Tag Archives: Sweden

Chalmers University gears up to offer Graphene Science and Technology, an online, international course

They’ll be offering a MOOC, massive open online course, at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, on the topic of graphene starting March 23, 2015 according a Nov. 21, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Starting in 2015, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden will be a global disseminator of knowledge. The beginning of the year will mark the start of ChalmersX – the venture of Chalmers moocs on the platform edx.org.

Chalmers announces its membership in edx at the ongoing conference Edx Global Forum in Boston. Edx is the platform where Chalmers’ moocs will be accessible. Universities such as MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, the University of Tokyo and many more offer their moocs on the same platform.

“This is a new and different way for us to take on the role of knowledge disseminator in our society“, says Maria Knutson Wedel, vice president for undergraduate and master’s education at Chalmers.

With a computer and an Internet connection, course participants all over the world can watch video lectures, take part in discussions, do assignments and take exams.

“Previously, we have primarily shared knowledge on a local and national level. The technology today enables global knowledge sharing – we can reach people who need the knowledge in question no matter where they are located in the world,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

A Nov. 21, 2014 Chalmers University press release on mydesk.com, which seems to have originated the news item, notes that the university is the consortium lead on the European Union’s Graphene Flagship project,

The first ChalmersX mooc will be an introduction to the super-material graphene: Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology. The subject is at the forefront of research, and EU’s biggest research initiative ever – Graphene Flagship – is based at Chalmers.

The course is led by graphene researcher Jie Sun. He took the initiative to the mooc as he saw the need of large-scale education about graphene.

“I hope to give the participants of the course basic knowledge of graphene. At the end of the course, an engineer should be able to determine if graphene is suitable for the company’s products, and a student should be able to decide if the subject is of interest for continued studies”, says Jie Sun.

Moocs are a growing trend in higher education. There is a great deal of interest in the courses – each one typically attracts tens of thousands of participants.

Maria Knutson Wedel believes that moocs can be very useful as supplementary or continuing professional development for people who are already part of working life. She does not believe that the courses can completely replace a traditional campus education, however. Campus education are closely connected and designed to correspond to the expectations from industry, for example. This type of education also results in a degree and a title, something which companies consider when hiring.

“However, this probably depends in part on traditional thinking on the part of the people who do the hiring at companies. In the future, we may reach a point that knowledge, regardless of how it has been obtained, becomes more important than certificates and grades,“ says Maria Knutson Wedel.

The ChalmersX moocs will be specially adapted to their context – the recordings will not consist of traditional 45-minute lectures. The teachers who have developed the course have carefully analysed the concepts they want participants to come away with after the course. The content is then boiled down to short video clips of 5-7 minutes each.

The next mooc in line after the course on graphene will be on sustainability in everyday life, starting in May 2015.

More about: Moocs

Moocs, an abbreviation of massive open online courses, are online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. The term mooc was coined in 2008. As opposed to traditional distance learning, moocs do not have any prerequisites for admission. Exams are conducted by machine and there are platforms on which participants can get in contact with each other and discuss. The courses do not generate higher education credits, but the participants do receive a certificate for completing the course.

They do have a course prerequisite, from the Introduction to Graphene Science and Technology course,

In order to benefit fully from this course you should have an adequate knowledge of general physics and university level mathematics.

Here’s a video of Jie Sun talking about graphene and his course,

Enjoy the course!

Mind-controlled prostheses ready for real world activities

There’s some exciting news from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology about prosthetics. From an Oct. 8, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

For the first time, robotic prostheses controlled via implanted neuromuscular interfaces have become a clinical reality. A novel osseointegrated (bone-anchored) implant system gives patients new opportunities in their daily life and professional activities.

In January 2013 a Swedish arm amputee was the first person in the world to receive a prosthesis with a direct connection to bone, nerves and muscles. …

An Oct. 8, 2014 Chalmers University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details about the research and this ‘real world’ prosthetic device,

“Going beyond the lab to allow the patient to face real-world challenges is the main contribution of this work,” says Max Ortiz Catalan, research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology and leading author of the publication.

“We have used osseointegration to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine, where we have integrated them at different levels. The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human’s biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine’s control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics.”

The direct skeletal attachment is created by what is known as osseointegration, a technology in limb prostheses pioneered by associate professor Rickard Brånemark and his colleagues at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. Rickard Brånemark led the surgical implantation and collaborated closely with Max Ortiz Catalan and Professor Bo Håkansson at Chalmers University of Technology on this project.

The patient’s arm was amputated over ten years ago. Before the surgery, his prosthesis was controlled via electrodes placed over the skin. Robotic prostheses can be very advanced, but such a control system makes them unreliable and limits their functionality, and patients commonly reject them as a result.

Now, the patient has been given a control system that is directly connected to his own. He has a physically challenging job as a truck driver in northern Sweden, and since the surgery he has experienced that he can cope with all the situations he faces; everything from clamping his trailer load and operating machinery, to unpacking eggs and tying his children’s skates, regardless of the environmental conditions (read more about the benefits of the new technology below).

The patient is also one of the first in the world to take part in an effort to achieve long-term sensation via the prosthesis. Because the implant is a bidirectional interface, it can also be used to send signals in the opposite direction – from the prosthetic arm to the brain. This is the researchers’ next step, to clinically implement their findings on sensory feedback.

“Reliable communication between the prosthesis and the body has been the missing link for the clinical implementation of neural control and sensory feedback, and this is now in place,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “So far we have shown that the patient has a long-term stable ability to perceive touch in different locations in the missing hand. Intuitive sensory feedback and control are crucial for interacting with the environment, for example to reliably hold an object despite disturbances or uncertainty. Today, no patient walks around with a prosthesis that provides such information, but we are working towards changing that in the very short term.”

The researchers plan to treat more patients with the novel technology later this year.

“We see this technology as an important step towards more natural control of artificial limbs,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “It is the missing link for allowing sophisticated neural interfaces to control sophisticated prostheses. So far, this has only been possible in short experiments within controlled environments.”

The researchers have provided an image of the patient using his prosthetic arm in the context of his work as a truck driver,

[downloaded from http://www.chalmers.se/en/news/Pages/Mind-controlled-prosthetic-arms-that-work-in-daily-life-are-now-a-reality.aspx]

[downloaded from http://www.chalmers.se/en/news/Pages/Mind-controlled-prosthetic-arms-that-work-in-daily-life-are-now-a-reality.aspx]

The news release offers some additional information about the device,

The new technology is based on the OPRA treatment (osseointegrated prosthesis for the rehabilitation of amputees), where a titanium implant is surgically inserted into the bone and becomes fixated to it by a process known as osseointegration (Osseo = bone). A percutaneous component (abutment) is then attached to the titanium implant to serve as a metallic bone extension, where the prosthesis is then fixated. Electrodes are implanted in nerves and muscles as the interfaces to the biological control system. These electrodes record signals which are transmitted via the osseointegrated implant to the prostheses, where the signals are finally decoded and translated into motions.

There are also some videos of the patient demonstrating various aspects of this device available here (keep scrolling) along with more details about what makes this device so special.

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

An osseointegrated human-machine gateway for long-term sensory feedback and motor control of artificial limbs by Max Ortiz-Catalan, Bo Håkansson, and Rickard Brånemark. Sci Transl Med 8 October 2014: Vol. 6, Issue 257, p. 257re6 Sci. Transl. Med. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008933

This article is behind a paywall and it appears to be part of a special issue or a special section in an issue, so keep scrolling down the linked to page to find more articles on this topic.

I have written about similar research in the past. Notably, there’s a July 19, 2011 post about work on Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthesis (ITAP) and a May 17, 2012 post featuring a video of a woman reaching with a robotic arm for a cup of coffee using her thoughts alone to control the arm.

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),

http://news.ubc.ca/2014/03/12/prof-challenges-cancer-fashion/

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,

Enjoy!

* ‘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.