Tag Archives: Poland

Synthetic genetics and imprinting a sequence of a single DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) strand

Caption: A polymer negative of a sequence of the genetic code, chemically active and able to bind complementary nucleobases, has been created by researchers from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Credit: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzyzewski

Those are very large hands! In any event, I think they left out the word ‘model’ when describing what the researcher is holding.

A Jan. 19, 2017 news item on phys.org announces the research from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS),

In a carefully designed polymer, researchers at the Polish Academy of Sciences have imprinted a sequence of a single strand of DNA. The resulting negative remained chemically active and was capable of binding the appropriate nucleobases of a genetic code. The polymer matrix—the first of its type—thus functioned exactly like a sequence of real DNA.

A Jan. 18, 2017 IPC PAS press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the breakthrough and explains how it could lead to synthetic genetics,

Imprinting of chemical molecules in a polymer, or molecular imprinting, is a well-known method that has been under development for many years. However, no-one has ever before used it to construct a polymer chain complementing a sequence of a single strand of DNA. This feat has just been accomplished by researchers from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw in collaboration with the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, USA, and the University of Milan in Italy. In an appropriately selected polymer, they reproduced a genetically important DNA sequence, constructed of six nucleobases.

Typically, molecular imprinting is accomplished in several steps. The molecules intended for imprinting are first placed to a solution of monomers (i.e. the basic “building blocks” from which the future polymer is to be formed). The monomers are selected so as to automatically arrange themselves around the molecules being imprinted. Next, the resulting complex is electrochemically polymerized and then the imprinted molecules are extracted from the fixed structure. This process results in a polymer structure with molecular cavities matching the original molecules with their size and shape, and even their local chemical properties.

“Using molecular imprinting, we can produce, e.g. recognition films for chemical sensors, capturing molecules of only a specific chemical compound from the surroundings – since only these molecules fit into the existing molecular cavities. However, there’s no rose without a thorn. Molecular imprinting is perfect for smaller chemical molecules, but the larger the molecule, the more difficult it is to imprint it accurately into the polymer,” explains Prof. Wlodzimierz Kutner (IPC PAS).

Molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, are really large: their lengths are of the order of centimetres. These molecules generally consist of of two long strands, paired up with each other. A single strand is made up of nucleotides with multiple repetitions, each of which contains one of the nucleobases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), or thymine (T). The bases on both strands are not arranged freely: adenine on one strand always corresponds to thymine on the other, and guanine to cytosine. So, when we have one thread, we can always recreate its complement, which is the second strand.

The complementarity of nucleobases in DNA strands is very important for cells. Not only does it increase the permanence of the record of the genetic code (damage in one strand can be repaired based on the construction of the other), but it also makes it possible to transfer it from DNA to RNA in the process known as transcription. Transcription is the first step in the synthesis of proteins.

“Our idea was to try to imprint in the polymer a sequence of a single-stranded DNA. At the same time, we wanted to reproduce not only the shape of the strand, but also the sequential order of the constituent nucleobases,” says Dr. Agnieszka Pietrzyk-Le (IPC PAS).

In the study, financed on the Polish side by grants from the Foundation for Polish Science and the National Centre for Science, researchers from the IPC PAS used sequences of the genetic code known as TATAAA. This sequence plays an important biological role: it participates in deciding on the activation of the gene behind it. TATAAA is found in most eukaryotic cells (those containing a nucleus); in humans it is present in about every fourth gene.

A key step of the research was to design synthetic monomers undergoing electrochemical polymerization. These had to be capable of accurately surrounding the imprinted molecule in such a way that each of the adenines and thymines on the DNA strand were accompanied by their complementary bases. The mechanical requirements were also important, because after polymerization the matrix had to be stable. Suitable monomers were synthesized by the group of Prof. Francis D’Souza (UNT).

“When all the reagents and apparatus have been prepared, the imprinting itself of the TATAAA oligonucleotide is not especially complicated. The most important processes take place automatically in solutions in no more than a few dozen minutes. Finally, on the electrode used for electropolymerization, we obtain a layer of conductive polymer with molecular cavities where the nucleobases are arranged in the TTTATA sequence, that is, complementary to the extracted original”, describes doctoral student Katarzyna Bartold (IPC PAS).

Do polymer matrices prepared in this manner really reconstruct the original sequence of the DNA chain? To answer this question, at the IPC PAS careful measurements were carried out on the properties of the new polymers and a series of experiments was performed that confirmed the interaction of the polymers with various nucleobases in solutions. The results leave no doubt: the polymer DNA negative really is chemically active and selectively binds the TATAAA oligonucleotide, correctly reproducing the sequence of nucleobases.

The possibility of the relatively simple and low-cost production of stable polymer equivalents of DNA sequences is an important step in the development of synthetic genetics, especially in terms of its widespread applications in biotechnology and molecular medicine. If an improvement in the method developed at the IPC PAS is accomplished in the future, it will be possible to reproduce longer sequences of the genetic code in polymer matrices. This opens up inspiring perspectives associated not only with learning about the details of the process of transcription in cells or the construction of chemosensors for applications in nanotechnologies operating on chains of DNA, but also with the permanent archiving and replicating of the genetic code of different organisms.

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

Programmed transfer of sequence information into molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) for hexa(2,2’-bithien-5-yl) DNA analog formation towards single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) detection by Katarzyna Bartold, Agnieszka Pietrzyk-Le, Tan-Phat Huynh, Zofia Iskierko, Marta I. Sosnowska, Krzysztof Noworyta, Wojciech Lisowski, Francesco Maria Enrico Sannicolo, Silvia Cauteruccio, Emanuela Licandro, Francis D’Souza, and Wlodzimierz Kutner. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Just Accepted Manuscript
DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b14340 Publication Date (Web): January 10, 2017

Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Monitoring the life of bacteria in microdroplets

Trying to establish better ways to test the effect of drugs on bacteria has led the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences to develop a new monitoring technique. From a Jan.  11, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

So far, however, there has been no quick or accurate method of assessing the oxygen conditions in individual microdroplets. This key obstacle has been overcome at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Not in rows of large industrial tanks, nor on shelves laden with test tubes and beakers. The future of chemistry and biology is barely visible to the eye: it’s hundreds and thousands of microdroplets, whizzing through thin tubules of microfluidic devices. The race is on to find technologies that will make it possible to carry out controlled chemical and biological experiments in microdroplets. At the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw a method of remote, yet rapid and accurate assessment of oxygen consumption by micro-organisms living in individual microdroplets has been demonstrated for the first time.

“Devices for the cultivation of bacteria in microdroplets have the chance to revolutionize work on the development of new antibiotics and the study of mechanisms responsible for the acquisition of drug resistance by bacteria. In one small microfluidic system it is possible to accommodate several hundred or even several thousand microdroplets – and to carry out a different experiment in each of them, for example with different types of microorganisms and at different concentrations of antibiotic in each drop,” describes Prof. Piotr Garstecki (IPC PAS), then explains: “For such studies to be possible, one has to provide the bacteria with conditions for development for even a few weeks. Thus, knowledge about the flow of oxygen to the droplets and the rate of its consumption by the microorganisms becomes extremely important. In our latest system we demonstrate how to read this key information.”

A Jan. 11, 2017 IPC PAS press release on EurekAlert, which originated the  news item, describes the work in more detail,

The bioreactors of the future are water droplets with culture medium suspended in a carrier liquid with which they are immiscible (usually this is oil). In the channel of the microfluidic device each droplet is longer than it is wide and it almost completely fills its lumen; sizes matched in this manner ensure that the drops do not swop places in the channel and throughout the duration of the experiment they can be identified without any problems. At the same time, there has to be a thin layer of oil maintained continuously between each microdroplet and the wall of the channel. Without this, the bacteria would be in direct contact with the walls of the channel so they would be able to settle on them and move from drop to drop. Unfortunately, when the microdroplet is stationary, with time it pushes out the oil separating it from the walls, laying it open to contamination. For this reason the drops must be kept in constant motion – even for weeks.

Growing bacteria need culture medium, and waste products need to be removed from their environment at an appropriate rate. Information about the bacterial oxygen consumption in individual droplets is therefore crucial to the operation of microbioreactors.

“It is immediately obvious where the problem lies. In each of the hundreds of moving droplets measurements need to be carried out at a frequency corresponding to the frequency of division of the bacteria or more, in practice at least once every 15 minutes. In addition, the measurement cannot cause any interference in the microdroplets,” says PhD student Michal Horka (IPC PAS), a co-author of the publication in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Help was at hand for the Warsaw researchers from chemists from the Austrian Institute of Analytical Chemistry and Food Chemistry at the Graz University of Technology. They provided polymer nanoparticles with a phosphorescent dye, which after excitation emit light for longer the higher the concentration of oxygen in the surrounding solution (the nanoparticles underwent tests at the IPC PAS on bacteria in order to determine their possible toxicity – none was found).

Research on monitoring oxygen consumption in the droplets commenced with the preparation of an aqueous solution with the bacteria, the culture medium and a suitable quantity of nanoparticles. The mixture was injected into the microfluidic system constructed of tubing with Teflon connectors with correspondingly shaped channels. The first module formed droplets with a volume of approx. 4 microlitres, which were directed to the incubation tube wound on a spool. In the middle of its length there was another module, with detectors for measuring oxygen and absorbance.

“In the incubation part in one phase of the cycle the droplets flowed in one direction, in the second – in another, electronically controlled by means of suitable solenoid valves. All this looks seemingly simple enough, but in practice one of the biggest challenges was to ensure a smooth transition between the detection module and the tubing, so that bacterial contamination did not occur at the connections,” explains PhD student Horka.

During their passage through the detection module the droplets flowed under an optical sensor which measured the so-called optical density, which is the standard parameter used to evaluate the number of cells (the more bacteria in the droplets, the less light passes through them). In turn, the measurement of the duration of the phosphorescence of the nanoparticles, evaluating the concentration of oxygen in the microdroplets, was carried out using the Piccolo2 optical detector, provided by the Austrian group. This detector, which looks like a big pen drive, was connected directly to the USB port on the control computer. Comparing information from both sensors, IPC PAS researchers showed that the microfluidic device they had constructed made it possible to regularly and quickly monitor the metabolic activity of bacteria in the individual microdroplets.

“We carried out our tests both with bacteria floating in water singly – this is how the common Escherichia coli bacteria behave – as well as with those having a tendency to stick together in clumps – as is the case for tuberculosis bacilli or others belonging to the same family including Mycobacterium smegmatis which we studied. Evaluation of the rate of oxygen consumption by both species of microorganisms proved to be not only possible, but also reliable,” stresses PhD student Artur Ruszczak (IPC PAS).

The results of the research, funded by the European ERC Starting Grant (Polish side) and the Maria Sklodowska-Curie grant (Austrian side) are an important step in the process of building fully functional microfluidic devices for conducting biological experiments lasting many weeks. A system for culturing bacteria in microdroplets was developed at the IPC PAS a few years ago, however it was constructed on a polycarbonate plate. The maximum dimensions of the plate did not exceed 10 cm, which greatly limited the number of droplets; in addition, as a result of interaction with the polycarbonate, after four days the channels were contaminated with bacteria. Devices of Teflon modules and tubing would not have these disadvantages, and would be suitable for practical applications.

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

Lifetime of Phosphorescence from Nanoparticles Yields Accurate Measurement of Concentration of Oxygen in Microdroplets, Allowing One To Monitor the Metabolism of Bacteria by Michał Horka, Shiwen Sun, Artur Ruszczak, Piotr Garstecki, and Torsten Mayr. Anal. Chem., 2016, 88 (24), pp 12006–12012 DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b03758 Publication Date (Web): November 23, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanotech business news from Turkey and from Northern Ireland

I have two nanotech business news bits, one from Turkey and one from Northern Ireland.


A Turkish company has sold one of its microscopes to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), according to a Jan. 20, 2017 news item on dailysabah.com,

Turkish nanotechnology company Nanomanyetik has begun selling a powerful microscope to the U.S. space agency NASA, the company’s general director told Anadolu Agency on Thursday [Jan. 19, 2017].

Dr. Ahmet Oral, who also teaches physics at Middle East Technical University, said Nanomanyetik developed a microscope that is able to map surfaces on the nanometric and atomic levels, or extremely small particles.

Nanomanyetik’s foreign customers are drawn to the microscope because of its higher quality yet cheaper price compared to its competitors.

“There are almost 30 firms doing this work,” according to Oral. “Ten of them are active and we are among these active firms. Our aim is to be in the top three,” he said, adding that Nanomanyetik jumps to the head of the line because of its after-sell service.

In addition to sales to NASA, the Ankara-based firm exports the microscope to Brazil, Chile, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea and Spain.

Electronics giant Samsung is also a customer.

“Where does Samsung use this product? There are pixels in the smartphones’ displays. These pixels are getting smaller each year. Now the smallest pixel is 15X10 microns,” he said. Human hair is between 10 and 100 microns in diameter.

“They are figuring inner sides of pixels so that these pixels can operate much better. These patterns are on the nanometer level. They are using these microscopes to see the results of their works,” Oral said.

Nanomanyetik’s microscopes produces good quality, high resolution images and can even display an object’s atoms and individual DNA fibers, according to Oral.

You can find the English language version of the Nanomanyetik (NanoMagnetics Instruments) website here . For those with the language skills there is the Turkish language version, here.

Northern Ireland

A Jan. 22, 2017 news article by Dominic Coyle for The Irish Times (Note: Links have been removed) shares this business news and mention of a world first,

MOF Technologies has raised £1.5 million (€1.73 million) from London-based venture capital group Excelsa Ventures and Queen’s University Belfast’s Qubis research commercialisation group.

MOF Technologies chief executive Paschal McCloskey welcomed the Excelsa investment.

Established in part by Qubis in 2012 in partnership with inventor Prof Stuart James, MOF Technologies began life in a lab at the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s.

Its metal organic framework (MOF) technology is seen as having significant potential in areas including gas storage, carbon capture, transport, drug delivery and heat transformation. Though still in its infancy, the market is forecast to grow to £2.2 billion by 2022, the company says.

MOF Technologies last year became the first company worldwide to successfully commercialise MOFs when it agreed a deal with US fruit and vegetable storage provider Decco Worldwide to commercialise MOFs for use in a food application.

TruPick, designed by Decco and using MOF Technologies’ environmentally friendly technology, enables nanomaterials control the effects of ethylene on fruit produce so it maintains freshness in storage or transport.

MOFs are crystalline, sponge-like materials composed of two components – metal ions and organic molecules known as linkers.

“We very quickly recognised the market potential of MOFs in terms of their unmatched ability for gas storage,” said Moritz Bolle from Excelsa Ventures. “This technology will revolutionise traditional applications and open countless new opportunities for industry. We are confident MOF Technologies is the company that will lead this seismic shift in materials science.

You can find MOF Technologies here.

Unbreakable encrypted message with key that’s shorter than the message

A Sept. 5, 2016 University of Rochester (NY state, US) news release (also on EurekAlert), makes an intriguing announcement,

Researchers at the University of Rochester have moved beyond the theoretical in demonstrating that an unbreakable encrypted message can be sent with a key that’s far shorter than the message—the first time that has ever been done.

Until now, unbreakable encrypted messages were transmitted via a system envisioned by American mathematician Claude Shannon, considered the “father of information theory.” Shannon combined his knowledge of algebra and electrical circuitry to come up with a binary system of transmitting messages that are secure, under three conditions: the key is random, used only once, and is at least as long as the message itself.

The findings by Daniel Lum, a graduate student in physics, and John Howell, a professor of physics, have been published in the journal Physical Review A.

“Daniel’s research amounts to an important step forward, not just for encryption, but for the field of quantum data locking,” said Howell.

Quantum data locking is a method of encryption advanced by Seth Lloyd, a professor of quantum information at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that uses photons—the smallest particles associated with light—to carry a message. Quantum data locking was thought to have limitations for securely encrypting messages, but Lloyd figured out how to make additional assumptions—namely those involving the boundary between light and matter—to make it a more secure method of sending data.  While a binary system allows for only an on or off position with each bit of information, photon waves can be altered in many more ways: the angle of tilt can be changed, the wavelength can be made longer or shorter, and the size of the amplitude can be modified. Since a photon has more variables—and there are fundamental uncertainties when it comes to quantum measurements—the quantum key for encrypting and deciphering a message can be shorter that the message itself.

Lloyd’s system remained theoretical until this year, when Lum and his team developed a device—a quantum enigma machine—that would put the theory into practice. The device takes its name from the encryption machine used by Germany during World War II, which employed a coding method that the British and Polish intelligence agencies were secretly able to crack.

Let’s assume that Alice wants to send an encrypted message to Bob. She uses the machine to generate photons that travel through free space and into a spatial light modulator (SLM) that alters the properties of the individual photons (e.g. amplitude, tilt) to properly encode the message into flat but tilted wavefronts that can be focused to unique points dictated by the tilt. But the SLM does one more thing: it distorts the shapes of the photons into random patterns, such that the wavefront is no longer flat which means it no longer has a well-defined focus. Alice and Bob both know the keys which identify the implemented scrambling operations, so Bob is able to use his own SLM to flatten the wavefront, re-focus the photons, and translate the altered properties into the distinct elements of the message.

Along with modifying the shape of the photons, Lum and the team made use of the uncertainty principle, which states that the more we know about one property of a particle, the less we know about another of its properties. Because of that, the researchers were able to securely lock in six bits of classical information using only one bit of an encryption key—an operation called data locking.

“While our device is not 100 percent secure, due to photon loss,” said Lum, “it does show that data locking in message encryption is far more than a theory.”

The ultimate goal of the quantum enigma machine is to prevent a third party—for example, someone named Eve—from intercepting and deciphering the message. A crucial principle of quantum theory is that the mere act of measuring a quantum system changes the system. As a result, Eve has only one shot at obtaining and translating the encrypted message—something that is virtually impossible, given the nearly limitless number of patterns that exist for each photon.

The paper by Lum and Howell was one of two papers published simultaneously on the same topic. The other paper, “Quantum data locking,” was from a team led by Chinese physicist Jian-Wei Pan.

“It’s highly unlikely that our free-space implementation will be useful through atmospheric conditions,” said Lum. “Instead, we have identified the use of optic fiber as a more practical route for data locking, a path Pan’s group actually started with. Regardless, the field is still in its infancy with a great deal more research needed.”

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

Quantum enigma machine: Experimentally demonstrating quantum data locking by Daniel J. Lum, John C. Howell, M. S. Allman, Thomas Gerrits, Varun B. Verma, Sae Woo Nam, Cosmo Lupo, and Seth Lloyd. Phys. Rev. A, Vol. 94, Iss. 2 — August 2016 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevA.94.022315

©2016 American Physical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is an earlier open access version of the paper by the Chinese researchers on arXiv.org,

Experimental quantum data locking by Yang Liu, Zhu Cao, Cheng Wu, Daiji Fukuda, Lixing You, Jiaqiang Zhong, Takayuki Numata, Sijing Chen, Weijun Zhang, Sheng-Cai Shi, Chao-Yang Lu, Zhen Wang, Xiongfeng Ma, Jingyun Fan, Qiang Zhang, Jian-Wei Pan. arXiv.org > quant-ph > arXiv:1605.04030

The Chinese team’s later version of the paper is available here,

Experimental quantum data locking by Yang Liu, Zhu Cao, Cheng Wu, Daiji Fukuda, Lixing You, Jiaqiang Zhong, Takayuki Numata, Sijing Chen, Weijun Zhang, Sheng-Cai Shi, Chao-Yang Lu, Zhen Wang, Xiongfeng Ma, Jingyun Fan, Qiang Zhang, and Jian-Wei Pan. Phys. Rev. A, Vol. 94, Iss. 2 — August 2016 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevA.94.020301

©2016 American Physical Society

This version is behind a paywall.

Getting back to the folks at the University of Rochester, they have provided this image to illustrate their work,

The quantum enigma machine developed by researchers at the University of Rochester, MIT, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. (Image by Daniel Lum/University of Rochester)

The quantum enigma machine developed by researchers at the University of Rochester, MIT, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. (Image by Daniel Lum/University of Rochester)

First hologram of a single photon (light particle)

Polish scientists have created a technique for something thought to be impossible. From a July 19, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Until quite recently, creating a hologram of a single photon was believed to be impossible due to fundamental laws of physics. However, scientists at the Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw, have successfully applied concepts of classical holography to the world of quantum phenomena. A new measurement technique has enabled them to register the first ever hologram of a single light particle, thereby shedding new light on the foundations of quantum mechanics.

A July 18, 2016 University of Warsaw press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the breakthrough in more detail,

Scientists at the Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw, have created the first ever hologram of a single light particle. The spectacular experiment, reported in the prestigious journal Nature Photonics, was conducted by Dr. Radoslaw Chrapkiewicz and Michal Jachura under the supervision of Dr. Wojciech Wasilewski and Prof. Konrad Banaszek. Their successful registering of the hologram of a single photon heralds a new era in holography: quantum holography, which promises to offer a whole new perspective on quantum phenomena.

“We performed a relatively simple experiment to measure and view something incredibly difficult to observe: the shape of wavefronts of a single photon,” says Dr. Chrapkiewicz.

In standard photography, individual points of an image register light intensity only. In classical holography, the interference phenomenon also registers the phase of the light waves (it is the phase which carries information about the depth of the image). When a hologram is created, a well-described, undisturbed light wave (reference wave) is superimposed with another wave of the same wavelength but reflected from a three-dimensional object (the peaks and troughs of the two waves are shifted to varying degrees at different points of the image). This results in interference and the phase differences between the two waves create a complex pattern of lines. Such a hologram is then illuminated with a beam of reference light to recreate the spatial structure of wavefronts of the light reflected from the object, and as such its 3D shape.

One might think that a similar mechanism would be observed when the number of photons creating the two waves were reduced to a minimum, that is to a single reference photon and a single photon reflected by the object. And yet you’d be wrong! The phase of individual photons continues to fluctuate, which makes classical interference with other photons impossible. Since the Warsaw physicists were facing a seemingly impossible task, they attempted to tackle the issue differently: rather than using classical interference of electromagnetic waves, they tried to register quantum interference in which the wave functions of photons interact.

Wave function is a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics and the core of its most important equation: the Schrödinger equation. In the hands of a skilled physicist, the function could be compared to putty in the hands of a sculptor: when expertly shaped, it can be used to ‘mould’ a model of a quantum particle system. Physicists are always trying to learn about the wave function of a particle in a given system, since the square of its modulus represents the distribution of the probability of finding the particle in a particular state, which is highly useful.

“All this may sound rather complicated, but in practice our experiment is simple at its core: instead of looking at changing light intensity, we look at the changing probability of registering pairs of photons after the quantum interference,” explains doctoral student Jachura.

Why pairs of photons? A year ago, Chrapkiewicz and Jachura used an innovative camera built at the University of Warsaw to film the behaviour of pairs of distinguishable and non-distinguishable photons entering a beam splitter. When the photons are distinguishable, their behaviour at the beam splitter is random: one or both photons can be transmitted or reflected. Non-distinguishable photons exhibit quantum interference, which alters their behaviour: they join into pairs and are always transmitted or reflected together. This is known as two-photon interference or the Hong-Ou-Mandel effect.

“Following this experiment, we were inspired to ask whether two-photon quantum interference could be used similarly to classical interference in holography in order to use known-state photons to gain further information about unknown-state photons. Our analysis led us to a surprising conclusion: it turned out that when two photons exhibit quantum interference, the course of this interference depends on the shape of their wavefronts,” says Dr. Chrapkiewicz.

Quantum interference can be observed by registering pairs of photons. The experiment needs to be repeated several times, always with two photons with identical properties. To meet these conditions, each experiment started with a pair of photons with flat wavefronts and perpendicular polarisations; this means that the electrical field of each photon vibrated in a single plane only, and these planes were perpendicular for the two photons. The different polarisation made it possible to separate the photons in a crystal and make one of them ‘unknown’ by curving their wavefronts using a cylindrical lens. Once the photons were reflected by mirrors, they were directed towards the beam splitter (a calcite crystal). The splitter didn’t change the direction of vertically-polarised photons, but it did diverge diplace horizontally-polarised photons. In order to make each direction equally probable and to make sure the crystal acted as a beam splitter, the planes of photon polarisation were bent by 45 degrees before the photons entered the splitter. The photons were registered using the state-of-the-art camera designed for the previous experiments. By repeating the measurements several times, the researchers obtained an interference image corresponding to the hologram of the unknown photon viewed from a single point in space. The image was used to fully reconstruct the amplitude and phase of the wave function of the unknown photon.

The experiment conducted by the Warsaw physicists is a major step towards improving our understanding of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics. Until now, there has not been a simple experimental method of gaining information about the phase of a photon’s wave function. Although quantum mechanics has many applications, and it has been verified many times with a great degree of accuracy over the last century, we are still unable to explain what wave functions actually are: are they simply a handy mathematical tool, or are they something real?

“Our experiment is one of the first allowing us to directly observe one of the fundamental parameters of photon’s wave function – its phase – bringing us a step closer to understanding what the wave function really is,” explains Jachura.

The Warsaw physicists used quantum holography to reconstruct wave function of an individual photon. Researchers hope that in the future they will be able to use a similar method to recreate wave functions of more complex quantum objects, such as certain atoms. Will quantum holography find applications beyond the lab to a similar extent as classical holography, which is routinely used in security (holograms are difficult to counterfeit), entertainment, transport (in scanners measuring the dimensions of cargo), microscopic imaging and optical data storing and processing technologies?

“It’s difficult to answer this question today. All of us – I mean physicists – must first get our heads around this new tool. It’s likely that real applications of quantum holography won’t appear for a few decades yet, but if there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that they will be surprising,” summarises Prof. Banaszek.

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

Hologram of a single photon by Radosław Chrapkiewicz, Michał Jachura, Konrad Banaszek, & Wojciech Wasilewski.  Nature Photonics (2016) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2016.129 Published online 18 July 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Polish researchers develop Superman’s kryptonite?

It’s not precisely kryptonite but rather a krypton-oxygen compound according to a March 2, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Theoretical chemists have found how to synthesize the first binary compound of krypton and oxygen: a krypton oxide. It turns out that this exotic substance can be produced under extremely high pressure, and its production is quite within the capabilities of today’s laboratories.

A March 2, 2016 Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more information about Superman’s kryptonite, real krypton, and the new synthesized compound,

Crystals of kryptonite, a material deadly to Superman and his race, were supposed to have been created within the planet Krypton, and therefore most likely under very high pressure. The progenitor of the name, real krypton, is an element with an atomic number of 36, a noble gas considered to be incapable of forming stable chemical compounds. However, a publication in the journal Scientific Reports by a two-man team of theoretical chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, Poland, presents the possibility of synthesizing a new crystalline material in which atoms of krypton would be chemically bonded to another element.

“The substance we are predicting is a compound of krypton with not nitrogen, but oxygen. In the convention of the comic book it should, therefore, be called not so much kryptonite as kryptoxide. So if Superman’s reading this, he can stay calm – at the moment there’s no cause for panic!” laughs Dr. Patrick Zaleski-Ejgierd (IPC PAS) and adds: “Our krypton monoxide, KrO, probably does not exist in nature. According to current knowledge, deep in the interiors of planets, that is, the only place where there is sufficient pressure for its synthesis, oxygen does not exist, nor even more so, does krypton.”

Compounds of krypton have been produced before, in the laboratory under cryogenic conditions. They were, however, only single, linear and small molecules of the hydrogen-carbon-krypton-carbon-hydrogen type. The Polish chemists wondered if there were conditions in which krypton would not only bond chemically with another element, but also in which it would be capable of forming an extensive and stable crystal lattice. Their search, funded by an OPUS grant from the Polish National Science Centre, involved the researchers using genetic algorithms and models built on the so-called density functional theory. In the field of solid state physics, this theory has for years been a basic tool for the description and study of the world of chemical molecules.

“Our computer simulations suggest that crystals of krypton monoxide will be formed at a pressure in the range of 3 to 5 million atmospheres. This is a huge pressure, but it can be achieved even in today’s laboratories, by skillfully squeezing samples in diamond anvils,” says PhD student Pawe? Lata (IPC PAS).

Crystal lattices are built from atoms or molecules arranged in space in an orderly manner. The smallest repetitive fragment of such structures – the basic ‘building block’ – is called a unit cell. In crystals of table salt the unit cell has the shape of a cube, the sodium and chlorine atoms, arranged alternately, are mounted on each corner, close enough to each other that they are bound by covalent (chemical) bonds.

The unit cell of krypton monoxide is cuboid with a diamond base, with krypton atoms at the corners. In addition, in the middle of the two opposite side walls, there is one atom of krypton.

“Where is the oxygen? On the side walls of the unit cell, where there are five atoms of krypton, they are arranged like the dots on a dice showing the number five. Single atoms of oxygen are located between the krypton atoms, but only along the diagonal – and only along one! Thus, on each wall with five krypton atoms there are only two atoms of oxygen. Not only that, the oxygen is not exactly on the diagonal: one of the atoms is slightly offset from it in one direction and the other atom in the other direction,” describes Lata.

In such an idiosyncratic unit cell, each atom of oxygen is chemically bound to the two nearest adjacent atoms of krypton. Zigzag chains of Kr/O\Kr\O/Kr will therefore pass through the crystal of krypton monoxide, forming long polymer structures. Calculations indicate that crystals of this type of krypton monoxide should have the characteristics of a semiconductor. One can assume that they will be dark, and their transparency will not be great.

Theorists from the IPC PAS have also found a second, slightly less stable compound of krypton: the tetroxide KrO4. This material, which probably has properties typical of a metal, has a simpler crystalline structure and could be formed at a pressure exceeding 3.4 million atmospheres.

After formation, the two kinds of krypton oxide crystals could probably exist at a somewhat lower pressure than that required for their formation. The pressure on earth, however, is so low that on our planet these crystals would undergo degradation immediately.

“Reactions occurring at extremely high pressure are almost unknown, very, very exotic chemistry. We call it ‘Chemistry on the Edge'”. Often the pressures needed to perform syntheses are so gigantic that at present there is no point in trying to produce them in laboratories. In those cases even methods of theoretic description fail! But what is most interesting here is the non-intuitiveness. From the very first to the last step of synthesis you never know what’s going to happen,” says Dr. Zaleski-Ejgierd – and he returns to his computer where simulations of subsequent syntheses are nearing their end.

I don’t usually include images of the researchers but these guys dressed up for the occasion,

Chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw have found a method of synthesizing a new crystalline material in which atoms of krypton would be chemically bonded to another element. (Source: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski) Metodê syntezy pierwszego trwa³ego zwi¹zku kryptonu znale¿li chemicy-teoretycy z Instytutu Chemii Fizycznej PAN w Warszawie. (ród³o: IChF PAN, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski)

Chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw have found a method of synthesizing a new crystalline material in which atoms of krypton would be chemically bonded to another element. (Source: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski)
Metodê syntezy pierwszego trwa³ego zwi¹zku kryptonu znale¿li chemicy-teoretycy z Instytutu Chemii Fizycznej PAN w Warszawie. (ród³o: IChF PAN, Grzegorz Krzy¿ewski)

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

Krypton oxides under pressure by  Patryk Zaleski-Ejgierd & Pawel M. Lata. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 18938 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep18938 Published online: 02 February 2016

This paper is open access.

Science advice conference in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 29 – 30, 2016 and a call for speakers

This is the second such conference and they are issuing a call for speakers; the first was held in New Zealand in 2014 (my April 8, 2014 post offers an overview of the then proposed science advice conference). Thanks to David Bruggeman and his Feb. 23, 2016 posting (on the Pasco Phronesis blog) for the information about this latest one (Note: A link has been removed),

The International Network for Global Science Advice (INGSA) is holding its second global conference in Brussels this September 29 and 30, in conjunction with the European Commission. The organizers have the following goals for the conference:

  • Identify core principles and best practices, common to structures providing scientific advice for governments worldwide.
  • Identify practical ways to improve the interaction of the demand and supply side of scientific advice.
  • Describe, by means of practical examples, the impact of effective science advisory processes.

Here’s a little more about the conference from its webpage on the INGSA website,

Science and Policy-Making: towards a new dialogue

29th – 30th September 2016, Brussels, Belgium

Call for suggestions for speakers for the parallel sessions


“Science advice has never been in greater demand; nor has it been more contested.”[1] The most complex and sensitive policy issues of our time are those for which the available scientific evidence is ever growing and multi-disciplined, but still has uncertainties. Yet these are the very issues for which scientific input is needed most. In this environment, the usefulness and legitimacy of expertise seems obvious to scientists, but is this view shared by policy-makers?


A two-day conference will take place in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday 29th and Friday 30th September 2016. Jointly organised by the European Commission and the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), the conference will bring together users and providers of scientific advice on critical, global issues. Policy-makers, leading practitioners and scholars in the field of science advice to governments, as well as other stakeholders, will explore principles and practices in a variety of current and challenging policy contexts. It will also present the new Scientific Advice Mechanism [SAM] of the European Commission [emphasis mine; I have more about SAM further down in the post] to the international community. Through keynote lectures and plenary discussions and topical parallel sessions, the conference aims to take a major step towards responding to the challenge best articulated by the World Science Forum Declaration of 2015:

“The need to define the principles, processes and application of science advice and to address the theoretical and practical questions regarding the independence, transparency, visibility and accountability of those who receive and provide advice has never been more important. We call for concerted action of scientists and policy-makers to define and promulgate universal principles for developing and communicating science to inform and evaluate policy based on responsibility, integrity, independence, and accountability.”

The conference seeks to:

Identify core principles and best practices, common to structures providing scientific advice for governments worldwide.
Identify practical ways to improve the interaction of the demand and supply side of scientific advice.
Describe, by means of practical examples, the impact of effective science advisory processes.

The Programme Committee comprises:

Eva Alisic, Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy

Tateo Arimoto, Director of Science, Technology and Innovation Programme; The Japanese National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

Peter Gluckman, Chair of INGSA and Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, New Zealand (co-chair)

Robin Grimes, UK Foreign Office Chief Scientific Adviser

Heide Hackmann, International Council for Science (ICSU)

Theodoros Karapiperis, European Parliament – Head of Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA), European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) – Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel

Johannes Klumpers, European Commission, Head of Unit – Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) (co-chair)

Martin Kowarsch, Head of the Working Group Scientific assessments, Ethics and Public Policy, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change

David Mair, European Commission – Joint Research Centre (JRC)

Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist,  Province of Québec, Canada

Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for the Natural Sciences

Henrik Wegener, Executive Vice President, Chief Academic Officer, Provost at Technical University of Denmark, Chair of the EU High Level Group of Scientific Advisors

James Wilsdon, Chair of INGSA, Professor of Research Policy, Director of Impact & Engagement, University of Sheffield

The conference will be a combination of plenary lectures and topical panels in parallel (concurrent) sessions outlined below. Each session will include three speakers (15 minute address with 5 minute Q & A each) plus a 30 minute moderated discussion.

Parallel Session I: Scientific advice for global policy

The pathways of science advice are a product of a country’s own cultural history and will necessarily differ across jurisdictions. Yet, there is an increasing number of global issues that require science advice. Can scientific advice help to address issues requiring action at international level? What are the considerations for providing science advice in these contexts? What are the examples from which we can learn what works and what does not work in informing policy-making through scientific advice?

Topics to be addressed include:

Climate Change – Science for the Paris Agreement: Did it work?
Migration: How can science advice help?
Zika fever, dementia, obesity etc.; how can science advice help policy to address the global health challenges?

Parallel Session II: Getting equipped – developing the practice of providing scientific advice for policy

The practice of science advice to public policy requires a new set of skills that are neither strictly scientific nor policy-oriented, but a hybrid of both. Negotiating the interface between science and policy requires translational and navigational skills that are often not acquired through formal training and education. What are the considerations in developing these unique capacities, both in general and for particular contexts? In order to be best prepared for informing policy-making, up-coming needs for scientific advice should ideally be anticipated. Apart from scientific evidence sensu stricto, can other sources such as the arts, humanities, foresight and horizon scanning provide useful insights for scientific advice? How can scientific advice make best use of such tools and methods?

Topics to be addressed include:

How to close the gap between the need and the capacity for science advice in developing countries with limited or emerging science systems?
What skills do scientists and policymakers need for a better dialogue?
Foresight and science advice: can foresight and horizon scanning help inform the policy agenda?

Parallel Session III: Scientific advice for and with society

In many ways, the practice of science advice has become a key pillar in what has been called the ‘new social contract for science[2]’. Science advice translates knowledge, making it relevant to society through both better informed policy and by helping communities and their elected representatives to make better informed decisions about the impacts of technology. Yet providing science advice is often a distributed and disconnected practice in which academies, formal advisors, journalists, stakeholder organisations and individual scientists play an important role. The resulting mix of information can be complex and even contradictory, particularly as advocate voices and social media join the open discourse. What considerations are there in an increasingly open practice of science advice?

Topics to be addressed include:

Science advice and the media: Lost in translation?
Beyond the ivory tower: How can academies best contribute to science advice for policy?
What is the role of other stakeholders in science advice?

Parallel Session IV: Science advice crossing borders

Science advisors and advisory mechanisms are called upon not just for nationally-relevant advice, but also for issues that increasingly cross borders. In this, the importance of international alignment and collaborative possibilities may be obvious, but there may be inherent tensions. In addition, there may be legal and administrative obstacles to transnational scientific advice. What are these hurdles and how can they be overcome? To what extent are science advisory systems also necessarily diplomatic and what are the implications of this in practice?

Topics to be addressed include:

How is science advice applied across national boundaries in practice?
What support do policymakers need from science advice to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in their countries?
Science Diplomacy/Can Scientists extend the reach of diplomats?

Call for Speakers

The European Commission and INGSA are now in the process of identifying speakers for the above conference sessions. As part of this process we invite those interested in speaking to submit their ideas. Interested policy-makers, scientists and scholars in the field of scientific advice, as well as business and civil-society stakeholders are warmly encouraged to submit proposals. Alternatively, you may propose an appropriate speaker.

The conference webpage includes a form should you wish to submit yourself or someone else as a speaker.

New Scientific Advice Mechanism of the European Commission

For anyone unfamiliar with the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) mentioned in the conference’s notes, once Anne Glover’s, chief science adviser for the European Commission (EC), term of office was completed in 2014 the EC president, Jean-Claude Juncker, obliterated the position. Glover, the first and only science adviser for the EC, was to replaced by an advisory council and a new science advice mechanism.

David Bruggemen describes the then situation in a May 14, 2015 posting (Note: A link has been removed),

Earlier this week European Commission President Juncker met with several scientists along with Commission Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness [Jyrki] Katainen and the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation ]Carlos] Moedas. …

What details are publicly available are currently limited to this slide deck.  It lists two main mechanisms for science advice, a high-level group of eminent scientists (numbering seven), staffing and resource support from the Commission, and a structured relationship with the science academies of EU member states.  The deck gives a deadline of this fall for the high-level group to be identified and stood up.

… The Commission may use this high-level group more as a conduit than a source for policy advice.  A reasonable question to ask is whether or not the high-level group can meet the Commission’s expectations, and those of the scientific community with which it is expected to work.

David updated the information in a January 29,2016 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

Today the High Level Group of the newly constituted Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) of the European Union held its first meeting.  The seven members of the group met with Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas and Andrus Ansip, the Commission’s Vice-President with responsibility for the Digital Single Market (a Commission initiative focused on making a Europe-wide digital market and improving support and infrastructure for digital networks and services).

Given it’s early days, there’s little more to discuss than the membership of this advisory committee (from the SAM High Level Group webpage),

Janusz Bujnicki

Professor, Head of the Laboratory of Bioinformatics and Protein Engineering, International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Warsaw

Janusz Bujnicki

Professor of Biology, and head of a research group at IIMCB in Warsaw and at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland. Janusz Bujnicki graduated from the Faculty of Biology, University of Warsaw in 1998, defended his PhD in 2001, was awarded with habilitation in 2005 and with the professor title in 2009.

Bujnicki’s research combines bioinformatics, structural biology and synthetic biology. His scientific achievements include the development of methods for computational modeling of protein and RNA 3D structures, discovery and characterization of enzymes involved in RNA metabolism, and engineering of proteins with new functions. He is an author of more than 290 publications, which have been cited by other researchers more than 5400 times (as of October 2015). Bujnicki received numerous awards, prizes, fellowships, and grants including EMBO/HHMI Young Investigator Programme award, ERC Starting Grant, award of the Polish Ministry of Science and award of the Polish Prime Minister, and was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta by the President of the Republic of Poland. In 2013 he won the national plebiscite “Poles with Verve” in the Science category.

Bujnicki has been involved in various scientific organizations and advisory bodies, including the Polish Young Academy, civic movement Citizens of Science, Life, Environmental and Geo Sciences panel of the Science Europe organization, and Scientific Policy Committee – an advisory body of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland. He is also an executive editor of the scientific journal Nucleic Acids Research.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 206 KB

Pearl Dykstra

Professor of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Pearl Dykstra

Professor Dykstra has a chair in Empirical Sociology and is Director of Research of the Department of Public Administration and Sociology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Previously, she had a chair in Kinship Demography at Utrecht University (2002-2009) and was a senior scientist at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague (1990-2009).

Her publications focus on intergenerational solidarity, aging societies, family change, aging and the life course, and late-life well-being. She is an elected member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, 2004) and Vice-President of the KNAW as of 2011, elected Member of the Dutch Social Sciences Council (SWR, 2006), and elected Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America (2010). In 2012 she received an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant for the research project “Families in context”, which will focus on the ways in which policy, economic, and cultural contexts structure interdependence in families.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 391 KB

Elvira Fortunato

Deputy Chair

Professor, Materials Science Department of the Faculty of Science and Technology, NOVA University, Lisbon

Elvira Fortunato

Professor Fortunato is a full professor in the Materials Science Department of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the New University of Lisbon, a Fellow of the Portuguese Engineering Academy since 2009 and decorated as a Grand Officer of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator by the President of the Republic in 2010, due to her scientific achievements worldwide. In 2015 she was appointed by the Portuguese President Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Celebrations of the National Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities.

She was also a member of the Portuguese National Scientific & Technological Council between 2012 and 2015 and a member of the advisory board of DG CONNECT (2014-15).

Currently she is the director of the Institute of Nanomaterials, Nanofabrication and Nanomodeling and of CENIMAT. She is member of the board of trustees of Luso-American Foundation (Portugal/USA, 2013-2020).

Fortunato pioneered European research on transparent electronics, namely thin-film transistors based on oxide semiconductors, demonstrating that oxide materials can be used as true semiconductors. In 2008, she received in the 1st ERC edition an Advanced Grant for the project “Invisible”, considered a success story. In the same year she demonstrated with her colleagues the possibility to make the first paper transistor, starting a new field in the area of paper electronics.

Fortunato published over 500 papers and during the last 10 years received more than 16 International prizes and distinctions for her work (e.g: IDTechEx USA 2009 (paper transistor); European Woman Innovation prize, Finland 2011).

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 339 KB

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Director-General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Professor Heuer is an experimental particle physicist and has been CERN Director-General since January 2009. His mandate, ending December 2015, is characterised by the start of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) 2009 as well as its energy increase 2015, the discovery of the H-Boson and the geographical enlargement of CERN Membership. He also actively engaged CERN in promoting the importance of science and STEM education for the sustainable development of the society. From 2004 to 2008, Prof. Heuer was research director for particle and astroparticle physics at the DESY laboratory, Germany where he oriented the particle physics groups towards LHC by joining both large experiments, ATLAS and CMS. He has initiated restructuring and focusing of German high energy physics at the energy frontier with particular emphasis on LHC (Helmholtz Alliance “Physics at the Terascale”). In April 2016 he will become President of the German Physical Society. He is designated President of the Council of SESAME (Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East).

Prof. Heuer has published over 500 scientific papers and holds many Honorary Degrees from universities in Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada. He is Member of several Academies of Sciences in Europe, in particular of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and Honorary Member of the European Physical Society. In 2015 he received the Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon

Julia Slingo

Chief Scientist, Met Office, Exeter

Julia Slingo

Dame Julia Slingo became Met Office Chief Scientist in February 2009 where she leads a team of over 500 scientists working on a very broad portfolio of research that underpins weather forecasting, climate prediction and climate change projections. During her time as Chief Scientist she has fostered much stronger scientific partnerships across UK academia and international research organisations, recognising the multi-disciplinary and grand challenge nature of weather and climate science and services. She works closely with UK Government Chief Scientific Advisors and is regularly called to give evidence on weather and climate related issues.

Before joining the Met Office she was the Director of Climate Research in NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, at the University of Reading. In 2006 she founded the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at Reading, aimed at addressing the cross disciplinary challenges of climate change and its impacts. Julia has had a long-term career in atmospheric physics, climate modelling and tropical climate variability, working at the Met Office, ECMWF and NCAR in the USA.

Dame Julia has published over 100 peer reviewed papers and has received numerous awards including the prestigious IMO Prize of the World Meteorological Organization for her outstanding work in meteorology, climatology, hydrology and related sciences. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Physics.

Curriculum vitae  PDF icon 239 KB

Cédric Villani

Director, Henri Poincaré Institute, Paris

Cédric Villani

Born in 1973 in France, Cédric Villani is a mathematician, director of the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris (from 2009), and professor at the Université Claude Bernard of Lyon (from 2010). In December 2013 he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.

He has worked on the theory of partial differential equations involved in statistical mechanics, specifically the Boltzmann equation, and on nonlinear Landau damping. He was awarded the Fields Medal in 2010 for his works.

Since then he has been playing an informal role of ambassador for the French mathematical community to media (press, radio, television) and society in general. His books for non-specialists, in particular Théorème vivant (2012, translated in a dozen of languages), La Maison des mathématiques (2014, with J.-Ph. Uzan and V. Moncorgé) and Les Rêveurs lunaires (2015, with E. Baudoin) have all found a wide audience. He has also given hundreds of lectures for all kinds of audiences around the world.

He participates actively in the administration of science, through the Institut Henri Poincaré, but also by sitting in a number of panels and committees, including the higher council of research and the strategic council of Paris. Since 2010 he has been involved in fostering mathematics in Africa, through programs by the Next Einstein Initiative and the World Bank.

Believing in the commitment of scientists in society, Villani is also President of the Association Musaïques, a European federalist and a father of two.


Henrik C. Wegener


Executive Vice President, Chief Academic Officer and Provost, Technical University of Denmark

Henrik C. Wegener

Henrik C. Wegener is Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer at Technical University of Denmark since 2011. He received his M.Sc. in food science and technology at the University of Copenhagen in 1988, his Ph.D. in microbiology at University of Copenhagen in 1992, and his Master in Public Administration (MPA) form Copenhagen Business School in 2005.

Henrik C. Wegener was director of the National Food Institute, DTU from 2006-2011 and before that head of the Department of Epidemiology and Risk Assessment at National Food and Veterinary Research Institute, Denmark (2004-2006). From 1994-1999, he was director of the Danish Zoonosis Centre, and from 1999-2004 professor of zoonosis epidemiology at Danish Veterinary Institute. He was stationed at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva from 1999-2000. With more than 3.700 citations (h-index 34), he is the author of over 150 scientific papers in journals, research monographs and proceedings, on food safety, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance and emerging infectious diseases.

He has served as advisor and reviewer to national and international authorities & governments, international organizations and private companies, universities and research foundations, and he has served, and is presently serving, on several national and international committees and boards on food safety, veterinary public health and research policy.

Henrik C. Wegener has received several awards, including the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics International Leadership Award in 2003.

That’s quite a mix of sciences and I’m happy to see a social scientist has been included.

Conference submissions

Getting back to the conference and its call for speakers, the deadline for submissions is March 25, 2016. Interestingly, there’s also this (from conference webpage),

The deadline for submissions is 25th March 2016. The conference programme committee with session chairs will review all proposals and select those that best fit the aim of each session while also representing a diverse range of perspectives. We aim to inform selected speakers within 4 weeks of the deadline to enable travel planning to Brussels.

To make the conference as accessible as possible, there is no registration fee. [emphasis mine] The European Commission will cover travel accommodation costs only for confirmed speakers for whom the travel and accommodation arrangements will be made by the Commission itself, on the basis of the speakers’ indication.

Good luck!

*Head for conference submissions added on Feb. 29, 2016 at 1155 hundred hours.

Back to the mortar and pestle for perovskite-based photovoltaics

This mechanochemistry (think mortar and pestle) story about perovskite comes from Poland. From a Jan. 14, 2016 Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Jan. 16, 2016),

Perovskites, substances that perfectly absorb light, are the future of solar energy. The opportunity for their rapid dissemination has just increased thanks to a cheap and environmentally safe method of production of these materials, developed by chemists from Warsaw, Poland. Rather than in solutions at a high temperature, perovskites can now be synthesized by solid-state mechanochemical processes: by grinding powders.

We associate the milling of chemicals less often with progress than with old-fashioned pharmacies and their inherent attributes: the pestle and mortar. [emphasis mine] It’s time to change this! Recent research findings show that by the use of mechanical force, effective chemical transformations take place in solid state. Mechanochemical reactions have been under investigation for many years by the teams of Prof. Janusz Lewinski from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) and the Faculty of Chemistry of Warsaw University of Technology. In their latest publication, the Warsaw researchers describe a surprisingly simple and effective method of obtaining perovskites – futuristic photovoltaic materials with a spatially complex crystal structure.

“With the aid of mechanochemistry we are able to synthesize a variety of hybrid inorganic-organic functional materials with a potentially great significance for the energy sector. Our youngest ‘offspring’ are high quality perovskites. These compounds can be used to produce thin light-sensitive layers for high efficiency solar cells,” says Prof. Lewinski.

Perovskites are a large group of materials, characterized by a defined spatial crystalline structure. In nature, the perovskite naturally occurring as a mineral is calcium titanium(IV) oxide CaTiO3. Here the calcium atoms are arranged in the corners of the cube, in the middle of each wall there is an oxygen atom and at the centre of the cube lies a titanium atom. In other types of perovskite the same crystalline structure can be constructed of various organic and inorganic compounds, which means titanium can be replaced by, for example, lead, tin or germanium. As a result, the properties of the perovskite can be adjusted so as to best fit the specific application, for example, in photovoltaics or catalysis, but also in the construction of superconducting electromagnets, high voltage transformers, magnetic refrigerators, magnetic field sensors, or RAM memories.

At first glance, the method of production of perovskites using mechanical force, developed at the IPC PAS, looks a little like magic.

“Two powders are poured into the ball mill: a white one, methylammonium iodide CH3NH3I, and a yellow one, lead iodide PbI2. After several minutes of milling no trace is left of the substrates. Inside the mill there is only a homogeneous black powder: the perovskite CH3NH3PbI3,” explains doctoral student Anna Maria Cieslak (IPC PAS).

“Hour after hour of waiting for the reaction product? Solvents? High temperatures? In our method, all this turns out to be unnecessary! We produce chemical compounds by reactions occurring only in solids at room temperature,” stresses Dr. Daniel Prochowicz (IPC PAS).

The mechanochemically manufactured perovskites were sent to the team of Prof. Michael Graetzel from the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland, where they were used to build a new laboratory solar cell. The performance of the cell containing the perovskite with a mechanochemical pedigree proved to be more than 10% greater than a cell’s performance with the same construction, but containing an analogous perovskite obtained by the traditional method, involving solvents.

“The mechanochemical method of synthesis of perovskites is the most environmentally friendly method of producing this class of materials. Simple, efficient and fast, it is ideal for industrial applications. With full responsibility we can state: perovskites are the materials of the future, and mechanochemistry is the future of perovskites,” concludes Prof. Lewinski.

The described research will be developed within GOTSolar collaborative project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Future and Emerging Technologies action.

Perovskites are not the only group of three-dimensional materials that has been produced mechanochemically by Prof. Lewinski’s team. In a recent publication the Warsaw researchers showed that by using the milling technique they can also synthesize inorganic-organic microporous MOF (Metal-Organic Framework) materials. The free space inside these materials is the perfect place to store different chemicals, including hydrogen.

This research was published back in August 2015,

Mechanosynthesis of the hybrid perovskite CH3NH3PbI3: characterization and the corresponding solar cell efficiency by D. Prochowicz, M. Franckevičius, A. M. Cieślak, S. M. Zakeeruddin, M. Grätzel and J. Lewiński. J. Mater. Chem. A, 2015,3, 20772-20777 DOI: 10.1039/C5TA04904K First published online 27 Aug 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Zebras, Turing patterns, and the Polish Academy of Sciences

A Feb. 6, 2015 news item on Azonano profiles some research from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physical Chemistry (IPC PAS),

In the world of single atoms and molecules governed by chaotic fluctuations, is the spontaneous formation of Turing patterns possible – the same ones that are responsible for the irregular yet periodic shapes of the stripes on zebras’ bodies? A Polish-Danish team of physicists has for the first time demonstrated that such a process can not only occur, but can also be used for potentially very interesting applications.

A Feb. 6, 2015 IPC PAS press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes Turing’s patterns and the research in more detail,

Everyone is familiar with a zebra’s stripes, but not everyone knows that these are the manifestations of chemical reactions taking place according to a process first described by the famous British mathematician Alan Turing, the creator of the basics of today’s computer science. Turing patterns, most commonly displayed in chemistry as periodic changes in the concentration of chemical substances, have hitherto only been observed in dimensions of microns or larger. It seemed that on a smaller scale – at the nanoscale, where random fluctuations rule the movement of single atoms and molecules – these patterns do not have the right to form spontaneously.

“So far, no-one has even studied the possibility of the formation of Turing patterns by single atoms or molecules. However, our results show that Turing nanostructures may exist. And since this is the case, we will be able to find very specific applications for them in nanotechnology and materials science,” says Dr. Bogdan Nowakowski from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, one of the physicists in the Polish-Danish team that has recently conducted computer simulations and theoretical analyses on Turing nanostructures.

Turing patterns occur in dynamic systems far from a state of equilibrium. Under the appropriate conditions there may then be a feedback mechanism: chemical reactions taking place may influence the concentration of their own components, which in turn may change the course of the reaction itself. The process leads to the formation of periodic, but not necessarily monotonously regular patterns. In nature, these patterns play an important role, particularly in the formation of young organisms (morphogenesis). For example, in the initial phases of the development of vertebrate embryos, this is how periodic segments, somites, are formed in the dorsal mesoderm, which are later converted into, among others, vertebrae, components of the spine.

“In our studies we considered very simple reactions of two model substances with different rates of diffusion. Computer simulations carried out using molecular dynamics, in collaboration with Dr. Jesper Hansen from the Danish University of Roskilde, gave rise to a very interesting picture,” says Dr. Piotr Dziekan (IPC PAS).

Clear and permanent patterns formed spontaneously in the simulated systems (of nanometer dimensions) – periodic changes in the density of molecules, which remained stable despite the destructive influence of fluctuations. It turned out that one cycle of concentration changes within the Turing pattern could appear on a length of just 20 molecules.

For Turing nanostructures to be formed, chemical reactions satisfying certain conditions have to take place between the chemical substances. This requirement severely reduces the number of compounds that can participate in the process and, consequently, severely limits the potential applications. However, the simulations carried out by the Polish-Danish team suggest that Turing nanostructures can quite easily be transferred to other compounds, not participating directly in the main reaction.

“Turing nanostructures can only arise with carefully selected chemical substances. Fortunately, the pattern formed by them can be ‘imprinted’ in the concentration of other chemical compounds. For the pattern to be copied, these compounds must fulfill only two simple conditions: they must bind to one of the reactants of the main reaction and diffuse slowly,” explains Dr. Dziekan.

This work is theoretical as the final paragraph of the press release intimates,

The possibility of forming Turing patterns on nanometer distances opens the door to interesting applications, particularly in the field of surface modification of materials. By skillfully selecting the chemical composition of the reagents and the conditions in which the reaction occurs, it could be possible to form Turing patterns in two dimensions (on the same surface of the material), or three (also in the space adjacent to the surface). The formed patterns could then be fixed, e.g. by photopolymerisation, thereby obtaining a permanent, stable, extended surface with a complex, periodic structure.

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

Nanoscale Turing structures by Piotr Dziekan. J. S. Hansen, and Bogdan Nowakowski. J. Chem. Phys. 141, 124106 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4895907

This paper is behind a paywall.

Martini with your salad? an update on Janus particles and emulsification

Close to a year since I first posted about this research (my July 8, 2013 posting about oil, electricity, and emulsification), scientists have published their latest work on using electricity to control nanoparticles. A June 26, 2014 Polish Academy of Sciences press release (also on EurekAlert) provides this summary,

Everything depends on how you look at them. Looking from one side you will see one face; and when looking from the opposite side – you will see a different one. So appear Janus capsules, miniature, hollow structures, in different fragments composed of different micro- and nanoparticles. Theoreticians were able to design models of such capsules, but a real challenge was to produce them. Now, Janus capsules can be produced easily and at low cost.

Before describing the process for producing Janus capsules, an explanation of Janus (a Roman god) and the problem the scientists were trying to solve (from the press release),

Janus, the old Roman god of beginnings and transitions, attracted believers’ attention with his two faces, each looking to different direction of the world. Janus capsules – ‘bubbles’ made up of two shells stuck one another, each composed of micro- or nanoparticles of different properties – have been for some time attracting the researchers’ attention. They see in the capsules an excellent tool for transporting drugs and a vehicle leading to innovative materials. To have, however, Janus capsules generally accessible, efficient methods for their mass production must be developed. An important step in this direction is the achievement of researchers from the Norwegian and French research institutions and the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, reported recently in one of the most reputable scientific journals: “Nature Communications”.

At present, it is not a problem to produce Janus spheres – round, entirely filled micro- and nanoobjects with one part having different properties than the other. Such spheres can be, for instance, produced by sticking together two drops of different substances. After merging, the new drop requires a sufficiently fast fixation only, e.g., by cooling it down or initiating polymerisation of its materials. For instance, Janus spheres are particles with white and black halves, used for image generation in electrophoretic displays incorporated in e-book reading devices.

“Janus capsules differ from Janus spheres: the former are hollow structures, and their partially permeable shell is made of colloidal particles. How to make such a ‘two-faced bubble’ using micro- and nanoparticles? Many researchers reflect on the problem. We proposed a really not complicated solution”, says Dr Zbigniew Rozynek (IPC PAS [Institute of Physical Chemistry Polish Academy of Sciences]), who experimentally studied Janus capsules during his postdoctoral training at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

Here’s an illustration the researchers have provided,

Caption: These are typical capsules (mainly Janus capsules) obtained with the method described in the press release of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Credit: adopted from Nat. Commun. 5, 3945 (2014)

Caption: These are typical capsules (mainly Janus capsules) obtained with the method described in the press release of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
Credit: adopted from Nat. Commun. 5, 3945 (2014)

Here’s how the researchers solved their problem (from the press release),

In their experiments, an international team of researchers produced Janus capsules with drops of single millilitres in volume. The drops were coated, for instance, with polystyrene or glass nanoparticles with diameters of about 500 nm (billionth parts of a meter) or 1000 nm, respectively. Also differently coloured polyethylene particles were used.

The experiments were performed with oil drops suspended in another oil. To a so prepared environment micro- or nanoparticles of one type were placed and deposited on the surface of a selected drop. Then, particles of another type were brought to the surface of the second drop. Due to the action of capillary forces, the particles were durably kept on the surfaces of both drops, being approximately uniformly distributed.

When an external electric field was turned on, microflows were induced inside and outside the drops. The microflows transported the particles toward the electric ‘equator’. In this step, the packing of colloidal particles could be controlled by shaking the drops in a slowly alternating electric field. The way how the particles are packed is an important factor, as it determines the number and size of pores of the future capsule, and consequently the capsule permeability.

The microflows around the electric equators of the drops resulted in formation of a ring-shaped ribbon, composed of densely packed particles , whereas both electric ‘poles’ became particles-free regions. At the same time, the poles of each drop were acquiring opposite electric charges.

Opposite electric charges attract one another, so the drops with charged poles were heading to each other. In this step, the only thing to do was to convince both drops not only to adjoin with their poles, but actually to merge. For that purpose the long-known electrocoalescence was used: the drops were stimulated for faster merging by an electric field. Finally the drops electrocoalesced, resulting in the formation of a Janus capsule. Due to a dense packing of particles within the capsule the particles of different types virtually did not mix with each other.

It’s like the famous James Bond’s martini: it was always to be shaken, not stirred“, laughs Dr Rozynek. [emphasis mine]

The ultimate capsule appearance was determined by the number of particles deposited on the surfaces of initial drops. If the particles covered both drops with a uniform film, extending almost to the poles, the coalescence resulted in a non-spherical structure. When empty areas around the poles were suitably larger, the Janus capsules acquired a spherical shape. Finally, if the ribbons around the equators of the initial drops were narrow, the coalescence resulted in formation of a structure, which could be called a Janus ring.

The rings with two parts composed of two different types of particles provide interesting opportunities. They can be further stuck each other and produce more complex striped structures. The capsules could be then composed of alternately placed strips of particles, with each strip having different properties than its neighbours.

Janus capsules enable encapsulation of microobjects, nanoparticles or molecules, which must be protected against the environment because of their sensitivity or reactivity. Different properties of both capsule parts make it easier to control the movement of the capsules and the release of their contents. In view of these factors, Janus capsules may find numerous applications. The proposed method for producing the Janus capsules is potentially of great importance for pharmaceutical, dye or food industries, as well as for the development of materials engineering and medicine.

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

Electroformation of Janus and patchy capsules by Zbigniew Rozynek, Alexander Mikkelsen, Paul Dommersnes, & Jon Otto Fossum. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3945 doi:10.1038/ncomms4945 Published 23 May 2014

This is an open access paper,