Tag Archives: Seventh Framework Programme

US Dept. of Agriculture wants to commercialize cellulose nanomaterials

Lynn Bergeson in an April 7, 2014 posting on the Nanotechnology Now website announced an upcoming ‘nano commercialization’ workshop (Note: A link has been removed),

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) will hold a May 20-21, 2014, workshop entitled “Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization.” See http://www.nano.gov/ncworkshop The workshop is intended to bring together high level executives from government and multiple industrial sectors to identify pathways for the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials and facilitate communication across industry sectors to determine common challenges.

You can find out more about the Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization workshop here where you can also register and find an agenda, (Note: Links have been removed),

The primary goal of the workshop is to identify the critical information gaps and technical barriers in the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials with expert input from user communities. The workshop also supports the announcement last December by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack regarding the formation of a public-private partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities to rapidly advance the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials. In addition, the workshop supports the goals of the NNI Sustainable Nanomanufacturing Signature Initiative/

The workshop is open to the public, after registration, on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is an invitation letter dated Feb. 7, 2014, which provides some additional detail,

The primary goals of the workshop are to identify critical information gaps and technical barriers in the commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials with expert input from user communities. We plan to use the outcome of the workshop to guide research planning in P3Nano and in the Federal Government.

The Cellulose Nanomaterial — A Path Towards Commercialization workshop agenda lists some interesting names. The names I’ve chosen from the list are the speakers from the corporate sectors, all eight of them with two being tentatively scheduled; there are 22 speakers listed in total at this time,

Tom Connelly – DuPont (Tentative)
Travis Earles, Technology Manager, Lockheed Martin
Beth Cormier, Vice President for R&D and Technology, SAPPI Paper
Ed Socci, Director of Beverage Packaging, PepsiCo Advanced Research
Mark Harmon, DuPont (tentative)
Kim Nelson, Vice President for Government Affairs, API
Jean Moreau, CEO, CelluForce
Yoram Shkedi, Melodea

For the most part the speakers will be academics or government bureaucrats and while the title is ‘cellulose nanomaterials’ the speaker list suggests the topic will be heavily weighted to CNC/NCC (cellulose nanocrystals, aka, nanocrystalline cellulose). Of course, I recognize the Canadian, Jean Moreau of CelluForce, a Canadian CNC production facility. I wonder if he will be discussing the stockpile, which was first mentioned here in my Oct. 3, 2013 posting,

I stumbled across an interesting little article on the Celluforce website about the current state of NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose aka CNC [cellulose nanocrystals]) production, Canada’s claim to fame in the nanocellulose world. From an August 2013 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Spotlight series article,

The pilot plant, located at the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Windsor, Quebec, is a joint venture between Domtar and FPInnnovations called CelluForce. The plant, which began operations in January 2012, has since successfully demonstrated its capacity to produce NCC on a continuous basis, thus enabling a sufficient inventory of NCC to be collected for product development and testing. Operations at the pilot plant are temporarily on hold while CelluForce evaluates the potential markets for various NCC applications with its stockpiled material. [emphasis mine]

I also recognized Melodea which I mentioned here in an Oct. 31, 2013 posting titled: Israeli start-up Melodea and its nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) projects.

A couple of final notes here, NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose) is also known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) and I believe the second term is becoming the more popular one to use. As for the final of these two notes, I had an illuminating conversation earlier this year (2014) about CNC and its accessibility. According to my source, there’s been a decision that only large industry players will get access to CNC for commercialization purposes. I can’t verify the veracity of the statement but over the last few years I’ve had a few individual entrepreneurs contact me with hopes that i could help them access the materials. All of them of them had tried the sources I was to suggest and not one had been successful. As well, I note the speaker list includes someone from PepsiCo, someone from Dupont, and someone from Lockheed Martin, all of which could be described as large industry players. (I’m not familiar with either API or SAPPI Paper so cannot offer any opinions as to their size or importance.) Melodea’s access is government-mandated due to research grants from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

I’m not sure one can encourage innovation by restricting access to raw materials to large industry players or government-funded projects as one might be suspected from my back channel experience, the conversation as reported to me, and the speaker list for this workshop.

European nanotech roadmap

No event, document, or specific announcement appears to have occasioned the May 10, 2013 news item on Nanowerk about Europe’s nanotechnology roadmap (Note: A link was removed),

Nanotechnology is opening the way to a new industrial revolution. From ‘individualised’ medical treatments tailored for each patient to new, environmentally-friendly energy storage and generation systems, nanotechnology is bringing significant advances. Exciting new futures await those businesses able to get ahead in the race to turn this wealth of promise into commercial success. But in a field which requires a high degree of coordinated effort involving many different stakeholder groups, including researchers, policymakers and commercial players across a wide variety of industrial sectors, it has perhaps been inevitable that fragmentation, disconnectedness and duplication have stood in the way.

NANOfutures was set up in 2010 to tackle exactly this problem of fragmentation. Supported by European Union (EU) funding, NANOfutures is a European Technology and Innovation Platform (ETIP) bringing together industry, research institutions and universities, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], financial institutions, civil society and policymakers at regional, national and European levels. Acting as a kind of ‘nano-hub’ for Europe, NANOfutures is dedicated to fostering a shared vision and strategy on the future of nanotechnology.

The May 9, 2013 European Commission news release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe the NANOfutures project which ended in Sept. 2012,

Reflecting its objective of achieving a truly cross-sectoral approach, breaking out of individual industry silos and addressing the major nanotech issues which are common to all sectors, NANOfutures set up a steering committee which included representatives from 11 European Technology Platforms (ETPs) – sector-specific networks of industry and academia – including those for textiles, nanomedicine, construction and transportation. Chaired by Professor Paolo Matteazzi of Italian specialist nanomaterials company MBN Nanomaterialia, the committee also included ten nanotechnology experts, each one chairing a NANOfutures working group on cross-sectoral topics such as safety, standardisation, regulation, technology transfer and innovative financing.

This approach allowed NANOfutures to identify key aspects of nanotechnology and its exploitation in which all players – from researcher to politician, financier, commercial developer, regulator or end-user – were involved and therefore had common interests.

One of the major successes achieved by the two-year project was securing an agreement by all 11 ETPs on a set of research and innovation themes for the next decade. “The ETPs agreed to focus their private efforts, and call for increasing public efforts, on such themes in order to bring European nano-enabled products to successful commercialisation, with benefits for the grand challenges of our time such as climate change, affordable and effective medicine, green mobility and manufacturing,” says the project’s coordinator, Margherita Cioffi of Italian engineering consultancy D’Appolonia.

The most tangible result of this, and the key outcome from NANOfutures, was the development and publication of a ‘Research and Industrial Roadmap’ setting out, in Ms Cioffi’s words, “a pathway up to 2020 which will enable European industry and researchers to deliver and successfully commercialise sustainable and safe nano-enabled products.” Divided into seven separate thematic areas, or ‘value-chains’, the roadmap covers European priorities from materials research to product design, manufacturing, assembly, use and disposal. It describes both short- and longer-term actions with the aim of providing a practical guide for EC and Member State governments, research centres and industry, as well as standardisation and regulation bodies.

Other benefits directly resulting from the project, Ms Cioffi adds, were the sharing of safety best practices, the creation of partnerships to promote product development, training and other services, and the bringing together of relevant SME businesses with potential users and investors during specially organised Technology Transfer workshops.

Since it is not a product in itself, but a method with an enormous range of potential applications, nanotechnology naturally reaches into a diverse range of human activities. Paradoxically, almost, this very richness and universality of its benefits leads to a fragmentation of effort which acts as a barrier to its efficient exploitation. By bringing together the various stakeholders to create a unified, strategic approach, replacing fragmentation and duplication with a focus on areas of agreed priority and common interest, NANOfutures has played an invaluable role in promoting the rapid development of nanotechnology – with its twin benefits of societal usefulness and enhanced European competitiveness.

Project details

Project acronym: NANOFUTURES

  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), Belgium, Spain
  • Project FP7 266789
  • Total costs: €1 171 011
  • EU contribution: €999 980
  • Duration: October 2010 – September 2012

The NANOfutures website provides more resources including a list of documents/deliverables  featuring a 148 pp. July 2012 roadmap. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a direct link to the roadmap or the documents page, for that matter.

At this point, the site is probably most valuable for its links to other project as a host of resources are organized under buttons (the left side of the home page) titled with Communication Projects, Finance Projects, Safety Projects, etc.

Seeing beneath the surface; ancient Roman revealed in wall painting at the Louvre

Here’s a fascinating tale about art and hidden mysteries told at the 245th meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) taking place Apr. 7 – 11, 2013, from the Apr. 10, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

J. Bianca Jackson, Ph.D., who reported on the project, explained that it involved a fresco [located at the Louvre Museum in Paris], which is a mural or painting done on a wall after application of fresh plaster. In a fresco, the artist’s paint seeps into the wet plaster and sets as the plaster dries. The painting becomes part of the wall. The earliest known frescoes date to about 1500 B.C. and were found on the island of Crete in Greece.

“No previous imaging technique, including almost half a dozen commonly used to detect hidden images below paintings, forged signatures of artists and other information not visible on the surface has revealed a lost image in this fresco,” Jackson said. “This opens to door to wider use of the technology in the world of art, and we also used the method to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of humanity’s first settlements in what was ancient Turkey.”

Here’s the technology they used to discover the figure hidden in the fresco,

… Termed terahertz spectroscopy, it uses beams of electromagnetic radiation that lie between microwaves, like those used in kitchen ovens, and the infrared rays used in TV remote controls. This radiation is relatively weak, does not damage paintings and does not involve exposure to harmful radiation.

“Terahertz technology has been in use for some time, especially in quality control in the pharmaceutical industry to assure the integrity of pills and capsules, in biomedical imaging and even in homeland security with those whole-body scanners that see beneath clothing at airport security check points,” said Jackson, who is now with the University of Rochester. “But its use in examining artifacts and artworks is relatively new.”

The scientists turned to terahertz technology when suspicions surfaced that a hidden image might lie beneath the brushstrokes of a precious 19th century fresco, Trois hommes armés de lances, in the Louvre’s Campana collection. …

To search for a hidden image, Jackson and colleagues, including Gerard Mourou, Ph.D., of Ècole Polytechnique, and Michel Menu, Ph.D., of the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, and Vincent Detalle, of the Laboratoire Recherche des Monuments Historiques, probed it with terahertz technology. The process is slow, requiring a few hours to analyze a section the size of a sheet of paper.

“We were amazed, and we were delighted,” said Jackson. “We could not believe our eyes as the image materialized on the screen. Underneath the top painting of the folds of a man’s tunic, we saw an eye, a nose and then a mouth appear. We were seeing what likely was part of an ancient Roman fresco, thousands of years old.”

Who is the man in the fresco? An imperial Roman senator? A patrician? A plebian? A great orator? A ruler who changed the course of history? Or just a wealthy, egotistical landowner who wanted to admire his image on the wall?

Jackson is leaving those questions to art historians.

For anyone interested in Campana,

Giampietro Campana was an Italian art collector in the 1800s whose treasures are now on display in museums around the world. When Campana acquired a work of art, he sometimes restored damaged parts or reworked the original. Art historians believe that Campana painted Trois hommes armés de lances after the fresco was removed from its original wall in Italy and entered his collection.

Campana’s practice of restoring and reworking the original was not unusual for the time,

Artists, including some of the great masters, sometimes re-used canvases, wiping out the initial image or covered old paintings with new works. They often did this in order to avoid the expense of buying a new canvas or to enhance colors and shapes in a prior composition. Frescoes likewise got a refresh, especially when the originals faded, owners tired of the image on the wall or property changed hands.

This project was funded in part by CHARISMA [Cultural Heritage Advanced Research Infrastructure; Synergy for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Conservation/Restoration] as part of the European Union’s Framework Programme 7 (FP 7). This project called to mind the NanoForArt FP7 funded project I mentioned in the context of a Mar. 1, 2013 posting about cave art, frescos, and other examples of rock art and how nanotechnology is enabling conservation and restoration.

In any event, it’s nice to find out that those airport scanners are good for something other than delaying your trip and subjecting you and your knickers to inspection.

Prosthetics and the human brain

On the heels of research which suggests that humans tend to view their prostheses, including wheel chairs, as part of their bodies, researchers in Europe  have announced the development of a working exoskeleton powered by the wearer’s thoughts.

First, there’s the ‘wheelchair’ research, from the Mar. 6, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

People with spinal cord injuries show strong association of wheelchairs as part of their body, not extension of immobile limbs.

The human brain can learn to treat relevant prosthetics as a substitute for a non-working body part, according to research published March 6 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Mariella Pazzaglia and colleagues from Sapienza University and IRCCS Fondazione Santa Lucia of Rome in Italy, supported by the International Foundation for Research in Paraplegie.

The researchers found that wheelchair-bound study participants with spinal cord injuries perceived their body’s edges as being plastic and flexible to include the wheelchair, independent of time since their injury or experience with using a wheelchair. Patients with lower spinal cord injuries who retained upper body movement showed a stronger association of the wheelchair with their body than those who had spinal cord impairments in the entire body.

According to the authors, this suggests that rather than being thought of only as an extension of the immobile limbs, the wheelchairs had become tangible, functional substitutes for the affected body part. …

As I mentioned in a Jan. 30, 2013 posting,

There have been some recent legal challenges as to what constitutes one’s body (from The Economist article, You, robot? [you can find the article here: http://www.economist.com/node/21560986]),

If you are dependent on a robotic wheelchair for mobility, for example, does the wheelchair count as part of your body? Linda MacDonald Glenn, an American lawyer and bioethicist, thinks it does. Ms Glenn (who is not involved in the RoboLaw project) persuaded an initially sceptical insurance firm that a “mobility assistance device” damaged by airline staff was more than her client’s personal property, it was an extension of his physical body. The airline settled out of court.

According to the Mar. 6, 2013 news release on EurekAlert from the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the open access article by Pazzaglia and her colleagues can be found here (Note: I have added a link),

Pazzaglia M, Galli G, Scivoletto G, Molinari M (2013) A Functionally Relevant Tool for the Body following Spinal Cord Injury. PLOS ONE 8(3): e58312.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058312

At almost the same time as Pazzaglia’s work,  a “Mind-controlled Exoskeleton” is announced in a Mar. 7, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

Every year thousands of people in Europe are paralysed by a spinal cord injury. Many are young adults, facing the rest of their lives confined to a wheelchair. Although no medical cure currently exists, in the future they could be able to walk again thanks to a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton being developed by EU-funded researchers.

The system, based on innovative ‘Brain-neural-computer interface’ (BNCI) technology — combined with a light-weight exoskeleton attached to users’ legs and a virtual reality environment for training — could also find applications in there habilitation of stroke victims and in assisting astronauts rebuild muscle mass after prolonged periods in space.

The Mar. 7, 2013 news release on CORDIS, which originated the news item, offers a description of the “Mindwalker” project,

‘Mindwalker was proposed as a very ambitious project intended to investigate promising approaches to exploit brain signals for the purpose of controlling advanced orthosis, and to design and implement a prototype system demonstrating the potential of related technologies,’ explains Michel Ilzkovitz, the project coordinator at Space Applications Services in Belgium.

The team’s approach relies on an advanced BNCI system that converts electroencephalography (EEG) signals from the brain, or electromyography (EMG) signals from shoulder muscles, into electronic commands to control the exoskeleton.

The Laboratory of Neurophysiology and Movement Biomechanics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) focused on the exploitation of EEG and EMG signals treated by an artificial neural network, while the Foundation Santa Lucia in Italy developed techniques based on EMG signals modelled by the coupling of neural and biomechanical oscillators.

One approach for controlling the exoskeleton uses so-called ‘steady-state visually evoked potential’, a method that reads flickering visual stimuli produced at different frequencies to induce correlated EEG signals. Detection of these EEG signals is used to trigger commands such as ‘stand’, ‘walk’, ‘faster’ or ‘slower’.

A second approach is based on processing EMG signals generated by the user’s shoulders and exploits the natural arm-leg coordination in human walking: arm-swing patterns can be perceived in this way and converted into control signals commanding the exoskeleton’s legs.

A third approach, ‘ideation’, is also based on EEG-signal processing. It uses the identification and exploitation of EEG Theta cortical signals produced by the natural mental process associated with walking. The approach was investigated by the Mindwalker team but had to be dropped due to the difficulty, and time needed, in turning the results of early experiments into a fully exploitable system.

Regardless of which method is used, the BNCI signals have to be filtered and processed before they can be used to control the exoskeleton. To achieve this, the Mindwalker researchers fed the signals into a ‘Dynamic recurrent neural network’(DRNN), a processing technique capable of learning and exploiting the dynamic character of the BNCI signals.

‘This is appealing for kinematic control and allows a much more natural and fluid way of controlling an exoskeleton,’ Mr Ilzkovitz says.

The team adopted a similarly practical approach for collecting EEG signals from the user’s scalp. Most BNCI systems are either invasive, requiring electrodes to be placed directly into brain tissue, or require users to wear a ‘wet’ capon their head, necessitating lengthy fitting procedures and the use of special gels to reduce the electrical resistance at the interface between the skin and the electrodes. While such systems deliver signals of very good quality and signal-to-noise ratio, they are impractical for everyday use.

The Mindwalker team therefore turned to a ‘dry’ technology developed by Berlin-based eemagine Medical Imaging Solutions: a cap covered in electrodes that the user can fit themselves, and which uses innovative electronic components to amplify and optimise signals before sending them to the neural network.

‘The dry EEG cap can be placed by the subject on their head by themselves in less than a minute, just like a swimming cap,’ Mr Ilzkovitz says.

Before proceeding any further with details, here’s what the Mindwalker looks like,

© MINDWALKER (downladed from http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=OFFR_TM_EN&ACTION=D&RCN=10601)

© MINDWALKER (downloaded from http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=OFFR_TM_EN&ACTION=D&RCN=10601)

After finding a way to collect the EEG/EMG signals and interpret them, the researchers needed to create the exoskeleton (from the CORDIS news release),

The universities of Delft and Twente in the Netherlands proposed an innovative approach for the design of the exoskeleton and its control. The exoskeletonis designed to be sufficiently robust to bear the weight of a 100 kg adult and powerful enough to recover balance from external causes of instability such as the user’s own torso movements during walking or a gentle push from the back or side. Compared to other exoskeletons developed to date it is relatively light, weighing less than 30 kg without batteries, and, because a final version of the system should be self-powered, it is designed to minimise energy consumption.

The Mindwalker researchers achieved energy efficiency through the use of springs fitted inside the joints that are capable of absorbing and recovering some of the energy otherwise dissipated during walking, and through the development of an efficient strategy for controlling the exoskeleton.

Most exoskeletons are designed to be balanced when stationary or quasi-static and to move by little steps inside their ground stability perimeter, an approach known as ‘Zero moment point’, or ZMP. Although this approach is commonly used for controlling humanoid robots, when applied to exoskeletons, it makes them heavy and slow – and usually requires users to be assisted by a walking frame, sticks or some other support device when they move.

Alternatively, a more advanced and more natural control strategy can replicate the way humans actually walk, with a controlled loss of balance in the walking direction.

‘This approach is called “Limit-cycle walking” and has been implemented using model predictive control to predict the behaviour of the user and exoskeleton and for controlling the exoskeleton during the walk. This was the approach investigated in Mindwalker,’ Mr Ilzkovitz says.

To train users to control the exoskeleton, researchers from Space Applications Services developed a virtual-reality training platform, providing an immersive environment in which new users can safely become accustomed to using the system before testing it out in a clinical setting, and, the team hope, eventually using it in everyday life.

By the end of this year, tests with able-bodied trial users will be completed. The system will then be transferred to the Foundation Santa Lucia for conducting a clinical evaluation until May 2013 with five to 10volunteers suffering from spinal cord injuries. These trials will help identify shortcomings and any areas of performance improvement, the project coordinator says.

In the meantime, the project partners are continuing research on different components for a variety of potential applications. The project coordinator notes, for example, that elements of the system could be adapted for the rehabilitation of stroke victims or to develop easy-to-use exoskeletons for elderly people for mobility support.

Space Applications Services, meanwhile, is also exploring applications of the Mindwalker technology to train astronauts and help them rebuild muscle mass after spending long periods of time in zero-gravity environments.

There’s more about the European Commission’s Seventh Programme-funded Mindwalker project here.

Parallel with these developments in Europe, Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University has stated that he will have a working exoskeleton (Walk Again Project)  for the kickoff by a paraplegic individual for the opening of the World Cup (soccer/football) in Brazil in 2014. I mentioned Nicolelis and his work most recently in a Mar. 4, 2013 posting.

Taken together, this research which strongly suggests that people can perceive prostheses as being part of their bodies and exoskeletons that are powered by the wearer’s thoughts, we seem to be edging closer to a world where machines and humans become one.

NanoForArt in Mexico

Mexico recently hosted (Feb. 7 – 8, 2013) a pair of conferences focused on nanotechnology and art conservation. The country is part of an international consortium in the European Commision’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), NanoForArt project. Before mentioning the conference, here’s a little information about the NanoForArt project from its homepage,

The main objective of the NANOFORART proposal is the development and experimentation of new nano-materials and responsive systems for the conservation and preservation of movable and immovable artworks. [emphasis mine]

While the progress in material science has generated sophisticated nanostructured materials, conservation of cultural heritage is still mainly based on traditional methods and conventional materials that often lack the necessary  compatibility with the original artworks and a durable performance in responding to the changes of natural environment and man-made activities.

The main challenge of NANOFORART is the combination of sophisticated functional materials arising from the recent developments in nano-science/technology with innovative techniques in the restoration and preventive conservation of works of art, with unprecedented efficiency.

Immovable artworks tend to be things like cave art, frescoes, and other forms of wall and rock art. The Feb. 2013 conferences in Mexico as per a Feb. 27, 2013 Agencia EFE news item on the Global Post website featured (Note: Links have been removed),

Baglioni [Piero Baglioni, a researcher and professor at the University of Florence] and Dr. Rodorico Giorgi, also of the University of Florence, traveled to Mexico earlier this month to preside over a conference on Nanotechnology applied to cultural heritage: wall paintings/cellulose, INAH [Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia] said.

The project includes specialists from Italy, Spain, Britain, France, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Germany,  Slovenia and Mexico and is coordinated by the CSGI center [Center for Colloids and Surface Science] at the University of Florence.

NANONFORART is set to conclude in December 2014 with the “validation of the technology and the methods developed, as well as training activities,” INAH said.

Until now, preservation of cultural treasures has been carried out using conventional materials that are often incompatible with the works and can, over time, alter the appearance of the object.

Baglioni has worked with INAH personnel to clean and restore pre-Columbian murals at the Cacaxtla, Cholula, Tlatelolco, Mayapan, El Tajin, Monte Alban and Teotihuacan sites.

I have mentioned Baglioni’s work in Mexico previously in a Sept. 20, 2010 posting about  some work at La Antigua Ciudad Maya de Calakmul, an archaeological site which is located in the Campeche state.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many details about the conferences, the Feb. 7, 2013 conference sported the previously noted title (in the Agencia EFE news item), Nanotechnology Applied to Cultural Heritage: Wall Paintings/Cellulose, and the Feb. 8, 2013 conference was titled, Nanotechnology for the Cleaning of Cultural Heritage.

There’s more information about nanotechnology aspects on the NanoForArt Overall page (Note: Links have been removed),

The work plan will start with design and formulation of nanostructured systems with special functionalities (WP1) such as deacidification of movable artworks (paper, parchment, canvas, leather), cleaning of movable artworks (paper, parchment, canvas paintings), protection of movable artworks (paper, canvas), consolidation of immovable artworks (wall-paintings, plaster and stones), and cleaning of immovable artworks (wallpaintings, plaster and stones). These systems, whose formulation will be optimized according to their functions, will include microemulsions, micellar solutions, gels and dispersions of different kinds of nanoparticles. A physico-chemical characterization of the developed materals (WP2) will constantly support the formulation activity. This will allow to understand and control the nature of interaction mechanisms between these nanostructures and the target substances/supports.

Assessment of the applicability of materials (WP3) will start in the second half of the first year. In this phase the up-scale of the technologies from the laboratory to the market level will be tackled. All the partners will interact in order to clarify and merge the priority from all the points of view. Evaluation of possible human health effects and environmental impacts of developed nanomaterials for restoration (WP7) will also start in the second half of the first year. Special emphasis will be given to potential hazardousness of nanoparticles used for design and formulation of nanostructured systems, as well as environmental impacts associated with the use of these nano-based products.

Nanotechnology developed by NANOFORART will aim also to significantly reduce the use of harmful solvents, as well as to introduce new environmentally friendly nanomaterials. Once the applicability and safety of the developed materials will be assessed, the development of industry process (WP4, WP5) will start in order to transfer technology on the market by the standardization of the applicative protocols and production of the nanomaterials on medium and large scale. Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) partners will have their main competence in this phase, that should start at the beginning of the second year. Safety and health risks of the industry processes will be also assessed. At the end of the first year, a study of the long-term behavior of the products and of the treated works of art (WP6) will be started by means of artificial ageing, in order to avoid damages due to unforeseen phenomena. The partners will have their main competence in ageing, monitoring of environmental pollution, and control of exhibitions and museums conditions.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2014.

The aspect I find most interesting is the ‘immovable art’. There was a controversy in Spain in 2011 over the prospect of opening some caves to tourists, from the Oct. 26, 2011 news item on ScienceDaily,

Plans to reopen Spain’s Altamira caves are stirring controversy over the possibility that tourists’ visits will further damage the 20,000-year old wall paintings that changed views about the intellectual ability of prehistoric people. That’s the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine. The caves are the site of Stone Age paintings so magnificent that experts have called them the “Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art.”

Carmen Drahl, C&EN associate editor, points out in the article that Spanish officials closed the tourist mecca to the public in 2002 after scientists realized that visitors were fostering growth of bacteria that damage the paintings. Now, however, they plan to reopen the caves. Declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Altamira’s rock paintings of animals and human hands made scientists realize that Stone Age people had intellectual capabilities far greater than previously believed.

You can find an Oct. 6, 2011 piece about the Altamira rock paintings by Drahl titled, Keeping Visitors Out To Keep Cave Paintings Safe, on the Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) blog. For anyone interested in more about rock art, there’s a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Rock Archives project or, as they call them, activity,

Due to their long sequence chronology, susceptibility to climate changes and vandalism, rock art sites are also among the most vulnerable on the World Heritage List.

Rock art, in the form of paintings and engravings, is a clear and lasting evidence of the transmission of human thoughts and beliefs through art and graphic representations. It functions as a repository of memory, enabling each culture to speak about themselves and their origins in all geographical settings.

I have two more items on cave art. The first is a piece I’ve been wanting to feature for almost two years. It’s an article on Slate by John Jeremiah Sullivan dated March 21, 2011 and titled, America’s Ancient Cave Art
Deep in the Cumberland Plateau, mysterious drawings, thousands of years old, offer a glimpse of lost Native American cultures and traditions. It’s an excerpt of an essay Sullivan wrote for the Paris Review. A fascinating exploration of a cave system that isn’t nearly as well known as France’s Lascaux Caves, here’s a snippet,

Over the past few decades, in Tennessee, archaeologists have unearthed an elaborate cave­-art tradition thousands of years old. The pictures are found in dark­ zone sites—places where the Native American people who made the artwork did so at personal risk, crawling meters or, in some cases, miles underground with cane torches—as opposed to sites in the “twilight zone,” speleologists’ jargon for the stretch, just beyond the entry chamber, which is exposed to diffuse sunlight. A pair of local hobby cavers, friends who worked for the U.S. Forest Service, found the first of these sites in 1979. They’d been exploring an old root cellar and wriggled up into a higher passage. The walls were covered in a thin layer of clay sediment left there during long­ ago floods and maintained by the cave’s unchanging temperature and humidity. The stuff was still soft. It looked at first as though someone had finger­-painted all over, maybe a child—the men debated even saying anything. But the older of them was a student of local history. He knew some of those images from looking at drawings of pots and shell ornaments that emerged from the fields around there: bird men, a dancing warrior figure, a snake with horns. Here were naturalistic animals, too: an owl and turtle. Some of the pictures seemed to have been first made and then ritually mutilated in some way, stabbed or beaten with a stick.

That was the discovery of Mud Glyph Cave, which was reported all over the world and spawned a book and a National Geographic article. No one knew quite what to make of it at the time. The cave’s “closest parallel,” reported the Christian Science Monitor, “may be caves in the south of France which contain Ice Age art.” A team of scholars converged on the site.

The sites range from Missouri to Virginia, and from Wisconsin to Florida, but the bulk lie in Middle Tennessee. Of those, the greater number are on the Cumberland Plateau, which runs at a southwest slant down the eastern part of the state, like a great wall dividing the Appalachians from the interior.

If you do decide to read the excerpt, you may want to reserve 30 to 45 minutes (at least).

For the last tidbit, here’s an introduction to TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Fellow, Genevieve von Petzinger’s work on cave art,

Genevieve von Petzinger’s [from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada] database of prehistoric geometric shapes in cave art reveals some startling insights. More than mere doodles, the signs used across geological boundaries suggest there may have been a common iconography before people first moved out of Africa. When did people begin graphic communication, and what was its purpose? Genevieve studies these questions of our common heritage.

A very interesting interview follows that introduction.

As I more often cover movable art, I thought it was time to devote, again, at least part of a posting to immovable art.

The ultimate DIY: ‘How to build a robotic man’ on BBC 4

British Broadcasting Corporation’s Channel 4 (BBC 4) will be telecasting the ultimate do-it-yourself (DIY) project, How to build a bionic man on Feb. 7, 2013, 9 pm GMT. Corinne Burns in a Jan. 30, 2013 posting for the Guardian science blogs describes the documentary (Note: Links have been removed),

Created by Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP, the TV company behind Touching The Void and Richard Hammond’s Engineering Connections), with the help of robotics experts Shadow Robot Company, the bionic man was conceived as a literal response to the question: how close is bionic technology is to catching up with – and even exceeding – the capabilities of the human body?

DSP got in touch with Dr Bertolt Meyer, a charismatic young researcher from Zurich University and himself a lifelong user of prosthetic technology, and invited him to, essentially, rebuild himself in bionic form. The result can be seen in How to Build a Bionic Man, to be broadcast on Channel 4 on 7 February. The Bionic Man himself will then reside in the Science Museum’s Who Am I? gallery from 7 February until 11 March.

Richard Walker (left), chief roboticist, and Dr Bertolt Meyer (right) at the Body Lab. On the table is an iWalk BiOM ankle. Photograph: Channel 4  [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

Richard Walker (left), chief roboticist, and Dr Bertolt Meyer (right) at the Body Lab. On the table is an iWalk BiOM ankle. Photograph: Channel 4 [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

Burns goes on to discuss some of the issues raised by the increasing sophistication of prosthetics (Note: Links have been removed),

The engineering behind modern prosthetics is certainly awe-inspiring. The iLimb Ultra, of which Bertolt is a user, is part of the new class of myoelectric prosthetics. These custom-made devices function by placing electrical sensors directly in contact with the skin. These sensors pick up the signals generated by muscular movements in the residual limb – signals that are then translated by software into natural, intuitive movement in the prosthetic limb.

We all know about prosthetic limbs, even if many of us are not aware of just how sophisticated they now are. Less familiar, though, is the idea of bionic organs. Far removed from the iron lung of yore, these new fully integrated artificial body parts are designed to plug directly into our own metabolism – in effect, they are not within us, they become us. They’re the ultimate in biomimicry.

It’s one thing to use a bionic organ to replace lost function. But in a future world where we could, feasibly, replace virtually all of our body, will we blur the boundaries of artificial and natural to an extent that we have to recalibrate our definition of self and non-self? That’s especially pertinent when we consider the reality of neural prosthetics, like the “memory chips” developed by Dr Theodore Berger. Instinctively, many of us are uncomfortable with brain implants – but should we be? And will this discomfort be reduced if we broaden our definition of self?

Bertolt himself is pleased with the increasing normalisation, and even “coolness”, of prosthetics. But he expresses caution about the potential for elective use of such technology – would we ever choose to remove a healthy body part, in order to replace it with a stronger, better prosthetic?

Burns’ posting isn’t the only place where these discussion points and others related to human enhancement and robotic technologies are being raised, in a Jan. 18, 2013 posting I mentioned *a television advertisement for a new smartphone that ‘upgrades your brain’ that ‘normalises’ the idea of brain implants and other enhancements for everybody. As well, The Economist recently featured an article, You, robot? in its September 1st – 7th, 2012 issue about the European Union’s RoboLaw Project,

SPEAKING at a conference organised by The Economist earlier this year [2012], Hugh Herr, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described disabilities as conditions that persist “because of poor technology” and made the bold claim that during the 21st century disability would be largely eliminated. What gave his words added force was that half way through his speech, after ten minutes of strolling around the stage, he unexpectedly pulled up his trouser legs to reveal his bionic legs, and then danced a little jig. In future, he suggested, people might choose to replace an arthritic, painful limb with a fully functional robotic one. “Why wouldn’t you replace it?” he asked. “We’re going to see a lot of unusual situations like that.”

It is precisely to consider these sorts of situations, and the legal and ethical conundrums they will pose, that a new research project was launched in March. Is a prosthetic legally part of your body? When is it appropriate to amputate a limb and replace it with a robotic one? What are the legal rights of a person with “locked in” syndrome who communicates via a brain-computer interface? Do brain implants and body-enhancement devices require changes to the definition of disability? The RoboLaw project is an effort to anticipate such quandaries and work out where and how legal frameworks might need to be changed as the technology of bionics and neural interfaces improves. Funded to the tune of €1.9m ($2.3m), of which €1.4m comes from the European Commission, it brings together experts from engineering, law, regulation, philosophy and human enhancement.

There have been some recent legal challenges as to what constitutes one’s body (from The Economist article, You, robot?),

If you are dependent on a robotic wheelchair for mobility, for example, does the wheelchair count as part of your body? Linda MacDonald Glenn, an American lawyer and bioethicist, thinks it does. Ms Glenn (who is not involved in the RoboLaw project) persuaded an initially sceptical insurance firm that a “mobility assistance device” damaged by airline staff was more than her client’s personal property, it was an extension of his physical body. The airline settled out of court.

RoboLaw is a European Union Framework Programme 7-funded two year project, which started in 2012. There is a conference to be held in the Netherlands, April 23 – 24, 2013, from the RoboLaw home page,

RoboLaw Authors Workshop and Volume on ‘Opportunities and risks of robotics in relation to human values’

23-24 April 2013, Tilburg University, Tilburg (The Netherlands)

Call for paper and participation. Robotic technologies, taken to encompass anything from ‘traditional’ robots to emerging technologies in the field of biomedical research, such as nanotechnologies, bionics, and neural interfaces, as well as innovative biomedical applications, such as biomechatronic prostheses, hybrid bionic systems and bio- mechatronic components for sensory and motor augmentation, will have a profound impact on our lives. They may also affect human values, such as privacy, autonomy, bodily integrity, health, etc. In this workshop, we will focus on the impact of new technologies, and particularly robotics, on fundamental rights and human values. …

Important dates
Before 1 January 2013: Send an email to Ronald Leenes confirming your attendance, expressing your intention to either submit a paper or act as a commentator/reviewer.
Before 1 February: Send a 300 word abstract of the intended paper to Ronald Leenes
Before 8 February: Notification of acceptance.
Before 1 March: If your abstract has been accepted, send a draft of your full paper in PDF format to Ronald Leenes
Before 5 March: Circulation of papers
23-24 April 2013: Workshop
10 May: Selected final papers to be handed in.

According to the schedule, it’s a bit late to start the process for submitting an abstract but it never hurts to try.

Canadian academic, Gregor Wolbring, assistant professor, Dept of Community Health Sciences, Program in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at the University of Calgary and past president of the Canadian Disability Studies Association, offers a nuanced perspective on human enhancement issues and the term, ableism. From my Aug. 30, 2011 posting on cyborgs, eyeborgs and others,

… Gregor’s June 17, 2011 posting on the FedCan blog,

The term ableism evolved from the disabled people rights movements in the United States and Britain during the 1960s and 1970s.  It questions and highlights the prejudice and discrimination experienced by persons whose body structure and ability functioning were labelled as ‘impaired’ as sub species-typical. Ableism of this flavor is a set of beliefs, processes and practices, which favors species-typical normative body structure based abilities. It labels ‘sub-normative’ species-typical biological structures as ‘deficient’, as not able to perform as expected.

The disabled people rights discourse and disability studies scholars question the assumption of deficiency intrinsic to ‘below the norm’ labeled body abilities and the favoritism for normative species-typical body abilities. The discourse around deafness and Deaf Culture would be one example where many hearing people expect the ability to hear. This expectation leads them to see deafness as a deficiency to be treated through medical means. In contrast, many Deaf people see hearing as an irrelevant ability and do not perceive themselves as ill and in need of gaining the ability to hear. Within the disabled people rights framework ableism was set up as a term to be used like sexism and racism to highlight unjust and inequitable treatment.

Ableism is, however, much more pervasive.

Ableism based on biological structure is not limited to the species-typical/ sub species-typical dichotomy. With recent science and technology advances, and envisioned advances to come, we will see the dichotomy of people exhibiting species-typical and the so-called sub species-typical abilities labeled as impaired, and in ill health. On the other side we will see people exhibiting beyond species-typical abilities as the new expectation norm. An ableism that favours beyond species-typical abilities over species-typical and sub species-typical abilities will enable a change in meaning and scope of concepts such as health, illness, rehabilitation, disability adjusted life years, medicine, health care, and health insurance. For example, one will only be labeled as healthy if one has received the newest upgrade to one’s body – meaning one would by default be ill until one receives the upgrade.

You can find more about Gregor’s work on his University of Calgary webpage or his blog.

Finally, for anyone who wants a look at BBC 4′s ‘biionic man’,

A television company asked Dr Bertolt Meyer – who has a prosthetic arm – to rebuild himself in bionic form. Photograph: Channel 4 [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

A television company asked Dr Bertolt Meyer – who has a prosthetic arm – to rebuild himself in bionic form. Photograph: Channel 4 [downloaded from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2013/jan/30/build-bionic-man]

* The articles ‘an’ was corrected to ‘a’ on July 16, 2013.

Nanotechnology and the labour market in Europe: the NanoEIS project

The Nov. 14, 2012 NanoEIS project announcement on Nanowerk was made by the EthicSchool. The source is a little unexpected (I should note that the announcement also covers the EthicSchool’s inclusion) as this a European Union FP 7- (Framework Programme 7) funded project as per their page on the Cordis website,

Nanotechnology Education for Industry and Society [NanoEIS]
Start date:2012-11-01
End date:2015-10-31
Project Acronym:NANOEIS
Project status:Accepted

Objective: Nanotechnology is an emerging area with strong implications for European society and industry. It is a challenge for the education system to integrate this interdisciplinary and transsectoral subject into curricula shaped mostly along classical disciplines. NanoEIS will evaluate how nanotechnology education has been integrated into secondary schools and universities, how cooperations between different partner institutions were implemented, and in which ways industrial and non-industrial (social) employers have been involved. [emphasis mine] NanoEIS will make, based on a thorough assessment of employer needs, recommendations for curriculum contents as well as for best practice strategies to implement them. This will help to resolve the problem that education contents are not always well matched with the needs of the job market. Improving this situation will benefit both graduates seeking jobs, and industrial / social employers who need specific skills in the professional environment. Nanotechnology education has to start at secondary schools, since nano is by now part of the daily environment and schools need to teach about relevant issues to allow informed consumers to take full advantage of nano-enabled products in a safe and sustainable way. NanoEIS will develop novel teaching and assessment tools for secondary schools. In addition, career choices start in school when decisions about study subjects are made, which should be based on full and relevant information, to achieve a good match between the interests of students and the contents of their studies and courses. A website based on the existing NANOfutures site will be set up, as one-stop shop for information on nanotechnology education for all stakeholders, including secondary school students, university students, educators and education administrators, and both industrial (large industry, SME, start-ups) and social employers (regulatory agencies, media, legal and IP services etc.). [emphasis mine]

I’m happy to see a project dedicated to an analysis of the relationship between education and industry something which is often lacking when ‘experts’ proclaim new skills, training, and education are needed (in this case, regarding nanotechnology) without reference to the labour market. As for the NanoEIS site, it is under construction and will be launched in Dec. 2102. I’m not entirely sure what the reference to NANOfutures means but that site is open.

Here’s more about NanoEIS from the Nov. 13, 2012 posting on the EthicSchool blog,

From this month, Malsch TechnoValuation participates in the EU funded project NanoEIS. Partners from all over Europe will investigate the European labour market for personnel trained in nanotechnology. The relevance of existing nanotechnology education and training in universities, vocational training institutes and secondary schools for the needs of industrial and other employers will also be explored. By 2015, a model curriculum will be made available online.

For anyone interested in EthicSchool and Malsch TechnoValuation, here’s more from the About EthicSchool page (Note: I have removed a link),

ETHICSCHOOL organises workshops and in-company training in Responsible Innovation. As a professional you gain insight in possible societal objections against the technology you are developing. The introduction of new technologies like nanotechnology, life sciences and ICT is accompanied by ethical dilemmas. You make your acquaintance with arguments for and against the development or use of your technology for sensitive applications such as healthcare, security or food. This helps prepare you for the dialogue with concerned citizens and teaches you to target your scarce resources better towards societally desirable products.

ETHICSCHOOL is an initiative taken by Malsch TechnoValuation, a consultancy in the area of Technology and Society, located in Utrecht since 1999.

ETHICSCHOOL builds upon a former European project. This original project was funded by the European Union, contract nr. 036745, 01-09-2007 until 28-02-2009. Partners in this former project were: Malsch TechnoValuation, University of Twente, Radboud University (NL) en TU Darmstadt, Germany.

I have written about Ineke Malsch (the Malsch behind Malsch TechnoValuation and I believe she’s also known as Neelina Herminia Malsch) and her work in an Oct. 11, 2011 posting (scroll down approximately 1/3 of the way). Oddly,

Science research spending and innovation in Europe and reflections on the Canadian situation

I thought I’d pull together some information about science funding and innovation for closer examination. First, in early July 2011 the European Union announced plans for a huge spending increase, approximately 45%, for science. Their current programme, the Seventh Framework Programme (US$79B budget) is coming to an end in 2013 and the next iteration will be called, Horizon 2020 (proposed US$114B budget).  Here’s more from Kit Eaton’s July 6, 2011 article on Fast Company,

The proposal still awaits approval by the E.U.’s parliament and member states, but just getting this far is a milestone. The next phase is to forge spending into the next generation of the E.U.’s Framework Programme, which is its main research spending entity, to produce a plan called Horizon 2020. The spending shift has been championed by E.U. research commissioner Márie Geoghan-Quinn, and means that the share of the E.U. budget portioned out for scientific research will eventually double from its 4.5% figure in 2007 to 9% in 2020.

How will Europe pay for it? This is actually the biggest trick being pulled off: More than €4.5 billion would be transferred from the E.U.’s farm subsidies program, the Common Agricultural Policy. This is the enormous pile of cash paid by E.U. authorities to farmers each year to keep them in business, to keep food products rolling off the production line, and to keep fields fallow–as well as to diversify their businesses.

Nature journal also covered the news in a July 5, 2011 article by Colin Macilwane,

Other research advocates say that the proposal — although falling short of the major realignment of funding priorities they had been hoping for — was as good as could be expected in the circumstances. “Given the times we’re in, we couldn’t realistically have hoped for much more,” says Dieter Imboden, president of Eurohorcs, the body representing Europe’s national research agencies.

Geoghegan-Quinn told Nature that the proposal was “a big vote of confidence in science” but also called on researchers to push to get the proposal implemented — especially in their home countries. “The farmers will be out there lobbying, and scientists and researchers need to do the same,” she says.

While the European Union wrangles over a budget that could double their investment in science research, Canadians evince, at best, a mild interest in science research.

The latest Science, Technology and Innovation Council report, State of the Nation 2010: Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation System, was released in June 2011 and has, so far, occasioned little interest despite an article in the Globe & Mail and a Maclean’s blog posting by Paul Wells. Hopefully,  The Black Hole Blog, where Beth Swan and David Kent are writing a series about the report, will be able to stimulate some discussion.

From Beth’s July 12, 2011 posting,

The report – at least the section I’m talking about today – is based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment and Statistics Canada. Some of the interesting points include:

  • 15-year-old Canadians rank in the top 10 of OECD countries for math and science in 20091.
  • 80% of 15-19 year-old Canadians are pursuing a formal education, which is lower than the OECD average
  • But Canada ranks 1st in OECD countries for adults (ages 25–64 years) in terms of the percentage of the population with a post-secondary education (49%)
  • The numbers of Canadian students in science and engineering at the undergraduate level increased (18% increase in the number of science undergraduate degrees, 9% increase in the number of engineering undergraduate degrees) in 2008 compared to 2005

This all begs the question, though, of what those science-based graduates do once they graduate. It’s something that we’ve talked about a fair bit here on the Black Hole and the STIC report gives us some unhappy data on it. Canada had higher unemployment rates for science-based PhDs (~3-4%) compared to other OECD countries (e.g., in the US, it’s about ~1-1.5%).  Specifically, in 2006 Canada had the highest rate of unemployment for the medical sciences -3%- and engineering -4%- and the third highest rate of unemployment for the natural sciences -3%- among the OECD countries: the data are from 2006.

David, in his July 16, 2011 posting, focuses on direct and indirect Canadian federal government Research & Development (R&D) spending,

It appears from a whole host of statistics, reports, etc – that Canada lags in innovation, but what is the government’s role in helping to nurture its advancement.  Is it simply to create fertile ground for “the market” to do its work?  or is it a more interventionist style of determining what sorts of projects the country needs and investing as such?  Perhaps it involves altering the way we train and inspire our young people?

Beth then comments on Canadian business R&D investment, which has always been a low priority according to the material I’ve read, in her July 25, 2011 posting on ,

Taken together, this shows a rather unfavourable trend in Canadian businesses not investing in research & development – i.e, not contributing to innovation. We know from Dave’s last posting that Canada is not very good at contributing direct funds to research and my first posting in this series illustrated that while Canada is pretty good at getting PhDs trained, we are not so good at having jobs for those PhDs once they are done their schooling.

The latest July 27, 2011 posting from David asks the age old question, Why does Canada lag in R&D spending?

Many reports have been written over the past 30 years about Canada and its R&D spending, and they clamour one after the other about Canada’s relative lack of investment into R&D.  We’ve been through periods of deep cutbacks and periods of very strong growth, yet one thing remains remarkably consistent – Canada underspends on R&D relative to other countries.

The waters around such questions are extremely murky and tangible outcomes are tough to identify and quantify when so many factors are at play.  What does seem reasonable though is to ask where this investment gap is filled from in other countries that currently outstrip Canada’s spending – is it public money, private money, foreign money, or domestic money?  Hopefully these questions are being asked and answered before we set forth on another 30 year path of poor relative investment.

As I stated in my submission to the federal government’s R&D review panel and noted in my March 15, 2011 posting about the ‘Innovation’ consultation, I think we need to approach the issues in more imaginative ways.