Tag Archives: Michael Berger

A review of the nanotechnology in green technology

Michael Berger has written a Nov. 18, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article focusing on the ‘green’ in nanotechnology (Note: A link has been removed),

There is a general perception that nanotechnologies will have a significant impact on developing ‘green’ and ‘clean’ technologies with considerable environmental benefits. The associated concept of green nanotechnology aims to exploit nanotech-enabled innovations in materials science and engineering to generate products and processes that are energy efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable. These applications are expected to impact a large range of economic sectors, such as energy production and storage, clean up-technologies, as well as construction and related infrastructure industries.

A recent review article in Environmental Health (“Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy”) examines opportunities and practical challenges that nanotechnology applications pose in addressing the guiding principles for a green economy.

Here’s a link to and citation for the review article cited by Berger. It is more focused on occupational health and safety then the title suggests but not surprising when you realize all of the authors are employed by the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),,

Opportunities and challenges of nanotechnology in the green economy by Ivo Iavicoli, Veruscka Leso, Walter Ricciard, Laura L Hodson, and Mark D Hoover. Environmental Health 2014, 13:78 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-78 Published:    7 October 2014

© 2014 Iavicoli et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an open access article.

Here’s the background to the work (from the article; Note: Links have been removed),

The “green economy” concept has been driven into the mainstream of policy debate by global economic crisis, expected increase in global demand for energy by more than one third between 2010 to 2035, rising commodity prices as well as the urgent need for addressing global challenges in domains such as energy, environment and health [1-3].

The term “green economy”, chiefly relating to the principles of sustainable development, was first coined in a pioneering 1989 report for the Government of the United Kingdom by a group of leading environmental economists [1]. The most widely used and reliable definition of “green economy” comes from the United Nations Environment Programme which states that “a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive” [4].

The green economy concept can indeed play a very useful role in changing the way that society manages the interaction of the environmental and economic domains. In this context, nanotechnology, which is the manipulation of matter in the dimension of 1 to 100 nm, offers the opportunity to produce new structures, materials and devices with unique physico-chemical properties (i.e. small size, large surface area to mass ratio) to be employed in energy efficient as well as economically and environmentally sustainable green innovations [8-12].

Although expected to exert a great impact on a large range of industrial and economic sectors, the sustainability of green nano-solutions is currently not completely clear, and it should be carefully faced. In fact, the benefits of incorporating nanomaterials (NMs) in processes and products that contribute to outcomes of sustainability, might bring with them environmental, health and safety risks, ethical and social issues, market and consumer acceptance uncertainty as well as a strong competition with traditional technologies [13].

The present review examines opportunities and practical challenges that nano-applications pose in addressing the guiding principles for a green economy. Examples are provided of the potential for nano-applications to address social and environmental challenges, particularly in energy production and storage thus reducing pressure on raw materials, clean-up technologies as well as in fostering sustainable manufactured products. Moreover, the review aims to critically assess the impact that green nanotechnology may have on the health and safety of workers involved in this innovative sector and proposes action strategies for the management of emerging occupational risks.

The potential nanotechnology impact on green innovations

Green nanotechnology is expected to play a fundamental role in bringing a key functionality across the whole value chain of a product, both through the beneficial properties of NMs included as a small percentage in a final device, as well as through nano-enabled processes and applications without final products containing any NMs [13,14]. However, most of the potential green nano-solutions are still in the lab/start-up phase and very few products have reached the market to date. Further studies are necessary to assess the applicability, efficiency and sustainability of nanotechnologies under more realistic conditions, as well as to validate NM enabled systems in comparison to existing technologies. The following paragraphs will describe the potential fields of application for green nanotechnology innovations.

Intriguingly, there’s no mention (that I could find) of soil remediation (clean-up) although there is reference to water remediation.  As for occupational health and safety and nanotechnology, the authors have this to say (Note: Links have been removed),

In this context according to the proposed principles for green economy, it is important that society, scientific community and industry take advantage of opportunities of nanotechnology while overcoming its practical challenges. However, not all revolutionary changes are sustainable per se and a cautious assessment of the benefits addressing economic, social and environmental implications, as well as the occupational health and safety impact is essential [95,96]. This latter aspect, in particular, should be carefully addressed, in consideration of the expected widespread use of nanotechnology and the consequent increasing likelihood of NM exposure in both living and occupational environments. Moreover, difficulties in nano-manufacturing and handling; uncertainty concerning stability of nano-innovations under aggressive or long-term operation (i.e. in the case of supercapacitors with nano-structured electrode materials or nano-enabled construction products); the lack of information regarding the release and fate of NMs in the environment (i.e. NMs released from water and wastewater treatment devices) as well as the limited knowledge concerning the NM toxicological profile, even further support the need for a careful consideration of the health and safety risks derived from NM exposure.Importantly, as shown in Figure 1, a number of potentially hazardous exposure conditions can be expected for workers involved in nanotechnology activities. In fact, NMs may have significant, still unknown, hazards that can pose risks for a wide range of workers: researchers, laboratory technicians, cleaners, production workers, transportation, storage and retail workers, employees in disposal and waste facilities and potentially, emergency responders who deal with spills and disasters of NMs who may be differently exposed to these potential, innovative xenobiotics.

The review article is quite interesting, albeit its precaution-heavy approach, but if you don’t have time, Berger summarizes the article. He also provides links to related articles he has written on the subjects of energy storage, evaluating ‘green’ nanotechnology in a full life cycle assessment, and more.

Nanoeducation compendium (2012) from the European Commission

Michael Berger has written an Oct. 6, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article about the European Commission’s NANOTECHNOLOGIES: Principles, Applications, Implications and Hands-on Activities: A compendium for educators published in 2012. From the article,

The lessons, discussions on applications and hands-on experiments presented in this book have been tested and enriched by hundreds of teachers, professors and educators from about one thousand schools in 20 countries in Europe and beyond, involving about 40.000 students.

The educational materials in this compendium are organized in three self-contained modules to offer increased flexibility throughout the development of the course, addressing the fundamental concepts, the main application areas and selected hands-on experiments.

Moreover, a case study approach provides educators and teachers with practical applications and examples to discuss in class. Background materials, literature reviews, specific case studies and ideas are presented to show educators how to address nanosciences and nanotechnologies concepts. Topics dealing with the ethical, societal and safety aspects of nanotechnologies are also included to help educators encouraging class debates, referenced with other European projects and relevant webpages.

One caveat, two years later some of the material may be dated, e.g., webpages may have been moved.

There is an overview of various nanoeducation materials and organizations in the European Union provided in a Dec. 18, 2013 posting for NanoDiode (an innovative, coordinated programme for outreach and dialogue throughout Europe to support the effective governance of nanotechnologies; Note: links have been removed),

The need for education features prominently in European policy texts such as the European Commission’s Strategy for Nanotechnology of 2004 and its Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Action Plan of 2005, which aims to ‘Promote networking and disseminate ‘best practice’s for education and training in N&N.’  Along with similar policy mandates for education on European member states and in other parts of the globe, this has resulted in a wide range of nanotechnology education activities over the last decade. The European project NANOYOU for instance organised a range of education activities such as a poster, film, contest, virtual dialogue, cards, role play, lab experiments, puzzle and games, and a website in 13 languages. In a similar fashion, the European project TimeforNano developed a range of educational materials and events (News & events, a video competition, a NanoKIT, a quiz and a website in 9 languages). The recent compendium for educators made on the basis of NANOYOU and, to a lesser extent, TimeforNano presents an extensive overview on the relevant principles, applications, implications and hands-on activities for nanotechnology education. [emphasis mine; this is the 2012 compendium mentioned in this post]

NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) features the compendium and offers more information and a link to it from here.

Most recently (Sept. 30, 2014 post), I featured a nanoeducation effort in Estonia The country is participating in the Quantum Spin-Off Project which offers an entrepreneurial aspect, as well as, education in the field of nanotechnology/nanoscience.

Wonders of curcumin: wound healing; wonders of aromatic-turmerone: stem cells

Both curcumin and turmerone are constituents of turmeric which has been long lauded for its healing properties. Michael Berger has written a Nanowerk Spotlight article featuring curcumin and some recent work on burn wound healing. Meanwhile, a ScienceDaily news item details information about a team of researchers focused on tumerone as a means for regenerating brain stem cells.

Curcumin and burn wounds

In a Sept. 22, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article Michael Berger sums up the curcumin research effort (referencing some of this previous articles on the topic) in light of a new research paper about burn wound healing (Note: Links have been removed),

Despite significant progress in medical treatments of severe burn wounds, infection and subsequent sepsis persist as frequent causes of morbidity and mortality for burn victims. This is due not only to the extensive compromise of the protective barrier against microbial invasion, but also as a result of growing pathogen resistance to therapeutic options.

… Dr Adam Friedman, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Director of Dermatologic research at the Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Nanowerk. “For me, this gap fuels innovation, serving as the inspiration for my research with broad-spectrum, multi-mechanistic antimicrobial nanomaterials.”

In new work, Friedman and a team of researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Oregon State University have explored the use of curcumin nanoparticles for the treatment of infected burn wounds, an application that resulted in reduced bacterial load and enhancing wound healing.

It certainly seems promising as per the article abstract,

Curcumin-encapsulated nanoparticles as innovative antimicrobial and wound healing agent by Aimee E. Krausz, Brandon L. Adler, Vitor Cabral, Mahantesh Navati, Jessica Doerner, Rabab Charafeddine, Dinesh Chandra, Hongying Liang, Leslie Gunther, Alicea Clendaniel, Stacey Harper, Joel M. Friedman, Joshua D. Nosanchuk, & Adam J. Friedman. Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine (article in press) published online 19 September 2014.http://www.nanomedjournal.com/article/S1549-9634%2814%2900527-9/abstract Uncorrected Proof

Burn wounds are often complicated by bacterial infection, contributing to morbidity and mortality. Agents commonly used to treat burn wound infection are limited by toxicity, incomplete microbial coverage, inadequate penetration, and rising resistance. Curcumin is a naturally derived substance with innate antimicrobial and wound healing properties. Acting by multiple mechanisms, curcumin is less likely than current antibiotics to select for resistant bacteria.

Curcumin’s poor aqueous solubility and rapid degradation profile hinder usage; nanoparticle encapsulation overcomes this pitfall and enables extended topical delivery of curcumin.

In this study, we synthesized and characterized curcumin nanoparticles (curc-np), which inhibited in vitro growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in dose-dependent fashion, and inhibited MRSA growth and enhanced wound healing in an in vivo murine wound model. Curc-np may represent a novel topical antimicrobial and wound healing adjuvant for infected burn wounds and other cutaneous injuries.

Two things: This paper is behind a paywall and note the use of the term ‘in vivo’ which means they have tested on animals such as rats and mice for example, but not humans. Nonetheless, it seems a promising avenue for further exploration.

Interestingly, there was an attempt in 1995 to patent turmeric for use in wound healing as per my Dec. 26, 2011 posting which featured then current research on turmeric,

There has already been one court case regarding a curcumin patent,

Recently, turmeric came into the global limelight when the controversial patent “Use of Turmeric in Wound Healing” was awarded, in 1995, to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, USA. Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) aggressively contested this award of the patent. It was argued by them that turmeric has been an integral part of the traditional Indian medicinal system over several centuries, and therefore, is deemed to be ‘prior art’, hence is in the public domain. Subsequently, after protracted technical/legal battle USPTO decreed that turmeric is an Indian discovery and revoked the patent.

One last bit about curcumin, my April 22, 2014 posting featured work in Iran using curcumin for cancer-healing.

Tumerone

This excerpt from a Sept. 25, 2014, news item in ScienceDaily represents the first time that tumerone has been mentioned here,

A bioactive compound found in turmeric promotes stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the brain, reveals new research published today in the open access journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy. The findings suggest aromatic turmerone could be a future drug candidate for treating neurological disorders, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

A Sept. 25, 2014 news release on EurekAlert provides more information,

The study looked at the effects of aromatic (ar-) turmerone on endogenous neutral stem cells (NSC), which are stem cells found within adult brains. NSC differentiate into neurons, and play an important role in self-repair and recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases. Previous studies of ar-turmerone have shown that the compound can block activation of microglia cells. When activated, these cells cause neuroinflammation, which is associated with different neurological disorders. However, ar-turmerone’s impact on the brain’s capacity to self-repair was unknown.

Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany, studied the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC proliferation and differentiation both in vitro and in vivo. Rat fetal NSC were cultured and grown in six different concentrations of ar-turmerone over a 72 hour period. At certain concentrations, ar-turmerone was shown to increase NSC proliferation by up to 80%, without having any impact on cell death. The cell differentiation process also accelerated in ar-turmerone-treated cells compared to untreated control cells.

To test the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC in vivo, the researchers injected adult rats with ar-turmerone. Using PET imaging and a tracer to detect proliferating cells, they found that the subventricular zone (SVZ) was wider, and the hippocampus expanded, in the brains of rats injected with ar-turmerone than in control animals. The SVZ and hippocampus are the two sites in adult mammalian brains where neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, is known to occur.

Lead author of the study, Adele Rueger, said: “While several substances have been described to promote stem cell proliferation in the brain, fewer drugs additionally promote the differentiation of stem cells into neurons, which constitutes a major goal in regenerative medicine. Our findings on aromatic turmerone take us one step closer to achieving this goal.”

Ar-turmerone is the lesser-studied of two major bioactive compounds found in turmeric. The other compound is curcumin, which is well known for its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties

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

Aromatic-turmerone induces neural stem cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo by Joerg Hucklenbroich, Rebecca Klein, Bernd Neumaier, Rudolf Graf, Gereon Rudolf Fink, Michael Schroeter, and Maria Adele Rueger. Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2014, 5:100  doi:10.1186/scrt500

This is an open access paper.

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.