Tag Archives: Netherlands

“This is the best microscope we could ever dream of”—Rice University (US) gets new microscope

I believe it’s Emilie Ringe who’s hosting this video about the new microscope at Rice University (Texas, US) and, as you will be able to tell, she’s thrilled.

A June 29, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now explains some of Ringe’s excitement,

Rice University, renowned for nanoscale science, has installed microscopes that will allow researchers to peer deeper than ever into the fabric of the universe.

The Titan Themis scanning/transmission electron microscope, one of the most powerful in the United States, will enable scientists from Rice as well as academic and industrial partners to view and analyze materials smaller than a nanometer — a billionth of a meter — with startling clarity.

The microscope has the ability to take images of materials at angstrom-scale (one-tenth of a nanometer) resolution, about the size of a single hydrogen atom.

Images will be captured with a variety of detectors, including X-ray, optical and multiple electron detectors and a 4K-resolution camera, equivalent to the number of pixels in the most modern high-resolution televisions. The microscope gives researchers the ability to create three-dimensional structural reconstructions and carry out electric field mapping of subnanoscale materials.

“Seeing single atoms is exciting, of course, and it’s beautiful,” said Emilie Ringe, a Rice assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of chemistry. “But scientists saw single atoms in the ’90s, and even before. Now, the real breakthrough is that we can identify the composition of those atoms, and do it easily and reliably.” Ringe’s research group will operate the Titan Themis and a companion microscope that will image larger samples.

A June 29, 2015 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about electron microscopes, incident electron beams, and the specifics of the second new piece of equipment being installed,

Electron microscopes use beams of electrons rather than rays of light to illuminate objects of interest. Because the wavelength of electrons is so much smaller than that of photons, the microscopes are able to capture images of much smaller things with greater detail than even the highest-resolution optical microscope.

“The beauty of these newer instruments is their analytical capabilities,” Ringe said. “Before, in order to see single atoms, we had to work a machine for an entire day and get it just right and then take a picture and hold our breath. These days, seeing atoms is routine.

“And now we can probe a particular atom’s chemical composition. Through various techniques, either via scattering intensity, X-rays emission or electron-beam absorption, we can figure out, say, that we’re looking at a palladium atom or a carbon atom. We couldn’t do that before.”

Ringe said when an electron beam ejects a bound electron from a target atom, it creates an empty site. “That can be filled by another electron within the atom, and the energy difference between this electron and the missing electron is emitted as an X-ray,” she said. “That X-ray is like a fingerprint, which we can read. Different types of atoms have different energies.”

She said the incident electron beam loses a bit of energy when it knocks an atom’s electron loose, and that energy loss can also be measured with a spectroscope to identify the atom. The X-ray and electron techniques are independent but complementary. “Typically, you use either/or, and it depends on what element you’re looking at,” Ringe said.

The second instrument, a Helios NanoLab 600 DualBeam microscope, will be used for three-dimensional imaging, analysis of larger samples and preparation of thin slices of samples for the more powerful Titan next door.

Both tools reside in the university’s Brockman Hall for Physics, which opened in 2011 and features sophisticated vibration-dampening capabilities. The microscopes require the best possible isolation from vibration, electric fields and acoustic noise to produce the best images, Ringe said.

“We have wanted a high-end microscopy facility at Rice because so many of us are working on nanomaterials,” said Pulickel Ajayan, a professor and founding chair of Rice’s Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering. “This has been an issue because in order to be competitive you have to have the best atomic-scale characterization techniques. This will put us in business in terms of imaging and understanding new materials.”

He said the facility will position Rice as one of the most competitive institutions to recruit students and faculty, attract grants and publish groundbreaking results.

“A visual image of something on an atomic level can give you so much more information than a few numbers can,” said Peter Rossky, a theoretical chemist and dean of Rice’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences. Comparing images of the same material taken by an older electron microscope and the Titan Themis was like “the difference between a black-and-white TV and high-definition color,” he said.

Ringe said Rice’s Titan is a fourth-generation model manufactured in the Netherlands. It’s the latest and most powerful model and the first to be installed in the United States.

“Taking a complex image — not just a picture but a spectrum image that has lots of energy information — in the older model would take about 35 minutes,” she said. “By that time, the electron beam has destroyed whatever you were trying to look at.

“With this generation, you have the data you need in about two minutes. You can generate a lot more data more quickly. It’s not just better; it’s enabling.”

Edwin Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, expects the new instruments to ignite the already strong research culture at the university. “This is going to influence the kind of people who will be attracted to apply to and then come to Rice,” said Thomas, a materials scientist. “I’m sure there will be people on campus who, once they find out the capabilities, are going to shift their compasses and take advantage of these machines. The whole point is to have an impact on science and society.”

Rice plans to host a two-day workshop in September to introduce the microscopes and their capabilities to the research community at the university and beyond. [emphasis mine] Beginning this summer, Ringe said, the electron microscopy center will be open to Rice students and faculty as well as researchers from other universities and industry.

Ringe looks forward to bringing researchers into the new microscopy lab — and to the research that will emerge.

“I hope everyone’s going to come out with a blockbuster paper with images from these instruments,” she said. “I would like every paper from Rice to have fantastic, crystal-clear, atomic-resolution images and the best possible characterization.”

To sum this up, there are two new pieces of equipment (Titan Themis scanning/transmission electron microscope and Helios NanoLab 600 DualBeam microscope) in Rice University’s 2011 facility, Brockman Hall for Physics. They are very excited about having the most powerful microscope in the US (the Titan) and hope to be holding a two-day workshop on these new microscopes for the research community at Rice and at other institutions.

Crowdfund nano spies for cancer

University of Groningen (Netherlands) researcher, Romana Schirhagl, is crowdfunding her development of a new technique (using nanodiamonds) for biomedical research which would allow observation of free radicals in cells. From a June 25, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Romana Schirhagl, a researcher at the University Medical Center Groningen, is hoping to garner public support for a new form of cancer research. Schirhagl wants to introduce miniscule diamonds into living cancer cells. Like spies, these nanodiamonds will be on a mission to reveal the secrets of the cell. Schirhagl applies a unique combination of knowledge and techniques from physics, chemistry and medicine in the research. This could form the basis of new and improved cancer drugs.

A June 16, 2015 University of Groningen press release, which originated the news item, provides background information for the research,

The research of Schirhagl and her research group in the department of Biomedical Engineering focuses on the behaviour of free radicals in a cell. These radicals have an important role in the body. They are sometimes extremely useful, as in the immune system, where they help fight bacteria and viruses, but sometimes very harmful, as when they actually harm healthy cells and can cause cancer. As the radicals only exist for a fraction of a second, it is difficult to tell them apart and study them.

New technique

Schirhagl wants to apply a new technique that currently is mainly used in fundamental physics but looks extremely promising for biomedical research. The technique is based on very small diamonds that can ‘sense’ the presence of magnetic fields from the radicals. The nanodiamonds are fluorescent and change in luminosity as a response to their environment. This makes it easier to determine which radicals occur when and how they work. This information should make it possible to improve cancer drugs – which themselves sometimes use free radicals – or even develop new ones.

Unexpectedly, the crowdfunding platform is the University of Groningen’s own. You can find out more about Nano spies here. To date the project has raised over 6,600 Euros towards a goal of 20,000 Euros.

D-Wave passes 1000-qubit barrier

A local (Vancouver, Canada-based, quantum computing company, D-Wave is making quite a splash lately due to a technical breakthrough.  h/t’s Speaking up for Canadian Science for Business in Vancouver article and Nanotechnology Now for Harris & Harris Group press release and Economist article.

A June 22, 2015 article by Tyler Orton for Business in Vancouver describes D-Wave’s latest technical breakthrough,

“This updated processor will allow significantly more complex computational problems to be solved than ever before,” Jeremy Hilton, D-Wave’s vice-president of processor development, wrote in a June 22 [2015] blog entry.

Regular computers use two bits – ones and zeroes – to make calculations, while quantum computers rely on qubits.

Qubits possess a “superposition” that allow it to be one and zero at the same time, meaning it can calculate all possible values in a single operation.

But the algorithm for a full-scale quantum computer requires 8,000 qubits.

A June 23, 2015 Harris & Harris Group press release adds more information about the breakthrough,

Harris & Harris Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: TINY), an investor in transformative companies enabled by disruptive science, notes that its portfolio company, D-Wave Systems, Inc., announced that it has successfully fabricated 1,000 qubit processors that power its quantum computers.  D-Wave’s quantum computer runs a quantum annealing algorithm to find the lowest points, corresponding to optimal or near optimal solutions, in a virtual “energy landscape.”  Every additional qubit doubles the search space of the processor.  At 1,000 qubits, the new processor considers 21000 possibilities simultaneously, a search space which is substantially larger than the 2512 possibilities available to the company’s currently available 512 qubit D-Wave Two. In fact, the new search space contains far more possibilities than there are particles in the observable universe.

A June 22, 2015 D-Wave news release, which originated the technical details about the breakthrough found in the Harris & Harris press release, provides more information along with some marketing hype (hyperbole), Note: Links have been removed,

As the only manufacturer of scalable quantum processors, D-Wave breaks new ground with every succeeding generation it develops. The new processors, comprising over 128,000 Josephson tunnel junctions, are believed to be the most complex superconductor integrated circuits ever successfully yielded. They are fabricated in part at D-Wave’s facilities in Palo Alto, CA and at Cypress Semiconductor’s wafer foundry located in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“Temperature, noise, and precision all play a profound role in how well quantum processors solve problems.  Beyond scaling up the technology by doubling the number of qubits, we also achieved key technology advances prioritized around their impact on performance,” said Jeremy Hilton, D-Wave vice president, processor development. “We expect to release benchmarking data that demonstrate new levels of performance later this year.”

The 1000-qubit milestone is the result of intensive research and development by D-Wave and reflects a triumph over a variety of design challenges aimed at enhancing performance and boosting solution quality. Beyond the much larger number of qubits, other significant innovations include:

  •  Lower Operating Temperature: While the previous generation processor ran at a temperature close to absolute zero, the new processor runs 40% colder. The lower operating temperature enhances the importance of quantum effects, which increases the ability to discriminate the best result from a collection of good candidates.​
  • Reduced Noise: Through a combination of improved design, architectural enhancements and materials changes, noise levels have been reduced by 50% in comparison to the previous generation. The lower noise environment enhances problem-solving performance while boosting reliability and stability.
  • Increased Control Circuitry Precision: In the testing to date, the increased precision coupled with the noise reduction has demonstrated improved precision by up to 40%. To accomplish both while also improving manufacturing yield is a significant achievement.
  • Advanced Fabrication:  The new processors comprise over 128,000 Josephson junctions (tunnel junctions with superconducting electrodes) in a 6-metal layer planar process with 0.25μm features, believed to be the most complex superconductor integrated circuits ever built.
  • New Modes of Use: The new technology expands the boundaries of ways to exploit quantum resources.  In addition to performing discrete optimization like its predecessor, firmware and software upgrades will make it easier to use the system for sampling applications.

“Breaking the 1000 qubit barrier marks the culmination of years of research and development by our scientists, engineers and manufacturing team,” said D-Wave CEO Vern Brownell. “It is a critical step toward bringing the promise of quantum computing to bear on some of the most challenging technical, commercial, scientific, and national defense problems that organizations face.”

A June 20, 2015 article in The Economist notes there is now commercial interest as it provides good introductory information about quantum computing. The article includes an analysis of various research efforts in Canada (they mention D-Wave), the US, and the UK. These excerpts don’t do justice to the article but will hopefully whet your appetite or provide an overview for anyone with limited time,

A COMPUTER proceeds one step at a time. At any particular moment, each of its bits—the binary digits it adds and subtracts to arrive at its conclusions—has a single, definite value: zero or one. At that moment the machine is in just one state, a particular mixture of zeros and ones. It can therefore perform only one calculation next. This puts a limit on its power. To increase that power, you have to make it work faster.

But bits do not exist in the abstract. Each depends for its reality on the physical state of part of the computer’s processor or memory. And physical states, at the quantum level, are not as clear-cut as classical physics pretends. That leaves engineers a bit of wriggle room. By exploiting certain quantum effects they can create bits, known as qubits, that do not have a definite value, thus overcoming classical computing’s limits.

… The biggest question is what the qubits themselves should be made from.

A qubit needs a physical system with two opposite quantum states, such as the direction of spin of an electron orbiting an atomic nucleus. Several things which can do the job exist, and each has its fans. Some suggest nitrogen atoms trapped in the crystal lattices of diamonds. Calcium ions held in the grip of magnetic fields are another favourite. So are the photons of which light is composed (in this case the qubit would be stored in the plane of polarisation). And quasiparticles, which are vibrations in matter that behave like real subatomic particles, also have a following.

The leading candidate at the moment, though, is to use a superconductor in which the qubit is either the direction of a circulating current, or the presence or absence of an electric charge. Both Google and IBM are banking on this approach. It has the advantage that superconducting qubits can be arranged on semiconductor chips of the sort used in existing computers. That, the two firms think, should make them easier to commercialise.

Google is also collaborating with D-Wave of Vancouver, Canada, which sells what it calls quantum annealers. The field’s practitioners took much convincing that these devices really do exploit the quantum advantage, and in any case they are limited to a narrower set of problems—such as searching for images similar to a reference image. But such searches are just the type of application of interest to Google. In 2013, in collaboration with NASA and USRA, a research consortium, the firm bought a D-Wave machine in order to put it through its paces. Hartmut Neven, director of engineering at Google Research, is guarded about what his team has found, but he believes D-Wave’s approach is best suited to calculations involving fewer qubits, while Dr Martinis and his colleagues build devices with more.

It’s not clear to me if the writers at The Economist were aware of  D-Wave’s latest breakthrough at the time of writing but I think not. In any event, they (The Economist writers) have included a provocative tidbit about quantum encryption,

Documents released by Edward Snowden, a whistleblower, revealed that the Penetrating Hard Targets programme of America’s National Security Agency was actively researching “if, and how, a cryptologically useful quantum computer can be built”. In May IARPA [Intellligence Advanced Research Projects Agency], the American government’s intelligence-research arm, issued a call for partners in its Logical Qubits programme, to make robust, error-free qubits. In April, meanwhile, Tanja Lange and Daniel Bernstein of Eindhoven University of Technology, in the Netherlands, announced PQCRYPTO, a programme to advance and standardise “post-quantum cryptography”. They are concerned that encrypted communications captured now could be subjected to quantum cracking in the future. That means strong pre-emptive encryption is needed immediately.

I encourage you to read the Economist article.

Two final comments. (1) The latest piece, prior to this one, about D-Wave was in a Feb. 6, 2015 posting about then new investment into the company. (2) A Canadian effort in the field of quantum cryptography was mentioned in a May 11, 2015 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way) featuring a profile of Raymond Laflamme, at the University of Waterloo’s Institute of Quantum Computing in the context of an announcement about science media initiative Research2Reality.

Customizing bacteria (E. coli) into squares, circles, triangles, etc.

The academic paper for this latest research from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft, Netherlands), uses the term ‘bacterial sculptures,’ an intriguing idea that seems to have influenced the artistic illustration accompanying the research announcement.

Artistic rendering live E.coli bacteria that have been shaped into a rectangle, triangle, circle, and square (from front to back). Colors indicate the density of the Min proteins that represent a snapshot in time (based on actual data), as these proteins oscillate back and forth within the bacterium, to determine the mid plane of the cell for cellular division. Image credit:  ‘Image Cees Dekker lab TU Delft / Tremani’

Artistic rendering live E.coli bacteria that have been shaped into a rectangle, triangle, circle, and square (from front to back). Colors indicate the density of the Min proteins that represent a snapshot in time (based on actual data), as these proteins oscillate back and forth within the bacterium, to determine the mid plane of the cell for cellular division.
Image credit: ‘Image Cees Dekker lab TU Delft / Tremani’

A June 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk provides more insight into the research (Note: A link has been removed),

The E.coli bacterium, a very common resident of people’s intestines, is shaped as a tiny rod about 3 micrometers long. For the first time, scientists from the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University have found a way to use nanotechnology to grow living E.coli bacteria into very different shapes: squares, triangles, circles, and even as letters spelling out ‘TU Delft’. They also managed to grow supersized E.coli with a volume thirty times larger than normal. These living oddly-shaped bacteria allow studies of the internal distribution of proteins and DNA in entirely new ways.

In this week’s Nature Nanotechnology (“Symmetry and scale orient Min protein patterns in shaped bacterial sculptures”), the scientists describe how these custom-designed bacteria still manage to perfectly locate ‘the middle of themselves’ for their cell division. They are found to do so using proteins that sense the cell shape, based on a mathematical principle proposed by computer pioneer Alan Turing in 1953.

A June 22, 2015 TU Delft press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Cell division

“If cells can’t divide properly, biological life wouldn’t be possible. Cells need to distribute their cell volume and genetic materials equally into their daughter cells to proliferate.”, says prof. Cees Dekker, “It is fascinating that even a unicellular organism knows how to divide very precisely. The distribution of certain proteins in the cell is key to regulating this, but how exactly do those proteins get that done?”

Turing

As the work of the Delft scientist exemplifies, the key here is a process discovered by the famous Alan Turing in 1953. Although Turing is mostly known for his role in deciphering the Enigma coding machine and the Turing Test, the impact of his ‘reaction-diffusion theory’ on biology might be even more spectacular. He predicted how patterns in space and time emerge as the result of only two molecular interactions – explaining for instance how a zebra gets its stripes, or how an embryo hand develops five fingers.

MinD and MinE

Such a Turing process also acts with proteins within a single cell, to regulate cell division. An E.coli cell uses two types of proteins, known as MinD and MinE, that bind and unbind again and again at the inner surface of the bacterium, thus oscillating back and forth from pole to pole within the bacterium every minute. “This results in a low average concentration of the protein in the middle and high concentrations at the ends, which drives the division machinery to the cell center”, says PhD-student Fabai Wu, who ran the experiments. “As our experiments show, the Turing patterns allow the bacterium to determine its symmetry axes and its center. This applies to many bacterial cell shapes that we custom-designed, such as squares, triangles and rectangles of many sizes. For fun, we even made ‘TUDelft’ and ‘TURING’ letters. Using computer simulations, we uncovered that the shape-sensing abilities are caused by simple Turing-type interactions between the proteins.”

Actual data for live E.coli bacteria that have been shaped into the letters TUDELFT.
The red color shows the cytosol contents of the cell, while the green color shows the density of the Min proteins, representing a snapshot in time, as these proteins oscillate back and forth within the bacterium to determine the mid plane of the cell for cellular division. The letters are about 5 micron high.
Image credit:  ‘Fabai Wu, Cees Dekker lab at TU Delft’

Spatial control for building synthetic cells

“Discovering this process is not only vital for our understanding of bacterial cell division – which is important in developing new strategies for antibiotics. But the approach will likely also be fruitful to figuring out how cells distribute other vital systems within a cell, such as chromosomes”, says Cees Dekker. “The ultimate goal in our research is to be able to completely build a living cell from artificial components, as that is the only way to really understand how life works. Understanding cell division – both the process that actually pinches off the cell into two daughters and the part that spatially regulates that machinery – is a major part of that.”

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

Symmetry and scale orient Min protein patterns in shaped bacterial sculptures by Fabai Wu, Bas G. C. van Schie, Juan E. Keymer, & Cees Dekker. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.126 Published online 22 June 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but there does seem to be another link (in the excerpt below) which gives you a free preview via ReadCube Access (according to the TU Delft press release),

The DOI for this paper will be 10.1038/nnano.2015.126. Once the paper is published electronically, the DOI can be used to retrieve the abstract and full text by adding it to the following url: http://dx.doi.org/

Enjoy!

Computer modeling of engineered nanoparticles in surface water, the NanoDUFLOW model

A June 4, 2015 news item on phys.org features research that could be very helpful in understanding the impact that engineered nanoparticles (ENP) have on the water in our environment,

Researchers of Wageningen University (Netherlands) provide the world’s first spatiotemporally explicit model that simulates the behaviour and fate of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in surface waters. Wageningen researcher Bart Koelmans: “This is important in order to assure safe nanotechnology. We do need to have an assessment of the risks of ENPs to man and the environment.”

Nanotechnology is developing fast, with the fast growing emission of less than 100 nm engineered nanoparticles as a consequence. ENPs are hard to measure in the environment so that exposure assessments have to rely on modelling. Previous models could only predict average background concentrations on a continental or national scale.

A June 3, 2015 Wageningen University press release, which originated the news item, describes the computer model,

The new NanoDUFLOW model however, developed by Joris Quik, Jeroen de Klein and Bart Koelmans and recently described in Water Research magazine, is capable of simulating the concentrations of ENPs, and their homo- and heteroaggregates in space and time, for any hydrological flow regime of a river. Under the hood of NanoDUFLOW is an ‘engine’ that calculates all relevant interactions among 35 types of particles including the ENPs, and that decides upon aggregation, settling or prolonged flow in the river. The rate of these interactions depends on the flow conditions in the river, which are calculated in the hydrology module of NanoDUFLOW. This module can be set to match the channel structure of any catchment as defined by the user, allowing for a great flexibility.

Development of the model

Development of the model took a long and winding road. ENPs are emerging chemicals with unique properties, which implies that some new process descriptions needed to be developed. One of the main parameters in this new type of models is the attachment efficiency. The attachment efficiency is the chance that two particles stay together when they collide, a chance that depends on the nature of the colliding particles and the chemistry of the water. A smart calculation method needed to be developed that enabled the estimation of the attachment efficiency from laboratory experiments with ENPs and natural particles and waters collected in the field.

Using NanoDUFLOW for the risk assessment of nanomaterials

In order to assure safe nanotechnology, society calls for an assessment of the risks of ENPs to man and the environment. A risk assessment for ENPs requires an assessment of ENP exposure, and of the effects caused by ENPs, which then can be compared in a risk characterisation. Whereas previous screening-level models still may be first choice for lower tiers in the risk assessment, NanoDUFLOW is believed to be useful for higher tiers of the risk assessment, where site specific risks need to be addressed. Simulations with NanoDUFLOW showed the occurrence of clear ENP contamination ‘hot spots’ in the water column and in sediments. Furthermore, NanoDUFLOW was capable of simulating the speciation of ENPs over different size fractions. This speciation defines the ecotoxicologically relevant fractions of ENPs, for a variety of species traits. Also in this respect NanoDUFLOW will add to refining the risk assessment for ENPs.

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

Spatially explicit fate modelling of nanomaterials in natural waters by Joris T. K. Quika, Jeroen J.M. de Klein, & Albert A. Koelmans. Water Research Volume 80, 1 September 2015, Pages 200–208  doi:10.1016/j.watres.2015.05.025

This paper is behind a paywall.

Kenya and a draft nanotechnology policy

I don’t often stumble across information about Kenya’s nanotechnology efforts (my last was in a Sept. 1, 2011 posting) but I’m going include my latest find here even though I can’t track down the original source for the information. From an April 29, 2015 news item on SpyGhana (original source: Xinhua News Agency,  official press agency of the People’s Republic of China),

The Kenyan government will soon adopt a comprehensive policy to promote use of nanotechnology in diverse fields like medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and environment.

“Nanotechnology as a science promises more for less. The competitive edge for Kenya as a developing nation lies in robust investments in this technology,” Njeri Wamae, chairman of National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), said in Nairobi.

Nanotechnology is relatively new in Kenya though the government has prioritized its development through research, training and setting up of supportive infrastructure.

Wamae noted that enactment of a nanotechnology policy will position Kenya as a hub for emerging technologies that would revolutionalize key sectors of the economy.

Policy briefs from Kenya’s scientific research body indicates that globally, nanotechnology was incorporated into manufacturing goods worth over 30 billion U.S. dollars in 2005.

The briefs added that nanotechnology related business was worth 2.6 trillion dollars by 2015. Kenya has borrowed best practices from industrialized countries and emerging economies to develop nanotechnology.

Professor Erastus Gatebe, an official at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), noted that China and India offers vital lessons on harnessing nanotechnology to propel industrial growth.

This draft policy seems to be the outcome of a number of initiatives including Nanotechnologies for Development in India, Kenya and the Netherlands: Towards a Framework for Democratic Governance of Risks in Developing Countries, WOTRO (2010 – 2014) from the African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) Network,

The ATPS has secured funding for a new Integrated Program (IP) on “Nanotechnologies for Development in India, Kenya and the Netherlands: Towards a Framework for Democratic Governance of Risks in Developing Countries, January 2010 – 2014, in liaison with partners in Europe and India. This IP which is led by Prof. Wiebe Bijker of the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands addresses the inevitable risks and benefits associated with emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology through a triangulation of PhD and Post-Doctoral positions drawn from Africa (2), India (1) and the Netherlands (2) based at the University of Maastricht but address core areas of the nanotechnology governance in Africa, India and the Netherlands. The program will be coordinated by Prof. Wiebe Bijker, the University of Maastricht, in the Netherlands; with the University of Hyderabad, India; the ATPS and the University of Nairobi, Kenya as partners.

Nanotechnology events and discussions played in important role in Kenya’s 2013 National Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Week by Daphne Molewa (on the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement [SAASTA] website),

The National Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Week, organised by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, is a major event on the annual calendar of the Kenyan Government.

The theme for 2013, “Science, Technology and Innovation for the realisation of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and beyond” is aligned with the national vision to transform Kenya into a newly industrialised, middle-income country providing a high-quality life to all its citizens in a safe and secure environment by the year 2030. pemphasis mine]

Nanotechnology, the science of the future

SAASTA representatives Mthuthuzeli Zamxaka and Sizwe Khoza were invited to participate in this year’s festival in Nairobi [Kenya] on behalf of the Nanotechnology Public Engagement Programme (NPEP).

Zamxaka delivered a stirring presentation titled Nanotechnology Public Engagement: The Case of South Africa. He introduced the topic of nanotechnology, focusing on engagement, outreach and awareness. …

Zamxaka touched on a number of nanotechnologies that are currently being applied, such as the research conducted by the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland on biodegradable nano-sized particles that can easily slip through the body’s sticky and viscous mucus secretions to deliver a sustained-release medication cargo. It is believed that these nanoparticles, which degrade over time into harmless components, could one day carry life-saving drugs to patients suffering from dozens of health conditions, including diseases of the eye, lung, gut or female reproductive tract.

For anyone interested , look here for Kenya’s Vision 2030. Harkening back to the first news item and the mention of NACOSTI, Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, it can be found here.

FibeRio and VF Corporation want their nanofiber technology to lead in apparel and footwear markets

An April 8, 2015 news item on Azonano describes a new business partnership,

FibeRio Technology Corporation, the total nanofiber solutions company, today announced a strategic partnership with VF Corporation, a global leader in branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories, to develop and commercialize next-generation, performance apparel fabrics leveraging FibeRio’s proprietary nanotechnology.

The partnership centers on FibeRio’s Forcespinning® technology platform and its ability to produce unique nanofiber material in high volumes. VF intends to incorporate FibeRio’s capabilities and expertise across its three Global Innovation Centers which focus on advancements in performance apparel, footwear and jeanswear.

An April 8, 2015 FibeRio news release provides more details, including these about the respective companies which help to contextualize the deal,

About FibeRio Technology Corporation
FibeRio is the efficiency and performance layer expert offering composite media improvement services including nanofiber membrane development, pilot production for limited launches and performance layer supply. The Fiber Engine series delivers on the industry’s need for high output, versatile, yet economic nanofiber production solutions. For more information visit www.fiberiotech.com

About VF Corporation
VF Corporation (NYSE: VFC) is a global leader in the design, manufacture, marketing and distribution of branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories. The company’s highly diversified portfolio of 30 powerful brands spans numerous geographies, product categories, consumer demographics and sales channels, giving VF a unique industry position and the ability to create sustainable, long-term growth for our customers and shareholders. The company’s largest brands are The North Face®, Vans®, Timberland®, Wrangler®, Lee® and Nautica®. For more information, visit www.vfc.com.

There are the usual “we’re thrilled and about to do exciting things” quotes along with a dearth of details explaining how nanofibers are going to lead to higher performance,

“VF’s Global Innovation Center strategy is centered on the pursuit of disruptive design and materials that will meaningfully redefine the future of apparel and footwear for our consumers,” said Dan Cherian, Vice President, VF Global Innovation Centers. “Our partnership with FibeRio is a great step toward the co-development of proprietary, high-performance nanofiber materials that will help push the boundaries of performance and explore the creation of new apparel and footwear market categories.”

FibeRio CEO Ellery Buchanan stated, “We are excited to partner with VF Corporation on our Forcespinning-based advanced nanofiber textiles. VF’s long history of brand strength and operational excellence along with our leading commercial scale nanofiber production expertise creates an excellent opportunity to proactively shape the competitive landscape.”

Nanofibers’ higher surface area and smaller pore size improves the characteristics of fibrous material. This enables performance levels in any given application to be materially improved using significantly less material in the end product, which also allows for lighter weight and lower cost. [emphasis mine] FibeRio’s Forcespinning technology is the only technology platform capable of both commercial scale melt and solution spinning nanofibers. This provides a more sustainable method of production because melt spinning does not require solvents. [emphasis mine] Additionally, Forcespinning can be used to solution spin with vastly smaller amounts of solvents than traditional nanofiber production processes such as electrospinning.

Using less material could be considered a good thing, assuming it doesn’t mean that consumers need to purchase the item more frequently. The sustainability aspects such as no solvents or lesser amounts of solvent sound good unless increased demand means that a lesser amount becomes a greater amount.

I look forward to learning more as this partnership develops. One final note, I wonder if these folks are competitive with Teijin-Aramid (a Japanese-Dutch company in the Teijin Group), a company which does a lot of work with nanofibers last mentioned here in a Sept. 24, 2014 posting (scroll down about 60% of the way),

Still talking about textile fibres but on a completely different track, I received a news release this morning (Sept. 25, 2014) from Teijin Aramid about carbon nanotubes and fibres,

Researchers of Teijin Aramid, based in the Netherlands, and Rice University in the USA are awarded with the honorary ‘Paul Schlack Man-Made Fibers Prize’ for corporate-academic partnerships in fiber research. Their new super fibers are now driving innovation in aerospace, healthcare, automotive, and (smart) clothing.

I also found an April 12, 2012 post about Teijin Fibers (another Teijin Group company) and their work with nanofibers and golf gloves and athletic socks.

SAPPI to locate cellulose nanofibril facility in the Netherlands

SAPPI (formerly South African Pulp and Paper Industries) has announced it will build a nanocellulose facility in the Netherlands. From a March 11, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Sappi Limited, a leading global producer of dissolving wood pulp and graphics, speciality and packaging papers, is pleased to announce that it will build a pilot-scale plant for low-cost Cellulose NanoFibrils (nanocellulose) production at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Sittard-Geleen in the Netherlands. The pilot plant is expected to be operational within nine months.

A March 11, 2015 SAPPI media release (also on PR Newswire), which originated the news item, provides more detail about SAPPI’s nanocellulose business plans and the proposed pilot plant,

Commenting on the decision, Andrea Rossi, Group Head Technology, Sappi Limited, explained that the pilot plant will help with Sappi’s move into new adjacent business fields based on renewable raw materials. Sappi’s strategy includes seeking growth opportunities by producing innovative performance materials from renewable resources. The raw material for the pilot plant would be supplied from any of Sappi’s Saiccor, Ngodwana and Cloquet dissolving wood pulp plants. The pilot plant is the precursor for Sappi to consider the construction of a commercial CNF plant.

He goes on to say “the pilot plant will test the manufacturing of dry re-dispersible Cellulose NanoFibrils (CNF) using the proprietary technology developed by Sappi and Edinburgh Napier University. The location of the pilot plant at Brightlands Chemelot Campus provides Sappi with easy access to multiple partners with whom Sappi will seek to co-develop products that will incorporate CNF across a large variety of product applications to optimise performance and to create unique characteristics for these products.

The CNF produced by Sappi will have unique morphology, specifically modified for either hydrophobic or hydrophilic applications. Products produced using Sappi’s CNF will be optimally suitable for conversion in lighter and stronger fibre-reinforced composites and plastics, in food and pharmaceutical applications, and in rheology modifiers as well as in barrier and other paper and coating applications.

Speaking on behalf of Brightlands Chemelot Campus, the CEO Bert Kip said “We’re proud that a globally leading company like Sappi has chosen our campus for their new facility. The initiative perfectly fits with our focus area on bio-based materials and our new pilot plant infrastructure.”

In December 2014, Sappi and Edinburgh Napier University announced the results of their 3 year project to find a low cost energy-saving process that would allow Sappi to produce the nanocellulose on a commercially viable basis – and importantly without producing large volumes of chemical waste water associated with existing techniques. At the time, Professor Rob English, who led the research with his Edinburgh Napier colleague, Dr. Rhodri Williams, said “What is significant about our process is the use of unique chemistry, which has allowed us to very easily break down the wood pulp fibers into nanocellulose. There is no expensive chemistry required and, most significantly, the chemicals used can be easily recycled and reused without generating large quantities of waste water.

Math Jennekens, R&D Director at Sappi Europe who is the project coordinator and will oversee the pilot plant, said “We are very excited to be able to move from a bench top environment into real-world production. Our targeted run-rate will be 8 tons per annum. We will produce a dry powder that can be easily redispersed in water. The nanocellulose is unmodified which makes it easier to combine with other materials. The product will be used to build partnerships to test the application of our nanocellulose across the widest range of uses.”

He went on to thank the Government of the Province of Limburg in the Netherlands for their significant support and financial contribution towards the establishment of the pilot plant.

This business with a pilot production plant reminds me of CelluForce which has a cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) or, as it’s also known, nanocellulose crystal (NCC) production plant located in Windsor, Québec. They too announced a production plant which opened to fanfare in January 2012. in my Oct. 3, 2013 post (scroll down about 60% of the way) I noted that production had stopped in August 2013 due to a growing stockpile. As of March 11, 2015, I was not able to find any updates about the stockpile on the CelluForce website. The most recent CelluForce information I’ve been able to find is in a Feb. 19, 2015 posting (scroll down about 40% of the way).

Europe’s search for raw materials and hopes for nanotechnology-enabled solutions

A Feb. 27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk highlights the concerns over the availability of raw materials and European efforts to address those concerns,

Critical raw materials’ are crucial to many European industries but they are vulnerable to scarcity and supply disruption. As such, it is vital that Europe develops strategies for meeting the demand for raw materials. One such strategy is finding methods or substances that can replace the raw materials that we currently use. With this in mind, four EU projects working on substitution in catalysis, electronics and photonics presented their work at the Third Innovation Network Workshop on substitution of Critical Raw Materials hosted by the CRM_INNONET project in Brussels earlier this month [February 2015].

A Feb. 26, 2015 CORDIS press release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe four European Union projects working on nanotechnology-enabled solutions,

NOVACAM

NOVACAM, a coordinated Japan-EU project, aims to develop catalysts using non-critical elements designed to unlock the potential of biomass into a viable energy and chemical feedstock source.

The project is using a ‘catalyst by design’ approach for the development of next generation catalysts (nanoscale inorganic catalysts), as NOVACAM project coordinator Prof. Emiel Hensen from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands explained. Launched in September 2013, the project is developing catalysts which incorporate non-critical metals to catalyse the conversion of lignocellulose into industrial chemical feedstocks and bio-fuels. The first part of the project has been to develop the principle chemistry while the second part is to demonstrate proof of process. Prof. Hensen predicts that perhaps only two of three concepts will survive to this phase.

The project has already made significant progress in glucose and ethanol conversion, according to Prof. Hensen, and has produced some important scientific publications. The consortium is working with and industrial advisory board comprising Shell in the EU and Nippon Shokubai in Japan.

FREECATS

The FREECATS project, presented by project coordinator Prof. Magnus Rønning from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has been working over the past three years to develop new metal-free catalysts. These would be either in the form of bulk nanomaterials or in hierarchically organised structures – both of which would be capable of replacing traditional noble metal-based catalysts in catalytic transformations of strategic importance.

Prof. Magnus Rønning explained that the application of the new materials could eliminate the need for the use for platinum group metals (PGM) and rare earth metals – in both cases Europe is very reliant on other countries for these materials. Over the course of its research, FREECATS targeted three areas in particular – fuel cells, the production of light olefins and water and wastewater purification.

By working to replace the platinum in fuel cells, the project is supporting the EU’s aim of replacing the internal combustion engine by 2050. However, as Prof. Rønning noted, while platinum has been optimized for use over several decades, the materials FREECATS are using are new and thus come with their new challenges which the project is addressing.

HARFIR

Prof. Atsufumi Hirohata of the University of York in the United Kingdom, project coordinator of HARFIR, described how the project aims to discover an antiferromagnetic alloy that does not contain the rare metal Iridium. Iridium is becoming more and more widely used in numerous spin electronic storage devices, including read heads in hard disk drives. The world supply depends on Platinum ore that comes mainly from South Africa. The situation is much worse than for other rare earth elements as the price has been shooting up over recent years, according to Prof. Hirohata.

The HARFIR team, divided between Europe and Japan, aims to replace Iridium alloys with Heusler alloys. The EU team, led by Prof. Hirohata, has been working on the preparation of polycrystalline and epitaxial thin films of Heusler Alloys, with the material design led by theoretical calculations. The Japanese team, led by Prof. Koki Takanashi at Tohoku University, is meanwhile working on the preparation of epitaxial thin films, measurements of fundamental properties and structural/magnetic characterisation by neutron and synchrotron x-ray beams.

One of the biggest challenges has been that Heusler alloys have a relatively complicated atomic structure. In terms of HARFIR’s work, if any atomic disordering at the edge of nanopillar devices, the magnetic properties that are needed are lost. The team is exploring solutions to this challenge.

IRENA

Prof. of Esko Kauppinen Aalto University in Finland closed off the first session of the morning with his presentation of the IRENA project. Launched in September 2013, the project will run until mid 2017 working towards the aim of developing high performance materials, specifically metallic and semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) thin films to completely eliminate the use of the critical metals in electron devices. The ultimate aim is to replace Indium in transparent conducting films, and Indium and Gallium as a semiconductor in thin film field effect transistors (TFTs).

The IRENA team is developing an alternative that is flexible, transparent and stretchable so that it can meet the demands of the electronics of the future – including the possibility to print electronics.

IRENA involves three partners from Europe and three from Japan. The team has expertise in nanotube synthesis, thin film manufacturing and flexible device manufacturing, modelling of nanotube growth and thin film charge transport processes, and the project has benefitted from exchanges of team members between institutions. One of the key achievements so far is that the project has succeeded in using a nanotube thin film for the first time as the both the electrode and hole blocking layer in an organic solar cell.

You’ll note that Japan is a partner in all of these projects. In all probability, these initiatives have something to do with rare earths which are used in much of today’s electronics technology and Japan is sorely lacking in those materials. China, by comparison, has dominated the rare earths export industry and here’s an excerpt from my Nov. 1, 2013 posting where I outline the situation (which I suspect hasn’t changed much since),

As for the short supply mentioned in the first line of the news item, the world’s largest exporter of rare earth elements at 90% of the market, China, recently announced a cap according to a Sept. 6, 2013 article by David Stanway for Reuters. The Chinese government appears to be curtailing exports as part of an ongoing, multi-year strategy. Here’s how Cientifica‘s (an emerging technologies consultancy, etc.) white paper (Simply No Substitute?) about critical materials published in 2012 (?), described the situation,

Despite their name, REE are not that rare in the Earth’s crust. What has happened in the past decade is that REE exports from China undercut prices elsewhere, leading to the closure of mines such as the Mountain Pass REE mine in California. Once China had acquired a dominant market position, prices began to rise. But this situation will likely ease. The US will probably begin REE production from the Mountain Pass mine later in 2012, and mines in other countries are expected to start operation soon as well.

Nevertheless, owing to their broad range of uses REE will continue to exert pressures on their supply – especially for countries without notable REE deposits. This highlights two aspects of importance for strategic materials: actual rarity and strategic supply issues such as these seen for REE. Although strategic and diplomatic supply issues may have easier solutions, their consideration for manufacturing industries will almost be the same – a shortage of crucial supply lines.

Furthermore, as the example of REE shows, the identification of long-term supply problems can often be difficult, and not every government has the same strategic foresight that the Chinese demonstrated. And as new technologies emerge, new elements may see an unexpected, sudden demand in supply. (pp. 16-17)

Meanwhile, in response to China’s decision to cap its 2013 REE exports, the Russian government announced a $1B investment to 2018 in rare earth production,, according to a Sept. 10, 2013 article by Polina Devitt for Reuters.

I’m not sure you’ll be able to access Tim Harper’s white paper as he is now an independent, serial entrepreneur. I most recently mentioned him in relation to his articles (on Azonano) about the nanotechnology scene in a Feb. 12, 2015 posting where you’ll also find contact details for him.

Opals, Diana Ross, and nanophotonic hybridization

It was a bit of a stretch to include Diana Ross in a Jan. 12, 2015 news item on Nanowerk about nanophotonic research at the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nano­technology  but I’m glad they did,

Ever since the early 1900s work of Niels Bohr and Hendrik Lorentz, it is known that atoms display characteristic resonant behavior to light. The hallmark of a resonance is its characteristic peak-trough behavior of the refractive index with optical frequency. Scientists from the Dutch MESA+ Institute for Nano­technology at the University of Twente have recently infiltrated cesium atoms in a self-assembled opal to create a hybrid nanophotonic system. By tuning the opal’s forbidden gap relative to the atomic resonance, dra­matic changes are observed in reflectivity. In the most extreme case, the atomic reflection spectrum is turned upside down[1] compared to the traditional case. Since dispersion is crucial in the control of optical signal pulses, the new results offer opportunities for optical information manipulation. As atoms are exquisite storage de­vices for light quanta, the results open vistas on quantum information processing, as well as on new nanoplasmonics.

A Jan. 12, 2015 MESA+ Institute for Nano­technology at the University of Twente press release, which originated the news item, provides an illustrative diagram and a wealth of technical detail about the research,

Courtesy of the University of Twente

Courtesy of the University of Twente

While the speed of light c is proverbial, it can readily be modified by sending light through a medium with a certain refractive index n. In the medium, the speed will be decreased by the index to c/n. In any material, the refractive index depends on the frequency of the light. Usually the refractive index increases with frequency, called normal dispersion as it prevails at most frequencies in most materials such as a glass of water, a telecom fiber, or an atomic vapor. Close to the resonance frequency of the material, the index strongly decreases, called anomalous dispersion.

Dispersion is essential to control how optical bits of information – encoded as short pulses – is manipulated optical circuits. In modern optics at the nanoscale, called nanophotonics, dispersion is controlled with classes of complex nanostruc­tures that cause novel behavior to emerge. An example is a photonic crystal fiber, which does not consist of only glass like a traditional fiber, but of an intricate arrange­ment of holes and glass nanostructures.

The Twente team led by Harding devised a hybrid system consisting of an atomic vapor infiltrated in an opal photonic crystal. Photonic crystals have attracted considerable attention for their ability to radically control propagation and emission of light. These nanostructures are well-known for their ability to control the emission and propagation of light. The opals have a periodic variation of the refractive index (see Figure 1) that ensures that a certain color of light is forbidden to exist inside the opal. The light cannot enter the opal as it is reflected, which is called a gap (see Figure 1). In an analogy to semiconductors, such an effect is called a “photonic band gap”. Photonic gaps are at the basis of tiny on-chip light sources and lasers, efficient solar cells, invisibility cloaks, and devices to process optical information.

The Twente team changed the index of refraction of the voids in a photonic crystal by substituting the air by a vapor of atoms with a strong resonance, as shown in Figure 1. The contrast of the refractive index between the vapor and the opal’s silica nano­spheres was effectively used as a probe. The density of the cesium vapor was greatly varied by changing the temperature in the cell up to 420 K. At the same time, the photonic gap of the opal shifted relative to the atomic resonance due to a slow chemical reaction between the opal’s backbone material (silica) and the cesium.

On resonance, light excites an atom to a higher state and subsequently the atom reemits the light. Hence, an atom behaves like a little cavity that stores light. Simultaneously the index of refraction changes strongly for colors near resonance. For slightly longer wavelengths the index of refraction is high, on resonance it is close to one, and slightly shorter wavelengths it can even decrease below one. This effect of the cesium atoms is clearly visible in the reflectivity spectra, shown in Figure 2 [not included here], as a sharp increase and decrease of the reflectivity near the atomic resonance. Intriguingly, the characteristic peak-and-trough behavior of atoms (seen at 370 K) was turned upside down at the highest temperature (420 K), where the ce­sium reso­nance was on the red side of the opal’s stopgap.

In nanophotonics, many efforts are currently being devoted to create arrays of nanoresonators in photonic crystals, for exquisite optical signal control on a chip. Unfortunately, however, there is a major challenge in engineering high-quality pho­tonic resonators: they are all different due to inevitable fabrication variations. Hence, it is difficult to tune every resonator in sync. “Our atoms in the opal may be consid­ered as the equivalent of an carefully engineered array of nano-resonators” explains Willem Vos, “Nature takes care that all resonators are all exactly the same. Our hy­brid system solves the variability problem and could perhaps be used to make pho­tonic memories, sensors or switches that are naturally tuned.” And leading Spanish theorist Javier Garcia de Abajo (ICFO) enthuses: “This is a fine and exciting piece of work, initiating the study of atomic resonances with photonic modes in a genuinely new fashion, and suggesting many exciting possibilities, for example through the extension of this study towards combinations with metal nanoplasmonics.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper published in Physical Review B,

Nanophotonic hybridization of narrow atomic cesium resonances and photonic stop gaps of opaline nanostructures by Philip J. Harding, Pepijn W. H. Pinkse, Allard P. Mosk, and Willem L. Vos. Phys. Rev. B 91, 045123 – Published 20 January 2015 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevB.91.045123

This paper is behind a paywall but there is an earlier iteration of the paper available on the open access arXiv.org website operated by Cornell University,

Nanophotonic hybridization of narrow atomic cesium resonances and photonic stop gaps of opaline nanostructures by Philip J. Harding, Pepijn W.H. Pinkse, Allard P. Mosk, Willem L. Vos. (Submitted on 11 Sep 2014) arXiv:1409.3417

As I understand it, the arXiv.org website is intended to open up access to research and to offer an informal peer review process.

Finally, for anyone who’s nostalgic or perhaps has never heard Diana Ross sing ‘Upside Down’,