Tag Archives: Michael Berger

FOE, nano, and food: part three of three (final guidance)

The first part of this food and nano ‘debate’ started off with the May 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk announcing the Friends of the Earth (FOE) report ‘Way too little: Our Government’s failure to regulate nanomaterials in food and agriculture‘. Adding energy to FOE’s volley was a Mother Jones article written by Tom Philpott which had Dr. Andrew Maynard (Director of the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) replying decisively in an article published both on Nanowerk and on the Conversation.

The second part of this series focused largely on a couple of  research efforts (a June 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a Franco-German research project, SolNanoTox) and in the US (a  June 19, 2014 news item on Azonano about research from the University of Arizona focusing on nanoscale additives for dietary supplement drinks) and noted another activist group’s (As You Sow) initiative with Dunkin’ Donuts (a July 11, 2014 article by Sarah Shemkus in a sponsored section in the UK’s Guardian newspaper0).

This final part in the series highlights the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final guidance document on nanomaterials and food issued some five weeks after the FOE’s report and an essay by a Canadian academic on the topic of nano and food.

A July 9, 2014 news item on Bloomberg BNA sums up the FDA situation,

The Food and Drug Administration June 24 [2014] announced new guidance to provide greater regulatory clarity for industry on the use of nanotechnology in FDA-regulated products, including drugs, devices, cosmetics and food.

In this final guidance, the agency said that nanotechnology “can be used in a broad array of FDA-regulated products, including medical products (e.g., to increase bioavailability of a drug), foods (e.g., to improve food packaging) and cosmetics (e.g., to affect the look and feel of cosmetics).”

Also on the agency website, the FDA said it “does not make a categorical judgment that nanotechnology is inherently safe or harmful. We intend our regulatory approach to be adaptive and flexible and to take into consideration the specific characteristics and the effects of nanomaterials in the particular biological context of each product and its intended use.”

This July 18, 2014 posting by Jeannie Perron, Miriam Guggenheimm and Allan J. Topol of Covington & Burling LLP on the National Law Review blog provides a better summary and additional insight,

On June 24, 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released three final guidance documents addressing the agency’s general approach to nanotechnology and its use by the food and cosmetics industries, as well as a draft guidance on the use of nanomaterials in food for animals.

These guidance documents reflect FDA’s understanding of nanomaterials as an emerging technology of major importance with the potential to be used in novel ways across the entire spectrum of FDA- regulated products.

The documents suggest that FDA plans to approach nanotechnology-related issues cautiously, through an evolving regulatory structure that adapts to manufacturers’ changing uses of this technology. FDA has not established regulatory definitions of “nanotechnology,” “nanomaterial,” “nanoscale,” or other related terms. …

The notion of an “evolving regulatory structure” is very appealing in situations with emerging technologies with high levels of uncertainty. It’s surprising that more of the activist groups don’t see an opportunity with this approach. An organization that hasn’t devised a rigid regulatory structure has no investment in defending it. Activist groups can make the same arguments, albeit from a different perspective, about an emerging technology as the companies do and, theoretically, the FDA has become a neutral party with the power to require a company to prove its products’ safety.

You can find the FDA final guidance and other relevant documents here.

Finally, Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean at the College of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph, offers a rather provocative (and not from the perspective you might expect given his credentials) opinion on the topic of ‘nano and food’  in a July 18, 2014 article for TheRecord.com,

Nanotechnology and nanoparticles have been around for quite some time. In fact, consumers have been eating nanoparticles for years without being aware they are in their food.

Some varieties of Dentyne gum and Jell-O, M&M’s, Betty Crocker whipped cream frosting, Kool-Aid, Pop-Tarts, you name it, contain them. Even food packaging, such as plastic containers and beer bottles, have nanoparticles.

While consumers and interest groups alike are registering their concerns about genetically modified organisms, the growing role of nanotechnology in food and agriculture is impressive. When considering the socio-economic and ethical implications of nanotechnology, comparisons to the genetic modification debate are unavoidable.

The big picture is this. For years, capitalism has demonstrated its ability to create wealth while relying on consumers’ willingness to intrinsically trust what is being offered to them. With trans fats, genetically modified organisms and now nanoparticles, our food industry is literally playing with fire. [emphasis mine]

Most consumers may not have the knowledge to fully comprehend the essence of what nanotechnology is or what it can do. However, in an era where data access in almost constant real-time is king, the industry should at least give public education a shot.

In the end and despite their tactics, the activist groups do have a point. The food and agricultural industries need to be more frank about what they’re doing with our food. As Charlebois notes, they might want to invest in some public education, perhaps taking a leaf out of the Irish Food Board’s book and presenting the public with information both flattering and nonflattering about their efforts with our food.

Part one (an FOE report is published)

Part two (the problem with research)

ETA Aug. 22, 2014: Coincidentally, Michael Berger has written an Aug. 22, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article titled: How to identify nanomaterials in food.

ETA Sept. 1, 2014: Even more coincidentally, Michael Berger has written a 2nd Nanowerk Spotlight (dated Aug. 25, 2014) on the food and nano topic titled, ‘Nanotechnology in Agriculture’ based on the European Union’s Joint Research Centre’s ‘Workshop on Nanotechnology for the agricultural sector: from research to the field”, held on November 21-22 2013′.

Earth Day, Water Day, and every day

I’m blaming my confusion on the American Chemical Society (ACS) which seemed to be celebrating Earth Day on April 15, 2014 as per its news release highlighting their “Chemists Celebrate Earth Day” video series  while in Vancouver, Canada, we’re celebrating it on April 26, 2014 and elsewhere it seems to be on April 20, this year. Regardless, here’s more about how chemist’s are celebrating from the ACS news release,

Water is arguably the most important resource on the planet. In celebration of Earth Day, the American Chemical Society (ACS) is showcasing three scientists whose research keeps water safe, clean and available for future generations. Geared toward elementary and middle school students, the “Chemists Celebrate Earth Day” series highlights the important work that chemists and chemical engineers do every day. The videos are available at http://bit.ly/CCED2014.

The series focuses on the following subjects:

  • Transforming Tech Toys- Featuring Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D., of UCLA: Ozcan takes everyday gadgets and turns them into powerful mobile laboratories. He’s made a cell phone into a blood analyzer and a bacteria detector, and now he’s built a device that turns a cell phone into a water tester. It can detect very harmful mercury even at very low levels.
  • All About Droughts - Featuring Collins Balcombe of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: Balcombe’s job is to keep your drinking water safe and to find new ways to re-use the water that we flush away everyday so that it doesn’t go to waste, especially in areas that don’t get much rain.
  • Cleaning Up Our Water – Featuring Anne Morrissey, Ph.D., of Dublin City University: We all take medicines, but did you know that sometimes the medicine doesn’t stay in our bodies? It’s up to Anne Morrissey to figure out how to get potentially harmful pharmaceuticals out of the water supply, and she’s doing it using one of the most plentiful things on the planet: sunlight.

Sadly, I missed marking World Water Day which according to a March 21, 2014 news release I received was being celebrated on Saturday, March 22, 2014 with worldwide events and the release of a new UN report,

World Water Day: UN Stresses Water and Energy Issues 

Tokyo Leads Public Celebrations Around the World

Tokyo — March 21 — The deep-rooted relationships between water and energy were highlighted today during main global celebrations in Tokyo marking the United Nations’ annual World Water Day.

“Water and energy are among the world’s most pre-eminent challenges. This year’s focus of World Water Day brings these issues to the attention of the world,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization and Chair of UN-Water, which coordinates World Water Day and freshwater-related efforts UN system-wide.

The UN predicts that by 2030 the global population will need 35% more food, 40% more water and 50% more energy. Already today 768 million people lack access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity.

“These issues need urgent attention – both now and in the post-2015 development discussions. The situation is unacceptable. It is often the same people who lack access to water and sanitation who also lack access to energy, ” said Mr. Jarraud.

The 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR) – a UN-Water flagship report, produced and coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme, which is hosted and led by UNESCO – is released on World Water Day as an authoritative status report on global freshwater resources. It highlights the need for policies and regulatory frameworks that recognize and integrate approaches to water and energy priorities.

WWDR, a triennial report from 2003 to 2012, this year becomes an annual edition, responding to the international community’s expression of interest in a concise, evidence-based and yearly publication with a specific thematic focus and recommendations.

WWDR 2014 underlines how water-related issues and choices impact energy and vice versa. For example: drought diminishes energy production, while lack of access to electricity limits irrigation possibilities.

The report notes that roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. Tariffs also illustrate this interdependence: if water is subsidized to sell below cost (as is often the case), energy producers – major water consumers – are less likely to conserve it.  Energy subsidies, in turn, drive up water usage.

The report stresses the imperative of coordinating political governance and ensuring that water and energy prices reflect real costs and environmental impacts.

“Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda,” said the Rector of United Nations University, David Malone, this year’s coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of UN-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

“Significant policy gaps exist in this nexus at present, and the UN plays an instrumental role in providing evidence and policy-relevant guidance. Through this day, we seek to inform decision-makers, stakeholders and practitioners about the interlinkages, potential synergies and trade-offs, and highlight the need for appropriate responses and regulatory frameworks that account for both water and energy priorities. From UNU’s perspective, it is essential that we stimulate more debate and interactive dialogue around possible solutions to our energy and water challenges.”

UNIDO Director-General LI Yong, emphasized the importance of water and energy for inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

“There is a strong call today for integrating the economic dimension, and the role of industry and manufacturing in particular, into the global post-2015 development priorities. Experience shows that environmentally sound interventions in manufacturing industries can be highly effective and can significantly reduce environmental degradation. I am convinced that inclusive and sustainable industrial development will be a key driver for the successful integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions,” said Mr. LI.

Rather unusually, Michael Bergerrecently published two Nanowerk Spotlight articles about water (is there theme, anyone?) within 24 hours of each other. In his March 26, 2014 Spotlight article, Michael Berger focuses on graphene and water remediation (Note: Links have been removed),

The unique properties of nanomaterials are beneficial in applications to remove pollutants from the environment. The extremely small size of nanomaterial particles creates a large surface area in relation to their volume, which makes them highly reactive, compared to non-nano forms of the same materials.

The potential impact areas for nanotechnology in water applications are divided into three categories: treatment and remediation; sensing and detection: and pollution prevention (read more: “Nanotechnology and water treatment”).

Silver, iron, gold, titanium oxides and iron oxides are some of the commonly used nanoscale metals and metal oxides cited by the researchers that can be used in environmental remediation (read more: “Overview of nanomaterials for cleaning up the environment”).

A more recent entrant into this nanomaterial arsenal is graphene. Individual graphene sheets and their functionalized derivatives have been used to remove metal ions and organic pollutants from water. These graphene-based nanomaterials show quite high adsorption performance as adsorbents. However they also cause additional cost because the removal of these adsorbent materials after usage is difficult and there is the risk of secondary environmental pollution unless the nanomaterials are collected completely after usage.

One solution to this problem would be the assembly of individual sheets into three-dimensional (3D) macroscopic structures which would preserve the unique properties of individual graphene sheets, and offer easy collecting and recycling after water remediation.

The March 27, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article was written by someone at Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab and focuses on their ‘nanobiological’ approach to water remediation (Note: Links have been removed),

At Ingenuity Lab in Edmonton, Alberta, Dr. Carlo Montemagno and a team of world-class researchers have been investigating plausible solutions to existing water purification challenges. They are building on Dr. Montemagno’s earlier patented discoveries by using a naturally-existing water channel protein as the functional unit in water purification membranes [4].

Aquaporins are water-transport proteins that play an important osmoregulation role in living organisms [5]. These proteins boast exceptionally high water permeability (~ 1010 water molecules/s), high selectivity for pure water molecules, and a low energy cost, which make aquaporin-embedded membrane well suited as an alternative to conventional RO membranes.

Unlike synthetic polymeric membranes, which are driven by the high pressure-induced diffusion of water through size selective pores, this technology utilizes the biological osmosis mechanism to control the flow of water in cellular systems at low energy. In nature, the direction of osmotic water flow is determined by the osmotic pressure difference between compartments, i.e. water flows toward higher osmotic pressure compartment (salty solution or contaminated water). This direction can however be reversed by applying a pressure to the salty solution (i.e., RO).

The principle of RO is based on the semipermeable characteristics of the separating membrane, which allows the transport of only water molecules depending on the direction of osmotic gradient. Therefore, as envisioned in the recent publication (“Recent Progress in Advanced Nanobiological Materials for Energy and Environmental Applications”), the core of Ingenuity Lab’s approach is to control the direction of water flow through aquaporin channels with a minimum level of pressure and to use aquaporin-embedded biomimetic membranes as an alternative to conventional RO membranes.

Here’s a link to and a citation for Montemagno’s and his colleague’s paper,

Recent Progress in Advanced Nanobiological Materials for Energy and Environmental Applications by Hyo-Jick Choi and Carlo D. Montemagno. Materials 2013, 6(12), 5821-5856; doi:10.3390/ma6125821

This paper is open access.

Returning to where I started, here’s a water video featuring graphene from the ACS celebration of Earth Day 2014,

Happy Earth Day!

Preparing nanocellulose for eventual use in* dressings for wounds

Michael Berger writes about a medical application for wood-based nanocellulose in an April 10, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article by featuring some recent research from Norway (Note: Links have been removed),

Cellulose is a biopolymer consisting of long chains of glucose with unique structural properties whose supply is practically inexhaustible. It is found in the cell walls of plants where it serves to provide a supporting framework – a sort of skeleton. Nanocellulose from wood – i.e. wood fibers broken down to the nanoscale – is a promising nanomaterial with potential applications as a substrate for printing electronics, filtration, or biomedicine.

Researchers have now reported on a method to control the surface chemistry of nanocellulose. The paper appeared in the April 8, 2014 online edition of the Journal of Biomaterials Applications (“Pretreatment-dependent surface chemistry of wood nanocellulose for pH-sensitive hydrogels”).

Using a specific chemical pretreatment as example (carboxymethylation and periodate oxidation), a team from the Paper and Fibre Research Institute (PFI) in Norway demonstrated that they could manufacture nanofibrils with a considerable amount of carboxyl groups and aldehyde groups, which could be applied for functionalizing the material.

The Norwegian researchers are working within the auspices of PFI‘s NanoHeal project featured in my Aug. 23, 2012 posting. It’s good to see that progress is being made. From the Berger’s article,

A specific activity that the PFI researchers and collaborators are working with in the NanoHeal project is the production of an ultrapure nanocellulose which is important for biomedical applications. Considering that the nanocellulose hydrogel material can be cross-linked and have a reactive surface chemistry there are various potential applications.

“A concrete application that we are working with in this specific case is as dressing for wound healing, another is scaffolds,” adds senior research scientist and co-author Kristin Syverud.

“Production of an ultrapure nanocellulose quality is an activity that we are intensifying together with our research partners at the Institute of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine in Trondheim,” notes Chinga-Carrasco [Gary Chinga-Carrasco, a senior research scientist at PFI]. “The results look good and we expect to have a concrete protocol for production of ultrapure nanocellulose soon, for an adequate assessment of its biocompatibility.”

“We have various groups working with assessment of the suitability of nanocellulose as a barrier against wound bacteria and also with the assessment of the cytotoxicity and biocompatibility,” he says. “However, as a first step we have intensified our work on the production of nanocellulose that we expect will be adequate for wound dressings, part of these activities are described in this paper.”

I suggest reading Berger’s article in its totality for a more detailed description of the many hurdles researchers still have to overcome. For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Pretreatment-dependent surface chemistry of wood nanocellulose for pH-sensitive hydrogels by Gary Chinga-Carrasco & Kristin Syverud. Published online before print April 8, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0885328214531511 J Biomater Appl April 8, 2014 0885328214531511

This paper is behind a paywall.

I was hoping to find someone from this group in the list of speakers for 2014 TAPPI Nanotechnology conference website here (officially known as 2014 TAPPI [Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry] International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials) being held in Vancouver, Canada (June 23-26, 2014) but had no luck.

* ‘as’ changed to ‘in’ Apr.14.14 10:50 am PDT in headline

Brain-on-a-chip 2014 survey/overview

Michael Berger has written another of his Nanowerk Spotlight articles focussing on neuromorphic engineering and the concept of a brain-on-a-chip bringing it up-to-date April 2014 style.

It’s a topic he and I have been following (separately) for years. Berger’s April 4, 2014 Brain-on-a-chip Spotlight article provides a very welcome overview of the international neuromorphic engineering effort (Note: Links have been removed),

Constructing realistic simulations of the human brain is a key goal of the Human Brain Project, a massive European-led research project that commenced in 2013.

The Human Brain Project is a large-scale, scientific collaborative project, which aims to gather all existing knowledge about the human brain, build multi-scale models of the brain that integrate this knowledge and use these models to simulate the brain on supercomputers. The resulting “virtual brain” offers the prospect of a fundamentally new and improved understanding of the human brain, opening the way for better treatments for brain diseases and for novel, brain-like computing technologies.

Several years ago, another European project named FACETS (Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States) completed an exhaustive study of neurons to find out exactly how they work, how they connect to each other and how the network can ‘learn’ to do new things. One of the outcomes of the project was PyNN, a simulator-independent language for building neuronal network models.

Scientists have great expectations that nanotechnologies will bring them closer to the goal of creating computer systems that can simulate and emulate the brain’s abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition while rivaling its low power consumption and compact size – basically a brain-on-a-chip. Already, scientists are working hard on laying the foundations for what is called neuromorphic engineering – a new interdisciplinary discipline that includes nanotechnologies and whose goal is to design artificial neural systems with physical architectures similar to biological nervous systems.

Several research projects funded with millions of dollars are at work with the goal of developing brain-inspired computer architectures or virtual brains: DARPA’s SyNAPSE, the EU’s BrainScaleS (a successor to FACETS), or the Blue Brain project (one of the predecessors of the Human Brain Project) at Switzerland’s EPFL [École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne].

Berger goes on to describe the raison d’être for neuromorphic engineering (attempts to mimic biological brains),

Programmable machines are limited not only by their computational capacity, but also by an architecture requiring (human-derived) algorithms to both describe and process information from their environment. In contrast, biological neural systems (e.g., brains) autonomously process information in complex environments by automatically learning relevant and probabilistically stable features and associations. Since real world systems are always many body problems with infinite combinatorial complexity, neuromorphic electronic machines would be preferable in a host of applications – but useful and practical implementations do not yet exist.

Researchers are mostly interested in emulating neural plasticity (aka synaptic plasticity), from Berger’s April 4, 2014 article,

Independent from military-inspired research like DARPA’s, nanotechnology researchers in France have developed a hybrid nanoparticle-organic transistor that can mimic the main functionalities of a synapse. This organic transistor, based on pentacene and gold nanoparticles and termed NOMFET (Nanoparticle Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor), has opened the way to new generations of neuro-inspired computers, capable of responding in a manner similar to the nervous system  (read more: “Scientists use nanotechnology to try building computers modeled after the brain”).

One of the key components of any neuromorphic effort, and its starting point, is the design of artificial synapses. Synapses dominate the architecture of the brain and are responsible for massive parallelism, structural plasticity, and robustness of the brain. They are also crucial to biological computations that underlie perception and learning. Therefore, a compact nanoelectronic device emulating the functions and plasticity of biological synapses will be the most important building block of brain-inspired computational systems.

In 2011, a team at Stanford University demonstrates a new single element nanoscale device, based on the successfully commercialized phase change material technology, emulating the functionality and the plasticity of biological synapses. In their work, the Stanford team demonstrated a single element electronic synapse with the capability of both the modulation of the time constant and the realization of the different synaptic plasticity forms while consuming picojoule level energy for its operation (read more: “Brain-inspired computing with nanoelectronic programmable synapses”).

Berger does mention memristors but not in any great detail in this article,

Researchers have also suggested that memristor devices are capable of emulating the biological synapses with properly designed CMOS neuron components. A memristor is a two-terminal electronic device whose conductance can be precisely modulated by charge or flux through it. It has the special property that its resistance can be programmed (resistor) and subsequently remains stored (memory).

One research project already demonstrated that a memristor can connect conventional circuits and support a process that is the basis for memory and learning in biological systems (read more: “Nanotechnology’s road to artificial brains”).

You can find a number of memristor articles here including these: Memristors have always been with us from June 14, 2013; How to use a memristor to create an artificial brain from Feb. 26, 2013; Electrochemistry of memristors in a critique of the 2008 discovery from Sept. 6, 2012; and many more (type ‘memristor’ into the blog search box and you should receive many postings or alternatively, you can try ‘artificial brains’ if you want everything I have on artificial brains).

Getting back to Berger’s April 4, 2014 article, he mentions one more approach and this one stands out,

A completely different – and revolutionary – human brain model has been designed by researchers in Japan who introduced the concept of a new class of computer which does not use any circuit or logic gate. This artificial brain-building project differs from all others in the world. It does not use logic-gate based computing within the framework of Turing. The decision-making protocol is not a logical reduction of decision rather projection of frequency fractal operations in a real space, it is an engineering perspective of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.

Berger wrote about this work in much more detail in a Feb. 10, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article titled: Brain jelly – design and construction of an organic, brain-like computer, (Note: Links have been removed),

In a previous Nanowerk Spotlight we reported on the concept of a full-fledged massively parallel organic computer at the nanoscale that uses extremely low power (“Will brain-like evolutionary circuit lead to intelligent computers?”). In this work, the researchers created a process of circuit evolution similar to the human brain in an organic molecular layer. This was the first time that such a brain-like ‘evolutionary’ circuit had been realized.

The research team, led by Dr. Anirban Bandyopadhyay, a senior researcher at the Advanced Nano Characterization Center at the National Institute of Materials Science (NIMS) in Tsukuba, Japan, has now finalized their human brain model and introduced the concept of a new class of computer which does not use any circuit or logic gate.

In a new open-access paper published online on January 27, 2014, in Information (“Design and Construction of a Brain-Like Computer: A New Class of Frequency-Fractal Computing Using Wireless Communication in a Supramolecular Organic, Inorganic System”), Bandyopadhyay and his team now describe the fundamental computing principle of a frequency fractal brain like computer.

“Our artificial brain-building project differs from all others in the world for several reasons,” Bandyopadhyay explains to Nanowerk. He lists the four major distinctions:
1) We do not use logic gate based computing within the framework of Turing, our decision-making protocol is not a logical reduction of decision rather projection of frequency fractal operations in a real space, it is an engineering perspective of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem.
2) We do not need to write any software, the argument and basic phase transition for decision-making, ‘if-then’ arguments and the transformation of one set of arguments into another self-assemble and expand spontaneously, the system holds an astronomically large number of ‘if’ arguments and its associative ‘then’ situations.
3) We use ‘spontaneous reply back’, via wireless communication using a unique resonance band coupling mode, not conventional antenna-receiver model, since fractal based non-radiative power management is used, the power expense is negligible.
4) We have carried out our own single DNA, single protein molecule and single brain microtubule neurophysiological study to develop our own Human brain model.

I encourage people to read Berger’s articles on this topic as they provide excellent information and links to much more. Curiously (mind you, it is easy to miss something), he does not mention James Gimzewski’s work at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Working with colleagues from the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, Gimzewski published a paper about “two-, three-terminal WO3-x-based nanoionic devices capable of a broad range of neuromorphic and electrical functions”. You can find out more about the paper in my Dec. 24, 2012 posting titled: Synaptic electronics.

As for the ‘brain jelly’ paper, here’s a link to and a citation for it,

Design and Construction of a Brain-Like Computer: A New Class of Frequency-Fractal Computing Using Wireless Communication in a Supramolecular Organic, Inorganic System by Subrata Ghoshemail, Krishna Aswaniemail, Surabhi Singhemail, Satyajit Sahuemail, Daisuke Fujitaemail and Anirban Bandyopadhyay. Information 2014, 5(1), 28-100; doi:10.3390/info5010028

It’s an open access paper.

As for anyone who’s curious about why the US BRAIN initiative ((Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, also referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project) is not mentioned, I believe that’s because it’s focussed on biological brains exclusively at this point (you can check its Wikipedia entry to confirm).

Anirban Bandyopadhyay was last mentioned here in a January 16, 2014 posting titled: Controversial theory of consciousness confirmed (maybe) in  the context of a presentation in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

*2700th posting: new generation of hybird memristive nanodevices and an update of HP labs and its memristive products

Hard to believe this is the *2700th posting but yay! To commemorate this special occasion I’m featuring two items about memristors, work on protein-based memristors and an update of my Feb. 7, 2013 posting on the HP Labs and its promises of memristor-based products.

Michael Berger’s Dec. 16, 2013 issue of Nanowerk Spotlight focused on memristor research from bioengineers at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (Note: Links have been removed),

 Based on the rapid development of synthetic chemistry and bioengineering, researchers have begun to build hybrid nanostructures with various biomolecules to fulfill the functional requirements of advanced nanocircuits. Proteins already perform functions such as signalling, charge transport or storage, in all biochemical processes.

“Although the diversity of these natural molecules is vast – for instance, more than a million variants of an individual protein may be created via genetic engineering – tailoring their structures to fit the variable and complex requirements of both the biological and non-biological world is achievable by leveraging on the rapidly developing bioengineering field,” Xiaodong Chen, an Associate Professor in the School of Materials Science & Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, tells Nanowerk. “On a parallel note, bioengineering may provide an alternative approach to tune the structural and electronic properties of functional molecules leading to further development in the field of molecular electronics.”

Berger provides more context on this work by way of a 2011 Spotlight about the research (featured in my Sept. 19, 2011 posting) and then describes Chen’s latest work,

In new work, reported in a recent edition of Small (“Bioengineered Tunable Memristor Based on Protein Nanocage”) Chen and his team demonstrate a strategy for the fabrication of memristive nanodevices with stable and tunable performance by assembling ferritin monolayer inside a on-wire lithography-generated ∼12 nm gap.

Whereas the protein-based memristor devices in the previous work were fabricated from the commercial horse spleen ferritin, the new work uses the unique high iron loading capacity of Archaeoglobus fulgidus ferritin (AfFtn).

“We hypothesized that if the composition of this iron complex core can be modulated, the switching performance of the protein-based device can be controlled accordingly,” says Chen.

They found that the (tunable) iron loading in the AfFtn nanocages drastically impacts the performance of the memristive devices. The higher iron loading amount contributes to better memristive performance due to higher electrochemical activity of the ferric complex core.

This work is not going to be found in any applications for molecular devices at any time soon but it seems promising at this stage. For those who’d like more information, there’s Berger’s article or this link and a citation to the researchers’ paper,

Bioengineered Tunable Memristor Based on Protein Nanocage by Fanben Meng, Barindra Sana, Yuangang Li, Yuanjun Liu, Sierin Lim, & Xiaodong Chen. Article first published online: 19 AUG 2013 DOI: 10.1002/smll.201300810
© 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall but Wiley does offer a number of viewing options at different price points.

HP Labs and its memristor-based products

Following on last year’s Feb. 7, 2013 update (scroll down about 1/2 way), it seems like another annual update is in order unfortunately, the news seems like a retread. Memristor’-based devices from HP Labs will not be launched (in the marketplace or even to show at technology shows) this year either. In fact, any sort of launch is much further in the future according to Chris Mellor’s Nov. 1, 2013 article for The Register; Note: Links have been removed),

HP has warned El Reg not to get its hopes up too high after the tech titan’s CTO Martin Fink suggested StoreServ arrays could be packed with 100TB Memristor drives come 2018.

In five years, according to Fink, DRAM and NAND scaling will hit a wall, limiting the maximum capacity of the technologies: process shrinks will come to a shuddering halt when the memories’ reliability drops off a cliff as a side effect of reducing the size of electronics on the silicon dies.

The HP answer to this scaling wall is Memristor, its flavour of resistive RAM technology that is supposed to have DRAM-like speed and better-than-NAND storage density. Fink claimed at an HP Discover event in Las Vegas that Memristor devices will be ready by the time flash NAND hits its limit in five years. He also showed off a Memristor wafer, adding that it could have a 1.5PB capacity by the end of the decade.

Fink spoke about the tech in June, but this week a HP spokesperson clarified to The Reg:

As with many other ground-breaking technologies being developed at HP Labs, HP has not yet committed to a specific product roadmap for Memristor-based products. HP does have internal milestones that are subject to change, depending on shifting market, technology and business conditions.

Every time I read about it HP Labs’ memristor-based products  they keep receding further into the future. Compare this latest announcement with what was being said at the time of my Feb.7, 2013 posting,

… Stanley Williams’ presence in the video reminded me of the memristor and an announcement (mentioned in my April 19, 2012 posting) that HP Labs would be rolling out some memristor-enabled products in 2013. Sadly, later in the year I missed this announcement, from a July 9, 2012 posting by Chris Mellor for TheRegister.co.uk,

Previously he (Stanley Williams) has said that HP and fab partner Hynix would launch a memristor product in the summer of 2013. At the Kavli do [Kavli Foundation Roundtable, June 2012], Williams said: “In terms of commercialisation, we’ll have something technologically viable by the end of next year [2014].”

To be fair, it seems HP Labs had abandoned plans for a commercial launch of memristor-based products even in 2013 but now it seems there is no roadmap of any kind.

* Corrected from ’3000′ to ’2700′.

Electronic skin and its evolution

Michael Berger has featured an article in the journal Advanced Materials, which reviews 25 years of work on e-skin (aka, electronic skin or artificial skin) in his Nov. 15, 2013 Nanowerk Spotlight series article ,

Advances in materials, fabrication strategies and device designs for flexible and stretchable electronics and sensors make it possible to envision a not-too-distant future where ultra-thin, flexible circuits based on inorganic semiconductors can be wrapped and attached to any imaginable surface, including body parts and even internal organs. Robotic technologies will also benefit as it becomes possible to fabricate electronic skin (‘e-skin’) that, for instance, could allow surgical robots to interact, in a soft contacting mode, with their surroundings through touch. In addition to giving robots a finer sense of touch, engineers believe that e-skin technology could also be used to create things like wallpapers that double as touchscreen displays and dashboard laminates that allow drivers to adjust electronic controls with the wave of a hand.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the 25-year review of work on e-skin,

25th Anniversary Article: The Evolution of Electronic Skin (E-Skin): A Brief History, Design Considerations, and Recent Progress by Mallory L. Hammock, Alex Chortos, Benjamin C.-K. Tee, Jeffrey B.-H. Tok, and Zhenan Bao. Advanced Materials Volume 25, Issue 42, pages 5997–6038, November 13, 2013 Article first published online: 22 OCT 2013 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201302240

© 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

The review article is behind a paywall but Berger’s synopsis offers a good synopsis and tidbits such as this timeline (Berger offers a larger version) which includes important moments in science fiction (Note: Links in the caption have been removed),

Figure 1. A brief chronology of the evolution of e-skin. We emphasize several science fictional events in popular culture that inspired subsequent critical technological advancements in the development of e-skin. Images reproduced with permission: “micro-structured pressure sensor,”[18] “stretchable OLEDs,”[20b] “stretchable OPVs,”[21a] “stretchable, transparent e-skin,”[22] “macroscale nanowire e-skin,”[23a] “rechargeable, stretchable batteries,”[137] “interlocked e-skin.”[25] Copyright, respectively, 2010, 2009, 2012, 2005, 2010, 2013, 2012. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. “Flexible, active-matrix e-skin” image reproduced with permission.[26a] Copyright, 2004. National Academy of Sciences USA. “Epidermal electronics” image reproduced with permission.[390a] Copyright, American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Stretchable batteries” image reproduced with permission.[27] “Infrared e-skin” image reproduced with permission.[8b] Copyright 2001, IEEE. “Anthropomorphic cybernetic hand” image reproduced with permission.[426] Copyright 2006, IEEE. [downloaded from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/doi/10.1002/adma.201302240/full]

Figure 1. A brief chronology of the evolution of e-skin. We emphasize several science fictional events in popular culture that inspired subsequent critical technological advancements in the development of e-skin. Images reproduced with permission: “micro-structured pressure sensor,”[18] “stretchable OLEDs,”[20b] “stretchable OPVs,”[21a] “stretchable, transparent e-skin,”[22] “macroscale nanowire e-skin,”[23a] “rechargeable, stretchable batteries,”[137] “interlocked e-skin.”[25] Copyright, respectively, 2010, 2009, 2012, 2005, 2010, 2013, 2012. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. “Flexible, active-matrix e-skin” image reproduced with permission.[26a] Copyright, 2004. National Academy of Sciences USA. “Epidermal electronics” image reproduced with permission.[390a] Copyright, American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Stretchable batteries” image reproduced with permission.[27] “Infrared e-skin” image reproduced with permission.[8b] Copyright 2001, IEEE. “Anthropomorphic cybernetic hand” image reproduced with permission.[426] Copyright 2006, IEEE. [downloaded from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/doi/10.1002/adma.201302240/full]

Here’s an excerpt from the review article outlining the 1970s – 1990s period featuring some of the science fiction which has influenced the science (Note: Links have been removed),

The prospect of creating artificial skin was in many ways inspired by science fiction, which propelled the possibility of e-skin into the imagination of both the general public as well as the scientific community. One of the first science fiction books to explore the use of mechanical replacement organs was Caidin’s Cyborg in 1971, on which the famed Six Million Dollar Man television series about a man with a bionic replacement arm and eye was later based (1974).[4] Shortly after, at the beginning of the 1980s, George Lucas created a vision of a future with e-skin in the famous Star Wars series. In particular, he depicted a scene showing a medical robot installing an electronic hand with full sensory perception on the main character, Luke Skywalker.[5] Shortly after, in 1984, the Terminator movie series depicted humanoid robots and even a self-healing robot.[6] These fictitious renditions of e-skin took place against a real-life backdrop of vibrant microelectronics research that began bridging science fiction with scientific reality.

Early technological advancements in the development of e-skin were concomitant with their science fiction inspirations. In 1974, Clippinger et al. demonstrated a prosthetic hand capable of discrete sensor feedback.[7] Nearly a decade later, Hewlett-Packard (HP) marketed a personal computer (HP-150) that was equipped with a touchscreen, allowing users to activate functions by simply touching the display. It was the first mass-marketed electronic device capitalizing on the intuitive nature of human touch. In 1985, General Electric (GE) built the first sensitive skin for a robotic arm using discrete infrared sensors placed on a flexible sheet at a resolution of ≈5 cm.[8] The fabricated sensitive skin was proximally aware of its surroundings, allowing the robot’s arm to avert potential obstacles and effectively maneuver within its physical environment. Despite the robotic arm’s lack of fingers and low resolution, it was capable of demonstrating that electronics integrated into a membrane could allow for natural human–machine interaction. For example, the robotic arm was able to ‘dance’ with a ballerina without any pre-programmed motions.[8] In addition to the ability of an artificial skin to interact with its surroundings, it is equally critical that the artificial skin mimics the mechanical properties of human skin to accommodate its various motions. Hence, to build life-like prosthetics or humanoid robots, soft, flexible, and stretchable electronics needed to be developed.

In the 1990s, scientists began using flexible electronic materials to create large-area, low-cost and printable sensor sheets. Jiang et al. proposed one of the first flexible sensor sheets for tactile shear force sensing by creating silicon (Si) micro-electro-mechanical (MEM) islands by etching thin Si wafers and integrating them on flexible polyimide foils.[9] Much work has since been done to enhance the reliability of large sensor sheets to mechanical bending.[10] Around the same time, flexible arrays fabricated from organic semiconductors began to emerge that rivaled the performance of amorphous Si.[11]

Just before the turn of the millennium, the first “Sensitive Skin Workshop” was held in Washington DC under the aegis of the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, bringing together approximately sixty researchers from different sectors of academia, industry, and government. It was discovered that there was significant industrial interest in e-skins for various applications, ranging from robotics to health care. A summary of concepts outlined in the workshop was compiled by Lumelsky et al.[12] In the early 2000s, the pace of e-skin development significantly increased as a result of this workshop, and researchers began to explore different types of sensors that could be more easily integrated with microprocessors.

I have written about e-skin a number of times, most recently in a July 9, 2013 posting about work on flexible sensors and gold nanoparticles being conducted at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. This review helps to contextualize projects such as the one at Technion and elsewhere.

What do you do with a problem like regulating nanotechnology risks?

You get points for recognizing the “Sound of Music’ reference. Of course, the points aren’t useful for anything, which leads me in a roundabout way to Michael Berger’s fascinating May 28, 2013 Nanowerk Spotlight article, Does the EU’s chemical regulation sufficiently address nanotechnology risks? It’s a digest of a discussion, published in Nature Nanotechnology’s May 2013 issue, about nanotechnology regulations in light of the European Commission’s (EC; a unit in the European Union structure) Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials.

Berger summarizes Steffen Foss Hansen’s The European Union’s chemical legislation needs revision (article is behind a paywall) and Antonio Tajani’s response to Hansen, Substance identification of nanomaterials not key to ensuring their safe use (article is behind a paywall; Note: Links have been removed from the following excerpt),

The European Union’s chemical legislation known as REACH needs revision argues Steffen Foss Hansen, Associate Professor at DTU Environment, Technical University of Denmark. In a correspondence to the Editor of Nature Nanotechnology (“The European Union’s chemical legislation needs revision”), Hansen argues that REACH needs to be revised in three major areas.

First of all, a distinction needs to be made in the legal text of REACH between the bulk and the nano form of a given material and Hansen argues that the European Commission should acknowledge that nanomaterials cannot be identified solely by chemical composition. Additional main identifiers (such as primary particle size distribution, shape – including aspect ratio – specific surface area and surface treatment) are needed as this is the only manner in which it can be made clear that the properties and behavior of nanomaterials differ fundamentally from each other and from the bulk material.

In a response to Hansen’s Correspondence, Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, writes that substance identification of nanomaterials is not key to ensuring their safe use (“Substance identification of nanomaterials not key to ensuring their safe use”).

Tajani argues that substance identification is only one element and that trying to identify unambiguous rules for substance identification is probably elusive and might result in ever more complex rules on what is considered as the same substance as opposed to different substances, without necessarily resulting in more safety of nanomaterials. Instead, Tajani and the European Commission wish to focus on clarifying what is needed to demonstrate the safe use while also noting that the implementation of regulatory changes would take several years and hence is not desirable.

As per my Oct. 25, 2011 posting (Nanoparticle size doesn’t matter), my thinking on environmental, health, and safety issues regarding engineered nanomaterials has been in the process of change and I note that focusing on the size, shape, and other factors would make regulation next to impossible. So, I’m inclined to agree with Tajani’s arguments that trying to develop “unambiguous rules for substance identification” is not a worthwhile approach to dealing with any EHS issues that nanomaterials may present and will likely prove futile in the same way as gaining points for recognizing my attempted ‘Sound of Music’ reference.

I assume that Tajani and Hansen are referring to engineered nanomaterials as opposed to naturally occurring nanomaterials. (I too forget to specify but unless otherwise noted I’m usually referring to engineered nanomaterials.)

For me, two of the most compelling issues that Hansen presents revolve around a lack of data and standardized testing (from Hansen’s article in Nature),

… there are few measured exposure data and that few environmental fate and behaviour studies are available. …

… there are currently no standardized (eco)toxicity test guidelines in use …

I do wonder how many the word ‘few’ represents as I’m reminded of the plethora of studies on silver nanoparticles and on long, multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Certainly, they are attempting to address the situation regarding consistent testing protocols in the US as per my May 8, 2013 post about the NanoGo Consortium. Perhaps the EC folks could consider using these protocols as a model for a European version?  I assume that Hansen is commenting on a broader, European-inflected picture rather than the piecemeal, ‘globalish’ picture I have formed from my meanderings in the nanosphere.

Hansen also points this out in his Nature article (Note: Footnotes have been removed),

Another disturbing aspect of the Second Regulatory Review on Nanomaterials is that it focuses only on first-generation nanomaterials (that is, passive nanostructures such as nanoparticles). The Staff Working Paper acknowledges that second- and third-generation nanomaterials (for example, targeted drug-delivery systems and novel robotic devices) are entering early stages of market development, …

I’m beginning to find the discussion about definitions and resultant regulations wearing and am coming to the conclusion that the focus should be on bringing the information already gathered together, standardizing tests, determining what is  known and not known, and establishing some forward momentum.

Nanotechnology and the US mega science project: BAM (Brain Activity Map) and more

The Brain Activity Map (BAM) project received budgetary approval as of this morning, Apr. 2, 2013 (I first mentioned BAM in my Mar. 4, 2013 posting when approval seemed imminent). From the news item, Obama Announces Huge Brain-Mapping Project, written by Stephanie Pappas for Yahoo News (Note: Links have been removed),

 President Barack Obama announced a new research initiative this morning (April 2) to map the human brain, a project that will launch with $100 million in funding in 2014.

The Brain Activity Map (BAM) project, as it is called, has been in the planning stages for some time. In the June 2012 issue of the journal Neuron, six scientists outlined broad proposals for developing non-invasive sensors and methods to experiment on single cells in neural networks. This February, President Obama made a vague reference to the project in his State of the Union address, mentioning that it could “unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.”

In March, the project’s visionaries outlined their final goals in the journal Science. They call for an extended effort, lasting several years, to develop tools for monitoring up to a million neurons at a time. The end goal is to understand how brain networks function.

“It could enable neuroscience to really get to the nitty-gritty of brain circuits, which is the piece that’s been missing from the puzzle,” Rafael Yuste, the co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Circuits at Columbia University, who is part of the group spearheading the project, told LiveScience in March. “The reason it’s been missing is because we haven’t had the techniques, the tools.” [Inside the Brain: A Journey Through Time]

Not all neuroscientists support the project, however, with some arguing that it lacks clear goals and may cannibalize funds for other brain research.


I believe the $100M mentioned for 2014 would one installment in a series totaling up to $1B or more. In any event, it seems like a timely moment to comment on the communications campaign that has been waged on behalf of the BAM. It reminds me a little of the campaign for graphene, which was waged in the build up to the decision as to which two projects (in a field of six semi-finalists, then narrowed to a field of four finalists) should receive a FET (European Union’s Future and Emerging Technology) 1 billion euro research prize each. It seemed to me even a year or so before the decision that graphene’s win was a foregone conclusion but the organizers left nothing to chance and were relentless in their pursuit of attention and media coverage in the buildup to the final decision.

The most recent salvo in the BAM campaign was an attempt to link it with nanotechnology. A shrewd move given that the US has spent well over $1B since the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was first approved in 2000. Linking the two projects means the NNI can lend a little authority to the new project (subtext: we’ve supported a mega-project before and that was successful) while the new project BAM can imbue the ageing NNI with some excitement.

Here’s more about nanotechnology and BAM from a Mar. 27, 2013 Spotlight article by Michael Berger on Nanowerk,

A comprehensive understanding of the brain remains an elusive, distant frontier. To arrive at a general theory of brain function would be an historic event, comparable to inferring quantum theory from huge sets of complex spectra and inferring evolutionary theory from vast biological field work. You might have heard about the proposed Brain Activity Map – a project that, like the Human Genome Project, will tap the hive mind of experts to make headway in the understanding of the field. Engineers and nanotechnologists will be needed to help build ever smaller devices for measuring the activity of individual neurons and, later, to control how those neurons function. Computer scientists will be called upon to develop methods for storing and analyzing the vast quantities of imaging and physiological data, and for creating virtual models for studying brain function. Neuroscientists will provide critical biological expertise to guide the research and interpret the results.

Berger goes on to highlight some of the ways nanotechnology-enabled devices could contribute to the effort. He draws heavily on a study published Mar. 20, 2013 online in ACS (American Chemical Society)Nano. Shockingly, the article is open access. Given that this is the first time I’ve come across an open access article in any of the American Chemical Society’s journals, I suspect that there was payment of some kind involved to make this information freely available. (The practice of allowing researchers to pay more in order to guarantee open access to their research in journals that also have articles behind paywalls seems to be in the process of becoming more common.)

Here’s a citation and a link to the article about nanotechnology and BAM,

Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping by A. Paul Alivisatos, Anne M. Andrews, Edward S. Boyden, Miyoung Chun, George M. Church, Karl Deisseroth, John P. Donoghue, Scott E. Fraser, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Loren L. Looger, Sotiris Masmanidis, Paul L. McEuen, Arto V. Nurmikko, Hongkun Park, Darcy S. Peterka, Clay Reid, Michael L. Roukes, Axel Scherer, Mark Schnitzer, Terrence J. Sejnowski, Kenneth L. Shepard, Doris Tsao, Gina Turrigiano, Paul S. Weiss, Chris Xu, Rafael Yuste, and Xiaowei Zhuang. ACS Nano, 2013, 7 (3), pp 1850–1866 DOI: 10.1021/nn4012847 Publication Date (Web): March 20, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

As these things go, it’s a readable article for people without a neuroscience education provided they don’t mind feeling a little confused from time to time. From Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping (Note: Footnotes and links removed),

The Brain Activity Mapping (BAM) Project (…) has three goals in terms of building tools for neuroscience capable of (…) measuring the activity of large sets of neurons in complex brain circuits, (…) computationally analyzing and modeling these brain circuits, and (…) testing these models by manipulating the activities of chosen sets of neurons in these brain circuits.

As described below, many different approaches can, and likely will, be taken to achieve these goals as neural circuits of increasing size and complexity are studied and probed.

The BAM project will focus both on dynamic voltage activity and on chemical neurotransmission. With an estimated 85 billion neurons, 100 trillion synapses, and 100 chemical neurotransmitters in the human brain,(…) this is a daunting task. Thus, the BAM project will start with model organisms, neural circuits (vide infra), and small subsets of specific neural circuits in humans.

Among the approaches that show promise for the required dynamic, parallel measurements are optical and electro-optical methods that can be used to sense neural cell activity such as Ca2+,(7) voltage,(…) and (already some) neurotransmitters;(…) electrophysiological approaches that sense voltages and some electrochemically active neurotransmitters;(…) next-generation photonics-based probes with multifunctional capabilities;(18) synthetic biology approaches for recording histories of function;(…) and nanoelectronic measurements of voltage and local brain chemistry.(…) We anticipate that tools developed will also be applied to glia and more broadly to nanoscale and microscale monitoring of metabolic processes.

Entirely new tools will ultimately be required both to study neurons and neural circuits with minimal perturbation and to study the human brain. These tools might include “smart”, active nanoscale devices embedded within the brain that report on neural circuit activity wirelessly and/or entirely new modalities of remote sensing of neural circuit dynamics from outside the body. Remarkable advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology thus have key roles to play in transduction, reporting, power, and communications.

One of the ultimate goals of the BAM project is that the knowledge acquired and tools developed will prove useful in the intervention and treatment of a wide variety of diseases of the brain, including depression, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and others. We note that tens of thousands of patients have already been treated with invasive (i.e., through the skull) treatments. [emphases mine] While we hope to reduce the need for such measures, greatly improved and more robust interfaces to the brain would impact effectiveness and longevity where such treatments remain necessary.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, there was this Mar. 29, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Some human cells forget to empty their trash bins, and when the garbage piles up, it can lead to Parkinson’s disease and other genetic and age-related disorders. Scientists don’t yet understand why this happens, and Rice University engineering researcher Laura Segatori is hoping to change that, thanks to a prestigious five-year CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Segatori, Rice’s T.N. Law Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and assistant professor of bioengineering and of biochemistry and cell biology, will use her CAREER grant to create a toolkit for probing the workings of the cellular processes that lead to accumulation of waste material and development of diseases, such as Parkinson’s and lysosomal storage disorders. Each tool in the kit will be a nanoparticle — a speck of matter about the size of a virus — with a specific shape, size and charge.  [emphases mine] By tailoring each of these properties, Segatori’s team will create a series of specialized probes that can undercover the workings of a cellular process called autophagy.

“Eventually, once we understand how to design a nanoparticle to activate autophagy, we will use it as a tool to learn more about the autophagic process itself because there are still many question marks in biology regarding how this pathway works,” Segatori said. “It’s not completely clear how it is regulated. It seems that excessive autophagy may activate cell death, but it’s not yet clear. In short, we are looking for more than therapeutic applications. We are also hoping to use these nanoparticles as tools to study the basic science of autophagy.”

There is no direct reference to BAM but there are some intriguing correspondences.

Finally, there is no mention of nanotechnology in this radio broadcast/podcast and transcript but it does provide more information about BAM (for many folks this was first time they’d heard about the project) and the hopes and concerns this project raises while linking it to the Human Genome Project. From the Mar. 31, 2013 posting of a transcript and radio (Kera News; a National Public Radio station) podcast titled, Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Journey to Map the Human Brain,

During the State of the Union, President Obama said the nation is about to embark on an ambitious project: to examine the human brain and create a road map to the trillions of connections that make it work.

“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar,” the president said. “Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.”

Details of the project have slowly been leaking out: $3 billion, 10 years of research and hundreds of scientists. The National Institutes of Health is calling it the Brain Activity Map.

Obama isn’t the first to tout the benefits of a huge government science project. But can these projects really deliver? And what is mapping the human brain really going to get us?

Whether one wants to call it a public relations campaign or a marketing campaign is irrelevant. Science does not take place in an environment where data and projects are considered dispassionately. Enormous amounts of money are spent to sway public opinion and policymakers’ decisions.

ETA Ap. 3, 2013: Here are more stories about BAM and the announcement:

BRAIN Initiative Launched to Unlock Mysteries of Human Mind

Obama’s BRAIN Only 1/13 The Size Of Europe’s

BRAIN Initiative Builds on Efforts of Leading Neuroscientists and Nanotechnologists

Flesh-eating fungus, ivy and other inspirations from nature

Michael Berger has featured Dr. Mingjun Zhang’s team’s fascinating work on flesh-eating fungus in a Dec. 18, 2012 Spotlight article on Nanowerk,

“Most studies on naturally occurring organic nanoparticles have focused on higher organisms,” Mingjun Zhang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, tells Nanowerk. “Given the earth’s rich biological diversity, it is reasonable to hypothesize that naturally occurring nanoparticles, of various forms and functions, may be produced by a wide range of organisms from microbes to metazoans.”

In his research, Zhang has focused on looking at nature for inspirations for solutions to challenges in engineering and medicine, especially in small-scale, such as bioinspired nanomaterials, bioinspired energy-efficient propulsive systems, and bioinspired nanobio systems for interfacing with cellular systems.

In new work, Zhang and his research associate Dr. Yongzhong Wang have turned their focus to Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater with a predatory life stage in the fungal kingdom.

The researchers have published their work in Advanced Functional Materials ((early online publication behind a paywall),

Naturally Occurring Nanoparticles from Arthrobotrys oligospora as a Potential Immunostimulatory and Antitumor Agent by Yongzhong Wang, Leming Sun, Sijia Yi, Yujian Huang, Scott C. Lenaghan, and Mingjun Zhang in Advanced Functional Materials

Article first published online: 4 DEC 2012 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201202619

Here’s the abstract,

Arthrobotrys oligospora, a representative flesh eater in the fungal kingdom, is a potential source for natural-based biomaterials due to the presence of specialized 3D adhesive traps that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. The purpose of this study is to discover novel nanoparticles that occur naturally in A. oligospora and to exploit its potential biomedical applications. A new culture method, fungal sitting drop culture method, is established in order to monitor the growth of A. oligospora in situ, and observe the nanoparticle production without interfering or contamination from the solid media. Abundant spherical nanoparticles secreted from the fungus are first revealed by scanning electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy. They have an average size of 360–370 nm, with a zeta potential of –33 mV at pH 6.0. Further analyses reveal that there is ≈28 μg of glycosaminoglycan and ≈550 μg of protein per mg of nanoparticles. Interestingly, the nanoparticles significantly induce TNF-α secretion in RAW264.7mouse macrophages, indicating a potential immunostimulatory effect. The nanoparticles themselves are also found slightly cytotoxic to mouse melanoma B16BL6 and human lung cancer A549 cells, and show a synergistic cytotoxic effect upon conjugation with doxorubicin against both cells. This study proposes a new approach for producing novel organic nanoparticles secreted from microorganisms under controlled conditions. The findings here also highlight the potential roles of the naturally occurring nanoparticles from A. oligospora as an immunostimulatory and antitumor agent for cancer immunochemotherapy.

In more generalized language (from Berger’s Spotlight article),

“It is really exciting to use a natural microbe system to produce nanoparticles for potential cancer therapy,” says Zhang. “Originally, we were trying to understand how the fungus secretes an adhesive trap that can capture, penetrate, and digest free-living nematodes in diverse environments. By doing that we almost accidentally discovered the nanoparticles produced.”

Zhang’s team investigated the fungal nanoparticles’ potential as a stimulant for the immune system, and found through an in vitro study that the nanoparticles activate secretion of an immune-system stimulant within a white blood cell line. They also investigated the nanoparticles’ potential as an antitumor agent by testing in vitro the toxicity to cells using two tumor cell lines, and discovered nanoparticles do kill cancer cells.

Berger’s article in addition to giving more details about Zhang’s current work and his work with ivy and possible applications for ivy-based nanoparticles in sunscreens also provides some discussion of naturally occurring nanoparticles as opposed to engineered (or man-made)  nanoparticles.

The University of Tennessee’s Dec. 4, 2012 press release is also a good source of information on Zhang’s latest work on flesh-eating fungus. For the indefatiguable who are interested in Zhang’s work on ivy and potential nanosunscreens, there’s also my July 22, 2010 posting.

American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) nanotechnology standards panel to meet in Februrary 2013 and one more standard

The American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Nanotechnology Standards Panel (NSP) was scheduled to meet in Oct. 2012 but Hurricane Sandy, which hit the eastern part of the continent at that time, necessitated rescheduling to Feb. 4, 2013 as per the Dec. 20, 2012 posting on Thomas.net,

Originally scheduled for October 30, 2012, ANSI’s Nanotechnology Standards Panel meeting was postponed as a result of Hurricane Sandy and will now be held on February 4, 2013. Meeting will examine how current nanotechnology standards are being utilized and how standards activities meet existing stakeholder needs. Benefits of participating in nanotechnology standardization and the possibilities for greater collaboration between stakeholders in this area will also be discussed.

The Dec. 14, 2012 ANSI news release provides more details about the Feb. 4, 2012 meeting to be held in Washington, DC,

The half-day meeting will examine how current nanotechnology standards are being utilized and how standards activities meet existing stakeholder needs. The benefits for companies, organizations, and other groups to participate in nanotechnology standardization and the possibilities for greater collaboration between stakeholders in this area will also be discussed.

Formed in 2004, ANSI’s NSP serves as the cross-sector coordinating body for the facilitation of standards development in the area of nanotechnology. Shaun Clancy, Ph.D., the director of product regulatory services for the Evonik Degussa Corporation, and Ajit Jilavenkatesa, Ph.D., the senior standards policy advisor for the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), serve as the ANSI-NSP’s co-chairs.

… The ANSI-NSP works to provide a forum for standards developing organizations (SDOs), government entities, academia, and industry to identify needs and establish recommendations for the creation or updating of standards related to nanotechnology and nanomaterials. In addition, the ANSI-NSP solicits participation from nanotechnology-related groups that have not traditionally been involved in the voluntary consensus standards system, while also promoting cross-sector collaborative efforts.

Attendance at the February meeting is free. All attendees are required to register here for the meeting; individuals who registered for the October 2012 event must register again. [emphasis mine] For more information, visit the ANSI-NSP webpage or contact Heather Benko ([email protected]), ANSI senior manager, nanotechnology standardization activities.

Standardization is one of the topics highlighted in Michael Berger’s Dec. 20, 2012 Nanowerk Spotlight article about environmental health and safety and a high-throughput screening (HTS) platform developed at the University of California’s Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN) that can perform toxicity screening of 24 metal oxide nanoparticles simultaneously,

According to the team, the HTS platform that has been demonstrated in this study could easily be adapted to study other nanomaterials of interest. The capability of HTS would also allow researchers to analyze multiple samples at different concentrations, time points, as well as varying experimental parameters – all in one setup. The standardization of the whole screening process by this HTS platform also minimizes human intervention and errors during the experiment.

I guess it’s the season for standardization. Ho, ho, ho!