Tag Archives: University of Washington

$81M for US National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI)

Academics, small business, and industry researchers are the big winners in a US National Science Foundation bonanza according to a Sept. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

To advance research in nanoscale science, engineering and technology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will provide a total of $81 million over five years to support 16 sites and a coordinating office as part of a new National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI).

The NNCI sites will provide researchers from academia, government, and companies large and small with access to university user facilities with leading-edge fabrication and characterization tools, instrumentation, and expertise within all disciplines of nanoscale science, engineering and technology.

A Sept. 16, 2015 NSF news release provides a brief history of US nanotechnology infrastructures and describes this latest effort in slightly more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

The NNCI framework builds on the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), which enabled major discoveries, innovations, and contributions to education and commerce for more than 10 years.

“NSF’s long-standing investments in nanotechnology infrastructure have helped the research community to make great progress by making research facilities available,” said Pramod Khargonekar, assistant director for engineering. “NNCI will serve as a nationwide backbone for nanoscale research, which will lead to continuing innovations and economic and societal benefits.”

The awards are up to five years and range from $500,000 to $1.6 million each per year. Nine of the sites have at least one regional partner institution. These 16 sites are located in 15 states and involve 27 universities across the nation.

Through a fiscal year 2016 competition, one of the newly awarded sites will be chosen to coordinate the facilities. This coordinating office will enhance the sites’ impact as a national nanotechnology infrastructure and establish a web portal to link the individual facilities’ websites to provide a unified entry point to the user community of overall capabilities, tools and instrumentation. The office will also help to coordinate and disseminate best practices for national-level education and outreach programs across sites.

New NNCI awards:

Mid-Atlantic Nanotechnology Hub for Research, Education and Innovation, University of Pennsylvania with partner Community College of Philadelphia, principal investigator (PI): Mark Allen
Texas Nanofabrication Facility, University of Texas at Austin, PI: Sanjay Banerjee

Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure, University of Washington with partner Oregon State University, PI: Karl Bohringer

Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor, Georgia Institute of Technology with partners North Carolina A&T State University and University of North Carolina-Greensboro, PI: Oliver Brand

Midwest Nano Infrastructure Corridor, University of  Minnesota Twin Cities with partner North Dakota State University, PI: Stephen Campbell

Montana Nanotechnology Facility, Montana State University with partner Carlton College, PI: David Dickensheets
Soft and Hybrid Nanotechnology Experimental Resource,

Northwestern University with partner University of Chicago, PI: Vinayak Dravid

The Virginia Tech National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, PI: Michael Hochella

North Carolina Research Triangle Nanotechnology Network, North Carolina State University with partners Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, PI: Jacob Jones

San Diego Nanotechnology Infrastructure, University of California, San Diego, PI: Yu-Hwa Lo

Stanford Site, Stanford University, PI: Kathryn Moler

Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, Cornell University, PI: Daniel Ralph

Nebraska Nanoscale Facility, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, PI: David Sellmyer

Nanotechnology Collaborative Infrastructure Southwest, Arizona State University with partners Maricopa County Community College District and Science Foundation Arizona, PI: Trevor Thornton

The Kentucky Multi-scale Manufacturing and Nano Integration Node, University of Louisville with partner University of Kentucky, PI: Kevin Walsh

The Center for Nanoscale Systems at Harvard University, Harvard University, PI: Robert Westervelt

The universities are trumpeting this latest nanotechnology funding,

NSF-funded network set to help businesses, educators pursue nanotechnology innovation (North Carolina State University, Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Nanotech expertise earns Virginia Tech a spot in National Science Foundation network

ASU [Arizona State University] chosen to lead national nanotechnology site

UChicago, Northwestern awarded $5 million nanotechnology infrastructure grant

That is a lot of excitement.

Saharan silver ants: the nano of it all (science and technology)

Researchers at Columbia University (US) are on quite a publishing binge lately. The latest is a biomimicry story where researchers (from Columbia amongst other universities and including Brookhaven National Laboratory, which has issued its own news release) have taken a very close look at Saharan silver ants to determine how they stay cool in one of the hottest climates in the world. From a June 18, 2015 Columbia University news release (also on EurekAlert), Note: Links have been removed,

Nanfang Yu, assistant professor of applied physics at Columbia Engineering, and colleagues from the University of Zürich and the University of Washington, have discovered two key strategies that enable Saharan silver ants to stay cool in one of the hottest terrestrial environments on Earth. Yu’s team is the first to demonstrate that the ants use a coat of uniquely shaped hairs to control electromagnetic waves over an extremely broad range from the solar spectrum (visible and near-infrared) to the thermal radiation spectrum (mid-infrared), and that different physical mechanisms are used in different spectral bands to realize the same biological function of reducing body temperature. Their research, “Saharan silver ants keep cool by combining enhanced optical reflection and radiative heat dissipation,” is published June 18 [2015] in Science magazine.

The Columbia University news release expands on the theme,

“This is a telling example of how evolution has triggered the adaptation of physical attributes to accomplish a physiological task and ensure survival, in this case to prevent Saharan silver ants from getting overheated,” Yu says. “While there have been many studies of the physical optics of living systems in the ultraviolet and visible range of the spectrum, our understanding of the role of infrared light in their lives is much less advanced. Our study shows that light invisible to the human eye does not necessarily mean that it does not play a crucial role for living organisms.”

The project was initially triggered by wondering whether the ants’ conspicuous silvery coats were important in keeping them cool in blistering heat. Yu’s team found that the answer to this question was much broader once they realized the important role of infrared light. Their discovery that there is a biological solution to a thermoregulatory problem could lead to the development of novel flat optical components that exhibit optimal cooling properties.

“Such biologically inspired cooling surfaces will have high reflectivity in the solar spectrum and high radiative efficiency in the thermal radiation spectrum,” Yu explains. “So this may generate useful applications such as a cooling surface for vehicles, buildings, instruments, and even clothing.”

Saharan silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina) forage in the Saharan Desert in the full midday sun when surface temperatures reach up to 70°C (158°F), and they must keep their body temperature below their critical thermal maximum of 53.6°C (128.48°F) most of the time. In their wide-ranging foraging journeys, the ants search for corpses of insects and other arthropods that have succumbed to the thermally harsh desert conditions, which they are able to endure more successfully. Being most active during the hottest moment of the day also allows these ants to avoid predatory desert lizards. Researchers have long wondered how these tiny insects (about 10 mm, or 3/8” long) can survive under such thermally extreme and stressful conditions.

Using electron microscopy and ion beam milling, Yu’s group discovered that the ants are covered on the top and sides of their bodies with a coating of uniquely shaped hairs with triangular cross-sections that keep them cool in two ways. These hairs are highly reflective under the visible and near-infrared light, i.e., in the region of maximal solar radiation (the ants run at a speed of up to 0.7 meters per second and look like droplets of mercury on the desert surface). The hairs are also highly emissive in the mid-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where they serve as an antireflection layer that enhances the ants’ ability to offload excess heat via thermal radiation, which is emitted from the hot body of the ants to the cold sky. This passive cooling effect works under the full sun whenever the insects are exposed to the clear sky.

“To appreciate the effect of thermal radiation, think of the chilly feeling when you get out of bed in the morning,” says Yu. “Half of the energy loss at that moment is due to thermal radiation since your skin temperature is temporarily much higher than that of the surrounding environment.”

The researchers found that the enhanced reflectivity in the solar spectrum and enhanced thermal radiative efficiency have comparable contributions to reducing the body temperature of silver ants by 5 to 10 degrees compared to if the ants were without the hair cover. “The fact that these silver ants can manipulate electromagnetic waves over such a broad range of spectrum shows us just how complex the function of these seemingly simple biological organs of an insect can be,” observes Norman Nan Shi, lead author of the study and PhD student who works with Yu at Columbia Engineering.

Yu and Shi collaborated on the project with Rüdiger Wehner, professor at the Brain Research Institute, University of Zürich, Switzerland, and Gary Bernard, electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, who are renowned experts in the study of insect physiology and ecology. The Columbia Engineering team designed and conducted all experimental work, including optical and infrared microscopy and spectroscopy experiments, thermodynamic experiments, and computer simulation and modeling. They are currently working on adapting the engineering lessons learned from the study of Saharan silver ants to create flat optical components, or “metasurfaces,” that consist of a planar array of nanophotonic elements and provide designer optical and thermal radiative properties.

Yu and his team plan next to extend their research to other animals and organisms living in extreme environments, trying to learn the strategies these creatures have developed to cope with harsh environmental conditions.

“Animals have evolved diverse strategies to perceive and utilize electromagnetic waves: deep sea fish have eyes that enable them to maneuver and prey in dark waters, butterflies create colors from nanostructures in their wings, honey bees can see and respond to ultraviolet signals, and fireflies use flash communication systems,” Yu adds. “Organs evolved for perceiving or controlling electromagnetic waves often surpass analogous man-made devices in both sophistication and efficiency. Understanding and harnessing natural design concepts deepens our knowledge of complex biological systems and inspires ideas for creating novel technologies.”

Next, there’s the perspective provided by Brookhaven National Laboratory in a June 18, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: It is very similar to the Columbia University news release but it takes a turn towards the technical challenges as you’ll see if you keep reading),

The paper, published by Columbia Engineering researchers and collaborators—including researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory—describes how the nanoscale structure of the hairs helps increase the reflectivity of the ant’s body in both visible and near-infrared wavelengths, allowing the insects to deflect solar radiation their bodies would otherwise absorb. The hairs also enhance emissivity in the mid-infrared spectrum, allowing heat to dissipate efficiently from the hot body of the ants to the cool, clear sky.

A June 18, 2015 BNL news release by Alasdair Wilkins, which originated the Nanowerk news item, describes the collaboration between the researchers and the special adjustments made to the equipment in service of this project (Note: A link has been removed),

In a typical experiment involving biological material such as nanoscale hairs, it would usually be sufficient to use an electron microscope to create an image of the surface of the specimen. This research, however, required Yu’s group to look inside the ant hairs and produce a cross-section of the structure’s interior. The relatively weak beam of electrons from a standard electron microscope would not be able to penetrate the surface of the sample.

The CFN’s dual beam system solves the problem by combining the imaging of an electron microscope with a much more powerful beam of gallium ions.  With 31 protons and 38 neutrons, each gallium ion is about 125,000 times more massive than an electron, and massive enough to create dents in the nanoscale structure – like throwing a stone against a wall. The researchers used these powerful beams to drill precise cuts into the hairs, revealing the crucial information hidden beneath the surface. Indeed, this particular application, in which the system was used to investigate a biological problem, was new for the team at CFN.

“Conventionally, this tool is used to produce cross-sections of microelectronic circuits,” said Camino. “The focused ion beam is like an etching tool. You can think of it like a milling tool in a machine shop, but at the nanoscale. It can remove material at specific places because you can see these locations with the SEM. So locally you remove material and you look at the under layers, because the cuts give you access to the cross section of whatever you want to look at.”

The ant hair research challenged the CFN team to come up with novel solutions to investigate the internal structures without damaging the more delicate biological samples.

“These hairs are very soft compared to, say, semiconductors or crystalline materials. And there’s a lot of local heat that can damage biological samples. So the parameters have to be carefully tuned not to do much damage to it,” he said. “We had to adapt our technique to find the right conditions.”

Another challenge lay in dealing with the so-called charging effect. When the dual beam system is trained on a non-conducting material, electrons can build up at the point where the beams hit the specimen, distorting the resulting image. The team at CFN was able to solve this problem by placing thin layers of gold over the biological material, making the sample just conductive enough to avoid the charging effect.

Revealing Reflectivity

While Camino’s team focused on helping Yu’s group investigate the structure of the ant hairs, Matthew Sfeir’s work with high-brightness Fourier transform optical spectroscopy helped to reveal how the reflectivity of the hairs helped Saharan silver ants regulate temperature. Sfeir’s spectrometer revealed precisely how much those biological structures reflect light across multiple wavelengths, including both visible and near-infrared light.

“It’s a multiplexed measurement,” Sfeir said, explaining his team’s spectrometer. “Instead of tuning through this wavelength and this wavelength, that wavelength, you do them all in one swoop to get all the spectral information in one shot. It gives you very fast measurements and very good resolution spectrally. Then we optimize it for very small samples. It’s a rather unique capability of CFN.”

Sfeir’s spectroscopy work draws on knowledge gained from his work at another key Brookhaven facility: the original National Synchrotron Light Source, where he did much of his postdoc work. His experience was particularly useful in analyzing the reflectivity of the biological structures across many different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“This technique was developed from my experience working with the infrared synchrotron beamlines,” said Sfeir. “Synchrotron beamlines are optimized for exactly this kind of thing. I thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could develop a similar measurement for the type of solar devices we make at CFN?’ So we built a bench-top version to use here.”

Fascinating, non? At last, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Keeping cool: Enhanced optical reflection and heat dissipation in silver ants by Norman Nan Shi, Cheng-Chia Tsai, Fernando Camino, Gary D. Bernard, Nanfang Yu, and Rüdiger Wehner. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3564 Published online June 18, 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Improving battery electrodes and air filters with a ‘transistorized’ carbon nanotube for more precise measurements

Researchers at the University of Washington (state) have been able to use carbon nanotubes to make the most precise measurements yet of the interactions between gas and carbon atoms. From a May 28, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Physicists at the University of Washington have conducted the most precise and controlled measurements yet of the interaction between the atoms and molecules that comprise air and the type of carbon surface used in battery electrodes and air filters — key information for improving those technologies.

A May 28, 2015 University of Washington news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

A team led by David Cobden, UW professor of physics, used a carbon nanotube — a seamless, hollow graphite structure a million times thinner than a drinking straw — acting as a transistor to study what happens when gas atoms come into contact with the nanotube’s surface. …

Cobden said he and co-authors found that when an atom or molecule sticks to the nanotube a tiny fraction of the charge of one electron is transferred to its surface, resulting in a measurable change in electrical resistance.

“This aspect of atoms interacting with surfaces has never been detected unambiguously before,” Cobden said. “When many atoms are stuck to the miniscule tube at the same time, the measurements reveal their collective dances, including big fluctuations that occur on warming analogous to the boiling of water.”

Lithium batteries involve lithium atoms sticking and transferring charges to carbon electrodes, and in activated charcoal filters, molecules stick to the carbon surface to be removed, Cobden explained.

“Various forms of carbon, including nanotubes, are considered for hydrogen or other fuel storage because they have a huge internal surface area for the fuel molecules to stick to. However, these technological situations are extremely complex and difficult to do precise, clear-cut measurements on.”

This work, he said, resulted in the most precise and controlled measurements of these interactions ever made, “and will allow scientists to learn new things about the interplay of atoms and molecules with a carbon surface,” important for improving technologies including batteries, electrodes and air filters.

Here’s an illustration of gas atoms adhering to a carbon nanotube provided by the researchers,

An illustration of atoms sticking to a carbon nanotube, affecting the electrons in its surface.David Cobden and students Courtesy: University of Washington (state)

An illustration of atoms sticking to a carbon nanotube, affecting the electrons in its surface.David Cobden and students Courtesy: University of Washington (state)

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

Surface electron perturbations and the collective behaviour of atoms adsorbed on a cylinder by Boris Dzyubenko, Hao-Chun Lee, Oscar E. Vilches, & David H. Cobden. Nature Physics 11, 398–402 (2015) doi:10.1038/nphys3302 Published online 20 April 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but a free preview is available via ReadCube Access.

Nanopollution of marine life

Concerns are being raised about nanosunscreens and nanotechnology-enabled marine paints and their effect on marine life, specifically, sea urchins. From a May 13, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanomaterials commonly used in sunscreens and boat-bottom paints are making sea urchin embryos more vulnerable to toxins, according to a study from the University of California, Davis [UC Davis]. The authors said this could pose a risk to coastal, marine and freshwater environments.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (“Copper Oxide and Zinc Oxide Nanomaterials Act as Inhibitors of Multidrug Resistance Transport in Sea Urchin Embryos: Their Role as Chemosensitizers”), is the first to show that the nanomaterials work as chemosensitizers. In cancer treatments, a chemosensitizer makes tumor cells more sensitive to the effects of chemotherapy.

Similarly, nanozinc and nanocopper made developing sea urchin embryos more sensitive to other chemicals, blocking transporters that would otherwise defend them by pumping toxins out of cells.

A May 12, 2015 UC Davis news release, which originated the news item, includes some cautions,

Nanozinc oxide is used as an additive in cosmetics such as sunscreens, toothpastes and beauty products. Nanocopper oxide is often used for electronics and technology, but also for antifouling paints, which prevent things like barnacles and mussels from attaching to boats.

“At low levels, both of these nanomaterials are nontoxic,” said co-author Gary Cherr, professor and interim director of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, and an affiliate of the UC Davis Coastal Marine Sciences Institute. “However, for sea urchins in sensitive life stages, they disrupt the main defense mechanism that would otherwise protect them from environmental toxins.”

Science for safe design

Nanomaterials are tiny chemical substances measured in nanometers, which are about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Nano-sized particles can enter the body through the skin, ingestion, or inhalation. They are being rapidly introduced across the fields of electronics, medicine and technology, where they are being used to make energy efficient batteries, clean up oil spills, and fight cancer, among many other uses. However, relatively little is known about nanomaterials with respect to the environment and health.

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

Copper Oxide and Zinc Oxide Nanomaterials Act as Inhibitors of Multidrug Resistance Transport in Sea Urchin Embryos: Their Role as Chemosensitizers by Bing Wu, Cristina Torres-Duarte, Bryan J. Cole, and Gary N. Cherr. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2015, 49 (9), pp 5760–5770 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b00345 Publication Date (Web): April 7, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

While this research into nanoparticles as chemosensitizers is, according to UC Davis, the first of its kind, the concern over nanosunscreens and marine waters has been gaining traction over the last few years. For example, there’s  research featured in a June 10, 2013 article by Roberta Kwok for the University of Washington’s ‘Conservation This Week’ magazine,

Sunscreen offers protection from UV rays, reduces the risk of skin cancer, and even slows down signs of aging. Unfortunately, researchers have found that sunscreen also pollutes the ocean.

Although people have been using these products for decades, “the effect of sunscreens, as a source of introduced chemicals to the coastal marine system, has not yet been addressed,” a research team writes in PLOS ONE. Sunscreens contain chemicals not only for UV protection, but also for coloring, fragrance, and texture. And beaches are becoming ever-more-popular vacation spots; for example, nearly 10 million tourists visited Majorca Island in the Mediterranean Sea in 2010.

Here’s a link to the 2013 PLOS ONE paper,

Sunscreen Products as Emerging Pollutants to Coastal Waters by Antonio Tovar-Sánchez, David Sánchez-Quiles, Gotzon Basterretxea, Juan L. Benedé, Alberto Chisvert, Amparo Salvador, Ignacio Moreno-Garrido, and Julián Blasco. PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065451 Published: June 5, 2013

This is an open access journal.

Little skates, mermaid purses, nature, and writers

GrrlScientist has written a fascinating ;piece about skates (fish), poetry, and Twitter for her Dec. 5, 2013 posting on the Guardian Science Blog network (Note: A link has been removed),

Twitter is a wonderful medium. For example, a couple days ago, I met University of Washington Biology Professor Adam Summers on twitter. It turns out that he is Associate Director of Friday Harbor Labs, where I spent a summer taking an intensive molecular neurobiology course during my graduate training in zoology. …

“Skates are fabulous animals”, Professor Summers writes in email.

“They make up a quarter of the diversity of cartilaginous fishes and every darn one of the 250 species looks pretty much exactly like every other one.”

Thus, studies into the anatomy and development of one species may provide insight into these processes for other, rarer, species.

“The little skate, also called the hedgehog skate, was one of my go-to organisms for many years”, writes Professor Summers in email.

These studies provide the basis for a physical or a mathematical model that may help understand function. This model is of course tested both against its inspiration and as a predictive tool. For example, the skate’s tail is very important, even for the developing embryo.

“I figured out that it can’t survive on the oxygen that diffuses through the capsule. Instead it has to pump water through by vibrating its tail.”

Perhaps this is the reason that the tail muscles differ from what’s considered normal.

“A wonderful muscle physiologist showed that the muscle in the tail is cardiac muscle rather than the striated muscle it should be”, Professor Summers writes.

While colleagues thought Summers’ specimens were good enough to be compared to visual art, his little skate specimens also inspired a poet (from the posting),

“I got chatting with a friend who teaches a poetry class up here [at Friday Harbor]. Sierra Nelson and I had several long conversations about the similarity of the lens that poets and scientists bring to the world.”

“I think the poem does a much better job of engaging the viewer than my dry prose on the critter.”

Little Skate
Leucoraja erinacea

Littlest of little skates, just barely hatched!
You can still see the remnants
of my yellow egg sac.

And my tail’s a little longer
than my whole body
(I’ll grow into it more eventually).


Adam Summers shared one of his images of his ‘stained’ little skate specimens on his twitter feed (pic.twitter.com/UWCKeVMmYB)

Here's an embryo of the little skate, Leucoraja erinacea. pic.twitter.com/UWCKeVMmYB

Here’s an embryo of the little skate, Leucoraja erinacea. pic.twitter.com/UWCKeVMmYB

I recommend reading GrrlScientist’s posting (Inside a mermaid’s purse; A poetic intersection between life and science, art and photography) for the whole story and, for that matter, the whole poem. As for the mermaid purse, this is the name for the little skate’s egg sack when found on the beach.

This all reminded me of Aileen Penner, a writer, poet, and science communications specialist located in Vancouver, Canada and her work in science and creative writing. She wrote a Nov. 19, 2013 posting about the intersection of nature and writing titled: US Forest Service Scientist Says Writers Help Gather “Cultural Data” on our Relationship With the Natural World (Note: Links have been removed),

Who is Fred Swanson you ask? Yes he is a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist and yes he is a Forest Ecology Professor at Oregon State University (OSU), but he is also a key figure in the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word. This is a program I have been following since 2006 and greatly admire for their commitment to bring together “the practical wisdom of the environmental sciences, the clarity of philosophical analysis, and the creative, expressive power of the written word, to find new ways to understand and re-imagine our relation to the natural world.”

In April of 2012, I went to OSU to interview the Director of the Spring Creek Project, Charles Goodrich. I wanted to know how to fund such a long-term interdisciplinary project. Charles talked a lot about Fred Swanson and his enthusiasm for having writers as part of the inquiry process and about Swanson’s personal commitment to writing the arts into scientific funding proposals for his work at the H.J. Andrew Experimental Forest.

Penner was inspired by an Andrew C. Gottleib article (About Earth Scientist Fred Swanson) in Terrain’s Fall 2013 issue and quotes from it throughout her own posting. She also notes this (Note: Links have been removed),

Terrain interviewer Andrew Gottlieb will moderate a panel “Artists in the Old-Growth” with Alison Hawthorne Deming, Fred Swanson, Charles Goodrich and Spring Creek Project Founder, Kathleen Dean Moore at the upcoming AWP conference in Seattle on February 27, 2014. If you are in Seattle for this – go see it!

Before investigating the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2014 conference and the special session any further, here’s a bit more information about the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word, from the homepage,

Spring Creek Project engages the most daunting and urgent environmental issues of our times while remembering and sharing our perennial sources of joy, wonder, and gratitude. We are a convening organization that sponsors writers’ residencies, readings, lectures, conversations, and symposia on issues and themes of critical importance to the health of humans and nature. We believe sharing insights, inspiration, and methods from many perspectives increases our understanding of the place of humans in nature. Our goal is to include participants and audience members from every discipline and persuasion, from creative writing and the other arts, from the environmental and social sciences, from philosophy and other humanistic disciplines.

The AWP conference seems mainly focused on fiction and literary nonfiction (at least, that’s what the video highlights [on the 2014 conference homepage] of the 2013 conference would suggest). Here’s more from the 2014 AWP conference homepage,

Each year, AWP holds its Annual Conference & Bookfair in a different city to celebrate the authors, teachers, students, writing programs, literary centers, and publishers of that region. More than 12,000 writers and readers attended our 2013 conference, and over 650 exhibitors were represented at our bookfair. AWP’s is now the largest literary conference in North America. We hope you’ll join us in 2014.
2014 AWP Conference & Bookfair

Washington State Convention Center &
Sheraton Seattle Hotel
February 26 – March 1, 2014
Key Dates:

November 8, 2013: deadline for purchasing a conference program ad
November 15, 2013: offsite event schedule opens
January 22, 2014: preregistration rates end
January 23, 2014: will-call registration begins
February 26, 2014: onsite registration begins

Here are some details about the R231 Artists in the Old-Growth: OSU’s Spring Creek Project & the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest
AWP 2014 conference session,

Room 602/603, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6
Thursday, February 27, 2014
3:00 pm to 4:15 pm
How can a residency program empower and generate inquiry and creative responses to our astonishing world? How can a long-term, place-based program affect the way we see our relation to the forest? The world? Join this discussion with the founders and participants of the Oregon State University-based Spring Creek Project that brings writers to a place of old-growth forest and ground-breaking forest science.

Andrew Gottlieb Moderator

Andrew C. Gottlieb is the Book Reviews Editor for Terrain.org, and his writing has appeared in journals like Ecotone, ISLE, Poets & Writers, and Salon.com. He’s the author of a chapbook of poems, Halflives, and he won the 2010 American Fiction Prize.
Fred Swanson

Fred Swanson co-directs the Long-Term Ecological Reflections program based at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascade Range, which has hosted more than forty writers in residence and a variety of humanities-science interactions. He is a retired US Forest Service scientist.
Kathleen Dean Moore

Kathleen Dean Moore is an essayist and environmental ethicist, author of Riverwalking, Holdfast, Pine Island Paradox, and Wild Comfort, and co-editor of the climate ethics book, Moral Ground. She is co-founder and now Senior Fellow of the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University.
Alison Deming

Alison Hawthorne Deming is author of four poetry books, most recently Rope, and three nonfiction books with Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit forthcoming. She is Director and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.
Charles Goodrich

Charles Goodrich is the author of three books of poetry, A Scripture of Crows; Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden; and Insects of South Corvallis; and a collection of essays, The Practice of Home. He serves as Director for the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word

One last note about nature and writing, I interviewed Sue Thomas, author of Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace, in a Sept. 20,,2013 posting about her book and other projects.

Your grandma got STEM?

Jeff Bittel thank you for a story (Mar. 26, 2013 on Slate) about Rachel Levy and the website where she gently blows up the notion/stereotype that older women don’t understand science and technology and that they are too old to learn (Note: A link has been removed),

 Is your grandmother a particle physicist? Did she help the Navy build submarines or make concoctions of chlorine gas on the family’s front porch? Or is she a mathematician, inventor, or engineer? If so, then baby, your grandma’s got STEM.

Grandma Got STEM is a celebration of women working in and contributing to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It is also designed to combat the doting, fumbling, pie-making stereotype of grandmatrons.

That’s why Rachel Levy, an associate professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, is collecting the stories of grandmas across the various fields of STEM. She first got the idea after hearing someone utter the phrase, “Just explain it like you would to your grandma.”

At first blush, such a thing seems harmless. But think about what it means—basically, all older women are stupid.

“For two or three years I thought about how I could address this issue without just making people angry and more inclined to use the phrase,” Levy told me. “If I could come up with a million examples of grandmothers who were tech-savvy, people wouldn’t say it anymore because it wouldn’t be apt.”

While attending the conference ScienceOnline this year, Levy realized she could harness the power of the Internet to collect stories and showcase them. So far, she’s been able to upload at least one grandma a day for about a month and a half—and the stories keep pouring in. Levy’s aim so far is to be as inclusive as possible. She’s accepting any grandma currently or previously involved in STEM. They can submit themselves or you can submit for them. Heck, they don’t even have to have children with children, per se. Age’ll do just fine.

Bittel might want to reconsider that bit about children and children with children. That can be a touchy topic.

Levy’s solution was to create the Grandma Got STEM website. From the Mar. 27, 2013 posting about Mary Vellos Klonowski,


Thank you to undergraduate Math/Computer Science Major Joey Klonowski, who submitted this post about his grandmother:

This photo is from the October 3, 1951 edition of The Southtown Economist, a daily newspaper on the South Side of Chicago, when my grandmother, Mary Klonowski, was 18. She attended DePaul University against the wishes of her father, who didn’t want his daughters to be college educated. She received a BS from DePaul in 1954 and was the only woman chemistry major in her class. She later earned a master’s in mathematics education and became a high school math teacher. She is now 80 years old and still working as a substitute teacher.

There are a lot of stories (covering quite the range of grannies) on the site. Levy is asking for international submissions as well,

Seeking international submissions!

You can help promote this project by sharing the posts on your blog, Facebook wall, or by retweeting them.

The project has readers from more than 100 countries, but submissions from only a few.  Please help make this blog an international effort by submitting posts or encouraging others to post.

Call for submissions – short

Know any geeky grannies?  Seeking submissions for Grandma got STEM.  Email name+pic+story to ggstem@hmc.edu.

Call for submissions – long

Call for submissions – Grandma got STEM.  Are you a grandmother working in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) – related field?  Know any geeky grannies?  Email name+pic+story/remembrance to Rachel Levy:  ggstem (at) hmc (dot) edu.  Follow on Twitter: @mathcirque #ggstem  Project site:http://ggstem.wordpress.com

Presumably, the submissions need to be in English.

Getting back to Bittel’s Slate article, he mentions Foldit (here’s my first piece in an Aug. 6, 2010 posting [scroll down about 1/2 way]), a protein-folding game which has generated some very exciting science. He also notes some of that science was generated by older, ‘uneducated’ women. Bittel linked to Jeff Howe’s Feb. 27, 2012 article about Foldit and other crowdsourced science projects for Slate where I found this very intriguing bit,

“You’d think a Ph.D. in biochemistry would be very good at designing protein molecules,” says Zoran Popović, the University of Washington game designer behind Foldit. Not so. “Biochemists are good at other things. But Foldit requires a narrow, deeper expertise.”

Or as it turns out, more than one. Some gamers have a preternatural ability to recognize patterns, an innate form of spatial reasoning most of us lack. Others—often “grandmothers without a high school education,” says Popovic—exercise a particular social skill. “They’re good at getting people unstuck. They get them to approach the problem differently.” What big pharmaceutical company would have anticipated the need to hire uneducated grandmothers? (I know a few, if Eli Lilly HR is thinking of rejiggering its recruitment strategy.) [emphases mine]

There’s an interesting question and I didn’t see it answered in Howe’s article. What kind of grandmother who doesn’t have high school graduation joins a protein-folding game? I ask because neither of my parents had or have a high school education. Neither of them would have joined the game as neither would have had the confidence.

What I’ve tried to present here is a range of possibilities regarding age and education. Being older (female especially but also male, on occasion) doesn’t equal stupidity. As for education, I’ve never found that having high school graduation or a university degree(s) to be a guarantor of an exciting intellect. I mention these two points because it seems to me that people are being ranked as to age and education in ways that are unnecessarily exclusionary. Thank goodness for games like Foldit and websites like Grandma’s Got STEM which suggest alternatives to this relentless and ruthless form of ranking which disallows participation from the great bulk of us.

Visualizing nanotechnology data with Seed Media Group and GE (General Electric)

University of Washington (UW) researchers have uploaded a number of nanotechnology infographics on the visualizing.org website, from the UW Division of Design 2010: Nanotechnology Infographics webpage,

There are more than 1/2 dozen of these nanotechnology-themed infographics available on the page. This particular infographic, Nanotechnology:  Size Really is Everything,  has the following credit line,

By Kim Shedrick. Faculty: Karen Cheng, Marco Rolandi. Part of a series of infographics explaining nanotechnology through scale, how it has integrated into society, and what products it is being used in today.

Cheng and Rolandi have been mentioned here before in a Feb. 22, 2012 posting about their University of Washington Design Help Desk and their effort to match up scientists with designers in the interest of producing better science graphics.

I have nothing against better science graphics but I would like to know what information/data is supporting this and their other visualizations. I did resize the graphic to look more closely at the text but there were no references or citations.

Btw, The website handles ‘zooming’ in to see details clumsily. Rather than a click on the zooming tool resulting in a larger image, you are presented with an infographic which is now held within an Adobe PDF reader before you can magnify the image.

For those generally interested in infographics and visualizing date, there’s a lot to choose from on the Visualizing.org website. For those who like to dig a bit deeper, this site is a public relations ploy by General Electric and Seed Media Group. From the About Visualizing.org webpage,

Visualizing.org was created by GE and Seed Media Group to help make data visualization more accessible to the general public; to promote information literacy through the creation, sharing, and discussion of data visualizations; and to provide a unique resource to help simplify complex issues through design.

Seed Media seems to be an outgrowth (pun intended) of SEED Magazine. The magazine, which was founded by Adam Bly when he lived in Montréal, Canada, has always been focused on science and culture.  Headquarters for the magazine were moved to New York and, either at the same time or later, the magazine became a strictly online publication. From the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Seed (subtitled Science Is Culture; originally Beneath the Surface) is an online science magazine published by Seed Media Group. The magazine looks at big ideas in science, important issues at the intersection of science and society, and the people driving global science culture. Seed was founded in Montreal by Adam Bly and the magazine is now headquartered in New York with bureaus around the world. May/June 2009 (Issue No. 22) was the last print issue. Content continues to be published on the website.

(I first mentioned SEED magazine in a Sept. 18, 2009 posting.) Interestingly, Seed Media which publishes the magazine makes no mention of it (that I could find) on its website. From Seed Media Group’s Learn webpage,

Scientific ThinkingTM

It’s a different way of looking at the world. It’s about using data to uncover patterns and design to confront complexity. It’s about connecting things to reveal systems. It’s about traversing scales and disregarding disciplines, applying neuroscience to economics, math to global health, virology to manufacturing, and genetics to law… It’s about experimenting all the way to understanding. It’s about changing your mind with new evidence – and getting as close to truth as humanly possible.

Getting 7 billion people to think scientifically has never been a small mission. And it has never been more important.

Since 2005, we have offered ideas and stories to help people think scientifically. Now we’re taking the next big step in this journey by creating tools and services to help institutions – companies, governments, and international organizations – do the same. We’re taking our way of seeing and thinking to parliaments, courtrooms, hospitals, construction sites, boardrooms… around the world – to catalyze scientific thinking at scale.

I’m not sure how one would go about trademarking ‘scientific thinking’ as this is  a very commonly used phrase and I’m pretty sure a case could be made that it has been common language for centuries.  This oddity had me going back to the Visualizing.org for their terms and conditions, which are largely unexceptionable,

These are the general terms of use. For terms and conditions regarding the uploading of work, please read the Visualization Submission Agreement.

This Web site is owned by General Electric Company (“GE”) and operated by Seed Media Group, LLC (“Seed”). Throughout the site, the terms “we,” “us” and “our” refer collectively to GE and Seed. We offer this Web site, including all information, tools and services available from this site, to you, the user, conditioned upon your acceptance of all the terms, conditions, policies and notices stated here. Your use of this site constitutes your agreement to these Terms of Use.

When you submit material other than a Visualization, you grant us and our affiliates an unrestricted, nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute and display such material throughout the world in any media. You further agree that we are free to use any ideas, concepts, know-how that you or individuals acting on your behalf provide to us. [emphasis mine] You grant us and our affiliates the right to use the name you submit in connection with such material, if we so choose. All personal information provided via this site will be handled in accordance with the site’s online Privacy Policy. You represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all the rights to the content you post; that the content is accurate; that use of the content you supply does not violate any provision herein and will not cause injury to any person or entity; and that you will indemnify us for all claims resulting from content you supply.

Interesting, non? This has me wondering if it’s possible that  these folks (GE & Seed Media) might decide to use a concept from the visualization without any permission needed. If I understand this rightly, the promise is the visualization won’t be used, all they need is the idea or concept and either company (GE/Seed) or their affiliates can find someone else to illustrate or visualize it.  I find a company (Seed) that’s trying to trademark ‘scientific thinking’ might have some credibility issues regarding their stated terms and conditions for this visualizing.org website.

For the icing on this visualization cake, here’s a video from Visualizing.org’s About page where there is much discussion about the importance of design and visualization of data but not one single scientist is featured,

Memory chips could get organic and a nod to singer, Dean Martin

Researchers from the University of Washington (located in Washington state) and Southeast University (China) have found a way to create organic ferroelectric molecules which offer the possibility of flexible, nontoxic memory chips according a Jan. 24, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

At the heart of computing are tiny crystals that transmit and store digital information’s ones and zeroes. Today these are hard and brittle materials. But cheap, flexible, nontoxic organic molecules may play a role in the future of hardware.

A team led by the University of Washington in Seattle and the Southeast University in China discovered a molecule [diisopropylammonium bromide?] that shows promise as an organic alternative to today’s silicon-based semiconductors. The findings, published this week in the journal Science, display properties that make it well suited to a wide range of applications in memory, sensing and low-cost energy storage.

“This molecule is quite remarkable, with some of the key properties that are comparable with the most popular inorganic crystals,” said co-corresponding author Jiangyu Li, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The Jan. 24, 2013 University of Washington news release by Hannah Hickey, which originated the news item, details the advantages of these crystals while noting they are not likely to replace currently used ferroelectric materials as the new molecule is not suitable for all uses (Note: Links have been removed),

The carbon-based material could offer even cheaper ways to store digital information; provide a flexible, nontoxic material for medical sensors that would be implanted in the body; and create a less costly, lighter material to harvest energy from natural vibrations.

The new molecule is a ferroelectric, meaning it is positively charged on one side and negatively charged on the other, where the direction can be flipped by applying an electrical field. Synthetic ferroelectrics are now used in some displays, sensors and memory chips.

In the study the authors pitted their molecule against barium titanate, a long-known ferroelectric material that is a standard for performance. Barium titanate is a ceramic crystal and contains titanium; it has largely been replaced in industrial applications by better-performing but lead-containing alternatives.

The new molecule holds its own against the standard-bearer. It has a natural polarization, a measure of how strongly the molecules align to store information, of 23, compared to 26 for barium titanate. To Li’s knowledge this is the best organic ferroelectric discovered to date.

A recent study in Nature announced an organic ferroelectric that works at room temperature. By contrast, this molecule retains its properties up to 153 degrees Celsius (307 degrees F), even higher than for barium titanate.

The new molecule also offers a full bag of electric tricks. Its dielectric constant – a measure of how well it can store energy – is more than 10 times higher than for other organic ferroelectrics. And it’s also a good piezoelectric, meaning it’s efficient at converting movement into electricity, which is useful in sensors.

The new molecule is made from bromine, a natural element isolated from sea salt, mixed with carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen (its full name is diisopropylammonium bromide). Researchers dissolved the elements in water and evaporated the liquid to grow the crystal. Because the molecule contains carbon, it is organic, and pivoting chemical bonds allow it to flex.

The molecule would not replace current inorganic materials, Li said, but it could be used in applications where cost, ease of manufacturing, weight, flexibility and toxicity are important.

Here’s a citation and link to the paper,

Diisopropylammonium Bromide Is a High-Temperature Molecular Ferroelectric Crystal by Da-Wei Fu, Hong-Ling Ci, Yuanming Liu, Qiong Ye, Wen Zhang, Yi Zhang, Xue-Yuan Chen, Gianluca Giovannetti, Massimo Capone, Jiangyu Li, Ren-Gen Xiong. Science 25 January 2013:
Vol. 339 no. 6118 pp. 425-428. DOI: 10.1126/science.1229675

This paper, along with a few others about ferroelectric materials in the Jan. 2013 issue of Science, is behind a paywall. Given the title of the paper, I’ve made the assumption that the new molecule is diisopropylammonium bromide.

At any rate, all of this has led me to an old song by singer, Dean Martin, titled ‘Memories are made of this,’

I found this piece of information in the comments,

 neuro518 3 weeks ago

the guitarist is Terry Gilkyson and his group here is called the Easy Riders. He wrote this song and hundreds of others including “Fast Freight” performed by the Kingston Trio. He was in at the very beginning of the transition of American music from pop to folk and was one of the best. For some reason he never gets much credit, but he was one of the best.

Happy Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.

Are we and our world a computer simulation?

There is a fascinating Dec. 10, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about a philosophical question that’s being researched by a team of physicists at the University of Washington (Note: I have removed a link),

The concept that current humanity could possibly be living in a computer simulation comes from a 2003 paper published in Philosophical Quarterly (“Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?“) by Nick Bostrom, a philosophy professor at the University of Oxford. In the paper, he argued that at least one of three possibilities is true:

The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.

Any posthuman civilization is very unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history.

We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

He also held that “the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.”

Here’s what the University of Washington physicists, from the Dec. 10, 2012 University of Washington news release by Vincent Stricherz, which originated the news item,

With current limitations and trends in computing, it will be decades before researchers will be able to run even primitive simulations of the universe. But the UW team has suggested tests that can be performed now, or in the near future, that are sensitive to constraints imposed on future simulations by limited resources.

Currently, supercomputers using a technique called lattice quantum chromodynamics and starting from the fundamental physical laws that govern the universe can simulate only a very small portion of the universe, on the scale of one 100-trillionth of a meter, a little larger than the nucleus of an atom, said Martin Savage, a UW physics professor.

However, Savage said, there are signatures of resource constraints in present-day simulations that are likely to exist as well in simulations in the distant future, including the imprint of an underlying lattice if one is used to model the space-time continuum.

The supercomputers performing lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations essentially divide space-time into a four-dimensional grid. That allows researchers to examine what is called the strong force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature and the one that binds subatomic particles called quarks and gluons together into neutrons and protons at the core of atoms.

“If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge,” Savage said. Then it would be a matter of looking for a “signature” in our universe that has an analog in the current small-scale simulations.

Savage and colleagues Silas Beane of the University of New Hampshire, who collaborated while at the UW’s Institute for Nuclear Theory, and Zohreh Davoudi, a UW physics graduate student, suggest that the signature could show up as a limitation in the energy of cosmic rays.

In a paper they have posted on arXiv, an online archive for preprints of scientific papers in a number of fields, including physics, they say that the highest-energy cosmic rays would not travel along the edges of the lattice in the model but would travel diagonally, and they would not interact equally in all directions as they otherwise would be expected to do.

“This is the first testable signature of such an idea,” Savage said.

If such a concept turned out to be reality, it would raise other possibilities as well. For example, Davoudi suggests that if our universe is a simulation, then those running it could be running other simulations as well, essentially creating other universes parallel to our own.

“Then the question is, ‘Can you communicate with those other universes if they are running on the same platform?’” she said. [emphasis mine]

Here’s the citation for and a link to the arXiv.org paper by Beane, Davoudi, and Savage,

Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation by Silas R. Beane, Zohreh Davoudi, Martin J. Savage (Submitted on 4 Oct 2012 (v1), last revised 9 Nov 2012 (this version, v2))

Fascinating, yes?

Contraception and HIV protection in cloth*

Researchers at the University of Washington have published a study in the peer-reviewed, open access journal, Public Library of Science ONE (PLoS ONE), concerning their work to produce fibres that can deliver both contraceptives and anti-HIV drugs, according to a Nov. 30, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The only way to protect against HIV and unintended pregnancy today is the condom. It’s an effective technology, but not appropriate or popular in all situations.

A University of Washington team has developed a versatile platform to simultaneously offer contraception and prevent HIV. Electrically spun cloth with nanometer-sized fibers can dissolve to release drugs, providing a platform for cheap, discrete and reversible protection.

Hannah Hickey’s  Nov. 30, 2012 University of Washington news release, which originated the news item, provides details,

“Our dream is to create a product women can use to protect themselves from HIV infection and unintended pregnancy,” said corresponding author Kim Woodrow, a UW assistant professor of bioengineering. “We have the drugs to do that. It’s really about delivering them in a way that makes them more potent, and allows a woman to want to use it.”

Electrospinning uses an electric field to catapult a charged fluid jet through air to create very fine, nanometer-scale fibers. The fibers can be manipulated to control the material’s solubility, strength and even geometry. Because of this versatility, fibers may be better at delivering medicine than existing technologies such as gels, tablets or pills. No high temperatures are involved, so the method is suitable for heat-sensitive molecules. The fabric can also incorporate large molecules, such as proteins and antibodies, that are hard to deliver through other methods.

They first dissolved polymers approved by the Food and Drug Administration and antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV to create a gooey solution that passes through a syringe. As the stream encounters the electric field it stretches to create thin fibers measuring 100 to several thousand nanometers that whip through the air and eventually stick to a collecting plate (one nanometer is about one 25-millionth of an inch). The final material is a stretchy fabric that can physically block sperm or release chemical contraceptives and antivirals.

“This method allows controlled release of multiple compounds,” Ball said. “We were able to tune the fibers to have different release properties.”

One of the fabrics they made dissolves within minutes, potentially offering users immediate, discrete protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Another dissolves gradually over a few days, providing an option for sustained delivery, more like the birth-control pill,  to provide contraception and guard against HIV.

The fabric could incorporate many fibers to guard against many different sexually transmitted infections, or include more than one anti-HIV drug to protect against drug-resistant strains (and discourage drug-resistant strains from emerging). Mixed fibers could be designed to release drugs at different times to increase their potency, like the prime-boost method used in vaccines.

The electrospun cloth could be inserted directly in the body or be used as a coating on vaginal rings or other products.

Electrospinning has existed for decades, but it’s only recently been automated to make it practical for applications such as filtration and tissue engineering. This is the first study to use nanofibers for vaginal drug delivery.

While this technology is more discrete than a condom, and potentially more versatile than pills or plastic or rubber devices, researchers say there is no single right answer.

The citation and link to the article,

Drug-Eluting Fibers for HIV-1 Inhibition and Contraception by Cameron Ball, Emily Krogstad, Thanyanan Chaowanachan, Kim A. Woodrow (2012) PLoS ONE 7(11): e49792. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049792

Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded these researchers a $1M grant to pursue this work.

*ETA Dec.2.12: I erroneously used the word clothing in the headline. It’s now been corrected to ‘cloth’.