Tag Archives: US Department of Agriculture

US Dept. of Agriculture announces its nanotechnology research grants

I don’t always stumble across the US Department of Agriculture’s nanotechnology research grant announcements but I’m always grateful when I do as it’s good to find out about  nanotechnology research taking place in the agricultural sector. From a July 21, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced 13 grants totaling $4.6 million for research on the next generation of agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber. The grants are funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Nanotechnology is being rapidly implemented in medicine, electronics, energy, and biotechnology, and it has huge potential to enhance the agricultural sector,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “NIFA research investments can help spur nanotechnology-based improvements to ensure global nutritional security and prosperity in rural communities.”

A July 20, 2017 USDA news release, which originated the news item, lists this year’s grants and provides a brief description of a few of the newly and previously funded projects,

Fiscal year 2016 grants being announced include:

Nanotechnology for Agricultural and Food Systems

  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, $450,200
  • Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, $340,000
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, $444,550
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada,$150,000
  • North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, $149,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $455,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $450,200
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, $402,550
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, $405,055
  • Gordon Research Conferences, West Kingston, Rhode Island, $45,000
  • The University of Tennessee,  Knoxville, Tennessee, $450,200
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $450,200
  • The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., $450,200

Project details can be found at the NIFA website (link is external).

Among the grants, a University of Pennsylvania project will engineer cellulose nanomaterials [emphasis mine] with high toughness for potential use in building materials, automotive components, and consumer products. A University of Nevada-Las Vegas project will develop a rapid, sensitive test to detect Salmonella typhimurium to enhance food supply safety.

Previously funded grants include an Iowa State University project in which a low-cost and disposable biosensor made out of nanoparticle graphene that can detect pesticides in soil was developed. The biosensor also has the potential for use in the biomedical, environmental, and food safety fields. University of Minnesota (link is external) researchers created a sponge that uses nanotechnology to quickly absorb mercury, as well as bacterial and fungal microbes from polluted water. The sponge can be used on tap water, industrial wastewater, and in lakes. It converts contaminants into nontoxic waste that can be disposed in a landfill.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and promotes transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel has resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts, sign up for email updates (link is external) or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA (link is external), #NIFAImpacts (link is external).

Given my interest in nanocellulose materials (Canada was/is a leader in the production of cellulose nanocrystals [CNC] but there has been little news about Canadian research into CNC applications), I used the NIFA link to access the table listing the grants and clicked on ‘brief’ in the View column in the University of Pennsylania row to find this description of the project,

ENGINEERING CELLULOSE NANOMATERIALS WITH HIGH TOUGHNESS

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) are natural materials with exceptional mechanical properties that can be obtained from renewable plant-based resources. CNFs are stiff, strong, and lightweight, thus they are ideal for use in structural materials. In particular, there is a significant opportunity to use CNFs to realize polymer composites with improved toughness and resistance to fracture. The overall goal of this project is to establish an understanding of fracture toughness enhancement in polymer composites reinforced with CNFs. A key outcome of this work will be process – structure – fracture property relationships for CNF-reinforced composites. The knowledge developed in this project will enable a new class of tough CNF-reinforced composite materials with applications in areas such as building materials, automotive components, and consumer products.The composite materials that will be investigated are at the convergence of nanotechnology and bio-sourced material trends. Emerging nanocellulose technologies have the potential to move biomass materials into high value-added applications and entirely new markets.

It’s not the only nanocellulose material project being funded in this round, there’s this at North Dakota State University, from the NIFA ‘brief’ project description page,

NOVEL NANOCELLULOSE BASED FIRE RETARDANT FOR POLYMER COMPOSITES

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Synthetic polymers are quite vulnerable to fire.There are 2.4 million reported fires, resulting in 7.8 billion dollars of direct property loss, an estimated 30 billion dollars of indirect loss, 29,000 civilian injuries, 101,000 firefighter injuries and 6000 civilian fatalities annually in the U.S. There is an urgent need for a safe, potent, and reliable fire retardant (FR) system that can be used in commodity polymers to reduce their flammability and protect lives and properties. The goal of this project is to develop a novel, safe and biobased FR system using agricultural and woody biomass. The project is divided into three major tasks. The first is to manufacture zinc oxide (ZnO) coated cellulose nanoparticles and evaluate their morphological, chemical, structural and thermal characteristics. The second task will be to design and manufacture polymer composites containing nano sized zinc oxide and cellulose crystals. Finally the third task will be to test the fire retardancy and mechanical properties of the composites. Wbelieve that presence of zinc oxide and cellulose nanocrystals in polymers will limit the oxygen supply by charring, shielding the surface and cellulose nanocrystals will make composites strong. The outcome of this project will help in developing a safe, reliable and biobased fire retardant for consumer goods, automotive, building products and will help in saving human lives and property damage due to fire.

One day, I hope to hear about Canadian research into applications for nanocellulose materials. (fingers crossed for good luck)

Political internship (Canada’s Liberal Party)

i don’t usually feature jobs for political parties but there appears to be a movement afoot in the US where scientists are possibly going to run for political office so it seems more à propos than usual. Before getting to the job information (for a Canadian political party), here’s more about the nascent scientists as politicians movement from a Jan. 25, 2017 article (Professor Smith Goes to Washington) by Ed Yong for The Atlantic (Note: Links have been removed),

For American science, the next four years look to be challenging. The newly inaugurated President Trump, and many of his Cabinet picks, have repeatedly cast doubt upon the reality of human-made climate change, questioned the repeatedly proven safety of vaccines. Since the inauguration, the administration has already frozen grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency and gagged researchers at the US Department of Agriculture. Many scientists are asking themselves: What can I do?

And the answer from a newly formed group called 314 Action is: Get elected.

The organization, named after the first three digits of pi, is a political action committee that was created to support scientists in running for office. It’s the science version of Emily’s List, which focuses on pro-choice female candidates, or VoteVets, which backs war veterans. “A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” says founder Shaughnessy Naughton. “We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table.”

Yong is a good writer and the article offers some insight into why scientists do or don’t involve themselves in the political process along with links for more information.

***ETA Feb. 13, 2017: phys.org has published an article by Deborah Netburn (originally written for the Los Angeles Times) which offers some insight into scientists some of whom are involving themselves in politics for the first in their lives in a Feb. 13, 2017 news item titled ‘Science entering a new frontier: Politics‘.***

Science Borealis, the Canadian science blog aggregrator/community, has chimed in on the science and politics situation in the US with two blog postings on the topic. I wish they’d used titles that more accurately reflected the content but there’s Sarah Boon’s Jan. 24, 2017 posting, The War on Science: Can the US Learn From Canada? on her Watershed Moments blog, where she notes how different the situations are and how much Americans have already done and are doing to work on the issues,

When Donald Trump was first elected president of the United States, our editorial team at  Science Borealis talked about whether or not we should write an editorial supporting US scientists in what was likely going to become a fight for science. In the end we decided not to write it, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the likely impact of Trump on science remained a huge unknown. But for another thing, we thought US scientists were already well-prepared for a war on science. …

Unfortunately, Boon goes on to offer a collection of writings on the Canadian situation. I understand it’s well meant but I can’t help recalling people who rushed to comfort me in a difficult situation by recounting their own stories, at length. It wasn’t as helpful as they might have hoped.

John Dupuis’ Jan. 25, 2017 posting, The Trump War on Science: What Can the US Learn From Canada’s Experience? on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog, is more egregiously titled but he goes on to provide links to resources for more information on the situation in the US. Although he, too, goes on to offer links to more about the Canadian situation.

One final observation, I have an objection to the term ‘war on science’; there was never a war on science in Canada. There was/is a war on certain kinds of science. In any event, here’s getting to the point of this posting.

Internship

For those scientific (stretching past political science students) types who think they might be interested in politics,  from the 2017 Liberal Party of Canada Internship Program page,

Are you a young Canadian with a love of politics? Are you passionate about serving your community, engaging with volunteers, and talking with Canadians about the issues that matter most? The Liberal Party of Canada is looking for hardworking young leaders to join Justin Trudeau’s team this summer, to help us continue to grow Canada’s Liberal movement from coast to coast to coast.

Whether it includes marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade, knocking on doors in Halifax, getting our message out to Canadians using social media, supporting our local Liberal associations in their communities, or learning directly from our campaign experts in Ottawa, an internship with the LPC is guaranteed to be an unforgettable summer! Our interns will have the opportunity to learn the foundations of organizing and campaigning directly from the people who paved our road to victory in 2015, and those who are already hard at work planning for the next election. With less than three years until the next general election, our team is looking for talented young Canadians to bring fresh and innovative ideas to the table.

You’ll gain valuable career experience, and get to know leading members of the Liberal team.

While every individual’s tasks and projects will be different, selected Liberal interns may work in areas including:

  • Communications and Media Relations
  • National Field – Campaigns
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
  • Graphic and Web Design
  • Local Field and Outreach
  • Riding Services
  • Party Operations
  • Finance and Accounting

Who: You! All Registered Liberals are encouraged to apply! We are looking for talented young Canadians from coast to coast to coast to work on Justin Trudeau’s team and become the next generation of leaders in the largest, most open, and most inclusive political movement in Canadian history.

Where: Most Interns will be placed in the Liberal Party of Canada National Office in Ottawa, and there also exciting opportunities available in our Regional Offices across the country. Please indicate in your application at least one city where you would be interested in working with our team.

When: Internship positions will run from Monday, May 1 to Friday, August 25. You must be available full-time for the duration of the internship.

This is a full-time, paid internship. [emphasis mine]

All applicants will receive an email of confirmation upon the submission of their application. Interviews will be conducted throughout the month of February. Due to a high volume of applications, only those who are selected for an interview will be contacted.

Apply now

Application Deadline: 11:59pm PST on Friday, February 10, 2017. [emphasis mine]

There is a FAQs (frequently asked questions) section on the the 2017 Liberal Party of Canada Internship Program page. Good luck!

Nanotechnology and water sustainability webinar, Oct. 19, 2016

An upcoming (Oct. 19, 2016) webinar from the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is the first of a new series (from an Oct. 7, 2016 news item on Nanowerk),

“Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: A Federal Perspective” – This webinar is the first in a series exploring the confluence of nanotechnology and water. This event will introduce the Nanotechnology Signature Initiative (NSI): Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology and highlight the activities of several participating Federal agencies. …

The NNI event page for the Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology webinar provides more detail,

Panelists include Nora Savage (National Science Foundation), Daniel Barta (National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration), Paul Shapiro (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), Jim Dobrowolski (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture), and Hongda Chen (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture).

Webinar viewers will be able to submit questions for the panelists to answer during the Q&A period. Submitted questions will be considered in the order received and may be posted on the NNI website. A moderator will identify relevant questions and pose them to the speakers. Due to time constraints, not all questions may be addressed during the webinar. The moderator reserves the right to group similar questions and to skip questions, as appropriate.

There will be more in this series according to the webinar event page,

  • Increase water availability.
  • Improve the efficiency of water delivery and use.
  • Enable next-generation water monitoring systems.

You can register here to participate.

The NNI has a webpage dedicated to Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: Nanoscale solutions for a Global-Scale Challenge, which explains their perspective on the matter,

Water is essential to all life, and its significance bridges many critical areas for society: food, energy, security, and the environment. Projected population growth in the coming decades and associated increases in demands for water exacerbate the mounting pressure to address water sustainability. Yet, only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh water, and some of the most severe impacts of climate change are on our country’s water resources. For example, in 2012, droughts affected about two-thirds of the continental United States, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy, and fisheries – costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion. In addition, the ground water in many of the Nation’s aquifers is being depleted at unsustainable rates, which necessitates drilling ever deeper to tap groundwater resources. Finally, water infrastructure is a critically important but sometimes overlooked aspect of water treatment and distribution. Both technological and sociopolitical solutions are required to address these problems.

The text also goes on to describe how nanotechnology could  assist with this challenge.

4-H Clubs declare (US) National Youth Science Day is October 7, 2015

Founded in the US in 1902, 4-H clubs for children and youth (aged 5 to 21) can be found in over 50 countries (Wikipedia entry). In the US, it is administered by the Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and I didn’t realize 4-H clubs still existed until receiving a Sept. 24, 2015 email about their (US) annual 4-H National Youth Science Day on Oct. 7, 2015. Here’s more about the event and about a special guest, from the email,

With only 16% of high school seniors interested in a career in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics], the nation faces a unique problem in the near future where there might be more STEM-related jobs than viable candidates to fill them. To help turn the tide and create a spark of interest in today’s youth, 4-H is hosting the eighth annual 4-H National Youth Science Day on Wednesday, October 7, 2015.

This year, NFL player-turned-NASA astronaut Leland Melvin and Emmy Award-winning TV host Mario Armstrong will join hundreds of thousands of 4-H’ers across the nation for the world’s largest, youth-led science experiment, Motion Commotion. This nationwide experiment empowers youth to explore the physics of motion and distracted driving through a simulated car crash and distracted driving demonstration.

At this point, it is a US program but nothing stops you from setting up your own Motion Commotion and trying to register it (you can find the appropriate links on the About 4H NYSD webpage) or you can be a renegade and use this video (roughly 8 mins.) as your guide and, if you like, let the organizers know informally afterwards *(ETA Oct. 2, 2015 at 1325 PST: You can notify organizers via Twitter at 4hnysd@4-h.org)*,

It does seem to be largely a cautionary tale about texting (and other distractions) while driving. I have a suggestion for changing the experiment (assuming the kids are a little older than 10, I don’t think they’re discussing quantum physics in grade five, not yet): keep the first half but emphasize that’s classical physics and  given an overview of the laws of quantum physics for the second half (Schrödinger’s cat is always a good story to use as an illustration). Finish up with a question about unifying the two theories. What would the kids propose as a way of unifying classical and quantum physics? I imagine finding out that adults don’t know but they (children) may find the answer would be exciting and who knows? Maybe even inspiring.

For anyone who wants the kit, you can go here to the 2015 National Youth Science Day kit webpage (Note: A link has been removed),

Due to the size of the kit, next day and second day air shipments of this product are subject to additional shipping fees. Please place rush orders for this item over the phone at 301-961-2934.

Designed for 8 youth ages 10 and up.

The 2015 National Youth Science Day Experiment, Motion Commotion, empowers youth to explore the physics of motion and distracted driving. Developed by Oregon State University Cooperative Extension, this exciting activity will combine a speeding car collision and a distracted driving demonstration in a simulated activity that investigates the physical and human factors of motion.

The two-part experiment will test young people’s knowledge of science, speed and safety by:

• Constructing a simulated runway to analyze the speed, momentum and kinetic energy of a car in motion, and will explore the science behind the car’s collisions
• Leading an experiment that uses the same physics principles to demonstrate the consequences of distracted driving

Kit Contains:

• 2 Rulers
• 2 Race Cars
• 4 ft Rubber Base
• 8 oz Assorted Colors Modeling Clay
• 4-H Clover & Motion Commotion Stickers
• 1 Facilitator Guide
• 5 Youth Guides Designed to be Shared by Youth

Register your NYSD event here! With registration you are able to download experiment guides and promotional toolkits, and your event will be added to our national map of 4-H NYSD events occurring around the nation on October 7, 2015. Join us!

Qty:
Price:$23.95

For Canadians there is a separate 4H organization, which runs its own programmes but there’s no National Youth Science Day, yet.

* This is the second time I’ve published this piece within minutes. There’s some sort of a glitch and I lost a significant portion of text which was replaced with a few useless links. I apologize for any confusion and I will try to fix the situation but that may take a while as time is it a premium and this process still works, mostly.

Development of US plant to produce cellulosic nanomaterials announced again or is this a new one?

There’s a new announcement from the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) about building a commercial production plant in Wisconsin for producing cellulosic nanomaterials that greatly resembles an earlier announcement in 2012. Let’s start with the new announcement, from the Dec. 11, 2013 USDA press release (h/t AgriPulse Dec. 11, 2013 news item),

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a public-private partnership to rapidly advance the development of the first U.S. commercial facility producing cellulosic nanomaterial, a wood fiber broken down to the nanoscale. The partnership is between the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment) and the U.S. Forest Service.

“We believe in the potential of wood- based nanotechnology to strengthen rural America by creating sustainable jobs and adding timber value while also creating conservation opportunities in working forests,” said Vilsack. “This public- private partnership will develop high-tech outputs from the forest products sector, and promote the invention of renewable products that have substantial environmental benefits.”

The three-year partnership will promote cellulosic nanomaterial as a commercially viable enterprise by building on work done by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. The partnership seeks to overcome technical barriers to large- scale wood-based nanotechnology processing, while filling gaps in the science and technology that are needed for commercialization. Initial funding comes from the Endowment and the Forest Service. The partnership is currently seeking additional public and private sector funding.

Together with partners, this new venture will:

  • Emphasize the potential of wood- based nanotechnology for the economy and the environment.
  • Overcome technical barriers to commercialization of wood- based nanotechnology.
  • Demonstrate commitment to creating high paying jobs in rural America through value- added manufacturing and high value products.
  • Showcase the commitment of USDA and the Forest Service to innovation.

The previous announcement which I covered in my July 27, 2012 posting has some similarities, although they were announcing the expected construction of a pilot plant for a specific forest-derived cellulosic nanomaterial,,

According to the July 25, 2012 article by Rick Barrett originally published by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel McClatchy-Tribune Information Services) on the equities.com website,

The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, in Madison, says it’s opening a $1.7 million pilot plant that will support an emerging market for wood products derived from nanotechnology.

…The pilot plant will supply nanocrystals to companies and universities that want to make materials from them or conduct their own experiments. For now, at least, it will employ just one person.

But while the Forest Products Laboratory wants to foster the technology, it doesn’t want to compete with businesses interested in producing the materials.

“We are part of the federal government, so we cannot compete against commercial companies. So if someone comes in and starts making these materials on a commercial level, we will have to get out of it,” Rudie said. That’s why, he added, the program has bought only equipment it can use for other purposes.

At a guess I’d say plans were changed (to my knowledge there’ve been no announcements about the opening of a pilot plant) and they decided that a commercial plant in a private/public partnership would be the way to go. I notice they’re very careful to use the term cellulosic nanomaterials, which suggests they will be producing not just the crystals mentioned in the 2012 story but fibrils and more.

On the Canadian side of things,, Alberta gave its pilot cellulose nanocrystal (CNC, aka, nanocrystalline cellulose [NCC]) plant a soft launch in Sept. 2013, as per my Nov. 19, 2013 posting,  and Quebec’s CelluForce plant (a  Domtar/FPInnovations partnership [private/public]) has a stockpile of the crystals and is, to my knowledge (my Oct. 3, 2013 posting), is not producing any additional material.