Tag Archives: Ontario

Vector Institute and Canada’s artificial intelligence sector

On the heels of the March 22, 2017 federal budget announcement of $125M for a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the University of Toronto (U of T) has announced the inception of the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in a March 28, 2017 news release by Jennifer Robinson (Note: Links have been removed),

A team of globally renowned researchers at the University of Toronto is driving the planning of a new institute staking Toronto’s and Canada’s claim as the global leader in AI.

Geoffrey Hinton, a University Professor Emeritus in computer science at U of T and vice-president engineering fellow at Google, will serve as the chief scientific adviser of the newly created Vector Institute based in downtown Toronto.

“The University of Toronto has long been considered a global leader in artificial intelligence research,” said U of T President Meric Gertler. “It’s wonderful to see that expertise act as an anchor to bring together researchers, government and private sector actors through the Vector Institute, enabling them to aim even higher in leading advancements in this fast-growing, critical field.”

As part of the Government of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, Vector will share $125 million in federal funding with fellow institutes in Montreal and Edmonton. All three will conduct research and secure talent to cement Canada’s position as a world leader in AI.

In addition, Vector is expected to receive funding from the Province of Ontario and more than 30 top Canadian and global companies eager to tap this pool of talent to grow their businesses. The institute will also work closely with other Ontario universities with AI talent.

(See my March 24, 2017 posting; scroll down about 25% for the science part, including the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy of the budget.)

Not obvious in last week’s coverage of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is that the much lauded Hinton has been living in the US and working for Google. These latest announcements (Pan-Canadian AI Strategy and Vector Institute) mean that he’s moving back.

A March 28, 2017 article by Kate Allen for TorontoStar.com provides more details about the Vector Institute, Hinton, and the Canadian ‘brain drain’ as it applies to artificial intelligence, (Note:  A link has been removed)

Toronto will host a new institute devoted to artificial intelligence, a major gambit to bolster a field of research pioneered in Canada but consistently drained of talent by major U.S. technology companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

The Vector Institute, an independent non-profit affiliated with the University of Toronto, will hire about 25 new faculty and research scientists. It will be backed by more than $150 million in public and corporate funding in an unusual hybridization of pure research and business-minded commercial goals.

The province will spend $50 million over five years, while the federal government, which announced a $125-million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy in last week’s budget, is providing at least $40 million, backers say. More than two dozen companies have committed millions more over 10 years, including $5 million each from sponsors including Google, Air Canada, Loblaws, and Canada’s five biggest banks [Bank of Montreal (BMO). Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce ({CIBC} President’s Choice Financial},  Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Scotiabank (Tangerine), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Canada Trust)].

The mode of artificial intelligence that the Vector Institute will focus on, deep learning, has seen remarkable results in recent years, particularly in image and speech recognition. Geoffrey Hinton, considered the “godfather” of deep learning for the breakthroughs he made while a professor at U of T, has worked for Google since 2013 in California and Toronto.

Hinton will move back to Canada to lead a research team based at the tech giant’s Toronto offices and act as chief scientific adviser of the new institute.

Researchers trained in Canadian artificial intelligence labs fill the ranks of major technology companies, working on tools like instant language translation, facial recognition, and recommendation services. Academic institutions and startups in Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal and Edmonton boast leaders in the field, but other researchers have left for U.S. universities and corporate labs.

The goals of the Vector Institute are to retain, repatriate and attract AI talent, to create more trained experts, and to feed that expertise into existing Canadian companies and startups.

Hospitals are expected to be a major partner, since health care is an intriguing application for AI. Last month, researchers from Stanford University announced they had trained a deep learning algorithm to identify potentially cancerous skin lesions with accuracy comparable to human dermatologists. The Toronto company Deep Genomics is using deep learning to read genomes and identify mutations that may lead to disease, among other things.

Intelligent algorithms can also be applied to tasks that might seem less virtuous, like reading private data to better target advertising. Zemel [Richard Zemel, the institute’s research director and a professor of computer science at U of T] says the centre is creating an ethics working group [emphasis mine] and maintaining ties with organizations that promote fairness and transparency in machine learning. As for privacy concerns, “that’s something we are well aware of. We don’t have a well-formed policy yet but we will fairly soon.”

The institute’s annual funding pales in comparison to the revenues of the American tech giants, which are measured in tens of billions. The risk the institute’s backers are taking is simply creating an even more robust machine learning PhD mill for the U.S.

“They obviously won’t all stay in Canada, but Toronto industry is very keen to get them,” Hinton said. “I think Trump might help there.” Two researchers on Hinton’s new Toronto-based team are Iranian, one of the countries targeted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel bans.

Ethics do seem to be a bit of an afterthought. Presumably the Vector Institute’s ‘ethics working group’ won’t include any regular folks. Is there any thought to what the rest of us think about these developments? As there will also be some collaboration with other proposed AI institutes including ones at the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) and the University of Alberta (Kate McGillivray’s article coming up shortly mentions them), might the ethics group be centered in either Edmonton or Montreal? Interestingly, two Canadians (Timothy Caulfield at the University of Alberta and Eric Racine at Université de Montréa) testified at the US Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Feb. 10 – 11, 2014 meeting, the Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology. Still speculating here but I imagine Caulfield and/or Racine could be persuaded to extend their expertise in ethics and the human brain to AI and its neural networks.

Getting back to the topic at hand the ‘AI sceneCanada’, Allen’s article is worth reading in its entirety if you have the time.

Kate McGillivray’s March 29, 2017 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) news online provides more details about the Canadian AI situation and the new strategies,

With artificial intelligence set to transform our world, a new institute is putting Toronto to the front of the line to lead the charge.

The Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, made possible by funding from the federal government revealed in the 2017 budget, will move into new digs in the MaRS Discovery District by the end of the year.

Vector’s funding comes partially from a $125 million investment announced in last Wednesday’s federal budget to launch a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy, with similar institutes being established in Montreal and Edmonton.

“[A.I.] cuts across pretty well every sector of the economy,” said Dr. Alan Bernstein, CEO and president of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the organization tasked with administering the federal program.

“Silicon Valley and England and other places really jumped on it, so we kind of lost the lead a little bit. I think the Canadian federal government has now realized that,” he said.

Stopping up the brain drain

Critical to the strategy’s success is building a homegrown base of A.I. experts and innovators — a problem in the last decade, despite pioneering work on so-called “Deep Learning” by Canadian scholars such as Yoshua Bengio and Geoffrey Hinton, a former University of Toronto professor who will now serve as Vector’s chief scientific advisor.

With few university faculty positions in Canada and with many innovative companies headquartered elsewhere, it has been tough to keep the few graduates specializing in A.I. in town.

“We were paying to educate people and shipping them south,” explained Ed Clark, chair of the Vector Institute and business advisor to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The existence of that “fantastic science” will lean heavily on how much buy-in Vector and Canada’s other two A.I. centres get.

Toronto’s portion of the $125 million is a “great start,” said Bernstein, but taken alone, “it’s not enough money.”

“My estimate of the right amount of money to make a difference is a half a billion or so, and I think we will get there,” he said.

Jessica Murphy’s March 29, 2017 article for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) news online offers some intriguing detail about the Canadian AI scene,

Canadian researchers have been behind some recent major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Now, the country is betting on becoming a big player in one of the hottest fields in technology, with help from the likes of Google and RBC [Royal Bank of Canada].

In an unassuming building on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, Geoff Hinton laboured for years on the “lunatic fringe” of academia and artificial intelligence, pursuing research in an area of AI called neural networks.

Also known as “deep learning”, neural networks are computer programs that learn in similar way to human brains. The field showed early promise in the 1980s, but the tech sector turned its attention to other AI methods after that promise seemed slow to develop.

“The approaches that I thought were silly were in the ascendancy and the approach that I thought was the right approach was regarded as silly,” says the British-born [emphasis mine] professor, who splits his time between the university and Google, where he is a vice-president of engineering fellow.

Neural networks are used by the likes of Netflix to recommend what you should binge watch and smartphones with voice assistance tools. Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI used them to win against a human in the ancient game of Go in 2016.

Foteini Agrafioti, who heads up the new RBC Research in Machine Learning lab at the University of Toronto, said those recent innovations made AI attractive to researchers and the tech industry.

“Anything that’s powering Google’s engines right now is powered by deep learning,” she says.

Developments in the field helped jumpstart innovation and paved the way for the technology’s commercialisation. They also captured the attention of Google, IBM and Microsoft, and kicked off a hiring race in the field.

The renewed focus on neural networks has boosted the careers of early Canadian AI machine learning pioneers like Hinton, the University of Montreal’s Yoshua Bengio, and University of Alberta’s Richard Sutton.

Money from big tech is coming north, along with investments by domestic corporations like banking multinational RBC and auto parts giant Magna, and millions of dollars in government funding.

Former banking executive Ed Clark will head the institute, and says the goal is to make Toronto, which has the largest concentration of AI-related industries in Canada, one of the top five places in the world for AI innovation and business.

The founders also want it to serve as a magnet and retention tool for top talent aggressively head-hunted by US firms.

Clark says they want to “wake up” Canadian industry to the possibilities of AI, which is expected to have a massive impact on fields like healthcare, banking, manufacturing and transportation.

Google invested C$4.5m (US$3.4m/£2.7m) last November [2016] in the University of Montreal’s Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.

Microsoft is funding a Montreal startup, Element AI. The Seattle-based company also announced it would acquire Montreal-based Maluuba and help fund AI research at the University of Montreal and McGill University.

Thomson Reuters and General Motors both recently moved AI labs to Toronto.

RBC is also investing in the future of AI in Canada, including opening a machine learning lab headed by Agrafioti, co-funding a program to bring global AI talent and entrepreneurs to Toronto, and collaborating with Sutton and the University of Alberta’s Machine Intelligence Institute.

Canadian tech also sees the travel uncertainty created by the Trump administration in the US as making Canada more attractive to foreign talent. (One of Clark’s the selling points is that Toronto as an “open and diverse” city).

This may reverse the ‘brain drain’ but it appears Canada’s role as a ‘branch plant economy’ for foreign (usually US) companies could become an important discussion once more. From the ‘Foreign ownership of companies of Canada’ Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Historically, foreign ownership was a political issue in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it was believed by some that U.S. investment had reached new heights (though its levels had actually remained stable for decades), and then in the 1980s, during debates over the Free Trade Agreement.

But the situation has changed, since in the interim period Canada itself became a major investor and owner of foreign corporations. Since the 1980s, Canada’s levels of investment and ownership in foreign companies have been larger than foreign investment and ownership in Canada. In some smaller countries, such as Montenegro, Canadian investment is sizable enough to make up a major portion of the economy. In Northern Ireland, for example, Canada is the largest foreign investor. By becoming foreign owners themselves, Canadians have become far less politically concerned about investment within Canada.

Of note is that Canada’s largest companies by value, and largest employers, tend to be foreign-owned in a way that is more typical of a developing nation than a G8 member. The best example is the automotive sector, one of Canada’s most important industries. It is dominated by American, German, and Japanese giants. Although this situation is not unique to Canada in the global context, it is unique among G-8 nations, and many other relatively small nations also have national automotive companies.

It’s interesting to note that sometimes Canadian companies are the big investors but that doesn’t change our basic position. And, as I’ve noted in other postings (including the March 24, 2017 posting), these government investments in science and technology won’t necessarily lead to a move away from our ‘branch plant economy’ towards an innovative Canada.

You can find out more about the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence here.

BTW, I noted that reference to Hinton as ‘British-born’ in the BBC article. He was educated in the UK and subsidized by UK taxpayers (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Hinton was educated at King’s College, Cambridge graduating in 1970, with a Bachelor of Arts in experimental psychology.[1] He continued his study at the University of Edinburgh where he was awarded a PhD in artificial intelligence in 1977 for research supervised by H. Christopher Longuet-Higgins.[3][12]

It seems Canadians are not the only ones to experience  ‘brain drains’.

Finally, I wrote at length about a recent initiative taking place between the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington), the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative in a Feb. 28, 2017 posting noting that the initiative is being funded by Microsoft to the tune $1M and is part of a larger cooperative effort between the province of British Columbia and the state of Washington. Artificial intelligence is not the only area where US technology companies are hedging their bets (against Trump’s administration which seems determined to terrify people from crossing US borders) by investing in Canada.

For anyone interested in a little more information about AI in the US and China, there’s today’s (March 31, 2017)earlier posting: China, US, and the race for artificial intelligence research domination.

York University (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) research team creates 3D beating heart and matters of the heart at the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine

I have two items about cardiac research in Ontario. Not strictly speaking about nanotechnology, the two items do touch on topics covered here before, 3D organs and stem cells.

York University and its 3D beating heart

A Feb. 9, 2017 York University news release (also on EurekAlert), describe an innovative approach to creating 3D heart tissue,

Matters of the heart can be complicated, but York University scientists have found a way to create 3D heart tissue that beats in synchronized harmony, like a heart in love, that will lead to better understanding of cardiac health, and improved treatments.

York U chemistry Professor Muhammad Yousaf and his team of grad students have devised a way to stick three different types of cardiac cells together, like Velcro, to make heart tissue that beats as one.

Until now, most 2D and 3D in vitro tissue did not beat in harmony and required scaffolding for the cells to hold onto and grow, causing limitations. In this research, Yousaf and his team made a scaffold free beating tissue out of three cell types found in the heart – contractile cardiac muscle cells, connective tissue cells and vascular cells.

The researchers believe this is the first 3D in vitro cardiac tissue with three cell types that can beat together as one entity rather than at different intervals.

“This breakthrough will allow better and earlier drug testing, and potentially eliminate harmful or toxic medications sooner,” said Yousaf of York U’s Faculty of Science.

In addition, the substance used to stick cells together (ViaGlue), will provide researchers with tools to create and test 3D in vitro cardiac tissue in their own labs to study heart disease and issues with transplantation. Cardiovascular associated diseases are the leading cause of death globally and are responsible for 40 per cent of deaths in North America.

“Making in vitro 3D cardiac tissue has long presented a challenge to scientists because of the high density of cells and muscularity of the heart,” said Dmitry Rogozhnikov, a chemistry PhD student at York. “For 2D or 3D cardiac tissue to be functional it needs the same high cellular density and the cells must be in contact to facilitate synchronized beating.”

Although the 3D cardiac tissue was created at a millimeter scale, larger versions could be made, said Yousaf, who has created a start-up company OrganoLinX to commercialize the ViaGlue reagent and to provide custom 3D tissues on demand.

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

Scaffold Free Bio-orthogonal Assembly of 3-Dimensional Cardiac Tissue via Cell Surface Engineering by Dmitry Rogozhnikov, Paul J. O’Brien, Sina Elahipanah, & Muhammad N. Yousaf. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39806 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep39806 Published online: 23 December 2016

This paper is open access.

Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and its heart stem cell research

Steven Erwood has written about how Toronto has become a centre for certain kinds of cardiac research by focusing on specific researchers in a Feb. 13, 2017 posting on the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s expression blog (Note: Links have been removed),

You may have heard that Paris is the city of love, but you might not know that Toronto specializes in matters of the heart, particularly broken hearts.

Dr. Ren Ke Li, an investigator with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, established his lab at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute in 1993 hoping to find a way to replace the muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, that are lost after a heart attack. Specifically, Li hoped to transplant a collection of cells, called stem cells, into a heart damaged by a heart attack. Stem cells have the power to differentiate into virtually any cell type, so if Li could coax them to become cardiomyocytes, they could theoretically reverse the damage caused by the heart attack.

Over the years, Li’s experiments using stem cells to regenerate and repair damaged heart tissue, which progressed all the way through to human clinical trials, pushed Li to rethink his approach to heart repair. Most of the transplanted cells failed to engraft to the host tissue and many of those that did successfully integrate into the patient’s heart remained non-contractile, sitting still beside the rest of the beating heart muscle. Despite this, the treatments were still proving beneficial — albeit less beneficial than Li had hoped. These cells weren’t replacing the lost cardiomyocytes, but they were still helping the patient recover. Li was then just beginning to reveal something that is now well described: transplanting exogenous stem cells (originating outside the patient) onto damaged tissue stimulated the endogenous stem cells to repair that damage. These transplanted stem cells were changing the behaviour of the patient’s own stem cells, enhancing their response to injury.

Li calls this process “rejuvenation” — arguing that the reason older populations can’t recover from cardiac injury is because they have fewer stem cells, and those stem cells have lost their ability to repair and regenerate damaged tissue over time. Li argues that the positive effects he was seeing in his experiments and clinical trials was a restoration or reversal of age-related deterioration in repair capability — a rejuvenation of the aged heart.

Li, alongside fellow OIRM [Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine] researcher and cardiac surgeon at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Richard Weisel, dedicated a large part of their research effort to understanding this process. Weisel explains, “We put young cells into old animals, and we can get them to respond to a heart attack like a young person — which is remarkable!”

A team of researchers led by the duo published an article in Basic Research in Cardiology last month describing a new method to rejuvenate the aged heart, and characterizing this rejuvenation at the molecular and cellular level.

Successfully advancing this research to the clinic is where Weisel thinks Toronto provides a unique advantage. “We have the ability to do the clinical trials — the same people who are working on these projects [in the lab], can also take them into the clinic, and a lot of other places in the world [the clinicians and the researchers] are separate. We’ve been doing that for all the areas of stem cell research.” This unique set of circumstances, Weisel argues, more readily allows for a successful transition from research to clinical practice.

But an integrated research and clinical environment isn’t all the city has to offer to those looking to make substantial progress in stem cell therapies. Dr. Michael Laflamme, OIRM researcher and a leading authority on stem cell therapies for cardiac repair, called his decision to relocate to Toronto from the University of Washington in Seattle “a no-brainer”.

Laflamme focuses on improving the existing approaches to exogenous stem cell transplantation in cardiac repair and believes that solving the problems Li faced in his early experiments is just a matter of finding the right cell type. Laflamme, in an ongoing preclinical trial funded by OIRM, is differentiating stem cells in a bioreactor into ventricular cardiomyocytes, the specific type of cell lost after a heart attack, and delivering those cells directly to the scar tissue in hopes of turning it back into muscle. Laflamme is optimistic these ventricular cardiomyocytes might be just the cell type he’s looking for. Using these cells in animal models, although in a mixture of other cardiac cell types, Laflamme explains, “We’ve shown that those cells will stably engraft and they actually become electrically integrated with the rest of the tissue — they will [beat] in synchrony with the rest of the heart.”

Laflamme states that “Toronto is the place where we can get this stuff done better and we can get it done faster,” citing the existing Toronto-based expertise in both the differentiation of stem cells and the biotechnological means to scale these processes as being unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

It’s not only academic researchers and clinicians that recognize Toronto’s potential to advance regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy. Pharmaceutical giant Bayer, partnered with San Francisco-based venture capital firm Versant Ventures, announced last December a USD 225 million investment in a stem cell biotechnology company called BlueRock Therapeutics — the second largest investment of it’s kind in the history of the biotechnology industry. …

There’s substantially to more Erwood’s piece in the original posting.

One final thought, I wonder if there is a possibility that York University’s ViaGlue might be useful in the work talking place at Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. I realize the two institutions are in the same city but do the researchers even know about each other’s work?

Investigating nanoparticles and their environmental impact for industry?

It seems the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) at Duke University (North Carolina, US) is making an adjustment to its focus and opening the door to industry, as well as, government research. It has for some years (my first post about the CEINT at Duke University is an Aug. 15, 2011 post about its mesocosms) been focused on examining the impact of nanoparticles (also called nanomaterials) on plant life and aquatic systems. This Jan. 9, 2017 US National Science Foundation (NSF) news release (h/t Jan. 9, 2017 Nanotechnology Now news item) provides a general description of the work,

We can’t see them, but nanomaterials, both natural and manmade, are literally everywhere, from our personal care products to our building materials–we’re even eating and drinking them.

At the NSF-funded Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT), headquartered at Duke University, scientists and engineers are researching how some of these nanoscale materials affect living things. One of CEINT’s main goals is to develop tools that can help assess possible risks to human health and the environment. A key aspect of this research happens in mesocosms, which are outdoor experiments that simulate the natural environment – in this case, wetlands. These simulated wetlands in Duke Forest serve as a testbed for exploring how nanomaterials move through an ecosystem and impact living things.

CEINT is a collaborative effort bringing together researchers from Duke, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Virginia Tech, University of Kentucky, Stanford University, and Baylor University. CEINT academic collaborations include on-going activities coordinated with faculty at Clemson, North Carolina State and North Carolina Central universities, with researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Environmental Protection Agency labs, and with key international partners.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1266252, Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology.

The mention of industry is in this video by O’Brien and Kellan, which describes CEINT’s latest work ,

Somewhat similar in approach although without a direction reference to industry, Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is being used as a test site for silver nanoparticles. Here’s more from the Distilling Science at the Experimental Lakes Area: Nanosilver project page,

Water researchers are interested in nanotechnology, and one of its most commonplace applications: nanosilver. Today these tiny particles with anti-microbial properties are being used in a wide range of consumer products. The problem with nanoparticles is that we don’t fully understand what happens when they are released into the environment.

The research at the IISD-ELA [International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area] will look at the impacts of nanosilver on ecosystems. What happens when it gets into the food chain? And how does it affect plants and animals?

Here’s a video describing the Nanosilver project at the ELA,

You may have noticed a certain tone to the video and it is due to some political shenanigans, which are described in this Aug. 8, 2016 article by Bartley Kives for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news.

Understanding nanotechnology with Timbits; a peculiarly Canadian explanation

For the uninitiated, Timbits are also known as donut holes. Tim Hortons, founded by ex-National Hockey League player Tim Horton who has since deceased, has taken hold in the Canada’s language and culture such that one of our scientists trying to to explain nanotechnology thought it would be best understood in terms of Timbits. From a Jan. 14, 2017 article (How nanotechnology could change our lives) by Vanessa Lu for thestar.com,

The future is all in the tiny.

Known as nanoparticles, these are the tiniest particles, so small that we can’t see them or even imagine how small they are.

University of Waterloo’s Frank Gu paints a picture of their scale.

“Take a Timbit and start slicing it into smaller and smaller pieces, so small that every Canadian — about 35 million of us — can hold a piece of the treat,” he said. “And those tiny pieces are still a little bigger than a nanoparticle.”

For years, consumers have seen the benefits of nanotechnology in everything from shrinking cellphones to ultrathin televisions. Apple’s iPhones have become more powerful as they have become smaller — where a chip now holds billions of transistors.

“As you go smaller, it creates less footprint and more power,” said Gu, who holds the Canada research chair in advanced targeted delivery systems. “FaceTime, Skype — they are all powered by nanotechnology, with their retina display.”

Lu wrote a second January 14, 2017 article (Researchers developing nanoparticles to purify water) for thestar.com,

When scientists go with their gut or act on a hunch, it can pay off.

For Tim Leshuk, a PhD student in nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, he knew it was a long shot.

Leshuk had been working with Frank Gu, who leads a nanotechnology research group, on using tiny nanoparticles that have been tweaked with certain properties to purify contaminated water.

Leshuk was working on the process, treating dirty water such as that found in Alberta’s oilsands, with the nanoparticles combined with ultraviolet light. He wondered what might happen if exposed to actual sunlight.

“I didn’t have high hopes,” he said. “For the heck of it, I took some beakers out and put them on the roof. And when I came back, it was far more effective that we had seen with regular UV light.

“It was high-fives all around,” Leshuk said. “It’s not like a Brita filter or a sponge that just soaks up pollutants. It completely breaks them down.”

Things are accelerating quickly, with a spinoff company now formally created called H2nanO, with more ongoing tests scheduled. The research has drawn attention from oilsands companies, and [a] large pre-pilot project to be funded by the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance is due to get under way soon.

The excitement comes because it’s an entirely green process, converting solar energy for cleanup, and the nanoparticle material is reuseable, over and over.

It’s good to see a couple of articles about nanotechnology. The work by Tim Leshuk was highlighted here in a Dec. 1, 2015 posting titled:  New photocatalytic approach to cleaning wastewater from oil sands. I see the company wasn’t mentioned in the posting so, it must be new; you can find H2nanO here.

Discussion of a divisive topic: the Oilsands

As for the oilsands, it’s been an interesting few days with the Prime Minister’s (Justin Trudeau) suggestion that dependence would be phased out causing a furor of sorts. From a Jan. 13, 2017 article by James Wood for the Calgary Herald,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s musings about phasing out the oilsands Friday [Jan. 13, 2017] were met with a barrage of criticism from Alberta’s conservative politicians and a pledge from Premier Rachel Notley that the province’s energy industry was “not going anywhere, any time soon.”

Asked at a town hall event in Peterborough [Ontario] about the federal government’s recent approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Trudeau reiterated his longstanding remarks that he is attempting to balance economic and environmental concerns.

“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels but it’s going to take time and in the meantime we have to manage that transition,” he added.

Northern Alberta’s oilsands are a prime target for environmentalists because of their significant output of greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change.

Trudeau, who will be in Calgary for a cabinet retreat on Jan. 23 and 24 [2017], also said again that it is the responsibility of the national government to get Canadian resources to market.

Meanwhile, Jane Fonda, Hollywood actress, weighed in on the issue of the Alberta oilsands with this (from a Jan. 11, 2017 article by Tristan Hopper for the National Post),

Fort McMurrayites might have assumed the celebrity visits would stop after the city was swept first by recession, and then by wildfire.

Or when the provincial government introduced a carbon tax and started phasing out coal.

And surely, with Donald Trump in the White House, even the oiliest corner of Canada would shift to the activist back burner.

But no; here comes Jane Fonda.

“We don’t need new pipelines,” she told a Wednesday [Jan. 11, 2017] press conference at the University of Alberta where she also dismissed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “good-looking Liberal” who couldn’t be trusted.

Saying that her voice was joined with the “Indigenous people of Canada,” Fonda explained her trip to Alberta by saying “when you’re famous you can help amplify the voices of people that can’t necessarily get a lot of press people to come out.”

Fonda is in Alberta at the invitation of Greenpeace, which has brought her here in support of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion — a group of Canadian First Nations and U.S. tribes opposed to new pipelines to the Athabasca oilsands.

Appearing alongside Fonda, at a table with a sign reading “Respect Indigenous Decisions,” was Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who, as leader of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, has led anti-pipeline protests and litigation in British Columbia.

“The future is going to be incredibly litigious,” he said in reference to the approved expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline.

The event also included Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which is leading a legal challenge to federal approval of the Line 3 pipeline.

Although much of Athabasca’s oil production now comes from “steam-assisted gravity drainage” projects that requires minimal surface disturbance, on Tuesday Fonda took the requisite helicopter tour of a Fort McMurray-area open pit mine.

As you can see, there are not going to be any easy answers.

Bob McDonald: How is Canada on the ‘forefront of pushing nanotechnology forward’?

Mr. Quirks & Quarks, also known as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Bob McDonald, host of the science radio programme Quirks & Quarks, published an Oct. 9, 2016 posting on the programme’s CBC blog about the recently awarded 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Canada’s efforts in the field of nanotechnology (Links have been removed),

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded this week for developments in nanotechnology heralds a new era in science, akin to the discovery of electromagnetic induction 185 years ago. And like electricity, nanotechnology could influence the world in dramatic ways, not even imaginable today.

The world’s tiniest machines

The Nobel Laureates developed molecular machines, which are incredibly tiny devices assembled one molecule at a time, including a working motor, a lifting machine, a micro-muscle, and even a four wheel drive vehicle, all of which can only be seen with the most powerful electron microscopes. While these lab experiments are novel curiosities, the implications are huge, and Canada is on the forefront of pushing this research forward. [emphasis mine]

McDonald never explains how Canadians are pushing nanotechnology research further but there is this (Note: Links have been removed),

Many universities offer degree programs on the subject while organizations such as the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta, and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, are conducting fundamental research on these new novel materials.

Somehow he never mentions any boundary-pushing research. hmmm

To be blunt, it’s very hard to establish Canada’s position in the field since ‘nanotechnolgy research’ as such doesn’t exist here in the way it does in the United States, Korea, Iran, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Austria, and others. It’s not a federally coordinated effort in Canada despite the fact that we have a Canada National Research Council (NRC) National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) in Alberta. (There’s very little information about research on the NINT website.) A Government of Canada NanoPortal is poorly maintained and includes information that is seriously out-of-date. One area where Canadians have been influential has been at the international level where we’ve collaborated on a number of OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development) projects focused on safety (occupational and environmental, in particular) issues.

Canada’s Ingenuity Lab, a nanotechnology project that appeared promising, hasn’t made many research announcements and seems to be a provincial (Alberta) initiative rather than a federal one. In fact, the most activity in the field of nanotechnology research has been at the provincial level with Alberta and Québec in the lead, if financial investment is your primary measure, and Ontario following, then the other provinces trailing from behind. Unfortunately, I’ve never come across any nanotechnology research from the Yukon or other parts North.

With regard to research announcements, the situation changes and you have Québec and Ontario assuming the lead positions with Alberta following. As McDonald noted, the University of Waterloo has a major nanotechnology education programme and the University of Toronto seems to have a very active research focus in that field (Ted Sargent and solar cells and quantum dots) and the University of Guelph is known for its work in agriculture and nanotechnolgy (search this blog using any of the three universities as a search term). In Québec, they’ve made a number of announcements about cutting edge research. You can search this blog for the names Sylvain Martel, Federico Rosei, and Claude Ostiguy (who seems to work primarily in French), amongst others. CelluForce, based in Quebec, and once  a leader (not sure about the situation these days) in the production of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). One side comment, CNC was first developed at the University of British Columbia, however, Québec showed more support (provincial funding) and interest and the bulk of that research effort moved.

There’s one more shout out and that’s for Blue Goose Biorefineries in the province of Saskatchewan, which sells CNC and offers services to help companies  research applications for the material.

One other significant area of interest comes to mind, the graphite mines in Québec and Ontario which supply graphite flakes used to produce graphene, a material that is supposed to revolutionize electronics, in particular.

There are other research efforts and laboratories in Canada but these are the institutions and researchers with which I’m most familiar after more than eight years of blogging about Canadian nanotechnology. That said, if I’ve missed any significant, please do let me know in the comments section of this blog.

New photocatalytic approach to cleaning wastewater from oil sands

With oil sands in the title, this story had to mention the Canadian province of Alberta, which has been widely castigated and applauded for its oil extraction efforts in their massive oil sands field. A Nov. 24, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes a new technology for cleaning the wastewater from oil sands extraction processes,

Researchers have developed a process to remove contaminants from oil sands wastewater using only sunlight and nanoparticles that is more effective and inexpensive than conventional treatment methods.

Frank Gu, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo [in the province of Ontario] and Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology Engineering, is the senior researcher on the team that was the first to find that photocatalysis — a chemical reaction that involves the absorption of light by nanoparticles — can completely eliminate naphthenic acids in oil sands wastewater, and within hours. Naphthenic acids pose a threat to ecology and human health. Water in tailing ponds left to biodegrade naturally in the environment still contains these contaminants decades later.

A Nov. 23, 2015 University of Waterloo news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme but doesn’t provide much in the way of technical detail,

“With about a billion tonnes of water stored in ponds in Alberta, removing naphthenic acids is one of the largest environmental challenges in Canada,” said Tim Leshuk, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering at Waterloo. He is the lead author of this paper and a recipient of the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. “Conventional treatments people have tried either haven’t worked, or if they have worked, they’ve been far too impractical or expensive to solve the size of the problem.  Waterloo’s technology is the first step of what looks like a very practical and green treatment method.”

Unlike treating polluted water with chlorine or membrane filtering, the Waterloo technology is energy-efficient and relatively inexpensive. Nanoparticles become extremely reactive when exposed to sunlight and break down the persistent pollutants in their individual atoms, completely removing them from the water. This treatment depends on only sunlight for energy, and the nanoparticles can be recovered and reused indefinitely.

Next steps for the Waterloo research include ensuring that the treated water meets all of the objectives Canadian environmental legislation and regulations required to ensure it can be safely discharged from sources larger than the samples, such as tailing ponds.

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

Solar photocatalytic degradation of naphthenic acids in oil sands process-affected water by Tim Leshuk, Timothy Wong, Stuart Linley, Kerry M. Peru, John V. Headley, Frank Gu. Chemosphere Volume 144, February 2016, Pages 1854–1861 doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2015.10.073

This paper is behind a paywall.

Open access week (Oct. 19 – 25, 2015)

In the better late than never category I’m developing for this blog (why can’t I stumble across these things in a more timely fashion?): Canadian Science Publishing (CSP) is celebrating International Open Access Week (Oct. 19 -25, 2015). While the opening event will be past by the time you read this, CSP offers other opportunities to participate (from an Oct. 19, 2015 posting on the Canadian Science Publishing blog),

We’ll be celebrating open access all week, starting with a joint event today [link removed for Oct. 19, 2015 event] at the University of Ottawa Library where we’ll hear from Dr. Jules Blais, founding Senior Editor of our new multidisciplinary open access journal, FACETS. Can’t make it to the event? Don’t worry, we’ll be live tweeting [link removed since the event will be over by the time you read this] and you still have the chance to enter into a draw to win a free e-reader. All you have to do is sign-up for the FACETS newsletter before Friday [Oct. 23, 2015] at midnight [EST?]. Not only will you have the chance to win a great prize, but by signing up for the newsletter you’ll also be the first to know about any FACETS-related news including information about open access, calls for submissions, newly available open access articles and more.

Considering this is open access week, we’d also like to take this opportunity to highlight our open access products and services. …

Introducing CSP Open

To keep things simple, we’ve collected all of our open access products, services and information in one handy place: www.cspopen.com. On this hub page you’ll find links to our fully OA journals, FACETS and Arctic Science. You’ll also find information about OpenArticle, our gold open access option for our subscription-based journals.

There is a listing of other 2015 Open Access Week events in Canada here but I notice it’s not exhaustive. For example, the Canadian Science Publishing/University of Ottawa event was not listed yesterday, Oct. 19, 2015, when I checked. Most of the action appears to be taking place in Alberta and Ontario.

Science blogging session at 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference? Hmmm. Really, really really?

Who can resist a Carly Rae Jepsen reference (specifically, the “I really like you” song with its over 60 instances of the word, ‘really’)? Not me.

I have a few things to say about the Science Blogging: The Next Generation session organized by Science Borealis (?) for the Seventh Canadian Science Policy Conference, being held in Ottawa, Ontario from Nov. 25 – 27, 2015 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel.

First, congratulations to the session organizer(s) for a successful conference submission. (A few years ago I chatted with someone from an institution that I thought would gain almost automatic acceptance whose submission had been rejected. So, there is competition for these spots.) Second, I know it’s tough to pull a panel together. The process can range from merely challenging to downright hellacious.

That said, I have a few comments and suggestions. There seem to be a few oddities regarding the blogging session. Let’s start with the biographies where you’d expect to see something about science blogging credentials, i.e., the name of his or her science blog, how long they’ve publishing/writing, their topics, etc.

Brian Owens [moderator]
General Science editor, Research Canada/Science Borealis
Brian is an experienced science policy journalist. He is editor of Research Canada, the newest publication of the international science policy publisher Research Professional. He is also General Science editor of Science Borealis.

Our moderator does not mention having a blog or writing for one regularly although he does edit for Science Borealis (a Canadian science blog aggregator). How long has he been doing that and how do you edit a science blog aggregator?

Moving on, Owens’ LinkedIn profile indicates he returned to Canada from  the UK in November 2012. So, by the time the conference rolls round, he will have been back in the country three years. (Shades of Michael Ignatieff!) It’s possible he’s kept up with Canada’s science policy while he was in London but he does seem to have held a high pressure job suggesting he wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to regularly keep up with the Canadian science policy scene.

His LinkedIn profile shows this experience,

Online news editor
Nature Publishing Group
January 2011 – November 2012 (1 year 11 months)London, United Kingdom

Responsible for all online news and blog content, including running daily news meetings, assigning stories, editing copy and managing an international team of staff and freelance reporters. Also led on developing Nature’s social media strategy. [emphasis mine]

It’s always good to have Nature on your résumé, although the journal has a somewhat spotty reputation where social media is concerned. Perhaps he helped turn it around?

So, how does guy who’s never had a blog (editing is not the same thing) and has about three years experience back home in New Brunswick after several years abroad moderate a Canadian science blogging panel with a policy focus?

Given the information at hand, it seems a little sketchy but doable provided your panel has solid experience.

Let’s check out the panel (Note: All the excerpts come from this session description):

Amelia Buchanan
blogger, Journalism student at Algonquin College
A recent convert to science communication, Amelia Buchanan is a journalism student with a Bachelor’s degree in biology. She writes stories about science and technology at school and blogs about urban wildlife in her spare time.

What’s Buchanan’s blog called? After searching, I found this, lab bench to park bench. Her blog archives indicate that she started in April 2014. Unless she’s owned other blogs, she will have approximately 18 months experience writing about the natural world, for the most part, when the conference session takes place.

That’s not much experience although someone with a fresh perspective can be a good addition to panels like this. Let’s see who’s next.

Chris Buddle
Associate Professor and Associate Dean at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus, University of Montreal/Science Borealis
Dr. Chris Buddle is an Associate Professor and Associate Dean at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus. He is an enthusiastic and devoted science communicator and blogger, and a member of the Science Borealis board of directors.

What is his blog called? It turns out to be, Arthropod Ecology. The earliest date I could find for any mention of it was in 2012. Unfortunately, the About this blog description is relatively uninformative with regard to its inception so I’m stuck with that one reference to a 2012 posting on Buddle’s blog. This one, too, focuses on the natural world.

So, Buddle has possibly three years experience. He does write more extensive pieces but, more frequently, he illustrates* his posts liberally with images while making extensive use of bullet points and links elsewhere. He’s mixing two styles for his postings, ‘illustrated essay writing’ and ‘picture book with lots of linked resources’. It can be a way to address different audiences and attention spans.

***ETA: Aug. 20, 2015: Chris Buddle has kindly provided more information about his blog via twitter:

@CMBuddle
Aug 20
@frogheart yes it is called “arthropod ecology”, I post 1-2 times per week, since 2012. Some posts are ‘link-fests’ hence the bullets 3/n

@frogheart many other posts are long-form research blogging. Had about 300K + unique visitors, & avg b/w 600-900 visits per day 4/n

@frogheart audience is other scientists, students, colleagues, broader public. Try to write in ‘plain language’ to make accessible

Thank you, Chris for providing more details about your blog and passing on a link to this posting with its criticisms and suggestions to the session organizers.***

* ‘illustrate’ changed to ‘illustrates’ Aug. 20, 2015.

The fourth panelist in this group is,

Sabrina Doyle
Canadian Geographic
Sabrina Doyle is the new media editor at Canadian Geographic. She is fascinated by arctic exploration, enjoys triathlons, and has a deep fondness for all things edible. Hates dirt under her fingernails but loves activities that get it there. Tweet her at @sab_jad |

I gather this bio is something she uses elsewhere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer the question: what is she doing on this panel?

It turns out she writes the posts for the Canadian Geographic Compass Blog. From her LinkedIn profile, she’s been working for Canadian Geographic since July 2013 and became responsible for the blog in Oct. 2014. She doesn’t seem to have blogged prior to that time, which gives her approximately 13 months experience once she’s at the science blogging session in November 2015. While she, too, writes much about the natural world, she offers the most diverse range of topics amongst the panelists.

There is one more panelist,

Paul Dufour
Principal/adjunct professor, PaulicyWorks/University of Ottawa
Paul Dufour is Principal of PaulicyWorks, a science and technology policy consulting firm based in Gatineau, Quebec, and an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy.

Dufour does not seem to own and/or write a blog and, as far as I’m aware, has no media background of any kind (Dufour’s LinkedIn profile). He seems to a science policy wonk which makes sense for the conference but leaves the question: what he is doing on this panel? Other media experience might have given him some comparative insight into how blogs have affected the science media and science policy spaces. But perhaps he reads blogs and is going to share how they’ve influenced his work in science policy?

Here’s what they’re supposed to be talking about, from the session description,

Science blogs serve many communities, including research, policy, the mainstream media and the public at large. They validate successful science, challenge weak conclusions, and are an increasingly important tool for providing valuable context and understanding of research via an open and public forum that encourages debate. Further, science blogging fills the void left by the changing media landscape with fewer resources invested in science writing and reporting. Policy makers are looking to trusted blogs and social channels for insight and information.

This session will provide an in-depth and hands-on look at science blogging and its impact on the Transformation of Science, Society and Research in the Digital Age. With a particular focus on tools and platforms, best practices, the current Canadian blogging landscape, and some predictions for the future, this interactive session will demonstrate how blogs are a platform for engagement, discussion and sharing of science.

Canada has many talented science bloggers, representing both the science reporting and documentary approaches. Our science blogging community has strengthened and grown in recent years, with Science Borealis, launched at the 2013 CSPC, providing a cohesive platform for discussion, discovery and delivery. The proposed panel will address how science blogs are useful for both policymakers and scientists.

Tapping into the power of the crowd, the session will interactively engage the audience in the creation of a quality, high-impact, policy-oriented blog post that will later be published on Science Borealis. The panel will provide audience members with hands-on experience in good blogging practice: goals, approaches, dos and don’ts — and more — to create a well-designed post accessible to government, the broader scientific community, industry and the public.

The panel will discuss the current state of science blogging in Canada showcasing best examples and demonstrating their impacts on the public perception of science and the transformation of science and research and. It will briefly explore this type of digital engagement with an eye to the future. [this para seems redundant]

The validity of at least some of the assertions in the first paragraph are due to work by researchers such as Dominique Brossard and Dietram Sheufele (New media landscapes and the science information consumer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It would have been nice to have seen a few citations (I’d really like to see the research supporting the notion that policymakers read and are influenced by science bloggers) replacing that somewhat redundant final paragraph.

I highlighted a number of words and terms, “platform,” “engagement,” “interactive,” “high-impact,” and “Tapping into the power of the crowd,” which I imagine helped them sell this panel to the organizers.

Despite some statements suggesting otherwise, it seems the main purpose of this session is to focus on and write a science policy posting, “the session will interactively engage the audience in the creation of a quality, high-impact, policy-oriented blog post .” That should be an interesting trick since none of the panelists write that type of blog and the one science policy type doesn’t seem to write for any kind of blog. I gather the panelists are going to tap into ‘the power of each other’. More puzzling, this session seems like a workshop not a panel. Just how are the participants going to have a “hands-on” experience of “interactively writing up a science policy blog post?” There aren’t that many ways to operationalize this endeavour. It’s either a session where people have access to computers and collectively write and post individual pieces under one banner or they submit their posts and someone edits in real time or someone is acting as secretary taking notes from the discussion and summarizing it in a post (not exactly hands-on for anyone except the writer).

As for the ‘tips and tricks’ to be offered by the panelists, is there going to be a handout and/or accessible webpage with the information? I also don’t see any mention about building an audience for your work, search engine optimization, and/or policies for your blog (e.g., what do you do when someone wants to send you a book for review? how do you handle comments [sometimes people get pretty angry]?).

I hope there’s an opportunity to update the bios. in the ways I’ve suggested: list your blog, explain what you write, how long you’ve been posting, how you’ve built up your audience, etc. For the participants who don’t have blogs perhaps they could discuss how blogs have affected their work, or not. In any event, I wish the organizers and panelists good luck. Especially since the session is scheduled for the very end of the conference. (I’ve been in that position; everyone at that conference laughed when they learned when my session was scheduled.)

University of Waterloo (Canada) and an anti-counterfeiting startup

Students from the University of Waterloo are working to commercialize an ink they say can be used in anti-counterfeiting measures in products ranging from money to medications to pesticides and more. From an Aug. 7, 2015 article by Matthew Braga for Motherboard.com (Note: A link has been removed),

The ink is pretty much invisible to the naked eye, which isn’t new, but blast it with a pulse from a smartphone camera’s flash, run the resulting image through some fancy processing algorithms, and the result is a unique numerical sequence that can verify the authenticity of whatever product it’s been applied to.

Their company is named Arylla (formerly Black Box Technologies), and was founded by Ben Rasera, Graham Thomas, and Perry Everett—all final year students in Waterloo’s nanotechnology engineering program. …

“In a nutshell, we are making inks that have unique optical signatures that can be verified using a smartphone,” Everett said in a phone interview. The ink can be printed on pretty much anything, from a computer chip to something organic, like an apple (although who counterfeits an apple?). They’re focusing on electronics for now.

Braga notes in his article that there are few details about the ‘nano ink’ mentioned,

“It’s a fairly new material as far as nanotechnology goes,” Everett said, but declined to name what, specifically, they were working with—only that it was a modified version of a material that is relatively new. “The most interesting aspect of the material is you can basically tune the properties in order to act like a barcode. So when I say optical signature what I’m talking about is a numerical sequence, and that sequence is embedded in the nanomaterial,” he explained.

The barcode is based on both the physical pattern of the application of the ink itself, and the colours that are reflected when the flash hits the nanomaterial.

There’s more information in the article about the company and some rather interesting speculation on Braga’s part as to how counterfeiters might respond to this new measure should it prove successful.

An Aug. 10, 2015 University of Waterloo news release provides information about the students’ work and their startup, Arylla (Note: Links have been removed),

Last year, more than 60,000 counterfeit Canadian bank notes passed into circulation. But a new ink from the Velocity Science startup Arylla could change that.

The nano inks can be applied to just about anything from money to tiny microprocessors to handbags. Since the inks are also biocompatible and non-toxic they can be applied to pills and even liquids, such as pesticides.

Last month, the company (formerly known as Black Box Technologies) won $25,000 at the Spring Velocity Fund Final competition.

Good luck to the students! You can find Arylla here.

Graphite research at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada) and NanoXplore’s (Montréal, Canada) graphene oxide production

Graphite

Simon Fraser University (SFU) announced a partnership with Ontario’s Sheridan College and three Canadian companies (Terrella Energy Systems, Alpha Technologies, and Westport Innovations) in a research project investigating low-cost graphite thermal management products. From an April 9, 2015 SFU news release,

Simon Fraser University is partnering with Ontario’s Sheridan College, and a trio of Canadian companies, on research aimed at helping the companies to gain market advantage from improvements on low-cost graphite thermal management products.

 

Graphite is an advanced engineering material with key properties that have potential applications in green energy systems, automotive components and heating ventilating air conditioning systems.

 

The project combines expertise from SFU’s Laboratory for Alternative Energy Conversion with Sheridan’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies.

 

With $700,000 in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) College and Community Innovation program, the research will help accelerate the development and commercialization of this promising technology, says project lead Majid Bahrami, an associate professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering (MSE) at SFU’s Surrey campus.

 

The proposed graphite products take aim at a strategic $40 billion/year thermal management products market, Bahrami notes. 

 

Inspired by the needs of the companies, Bahrami says the project has strong potential for generating intellectual property, leading to advanced manufacturing processes as well as new, efficient graphite thermal products.

 

The companies involved include:

 

Terrella Energy Systems, which recently developed a roll-embossing process that allows high-volume, cost-effective manufacturing of micro-patterned, coated and flexible graphite sheets;

 

Alpha Technologies, a leading telecom/electronics manufacturer, which is in the process of developing next-generation ‘green’ cooling solutions for their telecom/electronics systems;

 

Westport Innovations, which is interested in integrating graphite heat exchangers in their natural gas fuel systems, such as heat exchangers for heavy-duty trucks.

 

Bahrami, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Alternative Energy Conversion Systems, expects the project will also lead to significant training and future business and employment opportunities in the manufacturing and energy industry, as well as the natural resource sector and their supply chain.

 

“This project leverages previous federal government investment into world-class testing equipment, and SFU’s strong industrial relationships and entrepreneurial culture, to realize collective benefits for students, researchers, and companies,” says Joy Johnson, SFU’s VP Research. “By working together and pooling resources, SFU and its partners will continue to generate novel green technologies and energy conversion solutions.”

 

Fast Facts:

  • The goal of the NSERC College and Community Innovation program is to increase innovation at the community and/or regional level by enabling Canadian colleges to increase their capacity to work with local companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
  • Canada is the fifth largest exporter of raw graphite.

I have mentioned graphite here before. Generally, it’s in relation to graphite mining deposits in Ontario and Québec, which seem to have been of great interest as a source for graphene production. A Feb. 20, 2015 posting was the the latest of those mentions and, coincidentally, it features NanoXplore and graphene, the other topic noted in the head for this posting.

Graphene and NanoXplore

An April 17, 2015 news item on Azonano makes a production announcement,

Group NanoXplore Inc., a Montreal-based company specialising in the production and application of graphene and its derivative materials, announced today that it is producing Graphene Oxide in industrial quantities. The Graphene Oxide is being produced in the same 3 metric tonne per year facility used to manufacture NanoXplore’s standard graphene grades and derivative products such as a unique graphite-graphene composite suitable for anodes in Li-ion batteries.

An April 16, 2015 NanoXplore news release on MarketWired, which originated the news item, describes graphene oxide and its various uses,

Graphene Oxide (GO) is similar to graphene but with significant amounts of oxygen introduced into the graphene structure. GO, unlike graphene, can be readily mixed in water which has led people to use GO in thin films, water-based paints and inks, and biomedical applications. GO is relatively simple to synthesise on a lab scale using a modified Hummers’ method, but scale-up to industrial production is quite challenging and dangerous. This is because the Hummers’ method uses strong oxidizing agents in a highly exothermic reaction which produces toxic and explosive gas. NanoXplore has developed a completely new and different approach to producing GO based upon its proprietary graphene production platform. This novel production process is completely safe and environmentally friendly and produces GO in volumes ranging from kilogram to tonne quantities.

“NanoXplore’s ability to produce industrially useful quantities of Graphene Oxide in a safe and scalable manner is a game changer, said Dr. Soroush Nazarpour, President and CEO of NanoXplore. “Mixing graphene with standard industrially materials is the key to bringing it to industrial markets. Graphene Oxide mixes extremely well with all water based solutions, and we have received repeated customer requests for water soluble graphene over the last two years”.

It sounds exciting but it would be helpful (for someone like me, who’s ignorant about these things) to know the graphene oxide market’s size. This would help me to contextualize the excitement.

You can find out more about NanoXplore here.