Tag Archives: Japan

An app for nanomaterial risks (NanoRisk)

It seems past time for someone to have developed an app for nanomaterial risks. A Nov. 12, 2015 news item on Nanowerk makes the announcement (Note: A link has been removed),

The NanoRisk App is a guide to help the researcher in the risk assessment of nanomaterials. This evaluation is determined based on the physicochemical characteristics and the activities to be carried out by staff in research laboratories.

The NanoRisk App was developed at the University of Los Andes or Universidad de los Andes in Colombia (there also seems to be one in Chile). From the Nano Risk App homepage,

The NanoRisk App application was developed at the University of Los Andes by the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and implemented in cooperation with the Department of Occupational Health at the University of Los Andes. This application focuses on the use of manufactured nanomaterials.


Homero Fernando Pastrana Rendón MD, MsC, PhD Candidate. Alba Graciela Ávila, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Felipe Muñoz Giraldo, Professor Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Los Andes.

Acknowledgements to Diego Angulo and Diana Fernandez, from the Imagine group, for all the support in the development of this application.

About the App

The app is a guide to help the researcher in the risk assessment of nanomaterials. This evaluation is determined based on the physicochemical characteristics and the activities to be carried out by staff in research laboratories. This is based on nano risk management strategies from various institutions such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, U.S. (NIOSH), the New Development Organization of Japan Energy and Industrial Technology (NEDO), the European Commission (Nanosafe Program) and the work developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (California, USA) in conjunction with the Safety Science Group at the University of Delft in the Netherlands.


The app will estimates the risk at four levels (low, medium, high and very high) for the hazard of the nanomaterial and the probability to be exposed to the material. Then it will recommend measures to contain the risk by applying engineering measures (controlled ventilation system, biosafety cabinet and glovebox).

They have a copyright notice on the page, as well as, instructions on how to access the App and the information.

Nano and Japan and South Korea

It’s not always easy to get perspective about nanotechnology research and commercialization efforts in Japan and South Korea. So, it was good to see Marjo Johne’s Nov. 9, 2015 article for the Globe and Mail,

Nanotechnology, a subfield in advanced manufacturing [?] that produces technologies less than 100 nanometres in size (a human hair is about 800 times wider), is a burgeoning industry that’s projected to grow to about $135-billion in Japan by 2020. South Korea’s government said it is aiming to boost its share of the sector to 20 per cent of the global market in 2020.

“Japan and Korea are active markets for nanotechnology,” says Mark Foley, a consultant with NanoGlobe Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based firm that helps nanotech companies bring their products to market. “Japan is especially strong on the research side and [South] Korea is very fast in plugging nanotechnology into applications.”

Andrej Zagar, author of a research paper on nanotechnology in Japan, points to maturing areas in Japan’s nanotechnology sector: applications such as nano electronics, coatings, power electronic, and nano-micro electromechanical systems for sensors. “Japan’s IT sector is making the most progress as the implementations here are made most quickly,” says Mr. Zagar, who works as business development manager at LECIP Holdings Corp., a Tokyo-based company that manufactures intelligent transport systems for global markets. “As Japan is very environmentally focused, the environment sector in nanotech – fuel-cell materials, lithium-ion nanomaterials – is worth focusing on.”

A very interesting article, although don’t take everything as gospel. The definition of nanotechnology as a subfield in advanced manufacturing is problematic to me since nanotechnology has medical and agricultural applications, which wouldn’t typically be described as part of an advanced manufacturing subfield. As well, I’m not sure where biomimicry would fit into this advanced manufacturing scheme. In any event, the applications mentioned in the article do fit that definition; its just not a comprehensive one.

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows I’m not a big fan of patents or the practice of using filed patents as a measure of scientific progress but in the absence of of a viable alternative, there’s this from Johne’s article,

Patent statistics suggest accelerated rates of nanotech-related innovations in these countries. According to StatNano, a website that monitors nanotechnology developments in the world, Japan and South Korea have the second and third highest number of nanotechnology patents filed this year with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

As of September, Japan had filed close to 3,283 patents while South Korea’s total was 1,845. While these numbers are but a fraction of the United States’ 13,759 nanotech patents filed so far this year, they top Germany, which has only 1,100 USPTO nanotech patent filings this year, and Canada, which ranks 10th worldwide with 375 filings.

In South Korea, the rise of nanotechnology can be traced back to 2001, when the South Korean government launched its nanotechnology development plan, along with $94-million in funding. Since then, South Korea has poured more money into nanotechnology. As of 2012, it had invested close to $2-billion in nanotech research and development.

The applications mentioned in the article are the focus of competition not only in Japan and South Korea but internationally,

Mr. Foley says nanofibres and smart clothing are particularly hot areas in Japan these days. Nanofibers have broad applications and can be used in water and air filtration systems. He points to Toray Industries Inc. and Teijin Ltd. as leaders in advanced fibre technology.

“We’ve also seen advances in smart clothing in the last year or two, with clothing that can conduct electricity and measure things like heart rate, body temperature and sweat,” he says. “Last year, a sporting company in Japan released smart clothing based on Toray technology.”

How did Foley determine that ‘smart clothing’ is a particularly hot area in Japan? Is it the number of patents filed? Is it the amount of product in the marketplace? Is it consumer demand? And, how do those numbers compare with other countries? Also, I would have liked a little more detail as to what Foley meant by ‘nanofibres’.

This is a very Asia-centric story, which is a welcome change from US-centric and European-centric stories on this topic, and inevitably, China is mentioned,

As the nanotechnology industry continues to gain traction on a global scale, Mr. Foley says Japan and South Korea may have a hard time holding on to their top spots in the international market; China is moving up fast from behind.

“Top Chinese researchers from Harvard and Cambridge are returning to China, where in Suzhou City they’ve built a nanocity with over 200 nanotechnology-related companies,” he says …

The ‘nano city’ Foley mentions is called Nanopolis or Nanopolis Suzhou. It’s been mentioned here twice, first in a Jan. 20, 2014 posting and again in a Sept. 26, 2014 posting. It’s a massive project and I gather that while some buildings are occupied there are still a significant percentage under construction.

Copyright and patent protections and human rights

The United Nations (UN) and cultural rights don’t immediately leap to mind when the subjects of copyright and patents are discussed. A Mar. 13, 2015 posting by Tim Cushing on Techdirt and an Oct. 14, 2015 posting by Glyn Moody also on Techdirt explain the connection in the person of Farida Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights and the author of two UN reports one on copyright and one on patents.

From the Mar. 13, 2015 posting by Tim Cushing,

… Farida Shaheed, has just delivered a less-than-complimentary report on copyright to the UN’s Human Rights Council. Shaheed’s report actually examines where copyright meshes with arts and science — the two areas it’s supposed to support — and finds it runs contrary to the rosy image of incentivized creation perpetuated by the MPAAs and RIAAs of the world.

Shaheed said a “widely shared concern stems from the tendency for copyright protection to be strengthened with little consideration to human rights issues.” This is illustrated by trade negotiations conducted in secrecy, and with the participation of corporate entities, she said.

She stressed the fact that one of the key points of her report is that intellectual property rights are not human rights. “This equation is false and misleading,” she said.

The last statement fires shots over the bows of “moral rights” purveyors, as well as those who view infringement as a moral issue, rather than just a legal one.

Shaheed also points out that the protections being installed around the world at the behest of incumbent industries are not necessarily reflective of creators’ desires. …

Glyn Moody’s Oct. 14, 2015 posting features Shaheed’s latest report on patents,

… As the summary to her report puts it:

There is no human right to patent protection. The right to protection of moral and material interests cannot be used to defend patent laws that inadequately respect the right to participate in cultural life, to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, to scientific freedoms and the right to food and health and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Patents, when properly structured, may expand the options and well-being of all people by making new possibilities available. Yet, they also give patent-holders the power to deny access to others, thereby limiting or denying the public’s right of participation to science and culture. The human rights perspective demands that patents do not extend so far as to interfere with individuals’ dignity and well-being. Where patent rights and human rights are in conflict, human rights must prevail.

The report touches on many issues previously discussed here on Techdirt. For example, how pharmaceutical patents limit access to medicines by those unable to afford the high prices monopolies allow — a particularly hot topic in the light of TPP’s rules on data exclusivity for biologics. The impact of patents on seed independence is considered, and there is a warning about corporate sovereignty chapters in trade agreements, and the chilling effects they can have on the regulatory function of states and their ability to legislate in the public interest — for example, with patent laws.

I have two Canadian examples for data exclusivity and corporate sovereignty issues, both from Techdirt. There’s an Oct. 19, 2015 posting by Glyn Moody featuring a recent Health Canada move to threaten a researcher into suppressing information from human clinical trials,

… one of the final sticking points of the TPP negotiations [Trans Pacific Partnership] was the issue of data exclusivity for the class of drugs known as biologics. We’ve pointed out that the very idea of giving any monopoly on what amounts to facts is fundamentally anti-science, but that’s a rather abstract way of looking at it. A recent case in Canada makes plain what data exclusivity means in practice. As reported by CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] News, it concerns unpublished clinical trial data about a popular morning sickness drug:

Dr. Navindra Persaud has been fighting for four years to get access to thousands of pages of drug industry documents being held by Health Canada.

He finally received the material a few weeks ago, but now he’s being prevented from revealing what he has discovered.

That’s because Health Canada required him to sign a confidentiality agreement, and has threatened him with legal action if he breaks it.

The clinical trials data is so secret that he’s been told that he must destroy the documents once he’s read them, and notify Health Canada in writing that he has done so….

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Trans Pacific Partnership is a proposed trade agreement including 12 countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam) from the Pacific Rim. If all the countries sign on (it looks as if they will; Canada’s new Prime Minister as of Oct. 19, 2015 seems to be in favour of the agreement although he has yet to make a definitive statement), the TPP will represent a trading block that is almost double the size of the European Union.

An Oct. 8, 2015 posting by Mike Masnick provides a description of corporate sovereignty and of the Eli Lilly suit against the Canadian government.

We’ve pointed out a few times in the past that while everyone refers to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as a “free trade” agreement, the reality is that there’s very little in there that’s actually about free trade. If it were truly a free trade agreement, then there would be plenty of reasons to support it. But the details show it’s not, and yet, time and time again, we see people supporting the TPP because “well, free trade is good.” …
… it’s that “harmonizing regulatory regimes” thing where the real nastiness lies, and where you quickly discover that most of the key factors in the TPP are not at all about free trade, but the opposite. It’s about as protectionist as can be. That’s mainly because of the really nasty corprorate sovereignty clauses in the agreement (which are officially called “investor state dispute settlement” or ISDS in an attempt to make it sound so boring you’ll stop paying attention). Those clauses basically allow large incumbents to force the laws of countries to change to their will. Companies who feel that some country’s regulation somehow takes away “expected profits” can convene a tribunal, and force a country to change its laws. Yes, technically a tribunal can only issue monetary sanctions against a country, but countries who wish to avoid such monetary payments will change their laws.

Remember how Eli Lilly is demanding $500 million from Canada after Canada rejected some Eli Lilly patents, noting that the new compound didn’t actually do anything new and useful? Eli Lilly claims that using such a standard to reject patents unfairly attacks its expected future profits, and thus it can demand $500 million from Canadian taxpayers. Now, imagine that on all sorts of other systems.

Cultural rights, human rights, corporate rights. It would seem that corporate rights are going to run counter to human rights, if nothing else.

A trio of nano news items from Japan (Irago Conference 2015, novel tuneable metallofullerenes, and nanoislands and skeletal skin for fuel cells)

Getting onto a list for news releases from Japan has been a boon. I don’t know how it happened but now I can better keep up with the nanotechnology effort in the country where the term was first coined (Norio Taniguchi) and which is a research leader in this field.

Irago Conference

This is a very intriguing conference, from a joint Oct. 18, 2015 Toyohashi University of Technology and University of Electro-Communications press release,

Organized by the Toyohashi University of Technology and University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo, the Irago Conference aims to enhance mutual understanding between scientists, engineers, policy makers, and experts from a wide spectrum of pure and applied sciences in order to resolve major global issues.

The Irago Conference 2015 is a unique conference combining thought provoking insights into global issues including disaster mitigation, neuroscience, public health monitoring, and nanotechnology [emphasis mine] by internationally renowned invited speakers with selected talks, posters, and demonstrations from academics, industrialists, and think tanks. The conference is truly a ‘360 degree outlook on critical scientific and technological challenges’ facing mankind.

Recent changes in global economics and industrial priorities, environmental and energy policies, food production and population movements have produced formidable challenges that must be addressed for sustaining life on earth.

The Irago Conference will highlight the major issues by bringing together experts from across the world who will give their views on key areas such as energy and natural resources, medicine and public health, disaster prevention and management, as well as other advances in science, technology and life sciences.

Observation, measurement, and monitoring are the keywords of the core topics covered at Irago 2015 with invited speakers Professor Masashi Hayakawa (University of Electro-Communications, Japan) presenting his pioneering research on “Earthquake prediction with electromagnetic phenomena, and Nobuhiko Okabe  (Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health, Japan) discussing “The role and contribution of Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health (Local Public Health Laboratory), locally and globally” with first hand examples of monitoring food safety and the spread of possible diseases carried by insects.

The Irago Conference will be streamed live. Visit the conference website for the links to the streaming site.


When: Thursday, 22 October 2015 to Friday 23  October 2015.

Where: Irago Sea-Park & Spa Hotel, Tahara, Aichi, Japan

They don’t appear to have set up the streaming link yet.

Tuneable metallofullerenes

Originally issued as a Sept. 21, 2015 press release, the University of Electro-Communications has issued an Oct. 19, 2015 version,

Tiny nanoscale molecules in the form of spherical carbon cages, or ‘fullerenes’, have received considerable attention in recent years. Individual or small groups of atoms can be trapped inside fullerenes, creating stable molecules with unique electronic structures and unusual properties that can be exploited in the field of nanomaterials and biomedical science.

Endohedral metallofullerenes (EMFs) are one such class of molecules, in which one or more metal atoms are encapsulated inside many kinds of carbon cages. Crucially, the metal atom(s) are not chemically bonded with the carbon surrounds, but they do donate electrons to the carbon cage. Scientists have recently begun to understand how to control the movement, behavior and positioning of the enclosed atoms by adding other atoms, such as silicon or germanium (in their silyl or germyl groups), to the fullerene surface. This allows for the manipulation and fine-tuning of the EMF’s properties.

Now, Masahiro Kako and co-workers at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, together with scientists across Japan and the USA, have created and analyzed the effects of silylation and germylation on an EMF called Lu3N@Ih-C80 (three lutetium atoms bonded to a nitrogen atom encased inside a carbon 80 cage).

Using X-ray crystallography, electrochemical analyses and theoretical calculations, the team discovered that adding silyl groups or germyl groups to the fullerene structure was a versatile way of controlling the EMF’s electronic properties. The exact positioning of the silyl or germyl groups in bonding to the carbon structure determined the energy gaps present in the EMF, and determined the orientation of the bonded metal atoms inside the cage.

The germyl groups donated more electrons and the process worked slightly more efficiently than the silyl groups, but Kako and his team believe that both provide an effective way of fine-tuning EMF electronic characteristics.


A brief history of fullerenes

Fullerenes are carbon molecules that take the shape of spheres. The most famous and abundant fullerene is the buckminsterfullerene, or ‘buckyball’, C60, which resembles a soccer ball in shape with a bonded carbon atom at each point of every polygon.

Endohedral metallofullerenes, or EMFs, are created by trapping a metal atom or atoms inside a fullerene cage, rather like a hamster in a ball. The trapped atom(s) are not chemically-bonded to the carbon, but they do interact with it by donating electrons, thus creating unique and very useful molecules for nanomaterial science and biomedicine.

Silylation and germylation

The addition of other atoms to fullerene surfaces can affect EMF properties, by regulating the behavior of the metal atoms inside the fullerene cage. In one EMF, the movement of lanthanum atoms is restricted to two dimensions by the addition of silyl groups to the carbon cage. This alters the electrostatic potentials inside the cage and restricts the lanthanum atoms’ mobility, and thus changes the overall properties of the whole molecule.

This study by Masahiro Kako and co-workers further enhances understanding of the effects of silylation and germalytion (the addition of silicon-based and germanium-based groups) on lutetium-based EMFs. The team have shown that the exact positioning of the additional atoms in the carbon structure can influence the energy gaps across the molecule, thereby allowing them to tune the electronic properties of the EMF. This ability to ‘fine-tune’ EMFs could have some applications for functional materials in molecular electronics, such as acceptors in organic photovoltaic devices.

Further work

Kako and his team hope to carry out further investigations into the addition of alternative groups of atoms to fullerenes, to add to the tuning properties of silicon- and germanium-based groups. This could expand on the versatility of EMFs and their potential applications in future.

Fullerenes don’t get that much attention these days when compared to graphene and carbon nanotubes although there seems to be increasing interest in their potential as cages.

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

Preparation, Structural Determination, and Characterization of Electronic Properties of Bis-Silylated and Bis-Germylated Lu3N@Ih-C80 by Prof. Dr. Masahiro Kako, Kyosuke Miyabe, Dr. Kumiko Sato, Dr. Mitsuaki Suzuki, Dr. Naomi Mizorogi, Dr. Wei-Wei Wang, Prof. Dr. Michio Yamada, Prof. Dr. Yutaka Maeda, Prof. Dr. Marilyn M. Olmstead, Prof. Dr. Alan L. Balch, Prof. Dr. Shigeru Nagase, and Prof. Dr. Takeshi Akasaka. Chemistry – A European Journal DOI: 10.1002/chem.201503579 Article first published online: 21 SEP 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

Nanoislands and skeletal skin for fuel cells

This final item concerns a platinum ‘skin’. From an Oct. 21, 2015 University of Electro-Communications press release,

Polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFC) could provide an alternative to traditional fossil fuel power, but higher performance and durability under harsh conditions are needed before PEFC vehicles can be considered commercially viable. Now researchers at the University of Electro-Communications, the University of Tokushima and Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute in Japan have synthesised catalysts from platinum cobalt (PtCo3) nanoparticles on carbon (C) with tin oxide (SnO2) nanoislands and shown that they perform better than any previously reported.

Fuel cell research has focused on platinum alloys and transition metal oxides to improve on the durability and catalytic performance of platinum on carbon. Previous work with SnO2 islands grown on platinum tin alloy with carbon had already shown some improvement in the oxygen reduction reactions that occur in fuel cells. However growing islands of only SnO2 on other alloys posed a challenge.

Now Yasuhiro Iwasawa at the University of Electro-Communications and his colleagues have grown SnO2 islands on Pt3Co nanoparticles on carbon (Pt3Co/C) by selective electrochemical deposition of tin metal, which is then oxidized. The addition of the SnO2 nanoislands doubled the catalytic performance of the Pt3Co/C catalysts. In addition they were undamaged after undergoing 5000 cycles of voltage changes to test their durability.

The structure the Pt3Co nanoparticles form has a Pt3Co core surrounded by a platinum skin that has a rough – “skeleton” – morphology. The researchers attribute the high catalytic performance in part to efficient electronic modification specifically at the platinum skin surface, and in particular to the unique property of the SnO2 nanoislands at the compressive platinum skeleton-skin surface.

“In general, adhesion of transition metal oxides on carbon induces depression of the electrical conductivity of the carbon,” explain the researchers in their report. “Hence, the selective nano-SnO2 decoration on the Pt-enriched-surface nanoparticles provides a significant advantage as a cathode catalyst.”


Polymer electrolyte fuel cells

Polymer electrolyte fuel cells consist of two porous polymer membranes. On one side hydrogen gas molecules give up electrons and on the other oxygen gas molecules accept electrons completing a current circuit.  The ions can then penetrate the membrane and combine to form water.

Polymer electrolyte fuel cells have several advantages over conventional fuel as they do not deplete the limited supplies of fossil fuels, and the waste products are water and heat, and therefore relatively non-polluting. The efficiency of fuel cells has already highlighted their potential for powering small vehicles.


The formation of hydrogen and oxygen ions from the gas molecules are referred to as redox reactions from the term ‘reduction’ and ‘oxidation’. In fuel cells neutral oxygen molecules are reduced to negatively charge oxygen ions with a charge of -2. The oxidation number is thus ‘reduced’ from 0 to -2. In contrast, ionisation of hydrogen molecules to positively charge hydrogen ions (that is single protons) increases the oxygen number by one – ‘oxidation’.

Catalysts are used to increase the efficiency of the redox reactions in fuel cells to improve the power and current density. The efficiency of the catalysts is measured in terms of the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) activity.

Improving ORR

The researchers measured the potential difference required for other reactions in the presence of their catalyst to determine how the additional SnO2 islands improved the ORR. Their observations suggest that strain at the nanoislands on the Pt3Co nanoparticles modifies the electronic structure so that the centre of the electron d band is decreased. This decreases oxygen adsorption and improves the performance of the catalyst. In addition there is an increase in the proton affinity of the platinum near the nanoislands, which significantly enhances the ORR further still.

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

Surface-Regulated Nano-SnO2/Pt3Co/C Cathode Catalysts for Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells Fabricated by a Selective Electrochemical Sn Deposition Method by Kensaku Nagasawa, Shinobu Takao, Shin-ichi Nagamatsu, Gabor Samjeské, Oki Sekizawa, Takuma Kaneko, Kotaro Higashi, Takashi Yamamoto, Tomoya Uruga†, and Yasuhiro Iwasawa. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2015, 137 (40), pp 12856–12864 DOI: 10.1021/jacs.5b04256 Publication Date (Web): September 27, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Memristor shakeup

New discoveries suggest that memristors do not function as was previously theorized. (For anyone who wants a memristor description, there’s this Wikipedia entry.) From an Oct. 13, 2015 posting by Alexander Hellemans for the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers]), Note: Links have been removed,

What’s going to replace flash? The R&D arms of several companies including Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Samsung think the answer might be memristors (also called resistive RAM, ReRAM, or RRAM). These devices have a chance at unseating the non-volatile memory champion because, they use little energy, are very fast, and retain data without requiring power. However, new research indicates that they don’t work in quite the way we thought they do.

The fundamental mechanism at the heart of how a memristor works is something called an “imperfect point contact,” which was predicted in 1971, long before anybody had built working devices. When voltage is applied to a memristor cell, it reduces the resistance across the device. This change in resistance can be read out by applying another, smaller voltage. By inverting the voltage, the resistance of the device is returned to its initial value, that is, the stored information is erased.

Over the last decade researchers have produced two commercially promising types of memristors: electrochemical metallization memory (ECM) cells, and valence change mechanism memory (VCM) cells.

Now international research teams lead by Ilia Valov at the Peter Grünberg Institute in Jülich, Germany, report in Nature Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials that they have identified new processes that erase many of the differences between EMC and VCM cells.

Valov and coworkers in Germany, Japan, Korea, Greece, and the United States started investigating memristors that had a tantalum oxide electrolyte and an active tantalum electrode. “Our studies show that these two types of switching mechanisms in fact can be bridged, and we don’t have a purely oxygen type of switching as was believed, but that also positive [metal] ions, originating from the active electrode, are mobile,” explains Valov.

Here are links to and citations for both papers,

Graphene-Modified Interface Controls Transition from VCM to ECM Switching Modes in Ta/TaOx Based Memristive Devices by Michael Lübben, Panagiotis Karakolis, Vassilios Ioannou-Sougleridis, Pascal Normand, Pangiotis Dimitrakis, & Ilia Valov. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201502574 First published: 10 September 2015

Nanoscale cation motion in TaOx, HfOx and TiOx memristive systems by Anja Wedig, Michael Luebben, Deok-Yong Cho, Marco Moors, Katharina Skaja, Vikas Rana, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Kiran K. Adepalli, Bilge Yildiz, Rainer Waser, & Ilia Valov. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.221 Published online 28 September 2015

Both papers are behind paywalls.

Inside-out plants show researchers how cellulose forms

Strictly speaking this story of tricking cellulose into growing on the surface rather than the interior of a cell is not a nanotechnology topic but I imagine that the folks who research nanocellulose materials will find this work of great interest. An Oct. 8, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily describes the research,

Researchers have been able to watch the interior cells of a plant synthesize cellulose for the first time by tricking the cells into growing on the plant’s surface.

“The bulk of the world’s cellulose is produced within the thickened secondary cell walls of tissues hidden inside the plant body,” says University of British Columbia Botany PhD candidate Yoichiro Watanabe, lead author of the paper published this week in Science.

“So we’ve never been able to image the cells in high resolution as they produce this all-important biological material inside living plants.”

An Oct. 8, 2015 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, explains the interest in cellulose,

Cellulose, the structural component of cell walls that enables plants to stay upright, is the most abundant biopolymer on earth. It’s a critical resource for pulp and paper, textiles, building materials, and renewable biofuels.

“In order to be structurally sound, plants have to lay down their secondary cell walls very quickly once the plant has stopped growing, like a layer of concrete with rebar,” says UBC botanist Lacey Samuels, one of the senior authors on the paper.

“Based on our study, it appears plant cells need both a high density of the enzymes that create cellulose, and their rapid movement across the cell surface, to make this happen so quickly.”

This work, the culmination of years of research by four UBC graduate students supervised by UBC Forestry researcher Shawn Mansfield and Samuels, was facilitated by a collaboration with the Nara Institute of Technology in Japan to create the special plant lines, and researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University to conduct the live cell imaging.

“This is a major step forward in our understanding of how plants synthesize their walls, specifically cellulose,” says Mansfield. “It could have significant implications for the way plants are bred or selected for improved or altered cellulose ultrastructural traits – which could impact industries ranging from cellulose nanocrystals to toiletries to structural building products.”

The researchers used a modified line of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, to conduct the experiment. The resulting plants look exactly like their non-modified parents, until they are triggered to make secondary cell walls on their exterior.

One of the other partners in this research, Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution of Science published an Oct. 8, 2015 news release on EurekAlert focusing on other aspects of the research (Note: Some of this is repetitive),

Now scientists, including Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt and Heather Cartwright, have exploited a new way to watch the trafficking of the proteins that make cellulose in the formation cell walls in real time. They found that organization of this trafficking by structural proteins called microtubules, combined with the high density and rapid rate of these cellulose producing enzymes explains how thick and high strength secondary walls are built. This basic knowledge helps us understand plants can stand upright, which was essential for the move of plants from the sea to the land, and may useful for engineering plants with improved mechanical properties for to increase yields or to produce novel bio-materials. The research is published in Science.

The live-cell imaging was conducted at Carnegie with colleagues from the University of British Columbia (UBC) using customized high-end instrumentation. For the first time, it directly tracked cellulose production to observe how xylem cells, cells that transport water and some nutrients, make cellulose for their secondary cell walls. Strong walls are based on a high density of enzymes that catalyze the synthesis of cellulose (called cellulose synthase enzymes) and their rapid movement across the xylem cell surface.

Watching xylem cells lay down cellulose in real time has not been possible before, because the vascular tissues of plants are hidden inside the plant body. Lead author Yoichiro Watanabe of UBC applied a system developed by colleagues at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology to trick plants into making xylem cells on their surface. The researchers fluorescently tagged a cellulose synthase enzyme of the experimental plant Arabidopsis to track the activity using high-end microscopes.

“For me, one of the most exciting aspects of this study was being able to observe how the microtubule cytoskeleton was actively directing the synthesis of the new cell walls at the level of individual enzymes. We can guess how a complex cellular process works from static snapshots, which is what we usually have had to work from in biology, but you can’t really understand the process until you can see it in action. ” remarked Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt.

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

Visualization of cellulose synthases in Arabidopsis secondary cell walls by Y. Watanabe, M. J. Meents, L. M. McDonnell, S. Barkwill, A. Sampathkumar, H. N. Cartwright, T. Demura, D. W. Ehrhardt, A.L. Samuels, & S. D. Mansfield. Science 9 October 2015: Vol. 350 no. 6257 pp. 198-203 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7446

This paper is behind a paywall.

With all of this talk of visualization, it’s only right that the researchers have made an image from their work available,

 Caption: An image of artificially-produced cellulose in cells on the surface of a modified Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Credit: University of British Columbia.

Caption: An image of artificially-produced cellulose in cells on the surface of a modified Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Credit: University of British Columbia.


Quantum teleportation

It’s been two years (my Aug. 16, 2013 posting features a German-Japanese collaboration) since the last quantum teleportation posting here. First, a little visual stimulation,

Captain James T Kirk (credit: http://www.comicvine.com/james-t-kirk/4005-20078/)

Captain James T Kirk (credit: http://www.comicvine.com/james-t-kirk/4005-20078/)

Captain Kirk, also known as William Shatner, is from Montréal, Canada and that’s not the only Canadian connection to this story which is really about some research at York University (UK). From an Oct. 1, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Mention the word ‘teleportation’ and for many people it conjures up “Beam me up, Scottie” images of Captain James T Kirk.

But in the last two decades quantum teleportation – transferring the quantum structure of an object from one place to another without physical transmission — has moved from the realms of Star Trek fantasy to tangible reality.

A Sept. 30, 2015 York University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the quantum teleportation research problem and solution,

Quantum teleportation is an important building block for quantum computing, quantum communication and quantum network and, eventually, a quantum Internet. While theoretical proposals for a quantum Internet already exist, the problem for scientists is that there is still debate over which of various technologies provides the most efficient and reliable teleportation system. This is the dilemma which an international team of researchers, led by Dr Stefano Pirandola of the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, set out to resolve.

In a paper published in Nature Photonics, the team, which included scientists from the Freie Universität Berlin and the Universities of Tokyo and Toronto [emphasis mine], reviewed the theoretical ideas around quantum teleportation focusing on the main experimental approaches and their attendant advantages and disadvantages.

None of the technologies alone provide a perfect solution, so the scientists concluded that a hybridisation of the various protocols and underlying structures would offer the most fruitful approach.

For instance, systems using photonic qubits work over distances up to 143 kilometres, but they are probabilistic in that only 50 per cent of the information can be transported. To resolve this, such photon systems may be used in conjunction with continuous variable systems, which are 100 per cent effective but currently limited to short distances.

Most importantly, teleportation-based optical communication needs an interface with suitable matter-based quantum memories where quantum information can be stored and further processed.

Dr Pirandola, who is also a member of the York Centre for Quantum Technologies, said: “We don’t have an ideal or universal technology for quantum teleportation. The field has developed a lot but we seem to need to rely on a hybrid approach to get the best from each available technology.

“The use of quantum teleportation as a building block for a quantum network depends on its integration with quantum memories. The development of good quantum memories would allow us to build quantum repeaters, therefore extending the range of teleportation. They would also give us the ability to store and process the transmitted quantum information at local quantum computers.

“This could ultimately form the backbone of a quantum Internet. The revised hybrid architecture will likely rely on teleportation-based long-distance quantum optical communication, interfaced with solid state devices for quantum information processing.”

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

Advances in quantum teleportation by S. Pirandola, J. Eisert, C. Weedbrook, A. Furusawa, & S. L. Braunstein. Nature Photonics 9, 641–652 (2015) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2015.154 Published online 29 September 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.


Characterizing anatase titanium dixoide at the nanoscale

An international collaboration of researchers combined atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to characterize anatase titanium dixoxide. From a Sept. 14, 2015 news item on Azonano,

A [Japan National Institute for Materials Science] NIMS research team successfully identified the atoms and common defects existing at the most stable surface of the anatase form of titanium dioxide by characterizing this material at the atomic scale with scanning probe microscopy. This work was published under open access policy in the online version of Nature Communications on June 29, 2015.

A June 29, 2015 NIMS press release, which originated the news item, includes the paper’s abstract in numbered point form,

  1. The research team consisting of Oscar Custance and Tomoko Shimizu, group leader and senior scientist, respectively, at the Atomic Force Probe Group, NIMS, Daisuke Fujita and Keisuke Sagisaka, group leader and senior researcher, respectively, at the Surface Characterization Group, NIMS, and scientists at Charles University in the Czech Republic, Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain, and other organizations combined simultaneous atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) measurements with first-principles calculations for the unambiguous identification of the atomic species at the most stable surface of the anatase form of titanium dioxide (hereinafter referred to as anatase) and its most common defects.
  2. In recent years, anatase has attracted considerable attention, because it has become a pivotal material in devices for photo-catalysis and for the conversion of solar energy to electricity. It is extremely challenging to grow large single crystals of anatase, and most of the applications of this material are in the form of nano crystals. To enhance the catalytic reactivity of anatase and the efficiency of devices for solar energy conversion based on anatase, it is critical to gain in-depth understanding and control of the reactions taking place at the surface of this material down to the atomic level. Only a few research groups worldwide possess the technology to create proper test samples and to make in-situ atomic-level observations of anatase surfaces.
  3. In this study, the research team used samples obtained from anatase natural single crystals extracted from naturally occurring anatase rocks. The team characterized the (101) surface of anatase at atomic level by means of simultaneous AFM and STM. Using single water molecules as atomic markers, the team successfully identified the atomic species of this surface; result that was additionally confirmed by the comparison of simultaneous AFM and STM measurements with the outcomes of first-principles calculations.
  4. In regular STM, in which an atomically sharp probe is scanned over the surface by keeping constant an electrical current flowing between them, it is difficult to stably image anatase surfaces as this material presents poor electrical conductivity over some of the atomic positions of the surface. However, simultaneous operation of AFM and STM allowed imaging the surface with atomic resolution even within the materials band gap (a region where the flow of current between the probe and the surface is, in principle, prohibited). Here, the detection of inter-atomic forces between the last atom of the atomically sharp probe and the atoms of the surface by AFM was of crucial importance. By regulating the probe-surface distance using AFM, it was possible to image the surface at atomic-scale while collecting STM data over both conductive and not conductive areas of the surface. By comparing simultaneous AFM and STM measurements with theoretical simulations, the team was not only able to discern which atomic species were contributing to the AFM and the STM images but also to identify the most common defects found at the surface.
  5. In the future, based on the information gained from this study, the NIMS research team will conduct research on molecules of technologically relevance that adsorb on anatase and characterize these hybrid systems by using simultaneous AFM and STM. Their ultimate goal is to formulate novel approaches for the development of photo-catalysts and solar cell materials and devices.

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

Atomic species identification at the (101) anatase surface by simultaneous scanning tunnelling and atomic force microscopy by Oleksandr Stetsovych, Milica Todorović, Tomoko K. Shimizu, César Moreno, James William Ryan, Carmen Pérez León, Keisuke Sagisaka, Emilio Palomares, Vladimír Matolín, Daisuke Fujita, Ruben Perez, & Oscar Custance. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7265 doi:10.1038/ncomms8265 Published 29 June 2015

This is an open access paper.

Watching motor proteins at work

Researchers in the UK and in Japan have described these motor proteins as ‘swinging on monkey bars’,

A Sept. 14, 2015 news item on Nanowerk provides more information about the motor protein observations,

These proteins are vital to complex life, forming the transport infrastructure that allows different parts of cells to specialise in particular functions. Until now, the way they move has never been directly observed.

Researchers at the University of Leeds and in Japan used electron microscopes to capture images of the largest type of motor protein, called dynein, during the act of stepping along its molecular track.

A Sept 14, 2015 Leeds University press release, (also on EurekAlert*) which originated the news item, expands on the theme with what amounts to a transcript of sorts for the video (Note: Links have been removed),

Dr Stan Burgess, at the University of Leeds’ School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, who led the research team, said: “Dynein has two identical motors tied together and it moves along a molecular track called a microtubule. It drives itself along the track by alternately grabbing hold of a binding site, executing a power stroke, then letting go, like a person swinging on monkey bars.

“Previously, dynein movement had only been tracked by attaching fluorescent molecules to the proteins and observing the fluorescence using very powerful light microscopes. It was a bit like tracking vehicles from space with GPS. It told us where they were, their speed and for how long they ran, stopped and so on, but we couldn’t see the molecules in action themselves. These are the first images of these vital processes.”

An understanding of motor proteins is important to medical research because of their fundamental role in complex cellular life. Many viruses hijack motor proteins to hitch a ride to the nucleus for replication. Cell division is driven by motor proteins and so insights into their mechanics could be relevant to cancer research. Some motor neurone diseases are also associated with disruption of motor protein traffic.

The team at Leeds, working within the world-leading Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, combined purified microtubules with purified dynein motors and added the chemical fuel ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to power the motor.

Dr Hiroshi Imai, now Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Chuo University, Japan, carried out the experiments while working at the University of Leeds.

He explained: “We set the dyneins running along their tracks and then we froze them in ‘mid-stride’ by cooling them at about a million degrees a second, fast enough to prevent the water from forming ice crystals as it solidified. Then using a cryo-electron microscope we took many thousands of images of the motors caught during the act of stepping. By combining many images of individual motors, we were able to sharpen up our picture of the dynein and build up a dynamic idea of how it moved. It is a bit like figuring out how to swing along monkey bars by studying photographs of many people swinging on them.”

Dr Burgess said: “Our most striking discovery was the existence of a hinge between the long, thin stalk and the ‘grappling hook’, like the wrist between a human arm and hand. This allows a lot of variation in the angle of attachment of the motor to its track.

“Each of the two arms of a dynein motor protein is about 25 nanometres (0.000025 millimetre) long, while the binding sites it attaches to are only 8 nanometres apart. That means dynein can reach not only the next rung but the one after that and the one after that and appears to give it flexibility in how it moves along the ‘track’.”

Dynein is not only the biggest but also the most versatile of the motor proteins in living cells and, like all motor proteins, is vital to life. Motor proteins transport cargoes and hold many cellular components in position within the cell. For instance, dynein is responsible for carrying messages from the tips of active nerve cells back to the nucleus and these messages keep the nerve cells alive.

Co-author Peter Knight, Professor of Molecular Contractility in the University of Leeds’ School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, said: “If a cell is like a city, these are like the truckers on its road and rail networks. If you didn’t have a transport system, you couldn’t have specialised regions. Every part of the cell would be doing the same thing and that would mean you could not have complex life.”

“Dynein is the multi-purpose vehicle of cellular transport. Other motor proteins, called kinesins and myosins, are much smaller and have specific functions, but dynein can turn its hand to a lot of different of functions,” Professor Knight said.

For instance, in the motor neurone connecting the central nervous system to the big toe—which is a single cell a metre long— dynein provides the transport from the toe back to the nucleus. Another vital role is in the movement of cells.

Dr Burgess said: “During brain development, neurones must crawl into their correct position and dynein molecules in this instance grab hold of the nucleus and pull it along with the moving mass of the cell. If they didn’t, the nucleus would be left behind and the cytoplasm would crawl away.”

The study involved researchers from the University of Leeds and Japan’s Waseda and Osaka universities, as well as the Quantitative Biology Center at Japan’s Riken research institute and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). The research was funded by the Human Frontiers Science Program and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

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

Direct observation shows superposition and large scale flexibility within cytoplasmic dynein motors moving along microtubules by Hiroshi Imai, Tomohiro Shima, Kazuo Sutoh, Matthew L. Walker, Peter J. Knight, Takahide Kon, & Stan A. Burgess. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8179  doi:10.1038/ncomms9179 Published 14 September 2015

This paper is open access.

*The EurekAlert link added Sept. 15, 2015 at 1200 hours PST.

Global overview of nano-enabled food and agriculture regulation

First off, this post features an open access paper summarizing global regulation of nanotechnology in agriculture and food production. From a Sept. 11, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

An overview of regulatory solutions worldwide on the use of nanotechnology in food and feed production shows a differing approach: only the EU and Switzerland have nano-specific provisions incorporated in existing legislation, whereas other countries count on non-legally binding guidance and standards for industry. Collaboration among countries across the globe is required to share information and ensure protection for people and the environment, according to the paper …

A Sept. 11, 2015 European Commission Joint Research Centre press release (also on EurekAlert*), which originated the news item, summarizes the paper in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The paper “Regulatory aspects of nanotechnology in the agri/feed/food sector in EU and non-EU countries” reviews how potential risks or the safety of nanotechnology are managed in different countries around the world and recognises that this may have implication on the international market of nano-enabled agricultural and food products.

Nanotechnology offers substantial prospects for the development of innovative products and applications in many industrial sectors, including agricultural production, animal feed and treatment, food processing and food contact materials. While some applications are already marketed, many other nano-enabled products are currently under research and development, and may enter the market in the near future. Expected benefits of such products include increased efficacy of agrochemicals through nano-encapsulation, enhanced bioavailability of nutrients or more secure packaging material through microbial nanoparticles.

As with any other regulated product, applicants applying for market approval have to demonstrate the safe use of such new products without posing undue safety risks to the consumer and the environment. Some countries have been more active than others in examining the appropriateness of their regulatory frameworks for dealing with the safety of nanotechnologies. As a consequence, different approaches have been adopted in regulating nano-based products in the agri/feed/food sector.

The analysis shows that the EU along with Switzerland are the only ones which have introduced binding nanomaterial definitions and/or specific provisions for some nanotechnology applications. An example would be the EU labelling requirements for food ingredients in the form of ‘engineered nanomaterials’. Other regions in the world regulate nanomaterials more implicitly mainly by building on non-legally binding guidance and standards for industry.

The overview of existing legislation and guidances published as an open access article in the Journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology is based on information gathered by the JRC, RIKILT-Wageningen and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) through literature research and a dedicated survey.

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

Regulatory aspects of nanotechnology in the agri/feed/food sector in EU and non-EU countries by Valeria Amenta, Karin Aschberger, , Maria Arena, Hans Bouwmeester, Filipa Botelho Moniz, Puck Brandhoff, Stefania Gottardo, Hans J.P. Marvin, Agnieszka Mech, Laia Quiros Pesudo, Hubert Rauscher, Reinhilde Schoonjans, Maria Vittoria Vettori, Stefan Weigel, Ruud J. Peters. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Volume 73, Issue 1, October 2015, Pages 463–476 doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2015.06.016

This is the most inclusive overview I’ve seen yet. The authors cover Asian countries, South America, Africa, and the MIddle East, as well as, the usual suspects in Europe and North America.

Given I’m a Canadian blogger I feel obliged to include their summary of the Canadian situation (Note: Links have been removed),

4.2. Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), who have recently joined the Health Portfolio of Health Canada, are responsible for food regulation in Canada. No specific regulation for nanotechnology-based food products is available but such products are regulated under the existing legislative and regulatory frameworks.11 In October 2011 Health Canada published a “Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials” (Health Canada, 2011), the document provides a (working) definition of NM which is focused, similarly to the US definition, on the nanoscale dimensions, or on the nanoscale properties/phenomena of the material (see Annex I). For what concerns general chemicals regulation in Canada, the New Substances (NS) program must ensure that new substances, including substances that are at the nano-scale (i.e. NMs), are assessed in order to determine their toxicological profile ( Environment Canada, 2014). The approach applied involves a pre-manufacture and pre-import notification and assessment process. In 2014, the New Substances program published a guidance aimed at increasing clarity on which NMs are subject to assessment in Canada ( Environment Canada, 2014).

Canadian and US regulatory agencies are working towards harmonising the regulatory approaches for NMs under the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) Nanotechnology Initiative.12 Canada and the US recently published a Joint Forward Plan where findings and lessons learnt from the RCC Nanotechnology Initiative are discussed (Canada–United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) 2014).

Based on their summary of the Canadian situation, with which I am familiar, they’ve done a good job of summarizing. Here are a few of the countries whose regulatory instruments have not been mentioned here before (Note: Links have been removed),

In Turkey a national or regional policy for the responsible development of nanotechnology is under development (OECD, 2013b). Nanotechnology is considered as a strategic technological field and at present 32 nanotechnology research centres are working in this field. Turkey participates as an observer in the EFSA Nano Network (Section 3.6) along with other EU candidate countries Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Montenegro (EFSA, 2012). The Inventory and Control of Chemicals Regulation entered into force in Turkey in 2008, which represents a scale-down version of the REACH Regulation (Bergeson et al. 2010). Moreover, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning published a Turkish version of CLP Regulation (known as SEA in Turkish) to enter into force as of 1st June 2016 (Intertek).

The Russian legislation on food safety is based on regulatory documents such as the Sanitary Rules and Regulations (“SanPiN”), but also on national standards (known as “GOST”) and technical regulations (Office of Agricultural Affairs of the USDA, 2009). The Russian policy on nanotechnology in the industrial sector has been defined in some national programmes (e.g. Nanotechnology Industry Development Program) and a Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies was established in 2007.15 As reported by FAO/WHO (FAO/WHO, 2013), 17 documents which deal with the risk assessment of NMs in the food sector were released within such federal programs. Safe reference levels on nanoparticles impact on the human body were developed and implemented in the sanitary regulation for the nanoforms of silver and titanium dioxide and, single wall carbon nanotubes (FAO/WHO, 2013).

Other countries included in this overview are Brazil, India, Japan, China, Malaysia, Iran, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, US, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, and the countries of the European Union.

*EurekAlert link added Sept. 14, 2015.