Tag Archives: UK

Canadian Science Policy Conference inaugurates Lecture Series: Science Advice in a Troubled World

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) launched a lecture series on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 with Sir Peter Gluckman as the first speaker in a talk titled, Science Advice in a Troubled World. From a Jan. 18, 2017 CSPC announcement (received via email),

The inaugural session of the Canadian Science Policy Lecture Series was hosted by ISSP [University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science Society and Policy (ISSP)] on Monday January 16th [2017] at the University of Ottawa. Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand gave a presentation titled “Science Advise [sic] in a troubled world”. For a summary of the event, video and pictures please visit the event page.  

The session started with speeches by Monica Gattiner, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, Jacques Frémont, President of the University of Ottawa as well as Mehrdad Hariri, CEO and President of the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC).

The talk itself is about 50 mins. but there are lengthy introductions, including a rather unexpected (by me) reference to the recent US election from the president of the University of Ottawa, Jacques Frémont (formerly the head of Québec’s Human Rights Commission, where the talk was held. There was also a number of questions after the talk. So, the running time for the video 1 hr. 12 mins.

Here’s a bit more information about Sir Peter, from the Science Advice in a Troubled World event page on the CSPC website,

Sir Peter Gluckman ONZ FRS is the first Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, having been appointed in 2009. He is also science envoy and advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is chair of the International Network of Government Science Advice (INGSA), which operates under the aegis of the international Council of Science (ICSU). He chairs the APEC Chief Science Advisors and Equivalents group and is the coordinator of the secretariat of Small Advanced Economies Initiative.  In 2016 he received the AAAS award in Science Diplomacy. He trained as a pediatric and biomedical scientist and holds a Distinguished University Professorship at the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland. He has published over 700 scientific papers and several technical and popular science books. He has received the highest scientific (Rutherford medal) and civilian (Order of New Zealand, limited to 20 living persons) honours in NZ and numerous international scientific awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a member of the National Academy of Medicine (USA) and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (UK).

I listened to the entire video and Gluckman presented a thoughtful, nuanced lecture in which he also mentioned Calestous Juma and his 2016 book, Innovation and Its Enemies (btw, I will be writing a commentary about Juma’s extraordinary effort). He also referenced the concepts of post-truth and post-trust, and made an argument for viewing evidence-based science as part of the larger policymaking process rather than the dominant or only factor. From the Science Advice in a Troubled World event page,

Lecture Introduction

The world is facing many challenges from environmental degradation and climate change to global health issues, and many more.  Societal relationships are changing; sources of information, reliable and otherwise, and their transmission are affecting the nature of public policy.

Within this context the question arises; how can scientific advice to governments help address these emerging issues in a more unstable and uncertain world?
The relationship between science and politics is complex and the challenges at their interface are growing. What does scientific advice mean within this context?
How can science better inform policy where decision making is increasingly made against a background of post-truth polemic?

I’m not in perfect agreement with Gluckman with regard to post-truth as I have been influenced by an essay of Steve Fuller’s suggesting that science too can be post-truth. (Fuller’s essay was highlighted in my Jan. 6, 2017 posting.)

Gluckman seems to be wielding a fair amount of influence on the Canadian scene. This is his second CSPC visit in the last few months. He was an invited speaker at the Eighth Annual CSPC conference in November 2016 and, while he’s here in Jan. 2017, he’s chairing the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) International Panel on Peer Review. (The CIHR is one of Canada’s three major government funding agencies for the sciences.)

In other places too, he’s going to be a member of a panel at the University of Oxford Martin School in later January 2017. From the “Is a post-truth world a post-expert world?” event page on the Oxford Martin webspace,

Winston Churchill advised that “experts should be on tap but never on top”. In 2017, is a post-truth world a post-expert world? What does this mean for future debates on difficult policy issues? And what place can researchers usefully occupy in an academic landscape that emphasises policy impact but a political landscape that has become wary of experts? Join us for a lively discussion on academia and the provision of policy advice, examining the role of evidence and experts and exploring how gaps with the public and politicians might be bridged.

This event will be chaired by Achim Steiner, Director of the Oxford Martin School and former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, with panellists including Oxford Martin Visiting Fellow Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice; Dr Gemma Harper, Deputy Director for Marine Policy and Evidence and Chief Social Scientist in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and Professor Stefan Dercon, Chief Economist of the Department for International Development (DFID) and Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.

This discussion will be followed by a drinks reception, all welcome.

Here are the logistics should you be lucky enough to be able to attend (from the event page),

25 January 2017 17:00 – 18:15

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School

34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets)

Registration ((right hand column) is free.

Finally, Gluckman has published a paper on the digital economy as of Nov. 2016, which can be found here (PDF).

Prawn (shrimp) shopping bags and saving the earth

Using a material (shrimp shells) that is disposed of as waste to create a biodegradable product (shopping bags) can only be described as a major win. A Jan. 10, 2017 news item on Nanowerk makes the announcement,

Bioengineers at The University of Nottingham are trialling how to use shrimp shells to make biodegradable shopping bags, as a ‘green’ alternative to oil-based plastic, and as a new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.

The new material for these affordable ‘eco-friendly’ bags is being optimised for Egyptian conditions, as effective waste management is one of the country’s biggest challenges.

An expert in testing the properties of materials, Dr Nicola Everitt from the Faculty of Engineering at Nottingham, is leading the research together with academics at Nile University in Egypt.

“Non-degradable plastic packaging is causing environmental and public health problems in Egypt, including contamination of water supplies which particularly affects living conditions of the poor,” explains Dr Everitt.

Natural biopolymer products made from plant materials are a ‘green’ alternative growing in popularity, but with competition for land with food crops, it is not a viable solution in Egypt.

A Jan. 10, 2017 University of Nottingham press release, which originated the news item,expands on the theme,

This new project aims to turn shrimp shells, which are a part of the country’s waste problem into part of the solution.

Dr Everitt said: “Use of a degradable biopolymer made of prawn shells for carrier bags would lead to lower carbon emissions and reduce food and packaging waste accumulating in the streets or at illegal dump sites. It could also make exports more acceptable to a foreign market within a 10-15-year time frame. All priorities at a national level in Egypt.”

Degradable nanocomposite material

The research is being undertaken to produce an innovative biopolymer nanocomposite material which is degradable, affordable and suitable for shopping bags and food packaging.

Chitosan is a man-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells, first using acid (to remove the calcium carbonate “backbone” of the crustacean shell) and then alkali (to produce the long molecular chains which make up the biopolymer).

The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution and polymer film made by conventional processing techniques.

Chitosan was chosen because it is a promising biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties. The second strand of the project is to develop an active polymer film that absorbs oxygen.

Enhancing food shelf life and cutting food waste

This future generation food packaging could have the ability to enhance food shelf life with high efficiency and low energy consumption, making a positive impact on food wastage in many countries.

If successful, Dr Everitt plans to approach UK packaging manufacturers with the product.

Additionally, the research aims to identify a production route by which these degradable biopolymer materials for shopping bags and food packaging could be manufactured.

I also found the funding for this project to be of interest (from the press release),

The project is sponsored by the Newton Fund and the Newton-Mosharafa Fund grant and is one of 13 Newton-funded collaborations for The University of Nottingham.

The collaborations, which are designed to tackle community issues through science and innovation, with links formed with countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Philippines and Indonesia.

Since the Newton Fund was established in 2014, the University has been awarded a total of £4.5m in funding. It also boasts the highest number of institutional-led collaborations.

Professor Nick Miles Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement said: “The University of Nottingham has a long and established record in global collaboration and research.

The Newton Fund plays to these strengths and enables us to work with institutions around the world to solve some of the most pressing issues facing communities.”

From a total of 68 universities, The University of Nottingham has emerged as the top awardee of British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links grants (13) and is joint top awardee from a total of 160 institutions competing for British Council Newton Fund Researcher Links Workshop awards (6).

Professor Miles added: “This is testament to the incredible research taking place across the University – both here in the UK and in the campuses in Malaysia and China – and underlines the strength of our research partnerships around the world.”

That’s it!

Are there any leaders in the ‘graphene race’?

Tom Eldridge, a director and co-founder of Fullerex, has written a Jan. 5, 2017 essay titled: Is China still leading the graphene race? for Nanotechnology Now. Before getting to the essay, here’s a bit more about Fullerex and Tom Eldridge’s qualifications. From Fullerex’s LinkedIn description,

Fullerex is a leading independent broker of nanomaterials and nano-intermediates. Our mission is to support the advancement of nanotechnology in creating radical, transformative and sustainable improvement to society. We are dedicated to achieving these aims by accelerating the commercialisation and usage of nanomaterials across industry and beyond. Fullerex is active in market development and physical trading of advanced materials. We generate demand for nanomaterials across synergistic markets by stimulating innovation with end-users and ensuring robust supply chains are in place to address the growing commercial trade interest. Our end-user markets include Polymers and Polymer Composites, Coatings, Tyre and Rubber, Cementitious Composites, 3D Printing and Printed Electronics, the Energy sector, Lubricating Oils and Functional Fluids. The materials we cover: Nanomaterials: Includes fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and graphene, metal and metal oxide nanoparticles, and organic-inorganic hybrids. Supplied as raw nanopowders or ready-to-use dispersions and concentrates. Nano-intermediates: Producer goods and semi-finished products such as nano-enabled coatings, polymer masterbatches, conductive inks, thermal interface materials and catalysts.

As for Tom Eldridge, here’s more about him, his brother, and the company from the Fullerex About page,

Fullerex was founded by Joe and Tom Eldridge, brothers with a keen interest in nanotechnology and the associated emerging market for nanomaterials.

Joe has a strong background in trading with nearly 10 years’ experience as a stockbroker, managing client accounts for European Equities and FX. At University he read Mathematics at Imperial College London gaining a BSc degree and has closely followed the markets for disruptive technologies and advanced materials for a number of years.

Tom worked in the City of London for 7 years in commercial roles throughout his professional career, with an expertise in market data, financial and regulatory news. In his academic background, he earned a BSc degree in Physics and Philosophy at Kings College London and is a member of the Institute of Physics.

As a result, Fullerex has the strong management composition that allows the company to support the growth of the nascent and highly promising nanomaterials industry. Fullerex is a flexible company with drive, enthusiasm and experience, committed to aiding the development of this market.

Getting back to the matter at hand, that’s a rather provocative title for Tom Eldridge’s essay,. given that he’s a Brit and (I believe) the Brits viewed themselves as leaders in the ‘graphene race’ but he offers a more nuanced analysis than might be expected from the title. First, the patent landscape (from Eldridge’s Jan. 5, 2017 essay),

As competition to exploit the “wonder material” has intensified around the world, detailed reports have so far been published which set out an in-depth depiction of the global patent landscape for graphene, notably from CambridgeIP and the UK Intellectual Property Office, in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Ostensibly the number of patents and patent applications both indicated that China was leading the innovation in graphene technology. However, on closer inspection it became less clear as to how closely the patent figures themselves reflect actual progress and whether this will translate into real economic impact. Some of the main reasons to be doubtful included:

– 98% of the Chinese patent applications only cover China, so therefore have no worldwide monopoly.
– A large number of the Chinese patents are filed in December, possibly due to demand to meet patent quotas. The implication being that the patent filings follow a politically driven agenda, rather than a purely innovation or commercially driven agenda.
– In general, inventors could be more likely to file for patent protection in some countries rather than others e.g. for tax purposes. Which therefore does not give a truly accurate picture of where all the actual research activity is based.
– Measuring the proportion of graphene related patents to overall patents is more indicative of graphene specialisation, which shows that Singapore has the largest proportion of graphene patents, followed by China, then South Korea.

(Intellectual Property Office, 2015), (Ellis, 2015), (CambridgeIP, 2013)

Then, there’s the question of production,

Following the recent launch of the latest edition of the Bulk Graphene Pricing Report, which is available exclusively through The Graphene Council, Fullerex has updated its comprehensive list of graphene producers worldwide, and below is a summary of the number of graphene producers by country in 2017.

Summary Table Showing the Number of Graphene Producers by Country and Region

The total number of graphene producers identified is 142, across 27 countries. This research expands upon previous surveys of the graphene industry, such as the big data analysis performed by Nesta in 2015 (Shapira, 2015). The study by Nesta [formerly  NESTA, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is an independent charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK; see Wikipedia here for more about NESTA] revealed 65 producers throughout 16 countries but was unable to glean accurate data on producers in Asia, particularly China.

As we can now see however from the data collected by Fullerex, China has the largest number of graphene producers, followed by the USA, and then the UK.

In addition to having more companies active in the production and sale of graphene than any other country, China also holds about 2/3rds of the global production capacity, according to Fullerex.

Eldridge goes on to note that the ‘graphene industry’ won’t truly grow and develop until there are substantive applications for the material. He also suggests taking another look at the production figures,

As with the patent landscape, rather than looking at the absolute figures, we can review the numbers in relative terms. For instance, if we normalise to account for the differences in the size of each country, by looking at the number of producers as a proportion of GDP, we see the following: Spain (7.18), UK (4.48), India (3.73), China (3.57), Canada (3.28) [emphasis mine], USA (1.79) (United Nations, 2013).

Unsurprisingly, each leading country has a national strategy for economic development which involves graphene prominently.

For instance, The Spanish Council for Scientific Research has lent 9 of its institutes along with 10 universities and other public R&D labs involved in coordinating graphene projects with industry.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada [NSERC] has placed graphene as one of five research topics in its target area of “Advanced Manufacturing” for Strategic Partnership Grants.

The UK government highlights advanced materials as one of its Eight Great Technologies, within which graphene is a major part of, having received investment for the NGI and GEIC buildings, along with EPSRC and Innovate UK projects. I wrote previously about the UK punching above its weight in terms of research, ( http://fullerex.com/index.php/articles/130-the-uk-needs-an-industrial-revolution-can-graphene-deliver/ ) but that R&D spending relative to GDP was too low compared to other developed nations. It is good to see that investment into graphene production in the UK is bucking that trend, and we should anticipate this will provide a positive economic outcome.

Yes, I’m  particularly interested in the fact Canada becomes more important as a producer when the numbers are relative but it is interesting to compare the chart with Eldridge’s text and to note how importance shifts depending on what numbers are being considered.

I recommend reading Eldridge’s piece in its entirety.

A few notes about graphene in Canada

By the way, the information in Eldridge’s essay about NSERC’s placement of graphene as a target area for grants is news to me. (As I have often noted here, I get more information about the Canadian nano scene from international sources than I do from our national sources.)

Happily I do get some home news such as a Jan. 5, 2017 email update from Lomiko Metals, a Canadian junior exploration company focused on graphite and lithium. The email provides the latest information from the company (as I’m not an expert in business or mining this is not an endorsement),

On December 13, 2016 we were excited to announce the completion of our drill program at the La Loutre flake graphite property. We received very positive results from our 1550 meter drilling program in 2015 in the area we are drilling now. In that release I stated, “”The intercepts of multiple zones of mineralization in the Refractory Zone where we have reported high grade intercepts previously is a very promising sign. The samples have been rushed to the ALS Laboratory for full assay testing,” We hope to have the results of those assays shortly.

December 16, 2016 Lomiko announced a 10:1 roll back of our shares. We believe that this roll back is important as we work towards securing long term equity financing for the company. Lomiko began trading on the basis of the roll back on December 19.

We believe that Graphite has a bright future because of the many new products that will rely on the material. I have attached a link to a video on Lomiko, Graphite and Graphene.  


January 3, 2017 Lomiko announced the extension and modification of its option agreements with Canadian Strategic Metals Inc. for the La Loutre and Lac des Iles properties. The effect of this extension is to give Lomiko additional time to complete the required work under the agreements.

Going forward Lomiko is in a much stronger position as the result of our share roll back. Potential equity funders who are very interested in our forthcoming assay results from La Loutre and the overall prospects of the company, have been reassured by our share consolidation.

Looking forward to 2017, we anticipate the assays of the La Loutre drilling to be delivered in the next 90 days, sooner we hope. We also anticipate additional equity funding will become available for the further exploration and delineation of the La Loutre and Lac des Iles properties and deposits.

More generally, we are confident that the market for large flake graphite will become firmer in 2017. Lomiko’s strategy of identifying near surface, ready to mine, graphite nodes puts us in the position to take advantage of improvements in the graphite price without having to commit large sums to massive mine development. As we identify and analyze the graphite nodes we are finding we increase the potential resources of the company. 2017 should see significantly improved resource estimates for Lomiko’s properties.

As I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘roll back of shares’, I looked it up and found this in an April 18, 2012 posting by Dudley Pierce Baker on kitco.com,

As a general rule, we hate to see an announcement of a share rollback, however, there exceptions which we cover below. Investors should always be aware that if a company has, say over 150 million shares outstanding, in our opinion, it is a potential candidate for a rollback and the announcement should not come as a surprise.

Weak markets, a low share price, a large number of shares outstanding, little or no cash and you have a company which is an idea candidate for a rollback.

The basic concept of a rollback or consolidation in a company’s shares is rather simple.

We are witnessing a few cases of rollbacks not with the purpose of raising more money but rather to facilitate the listing of the company’s shares on the NYSE [New York Stock Exchange] Amex.

I have no idea what situation Lomiko finds itself in but it should be noted that graphere research has been active since 2004 when the first graphene sheets were extracted from graphite. This is a relatively new field of endeavour and Lomiko (along with other companies) is in the position of pioneering the effort here in Canada. That said, there are many competitors to graphene and major international race to commercialize nanotechnology-enabled products.

Are there any leaders in the ‘graphene race?

Getting back to the question in the headline, I don’t think there are any leaders at the moment. No one seems to have what they used to call “a killer app,” that one application/product that everyone wants and which drive demand for graphene.

Drip dry housing

This piece on new construction materials does have a nanotechnology aspect although it’s not made clear exactly how nanotechnology plays a role.

From a Dec. 28, 2016 news item on phys.org (Note: A link has been removed),

The construction industry is preparing to use textiles from the clothing and footwear industries. Gore-Tex-like membranes, which are usually found in weather-proof jackets and trekking shoes, are now being studied to build breathable, water-resistant walls. Tyvek is one such synthetic textile being used as a “raincoat” for homes.

You can find out more about Tyvek here.on the Dupont website.

A Dec. 21, 2016 press release by Chiara Cecchi for Youris ((European Research Media Center), which originated the news item, proceeds with more about textile-type construction materials,

Camping tents, which have been used for ages to protect against wind, ultra-violet rays and rain, have also inspired the modern construction industry, or “buildtech sector”. This new field of research focuses on the different fibres (animal-based such as wool or silk, plant-based such as linen and cotton and synthetic such as polyester and rayon) in order to develop technical or high-performance materials, thus improving the quality of construction, especially for buildings, dams, bridges, tunnels and roads. This is due to the fibres’ mechanical properties, such as lightness, strength, and also resistance to many factors like creep, deterioration by chemicals and pollutants in the air or rain.

“Textiles play an important role in the modernisation of infrastructure and in sustainable buildings”, explains Andrea Bassi, professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (DICA), Politecnico of Milan, “Nylon and fiberglass are mixed with traditional fibres to control thermal and acoustic insulation in walls, façades and roofs. Technological innovation in materials, which includes nanotechnologies [emphasis mine] combined with traditional textiles used in clothes, enables buildings and other constructions to be designed using textiles containing steel polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). This gives the materials new antibacterial, antifungal and antimycotic properties in addition to being antistatic, sound-absorbing and water-resistant”.

Rooflys is another example. In this case, coated black woven textiles are placed under the roof to protect roof insulation from mould. These building textiles have also been tested for fire resistance, nail sealability, water and vapour impermeability, wind and UV resistance.

Photo: Production line at the co-operative enterprise CAVAC Biomatériaux, France. Natural fibres processed into a continuous mat (biofib) – Martin Ansell, BRE CICM, University of Bath, UK

In Spain three researchers from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) have developed a new panel made with textile waste. They claim that it can significantly enhance both the thermal and acoustic conditions of buildings, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the energy impact associated with the development of construction materials.

Besides textiles, innovative natural fibre composite materials are a parallel field of the research on insulators that can preserve indoor air quality. These bio-based materials, such as straw and hemp, can reduce the incidence of mould growth because they breathe. The breathability of materials refers to their ability to absorb and desorb moisture naturally”, says expert Finlay White from Modcell, who contributed to the construction of what they claim are the world’s first commercially available straw houses, “For example, highly insulated buildings with poor ventilation can build-up high levels of moisture in the air. If the moisture meets a cool surface it will condensate and producing mould, unless it is managed. Bio-based materials have the means to absorb moisture so that the risk of condensation is reduced, preventing the potential for mould growth”.

The Bristol-based green technology firm [Modcell] is collaborating with the European Isobio project, which is testing bio-based insulators which perform 20% better than conventional materials. “This would lead to a 5% total energy reduction over the lifecycle of a building”, explains Martin Ansell, from BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials (BRE CICM), University of Bath, UK, another partner of the project.

“Costs would also be reduced. We are evaluating the thermal and hygroscopic properties of a range of plant-derived by-products including hemp, jute, rape and straw fibres plus corn cob residues. Advanced sol-gel coatings are being deposited on these fibres to optimise these properties in order to produce highly insulating and breathable construction materials”, Ansell concludes.

You can find Modcell here.

Here’s another image, which I believe is a closeup of the processed fibre shown in the above,

Production line at the co-operative enterprise CAVAC Biomatériaux, France. Natural fibres processed into a continuous mat (biofib) – Martin Ansell, BRE CICM, University of Bath, UK [Note: This caption appears to be a copy of the caption for the previous image]

Nanoparticle ‘caterpillars’ and immune system ‘crows’

This University of Colorado work fits in nicely with other efforts to ensure that nanoparticle medical delivery systems get to their destinations. From a Dec. 19, 2016 news item on phys.org,

In the lab, doctors can attach chemotherapy to nanoparticles that target tumors, and can use nanoparticles to enhance imaging with MRI, PET and CT scans. Unfortunately, nanoparticles look a lot like pathogens – introducing nanoparticles to the human body can lead to immune system activation in which, at best, nanoparticles are cleared before accomplishing their purpose, and at worst, the onset of dangerous allergic reaction. A University of Colorado Cancer Center paper published today [Dec. 19, 2016] in the journal Nature Nanotechnology details how the immune system recognizes nanoparticles, potentially paving the way to counteract or avoid this detection.

Specifically, the study worked with dextran-coated iron oxide nanoparticles, a promising and versatile class of particles used as drug-delivery vehicles and MRI contrast enhancers in many studies. As their name implies, the particles are tiny flecks of iron oxide encrusted with sugar chains.

“We used several sophisticated microscopy approaches to understand that the particles basically look like caterpillars,” says Dmitri Simberg, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and assistant professor in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the paper’s senior author.

The comparison is striking: the iron oxide particle is the caterpillar’s body, which is surrounded by fine hairs of dextran.

Caption: University of Colorado Cancer Study shows how nanoparticles activate the complement system, potentially paving the way for expanded use of these technologies.
Credit: University of Colorado Cancer Center

A Dec. 19, 2016 University of Colorado news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

If Simberg’s dextran-coated iron oxide nanoparticles are caterpillars, then the immune system is a fat crow that would eat them – that is, if it can find them. In fact, the immune system has evolved for exactly this purpose – to find and “eat” foreign particles – and rather than one homogenous entity is actually composed of a handful of interrelated systems, each specialized to counteract a specific form of invading particle.

Simberg’s previous work shows that it is the immune subcomponent called the complement system that most challenges nanoparticles. Basically, the complement system is a group of just over 30 proteins that circulate through the blood and attach to invading particles and pathogens. In humans, complement system activation requires that three proteins come together on a particle -C3b, Bb and properdin – which form a stable complex called C3-convertase.

“The whole complement system activation starts with the assembly of C3-convertase,” Simberg says. “In this paper, we ask the question of how the complement proteins actually recognize the nanoparticle surface. How is this whole reaction triggered?”

First, it was clear that the dextran coating that was supposed to protect the nanoparticles from human complement attack was not doing its job. Simberg and colleagues could see complement proteins literally invade the barrier of dextran hairs.

“Electron microscopy images show protein getting inside the particle to touch the iron oxide core,” Simberg says.

In fact, as long as the nanoparticle coating allowed the nanoparticle to absorb proteins from blood, the C3 convertase was assembled and activated on these proteins. The composition of the coating was irrelevant – if any blood protein was able to bind to nanoparticles, it always led to complement activation. Moreover, Simberg and colleagues also showed that complement system activation is a dynamic and ongoing process – blood proteins and C3 convertase constantly dissociate from nanoparticles, and new proteins and C3 convertases bind to the particles, continuing the cascade of immune system activation. The group also demonstrated that this dynamic assembly of complement proteins occurs not only in the test tubes but also in living organisms as particles circulate in blood.

Simberg suggests that the work points to challenges and three possible strategies to avoid complement system activation by nanoparticles: “First, we could try to change the nanoparticle coating so that it can’t absorb proteins, which is a difficult task; second, we could better understand the composition of proteins absorbed from blood on the particle surface that allow it to bind complement proteins; and third, there are natural inhibitors of complement activation – for example blood Factor H – but in the context of nanoparticles, it’s not strong enough to stop complement activation. Perhaps we could get nanoparticles to attract more Factor H to decrease this activation.”

At one point, the concept of nanomedicine seemed as if it would be simple – engineers and chemists would make a nanoparticle with affinity for tumor tissue and then attach a drug molecule to it. Or they would inject nanoparticles into patients that would improve the resolution of diagnostic imaging. When the realities associated with the use of nanoparticles in the landscape of the human immune system proved more challenging, many researchers realized the need to step back from possible clinical use to better understand the mechanisms that challenge nanoparticle use.

“This basic groundwork is absolutely necessary,” says Seyed Moein Moghimi, PhD, nanotechnologist at Durham University, UK, and the coauthor of the Simberg paper. “It’s essential that we learn to control the process of immune recognition so that we can bridge between the promise that nanoparticles demonstrate in the lab and their use with real patients in the real world.”

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

Complement proteins bind to nanoparticle protein corona and undergo dynamic exchange in vivo by Fangfang Chen, Guankui Wang, James I. Griffin, Barbara Brenneman, Nirmal K. Banda, V. Michael Holers, Donald S. Backos, LinPing Wu, Seyed Moein Moghimi, & Dmitri Simberg. Nature Nanotechnology  (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.269 19 December 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

I have a few previous postings about nanoparticles as drug delivery systems which have yet to fulfill their promise. There’s the April 27, 2016 posting (How many nanoparticle-based drugs does it take to kill a cancer tumour? More than 1%) and the Sept. 9, 2016 posting (Discovering how the liver prevents nanoparticles from reaching cancer cells).

Liquid biopsy chip that uses carbon nanotubes in place of microfluidics

They’re calling this a breakthrough technology in a Dec. 15, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

A chip developed by mechanical engineers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) [UK] can trap and identify metastatic cancer cells in a small amount of blood drawn from a cancer patient. The breakthrough technology uses a simple mechanical method that has been shown to be more effective in trapping cancer cells than the microfluidic approach employed in many existing devices.

The WPI device uses antibodies attached to an array of carbon nanotubes at the bottom of a tiny well. Cancer cells settle to the bottom of the well, where they selectively bind to the antibodies based on their surface markers (unlike other devices, the chip can also trap tiny structures called exosomes produced by cancers cells). This “liquid biopsy,” described in a recent issue of the journal Nanotechnology, could become the basis of a simple lab test that could quickly detect early signs of metastasis and help physicians select treatments targeted at the specific cancer cells identified.

A Dec. 15, 2016 WPI press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains the breakthrough in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

Metastasis is the process by which a cancer can spread from one organ to other parts of the body, typically by entering the bloodstream. Different types of tumors show a preference for specific organs and tissues; circulating breast cancer cells, for example, are likely to take root in bones, lungs, and the brain. The prognosis for metastatic cancer (also called stage IV cancer) is generally poor, so a technique that could detect these circulating tumor cells before they have a chance to form new colonies of tumors at distant sites could greatly increase a patient’s survival odds.

“The focus on capturing circulating tumor cells is quite new,” said Balaji Panchapakesan, associate professor of mechanical engineering at WPI and director of the Small Systems Laboratory. “It is a very difficult challenge, not unlike looking for a needle in a haystack. There are billions of red blood cells, tens of thousands of white blood cells, and, perhaps, only a small number of tumor cells floating among them. We’ve shown how those cells can be captured with high precision.”

The device developed by Panchapakesan’s team includes an array of tiny elements, each about a tenth of an inch (3 millimeters) across. Each element has a well, at the bottom of which are antibodies attached to carbon nanotubes. Each well holds a specific antibody that will bind selectively to one type of cancer cell type, based on genetic markers on its surface. By seeding elements with an assortment of antibodies, the device could be set up to capture several different cancer cells types using a single blood sample. In the lab, the researchers were able to fill a total of 170 wells using just under 0.3 fluid ounces (0.85 milliliter) of blood. Even with that small sample, they captured between one and a thousand cells per device, with a capture efficiency of between 62 and 100 percent.

In a paper published in the journal Nanotechnology [“Static micro-array isolation, dynamic time series classification, capture and enumeration of spiked breast cancer cells in blood: the nanotube–CTC chip”], Panchapakesan’s team, which includes postdoctoral researcher Farhad Khosravi, the paper’s lead author, and researchers at the University of Louisville and Thomas Jefferson University, describe a study in which antibodies specific for two markers of metastatic breast cancer, EpCam and Her2, were attached to the carbon nanotubes in the chip. When a blood sample that had been “spiked” with cells expressing those markers was placed on the chip, the device was shown to reliably capture only the marked cells.

In addition to capturing tumor cells, Panchapakesan says the chip will also latch on to tiny structures called exosomes, which are produced by cancers [sic] cells and carry the same markers. “These highly elusive 3-nanometer structures are too small to be captured with other types of liquid biopsy devices, such as microfluidics, due to shear forces that can potentially destroy them,” he noted. “Our chip is currently the only device that can potentially capture circulating tumor cells and exosomes directly on the chip, which should increase its ability to detect metastasis. This can be important because emerging evidence suggests that tiny proteins excreted with exosomes can drive reactions that may become major barriers to effective cancer drug delivery and treatment.”

Panchapakesan said the chip developed by his team has additional advantages over other liquid biopsy devices, most of which use microfluidics to capture cancer cells. In addition to being able to capture circulating tumor cells far more efficiently than microfluidic chips (in which cells must latch onto anchored antibodies as they pass by in a stream of moving liquid), the WPI device is also highly effective in separating cancer cells from the other cells and material in the blood through differential settling.

While the initial tests with the chip have focused on breast cancer, Panchapakesan says the device could be set up to detect a wide range of tumor types, and plans are already in the works for development of an advanced device as well as testing for other cancer types, including lung and pancreas cancer. He says he envisions a day when a device like his could be employed not only for regular follow ups for patients who have had cancer, but in routine cancer screening.

“Imagine going to the doctor for your yearly physical,” he said. “You have blood drawn and that one blood sample can be tested for a comprehensive array of cancer cell markers. Cancers would be caught at their earliest stage and other stages of development, and doctors would have the necessary protein or genetic information from these captured cells to customize your treatment based on the specific markers for your cancer. This would really be a way to put your health in your own hands.”

“White blood cells, in particular, are a problem, because they are quite numerous in blood and they can be mistaken for cancer cells,” he said. “Our device uses what is called a passive leukocyte depletion strategy. Because of density differences, the cancer cells tend to settle to the bottom of the wells (and this only happens in a narrow window), where they encounter the antibodies. The remainder of the blood contents stays at the top of the wells and can simply be washed away.”

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

Static micro-array isolation, dynamic time series classification, capture and enumeration of spiked breast cancer cells in blood: the nanotube–CTC chip by Farhad Khosravi, Patrick J Trainor, Christopher Lambert, Goetz Kloecker, Eric Wickstrom, Shesh N Rai, and Balaji Panchapakesan. Nanotechnology, Volume 27, Number 44 DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0957-4484/27/44/44LT03 Published 29 September 2016

© 2016 IOP Publishing Ltd

This paper is open access.

Graphene and silly putty combined to create ultra sensitive sensors

One of my favourite kinds of science story is the one where scientists turn to a children’s toy for their research. In this case, it’s silly putty. Before launching into the science part of this story, here’s more about silly putty from its Wikipedia entry (Note: A ll links have been removed),

During World War II, Japan invaded rubber-producing countries as they expanded their sphere of influence in the Pacific Rim. Rubber was vital for the production of rafts, tires, vehicle and aircraft parts, gas masks, and boots. In the U.S., all rubber products were rationed; citizens were encouraged to make their rubber products last until the end of the war and to donate spare tires, boots, and coats. Meanwhile, the government funded research into synthetic rubber compounds to attempt to solve this shortage.[10]

Credit for the invention of Silly Putty is disputed[11] and has been attributed variously to Earl Warrick,[12] of the then newly formed Dow Corning; Harvey Chin; and James Wright, a Scottish-born inventor working for General Electric in New Haven, Connecticut.[13] Throughout his life, Warrick insisted that he and his colleague, Rob Roy McGregor, received the patent for Silly Putty before Wright did; but Crayola’s history of Silly Putty states that Wright first invented it in 1943.[10][14][15] Both researchers independently discovered that reacting boric acid with silicone oil would produce a gooey, bouncy material with several unique properties. The non-toxic putty would bounce when dropped, could stretch farther than regular rubber, would not go moldy, and had a very high melting temperature. However, the substance did not have all the properties needed to replace rubber.[1]

In 1949 toy store owner Ruth Fallgatter came across the putty. She contacted marketing consultant Peter C.L. Hodgson (1912-1976).[16] The two decided to market the bouncing putty by selling it in a clear case. Although it sold well, Fallgatter did not pursue it further. However, Hodgson saw its potential.[1][3]

Already US$12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed US$147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack 1 oz (28 g) portions into plastic eggs for US$1, calling it Silly Putty. Initially, sales were poor, but after a New Yorker article mentioned it, Hodgson sold over 250,000 eggs of silly putty in three days.[3] However, Hodgson was almost put out of business in 1951 by the Korean War. Silicone, the main ingredient in silly putty, was put on ration, harming his business. A year later the restriction on silicone was lifted and the production of Silly Putty resumed.[17][9] Initially, it was primarily targeted towards adults. However, by 1955 the majority of its customers were aged 6 to 12. In 1957, Hodgson produced the first televised commercial for Silly Putty, which aired during the Howdy Doody Show.[18]

In 1961 Silly Putty went worldwide, becoming a hit in the Soviet Union and Europe. In 1968 it was taken into lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 astronauts.[17]

Peter Hodgson died in 1976. A year later, Binney & Smith, the makers of Crayola products, acquired the rights to Silly Putty. As of 2005, annual Silly Putty sales exceeded six million eggs.[19]

Silly Putty was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame on May 28, 2001. [20]

I had no idea silly putty had its origins in World War II era research. At any rate, it’s made its way back to the research lab to be united with graphene according to a Dec. 8, 2016 news item  on Nanowerk,

Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have used graphene to make the novelty children’s material silly putty® (polysilicone) conduct electricity, creating extremely sensitive sensors. This world first research, led by Professor Jonathan Coleman from TCD and in collaboration with Prof Robert Young of the University of Manchester, potentially offers exciting possibilities for applications in new, inexpensive devices and diagnostics in medicine and other sectors.

A Dec. 9, 2016 Trinity College Dublin press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes their ‘G-putty’ in more detail,

Prof Coleman, Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics along with postdoctoral researcher Conor Boland, discovered that the electrical resistance of putty infused with graphene (“G-putty”) was extremely sensitive to the slightest deformation or impact. They mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of human subjects and used it to measure breathing, pulse and even blood pressure. It showed unprecedented sensitivity as a sensor for strain and pressure, hundreds of times more sensitive than normal sensors. The G-putty also works as a very sensitive impact sensor, able to detect the footsteps of small spiders. It is believed that this material will find applications in a range of medical devices.

Prof Coleman said, “What we are excited about is the unexpected behaviour we found when we added graphene to the polymer, a cross-linked polysilicone. This material as well known as the children’s toy silly putty. It is different from familiar materials in that it flows like a viscous liquid when deformed slowly but bounces like an elastic solid when thrown against a surface. When we added the graphene to the silly putty, it caused it to conduct electricity, but in a very unusual way. The electrical resistance of the G-putty was very sensitive to deformation with the resistance increasing sharply on even the slightest strain or impact. Unusually, the resistance slowly returned close to its original value as the putty self-healed over time.”

He continued, “While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises. The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

Dexter Johnson in a Dec. 14, 2016 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) puts this research into context,

For all the talk and research that has gone into exploiting graphene’s pliant properties for use in wearable and flexible electronics, most of the polymer composites it has been mixed with to date have been on the hard and inflexible side.

It took a team of researchers in Ireland to combine graphene with the children’s toy Silly Putty to set the nanomaterial community ablaze with excitement. The combination makes a new composite that promises to make a super-sensitive strain sensor with potential medical diagnostic applications.

“Ablaze with excitement,” eh? As Dexter rarely slips into hyperbole, this must be a big deal.

The researchers have made this video available,

For the very interested, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Sensitive electromechanical sensors using viscoelastic graphene-polymer nanocomposites by Conor S. Boland, Umar Khan, Gavin Ryan, Sebastian Barwich, Romina Charifou, Andrew Harvey, Claudia Backes, Zheling Li, Mauro S. Ferreira, Matthias E. Möbius, Robert J. Young, Jonathan N. Coleman. Science  09 Dec 2016: Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1257-1260 DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2879

This paper is behind a paywall.

Soft contact lenses key to supercapacitor breaththrough

It seems like pretty exciting news for anyone following the supercapacitor story but they are being awfully cagey about it all in a Dec. 6, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Ground-breaking research from the University of Surrey and Augmented Optics Ltd., in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has developed potentially transformational technology which could revolutionise the capabilities of appliances that have previously relied on battery power to work.

This development by Augmented Optics Ltd., could translate into very high energy density super-capacitors making it possible to recharge your mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.

The technology could have a seismic impact across a number of industries, including transport, aerospace, energy generation, and household applications such as mobile phones, flat screen electronic devices, and biosensors. It could also revolutionise electric cars, allowing the possibility for them to recharge as quickly as it takes for a regular non-electric car to refuel with petrol – a process that currently takes approximately 6-8 hours to recharge. Imagine, instead of an electric car being limited to a drive from London to Brighton, the new technology could allow the electric car to travel from London to Edinburgh without the need to recharge, but when it did recharge for this operation to take just a few minutes to perform.

I imagine the reason for the caginess has to do with the efforts to commercialize the technology. In any event, here’s a little more from a Dec. 5, 2016 University of Surrey press release by Ashley Lovell,

Supercapacitor buses are already being used in China, but they have a very limited range whereas this technology could allow them to travel a lot further between recharges. Instead of recharging every 2-3 stops this technology could mean they only need to recharge every 20-30 stops and that will only take a few seconds.

Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, has previously stated his belief that supercapacitors are likely to be the technology for future electric air transportation. We believe that the present scientific advance could make that vision a reality.

The technology was adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago. Supercapacitors, an alternative power source to batteries, store energy using electrodes and electrolytes and both charge and deliver energy quickly, unlike conventional batteries which do so in a much slower, more sustained way. Supercapacitors have the ability to charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles. However, because of their poor energy density per kilogramme (approximately just one twentieth of existing battery technology), they have, until now, been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.

Dr Brendan Howlin of the University of Surrey, explained: “There is a global search for new energy storage technology and this new ultra capacity supercapacitor has the potential to open the door to unimaginably exciting developments.”

The ground-breaking research programme was conducted by researchers at the University of Surrey’s Department of Chemistry where the project was initiated by Dr Donald Highgate of Augmented Optics Ltd. The research team was co-led by the Principal Investigators Dr Ian Hamerton and Dr Brendan Howlin. Dr Hamerton continues to collaborate on the project in his new post at the University of Bristol, where the electrochemical testing to trial the research findings was carried out by fellow University of Bristol academic – David Fermin, Professor of Electrochemistry in the School of Chemistry.

Dr Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol said: “While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density supercapacitors, these *polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics. We believe that this is an extremely exciting and potentially game changing development.”

*the materials are based on large organic molecules composed of many repeated sub-units and bonded together to form a 3-dimensional network.

Jim Heathcote, Chief Executive of both Augmented Optics Ltd and Supercapacitor Materials Ltd, said: “It is a privilege to work with the teams from the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol. The test results from the new polymers suggest that extremely high energy density supercapacitors could be constructed in the very new future. We are now actively seeking commercial partners [emphasis mine] in order to supply our polymers and offer assistance to build these ultra high energy density storage devices.”

I was not able to find a website for Augmented Optics but there is one for SuperCapacitor Materials here.

Nano snowman

I guess if people can spot religious figures in their morning toast or in the vegetables and fruits they grow, there’s no reason why scientists shouldn’t be able to see a snowman’s face in a nanoparticle,

Courtesy: University of Birmingham

A Dec. 20, 2016 news item on phys.org describes the nanoparticle,

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have captured the formation of a platinum encrusted nanoparticle that bears a striking resemblance to a festive snowman. As well as providing some Christmas cheer, the fully functional ‘nano-snowman’ has applications for providing greener energy and for advancements in medical care.

A Dec. 20, 2016 University of Birmingham press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

At only five nanometres in size, the nano-snowman was imaged with an aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope at the Nanoscale Physics, Chemistry and Engineering Research Laboratory at the University of Birmingham.

It was formed unexpectedly from a self-assembled platinum-titanium nanoparticle which was oxidised in air, and features ‘eyes, nose and a mouth’ formed of precious-metal platinum clusters embedded in a titanium dioxide face.

Despite its festive appearance, the nano-snowman performs a serious function of catalysing the splitting of water to make green hydrogen for fuel cells. In this functionality the nanoparticle demonstrates how the inclusion of titanium atoms to a platinum catalyst particle has its benefits.

Platinum is highly functional in performing chemical transformations making it a sought after metal for scientific use. It is also expensive and in critical supply. Therefore, the nano-snowman demonstrates how, by including titanium atoms, the amount of platinum needed is reduced and the existing platinum used is protected against sintering (aggregation of the nanoparticles).

Professor Richard Palmer, head of the University’s Nanoscale Physics Research Lab – the first centre for nanoscience in the UK – leads the way in research on nanoparticle science and explains how this information holds great interest for the Energy and Pharmaceutical industries:

“By combining titanium and platinum atoms in a nanoparticle, we can reduce the need to use rare and expensive platinum, and also maintain that which we have used. This could affect a number of applications where platinum is used such as creating green hydrogen for cleaner energy use; generating low energy electrons in radiotherapy that can kill cancer cells; and to perform chemical transformations to create pharmaceutical products.”

Saeed Gholhaki, one of the scientists to discover the snowman says:

“In the nano regime atoms are the building blocks of nanoscale structures. These building blocks can form wonderful shapes and structures regulated by the laws of nature. Nanoscience is about understanding the physics behind, and thus controlling these phenomenon, ultimately allowing us to design materials with desired properties. Sometimes the building blocks, in this case platinum cores, can assemble in an interesting way to resemble familiar objects like the face of a snowman!”

That’s all folks.

Reindeer antlers and resistance to breakage

The press office at Queen Mary University of London (UK) must have had fun with the press release (titled, Rudolph’s antlers inspire next generation of unbreakable materials) for this timely piece of research. From a Dec. 19, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have discovered the secret behind the toughness of deer antlers and how they can resist breaking during fights.

The team looked at the antler structure at the ‘nano-level’, which is incredibly small, almost one thousandth of the thickness of a hair strand, and were able to identify the mechanisms at work, using state-of-the-art computer modelling and x-ray techniques.

A Dec. 19, 2016 QMUL press release on EurekAllert, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail,

First author Paolino De Falco from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science said: “The fibrils that make up the antler are staggered rather than in line with each other. This allows them to absorb the energy from the impact of a clash during a fight.”

The research, published today [Dec. 19, 2016] in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, provides new insights and fills a previous gap in the area of structural modelling of bone. It also opens up possibilities for the creation of a new generation of materials that can resist damage.

Co-author Dr Ettore Barbieri, also from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: “Our next step is to create a 3D printed model with fibres arranged in staggered configuration and linked by an elastic interface.

The aim is to prove that additive manufacturing – where a prototype can be created a layer at a time – can be used to create damage resistant composite material.”

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

Staggered fibrils and damageable interfaces lead concurrently and independently to hysteretic energy absorption and inhomogeneous strain fields in cyclically loaded antler bone by Paolino De Falco, Ettore Barbieri, Nicola M. Pugno, and Himadri S. Gupta. ACS Biomater. Sci. Eng., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.6b00637 Publication Date (Web): December 19, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.