi have indicated that their toxicity varies. For example, gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli are more sensitive to silver nanoparticles than gram-positive ones (such as Staphylococcus aureus). The difference in sensitivity is caused by the structural differences of the cell membranes of the bacteria. The cellular toxicity of silver nanoparticles in mammals has been studied as well. It has been suggested that silver nanoparticles enter cells via endocytosis and then function in the same manner as in bacterial cells, damaging DNA and hindering cell respiration. Electron microscope studies have shown that human skin is permeable to silver nanoparticles and that the permeability of damaged skin is up to four times higher than that of healthy skin.

While this Finnish-Estonian study suggests that silver nanoparticles do not have a negative impact on the tested crustaceans in an aquatic environment, there’s a study from Duke University suggests that silver nanoparticles in wastewater which is later put to agricultural use may cause problems. From the Feb. 27, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

In experiments mimicking a natural environment, Duke University researchers have demonstrated that the silver nanoparticles used in many consumer products can have an adverse effect on plants and microorganisms.

The main route by which these particles enter the environment is as a by-product of water and sewage treatment plants. [emphasis] The nanoparticles are too small to be filtered out, so they and other materials end up in the resulting “sludge,” which is then spread on the land surface as a fertilizer.

The researchers found that one of the plants studied, a common annual grass known as Microstegium vimeneum, had 32 percent less biomass in the mesocosms treated with the nanoparticles. Microbes were also affected by the nanoparticles, Colman [Benjamin Colman, a post-doctoral fellow in Duke's biology department and a member of the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT)] said. One enzyme associated with helping microbes deal with external stresses was 52 percent less active, while another enzyme that helps regulate processes within the cell was 27 percent less active. The overall biomass of the microbes was also 35 percent lower, he said.

“Our field studies show adverse responses of plants and microorganisms following a single low dose of silver nanoparticles applied by a sewage biosolid,” Colman said. “An estimated 60 percent of the average 5.6 million tons of biosolids produced each year is applied to the land for various reasons, and this practice represents an important and understudied route of exposure of natural ecosystems to engineered nanoparticles.”

“Our results show that silver nanoparticles in the biosolids, added at concentrations that would be expected, caused ecosystem-level impacts,” Colman said. “Specifically, the nanoparticles led to an increase in nitrous oxide fluxes, changes in microbial community composition, biomass, and extracellular enzyme activity, as well as species-specific effects on the above-ground vegetation.”

As previously noted, these two studies show just how complex the questions of risk and nanoparticles can become.  You can find out more about the Finish-Estonian study,

Toxicity of two types of silver nanoparticles to aquatic crustaceans Daphnia magna and Thamnocephalus platyurus by  Irina Blinova, Jukka Niskanen, Paula Kajankari, Liina Kanarbik, Aleksandr Käkinen, Heikki Tenhu, Olli-Pekka Penttinen, and Anne Kahru. Environmental Science and Pollution Research published November 11, 2012 online

The publisher offers an interesting option for this article. While it is behind a paywall, access is permitted through a temporary window if you want to preview a portion of the article that lies beyond the abstract.

Meanwhile here’s the article by the Duke researchers,

Low Concentrations of Silver Nanoparticles in Biosolids Cause Adverse Ecosystem Responses under Realistic Field Scenario by Benjamin P. Colman, Christina L. Arnaout, Sarah Anciaux, Claudia K. Gunsch, Michael F. Hochella Jr, Bojeong Kim, Gregory V. Lowry,  Bonnie M. McGill, Brian C. Reinsch, Curtis J. Richardson, Jason M. Unrine, Justin P. Wright, Liyan Yin, and Emily S. Bernhardt. PLoS ONE 2013; 8 (2): e57189 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057189

This article is open access as are all articles published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals.

For anyone interested in the Duke University/CEINT mesocosm project, I made mention of it in an Aug. 15, 2011 posting.

Protein cages, viruses, and nanoparticles

The Dec. 19, 2012 news release on EurekAlert about a study published by researchers at Aalto University (Finland) describes a project where virus particles are combined with nanoparticles to create new metamaterials,

Scientists from Aalto University, Finland, have succeeded in organising virus particles, protein cages and nanoparticles into crystalline materials. These nanomaterials studied by the Finnish research group are important for applications in sensing, optics, electronics and drug delivery.

… biohybrid superlattices of nanoparticles and proteins would allow the best features of both particle types to be combined. They would comprise the versatility of synthetic nanoparticles and the highly controlled assembly properties of biomolecules.

The gold nanoparticles and viruses adopt a special kind of crystal structure. It does not correspond to any known atomic or molecular crystal structure and it has previously not been observed with nano-sized particles.

Virus particles – the old foes of mankind – can do much more than infect living organisms. Evolution has rendered them with the capability of highly controlled self-assembly properties. Ultimately, by utilising their building blocks we can bring multiple functions to hybrid materials that consist of both living and synthetic matter, Kostiainen [Mauri A. Kostiainen, postdoctoral researcher] trusts.

The article which has been published in Nature Nanotechnology is free,

Electrostatic assembly of binary nanoparticle superlattices using protein cages by Mauri A. Kostiainen, Panu Hiekkataipale, Ari Laiho, Vincent Lemieux, Jani Seitsonen, Janne Ruokolainen & Pierpaolo Ceci in Nature Nanotechnology (2012) doi:10.1038/nnano.2012.220  Published online 16 December 2012

There’s a video demonstrating the assembly,

From the YouTube page, here’s a description of what the video is demonstrating,

Aalto University-led research group shows that CCMV virus or ferritin protein cages can be used to guide the assembly of RNA molecules or iron oxide nanoparticles into three-dimensional binary superlattices. The lattices are formed through tuneable electrostatic interactions with charged gold nanoparticles.

Bravo and thank  you to  Kostiainen who seems to have written the news release and prepared all of the additional materials (image and video). There are university press offices that could take lessons from Kostiainen’s efforts to communicate about the work.

Crowdfunding Qii, a foldable, soft keyboard made of a carbon nanotube/fullerene hybrid

Canatu Ltd. is a Finnish company that’s trying to crowdfund its foldable, soft keyboard, Qii, on indiegogo. Here’s more about Canatu’s keyboard project from the Nov. 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Canatu Ltd., a developer of a new class of versatile carbon nanomaterial based custom films and sensors for flexible and formable touch devices, is launching Qii – the world’s first, truly mobile, rollable touch accessory.

The company appears to be creating a new class of product under the Qii brand name. From the indiegogo campaign description,

With Qii, your smartphone and your imagination, any surface can be effectively turned into a touch surface and any “dumb” object can be turned into a “smart” object. Nanotechnology and organic electronics make it possible. The idea is simple, but the applications are endless.

As our first Qii product, we’re offering a full QWERTY computer keyboard, including a number pad and function keys, wirelessly connected to your smartphone. Because its ultra thin and flexible, Qii is both full sized and pocket sized, so you’ll be able to effortlessly type and surf anywhere you go, be it in a café, the woods, or a car, train, bus or plane. It has an anti fingerprint coating to keep it clean and a textured surface for easy touch typing. It’s dirt and water resistant, so you don’t have to worry about spilling and it’s easily washable with soap and water. And, since Qii’s rollable electronics are printed, it’s tough.

Qii’s case is also a touchpad, allowing you to point, tap and scroll for easy surfing and graphical editing. You can use Qii on most any surface, so you can check your email on your friend’s belly, update your Facebook on your pet, or write your next novel on your pillow.

Some keyboards claim to be rollable, but you can’t roll them up and fit them in your pocket. We use a new kind of flexible transparent electronic film together with a new kind of touch sensing technology that can sense both position and force to create a compact and portable and programmable touch surface.

Qii will work with iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone, and Palm phones according to each platform’s available QWERTY keyboard and pointer standards.

Intriguing, non? You might want to watch this video for a demonstration,

There is a very brief description of the technology in the campaign material,

Our team has been working for years with our partners to bring Qii to life. Together we have developed new carbon based nanomaterials, new dry printing manufacturing techniques and now new, ultra-high transparency, flexible, bendable, stretchable, rollable and foldable touch technologies and unique touch algorithms to make Qii possible. It starts with our flexible, transparent, electrically conductive film made with a new carbon nanomaterial connected to state-of-the art sensing electronics to make a flexible, transparent touch sensing surface that determines both your finger’s position and force.

We’ll introduce the Qii in pliable hard coated plastic, but, in the future, the sensor can be printed on most anything, even paper, rubber or fabric.

I took a look at the Canatu website and found this information about a material they’ve developed and named, NanoBuds® and which I believe forms the basis for the company’s proposed Qii keyboard,

Canatu has developed a new material, the Carbon NanoBud®, which is a hybrid of Carbon Nanotubes and fullerenes. The hybridization is achieved directly in the material synthesis process and the resulting material combines the best features of both fullerenes and nanotubes.

Canatu’s first products focus on taking advantage of the high conductivity, high aspect ratio, low work function, chemical stability and mechanical flexibility of NanoBuds® to make the world’s highest performance carbon based transparent conductive film for transparent conductors in touch, haptics, displays and photovoltaics. These films, consisting of randomly oriented deposits of NanoBuds on polymer or glass substrates, are flexible, bendable, stretchable and have excellent transparency conductivity performance as shown below. [emphasis mine]

David Brown, the company’s Chief Technical Officer (CTO) originally announced the crowdfunding Qii campaign would take place on Kickstarter in Dan Rogers’s Oct. 10, 2012 article for Plastic Electronics,

An accessory using a novel nanomaterial touchscreen will be launched via the Kickstarter project in the coming weeks, according to nanotechnology developer Canatu.

Based in Finland, Canatu supplies carbon NanoBuds that can be used as a conductive layer alternative to indium tin oxide, which is considered too brittle for flexible electronics.

I’m not sure what happened with the ‘Kickstarter’ plans but the indiegogo campaign has 41 days left as Canatu tries to raise $1,850,000 by Jan. 6, 2013. The company must raise the entire amount requested or it receives nothing.

Good luck to the folks at Canatu. Qii looks like a product which would make moving around much easier. Imagine not having to lug your laptop or tablet around while enjoying the benefits of a full size keyboard.