Tag Archives: US National Science Foundation

Synthetic Aesthetics: a book and an event (UK’s Victoria & Albert Museum) about synthetic biology and design

Sadly, I found out about the event after it took place (April 25, 2014) but I’m including it here as I think it serves a primer on putting together an imaginative art/science (art/sci) event, as well, synthetic biology is a topic I’ve covered here many times.

First, the book. Happily, it’s not too late to publicize it and, after all, that was at least one of the goals for the event. Here’s more about the book, from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council April 25, 2014 news release (also on EurekAlert),

The emerging field of synthetic biology crosses the boundary between science and design, in order to design and manufacture biologically based parts, devices and systems that do not exist in the natural world, as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems.

This new technology has the potential to create new organisms for a variety of applications from materials to machines. What role can artists and designers play in our biological future?

This Friday [April 25, 2014], the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Friday Late turns the V&A into a living laboratory, bringing science and design together for one night of events, workshops and installations.

It will also feature the official launch of a new EPSRC-funded book ‘Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature’.

The book, by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter, Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy, emerged from a research project ‘Sandpit: Synthetic aesthetics: connecting synthetic biology and creative design’ which was funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Science Foundation in the US.

Kedar Pandya, EPSRC’s Head of Engineering, said: “This event and the Synthetic Aesthetics book will act as a catalyst to spark informed debates and future research into how we develop and apply synthetic biology. Engineers and scientists are not divorced from the rest of society; ethical, moral and artistic questions need to be considered as we explore new science and technologies.”

The EPSRC project aimed to:

  • bring together scientists and engineers working in synthetic biology with artists and designers working in the creative industries, to develop long-lasting relationships which could help to improve their work
  • ensure aesthetic concerns and questions are reflected in the lifecycle of research projects and implementation of products, and enable inclusive and responsive technology development
  • produce new social scientific research that analyses and reflects on these interactions
  • initiate a new and expanded curriculum across both engineering and design disciplines to lead to new forms of engineering and new schools of art
  • improve synthetic biological projects, products and thus the world
  • engage and enable the full diversity of civilization’s creative resources to work with the synthetic biology community as full partners in creating and stewarding a beautifully integrated natural and engineered living world

Weirdly, the news release offered no link to the book.  Here’s the Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature page on the MIT Press website,

In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to ‘design nature.’ These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise intriguing questions about the scientific process, the delegation of creativity, our relationship to designed matter, and, the importance of critical engagement. Should these projects be considered art, design, synthetic biology, or something else altogether?

Synthetic biology is driven by its potential; some of these projects are fictions, beyond the current capabilities of the technology. Yet even as fictions, they help illuminate, question, and even shape the future of the field.

About the Authors

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is a London-based artist, designer, and writer.

Jane Calvert is a social scientist based in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Pablo Schyfter is a social scientist based in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Alistair Elfick is Codirector of the SynthSys Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

Drew Endy is a bioengineer at Stanford University and President of the BioBrick

Now for the event description from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Friday Late series, the April 25,2014  event Synthetic Aesthetics webpage,

Synthetic Aesthetics

Friday 25 April, 18.30-22.00

Can we design life itself? The emerging field of synthetic biology crosses the boundary between science and design to manipulate the stuff of life. These new designers use life as a programmable material, creating new organisms with radical applications from materials to machines. Friday Late turns the V&A into a living laboratory, bringing science and design together for one night of events, workshops and installations, each exploring our biological future.

The evening will feature the book launch of Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature (MIT Press). The book marks an important point in the development of the emerging discipline of synthetic biology, sitting at the intersection between design and science. The book is a result of research funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the National Science Foundation in the US.

All events are free and places are designated on a first come, first served basis, unless stated otherwise. Filming and photography will be taking place at this event.

Please note, if the Museum reaches capacity we will allow access on a one-in-one-out basis.


ALL EVENING (18.30 – 21.30)

Live Lab

Spotlight Space, Grand Entrance
A functioning synthetic biology lab in the grand entrance places this experimental field front and centre within the historic home of the V&A. Conducting experiments and answering questions from visitors, the lab will be run by synthetic biologists from Imperial College London’s EPSRC National Centre for Synthetic Biology & Innovation and SynbiCITE UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Synthetic Biology.

No Straight Line, No True Circle

Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a
Young artists from the Royal College of Art’s Visual Communication course explore synthetic biology through projections on the walls of the galleries. Each one takes its inspiration from the sculptures around it in a series of site-specific installations.

Xylinum Cones

Lunchroom (access via staircase L, follow signs)
What would it mean for our daily lives if we could grow our objects? Xylinum Cones presents an experimental production line that uses bacteria to grow geometric forms. Meet designers Jannis Huelsen and Stefan Schwabe and learn how they are developing a renewable cellulose composite for future industrial uses.


Poynter Room, Café
This film tells the story of how biologist Christina Agapakis and smell provocateur Sissel Tolaas produce human cheese. Using swabs from hands, feet, noses and armpits as starter cultures, they produce unique smelling fresh cheeses as unusual portraits of our biological lives.

Grow Your Own Ink

Lunchroom (access via staircase L, follow signs)
A workshop led by scientist Thomas Landrain and designer Marie-Sarah Adenis showing how to ‘grow your own ink’. Try out some of the steps, from the culturing of bacteria to the extraction and purification of biological pigments. Discover the marvellous properties of this one-of-a-kind ink.

Bio Logic

Architecture Landing, Room 127 (access via staircase P, follow signs)
Take a trip into the Petri dish, where microchips meet microbes, cells become computers and all is not quite as it seems. Bio Computation, a short film by David Benjamin and Hy-Fi by The Living demonstrate revolutionary design using new composite building materials at the intersection of synthetic biology, architecture, and computation.

Zero Park

Bottom of NAL staircase (staircase L) Where is the line between the natural and the artificial? Somewhere in the midst of Zero Park. Sascha Pohflepp’s installation leads you through a synthetic landscape, which poses questions about human agency in natural ecosystems.

Faber Futures: The Rhizosphere Pigment Lab

Tapestries, Room 94 (access via staircase L)
Bacteria are no longer the bane, but the birth of tapestries! Natsai Audrey Chieza creates a gallery of futurist scarves for which bacteria are the sole agent of colour transformation. In collaboration with John Ward, professor of Structural Molecular Biology, University College London.

Living Things

Fashion, Room 40
Breathing, living, ‘second skins’ change their shape and appearance as you approach. Silicon-like smart-fabrics show movement and moving patterns. The Cyborg project – led by Carlos Olguin, with Autodesk Research – explores possibilities of new software to create materials with their own ‘life’.

The Opera of Prehistoric Creatures

Raphael Gallery, Room 48a
‘Lucy’, the extinct hominid Autralopithecus Afarensis, performs an opera just for you. Marguerite Humeau recreates her vocal tract and cords to bring you the lost voice of this prehistoric creature.

Electro Magnetic Signals from Bacterial DNA

Cast Courts, Room 46a
Can we imagine what it sounds like inside the molecular structure of a DNA helix? This composition is inspired by theoretical speculation on bacteria’s ability to transmit EMF signals, played amongst the V&A’s cast collection.

Living Among Living Things

The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, Room 87 (access via staircase L, follow signs)
Will Carey explores how living things will replace the products and foods we use today: from packaging that produces its own drink to skincare products secreted from bespoke microbial cultures. This series of images show exotic commodities that could be normal to future generations.


Lunchroom (access via staircase L, follow signs)
Join this workshop to create your own synthetic corals and contribute to the V&A’s very own coral reef. Michail Vanis invites you to bring seemingly impossible scenarios to life and discuss their scientific and ethical implications.

Synthetic Aesthetics on Film

The Lydia and Manfred Gorvey Lecture Theatre (access via staircase L, follow signs)
18.30 – 19.00 & 20.00 – 21.45
DNA replication, Bjork, swallowable perfume… these eight films demonstrate a myriad of cultural crossovers; synthetic biology at its aesthetic finest.
Dunne & Raby – Future Foragers (2009)
Tobias Revell – New Mumbai (2012)
Lucy McRae – Swallowable Parfum (2013)
UCSD – Biopixels (2011)
Zeitguised – Comme des Organismes (2014)
Drew Berry for Bjork – Hollow (2011)
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King – E. chromi (2009)
Neri Oxman – Silk Pavilion (2013)

FROM 19.00

Synthetic Aesthetics Authors’ Panel Discussion and Book Signing

The Lydia and Manfred Gorvey Lecture Theatre (access via staircase L, follow signs)
19.00 – 20.00 (followed by book signing)
The authors of Synthetic Aesthetics pry open the circuitry of a new biology, exposing the motherboard of nature. A presentation by designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg will be followed by a panel discussion with members of the team behind Synthetic Aesthetics Drew Endy, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter and Alistair Elfick. Chaired by The Economist’s Oliver Morton.

Blueprints for the Unknown

Learning Centre: Seminar Room 3(access via staircase L, follow signs)
19.00. 19.30, 20.00 & 20.30
What happens when science leaves the lab? Recent advances in synthetic biology mean scientists will be the architects of life, creating blueprints for living systems and organisms. Blueprints for the Unknown investigates what might happen as engineering biology meets the complex world we live in. Speakers include Koby Barhad, David Benqué, Raphael Kim and Superflux.
Blueprints for the Unknown is a project by Design Interactions Research at the Royal College of Art as part of the Studiolab research project.

DNA Extraction

Learning Centre: Art Studio(access via staircase L, follow signs)
19.00, 20.00 & 21.00
Extract your own DNA in the V&A’s popup Wetlab and chat with synthetic biologists from Imperial College London. Synthetic biology designs life at the scale of DNA, and tonight you can take the raw materials of life home with you. With thanks to Imperial College London’s EPSRC National Centre for Synthetic Biology & Innovation and SynbiCITE UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Synthetic Biology.

Music of the Spheres

John Madejski Garden
19.30 & 20.30 (20 minutes)
Your computer’s hard drive is nothing compared to nature’s awesome capacity to record information. Artist Charlotte Jarvis explores how DNA can be used to record things apart from genetics – such as music – in the centuries to come. With scientist Nick Goldman and composer Mira Calix, Music of the Spheres encodes music into the structure of DNA suspended in soap solution. An immersive, surprising performance introduced by Jarvis, Calix and Goldman as they release musical bubbles in the garden. This is a work in progress.

FROM 20.00

Synbio Tarot Cards

Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50b
20.00 – 20.45
Synbio tarot card readings reveal possible outcomes, both desirable and disastrous, to which science might lead us. Exploring the social, economic and political implications of synthetic biology in the cards, from dream world to dystopia.

Synthetic Aesthetics Book Contributors Talks

National Art Library (access via staircase L)
20.30 – 21.30
The new book Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature marks a development in the emerging discipline of synthetic biology. For the book launch, designers, artists and scientists explain how their work bridges the gap between design and science. Drop in and hear Christina Agapakis, Sascha Pohflepp, David Benjamin and Will Carey over the course of the evening with social scientists Jane Calvert and Pablo Schyfter.
(Please note coats and bags are not permitted in the Library. Please leave these items in the cloakroom on the ground floor).

This event had a specially designed programme cover,

Souvenir programme wrap designed by London-based graphic design consultancy Kellenberger–White. kellenberger-white.com

Souvenir programme wrap designed by London-based graphic design consultancy Kellenberger–White.


Having observed how very deeply concerned scientists still are over the GMO (genetically modified organisms, sometimes also called ‘Frankenfoods’) panic that occurred in the early 2000s (I think), I suspect that efforts like this are meant (at least in part) to allay fears. In any event, the powers-that-be have taken a very engaging approach to their synthetic biology efforts. As for whether or not the event lived up to expectations, I have not been able to find any reviews or commentaries about it.

LEGO serious play and Arizona State University’s nanotechnology* ethics and society project*

Arizona State University (ASU) is receiving a $200,000 grant for undergraduates to ‘play seriously’ according to an April 10, 2014 news item on Azonano,

ASU undergraduates have the opportunity to enroll in a challenging course this fall, designed to re-introduce the act of play as a problem-solving technique. The course is offered as part of the larger project, Cross-disciplinary Education in Social and Ethical Aspects of Nanotechnology, which received nearly $200,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Nano Undergraduate Education program.

An April 6, 2014 ASU news release, which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

The project is the brainchild of Camilla Nørgaard Jensen, a doctoral scholar in the ASU Herberger Institute’s design, environment and the arts doctoral program. Participants will use an approach called LEGO Serious Play to solve what Jensen calls “nano-conundrums” – ethical dilemmas arising in the field of nanotechnology.

“LEGO Serious Play is an engaging vehicle that helps to create a level playing field, fostering shared conversation and exchange of multiple perspectives,” said Jensen, a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator. “This creates an environment for reflection and critical deliberation of complex decisions and their future impacts.”

LEGO Serious Play methods are often used by businesses to strategize and encourage creative thinking. In ASU’s project, students will use LEGO bricks to build metaphorical models, share and discuss their creations, and then adapt and respond to feedback received by other students. The expectation is that this activity will help students learn to think and communicate “outside the box” – literally and figuratively – about their work and its long-term societal effects.

This project was piloted, from the news release (Note: A link has been removed),

Fifteen engineering students enrolled in the Grand Challenge Scholar Program participated in a Feb. 24 [20??] pilot workshop to test project strategies. Comments from students included, “I experienced my ideas coming to life as I built the model,” and “I gained a perspective as to how ideas cannot take place entirely in the head.” These anecdotal outcomes confirmed the team’s assumptions that play and physical activity can enhance the formation and communication of ideas.

This is a cross-disciplinary effort (from the news release),

“Technology is a creative and collaborative process,” said Seager [Thomas Seager, an associate professor and Lincoln Fellow of Ethics and Sustainability in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment], who is principal investigator for the grant. “I want a classroom that will unlock technology creativity, in which students from every discipline can be creative. For me, overcoming obstacles to communication is just the first step.”

Seager’s work teaching ethical reasoning skills to science and engineering graduate students will help inform the project. Selin’s [Cynthia Selin, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society] research on the social implications of new technologies, and Hannah’s [Mark Hannah, an assistant professor in the rhetoric and composition program in the ASU Department of English] expertise in professional and technical communication will facilitate the dialogue-based approach to understanding the communication responsibilities of transdisciplinary teams working in nanotechnology. A steering committee of 12 senior advisers is helping to guide the project’s progress.

“Being a new scientific field that involves very complex trade-offs and risk when it comes to implementation, the subject of ethics in nanoscience is best addressed in a transdisciplinary setting. When problems are too complex to be solved by one discipline alone, the approach needs to go beyond the disciplinary silos,” said Jensen.

“As we train the next generation of students to understand the opportunities and responsibilities involved in creating and using emerging technologies that have the potential to benefit society, we need to advance our capacity to teach diverse stakeholders how to communicate effectively,” said Jensen.

I last wrote about play and nanotechnology in an Aug. 2, 2013 posting about training teachers how to introduce nanotechnology to middle schoolers. As for ASU, they’ve had a rich week with regard to funding, in an April 8, 2014 posting, i described a $5M grant for a multi-university project, the Life Cycle of Nanomaterials Network headquartered at ASU.

* Added ‘o’ to the nantechnology so it now reads correctly as nanotechnology and added a space between the words ‘society’ and ‘project’ in the head for this post.

Game design for scientific participation

Thanks to David Bruggeman for his Feb. 13, 2014 post (on the Pasco Phronesis blog) about a US National Science Foundation (NSF) webinar on designing scientific games and where he has embedded a video of a mobile game from Cancer Research UK. (His blog is well worth checking out for the information on science entertainment, as well as, his main topic, science policy.)

The upcoming NSF webinar is titled, From World of Warcraft to Fold.it and Beyond; The Opportunities & Challenges to Designing Games for Scientific Participation and will be held on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 (1 hr.),

February 21, 2014 12:00 PM  to  February 21, 2014 1:00 PM
NSF Room 110

Designing Disruptive Learning Technologies Webinar Series

Kurt Squire – University of Wisconsin-Madison


Digital games like World of Warcraft and Fold.it are compelling examples of how technology can engage thousands of learners in solving complex problems — even in making scientific discoveries. But what does it take to foster learning in the midst of such enthusiastic engagement? In this presentation, I will draw from a decade of research in how people learn and interact in online gaming environments and present findings from our work designing online environments for science learning. I will present pedagogical models for integrating gaming technologies into classrooms and research exploring how these games work for learning. Both the potential of games for science learning and challenges for leveraging gaming technologies at scale will be presented, as well as implications for further research on how people learn.


Kurt Squire is a Romnes Professor in Digital Media in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Director of the Games+Learning+Society Theme at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Squire is also a co-founder and Vice President of Research for the Learning Games Network, a non-profit network expanding the role of games and learning. Squire is an internationally recognized leader in digital media in technology and has delivered dozens of invited addresses across Europe, Asia, and North America and written over 75 scholarly articles on digital media and education. Squire’s research investigates the potential of digital game-based technologies for learning, and has resulted in several software projects including ARIS, Virulent, Citizen Science, among others. Squire is the recipient of an NSF CAREER grant, and grants from the NSF, Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, AMD Foundation, Microsoft, Data Recognition Corporation and others. Squire was also a co-founder of Joystick101.org, and for several years wrote a column with Henry Jenkins for Computer Games magazine.


The Webinar will be held from 12:00pm to 1:00pm Eastern Time on Friday, Feburary 21, 2014.

Please register at https://nsf.webex.com/nsf/j.php?ED=239652927&RG=1&UID=0&RT=MiMxMQ%3D%3D  by 11:59pm Eastern Time on Thursday, February 20, 2014.

After your registration is accepted, you will receive an email with a URL to join the meeting. Please be sure to join a few minutes before the start of the webinar. This system does not establish a voice connection on your computer; instead, your acceptance message will have a toll-free phone number that you will be prompted to call after joining. In the event the number of requests exceeds the capacity, some requests may have to be denied.

This event is part of Webinars/Webcasts.

Meeting Type

Natalie Harr, (703) 292-8930, [email protected]

Good luck with your registration.  This webinar does seem to be open internationally although I imagine priority will be given to registrants located in the US.

Researchers propose massive shift in science funding enterprise

The massive science funding shift that researchers are proposing won’t fundamentally change who or what research is funded so much as it will require fewer resources as described in a Jan. 8, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers in the United States have suggested an alternative way to allocate science funding. The method, which is described in EMBO reports (“From funding agencies to scientific agency”), depends on a collective distribution of funding by the scientific community, requires only a fraction of the costs associated with the traditional peer review of grant proposals and, according to the authors, may yield comparable or even better results.

The Jan. 8, 2014 EMBO [European Molecular Biology Organization] news release, which originated the news item, quotes the lead author’s perspective on the current funding systems and describes the proposed solution which is meant for all science funding,

“Peer review of scientific proposals and grants has served science very well for decades. However, there is a strong sense in the scientific community that things could be improved,” said Johan Bollen, professor and lead author of the study from the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. “Our most productive researchers invest an increasing amount of time, energy, and effort into writing and reviewing research proposals, most of which do not get funded. That time could be spent performing the proposed research in the first place.” He added: “Our proposal does not just save time and money but also encourages innovation.”

The new approach is possible due to recent advances in mathematics and  computer technologies. The system involves giving all scientists an annual, unconditional fixed amount of funding to conduct their research. All funded scientists are, however, obliged to donate a fixed percentage of all of the funding that they previously received to other researchers. As a result, the funding circulates through the community, converging on researchers that are expected to make the best use of it. “Our alternative funding system is inspired by the mathematical models used to search the internet for relevant information,” said Bollen. “The decentralized funding model uses the wisdom of the entire scientific community to determine a fair distribution of funding.”

The authors believe that this system can lead to sophisticated behavior at a global level. It would certainly liberate researchers from the time-consuming process of submitting and reviewing project proposals, but could also reduce the uncertainty associated with funding cycles, give researchers much greater flexibility, and allow the community to fund risky but high-reward projects that existing funding systems may overlook.

“You could think of it as a Google-inspired crowd-funding system that encourages all researchers to make autonomous, individual funding decisions towards people, not projects or proposals,” said Bollen. “All you need is a centralized web site where researchers could log-in, enter the names of the scientists they chose to donate to, and specify how much they each should receive.”

The authors emphasize that the system would require oversight to prevent misuse, such as conflicts of interests and collusion. Funding agencies may need to confidentially monitor the flow of funding and may even play a role in directing it. For example they can provide incentives to donate to specific large-scale research challenges that are deemed priorities but which the scientific community can overlook.

“The savings of financial and human resources could be used to identify new targets of funding, to support the translation of scientific results into products and jobs, and to help communicate advances in science and technology,” added Bollen. “This funding system may even have the side-effect of changing publication practices for the better: researchers will want to clearly communicate their vision and research goals to as wide an audience as possible.”

While the research is US-centric, it’s easy to see its applicabllity in many, if not all, jurisdictions around the world.

I have two links and two citations. The first is for the EMBO Reports paper,

From funding agencies to scientific agency; Collective allocation of science funding as an alternative to peer review by  Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, & Katy Börner. Article first published online: 7 JAN 2014 DOI: 10.1002/embr.201338068

© 2014 The Authors

This paper is behind a paywall.

The second link and citation is for an earlier version of the paper on arXiv.org, which is an open access archive,

Collective allocation of science funding: from funding agencies to scientific agency
by Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, & Katy Boerner.
(Submitted on 3 Apr 2013)

Here’s the abstract from the April 2013 version of the paper on arXiv.org,

Public agencies like the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) award tens of billions of dollars in annual science funding. How can this money be distributed as efficiently as possible to best promote scientific innovation and productivity? The present system relies primarily on peer review of project proposals. In 2010 alone, NSF convened more than 15,000 scientists to review 55,542 proposals. [emphasis mine] Although considered the scientific gold standard, peer review requires significant overhead costs, and may be subject to biases, inconsistencies, and oversights. We investigate a class of funding models in which all participants receive an equal portion of yearly funding, but are then required to anonymously donate a fraction of their funding to peers. The funding thus flows from one participant to the next, each acting as if he or she were a funding agency themselves. Here we show through a simulation conducted over large-scale citation data (37M articles, 770M citations) that such a distributed system for science may yield funding patterns similar to existing NIH and NSF distributions, but may do so at much lower overhead while exhibiting a range of other desirable features. Self-correcting mechanisms in scientific peer evaluation can yield an efficient and fair distribution of funding. The proposed model can be applied in many situations in which top-down or bottom-up allocation of public resources is either impractical or undesirable, e.g. public investments, distribution chains, and shared resource management.

It’s interesting to note the agencies which supported the research (from the news release),

Awards from the National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supported the work.

It would seem there’s an appetite for change given the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are the two largest science funding agencies in the US.

Buckypaper technology in Florida (US) receives $!.4M grant

Just after suggesting (as per my Nov. 26, 2013 posting) that Florida is quietly becoming a center for nanotechnology efforts in the US, there’s a $1.4M funding announcement for Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI. From the Nov. 27, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Florida State researchers have been awarded more than $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation to develop a system that will produce large amounts of a state-of-the-art material made from carbon nanotubes that researchers believe could transform everything from the way airplanes are built to how prosthetic limbs fit the human body.

“The goal is clear — to show industry the ability to use this in large-scale quantities,” said Richard Liang, director of FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) and a professor for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. “We’re looking at a more efficient, cost effective way to do this.”

The Nov. 26, 2013 Florida State University (FSU) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides greater detail about buckypaper, the team’s research work, and the team’s hopes for this grant,

The material, buckypaper, is a feather-light sheet made of carbon nanotubes that is being tested in electronics, energy, medicine, space and transportation.  The aviation industry, for example, is doing tests with buckypaper, and it’s projected that it could replace metal shielding in the Boeing 787, currently made up of 60 miles of cable.

Engineers believe that replacing the cable with buckypaper could reduce the weight of the Boeing 787 by as much as 25 percent.

Florida State researchers have been engaged in other projects with buckypaper as well, including the use of the material in creating more advanced and comfortable prosthetic sockets for amputee patients and multifunctional lightweight composites for aerospace applications.

As revolutionary as buckypaper technology is, a major hurdle for its future use is that it can take two or more hours and can cost as much as $500 to make just a small 7-inch by 7-inch piece.  Companies like Boeing need large amounts of it to use on an aircraft.

However, the current process is neither fast nor cheap.

So, Liang will spend the next four years developing a process to produce large-scale amounts of buckypaper. The process and materials would then be patented and marketed to meet the demands of the industrial partners.

Liang will be joined on the project by Arda Vanli, an HPMI researcher and an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, as well as researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) webpage listing the award describes the specific research being undertaken and introduces the term ‘Bucky-tapes’,

Award Abstract #1344672
SNM: Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing of High Quality Bucky-tape with Aligned and Crosslinked Carbon Nanotubes Through In-line Sensing and Control

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) demonstrate amazing properties; however, currently only a fraction of these properties can be transferred into products that can be used by engineers and consumers. To effectively transfer CNTs? properties into useful products requires a method to efficiently align and covalently interconnect the CNTs into tailored architectures at the nanoscale. This project will establish the fundamental understanding and foundation for using CNTs to make thin sheet materials, called Bucky-tapes, which can be rapidly produced in roll form and scaled-up for industrial applications. The proposed method will use a modified die-casting manufacturing process utilizing the self-repelling effects of selected flow media. In-situ ultra-violet (UV) reaction chemistry can covalently interconnect the CNTs rapidly to improve the load transfer and thermal and electronic transport properties of CNT networks. In-line multi-stage stretching of the web could orient the randomly dispersed interconnected CNT networks into specific patterns to provide greater strength and optimized transport properties. In-line Raman spectra monitoring and multistage process models will provide affordable, closed loop quality control and variation reduction methods for a high quality consistent nanomanufacturing process. A prototype will be built to demonstrate the continuous roll-to-roll process for manufacturing strong Bucky-tapes with high electrical and thermal conductivity, and low manufacturing cost.

This project can transform CNT thin films networks from a lab-scale demonstration material into commercially viable products with superior properties potentially surpassing the state-of-the-art carbon fiber material. The continuous Bucky-tapes can lead to new materials applications in aerospace, electronics, energy, medicine, and transportation. For example, continuous Bucky-tape could replace metal shielding of 60 miles of cables in the Boeing 787 and reduce cable weight by 25%. The education and outreach plan will expose especially under-represented students to molecular design, nanomanufacturing process development and quality control, structure-property relationship studies. Application oriented materials-by-design and nanomanufacturing process development will motivate students into nanotechnology, manufacturing and new materials development.

I had mentioned this team’s work on buckypaper (or are they now calling it Bucky-tape?) in an Oct. 4, 2011 posting which features a video about buckypaper and in which I noted the possible applications for buckypaper closely mirror those for CNC (cellulose nanocrystals) or, as it’s also known,  NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose).

You can check out Florida State University’s High Performance Materials Institute here.

Responsible innovation at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society’s (Arizona State University) Virtual Institute

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has a funding program called Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) which facilitates global communication for scientists, engineers, and educators. From the SAVI home page,

Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) is a mechanism to foster and strengthen interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe. It is based on the knowledge that excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research and education exists in many parts of the world, and that scientific advances can be accelerated by scientists and engineers working together across international borders.

According to a Sept. 24, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, the NSF’s SAVI program has funded a new virtual institute at Arizona State University’s (ASU)  Center for Nanotechnology in Societ6y (CNS), Note: Links have been removed,

The National Science Foundation recently announced a grant of nearly $500,000 to establish a new Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (CNS-ASU). In a global marketplace that thrives on technological innovation, incorporating ethics, responsibility and sustainability into research and development is a critical priority.

VIRI’s goal is to enable an international community of students and scholars who can help establish a common understanding of responsible innovation in research, training and outreach. By doing so, VIRI aims to contribute to the governance of emerging technologies that are dominated by market uncertainty and difficult questions of how well they reflect societal values.

VIRI founding institutional partners are University of Exeter (UK), Durham University (UK), University of Sussex (UK), Maastricht University (Netherlands), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), University of Waterloo (Canada), Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (Norway), and State University of Campinas (Brazil).

VIRI founding institutional affiliates are the US National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Engineering, Ethics and Society, IEEE Spectrum Online and Fondazione Giannino Bassetti.

Interesting cast of characters.

The Sept. 23, 2013 ASU news release, which originated the news item, offers some insight into the time required to create this new virtual institute,

Led by ASU faculty members David Guston and Erik Fisher, VIRI will bring a social and ethical lens to research and development practices that do not always focus on the broader implications of their research and products. Guston, director of CNS-ASU, co-director of the Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes, and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, has been pushing for the establishment of academic units that focus on responsible innovation for years.

“We are thrilled that NSF has chosen to advance responsible innovation through this unique, international collaboration,” Guston said. “It will give ASU the opportunity to help focus the field and ensure that people start thinking about the broader implications of knowledge-based innovation.”

Fisher, assistant professor in the School for Politics and Global Studies, has long been involved in integrating social considerations into science research laboratories through his NSF-funded Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project, an affiliated project of CNS-ASU.

“Using the insights we’ve gained in the labs that have participated in the STIR project, we expect to be able to get VIRI off the ground and make progress very quickly,” Fisher said.

The VIRI appears to be an invite-only affair and it’s early days yet so there’s not much information on the website but the VIRI home page looks promising,

“Responsible innovation” (RI) is an emerging term in science and innovation policy fields across the globe. Its precise definition has been at the center of numerous meetings, research council decisions, and other activities in recent years. But today there is neither a clear, unified vision of what responsible innovation is, what it requires in order to be effective, nor what it can accomplish.
The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI)

The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) was created to accelerate the formation of a community of scholars and practitioners who, despite divides in geography and political culture, will create a common concept of responsible innovation for research, training and outreach – and in doing so contribute to the governance of emerging technologies under conditions dominated by high uncertainty, high stakes, and challenging questions of novelty.

VIRI’s mission in pursuit of this vision is to develop and disseminate a sophisticated conceptual and operational understanding of RI by facilitating collaborative research, training and outreach activities among a broad partnership of academic and non-academic institutions.

VIRI will:

  • perform interlinked empirical, reflexive and normative research in a collaborative and comparative mode to explore and develop key concepts in RI;
  • develop curricular material and support educational exchanges of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty;
  •  create a dynamic online community to represent the breadth of the institute and its multi-lateral activities;
  •  disseminate outputs from across the institute through its own and partner channels and will encourage broad sharing of its research and educational findings.

VIRI will pursue these activities with founding academic partners in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Brazil and Canada.

The site does offer links to  relevant blogs here.

I was a bit surprised to see Canada’s University of Waterloo rather than the University of Alberta (home of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology)  as one of the partners.

Volunteer on the Plankton Portal and help scientists figure out ways to keep the ocean healthy

University of Miami (Florida, US) researchers with support from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),  the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and developers at Zooniverse.org  (last mentioned here in a Jan. 17, 2012 posting) have created the Plankton Portal as a means for volunteers/citizen scientists to assist them in their research (from the Sept. 17, 2013 news release on EurekAlert),

Today [Sept. 17, 2013], an online citizen-science project launches called “Plankton Portal” was created by researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS) in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and developers at Zooniverse.org Plankton Portal allows you to explore the open ocean from the comfort of your own home. You can dive hundreds of feet deep, and observe the unperturbed ocean and the myriad animals that inhabit the earth’s last frontier.

Millions of plankton images are taken by the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), a unique underwater robot engineered at the University of Miami in collaboration with Charles Cousin at Bellamare LLC and funded by NOAA and NSF. ISIIS operates as an ocean scanner that casts the shadow of tiny and transparent oceanic creatures onto a very high resolution digital sensor at very high frequency. So far, ISIIS has been used in several oceans around the world to detect the presence of larval fish, small crustaceans and jellyfish in ways never before possible. This new technology can help answer important questions ranging from how do plankton disperse, interact and survive in the marine environment, to predicting the physical and biological factors could influence the plankton community.

The dataset used for Plankton Portal comes from a project from the Southern California Bight, where Cowen’s [Dr. Robert K. Cowen, UM [University of Miami] RSMAS Emeritus Professor in Marine Biology and Fisheries (MBF) and now the Director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center] team imaged plankton across a front, which is a meeting of two water masses, over three days in Fall 2010.

According to Jessica Luo, graduate student involved in this project, “in three days, we collected data that would take us more than three years to analyze.” Cowen agrees: “with the volume of data that ISIIS generates, it is impossible for us to individually classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis, from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists.”

“A computer will probably be able to tell the difference between major classes of organisms, such as a shrimp versus a jellyfish,” explains Luo, “but to distinguish different species within an order or family, that is still best done by the human eye.” Volunteer citizen scientists can assist by going to http://www.planktonportal.org. A field guide is provided, and the simple tutorial is easy to understand. Cowen and the science team will monitor the discussion boards; answer any questions about the classifications, the organisms, and the research they are conducting.

I went to the Plankton Portal and started one of the tutorials (click on the Classify tab)  and almost immediately made an error. They do have a means of recovery but you have to keep following their process. Personally, I would have preferred to abort and start over again. That said, this looks like an interesting project and I wish the best for the organizers.

University of Virginia (US) moving bioinspired materials closer to commercialization

An Aug. 19, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights an early-stage commercialization bioinspired project at the University of Virginia,

Mool Gupta, Langley Distinguished Professor in the university’s department of electrical and computer engineering, and director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Lasers and Plasmas, has developed a method using high-powered lasers and nanotechnology to create a similar texture (to lotus leaves] that repels water, captures sunlight and prevents the buildup of ice.

These textured materials can be used over large areas and potentially could have important applications in products where ice poses a danger, for example, in aviation, the automobile industry, the military, in protecting communication towers, blades that generate wind energy, bridges, roofs, ships, satellite dishes, and even snowboards.

The Aug. 19, 2013 US National Science Foundation news release by Marlene Cimons, which originated the news item,  gives more detail about the technical aspects of  this project,

Gupta and his research team first made a piece of textured metal that serves as a mold to mass-produce many pieces of plastic with the same micro-texture. The replication process is similar to the one used in manufacturing compact discs. The difference, of course, is that the CD master mold contains specific information, like a voice, whereas, “in our case we are not writing any information, we are creating a micro-texture,” Gupta says.

“You create one piece of metal that has the texture,” Gupta adds. “For multiple pieces of plastic with the texture, you use the one master made of metal to stamp out multiple pieces. Thus, whatever features are in your master are replicated in the special plastic. Once we create that texture, if you put a drop of water on the texture, the water rolls down and doesn’t stick to it, just like a lotus leaf. We have created a human-made structure that repels water, just like the lotus leaf.”

The process of making the metal with the special texture works like this: the scientists take high-powered lasers, with energy beams 20 million times higher than that of a laser pointer, for example, and focus the beams on a metal surface. The metal absorbs the laser light and heats to a melting temperature of about 1200 degrees Centigrade, or higher, a process that rearranges the surface material to form a microtexture.

“All of this happens in less than 0.1 millionth of a second,” Gupta says. “The microtexture is self-organized. By scanning the focused laser beam, we achieve a large area of microtexture. The produced microtexture is used as a stamper to replicate microtexture in polymers. The stamper can be used many, many times, allowing a low cost manufacturing process. The generated microtextured polymer surface shows very high water repellency.”

The news release next describes the commercialization efforts,

In the fall of 2011, Gupta was among the first group of scientists to receive a $50,000 NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) award, which supports a set of activities and programs that prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory into the commercial world.

Such results may be translated through I-Corps into technologies with near-term benefits for the economy and society. It is a public-private partnership program that teaches grantees to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from academic research, and offers entrepreneurship training to faculty and student participants.

The other project members are Paul Caffrey, a doctoral candidate under Gupta’s supervision, and Martin Skelly of Charleston, S.C., a veteran of banking in the former Soviet Union who serves as business mentor and is involved in new business investments.

The team participated in a three-day entrepreneurship workshop at Stanford University run by entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. “We are still pursuing the commercial potential,” Gupta says. “The idea is to look at what market can use this technology, how big the market is, and how long it will take to get into it.”