Tag Archives: Nanoclast

Injectable and more powerful* batteries for live salmon

Today’s live salmon may sport a battery for monitoring purposes and now scientists have developed one that is significantly more powerful according to a Feb. 17, 2014 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) news release (dated Feb. 18, 2014 on EurekAlert),

Scientists have created a microbattery that packs twice the energy compared to current microbatteries used to monitor the movements of salmon through rivers in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

The battery, a cylinder just slightly larger than a long grain of rice, is certainly not the world’s smallest battery, as engineers have created batteries far tinier than the width of a human hair. But those smaller batteries don’t hold enough energy to power acoustic fish tags. The new battery is small enough to be injected into an organism and holds much more energy than similar-sized batteries.

Here’s a photo of the battery as it rests amongst grains of rice,

The microbattery created by Jie Xiao and Daniel Deng and colleagues, amid grains of rice. Courtesy PNNL

The microbattery created by Jie Xiao and Daniel Deng and colleagues, amid grains of rice. Courtesy PNNL

The news release goes on to explain why scientists are developing a lighter battery for salmon and how they achieved their goal,

For scientists tracking the movements of salmon, the lighter battery translates to a smaller transmitter which can be inserted into younger, smaller fish. That would allow scientists to track their welfare earlier in the life cycle, oftentimes in the small streams that are crucial to their beginnings. The new battery also can power signals over longer distances, allowing researchers to track fish further from shore or from dams, or deeper in the water.

“The invention of this battery essentially revolutionizes the biotelemetry world and opens up the study of earlier life stages of salmon in ways that have not been possible before,” said M. Brad Eppard, a fisheries biologist with the Portland District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“For years the chief limiting factor to creating a smaller transmitter has been the battery size. That hurdle has now been overcome,” added Eppard, who manages the Portland District’s fisheries research program.

The Corps and other agencies use the information from tags to chart the welfare of endangered fish and to help determine the optimal manner to operate dams. Three years ago the Corps turned to Z. Daniel Deng, a PNNL engineer, to create a smaller transmitter, one small enough to be injected, instead of surgically implanted, into fish. Injection is much less invasive and stressful for the fish, and it’s a faster and less costly process.

“This was a major challenge which really consumed us these last three years,” said Deng. “There’s nothing like this available commercially, that can be injected. Either the batteries are too big, or they don’t last long enough to be useful. That’s why we had to design our own.”

Deng turned to materials science expert Jie Xiao to create the new battery design.

To pack more energy into a small area, Xiao’s team improved upon the “jellyroll” technique commonly used to make larger household cylindrical batteries. Xiao’s team laid down layers of the battery materials one on top of the other in a process known as lamination, then rolled them up together, similar to how a jellyroll is created. The layers include a separating material sandwiched by a cathode made of carbon fluoride and an anode made of lithium.

The technique allowed her team to increase the area of the electrodes without increasing their thickness or the overall size of the battery. The increased area addresses one of the chief problems when making such a small battery — keeping the impedance, which is a lot like resistance, from getting too high. High impedance occurs when so many electrons are packed into a small place that they don’t flow easily or quickly along the routes required in a battery, instead getting in each other’s way. The smaller the battery, the bigger the problem.

Using the jellyroll technique allowed Xiao’s team to create a larger area for the electrons to interact, reducing impedance so much that the capacity of the material is about double that of traditional microbatteries used in acoustic fish tags.

“It’s a bit like flattening wads of Play-Doh, one layer at a time, and then rolling them up together, like a jelly roll,” says Xiao. “This allows you to pack more of your active materials into a small space without increasing the resistance.”

The new battery is a little more than half the weight of batteries currently used in acoustic fish tags — just 70 milligrams, compared to about 135 milligrams — and measures six millimeters long by three millimeters wide. The battery has an energy density of about 240 watt hours per kilogram, compared to around 100 for commercially available silver oxide button microbatteries.

The battery holds enough energy to send out an acoustic signal strong enough to be useful for fish-tracking studies even in noisy environments such as near large dams. The battery can power a 744-microsecond signal sent every three seconds for about three weeks, or about every five seconds for a month. It’s the smallest battery the researchers know of with enough energy capacity to maintain that level of signaling.

The batteries also work better in cold water where salmon often live, sending clearer signals at low temperatures compared to current batteries. That’s because their active ingredients are lithium and carbon fluoride, a chemistry that is promising for other applications but has not been common for microbatteries.

Last summer in Xiao’s laboratory, scientists Samuel Cartmell and Terence Lozano made by hand more than 1,000 of the rice-sized batteries. It’s a painstaking process, cutting and forming tiny snippets of sophisticated materials, putting them through a flattening device that resembles a pasta maker, binding them together, and rolling them by hand into tiny capsules. Their skilled hands rival those of surgeons, working not with tissue but with sensitive electronic materials.

A PNNL team led by Deng surgically implanted 700 of the tags into salmon in a field trial in the Snake River last summer. Preliminary results show that the tags performed extremely well. The results of that study and more details about the smaller, enhanced fish tags equipped with the new microbattery will come out in a forthcoming publication. Battelle, which operates PNNL, has applied for a patent on the technology.

I notice that while the second paragraph of the news release (in the first excerpt) says the battery is injectable, the final paragraph (in the second excerpt) says the team “surgically implanted” the tags with their new batteries into the salmon.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the newly published article in Scientific Reports,

Micro-battery Development for Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System Applications by Honghao Chen, Samuel Cartmell, Qiang Wang, Terence Lozano, Z. Daniel Deng, Huidong Li, Xilin Chen, Yong Yuan, Mark E. Gross, Thomas J. Carlson, & Jie Xiao. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 3790 doi:10.1038/srep03790 Published 21 January 2014

This paper is open access.

* I changed the headline from ‘Injectable batteries for live salmon made more powerful’ to ‘Injectable and more powerful batteries for live salmon’  to better reflect the information in the news release. Feb. 19, 2014 at 11:43 am PST.

ETA Feb. 20, 2014: Dexter Johnson has weighed in on this very engaging and practical piece of research in a Feb. 19, 2014 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) website (Note: Links have been removed),

There’s no denying that building the world’s smallest battery is a notable achievement. But while they may lay the groundwork for future battery technologies, today such microbatteries are mostly laboratory curiosities.

Developing a battery that’s no bigger than a grain of rice—and that’s actually useful in the real world—is quite another kind of achievement. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have done just that, creating a battery based on graphene that has successfully been used in monitoring the movements of salmon through rivers.

The microbattery is being heralded as a breakthrough in biotelemetry and should give researchers never before insights into the movements and the early stages of life of the fish.

The battery is partly made from a fluorinated graphene that was described last year …

2013: review and plans for 2014 vis à vis FrogHeart

There’ve been some ups and downs in terms of the FrogHeart”s statistics but nothing like 2012 when I thought, for several months, this blog might be dying. Before getting to the numbers, I’ll focus on some of the topics that caught my readers’ interest as per the information I get from the AW stats package.

Top keyterm searches

The Clipperton Island art/science story continued to dominate interest through the year. It popped up in my top ten keyterm searches for January- August to disappear September  – November and reappear in December. (original Clipperton posting, March 2, 2012)

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC; it is also known as CNC or cellulose nanocrystals and I believe this will sooon be considered the correct name for this material)), which was for many years a top draw here, faltered and appeared only in January, June – August, and November in my top 10 keyterm searches. (I have many posting on this topic with the most recent being this Dec. 17, 2013 posting on the CNC’s fundamental mechanical behaviour.)

The Urbee was attractive enough to have made the list for January – August, and, again, in November. (I have this August 28, 2012 posting as the most recent about the Urbee car being developed in Winnipeg, Manitoba.)

The Lycurgus Cup appeared on the list for February, June – August, and November. (I do write about this extraordinary piece of glass and gold work from Ancient Rome from time to time. The most recent piece was this Nov. 22, 2013 posting about how Australian researchers were inspired by the cup.)

The memristor (one of my favourite topics) was one of the two 25 keyterm search terms for April, June, and July. (Here’s the most recent memristor story which I featured in a June 14, 2013 posting, which highlights some research being done in India.)

Pousse Café (I’m starting to suspect this might be due to porn searches) was on the list from June – November. (In context of an April 26, 2013 posting about nanowires and some unusual layering properties I mentioned a cocktail, a pousse-café, which has attracted more attention that I would have expected had I considered the possibility.)

Two people made their way into the list of top 35 keyterm searches for more than one month:

Bertolt Meyer for February – April (This Jan. 30, 2013 posting about robots, androids, etc. also mentioned Bertolt Meyer, a Swiss scientist and an individual who has integrated some sophisticated prosthetics into his body.)

Nils Petersen for June, August,, and September (At one point, Petersen led Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology and, unfortunately, I never did receive a reply to any of my requests for an interview. I’m not sure what has occasioned the interest now that he has left his position in 2012, I believe. The most recent posting here, which features Petersen’s name is this March 11, 2013 posting about a nanotechnology public engagement project in Edmonton, Alberta.)

Countries new to my list of top 25 sources of traffic

Quatar (March)

Seychelles ((October)

Guatemala (April)

Venezuela (June)

Moldova (November)

Macedonia (November)

There is one omission that puzzles and that’s South Africa. I know they have a nanotechnology community and they are the S in the BRICS with Brazil, Russia, India, and China all being represented on my list of top 25 countries for traffic.

Interviews

Sue Thomas (The UK’s Futurefest and an interview with Sue Thomas (The UK’s Futurefest and an interview with Sue Thomas in a September 20, 2013 posting,.)

Kate Pullinger ([Interview with Baba Brinkman on the occasion of his Rap Guide to Evolution performance in Vancouver, November 2013 edition in a November 1, 2013 posting.)

Carla Alvial Palavicino (Graphene hype; the emerging story in an interview with Carla Alvial Palavicino (University of Twente, Netherlands) in a December 24, 2012 posting)

Top five sources for traffic (countries)

US

China

Great Britain

Canada

France/Ukraine

Statistics (AW stats)

Month with the top number for for visits: December 2013 with 131,422

Month with the lowest number for visits: July 2013 with 79,168

Month with the highest number of unique visitors: December 2013 with 32,739

Month with the lowest number of unique visitors: July 2013 with 21, 977

Annual totals:

Unique visitors: 310,390 Visits: 1,149,456 Pages: 5,653,192 Hits: 7,553,481

*Completed and updated on Jan. 2, 2014.

Statistics (Webalizer)

Month with the top number for visits: December 2013 with 235,137

Month with the lowest number for visits: February 2013 with 119.973

Annual totals:

Visits: 1,784,637 Pages: 10,140,239 Files: 1,193,817 Hits: 18,805,248

*Completed and updated on Jan. 2, 2014.

Big thank yous

First and foremost thank you to the folks who read this blog. It’s what keep my going.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to contact me about the blog either by leaving a comment here or sending me an email.

I also want to acknowledge both David Bruggeman (Pasco Phronesis blog) and Dexter Johnson (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ website). You have both inspired my efforts.

2014 plans for FrogHeart

I want to keep blogging and writing about the things that matter to me. I also want to look at ways to monetize the blog as I need some support to keep this going. The consequence of all this is that you will be seeing some changes here. e.g. I’ve either already posted a Donate button or will be shortly and I anticipate there will be more changes ahead.

FrogHeart’s 2012, a selective roundup of my international online colleagues, and other bits

This blog will be five years old in April 2013 and, sometime in January or February, the 2000th post will be published.

Statisticswise it’s been a tumultuous year for FrogHeart with ups and downs,  thankfully ending on an up note. According to my AW stats, I started with 54,920 visits in January (which was a bit of an increase over December 2011. The numbers rose right through to March 2012 when the blog registered 68,360 visits and then the numbers fell and continued to fall. At the low point, this blog registered 45, 972 visits in June 2012 and managed to rise and fall through to Oct. 2012 when the visits rose to 54,520 visits. November 2012 was better with 66,854 visits and in December 2012 the blog will have received over 75,000 visits. (ETA Ja.2.13: This blog registered 81,0036 in December 2012 and an annual total of 681,055 visits.) Since I have no idea why the numbers fell or why they rose again, I have absolutely no idea what 2013 will bring in terms of statistics (the webalizer numbers reflect similar trends).

Interestingly and for the first time since I’ve activated the AW statistics package in Feb. 2009, the US ceased to be the primary source for visitors. As of April 2012, the British surged ahead for several months until November 2012 when the US regained the top spot only to lose it to China in December 2012.

Favourite topics according to the top 10 key terms included: nanocrystalline cellulose for Jan. – Oct. 2012 when for the first time in almost three years the topic fell out of the top 10; Jackson Pollock and physics also popped up in the top 10 in various months throughout the year; Clipperton Island (a sci/art project) has made intermittent appearances; SPAUN (Semantic Pointer Arichitecture Unified Network; a project at the University of Waterloo) has made the top 10 in the two months since it was announced); weirdly, frogheart.ca has appeared in the top 10 these last few months; the Lycurgus Cup, nanosilver, and literary tattoos also made appearances in the top 10 in various months throughout the year, while the memristor and Québec nanotechnology made appearances in the fall.

Webalizer tells a similar but not identical story. The numbers started with 83, 133 visits in January 2012 rising to a dizzying height of 119, 217 in March.  These statistics fell too but July 2012 was another six figure month with 101,087 visits and then down again to five figures until Oct. 2012 with 108, 266 and 136,161 visits in November 2012. The December 2012 visits number appear to be dipping down slightly with 130,198 visits counted to 5:10 am PST, Dec. 31, 2012. (ETA Ja.2.13: In December 2012, 133,351 were tallied with an annual total of 1,660,771 visits.)

Thanks to my international colleagues who inspire and keep me apprised of the latest information on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies:

  • Pasco Phronesis, owned by David Bruggeman, focuses more on science policy and science communicati0n (via popular media) than on emerging technology per se but David provides excellent analysis and a keen eye for the international scene. He kindly dropped by frogheart.ca  some months ago to challenge my take on science and censorship in Canada and I have not finished my response. I’ve posted part 1 in the comments but have yet to get to part 2. His latest posting on Dec. 30, 2012 features this title, For Better Science And Technology Policing, Don’t Forget The Archiving.
  • Nanoclast is on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website and features Dexter Johnson’s writing on nanotechnology government initiatives, technical breakthroughs, and, occasionally, important personalities within the field. I notice Dexter, who’s always thoughtful and thought-provoking, has cut back to a weekly posting. I encourage you to read his work as he fills in an important gap in a lot of nanotechnology reporting with his intimate understanding of the technology itself.  Dexter’s Dec. 20, 2012 posting (the latest) is titled, Nanoparticle Coated Lens Converts Light into Sound for Precise Non-invasive Surgery.
  • Insight (formerly TNTlog) is Tim Harper’s (CEO of Cientifica) blog features an international perspective (with a strong focus on the UK scene) on emerging technologies and the business of science. His writing style is quite lively (at times, trenchant) and it reflects his long experience with nanotechnology and other emerging technologies. I don’t know how he finds the time and here’s his latest, a Dec. 4, 2012 posting titled, Is Printable Graphene The Key To Widespread Applications?
  • 2020 Science is Dr. Andrew Maynard’s (director of University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center) more or less personal blog. An expert on nanotechnology (he was the Chief Science Adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, located in Washington, DC), Andrew writes extensively about risk, uncertainty, nanotechnology, and the joys of science. Over time his blog has evolved to include the occasional homemade but science-oriented video, courtesy of one of his children. I usually check Andrew’s blog when there’s a online nanotechnology kerfuffle as he usually has the inside scoop. His latest posting on Dec. 23, 2012 features this title, On the benefits of wearing a hat while dancing naked, and other insights into the science of risk.
  • Andrew also produces and manages the Mind the Science Gap blog, which is a project encouraging MA students in the University of Michigan’s Public Health Program to write. Andrew has posted a summary of the last semester’s triumphs titled, Looking back at another semester of Mind The Science Gap.
  • NanoWiki is, strictly speaking, not a blog but the authors provide the best compilation of stories on nanotechnology issues and controversies that I have found yet. Here’s how they describe their work, “NanoWiki tracks the evolution of paradigms and discoveries in nanoscience and nanotechnology field, annotates and disseminates them, giving an overall view and feeds the essential public debate on nanotechnology and its practical applications.” There are also Spanish, Catalan, and mobile versions of NanoWiki. Their latest posting, dated  Dec. 29, 2012, Nanotechnology shows we can innovate without economic growth, features some nanotechnology books.
  • In April 2012, I was contacted by Dorothée Browaeys about a French blog, Le Meilleur Des Nanomondes. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been much action there since Feb. 2010 but I’m delighted to hear from my European colleagues and hope to hear more from them.

Sadly, there was only one interview here this year but I think they call these things ‘a big get’ as the interview was with Vanessa Clive who manages the nanotechnology portfolio at Industry Canada. I did try to get an interview with Dr. Marie D’Iorio, the new Executive Director of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT; BTW, the National Research Council has a brand new site consequently [since the NINT is a National Research Council agency, so does the NINT]), and experienced the same success I had with her predecessor, Dr. Nils Petersen.

I attended two conferences this year, S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) 2012 meeting in Enschede, Holland where I presented on my work on memristors, artificial brains, and pop culture. The second conference I attended was in Calgary where I  moderated a panel I’d organized on the topic of Canada’s science culture and policy for the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference.

There are a few items of note which appeared on the Canadian science scene. ScienceOnlineVancouver emerged in April 2012. From the About page,

ScienceOnlineVancouver is a monthly discussion series exploring how online communication and social media impact current scientific research and how the general public learns about it. ScienceOnlineVancouver is an ongoing discussion about online science, including science communication and available research tools, not a lecture series where scientists talk about their work. Follow the conversation on Twitter at @ScioVan, hashtag is #SoVan.

The concept of these monthly meetings originated in New York with SoNYC @S_O_NYC, brought to life by Lou Woodley (@LouWoodley, Communities Specialist at Nature.com) and John Timmer (@j_timmer, Science Editor at Ars Technica). With the success of that discussion series, participation in Scio2012, and the 2012 annual meeting of the AAAS in Vancouver, Catherine Anderson, Sarah Chow, and Peter Newbury were inspired to bring it closer to home, leading to the beginning of ScienceOnlineVancouver.

ScienceOnlineVancouver is part of the ScienceOnlineNOW community that includes ScienceOnlineBayArea, @sciobayarea and ScienceOnlineSeattle, @scioSEA. Thanks to Brian Glanz of the Open Science Federation and SciFund Challenge and thanks to Science World for a great venue.

I have mentioned the arts/engineering festival coming up in Calgary, Beakerhead, a few times but haven’t had occasion to mention Science Rendezvous before. This festival started in Toronto in 2008 and became a national festival in 2012 (?). Their About page doesn’t describe the genesis of the ‘national’ aspect to this festival as clearly as I would like. They seem to be behind with their planning as there’s no mention of the 2013 festival,which should be coming up in May.

The twitter (@frogheart) feed continues to grow in both (followed and following) albeit slowly. I have to give special props to @carlacap, @cientifica, & @timharper for their mentions, retweets, and more.

As for 2013, there are likely to be some changes here; I haven’t yet decided what changes but I will keep you posted. Have a lovely new year and I wish you all the best in 2013.

Commercializing nano: US, Spain, and RUSNANO

Late September 2011 saw the Nanomanufacturing Summit 2011 and 10th Annual NanoBusiness conference take place in Boston, Massachusetts (my Sept. 21, 2011 posting). Dr. Scott Rickert (President and CEO of Nanofilm) writing for Industry Week noted this about the events in his Oct. 14, 2011 posting,

I witnessed an American revolution catch fire in Boston, and I feel like a latter-day Paul Revere. “The nanotech economy is coming, the nanotech economy is coming!” and that’s good news for the U.S. — and you — because we’re at the epicenter.

Let’s start with commercialization. Ten years ago, when I walked into the inaugural version of this conference, I was one of the few with money-making nanotechnology products on the market. This time? The sessions were packed with executives from multi-million dollar businesses, and the chatter was about P&L as much as R&D. Nano-companies are defying Wall Street woes and going public. And even academics were talking about business plans, not prototypes.

Dozens of companies from Europe, Asia and the Middle East were at the conference. Their goal was tapping into the American know-how for making science into business.

Seems a little euphoric, doesn’t he? It’s understandable for anyone who’s worked long and hard at an activity that’s considered obscure by great swathes of the population and finally begins to see substantive response. (Sidebar: Note the revolutionary references for a conference taking place in what’s considered the birthplace of the American Revolution.)

Speakers at MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Nanotechnology) EmTech event held in Spain on Oct. 26-27, 2011 were are a bit more measured, excerpted from the Oct. 27, 2011 posting featuring highlights from the conference by Cal Pierce for Opinno,

Javier García Martínez, founder of Rive Technology and Tim Harper, founder of Cientifica.com presented their view of how nanotechnology will transform our world.

Harper took the stage first.

“We have spent $67 billion on nanotechnology research this decade, so you can imagine this must be an important field,” he said.

Harper believes that nanotechnology is the most important technology that humans have developed in the past 5,000 years. However, he spoke about the difficulties in developing nanotechnology machinery in that we cannot simply shrink factories down to nano-scales. Rather, Harper said we need to look to cells in nature as they have been using nanotechnology for billions of years.

….

Harper spoke about the dire need to use nanotechnology to develop processes that replace scarce resources. However, the current economic climate is hindering these critical innovations.

Javier Garcia then spoke.

“Graphene, diamond and other carbon structures are the future of 21st-century nanotechnology,” he said.

Garcia says that the next challenge is commercialization. There are thousands of scientific articles about nanotechnology published every year which are followed by many patents, he explained. However, he reflected on Cook’s ideas about funding.

“There is still not a nanotechnology industry like there is for biotechnology,” he said.

Finally, Garcia said successful nanotechnology companies need to build strong partnerships, have strong intellectual property rights and create a healthy balance between creativity and focus. Government will also play a role with simplified bureaucracy and tax credits.

Hang on, it gets a little more confusing when you add in the news from Russia (from Dexter Johnson’s Oct. 26, 2011 posting titled, Russia Claims Revenues of One-Third-of–a-Billion Dollars in Nanotech This Year on his Nanoclast blog on the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering [IEEE] website),

One of the first bits of interesting news to come out of the meeting is that: “In 2011, Rusnano has earned about 10 billion rubles ($312 million) on manufacturing products using nanotechnology — nearly half of the state corporation’s total turnover.”

We should expect these estimates to be fairly conservative, however, ever since Anatoly Chubais, RusNano’s chief, got fed up with bogus market numbers he was seeing and decided that RusNano was going to track its own development.

I have to say though, no matter how you look at it, over $300 million in revenues is pretty impressive for a project that has really only existed for three years.

Then RUSNANO announced its investments in Selecta Biosciences and BIND Biosiences, from the Oct. 27, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

BIND Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences, two leading nanomedicine companies, announced today that they have entered into investment agreements with RUSNANO, a $10-billion Russian Federation fund that supports high-tech and nanotechnology advances.

RUSNANO is co-investing $25 million in BIND and $25 million in Selecta, for a total RUSNANO investment of $50 million within the total financing rounds of $94.5 million in the two companies combined. …

The proprietary technology platforms of BIND and Selecta originated in laboratories at Harvard Medical School directed by Professor Omid Farokhzad, MD, and in laboratories at MIT directed by Professor Robert Langer, ScD, a renowned scientist who is a recipient of the US National Medal of Science, the highest US honor for scientists, and is an inventor of approximately 850 patents issued or pending worldwide. Drs. Langer and Farokhzad are founders of both companies. [Farokhzad was featured in a recent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation {CBC}, Nature of Things, television episode about nanomedicine, titled More than human.] Professor Ulrich von Andrian, MD, PhD, head of the immunopathology laboratory at Harvard Medical School, is a founder of Selecta.

Selecta pioneers new approaches for synthetically engineered vaccines and immunotherapies. Selecta’s lead drug candidate, SEL-068, is entering human clinical studies as a vaccine for smoking cessation and relapse prevention. Other drug development programs include universal human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, universal influenza vaccine, malaria vaccine, and type 1 diabetes therapeutic vaccine.

BIND develops targeted therapeutics, called Accurins™, that selectively accumulate at the site of disease to dramatically enhance effectiveness for treating cancer and other diseases. BIND’s lead candidate, BIND-014, is in human clinical trials as a targeted therapy for cancer treatment. BIND’s development pipeline also includes a range of cancer treatments and drugs for anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular conditions.

Here’s an excerpt from Dexter Johnson’s Oct. 28, 2011 posting where he muses on this development,

It seems the last decade of the US—along with parts of Europe and Asia—pouring money into nanotechnology research, which led to a few fledgling nanotechnology-based businesses, is finally paying off…for Russia.

In the case of these two companies, I really don’t know to what extent their initial technology was funded or supported by the US government and I wouldn’t begrudge them a bit if it was significant. Businesses need capital just to get to production and then later to expand. It hardly matters where it comes from as long as they can survive another day.

Dexter goes on to note that RUSNANO is not the only organization investing major money to bring nanotechnology-enabled products to the next stage of commercialization; this is happening internationally.

Meanwhile, Justin Varilek posts this (Nanotech Enthusiasm Peaks) for the Moscow Times on Oct. 28, 2011,

In nanotechnology, size matters. But federal funding for the high-tech field has tapered off in Russia, flattening out at $1.88 billion per year through 2015 and losing ground in the race against the United States and Germany.

If this were a horse race, nanotechnology-enabled products are in the final stretches toward the finish line (commercialization) and it’s still anyone’s horse race.

Note: I didn’t want to interrupt the flow earlier to include this link to the EmTech conference in Spain. And, I did post a review (Oct. 26, 2011) of More than Human, which did not mention Farokhzad by name, the second episode in a special three-part series being broadcast as part of the Nature of Things series on CBC.

Memristors and proteins

The memristor, a two-terminal circuit element joining the resistor, capacitor, and inductor, has until now been demonstrated using nonbiological materials such as metal oxides, carbon, etc. Researchers in Singapore have reported in a paper (in the Sept. 5, 2011 online edition of Small, Protein-Based Memristive Nanodevice)  that a memristive nanodevice can be based on a protein. From the Sept. 15, 2011 Spotlight article by Michael Berger on Nanowerk,

Memristors – the fourth fundamental two-terminal circuit element following the resistor, the capacitor, and the inductor – have attracted intensive attention owing to their potential applications for instance in nanoelectronic memories, computer logic, or neuromorphic computer architectures.

“Previous work on memristors were based on man-made inorganic/organic materials, so we asked the question whether it is possible to demonstrate memristors based on natural materials,” Xiaodong Chen, an assistant professor in the School of Materials Science & Engineering at Nanyang University, tells Nanowerk. “Many activities in life exhibit memory behavior and substantial research has focused on biomolecules serving as computing elements, hence, natural biomaterials may have potential to be exploited as electronic memristors.”

This work provides a direct proof that natural biomaterials, especially redox proteins, could be used to fabricate solid state devices with transport junctions, which have potential applications in functional nanocircuits.

My last posting about memristors was April 13, 2011, Blood, memristors, cyborgs plus brain-controlled computers, prosthetics, and art.

ETA Sept. 21, 2011: Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast (on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website) offers another take on memristors in his Sept. 20,2011 posting, Memristors Go Biological. I particularly liked this bit,

It’s been just three years since the memristor was identified so if statistical norms of commercialization are in place we can expect another four years of waiting before we see this material in our smart phones. In fact, this timeline is pretty close to HP’s expectations of 2014 as a target date for its incorporation into electronic devices.

During this time researchers have not been and will not be sitting on their hands while engineers work out scalability and yields.

July 2011 update on nanotechnology regulatory framework discussion

It’s getting hard to keep up with the material on nanotechnology regulatory frameworks these days but here’s my latest effort (in no particular order).

Nanowiki published a July 7, 2011 roundup of the discussion about the recent FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) initiatives along with a list of selected articles and blog postings to supply context (yes, my blog posting Nano regulatory frameworks are everywhere! of June 22, 2011 was included!). Please do check out their roundup as they mention articles and commentaries that I haven’t.

Also included in the Nanowiki roundup was Andrew Maynard’s (Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center) draft of an article for Nature magazine  on the topic of nanomaterial definition and nanotechnology regulatory frameworks. The final version of the article is behind a paywall but a draft version can be viewed on Andrew’s 2020 Science blog. From his July 6, 2011 posting,

Five years ago, I was a strong proponent of developing a regulatory definition of engineered nanomaterials.  Today I am not.  Even as policy makers are looking for clear definitions on which to build and implement nano-regulations, the science is showing there is no bright line separating the risks presented by nanometer and non-nanometer scale materials.  As a result, there is a growing danger of science being pushed to one side as government agencies strive to regulate nanomaterials and the products they are used in.

I have mentioned Andrew’s perspective vis à vis bypassing a definition of nanomaterials and getting on with the task of setting a regulatory framework in my June 9, 2011 and my April 15, 2011 postings. I expressed some generalized doubts about this approach in the earlier posting while noting that both Andrew and Dexter Johnson (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]  Spectrumwebsite) have a point when they express concern that the definition may be based on public relations concerns rather than science.

Also chiming into the debate is Scott Rickert (president and chief executive officer of Nanofilm) in his July 8, 2011 article, Six Ways I Know Nanotechnology Is Here To Stay, for Industry Week,

Have you been keeping up on recent government developments that have the nanotechnology industry in an uproar? First there was a dust-up when Clayton Teague stepped down as Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. There were rumors that the anti-nano forces had run him out. (Not true, by the way.) Then an announcement that the Food and Drug Administration would be looking at nanotechnology safety guidelines got some folks twitching. The same day, the White House released principles to guide the regulation and oversight of nanotechnology applications. That had people running for the exits.

Colleagues who’ve been in nanotechnology for a decade without incident were considering shutting down businesses, afraid a nano-boogieman was going to target them for billion-dollar lawsuits. Start-ups were in fear that the trickle of investment money would completely dry up. Any day I expect to see black armbands popping up in university labs in mourning over lost research grants.

Rickert goes on to suggest that all this recent regulatory activity can be attributed to ‘growing pains’ which he supports with various facts and figures. He has commented on this topic before as I note in my June 17, 2010 posting.

Happy Weekend!

Nanomaterial regulatory frameworks: what’s all the fuss?

I’ve dug up more information on nanomaterials and regulatory frameworks but before I launch off into the discussion I think it might be interesting to take a look at this graphic of a plant’s potential uptake of various nanomaterials as it illustrates some of the reasons why there’s so much interest in this topic.

Downloaded from the June 7, 2011 article, Nano & The Food Chain: Another Puzzle by Gwyneth K. Shaw for the New Haven Independent (the graphic was originally published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry),

“]

At left, a plant showing the selective uptake and translocation of nanoparticles; at right, a cross section of the root structure, showing how different substances react. [image originally published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, downloaded from the New Haven Independent

Shaw’s article is about a study (Interaction of Nanoparticles with Edible Plants and Their Possible Implications in the Food Chain [this is behind a paywall]) by researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso, which reviews current studies in the field and suggests that as nanoparticles enter the food chain we need to consider cumulative effects.

Meanwhile, the discussion about developing regulatory frameworks and whether or not we need to have a definition for nanomaterials before setting a regulatory framework continues. From the June 7, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

The Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union organized a high level event on September 14, 2010, bringing together representatives of various associations (consumers, environmental protection, workers, industrial federations), scientists, regulatory experts as well as national and European regulatory bodies, in order to review the legislative initiatives in progress with regard to nanomaterials and to establish an operational framework for the management of incidents in the short term and to achieve improved risk management in the long term.

Initially I confused this meeting with the March 2011 meeting mentioned in my April 14, 2011 posting but I gather there are a number of meetings (some of which seem remarkably similar) on the topic with various European Union groups and subgroups. The September 2010 meeting was under the auspices of the European Union and the March 2011 meeting was under the auspices of the European Commission (which I believe is part of the European Union bureaucracy). In any event, the September 2010 meeting resulted in a set of objectives being set (from the news item),

THE [European Union] PRESIDENCY CONCLUDES THAT, IN ORDER TO protect the workers, consumers health and the environment, and at the same time guarantee the development of a secure and sound economy based notably on innovation and societally acceptable industrial applications that create quality jobs, THE FOLLOWING OBJECTIVES MUST BE REACHED, IN RELATION TO NANOMATERIALS, PRODUCTS CONTAINING NANOMATERIALS AND NANOTECHNOLOGIES:

1) REGARDING THE REGULATORY FRAMEWORK:

  • to effectively address their potential risks and uncertainties, at the earliest, and thus ensure a high level of environment and health protection;
  • to consider their challenges transversally, across sectors, disciplines and regulations;
  • in parallel, to implement specific regulatory measures to deal with their particularities;
  • to appropriately inform and consult consumers, workers and citizens;

    2) REGARDING SCIENCE, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND KNOWLEDGE:

  • to develop the necessary scientific knowledge in a global, coordinated and open manner;
  • to be proactive and to anticipate when dealing with the risks and uncertainties of new technological developments.

    IN CONSEQUENCE, THE FOLLOWING ACTIONS HAVE TO BE TAKEN:

  • to take up responsibilities at the Member States level and, during a transitory period, draw up coordinated and integrated national strategies and concrete measures in favour of risk management, information and monitoring;
  • to develop urgently a regulatory definition for nanomaterials that must include nanomaterials all along their lifecycle, including into substances, products, articles, wearing residues and waste; [emphasis mine]
  • to consider nanotechnology as a priority into a future 2nd Environment and Health Action Plan, including inter alia basic and applied research related to them, their specific potential risks, their traceability and the link between innovation, environment and health safety;
  • to clarify the various issues that remain presently unaddressed in the Commission proposals to adapt REACH to the nanomaterials and, in addition to the adaptations to the guidances to include significant modifications into the REACH 2012 review, including the lowering of the tonnage triggers for nanomaterials, modifications to data requirements in REACH annexes, consideration of nanomaterials as new substances, annexes V (exemptions) and XIII review (PBT, vPvB) and the inclusion in REACH of a definition of nanomaterials and articles containing nanomaterials;
  • to increase public and private resources, especially the financial inputs to the OECD WPMN, with the goal of obtaining results to be used for regulatory purposes as soon as possible;
  • to develop harmonized compulsory databases of nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials;
  • such databases must be the base for traceability, market surveillance, gaining knowledge for better risk prevention and for the improvement of the legislative framework;
  • to take into account, in the design of such databases, the need for providing information to the citizens, workers and consumers regarding nanomaterials and products containing nanomaterials as well as the industry’s need for data protection;
  • claims made on labels of products containing nanomaterials must be regulated and the requirements to inform the consumer of the presence of nanomaterials in consumer products must be defined;
  • to consider sustainability, societal benefits, demands for public participation, and ethical considerations in the public investments in innovative technologies;
  • to establish a systematic, balanced and appropriate link between on the one hand the assessment of risk, early warnings and uncertainties and on the other hand the public investments in innovative technologies in general and nanotechnologies in particular, including financing mechanisms that take such a link into account;
  • to consider research in toxicology and ecotoxicology of nanomaterials, as well as their fate along the whole lifecycle as a high priority.

There is a school of thought that a regulatory framework can be put in place without establishing a definition beforehand as per my April 15, 2011 posting where I mentioned Dr. Andrew Maynard’s proposal and expressed some hesitation. I see Dexter Johnson (of the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), after interviewing Rudolf Strohmeier, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for Research & Innovation for the European Commission at the EuroNano Forum 2011 in Budapest, Hungary, has weighed in with this in his May 31, 2011 posting,

Below is an audio recording I made of my exchange with Mr. Strohmeier. Interestingly, according to him, the definition was necessary for educating EU citizens as much as for developing regulations. …

In fairness, I didn’t really get a chance to follow up with Mr. Strohmeier to see if he could see the problems that arise when you arbitrarily arrive at a definition that may not always reflect the latest science on the topic. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that a definition that is as much about mollifying the public as it is about good science has inherent risks itself. [emphases mine]

I take Dexter’s and Andrew’s point about the potential problems that creating a definition for what I’m going to call ‘public relations purposes’ could cause but I still haven’t grasped how one would create a regulatory framework without a definition of some kind (but maybe that’s just the writer in me).

All of this certainly puts the Canadian situation into perspective. There’s an interim definition in place. As for a regulatory framework, it appears that the government (Health Canada) favours a case by case approach as per their plans to investigate nanosunscreens (noted in my June 3, 2011 posting).

Finger pinches today, heartbeats tomorrow and electricity forever

Devices powered by energy generated and harvested from one’s own body have been of tremendous interest to me. Last year I mentioned some research in this area by Professor Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology) in a July 12, 2010 posting. Well, Wang and his team recently announced that they have developed the first commercially viable nanogenerator. From the March 29, 2011 news item on Physorg.com,

After six years of intensive effort, scientists are reporting development of the first commercially viable nanogenerator, a flexible chip that can use body movements — a finger pinch now en route to a pulse beat in the future — to generate electricity. Speaking here today at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, they described boosting the device’s power output by thousands times and its voltage by 150 times to finally move it out of the lab and toward everyday life.

“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets,” said lead scientist Zhong Lin Wang, Ph.D. “Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future. Their potential is only limited by one’s imagination.”

Here’s how it works  (from Kit Eaton’s article on Fast Company),

The trick used by Dr. Zhong Lin Wang’s team has been to utilize nanowires made of zinc oxide (ZnO). ZnO is a piezoelectric material–meaning it changes shape slightly when an electrical field is applied across it, or a current is generated when it’s flexed by an external force. By combining nanoscopic wires (each 500 times narrower than a human hair) of ZnO into a flexible bundle, the team found it could generate truly workable amounts of energy. The bundle is actually bonded to a flexible polymer slice, and in the experimental setup five pinky-nail-size nanogenerators were stacked up to create a power supply that can push out 1 micro Amp at about 3 volts. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was enough to power an LED and an LCD screen in a demonstration of the technology’s effectiveness.

Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical Engineering and Electronics) website notes in his March 30, 2010 posting (http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/nanotechnology/powering-our-electronic-devices-with-nanogenerators-looks-more-feasible) that the nanogenerator’s commercial viability is dependent on work being done at the University of Illinois,

I would have happily chalked this story [about the nanogenerator] up to one more excellent job of getting nanomaterial research into the mainstream press, but because of recent work by Eric Pop and his colleagues at the University of Illinois’s Beckman Institute in reducing the energy consumed by electronic devices it seems a bit more intriguing now.

So low is the energy consumption of the electronics proposed by the University of Illinois research it is to the point where a mobile device may not need a battery but could possibly operate on the energy generated from piezoelectric-enabled nanogenerators contained within such devices like those proposed by Wang.

I have a suspicion it’s going to be a while before I will be wearing nanogenerators to harvest the electricity my body produces. Meanwhile, I have some questions about the possible uses for nanogenerators (from the Kit Eaton article),

The search for tiny power generator technology has slowly inched forward for years for good reason–there are a trillion medical and surveillance uses–not to mention countless consumer electronics applications– for a system that could grab electrical power from something nearby that’s moving even just a tiny bit. Imagine an implanted insulin pump, or a pacemaker that’s powered by the throbbing of the heart or blood vessels nearby (and then imagine the pacemaker powering the heart, which is powered by the pacemaker, and so on and so on….) and you see how useful such a system could be.

It’s the reference to surveillance that makes me a little uneasy.

Innovation discussion in Canada lacks imagination

Today, Feb. 18, 2011, is the last day you have to make a submission to the federal government of Canada’s Review of Federal Support to Research and Development.

By the way, the  expert panel appointed and tasked with carrying out this consultation consists of:

Mr. Thomas Jenkins – Chair
Dr. Bev Dahlby
Dr. Arvind Gupta
Ms. Monique F. Leroux
Dr. David Naylor
Mrs. Nobina Robinson

They represent a mix of industry and academic representatives; you can read more about them here. You will have to click for each biography. Unfortunately, neither the website nor the consultation paper offer a list of members of the panel withbiographies that are grouped together for easy scanning.

One sidenote, big kudos to whomever decided this was a good idea (from the Review web page),

Important note: Submissions received by the panel will be made publicly available on this site as early as March 4, 2011.[emphases mine] * The name and organizational affiliation of the individual making the submission will be posted on the site; however, contact information (i.e., email addresses, phone numbers and postal addresses) will not be posted, unless that information is embedded in the submission itself.

This initiative can be viewed in two ways: (a) necessary housecleaning of funding programmes for research and development (R&D) that are not effective and (b) an attempt to kickstart more innovation, i.e. better ties between government R&D efforts and industry to achieve more productivity, in Canada. From the consultation paper‘s introduction,

WHY A REVIEW?

Innovation by business is a vital part of maintaining a high standard of living in Canada and building Canadian sources of global advantage. The Government of Canada plays an important role in fostering an economic climate that encourages business innovation, including by providing substantial funding through tax incentives and direct program support to enhance business research and development (R&D). Despite the high level of federal support, Canada continues to lag behind other countries in business R&D expenditures (see Figure 1), and this is believed to be a significant factor in contributing to the country’s weak productivity growth. Recognizing this, Budget 2010 announced a comprehensive review of federal support to R&D in order to maximize its contribution to innovation and to economic opportunities for business. (p. 1 print;  p. 3 PDF)

I’d like to offer a submission but I can’t for two reasons. (a)  I really don’t know much about the ‘housecleaning’ aspects. (b) The panel’s terms of reference vis à vis innovation are so constrained that any comments I could offer fall far outside it’s purview.

Here’s what I mean by ‘constrained terms of reference’ (from the consultation paper),

The Panel has been asked to provide advice related to the following questions:

§ What federal initiatives are most effective in increasing business R&D and facilitating commercially relevant R&D partnerships?

§ Is the current mix and design of tax incentives and direct support for business R&D and businessfocused R&D appropriate?

§ What, if any, gaps are evident in the current suite of programming, and what might be done to fill these gaps?

In addition, the Panel’s mandate specifies that its recommendations not result in an increase or decrease to the overall level of funding required for federal R&D initiatives. (p. 3 print; p. 5 PDF)

The ‘housecleaning’ effort is long overdue. Even good government programmes can outlive their usefulness while ineffective and/or bad programmes don’t get jettisoned soon enough or often enough. If you want a sense of just how complicated our current R & D funding system is, just check this out from Nassif Ghoussoub’s (Piece of Mind blog) Jan. 14, 2011 posting,

Now the number of programs that the government supports, and which are under review is simply mind boggling.

First, you have the largest piece of the puzzle, the $4-billion “Scientific Research and Experimental Develoment tax credit program” (SR&ED), which seems to be the big elephant in the room. I hardly know anything about this program, besides the fact that it is a federal tax incentive program, administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, that encourages Canadian businesses of all sizes, and in all sectors to conduct research and development in Canada. Former VP of the NRC and former President of Alberta Ingenuity, Peter Hackett, has lots to say about this. Also on youtube.

But you don’t need to be an expert to imagine the line-up of CEOs waiting to testify as to how important these tax incentives are to the country? “Paris vaut bien une messe” and a billion or four are surely worth testifying for.

Next, just take a look (below) at this illustrative list of more directly funded federal programs. Why “illustrative”?, because there is at least one hundred more!

Do you really think that anyone of the heads/directors/presidents (the shopkeepers!) of these programs (the shops!) are going to testify that their programs are deficient and need less funding? What about those individuals that are getting serious funding from these programs (the clients!)?

Nassif’s list is 50 (!) programmes long and he suggests there are another 100 of them? Yes, housecleaning is long overdue but as Nassif points out. the people most likely to submit comment about these programmes  are likely to be beneficiaries uninclined to see their demise.

There is another problem with this ‘housecleaning’ process in that they seem to be interested in ‘tweaking’ rather than renovating or rethinking the system. Rob Annan at the Researcher Forum (Don’t leave Canada behind) blog, titled his Feb. 4, 2011 post, Innovation vs. Invention, as he questions what we mean by innovation (excerpt from his posting),

I wonder if we’ve got the whole thing wrong.

The fact is: universities don’t produce innovation. For that matter, neither does industrial R&D.

What university and industrial research produces is invention.

The Blackberry is not an innovation, it’s an invention. A new cancer-fighting drug is not an innovation, it’s an invention. A more durable prosthetic knee is not an innovation, it’s an invention.

Universities can – and do – produce inventions.

In fact, they produce inventions at an astonishing rate. University tech transfer offices (now usually branded as “centres for innovation and commercialization”) register more intellectual property than could ever be effectively commercialized.

But innovation is distinct from invention. Innovation is about process.

Innovation is about finding more efficient ways to do things. Innovation is about increasing productivity. Innovation is about creating new markets – sometimes through the commercialization of inventions.

Innovation is about the how not about the what.

Thought-provoking, yes? I think a much broader scope needs to be taken if we’re going really discuss innovation in Canada. I’m talking about culture and making a cultural shift. One of the things I’ve noticed is that everyone keeps saying Canadians aren’t innovative. Fair enough. So, how does adding another government programme change that? As far as I can tell, most of the incentives that were created have simply encouraged people to game the system, which is what you might expect from people who aren’t innovative.

I think one of the questions that should have been asked is, how do you encourage the behaviour, in this case a cultural shift towards innovation, you want when your programmes haven’t elicited that behaviour?

Something else I’d suggest, let’s not confine the question(s) to the usual players as they’ll be inclined to offer more of the same. (There’s an old saying, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.)

Another aspect of making a cultural shift is modeling at least some of the behaviours. Here’s something what Dexter Johnson at the Nanoclast blog (IEEE Spectrum) noticed about US President Barack Obama’s January 2011 State of the Union address in his January 28, 2011 posting,

Earlier this week in the President’s State of the Union Address, a 16-year-old girl by the name Amy Chyao accompanied the First Lady at her seat.

No doubt Ms. Chyao’s presence was a bit of stage craft to underscore the future of America’s ingenuity and innovation because Ms. Chyao, who is still a high school junior, managed to synthesize a nanoparticle that when exposed to infrared light even when it is inside the body can be triggered like a bomb to kill cancer cells. [emphasis mine] Ms. Chyao performed her research and synthesis in the lab of Kenneth J. Balkus, Jr., a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

This is a remarkable achievement and even more so from someone still so young, so we would have to agree with Prof. Balkus’ assessment that “At some point in her future, she’ll be a star.”

However, Chyao was given to us as a shining example of the US potential for innovation, and, as a result, its competitiveness. So beyond stage craft, what is the assessment of innovation for the US in a time of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology? [emphasis mine]

As President Obama attempts to rally the nation with “This is our Sputnik moment”, Andrew Maynard over on his 20/20 blog tries to work out what innovation means in our current context as compared to what it meant 50 years ago at the dawn of the space race.

Notice the emphasis on innovation. Our US neighbours are as concerned as we are about this and what I find interesting is that there glimmers of a very different approach. Yes, Chyao’s presence was stagecraft but this kind of ‘symbolic communication’ can be incredibly important. I say ‘can’ because if it’s purely stagecraft then it will condemned as a cheap stunt but if they are able to mobilize ‘enough’ stories, programmes, education, etc. that support the notion of US ingenuity and innovation then you can see a cultural shift occur. [Perfection won't be achieved; there will be failures. What you need are enough stories and successes.] Meanwhile, Canadians keep being told they’re not innovative and ‘we must do something’.

This US consultation may be more stagecraft but it shows that not all consultations have to be as thoroughly constrained as the Canadian one finishing today.  From Mike Masnick’s Feb. 9, 2011 posting (The White House Wants Advice On What’s Blocking American Innovation) on Techdirt,

The White House website kicked off a new feature this week, called Advise the Advisor, in which a senior staff member at the White House will post a YouTube video [there's one in this posting on the Techdirt website] on a particular subject, asking the public to weigh in on that topic via a form. The very first such topic is one near and dear to our hearts: American Innovation. [emphasis mine] …

And here is the answer I provided:

Research on economic growth has shown time and time again the importance of basic innovation towards improving the standard of living of people around the world. Economist Paul Romer’s landmark research into innovation highlighted the key factor in economic growth is increasing the spread of ideas.

Traditionally, many people have considered the patent system to be a key driver for innovation, but, over the last few decades, research has repeatedly suggested that this is not the case. In fact, patents more frequently act as a hindrance to innovation rather than as a help to it. Recent research by James Bessen & Michael Meurer (reviewing dozens of patent studies) found that the costs of patents far outweigh the benefits.

This is a problem I see daily as the founder of a startup in Silicon Valley — often considered one of the most innovative places on earth. Patents are not seen as an incentive to innovation at all. Here, patents are simply feared. The fear is that anyone doing something innovative will be sued out of nowhere by someone with a broad patent. A single patent lawsuit can cost millions of dollars and can waste tons of resources that could have gone towards actual innovation. Firms in Silicon Valley tend to get patents solely for defensive purposes.

Getting back to Dexter, there is one other aspect of his comments that should be considered, the emphasis on ‘emerging technologies’. The circumstances in which we currently find ourselves are hugely different than they were during the Industrial revolution, the arrival of plastics and pesticides, etc. We understand our science and technology and their impacts quite differently than we did even a generation ago and that requires a different approach to innovation than the ones we’ve used in the past. From Andrew Maynard’s Jan. 25, 2011 posting (2020 Science blog),

… if technology innovation is as important as Obama (and many others besides) believes it is, how do we develop the twenty first century understanding, tools and institutions to take full advantage of it?

One thing that is clear is that in connecting innovation to action, we will need new insights and “intelligence” on how to make this connection work in today’s world. These will need to address not only the process of technology innovation, but also how we develop and use it within an increasingly connected society, where more people have greater influence over what works – and what doesn’t – than ever before. This was the crux of a proposal coming out of the World Economic Forum Global Redesign Agenda earlier this year, which outlined the need for a new Global Center for Emerging Technologies Intelligence.

But beyond the need for new institutions, there is also the need for far more integrated approaches to building a sustainable future through technology innovation – getting away from the concept of technology innovation as something that is somebody else’s business, and making it everybody’s business. This was a central theme in the World Economic Forum report that Tim Harper of CIENTIFICA Ltd. and I published last week.

There’s a lot more to be said about the topic. Masnick did get a response of sorts to his submission about US innovation (from his Feb. 17, 2011 posting on Techdirt),

Tony was the first of a bunch of you to send over the news that President Obama’s top advisor, David Plouffe, has put up a blog post providing a preliminary overview of what he “heard” via the Ask the Advisor question, which we wrote about last week, concerning “obstacles to innovation.” The only indication that responses like mine were read was a brief mention about how some people complained about how the government, and particularly patent policy, got in the way of innovation:

Many respondents felt that too much government regulation stifled businesses and innovators and that the patent process and intellectual property laws are broken.

Unfortunately, rather than listening to why today’s patent system is a real and significant problem, it appears that Plouffe is using this to score political points for his boss …

Masnick hasn’t lost hope as he goes on to note in his posting.

For yet another perspective, I found Europeans weighed in on the innovation topic at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2011 annual meeting this morning (Feb. 18, 2011). From a Government of Canada science blog (http://blogs.science.gc.ca/) posting, Mobilizing resources for research and innovation: the EU model, by Helen Murphy,

EU Commission Director-General of the Joint Research Centre Robert-Jan Smits spoke about what all countries agree on: that research and innovation are essential to prosperity — not just now, but even more so in the future.

He said European leaders are voicing the same message as President Obama, who in his recent State of the Union address linked innovation to “winning the future” — something he called the “Sputnik movement of our generation.”

Smits talked about the challenge of getting agreement among the EU’s 27 member countries on a growth strategy. But they have agreed; they’ve agreed to pursue growth that is smart (putting research and innovation at centre stage), sustainable (using resources efficiently and responsibly) and inclusive (leaving no one behind and creating new jobs).

The goal is ambitious: the EU aims to create nearly four million new jobs in Europe and increase the EU’s GDP by 700 billion Euros by 2025.

What I’m trying to say is that innovation is a big conversation and I hope that the expert panel for Canada’s current consultation on this matter will go beyond its terms reference to suggest that ‘housecleaning and tweaking’ should be part of a larger initiative that includes using a little imagination.

NISE Net’s Youtube channel

Dexter Johnson at his Nanoclast blog noted in an October 13, 2010 posting that NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) has placed a number of nanotechnology-related videos on its own Youtube channel. From the Nanoclast posting,

I haven’t really looked at a wide variety of videos that NISE has collected, but the ones that come from a DVD NISE Network produced called “Talking Nano” contains some real gems. In particular, I enjoyed a seminar George Whitesides gave educators and journalists back in 2007 at the Museum of Science in Boston on what they should know and consider important when relating the subject of nanotechnology either to their students or their audience.

Whitesides, of course, is a renowned scientist at Harvard University, and someone who I’ve come to appreciate for his unique perspectives on how nanotechnology will develop.

Dexter features part 1 of the Whitesides interview which he recommends. I haven’t had time to check the video out yet, although based on the pleasure of seeing some of Whitesides’ collaborative work with Felice Frankel in book form, I too would recommend it.