Tag Archives: US

Disability and technology

There’s a human enhancement or,more specifically, a ‘technology and disability’ event being held by Future Tense (a collaboration between Slate.com, New America, and Arizona State University) on March 4, 2015. Here’s more from the Feb. 20, 2015 Slate.com post,

Attention-grabbing advances in robotics and neurotechnology have caused many to rethink the concept of human disability. A paraplegic man in a robotic suit took the first kick at the 2014 World Cup, for instance, and the FDA has approved a bionic arm controlled with signals from the brain. It’s not hard to imagine that soon these advances may allow people to run, lift, and even think better than what is currently considered “normal”—challenging what it means to be human. But some in the disability community reject these technologies; for others, accessing them can be an overwhelmingly expensive and bureaucratic process. As these technological innovations look more and more like human engineering, will we need to reconsider what it means to be able and disabled?

We’ll discuss these questions and more at noon [EST] on Wednesday, March 4, at the New America office in Washington, D.C. The event is presented by Future Tense in collaboration with the award-winning documentary on disability and technology Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement [mentioned in an Aug. 3, 2010 posting]. You can find the event agenda and the trailer for Fixed below; to RSVP, click here. The venue is wheelchair accessible, and an American Sign Language interpreter will be present.

The Will Technology Put an End to Disability? event page includes an agenda,

Agenda:

12:00 pm Engineering Ability

Jennifer French
Executive Director, Neurotech Network

Larry Jasinksi
CEO, ReWalk Robotics
@ReWalk_Robotics

Will Oremus
Senior Technology Writer, Slate
@WillOremus

12:45 pm T​he Promise and Peril of Human Enhancement

​Gregor Wolbring
Associate Professor, University of Calgary
@Wolbring

Julia Bascom
Director of Programs, Autistic Self Advocacy Network
@autselfadvocacy

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Gallaudet University
@teresaburke

Moderator:
Lawrence Carter-Long
Public Affairs Specialist, National Council on Disability
@LCarterLong

Gregor Wolbring who’s scheduled for 1245 hours EST has been mentioned here more than once (most recently in a Jan. 10, 2014 posting titled, Chemistry of Cyborgs: review of the state of the art by German researchers, which includes further links. Gregor is also mentioned in the Aug. 3, 2010 posting about the movie ‘Fixed’. You can find out more about Wolbring and his work here.

Coincidentally, there’s a March 2, 2015 article titled: Deus Ex and Human Enhancement by Adam Koper for nouse.co.uk which conflates the notion of nanotechnology and human enhancement. It’s a well written and interesting article (there is a proviso) about a game, Deus Ex, which features nanotechnology=enabled human enhancement.  Despite Koper’s description not all human enhancement is nanotechnology-enabled and not all nanotechnology-enabled solutions are oriented to human enhancement. However, many human enhancement efforts are enabled by nanotechnology.

By the way, the game is published in Montréal (Québec, Canada) by Eidos (you will need your French language skills; I was not able to find an English language site).

Gender gaps in science and how statistics prove and disprove the finding

A Feb. 17, 2015 Northwestern University news release by Hilary Hurd Anyaso (also on EurekAlert) features research suggesting that parity in the numbers of men and women students pursuing science degrees is being achieved,

Scholars from diverse fields have long proposed that interlocking factors such as cognitive abilities, discrimination and interests may cause more women than men to leave the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pipeline after entering college.

Now a new Northwestern University analysis has poked holes in the much referenced “leaky pipeline” metaphor.

The research shows that the bachelor’s-to-Ph.D. pipeline in science and engineering fields no longer leaks more women than men as it did in the past

Curt Rice, a professor at Norway’s University of Tromsø, has challenged the findings in a Feb. 18, 2015 post on his eponymous website (more about that later).

The news release goes on to describe how the research was conducted and the conclusions researchers drew from the data,

The researchers used data from two large nationally representative research samples to reconstruct a 30-year portrait of how bachelor’s-to-Ph.D. persistence rates for men and women have changed in the United States since the 1970s. For this study, the term STEM persistence rate refers to the proportion of students who earned a Ph.D. in a particular STEM field (e.g. engineering) among students who had earlier received bachelor’s degrees in that same field.

They were particularly surprised that the gender persistence gap completely closed in pSTEM fields (physical science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — the fields in which women are most underrepresented.

Among students earning pSTEM bachelor’s degrees in the 1970s, men were 1.6 to 1.7 times as likely as women to later earn a pSTEM Ph.D. However, this gap completely closed by the 1990s.

Men still outnumber women by approximately three to one among pSTEM Ph.D. earners. But those differences in representation are not explained by differences in persistence from the bachelor’s to Ph.D. degree, said David Miller, an advanced doctoral student in psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study.

“Our analysis shows that women are overcoming any potential gender biases that may exist in graduate school or undergraduate mentoring about pursing graduate school,” Miller said. “In fact, the percentage of women among pSTEM degree earners is now higher at the Ph.D. level than at the bachelor’s, 27 percent versus 25 percent.”

Jonathan Wai, a Duke University Talent Identification Program research scientist and co-author of the study, said a narrowing of gender gaps makes sense given increased efforts to promote gender diversity in science and engineering.

“But a complete closing of the gap was unexpected, especially given recent evidence of gender bias in science mentoring,” Wai said.

Consequently, the widely used leaky pipeline metaphor is a dated description of gender differences in postsecondary STEM education, Wai added.

Other research shows that gaps in persistence rates are also small to nonexistent past the Ph.D., Miller said.

“For instance, in physical science and engineering fields, male and female Ph.D. holders are equally likely to earn assistant professorships and academic tenure,” Miller said.

The leaky pipeline metaphor is inaccurate for nearly all postsecondary pathways in STEM, Miller said, with two important exceptions.

“The Ph.D.-to-assistant-professor pipeline leaks more women than men in life science and economics,” he said. “Differences in those fields are large and important.”

The implications of the research, Miller said, are important in guiding research, resources and strategies to explain and change gender imbalances in science.

“The leaking pipeline metaphor could potentially direct thought and resources away from other strategies that could more potently increase women’s representation in STEM,” he said.

For instance, plugging leaks in the pipeline from the beginning of college to the bachelor’s degree would fail to substantially increase women’s representation among U.S. undergraduates in the pSTEM fields, Miller said.

Of concern, women’s representation among pSTEM bachelor’s degrees has been decreasing during the past decade, Miller noted. “Our analyses indicate that women’s representation at the Ph.D. level is starting to follow suit by declining for the first time in over 40 years,” he said.

“This recent decline at the Ph.D. level could likely mean that women’s progress at the assistant professor level might also slow down or reverse in future years, so these trends will need to be watched closely,” Wai said.

While the researchers are encouraged that gender gaps in doctoral persistence have closed, they stressed that accurately assessing and changing gender biases in science should remain an important goal for educators and policy makers.

Before moving on to Rice’s comments, here’s a link to and citation for the paper,

The bachelor’s to Ph.D. STEM pipeline no longer leaks more women than men: a 30-year analysis by David I. Miller and Jonathan Wai. Front. Psychol., 17 February 2015, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00037

This paper is open access (at least for now).

Maybe the situation isn’t improving after all

Curt Rice’s response titled, The incontinent pipeline: it’s not just women leaving higher education, suggests this latest research has unmasked a problem (Note: Links have been removed),

Freshly published research gives a more nuanced picture. The traditional recitation of percentages at various points along the pipeline provides a snapshot. The new research is more like a time-lapse film.

Unfortunately, the new study doesn’t actually show a pipeline being tightened up to leak less. Instead, it shows a pipeline that is leaking even more! The convergence in persistence rates for men and women is not a result of an increase in the rate of women taking a PhD; it’s the result of a decline in the rate of men doing so. It’s as though the holes have gotten bigger — they used to be so small that only women slipped through, but now men slide out, too.

Rice believes  that this improvement is ‘relative improvement’ i.e. the improvement exists in relation to declining numbers of men, a statistic that Rice gives more weight to than the Northwestern researchers appear to have done. ‘Absolute improvement’ would mean that numbers of women studying in the field had improved while men’s numbers had held steady or improved for them too.

To be fair, the authors of the paper seem to have taken at least some of this decline in men’s numbers into account (from the research paper),,

Reasons for the convergences in persistence rates remain unclear. Sometimes the convergence was driven by declines in men’s rates (e.g., in mathematics/computer science), increases in women’s rates (e.g., in physical science), or both (e.g., in engineering). help account for the changes in persistence rates. …

Overenthusiasm in the news release

Unfortunately, the headline and bullet list of highlights suggest a more ebullient research conclusion than seems warranted by the actual research results.

Think again about gender gap in science
Bachelor’s-to-Ph.D. pipeline in science, engineering no longer ‘leaks’ more women than men, new 30-year analysis finds

Research shows dated ‘leaky pipeline’ assumptions about gender imbalances in science

  • Men outnumber women as Ph.D. earners in science but no longer in doctoral persistence
  • Dramatic increase of women in science at Ph.D., assistant professorship levels since 1970s, but recent decline since 2010 may be of concern for future supply of female scientists
  • Assessing inaccurate assumptions key to correcting gender biases in science

Here’s the researchers’ conclusion,

Overall, these results and supporting literature point to the need to understand gender differences at the bachelor’s level and below to understand women’s representation in STEM at the Ph.D. level and above. Women’s representation in computer science, engineering, and physical science (pSTEM) fields has been decreasing at the bachelor’s level during the past decade. Our analyses indicate that women’s representation at the Ph.D. level is starting to follow suit by declining for the first time in over 40 years (Figure 2). This recent decline may also cause women’s gains at the assistant professor level and beyond to also slow down or reverse in the next few years. Fortunately, however, pathways for entering STEM are considerably diverse at the bachelor’s level and below. For instance, our prior research indicates that undergraduates who join STEM from a non-STEM field can substantially help the U.S. meet needs for more well-trained STEM graduates (Miller et al., under review). Addressing gender differences at the bachelor’s level could have potent effects at the Ph.D. level, especially now that women and men are equally likely to later earn STEM Ph.D.’s after the bachelor’s.

The conclusion seems to contradict the researchers’ statements in the news release,

“But a complete closing of the gap was unexpected, especially given recent evidence of gender bias in science mentoring,” Wai said.

Consequently, the widely used leaky pipeline metaphor is a dated description of gender differences in postsecondary STEM education, Wai added.

Other research shows that gaps in persistence rates are also small to nonexistent past the Ph.D., Miller said.

Incomplete pipeline

Getting back to Rice, he notes the pipeline in the Northwestern paper is incomplete (Note: Links have been removed),

In addition to the dubious celebration of the decline of persistence rates of men, the new research article also looks at an incomplete pipeline. In particular, it leaves aside the important issue of which PhD institutions students get into. For young researchers moving towards academic careers, we know that a few high-prestige universities are responsible for training future faculty members at nearly all other research universities. Are women and men getting into those high prestige universities in the same numbers? Or do women go to lower prestige institutions?

Following on that thought about lower prestige institutions and their impact on your career, there’s a Feb. 23, 2015 article by Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate investigating the situation, which applies to both men and women,

The United States prides itself on offering broad access to higher education, and thanks to merit-based admissions, ample financial aid, and emphasis on diverse student bodies, our country can claim some success in realizing this ideal.

The situation for aspiring professors is far grimmer. Aaron Clauset, a co-author of this article, is the lead author of a new study published in Science Advances that scrutinized more than 16,000 faculty members in the fields of business, computer science, and history at 242 schools. He and his colleagues found, as the paper puts it, a “steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.” The data revealed that just a quarter of all universities account for 71 to 86 percent of all tenure-track faculty in the U.S. and Canada in these three fields. Just 18 elite universities produce half of all computer science professors, 16 schools produce half of all business professors, and eight schools account for half of all history professors.

Then, Warner and Clauset said this about gender bias,

Here’s further evidence that the current system isn’t merely sorting the best of the best from the merely good. Female graduates of elite institutions tend to slip 15 percent further down the academic hierarchy than do men from the same institutions, evidence of gender bias to go along with the bias toward the top schools.

I suggest reading the Slate article, Rice’s post, and, if you have time, the Northwestern University research paper.

Coda: All about Curt Rice

Finally, this is for anyone who’s unfamiliar with Curt Rice (from the About page on his website; Note: Links have been removed),

In addition to my work as a professor at the University of Tromsø, I have three other roles that are closely related to the content on this website. I was elected by the permanent faculty to sit on the university board, I lead Norway’s Committee on Gender Balance and Diversity in Research, and I am the head of the Board for Current Research Information System in Norway (CRIStin). In all of these roles, I work to pursue my conviction that research and education are essential to improving society, and that making universities better therefore has the potential to make societies better.

I’m currently writing a book on gender balance. Why do men and women have different career paths? Why should we care? How can we start to make things better? Why is improving gender balance not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do? For a taste of my approach, grab a copy of my free ebook on gender equality.

Beyond this book project, I use my speaking and writing engagements to reach audiences on the topics that excite me the most: gender balance, open access, leadership issues and more. These interests have grown during the past decade while I’ve had the privilege to occupy what were then two brand new leadership positions at the University of Tromsø.

From 2009–2013, I served as the elected Vice Rector for Research & Development (prorektor for forskning og utvikling). Before that, from 2002–2008, I was the founding director of my university’s first Norwegian Center of Excellence, the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics (CASTL). Given the luxury of being able to define those positions, I was able to pursue my passion for improving academic life by working to enhance conditions for education and research.

I’m part of the European Science Foundation’s genderSTE COST action (Gender, Science, Technology and Environment); I helped create the BALANSE program at the Research Council of Norway, which is designed to increase the numbers of women at the highest levels of research organizations. I am on the Advisory Board of the European Commission project EGERA (Effective Gender Equality in Research and Academia); I was on the Science Leaders Panel of the genSET project, in which we advised the European Commission about gender in science; I am a member of the Steering Committee for the Gender Summits.

I also led a national task force on research-based education that issued many suggestions for Norwegian institutions.

Bypassing nanofabrication methods for colourful silver

A new technique developed by researchers at Northwestern University (Chicago, US) would be faster and cheaper than nanofabrication methods according to a Feb. 14, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Northwestern University researchers have created a new technique that can transform silver into any color of the rainbow. Their simple method is a fast, low-cost alternative to color filters currently used in electronic displays and monitors.

“Our technique doesn’t require expensive nanofabrication techniques or a lot of materials,” said Koray Aydin, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering. “And it can be completed in a half hour or so.”

A Feb. 12, 2015 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert but dated Feb. 13, 2015), which originated the news item, provides more details about the research,

The filter’s secret lies within its “sandwich-like” structure. Aydin and his team created a three-layer design, where glass is wedged two thin layers of silver film. The silver layers are thin enough to allow optical light to pass through, which then transmits a certain color through the glass and reflects the rest of the visible spectrum. By changing the thickness of the glass, Aydin was able to filter and produce different colors.

“Controlling the thickness of the glass controls the color,” Aydin said. “This way, we can create any color desired.”

By making the bottom silver layer even thicker, Aydin found that the structure also acts as a color absorber because it traps light between the two metal layers. The team demonstrated a narrow bandwidth super absorber with 97 percent maximum absorption, which could have potential applications for optoelectric devices with controlled bandwidth, such as narrow-band photodetectors and light-emitting devices. The performance of Aydin’s structure is comparable to that of nanostructure-based devices but bypasses the complications of nanotechnology.

“People in the nanophotonics community are dealing with nanostructures, making nanoparticles, and using lithography or chemistry techniques,” he said. “That can be really challenging. We’re combatting that difficulty with a simple design.”

Aydin is also developing a similar structure out of aluminum and glass to filter or absorb ultraviolet spectrum. By controlling the thickness of the materials, he plans to design devices for other wavelengths of light.

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

Large-Area, Lithography-Free Super Absorbers and Color Filters at Visible Frequencies Using Ultrathin Metallic Films by Zhongyang Li, Serkan Butun, and Koray Aydin. ACS Photonics, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/ph500410u Publication Date (Web): January 28, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

From monitoring glucose in kidneys to climate change in trees

That headline is almost poetic but I admit It’s a bit of a stretch rhymewise, kidneys/trees. In any event, a Feb. 6, 2015 news item on Azonano describes research into monitoring the effects of climate change on trees,

Serving as a testament to the far-reaching impact of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s commitment to maintaining New York State’s global leadership in nanotechnology innovation, SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (SUNY Poly CNSE) today announced the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $837,000 to support development of a first of its kind nanoscale sensor to monitor the effects of climate change on trees.

A Feb. 5, 2015 SUNY Poly CNSE news release, which originated the news item, provides more details including information about the sensor’s link to measuring glucose in kidneys,

The NSF grant was generated through the Instrument Development for Biological Research (IDBR) program, which provides funds to develop new classes of devices for bio-related research. The NANAPHID, a novel aphid-like nanosensor, will provide real-time measurements of carbohydrates in live plant tissue. Carbohydrate levels in trees are directly connected to plant productivity, such as maple sap production and survival. The NANAPHID will enable researchers to determine the effects of a variety of environmental changes including temperature, precipitation, carbon dioxide, soil acidity, pests and pathogens. The nanosensor can also provide real-time monitoring of sugar concentration levels, which are of signficant importance in maple syrup production and apple and grape farming.

“The technology for the NANAPHID is rooted in a nanoscale sensor SUNY Poly CNSE developed to monitor glucose levels in human kidneys being prepared for transplant. Our team determined that certain adjustments would enable the sensor to provide similar monitoring for plants, and provide a critical insight to the effects of climate change on the environment,” said Dr. James Castracane, professor and head of the Nanobioscience Constellation at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. “This is a perfect example of the cycle of innovation made possible through the ongoing nanotechnology research and development at SUNY Poly CNSE’s NanoTech Complex.”

“This new sensor will be used in several field experiments on measuring sensitivity of boreal forest to climate warming. Questions about forest response to rising air and soil temperatures are extremely important for forecasting future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, climate change and forest health,” said Dr. Andrei Lapenas, principal investigator and associate professor of climatology at the University at Albany. “At the same time, we already see some potential commercial application for NANAPHID-type sensors in agriculture, food industry and other fields. Our collaboration with SUNY Poly CNSE has been extremely productive and I look forward to continuing our work together.”

The NANAPHID project began in 2014 with a $135,000 SUNY Research Foundation Network of Excellence grant. SUNY Poly CNSE will receive $400,000 of the NSF award for the manufacturing aspects of the sensor array development and testing. The remaining funds will be shared between Dr. Lapenas and researchers Dr. Ruth Yanai (ESF), Dr. Thomas Horton (ESF), and Dr. Pamela Templer (Boston University) for data collection and analysis.

“With current technology, analyzing carbohydrates in plant tissues requires hours in the lab or more than $100 a sample if you want to send them out. And you can’t sample the same tissue twice, the sample is destroyed in the analysis,” said Dr. Yanai. “The implantable device will be cheap to produce and will provide continuous monitoring of sugar concentrations, which is orders of magnitude better in both cost and in the information provided. Research questions we never dreamed of asking before will become possible, like tracking changes in photosynthate over the course of a day or along the stem of a plant, because it’s a nondestructive assay.”

“I see incredible promise for the NANAPHID device in plant ecology. We can use the sensors at the root tip where plants give sugars to symbiotic fungi in exchange for soil nutrients,” said Dr. Horton. “Some fungi are believed to be significant carbon sinks because they produce extensive fungal networks in soils and we can use the sensors to compare the allocation of photosynthate to roots colonized by these fungi versus the allocation to less carbon demanding fungi. Further, the vast majority of these symbiotic fungi cannot be cultured in lab. These sensors will provide valuable insights into plant-microbe interactions under field conditions.”

“The creation of this new sensor will make understanding the effects of a variety of environmental changes, including climate change, on the health and productivity of forests much easier to measure,” said Dr. Templer. “For the first time, we will be able to measure concentrations of carbohydrates in living trees continuously and in real-time, expanding our ability to examine controls on photosynthesis, sap flow, carbon sequestration and other processes in forest ecosystems.”

Fascinating, eh? I wonder who made the connection between human kidneys and plants and how that person made the connection.

Nanoparticles in 3D courtesy of x-rays

A Feb. 4, 2015 Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) press release (also on EurekAlert) announces a 3D first,

For the first time, a German-American research team has determined the three-dimensional shape of free-flying silver nanoparticles, using DESY’s X-ray laser FLASH. The tiny particles, hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair, were found to exhibit an unexpected variety of shapes, as the physicists from the Technical University (TU) Berlin, the University of Rostock, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the United States and from DESY report in the scientific journal Nature Communications. Besides this surprise, the results open up new scientific routes, such as direct observation of rapid changes in nanoparticles.

The press release goes on to describe the work in more detail,

“The functionality of nanoparticles is linked to their geometric form, which is often very difficult to determine experimentally,” explains Dr. Ingo Barke from the University of Rostock. “This is particularly challenging when they are present as free particles, that is, in the absence of contact with a surface or a liquid.”

The nanoparticle shape can be revealed from the characteristic way how it scatters X-ray light. Therefore, X-ray sources like DESY’s FLASH enable a sort of super microscope into the nano-world. So far, the spatial structure of nanoparticles has been reconstructed from multiple two-dimensional images, which were taken from different angles. This procedure is uncritical for particles on solid substrates, as the images can be taken from many different angles to uniquely reconstruct their three-dimensional shape.

“Bringing nanoparticles into contact with a surface or a liquid can significantly alter the particles, such that you can no longer see their actual form,” says Dr. Daniela Rupp from the TU Berlin. A free particle, however, can only be measured one time in flight before it either escapes or is destroyed by the intense X-ray light. Therefore, the scientists looked for a way to record the entire structural information of a nanoparticle with a single X-ray laser pulse.

To achieve this goal, the scientists led by Prof. Thomas Möller from the TU Berlin and Prof. Karl-Heinz Meiwes-Broer and Prof. Thomas Fennel from the University of Rostock employed a trick. Instead of taking usual small-angle scattering images, the physicists recorded the scattered X-rays in a wide angular range. “This approach virtually captures the structure from many different angles simultaneously from a single laser shot,” explains Fennel.

The researchers tested this method on free silver nanoparticles with diameters of 50 to 250 nanometres (0.00005 to 0.00025 millimetres). The experiment did not only verify the feasibility of the tricky method, but also uncovered the surprising result that large nanoparticles exhibit a much greater variety of shapes than expected.

The shape of free nanoparticles is a result of different physical principles, particularly the particles’ effort to minimize their energy. Consequently, large particles composed of thousands or millions of atoms often yield predictable shapes, because the atoms can only be arranged in a particular way to obtain an energetically favourable state.

In their experiment, however, the researchers observed numerous highly symmetrical three-dimensional shapes, including several types known as Platonic and Archimedean bodies. Examples include the truncated octahedron (a body consisting of eight regular hexagons and six squares) and the icosahedron (a body made up of twenty equilateral triangles). The latter is actually only favourable for extremely small particles consisting of few atoms, and its occurrence with free particles of this size was previously unknown. “The results show that metallic nanoparticles retain a type of memory of their structure, from the early stages of growth to a yet unexplored size range,” emphasizes Barke.

Due to the large variety of shapes, it was especially important to use a fast computational method so that the researchers were capable of mapping the shape of each individual particle. The scientists used a two-step process: the rough shape was determined first and then refined using more complex simulations on a super computer. This approach turned out to be so efficient that it could not only determine various shapes reliably, but could also differentiate between varying orientations of the same shape.

This new method for determining the three-dimensional shape and orientation of nanoparticles with a single X-ray laser shot opens up a wide spectrum of new research directions. In future projects, particles could be directly “filmed” in three dimensions during growth or during phase changes. “The ability to directly film the reaction of a nanoparticle to an intense flash of X-ray light has been a dream for many physicists – this dream could now come true, even in 3D!,” emphasises Rupp.

The researchers have provided an image showing their work,

Caption: This is a wide-angle X-ray diffraction image of a truncated twinned tetrahedra nanoparticle. Credit: Hannes Hartmann/University of Rostock

Caption: This is a wide-angle X-ray diffraction image of a truncated twinned tetrahedra nanoparticle.
Credit: Hannes Hartmann/University of Rostock

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

The 3D-architecture of individual free ​silver nanoparticles captured by X-ray scattering by Ingo Barke, Hannes Hartmann, Daniela Rupp, Leonie Flückiger, Mario Sauppe, Marcus Adolph, Sebastian Schorb, Christoph Bostedt, Rolf Treusch, Christian Peltz, Stephan Bartling, Thomas Fennel, Karl-Heinz Meiwes-Broer, & Thomas Möller. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 6187 doi:10.1038/ncomms7187 Published 04 February 2015

This article is open access.

Rice University collaborates with Shandong University on a Joint Center for Carbon Nanomaterials

They’re not billing this as a joint US-China project but with Rice University being in Texas, US and Shandong University being in Shandong (province) in China, I think it’s reasonable to describe it that way. Here’s more about the project from a Feb. 4, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Scientists from Rice University and Shandong University, China, celebrated the opening of the Joint Center for Carbon Nanomaterials, a collaborative facility to study nanotechnology, on Feb. 1 [2015].

Rice faculty members Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou, the chair and associate chair, respectively, of the university’s Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering, took part in the ceremony along with Rice alumnus Lijie Ci, director of the new center and a professor of materials science and engineering at Shandong. The center’s dedication was part of the first International Workshop on Engineering and Applications of Nanocarbon, held Jan. 31-Feb. 2 [2015].

Determining where this new center is located proved to be a challenge. From a Feb. 2, 2015 Rice University news release, which originated the news item,

“We at Rice University are excited and honored to collaborate with Shandong University on this important endeavor,” Rice President David Leebron said in a message recorded for the ceremony. [emphasis mine] “The center represents and combines two very important initiatives for Rice: research excellence and applications in nanosciences and long-term partnerships with the best institutions worldwide.”

“A lot of people are working on carbon nanoscience on both campuses, and we expect they will be interested in taking part,” Ajayan said. “Nanotubes and graphene are essentially the building blocks for the center, but Lijie wants to build ecologically relevant, applied research that can be commercialized. That’s the long-term goal. All of the experience we have had in the area will be beneficial.”

Ajayan expects students from both universities will travel. “People from Rice will be engaged in some of the activities of this joint center, including advising students there. And we hope Shandong students will have the opportunity to come to Rice for a short time,” he said. “The center also contributes to Rice’s goal to build closer connections with China.” [emphases mine]

Ajayan and Ci came to Rice together in 2007 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Ajayan was a faculty member and Ci was a postdoctoral researcher. At Rice, they introduced the darkest material ever measured at the time of its invention in 2008, an accomplishment that landed them in the Guinness Book of World Records.

They also collaborated on the first two-dimensional material to incorporate graphene and hexagonal boron nitride in a seamless lattice. Such 2-D materials have since become the focus of worldwide research for their potential as electronic components. And Ci, Lou and Ajayan worked together to study the nanoscale friction properties of carbon nanotubes.

I’m inferring from the portions I’ve highlighted that this center is located at Shandong University.

Graphene with a pentagonal pattern

Graphene has been viewed, until now, as having an hexgonal (six-sided) pattern. However, researchers have discovered a new graphene pattern according to a Feb. 3, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and universities in China and Japan have discovered a new structural variant of carbon called “penta-graphene” – a very thin sheet of pure carbon that has a unique structure inspired by a pentagonal pattern of tiles found paving the streets of Cairo.

The newly discovered material, called penta-graphene, is a single layer of carbon pentagons that resembles the Cairo tiling, and that appears to be dynamically, thermally and mechanically stable.

A Feb. 3, 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) news release by Brian McNeill (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more information about the research,

“The three last important forms of carbon that have been discovered were fullerene, the nanotube and graphene. Each one of them has unique structure. Penta-graphene will belong in that category,” said the paper’s senior author, Puru Jena, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the Department of Physics in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences.

Qian Wang, Ph.D., a professor at Peking University and an adjunct professor at VCU, was dining in a restaurant in Beijing with her husband when she noticed artwork on the wall depicting pentagon tiles from the streets of Cairo.

“I told my husband, “Come, see! This is a pattern composed only of pentagons,'” she said. “I took a picture and sent it to one of my students, and said, ‘I think we can make this. It might be stable. But you must check it carefully.’ He did, and it turned out that this structure is so beautiful yet also very simple.”

Most forms of carbon are made of hexagonal building blocks, sometimes interspersed with pentagons. Penta-graphene would be a unique two-dimensional carbon allotrope composed exclusively of pentagons.

Along with Jena and Wang, the paper’s authors include Shunhong Zhang, Ph.D candidate, from Peking University; Jian Zhou, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at VCU; Xiaoshuang Chen, Ph.D., from the Chinese Academy of Science in Shanghai; and Yoshiyuki Kawazoe, Ph.D., from Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan.

The researchers simulated the synthesis of penta-graphene using computer modelling. The results suggest that the material might outperform graphene in certain applications, as it would be mechanically stable, possess very high strength, and be capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Kelvin.

“You know the saying, diamonds are forever? That’s because it takes a lot of energy to convert diamond back into graphite,” Jena said. “This will be similar.”

Penta-graphene has several interesting and unusual properties, Jena said. For example, penta-graphene is a semiconductor, whereas graphene is a conductor of electricity.

“When you take graphene and roll it up, you make what is called a carbon nanotube which can be metallic or semiconducting,” Jena said. “Penta-graphene, when you roll it up, will also make a nanotube, but it is always semiconducting.”

The way the material stretches is also highly unusual, the researchers said.

“If you stretch graphene, it will expand along the direction it is stretched, but contract along the perpendicular direction.” Wang said. “However, if you stretch penta-graphene, it will expand in both directions.”

The material’s mechanical strength, derived from a rare property known as Negative Poisson’s Ratio, may hold especially interesting applications for technology, the researchers said.

Penta-graphene’s properties suggest that it may have applications in electronics, biomedicine, nanotechnology and more.

The next step, Jena said, is for scientists to synthesize penta-graphene.

“Once you make it, it [will be] very stable. So the question becomes, how do you make it? In this paper, we have some ideas. Right now, the project is theoretical. It’s based on computer modelling, but we believe in this prediction quite strongly. And once you make it, it will open up an entirely new branch of carbon science. Two-dimensional carbon made completely of pentagons has never been known.”

Here’s a graphic representation of the new graphene material,

Caption: The newly discovered material, called penta-graphene, is a single layer of carbon pentagons that resembles the Cairo tiling, and that appears to be dynamically, thermally and mechanically stable. Credit: Virginia Commonwealth University

Caption: The newly discovered material, called penta-graphene, is a single layer of carbon pentagons that resembles the Cairo tiling, and that appears to be dynamically, thermally and mechanically stable.
Credit: Virginia Commonwealth University

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

Penta-graphene: A new carbon allotrope by Shunhong Zhanga, Jian Zhou, Qian Wanga, Xiaoshuang Chen, Yoshiyuki Kawazoe, and Puru Jena. PNAS February 2, 2015 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1416591112 Published online before print February 2, 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

India’s S. R. Vadera and Narendra Kumar (Defence Laboratory, Jodhpur) review stealth and camouflage technology

Much of the military nanotechnology information I stumble across is from the US, Canada, and/or Europe and while S. R. Vadera and Narendra Kumar (of India’s Defence Laboratory, Jodhpur [DLJ]) do offer some information about India’s military nanotechnology situation, they focus largely on the US, Canada, and Europe. Happily, their Jan. 30, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight 6 pp. article titled, Nanotechnology and nanomaterials for camouflage and stealth applications offers a comprehensive review of the field,

This article briefly describes how nanomaterials and nanotechnology can be useful in the strategic area of camouflage and stealth technology. …

The word camouflage has its origin in the French word camoufler which means to disguise. In English dictionary, the word meaning was initially referred to concealment or disguise of military objects in order to prevent detection by the enemy. In earlier days, specifically before 20th century, the only sensor available to detect was human eye and so camouflage was confined to the visible light only. The rapid development of sensor technology outside the visible range has forced to use new definition and terminologies for camouflage.

Modern definition of camouflage may be given as “delay or deny detection of a military target by detectors operating over multispectral wavelength region of electromagnetic spectrum or non-electromagnetic radiation e.g., acoustic, magnetic, etc. Multispectral camouflage, low-observability, countermeasures, signature management, and stealth technology are some of the new terminologies used now instead of camouflage.

In modern warfare, stealth technology is applied mostly to aircrafts and combat weapons. Stealth technology can improve the survivability and performance of aircrafts and weapons to gain the upper hand. Stealth technology involves the minimization of acoustic, optical, infra-red, and electromagnetic signatures. Among them, the minimization of electromagnetic signature, particularly in microwave region, is the most important. It can be realized in several ways which include stealth shaping design, radar absorbing material (RAM), and radar absorbing structures (RAS)1.

Unexpectedly, there are multiple reference to Canadian stealth and camouflage technology all of them courtesy of one company, HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. based in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada. mentioned in my Jan. 7, 2013 post about an invisibility cloak.

Getting back to the article, the authors have this to say about the international ‘stealth scene’,

Today virtually every nation and many non-state military organizations have access to advanced tactical sensors for target acquisition (radar and thermal imagers) and intelligence gathering surveillance systems (ground and air reconnaissance). Precision-guided munitions exist that can be delivered by artillery, missiles, and aircraft and that can operate in the IR [infra red] region of the electromagnetic spectrum. These advanced imaging sights and sensors allow enemies to acquire and engage targets through visual smoke, at night, and under adverse weather conditions.

To combat these new sensing and detection technologies, camouflage paint, paint additives, tarps, nets and foams have been developed for visual camouflage and thermal and radar signature suppression. …

One comment, thermal and radar signature suppression sounds like another way of saying ‘invisibility cloak’.

The authors also had something to say about the application of nanomaterials/nanotechnology,

Nanotechnology has significant influence over a set of many interrelated core skills of land forces like protection, engagement, detection, movements, communications and information collection together with interrelated warfare strategies. Additionally, nanotechnology also has its role in the development of sensor for warfare agents, tagging and tracking and destruction of CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] warfare agents, besides many other possible applications.

There’s a very interesting passage on ‘stealth coatings’ which includes this,

These new coatings can be attached to a wide range of surfaces and are the first step towards developing ‘shape shifting clothing’ capable of adapting to the environment around it. …

In another example, an Israeli company, Nanoflight has claimed to develop a new nano paint, which can make it near impossible to detect objects painted with the material. The company is continuing their efforts to extend the camouflage action of these paints in infrared region as well. BASF, Germany (uses polyisocynate dendrimer nanoparticles) and Isotronic Corporation, USA are among the very few agencies coming up with chemical agent resistant and innovative camouflage (CARC) coatings using nanomaterials. In India, paints developed by Defence Laboratory, Jodhpur (DLJ) using polymeric nanocomposites, nanometals and nanometal complexes are perhaps the first examples of multispectral camouflage paints tested in VIS-NIR and thermal infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum at system level. The nanocomposites developed by DLJ provide excellent scope for the tuning of reflectance properties both in visible and near infrared region6 of electromagnetic spectrum leading to their applications on military targets (Fig. 4).

For anyone interested in this topic, I recommend reading the article in its entirety.

One final note, I found this Wikipedia entry about the DLJ, (Note: A link has been removed)

Defence Laboratory (DLJ) is westernmost located, an strategically important laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Its mission is development of Radio Communication Systems, Data links, Satellite Communication Systems, Millimeter Wave Communication systems. There are two divisions in laboratory

NRMA (Nuclear Radiation’s Management and Applications) Division
Camouflage Division

That’s all folks!

A nanoparticle for a medical imaging machine that doesn’t exist yet

Researchers at the University of Buffalo (New York state) have created a nanoparticle that can be detected by six imaging devices according to a Jan. 20, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

It’s technology so advanced that the machine capable of using it doesn’t yet exist.

Using two biocompatible parts, University at Buffalo researchers and their colleagues have designed a nanoparticle that can be detected by six medical imaging techniques:

• computed tomography (CT) scanning;

• positron emission tomography (PET) scanning;

• photoacoustic imaging;

• fluorescence imaging;

• upconversion imaging; and

• Cerenkov luminescence imaging.

The advantages are obvious should somebody, somewhere create a hexamodal (aka, multimodal, aka hypmodal) sensing device capable of exploiting the advantages of this nanoparticle as the researchers hope.

A Jan. 20, 2015 University of Buffalo news release (also on EurekAlert) by Charlotte Hsu, which originated the news item, describes the ideas underlying the research,

This kind of “hypermodal” imaging — if it came to fruition — would give doctors a much clearer picture of patients’ organs and tissues than a single method alone could provide. It could help medical professionals diagnose disease and identify the boundaries of tumors.

“This nanoparticle may open the door for new ‘hypermodal’ imaging systems that allow a lot of new information to be obtained using just one contrast agent,” says researcher Jonathan Lovell, PhD, UB assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “Once such systems are developed, a patient could theoretically go in for one scan with one machine instead of multiple scans with multiple machines.”

When Lovell and colleagues used the nanoparticles to examine the lymph nodes of mice, they found that CT and PET scans provided the deepest tissue penetration, while the photoacoustic imaging showed blood vessel details that the first two techniques missed.

Differences like these mean doctors can get a much clearer picture of what’s happening inside the body by merging the results of multiple modalities.

A machine capable of performing all six imaging techniques at once has not yet been invented, to Lovell’s knowledge, but he and his coauthors hope that discoveries like theirs will spur development of such technology.

The news release also offers a description of the nanoparticles,

The researchers designed the nanoparticles from two components: An “upconversion” core that glows blue when struck by near-infrared light, and an outer fabric of porphyrin-phospholipids (PoP) that wraps around the core.

Each part has unique characteristics that make it ideal for certain types of imaging.

The core, initially designed for upconversion imaging, is made from sodium, ytterbium, fluorine, yttrium and thulium. The ytterbium is dense in electrons — a property that facilitates detection by CT scans.

The PoP wrapper has biophotonic qualities that make it a great match for fluorescence and photoacoustic imagining. The PoP layer also is adept at attracting copper, which is used in PET and Cerenkov luminescence imaging.

“Combining these two biocompatible components into a single nanoparticle could give tomorrow’s doctors a powerful, new tool for medical imaging,” says Prasad, also a SUNY Distinguished Professor of chemistry, physics, medicine and electrical engineering at UB. “More studies would have to be done to determine whether the nanoparticle is safe to use for such purposes, but it does not contain toxic metals such as cadmium that are known to pose potential risks and found in some other nanoparticles.”

“Another advantage of this core/shell imaging contrast agent is that it could enable biomedical imaging at multiple scales, from single-molecule to cell imaging, as well as from vascular and organ imaging to whole-body bioimaging,” Chen adds. “These broad, potential capabilities are due to a plurality of optical, photoacoustic and radionuclide imaging abilities that the agent possesses.”

Lovell says the next step in the research is to explore additional uses for the technology.

For example, it might be possible to attach a targeting molecule to the PoP surface that would enable cancer cells to take up the particles, something that photoacoustic and fluorescence imaging can detect due to the properties of the smart PoP coating. This would enable doctors to better see where tumors begin and end, Lovell says.

The researchers have provided two images,

This transmission electron microscopy image shows the nanoparticles, which consist of a core that glows blue when struck by near-infrared light, and an outer fabric of porphyrin-phospholipids (PoP) that wraps around the core. Credit: Jonathan Lovell

This transmission electron microscopy image shows the nanoparticles, which consist of a core that glows blue when struck by near-infrared light, and an outer fabric of porphyrin-phospholipids (PoP) that wraps around the core.
Credit: Jonathan Lovell

University at Buffalo researchers and colleagues have designed a nanoparticle detectable by six medical imaging techniques. This illustration depicts the particles as they are struck by beams of energy and emit signals that can be detected by the six methods: CT and PET scanning, along with photoacoustic, fluorescence, upconversion and Cerenkov luminescence imaging. Credit: Jonathan Lovell

University at Buffalo researchers and colleagues have designed a nanoparticle detectable by six medical imaging techniques. This illustration depicts the particles as they are struck by beams of energy and emit signals that can be detected by the six methods: CT and PET scanning, along with photoacoustic, fluorescence, upconversion and Cerenkov luminescence imaging.
Credit: Jonathan Lovell

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

Hexamodal Imaging with Porphyrin-Phospholipid-Coated Upconversion Nanoparticles by James Rieffel, Feng Chen, Jeesu Kim, Guanying Chen, Wei Shao, Shuai Shao, Upendra Chitgupi, Reinier Hernandez, Stephen A. Graves, Robert J. Nickles, Paras N. Prasad, Chulhong Kim, Weibo Cai, and Jonathan F. Lovell. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201404739 Article first published online: 14 JAN 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.