Tag Archives: UK

University of British Columbia (Canada) researchers reverse coating process: a smart window story?

It’s nice to see that the science writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC) has gone up a notch if a Feb. 11, 2016 news release (original received via email; see also a Feb. 11, 2016 news item on Nanowerk and EurekAlert) is any indication,

Imagine if the picture window in your living room could double as a giant thermostat or big screen TV. A discovery by researchers at the University of British Columbia has brought us one step closer to this becoming a reality.

Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna found that coating small pieces of glass with extremely thin layers of metal like silver makes it possible to enhance the amount of light coming through the glass. This, coupled with the fact that metals naturally conduct electricity, may make it possible to add advanced technologies to windowpanes and other glass objects.

“Engineers are constantly trying to expand the scope of materials that they can use for display technologies, and having thin, inexpensive, see-through components that conduct electricity will be huge,” said UBC Associate Professor and lead investigator Kenneth Chau. “I think one of the most important implications of this research is the potential to integrate electronic capabilities into windows and make them smart.” [!]

The next phase of this research, added Chau, will be to incorporate their invention onto windows with an aim to selectively filter light and heat waves depending on the season or time of day.

The theory underlying the research was developed by Chau and collaborator Loïc Markley, an assistant professor of engineering at UBC. Chau and Markley questioned what would happen if they reversed the practice of applying glass over metal—a typical method used in the creation of energy efficient window coatings.

“It’s been known for quite a while that you could put glass on metal to make metal more transparent, but people have never put metal on top of glass to make glass more transparent,” said Markley. “It’s counter-intuitive to think that metal could be used to enhance light transmission, but we saw that this was actually possible, and our experiments are the first to prove it.”

This work from UBC comes on the heels of a University of Alberta team rethinking the architecture for thin film transistors  (a Feb. 10, 2016 posting).

Getting back to UBC, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Layers by Coatings of Opposing Susceptibility: How Metals Help See Through Dielectrics by Mohammed Al Shakhs, Lucian Augusto, Loïc Markley, & Kenneth J. Chau. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 20659 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep20659 Published online: 10 February 2016

This is an open access paper.

My most recent post about smart windows (a longstanding obsession) is a Jan. 21, 2016 piece featuring a UK technology that combines self-cleaning and temperature control properties for a possible market introduction in the next three to five years.

Graphene and neurons in a UK-Italy-Spain collaboration

There’s been a lot of talk about using graphene-based implants in the brain due to the material’s flexibility along with its other properties. A step forward has been taking according to a Jan. 29, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Researchers have successfully demonstrated how it is possible to interface graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – with neurons, or nerve cells, while maintaining the integrity of these vital cells. The work may be used to build graphene-based electrodes that can safely be implanted in the brain, offering promise for the restoration of sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, or for individuals with motor disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.

A Jan. 29, 2016 Cambridge University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Previously, other groups had shown that it is possible to use treated graphene to interact with neurons. However the signal to noise ratio from this interface was very low. By developing methods of working with untreated graphene, the researchers retained the material’s electrical conductivity, making it a significantly better electrode.

“For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly,” said Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy. “We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials.”

Our understanding of the brain has increased to such a degree that by interfacing directly between the brain and the outside world we can now harness and control some of its functions. For instance, by measuring the brain’s electrical impulses, sensory functions can be recovered. This can be used to control robotic arms for amputee patients or any number of basic processes for paralysed patients – from speech to movement of objects in the world around them. Alternatively, by interfering with these electrical impulses, motor disorders (such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s) can start to be controlled.

Scientists have made this possible by developing electrodes that can be placed deep within the brain. These electrodes connect directly to neurons and transmit their electrical signals away from the body, allowing their meaning to be decoded.

However, the interface between neurons and electrodes has often been problematic: not only do the electrodes need to be highly sensitive to electrical impulses, but they need to be stable in the body without altering the tissue they measure.

Too often the modern electrodes used for this interface (based on tungsten or silicon) suffer from partial or complete loss of signal over time. This is often caused by the formation of scar tissue from the electrode insertion, which prevents the electrode from moving with the natural movements of the brain due to its rigid nature.

Graphene has been shown to be a promising material to solve these problems, because of its excellent conductivity, flexibility, biocompatibility and stability within the body.

Based on experiments conducted in rat brain cell cultures, the researchers found that untreated graphene electrodes interfaced well with neurons. By studying the neurons with electron microscopy and immunofluorescence the researchers found that they remained healthy, transmitting normal electric impulses and, importantly, none of the adverse reactions which lead to the damaging scar tissue were seen.

According to the researchers, this is the first step towards using pristine graphene-based materials as an electrode for a neuro-interface. In future, the researchers will investigate how different forms of graphene, from multiple layers to monolayers, are able to affect neurons, and whether tuning the material properties of graphene might alter the synapses and neuronal excitability in new and unique ways. “Hopefully this will pave the way for better deep brain implants to both harness and control the brain, with higher sensitivity and fewer unwanted side effects,” said Ballerini.

“We are currently involved in frontline research in graphene technology towards biomedical applications,” said Professor Maurizio Prato from the University of Trieste. “In this scenario, the development and translation in neurology of graphene-based high-performance biodevices requires the exploration of the interactions between graphene nano- and micro-sheets with the sophisticated signalling machinery of nerve cells. Our work is only a first step in that direction.”

“These initial results show how we are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of graphene and related materials in bio-applications and medicine,” said Professor Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre. “The expertise developed at the Cambridge Graphene Centre allows us to produce large quantities of pristine material in solution, and this study proves the compatibility of our process with neuro-interfaces.”

The research was funded by the Graphene Flagship [emphasis mine],  a European initiative which promotes a collaborative approach to research with an aim of helping to translate graphene out of the academic laboratory, through local industry and into society.

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

Graphene-Based Interfaces Do Not Alter Target Nerve Cells by Alessandra Fabbro, Denis Scaini, Verónica León, Ester Vázquez, Giada Cellot, Giulia Privitera, Lucia Lombardi, Felice Torrisi, Flavia Tomarchio, Francesco Bonaccorso, Susanna Bosi, Andrea C. Ferrari, Laura Ballerini, and Maurizio Prato. ACS Nano, 2016, 10 (1), pp 615–623 DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b05647 Publication Date (Web): December 23, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

There are a couple things I found a bit odd about this project. First, all of the funding is from the Graphene Flagship initiative. I was expecting to see at least some funding from the European Union’s other mega-sized science initiative, the Human Brain Project. Second, there was no mention of Spain nor were there any quotes from the Spanish researchers. For the record, the Spanish institutions represented were: University of Castilla-La Mancha, Carbon Nanobiotechnology Laboratory, and the Basque Foundation for Science.

January 31, 2016 deadlines for early bird tickets (ESOF) and conference abstracts (emerging technologies)

ESOF 2016 (EuroScience Open Forum)

Early bird tickets for this biennial science conference are available until Jan.  31, 2016 according to a Jan. 18, 2016 email notice,

Our most affordable tickets are available to purchase until the end of the month, so make sure you get yours before they disappear. Prices start from only £75 for a full four-day pass for early careers researchers (up to 5 years post doc), and £225 for a full delegate pass. All registrations are entitled to a year long complimentary subscription to Nature at this time.

You can also book your accommodation when you register to attend ESOF. We have worked hard with our city partners to bring you the best deals for your stay in Manchester. With the summer set to be busy with not only ESOF but major international sporting events, make sure you take advantage of these deals.

To register to attend please click here

You can find out more about the event which takes place from July 23 – 27, 2016 in Manchester, England here and/or you can watch this video,

For any interested journalists, media registration has opened (from the Jan. 18, 2016 notice),

Media registration opens

We are delighted to announce our ESOF press accreditation is available for journalists and science communications professionals to register for the conference. Accreditation provides complimentary access to the full ESOF programme, social events and a range of exclusive press only activities. Further details of the eligibility criteria and registration process can be found here.

Nature Publishing Group offers journalists a travel grant which will cover most if not all the expenses associated with attending 2016 ESOF (from the ESOF Nature Travel Grant webpage),

The Nature Travel Grant Scheme offers journalists and members of media organisations from around the world the opportunity to attend ESOF for free. The grant offers complimentary registration as well as help covering travel and accommodation costs.

1. Purpose

Created by EuroScience, the biennial ESOF – EuroScience Open Forum – meeting is the largest pan-European general science conference dedicated to scientific research and innovation. At ESOF meetings leading scientists, researchers, journalists, business people, policy makers and the general public from all over the world discuss new discoveries and debate the direction that research is taking in the sciences, humanities and social sciences.

Springer Nature is a leading global research, educational and professional publisher, home to an array of respected and trusted brands providing quality content through a range of innovative products and services, including the journal Nature. Springer Nature was formed in 2015 through the merger of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media. Nature Publishing Group has supported ESOF since its very first meeting in 2004.

Similar to the 2012 and 2014 edition of meeting, Springer Nature is funding the Nature Travel Grant Scheme for journalists to attend ESOF2016 with the aim to increase the impact of ESOF.

2. The Scheme

In addition to free registration, the Nature Travel Grant Scheme offers a lump sum of £450 for UK based journalists, £600 for journalists based in Europe and £800 for journalists based outside of Europe, to help cover the costs of travel and accommodation to attend ESOF2016.

3. Who can apply?

All journalists irrespective of their gender, age, nationality, place of residence and media type (paper, radio, TV, web) are welcome to apply. Media accreditation will be required.

4. Application procedure

To submit an application sign into the EuroScience Conference and Membership Platform (ESCMP) and click on “Apply for a Grant”. Follow the application procedure.

On submitting the application form for travel grants, you agree to the full acceptance of the rules and to the decision taken by the Selection Committee.

The deadline for submitting an application is February 29th 2016, 12:00 pm CET.

Good luck!

4th Annual Governance of Emerging Technologies: Law, Policy and Ethics Conference

Here’s more about the conference (deadline for abstracts is Jan. 31, 2016) from the conference’s Call for Abstract’s webpage,

Fourth Annual Conference on
Governance of Emerging Technologies: Law, Policy, and Ethics

May 24-26, 2016, Tempe, Arizona

Call for abstracts:

The co-sponsors invite submission of abstracts for proposed presentations.  Submitters of abstracts need not provide a written paper, although provision will be made for posting and possible post-conference publication of papers for those presenters interested in such options.  Although abstracts are invited for any aspect or topic relating to the governance of emerging technologies, some particular themes that will be emphasized at this year’s conference include existential or catastrophic risks, governance implications of algorithms, resilience and emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, military technologies, and gene editing.

Abstracts should not exceed 500 words.
Abstracts must be submitted by January 31, 2016 to be considered.
Decisions on abstracts will be made by the program committee and communicated by February 29 [2016]. 

Funding: The sponsors will pay for the conference registration (including all conference meals) for one presenter for each accepted abstract.  In addition, we will have limited funds available for travel subsidies in whole or in part.  After completing your abstract online, you will be asked if you wish to apply for a travel subsidy.  Any such additional funding will be awarded based on the strength of the abstract, demonstration of financial need, and/or the potential to encourage student authors and early-career scholars.  Accepted presenters for whom conference funding is not available will need to pay their own transportation and hotel costs.

For more information, please contact Lauren Burkhart at Lauren.Burkhart@asu.edu.

You don’t often see conference organizers offering to pay registration and meals for a single presenter from each accepted submission. Good luck!

Cambridge University researchers tell us why Spiderman can’t exist while Stanford University proves otherwise

A team of zoology researchers at Cambridge University (UK) find themselves in the unenviable position of having their peer-reviewed study used as a source of unintentional humour. I gather zoologists (Cambridge) and engineers (Stanford) don’t have much opportunity to share information.

A Jan. 18, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily announces the Cambridge research findings,

Latest research reveals why geckos are the largest animals able to scale smooth vertical walls — even larger climbers would require unmanageably large sticky footpads. Scientists estimate that a human would need adhesive pads covering 40% of their body surface in order to walk up a wall like Spiderman, and believe their insights have implications for the feasibility of large-scale, gecko-like adhesives.

A Jan. 18, 2016 Cambridge University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the research and the thinking that led to the researchers’ conclusions,

Dr David Labonte and his colleagues in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology found that tiny mites use approximately 200 times less of their total body area for adhesive pads than geckos, nature’s largest adhesion-based climbers. And humans? We’d need about 40% of our total body surface, or roughly 80% of our front, to be covered in sticky footpads if we wanted to do a convincing Spiderman impression.

Once an animal is big enough to need a substantial fraction of its body surface to be covered in sticky footpads, the necessary morphological changes would make the evolution of this trait impractical, suggests Labonte.

“If a human, for example, wanted to walk up a wall the way a gecko does, we’d need impractically large sticky feet – our shoes would need to be a European size 145 or a US size 114,” says Walter Federle, senior author also from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

The researchers say that these insights into the size limits of sticky footpads could have profound implications for developing large-scale bio-inspired adhesives, which are currently only effective on very small areas.

“As animals increase in size, the amount of body surface area per volume decreases – an ant has a lot of surface area and very little volume, and a blue whale is mostly volume with not much surface area” explains Labonte.

“This poses a problem for larger climbing species because, when they are bigger and heavier, they need more sticking power to be able to adhere to vertical or inverted surfaces, but they have comparatively less body surface available to cover with sticky footpads. This implies that there is a size limit to sticky footpads as an evolutionary solution to climbing – and that turns out to be about the size of a gecko.”

Larger animals have evolved alternative strategies to help them climb, such as claws and toes to grip with.

The researchers compared the weight and footpad size of 225 climbing animal species including insects, frogs, spiders, lizards and even a mammal.

“We compared animals covering more than seven orders of magnitude in weight, which is roughly the same as comparing a cockroach to the weight of Big Ben, for example,” says Labonte.

These investigations also gave the researchers greater insights into how the size of adhesive footpads is influenced and constrained by the animals’ evolutionary history.

“We were looking at vastly different animals – a spider and a gecko are about as different as a human is to an ant- but if you look at their feet, they have remarkably similar footpads,” says Labonte.

“Adhesive pads of climbing animals are a prime example of convergent evolution – where multiple species have independently, through very different evolutionary histories, arrived at the same solution to a problem. When this happens, it’s a clear sign that it must be a very good solution.”

The researchers believe we can learn from these evolutionary solutions in the development of large-scale manmade adhesives.

“Our study emphasises the importance of scaling for animal adhesion, and scaling is also essential for improving the performance of adhesives over much larger areas. There is a lot of interesting work still to do looking into the strategies that animals have developed in order to maintain the ability to scale smooth walls, which would likely also have very useful applications in the development of large-scale, powerful yet controllable adhesives,” says Labonte.

There is one other possible solution to the problem of how to stick when you’re a large animal, and that’s to make your sticky footpads even stickier.

“We noticed that within closely related species pad size was not increasing fast enough to match body size, probably a result of evolutionary constraints. Yet these animals can still stick to walls,” says Christofer Clemente, a co-author from the University of the Sunshine Coast [Australia].

“Within frogs, we found that they have switched to this second option of making pads stickier rather than bigger. It’s remarkable that we see two different evolutionary solutions to the problem of getting big and sticking to walls,” says Clemente.

“Across all species the problem is solved by evolving relatively bigger pads, but this does not seem possible within closely related species, probably since there is not enough morphological diversity to allow it. Instead, within these closely related groups, pads get stickier. This is a great example of evolutionary constraint and innovation.”

A researcher at Stanford University (US) took strong exception to the Cambridge team’s conclusions , from a Jan. 28, 2016 article by Michael Grothaus for Fast Company (Note: A link has been removed),

It seems the dreams of the web-slinger’s fans were crushed forever—that is until a rival university swooped in and saved the day. A team of engineers working with mechanical engineering graduate student Elliot Hawkes at Stanford University have announced [in 2014] that they’ve invented a device called “gecko gloves” that proves the Cambridge researchers wrong.

Hawkes has created a video outlining the nature of his dispute with Cambridge University and US tv talk show host, Stephen Colbert who featured the Cambridge University research in one of his monologues,

To be fair to Hawkes, he does prove his point. A Nov. 21, 2014 Stanford University report by Bjorn Carey describes Hawke’s ingenious ‘sticky pads,

Each handheld gecko pad is covered with 24 adhesive tiles, and each of these is covered with sawtooth-shape polymer structures each 100 micrometers long (about the width of a human hair).

The pads are connected to special degressive springs, which become less stiff the further they are stretched. This characteristic means that when the springs are pulled upon, they apply an identical force to each adhesive tile and cause the sawtooth-like structures to flatten.

“When the pad first touches the surface, only the tips touch, so it’s not sticky,” said co-author Eric Eason, a graduate student in applied physics. “But when the load is applied, and the wedges turn over and come into contact with the surface, that creates the adhesion force.”

As with actual geckos, the adhesives can be “turned” on and off. Simply release the load tension, and the pad loses its stickiness. “It can attach and detach with very little wasted energy,” Eason said.

The ability of the device to scale up controllable adhesion to support large loads makes it attractive for several applications beyond human climbing, said Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering and senior author on the paper.

“Some of the applications we’re thinking of involve manufacturing robots that lift large glass panels or liquid-crystal displays,” Cutkosky said. “We’re also working on a project with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to apply these to the robotic arms of spacecraft that could gently latch on to orbital space debris, such as fuel tanks and solar panels, and move it to an orbital graveyard or pitch it toward Earth to burn up.”

Previous work on synthetic and gecko adhesives showed that adhesive strength decreased as the size increased. In contrast, the engineers have shown that the special springs in their device make it possible to maintain the same adhesive strength at all sizes from a square millimeter to the size of a human hand.

The current version of the device can support about 200 pounds, Hawkes said, but, theoretically, increasing its size by 10 times would allow it to carry almost 2,000 pounds.

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

Human climbing with efficiently scaled gecko-inspired dry adhesives by Elliot W. Hawkes, Eric V. Eason, David L. Christensen, Mark R. Cutkosky. Jurnal of the Royal Society Interface DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0675 Published 19 November 2014

This paper is open access.

To be fair to the Cambridge researchers, It’s stretching it a bit to say that Hawke’s gecko gloves allow someone to be like Spiderman. That’s a very careful, slow climb achieved in a relatively short period of time. Can the human body remain suspended that way for more than a few minutes? How big do your sticky pads have to be if you’re going to have the same wall-climbing ease of movement and staying power of either a gecko or Spiderman?

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

Extreme positive allometry of animal adhesive pads and the size limits of adhesion-based climbing by David Labonte, Christofer J. Clemente, Alex Dittrich, Chi-Yun Kuo, Alfred J. Crosby, Duncan J. Irschick, and Walter Federle. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519459113

This paper is behind a paywall but there is an open access preprint version, which may differ from the PNAS version, available,

Extreme positive allometry of animal adhesive pads and the size limits of adhesion-based climbing by David Labonte, Christofer J Clemente, Alex Dittrich, Chi-Yun Kuo, Alfred J Crosby, Duncan J Irschick, Walter Federle. bioRxiv
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/033845

I hope that if the Cambridge researchers respond, they will be witty rather than huffy. Finally, there’s this gecko image (which I love) from the Cambridge researchers,

 Caption: This image shows a gecko and ant. Credit: Image courtesy of A Hackmann and D Labonte

Caption: This image shows a gecko and ant. Credit: Image courtesy of A Hackmann and D Labonte

Decontamination of carbon nanotubes by microwave ovens

The lowly microwave oven plays a starring role in this tale of carbon nanotube purification. From a Jan. 22, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Amid all the fancy equipment found in a typical nanomaterials lab, one of the most useful may turn out to be the humble microwave oven.

A standard kitchen microwave proved effective as part of a two-step process invented at Rice [US] and Swansea [UK] universities to clean carbon nanotubes.

Basic [carbon] nanotubes are good for many things, like forming into microelectronic components or electrically conductive fibers and composites; for more sensitive uses like drug delivery and solar panels, they need to be as pristine as possible.

A Jan. 22, 2016 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem the researchers were solving and how they did it,

[Carbon] Nanotubes form from metal catalysts in the presence of heated gas, but residues of those catalysts (usually iron) sometimes remain stuck on and inside the tubes. The catalyst remnants can be difficult to remove by physical or chemical means because the same carbon-laden gas used to make the tubes lets carbon atoms form encapsulating layers around the remaining iron, reducing the ability to remove it during purification.

In the new process, treating the tubes in open air in a microwave burns off the amorphous carbon. The nanotubes can then be treated with high-temperature chlorine to eliminate almost all of the extraneous particles.

The labs of chemists Robert Hauge, Andrew Barron and Charles Dunnill led the study. Barron is a professor at Rice in Houston and at Swansea University in the United Kingdom. Rice’s Hauge is a pioneer in nanotube growth techniques. Dunnill is a senior lecturer at the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea.

There are many ways to purify nanotubes, but at a cost, Barron said. “The chlorine method developed by Hauge has the advantage of not damaging the nanotubes, unlike other methods,” he said. “Unfortunately, many of the residual catalyst particles are surrounded by a carbon layer that stops the chlorine from reacting, and this is a problem for making high-purity carbon nanotubes.”

The researchers gathered microscope images and spectroscopy data on batches of single-walled and multiwalled nanotubes before and after microwaving them in a 1,000-watt oven, and again after bathing them in an oxidizing bath of chlorine gas under high heat and pressure. They found that once the iron particles were exposed to the microwave, it was much easier to get them to react with chlorine. The resulting volatile iron chloride was then removed.

Eliminating iron particles lodged inside large multiwalled nanotubes proved to be harder, but transmission electron microscope images showed their numbers, especially in single-walled tubes, to be greatly diminished.

“We would like to remove all the iron, but for many applications, residue within these tubes is less of an issue than if it were on the surface,” Barron said. “The presence of residual catalyst on the surface of carbon nanotubes can limit their use in biological or medical applications.”

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

Enhanced purification of carbon nanotubes by microwave and chlorine cleaning procedures by Virginia Gomez,   Silvia Irusta, Wade Adams, Robert H Hauge, Charles W Dunnill, and Andrew Ross Barron.  RSC Adv., 2016, DOI: 10.1039/C5RA24854J First published online 22 Jan 2016

I believe this paper is behind a paywall.

PoetryFilm news: January 2016 issue (around the world)

On Jan. 9, 2016 the latest issue (January 2016) of PoetryFilm News landed in my email box (*Note: There’s a long blank space between the last excerpt and my last comments. I’m sorry but I can’t figure what’s causing it. sigh*),

Forthcoming in 2016
  • I [Zata Banks] have been awarded a 3-month Artist-Researcher residency at the Skagastrond Research Library in Iceland in association with The University of Iceland. … (January – April 2016)
  • Collaboration with The University of Lincoln [UK] on a Poetry + Film creative module for the BA Graphic Design course, including a lecture, and evaluating the final student work (January – March 2016)
  • Screening of a selection of psychoanalysis-informed poetry film artworks taken from The PoetryFilm Archive + psychoanalytic discussion at The Freud Museum, London [UK] (March 2016, exact date TBC)
  • Lecture at Millfield School [UK] about the poetry film artform to inspire sixth form students to make their own poetry film artworks (April 2016)
  • I [Zata Banks] have been invited to judge the USA-based Carbon Culture Review poetry film competition (closing date April 2016).

The Carbon Culture Review (CCR; its focus is on new literature, art, technology, and contemporary culture) poetry film competition was last mentioned here in an Oct. 30, 2015 posting. Since then more information (deadline extension and a broader scope for entries) about the competition has been made available. From the CCR Poetry Film webpage,

Poetry Film Prize

We want to integrate film and literary culture. Carbon Culture will award a $1,000.00 prize for the best poetry film. Zata Kitowski [now Banks], director of PoetryFilm, will pick the grand prize winner and finalists. The winning entry will receive $1,000.00. The top five entries will receive high-profile placements across our social media networks, a one page note alongside honorable mentions in our newsstand print and device editions. Deadline for submissions is April 1, 2016.

By submitting, you grant CCR the right to publish selected poetry films in our online issue as well as recognition in our print issue. All rights revert to the film creator(s) and/or submitter.

Rules for Submission

  1. Create a video adaptation of your original, unpublished poem.
  2. Post the video to a Youtube or Vimeo account and make it live.
  3. Submit the piece as an .Mp4 alongside your bio or team member’s bios to us.
  4. One submission per poet, please. If you previously created a poetry film for our initial guidelines listed in early 2015 for John Gosslee’s poem before we opened the contest to any original poem, you may submit this and one other poetry film for consideration.

Prize Announcements will be made in July 2016. Payment will be made via Paypal.

Film Types

All visual and textual interpretations of any contemporary poem written by you or someone on your team are welcome. Animation (digital or cartoon,) live action, kinetic poems, stop motion, anything you can imagine. We are looking for literal and non-literal interpretations of the poem. How long should it be? That is up to you. Poetry is meant to be heard and we encourage audio.

Eligibility

The prize is open to poets, students, individuals and teams.

You can go here to submit your piece and if you haven’t already, you will need to create an account.

*’Note’ added Jan. 12, 2016 at 1250 PST.

Constructing an autonomous Maxwell’s demon as a self-contained information-powered refrigerator

Aalto University (Finland) was the lead research institution for  INFERNOS, a European Union-funded project concerning Maxwell’s demon. Here’s an excerpt from an Oct. 14, 2013 post featuring the project,

An Oct. 9, 2013 news item on Nanowerk ties together INFERNOS and the ‘demon’,

Maxwell’s Demon is an imaginary creature that the mathematician James Clerk Maxwell created in 1897. The creature could turn heat into work without causing any other change, which violates the second law of thermodynamics. The primary goal of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems) is to realize experimentally Maxwell’s Demon; in other words, to develop the electronic and biomolecular nanodevices that support this principle.

I like the INFERNOS logo, demon and all,

Logo of the European project INFERNOS (Information, fluctuations, and energy control in small systems).

A Jan. 11, 2016 news item on Nanowerk seems to be highlighting a paper resulting from the INFERNOS project (Note: A link has been removed),

On [a] theoretical level, the thought experiment has been an object of consideration for nearly 150 years, but testing it experimentally has been impossible until the last few years. Making use of nanotechnology, scientists from Aalto University have now succeeded in constructing an autonomous Maxwell’s demon that makes it possible to analyse the microscopic changes in thermodynamics. The research results were recently published in Physical Review Letters (“On-Chip Maxwell’s Demon as an Information-Powered Refrigerator”). The work is part of the forthcoming PhD thesis of MSc Jonne Koski at Aalto University.

An image illustrating the theory underlying the proposed device has been made available,

An autonomous Maxwell's demon. When the demon sees the electron enter the island (1.), it traps the electron with a positive charge (2.). When the electron leaves the island (3.), the demon switches back a negative charge (4.). Image: Jonne Koski.

An autonomous Maxwell’s demon. When the demon sees the electron enter the island (1.), it traps the electron with a positive charge (2.). When the electron leaves the island (3.), the demon switches back a negative charge (4.). Image: Jonne Koski.

A Jan. 11, 2016 Aalto University press release, which originated the news item, provides more technical details,

The system we constructed is a single-electron transistor that is formed by a small metallic island connected to two leads by tunnel junctions made of superconducting materials. The demon connected to the system is also a single-electron transistor that monitors the movement of electrons in the system. When an electron tunnels to the island, the demon traps it with a positive charge. Conversely, when an electron leaves the island, the demon repels it with a negative charge and forces it to move uphill contrary to its potential, which lowers the temperature of the system,’ explains Professor Jukka Pekola.

What makes the demon autonomous or self-contained is that it performs the measurement and feedback operation without outside help. Changes in temperature are indicative of correlation between the demon and the system, or, in simple terms, of how much the demon ‘knows’ about the system. According to Pekola, the research would not have been possible without the Low Temperature Laboratory conditions.

‘We work at extremely low temperatures, so the system is so well isolated that it is possible to register extremely small temperature changes,’ he says.

‘An electronic demon also enables a very large number of repetitions of the measurement and feedback operation in a very short time, whereas those who, elsewhere in the world, used molecules to construct their demons had to contend with not more than a few hundred repetitions.’

The work of the team led by Pekola remains, for the time being, basic research, but in the future, the results obtained may, among other things, pave the way towards reversible computing.

‘As we work with superconducting circuits, it is also possible for us to create qubits of quantum computers. Next, we would like to examine these same phenomena on the quantum level,’ Pekola reveals.

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

On-Chip Maxwell’s Demon as an Information-Powered Refrigerator by J.V. Koski, A. Kutvonen, I.M. Khaymovich, T. Ala-Nissila, and J.P. Pekola. Phys. Rev. Lett. 115, 260602 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.115.260602 Published 30 December 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

One final comment, this is the 150th anniversary of Maxwell’s publication of a series of equations explaining the relationships between electric charges and electric and magnetic fields (featured here in a Nov. 27, 2015 posting).

Waterless, stinkfree toilets thanks to nanotechnology

A Jan. 7, 2016 article by Magda Mis for the Thomson Reuters Foundation focuses on an innovative approach to waste management (toilets) taken by researchers at Cranfield University (UK),

A toilet that does not need water, a sewage system or external power but instead uses nanotechnology to treat human waste, produce clean water and keep smells at bay is being developed by a British university.

The innovative toilet uses a rotating mechanism to move waste into a holding chamber containing nano elements. The mechanism also blocks odours and keeps waste out of sight.

“Once the waste is in the holding chamber we use membranes that take water out as vapour, which can then be condensed and available for people to use in their homes,” Alison Parker, lead researcher on the project, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The pathogens remain in the waste at the bottom of the holding chamber, so the water is basically pure and clean.”

It’s known as the (Cranfield) Nano Membrane Toilet (website here),

I winced a bit watching that as would, I imagine, any number of people living in one of Britain’s former colonies (Canada, India, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, New Zealand, and others in what’s now known as the Commonwealth countries).

Getting back to the article, Cranfield participated in a Gates Foundation competition and won a grant to develop this toilet,

Cranfield University is developing the toilet as part of the global “Reinvent the toilet Challenge” launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Parker said that despite “significant” interest from developed countries, the toilet is being designed with those in mind who have no access to adequate toilets.

Poor sanitation is linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio, the WHO [World Health Organization] says.

Cranfield University says its toilet is designed for a household of up to 10 people and will cost just $0.05 per day per user.

 

Nanoscale snowman and Season’s Greetings

It’s being described as a ‘jeweled nano-snowman’ but platinum and titanium aren’t my idea of jewels. Still, it’s a cheerful, seasonal greeting.

Courtesy of the University of Birmingham Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory

Courtesy of the University of Birmingham Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory

A December 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk tells more of the story,

Would a jewel-encrusted snowman make the perfect Christmas present? At only 5 nanometres in size, the price might be lower than you think. And it’s functional too, catalysing the splitting of water to make green hydrogen for fuel cells.

A December 22, 2015 University of Birmingham Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory (NPRL) press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The nanoparticle, as imaged with an aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope, features eyes, nose and mouth of precious-metal platinum clusters embedded in a titanium dioxide face. Each platinum cluster typically contains 30 platinum atoms; within the whole nanoparticle there are approximately 1,680 titanium atoms and 180 platinum atoms. The nano-snowman formed spontaneously from a self-assembled platinum-titanium nanoparticle which was oxidised in air, drawing the titanium atoms out to the surface. The self-assembly occurred in a gas phase, cluster beam condensation source, before size-selection with a mass spectrometer and deposition onto a carbon surface for oxidation and then imaging. The mass of the snowman is 120,000 atomic mass units. Compared with a more conventional pure platinum catalyst particle, the inclusion of the titanium atoms offers two potential benefits: dilution of how much precious platinum is needed to perform the catalysis, and protection of the platinum cores against sintering (i.e. aggregation of the nanoparticles). The shell is porous enough to allow hydrogen through and the particles are functional in the hydrogen evolution reaction. The research was performed at the Nanoscale Physics Research Lab by Caroline Blackmore and Ross Griffin. …

The scientists did a little bit of work adding colour (most of these images are gray on gray), as well as, the holly and berry frame.

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année or Season’s Greetings!

The Stephen Hawking medal for science communication

Stephen Hawking launched a medal for science communication at a Dec. 16, 2015 press conference held at the Royal Society in London (UK). From a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on phys.org (Note: A link has been removed),

The “Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication” will be awarded to those who help promote science to the public through media such as cinema, music, writing and art.

“I’m happy to say I’m here today not to accept a medal but to announce one,” Hawking joked as he launched the medal at an event at the Royal Society, Britain’s de-facto academy of sciences.

“People worldwide display an incredible appetite of scientific information… The public want to know, they want to understand.”

The first medals will be awarded next summer in three different categories: the scientific, artistic and film communities.

The winners will be announced at the Starmus Festival, a gathering celebrating art and science in Spain’s Canary Islands that will take place from June 27 to July 2 next year [2016].

There’s a Dec. 16, 2015 press release on the Starmus website (it’s a little repetitive but I hope not too much so),

A ground-breaking new award for science communication in honour of Professor Stephen Hawking was announced today at the Royal Society in London, by a panel including Prof. Hawking, the Starmus founding director Prof. Garik Israelian, Dr. Brian May [member of the band Queen and astrophysicist], Prof. Richard Dawkins [evolutionary biologist known for memes and atheism], Alexei Leonov and Nobel Laureate Sir Harold Kroto [one of the discoverers of buckminsterfullerenes, also known as, buckyballs or C60 or fullerenes].

The first of its kind, the Medal will recognize the work of those helping to promote the public awareness of science through different disciplines such as music, arts and cinema. Each year, three Medals will be awarded at the STARMUS International Science and Arts Festival in Tenerife.

The press release goes on to enumerate and quote a number of the dignitaries attending the press conference,

At today’s launch at the Royal Society in London, Stephen Hawking outlined his vision for science communication, saying:

‘By engaging with everyone from school children to politicians to pensioners, science communicators put science right at the heart of daily life. Bringing science to the people brings people into science. This matters to me, to you, to the world as a whole.

Therefore I am very pleased to support and honour the work of science communicators and look forward to awarding The Stephen Hawking Medal next summer at the Starmus Festival in Tenerife. I hope to see you all there.’

Professor Garik Israelian, founder of Starmus Festival, commented:

‘This award is a milestone in the history of science, spearheaded by one of the most famous scientists and inspiring figures of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking. As part of this tribute and our desire to bring science and space to the general public, Starmus has created a ground-breaking initiative under the name of one of the greatest scientists in history.’

In addition to this, Professor Israelian revealed that there will be ‘citizen participation through a public voting process on social media to decide the winner of The Starmus Science Communicator of the Year – Filmmaker category, inviting the general public to participate in the awards and make history.’

A portrait of Stephen Hawking by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, has formed the design of the Medal. Leonov commented:

‘Rarely is the life of the artist such a success and so I am very proud that my portrait of Sir Stephen Hawking, a historical figure of world importance, was chosen for this Medal. This Medal is not just a piece of paper, but a visible and tangible object that will inspire reflection for its winners. It is an honour for me.’

As well as the speakers panel unveiling the Medal, many special guests participated in the press conference, including Phantom of the Opera singer Sarah Brightman, having recently joined the Starmus music panel, and renowned composer Hans Zimmer.

Dara O’Briain, Prof. Brian Cox OBE and Prof. Kip Thorne were also in attendance, alongside representatives of the Canary Islands, privileged setting of the festival, including Managing Director of The Canary Islands Tourism Board, Ms. María Méndez, and the Councillor for Tourism in Tenerife, Mr. Alberto Bernabé, attended the presentation.

Here’s a video from the event,

I’m glad to see that science communication is going to enjoy some more recognition.

As for Starmus, the 2016 event being held from June 27 – July 2, 2016 in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain is a tribute to Stephen Hawking. The Starmus festival website’s homepage has this to say,

STARMUS Festival was born with the aim of making the most universal science and art accessible to the public.

Traditionally the perfect symbiosis between astronomy, art and music, STARMUS 2016 will bring together not only the brightest minds from these areas but many others besides, as we debate the future of humanity with scientists, business people at the cutting edge, and celebrities of all kinds.

Join us for an event in Tenerife that rises to a level where others fail!

That last line is a pretty bold statement. I wish the organizers all the best luck as they put the programme together and start attracting participants.