Tag Archives: Quebec

A multiferroic material for more powerful solar cells

A Nov. 12, 2014 INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique; Université du Québec) news release (also on EurekAlert), describes new work on solar cells from Federico Rosei’s laboratory (Note: Links have been removed; A French language version of the news release can be found here),

Applying a thin film of metallic oxide significantly boosts the performance of solar panel cells—as recentlydemonstrated by Professor Federico Rosei and his team at the Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre at Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS). The researchers have developed a new class of materials comprising elements such as bismuth, iron, chromium, and oxygen. These“multiferroic” materials absorb solar radiation and possess unique electrical and magnetic properties. This makes them highly promising for solar technology, and also potentially useful in devices like electronic sensors and flash memory drives. …

The INRS research team discovered that by changing the conditions under which a thin film of these materials is applied, the wavelengths of light that are absorbed can be controlled. A triple-layer coating of these materials—barely 200 nanometres thick—captures different wavelengths of light. This coating converts much more light into electricity than previous trials conducted with a single layer of the same material. With a conversion efficiency of 8.1% reported by [Riad] Nechache and his coauthors, this is a major breakthrough in the field.

The team currently envisions adding this coating to traditional single-crystal silicon solar cells (currently available on the market). They believe it could increase maximum solar efficiency by 18% to 24% while also boosting cell longevity. As this technology draws on a simplified structure and processes, as well as abundant and stable materials, new photovoltaic (PV) cells will be more powerful and cost less. This means that the INRS team’s breakthrough may make it possible to reposition silicon PV cells at the forefront of the highly competitive solar energy market.

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

Bandgap tuning of multiferroic oxide solar cells by R. Nechache, C. Harnagea, S. Li, L. Cardenas, W. Huang,  J. Chakrabartty, & F. Rosei. Nature Photonics (2014) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2014.255 Published online
10 November 2014

This paper is behind a paywall although there is a free preview via ReadCube Access.

I last mentioned Federico Rose in a March 4, 2014 post about a talk (The exploration of the role of nanoscience in tomorrow’s energy solutions) he was giving in Vancouver (Canada).

A platform for nanotechnology collaboration: NanoTechValley

A Nov. 10, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features a French company, NanoThinking, and its venture into a business and research platform for collaboration (Note: A link has been removed),

Following a conception period in close connection with innovation and nanotechnology professionals, NanoThinking now offers NanoTechValley: a collaborative platform dedicated to providers and users of nanotechnology, designed for two purposes: to stimulate the emergence of R&D projects and to offer access to cutting edge equipment proposed by the community.

Here’s more from a Nov. 2014 NanoThinking presentation document about NanoTechValley,

“Currently in a phase of emergence, the field of nanotechnology is still very atomized. This reality hampers the combination of the skills, projects and activities enclosed inside laboratories and industrial firms. The idea at the origin of our project was therefore to create a web platform which features would be designed specifically to foster the emergence of collaborative projects and arrange the meeting of offers and needs” explains Thomas Dubouchet, CEO at Nanothinking.

In order to address the needs of its future users, the platform includes the following features: secure access, possibility to share documents and hold discussion with multiple users, custom privacy settings and an invitation based system which will facilitate new participations in projects proposed by the community.

You can find out more about NanoThinking here (be sure to scroll down the page) and about NanoTechValley here.

This French project reminds me,  not only of Silicon Valley, but of a couple of NanoQuébec projects mentioned in a Sept. 19, 2012 posting (NanoQuébec sets up I-Nano, their version of an industrial dating service) and a May 13, 2013 posting (NanoQuébec and iNano get to the chapel while Canada Economic Development presides). While I described the project as a ‘dating service’, it could also be described as a platform designed to encourage collaborations between business and academe.

In any event, it’s good to see projects designed to help researchers connect with each other and connect with business partners wherever they may be located.

I last wrote about NanoThinking in a Dec. 30, 2013 posting which featured the company’s Global NanoTechMap.

Nanex Canada (?) opens office in United States

Earlier this month in a Sept. 5, 2014 posting I noted that a Belgian company was opening a Canadian subsidiary in Montréal, Québec, called Nanex Canada. Not unexpectedly, the company has now announced a new office in the US. From a Sept. 23, 2014 Nanex Canada news release on Digital Journal,

Nanex Canada appoints Patrick Tuttle, of Havre de Grace, Maryland as the new USA National Sales Director. Tuttle will be in charge of all operations for the USA marketing and distribution for the Nanex Super hydrophobic Water Repellent Nanotechnology products.

… Nanex Canada is proud to announce a new partnership with Patrick Tuttle to develop the market within the Unites States for Its new line of super hydrophobic products. “We feel this is a very strategic alliance with Mr. Tuttle and his international marketing staff,” said Boyd Soussana, National Marketing Director for the parent company, Nanex Canada.

The products Mr. Tuttle will be responsible for in developing a market for include:

1) Aqua Shield Marine

2) Aqua Shield Leather and Textile

3) Aqua Shield Exterior: Wood, Masonry, Concrete

4) Aqua Shield Sport: Skiing, Snowboarding, Clothing

5) Aqua Shield Clear: Home Glass and Windshield Coating

6) Dryve Shield: For all Auto Cleaning and Shine

Soussana went on to say “the tests we have done in Canada on high dollar vehicles and the feedback from the Marine industry have been excellent. We are hearing from boat owners that they are seeing instant results in cleaning and protection from the Aqua Shield Marine products from the teak, to the rails and the fiberglass as well”

Boyd Soussana told me they did a private test on some very high end vehicles and the owners were very impressed, according to him.

So what is a Super hydrophobic Water Repellent Nanotechnology Product and how does it work?

A superhydrophobic coating is a nanoscopic surface layer that repels water and also can reduce dirt and friction against the surface to achieve better fuel economies for the auto and maritime industries according to Wikipedia.

About Nanex Company

Nanex is a developer of commercialized nanotechnology solutions headquartered in Belgium operating in North America through its Canadian subsidiary Nanex Canada Incorporated. At the start of 2012 it launched its first product, an advanced super hydrophobic formula called Always Dry. By 2014 Nanex had distributors around the world from Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore, to England and Eastern Europe, and had expanded its products into three lines and several formulas.

Given the remarkably short time span between opening a Canadian subsidiary and opening an office in the US, it’s safe to assume that obtaining a toehold in the US market was Nanex’s true objective.

Canadian researchers harvest energy from chewing

Who knew that jaw movements have proved to be amongst the most promising activities for energy-harvesting? Apparently, scientists know and are coming up with ways to enjoy the harvest. From a Sept. 16, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

A chin strap that can harvest energy from jaw movements has been created by a group of researchers in Canada.

It is hoped that the device can generate electricity from eating, chewing and talking, and power a number of small-scale implantable or wearable electronic devices, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, electronic hearing protectors and communication devices.

An Institute of Physics (IOP) Sept. 16, 2014 news release (also on EurekAlert), which  generated the news item, explains just why jaw movements are so exciting and how the researchers went about ‘harvesting’,

Jaw movements have proved to be one of the most promising candidates for generating electricity from human body movements, with researchers estimating that an average of around 7 mW of power could be generated from chewing during meals alone.

To harvest this energy, the study’s researchers, from Sonomax-ÉTS Industrial Research Chair in In-ear Technologies (CRITIAS) at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) in Montreal, Canada, created a chinstrap made from piezoelectric fibre composites (PFC).

PFC is a type of piezoelectric smart material that consists of integrated electrodes and an adhesive polymer matrix. The material is able to produce an electric charge when it stretches and is subjected to mechanical stress.

In their study, the researchers created an energy-harvesting chinstrap made from a single layer of PFC and attached it to a pair of earmuffs using a pair of elastic side straps. To ensure maximum performance, the chinstrap was fitted snugly to the user, so when the user’s jaw moved it caused the strap to stretch.

To test the performance of the device, the subject was asked to chew gum for 60 seconds while wearing the device; at the same time the researchers recorded a number of different parameters.

The maximum amount of power that could be harvested from the jaw movements was around 18 µW, but taking into account the optimum set-up for the head-mounted device, the power output was around 10 µW.

Co-author of the study Aidin Delnavaz said: “Given that the average power available from chewing is around 7 mW, we still have a long way to go before we perfect the performance of the device.

“The power level we achieved is hardly sufficient for powering electrical devices at the moment; however, we can multiply the power output by adding more PFC layers to the chinstrap. For example, 20 PFC layers, with a total thickness of 6 mm, would be able to power a 200 µW intelligent hearing protector.”

One additional motivation for pursuing this area of research is the desire to curb the current dependency on batteries, which are not only expensive to replace but also extremely damaging to the environment if they are not disposed of properly.

“The only expensive part of the energy-harvesting device is the single PFC layer, which costs around $20. Considering the price and short lifetime of batteries, we estimate that a self-powered hearing protector based on the proposed chinstrap energy-harvesting device will start to pay back the investment after three years of use,” continued Delnavaz.

“Additionally, the device could substantially decrease the environmental impact of batteries and bring more comfort to users.

“We will now look at ways to increase the number of piezoelectric elements in the chinstrap to supply the power that small electronic devices demand, and also develop an appropriate power management circuit so that a tiny, rechargeable battery can be integrated into the device.”

Here’s a look at the ‘smart chinstrap’,

Caption: This is the experimental set up of an energy harvesting chin strap. Credit: Smart Materials and Structures/IOP Publishing

Caption: This is the experimental set up of an energy harvesting chin strap.
Credit: Smart Materials and Structures/IOP Publishing

I don’t see anyone rushing to get a chinstrap soon. Hopefully they’ll find a way to address some of the design issues. In the meantime, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Flexible piezoelectric energy harvesting from jaw movements by Aidin Delnavaz and Jérémie Voix. 2014 Smart Mater. Struct. 23 105020 doi:10.1088/0964-1726/23/10/105020

This is an open access paper.

Canadian nano business news: international subsidiary (Nanex) opens in Québec and NanoStruck’s latest results on recovering silver from mine tailings

The Canadian nano business sector is showing some signs of life. Following on my Sept. 3, 2014 posting about Nanotech Security Corp.’s plans to buy a subsidiary business, Fortress Optical Features, there’s an international subsidiary of Nanex (a Belgium-based business) planning to open in the province of Québec and NanoStruck (an Ontario-based company) has announced the results of its latest tests on cyanide-free recovery techniques.

In the order in which I stumbled across these items, I’m starting with the Nanex news item in a Sept. 3, 2014 posting on the Techvibes blog,

Nanex, a Belgian-based innovator and manufacturer of superhydrophobic nanotechnology products, announced last week the creation of its first international subsidiary.

Nanex Canada will be headquartered in Montreal.

For those unfamiliar with the term superhydrophobic, it means water repellent to a ‘super’ degree. For more information the properties of superhydrophobic coatings, the Techvibes post is hosting a video which demonstrates the coating’s properties (there’s a car which may never need washing again).

An Aug. 1, 2014 Nanex press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

… Nanex Canada Incorporated will be starting operations on October 1st, 2014 and will be headquartered in Montreal, Quebec.

“Nanex’s expansion into Canada is a tremendous leap forward in our international operations, creating not only more efficient and direct channels into all of North America, but also providing access to a new top-notch intellectual pool for our R&D efforts,” Said Boyd Soussana, National Marketing Director at Nanex Canada. “We feel that Quebec and Canada have a great reputation as leaders in the field of advanced technologies, and we are proud to contribute to this scientific landscape.”

Upon launch, Nanex Canada Inc. will begin with retail and sales of its nanotechnology products, which have a wide range of consumer applications. Formal partnerships in B2B [business-to-business] further expanding these applications have been in place throughout Canada beginning in August of 2014. Through its Quebec laboratories Nanex Canada Inc. will also be pursuing R&D initiatives, in order to further develop safe and effective nano-polymers for consumer use, focusing entirely on ease of application and cost efficiency for the end consumer. In addition application of nano-coatings in green technologies will be a priority for North American R&D efforts.

Nanex Company currently manufactures three lines of products: Always Dry, Clean & Coat, and a self-cleaning coating for automotive bodies. These products contain proprietary nano-polymers that when sprayed upon a surface provide advanced abilities including super hydrophobic (extremely water-repellent), oleophobic (extremely oil repellent), and scratch resistance as well as self-cleaning properties.

 

The second piece of news is featured in a Sept. 5, 2014 news item on Azonano,

NanoStruck Technologies Inc. is pleased to announce positive results from test work carried out on silver mine tailings utilizing proprietary cyanide free recovery technologies that returned up to 87.6% of silver from samples grading 56 grams of silver per metric ton (g/t).

A Sept. 4, 2014 NanoStruck news release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Three leach tests were conducted using the proprietary mixed acid leach process. Roasting was conducted on the sample for two of the leach tests, producing higher recoveries, although the un-roasted sample still produced a 71% recovery rate.

87.6% silver recoveries resulted from a 4 hour leach time at 95 degrees Celsius, with the standard feed grind size of D80 175 micron of roasted material.
84.3% recoveries resulted from a 4 hour leach at 95 degrees Celsius with the standard feed grind size of D80 175 micron with roasted material at a lower acid concentration.
71% recoveries resulted from a 4 hour leach at 95 degrees Celsius from received material, with the standard feed grind size of D80 175 micron with an altered acid mix concentration.

The average recovery for the roasted samples was 86% across the two leach tests performed using the proprietary process.

Bundeep Singh Rangar, Interim CEO and Chairman of the Board, said: “These results further underpin the effectiveness of our processing technology. With our patented process we are achieving excellent recoveries in not only silver tailings, but also gold tailings as well, both of which have vast global markets for us.”

The proprietary process combines a novel mixed acid leach with a solvent extraction stage, utilizing specific organic compounds. No cyanide is used in this environmentally friendly process. The flow sheet design is for a closed loop, sealed unit in which all chemicals are then recycled.

Previous test work undertaken on other gold mine tailings utilizing the proprietary process resulted in a maximum 96.1% recovery of gold. Previous test work undertaken on other silver tailings resulted in a maximum 86.4% recovery of silver.

The technical information contained in this news release has been verified and approved by Ernie Burga, a qualified person for the purpose of National Instrument 43-101, Standards of Disclosure for Mineral Projects, of the Canadian securities administrators.

Should you choose to read the news release in its entirety, you will find that no one is responsible for the information should anything turn out to be incorrect or just plain wrong but, like Nanotech Security Corp., (as I noted in my Sept. 4, 2014 posting), the company is very hopeful.

I have mentioned NanoStruck several times here:

March 14, 2014 posting

Feb. 19, 2014 posting

Feb. 10, 2014 posting

Dec. 27, 2013 posting

Tim Blais and A Capella Science

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for information about another Canadian ‘science musician’. Tim Blais has been producing science music videos for almost two years now. His first video, posted on YouTube, in August 2012 featured an Adele tune ‘Rolling in the deep’ sung to lyrics featuring the Higgs Boson (‘Rolling in the Higgs’),

He shares the text of the lyrics (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtItBX1l1VY&list=UUTev4RNBiu6lqtx8z1e87fQ),

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

Baby I have a theory to be told
The standard model used to discover our quantum world
SU(3), U(1), SU(2)’s our gauge
Make a transform and the equations shouldn’t change

The particles then must all be massless
Cause mass terms vary under gauge transformation
The one solution is spontaneous
Symmetry breaking

Roll your vacuum to minimum potential
Break your SU(2) down to massless modes
Into mass terms of gauge bosons they go
Fermions sink in like skiers into snow

Lyrics and arrangement by Tim Blais and A Capella Science
Original music by Adele

In a Sept. 17, 2012 article by Ethan Yang for The McGill Daily (University of McGill, Montréal, Québec) Blais describes his background and inspiration,

How does a master’s physics student create a Higgs boson-based parody of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” that goes viral and gets featured in popular science magazines and blogs? We sat down with Tim Blais to learn more about the personal experiences leading to his musical and scientific project, “A Capella Science”.

McGill Daily: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, your childhood, and other experiences that in hindsight you think might have led you to where you are now?
Tim Blais: I grew up in a family of five in the little town of Hudson, Quebec, twenty minutes west of the island of Montreal. My childhood was pretty full of music; I started experimenting with the piano, figuring out songs my older siblings were playing, when I was about four, and soon got actual piano lessons. My mom also ran, and continues to run, our local church choir, so from the time I was three I was singing in front of people as well. Also at about three or four a kid in my preschool introduced me to Bill Nye the Science Guy, which became the only TV I watched for about six years. After kindergarten I didn’t go to school until Grade 10, but was homeschooled by my parents. We had a very multifaceted way of learning […] that I think allowed me to see the big picture of things without getting bogged down in the horrible little details that are often the stumbling block when you start learning something. That gave me a fascination with science that’s essentially carried me through a science DEC and one-and-a-half university degrees. But my parents have always been super cool about not pressuring us kids to be anything in particular, and now to show for it they’ve got an emerging rock star – my brother, Tom; a dedicated speech pathologist – my sister, Mary-Jane; and me, researcher in incomprehensible physics and recently popular internet fool. I think they did alright.

Since 2012, Blais has graduated with a masters in physics and is now devoted to a life as a musician (from a 2013 [?] posting on redefineschool.com),

Blais has just finished up his master’s degree program at McGill, and he says he’s putting academia aside for a while. “I’ve been in school all my life so I’m switching gears and being a musician this year!” he tweeted. And that career choice is just fine by McGill theoretical physicist Alex Maloney, Blais’ faculty adviser.

To bring us up-to-date with Blais, David has featured the latest A Capella Science music video titled: ‘Eminemium (Choose Yourself)’ in his July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog.

One last tidbit, Blais will be appearing at Calgary’s (Alberta) Beakerhead ‘festival’ (Sept. 10 – 14, 2014). Specifically, he will be at (from the TELUS Sept. 11, 2014 event page):

TELUS Spark Adults Only Night
September 11 [2014] @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
[TELUS Spark Adults Only Night]

Mark your calendar for this special Beakerhead-themed adult night at TELUS Spark Science Centre. Meet the Festo Automation folks from Germany and see their mind-boggling biomechanical creatures up close. Are you also a fan of the internet sensation A Capella Science Bohemian Gravity? Meet the maker, Tim Blais, here in Calgary for Beakerhead.

This event is included with Admission and Membership. TOP TIP: Skip the queue with advance tickets. [go to TELUS event page to buy tickets]

You can find out more about A Capella Science on its Facebook page or via its Twitter feed. For more about Beakerhead events, go here.

Science, Scotland, and independence

A referendum on Scotland’s independence will take place later this year on Sept, 18, 2014 and. in the meantime, there’s a great deal of discussion about what a ‘yes’ vote might mean. Canadians will be somewhat familiar with this process having experienced two ‘sovereignty’ referendum votes (1980 and 1995, respectively) in the province of Québec and two 1948 referendums (the first result was inconclusive) in Newfoundland where they chose between dominion status and joining the Canadian confederation (Referendums in Canada Wikipedia entry).

One of the features of Québec’s sovereignty or independence proposals is a desire to retain the financial advantages of being party to a larger,established country while claiming new advantages available to an independent constituency or as they say ‘having one’s cake and eating it too’.

While there are many, many historical, cultural and other differences between the situations in Québec and Scotland, it is not entirely surprising to note that there is at least one area where the Scottish/UK debates seem to be emulating the Québec/Canada debates and that is the desire to retain the advantages of being part of the UK with regard to science research funding.

According to a Dec. 2013 (?) posting of the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) ‘Future of the UK and Scotland’ blog two reports discussing the subject of science research funding in the context of Scotland’s proposed independence were launched in November 2013,

In November [2013], two papers were published regarding the future of Scotland. The first, ‘Scotland analysis: Science and research’, written by the UK government, and unveiled by David Willetts, UK Science Minister earlier in November, focuses solely on the issues related to science and research in Scotland,  whereas the second one, a Scottish Government White Paper, addresses a whole range of issues associated with independence in Scotland with a brief discussion of the futures of science and higher education in Scotland (Chapter 5- Education, Skills and Employment).

Both papers testify to the strength of the Scottish science base and the contribution of Scottish universities to the UK research base as a whole. …

However, when it comes to the independence debate, the two papers present contrasting positions. The UK government paper highlights the disproportionate level of funding and research support that Scottish universities receive compared to the rest of the UK, warning that the funding will not continue at the same level in an independent Scotland. According to the paper, while Scotland only contributes 8% to the GDP, it receives 13% of the research funding from various funding bodies. Should Scotland go independent, the paper argues, the UK research funding flow will stop and it will be up to the Scottish Funding Council to decide whether to keep public research funding at present levels. [emphasis mine]…

Adopting a different perspective, the Scottish Government White Paper argues that it will be in the interest of both sides to remain in a ‘common research area’, which shares research councils, access to facilities, and peer reviewing. According to this paper, Scotland universities have made a huge input to UK research and the research councils have been partly funded by Scottish taxpayers. Therefore, Scotland will seek to remain in the ‘common research area‘ and will negotiate a formula to continue funding research councils based on population, but with Scottish research institutes receiving lower or higher funding support based on their research performance. [emphases mine]

… The Scottish Government White Paper presents an ideal research system which maintains the positive aspects of the current system but eliminates other features (for example, attracting international research talent through modifying immigration policy). [emphasis mine] …

At a workshop, organised by the ESRC Innogen Centre in November [2013] and attended by Scottish-based industrialists, academics, policy agencies and senior research managers, there was considerable debate about uncertainties such as these. There were real worries about how the current high levels of research funding could be continued and how Scotland would be able to compete on research

A July 5, 2014 news item on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) News online mentions the latest doings in this area of Scotland’s independence debate,

Medical and scientific research across the UK would suffer if Scotland votes for independence, according to the heads of three academic institutions.

The claim was made by the presidents of the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Stern and Sir John Tooke said scientific collaboration would be damaged by a “Yes” vote.

In a joint letter to The Times newspaper, the three academics also claimed that maintaining existing levels of research in Scotland would cost Scottish taxpayers more should the country leave the UK.

They wrote: “Scotland has long done particularly well through its access to UK research funding.

“If it turns out that an independent Scotland has to form its own science and research budget, maintaining these levels of research spending would cost the Scottish taxpayer significantly more.”

They went on to state that the strong links and collaborations which exist across the UK “would be put at risk”, with any new system aiming to restore these links “likely to be expensive and bureaucratic”.

The presidents wrote: “We believe that if separation were to occur, research not only in Scotland but also the rest of the UK would suffer.

However Academics for Yes, a pro-independence group which comprises 60 academics from Scottish universities, said a “Yes” vote would protect the country’s universities and allow research priorities to be determined.

Its spokesman, Professor Bryan MacGregor from the University of Aberdeen, said: “On the one hand, we have the UK and England contexts of cuts in research and science funding, high student fees with unsustainable loan funding, an immigration policy that is preventing and deterring international student recruitment and the possibility of an exit from the EU and its research funding.

“And, on the other, we have a Scottish government committed to funding research, to free access to universities for residents and to attracting international students.

Earlier this year a group of 14 clinical academics and scientists put their names to an open letter raising “grave concerns that the country does not sleepwalk into a situation that jeopardises its present success in the highly-competitive arena of biomedical research”.

But the Scottish government, which currently provides about a third of research funds, has argued there is no reason why the current UK-wide structure for funding could not continue post-independence.

Kieron Flanagan in a Feb. 12, 2013 posting on the Guardian political science blog explored the possibilities (Note: Links have been removed),

Let’s face it: few people on either side of the Scottish independence debate are likely to be swayed by arguments about the impacts independence might have on scientific research. Yet science is a policy area where major changes would follow from a “Yes” vote for an independent Scotland. Nonetheless, the commentator Colin Macilwain passionately argued that Scottish science is ready to go it alone in a recent Nature opinion column.

… an independent Scotland could choose to continue to subscribe to the UK research councils in the same way that associated non-EU countries pay to take part in the European research programmes. It would have a strong moral claim to continued access, and it would be difficult to see how a UK government could refuse such an arrangement. Continued access to the existing research councils would allow Scotland to ensure that a diverse range of funding sources remains available to its scientists, and might also help encourage UK research charities to continue to fund research in the country.

So, while Macilwain is certainly right that Scottish science can go it alone, those working in Scottish science may conclude that the additional costs of running a small country research system, the additional risks of maintaining autonomy for funding decisions in a much smaller political world, and the consequent reduction in diversity of funding streams together outweigh the attractions of building a whole new research system from scratch.

While I think Flanagan is quite right when he says the impact that a ‘Yes’ vote will have on science funding and research in Scotland is unlikely to sway anyone’s vote, it’s fascinating to observe the discussion. I don’t believe that any such specific concerns about science and research funding have ever arisen in the context of the Québec referendums. If someone knows otherwise, please drop a line in the comments.

In any event, I can’t help but wonder what impact a ‘Yes’ vote will have on other independence movements both in Canada (Québec certainly and Alberta possibly, where mumbles about independence are sometimes heard) and elsewhere.

The evolution of molecules as observed with femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy

A July 3, 2014 news item on Azonano features some recent research from the Université de Montréal (amongst other institutions),

Scientists don’t fully understand how ‘plastic’ solar panels work, which complicates the improvement of their cost efficiency, thereby blocking the wider use of the technology. However, researchers at the University of Montreal, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Imperial College London and the University of Cyprus have determined how light beams excite the chemicals in solar panels, enabling them to produce charge.

A July 2, 2014 University of Montreal news release, which originated the news item, provides a fascinating description of the ultrafast laser process used to make the observations,

 “We used femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy,” explained Tony Parker of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility. “Femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy is an advanced ultrafast laser technique that provides details on how chemical bonds change during extremely fast chemical reactions. The laser provides information on the vibration of the molecules as they interact with the pulses of laser light.” Extremely complicated calculations on these vibrations enabled the scientists to ascertain how the molecules were evolving. Firstly, they found that after the electron moves away from the positive centre, the rapid molecular rearrangement must be prompt and resemble the final products within around 300 femtoseconds (0.0000000000003 s). A femtosecond is a quadrillionth of a second – a femtosecond is to a second as a second is to 3.7 million years. This promptness and speed enhances and helps maintain charge separation.  Secondly, the researchers noted that any ongoing relaxation and molecular reorganisation processes following this initial charge separation, as visualised using the FSRS method, should be extremely small.

As for why the researchers’ curiosity was stimulated (from the news release),

The researchers have been investigating the fundamental beginnings of the reactions that take place that underpin solar energy conversion devices, studying the new brand of photovoltaic diodes that are based on blends of polymeric semiconductors and fullerene derivatives. Polymers are large molecules made up of many smaller molecules of the same kind – consisting of so-called ‘organic’ building blocks because they are composed of atoms that also compose molecules for life (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur). A fullerene is a molecule in the shape of a football, made of carbon. “In these and other devices, the absorption of light fuels the formation of an electron and a positive charged species. To ultimately provide electricity, these two attractive species must separate and the electron must move away. If the electron is not able to move away fast enough then the positive and negative charges simple recombine and effectively nothing changes. The overall efficiency of solar devices compares how much recombines and how much separates,” explained Sophia Hayes of the University of Cyprus, last author of the study.

… “Our findings open avenues for future research into understanding the differences between material systems that actually produce efficient solar cells and systems that should as efficient but in fact do not perform as well. A greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t will obviously enable better solar panels to be designed in the future,” said the University of Montreal’s Carlos Silva, who was senior author of the study.

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

Direct observation of ultrafast long-range charge separation at polymer–fullerene heterojunctions by Françoise Provencher, Nicolas Bérubé, Anthony W. Parker, Gregory M. Greetham, Michael Towrie, Christoph Hellmann, Michel Côté, Natalie Stingelin, Carlos Silva & Sophia C. Hayes. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4288 doi:10.1038/ncomms5288 Published 01 July 2014

This article is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available vie ReadCube Access.

Canada’s ‘nano’satellites to gaze upon luminous stars

The launch (from Yasny, Russia) of two car battery-sized satellites happened on June 18, 2014 at 15:11:11 Eastern Daylight Time according to a June 18, 2014 University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) news release (also on EurekAlert).

Together, the satellites are known as the BRITE-Constellation, standing for BRIght Target Explorer. “BRITE-Constellation will monitor for long stretches of time the brightness and colour variations of most of the brightest stars visible to the eye in the night sky. These stars include some of the most massive and luminous stars in the Galaxy, many of which are precursors to supernova explosions. This project will contribute to unprecedented advances in our understanding of such stars and the life cycles of the current and future generations of stars,” said Professor Moffat [Anthony Moffat, of the University of Montreal and the Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec], who is the scientific mission lead for the Canadian contribution to BRITE and current chair of the international executive science team.

Here’s what the satellites (BRITE-Constellatio) are looking for (from the news release),

Luminous stars dominate the ecology of the Universe. “During their relatively brief lives, massive luminous stars gradually eject enriched gas into the interstellar medium, adding heavy elements critical to the formation of future stars, terrestrial planets and organics. In their spectacular deaths as supernova explosions, massive stars violently inject even more crucial ingredients into the mix. The first generation of massive stars in the history of the Universe may have laid the imprint for all future stellar history,” Moffat explained. “Yet, massive stars – rapidly spinning and with radiation fields whose pressure resists gravity itself – are arguably the least understood, despite being the brightest members of the familiar constellations of the night sky.” Other less-massive stars, including stars similar to our own Sun, also contribute to the ecology of the Universe, but only at the end of their lives, when they brighten by factors of a thousand and shed off their tenuous outer layers.

BRITE-Constellation is both a multinational effort and a Canadian bi-provincial effort,

BRITE-Constellation is in fact a multinational effort that relies on pioneering Canadian space technology and a partnership with Austrian and Polish space researchers – the three countries act as equal partners. Canada’s participation was made possible thanks to an investment of $4.07 million by the Canadian Space Agency. The two new Canadian satellites are joining two Austrian satellites and a Polish satellite already in orbit; the final Polish satellite will be launched in August [2014?].

All six satellites were designed by the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies – Space Flight Laboratory, who also built the Canadian pair. The satellites were in fact named “BRITE Toronto” and “BRITE Montreal” after the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal, who play a major role in the mission.  “BRITE-Constellation will exploit and enhance recent Canadian advances in precise attitude control that have opened up for space science  the domain of very low cost, miniature spacecraft, allowing a scientific return that otherwise would have had price tags 10 to 100 times higher,” Moffat said. “This will actually be the first network of satellites devoted to a fundamental problem in astrophysics.”

Is it my imagination or is there a lot more Canada/Canadian being included in news releases from the academic community these days? In fact, I made a similar comment in my June 10, 2014 posting about TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics where I noted we might not need to honk our own horns quite so loudly.

One final comment, ‘nano’satellites have been launched before as per my Aug. 6, 2012 posting,

The nanosatellites referred to in the Aug.2, 2012 news release on EurekALert aren’t strictly speaking nano since they are measured in inches and weigh approximately eight pounds. I guess by comparison with a standard-sized satellite, CINEMA, one of 11 CubeSats, seems nano-sized. From the news release,

Eleven tiny satellites called CubeSats will accompany a spy satellite into Earth orbit on Friday, Aug. 3, inaugurating a new type of inexpensive, modular nanosatellite designed to piggyback aboard other NASA missions. [emphasis mine]

One of the 11 will be CINEMA (CubeSat for Ions, Neutrals, Electrons, & MAgnetic fields), an 8-pound, shoebox-sized package which was built over a period of three years by 45 students from the University of California, Berkeley, Kyung Hee University in Korea, Imperial College London, Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, and University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez.

This 2012 project had a very different focus from this Austrian-Canadian-Polish effort. From the University of Montreal news release,

The nanosatellites will be able to explore a wide range of astrophysical questions. “The constellation could detect exoplanetary transits around other stars, putting our own planetary system in context, or the pulsations of red giants, which will enable us to test and refine our models regarding the eventual fate of our Sun,” Moffatt explained.

Good luck!