Tag Archives: University of Alberta

Corrections: Hybrid Photonic-Nanomechanical Force Microscopy uses vibration for better chemical analysis

*ETA  Nov. 4, 2015: I’m apologizing to anyone wishing to read this posting as it’s a bit of a mess. I deeply regret mishandling the situation. In future, I shall not be taking any corrections from individual researchers to materials such as news releases that have been issued by an institution. Whether or not the individual researchers are happy with how their contributions or how a colleague’s contributions or how their home institutions have been characterized is a matter for them and their home institutions.

The August 10, 2015 ORNL news release with all the correct details has been added to the end of this post.*

A researcher at the University of Central Florida (UCF) has developed a microscope that uses vibrations for better analysis of chemical composition. From an Aug. 10, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

It’s a discovery that could have promising implications for fields as varied as biofuel production, solar energy, opto-electronic devices, pharmaceuticals and medical research.

“What we’re interested in is the tools that allow us to understand the world at a very small scale,” said UCF professor Laurene Tetard, formerly of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “Not just the shape of the object, but its mechanical properties, its composition and how it evolves in time.”

An Aug. 10, 2015 UCF news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the limitations of atomic force microscopy and gives a few details about the hybrid microscope (Note: A link has been removed),

For more than two decades, scientists have used atomic force microscopy – a probe that acts like an ultra-sensitive needle on a record player – to determine the surface characteristics of samples at the microscopic scale. A “needle” that comes to an atoms-thin point traces a path over a sample, mapping the surface features at a sub-cellular level [nanoscale].

But that technology has its limits. It can determine the topographical characteristics of [a] sample, but it can’t identify its composition. And with the standard tools currently used for chemical mapping, anything smaller than roughly half a micron is going to look like a blurry blob, so researchers are out of luck if they want to study what’s happening at the molecular level.

A team led by Tetard has come up with a hybrid form of that technology that produces a much clearer chemical image. As described Aug. 10 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, Hybrid Photonic-Nanomechanical Force Microscopy (HPFM) can discern a sample’s topographic characteristics together with the chemical properties at a much finer scale.

The HPFM method is able to identify materials based on differences in the vibration produced when they’re subjected to different wavelengths of light – essentially a material’s unique “fingerprint.”

“What we are developing is a completely new way of making that detection possible,” said Tetard, who has joint appointments to UCF’s Physics Department, Material Science and Engineering Department and the NanoScience Technology Center.

The researchers proved the effectiveness of HPFM while examining samples from an eastern cottonwood tree, a potential source of biofuel. By examining the plant samples at the nanoscale, the researchers for the first time were able to determine the molecular traits of both untreated and chemically processed cottonwood inside the plant cell walls.

The research team included Tetard; Ali Passian, R.H. Farahi and Brian Davison, all of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Thomas Thundat of the University of Alberta.

Long term, the results will help reveal better methods for producing the most biofuel from the cottonwood, a potential boon for industry. Likewise, the new method could be used to examine samples of myriad plants to determine whether they’re good candidates for biofuel production.

Potential uses of the technology go beyond the world of biofuel. Continued research may allow HPFM to be used as a probe so, for instance, it would be possible to study the effect of new treatments being developed to save plants such as citrus trees from bacterial diseases rapidly decimating the citrus industry, or study fundamental photonically-induced processes in complex systems such as in solar cell materials or opto-electronic devices.

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

Opto-nanomechanical spectroscopic material characterization by L. Tetard, A. Passian, R. H. Farahi, T. Thundat, & B. H. Davison. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.168 Published online 10 August 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

*ETA August 27, 2015:

August 10, 2015 ORNL news release (Note: Funding information and a link to the paper [previously given] have been removed):

A microscope being developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will allow scientists studying biological and synthetic materials to simultaneously observe chemical and physical properties on and beneath the surface.

The Hybrid Photonic Mode-Synthesizing Atomic Force Microscope is unique, according to principal investigator Ali Passian of ORNL’s Quantum Information System group. As a hybrid, the instrument, described in a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, combines the disciplines of nanospectroscopy and nanomechanical microscopy.

“Our microscope offers a noninvasive rapid method to explore materials simultaneously for their chemical and physical properties,” Passian said. “It allows researchers to study the surface and subsurface of synthetic and biological samples, which is a capability that until now didn’t exist.”

ORNL’s instrument retains all of the advantages of an atomic force microscope while simultaneously offering the potential for discoveries through its high resolution and subsurface spectroscopic capabilities.

“The originality of the instrument and technique lies in its ability to provide information about a material’s chemical composition in the broad infrared spectrum of the chemical composition while showing the morphology of a material’s interior and exterior with nanoscale – a billionth of a meter – resolution,” Passian said.

Researchers will be able to study samples ranging from engineered nanoparticles and nanostructures to naturally occurring biological polymers, tissues and plant cells.

The first application as part of DOE’s BioEnergy Science Center was in the examination of plant cell walls under several treatments to provide submicron characterization. The plant cell wall is a layered nanostructure of biopolymers such as cellulose. Scientists want to convert such biopolymers to free the useful sugars and release energy.

An earlier instrument, also invented at ORNL, provided imaging of poplar cell wall structures that yielded unprecedented topological information, advancing fundamental research in sustainable biofuels.

Because of this new instrument’s impressive capabilities, the researcher team envisions broad applications.
“An urgent need exists for new platforms that can tackle the challenges of subsurface and chemical characterization at the nanometer scale,” said co-author Rubye Farahi. “Hybrid approaches such as ours bring together multiple capabilities, in this case, spectroscopy and high-resolution microscopy.”

Looking inside, the hybrid microscope consists of a photonic module that is incorporated into a mode-synthesizing atomic force microscope. The modular aspect of the system makes it possible to accommodate various radiation sources such as tunable lasers and non-coherent monochromatic or polychromatic sources.

ETA2 August 27, 2015: I’ve received an email from one of the paper’s authors (RH Farahi of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory [ORNL]) who claims some inaccuracies in this piece.  The news release supplied by the University of Central Florida states that Dr. Tetard led the team and that is not so. According to Dr. Farahi, she had a postdoctoral position on the team which she left two years ago. You might also get the impression that some of the work was performed at the University of Central Florida. That is not so according to Dr. Farahi.  As a courtesy Dr. Tetard was retained as first author of the paper.

*Nov. 4, 2015: I suspect some of the misunderstanding was due to overeagerness and/or time pressures. Whoever wrote the news release may have made some assumptions. It’s very easy to make a mistake when talking to an ebullient scientist who can unintentionally lead you to believe something that’s not so. I worked in a high tech company and believed that there was some new software being developed which turned out to be a case of high hopes. Luckily, I said something that triggered a rapid rebuttal to the fantasies. Getting back to this situation, other contributing factors could include the writer not having time to get the news release reviewed the scientist or the scientist skimming the release and missing a few bits due to time pressure.*

Solar cells from the University of Alberta?

Trevor Robb’s Aug. 7, 2015 article for the Edmonton Sun (Alberta, Canada) features a research team dedicated to producing better solar cells and a facility (nanoFAB) at the University of Alberta,

But in an energy rich province like Alberta — known for its oil and gas sector — [JIllian] Buriak [chemistry professor at the University of Alberta, Canada Research chair of nanomaterials] is on a mission to shed some light on another form of energy Alberta is known for, solar energy.

So her team is dedicated to producing flexible, recyclable plastic solar cells that can be printed just like a newspaper.

In fact, they’ve already begun doing so.

In order to produce the sheet-like solar cells, Buriak and her team use nothing more than simple commercial laminators and a spray gun, not unlike something you would use to paint a car.

“We run them through this laminator that squeezes them down and turns them from something that’s not conducting to something that’s really conducting,” said Buriak.

“You could incorporate it into clothing, you could incorporate it into books, into window blinds, or unroll it on a tent when you’re camping,” said Buriak. “You could use it anywhere. Anything from simple funny things to cafe umbrellas that could allow you to charge electronic devices, to large scale things in developing countries; large scale solar cells that you could simply carry on your backpack, unroll at a medical clinic, and suddenly you have instant power.”

There are more details about Buriak’s work and information about nanoFAB in Robb’s article. As for technical information, the best I can find is in an Aug. 29, 2013 University of Alberta news release (also on EurekAlert),

University of Alberta researchers have found that abundant materials in the Earth’s crust can be used to make inexpensive and easily manufactured nanoparticle-based solar cells.

The discovery, several years in the making, is an important step forward in making solar power more accessible to parts of the world that are off the traditional electricity grid or face high power costs, such as the Canadian North, said researcher Jillian Buriak, a chemistry professor and senior research officer of the National Institute for Nanotechnology based on the U of A campus.
Buriak and her team have designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity from two very common elements: phosphorus and zinc. Both materials are more plentiful than scarce materials such as cadmium and are free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles.

Buriak collaborated with U of A post-doctoral fellows Erik Luber of the U of A Faculty of Engineering and Hosnay Mobarok of the Faculty of Science to create the nanoparticles. The team was able to develop a synthetic method to make zinc phosphide nanoparticles, and demonstrated that the particles can be dissolved to form an ink and processed to make thin films that are responsive to light.

Buriak and her team are now experimenting with the nanoparticles, spray-coating them onto large solar cells to test their efficiency. The team has applied for a provisional patent and has secured funding to enable the next step to scale up manufacture.

I wonder if this news article by Robb is an attempt by Buriak to attract interest from potential investors?

Research2Reality: a science media engagement experience dedicated to Canadian science

As of May 11, 2015, Canadians will be getting an addition to their science media environment (from the May 4, 2015 news release),

Research2Reality to celebrate Canadian research stars

Social media initiative to popularize scientific innovation

May 4, 2015, TORONTO – On Monday, May 11, Research2Reality.com goes live and launches a social media initiative that will make the scientist a star. Following in the footsteps of popular sites like IFLScience and How Stuff Works, Research2Reality uses a video series and website to engage the community in the forefront of scientific discoveries made here in Canada.

The interviews feature some of Canada’s leading researchers such as Dick Peltier – director of the Centre for Global Change Science at the University of Toronto, Sally Aitken – director of the Centre for Forest Conservation Genetics at the University of British Columbia and Raymond Laflamme – executive director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.

“Right now many Canadians don’t understand the scope of cutting-edge work being done in our backyards,” says Research2Reality co-founder and award-winning professor Molly Shoichet. “This initiative will bridge that gap between researchers and the public.”

Also launching Monday, May 11, courtesy of Research2Reality’s official media partner, Discovery Science, is a complementary website www.sciencechannel.ca/Shows/Research2Reality. The new website will feature the exclusive premieres of a collection of interview sessions. In addition, Discovery Science and Discovery will broadcast an imaginative series of public service announcements through the end of the year, while social media accounts will promote Research2Reality, including Discovery’s flagship science and technology program DAILY PLANET.

About Research2Reality:
Research2Reality is a social media initiative designed to popularize the latest Canadian research. It was founded by Molly Shoichet, Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering at the University of Toronto, and Mike MacMillan, founder and producer of Lithium Studios Productions. Research2Reality’s founding partners are leading research-intensive universities – the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, McMaster University, the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, and Western University – along with the Ontario Government and Discovery Networks. Discovery Science is the official media partner. Research2Reality is also supported by The Globe and Mail.

Research2Reality details

A Valentine of sorts to Canadian science researchers from Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoy [and] quette as in David Arquette)  and her producing partner Mike MacMillan of Lithium Studios, Research2Reality gives Canadians an opportunity to discover online some of the extraordinary work done by scientists of all stripes, including (unusually) social scientists, in this country. The top tier in this effort is the interview video series ‘The Orange Chair Sessions‘  which can be found and shared across

Shoichet and MacMillan are convinced there’s an appetite for more comprehensive science information. Supporting The Orange Chair Sessions is a complementary website operated by Discovery Channel where there are

  • more interviews
  • backgrounders,
  • biographies,
  • blogs, and
  • links to other resources

Discovery Channel is also going to be airing special one minute  public service announcements (PSA) on topics like water, quantum computing, and cancer. Here’s one of the first of those PSAs,

“I’m very excited about this and really hope that other people will be too,” says Shoichet. The audience for the Research2Reality endeavour is for people who like to know more and have questions when they see news items about science discoveries that can’t be answered by investigating mainstream media programmes or trying to read complex research papers.

This is a big undertaking. ” Mike and I thought about this for about two years.” Building on the support they received from the University of Toronto, “We reached out to the vice-presidents of research at the top fifteen universities in the country.” In the end, six universities accepted the invitation to invest in this project,

  • the University of British Columbia,
  • the University of Alberta,
  • Western University (formerly the University of Western Ontario),
  • McMaster University,
  • Waterloo University, and, of course,
  • the University of Toronto

(Unfortunately, Shoichet was not able to answer a question about the cost for an individual episode but perhaps when there’s time that detail and more about the financing will be made available. [ETA May 11, 2015 1625 PDT: Ivan Semeniuk notes this is a $400,000 project in his Globe and Mail May 11, 2015 article.]) As part of their involvement, the universities decide which of their researchers/projects should be profiled then Research2Reality swings into action. “We shoot our own video, that is, we (Mike and I) come out and conduct interviews that take approximately fifteen minutes. We also shoot a b-roll, that is, footage of the laboratories and other relevant sites so it’s not all ‘talking heads’.” Shoichet and MacMillan are interested in the answer to two questions, “What are you doing? and Why do we care?” Neither interviewer/producer is seen or heard on camera as they wanted to keep the focus on the researcher.

Three videos are being released initially with another 67 in the pipeline for a total of 70.  The focus is on research of an international calibre and one of the first interviews to be released (Shoichet’s will be release later) is Raymond Laflamme’s (he’s also featured in the ‘quantum PSA’.

Raymond Laflamme

Who convinces a genius that he’s gotten an important cosmological concept wrong or ignored it? Alongside Don Page, Laflamme accomplished that feat as one of Stephen Hawking’s PhD students at the University of Cambridge. Today (May 11, 2015), Laflamme is (from his Wikipedia entry)

… co-founder and current director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. He is also a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo and an associate faculty member at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Laflamme is currently a Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information.

Laflamme changed his focus from quantum cosmology to quantum information while at Los Alamos, “To me, it seemed natural. Not much of a change.” It is the difference between being a theoretician and an experimentalist and anyone who’s watched The Big Bang Theory (US television programme) knows that Laflamme made a big leap.

One of his major research interests is quantum cryptography, a means of passing messages you can ensure are private. Laflamme’s team and a team in Vienna (Austria) have enabled two quantum communication systems, one purely terrestrial version, which can exchange messages with another such system up to 100 km. away. There are some problems yet to be solved with terrestrial quantum communication. First, buildings, trees, and other structures provide interference as does the curvature of the earth. Second, fibre optic cables absorb some of the photons en route.

Satellite quantum communication seems more promising as these problems are avoided altogether. The joint Waterloo/Vienna team of researchers has  conducted successful satellite experiments in quantum communication in the Canary Islands.

While there don’t seem to be any practical, commercial quantum applications, Laflamme says that isn’t strictly speaking the truth, “In the last 10  to 15 years many ideas have been realized.” The talk turns to quantum sensing and Laflamme mentions two startups and notes he can’t talk about them yet. But there is Universal Quantum Devices (UQD), a company that produces parts for quantum sensors. It is Laflamme’s startup, one he co-founded with two partners. (For anyone unfamiliar with the Canadian academic scene, Laflamme’s home institution, the University of Waterloo, is one of the most actively ‘innovative’ and business-oriented universities in Canada.)

LaFlamme’s interests extend beyond laboratory work and business. He’s an active science communicator as can be seen in this 2010 TEDxWaterloo presentation where he takes his audience from the discovery of fire to quantum physics concepts such as a ‘quantum superposition’ and the ‘observer effect’ to the question, ‘What is reality?’ in approximately 18 mins.

For anyone who needs a little more information, a quantum superposition is a term referring the ability of a quantum object to inhabit two states simultaneously, e.g., on/off. yes/no, alive/dead, as in Schrödinger’s cat. (You can find out more about quantum superpositions in this Wikipedia essay and about Schrodinger’s cat in this Wikipedia essay.) The observer effect is a phenomenon whereby the observer of a quantum experiment affects that experiment by the act of observing it. (You can find out more about the observer effect in this Wikipedia essay.)

The topic of reality is much trickier to explain. No one has yet been able to offer a viable theory for why the world at the macro scale behaves one way (classical physics) and the world at the quantum scale behaves another way (quantum physics). As Laflamme notes, “There is no such thing as a superposition in classical physics but we can prove in the laboratory that it exists in quantum physics.” He goes on to suggest that children, raised in an environment where quantum physics and its applications are commonplace, will have an utterly different notion as to what constitutes reality.

Laflamme is also interested in music and consulted on a ‘quantum symphony’. He has this to say about it in an Sept. 20, 2012 piece on the University of Waterlo website,

Science and art share a common goal — to help us understand our universe and ourselves.  Research at IQC [Institute for Quantum Computing] aims to provide important new understanding of nature’s building blocks, and devise methods to turn that understanding into technologies beneficial for society.Since founding IQC a decade ago, I have sought ways to bridge science and the arts, with the belief that scientific discovery itself is a source of beauty and inspiration.  Our collaboration with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony was an example — one of many yet to come — of how science and the arts provide different but complementary insights into our universe and ourselves.

I wrote about the IQC and the symphony which debuted at the IQC’s opening in a Sept. 25, 2012 posting.

Music is not the only art which has attracted Laflamme’s talents. He consulted on a documentary, The Quantum Tamers: Revealing our weird and wired future, a co-production between Canada’s Perimeter Institute and Title Entertainment,

From deep inside the sewers of Vienna, site of groundbreaking quantum teleportation experiments, to cutting-edge quantum computing labs, to voyages into the minds of the world’s brightest thinkers, including renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking, this documentary explores the coming quantum technological revolution.

All of this suggests an interest in science not seen since the 19th century when scientists could fill theatres for their lectures. Even Hollywood is capitalizing on this interest. Laflamme, who saw ‘Interstellar’, ‘The Imitation Game’ (Alan Turing), and ‘The Theory of Everything’ (Stephen Hawking) in fall 2014 comments, “I was surprised by how much science there was in The Imitation Game and Interstellar.” As for the Theory of Everything, “I was apprehensive since I know Stephen well. But, the actor, Eddie Redmayne, and the movie surprised me. There were times when he moved his head or did something in a particular way—he was Stephen. Also, most people don’t realize what an incredible sense of humour Stephen has and the movie captured that well.” Laflamme also observed that it was a movie about a relationship and not really concerned with science and its impacts (good and ill) or scientific accomplishments.  Although he allows, “It could have had more science.”

Research2Reality producers

Molly Shoichet

Co-producer Shoichet has sterling scientific credentials of her own. In addition to this science communication project, she runs the Shoichet Lab at the University of Toronto (from the Dr. Molly Shoichet bio page),

Dr. Molly Shoichet holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and is University Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, Chemistry and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. She is an expert in the study of Polymers for Drug Delivery & Regeneration which are materials that promote healing in the body.

Dr. Shoichet has published over to 480 papers, patents and abstracts and has given over 310 lectures worldwide.  She currently leads a laboratory of 25 researchers and has graduated 134 researchers over the past 20 years.  She founded two spin-off companies from research in her laboratory.

Dr. Shoichet is the recipient of many prestigious distinctions and the only person to be a Fellow of Canada’s 3 National Academies: Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Engineering, and Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Dr. Shoichet holds the Order of Ontario, Ontario’s highest honour and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2013, her contributions to Canada’s innovation agenda and the advancement of knowledge were recognized with the QEII Diamond Jubilee Award. In 2014, she was given the University of Toronto’s highest distinction, University Professor, a distinction held by less than 2% of the faculty.

Mike MacMillan

MacMIllan’s biography (from the Lithium Studios website About section hints this is his first science-oriented series (Note: Links have been removed),

Founder of Lithium Studios Productions
University of Toronto (‘02)
UCLA’s Professional Producing Program (‘11)

His first feature, the dark comedy / thriller I Put a Hit on You (2014, Telefilm Canada supported), premiered at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City. Guidance (2014, Telefilm Canada supported, with super producer Alyson Richards over at Edyson), a dark comedy/coming of age story is currently in post-production, expected to join the festival circuit in September 2014.

Mike has produced a dozen short films with Toronto talents Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart (CAN – Long Branch, Margo Lily), Samuel Fluckiger (SWISS – Terminal, Nightlight) and Darragh McDonald (CAN – Love. Marriage. Miscarriage.). They’ve played at the top film fests around the world and won a bunch of awards.

Special skills include kickass hat collection and whiskey. Bam.

Final comments

It’s nice to see the Canadian scene expanding; I’m particularly pleased to learn social scientists will be included.Too often researchers from the physical sciences or natural sciences and researchers from the social sciences remain aloof from each other. In April 2013, I attended a talk by Evelyn Fox Keller, physicist, feminist, and philosopher, who read from a paper she’d written based on a then relatively recent experience in South Africa where researchers had aligned themselves in two different groups and refused to speak to each other. They were all anthropologists but the sticking point was the type of science they practiced. One group were physical anthropologists and the other were cultural anthropologists. That’s an extreme example unfortunately symptomatic of a great divide. Bravo to Research2Reality for bringing the two groups together.

As for the science appetite Shoichet and MacMillan see in Canada, this is not the only country experiencing a resurgence of interest; they’ve been experiencing a science media expansion in the US.  Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk television talk show, which also exists as a radio podcast, debuted on April 19, 2015 (Yahoo article by Calla Cofield); Public Radio Exchange’s (PRX) Transistor; a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) audio project debuted in Feb. 2015; and video podcast Science Goes to the Movies also debuted in Feb. 2015 (more about the last two initiatives in my March 6, 2015 posting [scroll down about 40% of the way]). Finally (for the burgeoning US science media scene) and neither least nor new, David Bruggeman has a series of posts titled, Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of …, on his Pasco Phronesis blog which has been running for many years. Bruggeman’s series is being included here because most people don’t realize that US late night talk shows have jumped into the science scene. You can check  David’s site here as he posts this series on Mondays and this is Monday, May 11, 2015.

It’s early days for Research2Reality and it doesn’t yet have the depth one might wish. The videos are short (the one featured on the Discovery Channel’s complementary website is less than 2 mins. and prepare yourself for ads). They may not be satisfying from an information perspective but what makes The Orange Chair Series fascinating is the peek into the Canadian research scene. Welcome to Research2Reality and I hope to hear more about you in the coming months.

[ETA May 11, 2015 at 1625 PDT: Semeniuk’s May 11, 2015 article mentions a few other efforts to publicize Canadian research (Note: Links have been removed),

For example, Research Matters, a promotional effort by the Council of Ontario Universities, has built up a large bank of short articles on its website that highlight researchers across the province. Similarly, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which channels federal dollars toward research infrastructure and projects, produces features stories with embedded videos about the scientists who are enabled by their investments.

What makes Research2Reality different, said Dr. Shoichet, is an approach that doesn’t speak for one region, field of research of  [sic] funding stream.

One other aspect which distinguishes Research2Reality from the other science promotion efforts is the attempt to reach out to the audience. The Canada Foundation for Innovation and Council for Ontario Universities are not known for reaching out directly to the general public.]

Simon Fraser University – SCFC861Nanotechnology, The Next Big Idea: course Week 6

Week 6, (Nov. 27, 2014) of my course called, Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea and which is part of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Continuing Studies programme was also the last week. For a change of pace, we had Rob Shields as a guest ‘Skyping in’ from Edmonton, Alberta to talk about the University of Alberta’s Nanotechnology and the Community project. (Mentioned here previously in an Aug. 7, 2012 posting about a postdoctoral position on the research team and in a March 11, 2013 posting about one of the project’s public engagement exercises, the ‘citizen summit’.)

They haven’t quite finished with the analysis of their results from their public engagement modules but, at this point, it seems that the folks in Edmonton are future-oriented and positive about the impact that nanotechnology could have on the community. Concerns tend to be more oriented to standard ‘city’ issues such as accommodating changes rather than ‘nanotechnology will run amuck’ issues. The materials from the public engagement modules are not yet available online but should be soon (I haven’t been given a date).

Getting back to my usual programme, here’s a description of what we were covering this last week (from Nanotechnology: The Next Big Idea on the SFU Continuing Studies website),

Week 6: Nanotechnology: Social and Scientific Implications

Quantum physics being brought into our daily lives via nanotechnology is already having an impact on the fields of education and scientific research. A textual reading of the research also suggests themes of control, power and creation similar to those associated with previous emerging technologies such as electricity.

My Week six PowerPoint slides,


Here are my ‘notes’ for yesterday’s class consisting largely of brief heads designed to remind me of the content to be found by clicking the link directly after the head.

Week6Nano & soc

Happy Reading!,

An alliance of nano researchers: Ingenuity Lab and University of Alberta (Canada) professors

This news release from Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab came in this morning (Sept. 16, 2014),

Researchers Form Nano Bond

Ingenuity Sparks Strategic Partnership with UAlberta Professors

September 16, 2014 Edmonton, Alberta – If two heads are better than one, three heads will no doubt be revolutionary. That is what University of Alberta professors Carlo Montemagno,Thomas Thundat and Gane Wong are aiming for.

“The path to discovery lies beyond conventional thinking and the siloed approaches that have hampered our progress thus far,” says Ingenuity Lab Director, Carlo Montemagno, PhD. “By acknowledging the interconnectedness of our systems and facilitating better research integration and the cross pollination of ideas, we give ourselves, and society as a whole, a much better chance of success.”

Whether it is in the oil patch or in the operating room, these heavy hitters will be merging their expertise and research together in the areas of single cell genomics research in breast and prostate cancer and novel physical, chemical and biological detection using micro- and nano- mechanical sensors.

“The purpose of an accelerator is to bring the right people together at the right time,” explains Thundat. “In doing so, we leverage unique knowledge and expertise and significantly boost our ability to develop tangible solutions to the world’s most complex challenges.”

The 10-year provincially funded initiative was launched in November 2013 and is attracting the best and brightest minds from around the world. With a research agenda focused on the province’s most pressing environmental, industrial and health challenges, Ingenuity Lab is a partnership with the University of Alberta and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures and is expected to reach over $100M in funds leveraged from industry partners over the next decade.

“Our hope is that this partnership will help reduce the existing gap between research and development, and end user application,” says Wong. “For example, we have a unique opportunity to engineer and equip industries with next generation tools and resources that will far surpass those currently available.”

The dynamic partnership promises to facilitate deeper learning, critical thinking and enhance networking opportunities. It will also contribute to our province’s competitive advantage by maximising the utility of local resources and channelling existing expertise towards shared goals.

“We are fortunate to have such a dynamic team of influential leaders in our midst,” says Dr. Lorne Babiuk, Vice President of Research at the University of Alberta. “These outstanding individuals have made remarkable progress in their fields and continue to champion leading-edge research, teaching, and learning across our campus and beyond.”

At the risk of adding a slightly sour note, it seems they have high hopes but there’s no detail about what makes this collaboration more newsworthy than any other. That said, I wish them a very fruitful collaboration.

Canada’s Situating Science in Fall 2014

Canada’s Situating Science cluster (network of humanities and social science researchers focused on the study of science) has a number of projects mentioned and in its Fall 2014 newsletter,

1. Breaking News
It’s been yet another exciting spring and summer with new developments for the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster team and HPS/STS [History of Philosophy of Science/Science and Technology Studies] research. And we’ve got even more good news coming down the pipeline soon…. For now, here’s the latest.

1.1. New 3 yr. Cosmopolitanism Partnership with India and Southeast Asia
We are excited to announce that the Situating Science project has helped to launch a new 3 yr. 200,000$ SSHRC Partnership Development Grant on ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Local in Science and Nature’ with institutions and scholars in Canada, India and Singapore. Built upon relations that the Cluster has helped establish over the past few years, the project will closely examine the actual types of negotiations that go into the making of science and its culture within an increasingly globalized landscape. A recent workshop on Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore helped to mark the soft launch of the project (see more in this newsletter).

ARI along with Manipal University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of King’s College, Dalhousie University, York University, University of Toronto, and University of Alberta, form the partnership from which the team will seek new connections and longer term collaborations. The project’s website will feature a research database, bibliography, syllabi, and event information for the project’s workshops, lecture series, summer schools, and artifact work. When possible, photos, blogs, podcasts and videos from events will be posted online as well. The project will have its own mailing list so be sure to subscribe to that too. Check it all out: www.CosmoLocal.org

2.1. Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science workshop in Singapore August 21-22 2014
On August 21 and 22, scholars from across the globe gathered at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore to explore key issues in global histories and philosophies of the sciences. The setting next to the iconic Singapore Botanical Gardens provided a welcome atmosphere to examine how and why globalizing the humanities and social studies of science generates intellectual and conceptual tensions that require us to revisit, and possibly rethink, the leading notions that have hitherto informed the history, philosophy and sociology of science.

The keynote by Sanjay Subrahmanyam (UCLA) helped to situate discussions within a larger issue of paradigms of civilization. Workshop papers explored commensurability, translation, models of knowledge exchange, indigenous epistemologies, commercial geography, translation of math and astronomy, transmission and exchange, race, and data. Organizer Arun Bala and participants will seek out possibilities for publishing the proceedings. The event partnered with La Trobe University and Situating Science, and it helped to launch a new 3 yr. Cosmopolitanism project. For more information visit: www.CosmoLocal.org

2.2. Happy Campers: The Summer School Experience

We couldn’t help but feel like we were little kids going to summer camp while our big yellow school bus kicked up dust driving down a dirt road on a hot summer’s day. In this case it would have been a geeky science camp. We were about to dive right into day-long discussions of key pieces from Science and Technology Studies and History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

Over four and a half days at one of the Queen’s University Biology Stations at the picturesque Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, 18 students from across Canada explored the four themes of the Cluster. Each day targeted a Cluster theme, which was introduced by organizer Sergio Sismondo (Sociology and Philosophy, Queen’s). Daryn Lehoux (Classics, Queen’s) explained key concepts in Historical Epistemology and Ontology. Using references of the anti-magnetic properties of garlic (or garlic’s antipathy with the loadstone) from the ancient period, Lehoux discussed the importance and significance of situating the meaning of a thing within specific epistemological contexts. Kelly Bronson (STS, St. Thomas University) explored modes of science communication and the development of the Public Engagement with Science and Technology model from the deficit model of Public Understanding of Science and Technology during sessions on Science Communication and its Publics. Nicole Nelson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) explained Material Culture and Scientific/Technological Practices by dissecting the meaning of animal bodies and other objects as scientific artifacts. Gordon McOuat wrapped up the last day by examining the nuances of the circulation and translation of knowledge and ‘trading zones’ during discussions of Geographies and Sites of Knowledge.

2.3. Doing Science in and on the Oceans
From June 14 to June 17, U. King’s College hosted an international workshop on the place and practice of oceanography in celebration of the work of Dr. Eric Mills, Dalhousie Professor Emeritus in Oceanography and co-creator of the History of Science and Technology program. Leading ocean scientists, historians and museum professionals came from the States, Europe and across Canada for “Place and Practice: Doing Science in and on the Ocean 1800-2012”. The event successfully connected different generations of scholars, explored methodologies of material culture analysis and incorporated them into mainstream historical work. There were presentations and discussions of 12 papers, an interdisciplinary panel discussion with keynote lecture by Dr. Mills, and a presentation at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic by Canada Science and Technology Museum curator, David Pantalony. Paper topics ranged from exploring the evolving methodology of oceanographic practice to discussing ways that the boundaries of traditional scientific writing have been transcended. The event was partially organized and supported by the Atlantic Node and primary support was awarded by the SSHRC Connection Grant.

2.4. Evidence Dead or Alive: The Lives of Evidence National Lecture Series

The 2014 national lecture series on The Lives of Evidence wrapped up on a high note with an interdisciplinary panel discussion of Dr. Stathis Psillos’ exploration of the “Death of Evidence” controversy and the underlying philosophy of scientific evidence. The Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science spoke at the University of Toronto with panelists from law, philosophy and HPS. “Evidence: Wanted Dead of Alive” followed on the heels of his talk at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy “From the ‘Bankruptcy of Science’ to the ‘Death of Evidence’: Science and its Value”.

In 6 parts, The Lives of Evidence series examined the cultural, ethical, political, and scientific role of evidence in our world. The series formed as response to the recent warnings about the “Death of Evidence” and “War on Science” to explore what was meant by “evidence”, how it is interpreted, represented and communicated, how trust is created in research, what the relationship is between research, funding and policy and between evidence, explanations and expertise. It attracted collaborations from such groups as Evidence for Democracy, the University of Toronto Evidence Working Group, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs, Dalhousie University Health Law Institute, Rotman Institute of Philosophy and many more.

A December [2013] symposium, “Hype in Science”, marked the soft launch of the series. In the all-day public event in Halifax, leading scientists, publishers and historians and philosophers of science discussed several case studies of how science is misrepresented and over-hyped in top science journals. Organized by the recent winner of the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Ford Doolittle, the interdisciplinary talks in “Hype” explored issues of trustworthiness in science publications, scientific authority, science communication, and the place of research in the broader public.

The series then continued to explore issues from the creation of the HIV-Crystal Meth connection (Cindy Patton, SFU), Psychiatric Research Abuse (Carl Elliott, U. Minnesota), Evidence, Accountability and the Future of Canadian Science (Scott Findlay, Evidence for Democracy), Patents and Commercialized Medicine (Jim Brown, UofT), and Clinical Trials (Joel Lexchin, York).

All 6 parts are available to view on the Situating Science YouTube channel.You can read a few blogs from the events on our website too. Some of those involved are currently discussing possibilities of following up on some of the series’ issues.

2.5. Other Past Activities and Events
The Frankfurt School: The Critique of Capitalist Culture (July, UBC)

De l’exclusion à l’innovation théorique: le cas de l’éconophysique ; Prosocial attitudes and patterns of academic entrepreneurship (April, UQAM)

Critical Itineraries Technoscience Salon – Ontologies (April, UofT)

Technologies of Trauma: Assessing Wounds and Joining Bones in Late Imperial China (April, UBC)

For more, check out: www.SituSci.ca

You can find some of the upcoming talks and the complete Fall 2014 Situating Science newsletter here.

About one week after receiving the newsletter, I got this notice (Sept. 11, 2014),

We are ecstatic to announce that the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster is shortlisted for a highly competitive SSHRC Partnership Impact Award!

And what an impact we’ve had over the past seven years: Organizing and supporting over 20 conferences and workshops, 4 national lecture series, 6 summer schools, and dozens of other events. Facilitating the development of 4 new programs of study at partner institutions. Leveraging more than one million dollars from Nodal partner universities plus more than one million dollars from over 200 supporting and partnering organizations. Hiring over 30 students and 9 postdoctoral fellows. Over 60 videos and podcasts as well as dozens of student blogs and over 50 publications. Launching a new Partnership Development Grant between Canada, India and Southeast Asia. Developing a national consortium…And more!

The winners will be presented with their awards at a ceremony in Ottawa on Monday, November 3, 2014.

From the Sept. 11, 2014 Situating Science press release:

University of King’s College [Nova Scotia, Canada] professor Dr. Gordon McOuat has been named one of three finalists for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Partnership Award, one of five Impact Awards annually awarded by SSHRC.

Congratulations on the nomination and I wish Gordon McQuat and Situating Science good luck in the competition.

Nanoscale light confinement without metal (photonic circuits) at the University of Alberta (Canada)

To be more accurate, this is a step forward towards photonic circuits according to an Aug. 20, 2014 news item on Azonano,

The invention of fibre optics revolutionized the way we share information, allowing us to transmit data at volumes and speeds we’d only previously dreamed of. Now, electrical engineering researchers at the University of Alberta are breaking another barrier, designing nano-optical cables small enough to replace the copper wiring on computer chips.

This could result in radical increases in computing speeds and reduced energy use by electronic devices.

“We’re already transmitting data from continent to continent using fibre optics, but the killer application is using this inside chips for interconnects—that is the Holy Grail,” says Zubin Jacob, an electrical engineering professor leading the research. “What we’ve done is come up with a fundamentally new way of confining light to the nano scale.”

At present, the diameter of fibre optic cables is limited to about one thousandth of a millimetre. Cables designed by graduate student Saman Jahani and Jacob are 10 times smaller—small enough to replace copper wiring still used on computer chips. (To put that into perspective, a dime is about one millimetre thick.)

An Aug. 19, 2014 University of Alberta news release by Richard Cairney (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more technical detail and information about funding,

 Jahani and Jacob have used metamaterials to redefine the textbook phenomenon of total internal reflection, discovered 400 years ago by German scientist Johannes Kepler while working on telescopes.

Researchers around the world have been stymied in their efforts to develop effective fibre optics at smaller sizes. One popular solution has been reflective metallic claddings that keep light waves inside the cables. But the biggest hurdle is increased temperatures: metal causes problems after a certain point.

“If you use metal, a lot of light gets converted to heat. That has been the major stumbling block. Light gets converted to heat and the information literally burns up—it’s lost.”

Jacob and Jahani have designed a new, non-metallic metamaterial that enables them to “compress” and contain light waves in the smaller cables without creating heat, slowing the signal or losing data. …

The team’s research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative.

Jacob and Jahani are now building the metamaterials on a silicon chip to outperform current light confining strategies used in industry.

Given that this work is being performed at the nanoscale and these scientists are located within the Canadian university which houses Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), the absence of any mention of the NINT comes as a surprise (more about this organization after the link to the researchers’ paper).

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

Transparent subdiffraction optics: nanoscale light confinement without metal by Saman Jahani and Zubin Jacob. Optica, Vol. 1, Issue 2, pp. 96-100 (2014) http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OPTICA.1.000096

This paper is open access.

In a search for the NINT’s website I found this summary at the University of Alberta’s NINT webpage,

The National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) was established in 2001 and is operated as a partnership between the National Research Council and the University of Alberta. Many NINT researchers are affiliated with both the National Research Council and University of Alberta.

NINT is a unique, integrated, multidisciplinary institute involving researchers from fields such as physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, informatics, pharmacy, and medicine. The main focus of the research being done at NINT is the integration of nano-scale devices and materials into complex nanosystems that can be put to practical use. Nanotechnology is a relatively new field of research, so people at NINT are working to discover “design rules” for nanotechnology and to develop platforms for building nanosystems and materials that can be constructed and programmed for a particular application. NINT aims to increase knowledge and support innovation in the area of nanotechnology, as well as to create work that will have long-term relevance and value for Alberta and Canada.

The University of Alberta’s NINT webpage also offers a link to the NINT’s latest rebranded website, The failure to mention the NINT gets more curious when looking at a description of NINT’s programmes one of which is hybrid nanoelectronics (Note: A link has been removed),

Hybrid NanoElectronics provide revolutionary electronic functions that may be utilized by industry through creating circuits that operate using mechanisms unique to the nanoscale. This may include functions that are not possible with conventional circuitry to provide smaller, faster and more energy-efficient components, and extend the development of electronics beyond the end of the roadmap.

After looking at a list of the researchers affiliated with the NINT, it’s apparent that neither Jahani or Jacob are part of that team. Perhaps they have preferred to work independently of the NINT ,which is one of the Canada National Research Council’s institutes.

Hemp as a substitute for graphene in supercapacitors

As a member of the Cannabis plant family, hemp has an undeserved reputation due to its cousin’s (marijuana) notoriety and consciousness-altering properties. Hemp is, by contrast, the Puritan in the family, associated by the knowledgeable with virtues of thrift and hard work.

An Aug. 12, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a hemp/supercapacitor presentation at the 248th meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS),

As hemp makes a comeback in the U.S. after a decades-long ban on its cultivation, scientists are reporting that fibers from the plant can pack as much energy and power as graphene, long-touted as the model material for supercapacitors. They’re presenting their research, which a Canadian start-up company is working on scaling up, at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

David Mitlin, Ph.D., explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers — and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene.

An Aug. 12, 2014 ACS news release features David Mitlin, formerly of the University of Alberta (Canada) where this research took place,, Mitlin is now with now with Clarkson University in New York,

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.”

The race toward the ideal supercapacitor has largely focused on graphene — a strong, light material made of atom-thick layers of carbon, which when stacked, can be made into electrodes. Scientists are investigating how they can take advantage of graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive.

Mitlin’s group decided to see if they could make graphene-like carbons from hemp bast fibers. The fibers come from the inner bark of the plant and often are discarded from Canada’s fast-growing industries that use hemp for clothing, construction materials and other products. …

His team found that if they heated the fibers for 24 hours at a little over 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and then blasted the resulting material with more intense heat, it would exfoliate into carbon nanosheets.

Mitlin’s team built their supercapacitors using the hemp-derived carbons as electrodes and an ionic liquid as the electrolyte. Fully assembled, the devices performed far better than commercial supercapacitors in both energy density and the range of temperatures over which they can work. The hemp-based devices yielded energy densities as high as 12 Watt-hours per kilogram, two to three times higher than commercial counterparts. They also operate over an impressive temperature range, from freezing to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re past the proof-of-principle stage for the fully functional supercapacitor,” he says. “Now we’re gearing up for small-scale manufacturing.”

I have not been able to confirm the name for Mitlin’s startup but I think it’s called Alta Supercaps (Alta being an abbreviation for Alberta,, amongst other things, and supercaps for supercapacitors) as per the information about a new startup on the Mitlin Group webspace (scroll down to the July 2, 2013 news item) which can still be found on the University of Alberta website (as of Aug. 12, 2014).

For those who would like more technical details, there is this July 2013 article by Mark Crawford for the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers); Note: A link has been removed.

Activated carbons, templated carbons, carbon nanofibers, carbon nanotubes, and graphene have all been intensively studied as materials for supercapacitor electrodes. High manufacturing costs is one issue—another is that the power characteristics of many of these carbons are limited. This is a result of high microporosity, which increases ion transport limitations.

“It is becoming well understood that the key to achieving high power in porous electrodes is to reduce the ion transport limitations” says Mitlin. “Nanomaterials based on graphene and their hybrids have emerged as a new class of promising high-rate electrode candidates—they are, however, too expensive to manufacture compared to activated carbons derived from pyrolysis of agricultural wastes, or from the coking operations.”

Biomass, which mainly contains cellulose and lignin by-products, is widely utilized as a feedstock for producing activated carbons. Mitlin decided to test hemp bast fiber’s unique cellular structure to see if it could produce graphene-like carbon nanosheets.

Hemp fiber waste was pressure-cooked (hydrothermal synthesis) at 180 °C for 24 hours. The resulting carbonized material was treated with potassium hydroxide and then heated to temperatures as high as 800 °C, resulting in the formation of uniquely structured nanosheets. Testing of this material revealed that it discharged 49 kW of power per kg of material—nearly triple what standard commercial electrodes supply, 17 kW/kg.

Mitlin and his team successfully synthesized two-dimensional, yet interconnected, carbon nanosheets with superior electrochemical storage properties comparable to those of state-of-the-art graphene-based electrodes. “We were able to achieve this by employing a biomass precursor with a unique structure—hemp bast fiber,” says Mitlin. “The resultant graphene-like nanosheets possess fundamentally different properties—such as pore size distribution, physical interconnectedness, and electrical conductivity—as compared to conventional biomass-derived activated carbons.”

This image from Wikimedia was used to illustrate the Crawford article,

Hemp bast fiber is a low-cost graphene-like nanomaterial. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hemp bast fiber is a low-cost graphene-like nanomaterial. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It seems to me that over the last few months there have been more than the usual number of supercapacitor stories, which makes the race to create the one that will break through in the marketplace fascinating to observe.

Alberta’s summer of 2014 nano funding and the US nano community’s talks with the House of Representatives

I have two items concerning nanotechnology and funding. The first item features Michelle Rempel, Canada’s Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification (WD) who made two funding announcements this summer (2014) affecting the Canadian nanotechnology sector and, more specifically, the province of Alberta.

A June 20, 2014 WD Canada news release announced a $1.1M award to the University of Alberta,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced $1.1 million to help advance leading-edge atomic computing technologies.

Federal funds will support the University of Alberta with the purchase of an ultra-high resolution scanning tunneling microscope, which will enable researchers and scientists in western Canada and abroad to analyze electron dynamics and nanostructures at an atomic level. The first of its kind in North America, the microscope has the potential to significantly transform the semiconductor industry, as research findings aid in the prototype development and technology commercialization of new ultra low-power and low-temperature computing devices and industrial applications.

This initiative is expected to further strengthen Canada’s competitive position throughout the electronics value chain, such as microelectronics, information and communications technology, and the aerospace and defence sectors. The project will also equip graduate students with a solid foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience to become highly qualified, skilled individuals in today’s workforce.

One month later, a July 21, 2014 WD news release (hosted on the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro and Nano Products [ACAMP]) announces this award,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced an investment of $3.3 million toward the purchase and installation of specialized advanced manufacturing and product development equipment at the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro Nano Technology Products (ACAMP), as well as training on the use of this new equipment for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This support, combined with an investment of $800,000 from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, will enable ACAMP to expand their services and provide businesses with affordable access to prototype manufacturing that is currently unavailable in western Canada. By helping SMEs accelerate the development and commercialization of innovative products, this project will help strengthen the global competitiveness of western Canadian technology companies.

Approximately 80 Alberta SMEs will benefit from this initiative, which is expected to result in the development of new product prototypes, the creation of new jobs in the field, as well as connections between SMEs and multi-national companies. This equipment will also assist ACAMP’s outreach activities across the western Canadian provinces.

I’m not entirely clear as to whether or not the June 2014 $1.1M award is considered part of the $3.3M award or if these are two different announcements. I am still waiting for answers to a June 20, 2014 query sent to Emily Goucher, Director of Communications to the Hon. Michelle Rempel,

Hi Emily!

Thank you for both the news release and the information about the embargo … happily not an issue at this point …

I noticed Robert Wolkow’s name in the release (I last posted about his work in a March 3, 2011 piece about his and his team’s entry into the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s smallest electron microscope tip (http://www.frogheart.ca/?tag=robert-wolkow) [Note: Wolkow was included in a list of quotees not included here in this July 29, 2014 posting]

I am assuming that the new microscope at the University of Alberta is specific to a different type of work than the one at UVic, which has a subatomic microscope (http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=10426)

Do I understand correctly that an STM is being purchased or is this an announcement of the funds and their intended use with no details about the STM available yet? After reading the news release closely, it looks to me like they do have a specific STM in mind but perhaps they don’t feel ready to make a purchase announcement yet?

If there is information about the STM that will be purchased I would deeply appreciate receiving it.

Thank you for your time.

As I wait, there’s more news from  the US as members of that country’s nanotechnology community testify at a second hearing before the House of Representatives. The first (a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing held before the Science, Space, and Technology
Subcommittee on Research and Technology) was mentioned in an May 23, 2014 posting  where I speculated about the community’s response to a smaller budget allocation (down to $1.5B in 2015 from $1.7B in 2014).

This second hearing is being held before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and features an appearance by James Tour from Rice University according to a July 28, 2014 news item on Azonano,

At the hearing, titled “Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation,” Tour will discuss and provide written testimony on the future of nanotechnology and its impact on U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Tour is one of the most cited chemists in the country, and his Tour Group is a leader in patenting and bringing to market nanotechnology-based methods and materials.

Who: James Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry and professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science.

What: Exploring breakthrough nanotechnology opportunities.

When: 10:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 29.

Where: Room 2322, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The hearing will explore the current state of nanotechnology and the direction it is headed so that members can gain a better understanding of the policy changes that may be necessary to keep up with advancements. Ultimately, the subcommittee hopes to better understand what issues will confront regulators and how to assess the challenges and opportunities of nanotechnology.

You can find a notice for this July 2014 hearing and a list of witnesses along with their statements here. As for what a second hearing might mean within the context of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative, I cannot say with any certainty. But, this is the first time in six years of writing this blog where there have been two hearings post-budget but as a passive collector of this kind of information this may be a reflection of my information collection strategies rather than a response to a smaller budget allocation. Still, it’s interesting.

Canada Grand Challenges May 2014 grants

Grand Challenges Canada (mentioned here many times including this Nov. 21, 2013 posting which featured their ‘Stars in Global Health’ programme grants announcement for Fall 2013) has announced a new round of awards. From a May 22, 2014 Grand Challenges Canada news release (can be found on EurekAlert),

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, today announces investments of $12 million in projects worldwide, aimed squarely at improving the health and saving the lives of mothers, newborns and children in developing countries.

The news release goes on to describe two different grants,

Four Canadian-based projects (from Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo and Winnipeg) with proven impact and sustainability will share $2.6 million in scale-up grants and loans from Grand Challenges Canada, matched by $2.6 million from private and public partners, bringing total “transition-to-scale” investments to $5.2 million.

In addition, Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” [awarded] seed grants of $112,000 each ($6.8 million in total) …

[emphases mine]

I checked here to find Spring 2014 ‘Transition to scale’ grants and ‘Seed’ grants for the Canada Grand Challenges (GCC) programme.

I’m highlighting two of the funded projects. First, there’s ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ which won a ‘transition-scale-grant’ for the University of Guelph, from the news release on EurekAlert,

The little “Lucky Iron Fish,” now in growing use by cooks in Cambodia, has proven effective in reducing rampant iron deficiency among women – the cause of premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and poor brain development among babies. Initial local reluctance to use a loose piece of iron in cooking pots was overcome by a clever design tapping into Cambodian folklore about a fish species that brings good fortune. In partnership with small businesses across Cambodia, plans for this year and next call for production and distribution of 60,000 lucky iron fish, made from recycled material at a cost of about $5 each, which provide health benefits for roughly three years.

(Lucky Iron Fish, Guelph, a transition-to-scale investment, grant #0355, video, images. More information: http://bit.ly/1mIZeWr)

Here’s more detail about the project from the GCC’s list of May 2014 successful GCC grants,

A lucky little fish to fight iron deficiency among women in Cambodia
Lucky Iron Fish, Guelph
Project number: 0355-05-30
Total new transition to scale investment: $860,000

In Cambodia, six in 10 women are anemic due to iron deficiency in their diets, causing premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and the impaired brain development of their babies.

Usually obtained through red meat or other iron-rich foods, a small chunk of iron added to water in the cooking pot can release a life-saving iron supplement.  But attempts to persuaders to do so were unsuccessful.

On a 2008 study mission in Cambodia, University of Guelph researcher Chris Charles thought of creating a piece of iron shaped like a local river fish believed to bring good luck and fortune.

His simple idea succeeded beyond all expectations.  Women happily placed the Lucky Iron Fish in their cooking pots and, in the months that followed, anemia in the village fell dramatically.

A Lucky Iron Fish is small enough to be stirred easily but large enough to provide about 75 per cent of daily iron requirements.

“The results are stunning,” says Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President of the University of Guelph and Chair of the Board of Directors of Lucky Iron Fish. “Initial results show a huge decrease in anemia and the village women say they feel good, experience no dizziness and have fewer headaches. The iron fish is incredibly powerful.”

Small businesses across Cambodia will produce and distribute the fish with quality control measures in place.  About 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, and made from recycled material at a cost of about $5 each, the iron fish provides health benefits for roughly three years.

“Our goal is to produce 10,000 Lucky Iron Fish this year and another 150,000 next year,” says Gavin Armstrong, President and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish.

Taking the project to scale offers profound potential health benefits to many women in Cambodia with potential markets throughout the world.
Grand Challenges Canada’s $500,000 loan to Lucky Iron Fish is part of a total scale-up financing package of $860,000, and augments earlier commitments of equity investors, Innovation Guelph, and the University of Guelph.

The second one is a ‘Rising Star’ project at the University of Alberta. From a May 22, 2014 University of Alberta news release (also on EurekAlert but dated May 23, 2014),

A University of Alberta researcher’s star is rising thanks to her idea to detect deadly pathogens such as E. coli using a paper device only slightly larger than a postage stamp.

Frédérique Deiss, a post-doctoral fellow in the Faculty of Science, is working on ways to help detect food- and water-borne pathogens using a paper-based diagnostic tool that could be used anywhere, including developing countries. The idea earned the electrochemist $112,000 in research funding from Grand Challenges Canada after being selected as one of their Stars in Global Health.

For the next 18 months, Deiss will be working at the U of A and with farmers near Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute, to develop and test a prototype that provides an affordable method for detecting pathogens such as salmonella or E. coli, which can be present in raw milk, on equipment, or in water or waste water.

“Some areas do not have the infrastructure to do this kind of monitoring all the time. These devices are simple and sensible enough to use that farmers could almost do the tests themselves, and test every day rather than once a week or even more sporadically,” said Deiss, who is working in the lab of Ratmir Derda.

Her idea for a diagnostic tool made of paper is just that at the moment—an idea. Funding from Grand Challenges Canada will allow her to develop an electrochemical diagnostic device made of paper and tape. Conductive ink applied to the paper would create an electrode that would allow researchers to detect the presence of targeted bacteria.

Slightly larger than a postage stamp and even cheaper to make at less than 10 cents, the device would be extremely portable, self-contained and sealed—meaning anyone performing the tests would not risk exposure to potentially harmful bacteria, Deiss said. It would also allow testing of non-purified samples—a time- and cost-saving step not possible in some parts of the world, including farms around Nairobi, she added.

Within six months, Deiss hopes to develop a working prototype capable of detecting non-pathogenic bacteria, and by one year a device able to safely detect deadly pathogens such as E. coli. She also plans to work with ILRI and farmers in Nairobi to test the device in the field, comparing results with conventional methods.

Here’s a video of Deiss describing her idea,

You can find more videos featuring researchers and their GCC projects on GCC’s YouTube channel.

I wish all the best of luck to all the researchers and I’m pretending to myself that the two projects featured here can be described as nanotechnology.