Tag Archives: Lancaster University

Breathing nanoparticles into your brain

Thanks to Dexter Johnson and his Sept. 8, 2016 posting (on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) for bringing this news about nanoparticles in the brain to my attention (Note: Links have been removed),

An international team of researchers, led by Barbara Maher, a professor at Lancaster University, in England, has found evidence that suggests that the nanoparticles that were first detected in the human brain over 20 years ago may have an external rather an internal source.

These magnetite nanoparticles are an airborne particulate that are abundant in urban environments and formed by combustion or friction-derived heating. In other words, they have been part of the pollution in the air of our cities since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

However, according to Andrew Maynard, a professor at Arizona State University, and a noted expert on the risks associated with nanomaterials,  the research indicates that this finding extends beyond magnetite to any airborne nanoscale particles—including those deliberately manufactured.

“The findings further support the possibility of these particles entering the brain via the olfactory nerve if inhaled.  In this respect, they are certainly relevant to our understanding of the possible risks presented by engineered nanomaterials—especially those that are iron-based and have magnetic properties,” said Maynard in an e-mail interview with IEEE Spectrum. “However, ambient exposures to airborne nanoparticles will typically be much higher than those associated with engineered nanoparticles, simply because engineered nanoparticles will usually be manufactured and handled under conditions designed to avoid release and exposure.”

A Sept. 5, 2016 University of Lancaster press release made the research announcement,

Researchers at Lancaster University found abundant magnetite nanoparticles in the brain tissue from 37 individuals aged three to 92-years-old who lived in Mexico City and Manchester. This strongly magnetic mineral is toxic and has been implicated in the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the human brain, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Barbara Maher, from Lancaster Environment Centre, and colleagues (from Oxford, Glasgow, Manchester and Mexico City) used spectroscopic analysis to identify the particles as magnetite. Unlike angular magnetite particles that are believed to form naturally within the brain, most of the observed particles were spherical, with diameters up to 150 nm, some with fused surfaces, all characteristic of high-temperature formation – such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines or open fires.

The spherical particles are often accompanied by nanoparticles containing other metals, such as platinum, nickel, and cobalt.

Professor Maher said: “The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”

Other sources of magnetite nanoparticles include open fires and poorly sealed stoves within homes. Particles smaller than 200 nm are small enough to enter the brain directly through the olfactory nerve after breathing air pollution through the nose.

“Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” added Professor Maher.

Leading Alzheimer’s researcher Professor David Allsop, of Lancaster University’s Faculty of Health and Medicine, said: “This finding opens up a whole new avenue for research into a possible environmental risk factor for a range of different brain diseases.”

Damian Carrington’s Sept. 5, 2016 article for the Guardian provides a few more details,

“They [the troubling magnetite particles] are abundant,” she [Maher] said. “For every one of [the crystal shaped particles] we saw about 100 of the pollution particles. The thing about magnetite is it is everywhere.” An analysis of roadside air in Lancaster found 200m magnetite particles per cubic metre.

Other scientists told the Guardian the new work provided strong evidence that most of the magnetite in the brain samples come from air pollution but that the link to Alzheimer’s disease remained speculative.

For anyone who might be concerned about health risks, there’s this from Andrew Maynard’s comments in Dexter Johnson’s Sept. 8, 2016 posting,

“In most workplaces, exposure to intentionally made nanoparticles is likely be small compared to ambient nanoparticles, and so it’s reasonable to assume—at least without further data—that this isn’t a priority concern for engineered nanomaterial production,” said Maynard.

While deliberate nanoscale manufacturing may not carry much risk, Maynard does believe that the research raises serious questions about other manufacturing processes where exposure to high concentrations of airborne nanoscale iron particles is common—such as welding, gouging, or working with molten ore and steel.

It seems everyone is agreed that the findings are concerning but I think it might be good to remember that the percentage of people who develop Alzheimer’s Disease is much smaller than the population of people who have crystals in their brains. In other words, these crystals might (they don’t know) be a factor and likely there would have to be one or more factors to create the condition for developing Alzheimer’s.

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

Magnetite pollution nanoparticles in the human brain by Barbara A. Maher, Imad A. M. Ahmed, Vassil Karloukovski, Donald A. MacLaren, Penelope G. Fouldsd, David Allsop, David M. A. Mann, Ricardo Torres-Jardón, and Lilian Calderon-Garciduenas. PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] doi: 10.1073/pnas.1605941113

This paper is behind a paywall but Dexter’s posting offers more detail for those who are still curious.

Canada and some graphene scene tidbits

For a long time It seemed as if every country in the world, except Canada, had some some sort of graphene event. According to a July 16, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, Canada has now stepped up, albeit, in a peculiarly Canadian fashion. First the news,

Mid October [Oct. 14 -16, 2015], the Graphene & 2D Materials Canada 2015 International Conference & Exhibition (www.graphenecanada2015.com) will take place in Montreal (Canada).

I found a July 16, 2015 news release (PDF) announcing the Canadian event on the lead organizer’s (Phantoms Foundation located in Spain) website,

On the second day of the event (15th October, 2015), an Industrial Forum will bring together top industry leaders to discuss recent advances in technology developments and business opportunities in graphene commercialization.
At this stage, the event unveils 38 keynote & invited speakers. On the Industrial Forum 19 of them will present the latest in terms of Energy, Applications, Production and Worldwide Initiatives & Priorities.

Gary Economo (Grafoid Inc., Canada)
Khasha Ghaffarzadeh (IDTechEx, UK)
Shu-Jen Han (IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, USA)
Bor Z. Jang (Angstron Materials, USA)
Seongjun Park (Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), Korea)
Chun-Yun Sung (Lockheed Martin, USA)

Parallel Sessions:
Gordon Chiu (Grafoid Inc., Canada)
Jesus de la Fuente (Graphenea, Spain)
Mark Gallerneault (ALCERECO Inc., Canada)
Ray Gibbs (Haydale Graphene Industries, UK)
Masataka Hasegawa (AIST, Japan)
Byung Hee Hong (SNU & Graphene Square, Korea)
Tony Ling (Jestico + Whiles, UK)
Carla Miner (SDTC, Canada)
Gregory Pognon (THALES Research & Technology, France)
Elena Polyakova (Graphene Laboratories Inc, USA)
Federico Rosei (INRS–EMT, Université du Québec, Canada)
Aiping Yu (University of Waterloo, Canada)
Hua Zhang (MSE-NTU, Singapore)

Apart from the industrial forum, several industry-related activities will be organized:
– Extensive thematic workshops in parallel (Standardization, Materials & Devices Characterization, Bio & Health and Electronic Devices)
– An exhibition carried out with the latest graphene trends (Grafoid, RAYMOR NanoIntegris, Nanomagnetics Instruments, ICEX and Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC) already confirmed)
– B2B meetings to foster technical cooperation in the field of Graphene

It’s still possible to contribute to the event with an oral presentation. The call for abstracts is open until July, 20 [2015]. [emphasis mine]

Graphene Canada 2015 is already supported by Canada’s leading graphene applications developer, Grafoid Inc., Tourisme Montréal and Université de Montréal.

This is what makes the event peculiarly Canadian: multiculturalism, anyone? From the news release,

Organisers: Phantoms Foundation www.phantomsnet.net & Grafoid Foundation (lead organizers)

CEMES/CNRS (France) | Grafoid (Canada) | Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology – ICN2 (Spain) | IIT (Italy) | McGill University, Canada | Texas Instruments (USA) | Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium) | Université de Montreal, Canada

It’s billed as a ‘Canada Graphene 2015’ and, as I recall, these types of events don’t usually have so many other countries listed as organizers. For example, UK Graphene 2015 would have mostly or all of its organizers (especially the leads) located in the UK.

Getting to the Canadian content, I wrote about Grafoid at length tracking some of its relationships to companies it owns, a business deal with Hydro Québec, and a partnership with the University of Waterloo, and a nonrepayable grant from the Canadian federal government (Sustainable Development Technology Canada [SDTC]) in a Feb. 23, 2015 posting. Do take a look at the post if you’re curious about the heavily interlinked nature of the Canadian graphene scene and take another look at the list of speakers and their agencies (Mark Gallerneault of ALCERECO [partially owned by Grafoid], Carla Miner of SDTC [Grafoid received monies from the Canadian federal department],  Federico Rosei of INRS–EMT, Université du Québec [another Quebec link], Aiping Yu, University of Waterloo [an academic partner to Grafoid]). The Canadian graphene community is a small one so it’s not surprising there are links between the Canadian speakers but it does seem odd that Lomiko Metals is not represented here. Still, new speakers have been announced since the news release (e.g., Frank Koppens of ICFO, Spain, and Vladimir Falko of Lancaster University, UK) so  time remains.

Meanwhile, Lomiko Metals has announced in a July 17, 2015 news item on Azonano that Graphene 3D labs has changed the percentage of its outstanding shares affecting the percentage that Lomiko owns, amid some production and distribution announcements. The bit about launching commercial sales of its graphene filament seems more interesting to me,

On March 16, 2015 Graphene 3D Lab (TSXV:GGG) (OTCQB:GPHBF) announced that it launched commercial sales of its Conductive Graphene Filament for 3D printing. The filament incorporates highly conductive proprietary nano-carbon materials to enhance the properties of PLA, a widely used thermoplastic material for 3D printing; therefore, the filament is compatible with most commercially available 3D printers. The conductive filament can be used to print conductive traces (similar to as used in circuit boards) within 3D printed parts for electronics.

So, that’s all I’ve got for Canada’s graphene scene.

Feel the vibe on Nanophonics Day

Officially, Nanophonics Day was held on May 26, 2014 but it’s never too late to appreciate good vibrations. Here’s more about the ‘day’ and nanophonics from a May 27, 2014 news item on Azonano (Note: A link has been removed),

The Nanophononics Day, collocated with the European Materials Research Society Spring Meeting (Lille, 26-30 May), aims to raise awareness about this emergent research area and the EUPHONON Project. ICREA Prof Dr Clivia Sotomayor, Group Leader at ICN2, coordinates this initiative.

A phonon is a collective excitation of atoms or molecules, a vibration of matter which plays a major role in physical properties of solids and liquids. Nanophononics is the science and engineering of these vibrations at the nanometre scale. Applications of the knowledge generated in the field might include novel devices aiming to decrease the power consumption for a low-power information society. It also includes phonon lasers and phenomena involving ultra-fast acoustic processes, or exceeding the limits of mass and pressure detections in membranes which might have an impact in safety and technology standards. Nanophononics links classical and quantum physics and translates this knowledge into everyday applications.

A May 26, 2014 Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2) news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about European research into nanophonics,

The EUPHONON project aims to amalgamate the activities on phonon science and technology in Europe to establish a strong community in this emerging research field. It started in November 2013, coordinated by Prof. Sebastian Volz from CNRS – École Central Paris. ICREA Prof Dr Clivia M Sotomayor Torres, Phononic and Photonic Nanostructures (P2N) Group Leader at the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), is among the 7 members of the consortium. She is the coordinator of the Nanophononics Day, intended to raise awareness about this emergent research area and the EUPHONON Project.

The Nanophononics Day is celebrated in May 26th 2014, collocated with Symposium D of the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS) Spring Meeting 2014 in Lille, entitled “Phonons and Fluctuation in Low Dimensional Structures” and with ICREA Prof Dr Clivia M Sotomayor Torres again among its organizers. It is probably the largest nanophononic event in Europe and a perfect context for a lively discussion about the most recent theoretical and experimental findings.

The Nanophononics Day includes conferences by leading scientists about recent breakthroughs in nano-scale thermal transport and how the recent achievements constitute solid base for nanophononics. Prof Gang Chen (MIT, USA) and Prof Olivier Bourgeois (CNRS Inst. Neel) will cover phonons in solid materials while phonons in biological matter will be addressed by Prof Thomas Dehoux (University of Bordeaux). Experimental methods using scanning probes will be illustrated by Prof Oleg Kolosov (Lancaster University) and Prof Severine Gomez (University of Lyon).

I wish you a belated Happy Nanophonics Day!

Another day, another graphene centre in the UK as the Graphene flagship consortium’s countdown begins

The University of Cambridge has announced a Cambridge Graphene Centre due to open by the end of 2013 according to a Jan. 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The Cambridge Graphene Centre will start its activities on February 1st 2013, with a dedicated facility due to open at the end of the year. Its objective is to take graphene to the next level, bridging the gap between academia and industry. It will also be a shared research facility with state-of-the-art equipment, which any scientist researching graphene will have the opportunity to use.

The University of Cambridge Jan. 24, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, describes the plans for graphene research and commercialization,

The first job for those working in the Cambridge Graphene Centre will be to find ways of manufacturing and optimising graphene films, dispersions and inks so that it can be used to good effect.

Professor Andrea Ferrari, who will be the Centre’s Director, said: “We are now in the second phase of graphene research, following the award of the Nobel Prize to Geim and Novoselov. That means we are targeting applications and manufacturing processes, and broadening research to other two-dimensional materials and hybrid systems. The integration of these new materials could bring a new dimension to future technologies, creating faster, thinner, stronger, more flexible broadband devices.”

One such project, led by Dr Stephan Hofmann, a Reader and specialist in nanotechnology, will look specifically at the manufacturability of graphene and other, layered, 2D materials. At the moment, sheets of graphene that are just one atom thick are difficult to grow in a controllable manner, manipulate, or connect with other materials.

Dr Hofmann’s research team will focus on a growth method called chemical vapour deposition (CVD), which has already opened up other materials, such as diamond, carbon nanotubes and gallium nitride, to industrial scale production.

“The process technology will open up new horizons for nanomaterials, built layer by layer, which means that it could lead to an amazing range of future devices and applications,” Dr Hofmann said.

The Government funding for the Centre is complemented by strong industrial support, worth an additional £13 million, from over 20 partners, including Nokia, Dyson, Plastic Logic, Philips and BaE systems. A further £11M of European Research Council funding will support activities with the Graphene Institute in Manchester, and Lancaster University. [emphasis mine]

Its work will focus on taking graphene from a state of raw potential to a point where it can revolutionise flexible, wearable and transparent electronics. The Centre will target the manufacture of graphene on an industrial scale, and applications in the areas of flexible electronics, energy, connectivity and optoelectronics.

Professor Yang Hao, of Queen Mary, University of London, will lead Centre activities targeting connectivity, so that graphene can be integrated into networked devices, with the ultimate vision of creating an “internet of things”.

Professor Clare Grey, from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, will lead the activities targeting the use of graphene in super-capacitors and batteries for energy storage. The research could, ultimately, provide a more effective energy storage for electric vehicles, storage on the grid, as well as boosting the energy storage possibilities of personal devices such as MP3 players and mobile phones.

The announcement of a National Graphene Institute in Manchester was mentioned in my Jan. 14, 2013 posting and both the University of Manchester and the Lancaster University are part of the Graphene Flagship consortium along with the University of Cambridge and Sweden’s Chalmers University, which is the lead institution, and others competing against three other Flagship projects for one of two 1B Euro prizes.

These two announcements (Cambridge Graphene Centre and National Graphene Institute come at an interesting time, the decision as to which two projects will receive 1B Euros for research is being announced Jan. 28, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium. The Jan. 15, 2013 article by Frank Jordans on the R&D website provides a few more details,

Teams of scientists from across the continent [Europe] are vying for a funding bonanza that could see two of them receive up to €1 billion ($1.33 billion) over 10 years to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technology.

The contest began with 26 proposals that were whittled down to six last year. Just four have made it to the final round.

They include a plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm; a massive data-crunching machine to simulate social, economic and technological change on our planet; an effort to craft the most accurate computer model of the human brain to date; and a team working to find better ways to produce and employ graphene—an ultra-thin material that could revolutionize manufacturing of everything from airplanes to computer chips.

Jordans’ article goes on to further explain the reasoning for this extraordinary contest. All four groups must be highly focused on Monday’s (Jan. 28, 2013) announcement from EU (European Union) officials, after all, two prizes and four competitors means that the odds of winning are 50/50. Good luck!

UK rolls dice on glamourous graphene

These days, graphene is the glamourpuss (a US slang term from the 1940s for which I have great affection) of the nanoscience/nanotechnology research world and is an international ‘object of desire’. For example, the UK government just announced a GBP 50 M investment in graphene research. From the Feb. 2, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: “This significant investment in graphene will drive growth and innovation, create high-tech jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of this rapidly evolving area of science. With a Nobel Prize and hundreds of published papers under their belts, scientists in the UK have already demonstrated that we have real strengths in this area. The graphene hub will build on this by taking this research through to commercial success.”

A key element of the graphene hub will be a national institute of graphene research and commercialisation activities. The University of Manchester has been confirmed as the single supplier invited to submit a proposal for funding a new £45 million national institute, £38 million of which will be provided by the UK Government. This world-class shared facility for graphene research and commercialisation activities will be accessible by both researchers and business.

I’d never really heard about graphene until 2010 when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in graphene. (In 2012, both scientists were knighted and I could have referred to them as Sir Geim and Sir Novoselov.) Since that time money has been flowing towards graphene research. As far as I can tell this GBP 50 M is the tip of the iceberg.

The University of Manchester and other institutions in the UK are part of an international consortium competing for a 1 billion Euro research prize through the European Union’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme. (I have a bit more about the FET competition in my June 13, 2011 posting.)

There does seem to be some jockeying for position. First, the graphene consortium is currently competing for the FET money as the Graphene Flagship. Only two of six competing flagships will receive money for further research. Should the consortium’s flagship be successful, there will be six member countries competing for a share of that 1 billion Euro prize. The UK is represented by three research institutions (University of Manchester, Lancaster University, and the University of Cambridge) while every other country in the graphene consortium is represented by one research institution.

The decision as to which two FET flagship projects receive the funding will be made public in late 2012. Meanwhile, the UK not only announces this latest funding but last fall also launched a big graphene exhibition, anchored by the three UK universities in the consortium,  in Warsaw. I wrote about that development in my Nov. 25, 2011 posting and questioned the communication strategy. It’s taken me a while but I’m beginning to realize that this was likely part of a larger political machination designed to ensure UK dominance in graphene research and, I imagine they dearly hope this will be true, commercialization.

ETA Feb. 6, 2012: Dexter Johnson at the Nanoclast blog (on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE] website) noted this about the UK and commercializing graphene in the electronics industry in his Feb. 3, 2012 posting,

The press release emphasizes how “The graphene hub will build on this [investment] by taking this research through to commercial success.” So I was wondering if there would be any discussion of how they intended to build up an electronics industry that it never really had in the first place to exploit the material.

Brits go for the graphene gusto in Warsaw but where are the Swedes?

The Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, and Lancaster (all in the UK) have launched an exhibition extolling graphene in Warsaw (Poland). From the Nov. 25, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

The European programme for research into graphene, for which the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Lancaster are leading the technology roadmap, today unveiled an exhibition and new videos communicating the potential for the material that could revolutionise the electronics industries. [emphasis mine]

I’m a little confused as I thought the Swedish partner was either the leader or one of the lead partners.

I found this Nov. 24, 2011 news release from the University of Cambridge where the announcement was made,

An exhibition has been launched in Warsaw today highlighting the development and future of graphene, the ‘wonder substance’ set to change the face of electronics manufacturing, as part of the Graphene Flagship Pilot (GFP), aimed at developing the proposal for a 1 billion European programme conducting research and development on graphene, for which the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Lancaster are leading the technology roadmap.

The exhibition covers the development of the material, the present research and the vast potential for future applications. The GFP also released two videos aimed at introducing this extraordinary material to a wider audience, ranging from stakeholders and politicians to the general public. The videos also convey the mission and vision of the graphene initiative.

“Our mission is to take graphene and related layered materials from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionise multiple industries – from flexible, wearable and transparent electronics to high performance computing and spintronics” says Professor Andrea Ferrari, Head of the Nanomaterials and Spectroscopy Group.

“This material will bring a new dimension to future technology – a faster, thinner, stronger, flexible, and broadband revolution. Our program will put Europe firmly at the heart of the process, with a manifold return on the investment of 1 billion Euros, both in terms of technological innovation and economic exploitation.”

Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, could prove to be the most versatile substance available to mankind. Stronger than diamond, yet lightweight and flexible, graphene enables electrons to flow much faster than silicon. It is also a transparent conductor, combining electrical and optical functionalities in an exceptional way.

This is connected to the European Union’s FET11 flagship projects initiative (described at more length in my June 13, 2011 graphene roundup posting) where six different research areas have been funded in preparation for a major funding round in late 2012 when two research projects will  be selected for a prize of 1B Euros each.

I find the communications strategy mildly confusing since the original project team listed Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden (as highlighted in my Nov. 9, 2011 posting about funding for the Swedish effort with no mention of the other partners). The flagship group appears to be working both cooperatively and separately on the same project.

I did get a little curious as to the membership for this graphene research group (consortium) and found this,





5  AMO GMBH, Germany



8  NOKIA OYJ, Finland


You can find more information about the Graphene Flagship Project here although they don’t appear to update the information very frequently.