Tag Archives: Quebec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His LinkedIn profile shows this experience,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fourth panelist in this group is,

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

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

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

There is one more panelist,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7th (2015) Canadian Science Policy Conference line-up

The Seventh Canadian Science Policy Conference, being held in Ottawa, Ontario from Nov. 25 – 27, 2015 at the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel, has announced its programme and speakers in a July 16, 2015 Canadian Science Policy Centre newsletter,

Presentations

Theme 1: Transformative and Converging Technologies on
Private Sector Innovation and Productivity

New technologies, from 3D printing to quantum computing, present risks and opportunities for Canadian industries and the economy. Join CSPC 2015 in a discussion of how Canada’s mining industry and digital economy can best take advantage of these technological innovations.

Challenges Associated with Transferring New Technologies to the Mining Industry,
Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation

Creating Digital Opportunity for Canada: challenges and emerging trends,
Munk School of Global Affairs

Disruptive Technologies,
Ryerson University

Theme 2: Big Science in Canada – Realizing the Benefits

ENCode, the LHC, the Very Large Array: Big Science is reshaping modern research and with it, Canada’s scientific landscape. Join the conversation at CSPC 2015 on how Canada navigates those vast new waters.

Science Without Boundaries,
TRIUMF

Are we Jupiters in the celestial field of science? How ‘Big Science’ and major facilities influence Canadian Science Culture,
SNOLAB

Theme 3: Transformation of Science, Society and Research
in the Digital Age: Open science, participation, security and
confidentiality

The digital age has brought important changes to the Canadian scientific landscape. Come discuss and think about the effects of those changes on our society.

The Role of Innovation in Addressing Antimicrobial Resistance,
Industry Canada

Digital Literacy: What is going to make the real difference?,
Actua

Science Blogging: The Next Generation,
Science Borealis

Proposals for Advancing Canadian Open Science Policy,
Environment Canada

Theme 4: Science and Innovation for Development

Innovation and sciences are among the key driver of development. Come and find out how Canadian creativity creates unique opportunities.

Role of Open Science in Innovation for Development,
International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Learning Creativity in STEM Education,
University of Calgary

Theme 5: Evidence-Based Decision Making: The challenge
of connecting science and policy making

GMOs, climate change, energy: Many of the big major issues facing Canada fall at the nexus of science and policymaking. Join CSPC 2015 in a discussion of the role of big data and evidence-based decision-making in government.

Beating Superbugs: Innovative Genomics and Policies to Tackle AMR,
Genome Canada

Addressing Concerns Over GMOs – Striking the Right Balance,
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada

Who Should be the Voice for Science Within Government?,
Evidence for Democracy

Data Driven Decisions: Putting IoT, Big Data and Analytics to Work For Better Public Policy,
Cybera

The future of university support for Canada’s Science, Technology & Innovation Strategy,
York University

Please note, there will be more panels announced soon.

Keynote Session

Science Advice to Governments
Innovation, science and technologies never had a more critical role in decision making than today. CSPC 2015 keynote session will address the importance and role of the input from the scientific world to decision making in political affairs.

Speakers:

Sir Peter Gluckman,
Chief Science Adviser to New Zealand Government

Rémi Quirion,
Chief Scientist, Quebec

Arthur Carty,
Executive Director, Inst. Nanotechnology U Waterloo, Former science adviser to PM Paul Martin [emphasis mine]

I have a few comments. First, I’m glad to see the balance between the “money, money, money” attitude and more scholarly/policy interests has been evened out somewhat as compared to last year’s conference in Halifax (Nova Scotia). Second, I see there aren’t any politicians listed as speakers in the website’s banner as is the usual case (Ted Hsu, Member of Parliament and current science critic for the Liberal Party, is on the speaker list but will not be running in the 2015 election). This makes some sense since there is a federal election coming up in October 2015 and changes are likely. Especially, since it seems to be a three-horse race at this point. (For anyone unfamiliar with the term, it means that any one of the three main political parties could win and lead should they possess a majority of the votes in the House of Commons. There are other possibilities such as a minority government led by one party (the Harper Conservatives have been in that situation). Or, should two parties, with enough combined votes to outnumber the third party, be able to agree, there could be a coalition government of some kind.) As for other politicians at the provincial and municipal levels, perhaps it’s too early to commit? Third, Arthur Carty, as he notes, was a science advisor to Prime Minister Paul Martin. Martin was the leader of the country for approximately two years from Dec. 2003 – Nov. 2005 when a motion of non confidence was passed in Parliament (more about Paul Martin and his political career in his Wikipedia entry) an election was called for January 2006 when Stephen Harper and the conservatives were voted in to form a minority government. Arthur Carty’s tenure as Canada’s first science advisor began in 2004 and ended in 2008, according to Carty’s Wikipedia entry. It seems Carty is not claiming to have been Stephen Harper’s science advisor although arguably he was the Harper government’s science advisor for the same amount of time. This excerpt from a March 6, 2008 Canada.com news item seems to shed some light on why the Harper sojourn is not mentioned in Cary’s conference biography,

The need for a national science adviser has never been greater and the government is risking damage to Canada’s international reputation as a science leader by cutting the position, according to the man who holds the job until the end of the month.

Appearing before a Commons committee on Thursday, Arthur Carty told MPs that he is “dismayed and disappointed” that the Conservative government decided last fall to discontinue the office of the national science adviser.

“There are, I think, negative consequences of eliminating the position,” said Carty. He said his international counterparts have expressed support for him and that Canada eliminating the position has the “potential to tarnish our image,” as a world leader in science and innovation.

Carty was head of the National Research Council in 2004 when former prime minister Paul Martin asked him to be his science adviser.

In October 2006, [months] after Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected, Carty’s office was shifted to Industry Canada. After that move, he and his staff were “increasingly marginalized,” Carty told the industry, science and technology committee, and they had little input in crafting the government’s new science and technology strategy.

But Conservative members of the committee questioned whether taxpayers got their money’s worth from the national adviser and asked Carty to explain travel and meal expenses he had claimed during his time in the public service, including lunch and dinner meetings that cost around $1,000 each. Some of the figures they cited were from when Carty was head of the National Research Council.

The suggestions that Carty took advantage of the public purse prompted Liberal MP Scott Brison to accuse the Tories of launching a “smear campaign” against Carty, whom he described as a “great public servant.”

“I have never overcharged the government for anything,” Carty said in his own defence.

The keynote has the potential for some liveliness based on Carty’s history as a science advisor but one never knows.  It would have been nice if the organizers had been able to include someone from South Korea, Japan, India, China, etc. to be a keynote speaker on the topic of science advice. After all, those countries have all invested heavily in science and made some significant social and economic progress based on those investments. If you’re going to talk about the global science enterprise perhaps you could attract a few new people (and let’s not forget Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East) to the table, so to speak.

You can find out more about the conference and register (there’s a 30% supersaver discount at the moment) here.

Customizing DNA nanotubes quickly and cheaply

Building on some work published earlier this year, scientists from McGill University (Montréal, Québec) created a new technique for building DNA nanotubes block by block (my March 2, 2015 posting) and, now, the newest research from the McGill team features a way of making long DNA strands with that technique, as mentioned in a May 7, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Imagine taking strands of DNA – the material in our cells that determines how we look and function – and using it to build tiny structures that can deliver drugs to targets within the body or take electronic miniaturization to a whole new level.

While it may still sound like science fiction to most of us, researchers have been piecing together and experimenting with DNA structures for decades. And, in recent years, work by scientists such as McGill University chemistry professor Hanadi Sleiman has moved the use of man-made DNA structures closer to a variety of real-world applications.

But as these applications continue to develop, they require increasingly large and complex strands of DNA. That has posed a problem, because the automated systems used for making synthetic DNA can’t produce strands containing more than about 100 bases (the chemicals that link up to form the strands). It can take hundreds of these short strands to assemble nanotubes for applications such as smart drug-delivery systems.

Here’s a video featuring one of the researchers taking about this latest work from McGill University,

A May 6, 2015 McGill University news release, which originated the news item, describes the long DNA nanotubes in more detail,

In new research published May 5 in Nature Communications, however, Sleiman’’s team at McGill reports that it has devised a technique to create much longer strands of DNA, including custom-designed sequence patterns. What’s more, this approach also produces large amounts of these longer strands in just a few hours, making the process potentially more economical and commercially viable than existing techniques.

The new method involves piecing together small strands one after the other, so that they attach into a longer DNA strand with the help of an enzyme known as ligase.  A second enzyme, polymerase, is then used to generate many copies of the long DNA strand, yielding larger volumes of the material. The polymerase process has the added advantage of correcting any errors that may have been introduced into the sequence, amplifying only the correctly sequenced, full-length product.

Designer DNA materials

The team used these strands as a scaffold to make DNA nanotubes, demonstrating that the technique allows the length and functions of the tubes to be precisely programmed. “In the end, what we get is a long, synthetic DNA strand with exactly the sequence of bases that we want, and with exactly as many repeat units as we want,” explains Sleiman, who co-authored the study with Graham Hamblin, who recently completed his doctorate, and PhD student Janane Rahbani.

“This work opens the door toward a new design strategy in DNA nanotechnology,” Sleiman says. “This could provide access to designer DNA materials that are economical and can compete with cheaper, but less versatile technologies. In the future, uses could range from customized gene and protein synthesis, to applications in nanoelectronics, nano-optics, and medicine, including diagnosis and therapy.”

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

Sequential growth of long DNA strands with user-defined patterns for nanostructures and scaffolds by Graham D. Hamblin, Janane F. Rahbani, & Hanadi F. Sleiman. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7065 doi:10.1038/ncomms8065 Published 05 May 2015

This article is behind a paywall.

Maple syrup as an antibiotic helper?

This maple syrup research is from McGill University in Montréal, Québec (from an April 16, 2015 McGill University news release; also on EurekAlert),

A concentrated extract of maple syrup makes disease-causing bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics, according to laboratory experiments by researchers at McGill University.

The findings, which will be published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, suggest that combining maple syrup extract with common antibiotics could increase the microbes’ susceptibility, leading to lower antibiotic usage. Overuse of antibiotics fuels the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, which has become a major public-health concern worldwide.

Prof. Nathalie Tufenkji’s research team in McGill’s Department of Chemical Engineering prepared a concentrated extract of maple syrup that consists mainly of phenolic compounds. Maple syrup, made by concentrating the sap from North American maple trees, is a rich source of phenolic compounds.

The researchers tested the extract’s effect in the laboratory on infection-causing strains of certain bacteria, including E. coli and Proteus mirabilis (a common cause of urinary tract infection). By itself, the extract was mildly effective in combating bacteria. But the maple syrup extract was particularly effective when applied in combination with antibiotics. The extract also acted synergistically with antibiotics in destroying resistant communities of bacteria known as biofilms, which are common in difficult-to-treat infections, such as catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

“We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans,” Tufenkji says. “But the findings suggest a potentially simple and effective approach for reducing antibiotic usage. I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics.”

The scientists also found that the extract affects the gene expression of the bacteria, by repressing a number of genes linked with antibiotic resistance and virulence.

All maple syrup samples used in the study were purchased at local markets in Montreal, then frozen until the beginning of each experiment, which involved a series of steps to produce the phenolic-rich extract.

Tufenkji, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biocolloids and Surfaces, has also studied the potential for cranberry derivatives to fight infection-causing bacteria. The new study is co-authored by postdoctoral fellows Vimal Maisuria and Zeinab Hosseinidoust.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper which at this time (April 24, 2014) is not yet published,,

Polyphenolic Extract from Maple Syrup Potentiates Antibiotic Susceptibility and Reduces Biofilm Formation of Pathogenic Bacteria by Vimal B. Maisuria, Zeinab Hosseinidoust, and Nathalie Tufenkji. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00239-15 AEM [Applied and Environmental Microbiology].00239-15

My guess is that this paper will be behind a paywall. Fear not! There is a very informative 3 mins. or so video,

I particularly appreciated the maple leaf-shaped glass container (still full) which is shown prominently when the researcher mentions purchasing the syrup from local markets.

Reversing Parkinson’s type symptoms in rats

Indian scientists have developed a technique for delivering drugs that could reverse Parkinson-like symptoms according to an April 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

As baby boomers age, the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is expected to increase. Patients who develop this disease usually start experiencing symptoms around age 60 or older. Currently, there’s no cure, but scientists are reporting a novel approach that reversed Parkinson’s-like symptoms in rats.

Their results, published in the journal ACS Nano (“Trans-Blood Brain Barrier Delivery of Dopamine-Loaded Nanoparticles Reverses Functional Deficits in Parkinsonian Rats”), could one day lead to a new therapy for human patients.

An April 22, 2015 American Chemical Society press pac news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem the researchers were solving (Note: Links have been removed),

Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, Kavita Seth, Kailash Chand Gupta and colleagues from the CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research note that among other issues, people with Parkinson’s lack dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps nerve cells communicate with each other and is involved in normal body movements. Reduced levels cause the shaking and mobility problems associated with Parkinson’s. Symptoms can be relieved in animal models of the disease by infusing the compound into their brains. But researchers haven’t yet figured out how to safely deliver dopamine directly to the human brain, which is protected by something called the blood-brain barrier that keeps out pathogens, as well as many medicines. Chaturvedi and Gupta’s team wanted to find a way to overcome this challenge.

The researchers packaged dopamine in biodegradable nanoparticles that have been used to deliver other therapeutic drugs to the brain. The resulting nanoparticles successfully crossed the blood-brain barrier in rats, released its dopamine payload over several days and reversed the rodents’ movement problems without causing side effects.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Indian Department of Science and Technology as Woman Scientist and Ramanna Fellow Grant, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (India).

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

Trans-Blood Brain Barrier Delivery of Dopamine-Loaded Nanoparticles Reverses Functional Deficits in Parkinsonian Rats by Richa Pahuja, Kavita Seth, Anshi Shukla, Rajendra Kumar Shukla, Priyanka Bhatnagar, Lalit Kumar Singh Chauhan, Prem Narain Saxena, Jharna Arun, Bhushan Pradosh Chaudhari, Devendra Kumar Patel, Sheelendra Pratap Singh, Rakesh Shukla, Vinay Kumar Khanna, Pradeep Kumar, Rajnish Kumar Chaturvedi, and Kailash Chand Gupta. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn506408v Publication Date (Web): March 31, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access.

Another recent example of breaching the blood-brain barrier, coincidentally, in rats, can be found in my Dec. 24, 2014 titled: Gelatin nanoparticles for drug delivery after a stroke. Scientists are also trying to figure out the the blood-brain barrier operates in the first place as per this April 22, 2015 University of Pennsylvania news release on EurekAlert titled, Penn Vet, Montreal and McGill researchers show how blood-brain barrier is maintained (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montreal or Université de Montréal, and McGill University). You can find out more about CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research here.

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

Graphite

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The companies involved include:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fast Facts:

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

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

Graphene and NanoXplore

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find out more about NanoXplore here.

Université de Montréal (Canada) and nanobots breech blood-brain barrier to deliver drugs to the brain

In the spirit of full disclosure, the March 25, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily describing the research about breeching the blood-brain barrier uses the term nanorobotic agents rather than nanobots, a term which makes my headline a lot catchier although less accurate. Getting back to the research,

Magnetic nanoparticles can open the blood-brain barrier and deliver molecules directly to the brain, say researchers from the University of Montreal, Polytechnique Montréal, and CHU Sainte-Justine. This barrier runs inside almost all vessels in the brain and protects it from elements circulating in the blood that may be toxic to the brain. The research is important as currently 98% of therapeutic molecules are also unable to cross the blood-brain barrier.

“The barrier is temporary [sic] opened at a desired location for approximately 2 hours by a small elevation of the temperature generated by the nanoparticles when exposed to a radio-frequency field,” explained first author and co-inventor Seyed Nasrollah Tabatabaei. “Our tests revealed that this technique is not associated with any inflammation of the brain. This new result could lead to a breakthrough in the way nanoparticles are used in the treatment and diagnosis of brain diseases,” explained the co-investigator, Hélène Girouard. “At the present time, surgery is the only way to treat patients with brain disorders. Moreover, while surgeons are able to operate to remove certain kinds of tumors, some disorders are located in the brain stem, amongst nerves, making surgery impossible,” added collaborator and senior author Anne-Sophie Carret.

A March 25, 2015 University of Montreal news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, notes that the technique was tested or rats or mice (murine model) and explains how the technology breeches the blood-brain barrier,

Although the technology was developed using murine models and has not yet been tested in humans, the researchers are confident that future research will enable its use in people. “Building on earlier findings and drawing on the global effort of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, this technology proposes a modern version of the vision described almost 40 years ago in the movie Fantastic Voyage, where a miniature submarine navigated in the vascular network to reach a specific region of the brain,” said principal investigator Sylvain Martel. In earlier research, Martel and his team had managed to manipulate the movement of nanoparticles through the body using the magnetic forces generated by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

To open the blood-brain barrier, the magnetic nanoparticles are sent to the surface of the blood-brain barrier at a desired location in the brain. Although it was not the technique used in this study, the placement could be achieved by using the MRI technology described above. Then, the researchers generated a radio-frequency field. The nanoparticles reacted to the radio-frequency field by dissipating heat thereby creating a mechanical stress on the barrier. This allows a temporary and localized opening of the barrier for diffusion of therapeutics into the brain.

The technique is unique in many ways. “The result is quite significant since we showed in previous experiments that the same nanoparticles can also be used to navigate therapeutic agents in the vascular network using a clinical MRI scanner,” Martel remarked. “Linking the navigation capability with these new results would allow therapeutics to be delivered directly to a specific site of the brain, potentially improving significantly the efficacy of the treatment while avoiding systemic circulation of toxic agents that affect healthy tissues and organs,” Carret added. “While other techniques have been developed for delivering drugs to the blood-brain barrier, they either open it too wide, exposing the brain to great risks, or they are not precise enough, leading to scattering of the drugs and possible unwanted side effect,” Martel said.

Although there are many hurdles to overcome before the technology can be used to treat humans, the research team is optimistic. “Although our current results are only proof of concept, we are on the way to achieving our goal of developing a local drug delivery mechanism that will be able to treat oncologic, psychiatric, neurological and neurodegenerative disorders, amongst others,” Carret concluded.

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

Remote control of the permeability of the blood–brain barrier by magnetic heating of nanoparticles: A proof of concept for brain drug delivery by Seyed Nasrollah Tabatabaei, Hélène Girouard, Anne-Sophie Carret, and Sylvain Martel.Journal of Controlled Release, Volume 206, 28 May 2015, Pages 49–57,  DOI: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2015.02.027  Available online 25 February 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone unfamiliar with French, University of Montreal is Université de Montréal.

McGill University (Canada) researchers build DNA nanotubes block by block

McGill University (Montréal, Québec, Canada) researchers have found a new technique for creating DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) nanotubes according to a Feb. 24, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Researchers at McGill University have developed a new, low-cost method to build DNA nanotubes block by block – a breakthrough that could help pave the way for scaffolds made from DNA strands to be used in applications such as optical and electronic devices or smart drug-delivery systems.

A Feb. 23, 2015 McGill University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes current practice and the new technique,

Many researchers, including the McGill team, have previously constructed nanotubes using a method that relies on spontaneous assembly of DNA in solution. The new technique, reported today in Nature Chemistry, promises to yield fewer structural flaws than the spontaneous-assembly method. The building-block approach also makes it possible to better control the size and patterns of the DNA structures, the scientists report.

“Just like a Tetris game, where we manipulate the game pieces with the aim of creating a horizontal line of several blocks, we can now build long nanotubes block by block,” said Amani Hariri, a PhD student in McGill’s Department of Chemistry and lead author of the study. “By using a fluorescence microscope we can further visualize the formation of the tubes at each stage of assembly, as each block is tagged with a fluorescent compound that serves as a beacon. We can then count the number of blocks incorporated in each tube as it is constructed.”

This new technique was made possible by the development in recent years of single-molecule microscopy, which enables scientists to peer into the nano-world by turning the fluorescence of individual molecules on and off. (That groundbreaking work won three U.S.- and German-based scientists the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.)

Hariri’s research is jointly supervised by chemistry professors Gonzalo Cosa and Hanadi Sleiman, who co-authored the new study. Cosa’s research group specializes in single-molecule fluorescence techniques, while Sleiman’s uses DNA chemistry to design new materials for drug delivery and diagnostic tools.

The custom-built assembly technique developed through this collaboration “gives us the ability to monitor the nanotubes as we’re building them, and see their structure, robustness and morphology,” Cosa said.

“We wanted to control the nanotubes’ lengths and features one-by-one,” said Sleiman, who holds the Canada Research Chair in DNA Nanoscience. The resulting “designer nanotubes,” she adds, promise to be far cheaper to produce on a large scale than those created with so-called DNA origami, another innovative technique for using DNA as a nanoscale construction material.

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

Stepwise growth of surface-grafted DNA nanotubes visualized at the single-molecule level by Amani A. Hariri, Graham D. Hamblin, Yasser Gidi, Hanadi F. Sleiman & Gonzalo Cosa. Nature Chemistry (2015) doi:10.1038/nchem.2184 Published online 23 February 2015

This article is behind a paywall.

Investment in graphene (Grafoid), the Canadian government, and a 2015 federal election

The federal government of Canada is facing an election this year and many analysts believe it will be held in October 2015. Interestingly, there have been a few recent announcements about funding, also referred to as contributions, for technology companies in the provinces of Ontario and Québec. (You need to win at least one of these provinces if you want to enjoy a majority government.) My Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and toxicity; some Celluforce news; anti-petroleum extremists posted on Feb. 19, 2015 includes my observations (scroll down past the toxicity topic) about the government’s ‘clean technology’ promotional efforts and the rebranding of environmentalism into an ‘anti-petroleum’ movement.

This latest announcement about a ‘non-repayable grant’ is to be found in a Feb. 20, 2015 news item on Azonano,

The Hon. Greg Rickford, Minister of Natural Resources and Minister Responsible for Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) announced today the award of $8.1 million to Grafoid Inc. – Canada’s leading graphene technologies and applications developer – to automate Grafoid’s production of its low-cost, high-purity MesoGraf™ graphene.

“Our government is investing in advanced clean energy technologies that create well-paying jobs and generate economic opportunities. Today’s announcement contributes to economic prosperity and a cleaner environment in Ontario and across Canada,” said Mr. Rickford, who is also the Minister Responsible for Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.

The contribution from SDTC is an $8.1 million non-repayable grant to design and test the automation system for the production of constant quality MesoGraf™. Further, the grant enables the testing of pre-commercial products using MesoGraf™ graphene from the automated system.

The minister announced the funding at a news conference in Toronto attended by Grafoid and five other Canadian non graphene-related technology companies.

Ottawa-based [Ottawa is in the province of Ontario] Grafoid, the developer of a diverse range of renewable energy, industrial, military and consumer applications from its MesoGraf™ materials is the first Canadian graphene technologies developer to partner with the Canadian Government.

A Feb. 20, 2015 Grafoid news release on Marketwired.com, which originated the news item, describes how this makes Canada like other constituencies and gives a bit more detail about the company and its aims,

Canada joins the European Union, the United States, China and South Korea in providing funding assistance to privately-held graphene enterprises.

Grafoid Founding Partner and CEO Gary Economo praised Canada’s decision to stake its claim in the graphene space as the world races toward the commercialization of a potentially disruptive, pan-industrial nanomaterial.

“This is a great day for the Canadian graphene industry and for Grafoid, in particular, because it leads us out of the laboratory and into the automated manufacturing of the world’s new wonder material,” he told the news conference.

“Effectively, today’s $8.1million Federal government funding grant enables us to take a giant leap towards graphene’s broader commercialization,” Mr. Economo said. “It will permit us to increase MesoGraf™ production output from kilograms to tonnes within our global technology centre in Kingston, Ontario.

“For this we are truly appreciative of Canada’s actions in recognizing our science and commercial objectives. In the past three years Grafoid has travelled the globe staking our unique position in the graphene revolution. Today we are gratified to do this going forward with the Government of Canada,” Mr. Economo said.

Grafoid produces MesoGraf™ directly from high-grade graphite ore on a safe, economically scalable, environmentally sustainable basis. Its patent pending one-step process is unique in the industry, producing single layer, bi-layer and tri-layer graphene.

It is then adapted – or functionalized – by Grafoid for use in biomedical, renewable energy storage and production, military, aerospace and automotive, additive materials for 3D printing, water purification, construction, lubricants, solar solutions, coatings, sporting equipment and other sectoral applications.

At one atom thin, graphene is a two-dimensional pure carbon derived from graphite.

It is the strongest material known to science, is barely visible to the naked eye, yet it holds the potential to become a disruptive technology across all industrial sectors and ultimately, for the benefit of humanity.

Grafoid’s Game-Changing Process

Grafoid’s unique graphite ore-to-graphene process produces a material that eliminates cost barriers to graphene’s broad commercialization in a number of industries, some of which include building materials, automotive, aerospace, military, biomedical, renewable energy and sporting equipment.

In order to bring those application developments to market Grafoid’s partners require a scaling up of MesoGraf™ production to supply their needs for pre-production development testing and commercial production, and; the expansion of Grafoid’s research and development.

The automation of bulk MesoGraf™ graphene production is a global first. Uniformity and consistency are critical to the development of mass produced commercial applications.

One of the company’s first-to-market MesoGraf™ developments is in the renewable energy storage and power generation sectors. The market for quick charge long-life batteries is vast, and growing.

Hydro-Quebec – one of the world’s premier patent holders and suppliers of renewable energy technologies – is one of Grafoid’s first long-term sustainable technology development partners. [emphasis mine]

Within six months of development, multiple patents were filed and initial tests of the joint venture’s MesoGraf™ lithium-iron phosphate materials resulted in extreme gains in power performance over conventional batteries.

Grafoid’s corporate goal is not to simply be a graphene supplier but a global partner in commercial application development. With the ability to ramp up graphene output the company’s long-term financial prospects are secured from royalties and licensing fees from jointly developed technologies.

Competitive cost advantages built into an automated MesoGraf™ graphene production regime results in anticipated cost advantages to customers and licensees.

The Hydro-Québec deal with Grafoid was mentioned here in a Nov. 27, 2012 posting which includes this nugget,

There’s also the announcement of a joint venture between Grafoid (a company where, I believe, 40% is owned by Focus Graphite) with the University of Waterloo, from the Apr. 17, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Focus Graphite Inc. on behalf of Grafoid Inc. (“Grafoid”) is pleased to announce the signing of a two-year R&D agreement between Grafoid Inc. and the University of Waterloo to investigate and develop a graphene-based composite for electrochemical energy storage for the automotive and/or portable electronics sectors.

Given the company information included in the news release, there seems to have been a change in the corporate relationship between Grafoid and Focus Graphite. At the very least, Grafoid announcements are now generated by Grafoid itself,

About Grafoid Inc.

Incorporated in late 2011, Grafoid invested in a novel process that transforms raw, unprocessed, high grade graphite ore from its sister company, Focus Graphite to produce single layer, bi-layer and tri-layer MesoGraf™ graphene.

Today, Grafoid, a private company, sits as Canada’s innovation leader and standard-bearer in the global graphene technology space.

The company’s diverse commercial application developments include more than 15 global corporate partnerships – including Fortune 500 companies.

With 17 active projects under development with 11 universities and laboratories, and; some 64 patent applications filed or in development, Grafoid’s business goes beyond scientific R&D.

Grafoid’s Canadian-developed technologies are exported globally.

During the last three years Grafoid has experienced exponential growth as a global enterprise through joint-venture partnerships with Hydro-Quebec, Japan’s Mitsui & Company and other multinational corporations in the United States and Europe.

Grafoid’s wholly-owned subsidiaries Alcereco of Kingston, Ontario and Braille Battery, of Sarasota, Florida extend the company’s capabilities into graphene related material science and nano-engineering.

Braille is a world leader in ultra lightweight Lithium-ion high performance battery production and is a supplier to Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar racing vehicles.

The sister company, Focus Graphite also based in Ottawa, which provides Grafoid’s graphite flakes, owns a deposit in the northeastern part of Québec. (You can read more about graphite deposits and mines in my Feb. 20, 2015 post, NanoXplore: graphene and graphite in Québec (Canada).

Of course, this flurry of announcements may point to a Spring 2015 election.

NanoXplore: graphene and graphite in Québec (Canada)

For the second time this week I’m going to be mentioning the province of Québec (Canada) in relation to its ‘nanotechnology’ businesses (see: Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and toxicity; some Celluforce news; anti-petroleum extremists posted on Feb. 19, 2015). A Feb. 20, 2015 news item on Azonano announces a graphene production facility in the Montréal area,

Group NanoXplore Inc., a Montreal-based company specialising in the production and application of graphene and its derivative materials, announced today that its graphene production facility is in full operation with a capacity of 3 metric tonnes per year. This is the largest graphene production capacity in Canada and, outside of China, one of the 5 largest in the world.

A Feb. 19, 2015 NanoXplore news release on MarketWire, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail in amidst the promotional hype,

NanoXplore’s production process is unique and the core of the company’s competitive advantage. The proprietary process gently and efficiently creates pristine graphene from natural flake graphite without creating the crystalline defects that can limit performance. The process also functionalises the graphene material during production making subsequent mixing with a broad range of industrial materials simple and efficient. NanoXplore’s facility is routinely producing several standard grades of graphene as well as derivative products such as a unique graphite-graphene composite suitable for anodes in Li-ion batteries. [emphasis mine]

Another graphite connection in Québec

Interestingly, back in 2012 Hydro-Québec signed a deal with another Québec-based company, Focus Graphite (which owns a graphite deposit in the northeastern part of the province) to explore ways to produce more efficient lithium-ion batteries (my Nov 27, 2012 posting).

Getting back to the news release, it also provides a summary description of NanoXplore,

NanoXplore is a privately held advanced materials company focused on the large-scale production of high quality graphene and the integration of graphene into real world industrial products. NanoXplore achieves significant improvements in performance for its customers with very low levels of graphene because its material is of high quality (few defects, highly dispersible), because the production process can easily tune the dimensions of the graphene platelets, and because NanoXplore has specific expertise in dispersing graphene in a broad range of industrial materials. NanoXplore partners with its customers to integrate graphene into their products and processes, providing them with innovative products and a strong competitive advantage.

Graphite mines

NanoXplore, too, has some sort of relationship with a graphite mine or, in this case mining company, Mason Graphite (from the NanoXplore website’s Investors’ page),

FROM MINE TO PRODUCT

Partnered with Canadian mining company Mason Graphite, NanoXplore has access to lower quartile graphite/graphene production costs as well as a stable, long term, large flake source of raw material. Local government bodies have embraced the graphite-graphene cluster. With production and R&D centrally located in Montreal, NanoXplore offers world class innovation and true intellectual property safety for its formulation partners.

By the way, Benoit Gascon, NanoXplore’s board chair (scroll down to the bottom  of the team list) is also Mason Graphite’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The company has recently announced a detailed study on large-scale production of value-added graphite products (from a Feb. 11, 2015 Mason Graphite news release),

Mason Graphite Inc. (“Mason Graphite” or the “Company”) (TSX VENTURE:LLG)(OTCQX:MGPHF) announces that it has initiated a detailed study for large scale processing of value-added graphite products.

Value-added processing includes micronization, additional purification, spheronization and coating, resulting in graphite products that are suitable for a wide range of electrochemical applications (including alkaline batteries, lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells), technical applications (including carbon brushes, brake linings, plastics and lubricants), and other specialized uses.

The development and validation of the fabrication processes for these graphite products will be carried out by the National Research Council of Canada (“NRC”) along with Hatch, and is expected to conclude by the end of 2015. Following initial scoping work, equipment trials and product testing, the Company intends to provide preliminary results and an updated work program by mid-2015.

The NRC is the Government of Canada’s premier research and technology organization. Hatch is an engineering firm located in Montreal which is already working closely with Mason Graphite on the development of the Lac Gueret Graphite Project.

Other parts of Canada and the graphite/graphene enterprise

NanoXplore and Focus Graphite are not the only companies with connections to a graphite mine in Québec. There’s also Vancouver (Canada)-based Lomiko Metals (mentioned here in an April 17, 2013 posting [for the first time]. A. Paul Gill, Lomiko’s CEO, seems to be pursuing a similar business strategy in that Lomiko, too, has a number of business alliances, e.g., the mine, a research and development laboratory, etc. Moving out of Québec, there is also a graphite mine in Ontario owned by Northern Graphite (my Feb. 6, 2012 posting). It seems Canadians in eastern Canada have a valuable resource in graphite flakes.