Tag Archives: UK

Water’s liquid-vapour interface

The UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with IBM and the University of Edinburgh, has developed a new quantum model for understanding water’s liquid-vapour interface according to an April 20, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK’s National Measurement Institute in collaboration with IBM and the University of Edinburgh, has used a new quantum model to reveal the molecular structure of water’s liquid surface.

The liquid-vapour interface of water is one of the most common of all heterogeneous (or non-uniform) environments. Understanding its molecular structure will provide insight into complex biochemical interactions underpinning many biological processes. But experimental measurements of the molecular structure of water’s surface are challenging, and currently competing models predict various different arrangements.

An April 20, 2015 NPL press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the model and research in more detail,

The model is based on a single charged particle, the quantum Drude oscillator (QDO), which mimics the way the electrons of a real water molecule fluctuate and respond to their environment. This simplified representation retains interactions not normally accessible in classical models and accurately captures the properties of liquid water.

In new research, published in a featured article in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, the team used the QDO model to determine the molecular structure of water’s liquid surface. The results provide new insight into the hydrogen-bonding topology at the interface, which is responsible for the unusually high surface tension of water.

This is the first time the QDO model of water has been applied to the liquid-vapour interface. The results enabled the researchers to identify the intrinsic asymmetry of hydrogen bonds as the mechanism responsible for the surface’s molecular orientation. The model was also capable of predicting the temperature dependence of the surface tension with remarkable accuracy – to within 1 % of experimental values.

Coupled with earlier work on bulk water, this result demonstrates the exceptional transferability of the QDO approach and offers a promising new platform for molecular exploration of condensed matter.

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

Hydrogen bonding and molecular orientation at the liquid–vapour interface of water by Flaviu S. Cipcigan, Vlad P. Sokhan, Andrew P. Jones, Jason Crain and Glenn J. Martyna.  Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2015,17, 8660-8669 DOI: 10.1039/C4CP05506C First published online 17 Feb 2015

The paper is open access although you do need to register on the site provided you don’t have some other means of accessing the paper.

Canada’s cannabis biotech and InMed Pharma’s nanoparticle-based drug delivery system grant

Unfortunately, there’s not much detail about the nanoparticle-based drug delivery of what I gather is a form of cannabis useful in the treatment of glaucoma in this April 16, 2015 news item on Azonano,

InMed Pharmaceuticals Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company that specializes in developing safer, more effective cannabinoid-based therapies, today announced that it has been awarded a grant to further develop the Company’s proprietary nanoparticle-based delivery system for their leading drug candidate CTI-085 for glaucoma.

An April 15, 2015 InMed Pharmaceuticals press release goes on to describe the lead researcher and her past experience, as well as, providing a ‘we’re thrilled and will do wonderful things with this money’ quote,

The Mitacs grant was awarded to Dr. Maryam Kabiri, Ph.D., a researcher with extensive experience in developing nanoparticle-based delivery system. Dr. Kabiri will be working with Prof. Vikramaditya G. Yadav, whose research focuses on metabolic & enzyme engineering and customize novel biosynthetic enzymes that can convert biomass-derived feedstock into better fuels, pharmaceuticals and value-added chemicals. In conjunction with InMed, the Mitacs grant will be utilized to develop a novel delivery system for glaucoma therapy.

Dr. Sazzad Hossain, Chief Scientific Officer, states, “We are pleased to have met the Mitacs funding criteria for the advancement of our proprietary glaucoma delivery system. Not only does this bring us closer to our goals of initiating our Phase 1 trial, but it furthers our business development strategy of having a proprietary delivery system that can be licensed with existing drugs endangered by patent expiration. This “therapy extension” strategy used by drug makers can be a valuable asset to InMed upon successful completion of the program. Additionally, the incorporation of an existing medicine into a new drug delivery system can significantly improve its performance in terms of efficacy, safety, and improved patient compliance.”

About Mitacs
Mitacs is a national, private not-for-profit organization that develops the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills through a suite of unique research and training programs, such as Mitacs-Accelerate, Elevate, Step, Enterprise and Globalink. In partnership with companies, government and universities, Mitacs is supporting a new economy using Canada’s most valuable resource – its people.

For more information on Mitacs, visit www.mitacs.ca.

About InMed
InMed is a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company that specializes in developing cannabis based therapies through the Research and Development into the extensive pharmacology of cannabinoids coupled with innovative drug delivery systems. InMeds’ proprietary platform technology, product pipeline and accelerated development pathway are the fundamental value drivers of the Company.

As is becoming increasingly common, there’s a major focus on business even from Dr. Sazzad Hossain, the company’s chief scientific officer who might be expected to comment on the science. Business used to be the purview of the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer, the chief operating officer,  and/or the chief marketing officer.

I did manage to dig up a bit of information about InMed which was called Cannabis Technologies until fairly recently. Daniel Cossins in a Dec. 1, 2014 article for The Scientist describes the current ‘cannabis pharmaceutical’ scene. The dominant  player on the scene is a UK-based company, GW but InMed merits a mention,

Leading scientists were consulted, including  biotech entrepreneur Geoffrey Guy, who had  previously shown interest in developing cannabis-based medicines. The government granted Guy’s company, GW Pharmaceuticals, a license to grow cannabis plants. Guy’s idea was to generate strains rich in particular cannabinoid compounds that act on the nervous system, then test the effects of various cannabinoid combinations on MS and chronic pain. “It was a case of patient experience guiding scientific exploration,” says Stephen Wright, director of research and development at GW.

In 2010, the company announced the UK launch of its first cannabinoid-based product: Sativex, an oral spray for the treatment of MS spasticity, became the world’s first prescription medicine made from cannabis extracts. Sativex is now approved for use by MS patients in 24 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, and Australia. GW has partnered with Bayer and Novartis to market the  product. It has also signed up with the American branch of Japanese pharma company Otsuka to commercialize the drug in the U.S., where it is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials for treating MS spasticity and cancer pain. Earlier this year, GW’s share price surged when the US Food and Drug  Administration (FDA) granted orphan status to its cannabis-derived antiseizure drug Epidiolex, meaning it will be fast-tracked through clinical trials.

The company’s success is blazing a trail. In recent years, a handful of North American companies have set out on a similar path toward producing cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals. At least one company is developing candidates based on synthetic cannabinoids — of which two are already on the market in the U.S. — while several others are extracting chemical cocktails from the plant. They’re all hoping to capitalize on the anticipated growth of the cannabis pharma space by taking advantage of mounting data on the plant’s therapeutic effects.

“Frankly, we looked at GW and saw that the shift toward pharmacological development of marijuana is  already happening,” says Craig Schneider, president and CEO of InMed Pharmaceuticals (formerly Cannabis Technologies), a Vancouver-based biotech focused on pharmaceutical marijuana. “We see the likes of Otsuka, Novartis, and Eli Lilly diving into the space, and we want to be part of that.”

Cossins’ article goes on to discuss cannibinoids providing a tutorial of sorts on the topic. Meanwhile following on the business aspects of this story, Yahoo Finance  hosts a June 25, 2014 article from Accesswire, which provides some insight into the company, which was still being called Cannabis Technologies, and its GW aspirations,

 Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors on cells that repress neurotransmitter release in the brain. While tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and cannabidiol (“CBD”) are the two most popular cannabinoids, there are at least 85 different cannabinoids isolated from cannabis exhibiting various effects that could prove therapeutic.

GW Pharmaceuticals plc (GWPH), a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing, and commercializing novel therapeutics from its proprietary cannabinoid platform, has become the cannabinoid industry’s poster child with a ~$1.4 billion market capitalization and promising data from the clinic for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

In this article, we’ll take a look at another opportunity in the sector that many are calling the “junior GW” [InMed Pharma, formerly Cannabis Technologies], focused on leveraging its proprietary Cannabinoid Drug Design Platform to rapidly develop cannabinoid-based therapies.

Fully Integrated Platform Play

Cannabis Technologies Inc. (CSE:CAN) (CANLF) is a biopharmaceutical drug discovery and development company focused on cannabinoids that has been dubbed by many as the “Junior GW” in the space. By leveraging its proprietary Cannabinoid Drug Design Platform, management aims to identify new bioactive compounds within the marijuana plant that interact with certain genes.

According to Chief Science Officer Sazzad Hossain, the platform provides the bioinformatics tools necessary to isolate and identify chemical compounds in medical marijuana in months instead of years. The company plans to use the platform to isolate compounds targeting a specific disease and then outsource the early-stage research and trials to get to Phase I quickly and inexpensively.

The company’s initial focus is on the $12 billion ocular diseases market, including the $5.7 billion glaucoma market, where its CTI-085 is preparing to undergo Phase I clinical trials shortly after having completing preclinical trials. In addition to these areas, management also expressed interest in larger market places like pain and inflammation, as well as orphan diseases, cancers, and metabolic diseases.

Similar to GW Pharmaceuticals, the company also operates a breeding and cultivation division that’s responsible for creating its medicines in-house. The proprietary phyto-stock produced by the division sets the firm apart from some of its competitors that rely on third-parties to manufacture their treatments, since the fully-integrated operations are often both lower cost and greater quality.

They certainly have high business hopes for InMed Pharma. As for the science, the company has a Cannabinoid Science webpage on its site,

The majority of pharmaceutical and academic research & development being performed with cannabis revolves around the understanding of its active ingredients, the Cannabinoids

Currently there are between 80-100 cannabinoids that have been isolated from cannabis, that affect the body’s cannabinoid receptors and are responsible for unique pharmacological effects.

There are three general types of cannabinoids: herbal cannabinoids which occur uniquely in the cannabis; endogenous cannabinoids produced in the bodies of humans and animals and synthetic cannabinoids produced in the laboratory.

I was not able to find anything about the company’s nanoparticle-based delivery system on its website.

Digital life in Estonia and the National Film Board of Canada’s ‘reclaim control of your online identity’ series

Internet access is considered a human right in Estonia (according to a July 1, 2008 story by Colin Woodard for the Christian Science Monitor). That commitment has led to some very interesting developments in Estonia which are being noticed internationally. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Wilson Center) is hosting the president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves at an April 21, 2015 event (from the April 15, 2015 event invitation),

The Estonia Model: Why a Free and Secure Internet Matters
After regaining independence in 1991, the Republic of Estonia built a new government from the ground up. The result was the world’s most comprehensive and efficient ‘e-government': a digital administration with online IDs for every citizen, empowered by a free nationwide Wi-Fi network and a successful school program–called Tiger Leap–that boosts tech competence at every age level. While most nations still struggle to provide comprehensive Internet access, Estonia has made major progress towards a strong digital economy, along with robust protections for citizen rights. E-government services have made Estonia one of the world’s most attractive environments for tech firms and start-ups, incubating online powerhouses like Skype and Transferwise.

An early adopter of information technology, Estonia was also one of the first victims of a cyber attack. In 2007, large-scale Distributed Denial of Service attacks took place, mostly against government websites and financial services. The damages of these attacks were not remarkable, but they did give the country’s security experts  valuable experience and information in dealing with such incidents. Eight years on, the Wilson Center is pleased to welcome Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves for a keynote address on the state of cybersecurity, privacy, and the digital economy. [emphasis mine]

Introduction
The Honorable Jane Harman
Director, President and CEO, The Wilson Center

Keynote
His Excellency Toomas Hendrik Ilves
President of the Republic of Estonia

The event is being held in Washington, DC from 1 – 2 pm EST on April 21, 2015. There does not seem to be a webcast option for viewing the presentation online (a little ironic, non?). You can register here, should you be able to attend.

I did find a little more information about Estonia and its digital adventures, much of it focused on digital economy, in an Oct. 8, 2014 article by Lily Hay Newman for Slate,

Estonia is planning to be the first country to offer a status called e-residency. The program’s website says, “You can become an e-Estonian!” …

The website says that anyone can apply to become an e-resident and receive an e-Estonian online identity “in order to get secure access to world-leading digital services from wherever you might be.” …

You can’t deny that the program has a compelling marketing pitch, though. It’s “for anybody who wants to run their business and life in the most convenient aka digital way!”

You can find the Estonian e-residency website here. There’s also a brochure describing the benefits,

It is especially useful for entrepreneurs and others who already have some relationship to Estonia: who do business, work, study or visit here but have not become a resident. However, e-residency is also launched as a platform to offer digital services to a global audience with no prior Estonian affiliation – for  anybody  who  wants  to  run their  business  and  life in  the  most convenient aka digital way! We plan to keep adding new useful services from early 2015 onwards.

I also found an Oct. 31, 2013 blog post by Peter Herlihy on the gov.uk website for the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS). Herlihy offers the perspective of a government bureaucrat (Note: A link has been removed),

I’ve just got back from a few days in the Republic of Estonia, looking at how they deliver their digital services and sharing stories of some of the work we are up to here in the UK. We have an ongoing agreement with the Estonian government to work together and share knowledge and expertise, and that is what brought me to the beautiful city of Tallinn.

I knew they were digitally sophisticated. But even so, I wasn’t remotely prepared for what I learned.

Estonia has probably the most joined up digital government in the world. Its citizens can complete just about every municipal or state service online and in minutes. You can formally register a company and start trading within 18 minutes, all of it from a coffee shop in the town square. You can view your educational record, medical record, address, employment history and traffic offences online – and even change things that are wrong (or at least directly request changes). The citizen is in control of their data.

So we should do whatever they’re doing then, right? Well, maybe. …

National Film Board of Canada

There’s a new series being debuted this week about reclaiming control of your life online and titled: Do Not Track according to an April 14, 2015 post on the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) blog (Note: Links have been removed),

An eye-opening personalized look at how online data is being tracked and sold.

Starting April 14 [2015], the online interactive documentary series Do Not Track will show you just how much the web knows about you―and the results may astonish you.

Conceived and directed by acclaimed Canadian documentary filmmaker and web producer Brett Gaylor, the 7-part series Do Not Track is an eye-opening look at how online behaviour is being tracked, analyzed and sold―an issue affecting each of us, and billions of web users around the world.

Created with the goal of helping users learn how to take back control of their digital identity, Do Not Track goes beyond a traditional documentary film experience: viewers who agree to share their personal data are offered an astounding real-time look at how their online ID is being tracked.

Do Not Track is a collective investigation, bringing together public media broadcasters, writers, developers, thinkers and independent media makers, including Gaylor, Vincent Glad, Zineb Dryef, Richard Gutjahr, Sandra Rodriguez, Virginie Raisson and the digital studio Akufen.

Do Not Track episodes launch every 2 weeks, from April 14 to June 9, 2015, in English, French and German. Roughly 7 minutes in length, each episode has a different focus―from our mobile phones to social networks, targeted advertising to big data with a different voice and a different look, all coupled with sharp and varied humour. Episodes are designed to be clear and accessible to all.

You can find Do Not Track here, episode descriptions from the April 14, 2015 posting,

April 14 | Episode 1: Morning Rituals
This episode introduces viewers to Brett Gaylor and offers a call to action: let’s track the trackers together.

Written and directed by Brett Gaylor

Interviews: danah boyd, principal researcher, Microsoft Research; Nathan Freitas, founder, and Harlo Holmes, software developer, The Guardian Project; Ethan Zuckerman, director, MIT Center for Civic Media*

April 14 | Episode 2: Breaking Ad
We meet the man who invented the Internet pop-up ad―and a woman who’s spent nearly a decade reporting on the web’s original sin: advertising.

Directed by Brett Gaylor | Written by Vincent Glad

Interviews: Ethan Zuckerman; Julia Angwin, journalist and author of Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance*

April 28 | Episode 3: The Harmless Data We Leave on Social Media
This episode reveals how users can be tracked from Facebook activity and how far-reaching the data trail is.

Directed by Brett Gaylor | Written by Sandra Marsh | Hosted by Richard Gutjahr

Interviews: Constanze Kurz, writer and computer scientist, Chaos Computer Club

May 12 | Episode 4: Your Mobile Phone, the Spy
Your smartphone is spying on you—where does all this data go, what becomes of it, and how is it used?

Directed by Brett Gaylor | Written and hosted by Zineb Dryef

Interviews: Harlo Holmes; Rand Hindi, data scientist and founder of Snips*

May 26 | Episode 5: Big Data and Its Algorithms
There’s an astronomical quantity of data that may or may not be used against us. Based on the information collected since the start of this documentary, users discover the algorithmic interpretation game and its absurdity.

Directed by Sandra Rodriguez and Akufen | Written by Sandra Rodriguez

Interviews: Kate Crawford, principal researcher, Microsoft Research New York City; Matthieu Dejardins, e-commerce entrepreneur and CEO, NextUser; Tyler Vigen, founder, Spurious Correlations, and Joint Degree Candidate, Harvard Law School; Cory Doctorow, science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist; Alicia Garza, community organizer and co-founder, #BlackLivesMatter; Yves-Alexandre De Montjoye, computational privacy researcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab*

June 9 | Episode 6: Filter Bubble
The Internet uses filters based on your browsing history, narrowing down the information you get―until you’re painted into a digital corner.

Written and directed by Brett Gaylor*

June 9 | Episode 7:  The Future of Tracking
Choosing to protect our privacy online today will dramatically shape our digital future. What are our options?

Directed by Brett Gaylor | Written by Virginie Raisson

Interviews: Cory Doctorow

Enjoy!

Masterpieces seen in a new light

Caption: This image shows: After Raphael 1483 - 1520 probably before 1600 Oil on wood 87 x 61.3 cm Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876 Credit: © National Gallery, London

Caption: This image shows: After Raphael 1483 – 1520
probably before 1600
Oil on wood
87 x 61.3 cm
Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Credit: © National Gallery, London

An April 13, 2015 Optical Society news release (also on EurekAlert) describes a new technique for ‘seeing’ below the surface of a painting without taking samples,

A painting hanging on the wall in an art gallery tells one story. What lies beneath its surface may tell quite another.

Often in a Rembrandt, a Vermeer, a Leonardo, a Van Eyck, or any other great masterpiece of western art, the layers of paint are covered with varnish, sometimes several coats applied at different times over their history. The varnish was originally applied to protect the paint underneath and make the colors appear more vivid, but over the centuries it can degrade. Conservators carefully clean off the old varnish and replace it with new, but to do this safely it is useful to understand the materials and structure of the painting beneath the surface. Conservation scientists can glean this information by analyzing the hidden layers of paint and varnish.

Now, researchers from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology have partnered with the National Gallery in London to develop an instrument capable of non-invasively capturing subsurface details from artwork at a high resolution. Their setup, published in an Optics Express paper, will allow conservators and conservation scientists to more effectively peek beneath the surface of paintings and artifacts to learn not only how the artist built up the original composition, but also what coatings have been applied to it over the years.

Traditionally, analyzing the layers of a painting requires taking a very small physical sample — usually around a quarter of a millimeter across — to view under a microscope. The technique provides a cross-section of the painting’s layers, which can be imaged at high resolution and analyzed to gain detailed information on the chemical composition of the paint, but does involve removing some original paint, even if only a very tiny amount. When studying valuable masterpieces, conservation scientists must therefore sample very selectively from already-damaged areas, often only taking a few minute samples from a large canvas.

More recently, researchers have begun to use non-invasive imaging techniques to study paintings and other historical artifacts. For example, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) was originally developed for medical imaging but has also been applied to art conservation. Because it uses a beam of light to scan the intact painting without removing physical samples, OCT allows researchers to analyze the painting more extensively. However, the spatial resolution of commercially-available OCT setups is not high enough to fully map the fine layers of paint and varnish.

The Nottingham Trent University researchers gave OCT an upgrade. “We’re trying to see how far we can go with non-invasive techniques. We wanted to reach the kind of resolution that conventional destructive techniques have reached,” explained Haida Liang, who led the project.

In OCT, a beam of light is split: half is directed towards the sample, and the other half is sent to a reference mirror. The light scatters off both of these surfaces. By measuring the combined signal, which effectively compares the returned light from the sample versus the reference, the apparatus can determine how far into the sample the light penetrated. By repeating this procedure many times across an area, researchers can build up a cross-sectional map of the painting.

Liang and her colleagues used a broadband laser-like light source — a concentrated beam of light containing a wide range of frequencies. The wider frequency range allows for more precise data collection, but such light sources were not commercially available until recently.

Along with a few other modifications, the addition of the broadband light source enabled the apparatus to scan the painting at a higher resolution. When tested on a late 16th-century copy of a Raphael painting, housed at the National Gallery in London, it performed as well as traditional invasive imaging techniques.

“We are able to not only match the resolution but also to see some of the layer structures with better contrast. That’s because OCT is particularly sensitive to changes in refractive index,” said Liang. In some places, the ultra-high resolution OCT setup identified varnish layers that were almost indistinguishable from each other under the microscope.

Eventually, the researchers plan to make their instrument available to other art institutions. It could also be useful for analyzing historical manuscripts, which cannot be physically sampled in the same way that paintings can.

In a parallel paper recently published in Optics Express, the researchers also improved the depth into the painting that their apparatus can scan. The two goals are somewhat at odds: using a longer wavelength light source could enhance the penetration depth, but shorter wavelength light (as used in their current setup) provides the best resolution.

“The next challenge is perhaps to be able to do that in one instrument, as well as to extract chemical information from different layers,” said Liang.

Here are links to and citations for the two recent papers published by Liang and her team,

Ultra-high resolution Fourier domain optical coherence tomography for old master paintings by C. S. Cheung, M. Spring, and H. Liang. Optics Express, Vol. 23, Issue 8, pp. 10145-10157 (2015) http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OE.23.010145

High resolution Fourier domain optical coherence tomography in the 2 μm wavelength range using a broadband supercontinuum source by C. S. Cheung, J. M. O. Daniel, M. Tokurakawa, W. A. Clarkson, and H. Liang. Optics Express, Vol. 23, Issue 3, pp. 1992-2001 (2015) http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OE.23.001992

Both papers are open access.

Standing up for science: 2015 call for John Maddox Prize nominations

I received a notice from the UK’s ‘sense about science’ organization rregarding nominations for its 2015 John Maddox Prize (or the ‘standing up for science’ prize). Before proceeding to the announcement, the John Maddox Prize webpage provides some information about John Maddox and the prize or there’s this video originally prepared for the 2014 call for nominations,

From the April 9, 2015 sense about science announcement,

Do you know someone who has promoted sound science and evidence?

Nominate them for the 2015 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.

The John Maddox Prize rewards an individual who has promoted sound science and evidence on a matter of public interest. Its emphasis is on those who have faced difficulty or hostility in doing so. Nominations of active researchers who have yet to receive recognition for their public-interest work are particularly welcomed.

The winner of the John Maddox Prize will receive £2000, and an announcement of the winner will be published in Nature. The award is presented at a reception in November.

Full details and online nomination form here.

The deadline is 11:59 pm BST on Aug.20,  2015. Here are more details from the 2015 John Maddox Prize webpage,

The prize is open to nominations for any kind of public activity, including all forms of writing, speaking and public engagement, in any of the following areas:

Addressing misleading information about scientific or medical issues.
Bringing sound evidence to bear in a public or policy debate.
Helping people to make sense of a complex scientific issue.

The winner of the John Maddox Prize will receive £2000, and an announcement of the winner will be published in Nature. The award is presented at a reception in November.

Evaluation
The judging panel in 2015 consists of Tracey Brown (director, Sense About Science), Phil Campbell (editor-in-chief, Nature), Lord Rees of Ludlow FRS and Professor Colin Blakemore FRS. Judges sit in a personal capacity. Candidates will be judged on the strength of their nomination based on the below criteria:

How clearly the individual communicated good science, despite adversity.
The nature of adversity faced by the individual.
How well they placed the evidence in the wider debate and engaged others.
Their level of influence on the public debate.

The winner is chosen by the judging panel, not by Sense About Science. A shortlist will be announced at the judges’ discretion.

Nomination
Researchers in any area of science or engineering, or those who work to address misleading information and bring evidence to the public, are eligible to be nominated. Nominations are to take the form of a letter of recommendation and include biographical information on the candidate and a description of the candidate’s work in standing up for science. Permission must be sought from the nominee. The individual nominated, the referee, and the nominator may be contacted for more information including references.

Staff, trustees and directors of the supporting organisations and previous or current members of the judging panel and their direct relations are not eligible for nomination for the Prize, though they may nominate. It is open to anyone else, including people who have published with or worked with either organisation as contributors, advisers or in other collaborations.

Good luck! As far as I can tell, there are no residency requirements so this competition is open internationally.

Sensational Butterflies exhibit and the Blue Morpho

It’s time to give the Blue Morpho butterfly a little attention that isn’t nanotechnology-inflected. Happily, GrrlScientist has written an April 13, 2015 post for the Guardian science blog network about the blue butterfly featured in an exhibit (Sensational Butterflies) in London (UK) at the Natural History Museum,

Blue morpho butterflies are native to Mexico, Central American and the northern regions of South America. In the wild, as they fly through the thick foliage, their wings provide brief flashes of brilliant blue that are visible from a long distance. This helps them find mates and defend their territories.

The blue morpho lives for only 115 days — and most of their lifetime is spent on “the Three Fs”: feeding, flying and … reproduction. As fuzzy caterpillars, blue morphos are nocturnal and herbivorous; munching their way through the leaves from many tropical plant species by night — or they can be cannibals; munching their way through their siblings!

Here are two views of the Blue Morpho butterfly (topside and bottomside of the wings)

Adult peleides blue morpho, Morpho peleides, wings open. (Also known as the common morpho, or as The Emperor.) Photograph: Thomas Bresson/Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Adult peleides blue morpho, Morpho peleides, wings open. (Also known as the common morpho, or as The Emperor.) Photograph: Thomas Bresson/Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

 Adult peleides blue morpho, Morpho peleides, wings closed (Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio). Photograph: Greg Hume/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Adult peleides blue morpho, Morpho peleides, wings closed (Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio). Photograph: Greg Hume/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Back to GrrlScientist,

Blue morphos are amongst the largest butterflies in the world, with a wingspan that ranges from 7.5–20 cm (3.0–7.9 inches). The underside of their wings are pigmented with black, brown, tan, orange and white, and with a number of eyespots (ocelli). This colouring provides cryptic camouflage to protect them from sharp-eyed predators, especially at night when the adults roost in the foliage to sleep.

The uppersides of the blue morpho’s wings are vivid metallic blue, edged with black. The blue colouring is not supplied by pigments, but by iridescence, where the scales are arranged in a tetrahedral (diamond) pattern across the wing surface, and where individual scales are comprised of several layers, or lamellae, that reflect incident light repeatedly from each successive layer. …

It’s an interesting description of how colour for the topside of the wings is produced. I would have said the colour is supplied by structures on the wing (see my Feb. 7, 2013 post for more about structural colour which is found in plants, fish, peacock feathers, and elsewhere in nature).

GrrlScientist has more about the Blue Morpho Butterfly, including a video of the butterflies emerging from their chrysalises. As for the exhibition, Sensational Butterflies at the Natural History Museum in London (UK) which opened April 2, 2015 and runs till Sept. 13, 2015, you can find out more here.

One last word about the Blue Morpho, there are several species of butterflies known as ‘blue morphos’ (from the April 13, 2015 post by GrrlScientist),

… the Sensational Butterflies exhibition’s blue morphos are peleides blue morphos, Morpho peleides

Enjoy!

Evolution-in-materio and unconventional computing

Training materials such as carbon nanotubes to imitate electronic circuits? Welcome to the world of evolution-in-materio and unconventional computing. From an April 7, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

As we approach the miniaturization limits of conventional electronics, alternatives to silicon-based transistors — the building blocks of the multitude of electronic devices we’ve come to rely on — are being hotly pursued.

Inspired by the way living organisms have evolved in nature to perform complex tasks with remarkable ease, a group of researchers from Durham University in the U.K. and the University of São Paulo-USP in Brazil is exploring similar “evolutionary” methods to create information processing devices.

An April 7, 2015 American Institute of Physics (AIP) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, delves into the research itself and the emerging field to which it belongs,

In the Journal of Applied Physics, from AIP Publishing, the group describes using single-walled carbon nanotube composites (SWCNTs) as a material in “unconventional” computing. By studying the mechanical and electrical properties of the materials, they discovered a correlation between SWCNT concentration/viscosity/conductivity and the computational capability of the composite.

“Instead of creating circuits from arrays of discrete components (transistors in digital electronics), our work takes a random disordered material and then ‘trains’ the material to produce a desired output,” said Mark K. Massey, research associate, School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at Durham University.

This emerging field of research is known as “evolution-in-materio,” a term coined by Julian Miller at the University of York in the U.K. What exactly is it? An interdisciplinary field blends together materials science, engineering and computer science. Although still in its early stages, the concept has already shown that by using an approach similar to natural evolution, materials can be trained to mimic electronic circuits–without needing to design the material structure in a specific way.

“The material we use in our work is a mixture of carbon nanotubes and polymer, which creates a complex electrical structure,” explained Massey. “When voltages (stimuli) are applied at points of the material, its electrical properties change. When the correct signals are applied to the material, it can be trained or ‘evolved’ to perform a useful function.”

While the group doesn’t expect to see their method compete with high-speed silicon computers, it could turn out to be a complementary technology. “With more research, it could lead to new techniques for making electronics devices,” he noted. The approach may find applications within the realm of “analog signal processing or low-power, low-cost devices in the future.”

Beyond pursuing the current methodology of evolution-in-materio, the next stage of the group’s research will be to investigate evolving devices as part of the material fabrication “hardware-in-the-loop” evolution. “This exciting approach could lead to further enhancements in the field of evolvable electronics,” said Massey.

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

Computing with carbon nanotubes: Optimization of threshold logic gates using disordered nanotube/polymer composites by using disordered nanotube/polymer composites by M. K. Massey, A. Kotsialos, F. Qaiser, D. A. Zeze, C. Pearson, D. Volpati, L. Bowen, and M. C. Petty. J. Appl. Phys. 117, 134903 (2015); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4915343

This paper appears to be open access.

Also, the researchers have produced a video,

Credit: Mark Massey/Durham University

Final comment, I am gobsmacked and fascinated.

Self-assembling nanofibres could help mitigate side effects from pain killers

The research itself is pretty exciting but even more so is the fact that it was conducted by an undergraduate student. From an April 3, 2015 news item on Azonano,

A Chemistry undergraduate at the University of York [UK] has helped to develop a new drug release gel, which may help avoid some of the side effects of painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

In a final year project, MChem undergraduate student Edward Howe, working in Professor David Smith’s research team in the Department of Chemistry at York looked for a way of eliminating the adverse side-effects associated pain-killing drugs, particularly in the stomach, and the problems, such as ulceration, this could cause patients.

A March 31, 2015 University of York press release, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

Supervised by PhD student Babatunde Okesola, whose research is supported by The Wild Chemistry Scholars Fund, Edward hoped to create gels which could interact with drugs such as Naproxen, and release them at the slightly alkaline pH values found in the intestine rather than the acidic conditions in the stomach.  His aim was to both protect the pain-killing drugs and help limit some of the side effects they can cause.

The researchers created a new gel, based on small molecules which self-assemble into nanofibers which could interact with a variety of anti-inflammatory, painkiller drugs, including iburofen and naproxen. The research is published in Chemical Communications.

Specific interactions between the gel nanofibres and the drugs meant that high loadings could be achieved, and more importantly, the release of the drug could be precisely controlled.  The gels were able to release naproxen at pH 8 – the value found in the intestine, but not at lower pH values found elsewhere in the body.

Professor Smith said: “Although researchers have used gels before to try and improve the formulation of naproxen, this is the first time that a self-assembling system has been used for the job, with the advantages of directed interactions between the nanoscale delivery scaffold and the drug.  As such, this is the first time that such precise control has been achieved.”

Edward Howe said: “The research really fascinated me. The prospect of being involved in developing a method to reduce the pain of others filled me with great pride. Understanding the interactions between the gel and the painkillers was very interesting and improved my knowledge of supramolecular chemistry.”

The next step for Professor Smith’s team will involve stabilising the gel drug delivery systems in the very acidic, low pH conditions found in the stomach so that they can transit safely to the intestine before delivering naproxen just where it is needed.

Professor Smith added: “Perhaps this is something that one of next year’s undergraduate project students might solve. As a research-intensive institution, York is committed to its undergraduates carrying out cutting-edge research such as this.”

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

Self-assembled sorbitol-derived supramolecular hydrogels for the controlled encapsulation and release of active pharmaceutical ingredients by Edward J. Howe, Babatunde O. Okesola, and David K. Smith. Chem. Commun., 2015, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C5CC01868D First published online 31 Mar 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

April 2015 (US) National Math festival; inside story on math tournaments; US tv programme: The Great Math Mystery; and the SET Award (tech women in the movies and on tv)

I have three math items for this posting and one women in technology item, here they are in an almost date order.

X+Y

A British movie titled X+Y provides a fictionalized view of a team member on the British squad competing in an International Mathematics Olympiad.The Guardian’s science blog network hosted a March 11, 2015 review by Adam P. Goucher who also provides an insider’s view (Note: Links have been removed),

As a competition it is brutal and intense.

I speak from experience; I was in the UK team in 2011.

So it was with great expectation that I went to see X+Y, a star-studded British film about the travails of a British IMO hopeful who is struggling against the challenges of romance, Asperger’s and really tough maths.

Obviously, there were a few oversimplifications and departures from reality necessary for a coherent storyline. There were other problems too, but we’ll get to them later.

In order to get chosen for the UK IMO team, you must sit the first round test of the British Mathematical Olympiad (BMO1). About 1200 candidates take this test around the country.

I sat BMO1 on a cold December day at my sixth form, Netherthorpe School in Chesterfield. Apart from the invigilator and me, the room was completely empty, although the surroundings became irrelevant as soon as I was captivated by the problems. The test comprises six questions over the course of three and a half hours. As is the case with all Olympiad problems, there are often many distinct ways to solve them, and correct complete solutions are maximally rewarded irrespective of the elegance or complexity of the proof.

The highest twenty scorers are invited to another training camp at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the top six are selected to represent the UK at an annual competition in Romania.

In Romania, there was much maths, but we also enjoyed a snowball fight against the Italian delegation and sampled the delights of Romanian rum-endowed chocolate. Since I was teetotal at this point in time, the rum content was sufficient to alter my perception in such a way that I decided to attack a problem using Cartesian coordinates (considered by many to be barbaric and masochistic). Luckily my recklessness paid off, enabling me to scrape a much-coveted gold medal by the narrowest of margins.

The connection between the UK and Eastern Europe is rather complicated to explain, being intimately entangled with the history of the IMO. The inaugural Olympiad was held in Romania in 1959, with the competition being only open to countries under the Soviet bloc. A Hungarian mathematician, Béla Bollobás, competed in the first three Olympiads, seizing a perfect score on the third. After his PhD, Bollobás moved to Trinity College, Cambridge, to continue his research, where he fertilised Cambridge with his contributions in probabilistic and extremal combinatorics (becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society in the process). Consequently, there is a close relationship between Hungarian and Cantabrigian mathematics.

Rafe Spall’s character was very convincing, and his eccentricities injected some much-needed humour into the film. Similarly, Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of a “typical mathmo” was realistic. On the other hand, certain characters such as Richard (the team leader) were unnatural and exaggerated. In particular, I was disappointed that all of the competitors were portrayed as being borderline-autistic, when in reality there is a much more diverse mixture of individuals.

X+Y is also a love story, and one based on a true story covered in Morgan Matthews’ earlier work, the documentary Beautiful Young Minds. This followed the 2006 IMO, in China, where one of the members of the UK team fell in love and married the receptionist of the hotel the team were staying at. They have since separated, although his enamourment with China persisted – he switched from studying Mathematics to Chinese Studies.

It is common for relationships to develop during maths Olympiads. Indeed after a member of our team enjoyed a ménage-a-trois at an IMO in the 1980s, the committee increased the security and prohibited boys and girls from entering each others’ rooms.

The film was given a general release March 13, 2015 in the UK and is on the festival circuit elsewhere. Whether or not you can get to see the film, I recommend Goucher’s engaging review/memoir.

The Great Math Mystery and the SET award for the Portrayal of a Female in Technology

David Bruggeman in a March 13, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog describes the upcoming première of a maths installment in the NOVA series presented on the US PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), Note: Links have been removed,

… PBS has announced a new math special.  Mario Livio will host a NOVA special called The Great Math Mystery, premiering April 15.  Livio is an astrophysicist, science and math writer, and fan of science/culture mashups.  The mystery of the title is whether math(s) is invented or was discovered.

You can find out more about The Great Math Mystery here.

David also mentions this,

The Entertainment Industries Council is seeking votes for its first SET Award for Portrayal of a Female in Technology. … Voting on the award is via a Google form, so you will need a Google account to participate.  The nominees appear to be most of the women playing characters with technical jobs in television programs or recent films.  They are:

  • Annedroids on Amazon
  • Arrow: “Felicity Smoak” played by Emily Bett Rickards
  • Bones: “Angela Montenegro” played by Michaela Conlin

Here’s a video describing the competition and the competitors,

More details about the competition are available in David’s March 13, 2015 post or here or here. The deadline for voting is April 6, 2015. Here’s one more link, this one’s to the SET Awards website.

(US) National Math Festival

H/t to David Bruggeman again. This time it’s a Feb. 6, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog which announces (Note: Links have been removed),

On April 18 [2015], the Smithsonian Institution will host the first National Math Festival in Washington, D.C.  It will be the culmination of a weekend of events in the city to recognize outstanding math research, educators and books.

On April 16 there will be a morning breakfast briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss mathematics education.  It will be followed by a policy seminar in the Library of Congress and an evening gala to support basic research in mathematics and science.

You can find out more about the 2015 National Math Festival here (from the homepage),

On Saturday, April 18th, experience mathematics like never before, when the first-of-its-kind National Math Festival comes to Washington, D.C. As the country’s first national festival dedicated to discovering the delight and power of mathematics, this free and public celebration will feature dozens of activities for every age—from hands-on magic and Houdini-like getaways to lectures with some of the most influential mathematicians of our time.

The National Math Festival is organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution.

There you have it.

Making 3D patches for the brain

They’re not ready to start patching any brains yet but the research seems promising. From an April 1, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Damage to neural tissue is typically permanent and causes lasting disability in patients, but a new approach has recently been discovered that holds incredible potential to reconstruct neural tissue at high resolution in three dimensions. Research recently published in the Journal of Neural Engineering demonstrated a method for embedding scaffolding of patterned nanofibers within three-dimensional (3D) hydrogel structures, and it was shown that neurite outgrowth from neurons in the hydrogel followed the nanofiber scaffolding by tracking directly along the nanofibers, particularly when the nanofibers were coated with a type of cell adhesion molecule called laminin. It was also shown that the coated nanofibers significantly enhanced the length of growing neurites, and that the type of hydrogel could significantly affect the extent to which the neurites tracked the nanofibers.

A March 31, 2015 Institute of Neural Regeneration & Tissue Engineering press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the thinking underlying this research and future research plans,

“Neural stem cells hold incredible potential for restoring damaged cells in the nervous system, and 3D reconstruction of neural tissue is essential for replicating the complex anatomical structure and function of the brain and spinal cord,” said Dr. McMurtrey, author of the study and director of the research institute that led this work. “So it was thought that the combination of induced neuronal cells with micropatterned biomaterials might enable unique advantages in 3D cultures, and this research showed that not only can neuronal cells be cultured in 3D conformations, but the direction and pattern of neurite outgrowth can be guided and controlled using relatively simple combinations of structural cues and biochemical signaling factors.”

The next step will be replicating more complex structures using a patient’s own induced stem cells to reconstruct damaged or diseased sites in the nervous system. These 3D reconstructions can then be used to implant into the damaged areas of neural tissue to help reconstruct specific neuroanatomical structures and integrate with the proper neural circuitry in order to restore function. Successful restoration of function would require training of the new neural circuitry over time, but by selecting the proper neurons and forming them into native architecture, implanted neural stem cells would have a much higher chance of providing successful outcomes. The scaffolding and hydrogel materials are biocompatible and biodegradable, and the hydrogels can also help to maintain the microstructure of implanted cells and prevent them from washing away in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

McMurtrey also noted that by making these site-specific reconstructions of neural tissue, not only can neural architecture be rebuilt, but researchers can also make models for studying disease mechanisms and developmental processes just by using skin cells that are induced into pluripotent stem cells and into neurons from patients with a variety of diseases and conditions. “The 3D constructs enable a realistic replication of the innate cellular environment and also enable study of diseased human neurons without needing to biopsy neurons from affected patients and without needing to make animal models that can fail to replicate the full array of features seen in humans,” said McMurtrey.

The ability to engineer neural tissue from stem cells and biomaterials holds great potential for regenerative medicine. The combination of stem cells, functionalized hydrogel architecture, and patterned and functionalized nanofiber scaffolding enables the formation of unique 3D tissue constructs, and these engineered constructs offer important applications in brain and spinal cord tissue that has been damaged by trauma, stroke, or degeneration. In particular, this work may one day help in the restoration of functional neuroanatomical pathways and structures at sites of spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, tumor resection, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases of Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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

Patterned and functionalized nanofiber scaffolds in three-dimensional hydrogel constructs enhance neurite outgrowth and directional control by Richard McMurtrey (Journal of Neural Engineering Volume 11 Number 6) 2014 J. J. Neural Eng. 11 066009 doi:10.1088/1741-2560/11/6/066009

This paper is open access.

A little unusually for me, here’s the abstract for the paper,

Objective. Neural tissue engineering holds incredible potential to restore functional capabilities to damaged neural tissue. It was hypothesized that patterned and functionalized nanofiber scaffolds could control neurite direction and enhance neurite outgrowth. Approach. A method of creating aligned electrospun nanofibers was implemented and fiber characteristics were analyzed using environmental scanning electron microscopy. Nanofibers were composed of polycaprolactone (PCL) polymer, PCL mixed with gelatin, or PCL with a laminin coating. Three-dimensional hydrogels were then integrated with embedded aligned nanofibers to support neuronal cell cultures. Microscopic images were captured at high-resolution in single and multi-focal planes with eGFP-expressing neuronal SH-SY5Y cells in a fluorescent channel and nanofiber scaffolding in another channel. Neuronal morphology and neurite tracking of nanofibers were then analyzed in detail. Main results. Aligned nanofibers were shown to enable significant control over the direction of neurite outgrowth in both two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) neuronal cultures. Laminin-functionalized nanofibers in 3D hyaluronic acid (HA) hydrogels enabled significant alignment of neurites with nanofibers, enabled significant neurite tracking of nanofibers, and significantly increased the distance over which neurites could extend. Specifically, the average length of neurites per cell in 3D HA constructs with laminin-functionalized nanofibers increased by 66% compared to the same laminin fibers on 2D laminin surfaces, increased by 59% compared to 2D laminin-coated surface without fibers, and increased by 1052% compared to HA constructs without fibers. Laminin functionalization of fibers also doubled average neurite length over plain PCL fibers in the same 3D HA constructs. In addition, neurites also demonstrated tracking directly along the fibers, with 66% of neurite lengths directly tracking laminin-coated fibers in 3D HA constructs, which was a 65% relative increase in neurite tracking compared to plain PCL fibers in the same 3D HA constructs and a 213% relative increase over laminin-coated fibers on 2D laminin-coated surfaces. Significance. This work demonstrates the ability to create unique 3D neural tissue constructs using a combined system of hydrogel and nanofiber scaffolding. Importantly, patterned and biofunctionalized nanofiber scaffolds that can control direction and increase length of neurite outgrowth in three-dimensions hold much potential for neural tissue engineering. This approach offers advancements in the development of implantable neural tissue constructs that enable control of neural development and reproduction of neuroanatomical pathways, with the ultimate goal being the achievement of functional neural regeneration.

I have a few comments, this work was performed in vitro and I imagine it will be several years before it is attempted in human clinical trials. As well, the ethics issues raised by this work are interesting. While the doctors are talking about repairs to injured tissues, it’s only a matter of time until someone tries to improve on the brain or human enhancement. After all, modern plastic surgery was developed as a form of repair for soldiers and others who were disfigured. These days, much of the practice is concerned with preserving youth or enhancing someone’s looks. Not altogether coincidentally, I wrote about the second volume of a report from the US Presidential Bioethics Commission in my April 2, 2015 post titled: Gray Matters volume 2: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued March 2015 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission.

Finally, you can find out more about the Institute of Neural Regeneration & Tissue Engineering here.