Tag Archives: Germany

Germany’s nano-supercapacitors for electric cars

Kudos to the writer for giving a dull topic, supercapacitors and electric cars, a jolt of life. From a July 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Innovative nano-material based supercapacitors are set to bring mass market appeal a good step closer to the lukewarm public interest in Germany. [emphasis mine] This movement is currently being motivated by the advancements in the state-of-the-art of this device.

A July 1, 2014 Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item and, sadly, did not reveal the writer’s name, goes on in this refreshing fashion,

Electric cars are very much welcomed in Norway and they are a common sight on the roads of the Scandinavian country – so much so that electric cars topped the list of new vehicle registrations for the second time. This poses a stark contrast to the situation in Germany, where electric vehicles claim only a small portion of the market. Of the 43 million cars on the roads in Germany, only a mere 8000 are electric powered. The main factors discouraging motorists in Germany from switching to electric vehicles are the high investments cost, their short driving ranges and the lack of charging stations. Another major obstacle en route to the mass acceptance of electric cars is the charging time involved. The minutes involved in refueling conventional cars are so many folds shorter that it makes the situation almost incomparable. However, the charging durations could be dramatically shortened with the inclusion of supercapacitors. These alternative energy storage devices are fast charging and can therefore better support the use of economical energy in electric cars. Taking traditional gasoline-powered vehicles for instance, the action of braking converts the kinetic energy into heat which is dissipated and unused. Per contra, generators on electric vehicles are able to tap into the kinetic energy by converting it into electricity for further usage. This electricity often comes in jolts and requires storage devices that can withstand high amount of energy input within a short period of time. In this example, supercapacitors with their capability in capturing and storing this converted energy in an instant fits in the picture wholly. Unlike batteries that offer limited charging/discharging rates, supercapacitors require only seconds to charge and can feed the electric power back into the air-conditioning systems, defogger, radio, etc. as required.

So, the Norwegians have embraced electric cars while the Germans have remained reluctant. The writer offers a clear explanation of supercapacitors and mentions a solution for improving the electric vehicle acceptance rate in Germany (from the press release)

Rapid energy storage devices are distinguished by their energy and power density characteristics – in other words, the amount of electrical energy the device can deliver with respect to its mass and within a given period of time. Supercapacitors are known to possess high power density, whereby large amounts of electrical energy can be provided or captured within short durations, albeit at a short-coming of low energy density. The amount of energy in which supercapacitors are able to store is generally about 10% that of electrochemical batteries (when the two devices of same weight are being compared). This is precisely where the challenge lies and what the “ElectroGraph” project is attempting to address.

ElectroGraph is a project supported by the EU and its consortium consists of ten partners from both research institutes and industries. One of the main tasks of this project is to develop new types of supercapacitors with significantly improved energy storage capacities. As the project is approaches its closing phase in June, the project coordinator at Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Carsten Glanz explained the concept and approach taken en route to its successful conclusion: “during the storage process, the electrical energy is stored as charged particles attached on the electrode material.” “So to store more energy efficiently, we designed light weight electrodes with larger, usable surfaces.”

Next, the ‘nano’ aspect (graphene) of this particular project is explained,

In numerous tests, the researcher and his team investigated the nano-material graphene, whose extremely high specific surface area of up to 2,600 m2/g and high electrical conductivity practically cries out for use as an electrode material. It consists of an ultrathin monolayer lattice made of carbon atoms. When used as an electrode material, it greatly increases the surface area with the same amount of material. From this aspect, graphene is showing its potential in replacing activated carbon – the material that has been used in commercial supercapacitors to date – which has a specific surface area between 1000 and 1800 m2/g.

“The space between the electrodes is filled with a liquid electrolyte,” revealed Glanz. “We use ionic liquids for this purpose. Graphene-based electrodes together with ionic liquid electrolytes present an ideal material combination where we can operate at higher voltages.” “By arranging the graphene layers in a manner that there is a gap between the individual layers, the researchers were able to establish a manufacturing method that efficiently uses the intrinsic surface area available of this nano-material. This prevents the individual graphene layers from restacking into graphite, which would reduce the storage surface and consequently the amount of energy storage capacity. “Our electrodes have already surpassed commercially available one by 75 percent in terms of storage capacity,” emphasizes the engineer. “I imagine that the cars of the future will have a battery connected to many capacitors spread throughout the vehicle, which will take over energy supply during high-power demand phases during acceleration for example and ramming up of the air-conditioning system. These capacitors will ease the burden on the battery and cover voltage peaks when starting the car. As a result, the size of massive batteries can be reduced.”

Whether this effort has already been or, at some time in the future, will be demonstrated is not entirely clear to me,

In order to present the new technology, the ElectroGraph consortium developed a demonstrator consisting of supercapacitors installed in an automobile side-view mirror and charged by a solar cell in an energetically self-sufficient system. The demonstrator will be unveiled at the end of May [2015?] during the dissemination workshop at Fraunhofer IPA.

I imagine improved supercapacitors will be prove to be an enticement for more than one reluctant electric car purchaser no matter where they reside.

‘Llam’ me lend you some antibodies—antibody particles extracted from camels and llamas

Sometimes the urge for wordplay overwhelms me as it did this morning (June 12, 2014) when I saw llamas mentioned in a news item. For anyone unfamiliar with how Canadian English (and I can safely include American English here but am not sure about any other Englishes) is spoken, we leave out consonants in some phrases. For example, ‘let me’ becomes ‘lemme’, which when you’re playing with ‘llama,’ becomes ‘llam’me. As for the verb ‘lend’, I used it for its alliterative quality and used more accurate verb ‘extracted’ later in the headline.

Getting on to the antibodies and the camels and llamas, here’s more from a June 12, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The use of nanoparticles in cancer research is considered as a promising approach in detecting and fighting tumour cells. The method has, however, often failed because the human immune system recognizes the particles as foreign objects and rejects them before they can fulfil their function. Researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and at University College Dublin [UCD[ in Ireland have, along with other partners, developed nanoparticles that not only bypass the body’s defence system, but also find their way to the diseased cells ("Diagnostic nanoparticle targeting of the EGF-receptor in complex biological conditions using single-domain antibodies"). This procedure uses fragments from a particular type of antibody that only occurs in camels and llamas. The small particles were even successful under conditions which are very similar to the situation within potential patients’ bodies.

A June 12, 2014 HZDR press release, which originated the news item, supplies a quote from one of the researchers where he explains the problems he and his colleagues were attempting to address,

Describing the current state of research, Dr. Kristof Zarschler of the Helmholtz Virtual Institute NanoTracking at the HZDR explains, "At the moment we must overcome three challenges. First, we need to produce the smallest possible nanoparticles. We then need to modify their surface in a way that the proteins in the human bodies do not envelop them, which would thus render them ineffective. In order to ensure, that the particles do their job, we must also somehow program them to find the diseased cells." Therefore, the Dresden [HZDR is in Dresden] and Dublin researchers combined expertise to develop nanoparticles made of silicon dioxide with fragments of camel antibodies.

The press release and Zarschler go on to explain the advantages of camel and llama antibodies,

In contrast to conventional antibodies, which consist of two light and two heavy protein chains, those taken from camels and llamas are less complex and are made up of only two heavy chains. “Due to this simplified structure, they are easier to produce than normal antibodies,” explains Zarschler. “We also only need one particular fragment – the portion of the molecule that binds to certain cancer cells – which makes the production of much smaller nanoparticles possible.” By modifying the surface of the nanoparticle, it also gets more difficult for the immune system to recognize the foreign material, which allows the nanoparticles to actually reach their target.

The ultra-small particles should then detect the so-called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in the human body. In various types of tumours, this molecule is overexpressed and/or exists in a mutated form, which allows the cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably. The Dresden researchers could demonstrate in experiments that nanoparticles that have been combined with the camel antibody fragments can more firmly bind to the cancer cells. “The EGFR is a virtual lock to which our antibody fits like a key,” explains Zarschler.

Most exciting are the experiments the researchers performed with human blood (from the press release),

They even obtained the same results in experiments involving human blood serum – a biologically relevant environment the scientists point out: “This means that we carried out the tests under conditions that are very similar to the reality of the human body,” explains Dr. Holger Stephan, who leads the project. “The problem with many current studies is that artificial conditions are chosen where no disruptive factors exist. While this provides good results, it is ultimately useless because the nanoparticles fail finally in experiments conducted under more complex conditions. In our case, we could at least reduce this error source.”

There are no immediate plans for clinical trials according to the press release,

However, more time is required before the nanoparticles can be utilized in diagnosing human tumours. “The successful tests have brought us one step further,” explains Stephan. “The road, however, to its clinical use is long.” The next aim is to reduce the size of the nanoparticles, which are now approximately fifty nanometres in diameter, to less than ten nanometres. “That would be optimal,” according to Zarschler. “Then they would only remain in the human body for a short period – just long enough to detect the tumour.”

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

Diagnostic nanoparticle targeting of the EGF-receptor in complex biological conditions using single-domain antibodies by K. Zarschler, K. Prapainop, E. Mahon, L. Rocks,  M. Bramini, P. M. Kelly, H. Stephan, and K. A. Dawson. Nanoscale, 2014,6, 6046-6056 DOI: 10.1039/C4NR00595C
First published online 16 Apr 2014

This paper is in an open access journal.

The researchers have provided an illustration of the new antibody particles,

 Title Bild Nanopartikel Copyright 	CBNI, UCD


Title Bild Nanopartikel
With help of proteins, nanoparticles can be produced, which bind specifically to cancer cells, thus making it possible to detect tumours. Copyright CBNI, UCD

Hitchhikers at the nanoscale show how cells stir themselves

A May 30, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights some molecule-tracking research,

Chemical engineers from Rice University and biophysicists from Georg-August Universität Göttingen in Germany and the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands have successfully tracked single molecules inside living cells with carbon nanotubes.

Through this new method, the researchers found that cells stir their interiors using the same motor proteins that serve in muscle contraction.

A May 29, 2014 Rice University news release by Mike Williams, which originated the news item, describes the researchers’ work,

The team attached carbon nanotubes to transport molecules known as kinesin motors to visualize and track them as they moved through the cytoplasm of living cells.

Carbon nanotubes are hollow cylinders of pure carbon with one-atom-thick walls. They naturally fluoresce with near-infrared wavelengths when exposed to visible light, a property discovered at Rice by Professor Rick Smalley a decade ago and then leveraged by Rice Professor Bruce Weisman to image carbon nanotubes. When attached to a molecule, the hitchhiking nanotubes serve as tiny beacons that can be precisely tracked over long periods of time to investigate small, random motions inside cells.

“Any probe that can hitch the length and breadth of the cell, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where its protein is, is clearly a probe to be reckoned with,” said lead author Nikta Fakhri, paraphrasing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Fakhri, who earned her Rice doctorate in Pasquali’s lab in 2011, is currently a Human Frontier Science Program Fellow at Göttingen.

“In fact, the exceptional stability of these probes made it possible to observe intracellular motions from times as short as milliseconds to as long as hours,” she said.

For long-distance transport, such as along the long axons of nerve cells, cells usually employ motor proteins tied to lipid vesicles, the cell’s “cargo containers.” This process involves considerable logistics: Cargo needs to be packed, attached to the motors and sent off in the right direction.

“This research has helped uncover an additional, much simpler mechanism for transport within the cell interior,” said principal investigator Christoph Schmidt, a professor of physics at Göttingen. “Cells vigorously stir themselves, much in the way a chemist would accelerate a reaction by shaking a test tube. This will help them to move objects around in the highly crowded cellular environment.”

The researchers showed the same type of motor protein used for muscle contraction is responsible for stirring. They reached this conclusion after exposing the cells to drugs that suppressed these specific motor proteins. The tests showed that the stirring was suppressed as well.

The mechanical cytoskeleton of cells consists of networks of protein filaments, like actin. Within the cell, the motor protein myosin forms bundles that actively contract the actin network for short periods. The researchers found random pinching of the elastic actin network by many myosin bundles resulted in the global internal stirring of the cell. Both actin and myosin play a similar role in muscle contraction.

The highly accurate measurements of internal fluctuations in the cells were explained in a theoretical model developed by VU co-author Fred MacKintosh, who used the elastic properties of the cytoskeleton and the force-generation characteristics of the motors.

“The new discovery not only promotes our understanding of cell dynamics, but also points to interesting possibilities in designing ‘active’ technical materials,” said Fakhri, who will soon join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty as an assistant professor of physics. “Imagine a microscopic biomedical device that mixes tiny samples of blood with reagents to detect disease or smart filters that separate squishy from rigid materials.”

There is an accompanying video,

This video is typical of the kind of visual image that nanoscientists look at and provides an interesting contrast to ‘nano art’ where colours and other enhancements are added. as per this example, NanoOrchard, from a May 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about the 2014 Materials Research Society spring meeting and their Science as Art competition,

NanoOrchard – Electrochemically overgrown CuNi nanopillars. (Image courtesy of the Materials Research Society Science as Art Competition and Josep Nogues, Institut Catala de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), Spain, and A. Varea, E. Pellicer, S. Suriñach, M.D. Baro, J. Sort, Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-news/newsid=35631.php]

NanoOrchard – Electrochemically overgrown CuNi nanopillars. (Image courtesy of the Materials Research Society Science as Art Competition and Josep Nogues, Institut Catala de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), Spain, and A. Varea, E. Pellicer, S. Suriñach, M.D. Baro, J. Sort, Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-news/newsid=35631.php]

Getting back to the carbon nanotube hitchhikers, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

High-resolution mapping of intracellular fluctuations using carbon nanotubes by Nikta Fakhri, Alok D. Wessel, Charlotte Willms, Matteo Pasquali, Dieter R. Klopfenstein, Frederick C. MacKintosh, and Christoph F. Schmidt. Science 30 May 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6187 pp. 1031-1035 DOI: 10.1126/science.1250170

This article is behind a paywall.

One final comment, I am delighted by the researcher’s reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

CREATE ISOSIM (isotopes for science and medicine) and NanoMat (nanomaterials) program at the University of British Columbia (Canada)

It seems the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC; one of Canada’s ‘big three’ science national funding agencies) has a new funding program, CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) and two local (Vancouver, Canada) institutions, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) are beneficiaries to the tune of $3.3M.

Before getting the happy news, here’s a little information about this new NSERC program (from the CREATE page),

The Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program supports the training of teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad through the development of innovative training programs that:

  • encourage collaborative and integrative approaches, and address significant scientific challenges associated with Canada’s research priorities; and
  • facilitate the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the Canadian workforce.

These innovative programs must include the acquisition and development of important professional skills among students and postdoctoral fellows that complement their qualifications and technical skills.

In addition, these programs should encourage the following as appropriate:

  • student mobility, nationally or internationally, between individual universities and between universities and other sectors;
  • interdisciplinary research within the natural sciences and engineering (NSE), or at the interface between the NSE and health, or the social sciences and humanities. However, the main focus of the training must still lie within the NSE;
  • increased collaboration between industry and academia; and
  • for the industrial stream, an additional objective is to support improved job-readiness within the industrial sector by exposing participants to the specific challenges of this sector and training people with the skills identified by industry.

I wonder what they mean by “professional skills?” They use the phrase again in the Description,

The CREATE Program is designed to improve the mentoring and training environment for the Canadian researchers of tomorrow by improving areas such as professional skills, communication and collaboration, as well as providing experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments.

This program is intended for graduate students and has two streams, Industrial and International Collaboration. At this point, they have two international collaboration partners, one each in Germany and in Brazil.

There’s a subsection on the CREATE page titled Merit of the proposed training program (in my world that’s ‘criteria for assessment’),

Applicable to all applications:

  • the extent to which the program is associated with a research area of high priority to Canada and will provide a higher quality of training;
  • how the research area proposed relates to the current scientific or technical developments in the field, with references to the current literature;
  • the extent to which the research training program will facilitate the transition of the trainees to the Canadian workforce and will promote interaction of the trainees with non-academic sectors, such as private companies, industry associations, not-for-profit organizations, government departments, etc., as appropriate;
  • the description of the potential employers and a qualitative assessment of the job prospects for trainees;
  • the extent to which the program will provide opportunities for the trainees to develop professional skills;
  • the extent to which the program uses novel and interesting approaches to graduate student training in an integrated manner to provide an enriched experience for all participants;
  • the research training program’s focus and clarity of objectives, both short- and long-term; and
  • the added value that trainees will receive through their participation.

Clearly, this program is about training tomorrow’s workers and I expect CREATE is welcome in many corners. We (in Canada and elsewhere internationally) have a plethora of PhDs and nowhere for them to go. I have, of course, two provisos. First, I hope this program is not a precursor to a wholesale change in funding to a indulge a form of short-term thinking. Not every single course of study has to lead to a clearly defined job as defined by industry. Sometimes, industry doesn’t know what it needs until there’s a shortage. Second, I hope the administrators for this program support it. You (the government) can formulate all sorts of great policies but it’s the civil service that will implement your policies and if they don’t support them, you (the government) are likely to experience failure.

Here’s the CREATE funding announcement in a May 19, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Researchers studying nanomaterials and isotopes at the University of British Columbia received a $3.3 million boost in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Two UBC teams, led respectively by Chemistry Prof. Mark MacLachlan and Physics Prof. Reiner Kruecken, received $1.65 million each from NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants. The funding extends over a six-year period. The investment will help MacLachlan and Kruecken mentor and train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

A May 16, 2014 UBC news release, which originated the news item, provides more information including some background for the two project leaders,

Mark MacLachlan, Professor, UBC Department of Chemistry
NanoMAT: NSERC CREATE Training Program in Nanomaterials Science & Technology

Nanomaterials have dimensions about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. Though invisible to our eyes, these materials are already used for diagnosing and treating diseases, environmental remediation, developing solar cells and batteries, as well as other applications. Nanomaterials form a multi-billion dollar industry that is expanding rapidly. To address the growing need for highly qualified trainees in Canada, UBC researchers have spearheaded the NanoMat program. Through a unique interdisciplinary training program, science and engineering students will undertake innovative research projects, receive hands-on training, and undertake internships at companies in Canada and across the world.

Reiner Kruecken, Professor, UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy
ISOSIM, ISOtopes for Science and Medicine

The ISOSIM program is designed to provide students with enriched training experiences in the production and preparation of nuclear isotopes for innovative applications that range from medical research and environmental science to investigations of the foundations of the universe. This will prepare students for positions in a number of Canadian industrial sectors including medical diagnostics and treatment, pharmaceutical sciences, development of next-generation electronic devices, environmental sciences, and isotope production. This project builds on the existing cooperation between UBC and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear phsyics, [sic] on isotopes science.

Not mentioned in the UBC news release is that ISOSIM is a program that is jointly run with TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Here’s how TRIUMF views their CREATE grant, from a May 16, 2014 TRIUMF news release,

The ISOSIM program will train undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at UBC and TRIUMF from fields associated with isotope sciences in an individually tailored, interdisciplinary curriculum that will build on and complement the education in their specialty field. Unique in Canada, this program offers a combination of interdisciplinary isotope-related training ranging from pure to applied sciences, industrial internships, and mobility with German research institutions with unique large-scale equipment and scientific infrastructures.

It seems this particular grant was awarded as part of the international collaboration stream. (I wonder if TRIUMF or TRIUMF-friendly individuals had a role in developing that particular aspect of the CREATE program. Following on that thought, is there a large Canadian science organization with ties to Brazil?)

Getting back to TRIUMF’s current CREATE grant, the news release emphasizes an industrial focus,

“ISOSIM represents a timely and nationally important training initiative and is built on a world-class collaborative research environment,” says Dr. Reiner Kruecken, TRIUMF’s Science Division Head and Professor at UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy. Kruecken is leading the ISOSIM initiative and is joined by over twenty collaborators from UBC, TRIUMF, and several research institutes in Germany.

ISOSIM is poised to create the next generation of leaders for isotope-related industries and markets, including commercial, public health, environmental, and governmental sectors, as well as academia. The combination of research institutions like UBC, TRIUMF, and the BC Cancer Agency with Canadian companies like Nordion Inc., and Advanced Cyclotron Solutions Inc., have transformed Vancouver into a hub for isotope-related research and industries, emerging as “Isotope Valley”.

The inspiration for the ISOSIM program came from an interdisciplinary TRIUMF-led team who, in response to the isotope crisis, demonstrated non-reactor methods for producing the critical medical isotope Tc-99m. This required a coordinated approach of physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers.

Similar interdisciplinary efforts are needed for expanding the use and application of isotopes in key areas. While their medical use is widely known, isotopes enjoy growing importance in many fields. Isotopes are used as tracers to examine the trace flow of nutrients and pollutants in the environment. Isotopes are also used to characterize newly designed materials and the behaviour of nanostructured materials that play a key role in modern electronics devices. The production and investigation of very short-lived radioactive isotopes, also known as rare-isotopes, is a central approach in nuclear physics research to understand the nuclear force and how the chemical elements heavier than iron were formed in stars and stellar explosions.

I really wish they (marketing/communications and/or business people) would stop trying to reference ‘silicon valley’ as per this news release’s ‘isotope valley’. Why not ‘isotope galaxy’? It fits better with the isotope and star theme.

Getting back to the “professional skills” mentioned in the CREATE grant description, I don’t see any mention of etiquette, good manners, listening skills, or the quality of humility, all of which are handy in the workplace and having had my share of experience dealing with fresh out-of-graduate-school employees, I’d say they’re sorely needed.

Regardless, I wish both MacLachlan and Krueken the best as they and their students pioneer what I believe is a new NSERC program.

Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (part five of five)

The Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post kicked off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’.

Now for the summary. Ranging from research meant to divulge more about how the brain operates in hopes of healing conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzeheimer’s diseases to utilizing public engagement exercises (first developed for nanotechnology) for public education and acceptance of brain research to the development of prostheses for the nervous system such as the Walk Again robotic suit for individuals with paraplegia (and, I expect quadriplegia [aka tetraplegia] in the future), brain research is huge in terms of its impact socially and economically across the globe.

Until now, I have not included information about neuromorphic engineering (creating computers with the processing capabilities of human brains). My May 16, 2014 posting (Wacky oxide. biological synchronicity, and human brainlike computing) features one of the latest developments along with this paragraph providing links to overview materials of the field,

As noted earlier, there are other approaches to creating an artificial brain, i.e., neuromorphic engineering. My April 7, 2014 posting is the most recent synopsis posted here; it includes excerpts from a Nanowerk Spotlight article overview along with a mention of the ‘brain jelly’ approach and a discussion of my somewhat extensive coverage of memristors and a mention of work on nanoionic devices. There is also a published roadmap to neuromorphic engineering featuring both analog and digital devices, mentioned in my April 18, 2014 posting.

There is an international brain (artificial and organic) enterprise underway. Meanwhile, work understanding the brain will lead to new therapies and, inevitably, attempts to enhance intelligence. There are already drugs and magic potions (e.g. oxygenated water in Mental clarity, stamina, endurance — is it in the bottle? Celebrity athletes tout the benefits of oxygenated water, but scientists have their doubts, a May 16,2014 article by Pamela Fayerman for the Vancouver Sun). In a June 19, 2009 posting featured Jamais Cascio’s  speculations about augmenting intelligence in an Atlantic magazine article.

While researchers such Miguel Nicolelis work on exoskeletons (externally worn robotic suits) controlled by the wearer’s thoughts and giving individuals with paraplegia the ability to walk, researchers from one of Germany’s Fraunhofer Institutes reveal a different technology for achieving the same ends. From a May 16, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

People with severe injuries to their spinal cord currently have no prospect of recovery and remain confined to their wheelchairs. Now, all that could change with a new treatment that stimulates the spinal cord using electric impulses. The hope is that the technique will help paraplegic patients learn to walk again. From June 3 – 5 [2-14], Fraunhofer researchers will be at the Sensor + Test measurement fair in Nürnberg to showcase the implantable microelectrode sensors they have developed in the course of pre-clinical development work (Hall 12, Booth 12-537).

A May 14, 2014 Fraunhofer Institute news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about this technology along with an image of the implantable microelectrode sensors,

The implantable microelectrode sensors are flexible and wafer-thin. © Fraunhofer IMM

The implantable microelectrode sensors are flexible and wafer-thin.
© Fraunhofer IMM

Now a consortium of European research institutions and companies want to get affected patients quite literally back on their feet. In the EU’s [European Union's] NEUWalk project, which has been awarded funding of some nine million euros, researchers are working on a new method of treatment designed to restore motor function in patients who have suffered severe injuries to their spinal cord. The technique relies on electrically stimulating the nerve pathways in the spinal cord. “In the injured area, the nerve cells have been damaged to such an extent that they no longer receive usable information from the brain, so the stimulation needs to be delivered beneath that,” explains Dr. Peter Detemple, head of department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology’s Mainz branch (IMM) and NEUWalk project coordinator. To do this, Detemple and his team are developing flexible, wafer-thin microelectrodes that are implanted within the spinal canal on the spinal cord. These multichannel electrode arrays stimulate the nerve pathways with electric impulses that are generated by the accompanying by microprocessor-controlled neurostimulator. “The various electrodes of the array are located around the nerve roots responsible for locomotion. By delivering a series of pulses, we can trigger those nerve roots in the correct order to provoke motion sequences of movements and support the motor function,” says Detemple.

Researchers from the consortium have already successfully conducted tests on rats in which the spinal cord had not been completely severed. As well as stimulating the spinal cord, the rats were given a combination of medicine and rehabilitation training. Afterwards the animals were able not only to walk but also to run, climb stairs and surmount obstacles. “We were able to trigger specific movements by delivering certain sequences of pulses to the various electrodes implanted on the spinal cord,” says Detemple. The research scientist and his team believe that the same approach could help people to walk again, too. “We hope that we will be able to transfer the results of our animal testing to people. Of course, people who have suffered injuries to their spinal cord will still be limited when it comes to sport or walking long distances. The first priority is to give them a certain level of independence so that they can move around their apartment and look after themselves, for instance, or walk for short distances without requiring assistance,” says Detemple.

Researchers from the NEUWalk project intend to try out their system on two patients this summer. In this case, the patients are not completely paraplegic, which means there is still some limited communication between the brain and the legs. The scientists are currently working on tailored implants for the intervention. “However, even if both trials are a success, it will still be a few years before the system is ready for the general market. First, the method has to undergo clinical studies and demonstrate its effectiveness among a wider group of patients,” says Detemple.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease could also benefit from the neural prostheses. The most well-known symptoms of the disease are trembling, extreme muscle tremors and a short, [emphasis mine] stooped gait that has a profound effect on patients’ mobility. Until now this neurodegenerative disorder has mostly been treated with dopamine agonists – drugs that chemically imitate the effects of dopamine but that often lead to severe side effects when taken over a longer period of time. Once the disease has reached an advanced stage, doctors often turn to deep brain stimulation. This involves a complex operation to implant electrodes in specific parts of the brain so that the nerve cells in the region can be stimulated or suppressed as required. In the NEUWalk project, researchers are working on electric spinal cord simulation – an altogether less dangerous intervention that should however ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease just as effectively. “Initial animal testing has yielded some very promising results,” says Detemple.

(For anyone interested in the NEUWalk project, you can find more here,) Note the reference to Parkinson’s in the context of work designed for people with paraplegia. Brain research and prosthetics (specifically neuroprosthetics or neural prosthetics), are interconnected. As for the nanotechnology connection, in its role as an enabling technology it has provided some of the tools that make these efforts possible. It has also made some of the work in neuromorphic engineering (attempts to create an artificial brain that mimics the human brain) possible. It is a given that research on the human brain will inform efforts in neuromorphic engineering and that attempts will be made to create prostheses for the brain (cyborg brain) and other enhancements.

One final comment, I’m not so sure that transferring approaches and techniques developed to gain public acceptance of nanotechnology are necessarily going to be effective. (Harthorn seemed to be suggesting in her presentation to the Presidential Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues that these ‘nano’ approaches could be adopted. Other researchers [Caulfield with the genome and Racine with previous neuroscience efforts] also suggested their experience could be transferred. While some of that is likely true,, it should be noted that some self-interest may be involved as brain research is likely to be a fresh source of funding for social science researchers with experience in nanotechnology and genomics who may be finding their usual funding sources less generous than previously.)

The likelihood there will be a substantive public panic over brain research is higher than it ever was for a nanotechnology panic (I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight re: nano panics). Everyone understands the word, ‘brain’, far fewer understand the word ‘nanotechnology’ which means that the level of interest is lower and people are less likely to get disturbed by an obscure technology. (The GMO panic gained serious traction with the ‘Frankenfood’ branding and when it fused rather unexpectedly with another research story,  stem cell research. In the UK, one can also add the panic over ‘mad cow’ disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), as it’s also known, to the mix. It was the GMO and other assorted panics which provided the impetus for much of the public engagement funding for nanotechnology.)

All one has to do in this instance is start discussions about changing someone’s brain and cyborgs and these researchers may find they have a much more volatile situation on their hands. As well, everyone (the general public and civil society groups/activists, not just the social science and science researchers) involved in the nanotechnology public engagement exercises has learned from the experience. In the meantime, pop culture concerns itself with zombies and we all know what they like to eat.

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series

Part one: Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (May 19, 2014 post)

Part two: BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (May 19, 2014)

Part three: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (May 20, 2014)

Part four: Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (May 20, 2014)

Chiral breathing at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS)

An April 17, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily highlights some research about a polymer that has some special properties,

Electrically controlled glasses with continuously adjustable transparency, new polarisation filters, and even chemosensors capable of detecting single molecules of specific chemicals could be fabricated thanks to a new polymer unprecedentedly combining optical and electrical properties.

An international team of chemists from Italy, Germany, and Poland developed a polymer with unique optical and electric properties. Components of this polymer change their spatial configuration depending on the electric potential applied. In turn, the polarisation of transmitted light is affected. The material can be used, for instance, in polarisation filters and window glasses with continuously adjustable transparency. Due to its mechanical properties, the polymer is also perfectly suitable for fabrication of chemical sensors for selective detection and determination of optically active (chiral) forms of an analyte.

The research findings of the international team headed by Prof. Francesco Sannicolo from the Universita degli Studi di Milano were recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

“Until now, to give polymers chiral properties, chiral pendants were attached to the polymer backbone. In such designs the polymer was used as a scaffold only. Our polymer is exceptional, with chirality inherent to it, and with no pending groups. The polymer is both a scaffold and an optically active chiral structure. Moreover, the polymer conducts electricity,” comments Prof. Włodzimierz Kutner from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, one of the initiators of the research.

An April 17, 2014 IPC PAS news release (also on EurrekAlert), which originated the news item, describes chirality and the breathing metaphor with regard to this new polymer,

Chirality can be best explained by referring to mirror reflection. If two varieties of the same object look like their mutual mirror images, they differ in chirality. Human hands provide perhaps the most universal example of chirality, and the difference between the left and right hand becomes obvious if we try to place a left-handed glove on a right hand. The same difference as between the left and right hand is between two chiral molecules with identical chemical composition. Each of them shows different optical properties, and differently rotates plane-polarised light. In such a case, chemists refer to one chemical compound existing as two optical isomers called enantiomers.

The polymer presented by Prof. Sannicolo’s team was developed on the basis of thiophene, an organic compound composed of a five-member aromatic ring containing a sulphur atom. Thiophene polymerisation gives rise to a chemically stable polymer of high conductivity. The basic component of the new polymer – its monomer – is made of a dimer with two halves each made of two thiophene rings and one thianaphthene unit. The halves are connected at a single point and can partially be rotated with respect to each other by applying electric potential. Depending on the orientation of the halves, the new polymer either assumes or looses chirality. This behaviour is fully reversible and resembles a breathing system, whereas the “chiral breathing” is controlled by an external electric potential.

The development of a new polymer was initiated thanks to the research on molecular imprinting pursued at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the PAS. The research resulted, for instance, in the development of polymers used as recognising units (receptors) in chemosensors, capable of selective capturing of molecules of various analytes, for instance nicotine, and also melamine, an ill-reputed chemical detrimental to human health, used as an additive to falsify protein content in milk and dairy products produced in China.

Generally, molecular imprinting consists in creating template-shaped cavities in polymer matrices with molecules of interest used first as cavity templates. Subsequently these templates are washed out from the polymer. As a result, the polymer contains traps with a shape and size matching those of molecules of the removed template. To be used as a receptor in chemosensor to recognize analyte molecules similar to templates or templates themselves, the polymer imprinted with these cavities must show a sufficient mechanical strength.

“Three-dimensional networks we attempted to build at the IPC PAS using existing two-dimensional thiophene derivatives just collapsed after the template molecules were removed. That’s why we asked for assistance our Italian partners, specialising in the synthesis of thiophene derivatives. The problem was to design and synthesise a three-dimensional thiophene derivative that would allow us for cross-linking of our polymers in three dimensions. The thiophene derivative synthesised in Milan has a stable three-dimensional structure, and the controllable chiral properties of the new polymer obtained after the derivative was polymerised, turned out a nice surprise for all of us”, explains Prof. Kutner.

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

Potential-Driven Chirality Manifestations and Impressive Enantioselectivity by Inherently Chiral Electroactive Organic Films by  Prof. Francesco Sannicolò1, Serena Arnaboldi, Prof. Tiziana Benincori, Dr. Valentina Bonometti, Dr. Roberto Cirilli, Prof. Lothar Dunsch, Prof. Włodzimierz Kutner, Prof. Giovanna Longhi, Prof. Patrizia R. Mussini, Dr. Monica Panigati, Prof. Marco Pierini, and Dr. Simona Rizzo. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Volume 53, Issue 10, pages 2623–2627, March 3, 2014. Article first published online: 5 FEB 2014 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201309585

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

Data transmisstion at 1.44 terabits per second

It’s not only the amount of data we have which is increasing but the amount of data we want to transmit from one place to another. An April 14, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily describes a new technique designed to increase data transmission rates,

Miniaturized optical frequency comb sources allow for transmission of data streams of several terabits per second over hundreds of kilometers — this has now been demonstrated by researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in a experiment presented in the journal Nature Photonics. The results may contribute to accelerating data transmission in large computing centers and worldwide communication networks.

In the study presented in Nature Photonics, the scientists of KIT, together with their EPFL colleagues, applied a miniaturized frequency comb as optical source. They reached a data rate of 1.44 terabits per second and the data was transmitted over a distance of 300 km. This corresponds to a data volume of more than 100 million telephone calls or up to 500,000 high-definition (HD) videos. For the first time, the study shows that miniaturized optical frequency comb sources are suited for coherent data transmission in the terabit range.

The April (?) 2014 KIT news release, which originated the news item, describes some of the current transmission technology’s constraints,

The amount of data generated and transmitted worldwide is growing continuously. With the help of light, data can be transmitted rapidly and efficiently. Optical communication is based on glass fibers, through which optical signals can be transmitted over large distances with hardly any losses. So-called wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) techniques allow for the transmission of several data channels independently of each other on a single optical fiber, thereby enabling extremely high data rates. For this purpose, the information is encoded on laser light of different wavelengths, i.e. different colors. However, scalability of such systems is limited, as presently an individual laser is required for each transmission channel. In addition, it is difficult to stabilize the wavelengths of these lasers, which requires additional spectral guard bands between the data channels to prevent crosstalk.

The news release goes on to further describe the new technology using ‘combs’,

Optical frequency combs, for the development of which John Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, consist of many densely spaced spectral lines, the distances of which are identical and exactly known. So far, frequency combs have been used mainly for highly precise optical atomic clocks or optical rulers measuring optical frequencies with utmost precision. However, conventional frequency comb sources are bulky and costly devices and hence not very well suited for use in data transmission. Moreover, spacing of the spectral lines in conventional frequency combs often is too small and does not correspond to the channel spacing used in optical communications, which is typically larger than 20 GHz.

In their joint experiment, the researchers of KIT and the EPFL have now demonstrated that integrated optical frequency comb sources with large line spacings can be realized on photonic chips and applied for the transmission of large data volumes. For this purpose, they use an optical microresonator made of silicon nitride, into which laser light is coupled via a waveguide and stored for a long time. “Due to the high light intensity in the resonator, the so-called Kerr effect can be exploited to produce a multitude of spectral lines from a single continuous-wave laser beam, hence forming a frequency comb,” explains Jörg Pfeifle, who performed the transmission experiment at KIT. This method to generate these so-called Kerr frequency combs was discovered by Tobias Kippenberg, EPFL, in 2007. Kerr combs are characterized by a large optical bandwidth and can feature line spacings that perfectly meet the requirements of data transmission. The underlying microresonators are produced with the help of complex nanofabrication methods by the EPFL Center of Micronanotechnology. “We are among the few university research groups that are able to produce such samples,” comments Kippenberg. Work at EPFL was funded by the Swiss program “NCCR Nanotera” and the European Space Agency [ESA].

Scientists of KIT’s Institute of Photonics and Quantum Electronics (IPQ) and Institute of Microstructure Technology (IMT) are the first to use such Kerr frequency combs for high-speed data transmission. “The use of Kerr combs might revolutionize communication within data centers, where highly compact transmission systems of high capacity are required most urgently,” Christian Koos says.

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

Coherent terabit communications with microresonator Kerr frequency combs by Joerg Pfeifle, Victor Brasch, Matthias Lauermann, Yimin Yu, Daniel Wegner, Tobias Herr, Klaus Hartinger, Philipp Schindler, Jingshi Li, David Hillerkuss, Rene Schmogrow, Claudius Weimann, Ronald Holzwarth, Wolfgang Freude, Juerg Leuthold, Tobias J. Kippenberg, & Christian Koos. Nature Photonics (2014) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2014.57 Published online 13 April 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanomaterials and safety: Europe’s non-governmental agencies make recommendations; (US) Arizona State University initiative; and Japan’s voluntary carbon nanotube management

I have three news items which have one thing in common, they concern nanomaterials and safety. Two of these of items are fairly recent; the one about Japan has been sitting in my drafts folder for months and I’m including it here because if I don’t do it now, I never will.

First, there’s an April 7, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (h/t) about European non-governmental agencies (CIEL; the Center for International Environmental Law and its partners) and their recommendations regarding nanomaterials and safety. From the CIEL April 2014 news release,

CIEL and European partners* publish position paper on the regulation of nanomaterials at a meeting of EU competent authorities

*ClientEarth, The European Environmental Bureau, European citizen’s Organization for Standardisation, The European consumer voice in Standardisation –ANEC, and Health Care Without Harm, Bureau of European Consumers

… Current EU legislation does not guarantee that all nanomaterials on the market are safe by being assessed separately from the bulk form of the substance. Therefore, we ask the European Commission to come forward with concrete proposals for a comprehensive revision of the existing legal framework addressing the potential risks of nanomaterials.

1. Nanomaterials are different from other substances.

We are concerned that EU law does not take account of the fact that nano forms of a substance are different and have different intrinsic properties from their bulk counterpart. Therefore, we call for this principle to be explicitly established in the REACH, and Classification Labeling and Packaging (CLP) regulations, as well as in all other relevant legislation. To ensure adequate consideration, the submission of comprehensive substance identity and characterization data for all nanomaterials on the market, as defined by the Commission’s proposal for a nanomaterial definition, should be required.

Similarly, we call on the European Commission and EU Member States to ensure that nanomaterials do not benefit from the delays granted under REACH to phase-in substances, on the basis of information collected on their bulk form.

Further, nanomaterials, due to their properties, are generally much more reactive than their bulk counterpart, thereby increasing the risk of harmful impact of nanomaterials compared to an equivalent mass of bulk material. Therefore, the present REACH thresholds for the registration of nanomaterials should be lowered.

Before 2018, all nanomaterials on the market produced in amounts of over 10kg/year must be registered with ECHA on the basis of a full registration dossier specific to the nanoform.

2. Risk from nanomaterials must be assessed

Six years after the entry into force of the REACH registration requirements, only nine substances have been registered as nanomaterials despite the much wider number of substances already on the EU market, as demonstrated by existing inventories. Furthermore, the poor quality of those few nano registration dossiers does not enable their risks to be properly assessed. To confirm the conclusions of the Commission’s nano regulatory review assuming that not all nanomaterials are toxic, relevant EU legislation should be amended to ensure that all nanomaterials are adequately assessed for their hazardous properties.

Given the concerns about novel properties of nanomaterials, under REACH, all registration dossiers of nanomaterials must include a chemical safety assessment and must comply with the same information submission requirements currently required for substances classified as Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or Reprotoxic (CMRs).

3. Nanomaterials should be thoroughly evaluated

Pending the thorough risk assessment of nanomaterials demonstrated by comprehensive and up-to-date registration dossiers for all nanoforms on the market, we call on ECHA to systematically check compliance for all nanoforms, as well as check the compliance of all dossiers which, due to uncertainties in the description of their identity and characterization, are suspected of including substances in the nanoform. Further, the Community Roling Action Plan (CoRAP) list should include all identified substances in the nanoform and evaluation should be carried out without delay.

4. Information on nanomaterials must be collected and disseminated

All EU citizens have the right to know which products contain nanomaterials as well as the right to know about their risks to health and environment and overall level of exposure. Given the uncertainties surrounding nanomaterials, the Commission must guarantee that members of the public are in a position to exercise their right to know and to make informed choices pending thorough risk assessments of nanomaterials on the market.

Therefore, a publicly accessible inventory of nanomaterials and consumer products containing nanomaterials must be established at European level. Moreover, specific nano-labelling or declaration requirements must be established for all nano-containing products (detergents, aerosols, sprays, paints, medical devices, etc.) in addition to those applicable to food, cosmetics and biocides which are required under existing obligations.

5. REACH enforcement activities should tackle nanomaterials

REACH’s fundamental principle of “no data, no market” should be thoroughly implemented. Therefore, nanomaterials that are on the market without a meaningful minimum set of data to allow the assessment of their hazards and risks should be denied market access through enforcement activities. In the meantime, we ask the EU Member States and manufacturers to use a precautionary approach in the assessment, production, use and disposal of nanomaterials

This comes on the heels of CIEL’s March 2014 news release announcing a new three-year joint project concerning nanomaterials and safety and responsible development,

Supported by the VELUX foundations, CIEL and ECOS (the European Citizen’s Organization for Standardization) are launching a three-year project aiming to ensure that risk assessment methodologies and risk management tools help guide regulators towards the adoption of a precaution-based regulatory framework for the responsible development of nanomaterials in the EU and beyond.

Together with our project partner the German Öko-Institut, CIEL and ECOS will participate in the work of the standardization organizations Comité Européen de Normalisation and International Standards Organization, and this work of the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], especially related to health, environmental and safety aspects of nanomaterials and exposure and risk assessment. We will translate progress into understandable information and issue policy recommendations to guide regulators and support environmental NGOs in their campaigns for the safe and sustainable production and use of nanomaterials.

The VILLUM FOUNDATION and the VELUX FOUNDATION are non-profit foundations created by Villum Kann Rasmussen, the founder of the VELUX Group and other entities in the VKR Group, whose mission it is to bring daylight, fresh air and a better environment into people’s everyday lives.

Meanwhile in the US, an April 6, 2014 news item on Nanowerk announces a new research network, based at Arizona State University (ASU), devoted to studying health and environmental risks of nanomaterials,

Arizona State University researchers will lead a multi-university project to aid industry in understanding and predicting the potential health and environmental risks from nanomaterials.

Nanoparticles, which are approximately 1 to 100 nanometers in size, are used in an increasing number of consumer products to provide texture, resiliency and, in some cases, antibacterial protection.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded a grant of $5 million over the next four years to support the LCnano Network as part of the Life Cycle of Nanomaterials project, which will focus on helping to ensure the safety of nanomaterials throughout their life cycles – from the manufacture to the use and disposal of the products that contain these engineered materials.

An April 1, 2014 ASU news release, which originated the news item, provides more details and includes information about project partners which I’m happy to note include nanoHUB and the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISENet) in addition to the other universities,

Paul Westerhoff is the LCnano Network director, as well as the associate dean of research for ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

The project will team engineers, chemists, toxicologists and social scientists from ASU, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, Yale, Oregon’s state universities, the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Engineered nanomaterials of silver, titanium, silica and carbon are among the most commonly used. They are dispersed in common liquids and food products, embedded in the polymers from which many products are made and attached to textiles, including clothing.

Nanomaterials provide clear benefits for many products, Westerhoff says, but there remains “a big knowledge gap” about how, or if, nanomaterials are released from consumer products into the environment as they move through their life cycles, eventually ending up in soils and water systems.

“We hope to help industry make sure that the kinds of products that engineered nanomaterials enable them to create are safe for the environment,” Westerhoff says.

“We will develop molecular-level fundamental theories to ensure the manufacturing processes for these products is safer,” he explains, “and provide databases of measurements of the properties and behavior of nanomaterials before, during and after their use in consumer products.”

Among the bigger questions the LCnano Network will investigate are whether nanomaterials can become toxic through exposure to other materials or the biological environs they come in contact with over the course of their life cycles, Westerhoff says.

The researchers will collaborate with industry – both large and small companies – and government laboratories to find ways of reducing such uncertainties.

Among the objectives is to provide a framework for product design and manufacturing that preserves the commercial value of the products using nanomaterials, but minimizes potentially adverse environmental and health hazards.

In pursuing that goal, the network team will also be developing technologies to better detect and predict potential nanomaterial impacts.

Beyond that, the LCnano Network also plans to increase awareness about efforts to protect public safety as engineered nanomaterials in products become more prevalent.

The grant will enable the project team to develop educational programs, including a museum exhibit about nanomaterials based on the LCnano Network project. The exhibit will be deployed through a partnership with the Arizona Science Center and researchers who have worked with the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network.

The team also plans to make information about its research progress available on the nanotechnology industry website Nanohub.org.

“We hope to use Nanohub both as an internal virtual networking tool for the research team, and as a portal to post the outcomes and products of our research for public access,” Westerhoff says.

The grant will also support the participation of graduate students in the Science Outside the Lab program, which educates students on how science and engineering research can help shape public policy.

Other ASU faculty members involved in the LCnano Network project are:

• Pierre Herckes, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
• Kiril Hristovski, assistant professor, Department of Engineering, College of Technology and Innovation
• Thomas Seager, associate professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment
• David Guston, professor and director, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes
• Ira Bennett, assistant research professor, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes
• Jameson Wetmore, associate professor, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, and School of Human Evolution and Social Change

I hope to hear more about the LCnano Network as it progresses.

Finally, there was this Nov. 12, 2013 news item on Nanowerk about instituting  voluntary safety protocols for carbon nanotubes in Japan,

Technology Research Association for Single Wall Carbon Nanotubes (TASC)—a consortium of nine companies and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) — is developing voluntary safety management techniques for carbon nanotubes (CNTs) under the project (no. P10024) “Innovative carbon nanotubes composite materials project toward achieving a low-carbon society,” which is sponsored by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Lynn Bergeson’s Nov. 15, 2013 posting on nanotech.lawbc.com provides a few more details abut the TASC/AIST carbon nanotube project (Note: A link has been removed),

Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) announced in October 2013 a voluntary guidance document on measuring airborne carbon nanotubes (CNT) in workplaces. … The guidance summarizes the available practical methods for measuring airborne CNTs:  (1) on-line aerosol measurement; (2) off-line quantitative analysis (e.g., thermal carbon analysis); and (3) sample collection for electron microscope observation. …

You can  download two protocol documents (Guide to measuring airborne carbon nanotubes in workplaces and/or The protocols of preparation, characterization and in vitro cell based assays for safety testing of carbon nanotubes), another has been published since Nov. 2013, from the AIST’s Developing voluntary safety management techniques for carbon nanotubes (CNTs): Protocol and Guide webpage., Both documents are also available in Japanese and you can link to the Japanese language version of the site from the webpage.

Storing isotopes in nanocontainers for safer radiation therapy

While it can be effective, radiation therapy is known to be destructive  for cancerous cells and healthy cells. Researchers at Kansas State University and their colleagues in other institutions have devised a new technique that contains the isotopes so they reach the cancerous cells only. From an April 2, 2014 news item in ScienceDaily,

Researchers have discovered that microscopic “bubbles” developed at Kansas State University are safe and effective storage lockers for harmful isotopes that emit ionizing radiation for treating tumors.

The findings can benefit patient health and advance radiation therapy used to treat cancer and other diseases, said John M. Tomich, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics who is affiliated with the university’s Johnson Cancer Research Center.

Tomich conducted the study with Ekaterina Dadachova, a radiochemistry specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, along with researchers from his group at Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, Jikei University School of Medicine in Japan and the Institute for Transuranium Elements in Germany. They recently published their findings in the study “Branched Amphiphilic Peptide Capsules: Cellular Uptake and Retention of Encapsulated Solutes,” which appears in the scientific journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta.

The study looks at the ability of nontoxic molecules to store and deliver potentially harmful alpha emitting radioisotopes — one of the most effective forms of radiation therapy.

An April 2, 2014 Kansas State University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about this research that in some ways dates from 2012,

The study looks at the ability of nontoxic molecules to store and deliver potentially harmful alpha emitting radioisotopes — one of the most effective forms of radiation therapy.

In 2012, Tomich and his research lab team combined two related sequences of amino acids to form a very small, hollow nanocapsule similar to a bubble.

“We found that the two sequences come together to form a thin membrane that assembled into little spheres, which we call capsules,” Tomich said. “While other vesicles have been created from lipids, most are much less stable and break down. Ours are like stones, though. They’re incredibly stable and are not destroyed by cells in the body.”

The ability of the capsules to stay intact with the isotope inside and remain undetected by the body’s clearance systems prompted Tomich to investigate using the capsules as unbreakable storage containers that can be used for biomedical research, particularly in radiation therapies.

“The problem with current alpha-particle radiation therapies used to treat cancer is that they lead to the release of nontargeted radioactive daughter ions into the body,” Tomich said. “Radioactive atoms break down to form new atoms, called daughter ions, with the release of some form of energy or energetic particles. Alpha emitters give off an energetic particle that comes off at nearly the speed of light.”

These particles are like a car careening on ice, Tomich said. They are very powerful but can only travel a short distance. On collision, the alpha particle destroys DNA and whatever vital cellular components are in its path. Similarly, the daughter ions recoil with high energy on ejection of the alpha particle — similar to how a gun recoils as it is fired. The daughter ions have enough energy to escape the targeting and containment molecules that currently are in use.

“Once freed, the daughter isotopes can end up in places you don’t want them, like bone marrow, which can then lead to leukemia and new challenges,” Tomich said. “We don’t want any stray isotopes because they can harm the body. The trick is to get the radioactive isotopes into and contained in just diseases cells where they can work their magic.”

The radioactive compound that the team works with is 225Actinium, which on decay releases four alpha particles and numerous daughter ions.

Tomich and Dadachova tested the retention and biodistribution of alpha-emitting particles trapped inside the peptide capsules in cells. The capsules readily enter cells. Once inside, they migrate to a position alongside the nucleus, where the DNA is.

Tomich and Dadachova found that as the alpha particle-emitting isotopes decayed, the recoiled daughter ion collides with the capsule walls and essentially bounces off them and remains trapped inside the capsule. This completely blocked the release of the daughter ions, which prevented uptake in certain nontarget tissues and protected the subject from harmful radiation that would have otherwise have been releases into the body.

Tomich said that more studies are needed to add target molecules to the surface of the capsules. He anticipates that this new approach will provide a safer option for treating tumors with radiation therapy by reducing the amount of radioisotope required for killing the cancer cells and reducing the side effects caused by off-target accumulation of the radioisotopes.

“These capsules are easy to make and easy to work with,” Tomich said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do with them to improve human health and nanomaterials.”

I hope this new technique proves effective and travels soon from the laboratory to clinical practice in the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Branched amphiphilic peptide capsules: Cellular uptake and retention of encapsulated solutes by Pinakin Sukthankar, L. Adriana Avila, Susan K. Whitaker, Takeo Iwamoto, Alfred Morgenstern, Christos Apostolidis, Ke Liu, Robert P. Hanzlik, Ekaterina Dadachova, and John M. Tomich. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Biomembranes (Biochim Biophys Acta) 2014 Feb 22. pii: S0005-2736(14)00069-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2014.02.005. Available online 22 February 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.