Tag Archives: graphene

Nanoelectronics at the University of British Columbia (UBC located in Vancouver, Canada)

Hidden in a Jan. 9, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) announcement abut funding from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) was some information about a nano electronics laboratory,

  • Flexible, efficient solar-battery nano-textile, led by Peyman Servati, funded for $514,000.
  • Bio-inspired soft epidermal and wearable nanofiber electronics for wireless health monitoring, led by Peyman Servati, funded for $516,000. [emphases mine]

Peryman Servati leads FEEL, the flexible electronics and energy lab according to his faculty bio page. The two FEEL project s listed in the announcement have received a total of $1.3* (corrected to $1.03M, Jan. 30, 2014) in funding, over 1/3* (it’s closer to 1/4; corrected Jan. 30, 2014)  of the $4.3M earmarked* (spelling corrected Jan. 30, 2014) for nine UBC projects. Here’s more about the lab’s current roster of four ‘research areas’ from the Research Projects webpage,

1. Transparent Electrodes for Photovoltaic (PV) Devices:

Solar energy, as a clean and renewable resource, is heavily untapped, mainly due to the high cost (>$2 per watt) and low conversion efficiency (~20% for silicon) of today’s PV devices. This project aims at reducing the manufacturing cost of PV devices, by finding a scalable transparent electrode for replacing metal fingers or indium tin oxide (ITO) electrodes of conventional devices. We deposit nanocomposite fibers (NFs) with embedded conductive nanotubes (NTs) and nanowires (NWs) using novel electrospinning process that provides multiscale ordering and alignment in the structure of the NF mesh, similar to veins of a leaf (below). The process is scalable to substrates including plastic, paper and fabric, in a roll-to-roll manufacturing system. Challenges for integration of the NF mesh with Si and thin-film PV panels are being investigated to achieve the required properties at low cost.

2. Nanowire (NW) Growth and Device Fabrication:

Semiconductor and metallic NWs have unique electrical and optical properties not present in the bulk. We grow different NWs with controlled morphology using chemical vapour deposition and other growth techniques. We also work on integration of these nanomaterials into large area electronic devices, including transistors, strain sensors, bio-sensors, photodetectors, and solar cells. Materials of interest include Si, Ge, ZnO, and GaAs.

3. Flexible Organic Solar Cells:

Organic semiconductors can be deposited at low temperature on a variety of substrates. We investigate the aging and annealing effects in these materials and how the morphology of these semiconductors and blends change with time. The goal is to improve efficiency and stability of these devices.

4. Modeling of Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites:

We investigate the electron transport and band structure of novel electronic materials such as nanowires, nanotubes and graphene using atomistic modeling and simulation. [emphasis mine] Our work points out the delicacy of the surface properties of silicon nanowires (NWs) (below) and the dependence of electronic properties on surface composition and reconstruction. In addition, we work on developing analytical models that connect properties of single nanostrucutres to the properties of materials and devices made by using a large number of these nanostrucutures.

My guess is that the two projects which have received money are being investigated via the lab’s four ‘research areas’.

I am glad to have found this nanoeletronics laboratory. Sadly, they’re not investigating the memristors which so fascinate me but I can now say with certainty that there’s at least one laboratory in Canada researching, the world’s currently trendiest nanomaterial, graphene.

Graphene and your sex life

This is a first, as far as I know, for graphene, which is usually discussed in the context of electronics. A research team at the University of Manchester (where it was first isolated by Andre Gerim and Kostya Novoselov in 2004) has won a research grant to develop condoms made of graphere, from the Nov. 22, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Wonder material graphene faces its stiffest challenge yet – providing thinner, stronger, safer and more desirable condoms.

Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan and his team from The University of Manchester have received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant of $100,000 (£62,123) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new composite nano-materials for next-generation condoms, containing graphene.

Dr Vijayaraghavan took on a challenge that had been presented to inventors around the world– to develop new technology that would make the condom more desirable for use, which could lead to an increase in condom use.

Here’s how the challenge was presented in March 2013 (from the Develop the Next Generation of Condom challenge webpage on the Grand Challenges (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) website,

Male condoms are cheap, easy to manufacture, easy to distribute, and available globally, including in resource poor settings, through numerous well developed distribution channels.  The current rate of global production is 15 billion units/year with an estimated 750 million users and a steadily growing market. …

The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use. The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse. …

Likewise, female condoms can be an effective method for prevention of unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection, but suffer from some of the same liabilities as male condoms, require proper insertion training and are substantially more expensive than their male counterparts. …

The Challenge: 

Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years. The primary improvement has been the use of latex as the primary material and quality control measures which allow for quality testing of each individual condom. Material science and our understanding of neurobiology has undergone revolutionary transformation in the last decade yet that knowledge has not been applied to improve the product attributes of one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth. New concept designs with new materials can be prototyped and tested quickly.  Large-scale human clinical trials are not required. Manufacturing capacity, marketing, and distribution channels are already in place.

We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired.  Proposals must (i) have a testable hypothesis, (ii) include an associated plan for how the idea would be tested or validated, and (iii) yield interpretable and unambiguous data in Phase I, in order to be considered for Phase II funding.

A few examples of work that would be considered for funding:

  • Application of safe new materials that may preserve or enhance sensation;
  • Development and testing of new condom shapes/designs that may provide an improved user experience;
  • Application of knowledge from other fields (e.g. neurobiology, vascular biology) to new strategies for improving condom desirability.

The project’s team leader, Dr Vijayaraghavan had a few things to say about the possibilities for this composite material (graphene and latex) they are hoping to develop (from the Nov. 21, 2013 University of Manchester news release, which originated the news item on Azonano),

Dr Vijayaraghavan said: “This composite material will be tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage and promote condom use.

“This will be achieved by combining the strength of graphene with the elasticity of latex, to produce a new material which can be thinner, stronger, more stretchy, safer and, perhaps most importantly, more pleasurable.”

He also comments on the impact of this project: “Since its isolation in 2004, people have wondered when graphene will be used in our daily life. Currently, people imagine using graphene in mobile-phone screens, food packaging, chemical sensors, etc.

“If this project is successful, we might have a use for graphene which will literally touch our every-day life in the most intimate way.”

I wonder who will be testing these condoms when the time comes.

For anyone who wants to know more about the graphene story, there are these postings (excerpted from my Jan. 3, 2012 posting about their then newly acquired knighthoods): regarding Geim and Novoselov’s work and their Nobel prizes, “my Oct. 7, 2010 posting, which also features a video of a levitating frog (one of Geim’s favourite science stunts) and my Nov. 26, 2010 posting features a video demonstrating how you can make your own graphene sheets.”

One final note, I posted about the Canadian Grand Challenges funding (not be contused with the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation programme) in this Nov. 21, 2013 posting.

University of Cambridge makes waves with graphene piano

The news about the graphene piano (and anti-fraud lasers, etc.) is contained in a report from the University of Cambridge’s Cambridge Innovation and Knowledge Centre (CIKC), according to a Nov. 5, 2013 news item on phys.org (Note: A link has been removed),

Two prototypes – a detection device which users lasers to fight fraud, and a piano which demonstrates the potential of printed electronics – have been unveiled by Cambridge researchers.

A detection device which uses printed lasers to identify counterfeit goods has been developed by researchers, who say that it could help to make products more resistant to fraud.

The detector is one of a number of innovations covered in a new report by the Cambridge Innovation and Knowledge Centre (CIKC), which has been developing advanced manufacturing technologies for photonics and electronics.

The same document also outlines a new method for printing graphene, showing how the one atom-thick material could be used to make cheap, printed electronics. Using a graphene-based ink, researchers have demonstrated this by creating a transparent, flexible piano.

Here’s a video about the transparent piano produced at Cambridge,

The Nov. 5, 2013 University of Cambridge news release, which originated the news item, offers details about the piano and the graphene inks used to produce it,

The printed piano meanwhile demonstrates the potential of using graphene in real applications where printed electronics might be needed – such as heart monitors and other sensors.

The research team behind it, Drs Tawfique Hasan, Felice Torrisi and Prof Andrea Ferrari, at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, have developed a graphene-based ink. Like the material itself, this has a number of interesting properties, including flexibility, optical transparency, and electrical conductivity.

Other conductive inks are made from precious metals such as silver, which makes them very expensive to produce and process, whereas graphene is both cheap, environmentally stable, and does not require much processing after printing. Graphene ink is also superior to conductive polymers in terms of cost, stability and performance.

The piano, designed in collaboration with Novalia Limited, shows off the graphene ink’s potential. The keys of the transparent piano are made from graphene-based inks, which have been printed on to a plastic film. These keys, working as electrodes, are connected to a simple electronic circuit-board, a battery and speaker. When a person touches a graphene electrode, the amount of electrical charge held in the key changes. This is then detected and redirected by the circuit to the speaker, creating the musical note.

The same research team, in collaboration with Printed Electronics Limited, has developed a flexible prototype digital display. This display uses conventional printable materials, but with a transparent, electrically conductive graphene layer on top. The graphene layer is not only a flexible but also more conductive and transparent than the conventional polymer it replaces. These simple displays can be used in a wide range of smart packaging applications such as toys, labelling and board games.

“Both of these devices show how graphene could be printed on to a whole range of surfaces, which makes it ideal for printed electronics,” Dr Hasan, the lead researcher behind the prototypes, said. For example, it might eventually be possible to print electronics on to clothing and to make wearable patches to monitor people with health conditions, such as a heart problem.”

Another potential application is cheap, printable sensors, which could be used to track luggage around an airport to ensure it is loaded on to the correct plane, or to follow products across a production and supply chain.

For anyone who’d like to see the report and get information on the other projects discussed in it just click on the title: Advanced Manufacturing Technologies for Photonics and Electronics – Exploiting Molecular and Macromolecular Materials: Final Report.

*’Unviersity in headline changed to University 11:11 am PDT Nov. 7, 2013.

Should October 2013 be called ‘the month of graphene’?

Since the Oct. 10-11, 2013 Graphene Flagship (1B Euros investment) launch, mentioned in my preview Oct. 7, 2013 posting, there’ve been a flurry of graphene-themed news items both on this blog and elsewhere and I’ve decided to offer a brief roundup what I’ve found elsewhere.

Dexter Johnson offers a commentary in the pithily titled, Europe Invests €1 Billion to Become “Graphene Valley,” an Oct. 15, 2013 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) Note: Links have been removed,

The initiative has been dubbed “The Graphene Flagship,” and apparently it is the first in a number of €1 billion, 10-year plans the EC is planning to launch. The graphene version will bring together 76 academic institutions and industrial groups from 17 European countries, with an initial 30-month-budget of €54M ($73 million).

Graphene research is still struggling to find any kind of applications that will really take hold, and many don’t expect it will have a commercial impact until 2020. What’s more, manufacturing methods are still undeveloped. So it would appear that a 10-year plan is aimed at the academic institutions that form the backbone of this initiative rather than commercial enterprises.

Just from a political standpoint the choice of Chalmers University in Sweden as the base of operations for the Graphene Flagship is an intriguing choice. …

I have to agree with Dexter that choosing Chalmers University over the University of Manchester where graphene was first isolated is unexpected. As a companion piece to reading Dexter’s posting in its entirety and which features a video from the flagship launch, you might want to try this Oct. 15, 2013 article by Koen Mortelmans for Youris (h/t Oct. 15, 2013 news item on Nanowerk),

Andre Konstantin Geim is the only person who ever received both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel. He was born in 1958 in Russia, and is a Dutch-British physicist with German, Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian roots. “Having lived and worked in several European countries, I consider myself European. I don’t believe that any further taxonomy is necessary,” he says. He is now a physics professor at the University of Manchester. …

He shared the Noble [Nobel] Prize in 2010 with Konstantin Novoselov for their work on graphene. It was following on their isolation of microscope visible grapheme flakes that the worldwide research towards practical applications of graphene took off.  “We did not invent graphene,” Geim says, “we only saw what was laid up for five hundred year under our noses.”

Geim and Novoselov are often thought to have succeeded in separating graphene from graphite by peeling it off with ordinary duct tape until there only remained a layer. Graphene could then be observed with a microscope, because of the partial transparency of the material. That is, after dissolving the duct tape material in acetone, of course. That is also the story Geim himself likes to tell.

However, he did not use – as the urban myth goes – graphite from a common pencil. Instead, he used a carbon sample of extreme purity, specially imported. He also used ultrasound techniques. But, probably the urban legend will survive, as did Archimedes’ bath and Newtons apple. “It is nice to keep some of the magic,” is the expression Geim often uses when he does not want a nice story to be drowned in hard facts or when he wants to remain discrete about still incomplete, but promising research results.

Mortelmans’ article fills in some gaps for those not familiar with the graphene ‘origins’ story while Tim Harper’s July 22, 2012 posting on Cientifica’s (an emerging technologies consultancy where Harper is the CEO and founder) TNT blog offers an insight into Geim’s perspective on the race to commercialize graphene with a paraphrased quote for the title of Harper’s posting, “It’s a bit silly for society to throw a little bit of money at (graphene) and expect it to change the world.” (Note: Within this context, mention is made of the company’s graphene opportunities report.)

With all this excitement about graphene (and carbon generally), the magazine titled Carbon has just published a suggested nomenclature for 2D carbon forms such as graphene, graphane, etc., according to an Oct. 16, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

There has been an intense research interest in all two-dimensional (2D) forms of carbon since Geim and Novoselov’s discovery of graphene in 2004. But as the number of such publications rise, so does the level of inconsistency in naming the material of interest. The isolated, single-atom-thick sheet universally referred to as “graphene” may have a clear definition, but when referring to related 2D sheet-like or flake-like carbon forms, many authors have simply defined their own terms to describe their product.

This has led to confusion within the literature, where terms are multiply-defined, or incorrectly used. The Editorial Board of Carbon has therefore published the first recommended nomenclature for 2D carbon forms (“All in the graphene family – A recommended nomenclature for two-dimensional carbon materials”).

This proposed nomenclature comes in the form of an editorial, from Carbon (Volume 65, December 2013, Pages 1–6),

All in the graphene family – A recommended nomenclature for two-dimensional carbon materials

  • Alberto Bianco
    CNRS, Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Immunopathologie et Chimie Thérapeutique, Strasbourg, France
  • Hui-Ming Cheng
    Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science, Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 72 Wenhua Road, Shenyang 110016, China
  • Toshiaki Enoki
    Department of Chemistry, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan
  • Yury Gogotsi
    Materials Science and Engineering Department, A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
  • Robert H. Hurt
    Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, School of Engineering, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
  • Nikhil Koratkar
    Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering, The Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 110 8th Street, Troy, NY 12180, USA
  • Takashi Kyotani
    Institute of Multidisciplinary Research for Advanced Materials, Tohoku University, 2-1-1 Katahira, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8577, Japan
  • Marc Monthioux
    Centre d’Elaboration des Matériaux et d’Etudes Structurales (CEMES), UPR-8011 CNRS, Université de Toulouse, 29 Rue Jeanne Marvig, F-31055 Toulouse, France
  • Chong Rae Park
    Carbon Nanomaterials Design Laboratory, Global Research Laboratory, Research Institute of Advanced Materials, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-744, Republic of Korea
  • Juan M.D. Tascon
    Instituto Nacional del Carbón, INCAR-CSIC, Apartado 73, 33080 Oviedo, Spain
  • Jin Zhang
    Center for Nanochemistry, College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

This editorial is behind a paywall.

Making a graphene micro-supercapacitor with a home DVD burner

Not all science research and breakthroughs require massive investments of money, sometimes all you need is a home DVD burner as this Feb. 19, 2013 news release on EurekAlert notes,

While the demand for ever-smaller electronic devices has spurred the miniaturization of a variety of technologies, one area has lagged behind in this downsizing revolution: energy-storage units, such as batteries and capacitors.

Now, Richard Kaner, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Maher El-Kady, a graduate student in Kaner’s laboratory, may have changed the game.

The UCLA researchers have developed a groundbreaking technique that uses a DVD burner to fabricate micro-scale graphene-based supercapacitors — devices that can charge and discharge a hundred to a thousand times faster than standard batteries. These micro-supercapacitors, made from a one-atom–thick layer of graphitic carbon, can be easily manufactured and readily integrated into small devices such as next-generation pacemakers.

The new cost-effective fabrication method, described in a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications, holds promise for the mass production of these supercapacitors, which have the potential to transform electronics and other fields.

“Traditional methods for the fabrication of micro-supercapacitors involve labor-intensive lithographic techniques that have proven difficult for building cost-effective devices, thus limiting their commercial application,” El-Kady said. “Instead, we used a consumer-grade LightScribe DVD burner to produce graphene micro-supercapacitors over large areas at a fraction of the cost of traditional devices. [emphasis mine] Using this technique, we have been able to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in less than 30 minutes, using inexpensive materials.”

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Feb. 19, 2013 news release written by David Malasarn, the origin of the EurekAlert news release, features more information about the process,

The process of miniaturization often relies on flattening technology, making devices thinner and more like a geometric plane that has only two dimensions. In developing their new micro-supercapacitor, Kaner and El-Kady used a two-dimensional sheet of carbon, known as graphene, which only has the thickness of a single atom in the third dimension.
Kaner and El-Kady took advantage of a new structural design during the fabrication. For any supercapacitor to be effective, two separated electrodes have to be positioned so that the available surface area between them is maximized. This allows the supercapacitor to store a greater charge. A previous design stacked the layers of graphene serving as electrodes, like the slices of bread on a sandwich. While this design was functional, however, it was not compatible with integrated circuits.
In their new design, the researchers placed the electrodes side by side using an interdigitated pattern, akin to interwoven fingers. This helped to maximize the accessible surface area available for each of the two electrodes while also reducing the path over which ions in the electrolyte would need to diffuse. As a result, the new supercapacitors have more charge capacity and rate capability than their stacked counterparts.
Interestingly, the researchers found that by placing more electrodes per unit area, they boosted the micro-supercapacitor’s ability to store even more charge.
Kaner and El-Kady were able to fabricate these intricate supercapacitors using an affordable and scalable technique that they had developed earlier. They glued a layer of plastic onto the surface of a DVD and then coated the plastic with a layer of graphite oxide. Then, they simply inserted the coated disc into a commercially available LightScribe optical drive — traditionally used to label DVDs — and took advantage of the drive’s own laser to create the interdigitated pattern. The laser scribing is so precise that none of the “interwoven fingers” touch each other, which would short-circuit the supercapacitor.
“To label discs using LightScribe, the surface of the disc is coated with a reactive dye that changes color on exposure to the laser light. Instead of printing on this specialized coating, our approach is to coat the disc with a film of graphite oxide, which then can be directly printed on,” Kaner said. “We previously found an unusual photo-thermal effect in which graphite oxide absorbs the laser light and is converted into graphene in a similar fashion to the commercial LightScribe process. With the precision of the laser, the drive renders the computer-designed pattern onto the graphite oxide film to produce the desired graphene circuits.”
“The process is straightforward, cost-effective and can be done at home,” El-Kady said. “One only needs a DVD burner and graphite oxide dispersion in water, which is commercially available at a moderate cost.”
The new micro-supercapacitors are also highly bendable and twistable, making them potentially useful as energy-storage devices in flexible electronics like roll-up displays and TVs, e-paper, and even wearable electronics.

The reference to e-paper and roll-up displays calls to mind work being done at Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada) and Roel Vertegaal’s work on bendable, flexible phones and computers (my Jan. 9, 2013 posting). Could this work on micro-supercapacitors have an impact on that work?

Here’s an image (supplied by UCLA) of the micro-supercapacitors ,

Kaner and El-Kady's micro-supercapacitors

Kaner and El-Kady’s micro-supercapacitors

UCLA has  also supplied a video of Kaner and El-Kady discussing their work,

Interestingly this video has been supported by GE (General Electric), a company which seems to be doing a great deal to be seen on the internet these days as per my Feb. 11, 2013 posting titled, Visualizing nanotechnology data with Seed Media Group and GE (General Electric).

Getting back to the researchers, they are looking for industry partners as per Malasarn’s news release.

AAAS 2013 meeting in Boston,US and Canadian research excellence

The 2013 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be held in Boston, Massachusetts from Feb. 14 – 18, 2013 with a much better theme this year, The Beauty and Benefits of Science, than last year’s, Flattening the World. (It didn’t take much to improve the theme, eh?)

Plenary speakers range from AAAS’s president, William N. Press to Nathan Myhrvold, a venture capitalist to astrophysicist, Robert Kirshner to Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist to Sherry Turkle. From the AAAS webpage describing Turkle’s 2013 plenary lecture,

Sherry Turkle

Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT

The Robotic Moment: What Do We Forget When We Talk to Machines?

Dr. Turkle is founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects. She is an expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics and a regular media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology. Her most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Given my experience last year in the 2012 meeting media room, I’m surprised to see a social media session is planned, from the session webpage,

Engaging with Social Media
Communicating Science
Thursday, February 14, 2013: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Ballroom A (Hynes Convention Center)

In a constantly changing online landscape, what is the best way for scientists and engineers to engage the public through social media? This session will discuss how people are accessing science information via blogs and social networks and the importance of researchers getting involved directly. [emphasis mine]  Speakers will address the ways that researchers can create meaningful interactions with the public through social media.

Organizer: Cornelia Dean, The New York Times
Co-Organizer: Dennis Meredith, Science Communication Consultant
Moderator: Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist

Speakers:
XXXX Scicurious, Neurotic Physiology
Science Blogging for Fun and Profit
Christie Wilcox, University of Hawaii
Science in a Digital Age
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Science and the Public in New Information Environments

I’d love to see how the theme of ‘researcher engaging directly’ gets developed. In theory, I have no problems with the concept. Unfortunately, those words are sometimes code for this perspective, ‘only experts (scientists/accredited journalists) should discuss or write about science’. A couple of quick comments, my Jan. 13, 2012 posting featured an interview with Carl Zimmer, this session’s moderator, about his science tattoo book and Dominique Brossard, one of the speakers, was last mentioned here in my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Tweet your nano, in the context of a research study on social media and nanotechnology.

In keeping with the times (as per my Jan. 28, 2013 posting about the colossal research prizes for the Graphene and Human Brain Project initiatives), the 2012 AAAS annual meeting features a Brain Function and Plasticity thread or subtheme. There’s this session amongst others,

The Connectome: From the Synapse to Brain Networks in Health and Disease
Brain Function and Plasticity
Saturday, February 16, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)

A series of innovative studies are being done to map the brain from the molecular to the systems level both structurally and functionally. At the synaptic level, how neurotransmitters, their receptors, and signaling pathways influence neural function and plasticity is becoming much better understood. Integrating neuronal function at the level of single neurons and groups of neurons into larger circuits at the anatomical level in the mammalian brain, while a daunting task, is being studied by advanced imaging techniques requiring vast amounts of information storage and processing. To integrate local circuit function with whole brain function, understanding the structure and processing of brain networks is critical. A major project to accomplish this task, the Human Connectome Project, is in the process of integrating the structure and function of brain networks using the most advanced imaging and analysis techniques in 1,200 people, including twins and their nontwin siblings. This step will allow for major new insights into not only brain structure and function, but also their genetic underpinnings. Comparing this information in both the normal brain and in different brain disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases is providing novel insights into how understanding brain function from the molecular to the systems level will provide insights into normal brain function and disease pathogenesis as well as provide new treatment strategies.

Organizer:

David Holtzman, Washington University

Speakers:

Mark F. Bear, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Molecules and Mechanisms Involved in Synaptic Plasticity in Health and Disease
Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University
Connectomics: Developing a Wiring Diagram for the Mammalian Brain
Steve Petersen, Washington University
The Human Connectome Project
Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University
The Brain’s Dark Energy and the Default Mode Network
Nicole Calakos, Duke University
Synaptic Plasticity in the Basal Ganglia in Health and Disease
William W. Seeley, University of California
Brain Networks: Linking Structure and Function in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Then, there’s this session featuring graphene,

What’s Hot in Cold
Sunday, February 17, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)

The study of ultracold atoms and molecules is now the frontier of low-temperature science, reaching temperatures of a few hundred picokelvin above absolute zero. This field was made possible by a technique that did not exist 30 years ago: laser cooling of atoms. It is hardly obvious that the laser, which produces the most intense light on Earth and is routinely used in industrial applications for cutting and welding medal, would also provide the most powerful coolant. Such are the surprises of science, where a breakthrough in one area transforms others in unexpected ways. Since 1997, eight Nobel Laureates in physics have been recognized for contributions to ultracold atomic and molecular science, which has become one of the most vibrant fields in physics, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, e.g., atomic, molecular, and optical; condensed matter; statistical physics; and nuclear and particle physics. This field builds on two accomplishments that it was the first to achieve: first, the production of quantum degenerate matter using a wide range of elements and, second, exquisite control of quantum degenerate matter at the atomic level. These have led to record low temperatures, ultraprecise atomic clocks, and new forms of quantum matter that generalize ideas from magnetism superconductivity and graphene physics.

Organizer:

Charles W. Clark, Joint Quantum Institute

Speakers:

Markus Greiner, Harvard University
Quantum Simulation: A Microscopic View of Quantum Matter
Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado
Atomic Clocks: From Precise Timekeepers to Quantum Simulators
Daniel Greif, ETH Zurich
Exploring Dirac Points with Ultracold Fermions in a Tunable Honeycomb Lattice
Gretchen Campbell, Joint Quantum Institute
Superflow in Bose-Einstein Condensate Rings: Tunable Weak Links in Atom Circuits
Benjamin Lev, Stanford University
New Physics in Strongly Magnetic Ultracold Gases

Amongst all these other sessions, there’s a session about Canadian science,

Introduction to Canadian Research Excellence: Evidence & Examples
Friday, February 15, 2013: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)

The Canada Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall gives a taste of what lies north of Boston and the 49th parallel. Join us at this workshop to learn about opportunities in Canada for research and study. Canada recently completed a comprehensive analysis of its domestic science and technology strengths. The final report of the expert panel of the Council of Canadian Academies will be presented, including the use of global benchmarks and insights on international collaborations. Two of the drivers for Canadian excellence will be introduced: large-scale science facilities in key fields and a system of targeted fellowships and research chairs that recruit globally.

Coordinator:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF

Presenters:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF,
Chad Gaffield, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Eliot Phillipson, University of Toronto

“Introduced,” really? Large scale science facilities are not new in Canada or anywhere else for that matter and the programmes of targeted fellowships have been around long enough and successful enough that it is being copied.

First, there was the Canada Research Chair programme, which was instituted in 2000. From the About Us page (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. [emphasis mine]

In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships—Canada Research Chairs—in eligible degree-granting institutions across the country.

The Canada Research Chairs program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.

This was programme was followed up with the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program in 2008, from the Background page (Note: A link has been removed),

Launched in 2008, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. The program awards world-renowned researchers and their teams up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities. These awards are among the most prestigious and generous available globally.

In May 2010, the first group of Canada Excellence Research Chairs was announced. Selected through a rigorous, multilevel peer review process, these chairholders are helping Canada build a critical mass of expertise in the four priority research areas of the federal government’s science and technology strategy …

Here’s an excerpt from my Feb. 21, 2012 posting,

Canadians have been throwing money at scientists for some years now (my May 20, 2010 posting about the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme). We’ve attempted to recruit from around the world with our ‘research chairs’ and our ‘excellence research chairs’ and our Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) all serving as enticements.

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced that they will be trying to beat us at our own game at the AAAS 2012 annual meeting in Vancouver (this new ERC programme was launched in Boston, Massachusetts in January 2012).

The Canadian report these folks will be discussing was released in Sept. 2012 and was  featured here in a two-part commentary,

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 1: the executive summary)

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report)

My Sept. 27, 2012 posting features my response to the report’s launch on that day.

As for the AAAS 2013 annual meeting, there’s a lot, lot more of it and it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason than to anticipate the types of science stories you will be seeing in the coming months.

Graphene and its grain boundaries

Most folks who follow the graphene scene are familiar with the honeycomb structure (hexagonal network) shown in diagram after diagram but I imagine there’s more than one of us who didn’t realize that defects can occur at the boundaries, from the Jan. 15, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

When graphene is grown, lattices of the carbon grains are formed randomly, linked together at different angles of orientation in a hexagonal network. However, when those orientations become misaligned during the growth process, defects called grain boundaries (GBs) form. These boundaries scatter the flow of electrons in graphene, a fact that is detrimental to its successful electronic performance.

The Jan. 14, 2013 University of Illinois Beckman Institute news release written by Steve McGoughey, which originated the item on  EurekAlert, provides insight into the problem and its solution,

Beckman Institute researchers Joe Lyding and Eric Pop and their research groups have now given new insight into the electronics behavior of graphene with grain boundaries that could guide fabrication methods toward lessening their effect. The researchers grew polycrystalline graphene by chemical vapor deposition (CVD), using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and spectroscopy for analysis, to examine at the atomic scale grain boundaries on a silicon wafer. They reported their results in the journal ACS Nano.

“We obtained information about electron scattering at the boundaries that shows it significantly limits the electronic performance compared to grain boundary free graphene,” Lyding said. “Grain boundaries form during graphene growth by CVD, and, while there is much worldwide effort to minimize the occurrence of grain boundaries, they are a fact of life for now.

“For electronics you would want to be able to make it on a wafer scale. Boundary free graphene is a key goal. In the interim we have to live with the grain boundaries, so understanding them is what we’re trying to do.”

Lyding compared graphene lattices made with the CVD method to pieces of a cyclone fence.

“If you had two pieces of fence, and you laid them on the ground next to each other but they weren’t perfectly aligned, then they wouldn’t match,” he said. “That’s a grain boundary, where the lattice doesn’t match.”

Their analysis showed that when the electrons’ itinerary takes them to a grain boundary, it is like, Lyding said, hitting a hill.

“The electrons hit this hill, they bounce off, they interfere with themselves and you actually see a standing wave pattern,” he said. “It’s a barrier so they have to go up and over that hill. Like anything else, that is going to slow them down. That’s what Justin was able to measure with these spectroscopy measurements.

“Basically a grain boundary is a resistor in series with a conductor. That’s always bad. It means it’s going to take longer for an electron to get from point A to point B with some voltage applied.”

In the paper, the researchers were able to report on their analysis of the orientation angles between pieces of graphene as they grew together, and found “no preferential orientation angle between grains, and the GBs are continuous across graphene wrinkles and Si02 topography.” They reported that analysis of those patterns “indicates that backscattering and intervalley scattering are the dominant mechanisms responsible for the mobility reduction in the presence of GBs in CVD-grown graphene.”

The researchers work is aimed not just at understanding, but also at controlling grain boundaries. One of their findings – that GBs are aperiodic – replicated other work and could have implications for controlling them, as they wrote in the paper: “Combining the spectroscopic and scattering results suggest that GBs that are more periodic and well-ordered lead to reduced scattering from the GBs.”

“I think if you have to live with grain boundaries you would like to be able to control exactly what their orientation is and choose an angle that minimizes the scattering,” Lyding said.

Here’s a citation and link for the article,

Atomic-Scale Evidence for Potential Barriers and Strong Carrier Scattering at Graphene Grain Boundaries: A Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Study by Justin C. Koepke, Joshua D. Wood, David Estrada, Zhun-Yong Ong, Kevin T. He, Eric Pop, and Joseph W. Lyding in ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn302064p Publication Date (Web): December 13, 2012

Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

The article has not been published in print and it is behind a paywall.

National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester

It will house the UK’s graphene research efforts according to the Jan. 14, 2013 news item Nanowerk,

This is the first glimpse of the new £61m research institute into wonder material graphene, which is to be built at The University of Manchester.

The stunning, glass-fronted National Graphene Institute (NGI) will be the UK’s home of research into the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, providing the opportunity for researchers and industry to work together on a huge variety of potential applications.

The University of Manchester Jan. 14, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, spells out some of the hopes and dreams along with descriptions of the building plans,

It is hoped the centre will initially create around 100 jobs, with the long-term expectation of many thousands more in the North West and more widely in the UK.

The 7,600 square metre building will house state-of-the-art facilities, including two ‘cleanrooms’ – one which will take up the whole of the lower ground floor – where scientists can carry out experiments and research without contamination.

The Institute will also feature a 1,500 square metre research lab for University of Manchester graphene scientists to collaborate with their colleagues from industry and other UK universities.

Funding for the NGI will come from £38m from the Government, as part of £50m allocated for graphene research, and the University has applied for £23m from the European Research and Development Fund (ERDF). The NGI will operate as a ‘hub and spoke’ model, working with other UK institutions involved in graphene research.

Some of the world’s leading companies are also expected to sign up to work at the NGI, where they will be offered the chance to work on cutting edge projects, across various sectors, with Nobel Laureates and other leading members of the graphene team.

Graphene, isolated for the first time at The University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov in 2004, has the potential to revolutionise a huge number of diverse applications; from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to drug delivery and computer chips.


Professor Colin Bailey, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, added: “The National Graphene Institute will be the world’s leading centre of graphene research, combining the expertise of University of Manchester academics with their counterparts at other UK universities and with leading global commercial organisations.

“The potential for its impact on the city and the North West is huge, and will be one of the most exciting centres of cutting edge research in the UK.”

Work is set to start on the five-story NGI, which will have its entrance on Booth Street East, in March, and is expected to be completed in early 2015.

UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) Illustration courtesy of the University of Manchester, UK

UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) Illustration courtesy of the University of Manchester, UK

The University of Manchester is one of the institutions that forms the Graphene Flagship consortium which is currently competing for one of two European Union prizes of 1 Billion Euros for research to be awarded later this year.

Latest on UK and graphene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hydro-Québec, graphite, and lithium-ion batteries

While Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast blog writes about an investigation into why the storage capacity of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries degrades in his Nov. 26, 2012 posting (Newly Developed Live Nanoscale Imaging Technique Promises Improvement in Li-ion Batteries), Hydro-Québec and Grafoid Inc. have signed a development deal for the next generation of lithium iron phosphate materials to be combined with graphene for next generation rechargeable batteries. From the Nov. 27, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The 50-50 collaborative agreement sets out terms with the objective of creating patentable inventions by combining graphene, supplied by Grafoid, with Hydro-Québec’s patented lithium iron phosphate technologies.

Two key, specific commercial target markets – the rechargeable automobile battery sectors and batteries for mobile electronic devices used in smartphones, computing tablets and laptop computers – were identified in the agreement.

Hydro-Québec will study Grafoid’s graphene conductivity, electrochemical performance and its effects in electrode formulations, electrolyte and separator optimizations. Detailed characterizations of Grafoid’s supplied materials will be undertaken at IREQ’s cutting edge facilities using its advanced electron microscopy, spectrographic and other in-house technologies.

Hydro-Québec will also supply lithium iron phosphate materials and its electrochemistry know how which it acquired under license from famed American inventor Dr. John Goodenough.

The Nov. 26, 2012 news release from Focus Graphite, which originated the news item, provides additional detail about the various principles in the deal,

About Focus Graphite

Focus Graphite Inc. is an emerging mid-tier junior mining development company, a technology solutions supplier and a business innovator. Focus is the owner of the Lac Knife graphite deposit located in the Côte-Nord region of northeastern Québec. The Lac Knife project hosts a NI 43-101 compliant Measured and Indicated mineral resource of 4.972 Mt grading 15.7% carbon as crystalline graphite with an additional Inferred mineral resource of 3.000 Mt grading 15.6% crystalline graphite  Focus’ goal is to assume an industry leadership position by becoming a low-cost producer of technology-grade graphite. On October 29th, 2012 the Company released the results of a Preliminary Economic Analysis (“PEA”) of the Lac Knife project which demonstrates that the project has robust economics and excellent potential to become a profitable producer of graphite.  As a technology-oriented enterprise with a view to building long-term, sustainable shareholder value, Focus Graphite is also investing in the development of graphene applications and patents through Grafoid Inc.

About Grafoid Inc.

Grafoid, Inc. is a privately held Canadian corporation investing in graphene applications and economically scalable production processes for graphene and graphene derivatives from raw, unprocessed, graphite ore. Focus Graphite Inc., (TSX-V: FMS; OTCQX: FCSMF; FSE: FKC) holds a 40% interest in Grafoid Inc. [emphasis mine]

About IREQ

Hydro-Québec’s research institute, IREQ, is a global leader in the development of advanced materials for battery manufacturing and creates leading edge processes from its state of the art facilities. IREQ holds more than 100 patent rights and has issued over 40 licenses for battery materials to some of the world’s most successful battery manufacturers and materials suppliers. Its areas of expertise include energy storage and IREQ is a lead partner with private sector companies in Québec to build EV and HEV charging stations in support of its technology developments. Its material development contributions are helping to develop safe, high-performance lithium ion batteries that can be charged more quickly and a greater number of times. IREQ promotes open innovation and partners with private firms, universities, government agencies and research centers in Québec and abroad. Its partnerships allow IREQ to develop, industrialize and market technologies resulting from those innovation projects.

About Hydro-Québec

Hydro-Québec is Canada’s largest electricity producer among the world’s largest hydroelectric power producers and a public utility that generates, transmits and distributes electricity. Its sole shareholder is the Québec government. It primarily exploits renewable generating options, in particular hydropower, and supports the development of wind energy through purchases from independent power producers. Its research institute, IREQ, conducts R&D in energy efficiency, energy storage and other energy-related fields. Hydro-Québec invests more than $100 million per year in research.

Here’s one last bit I want to highlight from the Focus Graphite news release,

“Commercially, and ultimately, our technology development partnership with Hydro-Québec aims to produce high capacity, LFP-graphene batteries with ultra short charging times and longer recyclable lifetimes,” Mr. Economo said [Gary Economo, President and Chief Executive Officer of both Grafoid Inc. and Focus Graphite].

He said the parties chose to focus their collaboration on LFP-graphene batteries and materials because of their short-term-to-market potential.

In light of Dexter’s very informative posting about Li-ion batteries and the investigation into why the storage capatcity degrades, I find this Hydro-Québec/Grafoid Inc. development provides insight into the relationship between scientific research and business and insight into the risks as the various groups compete to bring products to market or to improve those products such that they come to dominate the market.

One last comment, graphite flakes are also mined in Ontario as per both my July 25, 2011 posting and my Feb. 6, 2012 posting about Northern Graphite Corporation and its Bissett Creek mine.