Tag Archives: University of Manchester

Wearable tech for Christmas 2015 and into 2016

This is a roundup post of four items to cross my path this morning (Dec. 17, 2015), all of them concerned with wearable technology.

The first, a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on phys.org, is a fluffy little piece concerning the imminent arrival of a new generation of wearable technology,

It’s not every day that there’s a news story about socks. But in November [2015], a pair won the Best New Wearable Technology Device Award at a Silicon Valley conference. The smart socks, which track foot landings and cadence, are at the forefront of a new generation of wearable electronics, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society [ACS].

That news item was originated by a Dec. 16, 2015 ACS news release on EurekAlert which adds this,

Marc S. Reisch, a senior correspondent at C&EN, notes that stiff wristbands like the popular FitBit that measure heart rate and the number of steps people take have become common. But the long-touted technology needed to create more flexible monitoring devices has finally reached the market. Developers have successfully figured out how to incorporate stretchable wiring and conductive inks in clothing fabric, program them to transmit data wirelessly and withstand washing.

In addition to smart socks, fitness shirts and shoe insoles are on the market already or are nearly there. Although athletes are among the first to gain from the technology, the less fitness-oriented among us could also benefit. One fabric concept product — designed not for covering humans but a car steering-wheel — could sense driver alertness and make roads safer.

Reisch’s Dec. 7, 2015 article (C&EN vol. 93, issue 48, pp. 28-90) provides more detailed information and market information such as this,

Materials suppliers, component makers, and apparel developers gathered at a printed-electronics conference in Santa Clara, Calif., within a short drive of tech giants such as Google and Apple, to compare notes on embedding electronics into the routines of daily life. A notable theme was the effort to stealthily [emphasis mine] place sensors on exercise shirts, socks, and shoe soles so that athletes and fitness buffs can wirelessly track their workouts and doctors can monitor the health of their patients.

“Wearable technology is becoming more wearable,” said Raghu Das, chief executive officer of IDTechEx [emphasis mine], the consulting firm that organized the conference. By that he meant the trend is toward thinner and more flexible devices that include not just wrist-worn fitness bands but also textiles printed with stretchable wiring and electronic sensors, thanks to advances in conductive inks.

Interesting use of the word ‘stealthy’, which often suggests something sneaky as opposed to merely secretive. I imagine what’s being suggested is that the technology will not impose itself on the user (i.e., you won’t have to learn how to use it as you did with phones and computers).

Leading into my second item, IDC (International Data Corporation), not to be confused with IDTechEx, is mentioned in a Dec. 17, 2015 news item about wearable technology markets on phys.org,

The global market for wearable technology is seeing a surge, led by watches, smart clothing and other connected gadgets, a research report said Thursday [Dec. 16, 2015].

IDC said its forecast showed the worldwide wearable device market will reach a total of 111.1 million units in 2016, up 44.4 percent from this year.

By 2019, IDC sees some 214.6 million units, or a growth rate averaging 28 percent.

A Dec. 17, 2015 IDC press release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the market forecast,

“The most common type of wearables today are fairly basic, like fitness trackers, but over the next few years we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types,” said Jitesh Ubrani , Senior Research Analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analog counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities.”

One of the most popular types of wearables will be smartwatches, reaching a total of 34.3 million units shipped in 2016, up from the 21.3 million units expected to ship in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 88.3 million units, resulting in a five-year CAGR of 42.8%.

“In a short amount of time, smartwatches have evolved from being extensions of the smartphone to wearable computers capable of communications, notifications, applications, and numerous other functionalities,” noted Ramon Llamas , Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “The smartwatch we have today will look nothing like the smartwatch we will see in the future. Cellular connectivity, health sensors, not to mention the explosive third-party application market all stand to change the game and will raise both the appeal and value of the market going forward.

“Smartwatch platforms will lead the evolution,” added Llamas. “As the brains of the smartwatch, platforms manage all the tasks and processes, not the least of which are interacting with the user, running all of the applications, and connecting with the smartphone. Once that third element is replaced with cellular connectivity, the first two elements will take on greater roles to make sense of all the data and connections.”

Top Five Smartwatch Platform Highlights

Apple’s watchOS will lead the smartwatch market throughout our forecast, with a loyal fanbase of Apple product owners and a rapidly growing application selection, including both native apps and Watch-designed apps. Very quickly, watchOS has become the measuring stick against which other smartwatches and platforms are compared. While there is much room for improvement and additional features, there is enough momentum to keep it ahead of the rest of the market.

Android/Android Wear will be a distant second behind watchOS even as its vendor list grows to include technology companies (ASUS, Huawei, LG, Motorola, and Sony) and traditional watchmakers (Fossil and Tag Heuer). The user experience on Android Wear devices has been largely the same from one device to the next, leaving little room for OEMs to develop further and users left to select solely on price and smartwatch design.

Smartwatch pioneer Pebble will cede market share to AndroidWear and watchOS but will not disappear altogether. Its simple user interface and devices make for an easy-to-understand use case, and its price point relative to other platforms makes Pebble one of the most affordable smartwatches on the market.

Samsung’s Tizen stands to be the dark horse of the smartwatch market and poses a threat to Android Wear, including compatibility with most flagship Android smartphones and an application selection rivaling Android Wear. Moreover, with Samsung, Tizen has benefited from technology developments including a QWERTY keyboard on a smartwatch screen, cellular connectivity, and new user interfaces. It’s a combination that helps Tizen stand out, but not enough to keep up with AndroidWear and watchOS.

There will be a small, but nonetheless significant market for smart wristwear running on a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS), which is capable of running third-party applications, but not on any of these listed platforms. These tend to be proprietary operating systems and OEMs will use them when they want to champion their own devices. These will help within specific markets or devices, but will not overtake the majority of the market.

The company has provided a table with five-year CAGR (compound annual growth rate) growth estimates, which can be found with the Dec. 17, 2015 IDC press release.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing IDC’s claims regarding the market for wearable technology.

For the third and fourth items, it’s back to the science. A Dec. 17, 2015 news item on Nanowerk, describes, in general terms, some recent wearable technology research at the University of Manchester (UK), Note: A link has been removed),

Cheap, flexible, wireless graphene communication devices such as mobile phones and healthcare monitors can be directly printed into clothing and even skin, University of Manchester academics have demonstrated.

In a breakthrough paper in Scientific Reports (“Highly Flexible and Conductive Printed Graphene for Wireless Wearable Communications Applications”), the researchers show how graphene could be crucial to wearable electronic applications because it is highly-conductive and ultra-flexible.

The research could pave the way for smart, battery-free healthcare and fitness monitoring, phones, internet-ready devices and chargers to be incorporated into clothing and ‘smart skin’ applications – printed graphene sensors integrated with other 2D materials stuck onto a patient’s skin to monitor temperature, strain and moisture levels.

Detail is provided in a Dec. 17, 2015 University of Manchester press release, which originated the news item, (Note: Links have been removed),

Examples of communication devices include:

• In a hospital, a patient wears a printed graphene RFID tag on his or her arm. The tag, integrated with other 2D materials, can sense the patient’s body temperature and heartbeat and sends them back to the reader. The medical staff can monitor the patient’s conditions wirelessly, greatly simplifying the patient’s care.

• In a care home, battery-free printed graphene sensors can be printed on elderly peoples’ clothes. These sensors could detect and collect elderly people’s health conditions and send them back to the monitoring access points when they are interrogated, enabling remote healthcare and improving quality of life.

Existing materials used in wearable devices are either too expensive, such as silver nanoparticles, or not adequately conductive to have an effect, such as conductive polymers.

Graphene, the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, is perfect for the wearables market because of its broad range of superlative qualities. Graphene conductive ink can be cheaply mass produced and printed onto various materials, including clothing and paper.

“Sir Kostya Novoselov

To see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications.

Sir Kostya Novoselov (tweet)„

The researchers, led by Dr Zhirun Hu, printed graphene to construct transmission lines and antennas and experimented with these in communication devices, such as mobile and Wifi connectivity.

Using a mannequin, they attached graphene-enabled antennas on each arm. The devices were able to ‘talk’ to each other, effectively creating an on-body communications system.

The results proved that graphene enabled components have the required quality and functionality for wireless wearable devices.

Dr Hu, from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “This is a significant step forward – we can expect to see a truly all graphene enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future.

“The potential applications for this research are huge – whether it be for health monitoring, mobile communications or applications attached to skin for monitoring or messaging.

“This work demonstrates that this revolutionary scientific material is bringing a real change into our daily lives.”

Co-author Sir Kostya Novoselov, who with his colleague Sir Andre Geim first isolated graphene at the University in 2004, added: “Research into graphene has thrown up significant potential applications, but to see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications.”

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

Highly Flexible and Conductive Printed Graphene for Wireless Wearable Communications Applications by Xianjun Huang, Ting Leng, Mengjian Zhu, Xiao Zhang, JiaCing Chen, KuoHsin Chang, Mohammed Aqeeli, Andre K. Geim, Kostya S. Novoselov, & Zhirun Hu. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 18298 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep18298 Published online: 17 December 2015

This is an open access paper.

The next and final item concerns supercapacitors for wearable tech, which makes it slightly different from the other items and is why, despite the date, this is the final item. The research comes from Case Western Research University (CWRU; US) according to a Dec. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Wearable power sources for wearable electronics are limited by the size of garments.

With that in mind, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have developed flexible wire-shaped microsupercapacitors that can be woven into a jacket, shirt or dress (Energy Storage Materials, “Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes”).

A Dec. 16, 2015 CWRU news release (on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about a device that would make wearable tech more wearable (after all, you don’t want to recharge your clothes the same way you do your phone and other mobile devices),

By their design or by connecting the capacitors in series or parallel, the devices can be tailored to match the charge storage and delivery needs of electronics donned.

While there’s been progress in development of those electronics–body cameras, smart glasses, sensors that monitor health, activity trackers and more–one challenge remaining is providing less obtrusive and cumbersome power sources.

“The area of clothing is fixed, so to generate the power density needed in a small area, we grew radially-aligned titanium oxide nanotubes on a titanium wire used as the main electrode,” said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering. “By increasing the surface area of the electrode, you increase the capacitance.”

Dai and Tao Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve, published their research on the microsupercapacitor in the journal Energy Storage Materials this week. The study builds on earlier carbon-based supercapacitors.

A capacitor is cousin to the battery, but offers the advantage of charging and releasing energy much faster.

How it works

In this new supercapacitor, the modified titanium wire is coated with a solid electrolyte made of polyvinyl alcohol and phosphoric acid. The wire is then wrapped with either yarn or a sheet made of aligned carbon nanotubes, which serves as the second electrode. The titanium oxide nanotubes, which are semiconducting, separate the two active portions of the electrodes, preventing a short circuit.

In testing, capacitance–the capability to store charge–increased from 0.57 to 0.9 to 1.04 milliFarads per micrometer as the strands of carbon nanotube yarn were increased from 1 to 2 to 3.

When wrapped with a sheet of carbon nanotubes, which increases the effective area of electrode, the microsupercapactitor stored 1.84 milliFarads per micrometer. Energy density was 0.16 x 10-3 milliwatt-hours per cubic centimeter and power density .01 milliwatt per cubic centimeter.

Whether wrapped with yarn or a sheet, the microsupercapacitor retained at least 80 percent of its capacitance after 1,000 charge-discharge cycles. To match various specific power needs of wearable devices, the wire-shaped capacitors can be connected in series or parallel to raise voltage or current, the researchers say.

When bent up to 180 degrees hundreds of times, the capacitors showed no loss of performance. Those wrapped in sheets showed more mechanical strength.

“They’re very flexible, so they can be integrated into fabric or textile materials,” Dai said. “They can be a wearable, flexible power source for wearable electronics and also for self-powered biosensors or other biomedical devices, particularly for applications inside the body.” [emphasis mine]

Dai ‘s lab is in the process of weaving the wire-like capacitors into fabric and integrating them with a wearable device.

So one day we may be carrying supercapacitors in our bodies? I’m not sure how I feel about that goal. In any event, here’s a link and a citation for the paper,

Flexible and wearable wire-shaped microsupercapacitors based on highly aligned titania and carbon nanotubes by Tao Chen, Liming Dai. Energy Storage Materials Volume 2, January 2016, Pages 21–26 doi:10.1016/j.ensm.2015.11.004

This paper appears to be open access.

Bicycle tyres, graphene, and a cycling revolution

Despite the wording in an Oct. 29, 2015 news item on Azonano you are not being invited to visit a factory (Note: A link has been removed),

Vittoria and Directa Plus host a unique opportunity to get an inside view in the factory where pristine Graphene is produced.

Not only will a select audience get a first-hand experience in seeing the blocking patent-protected end-to-end manufacturing process, they are exclusively selected to share the story of a material that is making it possible for Vittoria to lead a cycling revolution.

You are being invited to view this video,

An Oct. 26, 2015 Vittoria press announcement, which originated the news item, waxes eloquent about its graphene-producing partner, Directa Plus, and its new ‘graphene tyres’,

Directa Plus started its journey in 2005 [emphasis mine], in a time when a number of companies joined a race in blocking patents that would give them a huge head start in the market for recently isolated material Graphene.

With a philosophy of environmental neutrality, Directa Plus chose a unique clean direction that eventually gave them the edge in the bulk manufacturing of pristine Graphene nanoplatelets. At exactly the right time for both companies, the chairmen met each other at a function. When the application of Graphene became a logical next step, Vittoria offered the challenge to try and make this material work for cycling wheels and tires.

With continuous and significant investments, Vittoria is always seeking the cutting edge in cycling performance products through innovation. Through the Directa Plus-Vittoria partnership, both companies have unlocked a whole new level.

Unique Properties of Revolutionary Material Graphene

The guided tour immediately makes clear that the state of the art facilities of Directa Plus set the bar for next generation manufacturing. In a very white and clean environment, every step in the manufacturing process takes place in a very compact area and provide a different product with a dedicated purpose.

The company is extremely proud of the achievement to have zero impact on the environment. Both Vittoria and Directa Plus share an intense focus on quality, safety, health and environmental protection and this is clearly visible throughout the factory tour. After a close look at the overall production plant, the super-expansion process, the exfoliation and the output of 30 tons of Graphene end products in various shapes and forms, unique real-life applications are demonstrated.

One of the Graphene Plus’ products is a super-performant adsorbent towards hydrocarbons for water and soil purification. As demonstrated in the presence of the attendees, a highly polluted water tank is filtered with Graphene resulting in potable water.

Safety requirements prevent a live fireresistance demo, but Directa Plus shows a video that demonstrates the ability to treat a material with Graphene to achieve a completely non-flammable end result. Additional practical applications were illustrated through Vittoria best practices: commercial products, available for sale worldwide.

The Vittoria Best Practices: Carbon, Rubber, Special Applications

Vittoria introduced Graphene-enhanced carbon wheels for high performance road and MTB wheels in 2014. In close collaboration with Directa Plus, Vittoria will also soon introduce full carbon clinchers that can be mounted as a tubeless system.

In September this year, Vittoria announced a massive revision of its product range that includes the fastest road tire ever measured, as well as the best uncompromised competitive products for road racing in the market.

Furthermore, a highly innovative combination of Graphene and Vittoria’s 4C (4 compound) technology has enabled the introduction of more strength, more grip and greater durability for performance MTB tires. Vittoria even extended its newfound Graphene expertise to deliver fast-rolling and durable city tires that bring the greatly enhanced rubber properties to all consumers.

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of all is the combined expertise of Directa Plus for
Graphene and the tire construction capabilities of Vittoria’s manufacturing facility Lion Tyres, dedicated to the special application of electric mountain bike tires. Again leveraging the 4C technology and specific Graphene-enhanced compounds, Vittoria has now developed 2 tires that can handle the electric engine torque as well as the roughest of terrains seemingly without effort.

No Compromise.

Effectively, the introduction of Graphene allows for natural material barriers of rubber to be removed, which means that there is no longer the need for compromises between speed, grip, durability and puncture resistance. All these features are now reaching their maximum possibilities.

Full carbon wheels will also reach new heights. With the application of Graphene, the natural properties of carbon are pushed way beyond natural limits in lateral stiffness, impact strength, weight reduction and heat dissipation, just to highlight a few key areas. The features of carbon are now extended to withstand the high pressure of tubeless mounted tires even under heavy braking circumstances without compromise.

In short, this is why Vittoria has started a cycling revolution.

Directa Plus started its graphene journey very early when you consider that the material was not successfully isolated until 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin (Kostya) Novosolov at the University of Manchester.

Graphene light bulb to hit UK stores later in 2015

I gather people at the University of Manchester are quite happy about the graphene light bulb which their spin-off (or spin-out) company, Graphene Lighting PLC, is due to deliver to the market sometime later in 2015. From a March 30, 2015 news item by Nancy Owano on phys.org (Note: A link has been removed),

The BBC reported on Saturday [March 28, 2015] that a graphene bulb is set for shops, to go on sale this year. UK developers said their graphene bulb will be the first commercially viable consumer product using the super-strong carbon; bulb was developed by a Canadian-financed company, Graphene Lighting, one of whose directors is Prof Colin Bailey at the University of Manchester. [emphasis mine]

I have not been able to track down the Canadian connection mentioned (*never in any detail) in some of the stories. A March 30, 2015 University of Manchester press release makes no mention of Canada or any other country in its announcement (Note: Links have been removed),

A graphene lightbulb with lower energy emissions, longer lifetime and lower manufacturing costs has been launched thanks to a University of Manchester research and innovation partnership.

Graphene Lighting PLC is a spin-out based on a strategic partnership with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester to create graphene applications.

The UK-registered company will produce the lightbulb, which is expected to perform significantly better and last longer than traditional LED bulbs.

It is expected that the graphene lightbulbs will be on the shelves in a matter of months, at a competitive cost.

The University of Manchester has a stake in Graphene Lighting PLC to ensure that the University benefits from commercial applications coming out of the NGI.

The graphene lightbulb is believed to be the first commercial application of graphene to emerge from the UK, and is the first application from the £61m NGI, which only opened last week.

Graphene was isolated at The University of Manchester in 2004 by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, earning them the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. The University is the home of graphene, with more than 200 researchers and an unrivalled breadth of graphene and 2D material research projects.

The NGI will see academic and commercial partners working side by side on graphene applications of the future. It is funded by £38m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and £23m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

There are currently more than 35 companies partnering with the NGI. In 2017, the University will open the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), which will accelerate the process of bringing products to market.

Professor Colin Bailey, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester said: “This lightbulb shows that graphene products are becoming a reality, just a little more than a decade after it was first isolated – a very short time in scientific terms.

“This is just the start. Our partners are looking at a range of exciting applications, all of which started right here in Manchester. It is very exciting that the NGI has launched its first product despite barely opening its doors yet.”

James Baker, Graphene Business Director, added: “The graphene lightbulb is proof of how partnering with the NGI can deliver real-life products which could be used by millions of people.

“This shows how The University of Manchester is leading the way not only in world-class graphene research but in commercialisation as well.”

Chancellor George Osborne and Sir Kostya Novoselov with the graphene lightbulb Courtesy: University of Manchester

Chancellor George Osborne and Sir Kostya Novoselov with the graphene lightbulb Courtesy: University of Manchester

This graphene light bulb announcement comes on the heels of the university’s official opening of its National Graphene Institute mentioned here in a March 26, 2015 post.

Getting back to graphene and light bulbs, Judy Lin in a March 30, 2015 post on LEDinside.com offers some details such as proposed pricing and more,

These new bulbs will be priced at GBP 15 (US $22.23) each.

The dimmable bulb incorporates a filament-shaped LED coated in graphene, which was designed by Manchester University, where the strong carbon material was first discovered.

$22 seems like an expensive light bulb but my opinion could change depending on how long it lasts. ‘Longer lasting’ (and other variants of the term) seen in the news stories and press release are not meaningful to me. Perhaps someone could specify how many hours and under what conditions?

* ‘but’ removed as it was unnecessary, April 3, 2015.

ETA April 3, 2105: Dexter Johnson has provided a thought-provoking commentary about this graphene light bulb in an April 2, 2015 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), Note: Links have been removed,

The big story this week in graphene, after taking into account the discovery of “grapene,” [Dexter’s April Fool’s Day joke posting] has to be the furor that has surrounded news that a graphene-coated light bulb was to be the “first commercially viable consumer product” using graphene.

Since the product is not expected to be on store shelves until next year, “commercially viable” is both a good hedge and somewhat short on meaning. The list of companies with a commercially viable graphene-based product is substantial, graphene-based conductive inks and graphene-based lithium-ion anodes come immediately to mind. Even that list neglects products that are already commercially available, never mind “viable”, like Head’s graphene-based tennis racquets.

Dexter goes on to ask more pointed questions and shares the answers he got from Daniel Cochlin, the graphene communications and marketing manager at the University of Manchester. I confess I got caught up in the hype. It’s always good to have someone bringing things back down to earth. Thank you Dexter!

University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute opens—officially

A little over two years after the announcement of a National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester in my Jan. 14, 2013 post, Azonano provides a March 24, 2015 news item which describes the opening,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, was invited to open the recently completed £61m National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester on Friday 20th March [2015].

Mr Osbourne was accompanied by Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov as he visited the institute’s sophisticated cleanrooms and laboratories.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, the University of Manchester was the site where two scientists, Kostya (Konstantin) Novoselof and Andre Geim, first isolated graphene. In 2010, both scientists received a Nobel prize for this work. As well, the European Union devoted 1B Euros to be paid out over 10 years for research on graphene and the UK has enthusiastically embraced graphene research. (For more details: my Oct. 7, 2010 post covers graphene and the newly awarded Nobel prizes; my Jan. 28, 2013 post covers the 1B Euros research announcements.)

A March 20, 2015 University of Manchester press release, which originated the news item, gives more detail,

The NGI is the national centre for graphene research and will enable academics and industry to work side-by-side on the graphene applications of the future.

More than 35 companies from across the world have already chosen to partner with The University of Manchester working on graphene-related projects.

The Government provided £38m for the construction of the Institute via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with the remaining £23m provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Mr Osborne said: “Backing science and innovation is a key part of building a Northern Powerhouse. The new National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester will bring together leading academics, scientists and business leaders to help develop the applications of tomorrow, putting the UK in pole position to lead the world in graphene technology.”

One-atom thick graphene was first isolated and explored in 2004 at The University of Manchester. Its potential uses are vast but one of the first areas in which products are likely to be seen is in electronics.

The 7,825 square metre, five-storey building features cutting-edge facilities and equipment throughout to create a world-class research hub. The NGI’s 1,500 square metres of clean room space is the largest academic space of its kind in the world for dedicated graphene research.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester said: “The National Graphene Institute will be the world’s leading centre of graphene research and commercialisation.

“It will be the home of graphene scientists and engineers from across The University of Manchester working in collaboration with colleagues from many other universities and from some of the world’s leading companies.

“This state-of-the-art institute is an incredible asset, not only to this University and to Manchester but also to the UK. The National Graphene Institute is fundamental to continuing the world-class graphene research which was started in Manchester.”

The NGI is a significant first step in the vision to create a Graphene City® in Manchester. Set to open in 2017 the £60m Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) will complement the NGI and initiate further industry-led development in graphene applications with academic collaboration.

Last year the Chancellor also announced the creation of the £235m Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials at The University of Manchester with satellite centres in Sheffield, Leeds, Cambridge, Oxford and London.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Professor Colin Bailey, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester said: “The opening of the National Graphene Institute today, complemented by the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre opening in 2017 and the future Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials, will provide the UK with the facilities required to accelerate new materials to market.

“It will allow the UK to lead the way in the area which underpins all manufacturing sectors, resulting in significant inward investment, the stick-ability of innovation, and significant long-term job creation.”

Congratulations to everyone involved in the effort.

As I mentioned earlier today in a post about Kawasaki city (Japan), Manchester will be the European City of Science when it hosts the EuropeanScience Open Forum (ESOF) in 2016.

‘Eve’ (robot/artificial intelligence) searches for new drugs

Following on today’s (Feb. 5, 2015) earlier post, The future of work during the age of robots and artificial intelligence, here’s a Feb. 3, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily featuring ‘Eve’, a scientist robot,

Eve, an artificially-intelligent ‘robot scientist’ could make drug discovery faster and much cheaper, say researchers writing in the Royal Society journal Interface. The team has demonstrated the success of the approach as Eve discovered that a compound shown to have anti-cancer properties might also be used in the fight against malaria.

A Feb. 4, 2015 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Feb. 3, 2015), which originated the news item, gives a brief introduction to robot scientists,

Robot scientists are a natural extension of the trend of increased involvement of automation in science. They can automatically develop and test hypotheses to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results to amend their hypotheses, and then repeat the cycle, automating high-throughput hypothesis-led research. Robot scientists are also well suited to recording scientific knowledge: as the experiments are conceived and executed automatically by computer, it is possible to completely capture and digitally curate all aspects of the scientific process.

In 2009, Adam, a robot scientist developed by researchers at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge, became the first machine to autonomously discover new scientific knowledge. The same team has now developed Eve, based at the University of Manchester, whose purpose is to speed up the drug discovery process and make it more economical. In the study published today, they describe how the robot can help identify promising new drug candidates for malaria and neglected tropical diseases such as African sleeping sickness and Chagas’ disease.

“Neglected tropical diseases are a scourge of humanity, infecting hundreds of millions of people, and killing millions of people every year,” says Professor Ross King, from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester. “We know what causes these diseases and that we can, in theory, attack the parasites that cause them using small molecule drugs. But the cost and speed of drug discovery and the economic return make them unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry.

“Eve exploits its artificial intelligence to learn from early successes in her screens and select compounds that have a high probability of being active against the chosen drug target. A smart screening system, based on genetically engineered yeast, is used. This allows Eve to exclude compounds that are toxic to cells and select those that block the action of the parasite protein while leaving any equivalent human protein unscathed. This reduces the costs, uncertainty, and time involved in drug screening, and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

The press release goes on to describe how ‘Eve’ works,

Eve is designed to automate early-stage drug design. First, she systematically tests each member from a large set of compounds in the standard brute-force way of conventional mass screening. The compounds are screened against assays (tests) designed to be automatically engineered, and can be generated much faster and more cheaply than the bespoke assays that are currently standard. This enables more types of assay to be applied, more efficient use of screening facilities to be made, and thereby increases the probability of a discovery within a given budget.

Eve’s robotic system is capable of screening over 10,000 compounds per day. However, while simple to automate, mass screening is still relatively slow and wasteful of resources as every compound in the library is tested. It is also unintelligent, as it makes no use of what is learnt during screening.

To improve this process, Eve selects at random a subset of the library to find compounds that pass the first assay; any ‘hits’ are re-tested multiple times to reduce the probability of false positives. Taking this set of confirmed hits, Eve uses statistics and machine learning to predict new structures that might score better against the assays. Although she currently does not have the ability to synthesise such compounds, future versions of the robot could potentially incorporate this feature.

Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge says: “Every industry now benefits from automation and science is no exception. Bringing in machine learning to make this process intelligent – rather than just a ‘brute force’ approach – could greatly speed up scientific progress and potentially reap huge rewards.”

To test the viability of the approach, the researchers developed assays targeting key molecules from parasites responsible for diseases such as malaria, Chagas’ disease and schistosomiasis and tested against these a library of approximately 1,500 clinically approved compounds. Through this, Eve showed that a compound that has previously been investigated as an anti-cancer drug inhibits a key molecule known as DHFR in the malaria parasite. Drugs that inhibit this molecule are currently routinely used to protect against malaria, and are given to over a million children; however, the emergence of strains of parasites resistant to existing drugs means that the search for new drugs is becoming increasingly more urgent.

“Despite extensive efforts, no one has been able to find a new antimalarial that targets DHFR and is able to pass clinical trials,” adds Professor Oliver. “Eve’s discovery could be even more significant than just demonstrating a new approach to drug discovery.”

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

Cheaper faster drug development validated by the repositioning of drugs against neglected tropical diseases by Kevin Williams, Elizabeth Bilsland, Andrew Sparkes, Wayne Aubrey, Michael Young, Larisa N. Soldatova, Kurt De Grave, Jan Ramon, Michaela de Clare, Worachart Sirawaraporn, Stephen G. Oliver, and Ross D. King. Journal of the Royal Society Interface March 2015 Volume: 12 Issue: 104 DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.1289 Published 4 February 2015

This paper is open access.

New ‘Star of David’-shaped molecule from University of Manchester

It sounds like the scientists took their inspiration from Maurits Cornelius Escher (M. C. Escher) when they created their ‘Star of David’ molecule. From a Sept. 22, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists at The University of Manchester have generated a new star-shaped molecule made up of interlocking rings, which is the most complex of its kind ever created.

Here’s a representation of the molecule,

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Atoms in the Star of David molecule. Image credit: University of Manchester

Here’s a ‘star’ sculpture based on Escher’s work,

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher's Gravitation. It can be found in front of the "Mesa+" building on the Campus of the University of Twente.

Sculpture of the small stellated dodecahedron that appears in Escher’s Gravitation. It can be found in front of the “Mesa+” building on the Campus of the University of Twente (Netherlands)

If you get a chance to see the Escher ‘star’, you’ll be able to see more plainly how the planes of the ‘star’ interlock. (I had the opportunity when visiting the University of Twente in Oct. 2012.)

Getting back to Manchester, a Sept. 22, 2014 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert but dated Sept. 21, 2014), which originated the news item, describes the decades-long effort to create this molecule and provides a few technical details,

Known as a ‘Star of David’ molecule, scientists have been trying to create one for over a quarter of a century and the team’s findings are published at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern Time on 21 September 2014 in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Consisting of two molecular triangles, entwined about each other three times into a hexagram, the structure’s interlocked molecules are tiny – each triangle is 114 atoms in length around the perimeter. The molecular triangles are threaded around each other at the same time that the triangles are formed, by a process called ‘self-assembly’, similar to how the DNA double helix is formed in biology.

The molecule was created at The University of Manchester by PhD student Alex Stephens.

Professor David Leigh, in Manchester’s School of Chemistry, said: “It was a great day when Alex finally got it in the lab.  In nature, biology already uses molecular chainmail to make the tough, light shells of certain viruses and now we are on the path towards being able to reproduce its remarkable properties.

“It’s the next step on the road to man-made molecular chainmail, which could lead to the development of new materials which are light, flexible and very strong.  Just as chainmail was a breakthrough over heavy suits of armour in medieval times, this could be a big step towards materials created using nanotechnology. I hope this will lead to many exciting developments in the future.”

The team’s next step will be to make larger, more elaborate, interlocked structures.

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

A Star of David catenane by David A. Leigh, Robin G. Pritchard, & Alexander J. Stephens. Nature Chemistry (2014) doi:10.1038/nchem.2056
Published online 21 September 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Metaphors in a brief overview of the nanomedicine scene circa August 2014

An Aug. 1, 2014 article by Guizhi Zhu (University of Florida), Lei Mei ((Hunan University; China), and Weihong Tan (University of Florida) for The Scientist provides an overview of the latest and greatest regarding nanomedicine while underscoring the persistence of certain medical metaphors. This overview features a prediction and a relatively benign (pun intended) metaphor,

Both the academic community and the pharmaceutical industry are making increasing investments of time and money in nanotherapeutics. Nearly 50 biomedical products incorporating nanoparticles are already on the market, and many more are moving through the pipeline, with dozens in Phase 2 or Phase 3 clinical trials. Drugmakers are well on their way to realizing the prediction of Christopher Guiffre, chief business officer at the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based nanotherapeutics company Cerulean Pharma, who last November forecast, “Five years from now every pharma will have a nano program.”

Technologies that enable improved cancer detection are constantly racing against the diseases they aim to diagnose, and when survival depends on early intervention, losing this race can be fatal. [emphasis mine] While detecting cancer biomarkers is the key to early diagnosis, the number of bona fide biomarkers that reliably reveal the presence of cancerous cells is low. To overcome this challenge, researchers are developing functional nanomaterials for more sensitive detection of intracellular metabolites, tumor cell–membrane proteins, and even cancer cells that are circulating in the bloodstream. (See “Fighting Cancer with Nanomedicine,” The Scientist, April 2014.)

So, the first metaphor ‘racing’ gives the reader a sense of urgency, the next ones, including “fighting cancer’, provoke a somewhat different state of mind,

Eye on the target

The prototype of targeted drug delivery can be traced back to the concept of a “magic bullet,” proposed by chemotherapy pioneer and 1908 Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich. [emphasis mine] E[hrlich envisioned a drug that could selectively target a disease-causing organism or diseased cells, leaving healthy tissue unharmed. A century later, researchers are developing many types of nanoscale “magic bullets” that can specifically deliver drugs into target cells or tissues.

It would seem we might be in a state of war as you ‘fight cancer’ with your ‘eyes on the target’ as you ‘shoot magic bullets’ in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the start to World War I.

Kostas Kostarelos wrote a Nov. 29, 2013 posting for the Guardian Science Blogs where he (professor of nanomedicine at the University of Manchester and director of the university’s Nanomedicine Lab) discussed war metaphors in medicine and possible unintended consequences (Note: A link has been removed). Here’s his discussion about the metaphors,

Almost every night I have watched the news these past few months my senses have been assaulted by unpleasant, at times distressing, images of war: missiles, killings and chemical bombs in Syria, Kenya, the USA. I wake up the next morning, trying to forget what I watched the night before, and going to work with our researchers to develop the next potential high-tech cure for cancer, thinking: “does what we do matter at all … ?”

So I was intrigued by an article that will be published in one of the scientific journals in our field entitled: “Nanomedicine metaphors: from war to care”. The next lab meeting we had was very awkward, because I was constantly thinking that indeed a lot of the words we were using to communicate our science were directly imported from the language of war. Targeting, stealth nanoparticle, smart bomb, elimination, triggered release, cell death. I struggled to find alternative language.

… Hollywood analogies and simplistic interpretations about “good” and “bad” may be inaccurate, but they do seem appropriate and convincing.

I must say, however, that even in pathology, modern medicine increasingly considers the disease to be part of our body, often leading to successful treatment not by “eradication” and “elimination” but by holistic management of a chronic condition. The case of HIV therapeutics is perhaps the brightest example of such revisionist thinking, which has transformed the disease from a “death sentence” in the early years after its discovery to a nonlethal chronic infection today.

Kostarelos then contrasts the less warlike ‘modern medicine’ metaphors with nanomedicine,

In nanomedicine, which is the application of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials to design medical treatments, the war imagery is even more prevalent. Two of the most clinically successful and intensively studied technologies that operate at the nanoscale are “stealth” and “targeted” medicines. “Stealth” refers to a hydrophilic (water-loving) shield built around a molecule or nanoparticle, made from polymers, that minimises its recognition by the body’s defence mechanisms. “Targeting” refers to the specific binding of certain molecules (such as antibodies, peptides and others) to receptors (or other proteins) present only at the surface of diseased cells. The literature in nanomedicine is abundant with both “stealthing”, “targeting” and combinations thereof.

Kostarelos then asks this question,

The question I keep asking myself since I read the article about war metaphors in nanomedicine has been whether we are using terminology in a simplistic, single-minded manner that could stifle creative and out-of-the-box thinking.

Intriguing unintended consequences, yes?

Getting back to The Scientist article, which I found quite informative and interesting, its ‘war metaphors’ seem to extend even to some of the artwork accompanying the article,

[downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40598/title/Nanomedicine/]

[downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40598/title/Nanomedicine/]

Is that a capsule or a bullet? Regardless, this * article provides a good overview of the research.

* The word ‘a’ was removed on Aug. 8, 2014.

Graphene Flagship experiences an upsurge in new partners

Almost doubling in size, from 78 partners to 140 partners, the European Union’s Graphene Flagship is doing nicely. From a June 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

To coincide with Graphene Week 2014, the Graphene Flagship announced that today one of the largest-ever European research initiatives is doubling in size. 66 new partners are being invited to join the consortium following the results of a €9 million competitive call. [emphasis mine]

While most partners are universities and research institutes, the share of companies, mainly SMEs [small to medium enterprises], involved is increasing. This shows the growing interest of economic actors in graphene. The partnership now includes more than 140 organisations from 23 countries. [emphasis mine] It is fully set to take ‘wonder material’ graphene and related layered materials from academic laboratories to everyday use.

A June 23, 2014 Graphene Flagship news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the partners and the call which attracted them,

The 66 new partners come from 19 countries, six of which are new to the consortium: Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Israel.

With its 16 new partners, Italy now has the highest number of partners in the Graphene Flagship alongside Germany (with 23 each), followed by Spain (18), UK (17) and France (13).

The incoming 66 partners will add new capabilities to the scientific and technological scope of the flagship. Over one third of new partners are companies, mainly SMEs, showing the growing interest of economic actors in graphene. In the initial consortium this ratio was 20%.

Big Interest in Joining the Initiative

The €9 million competitive call of the €54 million ramp-up phase (2014-2015) attracted a total of 218 proposals, representing 738 organisations from 37 countries. The proposals received were evaluated on the basis of their scientific and technological expertise, implementation and impact (further information on the call) and ranked by an international panel of leading experts, mostly eminent professors from all over the world. 21 proposals were selected for funding.

Prof. Jari Kinaret, Professor of Physics at the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and Director of the Graphene Flagship, said: “The response was overwhelming, which is an indicator of the recognition for and trust in the flagship effort throughout Europe. Competition has been extremely tough. I am grateful for the engagement by the applicants and our nearly 60 independent expert reviewers who helped us through this process. I am impressed by the high quality of the proposals we received and looking forward to working with all the new partners to realise the goals of the Graphene Flagship.”

Europe in the Driving Seat

Graphene was made and tested in Europe, leading to the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester.

With the €1 billion Graphene Flagship, Europe will be able to turn cutting-edge scientific research into marketable products. This major initiative places Europe in the driving seat for the global race to develop graphene technologies.

Prof. Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Chair of the Executive Board of the Graphene Flagship commented today’s announcement on new partners: “This adds strength to our unprecedented effort to take graphene and related materials from the lab to the factory floor, so that the world-leading position of Europe in graphene science can be translated into technology, creating a new graphene-based industry, with benefits for Europe in terms of job creation and competitiveness”.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Graphene Flagship, the news release provides this backgrounder,

The Graphene Flagship @GrapheneCA represents a European investment of €1 billion over the next 10 years. It is part of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagships @FETFlagships announced by the European Commission in January 2013 (press release). The goal of the FET Flagships programme is to encourage visionary research with the potential to deliver breakthroughs and major benefits for European society and industry. FET Flagships are highly ambitious initiatives involving close collaboration with national and regional funding agencies, industry and partners from outside the European Union.

Research in the next generation of technologies is key for Europe’s competitiveness. This is why €2.7 billion will be invested in Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) under the new research programme Horizon 2020 #H2020 (2014-2020). This represents a nearly threefold increase in budget compared to the previous research programme, FP7. FET actions are part of the Excellent science pillar of Horizon 2020.

You can find a full press kit for this announcement here, it includes,

I have long wondered how Sweden became the lead for the European Union effort. It seemed odd given that much of the initial work was done at the University of Manchester and the UK has not been shy about its ambition to lead the graphene effort internationally.

Of graphene cities and Manchester (UK)

I have expressed great admiration for the graphene publicity effort (mentioned in this Feb. 21, 2012 posting and elsewhere) put on by the UK during the run up to its European Commission award of a 1B Euro research prize in January 2013 (mentioned in my Jan. 28, 2013 posting). Officially, the award was given to the Graphene FET (future and emerging technologies) flagship project consortium headed by Chalmers University (Sweden).

The University of Manchester, a member of the consortium, has been active in graphene research and commercialization in the UK, from my Feb. 19, 2013 posting,

The University of Manchester (UK) has a particular interest in graphene as the material was isolated by future Nobel Prize winners, Andre Gheim and Kostya (Konstantin) Novoselov in the university’s laboratories. There’s a Feb. 18, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlighting the university’s past and future role in the development of graphene on the heels of the recent research bonanza,

The European Commission has announced that it is providing 1bn euros over 10 years for research and development into graphene – the ‘wonder material’ isolated at The University of Manchester by Nobel Prize winners Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov.

The University is very active in technology transfer and has an excellent track-record of spinning out technology, but some think that the University has taken a different view when it comes to patenting and commercialising graphene. Others have expressed a broader concern about British Industry lagging behind in the graphene ‘race’, based upon international ‘league tables’ of numbers of graphene patents.

Manchester is the site for one of two graphene institutions in the UK as per my Jan. 14, 2013 posting titled, National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester. The other is in Cambridge as per my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Another day, another graphene centre in the UK as the Graphene flagship consortium’s countdown begins.

The latest item ‘graphene & UK’ (Manchester) item I’m featuring here is a May 12, 2014 news item on Azonano titled, ‘Graphene City’ Can be a Model for Commercialising Scientific Discoveries (Note: A link has been removed),

This is a blog [posting] by James Baker, Business Director for Graphene@Manchester. As the government announces further support for the UK’s emerging graphene industry, James Baker from the National Graphene Institute says the emerging concept of a ‘graphene city’ can be a UK model for commercialising new scientific discoveries.

After a few fits and starts, I traced the news item to a May 7, 2014 posting on the University of Manchester’s [Manchester] Policy Blogs: Science and Technology blog,

Announcing new investments into graphene commercialisation in March’s [2014] Budget, Chancellor George Osborne described the material as a “great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain”.

As the new business director for the National Graphene Institute (NGI), which has its new £61m building opening here at the University next year, I obviously couldn’t agree more.

I first came across graphene in my previous job at defence giant BAE Systems where I was in charge of technology collaboration programmes. We ran a number of ‘futures’ workshops where the aim was to get senior executives to think about how the wider world might look in 20 years time.

In defence there has been much debate about the need for a coherent defence industrial strategy to ensure we have the necessary skills and industrial capabilities for the future, and it was through these sessions that a wider dialogue around technologies such as graphene as a potential ‘disruptive’ capability started to emerge.

Whether it’s helping develop new lightweight components for aircraft or battery packs for soldiers, or developing flexible touch screens for the specialist gadget market, graphene has a vast array of potential uses.

My role is to sign up potential industrial partners who want to collaborate with The University of Manchester and take the graphene science to a higher maturity and onto commercialisation. We are looking for partners across a range of sectors who want to operate in this environment in an open, shared and collaborative way.

The vision of creating a ‘graphene city’ in the 21st century can be compared with Manchester in the 19th century when economic activity and innovation developed largely in the absence of the state.

If you are interested in graphene commercialization in the UK, this posting offers some insight into how at least one person involved in this process views the possibilities.