Tag Archives: Princeton University

Magnetospinning with an inexpensive magnet

The fridge magnet mentioned in the headline for a May 11, 2015  Nanowerk spotlight aricle by Michael Berger isn’t followed up until the penultimate paragraph but it is worth the wait,

“Our method for spinning of continuous micro- and nanofibers uses a permanent revolving magnet,” Alexander Tokarev, Ph.D., a Research Associate in the Nanostructured Materials Laboratory at the University of Georgia, tells Nanowerk. “This fabrication technique utilizes magnetic forces and hydrodynamic features of stretched threads to produce fine nanofibers.”

“The new method provides excellent control over the fiber diameter and is compatible with a range of polymeric materials and polymer composite materials including biopolymers,” notes Tokarev. “Our research showcases this new technique and demonstrates its advantages to the scientific community.”

Electrospinning is the most popular method to produce nanofibers in labs now. Owing to its simplicity and low costs, a magnetospinning set-up could be installed in any non-specialized laboratory for broader use of magnetospun nanofibers in different methods and technologies. The total cost of a laboratory electrospinning system is above $10,000. In contrast, no special equipment is needed for magnetospinning. It is possible to build a magnetospinning set-up, such as the University of Georgia team utilizes, by just using a $30 rotating motor and a $5 permanent magnet. [emphasis mine]

Berger’s article references a recent paper published by the team,

Magnetospinning of Nano- and Microfibers by Alexander Tokarev, Oleksandr Trotsenko, Ian M. Griffiths, Howard A. Stone, and Sergiy Minko. Advanced Materials First published: 8 May 2015Full publication history DOI: 10.1002/adma.201500374View/save citation

This paper is behind a paywall.

* The headline originally stated that a ‘fridge’ magnet was used. Researcher Alexander Tokarev kindly dropped by correct this misunderstanding on my part and the headline has been changed to read  ‘inexpensive magnet’ on May 14, 2015 at approximately 1400 hundred hours PDT.

A 2nd European roadmap for graphene

About 2.5 years ago there was an article titled, “A roadmap for graphene” (behind a paywall) which Nature magazine published online in Oct. 2012. I see at least two of the 2012 authors, Konstantin (Kostya) Novoselov and Vladimir Fal’ko,, are party to this second, more comprehensive roadmap featured in a Feb. 24, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

In October 2013, academia and industry came together to form the Graphene Flagship. Now with 142 partners in 23 countries, and a growing number of associate members, the Graphene Flagship was established following a call from the European Commission to address big science and technology challenges of the day through long-term, multidisciplinary R&D efforts.

A Feb.  24, 2015 University of Cambridge news release, which originated the news item, describes the roadmap in more detail,

In an open-access paper published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Nanoscale, more than 60 academics and industrialists lay out a science and technology roadmap for graphene, related two-dimensional crystals, other 2D materials, and hybrid systems based on a combination of different 2D crystals and other nanomaterials. The roadmap covers the next ten years and beyond, and its objective is to guide the research community and industry toward the development of products based on graphene and related materials.

The roadmap highlights three broad areas of activity. The first task is to identify new layered materials, assess their potential, and develop reliable, reproducible and safe means of producing them on an industrial scale. Identification of new device concepts enabled by 2D materials is also called for, along with the development of component technologies. The ultimate goal is to integrate components and structures based on 2D materials into systems capable of providing new functionalities and application areas.

Eleven science and technology themes are identified in the roadmap. These are: fundamental science, health and environment, production, electronic devices, spintronics, photonics and optoelectronics, sensors, flexible electronics, energy conversion and storage, composite materials, and biomedical devices. The roadmap addresses each of these areas in turn, with timelines.

Research areas outlined in the roadmap correspond broadly with current flagship work packages, with the addition of a work package devoted to the growing area of biomedical applications, to be included in the next phase of the flagship. A recent independent assessment has confirmed that the Graphene Flagship is firmly on course, with hundreds of research papers, numerous patents and marketable products to its name.

Roadmap timelines predict that, before the end of the ten-year period of the flagship, products will be close to market in the areas of flexible electronics, composites, and energy, as well as advanced prototypes of silicon-integrated photonic devices, sensors, high-speed electronics, and biomedical devices.

“This publication concludes a four-year effort to collect and coordinate state-of-the-art science and technology of graphene and related materials,” says Andrea Ferrari, director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, and chairman of the Executive Board of the Graphene Flagship. “We hope that this open-access roadmap will serve as the starting point for academia and industry in their efforts to take layered materials and composites from laboratory to market.” Ferrari led the roadmap effort with Italian Institute of Technology physicist Francesco Bonaccorso, who is a Royal Society Newton Fellow of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Hughes Hall.

“We are very proud of the joint effort of the many authors who have produced this roadmap,” says Jari Kinaret, director of the Graphene Flagship. “The roadmap forms a solid foundation for the graphene community in Europe to plan its activities for the coming years. It is not a static document, but will evolve to reflect progress in the field, and new applications identified and pursued by industry.”

I have skimmed through the report briefly (wish I had more time) and have a couple of comments. First, there’s an excellent glossary of terms for anyone who might stumble over chemical abbreviations and/or more technical terminology. Second, they present a very interesting analysis of the intellectual property (patents) landscape (Note: Links have been removed. Incidental numbers are footnote references),

In the graphene area, there has been a particularly rapid increase in patent activity from around 2007.45 Much of this is driven by patent applications made by major corporations and universities in South Korea and USA.53 Additionally, a high level of graphene patent activity in China is also observed.54 These features have led some commentators to conclude that graphene innovations arising in Europe are being mainly exploited elsewhere.55 Nonetheless, an analysis of the Intellectual Property (IP) provides evidence that Europe already has a significant foothold in the graphene patent landscape and significant opportunities to secure future value. As the underlying graphene technology space develops, and the GRM [graphene and related materials] patent landscape matures, re-distribution of the patent landscape seems inevitable and Europe is well positioned to benefit from patent-based commercialisation of GRM research.

Overall, the graphene patent landscape is growing rapidly and already resembles that of sub-segments of the semiconductor and biotechnology industries,56 which experience high levels of patent activity. The patent strategies of the businesses active in such sub-sectors frequently include ‘portfolio maximization’56 and ‘portfolio optimization’56 strategies, and the sub-sectors experience the development of what commentators term ‘patent thickets’56, or multiple overlapping granted patent rights.56 A range of policies, regulatory and business strategies have been developed to limit such patent practices.57 In such circumstances, accurate patent landscaping may provide critical information to policy-makers, investors and individual industry participants, underpinning the development of sound policies, business strategies and research commercialisation plans.

It sounds like a patent thicket is developing (Note: Links have been removed. Incidental numbers are footnote references),,

Fig. 13 provides evidence of a relative increase in graphene patent filings in South Korea from 2007 to 2009 compared to 2004–2006. This could indicate increased commercial interest in graphene technology from around 2007. The period 2010 to 2012 shows a marked relative increase in graphene patent filings in China. It should be noted that a general increase in Chinese patent filings across many ST domains in this period is observed.76 Notwithstanding this general increase in Chinese patent activity, there does appear to be increased commercial interest in graphene in China. It is notable that the European Patent Office contribution as a percentage of all graphene patent filings globally falls from a 8% in the period 2007 to 2009 to 4% in the period 2010 to 2012.

The importance of the US, China and South Korea is emphasised by the top assignees, shown in Fig. 14. The corporation with most graphene patent applications is the Korean multinational Samsung, with over three times as many filings as its nearest rival. It has also patented an unrivalled range of graphene-technology applications, including synthesis procedures,77 transparent display devices,78 composite materials,79 transistors,80 batteries and solar cells.81 Samsung’s patent applications indicate a sustained and heavy investment in graphene R&D, as well as collaboration (co-assignment of patents) with a wide range of academic institutions.82,83

 

image file: c4nr01600a-f14.tif
Fig. 14 Top 10 graphene patent assignees by number and cumulative over all time as of end-July 2014. Number of patents are indicated in the red histograms referred to the left Y axis, while the cumulative percentage is the blue line, referred to the right Y axis.

It is also interesting to note that patent filings by universities and research institutions make up a significant proportion ([similar]50%) of total patent filings: the other half comprises contributions from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and multinationals.

Europe’s position is shown in Fig. 10, 12 and 14. While Europe makes a good showing in the geographical distribution of publications, it lags behind in patent applications, with only 7% of patent filings as compared to 30% in the US, 25% in China, and 13% in South Korea (Fig. 13) and only 9% of filings by academic institutions assigned in Europe (Fig. 15).

 

image file: c4nr01600a-f15.tif
Fig. 15 Geographical breakdown of academic patent holders as of July 2014.

While Europe is trailing other regions in terms of number of patent filings, it nevertheless has a significant foothold in the patent landscape. Currently, the top European patent holder is Finland’s Nokia, primarily around incorporation of graphene into electrical devices, including resonators and electrodes.72,84,85

This may sound like Europe is trailing behind but that’s not the case according to the roadmap (Note: Links have been removed. Incidental numbers are footnote references),

European Universities also show promise in the graphene patent landscape. We also find evidence of corporate-academic collaborations in Europe, including e.g. co-assignments filed with European research institutions and Germany’s AMO GmbH,86 and chemical giant BASF.87,88 Finally, Europe sees significant patent filings from a number of international corporate and university players including Samsung,77 Vorbeck Materials,89 Princeton University,90–92 and Rice University,93–95 perhaps reflecting the quality of the European ST base around graphene, and its importance as a market for graphene technologies.

There are a number of features in the graphene patent landscape which may lead to a risk of patent thickets96 or ‘multiple overlapping granted patents’ existing around aspects of graphene technology systems. [emphasis mine] There is a relatively high volume of patent activity around graphene, which is an early stage technology space, with applications in patent intensive industry sectors. Often patents claim carbon nano structures other than graphene in graphene patent landscapes, illustrating difficulties around defining ‘graphene’ and mapping the graphene patent landscape. Additionally, the graphene patent nomenclature is not entirely settled. Different patent examiners might grant patents over the same components which the different experts and industry players call by different names.

For anyone new to this blog, I am not a big fan of current patent regimes as they seem to be stifling rather encouraging innovation. Sadly, patents and copyright were originally developed to encourage creativity and innovation by allowing the creators to profit from their ideas. Over time a system designed to encourage innovation has devolved into one that does the opposite. (My Oct. 31, 2011 post titled Patents as weapons and obstacles, details my take on this matter.) I’m not arguing against patents and copyright but suggesting that the system be fixed or replaced with something that delivers on the original intention.

Getting back to the matter at hand, here’s a link to and a citation for the 200 pp. 2015 European Graphene roadmap,

Science and technology roadmap for graphene, related two-dimensional crystals, and hybrid systems by Andrea C. Ferrari, Francesco Bonaccorso, Vladimir Fal’ko, Konstantin S. Novoselov, Stephan Roche, Peter Bøggild, Stefano Borini, Frank H. L. Koppens, Vincenzo Palermo, Nicola Pugno, José A. Garrido, Roman Sordan, Alberto Bianco, Laura Ballerini, Maurizio Prato, Elefterios Lidorikis, Jani Kivioja, Claudio Marinelli, Tapani Ryhänen, Alberto Morpurgo, Jonathan N. Coleman, Valeria Nicolosi, Luigi Colombo, Albert Fert, Mar Garcia-Hernandez, Adrian Bachtold, Grégory F. Schneider, Francisco Guinea, Cees Dekker, Matteo Barbone, Zhipei Sun, Costas Galiotis,  Alexander N. Grigorenko, Gerasimos Konstantatos, Andras Kis, Mikhail Katsnelson, Lieven Vandersypen, Annick Loiseau, Vittorio Morandi, Daniel Neumaier, Emanuele Treossi, Vittorio Pellegrini, Marco Polini, Alessandro Tredicucci, Gareth M. Williams, Byung Hee Hong, Jong-Hyun Ahn, Jong Min Kim, Herbert Zirath, Bart J. van Wees, Herre van der Zant, Luigi Occhipinti, Andrea Di Matteo, Ian A. Kinloch, Thomas Seyller, Etienne Quesnel, Xinliang Feng,  Ken Teo, Nalin Rupesinghe, Pertti Hakonen, Simon R. T. Neil, Quentin Tannock, Tomas Löfwander and Jari Kinaret. Nanoscale, 2015, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C4NR01600A First published online 22 Sep 2014

Here’s a diagram illustrating the roadmap process,

Fig. 122 The STRs [science and technology roadmaps] follow a hierarchical structure where the strategic level in a) is connected to the more detailed roadmap shown in b). These general roadmaps are the condensed form of the topical roadmaps presented in the previous sections, and give technological targets for key applications to become commercially competitive and the forecasts for when the targets are predicted to be met.  Courtesy: Researchers and  the Royal Society's journal, Nanoscale

Fig. 122 The STRs [science and technology roadmaps] follow a hierarchical structure where the strategic level in a) is connected to the more detailed roadmap shown in b). These general roadmaps are the condensed form of the topical roadmaps presented in the previous sections, and give technological targets for key applications to become commercially competitive and the forecasts for when the targets are predicted to be met.
Courtesy: Researchers and the Royal Society’s journal, Nanoscale

The image here is not the best quality; the one embedded in the relevant Nanowerk news item is better.

As for the earlier roadmap, here’s my Oct. 11, 2012 post on the topic.

Projecting beams of light from contact lenses courtesy of Princeton University (US)

Princeton University’s 3D printed contact lenses with LED (light-emitting diodes) included are not meant for use by humans or other living beings but they are a flashy demonstration. From a Dec. 10, 2014 news item on phys.org,

As part of a project demonstrating new 3-D printing techniques, Princeton researchers have embedded tiny light-emitting diodes into a standard contact lens, allowing the device to project beams of colored light.

Michael McAlpine, the lead researcher, cautioned that the lens is not designed for actual use—for one, it requires an external power supply. Instead, he said the team created the device to demonstrate the ability to “3-D print” electronics into complex shapes and materials.

“This shows that we can use 3-D printing to create complex electronics including semiconductors,” said McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “We were able to 3-D print an entire device, in this case an LED.”

A Dec. 9, 2014 Princeton University news release by John Sullivan, which originated the news item, describes the 3D lens, the objectives for this project, and an earlier project involving a ‘bionic ear’ in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The hard contact lens is made of plastic. The researchers used tiny crystals, called quantum dots, to create the LEDs that generated the colored light. Different size dots can be used to generate various colors.

“We used the quantum dots [also known as nanoparticles] as an ink,” McAlpine said. “We were able to generate two different colors, orange and green.”

The contact lens is also part of an ongoing effort to use 3-D printing to assemble diverse, and often hard-to-combine, materials into functioning devices. In the recent past, a team of Princeton professors including McAlpine created a bionic ear out of living cells with an embedded antenna that could receive radio signals.

Yong Lin Kong, a researcher on both projects, said the bionic ear presented a different type of challenge.

“The main focus of the bionic ear project was to demonstrate the merger of electronics and biological materials,” said Kong, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Kong, the lead author of the Oct. 31 [2014] article describing the current work in the journal Nano Letters, said that the contact lens project, on the other hand, involved the printing of active electronics using diverse materials. The materials were often mechanically, chemically or thermally incompatible — for example, using heat to shape one material could inadvertently destroy another material in close proximity. The team had to find ways to handle these incompatibilities and also had to develop new methods to print electronics, rather than use the techniques commonly used in the electronics industry.

“For example, it is not trivial to pattern a thin and uniform coating of nanoparticles and polymers without the involvement of conventional microfabrication techniques, yet the thickness and uniformity of the printed films are two of the critical parameters that determine the performance and yield of the printed active device,” Kong said.

To solve these interdisciplinary challenges, the researchers collaborated with Ian Tamargo, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry; Hyoungsoo Kim, a postdoctoral research associate and fluid dynamics expert in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department; and Barry Rand, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

McAlpine said that one of 3-D printing’s greatest strengths is its ability to create electronics in complex forms. Unlike traditional electronics manufacturing, which builds circuits in flat assemblies and then stacks them into three dimensions, 3-D printers can create vertical structures as easily as horizontal ones.

“In this case, we had a cube of LEDs,” he said. “Some of the wiring was vertical and some was horizontal.”

To conduct the research, the team built a new type of 3-D printer that McAlpine described as “somewhere between off-the-shelf and really fancy.” Dan Steingart, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center, helped design and build the new printer, which McAlpine estimated cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.

McAlpine said that he does not envision 3-D printing replacing traditional manufacturing in electronics any time soon; instead, they are complementary technologies with very different strengths. Traditional manufacturing, which uses lithography to create electronic components, is a fast and efficient way to make multiple copies with a very high reliability. Manufacturers are using 3-D printing, which is slow but easy to change and customize, to create molds and patterns for rapid prototyping.

Prime uses for 3-D printing are situations that demand flexibility and that need to be tailored to a specific use. For example, conventional manufacturing techniques are not practical for medical devices that need to be fit to a patient’s particular shape or devices that require the blending of unusual materials in customized ways.

“Trying to print a cellphone is probably not the way to go,” McAlpine said. “It is customization that gives the power to 3-D printing.”

In this case, the researchers were able to custom 3-D print electronics on a contact lens by first scanning the lens, and feeding the geometric information back into the printer. This allowed for conformal 3-D printing of an LED on the contact lens.

Here’s what the contact lens looks like,

Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, is leading a research team that uses 3-D printing to create complex electronics devices such as this light-emitting diode printed in a plastic contact lens. (Photos by Frank Wojciechowski)

Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, is leading a research team that uses 3-D printing to create complex electronics devices such as this light-emitting diode printed in a plastic contact lens. (Photos by Frank Wojciechowski)

Also, here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

3D Printed Quantum Dot Light-Emitting Diodes by Yong Lin Kong, Ian A. Tamargo, Hyoungsoo Kim, Blake N. Johnson, Maneesh K. Gupta, Tae-Wook Koh, Huai-An Chin, Daniel A. Steingart, Barry P. Rand, and Michael C. McAlpine. Nano Lett., 2014, 14 (12), pp 7017–7023 DOI: 10.1021/nl5033292 Publication Date (Web): October 31, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

I’m always a day behind for Dexter Johnson’s postings on the Nanoclast blog (located on the IEEE [institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) so I didn’t see his Dec. 11, 2014 post about these 3Dprinted LED[embedded contact lenses until this morning (Dec. 12, 2014). In any event, I’m excerpting his very nice description of quantum dots,

The LED was made out of the somewhat exotic nanoparticles known as quantum dots. Quantum dots are a nanocrystal that have been fashioned out of semiconductor materials and possess distinct optoelectronic properties, most notably fluorescence, which makes them applicable in this case for the LEDs of the contact lens.

“We used the quantum dots [also known as nanoparticles] as an ink,” McAlpine said. “We were able to generate two different colors, orange and green.”

I encourage you to read Dexter’s post as he provides additional insights based on his long-standing membership within the nanotechnology community.

Materials research and nanotechnology for clean energy at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia)

Getting to the bottom line of a complex set of  interlinked programs and initiatives, it’s safe to say that a group of US students went to study with research Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia) in the first Materials Research School which was held Dec. 9 -21, 2012.

Rutgers University (New Jersey, US)  student Aleksandra Biedron attended the Materials Research School as a member of a joint Rutgers University-Princeton University Nanotechnology for Clean Energy graduate training program (one of the US National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship [IGERT] programs).

In a Summer 2013 (volume 14) issue of Rutgers University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology News, Biedron describes the experience,

The program brought together approximately 50 graduate students and early-career materials researchers from across the United States and East Africa, as well as 15 internationally recognized instructors, for two weeks of lectures, problem solving, and cultural exchange. “I was interested in meeting young African scientists to discuss energy materials, a universal concern, which is relevant to my research in ionic liquids,” said Biedron, a graduate of Livingston High School [Berkeley Heights, New Jersey]. “I was also excited to see Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and experience the culture and historical attractions.”

A cornerstone of the Nanotechnology for Clean Energy IGERT program is having the students apply their training in a dynamic educational exchange program with African institutions, promoting development of the students’ global awareness and understanding of the challenges involved in global scientific and economic development. In Addis Ababa, Biedron quickly noticed how different the scope of research was between the African scientists and their international counterparts.

“The African scientists’ research was really solution-based,” said Biedron. “They were looking at how they could use their natural resources to solve some of their region’s most pressing issues, not only for energy, but also health, clean water, and housing. You don’t really see that as much in the U.S. because we are already thinking about the future, 10 or 20 years from now.”

H/T centraljerseycentral.com, Aug. 1, 2013 news item.

I found a little more information about the first Materials Research School on this Columbia University JUAMI (Joint US-Africa Materials Initiative) webpage,

The Joint US-Africa Materials Initiative
Announces its first Materials Research School
To be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, December 9-21, 2012

Theme of the school:

The first school will concentrate on materials research for sustainable energy. Tutorials and seminar topics will range from photocatalysis and photovoltaics to fuel cells and batteries.

Goals of the school:

The initiative aims to build materials science research and collaborations between the United States and Africa, with an initial focus on East Africa, and to develop ties between young materials researchers in both regions in a school taught by top materials researchers. The school will bring together approximately 50 PhD and early career materials researchers from across the US and East Africa, and 15 internationally recognized instructors, for two weeks of lectures, problem solving and cultural exchange in historic Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Topics include photocatalysis, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, fuel cells, and batteries.

I also found this on the IGERT homepage,

IGERT Trainees participate in:
  • Interdisciplinary courses in the fundamentals of energy technology, nanotechnology and energy policy.
  • Dissertation research emphasizing nanotechnology and energy.
  • Dynamic educational exchange between U.S. and select African institutions.

Unpredictable beauty at Princeton University

Princeton University recently held an ‘Art of Science’ exhibition, which has now been made available online and here’s the one I liked best of the ones I’ve seen so far,

People's Second Place: Bridging the gap. Credit: Jason Wexler (graduate student) and Howard A. Stone (faculty) Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering When drops of liquid are trapped in a thin gap between two solids, a strong negative pressure develops inside the drops. If the solids are flexible, this pressure deforms the solids to close the gap. In our experiment the solids are transparent, which allows us to image the drops from above. Alternating dark and light lines represent lines of constant gap height, much like the lines on a topological map. Â These lines are caused by light interference, which is the phenomenon responsible for the beautiful rainbow pattern in an oil slick. The blue areas denote the extent of the drops. Since the drops pull the gap closed, the areas of minimum gap height (i.e. maximum deformation) are inside the drops, at the center of the concentric rings.

People’s Second Place: Bridging the gap. Credit: Jason Wexler (graduate student) and Howard A. Stone (faculty)
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
When drops of liquid are trapped in a thin gap between two solids, a strong negative pressure develops inside the drops. If the solids are flexible, this pressure deforms the solids to close the gap. In our experiment the solids are transparent, which allows us to image the drops from above. Alternating dark and light lines represent lines of constant gap height, much like the lines on a topological map. These lines are caused by light interference, which is the phenomenon responsible for the beautiful rainbow pattern in an oil slick. The blue areas denote the extent of the drops. Since the drops pull the gap closed, the areas of minimum gap height (i.e. maximum deformation) are inside the drops, at the center of the concentric rings.

There’s more about the real life and online exhibition in the May 16, 2013 Princeton University news release on EurekAlert,

The Princeton University Art of Science 2013 exhibit can now be viewed in a new online gallery. The exhibit consists of 43 images of artistic merit created during the course of scientific research:

http://www.princeton.edu/artofscience/gallery2013/

The gallery features the top three awards in a juried competition as well as the top three “People’s Choice” images.

The physical Art of Science 2013 gallery opened May 10 with a reception attended by about 200 people in the Friend Center on the Princeton University campus. The works were chosen from 170 images submitted from 24 different departments across campus.

“Like art, science and engineering are deeply creative activities,” said Pablo Debenedetti, the recently appointed Dean for Research at Princeton who served as master of ceremonies at the opening reception. “Also like art, science and engineering at their very best are highly unpredictable in their outcomes. The Art of Science exhibit celebrates the beauty of unpredictability and the unpredictability of beauty.” [emphasis mine]

Adam Finkelstein, professor of computer science and one of the exhibit organizers, said that Art of Science spurs debate among artists about the nature of art while opening scientists to new ways of “seeing” their own research. “At the same time,” Finkelstein said, “this striking imagery serves as a democratic window through which non-experts can appreciate the thrill of scientific discovery.”

The top three entrants as chosen by a distinguished jury received cash prizes in amounts calculated by the golden ratio (whose proportions have since antiquity been considered to be aesthetically pleasing): first prize, $250; second prize, $154.51; and third prize, $95.49. [emphasis mine]

The physical exhibit is located in the Friend Center on the Princeton University campus in Princeton, N.J.. The exhibit is free and open to the public, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There are three pages of viewing delight at Princeton’s Art of Science 2013 online gallery. Have a lovely weekend picking your favourites.

More than human—a bionic ear that extends hearing beyond the usual frequencies

It’s now possible to print a bionic ear in 3D that can hear beyond the human range and all you need is off-the-shelf printing equipment—and technical expertise. A May 2, 2013 news item on Azonano provides more detail,

Scientists at Princeton University used off-the-shelf printing tools to create a functional ear that can “hear” radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability.

“In general, there are mechanical and thermal challenges with interfacing electronic materials with biological materials,” said Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton and the lead researcher. “Previously, researchers have suggested some strategies to tailor the electronics so that this merger is less awkward. That typically happens between a 2D sheet of electronics and a surface of the tissue. However, our work suggests a new approach — to build and grow the biology up with the electronics synergistically and in a 3D interwoven format.”

McAlpine’s team has made several advances in recent years involving the use of small-scale medical sensors and antenna. Last year, a research effort led by McAlpine and Naveen Verma, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Fio Omenetto of Tufts University, resulted in the development of a “tattoo” made up of a biological sensor and antenna that can be affixed to the surface of a tooth.

The tooth tattoo is mentioned in my Nov. 9, 2012 posting; I focused more on Tufts University than Princeton in that piece. As for the ear (from the news item on Azonano),

The finished ear consists of a coiled antenna inside a cartilage structure. Two wires lead from the base of the ear and wind around a helical “cochlea” – the part of the ear that senses sound – which can connect to electrodes. Although McAlpine cautions that further work and extensive testing would need to be done before the technology could be used on a patient, he said the ear in principle could be used to restore or enhance human hearing. He said electrical signals produced by the ear could be connected to a patient’s nerve endings, similar to a hearing aid. The current system receives radio waves, but he said the research team plans to incorporate other materials, such as pressure-sensitive electronic sensors, to enable the ear to register acoustic sounds.

Here’s the technique the researchers used to create their bionic ear (from the news item),

Standard tissue engineering involves seeding types of cells, such as those that form ear cartilage, onto a scaffold of a polymer material called a hydrogel. However, the researchers said that this technique has problems replicating complicated three dimensional biological structures. Ear reconstruction “remains one of the most difficult problems in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery,” they wrote.

To solve the problem, the team turned to a manufacturing approach called 3D printing. These printers use computer-assisted design to conceive of objects as arrays of thin slices. The printer then deposits layers of a variety of materials – ranging from plastic to cells – to build up a finished product. Proponents say additive manufacturing promises to revolutionize home industries by allowing small teams or individuals to create work that could previously only be done by factories.

Creating organs using 3D printers is a recent advance; several groups have reported using the technology for this purpose in the past few months. But this is the first time that researchers have demonstrated that 3D printing is a convenient strategy to interweave tissue with electronics.

The technique allowed the researchers to combine the antenna electronics with tissue within the highly complex topology of a human ear. The researchers used an ordinary 3D printer to combine a matrix of hydrogel and calf cells with silver nanoparticles that form an antenna. The calf cells later develop into cartilage.

Here’s an image of the ear,

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. Credit: Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

Scientists used 3-D printing to merge tissue and an antenna capable of receiving radio signals. Credit: Photo by Frank Wojciechowski

For interested parties,a link to and a citation for the published research,

A 3D Printed Bionic Ear by Manu S Mannoor , Ziwen Jiang , Teena James , Yong Lin Kong , Karen A Malatesta , Winston Soboyejo , Naveen Verma , David H Gracias , and Michael C. McAlpine. Nano Lett., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/nl4007744 Publication Date (Web): May 1, 2013

Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

At this point, the ear is strictly for use in the laboratory they have not run any ‘in vivo’ experiments, which would be one of the next steps and a prerequisite before  human clinical trials are considered.

I have written about human enhancement before, notably in my Aug. 30, 2011 posting where I highlighted this excerpt from an article by Paul Hochman,

“I don’t think I would have said this if it had never happened,” says Bailey, referring to the accident that tore off his pinkie, ring, and middle fingers. “But I told Touch Bionics I’d cut the rest of my hand off if I could make all five of my fingers robotic.” [originally excerpted from Paul Hochman’s Feb. 1, 2010 article, Bionic Legs, i-Limbs, and Other Super Human Prostheses You’ll Envy for Fast Company]

The Bailey quote stimulated this question for me, what would you choose if you could get an ear that hears beyond the human range?

Tooth tattoos at Tufts University

In spring 2012, there was a fluttering in the blogosphere about tooth tattoos with the potential for monitoring dental health. As sometimes happens, I put off posting about the work until it seemed everyone else had written about it (e.g. Mar. 30, 2012 posting by Dexter Johnson for his Nanoclast blog on the IEEE website) and there was nothing left for me to say.  Happily, the researchers at Tufts University (where part of this research [Princeton University is also involved] is being pursued) have released more information in a Nov. 1, 2012 news article by David Levin,

The sensor, dubbed a “tooth tattoo,” was developed by the Princeton nanoscientist Michael McAlpine and Tufts bioengineers Fiorenzo Omenetto, David Kaplan and Hu Tao. The team first published their research last spring in the journal Nature Communications.

The sensor is relatively simple in its construction, says McAlpine. It’s made up of just three layers: a sheet of thin gold foil electrodes, an atom-thick layer of graphite known as graphene and a layer of specially engineered peptides, chemical structures that “sense” bacteria by binding to parts of their cell membranes.

“We created a new type of peptide that can serve as an intermediary between bacteria and the sensor,” says McAlpine. “At one end is a molecule that can bond with the graphene, and at the other is a molecule that bonds with bacteria,” allowing the sensor to register the presence of bacteria, he says.

Because the layers of the device are so thin and fragile, they need to be mounted atop a tough but flexible backing in order to transfer them to a tooth. The ideal foundation, McAlpine says, turns out to be silk—a substance with which Kaplan and Omenetto have been working for years.

By manipulating the proteins that make up a single strand of silk, it’s possible to create silk structures in just about any shape, says Omenetto, a professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts. Since 2005, he’s created dozens of different structures out of silk, from optical lenses to orthopedic implants. Silk is “kind of like plastic, in that we can make [it] do almost anything,” he says. “We have a lot of control over the material. It can be rigid. It can be flexible. We can make it dissolve in water, stay solid, become a gel—whatever we need.”

Omenetto, Kaplan and Tao created a thin, water-soluble silk backing for McAlpine’s bacterial sensor—a film that’s strong enough to hold the sensor components in place, but soft and pliable enough to wrap easily around the irregular contours of a tooth.

To apply the sensor, McAlpine says, you need only to wet the surface of the entire assembly—silk, sensor and all—and then press it onto the tooth. Once there, the silk backing will dissolve within 15 or 20 minutes, leaving behind the sensor, a rectangle of interwoven gold and black electrodes about half the size of a postage stamp and about as thick as a sheet of paper. The advantage of being attached directly to a tooth means that the sensor is in direct contact with bacteria in the mouth—an ideal way to monitor oral health.

Because the sensor doesn’t carry any onboard batteries, it must be both read and powered simultaneously through a built-in antenna. Using a custom-made handheld device about the size of a TV remote, McAlpine’s team can “ping” that antenna with radio waves, causing it to resonate electronically and send back information that the device then uses to determine if bacteria are present.

The sensor (A), attached to a tooth (B) and activated by radio signals (C), binds with certain bacteria (D). Illustration: Manu Mannoor/Nature Communications (downloaded from http://now.tufts.edu/articles/tooth-tattoo)

In addition to its potential for  monitoring dental health, the tooth tattoo could replace some of the more invasive health monitoring techniques (e.g., drawing blood), from the Tufts University article,

In addition to monitoring oral health, Kugel [Gerard Kugel, Tufts professor of prosthodontics and operative dentistry and associate dean for research at Tufts School of Dental Medicine] believes the tooth tattoo might be useful for monitoring a patient’s overall health. Biological markers for many diseases—from stomach ulcers to AIDS—appear in human saliva, he says. So if a sensor could be modified to react to those markers, it potentially could help dentists identify problems early on and refer patients to a physician before a condition becomes serious.

“The mouth is a window to the rest of the body,” Kugel says. “You can spot a lot of potential health problems through saliva, and it’s a much less invasive way to do diagnostic tests than drawing blood.”

Before monitoring of any type can take place, there is at least one major hurdle still be overcome. Humans are quite sensitive to objects being placed in their mouths. According to one of the researchers, we can sense objects that are 50 to 60 microns wide, about the thickness piece of paper, and that may be too uncomfortable to bear.

H/T Nov. 9, 2012 news item on Nanowerk for pointing me towards the latest information about these tooth tattoos.

Graphene material that improves lithium-ion battery performance wins ‘Oscar’ of innovation

Who knew that an ‘Oscar of innovation’ existed? It does and Vorbeck Materials along with its partners,  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Princeton University have won it. From the June 22, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Vorbeck Materials, in partnership with Pacific Northwest National Labs (PNNL) and Princeton University, was recognized today by R&D Magazine for developing one of the 100 most significant scientific and technological products or advances of the year.

The R&D 100 Award honors Vorbeck’s breakthrough work with PNNL and Princeton to commercialize graphene technology, which will enable greater use of electric vehicles and faster charging consumer electronics.

In collaboration with Professor Ilhan Aksay at Princeton University, PNNL has demonstrated that small quantities of Vor-x™, Vorbeck’s unique graphene material, can dramatically improve the performance and power of lithium-ion batteries. The pioneering work will enable the development of batteries that last longer and recharge quickly, drastically reducing the time it takes to charge an electric vehicle to just a few hours and allowing smartphones to charge in as little as ten minutes. Lithium-ion batteries are also used to power laptops, power tools and other electronic devices.

Vorbeck is working to bring this new technology to market for use in consumer electronic devices, tools, and electric vehicles. Vorbeck is also partnering with Hardwire LLC of Maryland to integrate the new batteries into hybrid military vehicles.

You can find out more about the R&D 100 awards at the R&D (Research and Development) Magazine’s Award page,

The Awards, widely recognized as the “Oscars of Innovation”, identifies and celebrates the top high technology products of the year. Sophisticated testing equipment, innovative new materials, chemistry breakthroughs, biomedical products, consumer items, high-energy physics: the R&D 100 Awards spans industry, academia, and government-sponsored research. …

Since 1963, the R&D 100 Awards have identified revolutionary technologies newly introduced to the market. Many of these have become household names, helping shape everyday life for many Americans. These include the flashcube (1965), the automated teller machine (1973), the halogen lamp (1974), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm anti-smoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), lab on a chip (1996), and HDTV (1998).

That’s a very impressive list of innovations.

Rail system and choreography metaphors in a couple of science articles

If you are going to use a metaphor/analogy when you’re writing about a science topic  because you want to reach beyond an audience that’s expert on the topic you’re covering or you want to grab attention from an audience that’s inundated with material, or you want to play (for writers, this can be a form of play [for this writer, anyway]), I think you need to remain true to your metaphor. I realize that’s a lot tougher than it sounds.

I’ve got examples of the use of metaphors/analogies in two recent pieces of science writing.

First, here’s the title for a Jan. 23, 2012 article by Samantha Chan for The Asian Scientist,

Scientists Build DNA Rail System For Nanomotors, Complete With Tracks & Switches

Then, there’s the text where the analogy/metaphor of a railway system with tracks and switchers is developed further and abandoned for origami tiles,

Expanding on previous work with engines traveling on straight tracks, a team of researchers at Kyoto University and the University of Oxford have used DNA building blocks to construct a motor capable of navigating a programmable network of tracks with multiple switches.

In this latest effort, the scientists built a network of tracks and switches atop DNA origami tiles, which made it possible for motor molecules to travel along these rail systems.

Sometimes, the material at hand is the issue. ‘DNA origami tiles’ is a term in this field so Chan can’t change it to ‘DNA origami ties’ which would fit with the railway analogy. By the way, the analogy itself comes from (or was influenced by) the title the scientists chose for their published paper in Nature Nanotechnology (it’s behind a paywall),

A DNA-based molecular motor that can navigate a network of tracks

All in all, this was a skillful attempt to get the most out of a metaphor/analogy.

For my second example, I’m using a Jan. 12, 2012 news release by John Sullivan for Princeton University which was published in Jan. 12, 2012 news item on Nanowerk. Here’s the headline from Princeton,

Ten-second dance of electrons is step toward exotic new computers

This sets up the text for the first few paragraphs (found in both the Princeton news release and the Nanowerk news item),

In the basement of Hoyt Laboratory at Princeton University, Alexei Tyryshkin clicked a computer mouse and sent a burst of microwaves washing across a silicon crystal suspended in a frozen cylinder of stainless steel.

The waves pulsed like distant music across the crystal and deep within its heart, billions of electrons started spinning to their beat.

Reaching into the silicon crystal and choreographing the dance of 100 billion infinitesimal particles is an impressive achievement on its own, but it is also a stride toward developing the technology for powerful machines known as quantum computers.

Sullivan has written some very appealing text for an audience who may or may not know about quantum computers.

Somebody on Nanowerk changed the headline to this,

Choreographing dance of electrons offers promise in pursuit of quantum computers

Here, the title has been skilfully reworded for an audience that knows more quantum computers while retaining the metaphor. Nicely done.

Sullivan’s text goes on to provide a fine explanation of an issue in quantum computing, maintaining coherence, for an audience not expert in quantum computing. The one niggle I do have is a shift in the metaphor,

To understand why it is so hard, imagine circus performers spinning plates on the top of sticks. Now imagine a strong wind blasting across the performance space, upending the plates and sending them crashing to the ground. In the subatomic realm, that wind is magnetism, and much of the effort in the experiment goes to minimizing its effect. By using a magnetically calm material like silicon-28, the researchers are able to keep the electrons spinning together for much longer.

Wasn’t there a way to stay with dance? You could have had dancers spinning props or perhaps the dancers themselves being blown off course and avoided the circus performers. Yes, the circus is more colourful and appealing but, in this instance, I would have worked to maintain the metaphor first introduced, assuming I’d noticed that I’d switched metaphors.

So, I think I can safely say that using metaphors is tougher than it looks.

Princeton goes Open Access; arXiv is 10 years old

Open access to science research papers seems only right given that most Canadian research is publicly funded. (As I understand it most research worldwide is publicly funded.)

This week, Princeton University declared that their researchers’ work would be mostly open access (from the Sept. 28, 2011 news item on physrog.com),

Prestigious US academic institution Princeton University has banned researchers from giving the copyright of scholarly articles to journal publishers, except in certain cases where a waiver may be granted.

Here’s a little more from Sunanda Creagh’s (based in Australia) Sept.28, 2011 posting on The Conversation blog,

The new rule is part of an Open Access policy aimed at broadening the reach of their scholarly work and encouraging publishers to adjust standard contracts that commonly require exclusive copyright as a condition of publication.

Universities pay millions of dollars a year for academic journal subscriptions. People without subscriptions, which can cost up to $25,000 a year for some journals or hundreds of dollars for a single issue, are often prevented from reading taxpayer funded research. Individual articles are also commonly locked behind pay walls.

Researchers and peer reviewers are not paid for their work but academic publishers have said such a business model is required to maintain quality.

This Sept. 29, 2011 article by James Chang for the Princetonian adds a few more details,

“In the interest of better disseminating the fruits of our scholarship to the world, we did not want to put it artificially behind a pay wall where much of the world won’t have access to it,” committee chair and computer science professor Andrew Appel ’81 said.

The policy passed the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy with a unanimous vote, and the proposal was approved on Sept. 19 by the general faculty without any changes.

A major challenge for the committee, which included faculty members in both the sciences and humanities, was designing a policy that could comprehensively address the different cultures of publication found across different disciplines.

While science journals have generally adopted open-access into their business models, humanities publishers have not. In the committee, there was an initial worry that bypassing the scholarly peer-review process that journals facilitate, particularly in the humanities, could hurt the scholarly industry.

At the end, however, the committee said they felt that granting the University non-exclusive rights would not harm the publishing system and would, in fact, give the University leverage in contract negotiations.

That last comment about contract negotiations is quite interesting as it brings to mind the California boycott of the Nature journals last year when Nature made a bold attempt to raise subscription fees substantively (400%) after having given the University of California special deals for years (my June 15, 2010 posting).

Creagh’s posting features some responses from Australian academics such as Simon Marginson,

Having prestigious universities such as Princeton and Harvard fly the open access flag represented a step forward, said open access advocate Professor Simon Marginson from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

“The achievement of free knowledge flows, and installation of open access publishing on the web as the primary form of publishing rather than oligopolistic journal publishing subject to price barriers, now depends on whether this movement spreads further among the peak research and scholarly institutions,” he said.

“Essentially, this approach – if it becomes general – normalises an open access regime and offers authors the option of opting out of that regime. This is a large improvement on the present position whereby copyright restrictions and price barriers are normal and authors have to attempt to opt in to open access publishing, or risk prosecution by posting their work in breach of copyright.”

“The only interests that lose out under the Princeton proposal are the big journal publishers. Everyone else gains.”

Whether you view Princeton’s action as a negotiating ploy and/or a high minded attempt to give freer access to publicly funded research,  this certainly puts pressure on the business models that scholarly publishers follow.

arXiv, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is another open access initiative although it didn’t start that way. From the Sept. 28, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

“I’ve heard a lot about how democratic the arXiv is,” Ginsparg [Paul Ginsparg, professor of physics and information science] said Sept. 23 in a talk commemorating the anniversary. People have, for example, praised the fact that the arXiv makes scientific papers easily available to scientists in developing countries where subscriptions to journals are not always affordable. “But what I was trying to do was set up a system that eliminated the hierarchy in my field,” he said. As a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, “I was receiving preprints long before graduate students further down the food chain,” Ginsparg said. “When we have success we like to think it was because we worked harder, not just because we happened to have access.”

Bill Steele’s Sept. 27, 2011 article for Cornell Univesity’s ChronicleOnline notes,

One of the surprises, Ginsparg said, is that electronic publishing has not transformed the seemingly irrational scholarly publishing system in which researchers give their work to publishing houses from which their academic institutions buy it back by subscribing to journals. Scholarly publishing is still in transition, Ginsparg said, due to questions about how to fund electronic publication and how to maintain quality control. The arXiv has no peer-review process, although it does restrict submissions to those with scientific credentials.

But the lines of communication are definitely blurring. Ginsparg reported that a recent paper posted on the arXiv by Alexander Gaeta, Cornell professor of applied and engineering physics, was picked up by bloggers and spread out from there. The paper is to be published in the journal Nature and is still under a press embargo, but an article about it has appeared in the journal Science.

Interesting, eh? It seems that scholarly publishing need not disappear but there’s no question its business models are changing.