Tag Archives: Sweden

Graphene Flagship experiences an upsurge in new partners

Almost doubling in size, from 78 partners to 140 partners, the European Union’s Graphene Flagship is doing nicely. From a June 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

To coincide with Graphene Week 2014, the Graphene Flagship announced that today one of the largest-ever European research initiatives is doubling in size. 66 new partners are being invited to join the consortium following the results of a €9 million competitive call. [emphasis mine]

While most partners are universities and research institutes, the share of companies, mainly SMEs [small to medium enterprises], involved is increasing. This shows the growing interest of economic actors in graphene. The partnership now includes more than 140 organisations from 23 countries. [emphasis mine] It is fully set to take ‘wonder material’ graphene and related layered materials from academic laboratories to everyday use.

A June 23, 2014 Graphene Flagship news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the partners and the call which attracted them,

The 66 new partners come from 19 countries, six of which are new to the consortium: Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Israel.

With its 16 new partners, Italy now has the highest number of partners in the Graphene Flagship alongside Germany (with 23 each), followed by Spain (18), UK (17) and France (13).

The incoming 66 partners will add new capabilities to the scientific and technological scope of the flagship. Over one third of new partners are companies, mainly SMEs, showing the growing interest of economic actors in graphene. In the initial consortium this ratio was 20%.

Big Interest in Joining the Initiative

The €9 million competitive call of the €54 million ramp-up phase (2014-2015) attracted a total of 218 proposals, representing 738 organisations from 37 countries. The proposals received were evaluated on the basis of their scientific and technological expertise, implementation and impact (further information on the call) and ranked by an international panel of leading experts, mostly eminent professors from all over the world. 21 proposals were selected for funding.

Prof. Jari Kinaret, Professor of Physics at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and Director of the Graphene Flagship, said: “The response was overwhelming, which is an indicator of the recognition for and trust in the flagship effort throughout Europe. Competition has been extremely tough. I am grateful for the engagement by the applicants and our nearly 60 independent expert reviewers who helped us through this process. I am impressed by the high quality of the proposals we received and looking forward to working with all the new partners to realise the goals of the Graphene Flagship.”

Europe in the Driving Seat

Graphene was made and tested in Europe, leading to the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester.

With the €1 billion Graphene Flagship, Europe will be able to turn cutting-edge scientific research into marketable products. This major initiative places Europe in the driving seat for the global race to develop graphene technologies.

Prof. Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Chair of the Executive Board of the Graphene Flagship commented today’s announcement on new partners: “This adds strength to our unprecedented effort to take graphene and related materials from the lab to the factory floor, so that the world-leading position of Europe in graphene science can be translated into technology, creating a new graphene-based industry, with benefits for Europe in terms of job creation and competitiveness”.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Graphene Flagship, the news release provides this backgrounder,

The Graphene Flagship @GrapheneCA represents a European investment of €1 billion over the next 10 years. It is part of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagships @FETFlagships announced by the European Commission in January 2013 (press release). The goal of the FET Flagships programme is to encourage visionary research with the potential to deliver breakthroughs and major benefits for European society and industry. FET Flagships are highly ambitious initiatives involving close collaboration with national and regional funding agencies, industry and partners from outside the European Union.

Research in the next generation of technologies is key for Europe’s competitiveness. This is why €2.7 billion will be invested in Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) under the new research programme Horizon 2020 #H2020 (2014-2020). This represents a nearly threefold increase in budget compared to the previous research programme, FP7. FET actions are part of the Excellent science pillar of Horizon 2020.

You can find a full press kit for this announcement here, it includes,

I have long wondered how Sweden became the lead for the European Union effort. It seemed odd given that much of the initial work was done at the University of Manchester and the UK has not been shy about its ambition to lead the graphene effort internationally.

Hydrodynamic alignment and assembly of nano-fibrils results in cellulose fibers stronger than both aluminum and steel

A June 2, 2014 news item on Azonano describes the new fibres (which come from wood),

“Our filaments are stronger than both aluminium and steel per weight,” emphasizes lead author Prof. Fredrik Lundell from the Wallenberg Wood Science Center at the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology KTH in Stockholm. “The real challenge, however, is to make bio based materials with extreme stiffness that can be used in wind turbine blades, for example. With further improvements, in particular increased fibril alignment, this will be possible.”

The June 2, 2014 DESY ( one of the world’s leading accelerator centres) press release describes the research in detail,

A Swedish-German research team has successfully tested a new method for the production of ultra-strong cellulose fibres at DESY’s research light source PETRA III. The novel procedure spins extremely tough filaments from tiny cellulose fibrils by aligning them all in parallel during the production process. …

For their method, the researchers took tiny, nanometre-sized cellulose fibrils and fed them together with water through a small channel. Two additional water jets coming in perpendicular from left and right accelerate the fibril flow. “Following the acceleration, all nano fibrils align themselves more or less parallel with the flow,” explains co-author Dr. Stephan Roth from DESY, head of the experimental station P03 at PETRA III where the experiments took place. “Furthermore, salt is added to the outer streams. The salt makes the fibrils attach to each other, thereby locking the structure of the future filament.”

Finally, the wet filaments are left to dry in air where they shrink to form a strong fibre. “Drying takes a few minutes in air,” explains co-author Dr. Daniel Söderberg from KTH. “The resulting material is completely compatible with the biosphere, since the natural structure of the cellulose is maintained in the fibrils. Thus, it is biodegradable and compatible with human tissue.”

The bright X-ray light from PETRA III enabled the scientists to follow the process and check the configuration of the nano fibrils at various stages in the flow. “Research today is driven by cross-disciplanary collaborations,” underlines Söderberg. “Without the excellent competence and possibilities brought into the project by the team of DESY’s experimental station P03 this would not have been possible.”

As the scientists write, their fibres are much stronger than all other previously reported artificial filaments from cellulose nano fibrils. In fact, the artificial filaments can rival the strongest natural cellulose pulp fibres extracted from wood at the same degree of alignment of the nano fibrils. “In principle, we can make very long fibres,” says Lundell. “Up until now we have made samples that where ten centimetres long or so, but that is more of an equipment issue than a fundamental problem.”

For their experiments, the researchers have used nano fibrils extracted from fresh wood. “In principle, it should be possible to obtain fibrils from recycled paper also,” says Lundell. But he cautions: “The potential of recycled material in this context needs further investigations.”

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

Hydrodynamic alignment and assembly of nano-fibrils resulting in strong cellulose filaments by Karl M. O. Håkansson, Andreas B. Fall, Fredrik Lundell, Shun Yu, Christina Krywka, Stephan V. Roth, Gonzalo Santoro, Mathias Kvick, Lisa Prahl Wittberg, Lars Wågberg & L. Daniel Söderberg. Nature Communications, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5018

This is an open access paper.

I posted a June 3, 2014 item on cellulose nanofibriil titled:  Doubling paper strength with nanofibrils; a nanocellulose.

US Air Force wants to merge classical and quantum physics

The US Air Force wants to merge classical and quantum physics for practical purposes according to a May 5, 2014 news item on Azonano,

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research has selected the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) to lead a multidisciplinary effort that will merge research in classical and quantum physics and accelerate the development of advanced optical technologies.

Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering, will lead this Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative [MURI] with a world-class team of collaborators from Harvard, Columbia University, Purdue University, Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Lund University, and the University of Southampton.

The grant is expected to advance physics and materials science in directions that could lead to very sophisticated lenses, communication technologies, quantum information devices, and imaging technologies.

“This is one of the world’s strongest possible teams,” said Capasso. “I am proud to lead this group of people, who are internationally renowned experts in their fields, and I believe we can really break new ground.”

A May 1, 2014 Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences news release, which originated the news item, provides a description of project focus: nanophotonics and metamaterials along with some details of Capasso’s work in these areas (Note: Links have been removed),

The premise of nanophotonics is that light can interact with matter in unusual ways when the material incorporates tiny metallic or dielectric features that are separated by a distance shorter than the wavelength of the light. Metamaterials are engineered materials that exploit these phenomena, producing strange effects, enabling light to bend unnaturally, twist into a vortex, or disappear entirely. Yet the fabrication of thick, or bulk, metamaterials—that manipulate light as it passes through the material—has proven very challenging.

Recent research by Capasso and others in the field has demonstrated that with the right device structure, the critical manipulations can actually be confined to the very surface of the material—what they have dubbed a “metasurface.” These metasurfaces can impart an instantaneous shift in the phase, amplitude, and polarization of light, effectively controlling optical properties on demand. Importantly, they can be created in the lab using fairly common fabrication techniques.

At Harvard, the research has produced devices like an extremely thin, flat lens, and a material that absorbs 99.75% of infrared light. But, so far, such devices have been built to order—brilliantly suited to a single task, but not tunable.

This project, however,is focused on the future (Note: Links have been removed),

“Can we make a rapidly configurable metasurface so that we can change it in real time and quickly? That’s really a visionary frontier,” said Capasso. “We want to go all the way from the fundamental physics to the material building blocks and then the actual devices, to arrive at some sort of system demonstration.”

The proposed research also goes further. A key thrust of the project involves combining nanophotonics with research in quantum photonics. By exploiting the quantum effects of luminescent atomic impurities in diamond, for example, physicists and engineers have shown that light can be captured, stored, manipulated, and emitted as a controlled stream of single photons. These types of devices are essential building blocks for the realization of secure quantum communication systems and quantum computers. By coupling these quantum systems with metasurfaces—creating so-called quantum metasurfaces—the team believes it is possible to achieve an unprecedented level of control over the emission of photons.

“Just 20 years ago, the notion that photons could be manipulated at the subwavelength scale was thought to be some exotic thing, far fetched and of very limited use,” said Capasso. “But basic research opens up new avenues. In hindsight we know that new discoveries tend to lead to other technology developments in unexpected ways.”

The research team includes experts in theoretical physics, metamaterials, nanophotonic circuitry, quantum devices, plasmonics, nanofabrication, and computational modeling. Co-principal investigator Marko Lončar is the Tiantsai Lin Professor of Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS. Co-PI Nanfang Yu, Ph.D. ’09, developed expertise in metasurfaces as a student in Capasso’s Harvard laboratory; he is now an assistant professor of applied physics at Columbia. Additional co-PIs include Alexandra Boltasseva and Vladimir Shalaev at Purdue, Mark Brongersma at Stanford, and Nader Engheta at the University of Pennsylvania. Lars Samuelson (Lund University) and Nikolay Zheludev (University of Southampton) will also participate.

The bulk of the funding will support talented graduate students at the lead institutions.

The project, titled “Active Metasurfaces for Advanced Wavefront Engineering and Waveguiding,” is among 24 planned MURI awards selected from 361 white papers and 88 detailed proposals evaluated by a panel of experts; each award is subject to successful negotiation. The anticipated amount of the Harvard-led grant is up to $6.5 million for three to five years.

For anyone who’s not familiar (that includes me, anyway) with MURI awards, there’s this from Wikipedia (Note: links have been removed),

Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) is a basic research program sponsored by the US Department of Defense (DoD). Currently each MURI award is about $1.5 million a year for five years.

I gather that in addition to the Air Force, the Army and the Navy also award MURI funds.

Cancer as a fashion statement at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and a Marimekko dress made of birch in Finland

The ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ at the University of British Columbia (UBC) bears some resemblance to the types of outreach projects supported by the UK’s Wellcome Trust (for an example see my June 21, 2011 posting) where fashion designers are inspired by some aspect of science. Here’s more about the ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ and its upcoming fashion show (on March 25, 2014). From the March 12, 2014 UBC news release (Note: Links have been removed),

A UBC costume design professor has created a collection of ball gowns inspired by microscopic photos of cancer cells and cellular systems to get people talking about the disease, beauty and body image.

The project aims to create alternative imagery for discussions of cancer, to complement existing examples such as the pink ribbon, which is an important symbol of cancer awareness, but may not accurately represent women’s experience with the disease.

“Many women who have battled cancer express a disconnect with the fashion imagery that commonly represents the disease,” says Jacqueline Firkins, an assistant professor in UBC’s Dept. of Theatre and Film, who designed the collection of 10 dresses and dubbed the work ‘Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty.’

Inspired by cellular images captured by researchers in the lab of UBC scientist Christian Naus, a Peter Wall Distinguished Scholar in Residence, the project seeks to create artistic imagery based on the disease itself.

“My hope is that somehow through fashion, I more closely tap into what a woman might be feeling about her body as she undergoes the disease, but simultaneously reflect a strength, beauty, and resilience,” says Firkins, who will use the collection to raise money for cancer research, patients and survivors.

“This will be an opportunity for people to share their thoughts about the gowns,” says Firkins. “Are they too pretty to reflect something as destructive as cancer? Do they encourage you to tell your own story? Do they evoke any emotions related to your own experience?”

Before giving you where and when, here are two images (a cell and a dress based on the cell),


Cell7_brain_cells_in_a_dish; Astrocytes from the brain growing in a culture dish. Green colour indicates the cytoskeleton of these cells, red colour shows specific membrance [sic] channels (gap junctions), blue colour indicates the cell nuclei (DNA). The ability to grow cells in a dish has contributed to our understand of the changes these cells undergo when they become channels. Photo credit: John Bechberger, MSc., Christian Naus, PhD.

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Details about the show (from the UBC event description webpage where you can also find a slide show more pictures),

  • Event: Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty
  • Date: Tue. March 25, 2014 | Time: 12-1pm
  • Location: UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre, 6354 Crescent Rd.
  • MAP: http://bit.ly/1fZ4bC8

On a more or less related note, Aalto University (Finland) has announced a dress made of birch cellulose fibre, from a March 13, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

The first garment made out of birch cellulose fibre using the Ioncell method is displayed at a fashion show in Finland on 13 March [2014]. The Ioncell method, which was developed by researchers at Aalto University, is an environmentally friendly alternative to cotton in textile production. The dress produced for Marimekko is a significant step forward in the development of fibre for industrial production.

Researchers were looking for new alternatives to cotton, because demand for textile fibres is expected to nearly double by 2030. The raw material for the Ioncell fibre is a birch-based pulp from Finnish pulp mills. Growing birch wood does not require artificial irrigation in its native habitat, for instance.

The Aalto University March 12, 2014 news release, which originated the news item, describes the new Ioncell fibre and its relationship with Finnish clothing company Marimekko,

The production method for Ioncell has been developed by Professor Herbert Sixta’s research group. The method is based on a liquid salt (ionic liquid) developed under the guidance of Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen which is a very efficient cellulose solvent. The fibres derived from it are carded and spun to yarns at the Textile University of Börås in Sweden.

‒ We made a breakthrough in the development of the method about a year ago. Progress has been rapid since then. [see my Oct. 3, 2013 posting for another Finnish team's work with wood cellulose to create fabric]  Production of the fibre and the thread is still a cumbersome process, but we have managed to triple the amount of fibre that is produced in six months. The quality has also improved: the fibers are stronger and of more even quality, Professor Sixta says with satisfaction.

The surface of the ready textile has a dim glow and it is pleasing to the touch. According to Sixta, because of its strength, the strength properties of the Ioncell fibre are equal or even better than other pulp-based fibres on the market. The fibres are even stronger than cotton and viscose.

The Finnish textile and clothing design company Marimekko became inspired by the new fibre at an event organised by the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC, which coordinates bioeconomy research, and immediately got in touch with Professor Herbert Sixta at Aalto University.

‒ We monitor product development for materials closely in order to be able to offer our customers new and more ecological alternatives. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to join this Aalto University development project at such an early stage. Fibre made from birch pulp seems to be a promising material by virtue of its durability and other characteristics, and we hope that we will soon be able to utilise this new material in our collections, says Noora Niinikoski, Head of Fashion at Marimekko.

Here’s the birch cellulose dress,

Marimekko Birch Dress Courtesy: Aalto University

Let’s all have a fashionable day!

INFERNOS: realizing Maxwell’s Demon

Before getting to the INFERNOS project and its relationship to Maxwell’s demon, I want to share a pretty good example of this ‘demon’ thought experiment which, as recently as Feb. 4, 2013, I featured in a piece about quantum dots,

James Clerk Maxwell, physicist,  has entered the history books for any number reasons but my personal favourite is Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment he proposed in the 1800s to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Lisa Zyga in her Feb. 1, 2013 article for phys.org provides an explanation,

When you open your door on a cold winter day, the warm air from your home and the cold air from outside begin to mix and evolve toward thermal equilibrium, a state of complete entropy where the temperatures outside and inside are the same. This situation is a rough example of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy in a closed system never decreases. If you could control the air flow in a way that uses a sufficiently small amount of energy, so that the entropy of the system actually decreases overall, you would have a hypothetical mechanism called Maxwell’s demon.

An Oct. 9, 2013 news item on Nanowerk ties together INFERNOS and the ‘demon’,

Maxwell’s Demon is an imaginary creature that the mathematician James Clerk Maxwell created in 1897. The creature could turn heat into work without causing any other change, which violates the second law of thermodynamics. The primary goal of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems) is to realize experimentally Maxwell’s Demon; in other words, to develop the electronic and biomolecular nanodevices that support this principle.

The Universitat de Barcelona (University of Barcelona) Oct. 7, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the project,

Although Maxwell’s Demon is one of the cornerstones of theoretical statistical mechanisms, little has been done about its definite experimental realization. Marco Ribezzi, researcher from the Department of Fundamental Physics, explains that “the principal novelty of INFERNOS is to bring a robust and rigorous experimental base for this field of knowledge. We aim at creating a device that can use information to supply/extract energy to/from a system”. In this sense, the UB group, in which researcher Fèlix Ritort from the former department also participates, focuses their activity on understanding how information and temperature changes are used in individual molecules manipulation.

From the theory side, researchers will work in order to develop a theory of the fluctuation processes in small systems, which would then facilitate efficient algorithms for the Maxwell’s Demon operation.

INFERNOS is a three-year European project of the programme Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). Besides the University of Barcelona, INFERNOS partners are: Aalto University (Finland), project coordinator, Lund University (Sweden), the University of Oslo (Norway), Delf University of Technology (Netherlands), the National Center for Scientific Research (France) and the Research Foundation of State University of New York.

I like the INFERNOS logo, demon and all,

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

The INFERNOS project website can be found here.

And for anyone who finds that music is the best way to learn, here are Flanders & Swann* performing ‘First and Second Law’ from a 1964 show,


* ‘Swan’ corrected to ‘Swann’ on April 1, 2014.

Europe’s flagshop projects (Graphene and Human Brain) take sail

Nine months after (my Jan. 28, 2013 posting) announcing that  the Future and Emerging Technologies 1B Euro research prizes were being awarded to the Graphene flagship and the Human Brain Project flagship, the two endeavours have been officially launched,  According to an Oct. 7, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,, the Graphene Flagship project is being launched at Chalmers University in Sweden (Note: Links have been removed),,

After years of preparations it is time for Europe to launch The Graphene Flagship – a 10-year, 1,000 million euro research and innovation initiative on graphene and related layered materials.

Now, on October 10-11, graphene researchers from all over Europe – from 74 research partners in 17 countries – will gather in Gothenburg, Sweden, for kick-off. Their mission is to take the supermaterial graphene and related ultra-thin layered materials from academic laboratories to society, revolutionize multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe.

Here’s more about the Graphene Flagship kickoff event being held on Oct. 10, 2013 (i couldn’t find anything about events on Oct. 11, 2013)  at Sweden’s Chalmers University. The Human Brain Project kickoff event has started (Oct. 6 – 13, 2013) in EPFL (École Polytechnque Fédérale de Lausanne) campus in Switzerland. You can find more  links and more information about both projects on the FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) Flagship Initiatives webpage on the CORDIS website.

Nanocellulose and forest residues at Luleå University of Technology (Sweden)

Swedish scientists have developed a new production technique which scales up the manufacture of cellulose nanfibres and cellulose nanocrystals (CNC, aka nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC]) from waste materials. From the Aug. 30,2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Luleå University of Technology is the first in Sweden with a new technology that scales up the production of nano-cellulose from forest residues. It may eventually give the forest industry profitable new products, e.g. nano-filters that can clean both the gases, industrial water and even drinking water. Better health and cleaner environment, both nationally and internationally, are some possible outcome

“There is large interest in this from industries, especially because our bionanofilters are expected to be of great importance for the purification of water all around the globe,” says Aji Mathew, Associate Professor at Luleå University of Technology, who leads the EU-funded project, NanoSelect.

The Luleå University of Technology Aug. 28, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, briefly describe the process and the magnitude of the increased production,

On Tuesday [Aug. 27, 2013], researchers at Luleå University of Technology demonstrated before representatives from the Industry and from research institutes how they have managed to scale up the process of manufacture of nano-cellulose of two different residues from the pulp industry. One is from Domsjö in Örnsköldsvik in the form of a fiber product that is grinded down to tiny nano fibers in a special machine. Through this process, the researchers have managed to increase the amount of the previous two kilograms per day to 15 kg per day. Another byproduct is nanocrystals that have been successfully scaled up from 50 to 640 grams / day. The process is possible to scale up and therefore highly interesting for the forest industry.

As noted in the news item, this development is an outcome of the EU- (European Union) funded NanoSelect project, from the Project Details webpage,

NanoSelect aims to design, develop and optimize novel bio-based foams/filters/membranes/adsorbent materials with high and specific selectivity using nanocellulose/nanochitin and combinations thereof for decentralized industrial and domestic water treatment. NanoSelect proposes a novel water purification approach combining the physical filtration process and
the adsorption process exploring the capability of the nanocellulose and/or nanochitin (with or without functionalization) to selectively adsorb, store and desorb contaminants from industrial water and drinking water while passing through a highly porous or permeable membrane.

As the news release notes,

Nano Filter for purification of process water and drinking water is not the only possible product made of nano-cellulose since cellulose has much greater potential.

- Large-scale production of nano-cellulose is necessary to meet a growing interest to use bio-based nanoparticles in a variety of products, says Kristiina Oksman professor at Luleå University of Technology.

Nano filters is today developed at Imperial College, London, in close collaboration with the researchers at Luleå University of Technology.

- We have optimized the process to produce nano filters, we can control the pore size and thus the filter porosity. It’s actually just a piece of paper and the beauty of this piece of paper is that it is stable in water, not like toilet paper that dissolves easily in water, but stable, says Professor Alexander Bismarck at Imperial College.

Nice to hear more about CNC developments.

Touchy feely breakthrough at the nano scale

This first posting back after a three week hiatus (I’m baaack) concerns a study in Sweden where scientists found that people can discern nano wrinkles with their fingertips. From the Sept. 16, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

In a ground-breaking study, Swedish scientists have shown that people can detect nano-scale wrinkles while running their fingers upon a seemingly smooth surface. The findings could lead such advances as touch screens for the visually impaired and other products, says one of the researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

The study marks the first time that scientists have quantified how people feel, in terms of a physical property. One of the authors, Mark Rutland, Professor of Surface Chemistry, says that the human finger can discriminate between surfaces patterned with ridges as small as 13 nanometres in amplitude and non-patterned surfaces.

The KTH Sept. 16, 2013 news release by David Callahan, which originated the news item, describes the new understanding of touch and its possible applications,

The study highlights the importance of surface friction and wrinkle wavelength, or wrinkle width – in the tactile perception of fine textures.

When a finger is drawn over a surface, vibrations occur in the finger. People feel these vibrations differently on different structures. The friction properties of the surface control how hard we press on the surface as we explore it. A high friction surface requires us to press less to achieve the optimum friction force.

“This is the breakthrough that allows us to design how things feel and are perceived,” he says. “It allows, for example, for a certain portion of a touch screen on a smartphone to be designed to feel differently by vibration.”

The research could inform the development of the sense of touch in robotics and virtual reality. A plastic touch screen surface could be made to feel like another material, such as fabric or wood, for example. The findings also enable differentiation in product packaging, or in the products themselves. A shampoo, for example, can be designed to change the feel of one’s hair.

The news release goes on to describe how the research was conducted,

With the collaboration of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) material science labs, Rutland and his colleagues produced 16 chemically-identical surfaces with wrinkle wavelengths (or wrinkle widths) ranging from 300 nanometres to 90 micrometres, and amplitudes (or wrinkle heights) of between seven nanometres and 4.5 micrometres, as well as two non-patterned surfaces. The participants were presented with random pairs of surfaces and asked to run their dominant index finger across each one in a designated direction, which was perpendicular to the groove, before rating the similarity of the two surfaces.

The smallest pattern that could be distinguished from the non-patterned surface had grooves with a wavelength of 760 nanometres and an amplitude of only 13 nanometres.

Rutland says that by bringing together professors and PhD students from two different disciplines – surface chemistry and psychology – the team succeeded in creating “a truly psycho-physical study.”

“The important thing is that touch was previously the unknown sense,” Rutland says. “To make the analogy with vision, it is as if we have just revealed how we perceive colour.

“Now we can start using this knowledge for tactile aesthetics in the same way that colours and intensity can be combined for visual aesthetics.”

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

Feeling Small: Exploring the Tactile Perception Limits by Lisa Skedung, Martin Arvidsson, Jun Young Chung, Christopher M. Stafford, Birgitta Berglund & Mark W. Rutland. Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 2617 doi: 10.1038/srep02617 Published 12 September 2013

This paper is open access.

Archimedes as in nano-archimedes and graphene nanoscrolls

Over the last 10 days or so, I’ve stumbled across two references to Archimedes in my constant search for information on nanotechnology. Not remembering my ancient Greeks very well, I found this about him on Wikipedia (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

Archimedes of Syracuse (Greek: Ἀρχιμήδης; c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and an explanation of the principle of the lever. He is credited with designing innovative machines, including siege engines and the screw pump that bears his name. Modern experiments have tested claims that Archimedes designed machines capable of lifting attacking ships out of the water and setting ships on fire using an array of mirrors.

Archimedes is generally considered to be the greatest mathematician of antiquity and one of the greatest of all time.

His influence lives on as he’s referenced in an Aug. 15, 2013 news item on Nanowerk concerning graphene nanoscrolls,

Researchers at Umeå University, together with researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University, show in a new study how nitrogen doped graphene can be rolled into perfect Archimedean nano scrolls by adhering magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles on the surface of the graphene sheets. The new material may have very good properties for application as electrodes in for example Li-ion batteries.

The Aug. 15, 2013 Umeå University press release,which originated the news item, provides technical details,

In the study the researchers have modified the graphene by replacing some of the carbon atoms by nitrogen atoms. By this method they obtain anchoring sites for the iron oxide nanoparticles that are decorated onto the graphene sheets in a solution process. In the decoration process one can control the type of iron oxide nanoparticles that are formed on the graphene surface, so that they either form so called hematite (the reddish form of iron oxide that often is found in nature) or maghemite, a less stable and more magnetic form of iron oxide.

“Interestingly we observed that when the graphene is decorated by maghemite, the graphene sheets spontaneously start to roll into perfect Archimedean nano scrolls, while when decorated by the less magnetic hematite nanoparticles the graphene remain as open sheets, says Thomas Wågberg, Senior lecturer at the Department of Physics at Umeå University.

The nanoscrolls can be visualized as traditional “Swiss rolls” where the sponge-cake represents the graphene, and the creamy filling is the iron oxide nanoparticles. The graphene nanoscrolls are however around one million times thinner.

The results that now have been published in Nature Communications are conceptually interesting for several reasons. It shows that the magnetic interaction between the iron oxide nanoparticles is one of the main effects behind the scroll formation. It also shows that the nitrogen defects in the graphene lattice are necessary for both stabilizing a sufficiently high number of maghemite nanoparticles, and also responsible for “buckling” the graphene sheets and thereby lowering the formation energy of the nanoscrolls.

The process is extraordinary efficient. Almost 100 percent of the graphene sheets are scrolled. After the decoration with maghemite particles the research team could not find any open graphene sheets.

Moreover, they showed that by removing the iron oxide nanoparticles by acid treatment the nanoscrolls again open up and go back to single graphene sheets

The researchers have an image showing a partially reopened scroll (despite references to Archimedes and swiss rolls, I see a plant leaf or flower unfurling),

Caption: Snapshot of a partially re-opened nanoscroll. The atomic layer thick graphene resembles a thin foil with some few wrinkles. [Courtesy of  Umeå University]

Caption: Snapshot of a partially re-opened nanoscroll. The atomic layer thick graphene resembles a thin foil with some few wrinkles. [Courtesy of Umeå University]

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

Tiva Sharifi, Eduardo Gracia-Espino, Hamid Reza Barzegar, Xueen Jia, Florian Nitze, Guangzhi Hu, Per Nordblad, Cheuk-Wai Tai, and Thomas Wågberg: Formation of nitrogen-doped graphene nanoscrolls by adsorption of magnetic γ-Fe2O3 nanoparticles, Nature Communications (2013), DOI:10.1038/ncomms3319.

The article is behind a paywall.

The other Archimedes reference is regarding a new website, nano-archimedes, mentioned in an Aug. 10, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Nano-archimedes is a Technology Computer Aided Design tool (TCAD) for the simulation of electron transport in nanometer scale semiconductor devices (nanodevices). It is based on the Wigner equation, a convenient reformulation of the Schrödinger equation in terms of a phase-space, which allows the application of stochastic particles methods and the extension towards mixed state kinetic descriptions such as the Wigner-Boltzmann equation.

There’s more on the nano-archimedes homepage,

It is an experimental code for validation and analysis of the compatibility of existing quantum particle concepts in algorithmic schemes. Our preliminary results have clearly shown that time-dependent, full quantum and multi-dimensional simulations of electron transport can be achieved with no special computational requirements. The code is already able to simulate time dependent phenomena such as two-dimensional wave phase breaking and single electron ballistic transport with open boundary conditions aiming to have, very soon, full quantum self-consistent calculations for nanodevices.

nano-archimedes runs both on serial and parallel machines and the parallelization scheme is based on OpenMP – a standard library for parallel calculations. The code is entirely written in C and can compile on a huge variety of machines without any particular effort. The only external dependence is OpenMP, everything else is embedded in the code to make it truly cross-platform.

I found the background of the team members behind this effort rather interesting, from the Team page,

Main developer and principal maintainer of the code:
Jean Michel Sellier, IICT, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Bulgaria, supported by the AComIn project.

Main developer, theory and physical analysis:
Mihail Nedjalkov, Institute for Microelectronics, TU Wien, Austria.

Advisory board:
Ivan Dimov, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Bulgaria.
Siegfried Selberherr, Institute for Microelectronics, TU Wien, Austria.

Website Master:
Marc Sellier, working at Selliweb, Italy.

I don’t often have a chance to mention Bulgaria and I expect that’s due to the fact that my linguistic skills are largely English with a little French flavour thrown into the mix. The consequence is that I’m confined and while  I realize English is the dominant language in science there’s still a lot of scientific materials that never finds its way into English and I don’t trust machine translations.

Upsalite, an impossible material from Uppsala University (Sweden) and Disruptive Materials

You can feel the researchers’ excitement crackling from the July 18, 2013 news release (English language version available at Uppsala University [Sweden]) about a new material that shares properties with zeolite, mesoporous silica, and carbon nanotubes and has some special properties all its own,

A novel material with world record breaking surface area and water adsorption abilities has been synthesized by researchers from Uppsala University, Sweden. The results are published today in PLOS ONE.

The magnesium carbonate material that has been given the name Upsalite is foreseen to reduce the amount of energy needed to control environmental moisture in the electronics and drug formulation industry as well as in hockey rinks and warehouses. It can also be used for collection of toxic waste, chemicals or oil spill and in drug delivery systems, for odor control and sanitation after fire.

Apparently this work represents a break with orthodoxy, from the news release,

-In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process, says Johan Forsgren, researcher at the Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Division

While ordered forms of magnesium carbonate, both with and without water in the structure, are abundant in nature, water-free disordered forms have been proven extremely difficult to make. In 1908, German researchers claimed that the material could indeed not be made in the same way as other disordered carbonates, by bubbling CO2 through an alcoholic suspension. Subsequent studies in 1926 and 1961 came to the same conclusion.

-A Thursday afternoon in 2011, we slightly changed the synthesis parameters of the earlier employed unsuccessful attempts, and by mistake left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend. Back at work on Monday morning we discovered that a rigid gel had formed and after drying this gel we started to get excited, says Johan Forsgren.

A year of detailed materials analysis and fine tuning of the experiment followed.

-One of the researchers got to take advantage of his Russian skill since some of the chemistry details necessary for understanding the reaction mechanism was only available in an old Russian PhD thesis.

-After having gone through a number of state of the art materials characterization techniques it became clear that we had indeed synthesized the material that previously had been claimed impossible to make, says Maria Strømme, professor of nanotechnology and head of the nanotechnology and functional materials division. The most striking discovery was, however, not that we had produced a new material but it was instead the striking properties we found that this novel material possessed. It turned out that Upsalite had the highest surface area measured for an alkali earth metal carbonate; 800 square meters per gram. This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes, says Strømme.

In addition we found that the material was filled with empty pores all having a diameter smaller than 10 nano meters. This pore structure gives the material a totally unique way of interacting with the environment leading to a number of properties important for application of the material. Upsalite is for example found to absorb more water at low relative humidities than the best materials presently available; the hydroscopic zeolites, a property that can be regenerated with less energy consumption than is used in similar processes today.

This, together with other unique properties of the discovered impossible material is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications, says Maria Strømme.

The discovery will be commercialized though the University spin-out company Disruptive Materials (www.disruptivematerials.com) that has been formed by the researchers together with the holding company of Uppsala University

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

A Template-Free, Ultra-Adsorbing, High Surface Area Carbonate Nanostructure by Johan Forsgren, Sara Frykstrand, Kathryn Grandfield, Albert Mihranyan, and Maria Strømme. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (7): e68486 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068486

Here’s a little more abut Upsalite from the university’s spin-off company, Disruptive Materials homepage,

A new material with world record breaking surface area and water adsorption abilities

It was supposed to be impossible, but… We did it! Disruptive Materials has succeeded to manufacture micro-porous magnesium carbonate and the properties are mind blowing. Over 800 m2/g in surface area, better water adsorbtion ability than the former champion Zeolite Y and a very low manufacturing cost. We have been testing the material for a long time, and we see new applications every week for this new and true super-material.

Finally for those with Swedish language skills, here’s the July 18, 2013 news release from Disruptive Materials.