Tag Archives: India

How might artificial intelligence affect urban life in 2030? A study

Peering into the future is always a chancy business as anyone who’s seen those film shorts from the 1950’s and 60’s which speculate exuberantly as to what the future will bring knows.

A sober approach (appropriate to our times) has been taken in a study about the impact that artificial intelligence might have by 2030. From a Sept. 1, 2016 Stanford University news release (also on EurekAlert) by Tom Abate (Note: Links have been removed),

A panel of academic and industrial thinkers has looked ahead to 2030 to forecast how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) might affect life in a typical North American city – in areas as diverse as transportation, health care and education ­– and to spur discussion about how to ensure the safe, fair and beneficial development of these rapidly emerging technologies.

Titled “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030,” this year-long investigation is the first product of the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100), an ongoing project hosted by Stanford to inform societal deliberation and provide guidance on the ethical development of smart software, sensors and machines.

“We believe specialized AI applications will become both increasingly common and more useful by 2030, improving our economy and quality of life,” said Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the 17-member panel of international experts. “But this technology will also create profound challenges, affecting jobs and incomes and other issues that we should begin addressing now to ensure that the benefits of AI are broadly shared.”

The new report traces its roots to a 2009 study that brought AI scientists together in a process of introspection that became ongoing in 2014, when Eric and Mary Horvitz created the AI100 endowment through Stanford. AI100 formed a standing committee of scientists and charged this body with commissioning periodic reports on different aspects of AI over the ensuing century.

“This process will be a marathon, not a sprint, but today we’ve made a good start,” said Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and the Stanford faculty director of AI100. “Stanford is excited to host this process of introspection. This work makes practical contribution to the public debate on the roles and implications of artificial intelligence.”

The AI100 standing committee first met in 2015, led by chairwoman and Harvard computer scientist Barbara Grosz. It sought to convene a panel of scientists with diverse professional and personal backgrounds and enlist their expertise to assess the technological, economic and policy implications of potential AI applications in a societally relevant setting.

“AI technologies can be reliable and broadly beneficial,” Grosz said. “Being transparent about their design and deployment challenges will build trust and avert unjustified fear and suspicion.”

The report investigates eight domains of human activity in which AI technologies are beginning to affect urban life in ways that will become increasingly pervasive and profound by 2030.

The 28,000-word report includes a glossary to help nontechnical readers understand how AI applications such as computer vision might help screen tissue samples for cancers or how natural language processing will allow computerized systems to grasp not simply the literal definitions, but the connotations and intent, behind words.

The report is broken into eight sections focusing on applications of AI. Five examine application arenas such as transportation where there is already buzz about self-driving cars. Three other sections treat technological impacts, like the section on employment and workplace trends which touches on the likelihood of rapid changes in jobs and incomes.

“It is not too soon for social debate on how the fruits of an AI-dominated economy should be shared,” the researchers write in the report, noting also the need for public discourse.

“Currently in the United States, at least sixteen separate agencies govern sectors of the economy related to AI technologies,” the researchers write, highlighting issues raised by AI applications: “Who is responsible when a self-driven car crashes or an intelligent medical device fails? How can AI applications be prevented from [being used for] racial discrimination or financial cheating?”

The eight sections discuss:

Transportation: Autonomous cars, trucks and, possibly, aerial delivery vehicles may alter how we commute, work and shop and create new patterns of life and leisure in cities.

Home/service robots: Like the robotic vacuum cleaners already in some homes, specialized robots will clean and provide security in live/work spaces that will be equipped with sensors and remote controls.

Health care: Devices to monitor personal health and robot-assisted surgery are hints of things to come if AI is developed in ways that gain the trust of doctors, nurses, patients and regulators.

Education: Interactive tutoring systems already help students learn languages, math and other skills. More is possible if technologies like natural language processing platforms develop to augment instruction by humans.

Entertainment: The conjunction of content creation tools, social networks and AI will lead to new ways to gather, organize and deliver media in engaging, personalized and interactive ways.

Low-resource communities: Investments in uplifting technologies like predictive models to prevent lead poisoning or improve food distributions could spread AI benefits to the underserved.

Public safety and security: Cameras, drones and software to analyze crime patterns should use AI in ways that reduce human bias and enhance safety without loss of liberty or dignity.

Employment and workplace: Work should start now on how to help people adapt as the economy undergoes rapid changes as many existing jobs are lost and new ones are created.

“Until now, most of what is known about AI comes from science fiction books and movies,” Stone said. “This study provides a realistic foundation to discuss how AI technologies are likely to affect society.”

Grosz said she hopes the AI 100 report “initiates a century-long conversation about ways AI-enhanced technologies might be shaped to improve life and societies.”

You can find the A100 website here, and the group’s first paper: “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030” here. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read the report but I hope to do so soon.

The AI100 website’s About page offered a surprise,

This effort, called the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, or AI100, is the brainchild of computer scientist and Stanford alumnus Eric Horvitz who, among other credits, is a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

In that capacity Horvitz convened a conference in 2009 at which top researchers considered advances in artificial intelligence and its influences on people and society, a discussion that illuminated the need for continuing study of AI’s long-term implications.

Now, together with Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and computer science at Stanford, Horvitz has formed a committee that will select a panel to begin a series of periodic studies on how AI will affect automation, national security, psychology, ethics, law, privacy, democracy and other issues.

“Artificial intelligence is one of the most profound undertakings in science, and one that will affect every aspect of human life,” said Stanford President John Hennessy, who helped initiate the project. “Given’s Stanford’s pioneering role in AI and our interdisciplinary mindset, we feel obliged and qualified to host a conversation about how artificial intelligence will affect our children and our children’s children.”

Five leading academicians with diverse interests will join Horvitz and Altman in launching this effort. They are:

  • Barbara Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at HarvardUniversity and an expert on multi-agent collaborative systems;
  • Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, who collaborates with technologists to advance privacy and other democratic values through technical design and policy;

    This effort, called the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, or AI100, is the brainchild of computer scientist and Stanford alumnus Eric Horvitz who, among other credits, is a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

    In that capacity Horvitz convened a conference in 2009 at which top researchers considered advances in artificial intelligence and its influences on people and society, a discussion that illuminated the need for continuing study of AI’s long-term implications.

    Now, together with Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and computer science at Stanford, Horvitz has formed a committee that will select a panel to begin a series of periodic studies on how AI will affect automation, national security, psychology, ethics, law, privacy, democracy and other issues.

    “Artificial intelligence is one of the most profound undertakings in science, and one that will affect every aspect of human life,” said Stanford President John Hennessy, who helped initiate the project. “Given’s Stanford’s pioneering role in AI and our interdisciplinary mindset, we feel obliged and qualified to host a conversation about how artificial intelligence will affect our children and our children’s children.”

    Five leading academicians with diverse interests will join Horvitz and Altman in launching this effort. They are:

    • Barbara Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at HarvardUniversity and an expert on multi-agent collaborative systems;
    • Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, who collaborates with technologists to advance privacy and other democratic values through technical design and policy;
    • Yoav Shoham, a professor of computer science at Stanford, who seeks to incorporate common sense into AI;
    • Tom Mitchell, the E. Fredkin University Professor and chair of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, whose studies include how computers might learn to read the Web;
    • and Alan Mackworth, a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia [emphases mine] and the Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence, who built the world’s first soccer-playing robot.

    I wasn’t expecting to see a Canadian listed as a member of the AI100 standing committee and then I got another surprise (from the AI100 People webpage),

    Study Panels

    Study Panels are planned to convene every 5 years to examine some aspect of AI and its influences on society and the world. The first study panel was convened in late 2015 to study the likely impacts of AI on urban life by the year 2030, with a focus on typical North American cities.

    2015 Study Panel Members

    • Peter Stone, UT Austin, Chair
    • Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics
    • Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT
    • Ryan Calo, University of Washington
    • Oren Etzioni, Allen Institute for AI
    • Greg Hager, Johns Hopkins University
    • Julia Hirschberg, Columbia University
    • Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, IIT Bombay
    • Ece Kamar, Microsoft
    • Sarit Kraus, Bar Ilan University
    • Kevin Leyton-Brown, [emphasis mine] UBC [University of British Columbia]
    • David Parkes, Harvard
    • Bill Press, UT Austin
    • AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Berkeley
    • Julie Shah, MIT
    • Milind Tambe, USC
    • Astro Teller, Google[X]
  • [emphases mine] and the Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence, who built the world’s first soccer-playing robot.

I wasn’t expecting to see a Canadian listed as a member of the AI100 standing committee and then I got another surprise (from the AI100 People webpage),

Study Panels

Study Panels are planned to convene every 5 years to examine some aspect of AI and its influences on society and the world. The first study panel was convened in late 2015 to study the likely impacts of AI on urban life by the year 2030, with a focus on typical North American cities.

2015 Study Panel Members

  • Peter Stone, UT Austin, Chair
  • Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics
  • Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT
  • Ryan Calo, University of Washington
  • Oren Etzioni, Allen Institute for AI
  • Greg Hager, Johns Hopkins University
  • Julia Hirschberg, Columbia University
  • Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, IIT Bombay
  • Ece Kamar, Microsoft
  • Sarit Kraus, Bar Ilan University
  • Kevin Leyton-Brown, [emphasis mine] UBC [University of British Columbia]
  • David Parkes, Harvard
  • Bill Press, UT Austin
  • AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Berkeley
  • Julie Shah, MIT
  • Milind Tambe, USC
  • Astro Teller, Google[X]

I see they have representation from Israel, India, and the private sector as well. Refreshingly, there’s more than one woman on the standing committee and in this first study group. It’s good to see these efforts at inclusiveness and I’m particularly delighted with the inclusion of an organization from Asia. All too often inclusiveness means Europe, especially the UK. So, it’s good (and I think important) to see a different range of representation.

As for the content of report, should anyone have opinions about it, please do let me know your thoughts in the blog comments.

Synthite and its new ‘nano’ line of intensely coloured natural extracts

Synthite Industries, an Indian firm, has just announced a new line of intensely coloured natural extracts  using a nanotechnology process. There’s a little more detail in an Aug. 25, 2016 news article by Robin Wyers for foodingredientsfirst.com,

Indian extracts company Synthite has introduced a new line of colors derived from a nanotechnology process that offers a much brighter and better hue and therefore requires far lower dosages in use. Vextrano is the result of incessant research and scientific deliberations with an aim to give key characteristics to spices and spice derived products at an elemental level. The purpose of the exercise is multi-faceted with a view to develop an array of novel products that can achieve customized applications in food, beverage, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

Ashish Sharma (…) at Synthite briefly explained the concept to FoodIngredientsFirst: “This is a new product range which we commercialized in the market two months ago. We have bought a new plant for the production of these products. We are deriving this range from natural sources. For red colors we are using chili or paprika. For yellow, turmeric, and for green colors we are using black pepper [piperin]. …

“The key thing,” he notes, “is that when we are reducing the size of the particles to a very small level [to a particle level of 180-200 mesh], the dispersion of the light in any solvent is very good. That’s why you get the hue of the color much better.” In scientific terms, the process of maximizing the various active ingredients in a spice by reducing the size and inter molecular porosity to a feasible and ideal extent, without altering its molecular structure, leads to reduced energy consumption, waste generation and time required to achieve the end result in an application.

Sharma stresses that there are no regulatory issues around the use of this new line.  …

Synthite is just starting to roll the product out into market. …

So far, however, the product is only being sold in India, but it will be exported too, with the next promotion occurring at Fi South America, which is currently taking place in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Vextrano is positioned as a vision for the future based on value addition to the bio-ingredients from spices. Synthite’s range includes: turmeric, spinach, piperine, marigold, paprika, black pepper, annatto and lutein.

Synthite Industries has a Wikipedia entry (Synthite Industrial Chemicals); Note: Links have been removed),

Synthite Industries Ltd (Synthite) is an Indian oleoresin extraction firm, supplying ingredients to the major food, fragrance and flavour houses. The company is based in Kochi. In 2008, it had 30% of the world’s market share,.[1][2]

The company was established in 1972 with 20 employees. It was founded by C.V. Jacob, who started the company after working in civil construction for two decades. Initially it produced industrial chemicals before shifting to oleoresins.[3] The oleoresin business was initially based on research by the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore. However, the technology developed was not yet mature, and it took several years of additional research and development by Synthite to make the technology viable. It took another four years before they convinced food producers that they could produce quality products on time.[2]

By 2008, it has grown to 450 crore and 1200 employees, with a 2012 goal of 1,000 crore.[1] The company achieved this goal, with a total of 2,000 employees. The company only began selling directly to consumers in its native India in 2014.[4] Some of its major clients include Nestle, Bacardi and Pepsi.[4] The company is currently run by the founder’s son, Viju Jacob.[5]

The company produces oleoresin spices, essential oils, food colors, and sprayed products. It also has products that are organic and fair-trade. The company also has investments in realty and hospitality.[1]

You can find Synthite here but I haven’t found anything about Vextrano on that site. However, there is a LinkedIn account for Vextrano here.

SciFi novel “Divided Minds” from India

Thanks to an Aug. 23, 2016 news item on nyoooz.com I found out about an Indian science fiction writer,

Sanjay Koppikar’s book, Divided Minds is the harbinger of good news for sci-fi fans in India. Nanotechnology can take over the world and Sanjay Koppikar’s book Divided Minds tells its readers how Science fiction in India needs a push.

The summary on nyoooz.com is derived from an Aug. 22, 2016 article by Sahitya Poonacha for The Hindu, which features an interview with the author,

How did the idea of Divided Minds strike you?

I am basically a storyteller. Even in my job I do the same thing. I run a software company, I create technology stories that solve some problem, and send it to the customers. Then a few years ago I started saying no, I should not just be stuck with work. I should try and do something different so I started drawing. I travel a lot. I would sit at the airport and look at people’s faces, and sketch them. I also started making up stories to keep myself busy in ways other than work. I had this story in June, 2011. To finally get it to reality took five years. I had to do a lot of research. The story is about nanotechnology that is to be injected into the bloodstream. To make this story believable I had to study a little bit about that to realise that there are people already working on those lines.

… if you put an electronic chip into your bloodstream will that be acceptable to the bloodstream? It won’t be; so how will it react? Or how is it going to charge itself? You can’t think of putting a battery inside and replacing it. There were all these kinds of questions. Then there was the medical part of it. I spoke to at least six to seven doctors and kept picking their brains for information.

How did Delhi become the centre of activity in the book?

None of the places I have mentioned in the book I’ve ever been to. If you have followed the news, the story happened because of some different incidents knit together.

One of them is when General V.K. Singh was heading the Army — there was some news about the Army moving towards Delhi and later on there was a lot of denial and they said it was a general exercise. So, why did they move?

There is another story where a particular inspector took his family to a restaurant, had dinner and shot himself. These stories were eating me up — what must be going on in his head when he did that? A lot of people commit suicide but this is not the way to go about it. These people then became characters in my book. If at all I had to show the power that this phenomenon will bring about, it had to be set in the Capital.

I’m impressed by Koppikar’s interest in some of the real life issues with putting a computer chip into your bloodstream. A lot of science fiction writers use ‘nano devices’ merely as a means of moving the narrative forward and in those worlds, nano devices don’t have any of the shortcomings and problems one might expect in a real world medical application. Not having read the book I’m not sure how many of these concerns and what weight they have, if any, can be found in Koppikar’s narrative but it certainly sounds promising.

He has also integrated political concerns as per the article but no mention is made of the romance element evident in the book trailer,

For anyone interested in purchasing the book, go here.

Using mung bean extract to synthesize silver nanoparticles

Not everyone is quite as enthusiastic as whoever wrote this press release about silver nanoparticles (due to potential environmental issues as more manufactured silver nanoparticles enter the ecosystem). Still, it’s good news that there may be a greener way to synthesize them. A July 20, 2016 news item on Azonano ‘spills the beans’,

… researchers from the Guru Nanak National College, the Institute of Microbial Technology, Mata Gujri College and Punjab University, have found a simple, non-toxic and environmentally friendly way to synthesize AgNPs [silver nanoparticles] using seed extract of Vigna radiata, commonly known as the mung bean or green gram.

Manoj Kumar Choudhary and colleagues used aqueous seed extract of mung beans to break up aqueous silver nitrate solution into NPs, as well as to reduce and stabilize the particles. The NPs were characterized by UV–visible spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy, atomic absorption spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction. They were then tested for antimicrobial effectiveness.

As reported in Applied Nanoscience, the researchers found that phytochemicals present in the seed extract were effective at reducing and stabilizing the Ag metal ions. They found they could synthesize crystalline, spherically-shaped NPs, with a size range of 5 to 30 nm. The particles remained highly stable for months at room temperature, even after five months.

Antibacterial activity was assayed by the standard well-diffusion method, which showed that the biogenic silver NPs had broad-spectrum antibacterial activity against the Gram-negative bacteria Escherichia coli and the Gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

“In the present paper, we report a simple, eco-friendly and cost-effective synthesis method of AgNPs at ambient conditions using seed extract of Vigna radiata as a reducing and stabilizing agent,” say Choudhary and team. “The AgNPs synthesized by this method have efficient antimicrobial activity against pathogenic bacteria.”

The researchers say the next step would be further investigation of the potential applications of the synthesized AgNPs, as the outcome of the study could be useful for applications in nanotechnology-based applications in pharmacology and medicine.

Fig. 1: A Vigna radiata seeds. b Reddish brown solution of silver nanoparticles formed after 3 h due to reduction of silver ions [downloaded from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13204-015-0418-6]

Fig. 1: A Vigna radiata seeds. b Reddish brown solution of silver nanoparticles formed after 3 h due to reduction of silver ions [downloaded from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13204-015-0418-6]

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

A facile biomimetic preparation of highly stabilized silver nanoparticles derived from seed extract of Vigna radiata and evaluation of their antibacterial activity by Manoj Kumar Choudhary, Jyoti Kataria, Swaranjit Singh Cameotra, Jagdish Singh. Appl Nanosci (2016) 6: 105. doi:10.1007/s13204-015-0418-6 First Online: 19 February 2015

This paper is open access.

Nanotechnology-enhanced roads in South Africa and in Kerala, India

It’s all about road infrastructure in these two news bits.

Road building and maintenance in sub-Saharan Africa

A July 7, 2016 news item on mybroadband.co.za describes hopes that nanotechnology-enabled products will make roads easier to build and maintain,

The solution for affordable road infrastructure development could lie in the use of nanotechnology, according to a paper presented at the 35th annual Southern African Transport Conference in Pretoria.

The cost of upgrading, maintaining and rehabilitating road infrastructure with limited funds makes it impossible for sub-Saharan Africa to become competitive in the world market, according to Professor Gerrit Jordaan of the University of Pretoria, a speaker at the conference.

The affordability of road infrastructure depends on the materials used, the environment in which the road will be built and the traffic that will be using the road, explained Professor James Maina of the department of civil engineering at the University of Pretoria.

Hauling materials to a construction site contributes hugely to costs, which planners try to minimise by getting materials closer to the site. But if there aren’t good quality materials near the site, another option is to modify poor quality materials for construction purposes. This is where nanotechnology comes in, he explained.

For example, if the material is clay soil, it has a high affinity to water so when it absorbs water it expands, and when it dries out it contracts. Nanotechnology can make the soil water repellent. “Essentially, nanotechnology changes the properties to work for the construction process,” he said.

These nanotechnology-based products have been used successfully in many parts of the world, including India, the USA and in the West African region.

There have also been concerns about road building and maintenance in Kerala, India.

Nanotechnology for city roads in Kochi

A March 23, 2015 news item in the Times of India describes an upcoming test of a nanotechnology-enabled all weather road,

Citizens can now look forward to better roads with the local self-government department planning to use nanotechnology to construct all-weather roads.

For the district trial run, the department has selected a 300-metre stretch of a panchayat road in Edakkattuvayal panchayat. The trial would experiment with nanotechnology to build moisture resistant, long-lasting and maintenance-free roads.

“Like the public, the department is also fed up with the poor condition of roads in the state. Crores of rupees are spent every year for repairing and resurfacing the roads. This is because of heavy rains in the state that weakens the soil base of roads, resulting in potholes that affect the ride-quality of the road surface,” said KT Sajan, assistant executive engineer, LSGD, who is supervising the work.

The nanotechnology has been developed by Zydex Technologies, a Gujarat-headquartered firm. The company’s technology has already been used by major private contract firms that build national highways in India and in other major projects in European and African countries.

Oddly, you can’t find out more about the Zydex products mentioned in the article on its Roads Solution webpage , where you are provided a general description of the technology,

Revolutionary nanotechnology for building moisture resistant, long lasting & maintenance free roads through innovative adaptation of Organosilane chemistry.

Zydex Nanotechnology: A Game Changer

Zydex Nanotechnology has a value propositions for all layers of the road

SOIL LAYERS
Zydex Nanotechnology makes the soil moisture resistant, reduces expansiveness and stabilizes the soil to improve its bearing strength manifold. If used with 1% cement, it can stabilize almost any type of soil, by improving the California Bearing Ratio (CBR) to even 100 or above.

Here is the real change in game, as stronger soil bases would now allow optimization of road section thicknesses, potentially saving 10-15% road construction cost.

BOND COATS
Prime & Tack coats become 100 % waterproofed, due to penetration and chemical bonding. This also ensures uniform load transfer. And all this at lower residual bitumen.

ASPHALTIC LAYERS
Chemical bonding between aggregates and asphalt eliminates moisture induced damage of asphaltic layers.

Final comment

I hadn’t meant to wait so long to publish the bit about Kerala’s road but serendipity has allowed me to link it to a piece about South Africa ‘s roads and to note a resemblance to the problems encountered in both regions.

Building a regulatory framework for nanotechnology in India

For the second time in less than six weeks (the first time is described in my June 13, 2016 posting on India’s draft guidelines for the safe handling of nanomaterials) I’ve stumbled across an article about the need for more nanotechnology safety measures in India. From a June 23, 2016 article by Prateek Sibal for The Wire (Note: Links have been removed),

India ranks third in the number of research publications in nanotechnology, only after China and the US. This significant share in global nanotech research is a result of sharp focus by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to research in the field in the country. The unprecedented funding of Rs 1,000 crore for the Nano Mission was clearly dictated by the fact that India had missed the bus on the micro-electronic revolution of the 1970s and its attendant economic benefits that countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea continue to enjoy to this day.

At the same time, the success of the Nano Mission is not limited to research but also involves training the required human resource for further advancement in the field. An ASSOCHAM and TechSci Research study reported in 2014: “From 2015 onwards, global nanotechnology industry would require about two million professionals and India is expected to contribute about 25% professionals in the coming years.”

A missing element in India’s march towards becoming a nanotechnology powerhouse is the lack of focus on risk analysis and regulation. A survey of Indian practitioners working in the area of nano-science and nanotechnology research showed that 95% of the practitioners recognised ethical issues in nanotech research. Some of these concerns relate to the possibly adverse effects of nanotechnology on the environment and humans, their use as undetectable weapon in warfare, and the incorporation of nano-devices as performance enhancers in human beings.

One reason for lack of debate around ethical, and public-health and -safety, concerns around new technologies could be the exalted status that science and its practitioners enjoy in the country. A very successful space program and a largely indigenous nuclear program has ensured that policymakers spend much of their time feting achievements of Indian science than discussing the risks associated with new technologies or improving regulation.

After describing some of the studies raising health concerns, Sibal describes the issue for policymakers (Note: Links have been removed),

The challenge that remains in front of policymakers is that of regulating a field where vast areas of knowledge are still being investigated and are unknown. In this situation, over-regulation may end up stifling further development while under-regulation could expose the public to adverse health effects. Further, India’s lack of investment in risk studies only sustains the lull in the policy establishment when it comes to nanotech regulations.

The Energy and Resources Institute has extensively studied regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology and advocates that an “incremental approach holds out some promise and offers a reconciliation between the two schools- one advocating no regulation at present given the uncertainty and the other propounding a stand-alone regulation for nanotechnology.”

Kesineni Srinivas, the Member of Parliament from Vijayawada, has taken cognisance of the need for incremental regulation in nanotechnology from the view point of public health and safety. (Disclosure: The author worked with the Vijayawada MP on drafting the legislation on nanotechnology regulation, introduced in the winter session of Parliament, 2015.)

In December 2015, Srinivas introduced the Insecticides (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha to grant only a provisional registration to insecticides containing nanoparticles with a condition that “it shall be mandatory for the manufacturer or importer to report any adverse impact of the insecticide on humans and environment in a manner specified by the Registration Committee.” This is an improvement over the earlier process of granting permanent registration to insecticides. However, the fate of the bill remains uncertain as only 14 private member bills have been passed in Parliament since the first Lok Sabha in 1952.

Prateek Sibal will be joining Sciences Po (the Paris Institute of Political Sciences), Paris, as a Charpak Scholar in 2016.

I always appreciate these pieces as they help me to adjust my Canada-, US-, Commonwealth- and European-centric views.

India’s draft guidelines for the safe handling of nanomaterials

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen any guidelines for the safe handling of nanomaterials that are neither from Europe nor from the US. I imagine that’s due to translation issues or lack of publicity rather than a failure to create guidelines.

In any event, Indrani Barpujari, Advisor (Governance) at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Good Governance and Policy Analysis, Bhopal, India, has written a commentary on draft regulations for India (from her Draft Guidelines for Safe Handling of Nanomaterials commentary in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 51, Issue No. 23, 04 Jun, 2016 ISSN [Online] – 2349-8846 [appears to be open access]),

It is indeed laudable that as a first step towards regulation of nanotechnology in India, the Nano Mission under the Department of Science and Technology has come out with the draft “Guidelines and Best Practices for Safe Handling of Nanomaterials in Research Laboratories and Industries.” Taking cognisance of the imperative for safe handling of nanomaterials, the Nano Mission has constituted a task force consisting of eminent experts who have prepared this document. Involving the control of matter at the nanoscale, nanomaterials are characterised by small dimensions, large surface area, and high reactivity which while making them amenable to a large variety of applications in various sectors also render them potentially dangerous for human health and environmental safety, with considerable scientific uncertainty regarding the risks. Nanotechnology presents before policymakers a classic case of “Collingridge dilemma” or a “dilemma of control” with policy decisions required to be taken on the basis of uncertain scientific facts and under conditions of some urgency. It is the unique combination of “high expectations and huge uncertainties” (Van Lente 2010) associated with nanotechnology which has provided the required thrust for the current guidelines.

The draft guidelines, basically intended as standard operating procedure (SOP) for handling nanomaterials in research laboratories and industries, prescribe a combination of engineering controls, work practices and personal protective equipment as part of a robust exposure control strategy. These lay down the process for identifying hazards, taking note of the specific effect of surface chemistry, shape, size and morphology on toxicity caused to various organs. These address the potential exposure pathways and concomitant safety measures to mitigate the same. While prescribing certain best practices for handling nanomaterials generally, the guidelines also lay down another set of best practices specifically pertaining to the making and handling of nanopowders and use of products relating to food and healthcare. A precautionary approach is advocated with detailed life cycle assessment and strong binding procedures with respect to stakeholder involvement for various players while formulating best practices in the food sector particularly.

While the draft guidelines as a first step cover reasonable ground, it may be relevant to look at these in the context of the discourse on nanotechnology regulation abroad as well as in India. The focus of modern “risk societies” being more on “manufactured risks” or risks which are the product of human activity (Giddens 1999), governments, particularly in the developed world, are increasingly realising the need for risk-based regulation, to address potential risks from emerging technologies like nanotechnology, while promoting their development. Preliminary steps have been taken to regulate nanotechnology despite the admitted difficulty in doing so owing to the scientific uncertainty regarding its risks and limited amenability to traditional risk management approaches (Schummer and Pariotti 2008).

Thus, it may be surmised that the developed world’s engagement with nanotechnology to harness its benefits has been characterised by an almost unprecedented focus on regulating its risks and developing an anticipatory governance framework, taking on board different stakeholders including the public and incorporating societal concerns. On the other hand, with an almost single-minded focus on promotion in the initial years, the official pursuit of nanotechnology in India has not accorded much priority to its potential risks with the result than a large number of nano-based products are already out in the markets, without any regulation (Barpujari 2011a). In India, the government is the primary promoter of nanotechnology, pursued under the mission on nanoscience and technology (Nano Mission) with a huge budget outlay targeted at the development of nano-applications and creating adequate infrastructural and human capabilities for this purpose.

The Indian scientific establishment has high expectations from nanotechnology, with the technology expected to help meet the development needs of the country, while also positioning India as a forerunner in the global arena. Srivastava and Chowdhury (2008) observe that Indian scientists at the helm of affairs perceive that Indian science should not lose out on this opportunity to establish itself as a global leader and that it should not “miss the bus” as it did during the previous semiconductor revolution. Sahoo and Deshpande Sarma’s (2010) survey on risk perceptions among thirty scientists working in public-funded scientific institutions/laboratories indicate that Indian scientists are not very much perturbed by the risks of nanotechnology, and few take special precautions while working with nanomaterials, while very few are interested in taking up risk research.

The fact that the policy establishment is yet to take into serious consideration the potential risks of the technology is also evident from the low priority accorded to risk research, which should precede regulation. A very small number of projects are being publicly funded to look into toxicity issues, and there is almost no engagement with the social sciences and humanities, as evidenced by the lack of government funding for such studies.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that different stakeholders in India particularly policy researchers, civil society actors and research institutions pursuing risk research have been persistently making the case for nanotechnology regulation in the country and taken the lead in charting the way ahead. It is acknowledged that problems in developing risk-based regulation are particularly compounded for a developing country like India, owing to a lack of resources, expertise and regulatory mandate. The absence of regulation, it is anticipated, would be even worse as in the event of some of the risks materialising, developing countries would be ill-equipped to handle and mitigate these (Barpujari 2011b).

Particularly noteworthy is a regulatory matrix for India developed by TERI [The Energy and Resources Institute] (2009) comprising several central legislation, rules and notifications which could have relevance for regulation of environmental risks, occupational health and safety risks arising from nanotechnology development and applications in India. Another report (TERI 2012) has provided leads for adopting a precautionary approach and developing an anticipatory regulatory framework for nanotechnology in the South Asian region, taking the particular case of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Vajpayee offers more insight with her suggestions for “The Way Ahead” and I strongly suggest reading her commentary if you’re interested in a perspective from South Asia. There’s also a list of references at the end of the commentary, should you wish to explore further.

The birth of carbon nanotubes (CNTs): a history

There is a comprehensive history of the carbon nanotube stretching back to prehistory and forward to recent times in a June 3, 2016 Nanowerk Spotlight article by C.K. Nisha and Yashwant Mahajan of the Center of Knowledge Management of Nanoscience & Technology (CKMNT) in India. The authors provide an introduction explaining the importance of CNTs,

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been acknowledged as the material of the 21st century. They possess unique combination of extraordinary mechanical, electronic, transport, electrical and optical, properties and nanoscale sizes making them suitable for a variety of applications ranging from engineering, electronics, optoelectronics, photonics, space, defence industry, medicine, molecular and biological systems and so on and so forth. Worldwide demand for CNTs is increasing at a rapid pace as applications for the material are being matured.

According to MarketsandMarkets (M&M), the global market for carbon nanotubes in 2015 was worth about $2.26 billion1; an increase of 45% from 2009 (i.e. ~ $ 1.24 billion). This was due to the growing potential of CNTs in electronics, plastics and energy storage applications and the projected market of CNTs is expected to be around $ 5.64 billion in 2020.

In view of the scientific and technological potential of CNTs, it is of immense importance to know who should be credited for their discovery. In the present article, we have made an attempt to give a glimpse into the discovery and early history of this fascinating material for our readers. Thousands of papers are being published every year on CNTs or related areas and most of these papers give credit for the discovery of CNTs to Sumio Iijima of NEC Corporation, Japan, who, in 1991, published a ground-breaking paper in Nature reporting the discovery of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs)2. This paper has been cited over 27,105 times in the literature (as on January 12, 2016, based on Scopus database). This discovery by Iijima has triggered an avalanche of scientific publications and catapulted CNTs onto the global scientific stage.

Nisha and Mahajan then prepare to take us back in time,

In a guest editorial for the journal Carbon, Marc Monthioux and Vladimir L. Kuznetsov3 have tried to clear the air by describing the chronological events that led to the discovery of carbon nanotubes. As one delves deeper into the history of carbon nanotubes, it becomes more apparent that the origin of CNTs could be even pre-historic in nature.

Recently, Ponomarchuk et al from Russia have reported the presence micro and nano carbon tubes in igneous rocks formed about 250 million years ago4-7. They suggested the possibility of formation of carbon nanotubes during the magmatic processes. It is presumed that the migration of hydrocarbon fluids through the residual melt of the rock groundmass created gas-saturated areas (mostly CH4, CO2, CO) in which condensation and decomposition of hydrocarbon in presence of metal elements resulted in the formation of micro and sub-micron carbon tubes.

Another most compelling evidence of pre-historic naturally occurring carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) is based on the TEM studies carried out by Esquivel and Murr8 that analyzed 10,000-year-old Greenland ice core samples and it was suggested that probably they could have been formed during combustion of natural gas/methane during natural processes.

However, the validity of this evidence is questionable owing to the lack of clear high-resolution TEM images, high-quality diffraction patterns or Raman spectroscopy data. In addition, [an]other interesting possibility is that the carbon nanotubes could have been directly formed by the transformation of naturally occurring C60 fullerenes in nature without the assistance of man, given the right conditions prevail. Suchanek et al.,9 have actually demonstrated this thesis, under the laboratory environment, by transforming C60 fullerenes into CNTs under hydrothermal conditions.

There is a large body of evidence in literature about the existence of naturally occurring fullerenes in nature, e.g., coal, carboneous rocks, interstellar media, etc. Since the above experiments were conducted under the simulated geological environment, their results imply that CNTs may form in natural hydrothermal environment.

This hypothesis was further corroborated by Velasco-Santos and co-workers10, when they reported the presence of CNTs in a coal–petroleum mix obtained from an actual oil well, identified by the PEMEX (the Mexican Petroleum Company) as P1, which is located in Mexico’s southeast shore. TEM studies revealed that the coal-petroleum mix contained predominantly end-capped CNTs that are nearly 2 µm long with outer diameter varying between few to several tenths of nanometers.

There’s another study supporting the notion that carbon nanotubes may be formed naturally,

In yet another study, researchers from Germany11 have synthesized carbon nanotubes using igneous rock from Mount Etna lava as both support and catalyst. The naturally occurring iron oxide particles present in Etna lava rock make it an ideal material for growing and immobilizing nanocarbons.

When a mixture of ethylene and hydrogen were passed over the pulverized rocks reduced in a hydrogen atmosphere at 700°C, the iron particles catalyzed the decomposition of ethylene to elemental carbon, which gets deposited on the lava rock in the form of tiny tubes and fibers.
This study showed that if a carbon source is available, CNTs/CNFs can grow on a mineral at moderate temperatures, which directs towards the possibilities of carbon nanotube formation in active suboceanic volcanos or even in interstellar space where methane, atomic hydrogen, carbon oxides, and metallic iron are present.

This fascinating and informative piece was originally published in the January 2016 edition of Nanotech Insights (CKMNT newsletter; scroll down) and can be found there although it may be more easily accessible as the June 3, 2016 Nanowerk Spotlight article where it extends over five (Nanowerk) pages and has a number of embedded images along with an extensive list of references at the end.

Enjoy!

Functionalized nanomaterials for carbon capture

A few years ago I was at a breakfast hosted by a local member of the Canadian Parliament (Joyce Murray, Liberal, riding of Vancouver Quadra) and was unable to reply to a tablemate’s question about nanotechnology research in the area of carbon capture.  Since then I’ve stumbled across a few pieces of applicable research and hopefully someone will again ask me the question. In the meantime, some relevant recent work from India. From a May 9, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Climate change due to excessive CO2 levels is one of the most serious problems humankind has ever faced. This has resulted in abrupt weather patterns such as flood and drought, which are extremely disruptive and detrimental to life, as we have been witnessing in India in recent years. Mitigating rising CO2 levels is of prime importance. In a new development, scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, have developed a novel design of CO2 sorbents that show superior CO2 capture capacity and stability over conventional materials.

A May 9, 2016 Tata Institute of Fundamental Research press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The immobilization of functional amines on a porous solid support can result in stable and efficient CO2 sorbent materials compared to similar liquid sorbents. A critical disadvantage however, is a drastic decrease in the textural properties of these supports (i.e., their surface area and pore volume), leading to a decrease in the CO2 capture capability.

To overcome this challenge, scientists at TIFR Mumbai, have designed novel functionalised nanomaterials that allows higher amine loading with a minimal decrease in surface area.

“Our fibrous nanosilica (KCC-1) should be a good candidate for use as a support to design efficient CO2 sorbents that would allow better capture capacity, kinetics and recylability”, says Dr Vivek Polshettiwar, the lead scientist of this study. A unique feature of KCC-1 is its high surface area, which originates from its fibrous morphology and not from its mesoporous channels (unlike in other well studied materials like SBA-15 or MCM-41). This study, published recently in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, demonstrates the usefulness of the fibrous morphology of KCC-1 compared to conventional ordered mesoporous silica. This work is in continuation of the teams efforts to develop sustainable catalysts and sorbents.

The KCC-1-based sorbents showed several advantages over conventional silica-based sorbents, including i) high amine loading, ii) minimum reduction in surface area after functionalization and iii) more accessibility of the amine sites to enhance CO2 capture efficiency (i.e., capture capacity, kinetics and recyclability), due to the fibrous structure and high accessible surface area of KCC-1.

The demand for such efficient sorbents is on the rise since CO2 capture is one of the best solutions to mitigate the rising levels of CO2. Solid sorbents exhibit better efficiency with greater potential to overcome the shortcomings of liquid sorbents. The use of mesoporous silica materials functionalized with various amino groups is well reported. Although materials like SBA-15 and MCM-41, for example, have attracted significant attention because their large pore sizes can accommodate a variety of amine molecules and the high surface area allows for a higher loading of these functional molecules, they suffer from the disadvantages of a decrease in textural properties, thus making KCC-1 a suitable candidate for more efficient CO2 capture.

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

Design of CO2 sorbents using functionalized fibrous nanosilica (KCC-1): insights into the effect of the silica morphology (KCC-1 vs. MCM-41) by Baljeet Singh and Vivek Polshettiwar. J. Mater. Chem. A, 2016,4, 7005-7019 DOI: 10.1039/C6TA01348A First published online 08 Mar 2016

I believe this paper is behind a paywall.

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab opens new facility in India and competes in the Carbon XPRIZE

India

The Ingenuity Lab in Alberta has made two recent announcements. The first one to catch my attention was a May 7, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Ingenuity Lab is proud to announce the opening of the Ingenuity Lab Research Hub at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala India, to implement applied research and enable the translation of new 22nd century technologies. This new facility is the result of collaboration between the International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience Nanotechnology (IIUCNN) and Ingenuity Lab to leverage what each participant does best.

Should the Nanotechnology Now news item not be available you can find the same information in a May 6, 2016 news item in The Canadian Business News Journal. Here’s the rest of the news item,

Ingenuity Lab, led by Dr. Carlo Montemagno, brings the best minds together to address global challenges and was in 2014 voted the Best Nanotechnology Research Organisation in 2014 by The New Economy. IIUCNN is led by Professor Sabu Thomas, whose vision it is to perform and coordinate academic and research activities in the frontier areas of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology by incorporating physical, chemical, biological and environmental aspects.

The two institutions are world-renowned for their work, and the new partnership should cover areas as diverse as catalysis, macromolecules, environmental chemistry, biological processes and health and wellness.

“The initial focus,” according to Ingenuity Lab’s Director Dr. Carlo Montemagno, “Will be on inexpensive point of care healthcare technologies and water availability for both agriculture and personal consumption.” However, in the future, he says, “We plan to expand the scope to include food safety and energy systems.”

Ingenuity Lab’s role is to focus on producing, adapting and supplying new materials to Ingenuity Lab India to focus on final device development and field-testing. The India team members know what system characteristics work best in developing economies, and will establish the figures of merit to make an appropriate solution. Alberta team members will then use this information to exercise its skills in advance materials and systems design to be crafted into its final form and field-tested.

The collaboration is somewhat unique in that it includes the bilateral exchange of students and researchers to facilitate the commercial translation of new and game changing technologies.

Dr. Babu Sebastian, Honourable Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, will declare the opening of the new facility in the presence of Dr. Montemagno, who will explain the vision of this research hub in association with his plenary lecture of ICM 2016.

Carbon XPRIZE

A May 9, 2016 press release on Market Wired describes Ingenuity Lab’s latest venture into carbon ‘transformation’,

Alberta-based Ingenuity Lab has entered the Carbon XPRIZE under the name of Ingenuity Carbon Solutions. With competition registration taking place in March, Ingenuity Carbon Solutions plans to launch its latest carbon transformation technology and win the backing it so deserves on the world stage.

Ingenuity Lab is working to develop a technology that transforms CO2 emissions and changes the conversation on carbon and its consequences for the environment. By developing nano particles that have the capability to sequester CO2 from facility gas flue emissions, the technology can metabolize emissions into marketable by-products.

The Carbon XPRIZE this year seeks to inspire solutions to the issue of climate change by incentivizing the development of new and emerging CO2 conversation technologies. Described recently in a WEF [World Economic Forum] survey as the biggest potential threat to the economy in 2016, climate change has been targeted as a priority issue, and the XPRIZE has done a great deal to provide answers to the climate question.

Renowned for its role in bringing new and radical thought leaders into the public domain, the XPRIZE Board of Trustees include Elon Musk, James Cameron and Arianna Huffington and the prize never fails to attract the world’s brightest minds.

This year’s Carbon XPRIZE challenges participants including Ingenuity Lab and its Ingenuity Carbon Solutions team to reimagine the climate question by accelerating the development of technologies to convert CO2 into valuable products. Ingenuity Carbon Solutions and others will compete in a three-round competition for a total prize purse of $20m, with the winnings going towards the technology’s continued development.

I hope to hear more good news soon. Alberta could certainly do with some of that as it copes with Fort McMurray’s monstrous wildfire (more here in a NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center May 9, 2016 news release on EurekAlert).

For anyone interesting Alberta’s ‘nano’ Ingenuity Lab, more can be found here.