Tag Archives: National University of Singapore

Spooling strips of graphene

An April 18, 2018 news item on phys.org highlights an exciting graphene development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),

MIT engineers have developed a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene.

The team’s results are the first demonstration of an industrial, scalable method for manufacturing high-quality graphene that is tailored for use in membranes that filter a variety of molecules, including salts, larger ions, proteins, or nanoparticles. Such membranes should be useful for desalination, biological separation, and other applications.

A new manufacturing process produces strips of graphene, at large scale, for use in membrane technologies and other applications. Image: Christine Daniloff, MIT

An April 17, 2018 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jennifer Chu, which originated the news item,. provides more detail,

“For several years, researchers have thought of graphene as a potential route to ultrathin membranes,” says John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT. “We believe this is the first study that has tailored the manufacturing of graphene toward membrane applications, which require the graphene to be seamless, cover the substrate fully, and be of high quality.”

Hart is the senior author on the paper, which appears online in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces. The study includes first author Piran Kidambi, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University; MIT graduate students Dhanushkodi Mariappan and Nicholas Dee; Sui Zhang of the National University of Singapore; Andrey Vyatskikh, a former student at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology who is now at Caltech; and Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Growing graphene

For many researchers, graphene is ideal for use in filtration membranes. A single sheet of graphene resembles atomically thin chicken wire and is composed of carbon atoms joined in a pattern that makes the material extremely tough and impervious to even the smallest atom, helium.

Researchers, including Karnik’s group, have developed techniques to fabricate graphene membranes and precisely riddle them with tiny holes, or nanopores, the size of which can be tailored to filter out specific molecules. For the most part, scientists synthesize graphene through a process called chemical vapor deposition, in which they first heat a sample of copper foil and then deposit onto it a combination of carbon and other gases.

Graphene-based membranes have mostly been made in small batches in the laboratory, where researchers can carefully control the material’s growth conditions. However, Hart and his colleagues believe that if graphene membranes are ever to be used commercially they will have to be produced in large quantities, at high rates, and with reliable performance.

“We know that for industrialization, it would need to be a continuous process,” Hart says. “You would never be able to make enough by making just pieces. And membranes that are used commercially need to be fairly big – some so big that you would have to send a poster-wide sheet of foil into a furnace to make a membrane.”

A factory roll-out

The researchers set out to build an end-to-end, start-to-finish manufacturing process to make membrane-quality graphene.

The team’s setup combines a roll-to-roll approach – a common industrial approach for continuous processing of thin foils – with the common graphene-fabrication technique of chemical vapor deposition, to manufacture high-quality graphene in large quantities and at a high rate. The system consists of two spools, connected by a conveyor belt that runs through a small furnace. The first spool unfurls a long strip of copper foil, less than 1 centimeter wide. When it enters the furnace, the foil is fed through first one tube and then another, in a “split-zone” design.

While the foil rolls through the first tube, it heats up to a certain ideal temperature, at which point it is ready to roll through the second tube, where the scientists pump in a specified ratio of methane and hydrogen gas, which are deposited onto the heated foil to produce graphene.

“Graphene starts forming in little islands, and then those islands grow together to form a continuous sheet,” Hart says. “By the time it’s out of the oven, the graphene should be fully covering the foil in one layer, kind of like a continuous bed of pizza.”

As the graphene exits the furnace, it’s rolled onto the second spool. The researchers found that they were able to feed the foil continuously through the system, producing high-quality graphene at a rate of 5 centimers per minute. Their longest run lasted almost four hours, during which they produced about 10 meters of continuous graphene.

“If this were in a factory, it would be running 24-7,” Hart says. “You would have big spools of foil feeding through, like a printing press.”

Flexible design

Once the researchers produced graphene using their roll-to-roll method, they unwound the foil from the second spool and cut small samples out. They cast the samples with a polymer mesh, or support, using a method developed by scientists at Harvard University, and subsequently etched away the underlying copper.

“If you don’t support graphene adequately, it will just curl up on itself,” Kidambi says. “So you etch copper out from underneath and have graphene directly supported by a porous polymer – which is basically a membrane.”

The polymer covering contains holes that are larger than graphene’s pores, which Hart says act as microscopic “drumheads,” keeping the graphene sturdy and its tiny pores open.

The researchers performed diffusion tests with the graphene membranes, flowing a solution of water, salts, and other molecules across each membrane. They found that overall, the membranes were able to withstand the flow while filtering out molecules. Their performance was comparable to graphene membranes made using conventional, small-batch approaches.

The team also ran the process at different speeds, with different ratios of methane and hydrogen gas, and characterized the quality of the resulting graphene after each run. They drew up plots to show the relationship between graphene’s quality and the speed and gas ratios of the manufacturing process. Kidambi says that if other designers can build similar setups, they can use the team’s plots to identify the settings they would need to produce a certain quality of graphene.

“The system gives you a great degree of flexibility in terms of what you’d like to tune graphene for, all the way from electronic to membrane applications,” Kidambi says.

Looking forward, Hart says he would like to find ways to include polymer casting and other steps that currently are performed by hand, in the roll-to-roll system.

“In the end-to-end process, we would need to integrate more operations into the manufacturing line,” Hart says. “For now, we’ve demonstrated that this process can be scaled up, and we hope this increases confidence and interest in graphene-based membrane technologies, and provides a pathway to commercialization.”

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

A Scalable Route to Nanoporous Large-Area Atomically Thin Graphene Membranes by Roll-to-Roll Chemical Vapor Deposition and Polymer Support Casting by Piran R. Kidambi, Dhanushkodi D. Mariappan, Nicholas T. Dee, Andrey Vyatskikh, Sui Zhang, Rohit Karnik, and A. John Hart. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2018, 10 (12), pp 10369–10378 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.8b00846 Publication Date (Web): March 19, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Finally, there is a video of the ‘graphene spooling out’ process,

Congratulate China on the world’s first quantum communication network

China has some exciting news about the world’s first quantum network; it’s due to open in late August 2017 so you may want to have your congratulations in order for later this month.

An Aug. 4, 2017 news item on phys.org makes the announcement,

As malicious hackers find ever more sophisticated ways to launch attacks, China is about to launch the Jinan Project, the world’s first unhackable computer network, and a major milestone in the development of quantum technology.

Named after the eastern Chinese city where the technology was developed, the network is planned to be fully operational by the end of August 2017. Jinan is the hub of the Beijing-Shanghai quantum network due to its strategic location between the two principal Chinese metropolises.

“We plan to use the network for national defence, finance and other fields, and hope to spread it out as a pilot that if successful can be used across China and the whole world,” commented Zhou Fei, assistant director of the Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology, who was speaking to Britain’s Financial Times.

An Aug. 3, 2017 CORDIS (Community Research and Development Research Information Service [for the European Commission]) press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the technology,

By launching the network, China will become the first country worldwide to implement quantum technology for a real life, commercial end. It also highlights that China is a key global player in the rush to develop technologies based on quantum principles, with the EU and the United States also vying for world leadership in the field.

The network, known as a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network, is more secure than widely used electronic communication equivalents. Unlike a conventional telephone or internet cable, which can be tapped without the sender or recipient being aware, a QKD network alerts both users to any tampering with the system as soon as it occurs. This is because tampering immediately alters the information being relayed, with the disturbance being instantly recognisable. Once fully implemented, it will make it almost impossible for other governments to listen in on Chinese communications.

In the Jinan network, some 200 users from China’s military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. It will be the world’s longest land-based quantum communications network, stretching over 2 000 km.

Also speaking to the ‘Financial Times’, quantum physicist Tim Byrnes, based at New York University’s (NYU) Shanghai campus commented: ‘China has achieved staggering things with quantum research… It’s amazing how quickly China has gotten on with quantum research projects that would be too expensive to do elsewhere… quantum communication has been taken up by the commercial sector much more in China compared to other countries, which means it is likely to pull ahead of Europe and US in the field of quantum communication.’

However, Europe is also determined to also be at the forefront of the ‘quantum revolution’ which promises to be one of the major defining technological phenomena of the twenty-first century. The EU has invested EUR 550 million into quantum technologies and has provided policy support to researchers through the 2016 Quantum Manifesto.

Moreover, with China’s latest achievement (and a previous one already notched up from July 2017 when its quantum satellite – the world’s first – sent a message to Earth on a quantum communication channel), it looks like the race to be crowned the world’s foremost quantum power is well and truly underway…

Prior to this latest announcement, Chinese scientists had published work about quantum satellite communications, a development that makes their imminent terrestrial quantum network possible. Gabriel Popkin wrote about the quantum satellite in a June 15, 2017 article Science magazine,

Quantum entanglement—physics at its strangest—has moved out of this world and into space. In a study that shows China’s growing mastery of both the quantum world and space science, a team of physicists reports that it sent eerily intertwined quantum particles from a satellite to ground stations separated by 1200 kilometers, smashing the previous world record. The result is a stepping stone to ultrasecure communication networks and, eventually, a space-based quantum internet.

“It’s a huge, major achievement,” says Thomas Jennewein, a physicist at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “They started with this bold idea and managed to do it.”

Entanglement involves putting objects in the peculiar limbo of quantum superposition, in which an object’s quantum properties occupy multiple states at once: like Schrödinger’s cat, dead and alive at the same time. Then those quantum states are shared among multiple objects. Physicists have entangled particles such as electrons and photons, as well as larger objects such as superconducting electric circuits.

Theoretically, even if entangled objects are separated, their precarious quantum states should remain linked until one of them is measured or disturbed. That measurement instantly determines the state of the other object, no matter how far away. The idea is so counterintuitive that Albert Einstein mocked it as “spooky action at a distance.”

Starting in the 1970s, however, physicists began testing the effect over increasing distances. In 2015, the most sophisticated of these tests, which involved measuring entangled electrons 1.3 kilometers apart, showed once again that spooky action is real.

Beyond the fundamental result, such experiments also point to the possibility of hack-proof communications. Long strings of entangled photons, shared between distant locations, can be “quantum keys” that secure communications. Anyone trying to eavesdrop on a quantum-encrypted message would disrupt the shared key, alerting everyone to a compromised channel.

But entangled photons degrade rapidly as they pass through the air or optical fibers. So far, the farthest anyone has sent a quantum key is a few hundred kilometers. “Quantum repeaters” that rebroadcast quantum information could extend a network’s reach, but they aren’t yet mature. Many physicists have dreamed instead of using satellites to send quantum information through the near-vacuum of space. “Once you have satellites distributing your quantum signals throughout the globe, you’ve done it,” says Verónica Fernández Mármol, a physicist at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid. …

Popkin goes on to detail the process for making the discovery in easily accessible (for the most part) writing and in a video and a graphic.

Russell Brandom writing for The Verge in a June 15, 2017 article about the Chinese quantum satellite adds detail about previous work and teams in other countries also working on the challenge (Note: Links have been removed),

Quantum networking has already shown promise in terrestrial fiber networks, where specialized routing equipment can perform the same trick over conventional fiber-optic cable. The first such network was a DARPA-funded connection established in 2003 between Harvard, Boston University, and a private lab. In the years since, a number of companies have tried to build more ambitious connections. The Swiss company ID Quantique has mapped out a quantum network that would connect many of North America’s largest data centers; in China, a separate team is working on a 2,000-kilometer quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai, which would rely on fiber to span an even greater distance than the satellite link. Still, the nature of fiber places strict limits on how far a single photon can travel.

According to ID Quantique, a reliable satellite link could connect the existing fiber networks into a single globe-spanning quantum network. “This proves the feasibility of quantum communications from space,” ID Quantique CEO Gregoire Ribordy tells The Verge. “The vision is that you have regional quantum key distribution networks over fiber, which can connect to each other through the satellite link.”

China isn’t the only country working on bringing quantum networks to space. A collaboration between the UK’s University of Strathclyde and the National University of Singapore is hoping to produce the same entanglement in cheap, readymade satellites called Cubesats. A Canadian team is also developing a method of producing entangled photons on the ground before sending them into space.

I wonder if there’s going to be an invitational event for scientists around the world to celebrate the launch.

Disorderly conduct amongst electrons

An Oct. 7, 2016 news item on Nanowerk highlights some research from A*STAR (Singapore’s Agency for Science and Technology Research), Note: A link has been removed,

Solid materials whose atoms are arranged in a well-ordered crystalline structure are usually better conductors of electricity than randomly structured, or amorphous, solids. Recently, however, A*STAR researchers found that iron-tellurium (FeTe) breaks this rule, displaying higher conductivity, and optical reflectivity, in the amorphous phase.

A recent study, published in the journal Acta Materialia (“Unravelling the anomalous electrical and optical phase-change characteristics in FeTe”), describes their efforts to understand why FeTe’s behavior is counterintuitive to expectations.

Iron-tellurium conducts electricity best when in a disordered amorphous phase. ©KTSDESIGN/Science Photo Library/Getty Courtesy: A*STAR

Iron-tellurium conducts electricity best when in a disordered amorphous phase. ©KTSDESIGN/Science Photo Library/Getty Courtesy: A*STAR

An Oct. 7, 2016 A*STAR press release, which originated the news item, explains more,

FeTe is a phase-change material, with the ability to rapidly switch its state from crystalline to amorphous and back again when it is heated or cooled, a property which makes it useful for data storage and memory applications. Conventional phase-change materials such as germanium-antimony-tellurium (GST), commonly used in rewritable DVDs, display higher optical reflectivity and electrical conductivity in their crystalline state because the highly-ordered structuring of atoms in the crystal results in more electron vacancies, or holes, that act as charge carriers.

“FeTe behaves differently from other phase-change materials,” explains Kewu Bai at the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing, who worked on the project with scientists from the National University of Singapore. “We hypothesized that these unusual characteristics may be connected with the behavior of ‘lone-pair’ electrons. This refers to a pair of electrons from any one atom that are not involved in the bonding of materials.”

The team prepared thin films of FeTe at room temperature to produce amorphous structures, and at 220 degrees Celsuis to acquire crystalline samples, and showed that the films could be flipped between the two states using a fast pulsing laser. They analyzed the molecular structure of the different films using X-ray spectroscopy, electron microscopy and first-principle calculations to investigate these unusual properties of FeTe.

The researchers confirmed the existence of lone-pair electrons in both the amorphous and crystalline phases. In the crystalline phase, where Te and Fe atoms were strongly bonded in a regular lattice, electrons were engaged in strong hybridization, meaning their orbitals overlapped and caused their electrons to localize. Thus, lone-pair electrons were incorporated as part of the integral structure.

In contrast, when FeTe entered its amorphous phase, some Te atoms were orientated so that their lone-pair electrons delocalized from the atoms, resulting in holes that acted as charge carriers.

“We are hopeful that FeTe could prove to be useful material for phase-change memory,” says Bai. “It could also act as an effective thermo-electric material, generating electric current in response to temperature.”

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

Unravelling the anomalous electrical and optical phase-change characteristics in FeTe by H.W. Ho, P.S. Branicio, W.D. Song, K. Bai, Teck L. Tan, R. Ji, Y. Yang, P. Yang, Y.H. Du, M.B. Sullivan. Acta Materialia Volume 112, 15 June 2016, Pages 67–76  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.actamat.2016.04.017

This paper is behind a paywall.

A science communication education program in Australia

Alan Alda (US actor and science communicator) was invited to celebrate the opening of the Australia National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 according to a March 8, 2016 CPAS press release (Note: Links have been removed),

Actor Alan Alda, best known for his starring role in the television series M*A*S*H, opened new facilities for CPAS today [March 8, 2016].

Mr Alda, US Ambassador to Australia his Excellency John Berry, ANU [Australian National University] Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, and CPAS Director Professor Joan Leach opened the new building with speeches in the greenery of University Avenue, followed by ribbon cutting at the new CPAS office.

The opening follows a new partnership agreement between CPAS and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, based in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism in the United States.

Mr Alda is a visiting professor in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism and was a founding member of the Alda Center in 2009. His vision was to teach scientists the skills he had mastered as an actor to help them communicate better with policymakers and the public.

Mr Alda said it was time for CPAS and the Alan Alda Centre to join forces and to start collaborating.

“It couldn’t be better. We both have something to offer the other,” Mr Alda said.

“The Centre here has an extraordinary grasp of the history and theory of science communication. We have in turn innovative ways of teaching the actual skills of communication.

“We have turned many people who are not comfortable facing an audience, or even worse comfortable facing an audience but making an audience uncomfortable facing them, we’ve turned them into master communicators, and they are happy about it and their science is reaching the pubic.”

Professor Schmidt said the new facilities celebrated the partnership between ANU and the Alan Alda Center and he looked forward to seeing the result of the new collaboration.

“CPAS is one of the jewels in the crown of ANU,” Professor Schmidt said.

“The centre is Australia’s oldest and most diverse academic science communication centre, and it was formed in 1996. It took very special people to come up with the vision for CPAS, and its development blazed a trail that has been emulated since by other institutions.”

The event was completed by a two hour workshop for CPAS students and stuff run by Alda Center Associate Director, Dr Christine O’Connell, and Mr Alda. The workshop was the first taste of the collaborative exchange yet to come between the two institutions.

There is a March 10, 2016 interview/chat with Alan Alda by Rod Lambert and Will Grant featuring text and audio files on The Conversation.com (Note: Links have been removed),

Rod: Did you experience any particular kinds of resistance to try to sell this message that scientists should communicate more?

Alan: Ten or 15 years ago, when I began trying to sell this idea, I did get plenty of resistance. I don’t know how many universities I talked to, it was just a handful, but I didn’t get any enthusiasm until I talked to Stony Brook University in New York, and they started the Center for Communicating Science there, which I’m so thrilled is now collaborating with the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. It’s like a dream come true, you’re our first international affiliation.

Rod: You’re welcome. Obviously there’s nothing in it for us, we’re just doing this out of the kindness of our hearts (laughs).

Alan: Ha ha ha, well you’ve got all this experience. We’ve got some pretty innovative ideas that we’ve been working on. We kind of use the Stony Brook University setting as our laboratory and we then spread what we’ve learned around the States.

Now we will be sharing it with you and we hope to get your innovations and ideas, and help to share them because we now have the network that’s growing. Every month, it gets a little larger.

We have 17 universities and medical schools and institutions in America that are hooked into this network. We’re going to be sharing all the things, all the creative ideas that come out of each of these places.

That really appeals to me because the people who really want to see communication thrive, the communication of science, they get so enthused about it. It’s hard to get them to stop working night and day on it because you see the results blooming and it makes me very happy.

They also cover Alda’s disinterest in becoming a doctor (ironic given that he’s probably best known for his role as a doctor in the MASH television series) and his presence at the March 9 – 13, 2016 World Science Festival in Brisbane.

For anyone who may recognize the World Science Festival name, it’s the progenitor for this event in Australia (from the World Science Festival in Brisbane About page),

The World Science Festival began in New York in 2008 and is an annual weeklong celebration and exploration of science. Through gripping debates, original theatrical works, interactive explorations, musical performances, intimate salons, and major outdoor experiences, the Festival takes science out of the laboratory and into the streets, parks, museums, galleries and premier performing arts venues of New York City.

The World Science Festival brings together great minds in science and the arts to produce live and digital content that presents the wonders of science and the drama of scientific discovery to a broad general audience. Hailed a “new cultural institution” by the New York Times, the Festival has featured scientific and cultural luminaries including Stephen Hawking, Maggie Gyllenhaal, E.O. Wilson, John Lithgow, Sir Paul Nurse, Glenn Close, Harold Varmus, Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Weinberg, Philip Glass, Eric Lander, Steven Chu, Chuck Close, Richard Leakey, Bobby McFerrin, Sylvia Earle, Anna Deavere Smith, Oliver Sacks, Liev Schreiber, Mary-Claire King, Charlie Kaufman, Bill T. Jones, John Hockenberry, Elizabeth Vargas among many others. The annual Festivals have collectively drawn more than 1.3 million visitors since 2008, and millions more have viewed the programs online.

World Science U is the Foundation’s online education arm where students and lifelong learners can dive more deeply through artfully produced digital education content presented by world-renowned scientists.

The World Science Festival is a production of the World Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation headquartered in New York City. The Foundation’s mission is to cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.

WSF Brisbane

The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will bring some of the world’s greatest thought leaders to Queensland, showcase local scientists and performers from around the Asia Pacific region, and host the brightest and the best from previous events in New York.

At the World Science Festival Brisbane, the biggest stars of science will present the beauty, complexity, and importance of science through diverse, multidisciplinary programming that is the World Science Festival signature. The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will take place between 9 and 13 March 2016 and is presented by the Queensland Museum.

Queensland Museum is located at South Bank in the heart of Brisbane’s Cultural Precinct, and is the most visited museum in Australia*. Permanent attractions include: the Sciencentre, which offers a wealth of interactive science and technology experiences; the Discovery Centre, the Lost Creatures: Stories from Ancient Queensland Gallery; and the Dandiiri Maiwar Aboriginal and Torres Islander Centre.

The Museum also regularly hosts national and international travelling exhibitions and offers a range of public and educational programs and activities, which attract more than 1 million visitors to the Cultural Precinct each year. Queensland Museum exhibits and stores a significant proportion of the State Collection and houses several research and conservation laboratories.

A little digging resulted in a few more details about this WSF Brisbane undertaking in a Media Kit for the 2016 inaugural event.

Exclusive rights have been granted to the Queensland Museum to present the event in the Asia-Pacific region for the next six years.

The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will bring some of the world’s greatest thought leaders  to Queensland, showcase local scientists and performers from around the Asia-Pacific region, and host the brightest and the best from previous events in New York.

The inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane will take place over four days and five nights across the South Bank Cultural Precinct from Wednesday 9 to Sunday 13 March 2016.

More than 100 scientific luminaries from nine countries will gather for the inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane at venues across the Cultural Precinct and South Bank.

Some of science’s brightest stars making special appearances at the festival include Emmy award-winning actor, author, science enthusiast and World Science Festival board member Alan Alda; Nobel Laureatephysicist  Brian Schmidt; pioneering marine biologist Sylvia Earle;  celebrated astronaut Andy Thomas; renowned physicist, best-selling author and festival co-founder Brian Greene, and many more.

Tracy Day, Co-Founder and CEO of the World Science Festival remarked, “By recasting science with art, music and story, we’re shifting science toward the centre of culture. We’re touching all those people  who love the arts but run the other way, when it comes to science.

Over 100 events (free and ticketed) make up the World Science Festival Brisbane program from Wednesday 9 – Sunday 13 March 2016. Highlights include:

• Celebrating the recent 100th Anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, two premiere performances and a deep dive into the science, impact and unresolved mysteries of Einstein’s most profound discovery:

− Light Falls – a new theatrical work featuring festival co-founder Brian Greene and an ensemble cast; written by Greene and created with composer Jeff Beal (“House of Cards”) and the 2015 Tony-award winning team from 59 Productions (An American in Paris);

− Dear Albert – a reading for the stage written by Alan Alda, featuring Jason Klarwein as Albert Einstein, with Anna McGahan and Christen O’Leary;

− Relativity Since Einstein – an illuminating exploration of Einstein’s ground-breaking insights, moderated by Greene and featuring a line-up of top thinkers in the field.

• Street Science! – a free two-day extravaganza for the whole family featuring everything from live turtle hatching, drones, coding workshops and robot combat to gastronomic demonstrations, taxidermy exhibitions and science-adventure storytelling

• New York Signature Events: The line-up for the inaugural WSF Brisbane includes six Signature Events straight from New York. Provocative, entertaining and accessible, these fast-paced programs explore ground-breaking discoveries, cutting-edge science and the latest technological innovations, guided by leading thinkers from around the world, including:

− Dawn of the Human Age – are we entering a new geological epoch: the Human Age?

 − Alien Life: Will We Know It When We Find It? Scientists across disciplines – astronomers, astrophysicists, and astrobiologists – are intensely studying the evolution of life on Earth and listening for signals from outer space to help identify life in the universe.

− The Moral Math of Robots – Can machines learn right from wrong? As the first generation of driverless cars and battlefield warbots filter into society, scientists are working to develop moral decision-making skills in robots. Break or swerve? Shoot or stand down?

• Diverse and uniquely fascinating events for general audiences and students that showcase scientists, researchers, philosophers, artists, authors, inventors and more, exploring and debating questions about the universe, our changing world, and the role science plays in some of the most urgent issues of our time. Including:

− Can We Save our Reefs in Time? – Global ideas that may help preserve our amazing natural reefs are on the agenda when leading experts discuss revolutionary scientific measures that could assist marine scientists and biologists determine exactly what’s happening to the Great Barrier Reef, and indeed reefs all over the world.

− Chasing Down the Comet – landing a spacecraft on a comet at 40,000 k mph, with scientists from the European Space Agency and NASA who actually did it.

− Catching up with the Jetsons: Cities in 2050 – world renowned scientists, urban planners, and futurists consider the future of the city.

−The Martian film and talk – a once in a lifetime opportunity hear an astronaut and a NASA scientist discuss whether the blockbuster movie gets the science right, with Andy Thomas and Pamela Conrad.

• Salon events that dive deeper into the science of specific topics with informal discussions challenging participants to consider their shared passions from a fresh perspective.

• Hands-on workshops where budding scientists can spend time with working scientists, learning about their fascinating work in fields as diverse as genetics, art conservation, biology, the environment, ichthyology, game design, zoology, palaeontology, robotics and sports engineering.

Congratulations to the organizers for pulling together an exciting programme. BTW, the original World Science Festival will be taking place June 1 – 5, 2016 in New York.

Getting back to CPAS and for anyone interested in it (the only institution that I’ve seen offering science communication degrees for undergraduates, masters, and PhDs), there’s more from their History page,

The roots of CPAS started to grow in the 1980s, when two ANU academics – physicist Dr Mike Gore (now Professor), the founder of Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre, Questacon, and biologist Professor Chris Bryant, then ANU Dean of Science – started up a Graduate Certificate in Science Communication program. They established it as a formal training program and recognised qualification for groups of postgraduate students who had been performing outreach science shows with Questacon since the early 1980s. That program has become the Master of Science Communication Outreach degree, still run by CPAS, which is the host program for the Shell Questacon Science Circus, still run by Questacon.

In 1996 the ANU employed Dr Sue Stocklmayer (now Professor) as a new science communication academic to work full time on developing the program and other science communication teaching and research ventures at the University. It was she who proposed the establishment of a Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Professor Bryant was the first CPAS Director, but stepped aside in 1998, when Dr Stocklmayer took the reins. She remained the Director until 2015. In 2016, Professor Joan Leach assumed the role of CPAS Director.

The ibis was chosen as the CPAS mascot because it was the totem symbol of the Egyptian god Thoth, God of Science and Wisdom and Scribe of the Gods. The Ibis is also a ubiquitous travelling bird.

The opening ceremony for CPAS was performed by Professor Richard Dawkins, the first Charles Simonyi professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. After receiving an honorary degree (Hon D Litt) from the University he spent the rest of the afternoon at CPAS, in its old quarters of what is now the Peter Baume Buiding. There he cracked a ceremonial ‘ibis egg’ and mixed with members of the university. Photos of the event can be seen below.

Since its humble origins CPAS has become a world class science communication centre, growing in staff and student numbers, offering science communication education at all levels from undergraduate to PhD, building a comprehensive research program, and engaging in diverse science outreach and policy activities. CPAS staff regularly travel to numerous countries across the world, offering science communication education, training and support to science communicators, science centre staff and science teachers. In 2000 CPAS became an accredited Centre for the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. CPAS also boasts current partnerships with Questacon, Shell Australia, the National University of Singapore, the Government of Vietnam, the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia program, the Science Communication Research and Education Network, and the Science Circus Africa initiative.

That’s all, folks.

Canada’s Situating Science in Fall 2014

Canada’s Situating Science cluster (network of humanities and social science researchers focused on the study of science) has a number of projects mentioned and in its Fall 2014 newsletter,

1. Breaking News
It’s been yet another exciting spring and summer with new developments for the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster team and HPS/STS [History of Philosophy of Science/Science and Technology Studies] research. And we’ve got even more good news coming down the pipeline soon…. For now, here’s the latest.

1.1. New 3 yr. Cosmopolitanism Partnership with India and Southeast Asia
We are excited to announce that the Situating Science project has helped to launch a new 3 yr. 200,000$ SSHRC Partnership Development Grant on ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Local in Science and Nature’ with institutions and scholars in Canada, India and Singapore. Built upon relations that the Cluster has helped establish over the past few years, the project will closely examine the actual types of negotiations that go into the making of science and its culture within an increasingly globalized landscape. A recent workshop on Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore helped to mark the soft launch of the project (see more in this newsletter).

ARI along with Manipal University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of King’s College, Dalhousie University, York University, University of Toronto, and University of Alberta, form the partnership from which the team will seek new connections and longer term collaborations. The project’s website will feature a research database, bibliography, syllabi, and event information for the project’s workshops, lecture series, summer schools, and artifact work. When possible, photos, blogs, podcasts and videos from events will be posted online as well. The project will have its own mailing list so be sure to subscribe to that too. Check it all out: www.CosmoLocal.org

2.1. Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science workshop in Singapore August 21-22 2014
On August 21 and 22, scholars from across the globe gathered at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore to explore key issues in global histories and philosophies of the sciences. The setting next to the iconic Singapore Botanical Gardens provided a welcome atmosphere to examine how and why globalizing the humanities and social studies of science generates intellectual and conceptual tensions that require us to revisit, and possibly rethink, the leading notions that have hitherto informed the history, philosophy and sociology of science.

The keynote by Sanjay Subrahmanyam (UCLA) helped to situate discussions within a larger issue of paradigms of civilization. Workshop papers explored commensurability, translation, models of knowledge exchange, indigenous epistemologies, commercial geography, translation of math and astronomy, transmission and exchange, race, and data. Organizer Arun Bala and participants will seek out possibilities for publishing the proceedings. The event partnered with La Trobe University and Situating Science, and it helped to launch a new 3 yr. Cosmopolitanism project. For more information visit: www.CosmoLocal.org

2.2. Happy Campers: The Summer School Experience

We couldn’t help but feel like we were little kids going to summer camp while our big yellow school bus kicked up dust driving down a dirt road on a hot summer’s day. In this case it would have been a geeky science camp. We were about to dive right into day-long discussions of key pieces from Science and Technology Studies and History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

Over four and a half days at one of the Queen’s University Biology Stations at the picturesque Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, 18 students from across Canada explored the four themes of the Cluster. Each day targeted a Cluster theme, which was introduced by organizer Sergio Sismondo (Sociology and Philosophy, Queen’s). Daryn Lehoux (Classics, Queen’s) explained key concepts in Historical Epistemology and Ontology. Using references of the anti-magnetic properties of garlic (or garlic’s antipathy with the loadstone) from the ancient period, Lehoux discussed the importance and significance of situating the meaning of a thing within specific epistemological contexts. Kelly Bronson (STS, St. Thomas University) explored modes of science communication and the development of the Public Engagement with Science and Technology model from the deficit model of Public Understanding of Science and Technology during sessions on Science Communication and its Publics. Nicole Nelson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) explained Material Culture and Scientific/Technological Practices by dissecting the meaning of animal bodies and other objects as scientific artifacts. Gordon McOuat wrapped up the last day by examining the nuances of the circulation and translation of knowledge and ‘trading zones’ during discussions of Geographies and Sites of Knowledge.

2.3. Doing Science in and on the Oceans
From June 14 to June 17, U. King’s College hosted an international workshop on the place and practice of oceanography in celebration of the work of Dr. Eric Mills, Dalhousie Professor Emeritus in Oceanography and co-creator of the History of Science and Technology program. Leading ocean scientists, historians and museum professionals came from the States, Europe and across Canada for “Place and Practice: Doing Science in and on the Ocean 1800-2012”. The event successfully connected different generations of scholars, explored methodologies of material culture analysis and incorporated them into mainstream historical work. There were presentations and discussions of 12 papers, an interdisciplinary panel discussion with keynote lecture by Dr. Mills, and a presentation at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic by Canada Science and Technology Museum curator, David Pantalony. Paper topics ranged from exploring the evolving methodology of oceanographic practice to discussing ways that the boundaries of traditional scientific writing have been transcended. The event was partially organized and supported by the Atlantic Node and primary support was awarded by the SSHRC Connection Grant.

2.4. Evidence Dead or Alive: The Lives of Evidence National Lecture Series

The 2014 national lecture series on The Lives of Evidence wrapped up on a high note with an interdisciplinary panel discussion of Dr. Stathis Psillos’ exploration of the “Death of Evidence” controversy and the underlying philosophy of scientific evidence. The Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science spoke at the University of Toronto with panelists from law, philosophy and HPS. “Evidence: Wanted Dead of Alive” followed on the heels of his talk at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy “From the ‘Bankruptcy of Science’ to the ‘Death of Evidence’: Science and its Value”.

In 6 parts, The Lives of Evidence series examined the cultural, ethical, political, and scientific role of evidence in our world. The series formed as response to the recent warnings about the “Death of Evidence” and “War on Science” to explore what was meant by “evidence”, how it is interpreted, represented and communicated, how trust is created in research, what the relationship is between research, funding and policy and between evidence, explanations and expertise. It attracted collaborations from such groups as Evidence for Democracy, the University of Toronto Evidence Working Group, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs, Dalhousie University Health Law Institute, Rotman Institute of Philosophy and many more.

A December [2013] symposium, “Hype in Science”, marked the soft launch of the series. In the all-day public event in Halifax, leading scientists, publishers and historians and philosophers of science discussed several case studies of how science is misrepresented and over-hyped in top science journals. Organized by the recent winner of the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Ford Doolittle, the interdisciplinary talks in “Hype” explored issues of trustworthiness in science publications, scientific authority, science communication, and the place of research in the broader public.

The series then continued to explore issues from the creation of the HIV-Crystal Meth connection (Cindy Patton, SFU), Psychiatric Research Abuse (Carl Elliott, U. Minnesota), Evidence, Accountability and the Future of Canadian Science (Scott Findlay, Evidence for Democracy), Patents and Commercialized Medicine (Jim Brown, UofT), and Clinical Trials (Joel Lexchin, York).

All 6 parts are available to view on the Situating Science YouTube channel.You can read a few blogs from the events on our website too. Some of those involved are currently discussing possibilities of following up on some of the series’ issues.

2.5. Other Past Activities and Events
The Frankfurt School: The Critique of Capitalist Culture (July, UBC)

De l’exclusion à l’innovation théorique: le cas de l’éconophysique ; Prosocial attitudes and patterns of academic entrepreneurship (April, UQAM)

Critical Itineraries Technoscience Salon – Ontologies (April, UofT)

Technologies of Trauma: Assessing Wounds and Joining Bones in Late Imperial China (April, UBC)

For more, check out: www.SituSci.ca

You can find some of the upcoming talks and the complete Fall 2014 Situating Science newsletter here.

About one week after receiving the newsletter, I got this notice (Sept. 11, 2014),

We are ecstatic to announce that the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster is shortlisted for a highly competitive SSHRC Partnership Impact Award!

And what an impact we’ve had over the past seven years: Organizing and supporting over 20 conferences and workshops, 4 national lecture series, 6 summer schools, and dozens of other events. Facilitating the development of 4 new programs of study at partner institutions. Leveraging more than one million dollars from Nodal partner universities plus more than one million dollars from over 200 supporting and partnering organizations. Hiring over 30 students and 9 postdoctoral fellows. Over 60 videos and podcasts as well as dozens of student blogs and over 50 publications. Launching a new Partnership Development Grant between Canada, India and Southeast Asia. Developing a national consortium…And more!

The winners will be presented with their awards at a ceremony in Ottawa on Monday, November 3, 2014.

From the Sept. 11, 2014 Situating Science press release:

University of King’s College [Nova Scotia, Canada] professor Dr. Gordon McOuat has been named one of three finalists for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Partnership Award, one of five Impact Awards annually awarded by SSHRC.

Congratulations on the nomination and I wish Gordon McQuat and Situating Science good luck in the competition.

Anti-exorcist engineers create ghosts but not in a killing kind of way

Generally speaking most of us would choose to exorcise ghosts but there are scientists who are working to create them as a Feb. 19, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily notes,

A team at the NUS [National University of Singapore] Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering led by Dr Qiu Cheng-Wei has come out with an optical device to “engineer” ghosts.

When someone claims he or she has seen a ghost, the phenomenon may be caused by an optical illusion happening through a wild stroke of nature. But the actual engineering of such a phenomenon is the holy grail of researchers in the field of optical illusions, electromagnetic, and radar detection — not only because of the thrill and excitement of being able to create a “ghost” but because of the implications it will have in science and applications.

Their research has opened up a completely new avenue for cognitive deception through light-matter behaviour control. [emphasis mine] This would have wide applications in defence and security. Their findings will also pave the way for the design of new optical and microwave devices such as those for detection and communication. The team will further develop this technique to make larger microwave devices to achieve radar “ghosts” and aircraft camouflage suitable for defence purpose.

Dr Qiu’s paper, co-authored with and Dr Han Tiancheng (NUS Dept of Electrical & Computer Engineering), Prof Tie Jun Cui, Dr Wei Xiang Jiang (State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves, Department of Radio Engineering, Nanjing), and Prof Shuang Zhang (School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham, UK), entitled “Creation of Ghost Illusions Using Metamaterials in Wave Dynamics” will be published in Advanced Functional Materials in March 2013.

…  Dr Qiu’s device can create multiple “ghosts.” It can also make the real object or person “disappear.” The researchers can also determine how the “ghosts” look, taking on a different shape or size from the actual object.

I would imagine that magicians and con artists everywhere would also be very interested in ‘creating ghosts’ and ‘disappearing’. In fact, this might have applications in the fields of design and architecture. What if you could create a beautiful view by making a series of parking lots and dull concrete buildings disappear and replacing them with ‘ghost mountains or beaches’? No doubt this thinking is so wishful it could be described as science fiction at this time. Still, it is amusing to speculate.

For those with more practical interests, you can get the full citation for the forthcoming published study from the ScienceDaily news item or you can preview an earlier version of the article at arXiv.org (open access),

Creation of Ghost Illusions Using Metamaterials in Wave Dynamics by Weixiang Jiang, Cheng-Wei Qiu, Tiancheng Han, Shuang Zhang, Tiejun Cui (Submitted on 16 Jan 2013) arXiv.org > physics > arXiv:1301.3710

Happily, there’s a more or less song-appropriate choice for this work about creating ghosts, Exorcising Ghosts. Here’s the promo for the song,

You can find John Piccari performing his entire song here, http://youtu.be/dJkESTf4EyI.

Situating Science in Canada; excerpts from the Winter 2013 newsletter

Situating Science is a SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) funded network for Canadian Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Philosophy and History of Science scholars amongst others who examine the social impacts of science both in the present and in the past. The network is in its seventh and final year of funding (sunsetting) although there are plans for the future as per its most recent newsletter. Here’s a brief description of Situating Science’s  recent activities along with a listing of activities taking place in various Canadian cities over the next several months, as well as, a hint about future plans, from the Winter 2013 newsletter,

Happy New Year!

It’s been a busy few months. Members of the Cluster are now able to present you with all the latest in this Winter 2013 newsletter. In this issue, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Strategic Knowledge Cluster, Situating Science: Cluster for the Humanist and Social Study of Science (www.situsci.ca) is pleased to update you on activities …

Given our past successes, Cluster members plan to move forward with a few grant applications to sustain and initiate partnerships and activities. Some partners and stakeholders met in October to begin the planning process for a national and international partnership to explore sciences, technologies and their publics. They also plan to arrange to meet again this year to concretize plans for a sustainable network and national centre.

The Cluster hopes to build upon partnership activities with scholars and institutions in Southeast Asia and India. Members are currently planning to seek support for a Canada-Southeast Asia and India partnership to explore cosmopolitanism and circulation of knowledge.

The Cluster Centre and its many and varied local partners kept Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller busy during her 3.5 week fall visit to Halifax as the Cluster Visiting Scholar. Her time here allowed her to research genotypic plasticity, biological information and mathematical biology on top of participating in several activities, including a public lecture on “Paradigm Shifts and Revolutions in Contemporary Biology”. She then continued to Montreal to present and discuss her work at McGill [University] and UQAM [Université de Québec à Montréal] (CIRST) [Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie] and then to Toronto for discussions at York University, a University of Toronto IHPST [Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology] Brown Bag colloquium and a Wiegand Memorial Foundation Lecture on “Self-organization and God.” Select videos and podcasts of her public events are available on our website.

Dr. Anne Harrington, professor of History of Science at Harvard University, came to the Cluster Centre in October for a packed history of medicine luncheon conversation on “Culture in the Brain and Under the Skin”. This was followed by a post-performance discussion of placebo effect and medical attitudes and treatments after an original 2b Theatre production of “The Story of Mr. Wright.” Other recently supported events and visiting speakers to the Cluster Nodes include the Reading Artifacts Summer Institute at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM); Toronto’s Technoscience Salon on Ecologies; Women in Science and Engineering Symposium at McGiIll University; Dr. Suzanne Zeller, Wilfrid Laurier University in Halifax; Dr. Arun Bala, National University of Singapore at York University; Dr. Michael Lynch, Cornell University at U. Alberta [University of Alberta]; and many more.


All of our events are supported by a host of partners and some are recorded, streamed live online or blogged about. Please visit our website for more information.

Fri. January 25, 5 PM, University of Toronto: “Technoscience Salon: Queer(y)ing Technologies.”

Wed., Feb. 27-28, National University of Singapore: “The Bright Dark Ages: Comparative and Connective Perspectives.”

Fri. Mar. 22-23, UBC [University of British Columbia]: Workshop on “Bodies in Motion: Translating Early Modern Science.”

Mon. April 1- Th. April 4, Calgary [University of Calgary], Edmonton [University of Alberta], Vancouver [University of British Columbia]: Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller continues her Node visits out west as the Cluster Visiting Scholar.

Fri. April 5, U. [University] King’s College: “Aelita: Queen of Mars” screening with live music.

Fri. Apr. 26-27, McGill University: McGill Node supports the Indian Ocean World Centreconference on “Histories of Medicine in the Indian Ocean.”

Fri. May. 3-4, York University: Conference on “Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology.”

Fri. Jun. 7-9, 2013, University of Calgary: Workshop on “Where is the Laboratory now? “Representation”, “Intervention” and “Realism” in 19th and 20th Century Biomedical Sciences.”

Mon. Oct. 21-23, 2013, U. Ottawa: Conference on “Science and Society.” In partnership with University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the Professional Institute for the Public Service of Canada.


Blogs: A fascinating array of blog entries on summer, fall and winter workshops, lectures and events are now available on our website here: www.situsci.ca/blog.

The entries treat topics as diverse as

  • “The Women Question in Science: Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS) 2012”,
  • “The Play’s the Thing: Putting History of Science on Stage”,
  • “The story I hold about myself: the epistemology of Mr. Wright”,
  • “Narrative Theory, Historical Ethics, Sound Reasoning Through Pseudo-Science, and Testing Implicit Bias: a day at the WISEMS”,
  • “A Week with the Wonder Photo Cannon”,
  • “Reflections on Reading Artifacts Summer Institute 2012”,
  • “Gender and the Digital Silo: Cultures of Knowledge at Situating Early Modern Science Networks Workshop” and
  • “Notes on Caring in a Technoscientific World”. Please feel free to share and comment.

Videos and Podcasts: Videos and podcasts of events are constantly uploaded and announced on our website and via our social media. The latest uploads include:

Evelyn Fox Keller speaking on “Self-Organization and God”, “Paradigm Shifts And Revolutions In Contemporary Biology” and “Legislating for Catastrophic Risk”.

Heinrich von Staden’s HOPOS 2012 presentation entitled “Experimentation in Ancient Science?

Make your carbon atoms stand taller to improve electronic devices

Scientists from Ireland ((Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork [UCC]) and Singapore (National University of Singapore [NUS]) have jointly published a paper about how they achieved a ten-fold increase in the switching efficiency of electronic devices by changing one carbon atom. From the Jan. 21, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

These devices could provide new ways to combat overheating in mobile phones and laptops, and could also aid in electrical stimulation of tissue repair for wound healing.

The breakthrough creation of molecular devices with highly controllable electrical properties will appear in the February [2013] issue of Nature Nanotechnology. Dr. Damien Thompson at the Tyndall National Institute, UCC and a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore led by Prof. Chris Nijhuis designed and created the devices, which are based on molecules acting as electrical valves, or diode rectifiers.

Dr. Thompson explains, “These molecules are very useful because they allow current to flow through them when switched ON and block current flow when switched OFF. The results of the study show that simply adding one extra carbon is sufficient to improve the device performance by more than a factor of ten. We are following up lots of new ideas based on these results, and we hope ultimately to create a range of new components for electronic devices.” Dr. Thompson’s atom-level computer simulations showed how molecules with an odd number of carbon atoms stand straighter than molecules with an even number of carbon atoms. This allows them to pack together more closely. Tightly-packed assemblies of these molecules were formed on metal electrode surfaces by the Nijhuis group in Singapore and were found to be remarkably free of defects. These high quality devices can suppress leakage currents and so operate efficiently and reliably. The device can be cleanly switched on and off purely on the basis of the charge and shape of the molecules, just like in the biological nanomachines that regulate photosynthesis, cell division and tissue growth.

The Jan. ??, 2013 University College Cork news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The combined experiments and simulations show for the first time that minute improvements in molecule orientation and packing trigger changes in van der Waals forces that are sufficiently large to dramatically improve the performance of electronic devices. Dr. Thompson explains: “These van der Waals forces are the weakest of all intermolecular forces and only become significant when summed over large areas. Hence, up until now, the majority of research into ultra-small devices has used stronger “pi-pi” interactions to stick molecules together, and has ignored the much weaker, but ubiquitous, van der Waals interactions. The present study shows how van der Waals effects, which are present in every conceivable molecular scale device, can be tuned to optimise the performance of the device.”

The devices are based on molecules that act as diodes by allowing current to pass through them when operated at forward bias and blocking current when the bias is reversed. Molecular rectifiers were first proposed back in 1974, and advances in scientific computing have allowed molecular‐level design to be used over the past decade to develop new organic materials that provide better electrical responses. However, the relative importance of the interactions between the molecules, the nature of the molecule-metal contact and the influence of environmental effects have been questioned. This new research demonstrates that dramatic improvements in device performance may be achieved by controlling the van der Waals forces that pack the molecules together. Simply changing the number of carbon atoms by one provides significantly more stable and more reproducible devices that exhibit an order of magnitude improvement in ON/OFF ratio. The research findings demonstrate the feasibility of boosting device performances by creating tighter seals between molecules.

Here a citation and a link to the paper,

The role of van der Waals forces in the performance of molecular diodes by Nisachol Nerngchamnong, Li Yuan, Dong-Chen Qi, Jiang Li, Damien Thompson, & Christian A. Nijhuis. Nature Nanotechnology (2013) doi:10.1038/nnano.2012.238 Advance online publication: Jan. 6, 2013.

This paper is behind a paywall.

Asia’s research effort in nano-, bio-, and information technology integrated in Asian Research Network

The Feb. 29, 2012 news item by Cameron Chai on Azonano spells it out,

An Asian Research Network (ARN) has been formed by the Hanyang University of Korea and RIKEN of Japan in collaboration with other institutes and universities in Asia. This network has been launched to reinforce a strong education and research collaboration throughout Asia.

The Asian Research Network website is here. You will need to use your scroll bars as it appears to be partially constructed (or maybe my system is so creaky that I just can’t see everything on the page). Towards the bottom (right side) of the home page,there are a couple of red buttons for PDFs of the ARN Pamphlet and Research Articles.

From page 2 of the ARN pamphlet, here’s a listing of the member organizations,


Hanyang University
Samsung Electronics
Electronics and Telecommunication Research Institute
Seoul National University
Institute of Pasteur Korea
Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology
Korea Advanced Nano Fab Center




National Chemical Laboratory
Shivaji University
Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research
Pune University
Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (In Progress)
Indian Institute of Science (In Progress)


University of Texas at Dallas
UCLA (In Progress)
f d i i ( )


National Center for Nanoscience and Technology
Peking University


National University of Singapore
Nanyang Technological University (In Progress)
Stanford University In Progress)
University of Maryland (In Progress)


Weizmann Institute of Science (In Progress)
Hebrew University Jerusalem


National Science and Technology Development Agency (In Progress)

I was a little surprised to see Israel on the list and on an even more insular note, why no Canada?

Getting back to the ARN, here are their aims, from page 2 of the ARN pamphlet,

We are committed to fostering talented human resources, creating a research network in which researchers in the region share their knowledge and experiences, and establishing a future-oriented partnership to globalize our research capabilities. To this end, we will achieve excellence in all aspects of education, research, and development in the area of fusion research between BT [biotechnology] and IT [information technology] based on NT [nanotechnology] in general. We will make a substantial contribution to the betterment of the global community as well as the Asian society.

I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

Nanosunscreens, zinc oxide, cancer, and the latest research

Researchers in Singapore (Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore) have published a study suggesting that nano zinc oxide, found in some sunscreens, may potentially cause cancer. The Nov. 29, 2011 news item on Nanowerk provides this detail,

The chemical, Zinc Oxide, is used to absorb harmful ultra violet light. But when it is turned into nano-sized particles, they are able to enter human cells and may damage the cells’ DNA. This in turn activates a protein called p53, whose duty is to prevent damaged cells from multiplying and becoming cancerous. However, cells that lack p53 or do not produce enough functional p53 may instead develop into cancerous cells when they come into contact with Zinc Oxide nanoparticles. [emphases mine]

I was able to access the study and while I’m not an expert by any means I did note that the study was ‘in vitro’, in this case, the cells were on slides when they were being studied. It’s impossible to draw hard and fast conclusions about what will happen in a body (human or otherwise) since there are other systems at work which are not present on a slide.

A few items I was not able to determine (it’s in the study but I don’t understand the term ‘sonicate’ or others the researchers used),

  • were the concentrations of nano zinc oxide used in the research the standard concentrations one would find in a sunscreen, and
  • were the cells continuously exposed to nano zinc oxide, e.g. sitting in a bath of the chemical, or were the cells exposed in the way cells in a body would be exposed

I ask these questions not to so much to expose my ignorance but to point out how difficult it is draw conclusions from a study when you don’t have the training for it. In fact, if you read the news item on Nanowerk or the study (The role of the tumor suppressor p53 pathway in the cellular DNA damage response to zinc oxide nanoparticles [article behind paywall]), you’ll notice that even the researchers have phrased their findings very carefully.

You’ll also notice that there is another agenda (from the news item on Nanowerk),

The breakthrough also validated efforts by Asst Prof Loo and Asst Prof Ng to pioneer a research group in the emerging field of nanotoxicology, which is still very much in its infancy throughout the world.

The research team would also like to work with the European Union to uncover the risks involving nanomaterials and how these materials should be regulated before they are made commercially available. Asst Prof Joachim Loo, who received his Bachelor and Doctorate degrees from NTU, was the only Singaporean representative in a recent nanotechnology workshop held in Europe. At the workshop, it was agreed that research collaborations in nanotoxicology between EU and South-east Asia should be increased.

Another research study on nano zinc oxide was released last year (it was not cited in the references for the latest Nov. 2011 study). From the Aug. 20, 2010 news item on physorg.com,

A technique developed by Macquarie University has proven for the first time that a tiny amount of zinc from sunscreens is absorbed through the skin into the human body, but is not yet able to discern whether the zinc is in nanoparticle form.

Professor Brian Gulson of Macquarie University conducted the research – published online in the current edition of the journal Toxicological Sciences – with collaborators in CSIRO and the Australian National University and the Australian Photobiology Testing Facility. The research was widely reported on in February 2010 following a presentation by Gulson at a scientific conference.

The team traced the skin absorption of a highly purified and stable isotope which allowed them to distinguish the zinc from the sunscreen from that which is naturally present in the body or environment. Zinc is absolutely essential to bodily functions.

The researchers suggest that follow-up studies from the scientific community with different formulations over longer periods of time are essential, but that until evidence to the contrary is obtained, people spending time outdoors should continue to use sunscreens.

Getting back to that question about the concentration of the nano zinc oxide solution used in the most recent studies in Singapore, here’s what Brian Gulson had to say about nano zinc oxide concentrations in his work and about a shortcoming in his study (from an Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] Feb. 25, 2010 interview with Ashley Hall,

BRIAN GULSON: I guess the critical thing was that we didn’t find large amounts of it getting through the skin. The sunscreens contain 18 to 20 per cent zinc oxide usually and ours was about 20 per zinc. So that’s an awful lot of zinc you’re putting on the skin but we found tiny amounts in the blood of that tracer that we used.

ASHLEY HALL: So is it a significant amount?

BRIAN GULSON: No, no it’s really not.

ASHLEY HALL: But Brian Gulson is warning people who use a lot of sunscreen over an extended period that they could be at risk of having elevated levels of zinc.

BRIAN GULSON: Maybe with young children where you’re applying it seven days a week, it could be an issue but I’m more than happy to continue applying it to my grandchildren.

ASHLEY HALL: This study doesn’t shed any light on the question of whether the nano-particles themselves played a part in the zinc absorption.

BRIAN GULSON: That was the most critical thing. This isotope technique cannot tell whether or not it’s a zinc oxide nano-particle that got through skin or whether it’s just zinc that was dissolved up in contact with the skin and then forms zinc ions or so-called soluble ions. So that’s one major deficiency of our study.

Of course, I have a question about Gulson’s conclusion  that very little of the nano zinc oxide was penetrating the skin based on blood and urine samples taken over the course of the study. Is it possible that after penetrating the skin it was stored in the cells  instead of being eliminated?

It seems it’s not yet time to press the panic button since more research is needed for scientists to refine their understanding of nano zinc oxide and possible health effects from its use.

Final note: The researchers listed on the Singapore study are: Kee Woei Ng, Stella P.K. Khoo, Boon Chin Heng, Magdiel I. Setyawati, Eng Chok Tan, Xinxin Zhao, Sijing Xiong, Wanru Fang, David T. Leong, and Joachim S.C. Loo