Tag Archives: UK

Nanotechnology for better treatment of eye conditions and a perspective on superhuman sight

There are three ‘eye’-related items in this piece, two of them concerning animal eyes and one concerning a camera-eye or the possibility of superhuman sight.

Earlier this week researchers at the University of Reading (UK) announced they have achieved a better understanding of how nanoparticles might be able to bypass some of the eye’s natural barriers in the hopes of making eye drops more effective in an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Sufferers of eye disorders have new hope after researchers at the University of Reading discovered a potential way of making eye drops more effective.

Typically less than 5% of the medicine dose applied as drops actually penetrates the eye – the majority of the dose will be washed off the cornea by tear fluid and lost.

The team, led by Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, has developed novel nanoparticles that could attach to the cornea and resist the wash out effect for an extended period of time. If these nanoparticles are loaded with a drug, their longer attachment to the cornea will ensure more medicine penetrates the eye and improves drop treatment.

An Oct. 6, 2014 University of Reading press release, which originated the news item, provides more information about the hoped for impact of this work while providing few details about the research (Note: A link has been removed),

The research could also pave the way for new treatments of currently incurable eye-disorders such as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of visual impairment with around 500,000 sufferers in the UK.

There is currently no cure for this condition but experts believe the progression of AMD could be slowed considerably using injections of medicines into the eye. However, eye-drops with drug-loaded nanoparticles could be a potentially more effective and desirable course of treatment.

Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, from the University of Reading’s School of Pharmacy, said: “Treating eye disorders is a challenging task. Our corneas allow us to see and serve as a barrier that protects our eyes from microbial and chemical intervention. Unfortunately this barrier hinders the effectiveness of eye drops. Many medicines administered to the eye are inefficient as they often cannot penetrate the cornea barrier. Only the very small molecules in eye drops can penetrate healthy cornea.

“Many recent breakthroughs to treat eye conditions involve the use of drugs incorporated into nano-containers; their role being to promote drug penetration into the eye.  However the factors affecting this penetration remain poorly understood. Our research also showed that penetration of small drug molecules could be improved by adding enhancers such as cyclodextrins. This means eye drops have the potential to be a more effective, and a more comfortable, future treatment for disorders such as AMD.”

The finding is one of a number of important discoveries highlighted in a paper published today in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics. The researchers revealed fascinating insights into how the structure of the cornea prevents various small and large molecules, as well as nanoparticles, from entering into the eye. They also examined the effects any damage to the eye would have in allowing these materials to enter the body.

Professor Khutoryanskiy continued: “There is increasing concern about the safety of environmental contaminants, pollutants and nanoparticles and their potential impacts on human health. We tested nanoparticles whose sizes ranged between 21 – 69 nm, similar to the size of viruses such as polio, or similar to airborn particles originating from building industry and found that they could not penetrate healthy and intact cornea irrespective of their chemical nature.

“However if the top layer of the cornea is damaged, either after surgical operation or accidentally, then the eye’s natural defence may be compromised and it becomes susceptible to viral attack which could result in eye infections.

“The results show that our eyes are well-equipped to defend us against potential airborne threats that exist in a fast-developing industrialised world. However we need to be aware of the potential complications that may arise if the cornea is damaged, and not treated quickly and effectively.”

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

On the Barrier Properties of the Cornea: A Microscopy Study of the Penetration of Fluorescently Labeled Nanoparticles, Polymers, and Sodium Fluorescein by Ellina A. Mun, Peter W. J. Morrison, Adrian C. Williams, and Vitaliy V. Khutoryanskiy. Mol. Pharmaceutics, 2014, 11 (10), pp 3556–3564 DOI: 10.1021/mp500332m Publication Date (Web): August 28, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

There’s a little more information to be had in the paper’s abstract, which is, as these things go, is relatively accessible,

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/mp500332m]

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/mp500332m]

Overcoming the natural defensive barrier functions of the eye remains one of the greatest challenges of ocular drug delivery. Cornea is a chemical and mechanical barrier preventing the passage of any foreign bodies including drugs into the eye, but the factors limiting penetration of permeants and nanoparticulate drug delivery systems through the cornea are still not fully understood. In this study, we investigate these barrier properties of the cornea using thiolated and PEGylated (750 and 5000 Da) nanoparticles, sodium fluorescein, and two linear polymers (dextran and polyethylene glycol). Experiments used intact bovine cornea in addition to bovine cornea de-epithelialized or tissues pretreated with cyclodextrin. It was shown that corneal epithelium is the major barrier for permeation; pretreatment of the cornea with β-cyclodextrin provides higher permeation of low molecular weight compounds, such as sodium fluorescein, but does not enhance penetration of nanoparticles and larger molecules. Studying penetration of thiolated and PEGylated (750 and 5000 Da) nanoparticles into the de-epithelialized ocular tissue revealed that interactions between corneal surface and thiol groups of nanoparticles were more significant determinants of penetration than particle size (for the sizes used here). PEGylation with polyethylene glycol of a higher molecular weight (5000 Da) allows penetration of nanoparticles into the stroma, which proceeds gradually, after an initial 1 h lag phase.

The paper is behind a paywall. No mention is made in the abstract or in the press release as to how the bovine (ox, cow, or buffalo) eyes were obtained but I gather these body parts are often harvested from animals that have been previously slaughtered for food.

This next item also concerns research about eye drops but this time the work comes from the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada). From an Oct. 8, 2014 news item on Azonano,

For the millions of sufferers of dry eye syndrome, their only recourse to easing the painful condition is to use drug-laced eye drops three times a day. Now, researchers from the University of Waterloo have developed a topical solution containing nanoparticles that will combat dry eye syndrome with only one application a week.

An Oct. 8, 2014 University of Waterloo news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the results of the work without providing much detail about the nanoparticles used to deliver the treatment via eye drops,

The eye drops progressively deliver the right amount of drug-infused nanoparticles to the surface of the eyeball over a period of five days before the body absorbs them.  One weekly dose replaces 15 or more to treat the pain and irritation of dry eyes.

The nanoparticles, about 1/1000th the width of a human hair, stick harmlessly to the eye’s surface and use only five per cent of the drug normally required.

“You can’t tell the difference between these nanoparticle eye drops and water,” said Shengyan (Sandy) Liu, a PhD candidate at Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering, who led the team of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Centre for Contact Lens Research. “There’s no irritation to the eye.”

Dry eye syndrome is a more common ailment for people over the age of 50 and may eventually lead to eye damage. More than six per cent of people in the U.S. have it. Currently, patients must frequently apply the medicine three times a day because of the eye’s ability to self-cleanse—a process that washes away 95 per cent of the drug.

“I knew that if we focused on infusing biocompatible nanoparticles with Cyclosporine A, the drug in the eye drops, and make them stick to the eyeball without irritation for longer periods of time, it would also save patients time and reduce the possibility of toxic exposure due to excessive use of eye drops,” said Liu.

The research team is now focusing on preparing the nanoparticle eye drops for clinical trials with the hope that this nanoparticle therapy could reach the shelves of drugstores within five years.

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

Phenylboronic acid modified mucoadhesive nanoparticle drug carriers facilitate weekly treatment of experimentallyinduced dry eye syndrome by Shengyan Liu, Chu Ning Chang, Mohit S. Verma, Denise Hileeto, Alex Muntz, Ulrike Stahl, Jill Woods, Lyndon W. Jones, and Frank X. Gu. Nano Research (October 2014) DOI: 10.1007/s12274-014-0547-3

This paper is behind a paywall. There is a partial preview available for free. As per the paper’s abstract, research was performed on healthy rabbit eyes.

The last ‘sight’ item I’m featuring here comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and does not appear to have been occasioned by the publication of a research paper or some other event. From an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Azonano,

All through his childhood, Ramesh Raskar wished fervently for eyes in the back of his head. “I had the notion that the world did not exist if I wasn’t looking at it, so I would constantly turn around to see if it was there behind me.” Although this head-spinning habit faded during his teen years, Raskar never lost the desire to possess the widest possible field of vision.

Today, as director of the Camera Culture research group and associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Raskar is realizing his childhood fantasy, and then some. His inventions include a nanocamera that operates at the speed of light and do-it-yourself tools for medical imaging. His scientific mission? “I want to create not just a new kind of vision, but superhuman vision,” Raskar says.

An Oct. 6, 2014 MIT news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about Raskar and his research,

He avoids research projects launched with a goal in mind, “because then you only come up with the same solutions as everyone else.” Discoveries tend to cascade from one area into another. For instance, Raskar’s novel computational methods for reducing motion blur in photography suggested new techniques for analyzing how light propagates. “We do matchmaking; what we do here can be used over there,” says Raskar.

Inspired by the famous microflash photograph of a bullet piercing an apple, created in 1964 by MIT professor and inventor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Raskar realized, “I can do Edgerton millions of times faster.” This led to one of the Camera Culture group’s breakthrough inventions, femtophotography, a process for recording light in flight.

Manipulating photons into a packet resembling Edgerton’s bullet, Raskar and his team were able to “shoot” ultrashort laser pulses through a Coke bottle. Using a special camera to capture the action of these pulses at half a trillion frames per second with two-trillionths of a second exposure times, they captured moving images of light, complete with wave-like shadows lapping at the exterior of the bottle.

Femtophotography opened up additional avenues of inquiry, as Raskar pondered what other features of the world superfast imaging processes might reveal. He was particularly intrigued by scattered light, the kind in evidence when fog creates the visual equivalent of “noise.”

In one experiment, Raskar’s team concealed an object behind a wall, out of camera view. By firing super-short laser bursts onto a surface nearby, and taking millions of exposures of light bouncing like a pinball around the scene, the group rendered a picture of the hidden object. They had effectively created a camera that peers around corners, an invention that might someday help emergency responders safely investigate a dangerous environment.

Raskar’s objective of “making the invisible visible” extends as well to the human body. The Camera Culture group has developed a technique for taking pictures of the eye using cellphone attachments, spawning inexpensive, patient-managed vision and disease diagnostics. Conventional photography has evolved from time-consuming film development to instantaneous digital snaps, and Raskar believes “the same thing will happen to medical imaging.” His research group intends “to break all the rules and be at the forefront. I think we’ll get there in the next few years,” he says.

Ultimately, Raskar predicts, imaging will serve as a catalyst of transformation in all dimensions of human life — change that can’t come soon enough for him. “I hate ordinary cameras,” he says. “They record only what I see. I want a camera that gives me a superhuman perspective.”

Following the link to the MIT news release will lead you to more information about Raskar and his work. You can also see and hear Raskar talk about his femtophotography in a 2012 TEDGlobal talk here.

Female triathlete from Iran and a nanotechnology solution to water repellent gear

The style is a bit breathless, i.e., a high level of hype with very little about the technology, but it features an interesting partnership in the world of sport and a nanotechnology-enabled product (from an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Azonano; Note: A link has been removed),

Shirin Gerami’s story is one which will go down in history. Shirin is the first Iranian female to represent her country in a triathlon and is paving the way for setting gender equality both in Iran and across the world.

In order to race for Iran, it was essential that Shirin respected the rules of her country, and raced in clothes that covered her body and hair. It was necessary to design clothes those both adhered to these conditions, whilst ensuring her performance was not affected.

An Oct. 7, 2014 P2i press release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe it role in Shirin Gerami athletic career,

Previously, waterproof fabrics Shirin had tried were uncomfortable, lacked breathability and slowed down her performance. Shirin contacted P2i upon hearing of the liquid repellent qualities of our patented nano-technology. Our nano-technology, a thousand times thinner than a human hair, has no effect on the look or feel of a product. This means we can achieve the highest levels of water repellency without affecting the quality of a fabric. A P2i coating on the kit meant it was water repellent whilst remaining highly breathable and light – essential when trying to remain as streamlined as possible!

Here’s a picture of Gerami wearing her new gear at a recently held triathlete event held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,

[downloaded from http://www.p2i.com/news/articles/P2i_and_Shirin_Gerami_A_partnership_changing_history]

[downloaded from http://www.p2i.com/news/articles/P2i_and_Shirin_Gerami_A_partnership_changing_history]

The press release describes her first experience with her P2i-enabled running gear (Note: A link has been removed),

Shirin only received approval for her race kit from the Iranian government days before the race, so it was quite literally a race to the starting line. Consequently, Shirin did not have time to test the P2i coated kit before she began the World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada. Shirin explains, ‘I cannot tell you how relieved and happy I am that the coating worked exactly as I hoped it would. It was bone dry when I took my wetsuit off!’

I believe Gerami is using the term ‘wetsuit’ as a way of identifying the kit’s skintight properties similar to the ‘wetsuits’ that divers wear.

The press release concludes (Note: A link has been removed),

You can find out more about UK-based P2i on its website. I was not able to find more information about its products designed for use in sports gear but was able to find a May 11, 2012 press release about its partnership with UK Sport.

As for the Aug. 25 – Sept. 1, 2014 TransCanada Corp. World Triathlon Grand Final where Gerami tested her suit, you can find out more about the event here (scroll down).

Ingenuity Lab (Alberta, Canada) and The New Economy

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab has won an award from the UK-based magazine, The New Economy. More details about the magazine and the award follow but, first, from an Oct. 1, 2014 Ingenuity Lab news release,

Ingenuity Lab, Alberta’s first nanotechnology accelerator, has been named ‘Best Nanotechnology Research Organization 2014′ by The New Economy magazine, just under two years after its inception.

The award, which was presented to Ingenuity Lab Director, Carlo Montemagno, PhD last month at the London Stock Exchange studios, honours those who are breaking new ground across technology, energy, business and strategy landscapes.

Here’s a Sept. 15, 2014 video of Montemagno with The New Economy interviewer, Jenny Hammond,

The New Economy has provided a transcription of the video on its Using science to address global challenges: Ingenuity Lab on its progressive approach webpage which also hosts the video. (This particular question and answer interested me most,)

The New Economy: Well what problems do these areas [mining, agriculture, energy and health] pose, and what breakthroughs have you made in these areas?

Carlo Montemagno: We have been able to mimic the way nature works in the production of matter. We look around and we see the original nanotechnology machines of grass and green things. What we’ve figured out how to do is, how do you extract out the metabolism that’s found in those plants and those animals, and impart them inside materials that we engineer and produce. So it’s not alive, but it has the same metabolic pathways. So now we can take just CO2 that’s been emitted from a source, sunlight or another light source, and convert it directly into valuated dropping chemicals. We’ve identified 72 different chemicals that we can produce. That means that we can take an emission which is implicated in global warming and all those other problems, and now instead of emitting it, we use that to provide new products for that drive, and hopefully we’ll drive a new economic sector, and it will be deployable globally.

The New Economy has posted, as of today Oct. 2, 2014, a more substantive description of the work for which the Ingenuity Labs are being honoured, Ingenuity Lab: fighting blindness, influenza and water pollution. This article provides a bit a of a contrast to the video as it makes no mention of mining or emissions.

For anyone interested in the magazine, there’s this on their Contact page,

The New Economy is published quarterly and provided to Finance Directors, Chief Financial Officers and their legal and strategic advisers, corporate treasurers and leading bankers, institutional investors and compliance officers, regulators, Ministers of Finance, Energy/Environment Ministries and their senior council. The New Economy’s remit is to engender financial investment and encourage discussion and debate of appropriate strategies for the promotion of global economic growth in a concise and constructive format.

The approach is to create thought leaders in chosen content areas and invite them to knowledge share, providing a platform which allows their analysis and experience to be seen by enterprise Financial Strategists, whilst their presence identifies their organisations as Market Leaders.

On checking the editorial staff and contributors list on the Contact page I recognized a name,

Executive Editor:
Michael McCaw

Senior Assignment Editor:
Eleni Chalkidou

Contributors:
Donna Dickenson, Esther Dyson, Mohamed A El-Erian, Jules Gray, Rita Lobo, Bjorn Lomborg, David Orrell, Matthew Timms, Claire Vanner [emphasis mine]

Certainly that name gives The New Economy some added cachet (from her Wikipedia entry; Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

Esther Dyson (born 14 July 1951) is a former journalist and Wall Street technology analyst who is a leading angel investor, philanthropist, and commentator focused on breakthrough efficacy in healthcare, government transparency, digital technology, biotechnology, and space. She recently founded HICCup, which just launched its Way to Wellville contest of five places, five years, five metrics. Hiccup.co blog . Dyson is currently focusing her career on production of health and continues to invest in health and technology startups.

Returning to where this post started, the entire Ingenuity Labs news release about its 2014 award can be found here.

Fun Palaces for artists, scientists, and everyone in the UK, Oct. 4 – 5, 2014

The Fun Palace project is a celebration of UK theatre visionary and director, Joan Littlewood’s centenary in Oct. 2014. Stella Duffy, one of the project organizer’s provides some  insight into why Littlewood is considered an important influence, the origin of the ‘Fun Palace’, and the genesis of the upcoming celebration in a Sept. 18, 2013 posting on the Guardian newspaper website (Note: Links have been removed),,

In January, at Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, I called one session: “Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014, that isn’t another revival of Oh! What a Lovely War?”

Oh! What a Lovely War, which Joan developed, is brilliant, but with the first world war anniversary next year, there will be many revivals and Joan was more than a director. She was one of the few British directors (before or since) to work fully with an ensemble, from training to performance. She made “immersive” theatre long before immersive was cool. She kick-started improvisation in the UK. She was political, formidable, inspiring, and far ahead of her time.

In 1961, Joan and the architect Cedric Price came up with the idea of the fun palace. Their blueprint says:

“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”

An idea descended from pleasure gardens, the fun palace was designed to link arts and sciences, entertainment and education, in a space welcoming to all – especially children and young people.

A year later, the idea has not only taken root, it has grown. Here’s more about Fun Palaces from co-organizers Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings in a Sept. 25, 2014 interview with Eleanor Turney of The Space (a digital arts museum in the UK ).

At Devoted&Disgruntled in 2013, Stella Duffy called a session asking if anyone wanted to do “a thing” to celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary. It quickly became apparent that the “thing” was going to be reviving Littlewood’s idea of a ‘Fun Palace’, a community-run, free space for people to explore the arts and sciences. Several people responded, a small GfA grant followed and Fun Palaces snowballed, as more and more people got involved, and Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings started to articulate exactly what they wanted the project to be. This was followed by an Arts Council England Exceptional Award – which Duffy describes as “astonishing… It’s all becoming real now, but it’s still astonishing to me that they gave us this grant. I’m not the kind of person who always gets funding, but this is too fucking good an idea. Also, it’s not about us. It’s about the whole thing, which they [ACE] quite bravely saw.”

Rawlings continues: “The idea has developed so much, it’s always changing, we’re learning all the time. Our relationship with the site that The Space is making has changed – it’s now really key to how all of this develops. If we don’t get any money next year, [Fun Palaces] can still can go forward, because at the centre of it is this communication tool. It’s about people talking to each other, about showing their art on it, being able to say ‘I am making a Fun Palace,’ being able to access other avenues. It’s absolutely huge.”

“My favourite new phrase is ‘equality of online presence’,’ says Duffy, ‘and the point is that everyone has the same platform. It’s got nothing to do with what an organisation’s own resources are; on this site, everyone’s got the same profile, the same start, which is amazing.” The site, which The Space has commissioned, offers a page to each of the participating Fun Palaces: “You can put photos on it, videos, art work, links etc.,’ explains Rawlings. Over the weekend and in the run-up to it, says Duffy, “there’ll be a scrolling banner which has the Instagram and Twitter feeds. It’s not just about the weekend itself, it’s about the process. Some of the organisations that have never shown their process before have started sharing photos, writing blogs, talking about their process. The idea is, during the weekend when lots of people are sharing, that the scrolling banner will pull through the Instragram feed and it’ll look ‘live’ with stuff happening all the time. And afterwards, it’s not getting archived and put away – we’ll make a collage of the photos, and an infographic of stats from the weekend, which will ‘hold’ 2014, but it’s also all ready for people to sign up for 2015.”

The emphasis in this interview is on the project’s digital presence which is understandable given that the interview is being conducted by someone associated with a digital arts museum but there are many real life ‘Fun Palaces’ designed for this coming weekend, Oct. 4 – 5, 2014.

You can find the Fun Palace website here and if you should choose to create a Fun Palace, the organizers have provided this nugget of information/inspiration on the FAQs (frequently asked questions) page amongst many other nuggets on the website,

How do I find people in arts and science to make a Fun Palace with me?

Go beyond the usual suspects: the people who make school dinners know about the science of cooking, the person who mends your car knows a lot about the science of mechanics; your local librarian knows about arts and sciences and where to find out more.

Think about where you might be able to approach people in your locality: makerspaces, tech meet-ups, universities, schools, children’s centres, theatres, arts spaces, galleries, museums, music venues, community centres, co-working spaces. Places where people are meeting and sharing regularly, or where there’s a strong grassroots support network.

Also, you can talk to other members of the Fun Palace community on our Discussion Boards. If you’re stuck for ideas, then contact our Digital Champion Hannah on [email protected] (she works part time).  

Remember that even if there isn’t a Fun Palace near you in real life, there will be an online version.

For anyone interested in The Space, it was first featured here in a June 16, 2014 posting.

New ‘Star of David’-shaped molecule from University of Manchester

It sounds like the scientists took their inspiration from Maurits Cornelius Escher (M. C. Escher) when they created their ‘Star of David’ molecule. From a Sept. 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists at The University of Manchester have generated a new star-shaped molecule made up of interlocking rings, which is the most complex of its kind ever created.

Here’s a representation of the molecule,

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Here’s a ‘star’ sculpture based on Escher’s work,

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher's Gravitation. It can be found in front of the "Mesa+" building on the Campus of the University of Twente.

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher’s Gravitation. It can be found in front of the “Mesa+” building on the Campus of the University of Twente (Netherlands)

If you get a chance to see the Escher ‘star’, you’ll be able to see more plainly how the planes of the ‘star’ interlock. (I had the opportunity when visiting the University of Twente in Oct. 2012.)

Getting back to Manchester, a Sept. 22, 2014 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Sept. 21, 2014), which originated the news item, describes the decades-long effort to create this molecule and provides a few technical details,

Known as a ‘Star of David’ molecule, scientists have been trying to create one for over a quarter of a century and the team’s findings are published at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern Time on 21 September 2014 in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Consisting of two molecular triangles, entwined about each other three times into a hexagram, the structure’s interlocked molecules are tiny – each triangle is 114 atoms in length around the perimeter. The molecular triangles are threaded around each other at the same time that the triangles are formed, by a process called ‘self-assembly’, similar to how the DNA double helix is formed in biology.

The molecule was created at The University of Manchester by PhD student Alex Stephens.

Professor David Leigh, in Manchester’s School of Chemistry, said: “It was a great day when Alex finally got it in the lab.  In nature, biology already uses molecular chainmail to make the tough, light shells of certain viruses and now we are on the path towards being able to reproduce its remarkable properties.

“It’s the next step on the road to man-made molecular chainmail, which could lead to the development of new materials which are light, flexible and very strong.  Just as chainmail was a breakthrough over heavy suits of armour in medieval times, this could be a big step towards materials created using nanotechnology. I hope this will lead to many exciting developments in the future.”

The team’s next step will be to make larger, more elaborate, interlocked structures.

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

A Star of David catenane by David A. Leigh, Robin G. Pritchard, & Alexander J. Stephens. Nature Chemistry (2014) doi:10.1038/nchem.2056
Published online 21 September 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Biosensing devices from Scotland

The timing for Deborah Rowe’s article in the Guardian newspaper is fascinating. Rowe is writing about nanoscale biosensors developed at the University of Edinburgh, research published in Dec. 2013, while her piece, published Sept. 9, 2014, appears less than 10 days before Scotland’s vote (Sept. 18, 2014) on the question of whether or not it should be independent. Also interesting, the published paper is available as open access until the end of Sept. 2014, which seems like a strategic time period to give open access to your paper.

That said, this is an exciting piece of research if you’re particularly interested in biosensors and ways to produce them more cheaply and at a higher volume (from Rowe’s Sept. 9, 2014 article),

An interdisciplinary research team from the Schools of Engineering and Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh (in association with Nanoflex Ltd), has overcome some of the constraints associated with conventional nano-scale electrode arrays, to develop the first precision-engineered nanoelectrode array system with the promise of high-volume and low-cost.*

Such miniaturised electrode arrays have the potential to provide a faster and more sensitive response to, for example, biomolecules than current biosensors. This would make them invaluable components in the increasingly sensitive devices being developed for biomedical sensing and electrochemical applications.

Rowe goes on to describe the researchers’ Microsquare Nanoband Edge Electrode (MNEE) array technology in lucid and brief detail. For those who want more, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Nanoscale electrode arrays produced with microscale lithographic techniques for use in biomedical sensing applications by Jonathan G. Terry, Ilka Schmüser, Ian Underwood, Damion K. Corrigan, Neville J. Freeman, Andrew S. Bunting, Andrew R. Mount, Anthony J. Walton. IET Nanobiotechnology, Volume 7, Issue 4, December 2013, p. 125 – 134
DOI:  10.1049/iet-nbt.2013.0049 , Print ISSN 1751-8741, Online ISSN 1751-875X Published Oct. 29, 2013

Given the timing of the Guardian article and the availability of the paper for free access, I was moved to find information about the funding agencies, from the researchers’ IET paper,

Support from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is acknowledged through the Edinburgh Research Partnership in engineering and mathematics (ERPem) and the Edinburgh and St Andrews Chemistry (EaStCHEM) initiatives, along with knowledge transfer funding. Support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the UK through the IeMRC (Smart Microsystems – FS/01/02/10) Grant is acknowledged. Ilka Schmüser thanks the EPSRC and the University of Edinburgh for financial support.

And, there was this from Rowe’s article,

The work is part of a larger R&D programme on the development of smart sensors at the University of Edinburgh. It involves staff and students from the Schools of Engineering and Chemistry thus providing the required broad set of skills and experience. The resulting MNEE technology is currently being commercialised by Nanoflex Ltd.

So, the funding comes from Scottish and UK sources and the company which is commercializing the MNEE is located in the North West of England in the  Sci-Tech Daresbury Campus (from the company’s LinkedIn page). This certainly illustrates how entwined the Scottish and UK science scenes are entwined as is the commercialization process.

I last mentioned Scotland, science, and the independence vote in a July 8, 2014 posting which covers some of the ‘pro’ and ‘con’ thinking at the time.

Tibetan Buddhist singing bowls inspire more efficient solar cells

There’s no mention as to whether or not Dr Niraj Lal practices any form of meditation or how he came across Tibetan Buddhist singing bowls but somehow he was inspired by them when studying for his PhD at Cambridge University (UK). From a Sept. 8, 2014 news item by Niall Byrne for physorg.com,

The shape of a centuries-old Buddhist singing bowl has inspired a Canberra scientist to re-think the way that solar cells are designed to maximize their efficiency.

Dr Niraj Lal, of the Australian National University,  found during his PhD at the University of Cambridge, that small nano-sized versions of Buddhist singing bowls resonate with light in the same way as they do with sound, and he’s applied this shape to solar cells to increase their ability to capture more light and convert it into electricity.

A Sept. ?, 2014 news release from Australian science communication company, Science in Public, fills in a few more details without any mention of Lal’s meditation practices, should he have any,

“Current standard solar panels lose a large amount of light-energy as it hits the surface, making the panels’ generation of electricity inefficient,” says Niraj. “But if the cells are singing bowl-shaped, then the light bounces around inside the cell for longer”.

Normally used in meditation, music, and relaxation, Buddhist singing bowls make a continuous harmonic ringing sound when the rim of the metal bowl is vibrated with a wooden or other utensil.

During his PhD, Niraj discovered that his ‘nanobowls’ manipulated light by creating a ‘plasmonic’ resonance, which quadrupled the laboratory solar cell’s efficiency compared to a similarly made flat solar cell.

Now, Niraj and his team aim to change all that by applying his singing-bowl discovery to tandem solar cells: a technology that has previously been limited to aerospace applications.

In research which will be published in the November issue of IEEE Journal of Photonics, Niraj and his colleagues have shown that by layering two different types of solar panels on top of each other in tandem, the efficiency of flat rooftop solar panels can achieve 30 per cent—currently, laboratory silicon solar panels convert only 25 per cent of light into electricity, while commercial varieties convert closer to 20 per cent.

The tandem cell design works by absorbing a sunlight more effectively —each cell is made from a different material so that it can ‘see’ a different light wavelength.

“To a silicon solar cell, a rainbow just looks like a big bit of red in the sky—they don’t ‘see’ the blue, green or UV light—they convert all light to electricity as if it was red ,” says Niraj. “But when we put a second cell on top, which ‘sees’ the blue part of light, but allows the red to pass through to the ‘red-seeing’ cell below, we can reach a combined efficiency of more than 30 percent.”

Niraj and a team at ANU are now looking at ways to super-charge the tandem cell design by applying the Buddhist singing bowl shape to further increase efficiency.

“If we can make a solar cell that ‘sees’ more colours and  keeps the right light in the right layers, then we could increase efficiency even further,” says Niraj.

“Every extra percent in efficiency saves you thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the panel,” says Niraj. “Current roof-top solar panels have been steadily increasing in efficiency, which has been a big driver of the fourfold drop in the price for these panels over the last five years.”

More importantly, says Niraj, greater efficiency will allow solar technology to compete with fossil fuels and meet the challenges of climate change and access.

“Electricity is also one of the most enabling technologies we have ever seen, and linking people in rural areas around the world to electricity is one of the most powerful things we can do.”

At the end of the Science in Public news release there’s mention of a science communication competition,

Niraj was a 2014 national finalist of FameLab Australia. FameLab is a global science communication competition for early-career scientists. His work is supported by the Australian Research Council and ARENA – the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

About FameLab

In 2014, the British Council and Fresh Science have joined forces to bring FameLab to Australia.

FameLab Australia will offer specialist science media training and, ultimately, the chance for early-career researchers to pitch their research at the FameLab International Grand Final in the UK at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival from 3 to 5 June 2014.

FameLab is an international communication competition for scientists, including engineers and mathematicians. Designed to inspire and motivate young researchers to actively engage with the public and with potential stakeholders, FameLab is all about finding the best new voices of science and engineering across the world.

Founded in 2005 by The Times Cheltenham Science Festival, FameLab, working in partnership with the British Council, has already seen more than 5,000 young scientists and engineers participate in over 23 different countries — from Hong Kong to South Africa, USA to Egypt.

Now, FameLab comes to Australia in a landmark collaboration with the British Council and Fresh Science — Australia’s very own science communication competition.

For more information about FameLab Australia, head to www.famelab.org.au

You can find out more about Australia’s Fresh Science here.

Getting back to Dr. Lal, here’s a video he made about his work and where he demonstrates a Tibetan Buddhist singing bowl (this is a very low tech video and the sound quality isn’t great),

Here’s a link to and a citation for Lal’s most recent paper,

Optics and Light Trapping for Tandem Solar Cells on Silicon by Lal, N.N.; White, T.P. ; and Catchpole, K.R. Photovoltaics, IEEE Journal of  (Volume:PP ,  Issue: 99) Page(s): 1 – 7 ISSN : 2156-3381 DOI: 10.1109/JPHOTOV.2014.2342491 Published online 19 August 2014

The paper is behind a paywall but there is open access to Lal’s 2012 University of Cambridge PhD thesis on his approach,

Enhancing solar cells with plasmonic nanovoids by Lal, Niraj Narsey
URI: http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/243864 Date:2012-07-03

Hap;y reading!

Monitoring health with graphene rubber bands

An Aug. 20, 2014 news item on Azonano highlights graphene research from the University of Surrey (UK) and Trinity College Dublin (Ireland),

Although body motion sensors already exist in different forms, they have not been widely used due to their complexity and cost of production.

Now researchers from the University of Surrey and Trinity College Dublin have for the first time treated common elastic bands with graphene, to create a flexible sensor that is sensitive enough for medical use and can be made cheaply.

An Aug. 15, 2014 University of Surrey press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the innovation (Note: A link has been removed),

Once treated, the rubber bands remain highly pliable. By fusing this material with graphene – which imparts an electromechanical response on movement – the material can be used as a sensor to measure a patient’s breathing, heart rate or movement, alerting doctors to any irregularities.

“Until now, no such sensor has been produced that meets these needs,” said Surrey’s Dr Alan Dalton. “It sounds like a simple concept, but our graphene-infused rubber bands could really help to revolutionise remote healthcare – and they’re very cheap to manufacture.”

“These sensors are extraordinarily cheap compared to existing technologies. Each device would probably cost pennies instead of pounds, making it ideal technology for use in developing countries where there are not enough medically trained staff to effectively monitor and treat patients quickly.” [commented corresponding author, Professor Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College, Dublin]

Trinity College Dublin issued an Aug. 20, 2014 press release, which provides a little more technical detail and clarifies who led the team for anyone who may been curious about the matter,

The team – led by Professor of Chemical Physics at Trinity, Jonathan Coleman, one of the world’s leading nanoscientists – infused rubber bands with graphene, a nano-material derived from pencil lead which is 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. This process is simple and compatible with normal manufacturing techniques. While rubber does not normally conduct electricity, the addition of graphene made the rubber bands electrically conductive without degrading the mechanical properties of the rubber. Tests showed that any electrical current flowing through the graphene-infused rubber bands was very strongly affected if the band was stretched. As a result, if the band is attached to clothing, the tiniest movements such as breath and pulse can be sensed.

The discovery opens up a host of possibilities for the development of wearable sensors from rubber, which could be used to monitor blood pressure, joint movement and respiration. Other applications of rubber-graphene sensors could be in the automotive industry (to develop sensitive airbags); in robotics, in medical device development (to monitor bodily motion), as early warning systems for cot death in babies or sleep apnoea in adults. They could also be woven into clothing to monitor athletes’ movement or for patients undergoing physical rehabilitation.

Professor Coleman said: “Sensors are becoming extremely important in medicine, wellness and exercise, medical device manufacturing, car manufacturing and robotics, among other areas. Biosensors, which are worn on or implanted into the skin, must be made of durable, flexible and stretchable materials that respond to the motion of the wearer. By implanting graphene into rubber, a flexible natural material, we are able to completely change its properties to make it electrically conductive, to develop a completely new type of sensor. Because rubber is available widely and cheaply, this unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

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

Sensitive, High-Strain, High-Rate Bodily Motion Sensors Based on Graphene–Rubber Composites by Conor S. Boland, Umar Khan, Claudia Backes, Arlene O’Neill, Joe McCauley, Shane Duane, Ravi Shanker, Yang Liu, Izabela Jurewicz, Alan B. Dalton, and Jonathan N. Coleman. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn503454h Publication Date (Web): August 6, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access (I was able to open the HTML version this morning, Aug. 20, 2014). As well the researchers have made this image illustrating their work available,

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/nn503454h]

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/nn503454h]

White beetles and complex photonic nanostructures

At least one species of white beetles which have excited scientists with their complex nanostructures are native to Southeast Asia according to an Aug. 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The physical properties of the ultra-white scales on certain species of beetle could be used to make whiter paper, plastics and paints, while using far less material than is used in current manufacturing methods.

The Cyphochilus beetle, which is native to South-East Asia, is whiter than paper, thanks to ultra-thin scales which cover its body. A new investigation of the optical properties of these scales has shown that they are able to scatter light more efficiently than any other biological tissue known, which is how they are able to achieve such a bright whiteness.

An Aug. 15, 2014 University of Cambridge press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the properties needed to create the optical conditions necessary for the colour white to be seen,

Animals produce colours for several purposes, from camouflage to communication, to mating and thermoregulation. Bright colours are usually produced using pigments, which absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, which our eyes then perceive as colour.

To appear as white, however, a tissue needs to reflect all wavelengths of light with the same efficiency. The ultra-white Cyphochilus and L. Stigma beetles produce this colouration by exploiting the geometry of a dense complex network of chitin – a molecule similar in structure to cellulose, which is found throughout nature, including in the shells of molluscs, the exoskeletons of insects and the cell walls of fungi. The chitin filaments are just a few billionths of a metre thick, and on their own are not particularly good at reflecting light.

The research, a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and the European Laboratory for non-Linear Spectroscopy in Italy has shown that the beetles have optimised their internal structure in order to produce maximum white with minimum material, like a painter who needs to whiten a wall with a very small quantity of paint. This efficiency is particularly important for insects that fly, as it makes them lighter.

Here’s what the Cyphochilus beetle looks like,

Cyphochilus beetle Credit: Lorenzo Cortese and Silvia Vignolini

Cyphochilus beetle Credit: Lorenzo Cortese and Silvia Vignolini Courtesy University of Cambridge

The press release goes on to describe the beetle’s optical properties in greater detail,

Over millions of years of evolution the beetles have developed a compressed network of chitin filaments. This network is directionally-dependent, or anisotropic, which allows high intensities of reflected light for all colours at the same time, resulting in a very intense white with very little material.

“Current technology is not able to produce a coating as white as these beetles can in such a thin layer,” said Dr Silvia Vignolini of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “In order to survive, these beetles need to optimise their optical response but this comes with the strong constraint of using as little material as possible in order to save energy and to keep the scales light enough in order to fly. Curiously, these beetles succeed in this task using chitin, which has a relatively low refractive index.”

The secret lies in the beetles’ nanostructures,

Exactly how this could be possible remained unclear up to now. The researchers studied how light propagates in the white scales, quantitatively measuring their scattering strength for the first time and demonstrating that they scatter light more efficiently than any other low-refractive-index material yet known.

“These scales have a structure that is truly complex since it gives rise to something that is more than the sum of its parts,” said co-author Dr Matteo Burresi of the Italian National Institute of Optics in Florence. “Our simulations show that a randomly packed collection of its constituent elements by itself is not sufficient to achieve the degree of brightness that we observe.”

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

Bright-White Beetle Scales Optimise Multiple Scattering of Light by Matteo Burresi, Lorenzo Cortese, Lorenzo Pattelli, Mathias Kolle, Peter Vukusic, Diederik S. Wiersma, Ullrich Steiner, & Silvia Vignolini.  Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 6075 doi:10.1038/srep06075 Published 15 August 2014

This paper is open access.