Tag Archives: Virginia Tech

A labradoodle, gold nanoparticles, and cancer treatment for dogs and cats

Here’s the labradoodle,

Caption: Dr. Shawna Klahn, an assistant professor of oncology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, performs a checkup on "Grayton" four weeks after the animal's experimental cancer treatment involving gold nanoparticles and a targeted laser therapy. Credit: Virginia Tech

Caption: Dr. Shawna Klahn, an assistant professor of oncology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, performs a checkup on “Grayton” four weeks after the animal’s experimental cancer treatment involving gold nanoparticles and a targeted laser therapy.
Credit: Virginia Tech

An Aug. 6, 2014 news item on Azonano outlines ‘Grayton’s’ story and how gold nanoparticles will factor in,

When Michael and Sandra Friedlander first came to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine three years ago with their dog, Grayton, they learned some bad news: Grayton had nasal adenocarcinoma, a form of cancer with a short life expectancy.

“Most dogs with this form of cancer are with their owners no more than a few months after the diagnosis, but here Grayton is three years later,” said Michael Friedlander, who is the executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and senior dean at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

No stranger to medical research, Friedlander was referred by Veterinary Teaching Hospital clinicians to an experimental treatment at the University of Florida called stereotactic radiation therapy, which delivers precise, high dosages of radiation to a tumor and can only be performed once.

“That shrunk the tumor down to almost nothing,” said Friedlander, who is also the associate provost for health sciences at Virginia Tech. “We knew when Grayton had the procedure that we couldn’t do it again, but now the cancer is back.”

An Aug. 4, 2014 Virginia Tech news release (also on EurekAlert) by Michael Sutphin, which originated the news item, explains what occasioned the release and how gold nanoparticles are being used in veterinary treatment for cancer,

Today [Aug. 4, 2014], the 11-year-old Labradoodle is the first patient at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in a new clinical trial that is testing the use of gold nanoparticles and a targeted laser treatment for solid tumors in dogs and cats. The study is one of several on new treatments for client-owned companion animals at the college. In January [2014], the college established the Veterinary Clinical Research Office to help facilitate this work.

“Clinical research at the veterinary college involves both primary research focused on advancing the treatment and diagnosis of veterinary diseases and translational research in which spontaneous diseases in animals can be used as models of human disease,” said Dr. Greg Daniel, head of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. “In the latter situation, we can provide our companion animal patients with treatment and diagnostic options that are not yet available in mainstream human medicine.”

Although medical researchers have tested gold nanoparticles with targeted laser treatments on human patients with some success, the treatment is still new to both human and veterinary medicine. The college is one of four current veterinary schools around the country testing the AuroLase therapy developed by Nanospectra Biosciences Inc., a startup company based in Houston, Texas. The others are Texas A&M University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Georgia.

Dr. Nick Dervisis, assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, is leading the Nanospectra-funded study. Following a rhinoscopy performed on Grayton by Dr. David Grant, associate professor of internal medicine, Dervisis began the one-time, experimental therapy.

“The treatment involves two phases,” Dervisis said. “First, we infuse the patient with the gold nanoparticles. Although the nanoparticles distribute throughout the body, they tend to concentrate around blood vessels associated with tumors. Within 36 hours, they have cleared the bloodstream except for tumors. The gold nanoparticles are small enough to circulate freely in the bloodstream and become temporarily captured within the incomplete blood vessel walls common in solid tumors. Then, we use a non-ablative laser on the patient.”

Dervisis explained that a non-ablative laser is not strong enough to harm the skin or normal tissue, but “it does cause the remaining nanoparticles to absorb the laser energy and convert it into heat so that they damage the tumor cells.”

Like all clinical trials, the study involves many unknowns, including the treatment’s usefulness and effectiveness. One month after the AuroLase treatment, the nosebleeds that initially brought Grayton back to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital had stopped and Grayton has no other side effects.

“I’m delighted with the care and service that Grayton has received at the veterinary college,” said Friedlander, who explained that the treatment appears to be safe even though researchers do not know whether it is effective yet. “Grayton recently came with us on our annual vacation at the beach. We didn’t know if he would be able to come again, so it was great to have him with us swimming, catching fish and crabs, and doing what dogs do.”

Current clinical trials at the veterinary college range from the use of MRI to distinguish between benign and cancerous lymph nodes in dogs with oral melanoma, to a new chemotherapy drug for dogs with brain tumors, to the treatment of invasive skin cancer in horses with high-voltage, high-frequency electrical pulses. A complete list of current trials can be found at the college’s new clinical trials website.

Mindy Quigley, who oversees the college’s Veterinary Clinical Research Office, explained that veterinary trials, which follow a four-phase process and a variety of regulations similar to human medicine, have another layer of complexity that human trials do not.

“Variation among species means that a therapy that has proven safe and effective in, for example, humans or dogs, may not work for horses,” said Quigley, who comes to the college from the University of Edinburgh’s College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, where she helped set up a new neurology research clinic with funding from author J.K. Rowling. “Many veterinary clinical trials must therefore take therapies that have worked in one species and test them in other species with similar conditions. This is a necessary step to determine if a proposed treatment is safe and effective for our companion animals.”

Grayton may be the first companion animal in the AuroLase study at the veterinary college, but he certainly won’t be the last. Dervisis is continuing to enroll patients in the study and is seeking dogs and cats of a certain size with solid tumors who have not recently received radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Interested parties can check this site for current clinical trials, including the Aurolase study,  being held by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Putting a new spin on it: Whirling Dervishes and physics and ballet dancers and neuroscience

Many years ago I was dragged to a movie about J. Krishnamurti (a philosopher and spiritual teacher; there’s more in this Wikipedia essay) which, for some reason, featured Whirling Dervishes amongst many other topics. Watching those dervishes was hypnotic and I now find out it was also an experience in physics, according to a Nov. 26, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

A force that intricately links the rotation of the Earth with the direction of weather patterns in the atmosphere has been shown to play a crucial role in the creation of the hypnotic patterns created by the skirts of the Whirling Dervishes.

This is according to an international group of researchers who have demonstrated how the Coriolis force is essential for creating the archetypal, and sometimes counterintuitive, patterns that form on the surface of the Whirling Dervishes skirts by creating a set of very simple equations which govern how fixed or free-flowing cone-shaped structures behave when rotating.

The Nov. 26, 2013 Institute of Physics (IOP) news release on EurekAlert (also on the IOP website but dated Nov. 27, 2013), which originated the news item, gives an explanation of Whirling Dervishes and describes the research further,

The Whirling Dervishes, who have become a popular tourist attraction in Turkey, are a religious movement who commemorate the 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi, by spinning on the spot and creating mesmerising patterns with their long skirts. A YouTube video of the Whirling Dervishes in action can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_Cf-ZxDfZA.

Co-author of the study James Hanna, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said: “The dancers don’t do much but spin around at a fixed speed, but their skirts show these very striking, long-lived patterns with sharp cusp-like features which seem rather counterintuitive.”

Hanna, along with Jemal Guven at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Martin Michael Müller at Université de Lorraine, found that it was the presence of a Coriolis force that was essential in the formation of the different patterns.

The Coriolis effect accounts for the deflection of objects on a rotating surface and is most commonly encountered when looking at the Earth’s rotations and its effect on the atmosphere around it. The rotation of the Earth creates the Coriolis force which causes winds to be deflected clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere – it is this effect which is responsible for the rotation of cyclones.

“Because the sheet is conically symmetric, material can flow along its surface without stretching or deforming. You can think of the rotating Earth, for example, with the air of the atmosphere free to flow around it.

“The flow of a sheet of material is much more restrictive than the flow of the atmosphere, but nonetheless it results in Coriolis forces. What we found was that this flow, and the associated Coriolis forces, plays a crucial role in forming the dervish-like patterns,” Hanna continued.

By providing a basic mathematical description of the spinning skirts of the Dervishes, the researchers hope their future research will discern how different patterns are selected, how stable these patterns are and if gravity or any other effects make a qualitative difference.

The news release notes,

The equations, which have been published today, 27 November,[2013], in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, were able to reproduce the sharp peaks and gentle troughs that appear along the flowing surface of the Dervishes’ skirts and showed a significant resemblance to real-life images.

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

Whirling skirts and rotating cones by Jemal Guven, J A Hanna, and Martin Michael Müller. New Journal of Physics Volume 15 November 2013 doi:10.1088/1367-2630/15/11/113055  Published 26 November 2013

© IOP Publishing and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

This paper is open access.

While the Whirling Dervishes and the fabric in their clothing provide insights into aspects of physics, ballet dancers are providing valuable information to neuroscientists and geriatric specialists with pirouettes, according to a Sept. 26, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

Scientists have discovered differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that may help them avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes.

The research suggests that years of training can enable dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear.

The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, could help to improve treatment for patients with chronic dizziness. Around one in four people experience this condition at some time in their lives.

The Imperial College of London (ICL) Sept. 26, 2013 news release on EurekAlert (also on the ICL website but dated Sept. 27, 2013), which originated the news item, describes dizziness, this research, and ballet dancers’ unique brains in more detail,

Normally, the feeling of dizziness stems from the vestibular organs in the inner ear. These fluid-filled chambers sense rotation of the head through tiny hairs that sense the fluid moving. After turning around rapidly, the fluid continues to move, which can make you feel like you’re still spinning.

Ballet dancers can perform multiple pirouettes with little or no feeling of dizziness. The findings show that this feat isn’t just down to spotting, a technique dancers use that involves rapidly moving the head to fix their gaze on the same spot as much as possible.

Researchers at Imperial College London recruited 29 female ballet dancers and, as a comparison group, 20 female rowers whose age and fitness levels matched the dancers’.

The volunteers were spun around in a chair in a dark room. They were asked to turn a handle in time with how quickly they felt like they were still spinning after they had stopped. The researchers also measured eye reflexes triggered by input from the vestibular organs. Later, they examined the participants’ brain structure with MRI scans.

In dancers, both the eye reflexes and their perception of spinning lasted a shorter time than in the rowers.

Dr Barry Seemungal, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “Dizziness, which is the feeling that we are moving when in fact we are still, is a common problem. I see a lot of patients who have suffered from dizziness for a long time. Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients.”

The brain scans revealed differences between the groups in two parts of the brain: an area in the cerebellum where sensory input from the vestibular organs is processed and in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for the perception of dizziness.

The area in the cerebellum was smaller in dancers. Dr Seemungal thinks this is because dancers would be better off not using their vestibular systems, relying instead on highly co-ordinated pre-programmed movements.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better.”

Another finding in the study may be important for how chronic dizzy patients are tested in the clinic. In the control group, the perception of spinning closely matched the eye reflexes triggered by vestibular signals, but in dancers, the two were uncoupled.

“This shows that the sensation of spinning is separate from the reflexes that make your eyes move back and forth,” Dr Seemungal said. “In many clinics, it’s common to only measure the reflexes, meaning that when these tests come back normal the patient is told that there is nothing wrong. But that’s only half the story. You need to look at tests that assess both reflex and sensation.”

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

The Neuroanatomical Correlates of Training-Related Perceptuo-Reflex Uncoupling in Dancers by Yuliya Nigmatullina, Peter J. Hellyer, Parashkev Nachev, David J. Sharp, and Barry M. Seemungal. Cereb. Cortex (2013) doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht266 First published online: September 26, 2013

Delightfully, this article too is open access.

I love these kinds of stories where two very different branches of science find information of interest in something as ordinary as spinning around.

Courtesy: Imperial College of London (downloaded from: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_26-9-2013-17-43-4]

Courtesy: Imperial College of London (downloaded from: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_26-9-2013-17-43-4]

Here are some Whirling Dervishes,

Istanbul - Monestir Mevlevi - Dervixos dansaires Credit: Josep Renalias [downloaded from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Istanbul_-_Monestir_Mevlevi_-_Dervixos_dansaires.JPG]

Istanbul – Monestir Mevlevi – Dervixos dansaires Credit: Josep Renalias [downloaded from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Istanbul_-_Monestir_Mevlevi_-_Dervixos_dansaires.JPG]

ETA Nov. 28, 2013: I was most diverted by the Nov. 27, 2013 Virginia Tech news release (also on EurekAlert) which describes how two physicists and an engineer came to study Whirling Dervishes,

James Hanna likes to have fun with his engineering views of physics.

So when he and his colleague Jemal Guven visited their friend Martin Michael Müller in France on a rainy, dreary day, the three intellects decided to stay in. Guven, absent-mindedly switching between channels on the television, stumbled upon a documentary on whirling dervishes, best described as a Sufi religious order, who commemorate the teachings of 13th century Persian mystic and poet Rumi through spinning at a fixed speed in their floor length skirts.

“Their skirts showed these very striking, long-lived patterns,” Hanna, the engineer, recalled.

The film caused physicists Guven and Müller to think about structures with conical symmetry, or those shapes that can be defined as a series of straight lines emanating from a single point. By contrast, Hanna, the engineer with a physicist’s background, thought about rotating flexible structures, namely strings or sheets.

Duke University’s (North Carolina, US) Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) wins $15M grant

A Nov. 13, 2013 news item on Azonano announces that the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) at Duke University has been awarded $15M,

A pioneering, multi-institution research center headquartered at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering has just won $15-million grant renewal from the National Science Foundation and the US Environmental Protection Agency to continue learning more about where nanoparticles accumulate, how they interact with other chemicals and how they affect the environment.

Founded in 2008, the Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) has been evaluating the effect of long-term nanomaterial exposure on organisms and ecosystems.

“The previous focus has been on studying simple, uniform nanomaterials in simple environments,” said Mark Wiesner, James L. Meriam Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and director of CEINT. “As we look to the next five years, we envision a dramatically different landscape. We will be evaluating more complex nanomaterials in more realistic natural environments such as agricultural lands and water treatment systems where these materials are likely to be found.”

The Nov. 11, 2013 Duke University news release by Karyn Hede, which originated the news item, provides some history and context for CEINT (Note: Links have been removed),

When CEINT formed, little research had been done on how materials manufactured at the nanoscale—about 1/10,000th the diameter of a human hair—enter the environment and whether their size and unique properties render them a new category of environmental risk. For example, nanoparticles can be highly reactive with other chemicals in the environment and had been shown to disrupt activities in living organisms. Indeed, nanosilver is used in clothing precisely because it effectively kills odor-causing bacteria.

To tackle this expansive research agenda, CEINT leadership assembled a multi-institutional research team encompassing expertise in ecosystems biology, chemistry, geology, materials science, computational science, mathematical modeling and other specialties, to complement its engineering expertise. The Center has 29 faculty collaborators, as well as 76 graduate and undergraduate students participating in research. Over its first five years, CEINT has answered some of the most pressing questions about environmental risk and has learned where to focus future research.

The center also pioneered the use of a new test chamber, called a mesocosm, that replicates a small wetland environment. “Over the long term, we want to evaluate how nanoparticles bioaccumulate in complex food webs,” said Emily Bernhardt, an associate professor of biology at Duke and ecosystem ecologist who helped design the simulated ecosystems. “The additional funding will allow us to study the subtle effect of low-dose exposure on ecosystems over time, as well as complex interactions among nanoparticles and other environmental contaminants.”

Looking forward, the investigators at CEINT plan to expand the use of systems modeling and to create a “knowledge commons,” a place to store various kinds of data that can then be analyzed as a whole, said CEINT Executive Director Christine Hendren.

“Our investigators and collaborators are located across the globe,” Hendren added. “We are committed to disseminating information that can be translated into responsible regulatory frameworks and that will be available to compare with results of future research.”

Key findings from CEINT’s first five years include:

Naturally occurring nanomaterials far outnumber engineered particles. CEINT scientist Michael Hochella, a geoscientist at Virginia Tech, inventoried nanoparticles and concluded that natural nanoparticles are found everywhere, from dust in the atmosphere to sea spray to volcanoes. The environmental risks of these natural nanomaterials are difficult to separate from engineered nanomaterials.

Engineered nanoparticles change once they enter the environment. Gregory V. Lowry, deputy director of CEINT and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, along with colleagues from the University of Birmingham, U.K. and the University of South Carolina found that the relatively large surface area of nanoparticles makes them highly reactive once they enter the environment. These transformations will alter their movement and toxicity and must be considered when studying nanomaterials. Their review article on this topic was named the best feature article of 2012 by the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Nanoparticles can be visualized, even in complex environmental samples. A research team led by CEINT investigators Jie Liu, associate professor of chemistry at Duke, and CEINT Director Mark Wiesner showed that more than a dozen types of engineered nanoparticles, including silver, gold, and titanium dioxide, along with carbon nanotubes, can be surveyed using a technique called hyperspectral imaging, which measures light scattering caused by different types of nanoparticles. The new technique, co-developed by postdoctoral researcher Appala Raju Badireddy, is sensitive enough to analyze nanoparticles found in water samples ranging from ultrapurified to wastewater. It will be used in future long-term studies of how nanoparticles move and accumulate in ecological systems.

It is possible to estimate current and future volume of engineered nanomaterials. Understanding the volume of nanomaterials being produced and released into the environment is a crucial factor in risk assessment. CEINT researchers led by Christine Hendren measured the upper- and lower-bound annual U.S. production of five classes of nanomaterials, totaling as much as a combined 40,000 metric tons annually as of 2011.

Silver nanoparticles caused environmental stress in a simulated wetland environment. CEINT has developed  “mesocosms,”  open-air terrarium-like structures that simulate wetland ecosystems that can be evaluated over time. Even low doses of silver nanoparticles used in many consumer products produced about a third less biomass in a mesocosm. The researchers will now  look at how nanomaterials are transferred between organisms in a mesocosm.

I have written about CEINT and its work, including the mesocosm, many times. My August 15, 2011 posting offers an introduction to the CEINT mesocosm.

Rising from the dead: the inventory of nanotechnology-based consumer products

The inventory of nanotechnology-based consumer products or the Consumer Products Inventory (CPI) is still cited in articles about nanotechnology and its pervasive use in consumer products despite the fact that the inventory was effectively rendered inactive (i.e., dead) in 2009 and that  it was a voluntary system with no oversight, meaning whoever made the submission to the inventory could make any claims they wanted. Now that it’s 2013, things are about to change according to an Oct. 28, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

As a resource for consumers, scientists, and policy makers, the Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (VTSuN) has joined the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to renew and expand the Nanotechnology Consumer Product Inventory, an important source of information about products using nanomaterials.

“We want people to appreciate the revolution, such as in electronics and medicine. But we also want them to be informed,” said Nina Quadros, a research scientist at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and associate director of VTSuN, who leads a team of Virginia Tech faculty members and students on this project. Todd Kuiken, senior program associate, and David Rajeski, director of the science and technology innovation program, lead this project at the Wilson Center.

The Oct. 28, 2013 Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) news release by Susan Trulove (which originated the news item),provides a brief history of the inventory and a description of its revivification,

The Wilson Center and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnology created the inventory in 2005. It grew from 54 to more than 1,000 products, many of which have come and gone. The inventory became the most frequently cited resource, showcasing the widespread applications of nanotechnology. However, in 2009, the project was no longer funded.

“I used it in publications and presentations when talking about all the ways nano is part of people’s lives in consumer products,” said Matthew Hull, who manages the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science’s investment portfolio in nanoscale science and engineering, which includes the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. “But the inventory was criticized by researchers, regulators, and manufacturers for the lack of scientific information available to support product claims.”

In a meeting with his friend, Andrew Maynard, director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, who had initiated the inventory when he was at the Wilson Center, Hull proposed leveraging Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology resources to improve the inventory.

“My role was to ask ‘what if’ and [the Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology] ran with it,” said Hull.

A partnership was formed and, with funding from the Virginia Tech institute, the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology restructured the inventory to improve the reliability, functionality, and scientific credibility of the database.

“Specifically, we added scientific significance and usefulness by including qualitative and quantitative descriptors for the products and the nanomaterials contained in these products, such as size, concentration, and potential exposure routes,” said Quadros. For example, an intentional exposure route would be the way a medicine is administered. An unintentional exposure would be when a child chews on a toy that has been treated with silver nanoparticles that are used as an antimicrobial. The potential health effect of nanomaterials on children was Quadros doctoral research and she used the inventory to find products designed for children that use nanomaterials, such as plush toys.

“One of the best things about the new version of the inventory is the additional information and the ability to search by product type or the type of nanomaterial,” she said. “When researchers were first attempting to assess the potential environmental impacts of nanotechnology, one main challenge was understanding how these nanomaterials might end up in the environment in the first place. After searching the CPI and seeing the vast applications of nanotechnologies in consumer products it was easier to narrow down scenarios.”

For example, Quadros said many silver nanoparticles are used in clothing for antimicrobial protection, so we can infer that some silver nanoparticles may end up in wastewater treatment plants after clothes washing. This helped justify some of the research on the effects of silver nanoparticle in the biological wastewater treatment processes. Currently, the inventory lists 188 products under the ‘clothing’ category.”

This team also included published scientific data related to those products, where available, and developed a metric to assess the reliability of the data on each inventory entry.

The team interviewed more than 50 nanotechnology experts with more than 350 combined years of experience in nanotechnology, Quadros said. “Their answers provided valuable guidance to help us address diverse stakeholder needs.”

In addition, the site’s users can log in and add information based on their own expertise. “Anyone can suggest edits. The curator and reviewer will approve the edits, and then the new information will go live,” Quadros said.

“We’ve added the horsepower of [the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology], but opened it by means of crowdsourcing to new information, such as refuting or supporting claims made about products,” Hull said.

“The goal of this work is to create a living, growing inventory for the exchange of accurate information on nano­enabled consumer products,” Quadros said. “Improved information sharing will allow citizens, manufacturers, scientists, policymakers, and others to better understand how nanotechnology is being used in the consumer marketplace,” she said.

As of October 2013,

The inventory currently lists more than 1,600 consumer products that claim to contain nanotechnology or have been found to contain nanomaterials.

Quadros will give a presentation about the inventory at the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization conference in Santa Barbara on Nov. 3-5 and will present to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation in the spring.

Key collaborators at Virginia Tech are Sean McGinnis, an associate research professor in the materials science and engineering department; Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering; her postdoc, Eric Vejerano, who was instrumental in development of product categories; and Michael Hochella, a university distinguished professor in the geosciences department and Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology director.

You can find the Consumer Products Inventory here where it is still hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. The website for the Second Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference where Quadros will be presenting can be found here and is where this conference description can be found,

The objective of this conference is to bring together scientific experts from academia, industry, and government agencies from around the world to present and discuss current research findings on the subject of nanotechnology and sustainability.

The conference program will address the critical aspects of sustainable nanotechnology such as life cycle assessment, green synthesis, green energy, industrial partnerships, environmental and biological fate, and the overall sustainability of engineered nanomaterials. In principle, this involves the fundamental/applied research on the chemistry of producing new green nanomaterials; eco-manufacturing processing of nanomaterials and products, using nanotechnology to benefit society, and examining possible harmful effects of nanotechnology.

The conference will also foster new collaborations between academic and industrial participants. This community of users, researchers and developers of engineered nanomaterials will provide a long-term, scientific assessment of where the science is for sustainable nano, where it should be heading, and what steps academics, government agencies and others can take now to reach targeted goals. In addition, the conference will serve as the platform to initiate the formation of the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO), a non-profit, international professional society dedicated to advancing sustainable nanotechnology through education, research, and promotion of responsible development of nanotechnology.

Finally because I can resist no longer, especially so near to Hallowe’en, I guess you could call the ‘renewed’ CPI, a zombie CPI as it’s back from the dead and it needs brains,

Zombies in Moscow, 26 April 2009 Credit: teujene [downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zombies_in_Moscow.jpg]

Zombies in Moscow, 26 April 2009 Credit: teujene [downloaded from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zombies_in_Moscow.jpg]

Nonfood to food: transforming cellulose

With concerns about having enough food to feed everyone, the news that researchers from Virginia Tech have found a way to transform cellulose into starch is encouraging. From the Apr. 17, 2013 news item on Azonano,

A team of Virginia Tech researchers has succeeded in transforming cellulose into starch, a process that has the potential to provide a previously untapped nutrient source from plants not traditionally thought of as food crops.

Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, led a team of researchers in the project that could help feed a growing global population that is estimated to swell to 9 billion by 2050. Starch is one of the most important components of the human diet and provides 20-40 percent of our daily caloric intake.

The Apr. 15, 2013 Virginia Tech news release, which originated the news item, describes cellulose and some of the other benefits to be had from transforming it into starch,

Cellulose is the supporting material in plant cell walls and is the most common carbohydrate on earth. This new development opens the door to the potential that food could be created from any plant, reducing the need for crops to be grown on valuable land that requires fertilizers, pesticides, and large amounts of water. The type of starch that Zhang’s team produced is amylose, a linear resistant starch that is not broken down in the digestion process and acts as a good source of dietary fiber. It has been proven to decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes.

This discovery holds promise on many fronts beyond food systems.

“Besides serving as a food source, the starch can be used in the manufacture of edible, clear films for biodegradable food packaging,” Zhang said.  “It can even serve as a high-density hydrogen storage carrier that could solve problems related to hydrogen storage and distribution.”

The news release goes on to provide details about the new process,

“Cellulose and starch have the same chemical formula,” Zhang said. “The difference is in their chemical linkages. Our idea is to use an enzyme cascade to break up the bonds in cellulose, enabling their reconfiguration as starch.”

The new approach takes cellulose from non-food plant material, such as corn stover, converts about 30 percent to amylose, and hydrolyzes the remainder to glucose suitable for ethanol production. Corn stover consists of the stem, leaves, and husk of the corn plant remaining after ears of corn are harvested. However, the process works with cellulose from any plant.

This bioprocess called “simultaneous enzymatic biotransformation and microbial fermentation” is easy to scale up for commercial production. It is environmentally friendly because it does not require expensive equipment, heat, or chemical reagents, and does not generate any waste. The key enzymes immobilized on the magnetic nanoparticles can easily be recycled using a magnetic force.

Zhang designed the experiments and conceived the cellulose-to-starch concept. Zhang and Virginia Tech visiting scholar Hongge Chen are the inventors of the cellulose-to-starch biotransformation, which is covered under a provisional patent application. [emphasis mine] Chun You, a postdoctoral researcher from China at Virginia Tech, and Chen conducted most of the research work.

I think we’re still a long way from being able to munch on corn stalks instead of corn. Also, it’s with some interest I note the researchers’ patent application. Exactly what are they trying to patent?

It takes more than research to change energy sources and use

Much of the talk about reducing or eliminating dependency on fossil fuels is focused on research to accomplish these goals or policies to support and promote new patterns of energy use as opposed to the details needed to implement a change in the infrastructures. For example, one frequently sees news about various energy research efforts such as this one at the University of Texas at Dallas featured in a Feb. 14, 2013 news item on Azonano,

University of Texas at Dallas researchers and their colleagues at other institutions are investigating ways to harvest energy from such diverse sources as mechanical vibrations, wasted heat, radio waves, light and even movements of the human body.

The goal is to develop ways to convert this unused energy into a form that can self-power the next generation of electronics, eliminating or reducing the need for bulky, limited-life batteries.

Beyond the more familiar wind and solar power, energy harvesting has a wide range of potential applications. These include: powering wireless sensor networks placed in “intelligent” buildings, or in hard-to-reach or dangerous areas; monitoring the structural health of aircraft; and biomedical implants that might transmit health data to your doctor or treat a chronic condition.

The Feb. 14, 2013 University of Texas at Dallas news release, which originated the news item, describes a recent energy research event and highlights some of the work being performed by the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS) consortium (Note: A link has been removed),

At a recent scientific conference held at UT Dallas, experts from academia, industry and government labs gathered to share their latest research on energy harvesting. Energy Summit 2013 focused on research initiatives at UT Dallas, Virginia Tech and Leibniz University in Germany, which form a consortium called the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS).

Founded in 2010, CEHMS is an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center funded in part by the National Science Foundation. It includes not only academic institutions, but also corporate members who collaborate on research projects and also provide funding for the center.  Roger Nessen, manager of sales and marketing at Exelis Inc. is chairman of the CEHMS advisory board.

Here are some examples of the research,

For example, Dr. Mario Rotea, the Erik Jonsson Chair and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UT Dallas, discussed some of his work aimed at advancing the development of wind energy systems. He represents UT Dallas in a proposed new consortium of universities and companies called WindSTAR that would collaborate with CEHMS on wind energy science and technology issues.

On the chemistry front, Smith’s [Dennis Smith, co-director of CEHMS and the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UT Dallas] synthetic chemistry lab is working with advanced materials that use piezoelectrics. If a piezoelectric material is deformed by a mechanical stress – such as stepping on it or subjecting it to vibrations – it produces an electric current. Smith’s lab is investigating whether the addition of nanoparticles to certain piezoelectric materials can boost this so-called piezoelectric effect.

CEHMS co-director Dr. Shashank Priya, professor of mechanical engineering and the James and Elizabeth Turner Fellow of Engineering at Virginia Tech, collaborates with Smith on piezoelectric research. Among many projects, researchers at Virginia Tech are incorporating piezoelectrics into “smart” tiles that produce electricity when stepped upon, as well as into materials that might be applied like wallpaper to gather light and vibrational energy from walls.

Other university and industry projects include:

  • Investigating how to redesign systems to require less power.
  • An intelligent tire system that harvests energy from the vibrations in a rotating tire, powering embedded sensors that gather and report data on tire pressure, tire conditions and road conditions.
  • A new class of magnetoelectric materials that can simultaneously convert magnetic fields and vibrations into energy.
  • A textile-type material that converts wasted thermal energy into electricity, which could be wrapped around hot pipes or auto exhaust pipes to generate power.
  • Flexible solar cells that could be integrated into textiles, and worn by hikers or soldiers to power portable electronic devices far away from an electric socket.

It’s exciting to talk about research, startups, and policies but at some point one needs to develop an infrastructure to support these efforts as Kyle Vanhemert points out (in an elliptical fashion) in his Feb.14, 2013 article, A Deeply Thought-Out Plan for EV [electric vehicle] Charging Stations, on the Fast Company website,

Currently, the best estimates suggest that upwards of 80% of electric vehicle charging happens at home. … If we want to see wider adoption of EVs, however, one thing is obvious: We need to make it possible for drivers to charge in places other than their garage. It’s a more complex problem than it might seem, but a series of reports by the New York-based architecture and design studio WXY will at least give urban planners and prospective charging station entrepreneurs a place to start.

The studies, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, address a major obstacle standing in the way of more ubiquitous charging–namely, that no one knows exactly what ubiquitous charging looks like. And in fairness, that’s because it doesn’t look like any one thing.  …

The WXY design studio has developed guidelines for these hypothetical EV charging stations,

The study identifies 22 design elements in all, divided into three categories: installation, access, and operation. The first looks at the infrastructural nuts and bolts of the site, including factors like physical dimensions of the station and its proximity to the power grid. Access deals with the factors that shape the basic user experience, things like proximity to traffic and building entrances, lighting, and signage. …

Vanhemert’s article includes some design diagrams, more details about these charging stations, and links to the design studio’s report and other reports that have been commissioned for the US Northeast Electric Vehicle Network.

Thank you to Kyle Vanhemert for a thought-provoking article, which raises questions about what kinds of changes will need to be made to infrastructure and everyday gadgets as we transition to new energy sources.

It really is a nanoscale window into the biological world

The researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTC Research Institute) have sandwiched together a couple of chips, each with a hole (window) in the middle giving themselves a peek into biological processes as they occur, they hope. Here’s a more technical explanation from the Dec. 20, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

Investigators at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have invented a way to directly image biological structures at their most fundamental level and in their natural habitats. The technique is a major advancement toward the ultimate goal of imaging biological processes in action at the atomic level.

The technique involves taking two silicon-nitride microchips with windows etched in their centers and pressing them together until only a 150-nanometer space between them remains. The researchers then fill this pocket with a liquid resembling the natural environment of the biological structure to be imaged, creating a microfluidic chamber.

Then, because free-floating structures yield images with poor resolution, the researchers coat the microchip’s interior surface with a layer of natural biological tethers, such as antibodies, which naturally grab onto a virus and hold it in place.

The lead researcher describes the difference between the usual imaging techniques and their newly developed technique (from the EurekAlert news release),

“It’s sort of like the difference between seeing Han Solo frozen in carbonite and watching him walk around blasting stormtroopers,” said Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the VTC Research Institute and a lead author on the paper describing the first successful test of the new technique. “Seeing viruses, for example, in action in their natural environment is invaluable.”

Ken Kingery’s Dec. ??, 2012 Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute article, which originated the news release, describes the specific virus the researchers used the ‘window’ to spy on,

Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and children. By the age of five, nearly every child in the world has been infected at least once. And although the disease tends to be easily managed in the developed world, in developing countries rotavirus kills more than 450,000 children a year.

At the second step in the pathogen’s life cycle, rotavirus sheds its outer layer, which allows it to enter a cell, and becomes what is called a double-layered particle. Once its second layer is exposed, the virus is ready to begin using the cell’s own infrastructure to produce more viruses. It was the viral structure at this stage that the researchers imaged in the new study.

Kelly and McDonald [Sarah McDonald, an assistant professor at the VTC Research Institute] coated the interior window of the microchip with antibodies to the virus. The antibodies, in turn, latched onto the rotaviruses that were injected into the microfluidic chamber and held them in place. The researchers then used a transmission electron microscope to image the prepared slide.

The technique worked perfectly.

The experiment gave results that resembled those achieved using traditional freezing methods to prepare rotavirus for electron microscopy, proving that the new technique can deliver accurate results. “It’s the first time scientists have imaged anything on this scale in liquid,” said Kelly.

There’s more to work to be done of course as the researchers refine the technique and try to ‘spy’ on more of the processes. In the meantime, the paper about this latest imaging research will be published in print in 2013 or it can be viewed online now (this is a open access article in a journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry [RSC], you will need to sign up but this too is free),

Visualizing viral assemblies in a nanoscale biosphere
Brian L. Gilmore ,  Shannon P. Showalter ,  Madeline J. Dukes ,  Justin R. Tanner ,  Andrew C. Demmert ,  Sarah M. McDonald and Deborah F. Kelly

Lab Chip, 2013,13, 216-219

DOI: 10.1039/C2LC41008G Received 15 Jun 2012, Accepted 13 Nov 2012 First published on the web 19 Nov 201

 

Robotic sea jellies (jellyfish) and carbon nanotubes

After my recent experience at the Vancouver Aquarium (Jan.19.12 posting) where I was informed that jellyfish are now called sea jellies, I was not expecting to see the term jellyfish still in use. I gather the new name is not being used universally yet, which explains the title for a March 23, 2012 news item on Nanowerk, Robotic jellyfish built on nanotechnology,

Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas and Virginia Tech have created an undersea vehicle inspired by the common jellyfish that runs on renewable energy and could be used in ocean rescue and surveillance missions.

In a study published this week in Smart Materials and Structures (“Hydrogen-fuel-powered bell segments of biomimetic jellyfish”), scientists created a robotic jellyfish, dubbed Robojelly, that feeds off hydrogen and oxygen gases found in water.

“We’ve created an underwater robot that doesn’t need batteries or electricity,” said Dr. Yonas Tadesse, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas and lead author of the study. “The only waste released as it travels is more water.”

Engineers and scientists have increasingly turned to nature for inspiration when creating new technologies. The simple yet powerful movement of the moon jellyfish made it an appealing animal to simulate.

The March 22, 2012 press release from the University of Texas at Dallas features images and a video in addition to its text. From the press release,

The Robojelly consists of two bell-like structures made of silicone that fold like an umbrella. Connecting the umbrella are muscles that contract to move.

Here’s a computer-aided image,

A computer-aided model of Robojelly shows the vehicle's two bell-like structures.

Here’s what the robojelly looks like,

The Robojelly, shown here out of water, has an outer structure made out of silicone.

This robojelly differs from the original model,which was battery-powered. Here’s a video of the original robojelly,

The new robojelly has artificial muscles(from the Mar. 22, 2012 University of Texas at Dallas press release),

In this study, researchers upgraded the original, battery-powered Robojelly to be self-powered. They did that through a combination of high-tech materials, including artificial muscles that contract when heated.

These muscles are made of a nickel-titanium alloy wrapped in carbon nanotubes, coated with platinum and housed in a pipe. As the mixture of hydrogen and oxygen encounters the platinum, heat and water vapor are created. That heat causes a contraction that moves the muscles of the device, pumping out the water and starting the cycle again.

“It could stay underwater and refuel itself while it is performing surveillance,” Tadesse said.

In addition to military surveillance, Tadesse said, the device could be used to detect pollutants in water.

This is a study that has been funded by the US Office of Naval Research. At the next stage, researchers want to make the robojelly’s legs work independently so it can travel in more than one direction.