Tag Archives: US

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) at summer 2016 World Economic Forum in China

From the Ideas Lab at the 2016 World Economic Forum at Davos to offering expertise at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Tanjin, China that is taking place from June 26 – 28, 2016.

Here’s more from a June 24, 2016 KAIST news release on EurekAlert,

Scientific and technological breakthroughs are more important than ever as a key agent to drive social, economic, and political changes and advancements in today’s world. The World Economic Forum (WEF), an international organization that provides one of the broadest engagement platforms to address issues of major concern to the global community, will discuss the effects of these breakthroughs at its 10th Annual Meeting of the New Champions, a.k.a., the Summer Davos Forum, in Tianjin, China, June 26-28, 2016.

Three professors from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) will join the Annual Meeting and offer their expertise in the fields of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics to explore the conference theme, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Its Transformational Impact.” The Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term coined by WEF founder, Klaus Schwab, is characterized by a range of new technologies that fuse the physical, digital, and biological worlds, such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and automation.

Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department will speak at the Experts Reception to be held on June 25, 2016 on the topic of “The Summer Davos Forum and Science and Technology in Asia.” On June 27, 2016, he will participate in two separate discussion sessions.

In the first session entitled “What If Drugs Are Printed from the Internet?” Professor Lee will discuss the future of medicine being impacted by advancements in biotechnology and 3D printing technology with Nita A. Farahany, a Duke University professor, under the moderation of Clare Matterson, the Director of Strategy at Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom. The discussants will note recent developments made in the way patients receive their medicine, for example, downloading drugs directly from the internet and the production of yeast strains to make opioids for pain treatment through systems metabolic engineering, and predicting how these emerging technologies will transform the landscape of the pharmaceutical industry in the years to come.

In the second session, “Lessons for Life,” Professor Lee will talk about how to nurture life-long learning and creativity to support personal and professional growth necessary in an era of the new industrial revolution.

During the Annual Meeting, Professors Jong-Hwan Kim of the Electrical Engineering School and David Hyunchul Shim of the Aerospace Department will host, together with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and AnthroTronix, an engineering research and development company, a technological exhibition on robotics. Professor Kim, the founder of the internally renowned Robot World Cup, will showcase his humanoid micro-robots that play soccer, displaying their various cutting-edge technologies such as imaging processing, artificial intelligence, walking, and balancing. Professor Shim will present a human-like robotic piloting system, PIBOT, which autonomously operates a simulated flight program, grabbing control sticks and guiding an airplane from take offs to landings.

In addition, the two professors will join Professor Lee, who is also a moderator, to host a KAIST-led session on June 26, 2016, entitled “Science in Depth: From Deep Learning to Autonomous Machines.” Professors Kim and Shim will explore new opportunities and challenges in their fields from machine learning to autonomous robotics including unmanned vehicles and drones.

Since 2011, KAIST has been participating in the World Economic Forum’s two flagship conferences, the January and June Davos Forums, to introduce outstanding talents, share their latest research achievements, and interact with global leaders.

KAIST President Steve Kang said, “It is important for KAIST to be involved in global talks that identify issues critical to humanity and seek answers to solve them, where our skills and knowledge in science and technology could play a meaningful role. The Annual Meeting in China will become another venue to accomplish this.”

I mentioned KAIST and the Ideas Lab at the 2016 Davos meeting in this Nov. 20, 2015 posting and was able to clear up my (and possible other people’s) confusion as to what the Fourth Industrial revolution might be in my Dec. 3, 2015 posting.

Cleaning up nuclear waste gases with nanotechnology-enabled materials

Swiss and US scientists have developed a nanoporous crystal that could be used to clean up nuclear waste gases according to a June 13, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

An international team of scientists at EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland] and the US have discovered a material that can clear out radioactive waste from nuclear plants more efficiently, cheaply, and safely than current methods.

Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest alternatives to carbon-based fossil fuels. But nuclear-fuel reprocessing plants generate waste gas that is currently too expensive and dangerous to deal with. Scanning hundreds of thousands of materials, scientists led by EPFL and their US colleagues have now discovered a material that can absorb nuclear waste gases much more efficiently, cheaply and safely. The work is published in Nature Communications (“Metal–organic framework with optimally selective xenon adsorption and separation”).

A June 14, 2016 EPFL press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains further,

Nuclear-fuel reprocessing plants generate volatile radionuclides such as xenon and krypton, which escape in the so-called “off-gas” of these facilities – the gases emitted as byproducts of the chemical process. Current ways of capturing and clearing out these gases involve distillation at very low temperatures, which is expensive in both terms of energy and capital costs, and poses a risk of explosion.

Scientists led by Berend Smit’s lab at EPFL (Sion) and colleagues in the US, have now identified a material that can be used as an efficient, cheaper, and safer alternative to separate xenon and krypton – and at room temperature. The material, abbreviated as SBMOF-1, is a nanoporous crystal and belongs a class of materials that are currently used to clear out CO2 emissions and other dangerous pollutants. These materials are also very versatile, and scientists can tweak them to self-assemble into ordered, pre-determined crystal structures. In this way, they can synthesize millions of tailor-made materials that can be optimized for gas storage separation, catalysis, chemical sensing and optics.

The scientists carried out high-throughput screening of large material databases of over 125,000 candidates. To do this, they used molecular simulations to find structures that can separate xenon and krypton, and under conditions that match those involved in reprocessing nuclear waste.

Because xenon has a much shorter half-life than krypton – a month versus a decade – the scientists had to find a material that would be selective for both but would capture them separately. As xenon is used in commercial lighting, propulsion, imaging, anesthesia and insulation, it can also be sold back into the chemical market to offset costs.

The scientists identified and confirmed that SBMOF-1 shows remarkable xenon capturing capacity and xenon/krypton selectivity under nuclear-plant conditions and at room temperature.

The US partners have also made an announcement with this June 13, 2016 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) news release (also on EurekAlert), Note: It is a little repetitive but there’s good additional information,

Researchers are investigating a new material that might help in nuclear fuel recycling and waste reduction by capturing certain gases released during reprocessing. Conventional technologies to remove these radioactive gases operate at extremely low, energy-intensive temperatures. By working at ambient temperature, the new material has the potential to save energy, make reprocessing cleaner and less expensive. The reclaimed materials can also be reused commercially.

Appearing in Nature Communications, the work is a collaboration between experimentalists and computer modelers exploring the characteristics of materials known as metal-organic frameworks.

“This is a great example of computer-inspired material discovery,” said materials scientist Praveen Thallapally of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “Usually the experimental results are more realistic than computational ones. This time, the computer modeling showed us something the experiments weren’t telling us.”

Waste avoidance

Recycling nuclear fuel can reuse uranium and plutonium — the majority of the used fuel — that would otherwise be destined for waste. Researchers are exploring technologies that enable safe, efficient, and reliable recycling of nuclear fuel for use in the future.

A multi-institutional, international collaboration is studying materials to replace costly, inefficient recycling steps. One important step is collecting radioactive gases xenon and krypton, which arise during reprocessing. To capture xenon and krypton, conventional technologies use cryogenic methods in which entire gas streams are brought to a temperature far below where water freezes — such methods are energy intensive and expensive.

Thallapally, working with Maciej Haranczyk and Berend Smit of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBNL] and others, has been studying materials called metal-organic frameworks, also known as MOFs, that could potentially trap xenon and krypton without having to use cryogenics.

These materials have tiny pores inside, so small that often only a single molecule can fit inside each pore. When one gas species has a higher affinity for the pore walls than other gas species, metal-organic frameworks can be used to separate gaseous mixtures by selectively adsorbing.

To find the best MOF for xenon and krypton separation, computational chemists led by Haranczyk and Smit screened 125,000 possible MOFs for their ability to trap the gases. Although these gases can come in radioactive varieties, they are part of a group of chemically inert elements called “noble gases.” The team used computing resources at NERSC, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at LBNL.

“Identifying the optimal material for a given process, out of thousands of possible structures, is a challenge due to the sheer number of materials. Given that the characterization of each material can take up to a few hours of simulations, the entire screening process may fill a supercomputer for weeks,” said Haranczyk. “Instead, we developed an approach to assess the performance of materials based on their easily computable characteristics. In this case, seven different characteristics were necessary for predicting how the materials behaved, and our team’s grad student Cory Simon’s application of machine learning techniques greatly sped up the material discovery process by eliminating those that didn’t meet the criteria.”

The team’s models identified the MOF that trapped xenon most selectively and had a pore size close to the size of a xenon atom — SBMOF-1, which they then tested in the lab at PNNL.

After optimizing the preparation of SBMOF-1, Thallapally and his team at PNNL tested the material by running a mixture of gases through it — including a non-radioactive form of xenon and krypton — and measuring what came out the other end. Oxygen, helium, nitrogen, krypton, and carbon dioxide all beat xenon out. This indicated that xenon becomes trapped within SBMOF-1’s pores until the gas saturates the material.

Other tests also showed that in the absence of xenon, SBMOF-1 captures krypton. During actual separations, then, operators would pass the gas streams through SBMOF-1 twice to capture both gases.

The team also tested SBMOF-1’s ability to hang onto xenon in conditions of high humidity. Humidity interferes with cryogenics, and gases must be dehydrated before putting them through the ultra-cold method, another time-consuming expense. SBMOF-1, however, performed quite admirably, retaining more than 85 percent of the amount of xenon in high humidity as it did in dry conditions.

The final step in collecting xenon or krypton gas would be to put the MOF material under a vacuum, which sucks the gas out of the molecular cages for safe storage. A last laboratory test examined how stable the material was by repeatedly filling it up with xenon gas and then vacuuming out the xenon. After 10 cycles of this, SBMOF-1 collected just as much xenon as the first cycle, indicating a high degree of stability for long-term use.

Thallapally attributes this stability to the manner in which SBMOF-1 interacts with xenon. Rather than chemical reactions between the molecular cages and the gases, the relationship is purely physical. The material can last a lot longer without constantly going through chemical reactions, he said.

A model finding

Although the researchers showed that SBMOF-1 is a good candidate for nuclear fuel reprocessing, getting these results wasn’t smooth sailing. In the lab, the researchers had followed a previously worked out protocol from Stony Brook University to prepare SBMOF-1. Part of that protocol requires them to “activate” SBMOF-1 by heating it up to 300 degrees Celsius, three times the temperature of boiling water.

Activation cleans out material left in the pores from MOF synthesis. Laboratory tests of the activated SBMOF-1, however, showed the material didn’t behave as well as it should, based on the computer modeling results.

The researchers at PNNL repeated the lab experiments. This time, however, they activated SBMOF-1 at a lower temperature, 100 degrees Celsius, or the actual temperature of boiling water. Subjecting the material to the same lab tests, the researchers found SBMOF-1 behaving as expected, and better than at the higher activation temperature.

But why? To figure out where the discrepancy came from, the researchers modeled what happened to SBMOF-1 at 300 degrees Celsius. Unexpectedly, the pores squeezed in on themselves.

“When we heated the crystal that high, atoms within the pore tilted and partially blocked the pores,” said Thallapally. “The xenon doesn’t fit.”

Armed with these new computational and experimental insights, the researchers can explore SBMOF-1 and other MOFs further for nuclear fuel recycling. These MOFs might also be able to capture other noble gases such as radon, a gas known to pool in some basements.

Researchers hailed from several other institutions as well as those listed earlier, including University of California, Berkeley, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and IMDEA Materials Institute in Spain. This work was supported by the [US] Department of Energy Offices of Nuclear Energy and Science.

Here’s an image the researchers have provided to illustrate their work,

Caption: The crystal structure of SBMOF-1 (green = Ca, yellow = S, red = O, gray = C, white = H). The light blue surface is a visualization of the one-dimensional channel that SBMOF-1 creates for the gas molecules to move through. The darker blue surface illustrates where a Xe atom sits in the pores of SBMOF-1 when it adsorbs. Credit: Berend Smit/EPFL/University of California Berkley

Caption: The crystal structure of SBMOF-1 (green = Ca, yellow = S, red = O, gray = C, white = H). The light blue surface is a visualization of the one-dimensional channel that SBMOF-1 creates for the gas molecules to move through. The darker blue surface illustrates where a Xe atom sits in the pores of SBMOF-1 when it adsorbs. Credit: Berend Smit/EPFL/University of California Berkley

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

Metal–organic framework with optimally selective xenon adsorption and separation by Debasis Banerjee, Cory M. Simon, Anna M. Plonka, Radha K. Motkuri, Jian Liu, Xianyin Chen, Berend Smit, John B. Parise, Maciej Haranczyk, & Praveen K. Thallapally. Nature Communications 7, Article number: ncomms11831  doi:10.1038/ncomms11831 Published 13 June 2016

This paper is open access.

Final comment, this is the second time in the last month I’ve stumbled across more positive approaches to nuclear energy. The first time was a talk (Why Nuclear Power is Necessary) held in Vancouver, Canada in May 2016 (details here). I’m not trying to suggest anything unduly sinister but it is interesting since most of my adult life nuclear power has been viewed with fear and suspicion.

A new, stable open-shell carbon molecule from Oregon

This discovery could one day make organic solar cells more efficient than silicon ones. Researchers at the University of Oregon announced their discovery in a June 9, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

University of Oregon chemists have synthesized a stable and long-lasting carbon-based molecule that, they say, potentially could be applicable in solar cells and electronic devices.

The molecule changes its bonding patterns to a magnetic biradical state when heated; it then returns to a fully bonded non-magnetic closed state at room temperature. That transition, they report, can be done repeatedly without decomposition. It remains stable in the presence of both heat and oxygen.

A June 9, 2016 University of Oregon news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

 

Biradical refers to organic compounds, known as open-shell molecules, that have two free-flowing, non-bonding electrons. Producing them using techniques to control their electron spin, and thus provide semiconducting properties, in a heated state has been hampered by instability since the first synthetic biradical hydrocarbon was made in 1907.

“Potentially our approach could help to make organic solar cells more efficient than silicon solar cells, but that’s probably far in the future,” said UO doctoral student Gabriel E. Rudebusch, the paper’s lead author. “Our synthesis is rapid and efficient. We easily can make a gram of this compound, which is very stable when exposed to oxygen and heat. This stability has been almost unheard of in the literature about biradical compounds.”

The four-step synthesis of the compound — diindenoanthracene, or DIAn — and how it held up when tested in superconducting materials were detailed in a proof-of-principle paper published online May 23 by the journal Nature Chemistry. The UO team collaborated with experts in Japan, Spain and Sweden.

The molecular framework for the new molecule involves the hydrocarbon anthracene, which has three linearly fused hexagonal benzene rings, in combination with two five-membered pentagonal rings.

“The big difference between our new molecule and a lot of other biradical molecules that have been produced is those five-membered rings,” said co-author Michael M. Haley, who holds the UO’s Richard M. and Patricia H. Noyes Professorship in Chemistry. “They have the inherent ability to accept electrons or give up electrons. This means DIAn can move both negative and positive charges, which is an essential property for useful devices such as transistors and solar cells. Also, we can heat up our molecule to 150 degrees Celsius, bring it back to room temperature and heat it up again, repeatedly, and we see no decomposition in its reaction to oxygen. The unique features of DIAn are essential if these molecules are to have a use in the real world.”

Haley’s lab is now seeking to develop derivatives of the new molecule to help move the technology forward into potential applications.

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

Diindeno-fusion of an anthracene as a design strategy for stable organic biradicals by Gabriel E. Rudebusch, José L. Zafra, Kjell Jorner, Kotaro Fukuda, Jonathan L. Marshall, Iratxe Arrechea-Marcos, Guzmán L. Espejo, Rocío Ponce Ortiz, Carlos J. Gómez-García, Lev N. Zakharov, Masayoshi Nakano, Henrik Ottosson, Juan Casado & Michael M. Haley. Nature Chemistry (2016)  doi:10.1038/nchem.2518 Published online 23 May 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is another June 9, 2016 University of Oregon news release by Jim Barlow about this discovery. It covers much of the same material but focuses more closely on Rudebusch’s perspective.

A treasure trove of molecule and battery data released to the public

Scientists working on The Materials Project have taken the notion of open science to their hearts and opened up access to their data according to a June 9, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

The Materials Project, a Google-like database of material properties aimed at accelerating innovation, has released an enormous trove of data to the public, giving scientists working on fuel cells, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, and a host of other advanced materials a powerful tool to explore new research avenues. But it has become a particularly important resource for researchers working on batteries. Co-founded and directed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientist Kristin Persson, the Materials Project uses supercomputers to calculate the properties of materials based on first-principles quantum-mechanical frameworks. It was launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science.

A June 8, 2016 Berkeley Lab news release, which originated the news item, provides more explanation about The Materials Project,

The idea behind the Materials Project is that it can save researchers time by predicting material properties without needing to synthesize the materials first in the lab. It can also suggest new candidate materials that experimentalists had not previously dreamed up. With a user-friendly web interface, users can look up the calculated properties, such as voltage, capacity, band gap, and density, for tens of thousands of materials.

Two sets of data were released last month: nearly 1,500 compounds investigated for multivalent intercalation electrodes and more than 21,000 organic molecules relevant for liquid electrolytes as well as a host of other research applications. Batteries with multivalent cathodes (which have multiple electrons per mobile ion available for charge transfer) are promising candidates for reducing cost and achieving higher energy density than that available with current lithium-ion technology.

The sheer volume and scope of the data is unprecedented, said Persson, who is also a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “As far as the multivalent cathodes, there’s nothing similar in the world that exists,” she said. “To give you an idea, experimentalists are usually able to focus on one of these materials at a time. Using calculations, we’ve added data on 1,500 different compositions.”

While other research groups have made their data publicly available, what makes the Materials Project so useful are the online tools to search all that data. The recent release includes two new web apps—the Molecules Explorer and the Redox Flow Battery Dashboard—plus an add-on to the Battery Explorer web app enabling researchers to work with other ions in addition to lithium.

“Not only do we give the data freely, we also give algorithms and software to interpret or search over the data,” Persson said.

The Redox Flow Battery app gives scientific parameters as well as techno-economic ones, so battery designers can quickly rule out a molecule that might work well but be prohibitively expensive. The Molecules Explorer app will be useful to researchers far beyond the battery community.

“For multivalent batteries it’s so hard to get good experimental data,” Persson said. “The calculations provide rich and robust benchmarks to assess whether the experiments are actually measuring a valid intercalation process or a side reaction, which is particularly difficult for multivalent energy technology because there are so many problems with testing these batteries.”

Here’s a screen capture from the Battery Explorer app,

The Materials Project’s Battery Explorer app now allows researchers to work with other ions in addition to lithium.

The Materials Project’s Battery Explorer app now allows researchers to work with other ions in addition to lithium. Courtesy: The Materials Project

The news release goes on to describe a new discovery made possible by The Materials Project (Note: A link has been removed),

Together with Persson, Berkeley Lab scientist Gerbrand Ceder, postdoctoral associate Miao Liu, and MIT graduate student Ziqin Rong, the Materials Project team investigated some of the more promising materials in detail for high multivalent ion mobility, which is the most difficult property to achieve in these cathodes. This led the team to materials known as thiospinels. One of these thiospinels has double the capacity of the currently known multivalent cathodes and was recently synthesized and tested in the lab by JCESR researcher Linda Nazar of the University of Waterloo, Canada.

“These materials may not work well the first time you make them,” Persson said. “You have to be persistent; for example you may have to make the material very phase pure or smaller than a particular particle size and you have to test them under very controlled conditions. There are people who have actually tried this material before and discarded it because they thought it didn’t work particularly well. The power of the computations and the design metrics we have uncovered with their help is that it gives us the confidence to keep trying.”

The researchers were able to double the energy capacity of what had previously been achieved for this kind of multivalent battery. The study has been published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science in an article titled, “A High Capacity Thiospinel Cathode for Mg Batteries.”

“The new multivalent battery works really well,” Persson said. “It’s a significant advance and an excellent proof-of-concept for computational predictions as a valuable new tool for battery research.”

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

A high capacity thiospinel cathode for Mg batteries by Xiaoqi Sun, Patrick Bonnick, Victor Duffort, Miao Liu, Ziqin Rong, Kristin A. Persson, Gerbrand Ceder and  Linda F. Nazar. Energy Environ. Sci., 2016, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C6EE00724D First published online 24 May 2016

This paper seems to be behind a paywall.

Getting back to the news release, there’s more about The Materials Project in relationship to its membership,

The Materials Project has attracted more than 20,000 users since launching five years ago. Every day about 20 new users register and 300 to 400 people log in to do research.

One of those users is Dane Morgan, a professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who develops new materials for a wide range of applications, including highly active catalysts for fuel cells, stable low-work function electron emitter cathodes for high-powered microwave devices, and efficient, inexpensive, and environmentally safe solar materials.

“The Materials Project has enabled some of the most exciting research in my group,” said Morgan, who also serves on the Materials Project’s advisory board. “By providing easy access to a huge database, as well as tools to process that data for thermodynamic predictions, the Materials Project has enabled my group to rapidly take on materials design projects that would have been prohibitive just a few years ago.”

More materials are being calculated and added to the database every day. In two years, Persson expects another trove of data to be released to the public.

“This is the way to reach a significant part of the research community, to reach students while they’re still learning material science,” she said. “It’s a teaching tool. It’s a science tool. It’s unprecedented.”

Supercomputing clusters at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility hosted at Berkeley Lab, provide the infrastructure for the Materials Project.

Funding for the Materials Project is provided by the Office of Science (US Department of Energy], including support through JCESR [Joint Center for Energy Storage Research].

Happy researching!

Canadian science petition and a science diplomacy event in Ottawa on June 21, 2016*

The Canadian science policy and science funding scene is hopping these days. Canada’s Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, announced a new review of federal funding for fundamental science on Monday, June 13, 2016 (see my June 15, 2016 post for more details and a brief critique of the panel) and now, there’s a new Parliamentary campaign for a science advisor and a Canadian Science Policy Centre event on science diplomacy.

Petition for a science advisor

Kennedy Stewart, Canadian Member of Parliament (Burnaby South) and NDP (New Democratic Party) Science Critic, has launched a campaign for independent science advice for the government. Here’s more from a June 15, 2016 announcement (received via email),

After years of muzzling and misuse of science by the Conservatives, our scientists need lasting protections in order to finally turn the page on the lost Harper decade.

I am writing to ask your support for a new campaign calling for an independent science advisor.

While I applaud the new Liberal government for their recent promises to support science, we have a long way to go to rebuild Canada’s reputation as a global knowledge leader. As NDP Science Critic, I continue to push for renewed research funding and measures to restore scientific integrity.

Canada badly needs a new science advisor to act as a public champion for research and evidence in Ottawa. Although the Trudeau government has committed to creating a Chief Science Officer, the Minister of Science – Dr. Kirsty Duncan – has yet to state whether or not the new officer will be given real independence and a mandate protected by law.

Today, we’re launching a new parliamentary petition calling for just that: https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Sign/e-415

Can you add your name right now?

Canada’s last national science advisor lacked independence from the government and was easily eliminated in 2008 after the anti-science Harper Conservatives took power.

That’s why the Minister needs to build the new CSO to last and entrench the position in legislation. Rhetoric and half-measures aren’t good enough.

Please add your voice for public science by signing our petition to the Minister of Science.

Thank you for your support,

Breakfast session on science diplomacy

One June 21, 2016 the Canadian Science Policy Centre is presenting a breakfast session on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, (from an announcement received via email),

“Science Diplomacy in the 21st Century: The Potential for Tomorrow”
Remarks by Dr. Vaughan Turekian,
Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry

Event Information
Tuesday, June 21, 2016, Room 238-S, Parliament Hill
7:30am – 8:00am – Continental Breakfast
8:00am – 8:10am – Opening Remarks, MP Terry Beech
8:10am – 8:45am – Dr. Vaughan Turekian Remarks and Q&A

Dr. Turekian’s visit comes during a pivotal time as Canada is undergoing fundamental changes in numerous policy directions surrounding international affairs. With Canada’s comeback on the world stage, there is great potential for science to play an integral role in the conduct of our foreign affairs.  The United States is currently one of the leaders in science diplomacy, and as such, listening to Dr.Turekian will provide a unique perspective from the best practices of science diplomacy in the US.

Actually, Dr. Turekian’s visit comes before a North American Summit being held in Ottawa on June 29, 2016 and which has already taken a scientific turn. From a June 16, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Some 200 intellectuals, scientists and artists from around the world urged the leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada on Wednesday to save North America’s endangered migratory Monarch butterfly.

US novelist Paul Auster, environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Canadian poet [Canadian media usually describe her as a writer] Margaret Atwood, British writer Ali Smith and India’s women’s and children’s minister Maneka Sanjay Gandhi were among the signatories of an open letter to the three leaders.

US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will hold a North American summit in Ottawa on June 29 [2016].

The letter by the so-called Group of 100 calls on the three leaders to “take swift and energetic actions to preserve the Monarch’s migratory phenomenon” when they meet this month.

In 1996-1997, the butterflies covered 18.2 hectares (45 acres) of land in Mexico’s central mountains.

It fell to 0.67 hectares in 2013-2014 but rose to 4 hectares this year. Their population is measured by the territory they cover.

They usually arrive in Mexico between late October and early November and head back north in March.

Given this turn of events, I wonder how Turekian, given that he’s held his current position for less than a year, might (or might not) approach the question of Monarch butterflies and diplomacy.

I did a little research about Turekian and found this Sept. 10, 2016 news release announcing his appointment as the Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State,

On September 8, Dr. Vaughan Turekian, formerly the Chief International Officer at The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was named the 5th Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. In this capacity, Dr. Turekian will advise the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment on international environment, science, technology, and health matters affecting the foreign policy of the United States. Dr. Turekian will draw upon his background in atmospheric chemistry and extensive policy experience to promote science, technology, and engineering as integral components of U.S. diplomacy.

Dr. Turekian brings both technical expertise and 14 years of policy experience to the position. As former Chief International Officer for The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Director of AAAS’s Center for Science Diplomacy, Dr. Turekian worked to build bridges between nations based on shared scientific goals, placing special emphasis on regions where traditional political relationships are strained or do not exist. As Editor-in-Chief of Science & Diplomacy, an online quarterly publication, Dr. Turekian published original policy pieces that have served to inform international science policy recommendations. Prior to his work at AAAS, Turekian worked at the State Department as Special Assistant and Adviser to the Under Secretary for Global Affairs on issues related to sustainable development, climate change, environment, energy, science, technology, and health and as a Program Director for the Committee on Global Change Research at the National Academy of Sciences where he was study director for a White House report on climate change science.

Turekian’s last editorial for Science & Diplomacy dated June 30, 2015 features a title (Evolving Institutions for Twenty-First Century [Science] Diplomacy) bearing a resemblance to the title for his talk in Ottawa and perhaps it provides a preview (spoilers),

Over the recent decade, its treatment of science and technology issues has increased substantially, with a number of cover stories focused on topics that bridge science, technology, and foreign affairs. This thought leadership reflects a broader shift in thinking within institutions throughout the world about the importance of better integrating the communities of science and diplomacy in novel ways.

In May, a high-level committee convened by Japan’s minister of foreign affairs released fifteen recommendations for how Japan could better incorporate its scientific and technological expertise into its foreign policy. While many of the recommendations were to be predicted, including the establishment of the position of science adviser to the foreign minister, the breadth of the recommendations highlighted numerous new ways Japan could leverage science to meet its foreign policy objectives. The report itself marks a turning point for an institution looking to upgrade its ability to meet and shape the challenges of this still young century.

On the other side of the Pacific, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences released its own assessment of science in the U.S. Department of State. Their report, “Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of Science and Technology Throughout the Department of State,” builds on its landmark 1999 report, which, among other things, established the position of science and technology adviser to the secretary of state. The twenty-seven recommendations in the new report are wide ranging, but as a whole speak to the fact that while one of the oldest U.S. institutions of government has made much progress toward becoming more scientifically and technologically literate, there are many more steps that could be taken to leverage science and technology as a key element of U.S. foreign policy.

These two recent reports highlight the importance of foreign ministries as vital instruments of science diplomacy. These agencies of foreign affairs, like their counterparts around the world, are often viewed as conservative and somewhat inflexible institutions focused on stability rather than transformation. However, they are adjusting to a world in which developments in science and technology move rapidly and affect relationships and interactions at bilateral, regional, and global scales.

At the same time that some traditional national instruments of diplomacy are evolving to better incorporate science, international science institutions are also evolving to meet the diplomatic and foreign policy drivers of this more technical century. …

It’s an interesting read and I’m glad to see the mention of Japan in his article. I’d like to see Canadian science advice and policy initiatives take more notice of the rest of the world rather than focusing almost solely on what’s happening in the US and Great Britain (see my June 15, 2016 post for an example of what I mean). On another note, it was disconcerting to find out that Turekian believes that we are only now moving past the Cold War politics of the past.

Unfortunately for anyone wanting to attend the talk, ticket sales have ended even though they were supposed to be open until June 17, 2016. And, there doesn’t seem to be a wait list.

You may want to try arriving at the door and hoping that people have cancelled or fail to arrive therefore acquiring a ticket. Should you be an MP (Member of Parliament), Senator, or guest of the Canadian Science Policy Conference, you get a free ticket. Should you be anyone else, expect to pay $15, assuming no one is attempting to scalp (sell one for more than it cost) these tickets.

*’ … on June’ in headline changed to ‘ … on June 21, 2016’ on June 17, 2016.

Science literacy, science advice, the US Supreme Court, and Britain’s House of Commons

This ‘think’ piece is going to cover a fair bit of ground including science literacy in the general public and in the US Supreme Court, and what that might mean for science advice and UK Members of Parliament (MPs).

Science literacy generally and in the US Supreme Court

A science literacy report for the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), due sometime from early to mid 2017, is being crafted with an eye to capturing a different perspective according to a March 24, 2016 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release by Terry Dewitt,

What does it mean to be science literate? How science literate is the American public? How do we stack up against other countries? What are the civic implications of a public with limited knowledge of science and how it works? How is science literacy measured?

These and other questions are under the microscope of a 12-member National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel — including University of Wisconsin—Madison Life Sciences Communication Professor Dominique Brossard and School of Education Professor Noah Feinstein — charged with sorting through the existing data on American science and health literacy and exploring the association between knowledge of science and public perception of and support for science.

The committee — composed of educators, scientists, physicians and social scientists — will take a hard look at the existing data on the state of U.S. science literacy, the questions asked, and the methods used to measure what Americans know and don’t know about science and how that knowledge has changed over time. Critically for science, the panel will explore whether a lack of science literacy is associated with decreased public support for science or research.

Historically, policymakers and leaders in the scientific community have fretted over a perceived lack of knowledge among Americans about science and how it works. A prevailing fear is that an American public unequipped to come to terms with modern science will ultimately have serious economic, security and civic consequences, especially when it comes to addressing complex and nuanced issues like climate change, antibiotic resistance, emerging diseases, environment and energy choices.

While the prevailing wisdom, inspired by past studies, is that Americans don’t stack up well in terms of understanding science, Brossard is not so convinced. Much depends on what kinds of questions are asked, how they are asked, and how the data is analyzed.

It is very easy, she argues, to do bad social science and past studies may have measured the wrong things or otherwise created a perception about the state of U.S. science literacy that may or may not be true.

“How do you conceptualize scientific literacy? What do people need to know? Some argue that scientific literacy may be as simple as an understanding of how science works, the nature of science, [emphasis mine]” Brossard explains. “For others it may be a kind of ‘civic science literacy,’ where people have enough knowledge to be informed and make good decisions in a civics context.”

Science literacy may not be just for the public, it would seem that US Supreme Court judges may not have a basic understanding of how science works. David Bruggeman’s March 24, 2016 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) describes a then current case before the Supreme Court (Justice Antonin Scalia has since died), Note: Links have been removed,

It’s a case concerning aspects of the University of Texas admissions process for undergraduates and the case is seen as a possible means of restricting race-based considerations for admission.  While I think the arguments in the case will likely revolve around factors far removed from science and or technology, there were comments raised by two Justices that struck a nerve with many scientists and engineers.

Both Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts raised questions about the validity of having diversity where science and scientists are concerned [emphasis mine].  Justice Scalia seemed to imply that diversity wasn’t esential for the University of Texas as most African-American scientists didn’t come from schools at the level of the University of Texas (considered the best university in Texas).  Chief Justice Roberts was a bit more plain about not understanding the benefits of diversity.  He stated, “What unique perspective does a black student bring to a class in physics?”

To that end, Dr. S. James Gates, theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland, and member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (and commercial actor) has an editorial in the March 25 [2016] issue of Science explaining that the value of having diversity in science does not accrue *just* to those who are underrepresented.

Dr. Gates relates his personal experience as a researcher and teacher of how people’s background inform their practice of science, and that two different people may use the same scientific method, but think about the problem differently.

I’m guessing that both Scalia and Roberts and possibly others believe that science is the discovery and accumulation of facts. In this worldview science facts such as gravity are waiting for discovery and formulation into a ‘law’. They do not recognize that most science is a collection of beliefs and may be influenced by personal beliefs. For example, we believe we’ve proved the existence of the Higgs boson but no one associated with the research has ever stated unequivocally that it exists.

For judges who are under the impression that scientific facts are out there somewhere waiting to be discovered diversity must seem irrelevant. It is not. Who you are affects the questions you ask and how you approach science. The easiest example is to look at how women were viewed when they were subjects in medical research. The fact that women’s physiology is significantly different (and not just in child-bearing ways) was never considered relevant when reporting results. Today, researchers consider not only gender, but age (to some extent), ethnicity, and more when examining results. It’s still not a perfect but it was a step forward.

So when Brossard included “… an understanding of how science works, the nature of science …” as an aspect of science literacy, the judges seemed to present a good example of how not understanding science can have a major impact on how others live.

I’d almost forgotten this science literacy piece as I’d started the draft some months ago but then I spotted a news item about a science advice/MP ‘dating’ service in the UK.

Science advice and UK MPs

First, the news, then, the speculation (from a June 6, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily),

MPs have expressed an overwhelming willingness to use a proposed new service to swiftly link them with academics in relevant areas to help ensure policy is based on the latest evidence.

A June 6, 2016 University of Exeter press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the proposed service and the research providing the supporting evidence (Note: A link has been removed),

The government is pursuing a drive towards evidence-based policy, yet policy makers still struggle to incorporate evidence into their decisions. One reason for this is limited easy access to the latest research findings or to academic experts who can respond to questions about evidence quickly.

Researchers at Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and University College London have today published results of the largest study to date reporting MPs’ attitudes to evidence in policy making and their reactions to a proposed Evidence Information Service (EIS) – a rapid match-making advisory service that would work alongside existing systems to put MPs in touch with relevant academic experts.

Dr Natalia Lawrence, of the University of Exeter, said: “It’s clear from our study that politicians want to ensure their decisions incorporate the most reliable evidence, but it can sometimes be very difficult for them to know how to access the latest research findings. This new matchmaking service could be a quick and easy way for them to seek advice from cutting-edge researchers and to check their understanding and facts. It could provide a useful complement to existing highly-valued information services.”

The research, published today in the journal Evidence and Policy, reports the findings of a national consultation exercise between politicians and the public. The researchers recruited members of the public to interview their local parliamentary representative. In total 86, politicians were contacted with 56 interviews completed. The MPs indicated an overwhelming willingness to use a service such as the EIS, with 85% supporting the idea, but noted a number of potential reservations related to the logistics of the EIS such as response time and familiarity with the service. Yet, the MPs indicated that their logistical reservations could be overcome by accessing the EIS via existing highly-valued parliamentary information services such as those provided by the House of Commons and Lords Libraries. Furthermore prior to rolling out the EIS on a nationwide basis it would first need to be piloted.

Developing the proposed EIS in line with feedback from this consultation of MPs would offer the potential to provide policy makers with rapid, reliable and confidential evidence from willing volunteers from the research community.

Professor Chris Chambers, of Cardiff University, said: “The government has given a robust steer that MPs need to link in more with academics to ensure decisions shaping the future of the country are evidence-based. It’s heartening to see that there is a will to adopt this system and we now need to move into a phase of developing a service that is both simple and effective to meet this need.”

The next steps for the project are parallel consultations of academics and members of the public and a pilot of the EIS, using funding from GW4 alliance of universities, made up of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

What this study shows:
• The consultation shows that politicians recognise the importance of evidence-based policy making and agree on the need for an easier and more direct linkage between academic experts and policy makers.
• Politicians would welcome the creation of the EIS as a provider of rapid, reliable and confidential evidence.

What this study does not show:
• This study does not show how academics would provide evidence. This was a small-scale study which consulted politicians and has not attempted to give voice to the academic community.
• This study does not detail the mechanism of an operational EIS. Instead it indicates the need for a service such as the EIS and suggests ways in which the EIS can be operationalized.

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

Service as a new platform for supporting evidence-based policy: a consultation of UK parliamentarians by Natalia Lawrence, Jemma Chambers, Sinead Morrison, Sven Bestmann, Gerard O’Grady, Christopher Chambers, Andrew Kythreotis. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/174426416X14643531912169 Appeared or available online: June 6, 2016

This paper is behind a paywall open access. *Corrected June 17, 2016.*

It’s an interesting idea and I can understand the appeal. However, operationalizing this ‘dating’ or ‘matchmaking’ service could prove quite complex. I appreciate the logistics issues but I’m a little more concerned about the MPs’ science literacy. Are they going to be like the two US justices who believe that science is the pursuit of immutable facts? What happens if two MPs are matched up with a different scientist and those two scientists didn’t agree about what the evidence says. Or, what happens if one scientist is more cautious than the other. There are all kinds of pitfalls. I’m not arguing against the idea but it’s going to require a lot of careful consideration.

Taking DNA beyond genetics with living computers and nanobots

You might want to keep a salt shaker with you while reading a June 7, 2016 essay by Matteo Palma (Queen Mary’s University of London) about nanotechnology and DNA on The Conversation website (h/t June 7, 2016 news item on Nanowerk).

This is not a ‘hype’ piece as Palma backs every claim with links to the research while providing a good overview of some very exciting work but the mood is a bit euphoric so you may want to keep the earlier mentioned salt shaker nearby.

Palma offers a very nice beginner introduction especially helpful for someone who only half-remembers their high school biology (from the June 7, 2016 essay)

DNA is one of the most amazing molecules in nature, providing a way to carry the instructions needed to create almost any lifeform on Earth in a microscopic package. Now scientists are finding ways to push DNA even further, using it not just to store information but to create physical components in a range of biological machines.

Deoxyribonucleic acid or “DNA” carries the genetic information that we, and all living organisms, use to function. It typically comes in the form of the famous double-helix shape, made up of two single-stranded DNA molecules folded into a spiral. Each of these is made up of a series of four different types of molecular component: adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C).

Genes are made up from different sequences of these building block components, and the order in which they appear in a strand of DNA is what encodes genetic information. But by precisely designing different A,G,T and C sequences, scientists have recently been able to develop new ways of folding DNA into different origami shapes, beyond the conventional double helix.

This approach has opened up new possibilities of using DNA beyond its genetic and biological purpose, turning it into a Lego-like material for building objects that are just a few billionths of a metre in diameter (nanoscale). DNA-based materials are now being used for a variety of applications, ranging from templates for electronic nano-devices, to ways of precisely carrying drugs to diseased cells.

He highlights some Canadian work,

Designing electronic devices that are just nanometres in size opens up all sorts of possible applications but makes it harder to spot defects. As a way of dealing with this, researchers at the University of Montreal have used DNA to create ultrasensitive nanoscale thermometers that could help find minuscule hotspots in nanodevices (which would indicate a defect). They could also be used to monitor the temperature inside living cells.

The nanothermometers are made using loops of DNA that act as switches, folding or unfolding in response to temperature changes. This movement can be detected by attaching optical probes to the DNA. The researchers now want to build these nanothermometers into larger DNA devices that can work inside the human body.

He also mentions the nanobots that will heal your body (according to many works of fiction),

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have used DNA to design and build a nanosized robot that acts as a drug delivery vehicle to target specific cells. The nanorobot comes in the form of an open barrel made of DNA, whose two halves are connected by a hinge held shut by special DNA handles. These handles can recognise combinations of specific proteins present on the surface of cells, including ones associated with diseases.

When the robot comes into contact with the right cells, it opens the container and delivers its cargo. When applied to a mixture of healthy and cancerous human blood cells, these robots showed the ability to target and kill half of the cancer cells, while the healthy cells were left unharmed.

Palma is describing a very exciting development and there are many teams worldwide working on ways to make drugs more effective and less side effect-ridden. However there does seem to be a bit of a problem with targeted drug delivery as noted in my April 27, 2016 posting,

According to an April 27, 2016 news item on Nanowerk researchers at the University of Toronto (Canada) along with their collaborators in the US (Harvard Medical School) and Japan (University of Tokyo) have determined that less than 1% of nanoparticle-based drugs reach their intended destination …

Less than 1%? Admittedly, nanoparticles are not the same as nanobots but the problem is in the delivery, from my April 27, 2016 posting,

… the authors argue that, in order to increase nanoparticle delivery efficiency, a systematic and coordinated long-term strategy is necessary. To build a strong foundation for the field of cancer nanomedicine, researchers will need to understand a lot more about the interactions between nanoparticles and the body’s various organs than they do today. …

I imagine nanobots will suffer a similar fate since the actual delivery mechanism to a targeted cell is still a mystery.

I quite enjoyed Palma’s essay and appreciated the links he provided. My only proviso, keep a salt shaker nearby. That rosy future is going take a while to get here.

Canada and its review of fundamental science

Big thanks to David Bruggeman’s June 14, 2016 post (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) for news of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, which was launched on June 13, 2016 (Note: Links have been removed),

The panel’s mandate focuses on support for fundamental research, research facilities, and platform technologies.  This will include the three granting councils as well as other research organisations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation. But it does not preclude the panel from considering and providing advice and recommendations on research matters outside of the mandate.  The plan is to make the panel’s work and recommendations readily accessible to the public, either online or through any report or reports the panel produces.  The panel’s recommendations to Minister Duncan are non-binding. …

As Ivan Semeniuk notes at The Globe and Mail [Canadian ‘national’ newspaper], the recent Nurse Review in the U.K., which led to the notable changes underway in the organization of that country’s research councils, seems comparable to this effort.  But I think it worth noting the differences in the research systems of the two countries, and the different political pressures in play.  It is not at all obvious to this writer that the Canadian review would necessarily lead to similar recommendations for a streamlining and reorganization of the Canadian research councils.

Longtime observers of the Canadian science funding scene may recall an earlier review held under the auspices of the Steven Harper Conservative government known as the ‘Review of Federal Support to R&D’. In fact it was focused on streamlining government funding for innovation and commercialization of science. The result was the 2011 report, ‘Innovation Canada: A Call to Action’, known popularly as the ‘Jenkins report’ after the panel chair, Tom Jenkins. (More about the report and responses to it can be found in my Oct. 21, 2011 post).

It’s nice to see that fundamental science is being given its turn for attention.

A June 13, 2016 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release provides more detail about the review and the panel guiding the review,

The Government of Canada understands the role of science in maintaining a thriving, clean economy and in providing the evidence for sound policy decisions. To deliver on this role however, federal programs that support Canada’s research efforts must be aligned in such a way as to ensure they are strategic, effective and focused on meeting the needs of scientists first.

That is why the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, today launched an independent review of federal funding for fundamental science. The review will assess the program machinery that is currently in place to support science and scientists in Canada. The scope of the review includes the three granting councils [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council {SSHRC}, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council {NSERC}, Canadian Institutes of Health Research {CIHR}] along with certain federally funded organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI].

The review will be led by an independent panel of distinguished research leaders and innovators including Dr. David Naylor, former president of the University of Toronto and chair of the panel. Other panelists include:

  • Dr. Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor, University of California, Berkeley
  • Dr. Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research, Dalhousie University
  • Mike Lazaridis, co-founder, Quantum Valley Investments
  • Dr. Claudia Malacrida, Associate Vice-President, Research, University of Lethbridge
  • Dr. Art McDonald, former director of the Sudbury Neutrino Laboratory, Nobel Laureate
  • Dr. Martha Piper, interim president, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist, Quebec
  • Dr. Anne Wilson, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Successful Societies Fellow and professor of psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

The panel will spend the next six months seeking input from the research community and Canadians on how to optimize support for fundamental science in Canada. The panel will also survey international best practices for funding science and examine whether emerging researchers face barriers that prevent them from achieving career goals. It will look at what must be done to address these barriers and what more can be done to encourage Canada’s scientists to take on bold new research challenges. In addition to collecting input from the research community, the panel will also invite Canadians to participate in the review [emphasis mine] through an online consultation.

Ivan Semeniuk in his June 13, 2016 article for The Globe and Mail provides some interesting commentary about the possible outcomes of this review,

Depending on how its recommendations are taken on board, the panel could trigger anything from minor tweaks to a major rebuild of Ottawa’s science-funding apparatus, which this year is expected to funnel more than $3-billion to Canadian researchers and their labs.

Asked what she most wanted the panel to address, Ms. Duncan cited, as an example, the plight of younger researchers who, in many cases, must wait until they are in their 40s to get federal support.

Another is the risk of losing the benefits of previous investments when funding rules become restrictive, such as a 14-year limit on how long the government can support one of its existing networks of centres of excellence, or the dependence of research projects that are in the national interest on funding streams that require support from provincial governments or private sources.

The current system for proposing and reviewing research grants has been criticized as cumbersome and fraught with biases that mean the best science is not always supported.

In a paper published on Friday in the research journal PLOS One, Trent University biologist Dennis Murray and colleagues combed through 13,526 grant proposals to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council between 2011 and 2014 and found significant evidence that researchers at smaller universities have consistently lower success rates.

Dr. Murray advocates for a more quantitative and impartial system of review to keep such biases at bay.

“There are too many opportunities for human impressions — conscious or unconscious — to make their way into the current evaluation process,” Dr. Murray said.

More broadly, researchers say the time is right for a look at a system that has grown convoluted and less suited to a world in which science is increasingly cross-disciplinary, and international research collaborations are more important.

If you have time, I encourage you to take a look at Semeniuk’s entire article as for the paper he mentions, here’s a link to and a citation for it,

Bias in Research Grant Evaluation Has Dire Consequences for Small Universities by Dennis L. Murray, Douglas Morris, Claude Lavoie, Peter R. Leavitt, Hugh MacIsaac,  Michael E. J. Masson, & Marc-Andre Villard. PLOS http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155876  Published: June 3, 2016

This paper is open access.

Getting back to the review and more specifically, the panel, it’s good to see that four of the nine participants are women but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much diversity, i.e.,the majority (five) spring from the Ontario/Québec nexus of power and all the Canadians are from the southern part of country. Back to diversity, there is one business man, Mike Laziridis known primarily as the founder of Research in Motion (RIM or more popularly as the Blackberry company) making the panel not a wholly ivory tower affair. Still, I hope one day these panels will have members from the Canadian North and international members who come from somewhere other than the US, Great Britain, and/or if they’re having a particularly wild day, Germany. Here are some candidate countries for other places to look for panel members: Japan, Israel, China, South Korea, and India. Other possibilities include one of the South American countries, African countries, and/or the Middle Eastern countries.

Take the continent of Africa for example, where many countries seem to have successfully tackled one of the issues as we face. Specifically, the problem of encouraging young researchers. James Wilsdon notes some success in his April 9, 2016 post about Africa and science advice for the Guardian science blogs (Note: Links have been removed),

… some of the brightest talents and most exciting advances in African science were on display at the Next Einstein Forum. This landmark meeting, initiated by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and held in Senegal, brought together almost 1000 researchers, entrepreneurs, businesses and policymakers from across Africa to celebrate and support the continent’s most promising early-career researchers.

A new cadre of fifteen Next Einstein Fellows and fifty-four ambassadors was announced, and the forum ended with an upbeat declaration of commitment to Africa’s role in world-leading, locally-relevant science. …

… UNESCO’s latest global audit of science, published at the end of 2015, concludes that African science is firmly on the rise. The number of journal articles published on the continent rose by sixty per cent from 2008 to 2014. Research investment rose from $12.9 billion in 2007 to $19.9 billion (US dollars) in 2013. Over the same period, R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP nudged upwards from 0.36 per cent to 0.45 per cent, and the population of active researchers expanded from 150,000 to 190,000.

If you have the time, do read Wilsdon’s piece which covers some of the more difficult aspects facing the science communities in Africa and more.

In any event, it’s a bit late to bemoan the panel’s makeup but hopefully the government will take note for the future as I’m planning to include some of my critique in my comments to the panel in answer to their request for public comments.

You can find out more about Canada’s Fundamental Science Review here and you can easily participate here and/or go here to subscribe for updates.

“Breaking Me Softly” at the nanoscale

“Breaking Me Softly” sounds like a song title but in this case the phrase as been coined to describe a new technique for controlling materials at the nanoscale according to a June 6, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

A finding by a University of Central Florida researcher that unlocks a means of controlling materials at the nanoscale and opens the door to a new generation of manufacturing is featured online in the journal Nature.

Using a pair of pliers in each hand and gradually pulling taut a piece of glass fiber coated in plastic, associate professor Ayman Abouraddy found that something unexpected and never before documented occurred — the inner fiber fragmented in an orderly fashion.

“What we expected to see happen is NOT what happened,” he said. “While we thought the core material would snap into two large pieces, instead it broke into many equal-sized pieces.”

He referred to the technique in the Nature article title as “Breaking Me Softly.”

A June 6, 2016 University of Central Florida (UCF) news release (also on EurekAlert) by Barbara Abney, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The process of pulling fibers to force the realignment of the molecules that hold them together, known as cold drawing, has been the standard for mass production of flexible fibers like plastic and nylon for most of the last century.

Abouraddy and his team have shown that the process may also be applicable to multi-layered materials, a finding that could lead to the manufacturing of a new generation of materials with futuristic attributes.

“Advanced fibers are going to be pursuing the limits of anything a single material can endure today,” Abouraddy said.

For example, packaging together materials with optical and mechanical properties along with sensors that could monitor such vital sign as blood pressure and heart rate would make it possible to make clothing capable of transmitting vital data to a doctor’s office via the Internet.

The ability to control breakage in a material is critical to developing computerized processes for potential manufacturing, said Yuanli Bai, a fracture mechanics specialist in UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Abouraddy contacted Bai, who is a co-author on the paper, about three years ago and asked him to analyze the test results on a wide variety of materials, including silicon, silk, gold and even ice.

He also contacted Robert S. Hoy, a University of South Florida physicist who specializes in the properties of materials like glass and plastic, for a better understanding of what he found.

Hoy said he had never seen the phenomena Abouraddy was describing, but that it made great sense in retrospect.

The research takes what has traditionally been a problem in materials manufacturing and turned it into an asset, Hoy said.

“Dr. Abouraddy has found a new application of necking” –  a process that occurs when cold drawing causes non-uniform strain in a material, Hoy said.  “Usually you try to prevent necking, but he exploited it to do something potentially groundbreaking.”

The necking phenomenon was discovered decades ago at DuPont and ushered in the age of textiles and garments made of synthetic fibers.

Abouraddy said that cold-drawing is what makes synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester useful. While those fibers are initially brittle, once cold-drawn, the fibers toughen up and become useful in everyday commodities. This discovery at DuPont at the end of the 1920s ushered in the age of textiles and garments made of synthetic fibers.

Only recently have fibers made of multiple materials become possible, he said.  That research will be the centerpiece of a $317 Million U.S. Department of Defense program focused on smart fibers that Abouraddy and UCF will assist with.   The Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute (RFT-MII), led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will incorporate research findings published in the Nature paper, Abouraddy said.

The implications for manufacturing of the smart materials of the future are vast.

By controlling the mechanical force used to pull the fiber and therefore controlling the breakage patterns, materials can be developed with customized properties allowing them to interact with each other and eternal forces such as the sun (for harvesting energy) and the internet in customizable ways.

A co-author on the paper, Ali P. Gordon, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and director of UCF’s Mechanics of Materials Research Group said that the finding is significant because it shows that by carefully controlling the loading condition imparted to the fiber, materials can be developed with tailored performance attributes.

“Processing-structure-property relationships need to be strategically characterized for complex material systems. By combining experiments, microscopy, and computational mechanics, the physical mechanisms of the fragmentation process were more deeply understood,” Gordon said.

Abouraddy teamed up with seven UCF scientists from the College of Optics & Photonics and the College of Engineering & Computer Science (CECS) to write the paper.   Additional authors include one researcher each from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the University of South Florida.

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

Controlled fragmentation of multimaterial fibres and films via polymer cold-drawing by Soroush Shabahang, Guangming Tao, Joshua J. Kaufman, Yangyang Qiao, Lei Wei, Thomas Bouchenot, Ali P. Gordon, Yoel Fink, Yuanli Bai, Robert S. Hoy & Ayman F. Abouraddy. Nature (2016) doi:10.1038/nature17980 Published online  06 June 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

UK and US issue documents nanomaterial safety to support safe work with nanomaterials

I am featuring two bits of information about nanosafety first from the UK and then from the US.

UK and nanosafety

A May 30, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces a not particularly exciting but necessary report on handling nanomaterials safely (Note: A link has been removed),

The UK Nanosafety Group (UKNSG) has updated and published a 2nd edition of guidance (pdf) to support safe and responsible working practices with nanomaterials in research and development laboratories.

A May 25, 2016 UK Nanosafety Group press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The document aims to provide guidance on factors relating to establishing a safe workplace and good safety practice when working with particulate nanomaterials. It is applicable to a wide range of nanomaterials, including particles, fibres, powders, tubes and wires as well as aggregates and agglomerates, and recognises previous and current uncertainty in developing effective risk management when dealing with nanomaterials and advocates a precautionary strategy to minimise potential exposure.

The 2nd edition of the guidance provides updates to account for changes in legislation, recent studies in the literature, and best practice since 2012. In particular, specific sections have been revised to account for the full implementation of Global Harmonised System (GHS) which came into force on 1 June 2015 through the CLP [Classification, Labelling and Packaging] regulations. The document explains the approaches that are presently being used to select effective control measures for the management of nanomaterials, more specifically control banding tools presently in use. Significant changes can be found in the following sections: ‘Hazard Banding’, ‘Exposure Control’, ‘Toxicology’, and ‘Monitoring’.

Of relevance to employers, managers, health and safety advisors, and users of particulate nanomaterials in research and development, the guidance should be read in conjunction with the Approved Code of Practice on COSHH [Control of Substances Hazardous to Health], together with the other literature referred to in the document. The document has been produced taking account of the safety information currently available and is presented in the format of guidance and recommendations to support implementation of suitable protocols and control measures by employers and employees. It is intended that the document will be reviewed and updated on a periodic basis to keep abreast of the evolving nature of the content.

The guidance titled “Working Safely with Nanomaterials in Research & Development” is about 48 pp. and can be found here.

Tidbit about US nano environmental, health, and safety

Sylvia Palmer has written a May 27, 2016 update for ChemicalWatch on reports about or including information about environmental, health, and safety measures being taken in the US,

Three reports released recently by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) highlight the US government’ investments and initiatives in nanotechnology. They also detail current progress and the need for further understanding of exposure to nanomaterials in consumer products –and how companies can protect their nanotechnology workforce.

NNI’s Quantifying exposure to engineered nanomaterials (QEEN) from manufactured products: addressing environmental, health, and safety implications notes significant progress has been made in the ability to quantify nanomaterial exposures. However, it says greater understanding of exposure risks in “real-world” scenarios is needed. Alternative testing models and high-throughput methods for rapidly estimating exposures will be further explored, it adds.

You can find the report, Quantifying exposure to engineered nanomaterials (QEEN) from manufactured products: addressing environmental, health, and safety implications, here. Palmer’s article briefly describes the other two reports which contain information about US nano environmental, health, and safety efforts.

There is more about the three reports in an April 11, 2016 posting by Lloyd Whitman (Assistant Director for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) and Treye Thomas (leader of the Chemical Hazards Program team in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Coordinator for Environmental, Health, and Safety Research under the National Nanotechnology Initiative) on the White House blog,

The recently released NNI Supplement to the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017, which serves as the annual report for the NNI, highlights the programs and coordinated activities taking place across the many departments, independent agencies, and commissions participating today in the NNI—an initiative that continues to serve as a model for effective coordination of Federal science and technology R&D. As detailed in this report, nanoEHS activities continue to account for about 10 percent of the annual NNI budget, with cumulative Federal R&D investments in this area exceeding $1 billion over the past decade. This report includes descriptions of a wide variety of individual agency and coordinated activities supporting the responsible development of nanotechnology.

To understand and control the risks of using any new materials in consumer products, it is important to understand the potential for exposure and any associated hazards across product life cycles. Last month, the NNI released a report, Quantifying Exposure to Engineered Nanomaterials (QEEN) from Manufactured Products: Addressing Environmental, Health, and Safety Implications, summarizing a workshop on this topic sponsored by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The main goals of the workshop were to assess progress in developing tools and methods for quantifying exposure to engineered nanomaterials across the product life cycle, and to identify new research needed to advance exposure assessment for nanotechnology-enabled products. …

The technical experts who participated in CPSC’s workshop recommended that future work focus on the complex issue of determining biomarkers of exposure linked to disease, which will require substantive public–private collaboration, partnership, and knowledge sharing. Recognizing these needs, the President’s 2017 Budget request for CPSC includes funds for a new nanotechnology center led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to develop test methods and to quantify and characterize the presence, release, and mechanisms of consumer exposure to nanomaterials in consumer products. This cost-effective, interagency collaboration will enable CPSC—through NIEHS—to collect the needed data to inform the safety of nanotechnology in consumer products and allow CPSC to benefit from NIEHS’s scientific network and experience.

Managing EHS risks across a product’s lifecycle includes protecting the workers who manufacture those products. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued a series of documents providing guidance to this emerging industry, including the recently released publication Building a Safety Program to Protect the Nanotechnology Workforce: A Guide for Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises. This guide provides business owners with the tools necessary to develop and implement a written health and safety program to protect their employees.

Whitman also mentions a June 2016 international conference in the context of this news,

The responsible development of nanotechnology is a goal that the United States shares with many countries. The United States and the European Union are engaged in notable cooperation on this front. European and American scientists engaged in nanoEHS research convene annually for a joint workshop to identify areas of shared interest and mechanisms for collaboration to advance nanoEHS science. The 2016 joint workshop will be held on June 6–7, 2016 in Arlington, VA, and is free and open to the public. …