Tag Archives: Russia

Medical nanobots (nanorobots) and biocomputing; an important step in Russia

Russian researchers have reported a technique which can make logical calculations from within cells according to an Aug. 19, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Researchers from the Institute of General Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences and MIPT [Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology] have made an important step towards creating medical nanorobots. They discovered a way of enabling nano- and microparticles to produce logical calculations using a variety of biochemical reactions.

An Aug. 19 (?), 2014 MIPT press release, which originated the news item, provides a good beginner’s explanation of bioengineering in the context of this research,

For example, modern bioengineering techniques allow for making a cell illuminate with different colors or even programming it to die, linking the initiation  of apoptosis [cell death] to the result of binary operations.

Many scientists believe logical operations inside cells or in artificial biomolecular systems to be a way of controlling biological processes and creating full-fledged micro-and nano-robots, which can, for example, deliver drugs on schedule to those tissues where they are needed.

Calculations using biomolecules inside cells, a.k.a. biocomputing, are a very promising and rapidly developing branch of science, according to the leading author of the study, Maxim Nikitin, a 2010 graduate of MIPT’s Department of Biological and Medical Physics. Biocomputing uses natural cellular mechanisms. It is far more difficult, however, to do calculations outside cells, where there are no natural structures that could help carry out calculations. The new study focuses specifically on extracellular biocomputing.

The study paves the way for a number of biomedical technologies and differs significantly from previous works in biocomputing, which focus on both the outside and inside of cells. Scientists from across the globe have been researching binary operations in DNA, RNA and proteins for over a decade now, but Maxim Nikitin and his colleagues were the first to propose and experimentally confirm a method to transform almost any type of nanoparticle or microparticle into autonomous biocomputing structures that are capable of implementing a functionally complete set of Boolean logic gates (YES, NOT, AND and OR) and binding to a target (such as a cell) as result of a computation. This method allows for selective binding to target cells, as well as it represents a new platform to analyze blood and other biological materials.

The prefix “nano” in this case is not a fad or a mere formality. A decrease in particle size sometimes leads to drastic changes in the physical and chemical properties of a substance. The smaller the size, the greater the reactivity; very small semiconductor particles, for example, may produce fluorescent light. The new research project used nanoparticles (i.e. particles of 100 nm) and microparticles (3000 nm or 3 micrometers).

Nanoparticles were coated with a special layer, which “disintegrated” in different ways when exposed to different combinations of signals. A signal here is the interaction of nanoparticles with a particular substance. For example, to implement the logical operation “AND” a spherical nanoparticle was coated with a layer of molecules, which held a layer of spheres of a smaller diameter around it. The molecules holding the outer shell were of two types, each type reacting only to a particular signal; when in contact with two different substances small spheres separated from the surface of a nanoparticle of a larger diameter. Removing the outer layer exposed the active parts of the inner particle, and it was then able to interact with its target. Thus, the team obtained one signal in response to two signals.

For bonding nanoparticles, the researchers selected antibodies. This also distinguishes their project from a number of previous studies in biocomputing, which used DNA or RNA for logical operations. These natural proteins of the immune system have a small active region, which responds only to certain molecules; the body uses the high selectivity of antibodies to recognize and neutralize bacteria and other pathogens.

Making sure that the combination of different types of nanoparticles and antibodies makes it possible to implement various kinds of logical operations, the researchers showed that cancer cells can be specifically targeted as well. The team obtained not simply nanoparticles that can bind to certain types of cells, but particles that look for target cells when both of two different conditions are met, or when two different molecules are present or absent. This additional control may come in handy for more accurate destruction of cancer cells with minimal impact on healthy tissues and organs.

Maxim Nikitin said that although this is just as mall step towards creating efficient nanobiorobots, this area of science is very interesting and opens up great vistas for further research, if one draws an analogy between the first works in the creation of nanobiocomputers and the creation of the first diodes and transistors, which resulted in the rapid development of electronic computers.

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

Biocomputing based on particle disassembly by Maxim P. Nikitin, Victoria O. Shipunova, Sergey M. Deyev, & Petr I. Nikitin. Nature Nanotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.156 Published online 17 August 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

‘Scotch-tape’ technique for isolating graphene

The ‘scotch-tape’ technique is mythologized in the graphene origins story which has scientists, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, first isolating the material by using adhesive (aka ‘sticky’ tape or ‘scotch’ tape) as per my Oct. 7, 2010 posting,

The technique that Geim and Novoselov used to create the first graphene sheets both amuses and fascinates me (from the article by Kit Eaton on the Fast Company website),

The two scientists came up with the technique that first resulted in samples of graphene–peeling individual atoms-deep sheets of the material from a bigger block of pure graphite. The science here seems almost foolishly simple, but it took a lot of lateral thinking to dream up, and then some serious science to investigate: Geim and Novoselo literally “ripped” single sheets off the graphite by using regular adhesive tape. Once they’d confirmed they had grabbed micro-flakes of the material, Geim and Novoselo were responsible for some of the very early experiments into the material’s properties. Novel stuff indeed, but perhaps not so unexpected from a scientist (Geim) who the Nobel Committe notes once managed to make a frog levitate in a magnetic field.

A May 21, 2014 article about Geim who has won both a Nobel and an Ig Nobel (the only scientist to do so) and graphene by Sarah Lewis for Fast Company offers more details about the discovery,

The graphene FNE [Friday Night Experiments] began when Geim asked Da Jiang, a doctoral student from China, to polish a piece of graphite an inch across and a few millimeters thick down to 10 microns using a specialized machine. Partly due to a language barrier, Jiang polished the graphite down to dust, but not the ultimate thinness Geim wanted.

Helpfully, the Geim lab was also observing graphite using scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). The experimenters would clean the samples beforehand using Scotch tape, which they would then discard. “We took it out of the trash and just used it,” Novoselov said. The flakes of graphite on the tape from the waste bin were finer and thinner than what Jiang had found using the fancy machine. They weren’t one layer thick—that achievement came by ripping them some more with Scotch tape.

They swapped the adhesive for Japanese Nitto tape, “probably because the whole process is so simple and cheap we wanted to fancy it up a little and use this blue tape,” Geim said. Yet “the method is called the ‘Scotch tape technique.’ I fought against this name, but lost.”

Scientists elsewhere have been inspired to investigate the process in minute detail as per a June 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The simplest mechanical cleavage technique using a primitive “Scotch” tape has resulted in the Nobel-awarded discovery of graphenes and is currently under worldwide use for assembling graphenes and other two-dimensional (2D) graphene-like structures toward their utilization in novel high-performance nanoelectronic devices.

The simplicity of this method has initiated a booming research on 2D materials. However, the atomistic processes behind the micromechanical cleavage have still been poorly understood.

A June 27, 2014 MANA (International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectoinics) news release, which originated the news item, provides more information,

A joined team of experimentalists and theorists from the International Center for Young Scientists, International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics and Surface Physics and Structure Unit of the National Institute for Materials Science, National University of Science and Technology “MISiS” (Moscow, Russia), Rice University (USA) and University of Jyväskylä (Finland) led by Daiming Tang and Dmitri Golberg for the first time succeeded in complete understanding of physics, kinetics and energetics behind the regarded “Scotch-tape” technique using molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) atomic layers as a model material.

The researchers developed a direct in situ probing technique in a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM) to investigate the mechanical cleavage processes and associated mechanical behaviors. By precisely manipulating an ultra-sharp metal probe to contact the pre-existing crystalline steps of the MoS2 single crystals, atomically thin flakes were delicately peeled off, selectively ranging from a single, double to more than 20 atomic layers. The team found that the mechanical behaviors are strongly dependent on the number of layers. Combination of in situ HRTEM and molecular dynamics simulations reveal a transformation of bending behavior from spontaneous rippling (< 5 atomic layers) to homogeneous curving (~ 10 layers), and finally to kinking (20 or more layers).

By considering the force balance near the contact point, the specific surface energy of a MoS2 monoatomic layer was calculated to be ~0.11 N/m. This is the first time that this fundamentally important property has directly been measured.

After initial isolation from the mother crystal, the MoS2 monolayer could be readily restacked onto the surface of the crystal, demonstrating the possibility of van der Waals epitaxy. MoS2 atomic layers could be bent to ultimate small radii (1.3 ~ 3.0 nm) reversibly without fracture. Such ultra-reversibility and extreme flexibility proves that they could be mechanically robust candidates for the advanced flexible electronic devices even under extreme folding conditions.

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

Nanomechanical cleavage of molybdenum disulphide atomic layers by Dai-Ming Tang, Dmitry G. Kvashnin, Sina Najmaei, Yoshio Bando, Koji Kimoto, Pekka Koskinen, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Boris I. Yakobson, Pavel B. Sorokin, Jun Lou, & Dmitri Golberg. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3631 doi:10.1038/ncomms4631 Published 03 April 2014

This paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview available through 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!

Snail mail and nanotechnology in Russia

RUSNANO (Russian Nanotechnologies Corporation) has inked a deal with Russia’s postal services according to a May 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Russian Post (Pochta Rossii) and RUSNANO signed an agreement at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on cooperation to apply nanotechnology solutions in postal services. The agreement was signed by the CEO of Russian Post, Dmitry Strashnov, and the Executive Chairman of RUSNANO, Anatoly Chubais. Russian Post and RUSNANO create a system for monitoring of postal deliveries.

A May 23, 2014 RUSNANO news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The project involves implementation by Russian Post of a global monitoring system designed on a turnkey basis by RST-Invent LLC, a portfolio company of RUSNANO. The system will provides automatic registration of recorded-delivery mail and international mail passing through the postal network by means of radio frequency identification tags (RFID-tags). As well as supporting the timely delivery of mail, the new system will automate document handling, create mechanisms for mail flow management and improve postal logistics. Most importantly, the introduction of RFID-tags will ensure that post reaches its destination safely and quickly.

The project is scheduled for launch this summer and will be in operation by the end of 2014 at international postal exchange points (airport hubs in Moscow and St. Petersburg), and also at a number of major national and regional sorting offices, transit hubs and mail transportation offices at airports (Vnukovo Logistics Center, Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don). It is expected that RST-Invent will equip a total of 25 postal exchange points in the course of the project as well as the National Monitoring Centre (NCM), which is being set up as part of the system .

This agreement is an integral part of the strategy for the modernization of Russian Post. The nanotechnology solutions offered by RUSNANO’s portfolio company will be an important tool for improving the business processes of Russian Post.

“RUSNANO technologies will enable us to improve our logistics and control over the quality of mail delivery,” said Dmitry Strashnov. “This agreement means that we can improve the quality of our services and raise levels of customer satisfaction.”

I have two observations about this news. First, if I remember rightly one of the issues with implementing a ‘universal’ RFID tagging system is the cost of the tag. Presumably, the Russians have solved this problem and, further, are prepared to deal with the data these tags will generate.

My second observation is this, the paranoids amongst us are likely to feel vindicated by this news as many suspect wide scale implementation of this technology. For example,I have a paranoid neighbour who is convinced that someone has been using RFID technology in some plot against her (the neighbour).

Diamane—a no pressure road map

Russian and US researchers have produced a road map for creating ‘diamane’, according to a Feb. 3, 2014  Rice University (Texas) news release (available on EurekAlert and also as a Feb. 4, 2014 news item on Azonano),

Perfect sheets of diamond a few atoms thick appear to be possible even without the big squeeze that makes natural gems.

Scientists have speculated about it and a few labs have even seen signs of what they call diamane, an extremely thin film of diamond that has all of diamond’s superior semiconducting and thermal properties.

Now researchers at Rice University and in Russia have calculated a “phase diagram” for the creation of diamane. The diagram is a road map. It lays out the conditions – temperature, pressure and other factors – that would be necessary to turn stacked sheets of graphene into a flawless diamond lattice.

In the process, the researchers determined diamane could be made completely chemically, with no pressure at all, under some circumstances.

The news release provides more into the researchers’ theories and road map,

“Diamanes have a wide potential range of application,” Sorokin [Pavel Sorokin, a former postdoctoral associate at Rice and now a senior researcher at the Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials in Moscow] said. “They can be applied as very thin, dielectric hard films in nanocapacitors or mechanically stiff, nanothick elements in nanoelectronics. Also, diamanes have potential for application in nano-optics.

“The possibility of obtaining such a quasi-two-dimensional object is intriguing, but available experimental data prevents the expectation of its fabrication using traditional methods. However, the ‘bottom-up’ approach proposed by Richard Feynman allows the fabrication of diamanes from smaller objects, such as graphene.”

The researchers built computer models to simulate the forces applied by every atom involved in the process. That includes the graphene, the single-atom-thick form of carbon and one of the strongest substances in the universe, as well as the hydrogen (or, alternately, a halogen) that promotes the reaction.

Conditions, they learned, need to be just right for a short stack of graphene pancakes to collapse into a diamond matrix – or vice versa – via chemistry.

“A phase diagram shows you which phase dominates the ground state for each pressure and temperature,” Yakobson [Rice theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson] said. “In the case of diamane, the diagram is unusual because the result also depends on thickness, the number of layers of graphene. So we have a new parameter.”

Hydrogen isn’t the only possible catalyst, he said, but it’s the one they used in their calculations. “When the hydrogen attacks, it takes one electron from a carbon atom in graphene. As a result, a bond is broken and another electron is left hanging on the other side of the graphene layer. It’s now free to connect to a carbon atom on the adjacent sheet with little or no pressure.

“If you have several layers, you get a domino effect, where hydrogen starts a reaction on top and it propagates through the bonded carbon system,” he said. “Once it zips all the way through, the phase transition is complete and the crystal structure is that of diamond.”

Yakobson said the paper doesn’t cover a possible deal-breaker. “The conversion from one phase to another starts from a small seed, a nucleation site, and in this process there’s always what is called a nucleation barrier. We don’t calculate that here.” He said carbon normally prefers to be graphite (the bulk form of carbon used as pencil lead) rather than diamond, but a high nucleation barrier prevents diamond from making the transition.

“Thermodynamically, an existing diamond should become graphite, but it doesn’t happen for exactly this reason,” Yakobson said. “So sometimes it’s a good thing. But if we want to make flat diamond, we need to find ways to circumvent this barrier.”

He said the manufacture of synthetic diamond, which was first reliably made in the 1950s, requires very high pressures of about 725,000 pounds per square inch. Manufactured diamonds are used in hardened tools for cutting, as abrasives and even as high-quality gemstones grown via techniques that simulate the temperatures and pressures found deep in Earth, where natural diamond is forged.

Diamond films are also routinely made via chemical vapor deposition, “but they’re always very poor quality because they’re polycrystalline,” Yakobson said. “For mechanical purposes, like very expensive sandpaper, they’re perfect. But for electronics, you would need high quality for it to serve as a wide-band gap semiconductor.”

This image illustrates the conditions necessary to create diamane,

The phase diagram developed by scientists at Rice University and in Moscow describes the conditions necessary for the chemical creation of thin films of diamond from stacks of single-atomic-layer graphene. (Credit: Pavel Sorokin/Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials)

The phase diagram developed by scientists at Rice University and in Moscow describes the conditions necessary for the chemical creation of thin films of diamond from stacks of single-atomic-layer graphene. (Credit: Pavel Sorokin/Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials)

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

Phase Diagram of Quasi-Two-Dimensional Carbon, From Graphene to Diamond by Alexander G. Kvashnin, Leonid A. Chernozatonskii, Boris I. Yakobson, and Pavel B. Sorokin. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nl403938g Publication Date (Web): January 17, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Foam glass manufacturing facility commissioned in Russia’s Kaluga region

A Dec. 27, 2013 news item on Azlonano features RUSNANO and a foam glass facility in Russia,

On December 20 [2013], Russia’s first and Europe’s major technological complex for the production of foam glass ICM Glass Kaluga, of the project company Rusnano, was commissioned in the industrial park Borovskoye. The ceremony was attended by the Kaluga Region’s Governor Anatoly Artamonov and chairman of Rusnano’s board Anatoly Chubais.

The facility is aimed at hi-tech production of construction materials from foam glass. Broken glass is used as the raw material, which enables effective recycling of solid household rubbish. The complex’s planned capacity is 300,000 cubic metres a year to be achieved by the facility’s 50 employees. The agreed total budget exceeds 1.8 billion roubles ($54 million).

I found more information about the new facility in a Dec.20, 2013 press release (machine translation of Russian into English) here: http://www.newportal.admoblkaluga.ru/main/news/events/detail.php?ID=153747, (I think this is a portal for the Kaluga region)

December 20 [2013] in the industrial park “Vorsino” Borovsky District hosted a ceremony industrial launch of the first in Russia and the largest in Europe and technological complex for the production of crushed stone penostekolnogo LLC “AySiEm Glass Kaluga” – the project company “RUSNANO”. It was attended by Governor Anatoly Artamonov and delegation “RUSNANO” headed by the chairman of the state corporation Anatoly Chubais.

Taken at the enterprise high-tech production of construction material of foamed glass. Feedstock is usual broken glass that facilitates efficient processing of municipal solid waste. The design capacity of the complex is 300 thousand cubic meters per year, the staff – 50 people. The total budget of the project is determined in the amount of more than 1.8 billion rubles.

Talking about the significance of the event, Anatoly Artamonov emphasized perspective of further business cooperation with the State Corporation “Rusnano”. “Our cooperation – an important milestone in the economic development of the Kaluga region, because we have chosen an innovative way and are committed to increase the share of high-tech products”, – assured the governor.

Chairman of the Board of the Civil Code “RUSNANO” Anatoly Chubais also expressed readiness to support the business activities of the Kaluga region. “Today, in the region we run two joint projects. The plans of two more – in the production of innovative pharmaceuticals – with a complete cycle from design to sales. They invested 8 billion rubles, plan – and another 10 billion, “- he said.

On the same day in the office «Freight Village Kaluga» held a meeting at which the parties discussed the details of future cooperation. In order to continue business contacts “RUSNANO” Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs with Government organizations and the Kaluga region Anatoly Chubais Anatoly Artamonov and signed the final protocol. The main outcome of the meeting was a joint decision on the establishment of nanotechnology center in Obninsk, which will bring together teams of scientists and professionals working in the field of nanotechnology. Thus, according to Anatoly Chubais, “Kaluga region will be the region, opening a” second wave “nanocenters.”

Reference: In the current year, the regional government in conjunction with the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs of the state corporation “RUSNANO” program was launched to stimulate demand for nanotech products. It provides for the inclusion of 10 per cent of innovation, including nanotechnology products in state and municipal orders. In 2014, with the support of the corporation “RUSNANO” in the region plans to build the center positron emission tomography, “PET-Center”, which will bring a new level not only a primary diagnosis of cancer, but also to monitor the dynamics of the disease, to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

For the curious, here’s more information about foam glass on the ENCO Engineering website,

Foamed glass grain as described in the following is an excellent bulk material for civil construction and insulation purposes. It is a lightweight, extremely fine-pored expanded glass with millions of hermetically sealed pores. Since no diffusion can take place, the material is watertight and achieves an efficient barrier against soil humidity.

Besides the outstanding mechanical and thermal properties of the product, foamed glass manufacture is an exemplary process for waste recycling on an industrial basis. Foam glass can be manufactured fully out of waste glass, with only a minimum of virgin additives.

Foamed glass grain is the product of choice wherever a finely grained, free-flowing bulk material is required. It is especially suitable for thin-walled thermal insulations, such as for window frames, cement bricks and insulating plasters.

ENCO Engineering is a Swiss chemical engineering and consultancy according to the information on the company website’s homepage.

News of nanotechnology-enabled recovery of rare earth elements from industrial wastewater and some rare earths context

An Oct. 31, 2013 news item on Azonano features information about rare earth elements and their use in technology along with a new technique for recycling them from wastewater,

Many of today’s technologies, from hybrid car batteries to flat-screen televisions, rely on materials known as rare earth elements (REEs) that are in short supply, but scientists are reporting development of a new method to recycle them from wastewater.

The process, which is described in a study in the journal ACS [American Chemical Society] Applied Materials & Interfaces, could help alleviate economic and environmental pressures facing the REE industry.

… Attempts so far to recycle them from industrial wastewater are expensive or otherwise impractical. A major challenge is that the elements are typically very diluted in these waters. The team knew that a nanomaterial known as nano-magnesium hydroxide, or nano-Mg(OH)2, was effective at removing some metals and dyes from wastewater. So they set out to understand how the compound worked and whether it would efficiently remove diluted REEs, as well.

The Oct. 30, 2013 ACS PressPac news release, which originated the news item, provides a few details about how the scientists tested their approach,

To test their idea, they produced inexpensive nano-Mg(OH)2 particles, whose shapes resemble flowers when viewed with a high-power microscope. They showed that the material captured more than 85 percent of the REEs that were diluted in wastewater in an initial experiment mimicking real-world conditions. “Recycling REEs from wastewater not only saves rare earth resources and protects the environment, but also brings considerable economic benefits,” the researchers state. “The pilot-scale experiment indicated that the self-supported flower-like nano-Mg(OH)2 had great potential to recycle REEs from industrial wastewater.”

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

Recycling Rare Earth Elements from Industrial Wastewater with Flowerlike Nano-Mg(OH)2 by Chaoran Li †‡, Zanyong Zhuang, Feng Huang, Zhicheng Wu, Yangping Hong, and Zhang Lin. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2013, 5 (19), pp 9719–9725 DOI: 10.1021/am4027967 Publication Date (Web): September 13, 2013

Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

As for the short supply mentioned in the first line of the news item, the world’s largest exporter of rare earth elements at 90% of the market, China, recently announced a cap according to a Sept. 6, 2013 article by David Stanway for Reuters. The Chinese government appears to be curtailing exports as part of an ongoing, multi-year strategy. Here’s how Cientifica‘s (an emerging technologies consultancy, etc.) white paper (Simply No Substitute?) about critical materials published in 2012 (?), described the situation,

Despite their name, REE are not that rare in the Earth’s crust. What has happened in the past decade is that REE exports from China undercut prices elsewhere, leading to the closure of mines such as the Mountain Pass REE mine in California. Once China had acquired a dominant market position, prices began to rise. But this situation will likely ease. The US will probably begin REE production from the Mountain Pass mine later in 2012, and mines in other countries are expected to start operation soon as well.

Nevertheless, owing to their broad range of uses REE will continue to exert pressures on their supply – especially for countries without notable REE deposits. This highlights two aspects of importance for strategic materials: actual rarity and strategic supply issues such as these seen for REE. Although strategic and diplomatic supply issues may have easier solutions, their consideration for manufacturing industries will almost be the same – a shortage of crucial supply lines.

Furthermore, as the example of REE shows, the identification of long-term supply problems can often be difficult, and not every government has the same strategic foresight that the Chinese demonstrated. And as new technologies emerge, new elements may see an unexpected, sudden demand in supply. (pp. 16-17)

Meanwhile, in response to China’s decision to cap its 2013 REE exports, the Russian government announced a $1B investment to 2018 in rare earth production,, according to a Sept. 10, 2013 article by Polina Devitt for Reuters.

For those who like to get their information in a more graphic form, here’s an infographic from Thomson Reuters from a May 13, 2012 posting on their eponymous blog,

Rare Earth Metals - Graphic of the Day Credit:  Thomson Reuters [downloaded from http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/rare-earth-metals-graphic-of-the-day/]

Rare Earth Metals – Graphic of the Day Credit: Thomson Reuters [downloaded from http://blog.thomsonreuters.com/index.php/rare-earth-metals-graphic-of-the-day/]

There is a larger version on  their blog.

All of this serves to explain the interest in recycling REE from industrial wastewater. Surprisingly,, the researchers who developed this new recycling technique are based in China which makes me wonder if the Chinese government sees a future where it too will need to import rare earths as its home sources diminish.

“Control my chirality, please,” said the carbon nanotube to the researchers

A combined Finnish, Russian, and Danish team have found a way to control the chirality of single-walled carbon nanotubes according to an Apr. 30, 2013 news item on Azonano,

An ultimate goal in the field of carbon nanotube research is to synthesise single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) with controlled chiralities. Twenty years after the discovery of SWNTs, scientists from Aalto University in Finland, A.M. Prokhorov General Physics Institute RAS in Russia and the Center for Electron Nanoscopy of Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have managed to control chirality in carbon nanotubes during their chemical vapor deposition synthesis.

The Aalto University Apr. 29, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, goes on to explain,

 Over the years, substantial progress has been made to develop various structure-controlled synthesis methods. However, precise control over the chiral structure of SWNTs has been largely hindered by a lack of practical means to direct the formation of the metal nanoparticle catalysts and their catalytic dynamics during tube growth.

– We achieved an epitaxial formation of Co nanoparticles by reducing a well-developed solid solution in CO, reveals Maoshuai He, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University School of Chemical Technology.

– For the first time, the new catalyst was employed for selective growth of SWNTs, adds senior staff scientist Hua Jiang from Aalto University School of Science.

By introducing the new catalysts into a conventional CVD reactor, the research team demonstrated preferential growth of semiconducting SWNTs (~90%) with an exceptionally high population of (6,5) tubes (53%) at 500 °C. Furthermore, they also showed a shift of the chiral preference from (6,5) tubes at 500 °C  to (7, 6) and (9, 4) nanotubes at 400 °C.

– These findings open new perspectives both for structural control of SWNTs and for elucidating their growth mechanisms, thus are important for the fundamental understanding of science behind nanotube growth, comments Professor Juha Lehtonen from Aalto University.

For anyone like me who needs a description of chirality, there’s this from Wikipedia,

Chirality (pron.: /kaɪˈrælɪtiː/) is a property of asymmetry important in several branches of science. The word chirality is derived from the Greek, χειρ (kheir), “hand”, a familiar chiral object.

An object or a system is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, that is, it cannot be superposed onto it. A chiral object and its mirror image are called enantiomorphs (Greek opposite forms) or, when referring to molecules, enantiomers. A non-chiral object is called achiral (sometimes also amphichiral) and can be superposed on its mirror image.

Human hands are perhaps the most universally recognized example of chirality: The left hand is a non-superimposable mirror image of the right hand; no matter how the two hands are oriented, it is impossible for all the major features of both hands to coincide.[2] This difference in symmetry becomes obvious if someone attempts to shake the right hand of a person using his left hand, or if a left-handed glove is placed on a right hand. In mathematics chirality is the property of a figure that is not identical to its mirror image.

One of the researchers notes why they, or anyone else, would want to control the chirality of carbon nanotubes, from the news release,

– Chirality defines the optical and electronic properties of carbon nanotubes, so controlling it is a key to exploiting their practical applications, says Professor Esko I. Kauppinen, the leader of the Nanomaterials Group in Aalto University School of Science.

ETA Apr. 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm PDT: Here’s a link to and a citation for the team’s published paper,

Chiral-Selective Growth of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes on Lattice-Mismatched Epitaxial Cobalt Nanoparticles by Maoshuai He, Hua Jiang, Bilu Liu, Pavel V. Fedotov, Alexander I. Chernov, Elena D. Obraztsova, Filippo Cavalca, Jakob B. Wagner, Thomas W. Hansen, Ilya V. Anoshkin, Ekaterina A. Obraztsova, Alexey V. Belkin, Emma Sairanen, Albert G. Nasibulin,  Juha Lehtonen, & Esko I. Kauppinen. Scientific Reports 3, Article number 1460  doi:10.1038/srep01460 Published15 March 2013

This article is open access.

Richard Branson, take your hands off my nano

RUSNANO (Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies) fascinates me such that I’ve posted about the organization and its ‘wheeling and dealing’ several times with my RUSNANO and 12BF’s clean energy investment fund [July 24, 2012] and Russian government sells 10% holding in RUSNANO [June 25, 2012] postings being the latest until now.  Virgin Group and RUSNANO have announced a new, joint emerging market fund. From the Nov. 14, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Virgin Group, Virgin Green Fund and RUSNANO Capital announced the formation of VGF Emerging Market Growth I. L. P. = with commitments of over $200 million.

The Fund will invest in buyout and growth equity opportunities in mid-cap companies. It will target the resource efficiency, consumer sustainability and renewable energy sectors in Russia, Turkey and CEE [Central Europe and Russia Fund Inc.]. The Fund will benefit from the Virgin and RUSNANO brands, deal flow and local investing experience.

The Oct. 31, 2012 RUSNANO news release (which originated the news item) provides this detail,

The Emerging Market Fund is set up by Shai Weiss, Evan Lovell, Brooks Preston and Tamas Szalai. Weiss and Lovell are theco-foundingpartners of the Virgin Green Fund. Preston formerly of Wolfensohn & Company and Szalai of Bancroft Private Equity will lead the investment team.  Andrew Reicher, the former head of CEE Private Equity for Credit Suisse and Chief Investment Officer at Actis, is the non-executive chairman of the investment committee. Collectively, the team brings the experience of investing USD $2 billion in emerging markets through more than 50 transactions. [emphasis mine]

Anatoly Chubais, RUSNANO CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board: “Renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies will provide answers to the key global challenges of natural resources depletion and environment pollution. Developing solutions will be impossible without the use of nanotechnology. I believe the fund will find great opportunities to invest in growth companies in Russia and take them into global markets.”

‘More than 50 transactions’ doesn’t sound that impressive to me but perhaps that reflects my ignorance. I’m also surprised they don’t mention any specific successes from this previous experience of investing USD $2B.

Sir Richard Branson (founder and chairman of the Virgin Group) or someone who purports to be Branson posted about the announcement when it was made on Oct. 31, 2012 in Moscow on Richard’s blog (Note: I have removed links),

Seven years ago at the Clinton Global Initiative I pledged to invest the dividends from our transport business into renewable fuels and resource efficiency.

Since then we have invested in fuel companies, set up our Green Fund, founded the Carbon War Room and established The Earth Challenge – as well as making a number of investments in emerging fuel businesses.

Today, I’m back in Moscow – at the country’s largest technology forum – Open Innovations. We are launching our second Virgin Green Fund with our Russian partners Rusnano. This one is targeting the Emerging Markets and the exciting venture will invest in growth companies to improve energy efficiency and find the technologies and fuels of the future.

At the Forum I was quizzed by 100 of Russia’s brightest young entrepreneurs and encouraged them to build their businesses with a smile and look to throw some of the conformity that marks so much of Russian business. There is so much enthusiasm and opportunity in the country.

I hope successful ventures arise from this new fund. ETA Nov. 21, 2012: As for this posting’s headline, it’s a reference to the pervasiveness of the Virgin brand.