Tag Archives: Netherlands

Viewing a photosynthesis subsystem in a near-natural state

[downloaded from http://www.desy.de/infos__services/presse/pressemeldungen/@@news-view?id=9383]

Molecular structure of photosystem II, which arranges itself in rows. Credit: Martin Bommer/HU Berlin [downloaded from http://www.desy.de/infos__services/presse/pressemeldungen/@@news-view?id=9383]

Apparently, this image represents a near-natural state for a photosynthesis subsystem called, Photosynthesis II. Here’s more from a Nov. 4, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Photosynthesis is one of the most important processes in nature. The complex method with which all green plants harvest sunlight and thereby produce the oxygen in our air is, however, still not fully understood. Researchers using DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III have examined a photosynthesis subsystem in a near-natural state. According to the scientists led by Privatdozentin Dr. Athina Zouni from the Humboldt University (HU) Berlin, the X-ray experiments on what is known as photosystem II reveal, for example, yet unknown structures. Their results are published in the scientific journal Structure (“Native-like Photosystem II Superstructure at 2.44 Å Resolution through Detergent Extraction from the Protein Crystal”). The technology utilised could also be of interest for analysing other biomolecules.

A Nov. 4, 2014 DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) press release, which originated the news item, describes some of the issues with studying ‘photosynthetic machinery’,

Photosystem II forms part of the photosynthetic machinery where water, with the help of sunlight, is split into hydrogen and oxygen. As one of the membrane proteins, it sits in the cell membrane. Membrane proteins are a large and vital group of biomolecules that are, for example, important in addressing a variety of medical issues. In order to decode the protein structure and reveal details on how biomolecules function, researchers use the very bright and short-wave X-rays of PETRA III and other similar facilities. Small crystals, however, must initially be grown from these biomolecules.

“The structure of single molecules cannot be directly seen even with the brightest X-rays,” explains co-author and DESY researcher Dr. Anja Burkhardt of Measuring Station P11, where the experiments were carried out. “In a crystal, however, a multitude of these molecules are arranged in a highly symmetrical fashion. Thus the signal, resulting from X-ray diffraction of these molecules, is amplified. The molecular structure can then be calculated from the diffraction images.”

In addition to these difficulties the scientists were also grappling with this problem (from the press release),

Biomolecules – and especially membrane proteins – cannot easily be compelled into crystal form as it is contrary to their natural state. Preparing suitable samples is therefore a crucial step in the whole analysis process. For instance, photosystem II must be first separated from the membrane, where it is bound to numerous small fat molecules (lipids). Researchers use special detergents for this purpose, such as those also principally found in soap. The catch: instead of lipids, the biomolecules are now surrounded by detergents, which may make the crystals spongy under certain conditions, thus exacerbating the analysis.

“What we want is to come as close as possible to nature,” stresses Zouni. The closer the proteins in the crystal are to their natural state, the better the results.

The press release describes how the team solved the problem,

“The trick was to use a detergent that strongly differs from the lipids in composition and structure,” explains the researcher.

Before examining the biomolecular crystals using X-rays, a portion of the water is extracted and replaced by an anti-freeze. The crystals are usually frozen for the experiments because the high-energy X-ray doesn’t damage them so quickly in the frozen state. During this process, the researchers would like to avoid ice formation.

“The dehydration process removed not only the water in our samples, but also completely removed the detergent, something we didn’t expect,” says Zouni.“Our samples are closer to the natural state than what has been reported before.”

Consequently, the investigation’s spatial resolution increased from about 0.6 nanometres (a millionth of a millimetre) to 0.244 nanometres. This is not, in fact, the highest resolution ever achieved in a photosystem II study, but the analysis shows that the photosystem II proteins are arranged within the crystals as pairs of rows, something that also occurs in the natural environment.

This latest development builds on previous research according to the press release,

Electron microscope investigations by Professor Egbert Boekema’s group at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands had already shown the photosystems’ crystal like arrangement in the natural membrane — a kind of tiny solar cell. Electron microscopy could better recognize connections using direct observation of the native membrane while X-ray crystallography could reveal the smallest details.

The press release ends with how the latest work could have an impact on further research,

“We placed the structural data over the electron microscope images – they matched precisely,” says Zouni. The investigation also revealed structures that were invisible before. “We can see exactly where the bonds to the lipids are located,” the scientist explains. The more the researchers discover about photosystem II, the better they understand exactly how it functions.

The procedure of using a new detergent, however, is not only interesting in terms of photosystem II. “The method can potentially be applied to many membrane proteins,” stresses Zouni. In the future, many biomolecules could maybe examined in a more natural state than ever before.

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

Native-like Photosystem II Superstructure at 2.44 Å Resolution through Detergent Extraction from the Protein Crystal by Julia Hellmich, Martin Bommer, Anja Burkhardt, Mohamed Ibrahim, Jan Kern, Alke Meents, Frank Müh, Holger Dobbek, and Athina Zouni. Structure Volume 22, Issue 11, p1607–1615, 4 November 2014  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.str.2014.09.007

This paper is open access.

ETA Nov. 6, 2014: On the off chance the links to the Nanowerk news item or DESY press release do not yield results, you may be able to find the DESY Nov. 5, 2014 news release here on EurekAlert.

Replacing copper wire in motors?

Finnish researchers at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) believe it may be possible to replace copper wire used in motors with spun carbon nanotubes. From an Oct. 15, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) introduces the first electrical motor applying carbon nanotube yarn. The material replaces copper wires in windings. The motor is a step towards lightweight, efficient electric drives. Its output power is 40 W and rotation speed 15000 rpm.

Aiming at upgrading the performance and energy efficiency of electrical machines, higher-conductivity wires are searched for windings. Here, the new technology may revolutionize the industry. The best carbon nanotubes (CNTs) demonstrate conductivities far beyond the best metals; CNT windings may have double the conductivity of copper windings.

”If we keep the design parameters unchanged only replacing copper with carbon nanotube yarns, the Joule losses in windings can be reduced to half of present machine losses. By lighter and more ecological CNT yarn, we can reduce machine dimensions and CO2 emissions in manufacturing and operation. Machines could also be run in higher temperatures,” says Professor Pyrhönen [Juha Pyrhönen], leading the prototype design at LUT.

An Oct. ??, 2014 (?) LUT press release, which originated the news item, further describes the work,

Traditionally, the windings in electrical machines are made of copper, which has the second best conductivity of metals at room temperature. Despite the high conductivity of copper, a large proportion of the electrical machine losses occur in the copper windings. For this reason, the Joule losses are often referred to as copper losses. The carbon nanotube yarn does not have a definite upper limit for conductivity (e.g. values of 100 MS/m have already been measured).

According to Pyrhönen, the electrical machines are so ubiquitous in everyday life that we often forget about their presence. In a single-family house alone there can be tens of electrical machines in various household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, hair dryers, and ventilators.

“In the industry, the number of electrical motors is enormous: there can be up to tens of thousands of motors in a single process industry unit. All these use copper in the windings. Consequently, finding a more efficient material to replace the copper conductors would lead to major changes in the industry,” tells Professor Pyrhönen.

There are big plans for this work according to the press release,

The prototype motor uses carbon nanotube yarns spun and converted into an isolated tape by a Japanese-Dutch company Teijin Aramid, which has developed the spinning technology in collaboration with Rice University, the USA. The industrial applications of the new material are still in their infancy; scaling up the production capacity together with improving the yarn performance will facilitate major steps in the future, believes Business Development Manager Dr. Marcin Otto from Teijin Aramid, agreeing with Professor Pyrhönen.

“There is a significant improvement potential in the electrical machines, but we are now facing the limits of material physics set by traditional winding materials. Superconductivity appears not to develop to such a level that it could, in general, be applied to electrical machines. Carbonic materials, however, seem to have a pole position: We expect that in the future, the conductivity of carbon nanotube yarns could be even three times the practical conductivity of copper in electrical machines. In addition, carbon is abundant while copper needs to be mined or recycled by heavy industrial processes.”

The researchers have produced this video about their research,

There’s a reference to some work done at Rice University (Texas, US) with Teijin Armid (Japanese-Dutch company) and Technion Institute (Israel) with spinning carbon nanotubes into threads that look like black cotton (you’ll see the threads in the video). It’s this work that has made the latest research in Finland possible. I have more about the the Rice/Teijin Armid/Technion CNT project in my Jan. 11, 2013 posting, Prima donna of nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes) tamed by scientists at Rice University (Texas, US), Teijin Armid (Dutch/Japanese company), and Technion Institute (based in Israel).

Keeping your chef’s jackets clean and a prize for Teijin Aramid/Rice University

Australian start-up company, Fabricor Workwear launched a Kickstarter campaign on Sept. 18, 2014 to raise funds for a stain-proof and water-repellent chef’s jacket according to a Sept. 25, 2014 news item on Azonano,

An Australian startup is using a patented nanotechnology to create ‘hydrophobic’ chef jackets and aprons. Fabricor says this means uniforms that stay clean for longer, and saving time and money.

The company was started because cofounder and MasterChef mentor Adrian Li, was frustrated with keeping his chef jackets and aprons clean.

“As a chef I find it really difficult to keep my chef jacket white, and we like our jackets white,” Li said. …

The nanotechnology application works by modifying the fabric at a molecular level by permanently attaching hydrophobic ‘whiskers’ to individual fibres which elevate liquids, causing them to bead up and roll off.

The Fabricor: Stain-proof workwear for the hospitality industry Kickstarter campaign has this to say on its homepage (Note: Links have been removed),

Hi Kickstarters,

Thanks for taking the time check out our campaign.

Traditional chef jackets date back to the mid 19th century and since then haven’t changed much.

We’re tired of poor quality hospitality workwear that doesn’t last and hate spending our spare time and money washing or replacing our uniforms.

So we designed a range of stain-resistant Chef Jackets and Aprons using the world’s leading patented hydrophobic nanotechnology that repels water, dirt and oil.

Most stains either run off by themselves or can easily be rinsed off with a little water. This means they don’t need to be washed as often saving you time and money.

We’re really proud of what we’ve created and we hope you you’ll support us.

Adrian Li

Head Chef at Saigon Sally
Mentor on MasterChef Australia – Asian Street Food Challenge
Cofounder at Fabricor Workwear

At this point (Sept. 24, 2014), the campaign has raised approximately $2700US towards a $5000US goal and there are 22 days left to the campaign.

I did find more information at the Fabricor Workwear website in this Sept. 13, 2014 press release,

The fabric’s patented technology can extend the life of the apparel is because the apparel doesn’t have to be washed as often and can be washed in cooler temperatures, the company stated.

Fabricor’s products are not made with spray-application like many on the market which can destroy fabrics and contain carcinogenic chemical. Its hydrophobic properties are embedded into the weave during the production of the fabric.

Li said chefs spend too much money on chef jackets that are poorly designed and don’t last. The long-lasting fabric in Fabricor’s chef’s apparel retains its natural softness and breathability.

It seems to me that the claim about fewer washes can be made for all superhydrophobic textiles. As for carcinogenic chemicals in other superhydrophobic textiles, it’s the first I’ve heard of it, which may or may not be significant. I.e., I look at a lot of material but don’t focus on superhydrophobic textiles here and do not seek out research on risks specific to these textiles.

Teijin Aramid/Rice University

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.

The honorary Paul Schlack prize was granted by the European Man-made Fibers Association to Dr. Marcin Otto, Business Development Manager at Teijin Aramid and Prof. Dr. Matteo Pasquali from Rice University Texas, for the development of a new generation super fibers using carbon nanotubes (CNT). The new super fibers combine high thermal and electrical conductivity, as seen in metals, with the flexibility, robust handling and strength of textile fibers.

“The introduction of carbon nanotube fibers marked the beginning of a series of innovations in various industries”, says Marcin Otto, Business Development Manager at Teijin Aramid. “For example, CNT fibers can be lifesaving for heart patients: one string of CNT fiber in the cardiac muscle suffices to transmit vital electrical pulses to the heart. Or by replacing copper in data cables and light power cables by CNT fibers it’s possible to make satellites, aircraft and high end cars lighter and more robust at the same time.”

Since 1971, the Paul Schlack foundation annually grants one monetary prize to an individual young researcher for outstanding research in the field of fiber research, and an honorary prize to the leader(s) of excellent academic and corporate research partnerships to promote research at universities and research institutes.

For several years, leading researchers at Rice University and Teijin Aramid worked together on the development of CNT production. Teijin Aramid and Rice University published their research findings on carbon nanotubes fibers in the leading scientific journal, Science, beginning of 2013.

Teijin Aramid and some of its carbon nanotube projects have been mentioned here before, notably, in a Jan. 11, 2013 posting and in a Feb. 17, 2014.

Good luck on the Kickstarter campaign and congratulations on the award!

Hummingbirds and ‘nano’ spy cameras

Hummingbird-inspired spy cameras have come a long way since the research featured in this Aug. 12, 2011 posting which includes a video of a robot camera designed to look like a hummingbird and mimic some of its extraordinary flying abilities. These days (2014) the emphasis appears to be on mimicking the abilities to a finer degree if Margaret Munro’s July 29, 2014 article for Canada.com is to be believed,

Tiny, high-end military drones are catching up with one of nature’s great engineering masterpieces.

A side-by-side comparison has found a “remarkably similar” aerodynamic performance between hummingbirds and the Black Hornet, the most sophisticated nano spycam yet.

“(The) Average Joe hummingbird” is about on par with the tiny helicopter that is so small it can fit in a pocket, says engineering professor David Lentink, at Stanford University. He led a team from Canada [University of British Columbia], the U.S. and the Netherlands [Wageningen University and Eindhoven University of Technology] that compared the birds and the machine for a study released Tuesday [July 29, 2014].

For a visual comparison with the latest nano spycam (Black Hornet), here’s the ‘hummingbird’ featured in the 2011 posting,

The  Nano Hummingbird, a drone from AeroVironment designed for the US Pentagon, would fit into any or all of those categories.

And, here’s this 2013 image of a Black Hornet Nano Helicopter inspired by hummingbirds,

Black Hornet Nano Helicopter UAVView licenseview terms Richard Watt - Photo http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/fwbin/download.dll/45153802.jpgCourtesy: Wikipedia

Black Hornet Nano Helicopter UAVView licenseview terms
Richard Watt – Photo http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/fwbin/download.dll/45153802.jpg Courtesy: Wikipedia

A July 30, 2014 Stanford University news release by Bjorn Carey provides more details about this latest research into hummingbirds and their flying ways,

More than 42 million years of natural selection have turned hummingbirds into some of the world’s most energetically efficient flyers, particularly when it comes to hovering in place.

Humans, however, are gaining ground quickly. A new study led by David Lentink, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, reveals that the spinning blades of micro-helicopters are about as efficient at hovering as the average hummingbird.

The experiment involved spinning hummingbird wings – sourced from a pre-existing museum collection – of 12 different species on an apparatus designed to test the aerodynamics of helicopter blades. The researchers used cameras to visualize airflow around the wings, and sensitive load cells to measure the drag and the lift force they exerted, at different speeds and angles.

Lentink and his colleagues then replicated the experiment using the blades from a ProxDynamics Black Hornet autonomous microhelicopter. The Black Hornet is the most sophisticated microcopter available – the United Kingdom’s army uses it in Afghanistan – and is itself about the size of a hummingbird.

Even spinning like a helicopter, rather than flapping, the hummingbird wings excelled: If hummingbirds were able to spin their wings to hover, it would cost them roughly half as much energy as flapping. The microcopter’s wings kept pace with the middle-of-the-pack hummingbird wings, but the topflight wings – those of Anna’s hummingbird, a species common throughout the West Coast – were still about 27 percent more efficient than engineered blades.

Hummingbirds acing the test didn’t particularly surprise Lentink – previous studies had indicated hummingbirds were incredibly efficient – but he was impressed with the helicopter.

“The technology is at the level of an average Joe hummingbird,” Lentink said. “A helicopter is really the most efficient hovering device that we can build. The best hummingbirds are still better, but I think it’s amazing that we’re getting closer. It’s not easy to match their performance, but if we build better wings with better shapes, we might approximate hummingbirds.”

Based on the measurements of Anna’s hummingbirds, Lentink said there is potential to improve microcopter rotor power by up to 27 percent.

The high-fidelity experiment also provided an opportunity to refine previous rough estimates of muscle power. Lentink’s team learned that hummingbirds’ muscles produce a surprising 130 watts of energy per kilogram; the average for other birds, and across most vertebrates, is roughly 100 watts/kg.

Although the current study revealed several details of how a hummingbird hovers in one place, the birds still hold many secrets. For instance, Lentink said, we don’t know how hummingbirds maintain their flight in a strong gust, how they navigate through branches and other clutter, or how they change direction so quickly during aerial “dogfights.”

He also thinks great strides could be made by studying wing aspect ratios, the ratio of wing length to wing width. The aspect ratios of all the hummingbirds’ wings remarkably converged around 3.9. The aspect ratios of most wings used in aviation measure much higher; the Black Hornet’s aspect ratio was 4.7.

“I want to understand if aspect ratio is special, and whether the amount of variation has an effect on performance,” Lentink said. Understanding and replicating these abilities and characteristics could be a boon for robotics and will be the focus of future experiments.

“Those are the things we don’t know right now, and they could be incredibly useful. But I don’t mind it, actually,” Lentink said. “I think it’s nice that there are still a few things about hummingbirds that we don’t know.”

Agreed, it’s nice to know there are still a few mysteries left. You can watch the ‘mysterious’ hummingbird in this video courtesy of the Rivers Ingersoll Lentink Lab at Stanford University,

High speed video of Anna’s hummingbird at Stanford Arizona Cactus Garden.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper, H/T to Nancy Owano’s article on phys.org for alerting me to this story.

Hummingbird wing efficacy depends on aspect ratio and compares with helicopter rotors by Jan W. Kruyt, Elsa M. Quicazán-Rubio, GertJan F. van Heijst, Douglas L. Altshuler, and David Lentink.  J. R. Soc. Interface 6 October 2014 vol. 11 no. 99 20140585 doi: 10.1098/​rsif.2014.0585 Published [online] 30 July 2014

This is an open access paper.

Despite Munro’s reference to the Black Hornet as a ‘nano’ spycam, the ‘microhelicopter’ description in the news release places the device at the microscale (/1,000,000,000). Still, I don’t understand what makes it microscale since it’s visible to the naked eye. In any case, it is small.

UNESCO course: Nanotechnology for Water and Wastewater Treatment 2015 call for applications

Despite an initially puzzling announcement from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), I was able to track down a description for the course on studyfinder.nl,

Nanotechnology for Water and Wastewater Treatment

UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

Certificate / Diploma Short course Delft [Netherlands]

Field of study     Agriculture and environment
Course description     The course overviews the state-of-the-art and novel developments of nanotechnology in applications for drinking water production and wastewater treatment.
Study subjects     Framework: Nanoparticles and Water; Environmental Fate; Risk Analysis. Nanotechnology for Water/Wastewater Treatment: Physical, Chemical and Biological Properties of Nanoparticles. High-Performance Water and Wastewater Purification Systems: Nanofiltration, Nanosorbents and Nanocatalysts. Nanoparticles that Sense and Treat Disease: Biosensors and Desinfectants.
Course objectives     Apply innovative applications of nanotechnology in drinking water production and wastewater treatment. Familiar with the state-of-the-art, impact and cost-benefit analysis of nanotechnology processes for water and wastewater treatment. Communicate successfully on nanoscience and nanotechnology interfacing with environmental chemistry, environmental engineering and bioprocess.

Duration     2 weeks full-time
Language of instruction     English

There is a bit more information on the UNESCO website’s Short Courses Nanotechnology for Water and Wastewater Treatment webpage,

The emergence of nanobiotechnology and the incorporation of living microorganisms in biomicroelectronic devices are revolutionizing interdisciplinary opportunities for microbiologists and biotechnologists to participate in understanding microbial processes in and from the environment. Moreover, it offers revolutionary perspectives to develop and exploit these processes in completely new ways.

This short course presents an opportunity to learn and discuss about various innovative research aspects of nanoscience and nanotechnology interfacing with environmental chemistry, environmental engineering and bioprocess technology amongst professionals as well as young researchers and PhD students.

You can access the 2015 call for applications on this UNESCO webpage. For more information contact,

Piet Lens

Professor of Environmental Biotechnology

Phone +31152151816

Bringing the Nanoworld Together Workshop in Beijing, China, Sept. 24 – 25, 2014

The speakers currently confirmed for the ‘Bringing the Nanoworld Together Workshop organized by Oxford Instruments are from the UK, China, Canada, the US, and the Netherlands as per a July 2, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

‘Bringing the Nanoworld Together’ is an event organised by Oxford Instruments to share the expertise of scientists in the field of Nanotechnology. It will be hosted at the IOS-CAS [Institute of Semiconductors-Chinese Academy of Sciences] Beijing.

Starting with half day plenary sessions on 2D materials with guest plenary speaker Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan from the National Graphene Institute in Manchester, UK, and on Quantum Information Processing with guest plenary speaker Prof David Cory from the Institute for Quantum Computing, University of Waterloo, Canada, Oxford Instruments’ seminar at the IOP in Beijing from 24-25th September [2014] promises to discuss cutting edge nanotechnology solutions for multiple applications.

A July 1, 2014 Oxford Instruments press release, which originated the news item, describes the sessions and provides more details about the speakers,

Two parallel sessions will focus on thin film processing, & materials characterisation, surface science and cryogenic environments and a wide range of topics will be covered within each technical area. These sessions will include guest international and Chinese speakers from renowned research institutions, speakers from the host institute, and technical experts from Oxford Instruments. This will also present an excellent opportunity for networking between all participants.

Confirmed speakers include the following, but more will be announced soon:

Dr. Aravind Vijayaraghavan, National Graphene Institute, Manchester, UK
Prof David Cory, Institute for Quantum Computing, University of Waterloo, Canada
Prof Guoxing Miao, Institute for Quantum Computing, University of Waterloo, Canada
Prof. HE Ke, Tsinghua University, Institute of Physics, CAS, China
Dr. WANG Xiaodong, Institute of Semiconductors, CAS, China
Prof Erwin Kessels, Tue Eindhoven, Netherlands
Prof. ZENG Yi, Institute of Semiconductor, CAS, China
Prof Robert Klie, University of Illinois Chicago, USA
Prof. Xinran WANG, Nanjing University, China
Prof. Zhihai CHENG, National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology, China
Prof. Yeliang WANG, Institute of Physics, CAS, China

The thin film processing sessions will review latest etch and deposition technological advances, including: ALD, Magnetron Sputtering, ICP PECVD, Nanoscale Etch, MEMS, MBE and more.

Materials characterisation, Surface Science and Cryogenic Environment sessions will cover multiple topics and technologies including: Ultra high vacuum SPM, Cryo free low temperature solutions, XPS/ESCA, an introduction to atomic force microscopy (AFM) and applications such as nanomechanics, In-situ heating and tensile characterisation using EBSD, Measuring Layer thicknesses and compositions using EDS, Nanomanipulation and fabrication within the SEM / FIB.

The host of last year’s Nanotechnology Tools seminar in India, Prof. Rudra Pratap, Chairperson at the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, IISC Bangalore commented, “This seminar has been extremely well organised with competent speakers covering a variety of processes and tools for nanofabrication. It is great to have practitioners of the art give talks and provide tips and solutions based on their experience, something that cannot be found in text books.”

“This workshop is a great opportunity for a wide range of scientists in research and manufacturing to discover practical aspects of many new and established processes, technologies and applications, directly from renowned scientists and a leading manufacturer with over 50 years in the industry”, comments Mark Sefton, Sector Head of Oxford Instruments NanoSolutions, “Delegates appreciate the informal workshop atmosphere of these events, encouraging delegates to participate through open discussion and sharing their questions and experiences.”

This seminar is free of charge but prior booking is essential.

You can register on the Oxford Instruments website’s Bringing the Nanoworld Together Workshop webpage,

Hitchhikers at the nanoscale show how cells stir themselves

A May 30, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights some molecule-tracking research,

Chemical engineers from Rice University and biophysicists from Georg-August Universität Göttingen in Germany and the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands have successfully tracked single molecules inside living cells with carbon nanotubes.

Through this new method, the researchers found that cells stir their interiors using the same motor proteins that serve in muscle contraction.

A May 29, 2014 Rice University news release by Mike Williams, which originated the news item, describes the researchers’ work,

The team attached carbon nanotubes to transport molecules known as kinesin motors to visualize and track them as they moved through the cytoplasm of living cells.

Carbon nanotubes are hollow cylinders of pure carbon with one-atom-thick walls. They naturally fluoresce with near-infrared wavelengths when exposed to visible light, a property discovered at Rice by Professor Rick Smalley a decade ago and then leveraged by Rice Professor Bruce Weisman to image carbon nanotubes. When attached to a molecule, the hitchhiking nanotubes serve as tiny beacons that can be precisely tracked over long periods of time to investigate small, random motions inside cells.

“Any probe that can hitch the length and breadth of the cell, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where its protein is, is clearly a probe to be reckoned with,” said lead author Nikta Fakhri, paraphrasing “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Fakhri, who earned her Rice doctorate in Pasquali’s lab in 2011, is currently a Human Frontier Science Program Fellow at Göttingen.

“In fact, the exceptional stability of these probes made it possible to observe intracellular motions from times as short as milliseconds to as long as hours,” she said.

For long-distance transport, such as along the long axons of nerve cells, cells usually employ motor proteins tied to lipid vesicles, the cell’s “cargo containers.” This process involves considerable logistics: Cargo needs to be packed, attached to the motors and sent off in the right direction.

“This research has helped uncover an additional, much simpler mechanism for transport within the cell interior,” said principal investigator Christoph Schmidt, a professor of physics at Göttingen. “Cells vigorously stir themselves, much in the way a chemist would accelerate a reaction by shaking a test tube. This will help them to move objects around in the highly crowded cellular environment.”

The researchers showed the same type of motor protein used for muscle contraction is responsible for stirring. They reached this conclusion after exposing the cells to drugs that suppressed these specific motor proteins. The tests showed that the stirring was suppressed as well.

The mechanical cytoskeleton of cells consists of networks of protein filaments, like actin. Within the cell, the motor protein myosin forms bundles that actively contract the actin network for short periods. The researchers found random pinching of the elastic actin network by many myosin bundles resulted in the global internal stirring of the cell. Both actin and myosin play a similar role in muscle contraction.

The highly accurate measurements of internal fluctuations in the cells were explained in a theoretical model developed by VU co-author Fred MacKintosh, who used the elastic properties of the cytoskeleton and the force-generation characteristics of the motors.

“The new discovery not only promotes our understanding of cell dynamics, but also points to interesting possibilities in designing ‘active’ technical materials,” said Fakhri, who will soon join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty as an assistant professor of physics. “Imagine a microscopic biomedical device that mixes tiny samples of blood with reagents to detect disease or smart filters that separate squishy from rigid materials.”

There is an accompanying video,

This video is typical of the kind of visual image that nanoscientists look at and provides an interesting contrast to ‘nano art’ where colours and other enhancements are added. as per this example, NanoOrchard, from a May 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about the 2014 Materials Research Society spring meeting and their Science as Art competition,

NanoOrchard – Electrochemically overgrown CuNi nanopillars. (Image courtesy of the Materials Research Society Science as Art Competition and Josep Nogues, Institut Catala de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), Spain, and A. Varea, E. Pellicer, S. Suriñach, M.D. Baro, J. Sort, Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-news/newsid=35631.php]

NanoOrchard – Electrochemically overgrown CuNi nanopillars. (Image courtesy of the Materials Research Society Science as Art Competition and Josep Nogues, Institut Catala de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), Spain, and A. Varea, E. Pellicer, S. Suriñach, M.D. Baro, J. Sort, Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona) [downloaded from http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-news/newsid=35631.php]

Getting back to the carbon nanotube hitchhikers, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

High-resolution mapping of intracellular fluctuations using carbon nanotubes by Nikta Fakhri, Alok D. Wessel, Charlotte Willms, Matteo Pasquali, Dieter R. Klopfenstein, Frederick C. MacKintosh, and Christoph F. Schmidt. Science 30 May 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6187 pp. 1031-1035 DOI: 10.1126/science.1250170

This article is behind a paywall.

One final comment, I am delighted by the researcher’s reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Controversial theory of consciousness confirmed (maybe)

There’s a very interesting event taking place today (Jan. 16, 2014) in Amsterdam, Netherlands titled: NEW PROOF OF REVOLUTIONARY THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS (programme).,which is one of a month’s worth of events themed around the brain (The Brainstorming Sessions).  The speakers at this event have recently published a paper and a Jan. 16, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily gives some insight into why theirbrainstorming session has the word revolutionary in the title,

A review and update of a controversial 20-year-old theory of consciousness published in Physics of Life Reviews claims that consciousness derives from deeper level, finer scale activities inside brain neurons. The recent discovery of quantum vibrations in “microtubules” inside brain neurons corroborates this theory, according to review authors Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose. They suggest that EEG rhythms (brain waves) also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations, and that from a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.

A Jan. 16, 2014 Elsevier press release,which originated the news item, provides more details about the theory,

The theory, called “orchestrated objective reduction” (‘Orch OR’), was first put forward in the mid-1990s by eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, FRS, Mathematical Institute and Wadham College, University of Oxford, and prominent anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, MD, Anesthesiology, Psychology and Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, Tucson. They suggested that quantum vibrational computations in microtubules were “orchestrated” (“Orch”) by synaptic inputs and memory stored in microtubules, and terminated by Penrose “objective reduction” (‘OR’), hence “Orch OR.” Microtubules are major components of the cell structural skeleton.

Orch OR was harshly criticized from its inception, as the brain was considered too “warm, wet, and noisy” for seemingly delicate quantum processes. However, evidence has now shown warm quantum coherence in plant photosynthesis, bird brain navigation, our sense of smell, and brain microtubules. The recent discovery of warm temperature quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons by the research group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT), corroborates the pair’s theory and suggests that EEG rhythms also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations. In addition, work from the laboratory of Roderick G. Eckenhoff, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that anesthesia, which selectively erases consciousness while sparing non-conscious brain activities, acts via microtubules in brain neurons.

“The origin of consciousness reflects our place in the universe, the nature of our existence. Did consciousness evolve from complex computations among brain neurons, as most scientists assert? Or has consciousness, in some sense, been here all along, as spiritual approaches maintain?” ask Hameroff and Penrose in the current review. “This opens a potential Pandora’s Box, but our theory accommodates both these views, suggesting consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, protein polymers inside brain neurons, which both govern neuronal and synaptic function, and connect brain processes to self-organizing processes in the fine scale, ‘proto-conscious’ quantum structure of reality.”

After 20 years of skeptical criticism, “the evidence now clearly supports Orch OR,” continue Hameroff and Penrose. “Our new paper updates the evidence, clarifies Orch OR quantum bits, or “qubits,” as helical pathways in microtubule lattices, rebuts critics, and reviews 20 testable predictions of Orch OR published in 1998 – of these, six are confirmed and none refuted.”

An important new facet of the theory is introduced. Microtubule quantum vibrations (e.g. in megahertz) appear to interfere and produce much slower EEG “beat frequencies.” Despite a century of clinical use, the underlying origins of EEG rhythms have remained a mystery. Clinical trials of brief brain stimulation aimed at microtubule resonances with megahertz mechanical vibrations using transcranial ultrasound have shown reported improvements in mood, and may prove useful against Alzheimer’s disease and brain injury in the future.

Lead author Stuart Hameroff concludes, “Orch OR is the most rigorous, comprehensive and successfully-tested theory of consciousness ever put forth. From a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.

The review is accompanied by eight commentaries from outside authorities, including an Australian group of Orch OR arch-skeptics. To all, Hameroff and Penrose respond robustly.

The press release ends with this information about the event in Amsterdam,

Penrose, Hameroff and Bandyopadhyay will explore their theories during a session on “Microtubules and the Big Consciousness Debate” at the Brainstorm Sessions, a public three-day event at the Brakke Grond in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, January 16-18, 2014. They will engage skeptics in a debate on the nature of consciousness, and Bandyopadhyay and his team will couple microtubule vibrations from active neurons to play Indian musical instruments. “Consciousness depends on anharmonic vibrations of microtubules inside neurons, similar to certain kinds of Indian music, but unlike Western music which is harmonic,” Hameroff explains.

I wasn’t able to locate information about the three-day event in the press release but I did find this about the month-long series, The Brainstorm Sessions (Dutch language first, scroll down for English language version),

Europe and the USA are looking to completely unravel the secrets of our brains within the next ten years. Europe has designated 2014 as The Year of the Brain. We have decided to dedicate a month to the grey matter. A month in which guest curator Frank Theys – filmmaker, philosopher and visual artist – i.c.w. Damiaan Denys (neuroscientist, philosopher and professor of psychiatry at the AMC-UvA, the Amsterdam Medical Centre of the University of Amsterdam) will bring together elements he considers interesting from an artistic and philosophical viewpoint related to this theme.

Featuring an exhibition at the intersection between artistic and scientific experiments; the first ever performance by ‘stand-up scientist’ Damiaan Denys, Head of Psychiatry at the AMC hospital; a ‘neuro-concert’ by nanoscientist Anirban Bandyopadyay and a film programme in the Kriterion cinema in cooperation with Patricia Pisters, author of The Neuro-Image.

Fri 13 Dec – Sun 19 Jan: Exhibition Neurons Firing
Thur 09 Jan / 20h30: Sonic Soirée #22 a musical pillaging of the brain
Mon 13 Jan / 20h30: Lecture: Film and the Brain in Digital Era, by Patricia Pisters
Thu 16 Jan / 20h30: Lecture: Microtubules & the Big Consciousness Debate, by Roger Penrose & Anirban Bandyopadhyay
Fr 17 Jan / 20h30: Scientific demonstration Sapta Rishi (The Seven Stars)
Sa 18 Jan / 20h30: Scientific concert: Ajeya Chhandam – The Invincible Rhythm

I’m not sure what your chances are for attending the events on Jan. 17 or Jan. 18 but I wish you good luck! For those of us who weren’t able to attend the Jan.16, 2014 event featuring Penrose amd Hameroff, there are recently published papers.

First, the researchers offer a review of their theory along with some refinements,

Consciousness in the universe: A review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose. Physics of Life Reviews Available online 20 August 2013, Phys Life Rev. 2013 Aug 20. pii: S1571-0645(13)00118-8. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2013.08.002.

This paper is open access as of Jan. 16, 2014.

The next two papers have similar titles and were published at about the same time,

Reply to criticism of the ‘Orch OR qubit’ – ‘Orchestrated objective reduction’ is scientifically justified by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose. Physics of Life Reviews Available online 12 December 2013. Phys Life Rev. 2013 Dec 12. pii: S1571-0645(13)00191-7. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2013.11.014.

Reply to seven commentaries on “Consciousness in the universe: Review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose. Physics of Life Reviews Available online 12 December 2013 Phys Life Rev. 2013 Dec 12. pii: S1571-0645(13)00190-5. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2013.11.013.

These papers are behind a paywall.

Suicide at the nanoscale: the truth about silicene

Researchers at the University of Twente (Netherlands) have shown that silicene, a material of great interest to the semi-conductor industry, has a serious drawback according to a Jan. 14, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The semiconductor industry of the future had high expectations of the new material silicene, which shares a lot of similarities with the ‘wonder material’ graphene. However, researchers of the MESA+ Research Institute of the University of Twente – who recently managed to directly and in real time film the formation of silicene – are harshly bursting the bubble: their research shows that silicene has suicidal tendencies.

The Jan. 8, 2014 University of Twente news release, which originated the news item, describes the problem in detail starting with an explanation of silicene,

The material silicene was first created in 2010. Just like graphene, it consists of a single layer of atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern. Graphene consists of carbon atoms, silicene of silicon atoms.

Because of their special properties – both materials are very strong, thin and flexible and have good electrical conductivity – graphene and silicene seem very well suited for the semiconductor industry of the future. After all, the parts on computer chips have to become smaller and smaller and the limits of the miniaturization of parts made of silicon are drawing closer and closer. The material silicene seems to be several steps ahead of graphene, because the semiconductor industry has been using silicon (which, like silicene, consists of silicon atoms) for many years now. In addition, it is easier to realize a so-called bandgap in silicene, which is a prerequisite for a transistor.

Researchers of the MESA+ Research Institute of the University of Twente have, for the first time, managed to directly and in real time capture the formation of silicene on film. They let evaporated silicon atoms precipitate on a surface of silver, so that a nice, almost closed, singular layer of silicene was formed.

So far so good, but the moment that a certain amount of silicon atoms fall on top of the formed silicene layer, a silicon crystal (silicon in a diamond crystal structure instead of in a honeycomb structure) is formed, which triggers the further crystallization of the material; an irreversible process. From that moment, the newly formed silicon eats the silicene, so to speak.

The reason for this is that the regular crystal structure (diamond) of silicon is energetically more favourable than the honeycomb structure of silicene and therefore more stable. Because of this property, the researchers did not succeed in covering more than 97 per cent of the silver surface with silicene, nor were they able to create multi-layered silicene. In other words: the moment a surface is almost completely covered with silicene, the material commits suicide and simple silicon is formed. The researchers do not expect it to be possible to create multi-layered silicene on a different type of surface, because the influence of the surface on the formation of the second layer of silicene is negligible.

The researchers have produced a video demonstrating their findings,

SiliceneDeposition from University of Twente on Vimeo.

 Caption: Formation of silicene on a silver surface (grey, start of the film). On top of the silver, silicene islands gradually start to form (black, halfway through the film). When the surface is almost completely covered, these collapse into silicon crystals again (black dots in grey areas, end of the film).

The news release ends on a personal note,

The research has been conducted by Adil Acun, Bene Poelsema, Harold Zandvliet and Raoul van Gastel of the department of Physics of Interfaces and Nanomaterials (PIN) of the University of Twente’s MESA+ Research Institute. The research has been published by the renowned academic journal Applied Physics Letters.  What’s even more special about this publication is that it has resulted from the final thesis research of Adil Acun, who was following the master’s programme Applied Physics at the time. He is now working as a PhD candidate at the PIN department.

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

The instability of silicene on Ag(111) by A. Acun, B. Poelsema, H. J. W. Zandvliet, and R. van Gastel.  Appl. Phys. Lett. 103, 263119 (2013); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4860964

This paper is open access as of Jan. 14, 2014.

RoboEarth (robot internet) gets examined in hospital

RoboEarth sometimes referred to as a robot internet or a robot world wide web is being tested this week by a team of researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Netherlands) and their colleagues at Philips, ETH Zürich, TU München and the universities of Zaragoza and Stuttgart according to a Jan. 14, 2014 news item on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) news online,

A world wide web for robots to learn from each other and share information is being shown off for the first time.

Scientists behind RoboEarth will put it through its paces at Eindhoven University in a mocked-up hospital room.

Four robots will use the system to complete a series of tasks, including serving drinks to patients.

It is the culmination of a four-year project, funded by the European Union.

The eventual aim is that both robots and humans will be able to upload information to the cloud-based database, which would act as a kind of common brain for machines.

There’s a bit more detail in Victoria Turk’s Jan. 13 (?), 2014 article for motherboard.vice.com (Note: A link has been removed),

A hospital-like setting is an ideal test for the project, because where RoboEarth could come in handy is in helping out humans with household tasks. A big problem for robots at the moment is that human environments tend to change a lot, whereas robots are limited to the very specific movements and tasks they’ve been programmed to do.

“To enable robots to successfully lend a mechanical helping hand, they need to be able to deal flexibly with new situations and conditions,” explains a post by the University of Eindhoven. “For example you can teach a robot to bring you a cup of coffee in the living room, but if some of the chairs have been moved the robot won’t be able to find you any longer. Or it may get confused if you’ve just bought a different set of coffee cups.”

And of course, it wouldn’t just be limited to robots working explicitly together. The Wikipedia-like knowledge base is more like an internet for machines, connecting lonely robots across the globe.

A Jan. 10, 2014 Eindhoven University of Technology news release provides some insight into what the researchers want to accomplish,

“The problem right now is that robots are often developed specifically for one task”, says René van de Molengraft, TU/e  [Eindhoven University of Technology] researcher and RoboEarth project leader. “Everyday changes that happen all the time in our environment make all the programmed actions unusable. But RoboEarth simply lets robots learn new tasks and situations from each other. All their knowledge and experience are shared worldwide on a central, online database. As well as that, computing and ‘thinking’ tasks can be carried out by the system’s ‘cloud engine’, so the robot doesn’t need to have as much computing or battery power on‑board.”

It means, for example, that a robot can image a hospital room and upload the resulting map to RoboEarth. Another robot, which doesn’t know the room, can use that map on RoboEarth to locate a glass of water immediately, without having to search for it endlessly. In the same way a task like opening a box of pills can be shared on RoboEarth, so other robots can also do it without having to be programmed for that specific type of box.

There’s no word as to exactly when this test being demonstrated to a delegation from the European Commission, which financed the project, using four robots and two simulated hospital rooms is being held.

I first wrote about* RoboEarth in a Feb. 14, 2011 posting (scroll down about 1/4 of the way) and again in a March 12 2013 posting about the project’s cloud engine, Rapyuta.

* ‘abut’ corrected to ‘about’ on Sept. 2, 2014.