Tag Archives: UBC

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) on climate change and rise of complex life on Nov. 24, 2015 and Member of Parliament Joyce Murray’s Paris Climate Conference breakfast meeting

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 7:30 pm in the back room of The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.]), Café Scientifique will be hosting a talk about climate change and the rise of complex life (from the Nov. 12, 2015 announcement),

Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Mark Jellinek.  The title of his talk is:

The Formation and Breakup of Earth’s Supercontinents and the Remarkable Link to Earth’s Climate and the Rise of Complex Life

Earth history is marked by the intermittent formation and breakup of “supercontinents”, where all the land mass is organized much like a completed jigsaw puzzle centered at the equator or pole of the planet. Such events disrupt the mantle convective motions that cool our planet, affecting the volcanic and weathering processes that maintain Earth’s remarkably hospitable climate, in turn. In this talk I will explore how the last two supercontinental cycles impelled Earth into profoundly different climate extreme’s: a ~150 million year long cold period involving protracted global glaciations beginning about 800 million years ago and a ~100 million year long period of extreme warming beginning about 170 million years ago. One of the most provocative features of the last period of global glaciation is the rapid emergence of complex, multicellular animals about 650 million years ago. Why global glaciation might stimulate such an evolutionary bifurcation is, however, unclear. Predictable environmental stresses related to effects of the formation and breakup of the supercontinent Rodinia on ocean chemistry and Earth’s surface climate may play a crucial and unexpected role that I will discuss.

A professor in the Dept. of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Jellinek’s research interests include Volcanology, Geodynamics, Planetary Science, Geological Fluid Mechanics. You can find out more about Dr. Jellinek and his work here.

Joyce Murray and the Paris Climate Conference (sold out)

Joyce Murray is a Canadian Member of Parliament, (Liberal) for the riding of Vancouver Quadra who hosts a regular breakfast meeting where topics of interest (child care, seniors, transportation, the arts, big data, etc.) are discussed. From a Nov. 13, 2015 email announcement,

You are invited to our first post-election Vancouver Quadra MP Breakfast Connections on November 27th at Enigma Restaurant, for a discussion with Dr. Mark Jaccard on why the heat will be on world leaders in Paris, in the days leading to December 12th,  at the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21).

After 20 years of UN negotiations, the world expects a legally binding universal agreement on climate to keep temperature increases below 2°C! The climate heat will especially be on laggards like Canada and Australia’s new Prime Ministers. What might be expected of the Right Honorable Justin Trudeau and his provincial premiers? What are the possible outcomes of COP21?

Dr. Jaccard has worked with leadership in countries like China and the United States, and helped develop British Columbia’s innovative Climate Action Plan and Carbon Tax.

Join us for this unique opportunity to engage with a climate policy expert who has participated in this critical global journey. From the occasion of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit resulting in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), through the third Conference of Parties’ (COP3) Kyoto Protocol, to COP21 today, the building blocks for a binding international solution have been assembled. What’s still missing?

Mark has been a professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University since 1986 and is a global leader and consultant on structuring climate mitigation solutions. Former Chair and CEO of the British Columbia Utilities Commission, he has published over 100 academic papers, most of these related to his principal research focus: the design and application of energy-economy models that assess the effectiveness of sustainable energy and climate policies.

When: Friday November 27th 7:30 to 9:00AM

Where: Enigma Restaurant 4397 west 10th Avenue (at Trimble)

Cost: $20 includes a hot buffet breakfast; $10 for students (cash only please)

RSVP by emailing joyce.murray.c1@parl.gc.ca or call 604-664-9220


They’re not even taking names for a waiting list. You can find out more about Dr. Jaccard’s work here.

Science and the new Canadian cabinet

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new Prime Minister was sworn in this morning (Nov. 4, 2015). He announced his new cabinet which holds 30 or 31 ministers (reports conflict), 15 of whom are women.

As for my predictions about how science would be treated in the new cabinet, I got it part of it right. Navdeep Singh Bains was named Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. I believe it’s the old Industry Canada ministry and it seemed the science portfolio was rolled into that ‘new’ ministry name as I suggested in my Nov. 2, 2015 posting.  (I thought it would be Industry and Science.)  However, there is also a Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan. This represents a promotion of sorts for the science portfolio since it was previously considered a junior ministry as signified by the  title ‘Minister of State (Science and Technology)’.

It appears science is on the Liberal agenda although how they’re going to resolve two ministers and ministries having science responsibilities should be interesting. At the top level, I imagine it’s going to be split into applied science or commercial science (Innovation) as opposed to basic science or fundamental science (Science). The problem in these situations is that there’s a usually a grey area.

Moving on, if there’s anything that’s needs to be done quickly within the science portfolios, it’s the reinstatement of the mandatory long form census. Otherwise, there’s no hope of including it as part of the 2016 census. This should induce a sigh of relief across the country from the business community and provincial and municipal administrators who have had some planning and analysis problems due to the lack of reliable data from the 2011 census and its mandated, by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, voluntary long form census.

***ETA Nov. 6, 2015: A day after the cabinet announcement, there was an announcement reinstating the mandatory long form census about which David Bruggeman provides an update  in a Nov. 5, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

He [Justin Trudeau] also announced his cabinet, and his government announced that it would restore the mandatory long-form census.  I’ll focus on the cabinet, but the census decision is a big deal, especially with the next one scheduled for 2016. The official list of the top tier Cabinet appointments is online.

The census decision was announced by the new Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, MP Navdeep Bains.  Minister Bains was returned to Parliament in this year’s election, having served previously in Parliament from 2004-2011.  His training is in finance and his non-Parliamentary experience has been in financial analysis.  …

If you have the time, do read David’s post he includes more detailed descriptions of the new ‘science’ cabinet appointees. And, back to the original text of this posting where I highlight two of the ‘science’ appointments.***

As for the two new ‘science’ ministers, Kirsty Duncan and Navdeep Singh Bains there’s this from the Nov. 4, 2015 cabinet list on the Globe & Main website,

Navdeep Singh Bains
[Member of Parliament {MP} for] Mississauga-Malton, Ontario

Innovation, science and economic development

Former accountant at the Ford Motor Company of Canada. Former professor at Ryerson University’s management school. Entered federal politics in Mississauga in 2004.

Kirsty Duncan
[MP] Etobicoke North, Ontario


Medical geographer and former professor at the University of Windsor and University of Toronto. Has been a Liberal MP since 2008.

For those who don’t know, Etobicoke (pronounced e [as in etymology] toh bi coh), is considered a part of the city of Toronto.

There is more information about this new government in the form of a PDF listing the new Cabinet committees and their membership. I’m not sure about the protocol but it would have been nice to see Elizabeth May, MP and leader of the Green Party, listed as a member of the Cabinet Committee on Environment, Climate Change and Energy (there were three petitions asking she be named Environment Minister according to an Oct. 20, 2015 news item by Lisa Johnson for CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] news online). Perhaps she’ll be on a Parliamentary committee concerned with these issues.

More predictions

Buoyed by my almost successful prognostication, I’m going to add another couple to the mix.

I think there will be the appointment of a Chief Science Advisor (likely answering to the Prime Minister or Prime Minister’s Office) and while some might think Ted Hsu would be a good choice, I suspect (sadly) he would be considered too partisan a choice. A physicist by training, he was a Liberal Member of Parliament and the party’s science and technology critic in the recently dissolved 41st Parliament of Canada from June 2, 2011 to August 15, 2015. However, should Prime Minister Justin Trudeau choose to appoint a Parliamentary Science Officer after appointing a Chief Science Advisor to the government, Hsu might be considered a very good choice given his experience as both scientist and parliamentarian. (As I understand it, a Parliamentary Science Officer, as modeled by the UK system, is someone who gives science advice to Members of Parliament who may request such advice when dealing with bills that contain science policy or require a better understanding of science, e.g. an energy bill, when debating and voting on the measure.)

Justin Trudeau and his British Columbia connection

Amusingly, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is touting the fact that Trudeau graduated from there with an undergraduate degree in Education. From a Nov. 4, 2015 UBC news release (received in my email),

The University of British Columbia congratulates Justin Trudeau, who earned a bachelor of education from UBC in 1998, on becoming Prime Minister of Canada today.

“It is not every day that a UBC alumnus achieves Canada’s highest office,” said Interim President Martha Piper. “As UBC celebrates its Centennial year, Mr. Trudeau’s accomplishment will serve as a prominent marker in the history of our university and count among the highest achievements of our more than 300,000 alumni.”

Trudeau is the first UBC graduate to be elected prime minister and joins fellow alumni prime ministers Kim Campbell (BA’69, LLB’83) and John Turner (BA’49) who were appointed upon securing their party leadership.

UBC would also like to congratulate alumna Jody Wilson-Raybould (LLB’99), who was appointed Minster of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and all the other cabinet ministers appointed today.

“UBC looks forward to working with Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet in the coming months and continuing the strong dialogue UBC has enjoyed with our partners in Ottawa,” said Piper.

This is only amusing if you know that UBC is trying desperately to distance itself from a recent scandal where Arvind Gupta, president, stepped down (July 2015) from his position at the university only one year into his term for reasons no one will disclose. While the timing (the news release was distributed late on a Friday afternoon) and secrecy seemed suspicious, the scandal aspect developed when the chair of the UBC Board of Governors, John Montalbano called a faculty member to complain about a blog posting where she speculated about some of the pressures that may have been brought to bear on Gupta. Her subsequent posting about Montalbano’s phone call and senior faculty response excited media interest leading eventually into an investigation into Montalbano’s behaviour and charges that he was interfering with academic freedom. Recently exonerated (Oct. 15, 2015), Montalbano resigned from the board, while UBC admitted it had failed to support and protect academic freedom. Interesting, non?

Inside-out plants show researchers how cellulose forms

Strictly speaking this story of tricking cellulose into growing on the surface rather than the interior of a cell is not a nanotechnology topic but I imagine that the folks who research nanocellulose materials will find this work of great interest. An Oct. 8, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily describes the research,

Researchers have been able to watch the interior cells of a plant synthesize cellulose for the first time by tricking the cells into growing on the plant’s surface.

“The bulk of the world’s cellulose is produced within the thickened secondary cell walls of tissues hidden inside the plant body,” says University of British Columbia Botany PhD candidate Yoichiro Watanabe, lead author of the paper published this week in Science.

“So we’ve never been able to image the cells in high resolution as they produce this all-important biological material inside living plants.”

An Oct. 8, 2015 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, explains the interest in cellulose,

Cellulose, the structural component of cell walls that enables plants to stay upright, is the most abundant biopolymer on earth. It’s a critical resource for pulp and paper, textiles, building materials, and renewable biofuels.

“In order to be structurally sound, plants have to lay down their secondary cell walls very quickly once the plant has stopped growing, like a layer of concrete with rebar,” says UBC botanist Lacey Samuels, one of the senior authors on the paper.

“Based on our study, it appears plant cells need both a high density of the enzymes that create cellulose, and their rapid movement across the cell surface, to make this happen so quickly.”

This work, the culmination of years of research by four UBC graduate students supervised by UBC Forestry researcher Shawn Mansfield and Samuels, was facilitated by a collaboration with the Nara Institute of Technology in Japan to create the special plant lines, and researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University to conduct the live cell imaging.

“This is a major step forward in our understanding of how plants synthesize their walls, specifically cellulose,” says Mansfield. “It could have significant implications for the way plants are bred or selected for improved or altered cellulose ultrastructural traits – which could impact industries ranging from cellulose nanocrystals to toiletries to structural building products.”

The researchers used a modified line of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, to conduct the experiment. The resulting plants look exactly like their non-modified parents, until they are triggered to make secondary cell walls on their exterior.

One of the other partners in this research, Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution of Science published an Oct. 8, 2015 news release on EurekAlert focusing on other aspects of the research (Note: Some of this is repetitive),

Now scientists, including Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt and Heather Cartwright, have exploited a new way to watch the trafficking of the proteins that make cellulose in the formation cell walls in real time. They found that organization of this trafficking by structural proteins called microtubules, combined with the high density and rapid rate of these cellulose producing enzymes explains how thick and high strength secondary walls are built. This basic knowledge helps us understand plants can stand upright, which was essential for the move of plants from the sea to the land, and may useful for engineering plants with improved mechanical properties for to increase yields or to produce novel bio-materials. The research is published in Science.

The live-cell imaging was conducted at Carnegie with colleagues from the University of British Columbia (UBC) using customized high-end instrumentation. For the first time, it directly tracked cellulose production to observe how xylem cells, cells that transport water and some nutrients, make cellulose for their secondary cell walls. Strong walls are based on a high density of enzymes that catalyze the synthesis of cellulose (called cellulose synthase enzymes) and their rapid movement across the xylem cell surface.

Watching xylem cells lay down cellulose in real time has not been possible before, because the vascular tissues of plants are hidden inside the plant body. Lead author Yoichiro Watanabe of UBC applied a system developed by colleagues at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology to trick plants into making xylem cells on their surface. The researchers fluorescently tagged a cellulose synthase enzyme of the experimental plant Arabidopsis to track the activity using high-end microscopes.

“For me, one of the most exciting aspects of this study was being able to observe how the microtubule cytoskeleton was actively directing the synthesis of the new cell walls at the level of individual enzymes. We can guess how a complex cellular process works from static snapshots, which is what we usually have had to work from in biology, but you can’t really understand the process until you can see it in action. ” remarked Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt.

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

Visualization of cellulose synthases in Arabidopsis secondary cell walls by Y. Watanabe, M. J. Meents, L. M. McDonnell, S. Barkwill, A. Sampathkumar, H. N. Cartwright, T. Demura, D. W. Ehrhardt, A.L. Samuels, & S. D. Mansfield. Science 9 October 2015: Vol. 350 no. 6257 pp. 198-203 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7446

This paper is behind a paywall.

With all of this talk of visualization, it’s only right that the researchers have made an image from their work available,

 Caption: An image of artificially-produced cellulose in cells on the surface of a modified Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Credit: University of British Columbia.

Caption: An image of artificially-produced cellulose in cells on the surface of a modified Arabidopsis thaliana plant. Credit: University of British Columbia.


Interfaces are the device—organic semiconductors and their edges

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC; Canada) have announced a startling revelation according to an Oct. 6, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

As the push for thinner and faster electronics continues, a new finding by University of British Columbia scientists could help inform the design of the next generation of cheaper, more efficient devices.

The work, published this week in Nature Communications, details how electronic properties at the edges of organic molecular systems differ from the rest of the material.

An Oct. 6, 2015 UBC news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Organic [as in carbon-based] materials–plastics–are of great interest for use in solar panels, light emitting diodes and transistors. They’re low-cost, light, and take less energy to produce than silicon. Interfaces–where one type of material meets another–play a key role in the functionality of all these devices.

“We found that the polarization-induced energy level shifts from the edge of these materials to the interior are significant, and can’t be neglected when designing components,” says UBC PhD researcher Katherine Cochrane, lead author of the paper.

‘While we were expecting some differences, we were surprised by the size of the effect and that it occurred on the scale of a single molecule,” adds UBC researcher Sarah Burke, an expert on nanoscale electronic and optoelectronic materials and author on the paper.

The researchers looked at ‘nano-islands’ of clustered organic molecules. The molecules were deposited on a silver crystal coated with an ultra-thin layer of salt only two atoms deep. The salt is an insulator and prevents electrons in the organic molecules from interacting with those in the silver–the researchers wanted to isolate the interactions of the molecules.

Not only did the molecules at the edge of the nano-islands have very different properties than in the middle, the variation in properties depended on the position and orientation of other molecules nearby.

The researchers, part of UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute, used a simple, analytical model to explain the differences which can be extended to predict interface properties in much more complex systems, like those encountered in a real device.

Herbert Kroemer said in his Nobel Lecture that ‘The interface is the device’ and it’s equally true for organic materials,” says Burke. [emphasis mine] “The differences we’ve seen at the edges of molecular clusters highlights one effect that we’ll need to consider as we design new materials for these devices, but likely they are many more surprises waiting to be discovered.”

Cochrane and colleagues plan to keep looking at what happens at interfaces in these materials and to work with materials chemists to guide the design rules for the structure and electronic properties of future devices.


The experiment was performed at UBC’s state-of-the-art Laboratory for Atomic Imaging Research, which features three specially designed ultra-quiet rooms that allow the instruments to sit in complete silence, totally still, to perform their delicate measurements. This allowed the researchers to take dense data sets with a tool called a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) that showed them the energy levels in real-space on the scale of single atoms.

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

Pronounced polarization-induced energy level shifts at boundaries of organic semiconductor nanostructures by K. A. Cochrane, A. Schiffrin, T. S. Roussy, M. Capsoni, & S. A. Burke. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8312 doi:10.1038/ncomms9312 Published 06 October 2015

This paper is open access. Yes, I borrowed from Nobel Laureate, Herbert Kroemer for the headline. As Woody Guthrie (legendary American folksinger) once said, more or less, “Only steal from the best.”

Of Canadian 2015 election science debates and science weeks

You’d think science and technology might rate a mention in a debate focused on the economy but according to all accounts, that wasn’t the case last night in a Sept. 17, 2015 Canadian federal election debate featuring three party leaders, Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party, Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party (NDP), and Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. BTW, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was not invited but managed to participate by tweeting video responses to the debate questions. For one of the more amusing and, in its way, insightful commentaries on the debate, there’s a Sept. 17, 2015 blog posting on CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] News titled: ‘Old stock Canadians,’ egg timer, creepy set top debate’s odd moments; Moderator David Walmsley’s Irish accent and a ringing bell get reaction on social media.

As for science and the 2015 Canadian federal election, Science Borealis has compiled an informal resource list in a Sept. 18, 2015 posting and while I’ve excerpted the resources where you can find suggested questions for candidates, there’s much more to be found there,



Interestingly, the journal Nature has published a Sept. 17, 2015 article (h/t @CBC Quirks) by Nicola Jones featuring the Canadian election and science concerns and the impact science concerns have had on opposition party platforms (Note: Links have been removed),

Canadians will head to the polls on 19 October [2015], in a federal election that many scientists hope will mark a turning point after years of declining research budgets and allegations of government censorship.

In an unprecedented move, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada — a union in Ottawa that represents more than 57,000 government scientists and other professionals — is campaigning in a federal race. “Here’s how we do things in the Harper government,” declares one of the union’s radio advertisements. “We muzzle scientists, we cut research and we ignore anyone who doesn’t tell us what we want to hear.”

Science advocates see little chance that their issues will be aired during a 17 September [2015] debate in Calgary that will pit Harper against NDP [New Democratic Party] leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. But concerns about the state of Canadian science have nevertheless influenced party platforms.

The middle-left Liberal Party has made scientific integrity part of its election campaign, proposing the creation of a central public portal to disseminate government-funded research. The party seeks to appoint a chief science officer to ensure the free flow of information.

Similarly, the NDP has called for a parliamentary science officer, a position that would be independent of the majority party or coalition leading the government.

Adding to the concern about the practice of science in Canada is the delayed release of a biennial report from the government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC). Paul Wells in a June 26, 2015 article for Maclean’s Magazine discusses the situation (Note: Links have been removed),

It is distressing when organizations with no partisan role play the sort of games partisans want. The latest example is the advisory board that the Harper government created to tell it how Canada is doing in science.

I have written about the Science, Technology and Innovation Council every two years since it produced its first major report, in May 2009. STIC, as it’s known, is not some fringe group of pinko malcontents trying to stir up trouble and turn the people against their right and proper governing party. It was conceived by the Harper government (in 2007), appointed by the Harper government (in bits ever since), and it consists, in part, of senior officials who work with the Harper government every day. …

This group gives the feds the best advice they can get about how Canada is faring against other countries in its science, research and technology efforts. Its reports have been increasingly discouraging.

Perhaps you wonder: What’s the situation now? Keep wondering. Every previous STIC biennial report was released in the spring. This winter, I met a STIC member, who told me the next report would come out in May 2015 and that it would continue most of the declining trend lines established by the first three reports. I wrote to the STIC to ascertain the status of the latest report. Here’s the answer I received:

“Thank you for your interest. STIC’s next State of the Nation report will be released later in the Fall. We will be happy to inform you of the precise date and release details when they have been confirmed.”

There is no reason this year’s report was not released in the spring, as every previous report was. None except the approach of a federal election.

Getting back to a national science debate, I have written about a proposed debate to be held on the CBC Quirks and Quarks radio programme here in a Sept. 3, 2015 posting which also features a local upcoming (on Weds., Sept. 23, 2015) election science and technology debate amongst  federal candidates in Victoria, BC. I cannot find anything more current about the proposed national science debate other than the CBC radio producer’s claim that it would occur in early October. Earlier today (Sept. 18, 2015) I checked their Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/CBCQuirks) and their website (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks). I wonder what’s taking so long for an announcement. In the space of a few hours, I managed to get Ted Hsu and Lynne Quarmby, science shadow ministers for the Liberal and Green parties, respectively, to express interest in participating.

Well, whether or not there is a 2015 national science debate, I find the level of interest, in contrast to the 2011 election, exciting and affirming.

In the midst of all this election and science discussion, there are some big Canadian science events on the horizon. First and technically speaking not on the horizon, there’s Beakerhead (a smashup of art, science, and engineering) in Calgary, Alberta which runs from Sept. 16 – 20, 2015. Here are a few of the exhibits and installations you can find should you get to Calgary in time (from a Sept. 16, 2015 Beakerhead news release),

The five days of Beakerhead officially get rolling today with the world’s largest pop-up gallery, called a String (Theory) of Incredible Encounters, with a circumference of five kilometres around downtown Calgary.

The series of public art installations is an exploration in creativity at the crossroads of art, science and engineering, and can be seen by touring Calgary’s neighbourhoods, from Inglewood to East Village to Victoria Park, 17th Ave and Kensington. The home base or hub for Beakerhead this year is at Station B (the Beakerhead moniker for installations at Fort Calgary).

Station B is home to two other massive firsts – a 30-foot high version of the arcade claw game, and a 6,400 square foot sandbox – all designed to inspire human ingenuity.

Beakerhead 2015 event will erupt on the streets and venues of Calgary from September 16 to 20, and includes more than 160 collaborators and 60 public events, ranging from theatre where the audience is dining as part of the show to installations where you walk through a human nose. More than 25,000 students will be engaged in Beakerhead through field trips, classroom visits and ingenuity challenges.

Just as Beakerhead ends, Canada’s 2015 Science Literacy Week opens Sept. 21 – 27, 2015. Here’s more about the week from a Sept. 18, 2015 article by Natalie Samson for University Affairs,

On Nov. 12 last year [2014], the European Space Agency landed a robot on a comet. It was a remarkable moment in the history of space exploration and scientific inquiry. The feat amounted to “trying to throw a dart and hit a fly 10 miles away,” said Jesse Hildebrand, a science educator and communicator. “The math and the physics behind that is mindboggling.”

Imagine Mr. Hildebrand’s disappointment then, as national news programs that night spent about half as much time reporting on the comet landing as they did covering Barack Obama’s gum-chewing faux pas in China. For Mr. Hildebrand, the incident perfectly illustrates why he founded Science Literacy Week, a Canada-wide public education campaign celebrating all things scientific.

From Sept. 21 to 27 [2015], several universities, libraries and museums will highlight the value of science in our contemporary world by hosting events and exhibits on topics ranging from the lifecycle of a honeybee to the science behind Hollywood films like Jurassic World and Contact.

Mr. Hildebrand began developing the campaign last year, shortly after graduating from the University of Toronto with a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. He approached the U of T Libraries for support and “it really snowballed from there,” the 23-year-old said.

Though Mr. Hildebrand said Science Literacy Week wasn’t inspired by public criticism against the federal government’s approach to scientific research and communication, he admitted that it makes the campaign seem that much more important. “I’ve always wanted to shout from the rooftops how cool science is. This is my way of shouting from the rooftops,” he said.

In the lead-up to Science Literacy Week, museum scientists with the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada have been posting videos of what they do and why it’s important under the hashtag #canadalovesscience. The end of the campaign will coincide with a lunar eclipse and will see several universities and observatories hosting stargazing parties.

You can find out more about this year’s events on the Science Literacy Week website. Here are a few of the BC events I found particularly intriguing,

UBC Botanical Garden – Jointly run as part of National Forest Week/Organic Week

September 20th, 10 a.m-12 p.m – A Walk in the Woods

Come discover the forest above, below and in between on our guided forest tour! Explore and connect with trees that hold up our 300-metre long canopy walkway. [emphasis mine] Meet with grand Firs, Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars and learn about the importance of forests to biodiversity, climate change and our lives.

September 24th, 7:30-11 P.M – Food Garden Tour and Outdoor Movie Night

What better way to celebrate Organic Week than to hear about our exciting plans for the UBC Food Garden? Tour renewed garden beds to see what’s been growing. Learn about rootstocks, cultivars, training techniques and tree forms for fruit trees in this area.  Then make your way to out enchanting outdoor Ampitheatre and watch Symphony of the Soil, a film celebrated by the UN for 2015, the International Year of the Soil.

I highlighted the UBC Botanical Garden canopy walkway because you really do walk high up in the forest as you can see in this image of the walkway,

[downloaded from http://www.familyfuncanada.com/vancouver/canopy-walk-ubc-botanical-garden/]

[downloaded from http://www.familyfuncanada.com/vancouver/canopy-walk-ubc-botanical-garden/]

This image is from an undated article by Lindsay Follett for Family Fun Vancouver.

While it’s still a month away, there is Canada’s upcoming 2015 National Science and Technology Week, which will run from Oct. 16 – 25. To date, they do not have any events listed for this year’s week but they do invite you to submit your planned event for inclusion in their 2015 event map and list of events.

Extreme graphene—University of British Columbia (Canada) researchers* create first superconducting graphene

There haven’t been too many announcements about Canadian research into graphene so it was nice to receive a news release about a first in the field achieved by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC; Canada). From a Sept. 4, 2015 UBC news announcement (also on EurekAlert)*,

Graphene, the ultra-thin, ultra-strong material made from a single layer of carbon atoms, just got a little more extreme. UBC physicists have been able to create the first ever superconducting graphene sample by coating it with lithium atoms.

Although superconductivity has already been observed in intercalated bulk graphite—three-dimensional crystals layered with alkali metal atoms, based on the graphite used in pencils—inducing superconductivity in single-layer graphene has until now eluded scientists.

“This first experimental realization of superconductivity in graphene promises to usher us in a new era of graphene electronics and nanoscale quantum devices,” says Andrea Damascelli, director of UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute and leading scientist of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] study outlining the discovery.

Graphene, roughly 200 times stronger than steel by weight, is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern. Along with studying its extreme physical properties, scientists eventually hope to make very fast transistors, semiconductors, sensors and transparent electrodes using graphene.

“This is an amazing material,’” says Bart Ludbrook, first author on the PNAS paper and a former PhD researcher in Damascelli’s group at UBC. “Decorating monolayer graphene with a layer of lithium atoms enhances the graphene’s electron–phonon coupling to the point where superconductivity can be stabilized.”

Given the massive scientific and technological interest, the ability to induce superconductivity in single-layer graphene promises to have significant cross-disciplinary impacts. According to financial reports, the global market for graphene reached $9 million in 2014 with most sales in the semiconductor, electronics, battery, energy, and composites industries.

The researchers, which include colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research through the joint Max-Planck-UBC Centre for Quantum Materials, prepared the lithium-decorated graphene in ultra-high vacuum conditions and at ultra-low temperatures (-267 degrees Celsius or 5 Kelvin), to achieve this breakthrough.

UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute

UBC’s Quantum Matter Institute (QMI) is internationally recognized for its research and discoveries in quantum structures, quantum materials, and applications towards quantum devices. A recent $66.5-million investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund will broaden the scope of QMI’s research and support the discovery of practical applications for computing, electronics, medicine and sustainable energy technologies.

Last May (2015), Dr. Damascelli recorded an interview as part of the Research2Reality, a Canadian science media engagement project, where he discusses his work with graphene superconductors and notes the team had just managed a successful test of the new material,

You can find an early version of the researchers’ paper here,

Evidence for superconductivity in Li-decorated monolayer graphene by Bart Ludbrook, Giorgio Levy, Pascal Nigge, Marta Zonno, Michael Schneider, David Dvorak, Christian Veenstra, Sergey Zhdanovich, Douglas Wong, Pinder Dosanjh, Carola Straßer, Alexander Stohr, Stiven Forti, Christian Ast, Ulrich Starke, and Andrea Damascelli. arXiv.org > cond-mat > arXiv:1508.05925 (Submitted on 24 Aug 2015 (v1), last revised 29 Aug 2015 (this version, v2))

This is open access.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Evidence for superconductivity in Li-decorated monolayer graphene by B. M. Ludbrook. G. Levy, P. Nigge, M. Zonno, M. Schneider, D. J. Dvorak, C. N. Veenstra, S. Zhdanovich, D. Wong, P. Dosanjh, C. Straßer, A. Stöhr, S. Forti, C. R. Ast, U. Starke, and A. Damascelli. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510435112

You can find out more about about Research2Reality here in a May 11, 2015 posting where it was first featured.

*’researchers’ added to head and EurekAlert link added to post on Sept. 9, 2015.

TRIUMF accelerator used by US researchers to visualize properties of nanoscale materials

The US researchers are at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and while it’s not explicitly stated I’m assuming the accelerator they mention at TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics) has something special as there are accelerators in California and other parts of the US.

A July 15, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now announces the latest on visualizing the properties of nanoscale materials,

Scientists trying to improve the semiconductors that power our electronic devices have focused on a technology called spintronics as one especially promising area of research. Unlike conventional devices that use electrons’ charge to create power, spintronic devices use electrons’ spin. The technology is already used in computer hard drives and many other applications — and scientists believe it could eventually be used for quantum computers, a new generation of machines that use quantum mechanics to solve complex problems with extraordinary speed.

A July 15, 2015 UCLA news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme and briefly mentions TRIUMF’s accelerator (Note: A link has been removed),

Emerging research has shown that one key to greatly improving performance in spintronics could be a class of materials called topological insulators. Unlike ordinary materials that are either insulators or conductors, topological insulators function as both simultaneously — on the inside, they are insulators but on their exteriors, they conduct electricity.

But topological insulators have certain defects that have so far limited their use in practical applications, and because they are so tiny, scientists have so far been unable to fully understand how the defects impact their functionality.

The UCLA researchers have overcome that challenge with a new method to visualize topological insulators at the nanoscale. An article highlighting the research, which was which led by Louis Bouchard, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Dimitrios Koumoulis, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar, was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new method is the first use of beta‑detected nuclear magnetic resonance to study the effects of these defects on the properties of topological insulators.

The technique involves aiming a highly focused stream of ions at the topological insulator. To generate that beam of ions, the researchers used a large particle accelerator called a cyclotron, which accelerates protons through a spiral path inside the machine and forces them to collide with a target made of the chemical element tantalum. This collision produces lithium-8 atoms, which are ionized and slowed down to a desired energy level before they are implanted in the topological insulators.

In beta‑detected nuclear magnetic resonance, ions (in this case, the ionized lithium-8 atoms) of various energies are implanted in the material of interest (the topological insulator) to generate signals from the material’s layers of interest.

Bouchard said the method is particularly well suited for probing regions near the surfaces and interfaces of different materials.

In the UCLA research, the high sensitivity of the beta‑detected nuclear magnetic resonance technique and its ability to probe materials allowed the scientists to “see” the impacts of the defects in the topological insulators by viewing the electronic and magnetic properties beneath the surface of the material.

The researchers used the large TRIUMF cyclotron in Vancouver, British Columbia.

According to the UCLA news release, there were also researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University involved with the work.

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

Nanoscale β-nuclear magnetic resonance depth imaging of topological insulators by Dimitrios Koumoulis, Gerald D. Morris, Liang He, Xufeng Kou, Danny King, Dong Wang, Masrur D. Hossain, Kang L. Wang, Gregory A. Fiete, Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, and Louis-S. Bouchard. PNAS July 14, 2015 vol. 112 no. 28 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1502330112

This paper is behind a paywall.

Yarns of niobium nanowire for small electronic device boost at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)

It turns out that this research concerning supercapacitors is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia (Canada) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). From a July 7, 2015 news item by Stuart Milne for Azonano,

A team of researchers from MIT and University of British Columbia has discovered an innovative method to deliver short bursts of high power required by wearable electronic devices.

Such devices are used for monitoring health and fitness and as such are rapidly growing in the consumer electronics industry. However, a major drawback of these devices is that they are integrated with small batteries, which fail to deliver sufficient amount of power required for data transmission.

According to the research team, one way to resolve this issue is to develop supercapacitors, which are capable of storing and releasing short bursts of electrical power required to transmit data from smartphones, computers, heart-rate monitors, and other wearable devices. supercapacitors can also prove useful for other applications where short bursts of high power is required, for instance autonomous microrobots.

A July 7, 2015 MIT news release provides more detail about the research,

The new approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of the element niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors (which are essentially pairs of electrically conducting fibers with an insulator between). The concept is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Ian W. Hunter, doctoral student Seyed M. Mirvakili, and three others at the University of British Columbia.

Nanotechnology researchers have been working to increase the performance of supercapacitors for the past decade. Among nanomaterials, carbon-based nanoparticles — such as carbon nanotubes and graphene — have shown promising results, but they suffer from relatively low electrical conductivity, Mirvakili says.

In this new work, he and his colleagues have shown that desirable characteristics for such devices, such as high power density, are not unique to carbon-based nanoparticles, and that niobium nanowire yarn is a promising an alternative.

“Imagine you’ve got some kind of wearable health-monitoring system,” Hunter says, “and it needs to broadcast data, for example using Wi-Fi, over a long distance.” At the moment, the coin-sized batteries used in many small electronic devices have very limited ability to deliver a lot of power at once, which is what such data transmissions need.

“Long-distance Wi-Fi requires a fair amount of power,” says Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor in Thermodynamics in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, “but it may not be needed for very long.” Small batteries are generally poorly suited for such power needs, he adds.

“We know it’s a problem experienced by a number of companies in the health-monitoring or exercise-monitoring space. So an alternative is to go to a combination of a battery and a capacitor,” Hunter says: the battery for long-term, low-power functions, and the capacitor for short bursts of high power. Such a combination should be able to either increase the range of the device, or — perhaps more important in the marketplace — to significantly reduce size requirements.

The new nanowire-based supercapacitor exceeds the performance of existing batteries, while occupying a very small volume. “If you’ve got an Apple Watch and I shave 30 percent off the mass, you may not even notice,” Hunter says. “But if you reduce the volume by 30 percent, that would be a big deal,” he says: Consumers are very sensitive to the size of wearable devices.

The innovation is especially significant for small devices, Hunter says, because other energy-storage technologies — such as fuel cells, batteries, and flywheels — tend to be less efficient, or simply too complex to be practical when reduced to very small sizes. “We are in a sweet spot,” he says, with a technology that can deliver big bursts of power from a very small device.

Ideally, Hunter says, it would be desirable to have a high volumetric power density (the amount of power stored in a given volume) and high volumetric energy density (the amount of energy in a given volume). “Nobody’s figured out how to do that,” he says. However, with the new device, “We have fairly high volumetric power density, medium energy density, and a low cost,” a combination that could be well suited for many applications.

Niobium is a fairly abundant and widely used material, Mirvakili says, so the whole system should be inexpensive and easy to produce. “The fabrication cost is cheap,” he says. Other groups have made similar supercapacitors using carbon nanotubes or other materials, but the niobium yarns are stronger and 100 times more conductive. Overall, niobium-based supercapacitors can store up to five times as much power in a given volume as carbon nanotube versions.

Niobium also has a very high melting point — nearly 2,500 degrees Celsius — so devices made from these nanowires could potentially be suitable for use in high-temperature applications.

In addition, the material is highly flexible and could be woven into fabrics, enabling wearable forms; individual niobium nanowires are just 140 nanometers in diameter — 140 billionths of a meter across, or about one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

So far, the material has been produced only in lab-scale devices. The next step, already under way, is to figure out how to design a practical, easily manufactured version, the researchers say.

“The work is very significant in the development of smart fabrics and future wearable technologies,” says Geoff Spinks, a professor of engineering at the University of Wollongong, in Australia, who was not associated with this research. This paper, he adds, “convincingly demonstrates the impressive performance of niobium-based fiber supercapacitors.”

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

High-Performance Supercapacitors from Niobium Nanowire Yarns by Seyed M. Mirvakili, Mehr Negar Mirvakili, Peter Englezos, John D. W. Madden, and Ian W. Hunter. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2015, 7 (25), pp 13882–13888 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b02327 Publication Date (Web): June 12, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.