Tag Archives: Universite de Montreal

For the smell of it

Having had a tussle with a fellow student some years ago about what constituted multimedia, I wanted to discuss smell as a possible means of communication and he adamantly disagreed (he won),  these  two items that feature the sense of smell  are of particular interest, especially (tongue firmly in cheek) as one of these items may indicate ahead of my time.

The first is about about a phone-like device that sends scent (from a Feb. 11, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily),

A Paris laboratory under the direction of David Edwards, Michigan Technological University alumnus, has created the oPhone, which will allow odors — oNotes — to be sent, via Bluetooth and smartphone attachments, to oPhones across the state, country or ocean, where the recipient can enjoy American Beauties or any other variety of rose.

It can be sent via email, tweet, or text.

Edwards says the idea started with student designers in his class at Harvard, where he is a professor.

“We invite young students to bring their design dreams,” he says. “We have a different theme each year, and that year it was virtual worlds.”

The all-female team came up with virtual aromas, and he brought two of the students to Paris to work on the project. Normally, he says, there’s a clear end in sight, but with their project no one had a clue who was going to pay for the research or if there was even a market.

A Feb. 11, 2014 Michigan Technological University news release by Dennis Walikainen, which originated the news item, provides more details about the project development and goals,

“We create unique aromatic profiles,” says Blake Armstrong, director of business communications at Vapor Communications, an organization operating out of Le Laboratorie (Le Lab) in Paris. “We put that into the oChip that faithfully renders that smell.”

Edwards said that the initial four chips that will come with the first oPhones can be combined into thousands different odors—produced for 20 to 30 seconds—creating what he calls “an evolution of odor.”

The secret is in accurate scent reproduction, locked in those chips plugged into the devices. Odors are first captured in wax after they are perfected using “The Nose”– an aroma expert at Le Lab, Marlène Staiger — who deconstructs the scents.

For example, with coffee, “the most universally recognized aroma,” she replaces words like “citrus” or “berry” with actual scents that will be created by ordering molecules and combining them in different percentages.

In fact, Le Lab is working with Café Coutume, the premier coffee shop in Paris, housing baristas in their building and using oPhones to create full sensory experiences.

“Imagine you are online and want to know what a particular brand of coffee would smell like,” Edwards says. “Or, you are in an actual long line waiting to order. You just tap on the oNote and get the experience.”

The result for Coutume, and all oPhone recipients, is a pure cloud of scent close to the device. Perhaps six inches in diameter, it is released and then disappears, retaining its personal and subtle aura.

And there other sectors that could benefit, Edwards says.

“Fragrance houses, of course, culinary, travel, but also healthcare.”

He cites an example at an exhibition last fall in London when someone with brain damage came forward. He had lost memory, and with it his sense of taste and smell.  The oPhone can help bring that memory back, Edwards says.

“We think there could be help for Alzheimer’s patients, related to the decline and loss of memory and olfactory sensation,” he says.

There is an image accompanying the news release which I believe are variations of the oPhone device,

Sending scents is closer than you think. [downloaded from http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2014/february/story102876.html]

Sending scents is closer than you think. [downloaded from http://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2014/february/story102876.html]

You can find David Edwards’ Paris lab, Le Laboratoire (Le Lab), ici. From Le Lab’s homepage,

Opened since 2007, Le Laboratoire is a contemporary art and design center in central Paris, where artists and designers experiment at frontiers of science. Exhibition of works-in-progress from these experiments are frequently first steps toward larger scale cultural humanitarian and commercial works of art and design.

 

Le Laboratoire was founded in 2007 by David Edwards as the core-cultural lab of the international network, Artscience Labs.

Le Lab also offers a Mar. ?, 2013 news release describing the project then known as The Olfactive Project Or, The Third Dimension Global Communication (English language version ou en français).

The second item is concerned with some research from l’Université de Montréal as a Feb. 11, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily notes,

According to Simona Manescu and Johannes Frasnelli of the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology, an odour is judged differently depending on whether it is accompanied by a positive or negative description when it is smelled. When associated with a pleasant label, we enjoy the odour more than when it is presented with a negative label. To put it another way, we also smell with our eyes!

This was demonstrated by researchers in a study recently published in the journal Chemical Senses.

A Feb. 11, 2014 Université de Montréal news release, which originated the news item, offers details about the research methodology and the conclusions,

For their study, they recruited 50 participants who were asked to smell the odours of four odorants (essential oil of pine, geraniol, cumin, as well as parmesan cheese). Each odour (administered through a mask) was randomly presented with a positive or negative label displayed on a computer screen. In this way, pine oil was presented either with the label “Pine Needles” or the label “Old Solvent”; geraniol was presented with the label “Fresh Flowers” or “Cheap Perfume”; cumin was presented with the label “Indian Food” or “Dirty Clothes; and finally, parmesan cheese was presented with the label of either the cheese or dried vomit.

The result was that all participants rated the four odours more positively when they were presented with positive labels than when presented with negative labels. Specifically, participants described the odours as pleasant and edible (even those associated with non-food items) when associated with positive labels. Conversely, the same odours were considered unpleasant and inedible when associated with negative labels – even the food odours. “It shows that odour perception is not objective: it is affected by the cognitive interpretation that occurs when one looks at a label,” says Manescu. “Moreover, this is the first time we have been able to influence the edibility perception of an odour, even though the positive and negative labels accompanying the odours showed non-food words,” adds Frasnelli.

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

Now You Like Me, Now You Don’t: Impact of Labels on Odor Perception by  Simona Manescu, Johannes Frasnelli, Franco Lepore, and Jelena Djordjevic. Chem. Senses (2013) doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjt066 First published online: December 13, 2013

This paper is behind a paywall.

Université de Montréal (Canada) collaborates with University of Houston (US) for a new theory and better solar cells

Solar cell efficiency is not good as researchers from  l’Université de Montréal (UdeM, located in Quebec, Canada) and the University of Houston (UH, located Texas, US) note in a Jan. 29, 2014 joint UH/UdeM news release written by Lisa Merkl (UH) on EurekAlert,

“Scientists don’t fully understand what is going on inside the materials that make up solar cells. We were trying to get at the fundamental photochemistry or photophysics that describes how these cells work,” Bittner said [Eric Bittner, a John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Chemistry and Physics in UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics,].

Solar cells are made out of organic semiconductors – typically blends of materials. However, solar cells made of these materials have about 3 percent efficiency. Bittner added that the newer materials, the fullerene/polymer blends, only reach about 10 percent efficiency.

“There is a theoretical limit for the efficiency of the ideal solar cell – the Shockley-Queisser limit. The theory we published describes how we might be able to get above this theoretical limit by taking advantage of quantum mechanical effects,” Bittner said. “By understanding these effects and making use of them in the design of a solar cell, we believe you can improve efficiency.”

Silva [Carlos Silva, an associate professor at the Université de Montréal and Canada Research Chair in Organic Semiconductor Materials] added, “In polymeric semiconductors, where plastics form the active layer of solar cells, the electronic structure of the material is intimately correlated with the vibrational motion within the polymer chain. Quantum-mechanical effects due to such vibrational-electron coupling give rise to a plethora of interesting physical processes that can be controlled to optimize solar cell efficiencies by designing materials that best exploit them.”

Unfortunately, there’s no more information about this model other than this (from the news release),

“Our theoretical model accomplishes things that you can’t get from a molecular model,” he [Bittner] said. “It is mostly a mathematical model that allows us to look at a much larger system with thousands of molecules. You can’t do ordinary quantum chemistry calculations on a system of that size.”

The calculations have prompted a series of new experiments by Silva’s group to probe the outcomes predicted by their model.

Bittner and Silva’s next steps involve collaborations with researchers who are experts in making the polymers and fabricating solar cells.

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

Noise-induced quantum coherence drives photo-carrier generation dynamics at polymeric semiconductor heterojunctions by Eric R. Bittner & Carlos Silva. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3119 doi:10.1038/ncomms4119 Published 29 January 2014

This article is behind a paywall although you can get a free preview via ReadCube Access.

Mathematics of Planet Earth lives on past 2013

A Université de Montréal (Québec, Canada) Dec. 11, 2013 news release (also on EurekAlert) proclaims a new life for a worldwide mathematics initiative (Note: I have added paragraph breaks for this formerly single paragraph excerpt),

Although you might not know it, mathematics is able to shed light on many of the issues facing Planet Earth – from the structure of the core of our planet to the understanding of biodiversity, from finding ways to advance cutting edge solar technology to better understanding the Earth’s climate system, and from earthquakes and tsunamis to the spread of infectious diseases – and so mathematicians around the world have decided to launch an international project, Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE), to demonstrate how their field of expertise contributes directly to our well being.

Mathematics of Planet Earth is growing out of a year-long initiative that was the brainchild of Christiane Rousseau, professor of mathematics at Université de Montréal and vice-president of the International Mathematics Union.

Beginning in 2014, the program will continue under the same name with the same objectives: identify fundamental research questions about Planet Earth and reach out to the general public. As Prof Rousseau observed, “Mathematics of Planet Earth has been a great start. But identifying the research problems is not enough. Mathematics moves slowly, the planetary problems are very challenging, and we cannot expect great results in just one year.” “The International Mathematical Union enthusiastically supports the continuation of Mathematics of Planet Earth. The success of this initiative attests to the foundational role of the mathematical sciences and interdisciplinary partnerships in research into global challenges, increasingly valued by society,” says Ingrid Daubechies, President of the International Mathematical Union.

How did I not hear about this project before now? Well, it’s better to get there late then never get to the party at all. From the news release,

Under the patronage of UNESCO, the MPE initiative brought together over 100 scientific societies, universities, research institutes, and foundations from around the world to research fundamental questions about Planet Earth, nurture a better understanding of global issues, and help inform the public about the essential mathematics of the challenges facing our planet. “The Mathematics of Planet Earth (MPE) initiative resonates strongly with UNESCO’s work to promote the sciences and science education, especially through our International Basic Sciences Programme. Math advances fundamental research and plays an important role in our daily life. More than ever we need to develop relevant learning materials and to spark in every student, especially girls, a sense of joy in the wondrous universe of mathematics and the immense potential unleashed by this discipline. In this spirit, we commend this initiative and fully endorse the proposal to continue this programme beyond 2013,” said Irena Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO.

It’s not about preaching to the converted. “The curriculum material developed for Mathematics of Planet Earth provides schools and educators a free-of-charge wealth of material for and will be used for many years to come. The initiative has presented the public, schools and the media with challenging applications of mathematics, with significant answers to questions like ‘What is mathematics useful for?’” said Mary Lou Zeeman, MPE coordinator for Education. “Mathematics of Planet Earth wonderfully contributed to diffuse an informed culture of environment and helps to get a common mathematical toolkit necessary to deal the dramatic challenges faced today by our planet,” said Ferdinando Arzarello, President of the International Commission of Mathematical Instruction (ICMI).

It’s not only the mathematicians and mathematics pedagogues who’ve gotten excited about this initiative,

MPE2013 has drawn the attention of other disciplines as well. Among its partners are the American Geophysical Union, the International Association for Mathematical Geosciences, and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). The research on planetary issues is interdisciplinary, and collaboration and networking are essential for progress. “Great mathematicians understood the importance of research into planet Earth many centuries ago,” said Alik Ismail-Zadeh, a mathematical geophysicist and the Secretary General of the IUGG. “Pierre Fermat studied the weight of the Earth; Carl Friedrich Gauss contributed to the development of geomagnetism and together with Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel made significant contribution to geodesy; Andrei Tikhonov developed regularization techniques intensively used in studies of inverse problems in many areas of geophysics. Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 highlighted again the importance of international multidisciplinary cooperation and stimulated mathematicians and geoscientists to work together to uncover Earth’s mysteries.”

The news release closes with these interesting bits of information,

About Mathematics of Planet Earth

On January 1, 2014, Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 (MPE2013) will continue as “Mathematics of Planet Earth” (MPE). The objectives remain unchanged – identify fundamental research questions about Planet Earth and reach out to the general public. With support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, MPE will maintain a website where additional educational and outreach materials will be posted. New modules will be developed and added to the MPE Exhibition. Plans for more MPE activities exist in several countries in the form of workshops, summer schools, and even the creation of new graduate programs in Mathematics of Planet Earth.

About Christiane Rousseau

Christian Rousseau is a professor at Université de Montréal’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Vice-President of the International Mathematics Union, and a member of the Centre de recherches mathématiques. Professor Rousseau conceived and coordinated Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013.

About Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013′s Achievements

MPE2013 activities have included more than 15 long-term programs at mathematical research institutes all over the world, 60 workshops, dozens of special sessions at society meetings, two major public lecture series, summer and winter schools for graduate students, research experiences for undergraduates, an international competition, and an Open Source MPE Exhibition. In addition, MPE2013 has supported the development of high-quality curriculum materials for all ages and grades available on the MPE2013 Web site.

Encouraging Research

The scientific activities of MPE2013 were directed both to the mathematical sciences community, whose members are encouraged to identify fundamental research questions about Planet Earth and their potential collaborators in other disciplines. The program provides evidence that many issues related to weather, climate, sustainability, public health, natural hazards, and financial and social systems lead to interesting mathematical problems. Several summer and winter schools have offered training opportunities for junior researchers in these areas.

Reaching Out

The outreach activities of MPE2013 were as important as the scientific activities. More than sixty public lectures have been given with audiences on all five continents. Particularly noteworthy were the MPE Simons Public Lectures, now posted on the MPE2013 Web site, which were supported financially by the Simons Foundation. MPE2013 has maintained a speakers bureau, supported the development of curriculum materials, maintained a collection of posters, and produced special issues of mathematical magazines and other educational materials. Many activities took place at schools in several countries. The permanent MPE Open Source Exhibition is now hosted on the website of IMAGINARY and can be used and adapted by schools and museums.

Daily Blog

The dual mission of MPE2013 – stimulating the mathematics research community and reaching out to the general public – is reflected in the Daily Blogs (one in English, the other in French), each of which has featured more than 250 posts on topics ranging from astronomy to uncertainty quantification. The blog gets several hundred hits a day.

You can find out more about MPE 2013 and its future here. (English language version website) or go here for the French language version. For those who prefer to read the news release about the ‘morphing’ MPE in French, go here.

Biosensing cocaine

Amusingly, the Feb. 13, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights the biosensing aspect of the work in its title,

New biosensing nanotechnology adopts natural mechanisms to detect molecules

(Nanowerk News) Since the beginning of time, living organisms have developed ingenious mechanisms to monitor their environment.

The Feb. 13, 2013 news release from the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) takes a somewhat different tack by focusing on cocaine,

Detecting cocaine “naturally”

Since the beginning of time, living organisms have developed ingenious mechanisms to monitor their environment. As part of an international study, a team of researchers has adapted some of these natural mechanisms to detect specific molecules such as cocaine more accurately and quickly. Their work may greatly facilitate the rapid screening—less than five minutes—of many drugs, infectious diseases, and cancers.

Professor Alexis Vallée-Bélisle of the University of Montreal Department of Chemistry has worked with Professor Francesco Ricci of the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Professor Kevin W. Plaxco of the University of California at Santa Barbara to improve a new biosensing nanotechnology. The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of American Chemical Society (JACS).

The scientists have provided an interesting image to illustrate their work,

Artist's rendering: the research team used an existing cocaine biosensor (in green) and revised its design to react to a series of inhibitor molecules (in blue). They were able to adapt the biosensor to respond optimally even within a large concentration window. Courtesy: University of Montreal

Artist’s rendering: the research team used an existing cocaine biosensor (in green) and revised its design to react to a series of inhibitor molecules (in blue). They were able to adapt the biosensor to respond optimally even within a large concentration window. Courtesy: University of Montreal

The news release provides some insight into the current state of biosensing and what the research team was attempting to accomplish,

“Nature is a continuing source of inspiration for developing new technologies,” says Professor Francesco Ricci, senior author of the study. “Many scientists are currently working to develop biosensor technology to detect—directly in the bloodstream and in seconds—drug, disease, and cancer molecules.”

“The most recent rapid and easy-to-use biosensors developed by scientists to determine the levels of various molecules such as drugs and disease markers in the blood only do so when the molecule is present in a certain concentration, called the concentration window,” adds Professor Vallée-Bélisle. “Below or above this window, current biosensors lose much of their accuracy.”

To overcome this limitation, the international team looked at nature: “In cells, living organisms often use inhibitor or activator molecules to automatically program the sensitivity of their receptors (sensors), which are able to identify the precise amount of thousand of molecules in seconds,” explains Professor Vallée-Bélisle. “We therefore decided to adapt these inhibition, activation, and sequestration mechanisms to improve the efficiency of artificial biosensors.”

The researchers put their idea to the test by using an existing cocaine biosensor and revising its design so that it would respond to a series of inhibitor molecules. They were able to adapt the biosensor to respond optimally even with a large concentration window. “What is fascinating,” says Alessandro Porchetta, a doctoral student at the University of Rome, “is that we were successful in controlling the interactions of this system by mimicking mechanisms that occur naturally.”

“Besides the obvious applications in biosensor design, I think this work will pave the way for important applications related to the administration of cancer-targeting drugs, an area of increasing importance,” says Professor Kevin Plaxco. “The ability to accurately regulate biosensor or nanomachine’s activities will greatly increase their efficiency.”

The funders for this project are (from the news release),

… the Italian Ministry of Universities and Research (MIUR), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations program, the European Commission Marie Curie Actions program, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the Fonds de recherche du Québec Nature et Technologies.

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

Using Distal-Site Mutations and Allosteric Inhibition To Tune, Extend, and Narrow the Useful Dynamic Range of Aptamer-Based Sensors by Alessandro Porchetta, Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, Kevin W. Plaxco, and Francesco Ricci. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2012, 134 (51), pp 20601–20604 DOI: 10.1021/ja310585e Publication Date (Web): December 6, 2012

Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

One final note, Alexis Vallée-Bélisle has been mentioned here before in the context of a ‘Grand Challenges Canada programme’ (not the Bill and Melinda Gates ‘Grand Challenges’) announcement of several fundees  in my Nov. 22, 2012 posting. That funding appears to be for a difference project.

Simon Fraser University completes a successful mating dance while TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics) gets its groove on

The Federal Government of Canada in the guise of the Canada Foundation for Innovation has just awarded $7.7M to Simon Fraser University (SFU) and its partners for a global innovation hub. From the Jan. 15, 2013 Canada Foundation for Innovation news release,

British Columbia’s research-intensive universities are coming together to create a global hub for materials science and engineering. Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology have received $7.7 million in funding from the Canada Foundation of Innovation to create the Prometheus Project — a research hub for materials science and engineering innovation and commercialization.

“Our goal with the Prometheus Project is to turn our world-class research capacity into jobs and growth for the people of British Columbia,” said Neil Branda, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science at Simon Fraser University and leader of the Prometheus Project. “We know that materials science is changing the way we create energy and fight disease. We think it can also help B.C.’s economy evolve.”

This project builds on a strong collective legacy of collaborating with industry. Researchers involved in the Prometheus Project have created 13 spin-off companies, filed 67 patents and have generated 243 new processes and products. [emphasis mine] Branda himself has founded a company called Switch Materials that seizes the power of advanced chemistry to create smarter and more efficient window coatings.

This funding will allow members of the research team to build their capacity in fabrication, device testing and advanced manufacturing, ensuring that they have the resources and expertise they need to compete globally.

There’s a bit more information about the Prometheus project in a Jan.15, 2013 backgrounder supplied by SFU,

Led by Neil Branda, a Canada Research Chair in Materials Science and SFU chemistry professor, The Prometheus Project is destined to become a research hub for materials science and engineering innovation, and commercialization globally.

It brings together 10 principal researchers, including Branda, co-founder of SFU’s 4D LABS (a materials research facility with capabilities at the nanoscale], and 20 other scientists at SFU, University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. They will create new materials science and engineering (MS&E) technology innovations, which will trigger and support sustained economic growth by creating, transforming and making obsolete entire industries.

Working with internationally recognized industrial, government, hospital and academic collaborators, scientists at the Prometheus partners’ labs, including 4D LABS, a $40 million materials science research institute, will deliver innovations in three areas. The labs will:

  • Develop new solar-industry related materials and devices, including novel organic polymers, nanoparticles, and quantum dots, which will be integrated in low cost, high efficiency solar cell devices. The goal is to create a new generation of efficient solar cells that can compete in terms of cost with non-renewable technologies, surpassing older ones in terms of miniaturization and flexibility.
  • Develop miniaturized biosensors that can be used by individuals in clinical settings or at home to allow early detection of disease and treatment monitoring. They will be integrated into flexible electronic skins, allowing health conditions to be monitored in real-time.
  • Develop spintronics (magnetic devices) and quantum computing and information devices that will enable new approaches to significantly improve encrypted communication and security in financial transactions.

“This project will allow B.C.’s four most research intensive institutes to collaborate on fundamental materials research projects with a wide range of potential commercial applications,” notes Branda. “By engaging with a large community of industry, government and NGO partners, we will move this research out of the lab and into society to solve current and future challenges in important areas such as energy, health and communications.”

The Prometheus team already has a strong network of potential end users of resulting technologies. It is based on its members’ relationships with many of more than 25 companies in BC commercializing solar, biomedical and quantum computing devices.

Researchers and industries worldwide will be able to access Prometheus’s new capabilities on an open-access basis. [emphasis mine]

There are a few things I’d like to point out (a) 13 spin-off companies? There’s no mention as to whether they were successful, i.e., created jobs or managed a life beyond government funding. (b) Patents as an indicator for innovation? As I’ve noted many, many times that’s a very problematic argument to make. (c) New processes and products? Sounds good but there are no substantiating details.  (d) Given the emphasis on commercializing discoveries and business, can I assume that open-access to Prometheus’ capabilities means that anyone willing and able to pay can have access?

In other exciting SFU news which also affects TRIUMF, an additional $1M is being awarded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation to upgrade the ATLAS Tier-1 Data Analysis Centre. From the SFU backgrounder,

Led by Mike Vetterli, a physics professor at SFU and TRIUMF, this project involves collaborating with scientists internationally to upgrade a component of a global network of always-on computing centres. Collectively, they form the Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG).

The Canadian scientists collaborating with Vetterli on this project are at several research-intensive universities. They include Carleton University, McGill University, University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, University of Victoria, Université de Montréal, and York University, as well as TRIUMF. It’s Canada’s national lab for particle and nuclear physics research.

The grid, which has 10 Tier-1 centres internationally, is essentially a gigantic storage and processing facility for data collected from the ATLAS  experiment. The new CFI funding will enable Vetterli and his research partners to purchase equipment to upgrade the Tier-1 centre at TRIUMF in Vancouver, where the equipment will remain.

ATLAS is a multi-purpose particle detector inside a massive atom-smashing collider housed at CERN, the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics in Geneva, Switzerland.

More than 3,000 scientists internationally, including Vetterli and many others at SFU, use ATLAS to conduct experiments aimed at furthering global understanding of how the universe was physically formed and operates.

The detector’s fame for being a window into nature’s true inner workings was redoubled last year. It helped scientists, including Vetterli and others at SFU, discover a particle that has properties consistent with the Higgs boson.

Peter Higgs, a Scottish physicist, and other scientists theorized in 1964 about the existence of the long-sought-after particle that is central to the mechanism that gives subatomic particles their mass.

Scientists now need to upgrade the WLCG to accommodate the massive volume of data they’re reviewing to confirm that the newly discovered particle is the Higgs boson. If it is, it will revolutionize the way we see mass in physics.

“This project will enable Canadian scientists to continue to play a leading role in ATLAS physics analysis projects such as the Higgs boson discovery,” says Vetterli. “Much more work and data are required to learn more about the Higgs-like particle and show that it is indeed the missing link to our understanding of the fundamental structure of matter.

There is one more Canada Foundation for Innovation grant to be announced here, it’s a $1.6M grant for research that will be performed at TRIUMF, according to the Jan. 13, 2013 news release from St. Mary’s University (Halifax, Nova Scotia),

Dr. Rituparna Kanungo’s newest research collaboration has some lofty goals: improve cancer research, stimulate the manufacturing of high-tech Canadian-made instrumentation and help explain the origin of the cosmos.

The Saint Mary’s nuclear physicist’s goal moved one step closer to reality today when the federal government announced $1.6 million in support for an advanced research facility that will allow her to recreate, purify, and condition rare isotopes that haven’t existed on the planet for millions of years.

The federal fiscal support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation together with additional provincial and private sector investment will allow the $4.5 million project to be operational in 2015.

“The facility will dramatically advance Canada’s capabilities for isolating, purifying, and studying short-lived isotopes that hold the key not only for understanding the rules that govern the basic ingredients of our everyday lives but also for crafting new therapies that could target and annihilate cancers cell-by-cell within the human body, “ said Dr Kanungo.

The CANadian Rare-isotope facility with Electron-Beam ion source (CANREB) project is led by Saint Mary’s University partnering with the University of Manitoba and Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, Inc. in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, the University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University, and TRIUMF. TRIUMF is Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. It is owned and operated as a joint venture by a consortium of Canadian universities that includes Saint Mary’s University.

As one of the nation’s top nuclear researchers (she was one of only two Canadians invited to speak at a Nobel Symposium last June about exotic isotopes), Dr. Kanungo has been conducting research at the TRIUMF facility for many years, carrying out analyses from her office at Saint Mary’s University together with teams of students. Her students also often spend semesters at the Vancouver facility.

As the project leader for the new initiative, she said TRIUMF is the ideal location because of its world leading isotope-production capabilities and its ability to produce clean, precise, controlled beams of selected exotic isotopes not readily available anywhere else in the world.

In recent studies in the U.S., some of these isotopes have been shown to have dramatic impact in treating types of cancer, by delivering radioactive payloads directly to the cancerous cells. Canada’s mastery of the technology to isolate, study, and control these isotopes will change the course of healthcare.

An integral part of the project is the creation of a new generation of high resolution spectrometer using precision magnets. Advanced Cyclotron Systems, Inc. a company in British Columbia, has been selected for the work with the hope that the expertise it develops during the venture will empower it to design and build precision-magnet technology products for cutting-edge projects all around the world.

Exciting stuff although it does seem odd that the federal government is spreading largesse when there’s no election in sight. In any case, bravo!

There’s one last piece of news, TRIUMF is welcoming a new member to its board, from its Jan. 14, 2013 news release,

Dr. Sylvain Lévesque, Vice-President of Corporate Strategy at Bombardier Inc., a world-leading manufacturer of innovative transportation solutions, has joined the Board of Management for TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, for a three-year term.  Owned and operated by a consortium of 17 Canadian universities with core operating funds administered via a contribution agreement through National Research Council Canada, TRIUMF is guided by a Board that includes university vice-presidents of research, prestigious scientists, and leading members of Canada’s private sector.

Paul Young, Chair of TRIUMF’s Board and Vice President, Research at the University of Toronto, said, “We welcome the participation of Sylvain and his extensive experience at Bombardier.  TRIUMF is a national resource for basic research and yet we also fulfill a technological innovation mission for Canada.  Dr. Lévesque will be a valuable addition to the Board.”

Dr. Sylvain Lévesque earned his Ph.D. from MIT in Engineering and worked at McKinsey & Company before joining Bombardier in 1999.  He brings deep experience with large, technical organizations and a passion for science and engineering. [emphasis mine]  He said, “I am excited to work more closely with TRIUMF.  It has a track record of excellence and I am eager to provide guidance on where Canada’s industrial sector might draw greater strength from the laboratory.”

TRIUMF’s Board of Management reflects the unique status of TRIUMF, a laboratory operating for more than forty years as a joint venture from Canada’s leading research universities.  The consortium includes universities from Halifax to Victoria.

Is deep experience like wide experience or is it a whole new kind of experience helpful for ‘getting one’s groove on’? For anyone who’s curious, ‘getting one’s groove on’ involves dancing.

Change your gloves frequently if you’re handling nanoparticles

Québec’s IRSST (Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) has issued a May 16, 2012 news release about the results of a study on gloves and nanoparticles,

After developing a sampling protocol and selecting the best analysis and measurement techniques, the research team carried out preliminary tests using four models of nitrile, latex, neoprene and butyl rubber protective gloves and commercial titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles in powder and colloidal solution form. “The results appear to indicate that powder nanoparticles penetrated the disposable nitrile gloves after seven hours of repeated deformation, while the butyl gloves appeared to be impermeable,” explained investigator Patricia Dolez, the main author of the report. “As for nanoparticles in colloidal solutions, we measured a possibility of penetration through the gloves, in particular when the gloves were subjected to repeated deformation. These preliminary data, which need to be validated by additional studies, show that it is important to continue work in this field.”

Based on the results, the research team recommends that care be taken when choosing and using this type of personal protective equipment. “We recommend replacing, at regular intervals, protective gloves that are worn, especially thinner gloves, and gloves that have been exposed to nanoparticles in colloidal solutions,” Dr. Dolez concluded.

H/T to the June 14, 2012 news item on Nanowerk for alerting me to this work.

You can get a copy of the study, Développement d’une méthode de mesure de la pénétration des nanoparticules à travers les matériaux de gants de protection dans des conditions simulant l’utilisation en milieu de travail , but it is in French only, as of today June 14, 2012. The abstract has been translated into English. I last mentioned one of the investigators, Patricia Dolez, in passing in my Oct. 14, 2009 posting.

ETA June 14, 2012: I should also have mentioned that this was joint project with researchers from the École de technologie supérieure, École Polytechnique, and Université de Montréal were working on this project with the team from IRSST.

Self-assembling protein inspires University of Montreal’s researchers to smaller efforts

Protein folding doesn’t seem all that exciting to me and the notion that it might lead to self-assembled, living machines isn’t all that new (see my May 31, 2012 posting about a Living Foundries project). So the June 10, 2012 news item on Nanowerk left me with a flat feeling, initially,

Enabling bioengineers to design new molecular machines for nanotechnology applications is one of the possible outcomes of a study by University of Montreal researchers that was published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology today (“Visualizing transient protein folding intermediates by tryptophan scanning mutagenesis” [behind a paywall]). The scientists have developed a new approach to visualize how proteins assemble, which may also significantly aid our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which are caused by errors in assembly.

“In order to survive, all creatures, from bacteria to humans, monitor and transform their environments using small protein nanomachines made of thousands of atoms,” explained the senior author of the study, Prof. Stephen Michnick of the university’s department of biochemistry. “For example, in our sinuses, there are complex receptor proteins that are activated in the presence of different odor molecules. Some of those scents warn us of danger; others tell us that food is nearby.” Proteins are made of long linear chains of amino acids, which have evolved over millions of years to self-assemble extremely rapidly – often within thousandths of a split second – into a working nanomachine.

My ears pricked up when the talk turned to capturing images of action, which occurs in a “fleetingly short time,”

“To understand how a protein goes from a linear chain to a unique assembled structure, we need to capture snapshots of its shape at each stage of assembly said Dr. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, first author of the study. “The problem is that each step exists for a fleetingly short time and no available technique enables us to obtain precise structural information on these states within such a small time frame. We developed a strategy to monitor protein assembly by integrating fluorescent probes throughout the linear protein chain so that we could detect the structure of each stage of protein assembly, step by step to its final structure.” The protein assembly process is not the end of its journey, as a protein can change, through chemical modifications or with age, to take on different forms and functions. “Understanding how a protein goes from being one thing to becoming another is the first step towards understanding and designing protein nanomachines for biotechnologies such as medical and environmental diagnostic sensors, drug synthesis or delivery,” Vallée-Bélisle said.

Here’s an image of protein self-assembly from the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) website (Montréal, Québec, Canada),

Vallée-Bélisle and Michnick have developed a new approach to visualize how proteins assemble, which may also significantly aid our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, which are caused by errors in assembly. Here shown are two different assembly stages (purple and red) of the protein ubiquitin and the fluorescent probe used to visualize these stage (tryptophan: see yellow). Credit: Peter Allen

I would have liked a little more detail (e.g. how little time is there to capture the images?) but there isn’t always time either for the people who write these news releases or for me to follow up with questions. Given the huge political unrest amongst students over the proposed tuition fees and the Québec government’s attempts (sometimes described as draconian) to impose order, I’m impressed this news release was pulled together.

International Year of Chemistry

ChemQuest 2011, an event honouring the International Year of Chemistry, is being hosted by Year of Science BC, Simon Fraser University, and Douglas College on May 14, 2011 from 1 pm to 4 pm on the Academic Quadrangle at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Campus.

This isn’t the only such event in Canada. Last week, there was a chemistry marathon (part of a larger initiative, 24 heures de science), La chimie pour tous (Chemistry for everyone) from 12 noon to 12 midnight at Université de Montréal. Isabelle Burgun wrote up an interview, for Agence Science-Presse, that she had with the chemist leading this public engagement event, Andreea Schmitzer. From the interview,

ASP – À qui s’adresse cette activité?

AS — Nous désirons sensibiliser la population et insuffler aux jeunes le goût de devenir chimiste! Mais nous visons surtout les plus jeunes, car le goût pour la science s’acquiert très jeune et puis, voir l’émerveillement scientifique dans les jeux [sic] d’un enfant n’a pas de prix!

ASP — La chimie, vous êtes tombée dedans quand vous étiez petite…

AS — J’ai effectivement découvert la chimie enfant, avec mon grand-père, qui était un passionné de science, la physique et la chimie en particulier. On faisait ensemble toutes sortes de manipulation dans le garage. À 6 ans, j’étais fascinée par tout ce qu’on pouvait apprendre et comprendre en manipulant des molécules, et c’est exactement ce que je fais aujourd’hui en recherche. Cette passion héritée de mon grand-père, j’ai à mon tour le goût de la transmettre aux jeunes et aux moins jeunes.

My rough translation:

Who is your audience for this event?

We want to raise public awareness and we want to inculcate in youth the desire to become chemists. But we’re particularly interested in inspiring young children because one acquires an interest in science at a young age and seeing the wonder at science in a child’s eyes has no price.

You were very young when you tumbled into a passion for chemistry.

I discovered chemistry very young, with my grandfather who was passionate about science, physics and chemistry in particular. We performed all kinds of experiments in the garage. At the age of six, I was fascinated by what you could learn and understand by manipulating molecules and that’s exactly what I do in my research today. This passion I inherited from my grandfather is what I want to pass on to the young and the not so young.

That’s it, I’m in a rush this morning. I’ll come back later to fix mistakes. Meanwhile, hope to see you at Northern Voice today or tomorrow.

Nanomaterial growth system sold to L’École Polytechnique et L’Universite de Montreal

NanoGrowth-Catalyst produced by Surrey Nanosystems has been sold to L’École Polytechnique de Montréal, the Université de Montréal, and the University of Surrey’s (England) Advanced Technology Institute. From the Jan. 10, 2011 news item on Azonano,

These leading research organisations have chosen the NanoGrowth-Catalyst as a platform for their work on materials including carbon nanotubes, silicon nanowires, graphene and nanoparticles for semiconductor, optical device and other applications. The growth system’s multi-chamber design ensures the purest nanomaterial processing conditions by continuously maintaining the substrate under vacuum, from the deposition of catalysts to growth of materials.

The Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) is a partner to Surrey NanoSystems and has already been using an earlier version of the NanoGrowth system for around four years to support its research into next-generation semiconductor and photonic device technologies. ATI is the first customer to receive the new NanoGrowth-Catalyst, and the system’s advanced processing resources are now starting to play a role in its work. Facilities including the rapid infrared heating process and a water-cooled chuck are helping ATI to grow ordered carbon nanotube (CNT) structures while maintaining the substrate below 350 degrees C. Low temperature processing is critical as CNTs are typically grown at around 700 degrees C – a level that is incompatible with CMOS semiconductor fabrication. This pioneering semiconductor-related work is currently the subject of a current ATI paper in the journal Carbon†.

“The top-down infrared heating technique provided by this tool allows us to localise energy delivery very accurately”, says Professor Ravi Silva, Head of the Nano-Electronics Centre at the Advanced Technology Institute. “The system provides unparalleled control of processing parameters, giving the required flexibility to support research into nanoelectronic materials – including carbon nanotubes, graphene and silicon nanowires – enabling us to overcome roadblocks to ongoing semiconductor development.”

“Some researchers are still relying on simple thermal furnaces to develop nanomaterials”, explains Ben Jensen of Surrey NanoSystems. “The NanoGrowth system’s comprehensive suite of deposition and processing capabilities, plus end-to-end processing in vacuum, gives both researchers and commercial developers precise and automated control over catalyst deposition and material growth, to explore nanomaterial capabilities and turn ideas into repeatable production processes.”

The folks in Montréal will have a special function added to their system (from the news item),

It will also incorporate a unique form of rapid thermal growth for nanomaterials developed to prevent the agglomeration of catalyst particles. The configuration of the tool was specified by Professor Patrick Desjardins, Director of the École Polytechnique’s Department of Engineering Physics.

Nanomaterials, toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health

Thanks to a reader who provided me with a link, I found a document (titled Evidence) about a ‘nanomaterials’ hearing held by Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on June 10, 2010 and chaired by Joyce Murray, Member of Parliament, Vancouver Quadra. It makes for interesting reading and you can find it here.

The official title for the hearing was Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology, which I found out after much digging around. The purpose for the haring  seemed to be the education of the committee members about nanotechnology both generally (what is it? is there anything good about it?) and about its possible toxicology.

For information about the committee and the meeting, go here to find the minutes, the evidence (direct link provided in 1st para.), and your choice of webcasts (English version, French version, and floor version). One comment before you go, keep scrolling down past the sidebar and the giant white box to find the list of meetings along with appropriate links and if you choose to listen to the webcast, wait at least 1 minute for the audio to start. There’s a list of the committee members here, again scroll down past the giant white box to find the information.

I am going to make a few comments about this hearing. I will have to confine myself to a few points as the committee covered quite a bit of ground in the proceedings as they grappled with understanding something about nanotechnology, health and safety issues, benefits, and regulatory frameworks, amongst other issues.

It was unexpected to find that Mihail Roco, a well known figure in the US nanotechnology field, was speaking via videoconference (from the document),

Dr. Mihail Roco (Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology, National Nanotechnology Initiative, National Science Foundation, As an Individual) (p. 1 in print version, p. 3 in PDF)

He did have this to say,

First of all, I would like to present an overview of different themes in the United States, and thereafter make some recommendations, some ideas for the future. [emphasis mine] (p. 5 in print version, p. 7 in PDF)

I have to say my eyebrows raised at Roco’s “… make some recommendations …” comment. While appreciative of his experience and perspective, I’ve sometimes found that speakers from the US tend to give recommendations that are better geared to their own situation and less so to the Canadian one. Thankfully,  he offered unexceptional advice that I heartily agree with,

I would like to say, in conclusion, that it’s important to have an anticipatory, participatory, and adaptive governance approach to nanotechnology in order to capture the new developments and also to prepare people, tools, and organizations for the future. (p. 6 in print version, p. 8 in PDF)

The Canadian guests are not as well known to me save for Dr. Nils Petersen who heads up Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology. Here is a list of the Canadian guest speakers,

Mr. (sometimes referred to as Dr. in the document) Claude Ostiguy (Director, Research and Expertise Support Department, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) (p. 1 in print version, p. 3 in PDF)

Dr. Nils Petersen (Director General, National Research Council Canada, National Institute for Nanotechnology) (p. 2 in print version, p. 4 in PDF)

Dr. Claude Emond (Toxicologist, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Université de Montréal) (p. 3 in print version, p. 5 in PDF)

Ms. Françoise Maniet (Lecturer and Research Agent, Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la biologie, la santé, la société et l’environnement (CINBIOSE) et Groupe de recherche en droit international et comparé de la consommation (GREDICC), Université du Québec à Montréal) (p. 4 in print version, p. 6 in PDF)

Emond spoke to the need for a national nanotechnology development strategy. He also mentioned communication although I’m not sure he and would agree much beyond the point that some communication programmes are necessary,

The different meetings I attend point out the necessity to integrate the social communication transparency education aspect in nanotechnology development, so many structures already exist around the words. As I said before with OECD, NNI, we also have ISO 229. Now we have a network called NE3LS in Quebec, and we also have this international team we created a few years ago, which I spoke about earlier [he leads an international team in nano safety with members from France, Japan, US, Germany, and Canada].

A Canadian strategy initiative in nanotechnology can be inspired by a group above. In closing the discussion, I want to say there is an urgent need to coordinate the national development of nanotechnology and more particularly in parallel with the nanosafety issue, including research, characterization exposure, toxicology, and assessment. I would like to conclude by saying that Canada has to assume leadership in nanosafety and contribute to this international community rather than wait and see.

The NE3LS in Québec is new to me and I wonder if  they liaise with the team in Alberta last mentioned here in connection with Alberta’s Nanotechnology Asset Map.

In response to a question from the committee member, Mrs. Cathy McLeod, Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo,

First, because I am someone who is somewhat new to the understanding of this issue, could we take an example of either a cosmetic or a food or something that’s commonplace and follow it through from development into the product so I could understand the pathway of a nanoparticle in a cosmetic product or food? (p. 6 in print version, p. 8 in PDF)

The example Dr. Ostiguy used for his response was titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreens and his focus was occupational safety, i.e., what happens to people working to produce these sunscreens.  The surprising moment came when I saw Dr. Petersen’s response as he added,

In the case of cosmetics, they take that nanoparticle and put it into the cream formulation at a factory site. Then it normally comes out to the consumer encapsulated or protected in one way or another. [emphasis mine]

In general, in those kinds of manufacturing environments the risks are at the start of the process, when you are making the particles and incorporating them into a material, and possibly at the end of the product’s life, when you’re disposing of it. It might then be released in ways that you might not have anticipated—for example, through the wearing down or opening of the cassette of toner or whatever.

I think those are the two areas. Most consumers would see a product in which nanoparticles are encapsulated or incorporated— maybe inside a cellphone, or something like that—and often not be exposed in that way. (p. 7 in print version, p. 9 in PDF)

As I understand Petersen’s comments, he believes that the nanoparticles in sunscreens (and other cosmetics) do not make direct contact as they are somehow incorporated into a shell or capsule. He then makes a comparison to cell phones to prove his point. This is incorrect. Yes, any nanomaterials in a cell phone are bound to the product (cell phones are not rubbed onto the skin) but the nanoparticles in sunscreens make direct contact and *penetrate the skin. *ETA June 28, 2010: It has not been unequivocally proved that nanoparticles penetrate healthy adult skin. I apologize for the error. ** ETA July 19, 2010: As per the July 18, 2010 posting on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science blog, the evidence so far suggests that there is no skin penetration by nanoparticles in sunscreens.

I have posted extensively about nanoparticles and sunscreens and will try later to lay in some links either to my posts or to more informed parties as to safety issues regarding consumers.

There was an interesting development towards the end of the meeting with Carolyn Bennett, St. Paul’s,

Firstly, I wanted to apologize for being late. I think some of you know it was the tenth anniversary of CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] this morning, the breakfast, and some of us who were there at the birth were supposed to be there at the birthday party. So my apologies.

What happened on the way in to the breakfast was that I ran into Liz Dowdeswell, from the Council of Canadian Academies, and it seems that they have just done a review of nanotechnology in terms of pros and cons. [emphasis mine]So I would first ask the clerk and the analyst to circulate that report to the committee, because I think it might be very helpful to us, and then I think it would be interesting to know if the witnesses had seen it and whether they had further comments on whether you felt it was taking Canada in the right direction.

The report mentioned by Bennett was released in July 8, 2008 (news release). You can find the full report here and the abridged version here.

I wouldn’t describe this report as having just been “done” but I think that as a primer it stands up well. (You can read my 2008 comments here.)

I do find it sad that neither this committee nor Peter Julian the Member of Parliament who earlier this year tabled the first bill concerned with nanotechnology were aware of the report’s existence. It adds weight to an issue (nobody in Ottawa seems to be aware of their work) for the Council of Canadian Academies mentioned on this blog here (where you will find links to a more informed discussion by Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind and the folks at The Black Hole).

I’m glad to see there’s some interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa and I hope they continue to dig for more information.

I have sent Joyce Murray a set of questions which I hope she’ll answer about the committee’s interest in nanotechnology and about the science resources and advice available to the Members of Parliament.

ETA June 30, 2010: I received this correction from Mr. Julian’s office today:

I would like to bring to your attention incorrect information provided in the Frogheart posting on June 23, Nanomaterials, Toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Of particular concern are the closing comments:

“I do find it sad that neither this committee nor Peter Julian the Member of Parliament who earlier this year tabled the first bill concerned with nanotechnology were aware of the report’s existence. It adds weight to an issue (nobody in Ottawa seems to be aware of their work) for the Council of Canadian Academies mentioned on this blog here (where you will find links to a more informed discussion by Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind and the folks at The Black Hole). I’m glad to see there’s some interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa and I hope they continue to dig for more information.”

Mr. Julian is indeed aware of the Council of Canadian Academies excellent report on nanotechnology in 2008. The document is one of many that formed the basis of Mr. Julian’s Bill C-494 which was tabled in Parliament on March 10. It is incorrect to assume that Mr. Julian was not aware of the report’s existence.

There is indeed interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa. Canadians should expect sustained interest when the House of Commons reconvenes in September with a focus on better ensuring that nanotechnology’s benefits are safely produced in the marketplace.

I apologize for the error and I shouldn’t have made the assumption. I am puzzled that the Council of Canadian Academies report was not mentioned in the interview Mr. Julian very kindly gave me and where I explicitly requested some recommendations for Canadians who want to read up about nanotechnology. Mr. Julian’s reply (part 2 of the interview) did not include a reference to the Council’s nanotechnology report, which I consider more readable than some of the suggestions offered.