Tag Archives: IEEE

IBM weighs in with plans for a 7nm computer chip

On the heels of Intel’s announcement about a deal utilizing their 14nm low-power manufacturing process and speculations about a 10nm computer chip (my July 9, 2014 posting), IBM makes an announcement about a 7nm chip as per this July 10, 2014 news item on Azonano,

IBM today [July 10, 2014] announced it is investing $3 billion over the next 5 years in two broad research and early stage development programs to push the limits of chip technology needed to meet the emerging demands of cloud computing and Big Data systems. These investments will push IBM’s semiconductor innovations from today’s breakthroughs into the advanced technology leadership required for the future.

A very comprehensive July 10, 2014 news release lays out the company’s plans for this $3B investment representing 10% of IBM’s total research budget,

The first research program is aimed at so-called “7 nanometer and beyond” silicon technology that will address serious physical challenges that are threatening current semiconductor scaling techniques and will impede the ability to manufacture such chips. The second is focused on developing alternative technologies for post-silicon era chips using entirely different approaches, which IBM scientists and other experts say are required because of the physical limitations of silicon based semiconductors.

Cloud and big data applications are placing new challenges on systems, just as the underlying chip technology is facing numerous significant physical scaling limits.  Bandwidth to memory, high speed communication and device power consumption are becoming increasingly challenging and critical.

The teams will comprise IBM Research scientists and engineers from Albany and Yorktown, New York; Almaden, California; and Europe. In particular, IBM will be investing significantly in emerging areas of research that are already underway at IBM such as carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies, and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing. [emphasis mine]

These teams will focus on providing orders of magnitude improvement in system level performance and energy efficient computing. In addition, IBM will continue to invest in the nanosciences and quantum computing–two areas of fundamental science where IBM has remained a pioneer for over three decades.

7 nanometer technology and beyond

IBM Researchers and other semiconductor experts predict that while challenging, semiconductors show promise to scale from today’s 22 nanometers down to 14 and then 10 nanometers in the next several years.  However, scaling to 7 nanometers and perhaps below, by the end of the decade will require significant investment and innovation in semiconductor architectures as well as invention of new tools and techniques for manufacturing.

“The question is not if we will introduce 7 nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?” said John Kelly, senior vice president, IBM Research. “IBM engineers and scientists, along with our partners, are well suited for this challenge and are already working on the materials science and device engineering required to meet the demands of the emerging system requirements for cloud, big data, and cognitive systems. This new investment will ensure that we produce the necessary innovations to meet these challenges.”

“Scaling to 7nm and below is a terrific challenge, calling for deep physics competencies in processing nano materials affinities and characteristics. IBM is one of a very few companies who has repeatedly demonstrated this level of science and engineering expertise,” said Richard Doherty, technology research director, The Envisioneering Group.

Bridge to a “Post-Silicon” Era

Silicon transistors, tiny switches that carry information on a chip, have been made smaller year after year, but they are approaching a point of physical limitation. Their increasingly small dimensions, now reaching the nanoscale, will prohibit any gains in performance due to the nature of silicon and the laws of physics. Within a few more generations, classical scaling and shrinkage will no longer yield the sizable benefits of lower power, lower cost and higher speed processors that the industry has become accustomed to.

With virtually all electronic equipment today built on complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology, there is an urgent need for new materials and circuit architecture designs compatible with this engineering process as the technology industry nears physical scalability limits of the silicon transistor.

Beyond 7 nanometers, the challenges dramatically increase, requiring a new kind of material to power systems of the future, and new computing platforms to solve problems that are unsolvable or difficult to solve today. Potential alternatives include new materials such as carbon nanotubes, and non-traditional computational approaches such as neuromorphic computing, cognitive computing, machine learning techniques, and the science behind quantum computing.

As the leader in advanced schemes that point beyond traditional silicon-based computing, IBM holds over 500 patents for technologies that will drive advancements at 7nm and beyond silicon — more than twice the nearest competitor. These continued investments will accelerate the invention and introduction into product development for IBM’s highly differentiated computing systems for cloud, and big data analytics.

Several exploratory research breakthroughs that could lead to major advancements in delivering dramatically smaller, faster and more powerful computer chips, include quantum computing, neurosynaptic computing, silicon photonics, carbon nanotubes, III-V technologies, low power transistors and graphene:

Quantum Computing

The most basic piece of information that a typical computer understands is a bit. Much like a light that can be switched on or off, a bit can have only one of two values: “1″ or “0.” Described as superposition, this special property of qubits enables quantum computers to weed through millions of solutions all at once, while desktop PCs would have to consider them one at a time.

IBM is a world leader in superconducting qubit-based quantum computing science and is a pioneer in the field of experimental and theoretical quantum information, fields that are still in the category of fundamental science – but one that, in the long term, may allow the solution of problems that are today either impossible or impractical to solve using conventional machines. The team recently demonstrated the first experimental realization of parity check with three superconducting qubits, an essential building block for one type of quantum computer.

Neurosynaptic Computing

Bringing together nanoscience, neuroscience, and supercomputing, IBM and university partners have developed an end-to-end ecosystem including a novel non-von Neumann architecture, a new programming language, as well as applications. This novel technology allows for computing systems that emulate the brain’s computing efficiency, size and power usage. IBM’s long-term goal is to build a neurosynaptic system with ten billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses, all while consuming only one kilowatt of power and occupying less than two liters of volume.

Silicon Photonics

IBM has been a pioneer in the area of CMOS integrated silicon photonics for over 12 years, a technology that integrates functions for optical communications on a silicon chip, and the IBM team has recently designed and fabricated the world’s first monolithic silicon photonics based transceiver with wavelength division multiplexing.  Such transceivers will use light to transmit data between different components in a computing system at high data rates, low cost, and in an energetically efficient manner.

Silicon nanophotonics takes advantage of pulses of light for communication rather than traditional copper wiring and provides a super highway for large volumes of data to move at rapid speeds between computer chips in servers, large datacenters, and supercomputers, thus alleviating the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects.

Businesses are entering a new era of computing that requires systems to process and analyze, in real-time, huge volumes of information known as Big Data. Silicon nanophotonics technology provides answers to Big Data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether few centimeters or few kilometers apart from each other, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibers.

III-V technologies

IBM researchers have demonstrated the world’s highest transconductance on a self-aligned III-V channel metal-oxide semiconductor (MOS) field-effect transistors (FETs) device structure that is compatible with CMOS scaling. These materials and structural innovation are expected to pave path for technology scaling at 7nm and beyond.  With more than an order of magnitude higher electron mobility than silicon, integrating III-V materials into CMOS enables higher performance at lower power density, allowing for an extension to power/performance scaling to meet the demands of cloud computing and big data systems.

Carbon Nanotubes

IBM Researchers are working in the area of carbon nanotube (CNT) electronics and exploring whether CNTs can replace silicon beyond the 7 nm node.  As part of its activities for developing carbon nanotube based CMOS VLSI circuits, IBM recently demonstrated — for the first time in the world — 2-way CMOS NAND gates using 50 nm gate length carbon nanotube transistors.

IBM also has demonstrated the capability for purifying carbon nanotubes to 99.99 percent, the highest (verified) purities demonstrated to date, and transistors at 10 nm channel length that show no degradation due to scaling–this is unmatched by any other material system to date.

Carbon nanotubes are single atomic sheets of carbon rolled up into a tube. The carbon nanotubes form the core of a transistor device that will work in a fashion similar to the current silicon transistor, but will be better performing. They could be used to replace the transistors in chips that power data-crunching servers, high performing computers and ultra fast smart phones.

Carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at molecular dimensions of less than ten nanometers – the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and less than half the size of the leading silicon technology. Comprehensive modeling of the electronic circuits suggests that about a five to ten times improvement in performance compared to silicon circuits is possible.

Graphene

Graphene is pure carbon in the form of a one atomic layer thick sheet.  It is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and it is also remarkably strong and flexible.  Electrons can move in graphene about ten times faster than in commonly used semiconductor materials such as silicon and silicon germanium. Its characteristics offer the possibility to build faster switching transistors than are possible with conventional semiconductors, particularly for applications in the handheld wireless communications business where it will be a more efficient switch than those currently used.

Recently in 2013, IBM demonstrated the world’s first graphene based integrated circuit receiver front end for wireless communications. The circuit consisted of a 2-stage amplifier and a down converter operating at 4.3 GHz.

Next Generation Low Power Transistors

In addition to new materials like CNTs, new architectures and innovative device concepts are required to boost future system performance. Power dissipation is a fundamental challenge for nanoelectronic circuits. To explain the challenge, consider a leaky water faucet — even after closing the valve as far as possible water continues to drip — this is similar to today’s transistor, in that energy is constantly “leaking” or being lost or wasted in the off-state.

A potential alternative to today’s power hungry silicon field effect transistors are so-called steep slope devices. They could operate at much lower voltage and thus dissipate significantly less power. IBM scientists are researching tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs). In this special type of transistors the quantum-mechanical effect of band-to-band tunneling is used to drive the current flow through the transistor. TFETs could achieve a 100-fold power reduction over complementary CMOS transistors, so integrating TFETs with CMOS technology could improve low-power integrated circuits.

Recently, IBM has developed a novel method to integrate III-V nanowires and heterostructures directly on standard silicon substrates and built the first ever InAs/Si tunnel diodes and TFETs using InAs as source and Si as channel with wrap-around gate as steep slope device for low power consumption applications.

“In the next ten years computing hardware systems will be fundamentally different as our scientists and engineers push the limits of semiconductor innovations to explore the post-silicon future,” said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president, IBM Systems and Technology Group. “IBM Research and Development teams are creating breakthrough innovations that will fuel the next era of computing systems.”

IBM’s historic contributions to silicon and semiconductor innovation include the invention and/or first implementation of: the single cell DRAM, the “Dennard scaling laws” underpinning “Moore’s Law”, chemically amplified photoresists, copper interconnect wiring, Silicon on Insulator, strained engineering, multi core microprocessors, immersion lithography, high speed silicon germanium (SiGe), High-k gate dielectrics, embedded DRAM, 3D chip stacking, and Air gap insulators.

IBM researchers also are credited with initiating the era of nano devices following the Nobel prize winning invention of the scanning tunneling microscope which enabled nano and atomic scale invention and innovation.

IBM will also continue to fund and collaborate with university researchers to explore and develop the future technologies for the semiconductor industry. In particular, IBM will continue to support and fund university research through private-public partnerships such as the NanoElectornics Research Initiative (NRI), and the Semiconductor Advanced Research Network (STARnet), and the Global Research Consortium (GRC) of the Semiconductor Research Corporation.

I highlighted ‘memory systems’ as this brings to mind HP Labs and their major investment in ‘memristive’ technologies noted in my June 26, 2014 posting,

… During a two-hour presentation held a year and a half ago, they laid out how the computer might work, its benefits, and the expectation that about 75 percent of HP Labs personnel would be dedicated to this one project. “At the end, Meg {Meg Whitman, CEO of HP Labs] turned to [Chief Financial Officer] Cathie Lesjak and said, ‘Find them more money,’” says John Sontag, the vice president of systems research at HP, who attended the meeting and is in charge of bringing the Machine to life. “People in Labs see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Machine is based on the memristor and other associated technologies.

Getting back to IBM, there’s this analysis of the $3B investment ($600M/year for five years) by Alex Konrad in a July 10, 2014 article for Forbes (Note: A link has been removed),

When IBM … announced a $3 billion commitment to even tinier semiconductor chips that no longer depended on silicon on Wednesday, the big news was that IBM’s putting a lot of money into a future for chips where Moore’s Law no longer applies. But on second glance, the move to spend billions on more experimental ideas like silicon photonics and carbon nanotubes shows that IBM’s finally shifting large portions of its research budget into more ambitious and long-term ideas.

… IBM tells Forbes the $3 billion isn’t additional money being added to its R&D spend, an area where analysts have told Forbes they’d like to see more aggressive cash commitments in the future. IBM will still spend about $6 billion a year on R&D, 6% of revenue. Ten percent of that research budget, however, now has to come from somewhere else to fuel these more ambitious chip projects.

Neal Ungerleider’s July 11, 2014 article for Fast Company focuses on the neuromorphic computing and quantum computing aspects of this $3B initiative (Note: Links have been removed),

The new R&D initiatives fall into two categories: Developing nanotech components for silicon chips for big data and cloud systems, and experimentation with “post-silicon” microchips. This will include research into quantum computers which don’t know binary code, neurosynaptic computers which mimic the behavior of living brains, carbon nanotubes, graphene tools and a variety of other technologies.

IBM’s investment is one of the largest for quantum computing to date; the company is one of the biggest researchers in the field, along with a Canadian company named D-Wave which is partnering with Google and NASA to develop quantum computer systems.

The curious can find D-Wave Systems here. There’s also a January 19, 2012 posting here which discusses the D-Wave’s situation at that time.

Final observation, these are fascinating developments especially for the insight they provide into the worries troubling HP Labs, Intel, and IBM as they jockey for position.

ETA July 14, 2014: Dexter Johnson has a July 11, 2014 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) about the IBM announcement and which features some responses he received from IBM officials to his queries,

While this may be a matter of fascinating speculation for investors, the impact on nanotechnology development  is going to be significant. To get a better sense of what it all means, I was able to talk to some of the key figures of IBM’s push in nanotechnology research.

I conducted e-mail interviews with Tze-Chiang (T.C.) Chen, vice president science & technology, IBM Fellow at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center and Wilfried Haensch, senior manager, physics and materials for logic and communications, IBM Research.

Silicon versus Nanomaterials

First, I wanted to get a sense for how long IBM envisioned sticking with silicon and when they expected the company would permanently make the move away from CMOS to alternative nanomaterials. Unfortunately, as expected, I didn’t get solid answers, except for them to say that new manufacturing tools and techniques need to be developed now.

He goes on to ask about carbon nanotubes and graphene. Interestingly, IBM does not have a wide range of electronics applications in mind for graphene.  I encourage you to read Dexter’s posting as Dexter got answers to some very astute and pointed questions.

Researchers at Purdue University (Indiana, US) and at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (Chennai, India) develop Star Trek-type ‘tricorders’

To be clear, the Star Trek-type ‘tricorder’ referred to in the heading is, in fact, a hand-held spectrometer and the research from Purdue University and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras represents a developmental leap forward, not a new product. From a March 26, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Nanotechnology is advancing tools likened to Star Trek’s “tricorder” that perform on-the-spot chemical analysis for a range of applications including medical testing, explosives detection and food safety.

Researchers found that when paper used to collect a sample was coated with carbon nanotubes, the voltage required was 1,000 times reduced, the signal was sharpened and the equipment was able to capture far more delicate molecules.

Dexter Johnson in his March 26, 2014 posting (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) provides some background information about the race to miniaturize spectrometers (Note: A link has been removed),

Recent research has been relying on nanomaterials to build smaller spectrometers. Late last year, a group at the Technische Universität Dresden and the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany developed a novel, miniature spectrometer, based on metallic nanowires, that was small enough to fit into a mobile phone.

Dexter goes on to provide a summary about this latest research, which I strongly recommend reading, especially if you don’t have the patience to read the rest of the news release. The March 25, 2014 Purdue University news release by Elizabeth K. Gardner, which originated the news item, provides insight from the researchers,

“This is a big step in our efforts to create miniature, handheld mass spectrometers for the field,” said R. Graham Cooks, Purdue’s Henry B. Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. “The dramatic decrease in power required means a reduction in battery size and cost to perform the experiments. The entire system is becoming lighter and cheaper, which brings it that much closer to being viable for easy, widespread use.”

Cooks and Thalappil Pradeep, a professor of chemistry at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, led the research.

“Taking science to the people is what is most important,” Pradeep said. “Mass spectrometry is a fantastic tool, but it is not yet on every physician’s table or in the pocket of agricultural inspectors and security guards. Great techniques have been developed, but we need to hone them into tools that are affordable, can be efficiently manufactured and easily used.”

The news release goes on to describe the research,

The National Science Foundation-funded study used an analysis technique developed by Cooks and his colleagues called PaperSpray™ ionization. The technique relies on a sample obtained by wiping an object or placing a drop of liquid on paper wet with a solvent to capture residues from the object’s surface. A small triangle is then cut from the paper and placed on a special attachment of the mass spectrometer where voltage is applied. The voltage creates an electric field that turns the mixture of solvent and residues into fine droplets containing ionized molecules that pop off and are vacuumed into the mass spectrometer for analysis. The mass spectrometer then identifies the sample’s ionized molecules by their mass.

The technique depends on a strong electric field and the nanotubes act like tiny antennas that create a strong electric field from a very small voltage. One volt over a few nanometers creates an electric field equivalent to 10 million volts over a centimeter, Pradeep said.

“The trick was to isolate these tiny, nanoscale antennae and keep them from bundling together because individual nanotubes must project out of the paper,” he said. “The carbon nanotubes work well and can be dispersed in water and applied on suitable substrates.”

The Nano Mission of the Government of India supported the research at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and graduate students Rahul Narayanan and Depanjan Sarkar performed the experiments.

In addition to reducing the size of the battery required and energy cost to run the tests, the new technique also simplified the analysis by nearly eliminating background noise, Cooks said.

“Under these conditions, the analysis is nearly noise free and a sharp, clear signal of the sample is delivered,” he said. “We don’t know why this is – why background molecules that surround us in the air or from within the equipment aren’t being ionized and entering into the analysis. It’s a puzzling, but pleasant surprise.”

The reduced voltage required also makes the method gentler than the standard PaperSpray™ ionization techniques.

“It is a very soft method,” Cooks said. “Fragile molecules and complexes are able to hold together here when they otherwise wouldn’t. This could lead to other potential applications.”

The team plans to investigate the mechanisms behind the reduction in background noise and potential applications of the gentle method, but the most promising aspect of the new technique is its potential to miniaturize the mass spectrometry system, Cooks said.

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

Molecular Ionization from Carbon Nanotube Paper by Rahul Narayanan, Depanjan Sarkar, Prof. R. Graham Cooks, and Prof. Thalappil Pradeep. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Article first published online: 18 MAR 2014 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201311053

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

This paper is behind a paywall.

Injectable and more powerful* batteries for live salmon

Today’s live salmon may sport a battery for monitoring purposes and now scientists have developed one that is significantly more powerful according to a Feb. 17, 2014 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) news release (dated Feb. 18, 2014 on EurekAlert),

Scientists have created a microbattery that packs twice the energy compared to current microbatteries used to monitor the movements of salmon through rivers in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

The battery, a cylinder just slightly larger than a long grain of rice, is certainly not the world’s smallest battery, as engineers have created batteries far tinier than the width of a human hair. But those smaller batteries don’t hold enough energy to power acoustic fish tags. The new battery is small enough to be injected into an organism and holds much more energy than similar-sized batteries.

Here’s a photo of the battery as it rests amongst grains of rice,

The microbattery created by Jie Xiao and Daniel Deng and colleagues, amid grains of rice. Courtesy PNNL

The microbattery created by Jie Xiao and Daniel Deng and colleagues, amid grains of rice. Courtesy PNNL

The news release goes on to explain why scientists are developing a lighter battery for salmon and how they achieved their goal,

For scientists tracking the movements of salmon, the lighter battery translates to a smaller transmitter which can be inserted into younger, smaller fish. That would allow scientists to track their welfare earlier in the life cycle, oftentimes in the small streams that are crucial to their beginnings. The new battery also can power signals over longer distances, allowing researchers to track fish further from shore or from dams, or deeper in the water.

“The invention of this battery essentially revolutionizes the biotelemetry world and opens up the study of earlier life stages of salmon in ways that have not been possible before,” said M. Brad Eppard, a fisheries biologist with the Portland District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“For years the chief limiting factor to creating a smaller transmitter has been the battery size. That hurdle has now been overcome,” added Eppard, who manages the Portland District’s fisheries research program.

The Corps and other agencies use the information from tags to chart the welfare of endangered fish and to help determine the optimal manner to operate dams. Three years ago the Corps turned to Z. Daniel Deng, a PNNL engineer, to create a smaller transmitter, one small enough to be injected, instead of surgically implanted, into fish. Injection is much less invasive and stressful for the fish, and it’s a faster and less costly process.

“This was a major challenge which really consumed us these last three years,” said Deng. “There’s nothing like this available commercially, that can be injected. Either the batteries are too big, or they don’t last long enough to be useful. That’s why we had to design our own.”

Deng turned to materials science expert Jie Xiao to create the new battery design.

To pack more energy into a small area, Xiao’s team improved upon the “jellyroll” technique commonly used to make larger household cylindrical batteries. Xiao’s team laid down layers of the battery materials one on top of the other in a process known as lamination, then rolled them up together, similar to how a jellyroll is created. The layers include a separating material sandwiched by a cathode made of carbon fluoride and an anode made of lithium.

The technique allowed her team to increase the area of the electrodes without increasing their thickness or the overall size of the battery. The increased area addresses one of the chief problems when making such a small battery — keeping the impedance, which is a lot like resistance, from getting too high. High impedance occurs when so many electrons are packed into a small place that they don’t flow easily or quickly along the routes required in a battery, instead getting in each other’s way. The smaller the battery, the bigger the problem.

Using the jellyroll technique allowed Xiao’s team to create a larger area for the electrons to interact, reducing impedance so much that the capacity of the material is about double that of traditional microbatteries used in acoustic fish tags.

“It’s a bit like flattening wads of Play-Doh, one layer at a time, and then rolling them up together, like a jelly roll,” says Xiao. “This allows you to pack more of your active materials into a small space without increasing the resistance.”

The new battery is a little more than half the weight of batteries currently used in acoustic fish tags — just 70 milligrams, compared to about 135 milligrams — and measures six millimeters long by three millimeters wide. The battery has an energy density of about 240 watt hours per kilogram, compared to around 100 for commercially available silver oxide button microbatteries.

The battery holds enough energy to send out an acoustic signal strong enough to be useful for fish-tracking studies even in noisy environments such as near large dams. The battery can power a 744-microsecond signal sent every three seconds for about three weeks, or about every five seconds for a month. It’s the smallest battery the researchers know of with enough energy capacity to maintain that level of signaling.

The batteries also work better in cold water where salmon often live, sending clearer signals at low temperatures compared to current batteries. That’s because their active ingredients are lithium and carbon fluoride, a chemistry that is promising for other applications but has not been common for microbatteries.

Last summer in Xiao’s laboratory, scientists Samuel Cartmell and Terence Lozano made by hand more than 1,000 of the rice-sized batteries. It’s a painstaking process, cutting and forming tiny snippets of sophisticated materials, putting them through a flattening device that resembles a pasta maker, binding them together, and rolling them by hand into tiny capsules. Their skilled hands rival those of surgeons, working not with tissue but with sensitive electronic materials.

A PNNL team led by Deng surgically implanted 700 of the tags into salmon in a field trial in the Snake River last summer. Preliminary results show that the tags performed extremely well. The results of that study and more details about the smaller, enhanced fish tags equipped with the new microbattery will come out in a forthcoming publication. Battelle, which operates PNNL, has applied for a patent on the technology.

I notice that while the second paragraph of the news release (in the first excerpt) says the battery is injectable, the final paragraph (in the second excerpt) says the team “surgically implanted” the tags with their new batteries into the salmon.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the newly published article in Scientific Reports,

Micro-battery Development for Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System Applications by Honghao Chen, Samuel Cartmell, Qiang Wang, Terence Lozano, Z. Daniel Deng, Huidong Li, Xilin Chen, Yong Yuan, Mark E. Gross, Thomas J. Carlson, & Jie Xiao. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 3790 doi:10.1038/srep03790 Published 21 January 2014

This paper is open access.

* I changed the headline from ‘Injectable batteries for live salmon made more powerful’ to ‘Injectable and more powerful batteries for live salmon’  to better reflect the information in the news release. Feb. 19, 2014 at 11:43 am PST.

ETA Feb. 20, 2014: Dexter Johnson has weighed in on this very engaging and practical piece of research in a Feb. 19, 2014 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) website (Note: Links have been removed),

There’s no denying that building the world’s smallest battery is a notable achievement. But while they may lay the groundwork for future battery technologies, today such microbatteries are mostly laboratory curiosities.

Developing a battery that’s no bigger than a grain of rice—and that’s actually useful in the real world—is quite another kind of achievement. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have done just that, creating a battery based on graphene that has successfully been used in monitoring the movements of salmon through rivers.

The microbattery is being heralded as a breakthrough in biotelemetry and should give researchers never before insights into the movements and the early stages of life of the fish.

The battery is partly made from a fluorinated graphene that was described last year …

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 2014 international nanotechnology conference in Toronto, Canada

August 18 – 21, 2014 are the dates for the IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 14th International Conference on Nanotechnology.  The deadline for submitting abstracts is March 15, 2014. Here’s a bit more about the conference, from the homepage,

IEEE Nano is one of the largest Nanotechnology conferences in the world, bringing together the brightest engineers and scientists through collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

IEEE Nano 2014 will provide researchers and others in the Nanotechnology field the ability to interact and advance their work through various speakers and workshop sessions.

Possible Topics for Papers

Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology
Micro-to-nano-scale bridging
Modeling and Simulation
Nanobiology:
•Nanobiomedicine
•Nanobiosystems
•Applications of Biopolymer Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery
Nanoelectronics:
•Non-Carbon Based
•Carbon Based
•Circuits and Architecture
Nanofabrication and Nanoassemblies
Nanofluidics:
•Modeling and Theory
•Applications
Nanomagnetics
Nanomanufacturing
Nanomaterials:
•2-D Materials beyond Graphene
•Synthesis and Characterization
•Applications and Enabled Systems
Nanometrology and Nanocharacterization
Nanopackaging
Nano-optics, Nano-optoelectronics and Nano-photonics:
•Novel fabrication and integration approaches
•Optical Nano-devices
Nanorobotics and Nanomanipulation
Nanoscale Communication and Networks
Nanosensors and Actuators
Nanotechnology Enabled Energy
NEMS
NEMS/Applications

There is a conference Call For Papers webpage where you can get more information.

Invited speakers include,

John Polanyi
Professor
University of Toronto, Canada

John Polanyi, educated at Manchester University, England, was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and at the National Research Council of Canada. He is a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada (P.C.), and a Companion of the Order of Canada (C.C.). His awards include the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He has written extensively on science policy, the control of armaments, peacekeeping and human rights.

Charles Lieber
Professor Charles M. Lieber
Mark Hyman Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Harvard University

Charles M. Lieber is regarded as a leading chemist worldwide and recognized as a pioneer in the nanoscience and nanotechnology fields. He completed his doctoral studies at Stanford University and currently holds a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, as the Mark Hyman Professor of Chemistry, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Lieber is widely known for his contributions to the synthesis, understanding and assembly of nanoscale materials, as well as the founding of two nanotechnology companies: Nanosys and Vista Therapeutics.

Lieber’s achievements have been recognized by a large number of awards, including the Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (2002), World Technology award in Materials (2003 and 2004) and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2012). He has published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals and is the primary inventor on over 35 patents.

Arthur Carty
Professor & Executive Director [Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology]
University of Waterloo, Canada

Arthur Carty has a PhD in inorganic chemistry from the University of Nottingham in the UK. He is currently the Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and research professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo.

Previously, Dr. Carty served in Canada as the National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister and President of the National Research Council (Canada). He was awarded the Order of Canada and holds 14 honorary doctorates.

His research interests are focused on organometallic chemistry and new materials. [Dr. Carty is chair of The Expert Panel on the State of Canada’s Science Culture; an assessment being conducted by the Canadian Council of Academies as per my Feb. 22, 2013 posting and Dr. Carty is giving a Keynote lecture titled: 'Small World, Large Impact: Driving a Materials Revolution Through Nanotechnology' at the 2014 TAPPI (Technical Association for the Pulp, Paper, Packaging and Converting Industries) nanotechnology conference, June 23-26, 2014 in Vancouver, Canada as per my Nov. 14, 2013 posting.]

William Milne
Professor
University of Cambridge, UK

Bill Milne FREng,FIET,FIMMM has been Head of Electrical Engineering at Cambridge University since 1999 and Director of the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE) since 2005. In 1996 he was appointed to the ‘‘1944 Chair in Electrical Engineering’’. He obtained his BSc from St Andrews University in Scotland in 1970 and then went on to read for a PhD in Electronic Materials at Imperial College London. He was awarded his PhD and DIC in 1973 and, in 2003, a D.Eng (Honoris Causa) from University of Waterloo, Canada. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering in 2006. He was awarded the J.J. Thomson medal from the IET in 2008 and the NANOSMAT prize in 2010 for excellence in nanotechnology. His research interests include large area Si and carbon based electronics, graphene, carbon nanotubes and thin film materials. Most recently he has been investigating MEMS, SAW and FBAR devices and SOI based micro heaters for ( bio) sensing applications. He has published/presented ~ 800 papers in these areas, of which ~ 150 were invited. He co-founded Cambridge Nanoinstruments with 3 colleagues from the Department and this was bought out by Aixtron in 2008 and in 2009 co-founded Cambridge CMOS Sensors with Julian Gardner from Warwick Univ. and Florin Udrea from Cambridge Univ.

Shuit-Tong Lee
Institute of Functional Nano & Soft Materials (FUNSOM)
Collaboration Innovation Center of Suzhou Nano Science and Technology
College of Nano Science and Technology (CNST)
Soochow University, China
Email: [email protected]

Prof. Lee is the member (academician) of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the fellow of TWAS (the academy of sciences for the developing world). He is a distinguished scientist in material science and engineering. Prof. Lee is the Founding Director of Functional Nano & Soft Materials Laboratory (FUNSOM) and Director of the College of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Soochow University. He is also a Chair Professor of Materials Science and Founding Director of the Center of Super-Diamond and Advanced Films (COSDAF) at City University of Hong Kong and the Founding Director of Nano-Organic Photoelectronic Laboratory at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, CAS. He was the Senior Research Scientist and Project Manager at the Research Laboratories of Eastman Kodak Company in the US before he joined City University of Hong Kong in 1994. He won the Humboldt Senior Research Award (Germany) in 2001 and a Croucher Senior Research Fellowship from the Croucher Foundation (HK) in 2002 for the studies of “Nucleation and growth of diamond and new carbon based materials” and “Oxide assisted growth and applications of semiconducting nanowires”, respectively. He also won the National Natural Science Award of PRC (second class) in 2003 and 2005 for the above research achievements. Recently, he was awarded the 2008 Prize for Scientific and Technological Progress of Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation. Prof. Lee’s research work has resulted in more than 650 peer-reviewed publications in prestigious chemistry, physics and materials science journals, 6 book chapters and over 20 US patents, among them 5 papers were published in Science and Nature (London) and some others were selected as cover papers. His papers have more than 10,000 citations by others, which is ranked within world top 25 in the materials science field according to ESI and ISI citation database.

Sergej Fatikow
Full Professor, Dr.-Ing. habil.
Head, Division for Microrobotics & Control Engineering (AMiR)
University of Oldenburg, Germany

Professor Sergej Fatikow studied electrical engineering and computer science at the Ufa Aviation Technical University in Russia, where he received his doctoral degree in 1988 with work on fuzzy control of complex non-linear systems. After that he worked until 1990 as a lecturer at the same university. During his work in Russia he published over 30 papers and successfully applied for over 50 patents in intelligent control and mechatronics. In 1990 he moved to the Institute for Process Control and Robotics at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany, where he worked as a postdoctoral scientific researcher and since 1994 as Head of the research group “Microrobotics and Micromechatronics”. He became an assistant professor in 1996 and qualified for a full faculty position by habilitation at the University of Karlsruhe in 1999. In 2000 he accepted a faculty position at the University of Kassel, Germany. A year later, he was invited to establish a new Division for Microrobotics and Control Engineering (AMiR) at the University of Oldenburg, Germany. Since 2001 he is a full professor in the Department of Computing Science and Head of AMiR. His research interests include micro- and nanorobotics, automated robot-based nanohandling in SEM, AFM-based nanohandling, sensor feedback at nanoscale, and neuro-fuzzy robot control. He is author of three books on microsystem technology, microrobotics and microassembly, robot-based nanohandling, and automation at nanoscale, published by Springer in 1997, Teubner in 2000, and Springer in 2008. Since 1990 he published over 100 book chapters and journal papers and over 200 conference papers. Prof. Fatikow is Founding Chair of the International Conference on Manipulation, Manufacturing and Measurement on the Nanoscale (3M-NANO) and Europe- Chair of IEEE-RAS Technical Committee on Micro/Nano Robotics and Automation.

Seiji Samukawa
Distinguished Professor
Innovative Energy Research Center, Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University
World Premier International Center Initiative, Advanced Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan

Dr. Seiji Samukawa received a BSc in 1981 from the Faculty of Technology of Keio University and joined NEC Corporation the same year. At NEC Microelectronics Research Laboratories, he was the lead researcher of a group performing fundamental research on advanced plasma etching processes for technology under 0.1 μm. While there, he received the Ishiguro Award—given by NEC’s R&D Group and Semiconductor Business Group— for his work in applying a damage-free plasma etching process to a mass-production line. After spending several years in the business world, however, he returned to Keio University, obtaining a PhD in engineering in 1992. Since 2000, he has served as professor at the Institute of Fluid Science at Tohoku University and developed ultra-low-damage microfabrication techniques that tap into the essential nature of nanomaterials and developed innovative nanodevices. He is also carrying out pioneering, creative research on bio-template technologies, which are based on a completely new concept of treating the super-molecules of living organisms. His motto when conducting research is to “always aim toward eventual practical realization.”

In recognition of his excellent achievements outlined above, he has been elected as a Distinguished Professor of Tohoku University and has been a Fellow of the Japan Society of Applied Physics since 2008 and a Fellow of the American Vacuum Society since 2009. His significant scientific achievements earned him the Outstanding Paper Award at the International Conference on Micro and Nanotechnology (1997), Best Review Paper Award (2001), Japanese Journal of Applied Physics (JJAP) Editorial Contribution Award (2003), Plasma Electronics Award (2004), Fellow Award (2008), JJAP Paper Award (2008) from the Japan Society of Applied Physics, Distinguished Graduate Award (2005) from Keio University, Ichimura Award (2008) from the New Technology Development Foundation, Commendation for Science and Technology from the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (2009), Fellow Award of American Vacuum Society (2009), Plasma Electronics Award from the Japan Society of Applied Physics (2010), Best Paper Award from the Japan Society of Applied Physics (2010), and Plasma Prize from the Plasma Science and Technology Division of American Vacuum Society (2010).

Haixia (Alice) Zhang
Professor
Institute of Microelectronics
Peking University, China

Haixia(Alice) Zhang, Professor, Institute of Microelectronics, Peking Universituy. She was served on the general chair of IEEE NEMS 2013 Conference, the organizing chair of Transducers’11. As the founder of the International Contest of Applications in Network of things (iCAN), she organized this world-wide event since 2007. She was elected the director of Integrated Micro/Nano System Engineering Center in 2006, the deputy secretary-general of Chinese Society of Micro-Nano Technology in 2005, the Co-chair of Chinese International NEMS Network (CINN) and serves as the chair of IEEE NTC Beijing Chapter. At 2006, Dr. Zhang won National Invention Award of Science & Technology. Her research fields include MEMS Design and Fabrication Technology, SiC MEMS and Micro Energy Technology.

Alice’s Wonderlab: http://www.ime.pku.edu.cn/alice

I wonder if the organizers will be including an Open Forum as they did at the 13th IEEE nanotechnology conference in China. It sounds a little more dynamic and fun than any of the sessions currently listed for the Toronto conference but these things are sometimes best organized in a relatively spontaneous fashion rather than as one of the more formal conference events (from the 13th conference Open Forum),

This Open Forum will be run like a Rump Session to have a lively discussion of various topics of interest to the IEEE Nanotechnology Community. The key to the success of this Forum is participation from the audience with their own opinions and comments on any Nanotechnology subject or issue they can think of. We expect the session to be lively, interesting, controversial, opinionated and more. Here are some topics or issues to think about:

  1. When are we ever going to have a large scale impact of nanotechnology ? Shouldn’t we be afraid that the stakeholders (Tax payers, Politicians) are going to run out of patience ?
  2. Is there a killer app or apps on the horizon ?
  3. Is there a future for carbon nanotubes in electronics ? It has been 15 years + now….
  4. Is there a future for graphene in electronics ?
  5. Is there a future for graphene in anything ? Or will it just run its course on every application people did previously for carbon nanotubes ?
  6. As engineers, are we doing anything different from the physicists/chemists ? Looks like we are also chasing the same old : trying to publish in Nature, Science, and other similar journals with huge impact factor ? Are we prepared adequately to play in someone else’s game ? Should we even be doing it ?
  7. As engineers, aren’t we supposed to come up with working widgets closer to manufacturing ?
  8. As engineers, are we going to take responsibility for the commercial future of nanotechnology as has been done in all previous success stories ?

This list is by no means exhaustive. Please come up with your own questions/issues and speak up at the session.

Good luck with your abstract.

3D printing and the environment (a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), and new developments with metal 3D printing

I have combined two 3D printing items here. The first is an announcement from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars about an upcoming panel discussion (from the Nov. 25, 2013 announcement),

The Environmental Impacts of 3D Printing

3D printing allows for cheaper and quicker production of complex and novel items. The technology has been used by industry to build prototypes and specialized parts since the 1980s, but interest in desktop applications of the technology has increased in recent years as prices for the machines have dropped.

Proponents of the technology often cite the environmental benefits of 3D printing, though fundamental questions remain: What technologies are involved in 3D printing? How efficient are these technologies in the use of materials and energy? Does the design of printed objects reduce end-of-life options? Does more localized production reduce the carbon footprint? Will simplicity and ubiquity cause us to overprint things, just as we do with paper?

Robert Olson explored some of these questions in his article “3D Printing: A Boon or a Bane?” in the November/December 2013 issue of the Environmental Forum. The article discusses the enormous potential of 3D printing and examines the paucity of research on the environmental impacts of the technology.

Join us at the Wilson Center on Dec. 13 for an event looking at the growth of additive manufacturing and the potential environmental implications of the technology.

When: Dec. 13, 2013 from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. EST

Who:

  • Robert Olson, Senior Fellow, Institute for Alternative Futures
  • David Rejeski, Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program, Wilson Center
  • John Pendergrass, Senior Attorney & Director of the State Center, Environmental Law Institute

There is more information on the Event page.

While this panel discussion is likely to be focused on polymer 3D printing, there are other developments in the 3D printing world as per a Nov. 26, 2013 Michigan Technological University (MTU) news release (also on EurekAlert, Dec. 2, 2013),

OK, so maybe you aren’t interested in making your own toys, cellphone cases, or glow-in-the-dark Christmas decorations. How about a brake drum?

Until now, 3D printing has been a polymer affair, with most people in the maker community using the machines to make all manner of plastic consumer goods, from tent stakes to chess sets. A new low-cost 3D printer developed by Michigan Technological University’s Joshua Pearce and his team could add hammers to that list. The detailed plans, software and firmware are all freely available and open-source, meaning anyone can use them to make their own metal 3D printer.

This open access technology is being made accessible to the maker community, preferably to the highly skilled and experienced members, (from the news release),

Pearce is the first to admit that his new printer is a work in progress. So far, the products he and his team have produced are no more intricate than a sprocket. But that’s because the technology is so raw. “Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it,” says Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering. “Within a month, somebody will make one that’s better than ours, I guarantee it.”

Using under $1,500 worth of materials, including a small commercial MIG welder and an open-source microcontroller, Pearce’s team built a 3D metal printer than can lay down thin layers of steel to form complex geometric objects. Commercial metal printers are available, but they cost over half a million dollars.

His make-it-yourself metal printer is less expensive than off-the-shelf commercial plastic 3D printers and is affordable enough for home use, he said. However, because of safety concerns, Pearce suggests that for now it would be better off in the hands of a shop, garage or skilled DIYer, since it requires more safety gear and fire protection equipment than the typical plastic 3D printer.

While metal 3D printing opens new vistas, it also raises anew the specter of homemade firearms. Some people have already made guns with both commercial metal and plastic 3D printers, with mixed results. While Pearce admits to some sleepless nights as they developed the metal printer, he also believes that the good to come from all types of distributed manufacturing with 3D printing will far outweigh the dangers.

In previous work, his group has already shown that making products at home with a 3D printer is cheaper for the average American and that printing goods at home is greener than buying commercial goods.

In particular, expanded 3D printing would benefit people in the developing world, who have limited access to manufactured goods, and researchers, who can radically cut costs of scientific equipment to further their science, Pearce said. “Small and medium-sized enterprises would be able to build parts and equipment quickly and easily using downloadable, free and open-source designs, which could revolutionize the economy for the benefit of the many.”

“I really don’t know if we are mature enough to handle it,” he added cautiously, “but I think that with open-source approach, we are within reach of a Star Trek-like, post-scarcity society, in which ‘replicators’ can create a vast array of objects on demand, resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to make almost anything.”

There is a paper and here’s a citation,of sorts,

“A Low-Cost, Open-Source Metal 3-D Printer,” to be published Nov. 25 in IEEE Access (DOI: 10.1109/ACCESS.2013.2293018)

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to locate this paper on IEEE {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]  Access.

Memristors have always been with us

Sprightly, a word not often used in conjunction with technology of any kind,  is the best of way describing the approach that researchers Varun Aggarwal and Gaurav Gandhi, along with Dr. Leon Chua, have taken towards their discovery that memristors are all around us. ( For anyone not familiar with the concept, I suggest reading the Wikipedia essay on memristors as it includes information about the various critiques of the memristor definition, as well as, the definition.)

It was Dexter Johnson in his June 6, 2013 post on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Nanoclast blog who alerted me to this latest memristor work (Note: Links have been removed),

Two researchers from mLabs in India, along with Prof. Leon Chua at the University of California Berkeley, who first postulated the memristor in a paper back in 1971, have discovered the simplest physical implementation for the memristor, which can be built by anyone and everyone.

In two separate papers, one published in arXiv (“Bipolar electrical switching in metal-metal contacts”) and the other in the IEEE’s own Circuits and Systems Magazine (“The First Radios Were Made Using Memristors!”), Chua and the researchers, Varun Aggarwal and Gaurav Gandhi, discovered that simple imperfect point contacts all around us act as memristors.

“Our arXiv paper talks about the coherer, which comprises an imperfect metal-metal contact in embodiments such as a point contact between two metallic balls, granular media or a metal-mercury interface,” Gandhi explained to me via e-email. “On the other hand, the CAS paper comprises an imperfect metal-semiconductor contact (Cat’s Whisker) which was also the first solid-state diode. Both the systems have as their signature an imperfect point contact between two conducting/partially-conducting elements. Both act like memristor.”

I’ll get to the articles in a minutes, first let’s look at the researchers’ website, Mlabs home page (splash page). BTW, I have a soft spot for websites that are easy to navigate and don’t irritate me with movement or pop-ups (thank you mLabs). I think this description of the researchers (Aggarwal and Gandhi) and how they came to develop mLabs (excerpted from the About us page) explains why I described their approach as sprightly,

As they say, anything can happen over a cup of coffee and this story is no different! Gaurav and Varun were friends for over a decade, and one fine day they were sitting at a coffee house discussing Gaurav’s trip to the Second Memristor and Memristive Symposium at Berkeley. Gaurav shared the exciting work around memristor that he witnessed at Berkeley. Varun, who has been an evangelist of Jagadish Chandra Bose’s work thought there was some correlation between the research work of Bose and memristor. He convinced Gaurav to look deeper into these aspects. Soon, a plan was put forth, they wore their engineering gloves and mLabs was born. Gaurav quit his job for full time involvement at mLabs, while Varun assisted and advised throughout.

Three years of curiosity, experimentation, discussions and support from various researchers and professors from different parts of the world, led us to where we are today.

We are also sincerely grateful to Prof. Leon Chua for his continuous support, mentorship and indispensable contribution to our work.

As Dexter notes, Aggarwal and Gandhi have written papers about two different ways to create memristors, the arXiv paper, Bipolar electrical switching in metal-metal contacts, describes how corherers could be used to create simple memristors for research purposes. This paper also makes the argument that the memristor is a fundamental circuit (a claim which is a matter of considerable debate as the Wikipedia Memristor essay notes briefly),

Our new results show that bipolar switching can be observed in a large class of metals by a simple construction in form of a point-contact or granular media. It does not require complex construction, particular materials or small geometries. The signature of all our devices is an imperfect metal-metal contact and the physical mechanism for the observed behavior needs to be further studied. That the electrical behavior of these simple, naturally-occurring physical constructs can be modeled by a memristor, but not the other three passive elements, is an indication of its fundamental nature. By providing the canonic physical implementation for memristor, the present work not only lls an important gap in the study of switching devices, but also brings them into the realm of immediate practical use and implementation.

Due to the fact that the second article, the one in the IEEE published Circuits and Systems magazine, is behind a paywall, I can’t do much more than offer the title and the first paragraph,

The First Radios Were Made Using Memristors!

In 2008, Williams et al. reported the discovery of the fourth fundamental passive circuit element, memristor, which exhibits electrically controllable state-dependent resistance [1]. We show that one of the first wireless radio detector, called cat?s whisker, also the world?s first solid-state diode, had memristive properties. We have identified the state variable governing the resistance state of the device and can program it to switch between multiple stable resistance states. Our observations and results are valid for a larger class of devices called coherers, which include the cat?s whisker. These devices constitute the missing canonical physical implementations for a memristor (ref. Fig. 1).

It’s fascinating when you consider that up until now researching memristors meant having high tech equipment. I wonder how many backyard memristor labs are going to spring up?

On a somewhat related note, Dexter mentions that HP Labs ‘memristor’ products will be available in 2014. This latest date represents two postponements. Originally meant to be on the market in the summer of 2013, the new products were then supposed to brought to market in late 2013 as per my Feb. 7, 2013 posting; scroll down about 75% of the way).

Life-cycle assessment for electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries and nanotechnology is a risk analysis

A May 29, 2013 news item on Azonano features a new study for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on nanoscale technology and lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries for electric vehicles,

Lithium (Li-ion) batteries used to power plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles show overall promise to “fuel” these vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there are areas for improvement to reduce possible environmental and public health impacts, according to a “cradle to grave” study of advanced Li-ion batteries recently completed by Abt Associates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“While Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles are definitely a step in the right direction from traditional gasoline-fueled vehicles and nickel metal-hydride automotive batteries, some of the materials and methods used to manufacture them could be improved,” said Jay Smith, an Abt senior analyst and co-lead of the life-cycle assessment.

Smith said, for example, the study showed that the batteries that use cathodes with nickel and cobalt, as well as solvent-based electrode processing, show the highest potential for certain environmental and human health impacts. The environmental impacts, Smith explained, include resource depletion, global warming, and ecological toxicity—primarily resulting from the production, processing and use of cobalt and nickel metal compounds, which can cause adverse respiratory, pulmonary and neurological effects in those exposed.

There are viable ways to reduce these impacts, he said, including cathode material substitution, solvent-less electrode processing and recycling of metals from the batteries.

The May 28, 2013 Abt Associates news release, which originated the news item, describes some of the findings,

Among other findings, Shanika Amarakoon, an Abt associate who co-led the life-cycle assessment with Smith, said global warming and other environmental and health impacts were shown to be influenced by the electricity grids used to charge the batteries when driving the vehicles.
“These impacts are sensitive to local and regional grid mixes,” Amarakoon said.  “If the batteries in use are drawing power from the grids in the Midwest or South, much of the electricity will be coming from coal-fired plants.  If it’s in New England or California, the grids rely more on renewables and natural gas, which emit less greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants.” However,” she added, “impacts from the processing and manufacture of these batteries should not be overlooked.”
In terms of battery performance, Smith said that “the nanotechnology applications that Abt assessed were single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), which are currently being researched for use as anodes as they show promise for improving the energy density and ultimate performance of the Li-ion batteries in vehicles.  What we found, however, is that the energy needed to produce the SWCNT anodes in these early stages of development is prohibitive. Over time, if researchers focus on reducing the energy intensity of the manufacturing process before commercialization, the environmental profile of the technology has the potential to improve dramatically.”

Abt’s Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles can be found here, all 126 pp.

This assessment was performed under the auspices of an interesting assortment of agencies (from the news release),

The research for the life-cycle assessment was undertaken through the Lithium-ion Batteries and Nanotechnology for Electric Vehicles Partnership, which was led by EPA’s Design for the Environment Program in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and Toxics, and EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory in the Office of Research and Development.  [emphasis mine] The Partnership also included industry partners (i.e., battery manufacturers, recyclers, and suppliers, and other industry groups), the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Lab, Arizona State University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology

I highlighted the National Risk Management Research Laboratory as it reminded me of the lithium-ion battery fires in airplanes reported in January 2013. I realize that cars and planes are not the same thing but lithium-ion batteries have some well defined problems especially since the summer of 2006 when there was a series of li-ion battery laptop fires. From Tracy V. Wilson’s What causes laptop batteries to overheat? article for How stuff works.com (Note: A link has been removed),

In conjunction with the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Dell and Apple Computer announced large recalls of laptop batteries in the summer of 2006, followed by Toshiba and Lenovo. Sony manufactured all of the recalled batteries, and in October 2006, the company announced its own large-scale recall. Under the right circumstances, these batteries could overheat, potentially causing burns, an explosion or a fire.

Larry Greenemeier in a Jan. 17, 2013 article for Scientific American offers some details about the lithium-ion battery fires in airplanes and elsewhere,

Boeing’s Dreamliner has likely become a nightmare for the company, its airline customers and regulators worldwide. An inflight lithium-ion battery fire broke out Wednesday [Jan. 16, 2013] on an All Nippon Airways 787 over Japan, forcing an emergency landing. And another battery fire occurred last week aboard a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Both battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke on the aircraft, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Lithium-ion batteries—used to power mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles—have summoned plenty of controversy during their relatively brief existence. Introduced commercially in 1991, by the mid 2000s they had become infamous for causing fires in laptop computers.

More recently, the plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs burst into flames following several National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests to measure the vehicle’s ability to protect occupants from injury in a side collision. The NHTSA investigated and concluded in January 2012 that Chevy Volts and other electric vehicles do not pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Philip E. Ross in his Jan. 18, 2013 article about the airplane fires for IEEE’s (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum provides some insight into the fires,

It seems that the batteries heated up in a self-accelerating pattern called thermal runaway. Heat from the production of electricity speeds up the production of electricity, and… you’re off. This sort of things happens in a variety of reactions, not just in batteries, let alone the Li-ion kind. But thermal runaway is particularly grave in Li-ion batteries because they pack a lot more power than the tried-and-true metal-hydride ones, not to speak of Ye Olde lead-acid.

It’s because of this very quality that Li-ion batteries found their first application in small mobile devices, where power is critical and fires won’t cost anyone his life. It’s also why it took so long for the new tech to find its way into electric and hybrid-electric cars.

Perhaps it would have been wiser of Boeing to go for the safest possible Li-ion design, even if it didn’t have quite as much oomph as possible. That’s what today’s main-line electric-drive cars do, as our colleague, John Voelcker, points out.

“The cells in the 787 [Dreamliner], from Japanese company GS Yuasa, use a cobalt oxide (CoO2) chemistry, just as mobile-phone and laptop batteries do,” he writes in greencarreports.com. “That chemistry has the highest energy content, but it is also the most susceptible to overheating that can produce “thermal events” (which is to say, fires). Only one electric car has been built in volume using CoO2 cells, and that’s the Tesla Roadster. Only 2,500 of those cars will ever exist.” Most of today’s electric cars, Voelcker adds, use chemistries that trade some energy density for safety.

The Dreamliner (Boeing 787) is designed to be the lightest of airplanes and using a more energy dense but safer lithium-ion battery seems not to have been an acceptable trade-off.  Interestingly, Boeing according to Ross still had a backlog of orders after the fires.

I find that some of the discussion about risk and nanotechnology-enabled products oddly disconnected. There are the concerns about what happens at the nanoscale (environmental implications, etc.) but that discussion is divorced from some macroscale issues such as battery fires. Taken to absurd lengths, technology at the nanoscale could be considered safe while macroscale issues are completely ignored. It’s as if our institutions are not yet capable of managing multiple scales at once.

For more about an emphasis on scale and other minutiae (pun intended), there’s my May 28, 2013 posting about Steffen Foss Hansen’s plea to revise current European Union legislation to create more categories for nanotechnology regulation, amongst other things.

For more about airplanes and their efforts to get more energy efficient, there’s my May 27, 2013 posting about a biofuel study in Australia.

University of Alberta (Canada) student nanorobotics team demonstrates potential medical technology in competitiion

A University of Alberta (Canada) nanorobotics team has entered its nanobot system into the International Mobile Micro/nanorobotics Competition in Karlsruhe, Germany, as part of the ICRA Robot Challenges at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) being held May 6 – 10, 2013 in Karlsruhe, Germany. From the May 6, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

A team of engineering students is putting a twist on robotics, developing a nano-scale robotics system that could lead to new medical therapies.

In less than a year, the U of A team has assembled a working system that manipulates nano-scale ‘robots’. The team uses magnets to manipulate a droplet filled with iron oxide nanoparticles. Barely visible to the naked eye, the droplet measures 400-500 micrometres.

The May 3, 2013 University of Alberta news release by Richard Cairney, which originated the news item, describes the system,

Using a joystick, team members control the robot, making it travel along a specific route, navigate an obstacle course or to push micro-sized objects from one point to another.

The challenge is simple in concept but highly technical and challenging to execute: the team first injects a water droplet with iron oxide nanoparticles into into oil. The droplet holds its shape because it is encased in a surfactant—a soap-like formula that repels water on one side and attracts water on the other.

“It’s like a capsule,” said team member Yang Gao, who is working on her master’s degree in chemical engineering. “It’s a vehicle for the nanoparticles.”

The iron-filled droplet is placed in a playing ‘field’ measuring 2 x 3 millimetres. The team uses four magnets mounted each side of the rectangular field to move the droplet in a figure-8, manoeuvring it through four gates built into the field.

“We use the magnets to pull the droplet,” explains electrical engineering PhD student Remko van den Hurk.

In a second challenge, the team will be required to use the droplet as a bulldozer of sorts, to arrange micro-scale objects that measure 200 x 300 micrometres into a particular order on an even smaller playing field.

The competition has its serious side, these nanobots could one day be used in medical applications.

In the meantime there’s the competition, good luck!

FrogHeart’s 2012, a selective roundup of my international online colleagues, and other bits

This blog will be five years old in April 2013 and, sometime in January or February, the 2000th post will be published.

Statisticswise it’s been a tumultuous year for FrogHeart with ups and downs,  thankfully ending on an up note. According to my AW stats, I started with 54,920 visits in January (which was a bit of an increase over December 2011. The numbers rose right through to March 2012 when the blog registered 68,360 visits and then the numbers fell and continued to fall. At the low point, this blog registered 45, 972 visits in June 2012 and managed to rise and fall through to Oct. 2012 when the visits rose to 54,520 visits. November 2012 was better with 66,854 visits and in December 2012 the blog will have received over 75,000 visits. (ETA Ja.2.13: This blog registered 81,0036 in December 2012 and an annual total of 681,055 visits.) Since I have no idea why the numbers fell or why they rose again, I have absolutely no idea what 2013 will bring in terms of statistics (the webalizer numbers reflect similar trends).

Interestingly and for the first time since I’ve activated the AW statistics package in Feb. 2009, the US ceased to be the primary source for visitors. As of April 2012, the British surged ahead for several months until November 2012 when the US regained the top spot only to lose it to China in December 2012.

Favourite topics according to the top 10 key terms included: nanocrystalline cellulose for Jan. – Oct. 2012 when for the first time in almost three years the topic fell out of the top 10; Jackson Pollock and physics also popped up in the top 10 in various months throughout the year; Clipperton Island (a sci/art project) has made intermittent appearances; SPAUN (Semantic Pointer Arichitecture Unified Network; a project at the University of Waterloo) has made the top 10 in the two months since it was announced); weirdly, frogheart.ca has appeared in the top 10 these last few months; the Lycurgus Cup, nanosilver, and literary tattoos also made appearances in the top 10 in various months throughout the year, while the memristor and Québec nanotechnology made appearances in the fall.

Webalizer tells a similar but not identical story. The numbers started with 83, 133 visits in January 2012 rising to a dizzying height of 119, 217 in March.  These statistics fell too but July 2012 was another six figure month with 101,087 visits and then down again to five figures until Oct. 2012 with 108, 266 and 136,161 visits in November 2012. The December 2012 visits number appear to be dipping down slightly with 130,198 visits counted to 5:10 am PST, Dec. 31, 2012. (ETA Ja.2.13: In December 2012, 133,351 were tallied with an annual total of 1,660,771 visits.)

Thanks to my international colleagues who inspire and keep me apprised of the latest information on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies:

  • Pasco Phronesis, owned by David Bruggeman, focuses more on science policy and science communicati0n (via popular media) than on emerging technology per se but David provides excellent analysis and a keen eye for the international scene. He kindly dropped by frogheart.ca  some months ago to challenge my take on science and censorship in Canada and I have not finished my response. I’ve posted part 1 in the comments but have yet to get to part 2. His latest posting on Dec. 30, 2012 features this title, For Better Science And Technology Policing, Don’t Forget The Archiving.
  • Nanoclast is on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website and features Dexter Johnson’s writing on nanotechnology government initiatives, technical breakthroughs, and, occasionally, important personalities within the field. I notice Dexter, who’s always thoughtful and thought-provoking, has cut back to a weekly posting. I encourage you to read his work as he fills in an important gap in a lot of nanotechnology reporting with his intimate understanding of the technology itself.  Dexter’s Dec. 20, 2012 posting (the latest) is titled, Nanoparticle Coated Lens Converts Light into Sound for Precise Non-invasive Surgery.
  • Insight (formerly TNTlog) is Tim Harper’s (CEO of Cientifica) blog features an international perspective (with a strong focus on the UK scene) on emerging technologies and the business of science. His writing style is quite lively (at times, trenchant) and it reflects his long experience with nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. I don’t know how he finds the time and here’s his latest, a Dec. 4, 2012 posting titled, Is Printable Graphene The Key To Widespread Applications?
  • 2020 Science is Dr. Andrew Maynard’s (director of University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) more or less personal blog. An expert on nanotechnology (he was the Chief Science Adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, located in Washington, DC), Andrew writes extensively about risk, uncertainty, nanotechnology, and the joys of science. Over time his blog has evolved to include the occasional homemade but science-oriented video, courtesy of one of his children. I usually check Andrew’s blog when there’s a online nanotechnology kerfuffle as he usually has the inside scoop. His latest posting on Dec. 23, 2012 features this title, On the benefits of wearing a hat while dancing naked, and other insights into the science of risk.
  • Andrew also produces and manages the Mind the Science Gap blog, which is a project encouraging MA students in the University of Michigan’s Public Health Program to write. Andrew has posted a summary of the last semester’s triumphs titled, Looking back at another semester of Mind The Science Gap.
  • NanoWiki is, strictly speaking, not a blog but the authors provide the best compilation of stories on nanotechnology issues and controversies that I have found yet. Here’s how they describe their work, “NanoWiki tracks the evolution of paradigms and discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology field, annotates and disseminates them, giving an overall view and feeds the essential public debate on nanotechnology and its practical applications.” There are also Spanish, Catalan, and mobile versions of NanoWiki. Their latest posting, dated  Dec. 29, 2012, Nanotechnology shows we can innovate without economic growth, features some nanotechnology books.
  • In April 2012, I was contacted by Dorothée Browaeys about a French blog, Le Meilleur Des Nanomondes. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been much action there since Feb. 2010 but I’m delighted to hear from my European colleagues and hope to hear more from them.

Sadly, there was only one interview here this year but I think they call these things ‘a big get’ as the interview was with Vanessa Clive who manages the nanotechnology portfolio at Industry Canada. I did try to get an interview with Dr. Marie D’Iorio, the new Executive Director of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT; BTW, the National Research Council has a brand new site consequently [since the NINT is a National Research Council agency, so does the NINT]), and experienced the same success I had with her predecessor, Dr. Nils Petersen.

I attended two conferences this year, S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) 2012 meeting in Enschede, Holland where I presented on my work on memristors, artificial brains, and pop culture. The second conference I attended was in Calgary where I  moderated a panel I’d organized on the topic of Canada’s science culture and policy for the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference.

There are a few items of note which appeared on the Canadian science scene. ScienceOnlineVancouver emerged in April 2012. From the About page,

ScienceOnlineVancouver is a monthly discussion series exploring how online communication and social media impact current scientific research and how the general public learns about it. ScienceOnlineVancouver is an ongoing discussion about online science, including science communication and available research tools, not a lecture series where scientists talk about their work. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @ScioVan, hashtag is #SoVan.

The concept of these monthly meetings originated in New York with SoNYC @S_O_NYC, brought to life by Lou Woodley (@LouWoodley, Communities Specialist at Nature.com) and John Timmer (@j_timmer, Science Editor at Ars Technica). With the success of that discussion series, participation in Scio2012, and the 2012 annual meeting of the AAAS in Vancouver, Catherine Anderson, Sarah Chow, and Peter Newbury were inspired to bring it closer to home, leading to the beginning of ScienceOnlineVancouver.

ScienceOnlineVancouver is part of the ScienceOnlineNOW community that includes ScienceOnlineBayArea, @sciobayarea and ScienceOnlineSeattle, @scioSEA. Thanks to Brian Glanz of the Open Science Federation and SciFund Challenge and thanks to Science World for a great venue.

I have mentioned the arts/engineering festival coming up in Calgary, Beakerhead, a few times but haven’t had occasion to mention Science Rendezvous before. This festival started in Toronto in 2008 and became a national festival in 2012 (?). Their About page doesn’t describe the genesis of the ‘national’ aspect to this festival as clearly as I would like. They seem to be behind with their planning as there’s no mention of the 2013 festival,which should be coming up in May.

The twitter (@frogheart) feed continues to grow in both (followed and following) albeit slowly. I have to give special props to @carlacap, @cientifica, & @timharper for their mentions, retweets, and more.

As for 2013, there are likely to be some changes here; I haven’t yet decided what changes but I will keep you posted. Have a lovely new year and I wish you all the best in 2013.

Breakthroughs with self-assembling DNA-based nanoscaled structures

With all the talk about self-assembling DNA nanotechnology, it’s possible to misunderstand the stage of development this endeavour occupies as the title, Reality check for DNA Nanotechnology, for a Dec. 13, 2012 news release on EurekAlert suggests,

… This emerging technology employs DNA as a programmable building material for self-assembled, nanometer-scale structures. Many practical applications have been envisioned, and researchers recently demonstrated a synthetic membrane channel made from DNA. Until now, however, design processes were hobbled by a lack of structural feedback. Assembly was slow and often of poor quality.

In fact, the news release is touting two breakthroughs,

Now researchers led by Prof. Hendrik Dietz of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have removed these obstacles.

One barrier holding the field back was an unproven assumption. Researchers were able to design a wide variety of discrete objects and specify exactly how DNA strands should zip together and fold into the desired shapes. They could show that the resulting nanostructures closely matched the designs. Still lacking, though, was the validation of the assumed subnanometer-scale precise positional control. This has been confirmed for the first time through analysis of a test object designed specifically for the purpose. A technical breakthrough based on advances in fundamental understanding, this demonstration has provided a crucial reality check for DNA nanotechnology.

In a separate set of experiments, the researchers discovered that the time it takes to make a batch of complex DNA-based objects can be cut from a week to a matter of minutes, and that the yield can be nearly 100%. They showed for the first time that at a constant temperature, hundreds of DNA strands can fold cooperatively to form an object — correctly, as designed — within minutes. Surprisingly, they say, the process is similar to protein folding, despite significant chemical and structural differences. “Seeing this combination of rapid folding and high yield,” Dietz says, “we have a stronger sense than ever that DNA nanotechnology could lead to a new kind of manufacturing, with a commercial, even industrial future.” And there are immediate benefits, he adds: “Now we don’t have to wait a week for feedback on an experimental design, and multi-step assembly processes have suddenly become so much more practical.”

Dexter Johnson comments in his Dec. 18, 2012 posting (which includes an embedded video) on the Nanoclast blog (located on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE] website),

The field of atomically precise manufacturing—or molecular manufacturing—has taken a big step towards realizing its promise with this latest research.  We may still be a long way from realizing the “nanotech rapture”  but certainly knowing that the objects built meet their design specifications and can be produced in minutes rather than weeks has to be recognized as a significant development.

Three papers have been published on these breakthroughs, here are the citations,

Xiao-chen Bai, Thomas G. Martin, Sjors H. W. Scheres, Hendrik Dietz. Cryo-EM structure of a 3D DNA-origami object. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, Dec. 4, 2012, 109 (49) 20012-20017; on-line in PNAS Early Edition, Nov. 19, 2012. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1215713109

Jean-Philippe J. Sobczak, Thomas G. Martin, Thomas Gerling, Hendrik Dietz. Rapid folding of DNA into nanoscale shapes at constant temperature. Science, vol. 338, issue 6113, pp. 1458-1461. DOI: 10.1126/science.1229919

See also: Martin Langecker, Vera Arnaut, Thomas G. Martin, Jonathan List, Stephan Renner, Michael Mayer, Hendrik Dietz, and Friedrich C. Simmel. Synthetic lipid membrane channels formed by designed DNA nanostructures. Science, vol. 338, issue 6109, pp. 932-936. DOI: 10.1126/science.1225624