Tag Archives: France

One tough mother, imitating mother-of-pearl for stronger ceramics

I love mother-of-pearl or nacre as it’s also known,

The iridescent nacre inside a Nautilus shell cut in half. The chambers are clearly visible and arranged in a logarithmic spiral. Photo taken by me -- Chris 73 | Talk 12:40, 5 May 2004 (UTC)

The iridescent nacre inside a Nautilus shell cut in half. The chambers are clearly visible and arranged in a logarithmic spiral.
Photo taken by me — Chris 73 | Talk 12:40, 5 May 2004 (UTC)

We had a mother-of-pearl-covered shell when I was a child one I loved to hold but ours had a blue-black sheen. Enough of this trip down memory lane, it turns out that nacre has inspired a new type of stronger ceramic material from scientists at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) as a March 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily notes,

Whether traditional or derived from high technology, ceramics all have the same flaw: they are fragile. Yet this characteristic may soon be a thing of the past: a team of researchers led by the Laboratoire de Synthèse et Fonctionnalisation des Céramiques (CNRS/Saint-Gobain), in collaboration with the Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon: Terre, Planètes et Environnement (CNRS/ENS de Lyon/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) and the Laboratoire Matériaux: Ingénierie et Science (CNRS/INSA Lyon/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1), has recently presented a new ceramic material inspired by mother-of-pearl from the small single-shelled marine mollusk abalone.

This material, almost ten times stronger than a conventional ceramic, is the result of an innovative manufacturing process that includes a freezing step. This method appears to be compatible with large-scale industrialization and should not be much more expensive than the techniques already in use.

The CNRS March 21,2014 press release, which originated the news item, describes the properties of nacre which excited the scientists and the way in which they mimicked those properties in a synthetic material,

Toughness, i.e. the ability of a material containing a crack to resist fracture, is considered to be the Achilles heel of ceramics. To compensate for their intrinsic fragilit y, these are sometimes combined with tougher materials such as metals or polymers — generally leading to varying degrees of limitations. For example, polymers cannot resist temperatures above 300°C, which restricts their use in motors or ovens.

A material similar to ceramic, although extremely tough, is found in nature. Mother-of-pearl, which covers the shells of abalone and some bivalves, is 95% composed of calcium carbonate (aragonite), an intrinsically fragile material that is nonetheless very tough. Mother-of-pearl can be seen as a stack of small bricks, welded together with mortar composed of proteins. Its toughness is due to its complex, hierarchical structure where cracks must follow a tortuous path to propagate. It is this structure that inspired the researchers.

As a base ingredient, the team from the Laboratoire de Synthèse et Fonctionnalisation des Céramiques (CNRS/Saint-Gobain) used a common ceramic powder, alumina, in the form of microscopic platelets. To obtain the layered mother-of-pearl structure, they suspended this powder in water. The colloidal suspension (1) was then cooled to obtain controlled ice crystal growth, caus ing alumina to self-assemble in the form of stacks of platelets. The final material was subsequently obtained from a high temperature densification step.

This artificial mother-of-pearl is ten times tougher than a conventional alumina ceramic. This is because a crack has to move round the alumina “bricks” one by one to propagate. This zigzag pathway prevents it from crossing the material easily.

One of the advantages of the process is that it is not exclusive to alumina. Any ceramic powder, as long as it is in the form of platelets, can self-assemble via the same process, which could easily be used on an industrial scale. This bio-inspired material’s toughness for equivalent density could make it possible to produce smaller, lighter parts with no significant increase in costs. This invention could become a material of choice for applications subjected to severe constraints in fields ranging from energy to armor plating.

For those who like their communiqué de presse en français,

Les céramiques, qu’elles soient traditionnelles ou de haute technologie, présentent toutes un défaut : leur fragilité. Ce côté cassant pourrait bientôt disparaître : une équipe de chercheurs, menée par le Laboratoire de synthèse et fonctionnalisation des céramiques (CNRS/Saint-Gobain), en collaboration avec le Laboratoire de géologie de Lyon : Terre, planètes et environnement (CNRS/ENS de Lyon/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) et le laboratoire Matériaux : ingénierie et science (CNRS/INSA Lyon/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) vient de présenter un nouveau matériau céramique inspiré de la nacre des ormeaux, petits mollusques marins à coquille unique. Ce matériau, près de dix fois plus tenace qu’une céramique classique, est issu d’un procédé de fabrication innovant qui passe par une étape de congélation. Cette méthode semble compatible avec une industrialisation à échelle plus importante, à priori sans surcoût notable par rapport à celles déjà employées. Conservant ses propriétés à des températures d’au moins 600°C, cette nacre artificielle pourrait trouver une foule d’applications dans l’industrie et permettre d’alléger ou de réduire en taille des éléments céramiques des moteurs ou des dispositifs de génération d’énergie. Ces travaux sont publiés le 23 mars 2014 sur le site internet de la revue Nature Materials.

La ténacité, capacité d’un matériau à résister à la rupture en présence d’une fissure, est considérée comme le talon d’Achille des céramiques. Pour pallier leur fragilité intrinsèque, celles-ci sont parfois combinées à d’autres matériaux plus tenaces, métalliques ou polymères. L’adjonction de tels matériaux s’accompagne généralement de limitations plus ou moins sévères. Par exemple, les polymères ne résistent pas à des températures supérieures à 300°C, ce qui limite leur utilisation dans les moteurs ou les fours.

Dans la nature, il existe un matériau proche de la céramique qui est extrêmement tenace : la nacre qui recouvre la coquille des ormeaux et autres bivalves. La nacre est composée à 95 % d’un matériau intrinsèquement fragile, le carbonate de calcium (l’aragonite). Pourtant, sa ténacité est forte. La nacre peut être vue comme un empilement de briques de petite taille, soudées entre elles par un mortier composé de protéines. Sa ténacité tient à sa structure complexe et hiérarchique. La propagation de fissures dans ce type d’architecture est rendue difficile par le chemin tortueux que celles-ci doivent parcourir pour se propager. C’est cette structure qui a inspiré les chercheurs.

Comme ingrédient de base, l’équipe du Laboratoire de synthèse et fonctionnalisation des céramiques (CNRS/Saint-Gobain) a pris une poudre céramique courante, l’alumine, qui se présente sous la forme de plaquettes microscopiques. Pour obtenir la structure lamellée de la nacre, ils ont mis cette poudre en suspension dans de l’eau. Cette suspension colloïdale (1) a été refroidie de manière à obtenir une croissance contrôlée de cristaux de glace. Ceci conduit à un auto-assemblage de l’alumine sous forme d’un empilement de plaquettes. Finalement, le matériau final a été obtenu grâce à une étape de densification à haute température.

Cette nacre artificielle est dix fois plus tenace qu’une céramique classique composée d’alumine. Ceci est dû au fait qu’une fissure, pour se propager, doit contourner une à une les « briques » d’alumine. Ce chemin en zigzag l’empêche de traverser facilement le volume du matériau.

L’un des avantages du procédé est qu’il n’est pas exclusif à l’alumine. N’importe quelle poudre céramique, pour peu qu’elle se présente sous la forme de plaquettes, peut subir le même processus d’auto-assemblage. De plus, l’industrialisation de ce procédé ne devrait pas présenter de difficultés. L’obtention de pièces composées avec ce matériau bio-inspiré ne devrait pas entraîner de grands surcoûts. Sa forte ténacité pour une densité équivalente pourrait permettre de fabriquer des pièces plus petites et légères. Il pourrait devenir un matériau de choix pour les applications soumises à des contraintes sévères dans des domaines allant de l’énergie au blindage.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper which was published in English,

Strong, tough and stiff bioinspired ceramics from brittle constituents by Florian Bouville, Eric Maire, Sylvain Meille, Bertrand Van de Moortèle, Adam J. Stevenson, & Sylvain Deville. Nature Material (2014) doi:10.1038/nmat3915 Published online 23 March 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

 

Glass is a challenge to measure but scientists at Canada’s University of Waterloo have figured out how

Glass, as many folks know, has a dual nature, being simultaneously both liquid and solid, making truly accurate measurement a bit of a challenge.  A March 3, 2014 news item on Azonano notes that scientists at Canada’s Waterloo University have solved the surface measurement problems with glass,

University of Waterloo physicists have succeeded in measuring how the surfaces of glassy materials flow like a liquid, even when they should be solid.

Understanding the mobility of glassy surfaces has implications for the design and manufacture of thin-film coatings and also sets practical limits on how small we can make nanoscale devices and circuitry.

The work is the culmination of a project carried out by a research team led by Professor James Forrest and doctoral student Yu Chai from the University of Waterloo as well as researchers from École Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in France and McMaster University [Canada].

A Feb. 28  2014 University of Waterloo news release (also on EurekAlert) by Katharine Tuerke, which originated the news item, describes the research in further detail,

“Common sense would tell you that if a material is solid, it’s solid everywhere. But we’ve shown that a solid isn’t a solid everywhere,” says James Forrest, a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.  “It’s almost solid everywhere -  except a few nanometers at the surface.”

A series of simple and elegant experiments were the solution to a problem that has been plaguing condensed matter physicists for the past 20 years. The experiments revealed that at a certain temperature range, solid glassy materials actually have a very thin liquid-like layer at the surface.

Glass is much more than the material in bottles and windows. In fact, any solid without an ordered, crystalline structure is considered a glassy material, so metals, small molecules, and polymers can all be made into glassy materials.

Polymers, the building block of all plastics, are almost always glassy rather than crystalline. These materials undergo a transition between a brittle solid and a molten liquid in a narrow temperature range, which encompasses the so-called glass transition temperature.

In a series of experiments, Forrest and colleagues started with very thin slices of polystyrene stacked to create tiny staircase-like steps about 100-nanometres high – less than 0.001 per cent the thickness of a human hair. They then measured these steps as they became shorter, wider and less defined over time.

The simple 2-dimensional profile of this surface step allowed the physicists to numerically model the changes to the surface’s geometry above and below the glass transition temperature.

Results show that above the transition temperature, polystyrene flows entirely like a liquid; but below this temperature the polymer becomes a solid with a thin liquid-like layer at the surface.

Forrest is also a University Research Chair, a member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and an associate faculty member at the Perimeter Institute.

The project team also includes Kari Dalnoki-Veress and J.D. McGraw from McMaster University and Thomas Salez, Michael Benzaquen and Elie Raphael of the École Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in Paris.

The researchers have provided a 21 second animation to illustrate their work,

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

A Direct Quantitative Measure of Surface Mobility in a Glassy Polymer by Y. Chai, T. Salez, J. D. McGraw, M. Benzaquen, K. Dalnoki-Veress, E. Raphaël, & J. A. Forrest. Science 28 February 2014: Vol. 343 no. 6174 pp. 994-999 DOI: 10.1126/science.1244845

This paper is behind a paywall.

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites) goes to JEC Composites Show and Conference in Paris (France)

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites), a European Commission-funded project under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme, which is entering its final stage (2011 – 2014) will make an appearance (Exhibition Stand D83) at the JEC 2014 Composites Show and Conferences in Paris (France), 11-13th March, 2014.

I  profileded NanoCelluComp in a March 7, 2013 posting where I included excerpts from the project’s 4th newsletter. The 5th (August 2013) newsletter is available here. There is also a project flyer (PDF), which provides some additional insight into why the project was developed and what NanoCellulComp was attempting to accomplish,

Food processing of vegetables produces billions of tonnes of fibrous waste. The cellulose fibres contained within this waste have superior structural properties that with ‘green’ chemistry can be put to much better use. Composites containing cellulose extracted from carrot waste have already been incorporated in lightweight products such as fishing rods and steering wheels.

This material – Curran – while exhibiting good structural properties, does not have the strength of glass or carbon fibre reinforced plastics (GFRP and CFRP) and is further disadvantaged due to limited processability.

The NanoCelluComp Process Improving on Curran through:

Liberating microfibrillated cellulose (nanocellulose) from vegetable waste streams utilising an aqueous based process (thus decreasing energy consumption, and avoiding volatile chemicals).
 Improving mechanical properties by the controlled alignment and cross linking of nanocellulose fibrils.
 Combining the resultant fibres with bio-based resins to produce a 100% bio-composite (thus decreasing use of petroleum-based products).
 Ensuring compatibility of the bio-composite with current manufacturing processes (e.g. injection moulding, hand lay-up).
 Investigating the sustainability of the above processes and materials, compared to existing materials, through a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) and identifying promising application fields.

Most of the ‘nanocellulose’ material that I’ve covered has been focused on derivations from forest products however there is one other team (that I know of) led by researcher Alcides Leão of Brazil examining the possible uses of nanocellulose derived from pineapples and bananas. On that note, my June 13, 2011 posting titled: Transcript of nanocellulose fibre podcast interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University and/or my March 28, 2011 posting titled: Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars may be of interest.

Freezing transient events (frozen magnetic monopoles)

A Jan. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a new phase in laboratory physics (Note: A link has been removed),

Many of the most interesting things in nature – from spectacular lightning strikes to the subtlety of life itself – are transient, or far-from-equilibrium. To discover the secrets of far from equilibrium states, physicists need simple yet appealing laboratory systems. Now a researcher at the London Centre for Nanotechnology [UK] has collaborated with workers in Grenoble (France), Cardiff [Wales], Oxford [UK] and Kitakyushu (Japan), to create just such a system in the magnetic material known as “spin ice” (“Far-from-equilibrium monopole dynamics in spin ice”).

The Jan. 19 (?), 2014 (?) London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) research brief by Steve Bramwell, which originated the news item. explains ‘spin ice’ in greater detail and the trickery employed by the scientists’,

Spin ice is an unusual magnetic material in that it contains the magnetic equivalent of electrical charges – so called magnetic monopoles. It has attracted great interest on account of the currents of these charges forming a magnetic equivalent of electricity or “magnetricity”.

The number of magnetic monopoles in spin ice diminishes as the temperature goes down in much the same way as does the number of electrical charge carriers in semiconducting materials such as silicon – the basis of the electronics industry. The monopoles or charges disappear at low temperatures by positive and negative charges annihilating each other.

The researchers found a trick that used magnetic fields to create a hot “gas” of magnetic monopoles in very cold surroundings. The surroundings then sucked the heat out of the magnetic monopole gas, resulting in many magnetic monopoles trapped at a fraction of a degree above the absolute zero. The frozen monopoles no longer annihilated each other but instead could be made to flow by applying magnetic fields.

“Our low temperature experiments will tell us a lot about how magnetic monopoles move, as well as about the physics of far-from equilibrium systems in general” explains Prof. Steve Bramwell.

The researchers have provided this artist’s illustration of their work,

Figure: Artist’s impression of a hot gas of magnetic monopoles in very cold surroundings. Eventually the surroundings suck the heat out of the monopole gas leaving it frozen at low temperature. [downloaded from http://www.london-nano.com/research-and-facilities/highlight/frozen-magnetic-monopoles-create-new-laboratory-physics]

Figure: Artist’s impression of a hot gas of magnetic monopoles in very cold surroundings. Eventually the surroundings suck the heat out of the monopole gas leaving it frozen at low temperature. [downloaded from http://www.london-nano.com/research-and-facilities/highlight/frozen-magnetic-monopoles-create-new-laboratory-physics]

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

Far-from-equilibrium monopole dynamics in spin ice by C. Paulsen, M. J. Jackson, E. Lhotel, B. Canals, D. Prabhakaran, K. Matsuhira, S. R. Giblin, & S. T. Bramwell. Nature Physics (2014) doi:10.1038/nphys2847 Published online 19 January 2014

This paper is behind a paywall with several payment options.

Canada-European Union research and Horizon 2020 funding opportunities

Thanks to the Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals of Western Canada (ARPICO), I received a Jan. 15, 2014 notice about ERA-Can‘s (European Research Area and Canada) upcoming Horizon 2020 information sessions, i.e., funidng opportunities for Canadian researchers,

The Canadian partners* to ERA-Can+ invite you to learn about Horizon 2020, a European funding opportunity that is accessible to Canadians working in science, technology, and innovation.

Horizon 2020 is a multi-year (2014-2020) program for science and technology funded by the European Commission. With a budget of almost Euro 80 billion (CAD $118 billion) Horizon 2020 forms a central part of the EU’s economic policy agenda. The program’s main goals are to encourage scientific excellence, increase the competitiveness of industries, and develop solutions to societal challenges in Europe and abroad.

ERA-Can+ has been established to help Canadians access Horizon 2020 funding. Building on several years of successful collaboration, ERA-Can+ will encourage bilateral exchange across the science, technology, and innovation chain. The project will also enrich the EU-Canada policy dialogue, enhance coordination between European and Canadian sector leaders, and stimulate transatlantic collaboration by increasing awareness of the funding opportunities available.

The European Commission released its first call for proposals under Horizon 2020 in December 2013. Canadian and European researchers and innovators can submit proposals for projects in a variety of fields including personalized health and care; food security; the sustainable growth of marine and maritime sectors; digital security; smart cities and communities; competitive low-carbon energy; efficient transportation; waste management; and disaster resilience. Further calls for proposals will be released later this year.

You are invited to attend one of four upcoming information sessions on Horizon 2020 opportunities for Canadians. These sessions will explain the structure of research funding in Europe and provide information on upcoming funding opportunities and the mechanisms by which Canadians can participate. Martina De Sole, Coordinator of ERA-Can+, and numerous Canadian partners will be on hand to share their expertise on these topics. Participants also will have the opportunity to learn about current and developing collaborations between Canadian and European researchers and innovators.

ERA-CAN+ Information Session Dates – Precise times to be confirmed.

Toronto: Morning of January 28th
MaRS Discovery District, 101 College Street

Kitchener-Waterloo: Morning of January 29th
Canadian Digital Media Network, 151 Charles Street West, Suite 100, Kitchener

Ottawa: Morning of January 30th
University of Ottawa; precise location on campus to be confirmed.

Montreal: Morning of January 31st
Intercontinental Hotel, 360 Rue Saint Antoine Ouest

This session is organised in partnership with the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science, de la Technologie du Québec.

For further information please contact [email protected]

* ERA-Can+ Project Partners
APRE – Agenzia per la Promozione della Ricerca Europea (Italy)
AUCC – Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (Canada)
CNRS – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)
DFATD – Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (Canada)
DLR – Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (Germany)
PPF – The Public Policy Forum (Canada)
ZSI – Zentrum fur Soziale Innovation (Austria)

You can go to ERA-Can’s Information Sessions webpage to register for a specific event.

There are plans to hold sessions elsewhere in Canada,

Plans to have Info Sessions in other parts of Canada are underway.

For further information please contact [email protected]

NanoThinking and its global NanoTechMap

I first wrote about Nano Thinking n a Feb. 4,, 2 013 posting featuring their Nano Tech map of France. It seems the company has decided to celebrate the upcoming 2014 new year with an international NanoTechMap. From the Dec. 17, 2013 NanoThinking press release,

The French company NanoThinking announces the release of the NanoTechMap: it gives a comprehensive view of the industrial offer in the field of nanotechnology and provides more visibility to actors in this field for a very modest cost compare to standard exhibitions.

An online exhibition dedicated to nanotechnology

The industry of nanotechnology is growing fast but it is still much atomized which makes it difficult to access for other industrial sectors which are willing to integrate these technologies in order to develop new products and new uses.

The NanoTechMap proposes a comprehensive catalogue of the nanotechnology opportunities and brings more visibility to actors in this field.

An interactive map to locate nanotech companies

The NanoTechMap allows all industries to find technological solutions in their immediate neighborhood as well as at the other side of the globe. The advantages: to facilitate the identification of clients and suppliers and to stimulate meetings for future partnerships.

The use of the NanoTechMap is intuitive, playful and it also has a cultural dimension since it is possible to compare « nano » performance of cities, regions or countries.

Up-to-date technical and business information

The profile of each company gathers up-to-date technical and business information as well as products catalogues, technical datasheets and pictures of products.

In the near future, each company will have a dashboard to analyze its audience and to create targeted marketing campaigns towards qualified visitors.

An easy update of the visible information 

Each company manages its profile on its own: in a few clicks, it is able to add information on its technology, its products and its business partners. It is also possible to upload products catalogues as well as datasheets. All this information is indexed by the search engine to give comprehensive results to visitors.

A large return for a moderate cost

For each company on the NanoTechMap, the cost of subscription is 300 euros per year. This cost is at least 10 times lower than the average cost of participation to a standard exhibition (subscription, transport, accommodation, posters…). Furthermore, the online exhibition is permanent.

A higher visibility compare to a corporate website 

The visibility of each company on this shared web platform is far better to the one obtained with a standard corporate website.

The NanoTechMap is mostly intended for professionals: industrials, researchers, investors or institutions. But it is also worth of interest for lots of students who are attracted by the potential of growth of this innovative field.

About NanoThinking

NanoThinking, creator of the NanoTechMap, is a consulting company specialized in the field of nanotechnology based in Paris. It has been founded in 2013 by three PhDs in nanoscience.

For further information: www.nanothinking.com

42 rue de Varenne – 75007 – Paris – Phone: +33 (0)689 310 100

It appears there is one entry for Canada and, given the location of the green dot, I’m guessing it’s Canada’s National Institute for Nanotechnology located in Edmonton, Alberta.

Are science cities London, Paris, New York and Tokyo losing prominence?

I am more accustomed to thinking about great art cities than great science cities but it appears I lack imagination if a Dec. 13, 2013 news item on Nanowerk is to be believed (Note: A link has been removed),

The world’s largest scientific centers are losing some of their prominence due to geographical decentralization at the global scale, according to a team of researchers from the LISST (Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarités, Sociétés, Territoires, CNRS / Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail / EHESS) who conducted a systematic statistical analysis of millions of articles and papers published in thousands of scientific reviews between 1987 and 2007. Their project, whose results were recently published on the Urban Studies website (“Cities and the geographical deconcentration of scientific activity: A multilevel analysis of publications (1987–2007)”), was the first to focus on the geography of science in all the world’s cities.

Here’s an image illustrating the researchers’ work,

Courtesy o CNRS [downloaded from http://www2.cnrs.fr/presse/communique/3353.htm]

Courtesy o CNRS [downloaded from http://www2.cnrs.fr/presse/communique/3353.htm]

The Dec. 10, 2013 CNRS (France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique) news release, [English language version] [en français]), which originated the news item, provides more details,

Geographic encoding, city by city, of all of the articles listed in the Science Citation Index (SCI) (1) between 1987 and 2007 shows that traditional scientific centers are not as prominent as they used to be: the combined share of the world’s top 10 science cities dropped from 20% in 1987 to 13% in 2007. Researchers at the LISST (Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarités, Sociétés, Territoires, CNRS /Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail / EHESS), aided by two collaborators at the CIRST (Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche sur la Science et la Technologie) in Montreal, concluded that this phenomenon is accompanied by a general trend toward decentralization worldwide, especially in emerging nations. China offers a good illustration: the main provincial capitals are playing a much stronger role than they did in the past, and the skyrocketing development of science in China goes alongside with a geographical realignment. Whereas Beijing and Shanghai together accounted for 52.8% of the articles published by Chinese researchers in the Science Citation Index in 1987, this percentage dropped to 31.9% in 2007. Turkey is another striking example of an emerging nation whose scientific system has seen very rapid growth. In terms of the number of articles published, the country rose from 44th to 16th place worldwide between 1987 and 2007. Over the same period, its two main scientific hubs, Ankara and Istanbul, lost some of their pre-eminence within the country. While these two cities represented more than 60% of Turkey’s scientific production in 1987, they now produce slightly less than half of the articles published by Turkish researchers. And, as in China, growth in scientific activity is accompanied by geographical decentralization: Turkey has more science hubs now than it did two decades ago, and its two traditional scientific capitals play a lesser role.

The US, which remains the world leader in terms of scientific production, is an exceptional case: the number of articles published by American researchers continues to rise steadily, but at a slower pace than in the emerging nations. Consequently, the country’s share of worldwide scientific production is lower than it used to be: in 1987, the US represented 34% of the SCI, but by 2007 this figure had fallen to 25%. Nonetheless, the American scientific scene remains quite stable geographically: the role of its main research centers has not evolved significantly because the US scientific establishment has always been one of the least centralized in the world, with research activities scattered across hundreds of cities of all sizes.

Does this development herald the decline of the great scientific centers? The fact that scientific activity is becoming more geographically decentralized on a worldwide scale does not imply that it is declining in large cities with a strong research tradition. The number of articles published in London, Paris, New York and Tokyo continues to rise every year. But the pace of growth in those traditional centers is slower than in others in the global scientific system. As more research is conducted in an increasing number of cities, the main scientific centers contribute a lesser share to the total.

The findings of this project, funded as part of an ANR program (2010-2013), challenge the assumption that scientific production inevitably tends to be concentrated in a few large urban areas, which therefore should be given priority in the allocation of resources.

(1) The Science Citation Index (or SCI) is a bibliographical database created in the US in 1964 for the purpose of documenting all scientific production worldwide. In its current version (SCI-Expanded), which is part of the Thomson Reuters Web of Science database (WoS), it registers more than one million scientific articles every year, encompassing the experimental sciences and sciences of the universe, medicine, the engineering sciences, etc., but not the humanities and social sciences, which are included in the SSCI. The SCI-Expanded records contain information on the content of each article (title, name of publication, summary, keywords), its author or authors (name, institution, city, country), and the list of references cited in the article.

This is especially fascinating in light of a recently published book claiming that the major city centres for art in the 21st century will shifting to some unexpected places. From Phaidon Press’ Art Cities of the Future webpage,

The volume profiles 12 global cities to watch for exciting contemporary art: Beirut, Bogotá, Cluj, Delhi, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Lagos, San Juan, São Paulo, Seoul, Singapore and Vancouver.

Thankfully, in both the old world and the new, commentators appear to agree. “It’s great to have a look around and discover truly interesting new work,” said Simon Armstrong, book buyer at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, in The Bookseller, “and there are some great examples of emergent artists here in this huge presentation of contemporary art from 12 cities on the fringes of the art map.”

Hannah Clugston, writing in Aesthetica concurred, describing the title as “brilliantly executed” with “stunning images,” and possessing an awareness “of the wider concerns behind the work.”

It appears that the geography of creative endeavours in the arts and the sciences is shifting. For those curious about the science end of things, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper about geography and scientific activity,

Cities and the geographical deconcentration of scientific activity: A multilevel analysis of publications (1987–2007) by Michel Grossetti, Denis Eckert, Yves Gingras, Laurent Jégou, Vincent Larivière, and Béatrice Milard. Urban Studies, 0042098013506047, November 20, 2013, doi:10.1177/0042098013506047

This paper is behind a paywall.

Putting a new spin on it: Whirling Dervishes and physics and ballet dancers and neuroscience

Many years ago I was dragged to a movie about J. Krishnamurti (a philosopher and spiritual teacher; there’s more in this Wikipedia essay) which, for some reason, featured Whirling Dervishes amongst many other topics. Watching those dervishes was hypnotic and I now find out it was also an experience in physics, according to a Nov. 26, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

A force that intricately links the rotation of the Earth with the direction of weather patterns in the atmosphere has been shown to play a crucial role in the creation of the hypnotic patterns created by the skirts of the Whirling Dervishes.

This is according to an international group of researchers who have demonstrated how the Coriolis force is essential for creating the archetypal, and sometimes counterintuitive, patterns that form on the surface of the Whirling Dervishes skirts by creating a set of very simple equations which govern how fixed or free-flowing cone-shaped structures behave when rotating.

The Nov. 26, 2013 Institute of Physics (IOP) news release on EurekAlert (also on the IOP website but dated Nov. 27, 2013), which originated the news item, gives an explanation of Whirling Dervishes and describes the research further,

The Whirling Dervishes, who have become a popular tourist attraction in Turkey, are a religious movement who commemorate the 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi, by spinning on the spot and creating mesmerising patterns with their long skirts. A YouTube video of the Whirling Dervishes in action can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_Cf-ZxDfZA.

Co-author of the study James Hanna, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said: “The dancers don’t do much but spin around at a fixed speed, but their skirts show these very striking, long-lived patterns with sharp cusp-like features which seem rather counterintuitive.”

Hanna, along with Jemal Guven at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Martin Michael Müller at Université de Lorraine, found that it was the presence of a Coriolis force that was essential in the formation of the different patterns.

The Coriolis effect accounts for the deflection of objects on a rotating surface and is most commonly encountered when looking at the Earth’s rotations and its effect on the atmosphere around it. The rotation of the Earth creates the Coriolis force which causes winds to be deflected clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere – it is this effect which is responsible for the rotation of cyclones.

“Because the sheet is conically symmetric, material can flow along its surface without stretching or deforming. You can think of the rotating Earth, for example, with the air of the atmosphere free to flow around it.

“The flow of a sheet of material is much more restrictive than the flow of the atmosphere, but nonetheless it results in Coriolis forces. What we found was that this flow, and the associated Coriolis forces, plays a crucial role in forming the dervish-like patterns,” Hanna continued.

By providing a basic mathematical description of the spinning skirts of the Dervishes, the researchers hope their future research will discern how different patterns are selected, how stable these patterns are and if gravity or any other effects make a qualitative difference.

The news release notes,

The equations, which have been published today, 27 November,[2013], in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, were able to reproduce the sharp peaks and gentle troughs that appear along the flowing surface of the Dervishes’ skirts and showed a significant resemblance to real-life images.

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

Whirling skirts and rotating cones by Jemal Guven, J A Hanna, and Martin Michael Müller. New Journal of Physics Volume 15 November 2013 doi:10.1088/1367-2630/15/11/113055  Published 26 November 2013

© IOP Publishing and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

This paper is open access.

While the Whirling Dervishes and the fabric in their clothing provide insights into aspects of physics, ballet dancers are providing valuable information to neuroscientists and geriatric specialists with pirouettes, according to a Sept. 26, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists have discovered differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that may help them avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes.

The research suggests that years of training can enable dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear.

The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, could help to improve treatment for patients with chronic dizziness. Around one in four people experience this condition at some time in their lives.

The Imperial College of London (ICL) Sept. 26, 2013 news release on EurekAlert (also on the ICL website but dated Sept. 27, 2013), which originated the news item, describes dizziness, this research, and ballet dancers’ unique brains in more detail,

Normally, the feeling of dizziness stems from the vestibular organs in the inner ear. These fluid-filled chambers sense rotation of the head through tiny hairs that sense the fluid moving. After turning around rapidly, the fluid continues to move, which can make you feel like you’re still spinning.

Ballet dancers can perform multiple pirouettes with little or no feeling of dizziness. The findings show that this feat isn’t just down to spotting, a technique dancers use that involves rapidly moving the head to fix their gaze on the same spot as much as possible.

Researchers at Imperial College London recruited 29 female ballet dancers and, as a comparison group, 20 female rowers whose age and fitness levels matched the dancers’.

The volunteers were spun around in a chair in a dark room. They were asked to turn a handle in time with how quickly they felt like they were still spinning after they had stopped. The researchers also measured eye reflexes triggered by input from the vestibular organs. Later, they examined the participants’ brain structure with MRI scans.

In dancers, both the eye reflexes and their perception of spinning lasted a shorter time than in the rowers.

Dr Barry Seemungal, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “Dizziness, which is the feeling that we are moving when in fact we are still, is a common problem. I see a lot of patients who have suffered from dizziness for a long time. Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients.”

The brain scans revealed differences between the groups in two parts of the brain: an area in the cerebellum where sensory input from the vestibular organs is processed and in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for the perception of dizziness.

The area in the cerebellum was smaller in dancers. Dr Seemungal thinks this is because dancers would be better off not using their vestibular systems, relying instead on highly co-ordinated pre-programmed movements.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better.”

Another finding in the study may be important for how chronic dizzy patients are tested in the clinic. In the control group, the perception of spinning closely matched the eye reflexes triggered by vestibular signals, but in dancers, the two were uncoupled.

“This shows that the sensation of spinning is separate from the reflexes that make your eyes move back and forth,” Dr Seemungal said. “In many clinics, it’s common to only measure the reflexes, meaning that when these tests come back normal the patient is told that there is nothing wrong. But that’s only half the story. You need to look at tests that assess both reflex and sensation.”

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

The Neuroanatomical Correlates of Training-Related Perceptuo-Reflex Uncoupling in Dancers by Yuliya Nigmatullina, Peter J. Hellyer, Parashkev Nachev, David J. Sharp, and Barry M. Seemungal. Cereb. Cortex (2013) doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht266 First published online: September 26, 2013

Delightfully, this article too is open access.

I love these kinds of stories where two very different branches of science find information of interest in something as ordinary as spinning around.

Courtesy: Imperial College of London (downloaded from: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_26-9-2013-17-43-4]

Courtesy: Imperial College of London (downloaded from: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_26-9-2013-17-43-4]

Here are some Whirling Dervishes,

Istanbul - Monestir Mevlevi - Dervixos dansaires Credit: Josep Renalias [downloaded from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Istanbul_-_Monestir_Mevlevi_-_Dervixos_dansaires.JPG]

Istanbul – Monestir Mevlevi – Dervixos dansaires Credit: Josep Renalias [downloaded from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Istanbul_-_Monestir_Mevlevi_-_Dervixos_dansaires.JPG]

ETA Nov. 28, 2013: I was most diverted by the Nov. 27, 2013 Virginia Tech news release (also on EurekAlert) which describes how two physicists and an engineer came to study Whirling Dervishes,

James Hanna likes to have fun with his engineering views of physics.

So when he and his colleague Jemal Guven visited their friend Martin Michael Müller in France on a rainy, dreary day, the three intellects decided to stay in. Guven, absent-mindedly switching between channels on the television, stumbled upon a documentary on whirling dervishes, best described as a Sufi religious order, who commemorate the teachings of 13th century Persian mystic and poet Rumi through spinning at a fixed speed in their floor length skirts.

“Their skirts showed these very striking, long-lived patterns,” Hanna, the engineer, recalled.

The film caused physicists Guven and Müller to think about structures with conical symmetry, or those shapes that can be defined as a series of straight lines emanating from a single point. By contrast, Hanna, the engineer with a physicist’s background, thought about rotating flexible structures, namely strings or sheets.

Visualizing beautiful math

Two artists ,Yann Pineill and Nicolas Lefaucheux, associated with Parachutes, a video production and graphic design studio located in Paris, France, ,have produced a video demonstrating this quote from Bertrand Russell, which is in the opening frame,

“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music.” — Bertrand Russell

H/t Mark Wilson’s Nov. 6, 2013 article for Fast Company,

One viewing note, the screen is arranged as a tryptich with the mathematical equation on the left, a schematic in the centre, and the real life manifestation on the right. Enjoy!

NUSIKIMO: plasma and nanotechnology applications

NUKISIMO's plama and nanotechnology applications? Credit: Shutterstock [downloaded from http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&RCN=36206]

NUKISIMO’s plama and nanotechnology applications? Credit: Shutterstock [downloaded from http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&RCN=36206]

It looks like a jewel, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, there’s no explanation for why this image is offered as an illustration for an Oct. 31, 2013 OORDIS news release (h/t phys.org) about plasma and nanotechnology applications, being worked on as part of the NUSIKIMO (‘Numerical simulations and analysis of kinetic models – applications to plasma physics and nanotechnology’) project,

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, alongside solid, liquid and gas. Ubiquitous in form, plasma is an ionised gas so energised that electrons have the capacity to break free from their nucleus.

Scientists are keen to shed light on the motion of particles in plasma physics, as well as the dynamics of rarefied gas – a gas whose pressure is much lower than atmospheric pressure. How can this be done? An EU-funded team of researchers has come up with a solution.

Prof. Francis Filbet from Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 in France decided to tackle the question with mathematical and numerical analyses. He received an European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant worth almost EUR 500 000 for the NUSIKIMO (‘Numerical simulations and analysis of kinetic models – applications to plasma physics and nanotechnology’) project. Prof Filbet and his research team modelled non-stationary collisional plasma with supercomputers, putting regimes and instabilities under the microscope.

One of the challenges researchers undertook was to approximate kinetic models and to develop novel techniques that could make numerical analysis in kinetic theory possible.

To do this, the team is working on adapting averaging lemmas (proven statements used for obtaining proof of other statements) to examine kinetic equations, including the Boltzmann equation. Devised in 1872, the seven-dimensional equation is used to model the behaviour of gases, but solving it has proved problematic as numerical capabilities fail to capture the complexities involved.

The NUSIKIMO team is also examining asymptotic preserving schemes, which can be described as performant procedures able to solve ‘singularly perturbed problems’ – those for which the character of the problem changes intermittently.

Such problems contain small parameters that cannot be approximated by setting the parameter value to zero. For comparison, an approximation for regular perturbation problems can be obtained when small parameters are set to zero.

Asymptotic preserving schemes were established to help scientists deal with singularly perturbed problems. This is especially the case when they are dealing with kinetic models in a diffusive environment.

Prof. Filbet and his team are developing a method to control numerical entropy (classical thermodynamics) production. Being able to control entropy production, which determines the performance of thermal machines, is an important feature for stability analysis – an assessment that helps us understand what happens to a system when it is perturbed. The researchers believe nonlinear equations could therefore be treated with a strategy based on asymptotic preserving schemes.

Applying these equations to plasma physics is one of the NUSIKIMO goals. The team is evaluating energy transport and seeking to determine the efficiency of plasma heating. The researchers are also looking into the measures required to secure fusion conditions through the interaction of intense, short laser pulses, and schemes like inertial confinement fusion or fast ignition.

Another objective is to apply the equations to microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Prof. Filbet and his team are developing theoretical and numerical methods to investigate gaseous and liquid flows in micro devices. The key element here is the development of numerical methods. The researchers say: using numerical methods, rather than analytical methods, make modelling the three-dimensional flow geometries in MEMS configurations possible.

The project end date is December 2013 but in the meantime, you can get more information about NUSIKIMO here.