Tag Archives: India

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.

Nanoparticles for sustainable ways to grow crops

An April 29, 2016 news item on Nanowerk celebrates research into food production,

Scientists are working diligently to prepare for the expected increase in global population — and therefore an increased need for food production— in the coming decades. A team of engineers at Washington University in St. Louis has found a sustainable way to boost the growth of a protein-rich bean by improving the way it absorbs much-needed nutrients.

Ramesh Raliya, a research scientist, and Pratim Biswas, the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, both in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, discovered a way to reduce the use of fertilizer made from rock phosphorus and still see improvements in the growth of food crops by using zinc oxide nanoparticles.

The food under investigation is the mung bean,

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis hope that nanoparticle technology can help reduce the need for fertilizer, creating a more sustainable way to grow crops such as mung beans. Courtesy: Washington University in St. Louis

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis hope that nanoparticle technology can help reduce the need for fertilizer, creating a more sustainable way to grow crops such as mung beans. Courtesy: Washington University in St. Louis

An April 28, 2016 Washington University in St. Louis  news release (also on EurekAlert) by Beth Miller, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The research was published April 7 [2016] in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Raliya said this is the first study to show how to mobilize native phosphorus in the soil using zinc oxide nanoparticles over the life cycle of the plant, from seed to harvest.

Food crops need phosphorus to grow, and farmers are using more and more phosphorus-based fertilizer as they increase crops to feed a growing world population. However, the plants can only use about 42 percent of the phosphorus applied to the soil, so the rest runs off into the water streams, where it grows algae that pollutes our water sources. In addition, nearly 82 percent of the world’s phosphorus is used as fertilizer, but it is a limited supply, Raliya says.

“If farmers use the same amount of phosphorus as they’re using now, the world’s supply will be depleted in about 80 years,” Raliya said. “Now is the time for the world to learn how to use phosphorus in a more sustainable manner.”

Raliya and his collaborators, including Jagadish Chandra Tarafdar at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur, India, created zinc oxide nanoparticles from a fungus around the plant’s root that helps the plant mobilize and take up the nutrients in the soil. Zinc also is an essential nutrient for plants because it interacts with three enzymes that mobilize the complex form of phosphorus in the soil into a form that plants can absorb.

“Due to climate change, the daily temperature and rainfall amounts have changed,” Raliya said. “When they changed, the microflora in the soil are also changed, and once those are depleted, the soil phosphorus can’t mobilize the phosphorus, so the farmer applies more. Our goal is to increase the activity of the enzymes by several-fold, so we can mobilize the native phosphorus several-fold.”

When Raliya and the team applied the zinc nanoparticles to the leaves of the mung bean plant, it increased the uptake of the phosphorus by nearly 11 percent and the activity of the three enzymes by 84 percent to 108 percent. That leads to a lesser need to add phosphorus on the soil, Raliya said.

“When the enzyme activity increases, you don’t need to apply the external phosphorus, because it’s already in the soil, but not in an available form for the plant to uptake,” he said. “When we apply these nanoparticles, it mobilizes the complex form of phosphorus to an available form.”

The mung bean is a legume grown mainly in China, southeast Asia and India, where 60 percent of the population is vegetarian and relies on plant-based protein sources. The bean is adaptable to a variety of climate conditions and is very affordable for people to grow.

Raliya said 45 percent of the worldwide phosphorus use for agriculture takes place in India and China. Much of the phosphorus supply in developing countries is imported from the United States and Morocco-based rock phosphate mines.

“We hope that this method of using zinc oxide nanoparticles can be deployed in developing countries where farmers are using a lot of phosphorus,” Raliya said.

“These countries are dependent on the U.S. to export phosphorus to them, but in the future, the U.S. may have to help supply food, as well. If this crop can grow in a more sustainable manner, it will be helpful for everyone.”

“This is a broader effort under way at the nexus of food, energy and water,” Biswas said. “Nanoparticle technology enabled by aerosol science helps develop innovative solutions to address this global challenge problem that we face today.”

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

Enhancing the Mobilization of Native Phosphorus in the Mung Bean Rhizosphere Using ZnO Nanoparticles Synthesized by Soil Fungi by Ramesh Raliya, Jagadish Chandra Tarafdar, and Pratim Biswas. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2016, 64 (16), pp 3111–3118 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b05224 Publication Date (Web): April 07, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Arbro Pharmaceuticals and its bioavailable curcumin

Curcumin (a constituent of the spice turmeric) is reputed to have health benefits and has been used in traditional medicine in Asia (notably India) for millenia. Recently scientists have been trying to render curcumin more effective which means increasing its bioavailability (my Nov. 7, 2014 posting features some of that research). According to an April 29, 2016 Arbro Pharmaceuticals press release, the goal of increased bioavailability has been reached and a product is now available commercially,

Arbro Pharmaceuticals has launched SNEC30, a patented highly bioavailable self-nanoemulsifying curcumin formulation in the dosage of 30mg.

Curcumin is the active ingredient of turmeric or haldi, which has been widely used in traditional medicine and home remedies in India for hundreds of years.

Clinical research conducted over the last 25 years has shown curcumin to be effective against various diseases like cancer, pain, inflammation, arthritis, ulcers, psoriasis, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and many more pro-inflammatory conditions.

Despite its effectiveness against so many medical conditions, scientists have come to believe that curcumin’s true potential has been limited by its poor bioavailability which is caused by the fact that it has poor solubility and extensive pre-systemic metabolism.

Arbro Pharmaceuticals partnered with Jamia Hamdard University to carry out research and develop a novel formulation, which can overcome curcumin’s poor bioavailability. The development project was jointly funded by Arbro and the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India under its DPRP (Drug and Pharmaceutical Research Programme) scheme.

SNEC30 is the outcome of this joint research and is based on a novel self-nanoemulsifying drug delivery systems (SNEDDS) for which patents have been filed and the US patent has been granted.

“There has been tremendous interest in the therapeutic potential of curcumin but its poor bioavailability was a limiting factor, our research group together with Arbro took the challenge and applied nanotechnology to overcome this limitation and achieve highest ever bioavailability for curcumin,” said Dr. Kanchan Kohli, Asst. Prof, Faculty of Pharmacy, Jamia Hamdard University, who is one of the main developers of the formulation.

Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale (CRN – Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology). The name stems from the fact that the structures are in the nano-metre (10-9 mm) in range. In pharmaceutics, nano-formulations are used for targeted drug-delivery, particularly in cancer therapy. It also finds numerous other applications in medicine.

“Just 30mg of curcumin that is contained in one capsule of SNEC30 has shown higher blood levels than what can be achieved by consuming the curcumin content of 1kg of raw haldi or turmeric,” said Mr. Vijay Kumar Arora, Managing Director, Arbro Pharmaceuticals.

About Arbro Pharmaceuticals:

Arbro Pharmaceuticals is a 30-year-old research oriented company with its own research and development, testing and manufacturing facilities. Arbro has been manufacturing and exporting hundreds of formulations under its own brand name to more than 10 countries.

I am not endorsing this product but if you are interested the SNEC30 website is here. I believe Arbro Pharmaceuticals’ headquarters, the company which produces SNEC30, are located in India.

NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration), one of the world’s largest hackathons, and women

Elizabeth Segran’s April 19, 2016 article for Fast Company profiles some work being done at NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to encourage more women to participate in their hackathons (Note: A link has been removed),

For the past four years, NASA has hosted the Space Apps Challenge, one of the biggest hackathons on the planet. Last year, 14,264 people gathered in 133 locations for 48 to 72 hours to create apps using NASA’s data. A team in Lome, Togo, built a clean water mapping app; one in Bangalore, India, created a desktop planetarium; another in Pasadena, California, created a pocket assistant for astronauts. This year’s hackathon happens this upcoming weekend [April 22 – 24, 2016].

While NASA has been able to attract participants from all corners of the globe, it has consistently struggled to get women involved. NASA is working very hard to change this. “The attendance is generally 80% male,” says Beth Beck, NASA’s open innovation project manager, who runs the Space Apps Hackathon. “It’s more everyman than everywoman.”

There is a mention of a 2015 Canadian hackathon and an observation Beth Beck made at the time (from the Segran article),

Beck noticed that female participation in hackathons seemed to drop after the middle school years. At last year’s hackathon in Toronto, for instance, there were two sections: one for students and one for adults. Girls made up at least half of the student participants. “The middle school girls looked like honey bees, running around in little packs to learn about the technology,” she says. “But in the main hacking area, it was all guys. I wanted to know what happens that makes them lose their curiosity and enthusiasm.”

Beck’s further observations led to these conclusions,

It turns out that women are not significantly more interested in certain subjects than others. What they cared about most was being able to explore these topics in a space that felt friendly and supportive. “They are looking for signals that they will be in a safe space where they feel like they belong,” Beck says. Often, these signals are very straightforward: they seek out pictures of women on the event’s webpage and look for women’s names on the speaker panels and planning committees. …

Another interesting thing that Beck discovered is that women who are brave enough to attend these events want to go a day early to get the lay of the land and perhaps form a team in advance. They want to become more comfortable with the physical space where the hackathon will take place and learn as much as possible about the topics. “When the hackathon then becomes flooded with men, they feel ready for it,” she says.

While men described hacking as something that they did in their spare time, the research showed that many women often had many other family responsibilities and couldn’t just attend a hackathon for fun. And this wasn’t just true in developing countries, where girls were often tasked with childcare and chores, while boys could focus on science. In the U.S., events where there was childcare provided were much more highly attended by women than those that did not have that option. …

NASA’s hackathons are open to people with diverse skill sets—not just people who know code. Beck has found that men are more likely to participate because they are interested in space; they simply show up with ideas. Women, on the other hand, need to feel like they have the appropriate battery of skills to contribute. With this knowledge, Beck has found it helpful to make it clear that each team needs strong storytellers who can explain the value of the app. …

The folks at NASA are still working at implementing these ideas and Segran’s article describes the initiatives and includes this story (Note: A link has been removed),

Last year [2015], for instance, two female students in Cairo noticed that the hackathon has specifically called out to women and they wanted to host a local chapter of the hackathon. Their professor, however, told them that women could not host the event. The women reached out to NASA themselves and Beck wrote to them personally, saying that she highly encouraged them to create their own event. That Cairo event ended up being the largest Space Apps hackathon in the world, with 700 participants and a wait list of 300. …

Kudos to Beth Beck, NASA, and those two women in Cairo.

For anyone (male/female) interested in the 2016 hackathon, it’s being held this weekend (April 22 – 24, 2016), from the NASA Space Apps Challenge homepage,

For 48-72 hours across the world, problem solvers like you join us for NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge, one of the largest hackathons in the universe. Empowered by open data, you collaborate with strangers, colleagues, friends, and family to solve perplexing challenges in new and unexpected ways — from designing an interactive space glove to natural language processing to clean water mapping. Join us on our open data mission, and show us how you innovate.

Not Just For Coders

Beginners, students, experts, engineers, makers, artists, storytellers — Space Apps is for you! We welcome all passionate problem solvers to join our community of innovators. Citizens like you have already created thousands of open-source solutions together through code, data visualizations, hardware and design. How will you make your global impact?

It’s too late to become a host for the hackathon but you may be able to find a location for one somewhere near you on the hackathon website’s Locations page. There are three locations in Canada for the 2016 edition: Toronto (waitlist), Winnipeg (still open), and Waterloo (waitlist).

Minimalist DNA nanodevices perform bio-analytical chemistry inside live cells

A comparison of minimalist versus baroque architecture is one of the more startling elements in this March 24, 2016 news item on Nanowerk about a scientist working with DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) nanodevices,

Some biochemistry laboratories fashion proteins into complex shapes, constructing the DNA nanotechnological equivalent of Baroque or Rococo architecture. Yamuna Krishnan, however, prefers structurally minimalist devices.

“Our lab’s philosophy is one of minimalist design,” said Krishnan, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago. “It borders on brutalist. Functional with zero bells and whistles. There are several labs that design DNA into wonderful shapes, but inside a living system, you need as little DNA as possible to get the job done.”

That job is to act as drug-delivery capsules or as biomedical diagnostic tools.

A March 24, 2016 University of Chicago news release by Steve Koppes, which originated the news item, provides some background information before launching into the latest news,

In 2011, Krishnan and her group, then at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, became the first to demonstrate the functioning of a DNA nanomachine inside a living organism. This nanomachine, called I-switch, measured subcellular pH with a high degree of accuracy. Since 2011, Krishnan and her team have developed a palette of pH sensors, each keyed to the pH of the target organelle.

Last summer, the team reported another achievement: the development of a DNA nanosensor that can measure the physiological concentration of chloride with a high degree of accuracy.

“Yamuna Krishnan is one of the leading practitioners of biologically oriented DNA nanotechnology,” said Nadrian Seeman, the father of the field and the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor of Chemistry at New York University. “These types of intracellular sensors are unique to my knowledge, and represent a major advance for the field of DNA nanotechnology.”

Chloride sensor

Chloride is the single most abundant, soluble, negatively charged molecule in the body. And yet until the Krishnan group introduced its chloride sensor—called Clensor—there was no effective and practical way to measure intracellular stores of chloride.

“What is especially interesting about this sensor is that it is completely pH independent,” Seeman said, a significant departure from Krishnan’s previous scheme. “She spent a number of years developing pH sensors that work intra-cellularly and provide a fluorescent signal as a consequence of a shift in pH.”

The ability to record chloride concentrations is important for many reasons. Chloride plays an important role in neurobiology, for example. But calcium and sodium—both positively charged ions—tend to grab most of the neurobiological glory because of their role in neuron excitation.

“But if you want your neuron to fire again, you have to bring it back to its normal state. You have to stop it firing,” Krishnan said. This is called “neuronal inhibition,” which chloride does.

“It’s important in order to reset your neuron for a second round of firing, otherwise we would all be able to use our brains only once,” she said.

Under normal circumstances, the transport of chloride ions helps the body produce thin, freely flowing mucus. But a genetic defect results in a life-threatening disease: cystic fibrosis. Clensor’s capacity to measure and visualize protein activity of molecules like the one related to cystic fibrosis transmembrane could lead to high-throughput assays to screen for chemicals that would restore normal functioning of the chloride channel.

Nine diseases

“One could use this to look at chloride ion channel activity in a variety of diseases,” Krishnan said. “Humans have nine chloride ion channels, and the mutation of each of these channels results in nine different diseases.” Among them are osteopetrosis, deafness, muscular dystrophy and Best’s macular dystrophy.

The pH-sensing capabilities of the I-switch, meanwhile, are important because cells contain multiple organelles that maintain specific values of acidity. Cells need these different microenvironments to carry out specialized chemical reactions.

“Each subcellular organelle has a specific resting value of acidity, and that acidity is crucial to its function,” Krishnan said. “When the pH is not the value that it’s meant to be, it results in a range of different diseases.”

There are 70 rare diseases called lysosomal storage disorders, which are progressive and often fatal. Each one—including Batten disease, Niemann-Pick disease, Pompe disease and Tay-Sachs disease—represents a different way a lysosome can go bad. She likened a defective lysosome to a garbage bin that never gets emptied.

“The lysosome is basically responsible for chewing up all the garbage and making sure it’s either reused or got rid of. It’s the most acidic organelle in the cell.” And that acidity is crucial for the degradation process.

Although there are 70 lysosomal storage diseases, small molecule drugs are available for only a few of them. These existing treatments—enzyme-replacement therapies—are expensive and are only palliative treatments. One goal of Krishnan’s group is to demonstrate the utility of their pH sensors to discover new biological insights into these diseases. Developing small molecule drugs—which are structurally simpler and easier to manufacture than traditional biological drugs—could help significantly.

“If we can do this for one or two lysosomal diseases, there’ll be hope for the other 68,” Krishnan said.

Here are links to and citations for the 2015 and 2011 papers,

A pH-independent DNA nanodevice for quantifying chloride transport in organelles of living cells by Sonali Saha, Ved Prakash, Saheli Halder, Kasturi Chakraborty, & Yamuna Krishnan. Nature Nanotechnology 10, 645–651 (2015)  doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.130 Published online 22 June 2015

An autonomous DNA nanomachine maps spatiotemporal pH changes in a multicellular living organism by Sunaina Surana, Jaffar M. Bhat, Sandhya P. Koushika, & Yamuna Krishnan. Nature Communications 2, Article number: 340  doi:10.1038/ncomms1340 Published 07 June 2011

The 2015 paper is behind a paywall but the 2011 paper is open access.